Graham dropped his backpack to the ground and sat at the mouth of the cave. It wasn’t much of a “cave,” really; When his mother told him about it, he had been excited, picturing a deep cavern with stalactites and stalagmites, perhaps the occasional animal skeleton, ceiling crawling with bats. Instead, he got a stone nook, lined with cobwebs, about ten feet deep in the side of a slope.
The sun was low in the sky, but nowhere near enough to call it nighttime. The full moon was also present, almost translucent against the hazy sky. Graham wondered what this meant for his father, if anything. He sat at the mouth of the cave, feet hanging off the ledge in front.
The day faded slowly. He wished he had brought a book. He had left his new Walkman at home intentionally, so he could hear Hank approaching. Gradually, he began to wonder if he had been wrong about the location–Perhaps he had missed the actual cave. Relief came with a start when a snort above him made him jerk his head up: Whether it was the right cave or not, his father had found him.
Hank stood over the mouth of the cave, nose working. He glanced around and looked back down at Graham, head tilted anxiously.
Graham took a deep breath. “I asked if I could come alone…” he explained. “Kind of a… birthday favor. I hope that’s OK.”
With a thin whine, Hank scurried down the side of the slope to Graham’s side. He sniffed his face and licked his ear. Laughing, Graham pushed his face away. Hank sat down and slumped against him. Hesitant, Graham reached up and scratched between his ears.
“This is weird,” he muttered, dropping his hand.
Hank snorted and nudged Graham’s hand with his nose.
“Can you not talk like this? I mean… English?”
Sighing, Hank gazed around the woods. He edged away and stuck his nose far forward. His body trembled and quaked.
“If it hurts–”
Bones popping out of joint made Graham flinch. Hank’s shoulders shifted out, broadening his chest. His neck arched and his head settled into a more man-like position. Hank stilled and turned to his son. Only his rounded shoulders differentiated him from the wolf.
Hank opened his mouth a few times, moving his head up and down in a clear nod. “Not as a full wolf.” His voice was gravelly, but his words were clear. “But once the right parts are changed, I can.”
Graham’s eyes were wide with wonder. “Did that hurt?”
“No.” Hank shook his head. “It doesn’t hurt until I get closer to human.”
Graham scanned the horizon. The sun was still hanging over it. “When can you change into a person?”
Hank turned to him, hurt. He narrowed his eyes. “I am always a person.”
Graham’s mouth flapped a few times as he stammered, “I mean, a man– a human.”
Hank found the moon in the sky. It was large and milky as the sun inched down. “When the moon is no longer competing with the sun, I can change completely.”
“What happens if you try to change before that?”
“It hurts anyway, doesn’t it?”
Hank tocked his head. “It hurts to change, but the pain fades once it’s done. Before the moon, holding the form is… unbearable.”
Graham frowned and nodded. “I thought werewolves were humans who changed into wolves on the full moon, not the other way around.”
“What’s the difference between you and them?”
“Genetics, I guess.”
“That has to do with blood?” Graham smiled, glad he could show off that knowledge.
After a moment of silence, he hit the slope with the heel of his sneaker. “I wish you were like them.” He started when he felt a hand on his head, and turned to find his father’s furry arm raised to stroke his hair reassuringly.
“It’s not just about when someone must change, Graham. For others… the less time they spend as wolves, the less they can control themselves. They’re wild. Dangerous. Their minds change with their bodies. They become…”
“Confused?” Graham recalled the word Amber had used when explaining why Hank thought a rabbit would make a good birthday gift.
Graham studied the woods in silence for a moment. “How long have you been like this?”
Hank sighed and studied his son. “I was your age–almost exactly–when I was infected. A few days past thirteen.”
“How did it happen?”
Hank sat in silence.
“You don’t have to–”
“It’s OK…” Hank sighed. “I was attacked by a neighbor, bitten. I almost died. I was in the hospital for two days, in a coma, then… the next thing I knew, I was running through the woods. Scared. Confused…” His voice assumed a tone of wonder. “As I was running, though, I had never felt so free, so powerful. It was like waking up from a dream, and I was Superman, flying….”
“You were just a kid? What about your parents?”
Hank took a deep breath and held it before letting it out slowly. “I’m sure… I’m sure they were just as scared and confused as I was.”
Hank silenced him by holding up a hand. It was covered in brown fur, and the light had faded to the point where Graham couldn’t determine where the fingers ended and the claws began. He hadn’t realized how dark it had gotten. The sun was a haze in the distance, and the moon now dominated the purple sky. He turned to his father, eyes wide with anticipation.
