The Fiction of Philip Kaveny
Illustration by Theo Howard
By Philip Kaveny C 2013
Fenris the Wolf will be unbound and eat the sun. The world will be wrapped in ice unleashing Ragnarok (‘Doom of the Gods’), Gotterdammerung. The end of the cosmos in Old Norse, which like everything else, must start someplace, in this case a dive on the old eastside of Madison, Wisconsin.
I scrubbed until my knuckles ached, but it was no use; the words would not come off the wall no matter how hard I tried. So out of exasperation, I read them out loud.
“THE MOON IS MOTHER TO MY MADNESS, SHE CALLS TO ME IN COLD CHROME LIGHT, AND I AND THE TIDES HAVE NO CHOICE.
LIKE KING KNUT I CANNOT STOP THE TIDES, AND YET MY HUMAN PARTS WILL NOT BE WASHED AWAY.
BLOOD IS LIKE SALT WATER TO MY THIRST.”
“This stuff won’t come off the wall of the stall. I hate to think what this guy was on when he wrote it, or what he wrote it with. I guess it will have to stay on the wall until I get some of that new cleaner, you know Fug.”
“Dunn, what the hell are you talking about, we have to get this dump open before noon! What’s Fug for Chrissake????”
I smiled and said.
“McCaffrey, haven’t you heard their slogan on television? “IF COMET DON’T WORK FUG IT,”
Mike McCaffery, my boss, gave an exasperated sigh and said,
“Dunn, get behind the bar, listen to them, they are starting to rap on the windows, its noon and I am leaving. I gotta to get to confession before the lines get too long.”
My mind seemed to roll on as I thought about how things ended up the way they did. My boss Mike McCaffrey owned the dump on the East Side of Madison, called the Ohio Tavern.
My mind was in the kind of free fall that makes mindless work tolerable, the kind where you silently talk to your self as if someone was listening and gave a shit. I think he put up with me because he knew I would not drink the place dry. I have not had a drink since I quit seventeen years ago. He also knew that I would only steal a sawbuck a day and throw the double sawbuck I was supposed to overcharge the cliental into the cigar box he called his retirement fund. So you might say that Jim and I sort of had an understanding. It was another Saturday afternoon at the Ohio Tavern, the only customers that came in were the over the hill crowd, and a few others from the neighborhood. They came in to drink up their Social Security and disability checks. There were a few veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the first Gulf War, and even a couple back from the present one because they were no longer fit for service, and because they were National Guard, did not qualify for benefits. That was about it; except for Bud, the coroner, who sometimes came in on a slow day. He had grown up in the parish during the end of the Depression and the Second World War. His job was elective and he needed no medical qualifications to hold it, he sort of had it in the bag since no one would run against him. However lately , Bud had let his medical examiner take over after he had declared the guy dead of a heart attack and someone had taken the trouble to roll the victim over and found an ice pick in his back. The thing was Bud for everything liked to talk about his job, whether you cared or not.
I did not feel like talking to the customers, I was forty-eight years old and I had ended up in a dump like this. At forty-eight you sort of ask yourself if you want to play your hand out or ask for a re-deal. When you are young, the whole world seems like a possibility. When you are my age, the world seems like a supermarket of want.
Bud was too thirsty to let me feel sorry for myself as he broke into my thoughts.
“For Chrissake Jimmy, get off your introspective ass, and get me an extra sharp Ginger Brandy, make it a triple and a beer chaser. You know that there are a lot of other dives that would be happy to take my money.”
I hated to say it, but he was right, with the way things were, he was right. The whole bar business turned to shit since they raised the drinking age and got tough on drunk drivers and legalized casino gambling.
It used to be that there was a lot of manufacturing on the east side of Madison, but die casting and machine tool making was almost a lost art. It used to be that a man could work with dignity, with his hands, making the parts of machines that made machines. That trade was worthless now. Now machines made machines, and the hands that used to hold the wheels on the micrometer now held shot glasses of brandy and mugs of beer chasers. They used to say that Wisconsin had the highest brandy consumption in the United States and they said it was an absolute, rather than per capita; a lot of that boozing was to wash the sadness and futility away. So I poured him a triple and watched him chug it down like a glass of water. Then I braced myself, because, I knew he was going to tell me the his story, his latest case, whether I wanted it or not.
“You should have seen what this parish looked like right after the war when I was growing up,” he said.
“What war Bud?” I couldn’t help asking.
“What war you asshole, what war? World War II, the President Truman and Eisenhower years when things made sense then, there were jobs for everyone, when I was going to Saint Bernard’s grade school and my father worked at the foundry. You know, a man could chase his dream; no one has a dream anymore. The filthy fuckers stole our dreams and moved all the factories off shore; you can’t even get a job shoveling dog shit without a MBA…”
I’d heard this story many times before, what he didn’t realize and I never told him was that I was from the parish too, I remembered, I would have had an MBA, but I wrote the F word on all my comprehensive exams.
