I had to go to the dentist today.
I told him, when he asked, that I had chipped my tooth in a barroom brawl. He laughed at that, a broad, patronising laugh that started as an ominous rumble deep in his belly and rose through his chest and throat to erupt from between his lips like a slow flow of lava from one of those Hawaiian volcanoes. So I grinned sheepishly and admitted–altogether untruthfully–that I had chewed too hard on a mouthful of granola. I guess that explanation was more in keeping with my outward appearance; he accepted it, wiped tears of mirth off his face, and got to work.
He had to file quite a bit of tooth away and when he had finished, it was sharp and pointed as an animal’s fang. He told me I had better keep my mouth closed when I smiled, lest people take me for a vampire.
It was my turn to laugh then, so hard that my pen skittered across the cheque I was writing and I had to tear it up and start over. He could have been farther from the truth. But not much.
Outside, it is a crisp, autumn Saturday smelling of damp leaves and earth and last night’s woodsmoke as only autumn days do: a perfect day for pulling on sweaters and scarves, gathering up your buddies and a gallon of hard cider, and yelling yourself hoarse at the college football game. If you’re into that kind of thing. I’m not.
On the way home from the dentist I stop at Safeway for toothpaste and toilet paper and all those little things that always manage to run out at the same time when you’d much rather be spending your money on something else. Safeway is all decorated in black and orange crepe; last month’s Back-to-School display has been replaced by racks of fake blood, plastic teeth, fright wigs, and neon face paint (safer than masks; won’t obstruct vision!). Hag masks and pointed “witch” hats consort with inflatable skeletons. Plush spiders and rubber bats dangle from the ceiling. The spiders are so cute I want to buy one, but I don’t have enough money.
I think about how Hallowe’en used to be a religious festival celebrating the cycles of life, death, and rebirth. I think how once at that time the door between the worlds stood wide open; anything could and did pass right through. Now taunting children dress up as cartoon and movie characters, and ghouls in which no one believes, and don’t understand that we placate them with Snickers’ bars and popcorn balls as we once placated the restless dead with cakes and wine left in rings of stone.
But the world is smaller and safer now, the nights not so dark when lit with halogen bulbs. And were I to say: “There are things under the moon and turning with its tides of which you are not aware…” Well, at best people would laugh, like my denstist. “You’re a scream!” they’d cry, dabbing their eyes with designer facial tissue.
A scream? I suppose that is not so inaccurate, at that.
Perhaps my words are bitter, but my judgement is far from uninformed. I have tried, in the past, to be honest. When I lived in New York City, working in that big occult store in Chelsea, I was quite open indeed. Oh, I was naive then. I should have known that most customers would see my silver hair and yellow eyes in the context of St. Mark’s Place’s blue-coiffed leather-wearers and lump me with the children who party in graveyards, believing they worship the non-existant Satan, or with the man who wore Egyptian robes and carried a gigantic copper ankh everywhere he went.
That’s why I came west, in a way. The big city engulfs one so. But here I find my neighbours too caught up in the evils of ozone deterioration and nuclear weapons to see the evil living next door.
Not, mind you, that I think political activism a bad thing. Quite the contrary. I myself have protested at Rocky Flats and the Nevada Test Site; I don’t use styrofoam cups or aerosol sprays or pesticides against the aphids in my rose garden. I boycott grapes and Campbell’s products. I don’t eat meat–at least, not the variety bought in stores.
It’s just so demoralising, though, knowing that I have less place in people’s daily dinner table conversations than some movie star’s cocaine habit or a basketball player’s battle with AIDS. Sometimes, I long for the old days: days I never saw, when monsters lurked in the dark, when garlic garlanded isolated houses and hexagrams were painted over barn doors.
I leave my groceries at home and head downtown to play pinball. As I pass the neighbours’ fenced-in yard, their dogs start to howl and run in circles, tails between their legs.
