by Chris Prioleau
As a child, Ronnie Bueller had been one of those special boys, the kind you find in crowded rooms, on their hands and knees, snarling at unseen shadows on the wall. You know the type: stubby arms pounding on the linoleum with each movement, the sound a betrayal to parents who – t-shirt and shorts balled in their hands – disowned this feral child with their posture. Ronnie wasn't an imbalanced or particularity misbehaved kid, these acts not the onset of any life-long mental ticks or illnesses. Nothing diagnosable anyway. The poor boy's only real issue was the same one that would quietly afflict him his entire life, making each day arduous, every relationship confounding, a fine life unlivable. And he had to do it alone, there was never any other choice. After all, how could someone even try to have a healthy relationship when they know that they relate more with werewolves than they do with other people? No one would ever understand.
On the surface they seemed just like any other drowsy, boring old paleface but underneath, lurking in the shadows, was something that made them better than you and I: the wild life. Nights of tragic romance, chasing rabbits, mauling lovers, howling in the face of the procreating moon. This was the life little Ronnie Bueller had always felt he was destined for, the sort of one that – 35 years later – had still eluded him.
At 41, Ron was the assistant manager of sandwich production at Bigguns Soulfood & Sandwiches. He was mortally single and spent most of his time – when he wasn't placing orders with butcheries or slinking off to the bathroom to maul a glob of sliced meats like a wolf on a flockless sheep – at home, watching old horror films on DVR, and dreaming of how to lift the inextricable burden of his loneliness. Naturally, one day, he turned to the internet.
On an particularity gelid Saturday, his DVR queue gone cold, Ron Googled “The cure for soul crushing loneliness” and was disappointed to find that it was the name of a once moderately successful pop act out of the United Kingdom. In the mid 90s, they'd made a pretty big stink across the pond with a single called “Just Try Going Out More (in 1994)”; Ron had never heard of it. The group had been on the verge of international stardom when the American Boyband Boom hit and, suddenly, no one had room in their hearts or wallets for the oddly named English foursome. According to their Wikipedia page the group had reunited in 2010 to “awfully little fanfare”.
Ron took a look at the recent press photo on the right side of their page. The redhead was balding, sepulchral freckles entombing themselves down his timeworn face. The twins were both now plagued with thick glasses and very English teeth. In the forefront was the obvious star of the gang: dark hair, charming eyes, a natural grin all softened under a mound of ruddy flesh; the hottest teen sensation of the Major Administration now a portly arcane joke. They looked like four dads tricked into taking a group photo at the DMV.
As much as Ron pitied them he couldn't help but wonder if somewhere inside – somewhere unseen – the same young lads who'd once set their side of the world on fire were in there, lying dormant, waiting for a decennial full moon.
Next he Googled “mail order bride”. And, well. In spite of the fact that Zialaxana did seem to have a certain, frosty, charm, it would cost him months, maybe even years of Soulfood & Sandwich money to have her shipped over. Plus once she did arrive she'd probably find his life just as desolate as whatever Eastern European backwater she'd came from. This was just a patch up. He needed to find a way to turn his life around from the inside out, and fast!
Then it hit him. It felt like waking up to a slap on the face from a Siamese twin you didn't know you had. Werewolves. Werewolves were the answer.
Immediately he logged onto Craigslist and checked under the “Occult” listings. He had to navigate through two whole pages of amateur exorcists and computer savvy zombies in need of sustenance (z4b) to find what he'd been looking for his entire life: “$500 My wolf wife will bite ya!” the listing read. The transcript is as follows:
$500 / My wolf wife will bite ya! (transformations)
Your unhappy? My wife is a damm werewolf.....u pay me...she can make u one too...come on afternoon of full moon...get SAME DAY RESULTS...call 925-555-4087 ask for yuri
Ron was so excited his fingers were tingling. His hair stood on end and his tongue salivated in torrents; it was like he'd already begun his ascent into wolfdom. Resisting the urge to do so on all fours, he rushed to the other wall of his studio apartment and dialed Yuri's number.
It rang only once, the second interrupted by a cacophony of loud canine barks through the receiver. GRUFF GRUFF GRUFF, GRUFF GRUFF GRUFF GRUFF It went on like that for a long, barbarous moment. Ron was about to ask the dog-person if Yuri was available when a heavily accented human voice blared in.
