The backyard dogs were staying quieter these days, the late hour barking becoming a thing of the past. The smart ones huddled where they could, beneath porch or bushes, or, if lucky enough to have one, holed up in their hound houses. They caught on quickly. They knew that something hunted them. Them, not their owners. Their stupid, oblivious owners.
First to go was Pickles. A well-mannered basset hound who, nonetheless, brought it upon herself, what with the sniffing and digging and the yelping. The yelping. And then the quiet. Next was Coffee, and then Happy, and, in the shadows of the same night, Wilford.
Max, Lady, Speckles, Hammy, and Rocket. Oh, Rocket, tiny Rocket. Rocket who put up a good fight despite his diminutive size. He almost snapped out one of his predator’s eyes before he went down. But he didn’t get that eye and down he went. They all did. Good boys and girls, they all went the way of the gullet.
As the dogs were growing wise and harder to procure, the next meal was a cat. A beloved calico, some fifteen years in age, grey whiskers, short a few teeth, but still pretty as a picture as cats go, even after having seen so many moons. Her name was Juniper. She was swallowed whole. A mere morsel.
And that’s how it came to pass—in those last lingering days of fall in Minnowauk—where the village that had for many years been so quiet, became even more so. No more canine yapping and barking after dark. No more felines caterwauling on the make and prowl in the wee hours. The few of the four legged who were still with this world had learned to keep their breath by staying quiet, hunkered down, low, and hidden.
Meanwhile, inside their homes, their masters of domestication remained for the most part snug and dumb. A scarce few, mostly the solitary and night owls and busy bodies, they noted the newfound night quiet. But of that small lot, they only made their way with a mutter or shrug, or drunken curse cast off into the darkness.
And so, forever famished and with no easy meals left to be had, the thing that came at night, it came calling upon them next.
Rabbits, Carl Petnoy’s mother had explained to him when he was a towhead boy of oft-time skint knee, have, since the first of their kin, been driven mad by the moon. This lunacy was brought on in part by the moon’s abundant light. Light which made sneaking out from their warrens to nibble midnight snacks of dew sweet clover—or more importantly, mate—quite dangerous. This is why, at night, in a garden, you might see a rabbit on its hinds, reaching out as if to grasp the moon. They think it an egg to be plucked from the night sky and snuck back under the farmer’s hen, allowing their mischievous business to resume.
No animal is a fool, and certainly not rabbits, but this was a curse—to think the moon an egg—put upon them by the very first witch. Aracha was her name. And hers was a curse bestowed upon all rabbits after their king had been caught teasing the old hag’s familiar, the wolf.
The bedeviled, earth-snared hares could never steal the moon—no matter how desperately they tried, of course—and so many a moon bright night would find the normally wary and wily creatures witless and caught unawares, dancing circles on their hinds, fore-paws scrambling in vain to snatch the egg moon down from her high station in the firmament. This, Carl’s mother had explained most matter-of-factly, was also why wolves, foxes, coyotes, stoats and all other manner of vulpine and canine and slinking things of pointed tooth, did especially love the full moon and so sang their howls, yips, and bays in praise and thanks to it.
In all his eighty-seven years under Heaven and upon Earth, Carl Petnoy had been an honest man. Honest and true even with himself, all the while and when too many were not. And that is saying something. Nonetheless, even if put under Saint Peter’s stern interrogation as to the how, the why, or the “were” of his affliction, Carl couldn’t have confessed. Try as he might, the old boy recalled no transgressions against witches, gypsies, or soothsayers. And he’d traversed neither bogs nor touched moss of any fog-covered highlands, other than, that is, having dozed off beneath the pages of his National Geographic from the safety of his recliner.
Just the same, little could be denied. Facts in hand, the mystery hardly required the detective work of some great sleuth such as Columbo—Carl’s favorite—or Hercule Poirot. Circumstantial as it was, gathered in such abundance all about him, the evidence was damning.
“Damning, damning, damned evidence.”
The torn clothes. The shattered dentures that looked like so much shrapnel strewn about the bath. Ubiquitous tufts of dark, lustrous shed hair. At first, all was most curious and only provided something to mull over. A vexing Sunday crossword clue. Carl made excuses and explanations. Some mysteries, he deduced in frustration, need no solving. In a way, he was right. In the end, there was no mystery. There was simply the chewed bundle of dog and cat collars under his bed, where Carl found himself one cold morning naked as the day he’d been born, fetal curled about half a bloody raccoon carcass nestled to his breast.
At the ripe old age of eighty-seven, toothless, half-blind, balding and kind-hearted, Carl Petnoy knew he was a werewolf.
MORE TO COME