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Excerpt: 'The Wolfman'

Bill Parker disappeared into the woods. Branches beat against him like skinny arms, clawing at his skin, his clothes, and not far behind, he could hear those same branches twist, crack, and give way for the creature that pursued him. He could hear its howls reverberate off the trees, off the bones in his ears. He could hear them echo across the night like battle horns. His speed was gone, and all the strength he had was left as a trail of crimson drips behind him.

The salt in his sweat made him squint, and before long he could hardly see where he was going, but it was too dark for it to matter that much. He felt the ground shift beneath him, and he realized he was starting to head down a long slope, so he sped up and let gravity do some of the work his legs could hardly handle. Wind licked his face, and he smiled. He wasn't sure why.

His ankle got caught in a web of crooked vines growing up the side of an oak tree. He fell face first in the black and moistened soil, and rolled the rest of the way down the slope. When his back finally came to rest on flat land, he realized that his body hadn't registered the pain. He didn't feel the throbbing in his arm anymore, and he didn't even feel the slightest ache from falling so hard.

He knew then that he was dying.

He turned over and dragged himself over to the base of a very tall pine tree. In the darkness, he couldn't even see the top of it. In a matter of time, he thought, he might be able to climb that tree to heaven. He scooched himself till his back was against the tree, and then he waited. There was nothing else to do.

In the dark, he heard it coming. He knew it was over. Just as night turns to day, I know that he knew there could be only one exit from those woods, and that was in a bag, if he was lucky. In his head, he asked God why such a fate would befall him. He knew why, deep down, and I truly believe that's why he began to cry.

The beast's job was easy. The gunshot wounds it had sustained were already a distant memory, the entry points the bullets had punctured into its hide were at this point nothing more than pinpricks on its surface. All it had to do to track Bill Parker on his last, pathetic run was breathe. The scent of the dying man was like a guiding light in the dark.

It came to him, approaching slowly, toying with the man or just observing, I'm not sure which. Even after all these years, I'm not sure how that thing feels about anything, or if after so many years of being around the human race, it's come to perhaps mimic some of our little behavioral traits. That's something for me to think on the next time I have nothing else to do.

The beast circled around him, around the tree, growling. Bill Parker shifted in the dirt, and murmured prayers he hadn't thought about in years in a high pitched squeal under his breath. He got most of the words right. The beast came back around and paced before him like a man not sure what to do. The beast swiveled its shoulders as if loosening a knot, then it crouched down and brought its face up close to Bill's, sucked in the fear that leaked from the man's pores like vapor. Bill thought the thing smelled like a wet dog. The beast thought Bill smelled like barbeque.

Bill Parker tried to talk. I wonder what it is he would've said if he'd have been able to get the words out. Would he have asked what it was, or why it was, or who it was? Would he have asked if he was going to hell? Would he have asked for forgiveness, or would he have launched off a final round of expletives like all the tough guys in the movies do?

The beast watched Bill struggle for a moment, at first with a curious air, then with something that could've passed for amusement. It smiled the most horrible smile that Bill Parker could ever have imagined. Drool dripped from its fangs, and a blast of stinking air rushed up from the beast's chest and hit Bill in the face like fumes.

Bill raised his one good arm, but before he could level the gun at his target, the beast grabbed him by his wrists with its two big, hairy hands and sank its teeth into the soft meat of Bill's neck. A blood-arch pissed itself from the wound like a stream, and before the blood hit the ground, Bill Parker was dead and gone.

The beast drew back and tore a chunk of flesh away from the throat. It chewed, swallowed, and roared. Then it went back for seconds.

In the night, the life that inhabited those woods kept its distance and left that unnatural creature to its own devices. Its only company was the wind, carrying a trace of every single body in the world, and death. The moon watched like a quiet God, a beacon, a partner. But make no mistakes. I was the wolf's keeper, its warden, and I called the shots.

The name I was born with was Marlowe Higgins. Due to some rather extraordinary life circumstances I haven't always gone by that name, but I'm going to tell you a story so I suppose I ought as well give you some facts to work with.

I'm a white male with long, brown hair and a mustache that just won't quit. I have a little scar under my right eye left over from a childhood injury that came about during a rather heated game of wiffle ball. If not for that mark, I could have been anybody, anywhere, but still, I had little trouble making anonymity my greatest ally.

Where I'm from doesn't matter, because it could have been right in your own home town or a thousand miles away from you, and whether or not I got laid on prom night doesn't have a whole hell of a lot to do with anything either. There's only so much you need to know and even less I care to talk about, but the one thing that should be said, I suppose, is that I'm a werewolf, and I have been for the better part of my life.

What I'm about to tell you happened back in the spring of 1993. Sit back, and let the pain and the suffering begin. It seems to be what I'm good at.

Excerpted from The Wolfman by Nicholas Pekearo. Copyright © 2008 Estate of Nicholas Pekearo. Reprinted with permission from Tom Doherty Associates, LLC. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nicholas Pekearo
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