Graham tugged open his backpack as Hank stood. It contained clothing and a belt, with a pair of sneakers at the bottom. Graham pulled out his father’s jeans and held them on his lap.
When Hank stood, he appeared to elongate smoothly with the motion, turning from wolf to a naked man with fur, a tail, and a dog’s head. Graham’s eyes widened and face reddened, and he turned away. Groaning, Hank crouched, pulled his limbs close, in obvious pain. Graham could not help but steal glances, even after the majority of the fur had disappeared. He frowned and hung his head.
Man once more, Hank stood, chest heaving as the pain faded. He caught his son glancing and recognized his glum expression. “What’s wrong?” He held his hand out.
“Nothin’.” Graham avoided looking as he passed Hank his jeans.
“You know you can ask me anything, right?” He stepped into his jeans and accepted the shirt Graham handed him.
“Yeah, I know.”
“I don’t just mean about wolves.” Hank pulled the shirt on and smoothed it over his belly. “Other things, too. Real life things… man things.” He stepped into one of the sneakers.
“Yeah. I know.” Graham twisted his body to look up at his father. “Have you ever killed anyone?”
Hank blinked in surprise and almost fell over as he pulled on his other shoe. He put his foot down and ran his tongue over his lips. “No, of course not.” He grabbed his belt from the bag and turned to descend the slop as he threaded it on. “We should get going.”
The town began where the woods ended. It had rained during the day, and steam rose off the asphalt as Hank and Graham crossed the highway and hopped on the sidewalk running along Main Street. A group of boys slightly older then Graham pedaled their bicycles past them. Hank observed Graham eyeing them.
“Have you made any friends yet?” Hank asked.
“No, not yet. I’ve been spending a lot of time at the library. Mom said most of the books I’ve been reading were ones you requested.”
“Is it possible that… that I could be like you? I asked Mom, but she said no.”
Hank pushed his hands deep in his pockets. “I think your mother is right.” He chuckled, “I think we would have noticed by now.”
“The books said if it’s hereditary, it usually starts with puberty.”
Hank cleared his throat and smiled. “I guess we’ll find out soon, then.”
Graham’s face fell again. “I guess,” he replied.
Stopping, Hank pulled Graham around to face him. “Listen, I know this is exciting and new, but…” He took a deep breath. “It’s not a good thing–”
“But you said it was like waking up as Superman?”
“I shouldn’t have said that. Mostly, it was terrifying. And lonely; I couldn’t see any of my friends anymore. I couldn’t go back to school and get my education. My parents…” Hank licked his lips and gazed off in the distance. “I was alone. I didn’t have anyone I could talk to, no one to teach me how to handle the infection. It was like being plunked down on a deserted island.”
“I would have you.”
“No–Maybe, but I’m just saying… Don’t be disappointed. Don’t… yearn for it. It’s… it’s called a curse for a reason. I mean, look at us: I only get to see you and your mother three nights and two days a year. You have no idea how that feels.”
Graham’s lip trembled. “Yes, I do.”
“Oh…” Hank sighed and pulled him in for a hug. “I’m sorry, sport, I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I know.” Graham wiped his face on his sleeve and pulled away, heading up the street. He sniffled a few times, but said nothing.
The bicycling boys had stopped and gathered with a crowd outside an ice cream stand. They watched Hank and Graham as they passed. Hank wondered if he knew any of their parents from when he spent his summers at the diner.
“Is there anything else you wanted to ask?” Hank said quietly.
“I don’t remember. I had a list at the diner.”
Hank snorted a chuckle.
“Mom has it almost set up for opening. She’ll get super-excited, then super-nervous, and she’ll cook something amazing, and scrub down the entire kitchen again. When I’m not reading, I’m helping her out.”
“I’m glad to hear it. She’s always wanted to open a restaurant.”
They walked in silence until the diner came into view. The walls had been scrubbed and were once again robins-egg blue. The windows were clean, and would have provided a clear view of the amenities inside had they not been covered with butcher paper. They paused on the sidewalk out front to admire it.
“It looks really good,” Hank said. “Did you do that?”
“I did the windows, but she had someone come out special to clean the walls. He had this hose, and it shot out water hard enough to take the skin off your fingers.”
Kelsie pushed through the doors and ran toward them. “Dad!” She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. “Are you OK? Did the hunters find you?”
Graham’s face fell. He hadn’t thought to ask about his father’s safety.
Hank rocked her back and forth as they hugged. “No, sweetheart, they never found me.” He pulled away and studied her. Smoothing down her hair, he kissed her forehead. “As long as we keep our heads down and stick to our stories, I think we’ll be fine.”
