THIRTEEN HAUNTS OF HALLOWEEN
werewolf: in European folklore, a man who turns into a wolf at night and devours animals, people, or corpses but returns to human form by day. Some werewolves change shape at will; others, in whom the condition is hereditary or acquired by having been bitten by a werewolf, change shape involuntarily, under the influence of a full moon. If he is wounded in wolf form, the wounds will show in his human form and may lead to his detection.
The shatter of broken glass and the spill of something through the space leaves behind. That same something skids across the floor and bang! crash! knocks into what could be a bookcase or could be a coffee table or could, perhaps, be both. There is a groan amidst the falling and the thudding and the breaking sounds that float up the empty stairwell.
These are the sounds that shock Elizabeth from sleep.
She bolts upright in her bed. In the dark, an unsettling silence swells in the cabin. It rings against the walls, broken only by the scuffling of feet against a wooden floor. And then, a voice -
Elizabeth swings her legs over the side of the bed.
She stands, grabbing a cardigan off the post of the bed.
Elizabeth wraps the cardigan around herself and pads into the hall. One hand pressed to the wall guides her into the yawning expanse of the living room. At first all seems normal, save for the shards of glass sparkling across the floor. Then the shadows begin to pull together to form more solid shapes: an end table, knocked slightly out of place; a quilt on the floor, fallen off an arm chair; the couch, overstuffed and layered with afghans; the figure on the couch, which stands when it sees Elizabeth shuffle into the room.
“Emmy?” Elizabeth says. “What the hell?”
“I’m sorry,” Emmy says. She stands somewhat stooped, one arm cradled against her chest like a broken wing. In the silver moonlight spilling in from the broken window Elizabeth can see sweat gleaming on her forehead. Her hair is wild and tufts of pine needles shake free when she moves. “I didn’t know where else to go. I-I’ll fix the window, I just- I didn’t know what to do.”
“Slow down,” Elizabeth says. “Don’t worry about the window.”
Elizabeth looks outside, through the jagged opening in the living room window, but there is nothing but dark woods and a chorus of crickets. Somewhere high in the trees a branch shakes and an owl flutters into the sky.
“What’s going on?” Elizabeth asks. “Are you hurt?”
“It’s-” starts Emmy, and then she says, “I’m-” and stops again.
“Let me see.” Elizabeth holds out her hand. Emmy looks at it, bright eyes glistening in the dark. She worries at her bottom lip, sighs heavily, then reluctantly unfolds her arm. It is all Elizabeth can do not to cringe when she sees it - Emmy’s sleeve torn off and her skin folded open, cuts so deep Elizabeth thinks she can see bone under all the pulled threads of the muscles and blood, some thick and crusted, the rest bright red and pouring out in gushes. “Shit,” Elizabeth says. She reaches for Emmy’s arm, gingerly lights her fingers around the open tears of skin. “Shit.”
“I know,” says Emmy.
“How did this happen?” Elizabeth asks.
“How long ago?”
“Let’s get this cleaned up.”
Emmy stays with Elizabeth. At first it is just for the night, but one night quickly turns into two and then three and then a week of nights all strung together and tied off with cups of coffee and kettles full of tea and big, chalky pills of maybe-expired antibiotics that Elizabeth gives Emmy in a weak attempt to ward off infections in her split-open skin.
Everyday, Elizabeth putters downhill to the campsite in a bulky, outdated four-wheeler that wheezes on the gas but gets the job done. There she checks in guests, cleans up after they leave, chops firewood and cleans ash from used pits.
Emmy, to earn her keep, putters around the cabin in her absence. She tidies their shared spaces and washes mugs and dishes left from the night before. A few times she’s started the backyard grill and cooked them both dinner. Elizabeth tells her not to, but Emmy insists. Her arm has healed quickly, anyway, and she doesn’t want to crash without doing her part.
A month passes in this fashion. Elizabeth leaves in the morning, Emmy cares for the cabin, and the two share dinner and mugs of coffee and tea and, a few times, after Elizabeth had gotten a thank-you gift of cocoa powder from a family of campers, hot chocolate doused with vodka Elizabeth had forgotten she’d stashed away last season. The moon wanes, and waxes again.
“Are you alright?” Elizabeth asks when Emmy hisses suddenly one morning. She nearly drops her breakfast plate on her way to the sink, and when she slides it on the counter she grabs at her injured arm.
The cuts have sewn themselves into thick scars, an angry red despite Elizabeth’s best efforts to clean and dress and keep them from infection. Emmy forces a laugh.
“I forget it’s there sometimes,” she says. If Elizabeth knows it’s an excuse, she doesn’t let on. She simply scoops up Emmy’s plate and dumps it with her own into the sink.
“Take it easy today, okay?” she says. “I’ll try to get back early.”
“Sure,” Emmy says.
“Emmy,” Elizabeth says seriously.
“Take it easy,” Emmy says, looking Elizabeth square in the eye. “I got it, Liz. Go.”
Elizabeth lingers, but eventually concedes by grabbing her quad keys and heading out the door.
And for her part, in Elizabeth’s absence, Emmy did take it easy. She spent more time on the couch than she had since that first night, when she’d crash-landed through Elizabeth’s window and tumbled and stumbled into her quiet living room. The window was still boarded up, repairs on hold until Elizabeth’s handyman (who was a handywoman, Emmy learned, named Paula, who was on vacation visiting her grandchildren somewhere even colder than the hills of the Catskills.
She had finally had enough of sitting around when the sun went down, however. Emmy perched herself on a step stool perched on top of a kitchen chair so that, should Elizabeth come home early as promised, she could say that she was technically sitting and therefore technically still taking it easy even as she washed the morning dishes and last night’s vodka-rimmed coffee mugs. It is a perfectly sound solution, Emmy thinks, that works perfectly well until the moon starts to raise its weary head.