“Who's this?” It demanded over the incessant mongrel noise.
“Um” Ron said “Is this Yuri?”
“Oh, uh, well--”
“Hello? Speak up! I'm a terrible man!”
“It's, um, it's about your ad, your Craigslist ad.”
“You want my wife?”
“Well, uh, yes, though I wouldn't necessarily say it that--”
“Get her now! Come now! 1377 Budden. It's fool moon! Come now!” Yuri slammed the phone down, leaving Ron on the other end, disconnected.
Mt. Budden Road was a sprawling four mile trek that began in the dregs of suburbia and twisted through the black heart of unincorporated Budden before bleeding itself dry on the base of its unimpressive namesake. If there was indeed a supernatural underbelly in his humdrum little town, it was undoubtedly in the woods surrounding that mountain. So, to Ron, turning his 94 Audi onto Budden from Garvis felt like the first right turn in a long and oracular journey. At 4 PM the moon was already visible in the gridelin sky, faint but full and blooming with promise from behind the shadows of the clouds.
His mystical bubble, however, was punctured a mere three blocks from Garvis when he spotted 1377 just past Amber Ln, straddling the perineum between light and dark. Well, hey. It wasn't all bad, he told himself. The lawn was full of holes! There were dreamcatchers hanging from the front gate! Plus every house on this side of town had a big back yard; perfect for a werewolf to run around in! Still he wrung his hands over the steering wheel as he parked his grumbling old Audi, pedestrially, against the curb. The mailbox read: Yuri & Peaches.
It was a wide house, one story and encircled by a low brick fence with a clattering, rusted gate. Spindly trees had lurched over the perimeter and wilted their little brown cadavers onto the lawn. The roof was, while yes too covered in leaves, more noticeably littered with dented cans of Milwaukee's Best as well as a menagerie of expensive looking vodka bottles. Well, werewolves should know how to party, Ron told himself as he nudged open the creaking gate and furtively approached the door. He balled his dark, tepid hands into a fist and almost knocked. Then he sighed. Reconsidered. Then reconsidered again. He was 41, broken down by a life's worth of mediocrity and here the internet was giving him a second chance. Tonight he would be dodging silver bullets and taking lupine lovers, tomorrow drinking himself into a stupor and festooning his house with the evidence. Neighbors be dammed, this is what werewolves do. Ron knocked on the door, closed his eyes, and listened to the beads of the dreamcatcher tap against the house.
After a soothing amount of taps, the door swung open wildly. Ron opened his eyes to see a slight, hairy man standing at the threshold. The man's surprisingly amiable smile was bisected diagonally – as was the rest of his face – by a grotesque, three pronged scar the color of a dark eggplant. He wore a checkered track suit, full of gashes and holes.
“Are you him?” the accented man asked, seeming genuinely surprised to see a stranger at his door after inviting one over not a half hour before. “I am Yuri,” he said.
“Yes, I-uh, I'm Ron. I'm responding to the ad.”
Yuri clapped his palms together loudly and licked his lips. He stepped backwards from Ron, opening his home while never taking his gleeful little eyes off of him. “Good! My wife! I'll go get her! She's in back yard! I'll go get her! You stay! Stay now! Stay!” He backed around a corner, out of site, eyes ever fixed on Ron. There was a pungent, salty smell in the home of Yuri & Peaches. To Ron it smelt like roasted meats.
The inside was large and spacious, with red curtains drawn in every window draping the air with a vivid, sanguinary hue. A large white brick fireplace was the centerpiece and axis of the home, around which everything else seemed to pivot and accord. Ron was facing the backside of it, adorned – as was every other visible surface – with framed pictures of Yuri and a big blonde dog with silver eyes, a Labrador. Some of the photos had obviously been taken before Yuri's facial mishap, man sans scar with dog at beach; some had obviously been taken shortly afterwards, man with wrapped face and dog outside Parthenon. There were pictures of them in Paris, in Rome, on the summits of snowy mountains, under deep green canopies. Nowhere was there evidence of a human female presence, anthropomorphic or otherwise.
“This my wife! Peaches!”
Yuri sauntered back into the room with the same mangled yet ingenuous smile though now trailing behind him was a beautiful blonde labrador: Peaches, from the pictures.