“I miss being a Noel. I hate the name Graham Smith,” Graham huffed. “Do you know how many Graham Smiths there are in the phone book? It’s practically an entire page!”
With one arm around Kelsie, Hank looped his other arm around Graham and headed toward the door.
“It’s either that, or someone gets a Dad-skin rug,” Kelsie replied.
Hank laughed. Eventually, Graham started laughing as well.
The kids went up to bed soon after midnight. Amber grew fidgety and anxious, humming with nervous energy. Hank reached for her, but she didn’t see it. She stepped into the kitchen and returned with a stack of papers. Hank pushed behind the counter.
“I’ve done the hard part, which is hire a kitchen manager, but I need your help picking out a front-end manager and weeding out some kitchen staff.” She waved the applications, sending an assortment of pungent and musky smells in his direction.
Smiling softly, Hank threaded his fingers into her hair and kissed her. Her racing heart calmed, then sped back up. She pulled away.
“I’m scared, Hank.”
He chuckled and shook his head. “No, you’re not.”
“Alright… I’m nervous. I need your help.”
“I am helping,” he whispered as he pulled her face back to him and trailed kisses down her neck. He tugged the applications from her hand and tossed them onto a counter. The musk billowed but faded as it competed with the intensifying, delicious smell of Amber’s heat. “I will help you calm down, then we can move on to other things.”
When Amber sighed, it felt as if her entire body melted in his arms. Hank pulled her back toward the stairs, and she began to wrestle off his shirt.
Early-morning light filtered through the curtains as Amber woke the next morning. She slid a hand to the other side of the bed, only to find empty sheets. Sitting up, heartache swelled in her chest. His shirt was draped over the foot of the bed, a flag letting her know he was not gone just yet.
The smell of coffee greeted her as she opened the door. Her husband sat on the living room couch, the stack of applications in his hand. Several of them were assorted in two small stacks and one larger stack on the coffee table.
“I hate it when you do that,” she said as she leaned down to kiss him. “I have flashbacks to when we first got together, and you would just… disappear, and I never knew if I would ever see you again.”
“I hated doing that just as much.” Hank pulled her down next to him. “But I knew somehow I would be able to trick you into marrying me, so now you’re stuck. Haha–Checkmate.”
“You two are so sappy.” Kelsie emerged from her room and stepped into the kitchen area. She poured herself a large cup of coffee.
Hank eyed the cup. “That better be for your mother.”
Kelsie raised it to her lips.
“Coffee?” He turned to Amber. “Already? At sixteen?”
The girls giggled as Kelsie handed the cup over to her mother. She took a seat across from them, eyeing the applications spread on the table.
“It’s just coffee, Dad. If you want to enforce something like that–” She pursed her lips over the rest of her statement as her father’s face fell. “Sorry,” she said in a small voice.
Graham entered the living room with a wide yawn, looking disheveled and frumpy. His hair stuck out at multiple angles and he was rubbing one eye with his palm.
“Coffee?” Hank offered.
“No,” Graham rasped. “Gross.”
Kelsie threw herself over the arm of the chair, laughing. Graham grunted and fell into the chair next to her.
“Mom reeled you into doing all the work?” he asked as he noticed the applications.
“Technically, I am the proprietor, so this is my work as well.” Hank passed one of the applications in his hand to one of the piles on the coffee table.
“What’s what?” Kelsie asked.
“This pile is yes, this pile is maybe, this pile is no, and this pile is trash.”
“Trash?” Graham raised a brow. “Why?”
Hank took the application from the top. “Smell it.”
He flapped it at him. Graham took it and cautiously held it under his nose.
“I don’t smell anything.” He passed it to Kelsie, who sniffed it and shook her head. She offered it to Amber, who waved it away.
“Smells like weed,” Hank explained. “Bad weed, and lots of it.” He took the application and sniffed it. His lip curled. “I can’t believe you can’t smell that.”
“You rejected all these because they smell like weed?” Kelsie shook her head. “That’s a bit harsh.”
“Not just weed: bad weed. Other things too. This fellow doesn’t wash his hands. This one smells sick. This…” He sniffed another one. “I don’t even want to know. Rejecting them off-hand makes the decision-process easier.”
Graham cracked a smile. “Dad’s super-sniffer saves the day.”
“That is how we met.” Hank smiled at his wife. Amber smiled back. A heavy silence fell over the room. Their eyes drifted back to the kids. They stared at their parents, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
“I… I thought you two met in a car accident?” Kelsie asked.
Hank’s mouth twitched. Amber covered her face and giggled. He blushed.
