By Arthur Slade
The 7-11 is empty, so I count the hairs on the third finger of my left hand. Forty-one. Forty-two. Forty-three. DING. The door swings open and Yvonne sashays in, her butt clad in blue jeans shorts, a tank top clutching her breasts. She doesn’t see me; she hasn’t really seen me for over a year. Her hair is blonde now. After my first glance I continue with my work. Forty-eight. Forty-nine. I smell the bitch, though. My heightened senses track her as she peruses the aisle. Fifty.
There are fifty-seven hairs in total in the pad above my knuckle. Yesterday there were fifty-three. I know what that means now.
My father had similar growth on his fingers. I examined my parents’ wedding photo with a magnifying glass and found them. Plain as day. A sign.
His third finger was slightly longer than his middle finger. So is mine. If I had been a peasant in the Middle Ages they would have killed me as an abomination.
The rest of my fingers are stubby. Which is funny, since my last name is Stubb. Peter Stubb with the stubby fingers. Ha.
Yvonne used to hold my hands. “They’re so short and cute,” she’d say, placing her fingers against mine. Hers were half an inch longer. Back then she had dark hair and eyebrows that grew together. They were really beautiful. She started plucking them when she turned fifteen.
I stare through my eyebrows. Yvonne is at the magazine rack, flipping through “People” magazine. She always wanted to be a star. To be something more.
Puberty had come late. Everyone else in my grade was growing bigger, with hair under their arms and between their legs. I was hairless and small. That’s why the dog bit me.
It was three years ago in the late winter. Yvonne, Mike and I were walking home after school. I remember it clearly because now I know it was an intersection in my life. Yvonne was holding my stubby hand. She wore a red beret which should have attracted the dog’s attention. And Mike had torn blue jeans that revealed pink skin. Both of them were half a head taller than me.
The words we spoke are clear in my memory.
“The mall? Or my place?” I asked. “I picked up a new game. Diablo.”
“That’s not new,” Mike snorted. “It’s ancient.”
“Then let’s go to the mall. We could—“
A blur appeared from around the corner of a white picket fence. A Jack Russell terrier, about ten inches long. It stopped and growled, hackles raised.
“Whose dog is that?” I asked. We knew all the dogs in the neighborhood.
“It’s not going to attack, is it?” Yvonne asked.
“No,” I said. “A barking dog never bites.”
photo © 2010 Stephen_Parker | more info (via: Wylio)
With a snarl, it leapt at me, not drawn by Yvonne’s hat or the rips in Mike’s blue jeans. It went straight for me. I let go of Yvonne’s hand (she said I tried to pull her between the dog and me but that’s not true). The terrier tore a chunk from my leg and blood spurted across the snow. Mike had to kick the dog to get it off me. Even then it came back and bit me twice more. I screamed both times. The terrier ran away.
It took five stitches to put my leg back together. The dog catchers bagged the terrier later. It had no tags, no owner. The vet killed it in order to test for rabies. Then he went for coffee. When he returned to examine the body the terrier was gone.
No one steals a dead dog. It must have got up and walked away.
Since they didn’t know yet whether or not the dog was sick the doctor had to treat me as though I had rabies. So he gave me several long, sharp needles in the stomach every day for fourteen days. I can still feel the pain.
The dog’s bite brought on puberty. White-capped pimples suddenly lined my forehead. Curly hair coated my balls and sprouted dark and thick on my chest. I didn’t grow much bigger, but I was faster. Now I have to get my hair cut every two weeks.
The dog bit me on purpose. It didn’t give me rabies. It gave me something else.
Yvonne is hanging out at the magazine stand, twirling her hair absent mindedly. She still does that, just like the old days. Everything is so vivid it’s like a scene from a movie. Or a music video. Her perfume tickles my nostrils.
Every morning my jaws ache. The pain spreads up through my sinuses, even as far as the center of my forehead. I stare in the mirror, looking at my teeth. The canines are longer. It’s as though I’ve been chewing tough meat all night.
That’s what I dream I’m doing. Chasing things down—rabbits,, deer, sheep—and eating them.
A month ago Mom poked her head in the bathroom, no knock, and saw me examining my teeth. She grabbed her lipstick and started painting her large lips. “Problems with your teeth?” she asked.
“See the dentist, dummy. God, that’s what I have the plan for. He’ll fix you.”
A few weeks later I did see the dentist. He poked around inside my mouth. I wanted to bite his fingers off and munch on them.
“Move your jaw from side to side.” I did so.
“You have temporomandibular joint disorder—TMJ.. It’s very common. You’re grinding your teeth at night. See the teeth slide and lock in place, causing extra exertion on your jaw muscles? That’s where your joint pain comes from. You’ll have to be fitted for a retainer. Just make another appointment with the secretary.”
A retainer sounded too much like a muzzle, so I walked straight out of the dentist’s office. When I was home, I told Mom that he said my teeth were just moving around. As though they had packed their suitcases and were going on a holiday.
Mom laughed at that.
I found a stick and slept with that between my teeth. I knew if my jaw locked I’d never get it unlocked. Ever.
I’d read about that.
photo © 2007 Ute Hagen | more info (via: Wylio) One day, I thought I’d learn why all these things were happening to me. So I put my name into a search engine and I discovered the story of Peter Stubb. He lived in 1570 or so and developed a habit of killing and eating livestock, children, and pregnant women. He even ate his own son. After two girls were attacked by a wolf the townspeople chased it down, but all they found was Peter Stubb lying in the grass, naked. He was the wolf, he said. He’d made a pact with the Devil who gave him a wolfskin belt. He could change his shape whenever he wanted to hunt. He confessed his sins before a court. His sentence was to have the flesh pulled off his bones in ten places with red-hot pincers, then they broke his arms and legs with a wooden axe and finally they beheaded him and burned his body to a crisp.