She trotted from behind Yuri, long nails cheerily tapping the linoleum with each movement. She wore virtually the same expression as her owner (husband?), nativity with a snip of hungered longing. Her mouth hung agape, exposing black gums and a pink slabbery tongue into the red room. She looked over the perplexed Ron, tap dancing on her claws as she circled him, sized him up, sniffed his crotch.
Shame rose from behind Ron's cheeks. How could he be so stupid? He'd ventured out of his shadows to find his kind of people, the wild kin spirits that been eluding him his entire life and what did Craigslist give him? A crazy foreign sex pervert. He didn't know what kinds of things went on here, but they were assuredly more depraved then secretly disemboweling deli meats on company time. “You're telling me this is your wife?” He took time with his words, chose them carefully. “And that she's a werewolf--”
“Yes! Damn werewolf! Every full moon!” Yuri growled, grimaced, and curled his hands into a claw shape. Ron understood that this was supposed to be a joke – a pantomimed werewolf – but with Yuri's scar, the room's red glow, and the present circumstances, the little man's shtick really did scare the crap out of him. He looked like an axe murderer. Peaches, perhaps smelling Ron's apprehension, barked at Yuri while trying to balance on her hind legs.
“What?” Yuri yelled. “That's how you look! Don't start with me!” Peaches growled back at him, an interspecies lover's tiff. “Oh she like you! You like her?”
Peaches opened her mouth and looked up at Ron in a panting little doggie smile. She really was a gorgeous animal. With her golden coat and striking silver eyes she looked like the canine embodiment of fortune. The way she stood, high and lean on her slender legs, reminded Ron of a fashion model or a greyhound. Her most beguiling feature however, in Ron's eternally humble opinion, were her ears: small, thick, and oddly pointed. They stood out on her torpedo shaped head as if they'd been lifted from another animal, a cat, a wolf. Yes, Ron would like her, a whole pack of her. To wreak havoc with, to shred his banality with her claws, to run her teeth through his triteness and his sandwiches.
“She's...a beautiful dog. But she's just a dog. You told me she was your wife. Why would I pay five hundred dollars to be bitten by a dog?”
Yuri furrowed his brow and held his chin in his right hand. A hairy, stubby version of Rodin's Thinker seriously contemplating an issue of which he had not been aware. “Dog?” he said after a moment. “Yes. Sometimes she's woman, sometimes she's dog, sometimes she's wolf. I don't know with her anymore. You should take her. Five hundred dollars.”
Ron sighed: his latest in a long line, heralding a lifetime of mild, soul-crushing disappointments. “Ok.” he said “I'll buy the dog.”
“This had better work.”
Ron was back at his apartment and had just finished rubbing a can and a half of Brainy Dan's Can Gravy onto his arms and chest, as per Yuri's suggestion. Initially, the hairy little man had taken Ron's money with all the inelegant glee of a first time con artist surprised at his good fortune. He counted the cash slowly, having to start over several times in order to curb a caustic belly laugh or to occasionally slap Ron hard on the back. Ron watched him, saying nothing, a cold lump rising up in his throat like a full moon. When Yuri left the room to fetch Peaches' leash, Ron's body begun to quake with wretched, silent sobs. Peaches gruffed at him, hopped up onto her hind legs, and pawed at his pants leg pleading for attention or forgiveness or another doggie emotion before Ron took his heel and shoved it into her face, pushing her away, transforming himself back into the anti-social little boy he'd been years ago.
When he came back from around the fireplace, Yuri had transformed too. He seemed even smaller than before, dwarfish and hunched over, his happy little eyes now heavy and tired. “Cover yourself on gravy Ron. Brainy Dan's. Then she will make you wolf” he said. He held the leash out, his face turned towards the floor. The leash was a loud silver glittered with tiny hearts. In pink gaudy letters across the throat it read 'PEACHES'.
Ron sniffled. “Thank you” he said.
“Leave now. Moon is soon.”
Peaches whimpered as Ron put on her leash, and that was the last that any of them said for time. It felt like a terrible shadow had risen over them and now they each had to sift through it, awkwardly in the dark. That was how they left Yuri, stewing in his own haze, man sans dog in empty red home.