“Tell us,” Kelsie said.
“Yeah, tell us!” Graham added, “How did Dad’s super-sniffer save the day?”
She was perfect: So tender. Just plump enough. Curved in all the right places. She smelled so good, Hank’s mouth watered. She had no idea he was there, watching her. He was about fifteen feet away, moving slowly, soundlessly, patiently, despite his twisting stomach. Her nose twitched, but the rabbit continued to graze lazily.
Five feet. Hank crouched and prepared to pounce. His muscles were charged like springs. He took a deep breath… but froze. He took another whiff. The most beautiful fragrance, faint and faraway, drifted on the air. It was clouded by the delicious smell of rabbit and the rank odor of motor oil.
Hank raised his head. The rabbit shot off, unpursued, leaving a trail of terror and adrenaline in its wake. Hank snorted the fragrance out and sniffed furiously until he found the scent again: fruity, almost floral, like a perfume untainted by the sharp smell of chemicals. Wagging his tail, he followed it until the alluring smell grew stronger, so did the smell of car. Underneath the stronger fragrances hid the faint, metallic smell of blood.
As soon as Hank was certain of his direction, he broke into a run. After half a mile, the smell of humanity tainted the fragrance that pulled at his heart; He was approaching the highway. The ground sloped down into a ditch, then back up to meet the highway. Hank paused on the slope.
After a short guardrail, two swaths were cut deep into the mud of the shoulder. An over-turned car lay at the bottom of the ditch. Women’s clothing and books littered the ground around the trunk. The engine had already cooled; It must have crashed sometime in the
night. The only sound came from the occasional car passing above, oblivious to the chaotic scene below.
Cautiously, Hank descended. He could hear steady breathing and a slow heartbeat. The seductive smell that had led him half a mile through the woods led him down to the car. Ducking his head, he found a young woman, still belted into the driver’s seat. A trail of dried blood ran down her face, staining her blonde hair. More blood ran down her arms, from pieces of window glass lodged into her skin.
Hank took a deep breath and held it. A human was the last thing he expected, as he had smelled many of them, yet none of them had drawn him like this. He crept forward and stuck his nose through the driver’s-side window. All of the blood had dried, indicating none of the wounds were serious. Nose working furiously, he nudged her arm. No response. He nudged it again. Daring to step a paw through the window, he nudged her face gently. He nudged harder. Still no response. Hank hesitated a moment, then licked her face, just at the corner of her mouth.
The woman took a deep breath and sighed. The sweet smell billowed from her, filling the car, making Hank heady. As if a hook had caught his mind, he was filled with the sudden desire to crawl inside and drown in it. He never wanted to leave.
But the fragrance faded. The woman’s breathing regulated again. Her pulse slowed. Hank whimpered with the sudden realization that this woman could be injured worse than he could perceive; She could die. Her sweet smell could disappear from the world. He had to save her.
Backing out, Hank glanced around. He looked up, grateful for the full moon, currently invisible in the blue sky overhead. But his gratitude faded the moment he began to pull the beast back in: Muscled cramped and burned. Bones cracked and contracted. The fur retracting felt like razor blades cutting into his skin. It had been months since he had changed; He had forgotten how painful it was.
Human once more, Hank crouched, panting until the pain subsided.
“Damn…” he murmured as he recognized his nakedness. He scanned the clothing scattered across the ground. Only one item looked like it would fit: a pink, fluffy robe. Hank sighed and pulled it on.
Graham and Kelsie doubled-over with laughter at the thought of their father wearing the pink fluffy robe. Amber covered her mouth, suppressing her own laughter. Hank patted her leg and handed her one of the stacks of applications.
“Wait, that’s it? You’re not going to tell us the rest?” Kelsie asked.
“The rest of the story can wait until later.” Hank stood and stretched, then gestured toward Graham. “The morning is getting on, and I thought you might want to go fishing.”
Graham’s face lit up. “Really? Just you and me?”
With a whoop, he jumped up and ran to get dressed.
Kelsie gaped at her father. “That’s no fair! I barely got to spend any time with you yesterday.”
Hank held up his hand. “I know it doesn’t seem fair, but…” He searched for the best way to explain, but came up empty. “Right now, I think it would do Graham some good to spend some extra time with him, to give him someone to talk to.”
Kelsie crossed her arms and pouted.
“Kel, don’t be like that,” Amber said. “Graham needs a man to talk to, and it’s like his birthday celebration with his father.”
“Whatever…” Kelsie huffed.