At the Palace, Black Knight 2000 is still broken. I am disappointed; Black Knight is the best pinball machine in town, well worth two tokens a game. I play a game of Taxi instead. I do very poorly. Night is hours away, moonrise farther still, but my human reflexes are as slow and clumsy as though I already were under its influence. My hands feel like stubby-toed paws. My eyesight has dimmed, while my hearing has become so acute that the arcade’s symphony of electronic shouts and bells splits my skull like a dull axe. I long for the silence of wild places bathed in cold moonlight, the only silver I can ever touch. I long for the whisper of pine needles stirred by a gentle breeze, the rustle of small creatures scampering through the undergrowth, the lumbering tread of bears, the haunting voices of my brothers and sisters joined in their sweet nocturnal serenade.
I do somewhat better at Junior Pac-Man.
I find ways to waste the hours until dark. I go to the library, where I am frustrated by my inability to comprehend their computerized card catalogue. I walk by the creek. A bunch of street people gathered around one of the picnic tables in the park try to get my attention, shouting:
“Hey Miss! Hey, Miss! Hey, you with the hair!”
I ignore them to the best of my ability, even after their shouts become curses.
A Golden Retriever splashes out of the creek and bounds towards me, leg and tail feathers heavy with water. She stops and shakes herself, scattering droplets like gold rain, then bounds onward. A few paces from me she stops; stiff-legged, she takes another step, growling, her muzzle raised to taste the wind.
She spins and bolts away, yipping.
In Central Park–a tiny, western parody of the east’s like-named expanse–two small girls in thin fall parkas peer into a green vent in the ground, fascinated by the voices and birdsong pouring from it as part of an avant-garde art exhibit. “Hello, down there!” they call, while their mother stands behind with a stroller, laughing conspiratorily with passers-by.
My ears prick towards the sounds. Suddenly I am on my hands and knees between the girls, snuffling at the air vent as a dog sticks his nose into a grocery bag where the odour of steak lingers, looking for food. I am puzzled by these noises! I can neither see nor scent birds nor people beneath the ground, yet there are these sounds! A low growl begins deep in my throat.
The mother darts towards the girls, grabbing them away from me. I sit back on my heels, gazing ather bewildered. Then I realise what I am doing. I pick myself up off the ground and, brushing the grass from my knees, walk off with as much dignity as I can muster.
It is almost sunset.
I go to a bar on Pearl Street next door to the arcade, where I order tonic water with lime and watch two men shoot pool. The man playing stripes keeps looking at me. He is wearing good boots, so I look back, but I am not thinking of him. I am thinking of the cool silver that will touch me soon, and of how I will change and change. I am thinking of how my hair will grow coarser and more matted, how my jaws will become stronger and my teeth sharper, how my body will become more sleekly powerful and steamlined. I am thinking of torn limbs and gaping bellies spewing out exquisite entrails like ropes of jewels. I am thinking of ravening jaws closing on soft throats so that the blood–oh, the hot blood –gushes out as though from an obscene fountain. Overcome, I close my eyes, moaning softly like a woman in the throes of an erotic phantasy.
When I come to myself, the man with the boots has taken a seat beside me. His pool cue is leaning on the bar like an ancient warrior’s triumphant spear. I wonder if he sees himself that way: Agamemnon of the billiard table, come to claim his prize. I remember what happened to Agamemnon and smile to myself.
He is drinking Jack Daniels straight up with a Coors chaser. The smell nauseates me. He tells the bartender to bring another of whatever I am drinking. I haven’t finished my first, but I don’t protest.
He is a big man. Even sitting, I can see he is much taller and heavier than me, and I am not a small woman. He has dark eyes and dark hair that curls over a neck that looks as white and soft as a baby’s. He reeks of sweat and flesh and tobacco.
He has large muscles that ripple under his sleeveless t-shirt like fish passing close to a lake’s surface. He seems proud of them, so I admire them. He tells me he works out every day and never takes steroids–not even the “natural” ones. He tells me how much he can bench press, like a child showing off a new toy.
If I were human, I might feel sorry for him. But I am less human every minute.
After he finishes his beer, he asks me if I’d like to go for a drive. I smile, carefully hiding my freshly filed tooth. I ask him to take me up into the mountains, to watch the moon rise.