Maybe he was an ancestor of mine. I asked Mom why I was named Peter.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Ask you father.”
That was one of Mom’s little jokes. Dad left when I was two. We haven’t seen him since. But I think I know where he is now. He’s obviously a lone wolf. A member of the furnation. His hair pads and extra-long finger make it clear as day.
Maybe he’s the one who sent the dog.
“I think I’m turning into a werewolf,” I announced to Mike and Yvonne. We were at Mike’s, in the living room watching the TV. Hanging. That was a year ago.
“You’re turning weird,” Mike said. “I know that much.”
Yvonne stretched, displaying her suppleness. She would be a good mate. A strong bitch. “Every male in the world is a werewolf at heart. Right Mike,” she said, punching him in the shoulder. “You all turn into them at night. Howling at the moon.”
They had been going out since the day the dog bit me. While I was being stitched back together, they decided to become mates. It was only natural. He was the alpha male of the pack.
That was the last time that all three of us were together.
I used to have an unerring sense of direction. But somehow when we all went to a larger school I got lost. They found others to be friends with, but I was left to wander.
Which was okay. I would just sit back and lick my wounds. That’s what I was good at anyway. Licking my wounds and waiting.
Yvonne is at the cooler now. She picks up a bottle of Dr. Pepper and a bag of sour cream and onion chips. Mike’s favorites. She doesn’t even see me until she reaches the counter.
Her eyes widen, perhaps with fright. “I didn’t know you worked here.”
“Now you do,” I say.
She nods. “How’s it going?”
“It?” I ask.
“Yeah, you know, the job. And stuff.”
“It goes fine.”
She sets the bag and the pop onto the glass counter. “That’s all I got.”
“Okay.” I ring it in. The blue vein on her neck is pulsing along with her heart. Her skin is white.
“I was right,” I say. “I’m turning into a werewolf.”
“I am,” I say. “I researched it. On the internet.”
“The joke’s over, Pete.”
“It’s not a joke. It’s real.”
“Get your head checked. It can’t be real.”
“I’ll show you.”
I go down on all fours.
“What are you doing?” she asks. She leans over the counter. “Are you throwing up?”
“It’s saliva,” I say, my voice garbled. “Canines produce a lot of saliva.” I shake, staring at my hands. Willing the hairs to grow, the animal inside to come out. Willing.
“Come on Pete, stop acting stupid. I paid for my stuff. Give me my change.”
“I’m not stupid,” I say. Slowly the hairs do grow. My nose itches and begins extending into a muzzle. My muscles become faster. My canines grow longer.
“I don’t need the change.”
In a microsecond I am up on my haunches and onto the countertop, banging my knee. But I keep my balance. Nothing could knock me off my perch.
“Jesus!” she says. She reaches for the cross that hangs between her breasts. It won’t help her. A cross can’t stop me.
I roar, spitting saliva.
“What are you doing, Petey?”
I leap, aiming for her vein. Flying. Biting. She screams as I knock her into a Hostess Chip display, bags scattering through the air. She fights, but my bite is true. I taste blood.
“Pete! Get off!” She pushes and nearly succeeds in escaping, but I grab her legs. She screams. She kicks, striking me in the face with a Nike shoe. But I’m getting faster. Stronger. I pin her legs. There is already blood on her blouse. I smell the coppery scent. I crawl my way up her body. She slaps at me, pleading. I bite again. My saliva will mix with her blood and she will become one with me. She’ll become one of us.
A noise interrupts my feeding. I look up. A man down the aisle yells into his cell phone. I wipe the blood from my muzzle and lope towards him. My body is jerky—Did I hurt my knee? No. I can’t feel hurt. But I slam into a shelf, knocking soup cans onto the floor.
“Stay away!” the man yells. “Stay back you werewolf.”
Or did he say weirdo? I’m sure. My ears are filled with the beat of his heart. He holds his phone like a weapon then reaches down and throws a soup can at me. It bounces off my head.
A little boy glances around the corner. I lope after him. Stringy meat. It wouldn’t taste good. But because I’d been distracted, the man had fled into the corner.
From the background comes a wailing. I leap onto the top of the shelves, knocking off a row of candy bars. The flashing of red and blue lights fills the shop.
I howl. The security camera records my actions. It would all be in the news. I was invulnerable. The boy hides somewhere nearby; I smell him. Yvonne is still on the floor, her heart beat slowing. They will try to take her away.
The police come out of their cruisers. One little piggy. Two little piggies.
They shout as they draw their guns.
Fools. All of them. They can’t harm me.
They don’t have silver bullets.
Copyright 2011 by Arthur Slade. Used by permission of Scott Tremiel, NY.
If you want to read more great stories by Arthur Slade, check out “Shades,'” his ebook collection of stories.
Arthur Slade was raised in the Cypress Hills of southwest Saskatchewan and began writing at an early age. He received an English Honors degree from the University of Saskatchewan, spent several years writing advertising and has been writing fiction full time for fifteen years. He is the author of fifteen books, including “Dust” (which won the Governor General’s award), “Tribes,” and “The Hunchback Assignments.” He currently lives in Saskatoon, Canada. Find out more about him here.