David woke up, stretched, vigorously scratched behind his ear, squinted at the rising sun, and then, seeing at the frightened and shaken man still pointing a pistol at him, he smiled.
David yawned and stretched again. “You’re convinced now, right?” he said to Malloy, who was wide-eyed and trembling. He posed it as a question but it was a statement, a firm statement, and they both knew it. Malloy was indeed convinced.
“You, you … you … I can’t believe it,” Malloy said.
“You have to believe it,” David said, a bit curtly. “I told you and now you’ve seen it. You have to believe it. I turn into a wolf. I’m a werewolf. A real werewolf, a werewolf with fur and teeth and all that scary stuff. You can put your gun down now.”
“You’re a werewolf,” Malloy said stupidly.
Frank stood up and released himself from the collar and rope that was tied to a tree. Then he walked over to Malloy and gently took the gun from his hand. “I have a confession to make,” he said. “There are no silver bullets in this gun I gave you. I just told you that to make you feel better. I knew you wouldn’t need it, and I was right, wasn’t I?” He put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger several times. Click, click, click.
“You fed me the hamburgers and I was quite a happy pup, wasn’t I? Not dangerous at all,” he continued. “Animals, well, I’m not an expert even if one under the full moon, but most animals aren’t a threat unless they feel threatened, or hungry.” Then he added, “Not like people.”
“You’re a werewolf,” Malloy said again.
David noticed the empty wine bottle in the leaves next to where Malloy was sitting. “How about another drink?” he said. He pulled another bottle of cheap wine out of his knapsack, unscrewed the cap, and handed the bottle to Malloy. Malloy quickly took several big gulps and then started talking.Babbling really.
Frank didn’t bother listening. He knew ahead of time what Malloy would be saying, the same things anyone else would be saying if someone gave them $150 and a bottle of wine to spend the night in the woods with him, and told them to make sure that when he turned into a wolf he didn’t run off and kill someone. They’d say they almost didn’t come because it was nutty, and they didn’t believe it, and when they did come they almost left because it creeped them out to tie him up to a tree. It was nuts and it was creepy. And they worried something really scary was behind it all, but not scary like a werewolf. Just creepy people scary. But they could really use $150, and the drinks David kept buying him at dinner … well. And since they met David months ago, he’d been so nice and helpful. Etc.
It was what they all said.
“And,” Malloy was still going on, “you, you like a wolf, were just standing there staring at me, so I threw the hamburgers at you, like you said I should, and you ate them.” David rolled his eyes. “And then you just laid down there. Just like my cocker spaniel did when I was a kid. Just like that!”
“Well,” David said, “can you imagine if we hadn’t brought those hamburgers and I wasn’t tied up? I would have run off and eaten a rabbit or a squirrel or something. Now can you imagine if I’d done that — eaten a rodent, maybe even some of the little bones — can you imagine how I’d feel now? A human stomach isn’t made to digest raw meat. I know from experience, I’d be really really sick, and it’s not like I can go to a doctor. What am I going to say? That I chased down a raccoon and chewed it up, fur and all?”
David looked Malloy in the eyes. “Now can you see why I needed your help? I know you were reluctant to come. But thank you.”
Malloy had almost emptied the wine bottle. Still talking, he had moved on to the next stage. The questions. How did David become a werewolf? When? What was it like? How did it feel to have a tail? Could he smell better? Blah, blah, blah.
“Those things, they’re really not important,” David said. “But now you’ve experienced something. Something extraordinary. And there’s more important things to learn from it than how and why it happens.”
He looked Malloy in the eye and smiled. “Let me explain.”
“I … I … I … never saw anything like that,” Malloy said, his speech suddenly betraying the effect of the wine as well as his astonishment. “I wouldna’ believed it.”
“That’s it,” David said with a tinge of excitement. “Why do we believe what we believe? You never saw a werewolf so you didn’t think they exist. But there could be werewolves all over the world, transforming quietly each full moon in the privacy of their homes, afraid to tell anyone because, like you, people would assume they’re dangerous.
“Yeah, animals can be dangerous, but unless you poke them with a stick, most of them aren’t going to come after you. They don’t kill for the sake of killing. They don’t hunt for sport. They don’t enjoy watching people die or take pride in their cunning. Only people do that.”
“You’re right,” Malloy said. “I known some mean people. Real mean people. Not like you who been so good to me these past few weeks. Helping me out. Giving me a few dollars here and there.”
“Yes, that’s right,” said David, more animated now. “Now that we’ve been friends for a few weeks, if you found out something bad about me, if you, for example, found out I had killed someone, you’d think it was because I was a werewolf, right? Even though, as you now know, I’m no more dangerous as a wolf than a little old lady’s pet poodle. Maybe you’d even think of me as a victim, not a murderer.”
Malloy tipped the wine bottle to his mouth, but it was already empty. Drunk and feeling tired from being awake all night, he tried to keep his eyes open.
“Hey, are you listening to me?” David snapped his fingers in Malloy’s face, startling him. “This is important and we don’t have much time. It’s important to see how wrong you can be about things. Like a saint could be a werewolf as well as the most evil person in the world, right? But the saint would still be a saint, and the evil person would still be evil, right? You get it? We call people animals when they act terrible, but all that means is they’re acting like humans.”
“I do, David, I get it. It’s just so much, uh, I mean I never … my head is spinning a little. Now that you’re human again, whoa, you know?”
David frowned. “Let me make this quick,” he said. “Look, the question is, why do we believe what we believe. For instance. Take this very spot. Imagine someone finds a dead body here, maybe tomorrow, maybe weeks from now, after animals and maggots have been working on it — not to get a thrill but because that’s what animals and maggots do. So someone finds the body and they call the police, you with me?”
“Uh, yea, David. With you,” Malloy said, trying his best to be attentive. “Maybe before we walk back I can lay down, just for a few minutes?”
David laughed. “You can, you certainly can lay down afterwards — but pay attention to what I’m telling you first, because this is a rare opportunity, and it won’t come around again. I promise. So, you listening?”
“OK,” Malloy said. He stood up and slapped his own cheeks with his hands. “OK, I’m listening. You’re a smart guy and you been good to me. I’m listenin’”
“Good,” David said. “So this dead body, with the maggots, right? It has a bullet in the head. So the police see this, what are they going to think? They find out who the guy is — and let’s say, just for instance, that he’s someone like you. He a guy with no family, he drinks too much, doesn’t have much money, eats at soup kitchens — like where we met. So the cops are going to see this body, alone, some empty wine bottles, not much to live for, and they’re going to think he killed himself.
“But you,” David said, “you would never kill yourself, right?”
Malloy rubbed his reddened eyes. “No,” he said weakly.
David took a single bullet out of his shirt pocket and put it in the chamber of the pistol. “This isn’t silver,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be. It’s just a bullet.”
“I don’t understand,” Malloy said.
“You’re not my first,” David said. “I’ve doing this a long time. I enjoy doing it, and I enjoy getting away with it. I like tricking people. I like seeing their fear. I like seeing their blood. It’s the kind of feeling only a human can have.”
He picked up part of a half-eaten hamburger and held it up to Malloy’s face. “Last meal?” he said. Malloy whimpered like a dog that had been kicked, as David put the gun against his temple.
Carl Peters lives in New Jersey.