Amber and Hank exchanged a look. Hank knelt on the floor in front of his daughter and pulled her close. “I know time is precious, but Graham needs to be able to talk to me alone. I promise, we’ll be able to spend some time together after.” He gave her a tight squeeze. “Who knows? After this, he may get sick of me.”
“It’s a bit late to teach him about the birds and the bees, you know.”
Hank chuckled uncomfortably. Amber covered her face and let out a noise like air escaping a balloon.
“Even so,” he said, standing.
“Have fun,” Kelsie said. Her tone did not reflect her words.
Graham pounded back in wearing jeans and a t-shirt with his sneakers in his hand, his hair still a mess. He plopped back into his chair and pulled them on. “So, where’re we going?”
“To the attic,” Hank answered with a cryptic smile.
The attic was hot, stuffy, and smelled of saw dust. Hank pulled himself up from the hallway and gazed around. It was exactly as he remembered it–exactly as he had left it, right down to the old mattress, now dried and falling to dust, under the window on one side. Against the walls was a scattered assortment of several generations: boxes of photos, old trunks containing clothes and keepsakes, a tricycle, a Radio Flyer wagon from when his father was a child, and exactly what he was looking for: a cluster of fishing rods and a tackle box.
“Dad, can I come up?” Graham asked.
“Sure, sport.” Hank leaned on his knees and reached down. Graham could barely reach his hand, but Hank leaned farther and yanked him up.
“I’ve always wondered how you were able to do that,” Graham said in a distant voice as he took in the attic. “So, all this belonged to your grandparents?” He poked around some of the things.
“Parents, grandparents, assorted other relations.” Hank grabbed one of the fishing poles and ran his fingers over the line.
Graham pulled out and tested the weight of a Louisville slugger. “Can I have this?”
“You can have whatever you want.”
Hank opened the tackle box and inspected the contents. Most of the hooks were rusting, but there were a couple of unopened packs of fly fishing lures.
“Are you gonna fortify this attic like we did the old one?”
“It wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
“You locked the hunters in the old attic, right?”
“You think they got out?”
“I’m sure they did. The attic was to keep… people out, not keep people in.”
Graham put his hand on a blanket covering a massive box. He pulled it off with a puff of dust. His eyes went wide. “Dad…?”
Hank heard the concern in his voice. “What’s–” His words caught in his throat when he saw what was under the blanket. It was a large, sturdy cage. It looked like it belonged to a circus. A blanket decorated with little cowboys and Indians lay folded at the bottom. Hank made a noise like all the air was escaping his lungs.
“Dad? You OK?”
Swallowing hard, Hank grabbed the fishing rods and tackle box. “Let’s go–We’ll have to get new lines.”
Hank walked to the attic door. “C’mon.”
“You said I could ask you anything.”
This made him pause. He closed his eyes and held out a hand. “This… this…”
“Was this for you? Did someone actually put you in this?”
Hank swallowed again. “I said… my parents were very confused and scared.”
Before Hank could squeeze out his request, Graham rushed forward and threw his arms around him, hugging him tightly. “I’m sorry, Dad, I had no idea.”
Hank took a deep breath. He looked up at the ceiling to keep tears from falling out of his eyes. When the feeling passed, he kissed his son’s head. “You’ve got nothing to be sorry about.” He patted his back. “C’mon, now. Pass these down to me.”
Although there were several types of fish in the Delaware River, Hank did not expect them to catch any behind the diner, with their legs swinging off the dock that acted as their back porch. Despite some usable equipment in the tackle box, Hank dumped it in the trash can and bought a new one for Graham and Kelsie to share. He taught Graham how to tie a line, bait the hook, and cast.
“So… now we just sit?” Graham asked as his line settled.
“OK…” He sat in silence for a few minutes, then began to fidget. He fidgeted for a few minutes before saying, “So, these hunters…”
“They came because the black wolf was killing cows?”
“That’s what they said.”
Graham fell silent again.
“Why do you ask?”
“Do you think he had a family?”
“The wolf? Daniel Negusset?” Hank pursed his lips. He didn’t want to think about that. “It’s possible.”
“If something were to happen to you, and someone knew, I would want them to find us and tell us.”
“What you’re talking about could be very dangerous.”
“I would have to find out where he was killing the cows and look around. Find out if there are other wolves there. And wolves… well, we’re not all buddies.”
“Do they fight a lot?”
“I wouldn’t say that. Perhaps the same as humans… perhaps a little more.”
“OK?” Hank studied his son, surprised he would give up so easily.
“I don’t want you to go if it’s dangerous.”
Graham reeled in his line and cast it again. Hank did the same. They sat in silence, but the idea ate at him. Hank’s frown deepened.