That’s when the pain comes back.
It crawls beneath Emmy’s skin, first just by her scars, and then all through to prick pins-and-needles from the insides of her fingertips. Her wounds split back open, a slow tear at first, but then the skin peels back and Emmy drops the mug she’s washing -
She screams - collapses to the floor, the step stool teetering to fall after her.
The moon, silver and round, is high when Elizabeth returns home. The cabin is quiet.
She takes this as a good sign at first, thinking that Emmy had heeded her advice after all. Elizabeth takes the front steps two at a time and lets herself inside the tiny wooden shack. It is dark inside, too. “Emmy?” Elizabeth calls, but there’s no answer. “Em?”
Elizabeth sheds her coat and drapes it over the arm of the couch. The cushions, she finds, are indented but empty - used, but now vacant. There is ragged breathing coming from the next room. Her heart quickens and worry and fear fight for dominance in her tightening throat.
She finds a shadow in the kitchen, curled up on the floor, and she turns on the light -
But Emmy isn’t there. Or she is, but not the way Elizabeth had left her, because instead of the slight and slender Emily Coster who had taken up residence in Elizabeth’s home and spent her days sweeping and scrubbing and doing dishes, there was something larger heaped on the tiles of Elizabeth’s kitchen floor. Large, and furry.
One pointed ear swivels when Elizabeth takes a step. When a gasp catches in her throat, a great big paw claws at the floor.
The creature launches itself upright and turns on Elizabeth. She scrambles backwards, struggles to stay upright. There’s no blood anywhere on it, she finds. Nothing around the mouth or on the snarling teeth. Not yet.
Elizabeth whirls around and races through the main room of the house. The animal, the wolf she thinks, barrels after her on all fours. She can hear its claws cutting jagged grooves in the floor. It grabs for her, and she clips her chin on an end table when it drags her backwards. Elizabeth tastes blood. She kicks and kicks with all her might until her heel catches the wolf’s snout and it lets her go.
Elizabeth scrambles to her feet, then yelps. Her ankle is sliced to ribbons.
Grinding her teeth against the pain, Elizabeth forces herself to her feet. She grabs the bookshelf squatting next to the door and throws it down, spilling paperbacks and old flashlights and the glass bowl filled with spare change across the threshold. This buys her time to get outside. She heaves herself onto her ATV, reaches for her keys -
Her keys. Her keys are in her jacket pocket. She left her jacket in the house.
The wolf is climbing over the mess Elizabeth made to distract it. It’s on the front porch. It’s shaking off its snout, perhaps sore from where she had kicked it, but she knows she hasn’t bought herself nearly enough time. She can’t get back inside - not that way.
Elizabeth hurls herself over the side of the quad. She lands hard, but swallows the pain. She steels herself with one deep breath and then she bolts.
She races to the back of the cabin, out in the yard where her barbecue sits with a pile of coals beside it and her fire pit waits with last night’s ashes still huddled inside. She pushes at the coals as she passes them - another obstacle - and carries on past her clothesline, a sheet billowing in the slight evening breeze. She can see it in her mind, flashing on the backs of her eyelids with every tear-filled blink: her axe, waiting by a pile of waiting logs, ready to work.
The wolf howls behind her, and in the distance, another answers its call.
“Fuck,” Elizabeth swears. She doesn’t dare turn around. She can hear the wolf getting closer, its paws pounding against the beaten Earth, and she can feel its teeth snapping at her when the axe, perched on a tree stump, comes into view.
Elizabeth somersaults on the ground and crouches behind the stump. The wolf is huffing and snarling, but it slows as it comes into the small clearing. It paws at the ground, kicking up puffs of dust. Saliva drips from its mouth and onto the ground.
A shaky hand reaches for the handle of the axe. The wolf’s shoulders hunch - ready to pounce.
Elizabeth yanks - once, twice, and as the wolf launches itself toward her she finally pulls the axe free. She thrusts it out in front of her and catches the wolf across the mouth. It yowls and howls in pain, and somewhere in the woods another howls in solidarity. With the wolf dazed, Elizabeth gathers her strength.
She raises the axe over her head.
Pause - beat - a howl in the night.
And with a yell, she plunges the blade into the animal’s spine.
It howls the most agonizing sound Elizabeth has ever heard, a sound that squeezes her heart so hard all the tears she’s tried to swallow come pouring down her face. The animal twitches when she pulls the axe free and its blood spells it a great waterfall down both sides of its back.
“Fuck,” she says. “Oh, fuck.”
And as the wolf lays dying at her feet, that companion howl rises up. It’s searching, Elizabeth realizes, for its sister. Her arms shaking, Elizabeth tightens her grip on the axe. She feels sick to her stomach. She feels afraid.
“I’m sorry,” she says, though she doesn’t know what she’s apologizing for - not yet.
She spares the dying wolf one last glance and the tears seem to surge even harder, hard enough to blur her vision. She shakes her head and shakes a spray of slick, fresh blood off her blade.
“I’m sorry,” she says again, and then she runs - runs as fast as her legs will carry her, runs even though she doesn’t quite know where she’s running to.
And in her absence, the second wolf comes. It finds its dead companion - the mate it wished for, the mate it tried to have but could not find and could not keep. It howls one long, deep, mournful sound and the sound carries down the campgrounds for bleary eyed children and their bleary eyed children to poke their bleary heads out of their tents and cabins and RVs to puzzle over.
In the morning, the wolf is gone. Its mate is, too.
In her place is Emily Coster, scars on her arm and blood on her back.