It was getting dark now, the last traces of sunset seeping out through the blinds, preparing to leave Ron in his room of shadows, awaiting the bold glow of moonlight. He'd locked Peaches in the bathroom. She hadn't said much on the ride home merely stared out of the Audi's passenger window, pearly eyes looking out over the darkening suburban landscape. Even now she was silent enough that Ron could easily pretend that he hadn't just flushed five hundred dollars down the drain, that he wasn't embarking on his worst disappointment yet, that he was rubbing gravy over his flabby chest just for fun. A single guy has got to get his kicks somehow! The air was cold and smelled badly of meats.
The bathroom's doorknob squished and slished through his hands as he turned it. Inside, it was pitch black and shrouded in an unnatural chill. He couldn't make out nothing, not even the porcelian glow off a counter top or commode.
“Peaches?” he called into the dark, a wisp of his own breath drifting through the air.
He'd, obviously, used this bathroom thousands of times before and, unless you counted the nights that he'd taken home the Jalepeno Chilli Openface Sandwhich from work, there was nothing spooky about it. Yet here he was, fearful of the sight of his own breath fading into the shadows, disappearing into the darkness that housed his sink, his shower, and possibly an anthropomorphic beast from hellfires of Craigslist. The hairs on his arms would have stood on end had their pores not been clogged with canned gravy.
He was reaching his hand in, trying to turn on the light switch, when he heard the growl.
Hurrrrrrrrgggggghhhh. Loud and low.
Ron let out a sad and frustrated moan and backed away; of course it would end like this. Peaches's silver eyes materialized amidst the shadows, cut through them to chill Ron's gravy flavored bones. Certain death was imminent he felt the onset of a feeling he could only describe as a tremendous shame mixed with total sadness and understood that to mean that his life was flashing before his eyes. He shut them tight, hoping to block away the rerun: weird boy sans companions for 41 years, drifting underneath life's radar in every way imaginable, dreaming that he was something far more than the talentless schlock he was, wanting to reclaim something that was lost prenatal.
Still stumbling backwards he tripped and landed on his couch with a squish. In his shock he opened his eyes and saw Peaches in the moonlight. She was the most gorgeous animal he'd ever laid eyes on, human, werewolf or otherwise, shining like good fortune. She was approaching him, singing a complex series of howls, and hopping off her front legs like she was trying to rid herself of them. Her eyes looked practically ghastly in the moonlight.
“Be a good girl, Peaches” Ron said, backing into his couch. “Please be a good girl.”
She had wild luck in her eyes as she sucked the meat smell out of the air with her nostrils. Ron watched in horror as she advanced on his hand, placing her chin on the couch. She opened her mouth wind and licked his fingers with her long pink tongue. It felt nice. Ron closed his eyes and Peaches commenced in lapping up the meat particles between his fingers. She stopped for a moment and he could feel her weight as she leapt onto the couch, creaking the springs and then settling. Then she went to work, vigorously stripping the gravy from his arms, his chest. Ron kept his eyes closed and laid back, a pleasant buzz forming behind his ears, her tongue was stupefying, therapeutic. It felt like that gravy had been caked on for decades and finally someone was taking the care to rid him of it. Before he drifted off to sleep he felt her teeth run lightly against the blade of his shoulder.
Ron dreamed vaguely of being in a large, circular shaped room filled with water. He was on the outside, facing the walls, which were the same shade of vermilion as Yuri's home only covered in blue vines, which swelled and constricted like they were breathing. Ron was shirtless and holding a Bigguns Creole Supreme Sandwhich, extra shrimp. In the center of the room there, wading in the water, was A Cure For Heartbreaking Loneliness. Their shirts were off too and the twins were tenderly petting each other's hair. Ron felt odd or shamed or excited: 5 flabby men shirtless in their 40s, treading water in a vauge circular room.
“Yoooooou swiiiiiiim to uuuuuus” the lead one sang. Ron felt unsure. The others howled
“Swiiim to us nowwwwww, wild one.” he sang again, this time with a wink. The others howled.
When he awoke Peaches was asleep on the couch next to him, her head in his lap. His body was slick and cold with dog spittle; it felt strange but nice. He pet her softly and she made a distant gruffing noise that sounded as if it came from miles away, from the depths of some doggie dream. He wondered what she could possibly dream about as they lay like that for some time, the moon kissing them from the dark and lonely sky above.