“You know,” he said eventually, “I don’t think it would be all that dangerous.”
“In fact, I think it’s a great idea.”
“Really. You’re right–if he has people who care for him, they should know.” Hank ruffled his hair. Graham smiled. “That’s really good thinking.”
“Plus,” Graham added, “if those people are wolves… those hunters better watch out.”
Hank laughed. “Let’s hope so.”
Amber’s voice was heavy with sleep. Hank crouched on top of the dresser, strips of moonlight falling across his body through the blinds, striping his bare skin. Amber sat up when she noticed the fur out on his hands and running down his back. It was raised in agitation.
“What’s wrong?” she repeated in a whisper, pulling the sheet up over her chest. “Did they find us?”
“No, but someone did…” Hank raised his head to get a better look at the ground closer to the diner. “I can hear him and smell him, but I can’t see him. You remembered to lock the door, right?”
Doubt gripped her, although she could recall locking it just before they came upstairs. “I think so…”
Hank looked at her out of the corner of his eye, brow raised.
Amber swallowed hard. “Yes,” she said firmly. “What is it? Is it a wolf?”
“Oh my God.”
Graham opened his eyes. The room was dark and completely still. He furrowed his brow, wondering what had yanked him awake. Then he heard it again, a sharp, grating sound, like scraping metal. It stopped, but after a moment started again. It wasn’t rhythmic or regular. It didn’t move, but stayed directly below his window.
Quietly, he slipped out from under his covers and peered out the window over his bed. He couldn’t see whatever was going on below him, just the river and the edge of the dock, but he could hear it. Another noise, softer, barely reached him through the window: a soft growling.
Stepping into his slippers, Graham crossed to his door. He couldn’t hear anything from within the house. He hurried to the top of the stairs leading down into the diner, unlocked the door and cracked it. The sound echoed up to him. Step-by-step, he paused to listen, but the sound still did not move. Crouching on the middle step, he could see the entire diner: the dark counter, booths, stools, all casting eerie shadows from the muted moonlight. A large, dark outline sat just inside the door, so still Graham would have believed it was a statue.
Hank, dog-headed, long-limbed, and covered in fur, sat cross-legged before the door. He turned his head to glance at Graham out of the corner of his eye, lashed his tail like a cat, then turned his attention back out the door.
Graham gasped. Another form, larger and burlier than his father, paced on the other side of the door. It paused to scrape at the doorframe with its claws, whining and growling, begging to be let in. Its fur was so pale, it almost blended into the moonlight cast against the ground.
“Go back to bed,” Hank said. “He won’t come in.”
“Are you sure?” Graham’s voice came out wispy, strangled with fear.
“If he does, he won’t get far.”
As slowly as he descended, Graham retreated back up the stairs, closed the door and locked it back. He went to the kitchen and pulled a cleaver from the block on the counter. Instead of going back to bed, he sat against the wall across from the door with the blade clutched in both his hands.
“Wake up, buddy.”
Graham woke with a grunt. Hank, human once more, ruffled his hair with one hand and confiscated the cleaver with the other.
“Is it gone?” Graham rasped. “The white wolf?”
Hank returned the knife to the kitchen. “No, he’s downstairs.”
“Downstairs?” Graham shot to his feet. The door in front of him gaped wide.
“Eating breakfast.” Hank smirked.
The rich smell of bacon and eggs drifted up the stairs, followed by sizzling and popping. Graham stood in the doorway, listening to the muffled voices below. One was his mother. The other was familiar, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Hank placed a hand on his shoulder and guided him down.
“You’re the white wolf?”
Dr. Haight sat at the counter looking tired and haggard, holding a cup of coffee under his nose. He wore a pair of Hank’s pajama pants and an old robe. Hank patted Graham’s shoulder and returned upstairs.
“Why, good morning to you, too, young Mister… Smith.” Haight eyed his tired eyes and disheveled pajamas. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you. I am not quite… myself… some nights.”
For as long as Graham could remember, Dr. Haight had always been the picture of gentility and manners, soft-spoken and cordial, despite his broad, bear-like figure. He had trouble reconciling this man with the wild thing that had been pacing outside just a few hours ago.
“Morning, sweetie,” Amber chirped to Graham as she emerged from the kitchen. She slid a plate in front of Haight, piled with bacon, sausage, eggs, and toast. She placed another with significantly less food beside it.
“Ah, thank you, dear,” Haight said. His tone was so soft, it made Graham feel ashamed for his aggressive greeting.
Graham nodded and shrugged. “S’ok,” he said in a small voice.