He drives his jeep too fast on the winding mountain road, but I am past worrying about that. I hang my head out of the window and let the breeze caress my face. The air carries the clean scents of pine and dew, the musk of deer darting away from the jeep’s headlights. Wild smells. My tongue lolls out of my mouth, drinking in the night. The man tells me I look like an old hound dog.
He pulls the jeep off the road and we get out. I see a rabbit run off into the trees; I chase after it. Then I remember not to frighten my quarry. I sit down and wait for him.
It takes him a minute to find me in the gathering dark. He has brought a blanket from the jeep. He spreads it over the carpet of last year’s pine needles before sitting next to me.
He tells me the mountains are beautiful at night, but I am more beautiful still. The line comes too easily to his voice, as though he has repeated it every night for years and years.
I am thinking of the Scots faeries who look like beautiful women from the front, but behind are all hollow, like the empty bark of old rotten trees.
He reaches for me just as the first moonbeam kisses the forest floor. I stiffen in its silver embrace, barely aware of the human arm around me, of the human hand sliding over my bare shoulder.
Suddenly he pulls sharply away from me, making some crack about women who don’t shave their body hair and cursing the lack of light in the bar. Then he looks at me more closely. A strange, choking gurgle–hardly a human sound at all–comes out of his throat…his soft throat…
I used to worry about people’s witnessing the change. It’s the most vulnerable time for me; while my limbs are reforming, while my face lengthens and narrows, while I am tangled in the mass of my human clothing, I am defenceless.
But most people are much too shocked to take advantage of the situation. He is no different.
At last the agony of the change is over. I struggle out of my useless garments (glad I remembered to wear something easily disposed of in my altered state) and sniff at them disinterestedly. A whimper behind me distracts me: my quarry, backed against the boll of a tall pine tree. His teeth chatter more loudly than cicadas’ wings.
I sit down, not too close, not too far away, my yellow eyes unblinking. The smell of his fear envelopes me, thick and tantalising. My haunches twitch with eagerness. It is hard to be patient, but if I leap at him now it will be too easy and the chase too soon over. I force myself to wait.
He swallows nervously, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down like a cork on a fishing line. Slowly, he stretches his hand towards me, as is wise with a strange dog, to let me get his scent. As if I can’t smell him from where I am! I take a few slow steps forward. He is trembling all over, like a rabbit. His eyes are big and fightened like a rabbit’s, also.
I gaze calmly up at him and he seems to relax. Then I bite his hand off at the wrist. Then he screams. Then he runs.
He wants to get back to the jeep, but I lope around him, herding him away from that safety. Such a noise he makes, crashing about in the dark! and how easy it is to frighten him, circling around to appear directly in his path. He is babbling and drooling as if from idiocy or senility, and his eyes roll up in his head, blinding him more than the night.
He trips over a root and falls full length to the ground, screaming with pain as his wrist stump hits the earth. He hauls himself to his feet, stumbles again, keeps running, cradling his bloody wrist in his good hand.
I am growing bored with the chase. I thought such a big man would put up more of a fight. At least this one won’t break any of my teeth.
I circle him again, bursting from the trees a scant few paces ahead of him. He staggers backwards, uttering a strangled cry, his arms spread in front of him like a shield or magick talisman. Maddened by the scent of his blood, I spring, knocking him to the ground. We roll over and over, locked together like lovers inflamed by desire under the full moon. Then my jaws close on his throat, cutting his scream off at its source. His flesh is just as soft as I had imagined.
I pull away from him, ripping open his tender stomach to feast on his liver, his intestines. In his chest cavity, the heart is still beating.
After a moment, I lift my bloody muzzle to the sky and howl my hymn to the kill.
When I get home, I am very tired. There is a commercial on the television about businessmen who turn into werewolves without their morning coffee. Their makeup is very bad.
I go outside to retrieve my Sunday paper and to watch the sun rise. When it is over, I will take a very hot shower.
Then I will sleep.