“I hope you won’t mind sitting next to me.” Haight patted the stool by his side. A folded newspaper lay on the counter. He pushed it out of the way and slid the second plate in place. Graham sat and forced himself to relax.
“How long have you been a wolf?”
Haight paused with a piece of bacon almost to his mouth. He closed his eyes. “Longer than I can remember,” he said after a moment. “I may have been born this way, or infected when I was very young. Unlike your father, I don’t recall any specific event associated with my infection.”
“Why aren’t you a wolf right now, like Dad is still a man?”
Haight popped the bacon into his mouth and wiped his hands on a napkin. “Fortunately–or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it–I need only change at night, during the full moon, of course.”
“Can you change any time you want, though?”
Haight’s brow furrowed. He shook his head. “Not always. When one wolf or another can and cannot change has always been a mystery to me, a point of great curiosity.”
Hank returned to the diner, with Kelsie in tow. As soon as she noticed they had company, she wrapped her robe tighter.
“Dr. Haight!” She greeted him, hugging him from behind.
“Did you know he’s a werewolf, too?” Graham asked.
Kelsie’s eyes went wide. Her head moved in a circular motion as she absorbed this. “Of course he is,” she murmured, taking the seat next to her brother.
“So, how did you meet Dad?” Graham asked.
Haight’s eyes flickered to Amber, then Hank, and back to his food. Hank coughed, taking the seat on Haight’s other side.
“Graham, let him eat!” Amber placed a plate down for Kelsie and another for Hank. “He’s had a long journey.”
Graham never got the answer to his question. As Haight was nearing the last of his breakfast, he and Amber discussed selling their old house. Kelsie asked about their former neighbors until Hank tugged at Haight’s sleeve and nodded for him to follow outside. They stood on the dock with their backs to the diner as they spoke. Sighing, Graham pushed his empty plate away and picked up the newspaper. He was surprised to find it was from their old town. He unfolded it and scanned the headlines.
“Whassat?” Kelsie asked, mouth full of toast.
“Newspaper from home.”
“I mean…” She reached across him to point at a small picture of a man’s face. “What’s that?”
Graham blinked at the man. It was one of the hunters. Next to his pictures, the headline read: Texas man found dead in woods.
Graham found the article and roved over his. His brow furrowed and furrowed deeper as he re-read: Although there were signs of mauling, the remains had not been eaten by the alleged animal that had killed him or any scavengers. Cause of death appears to be a broken neck.
Heat rose in Graham’s face.
“What’s it say?” Kelsie hissed.
Graham waited for their mother to take their plates and return to the kitchen before answering, “He’s dead.”
“That’s good, right?”
He smacked the paper down. “It means Dad lied to me… again.”
The bell over the door jingled as Hank and Haight returned. Hank met his son’s hard gaze.
Too angry to reply, Graham spun his stool away, slipped off, and stormed upstairs. Amber emerged in time to hear the door slam.
“What was that all about?” Hank walked toward the stairs. Kelsie raised her eyebrows and handed him the newspaper. He glanced at Haight, then skimmed the headlines. “Oooohhh…” he sighed.
Hank read the article, then slapped the paper down. Amber glanced over it and looked up at Hank. “Want me to talk to him?” she asked.
Hank shook his head. “No, let’s give him a minute.”
Kelsie slid the newspaper toward her, but Amber swept it away. “I think this has caused enough trouble for now.” She handed the newspaper back to Haight, who rolled it up tightly.
“I will… tuck this away.” Haight slipped it into his pocket and walked back outside.
Pursing her lips, Kelsie turned to her father. “Did you really kill someone, Daddy?”
Hank looked down and nodded. He kicked at an imaginary scuff on the linoleum. “It’s not like I can lie about it now…” He looked her in the face and shrugged. “I’m not proud of it. They were there to kill me. He threatened your mother.”
“But you didn’t have to lie. He would understand.”
“I’ll keep that in mind next time I do something unforgivable when I’m scared or angry,” Hank grumbled.
Kelsie scowled and shook her head. “He wouldn’t be so angry if you had just told him the truth earlier.”
“Are you angry at me too, now?” He spread his arms, inviting her attack.
She eyed him and shook her head. “No, Daddy, I love you.” Sliding off her stool, she hugged him tightly.
Graham did not emerge from his room for the remainder of the day. When Hank knocked at the door and called his name, Graham did not reply. Leaning against the door, Hank listened carefully. An occasional sniffle and the rancid smell of anger were the only clues the room was occupied.
Kelsie acted as her brother’s liaison, bringing him lunch. She relayed what Hank had told her about lying because he was ashamed. Graham grunted noncommittally, arms wrapped tightly around his knees.
Apologetic, Haight made himself scarce with the intention of returning after the Noels’ house sold.
“If anyone asks,” Amber said in a low voice, “tell them my mother fell ill, and we had to move to be closer to her.”
Haight chewed on this for a moment. “Where does your mother really live?”
“Wisconsin,” she replied. “And she’s been dead for years.”
Haight’s chuckle sounded like sandpaper on wood. He patted her hand and took his leave, not wanting to get caught near civilization after night fell.
Hank grew anxious as the sun sank in the sky. He went for a walk down Main with Kelsie and bought her ice cream. He felt very fatherly when some boys whistled at her and he glared at them as they passed. Although he did his best to be present for her, Graham was always present in the back of his mind.
Hank turned. He realized she had called him a few times, and he had been hearing her without hearing.
“I’m sorry. Do you think we should take some home, for your mother? And Graham?”
“It’ll melt by the time we get there.”
He looked to the sky, where the moon hung fat. He had always loved it the first night he could see it with human eyes, but as it waned, he grew to feel it was taunting him. Tonight it was especially bad.
“It’ll be fine, Dad,” Kelsie said. She grabbed his arm and headed toward the house. Hank forced himself to walk slowly, eat his ice cream slowly, to savor this moment. “He’s been angry before.”
“Yeah, but not like this.”
“No, this time you really screwed up.”
“But he always comes around before you have to go, and if he doesn’t, he’ll regret it, and everything will be fine next month.”
“Next month…” He shook his head, recalling Graham’s request that he find Daniel Negusset’s family. He had a dangerous job to do before he came back, starting bright and early tomorrow morning. “What if I don’t come back next month?” he asked softly.
Kelsie’s grip on his arm tightened. “Daddy, don’t say things like that.” She fell quiet and ducked her head toward her ice cream, but didn’t eat any. She tossed her cone in a trashcan as they passed and clutched him with both arms, sniffling softly.
“Oh, honey, I’m sorry.” He pulled his arm free and wrapped it around her, hugging her close. “I’m just… a lot has happened these past few months. I worry about you, your mother, your brother.”
“Then don’t go. You can stay here, close by.” She pulled free and stepped in front of him. “You know, I don’t think we would even care. In fact, I know we don’t care. We love you the way you are, Dad. You don’t need a cure.” Tears welled up in her eyes, and her lip trembled.
“Oh, Kel…” He wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly.
“If Graham doesn’t come out, you can’t go. You can’t leave until he comes out, OK?”
“Sweetie, it doesn’t work that way. It’s dangerous for me to stay here. It’s dangerous for you.” He pulled away and wiped her face. “Besides, I told Graham I would do something for him, and I intend to do it.”
“If the black wolf had a family, I’m going to find them and tell them what happened.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?”
“It could be.”
Kelsie stomped her foot and started crying again.
“No, no, look at me.” He took her face in his hands. “Look, I’ll come back, I promise.”
“What if you don’t?”
Hank opened his mouth to speak, but no words would come.
“Then you lied to me and Graham.”
“Now, that’s not fair.”
“Fair? None of this is fair! You don’t have to go; If you stayed, Graham would forgive you for not going on some wild goose chase and getting yourself killed! And who’s gonna come tell us about you? Huh? No one! You’re… you’re going to die alone, and we’ll never know how or why, but you had to leave!”
She shook her head and pulled away. Shoulders shaking, she jogged back toward the diner. As soon as she was out of earshot, Hank swore and trudged after her.
Kelsie forgave him the moment he stepped into the apartment, throwing her arms around him and crying into his shoulder. Hank hoped Graham would be half so forgiving, but when he wrapped on his door, there was still no reply. Soft, regular snoring met him when he put his ear to the door. Running a hand over his face, Hank went to tuck his daughter into bed as if she were a still a child.
“Do you want us to wake you up in the morning, so you can come with us?” he asked.
“I’ll wake Graham up, too.”
Hank nodded and kissed her forehead. As soon as he turned off the light and closed the door, Amber took his hand and pulled him close. Her face smelled of salt. Her lips tasted of it.
“Not you too…” he murmured around her lips.
“Oh, no, I thought you thought tears were sexy, so I made sure to cry it up while you were gone.”
“You like goose, don’t you?”
“I love it,” he said, closing their bedroom door. “I can’t get enough of it.”
Graham did not come around. He wouldn’t even open the door. As Hank walked in the dark of the morning with two crying women, he could not help but feel he was leading the procession for his own funeral.