I told him, as I filled his glass, that the next one was on me. I poured him his second triple and filled the small beer glass that he used as his chaser.
It was almost like Bud was making a little election speech.
“You know, sometimes I wonder why I keep running for re-election. I usually don’t go out on routine homicides, but this one sure as fuck was not routine. The police had it set up to bust this crystal meth dealer who lived right up the street on Center Avenue. Did you know about that Dunn?”
I nodded wearily. Of course I know about everything that goes on, if it happens I know about it. I knew about Andre who had died in intractable pain because he had traded his month’s prescription of pain killer to a hooker for a blow job. I knew it all, but I did not know about a crack house on the east side.
Bud Lit up a cigarette and took a very long drag and blew three perfect smoke rings.
“Last night the dealer was murdered. The police had set up a bust. You know they were going to send a guy in there with wing tips to make a buy, and then bust the dealer. Well, they never got a chance, because when they forced their way in, they found him ripped to pieces. The place was like a fucking fortress, the windows boarded up with 4x4s, and an arsenal around what was left of him. I mean, this guy could have started a war.”
He certainly caught my interest; I did have to admit that, had the whole bars attention, and he did like to play to a crowd.
“The strangest thing of all was that we found this sixty pound pit bull scared shitless quaking under the bed. The only way the dog could have done that to his owner was by learning to start a chain saw.”
“Looks like to me like the pit bull is the sentimental favorite in this case. Too bad you can’t get Mister Ed the talking horse to cross examine him.”
Bud looked at me, shook his head and left his usual fifty on the bar. He would buy the house a round and leave the change as a tip for me. Bud owned enough real estate that this job was more of a hobby for him than anything else. My shift was over at five, but in late December it is pitch black by that time of the day. God, I was glad to be alone and out of that dump. Time was playing little tricks on me, as it does when the smallest thing, a scent, an object, whatever, kicks in a memory. My mind seemed to slip back nearly thirty years. I thought of poem that I had written in better days, in the late nineteen seventies, before they threw me out of college. Now they had a name for what they thought I was suffering from, they called it the Northern European Depression. The meds they gave me were worse than the depression, so I lived with it, figuring that my fault lay not in my stars, but in myself as I whispered the poem like a broken praye,r or maybe a Buddhist mantra as I walked home into the setting sun.
The dying winter sun catches in the limbs of the marble forest: its 4:43 and God has truly taken a powder.
My place was big and cheap because the neighborhood was run down and too far from the University of Wisconsin campus for students to live; besides, Bud was my landlord, and he knew he would get a rent check every month and a drink or two on the house if he wanted. I lived on top of an abandoned bowling alley. The city condemned it to make way for a parking lot for a shopping center that was never built, and of course Bud had the connections to make the city look the other way about my occupancy. I would have to get out someday, but that was too far in the future to care.
I worked on a novel because I had a bum’s dream that I had some great secret locked in my heart. I thought with my novel I would shout it at the world. As I sat down to write at my computer, I thought how a kind of technological Potemkin village had grown up to cover the despair of the end of what the Sparrow Fart English professors called the end of the post modern age: an age when angels did not dance on the head of pins, and free floating signifiers chase each other around the hollow center. Funny what you choose to spend your money on, the way it turned out I could almost pay for my word processor with five dollars a day that I pocketed from the till. I suppose I could have had an internet connection, but this way I only had three bills a month to pay, since Bud paid the heat.
I booted up my system, accessed my file, and this message came across my screen, which was very strange because I didn’t have Internet access; but there it was, blinking in seventy two point type.
THE MOON IS MOTHER TO MY MADNESS
SHE CALLS TO ME IN COLD CHROME LIGHT.
These were not my lines. I never wrote things like that. “Shit,” I thought, “that was what I was trying to wash off my wall that morning.” Something had access to my computer system. I do not like jokes, and I do not like intrusions.
I heard a noise. I snapped to and grabbed the machete that I keep under my bed, but there was nothing there. I was very tired, it felt as if someone had sandpapered the inside of my nose. I feel asleep and slept until the middle of the night. When I awoke I found this message on my screen.
DARE YOU WALK WITH ME AND SEE WHAT THE POETS SAW IN DEATH’S OTHER KINGDOM.
What the fuck had been there, a monster who plagiarized T. S. Elliot? I was easy game when I fell asleep, but that was not what it wanted.
Sunday I went to work at five. As I walked to work I felt the 25 degree temperature drop since the night before. The wind started to blow, and I was walking into a chill factor of minus 55 degrees. It was like the face of Mars. Never, had I felt more without hope.
It was a short shift from 5:00 PM to 2:O0 AM, our closing time. Bud did not come in tonight, but big John Kaveny from the City of Madison fire department rescue squad did. He usually just stopped in for a couple of brandy singles with a lot of seltzer since he did not want to risk another drunken driving charge and lose his license.
A few customers from the over the hill gang sat in the corner. The bar was very quiet. Usually guys like big John did not talk about their work, just like the guys who have really seen combat keep their mouths shut, but this time he told his story almost with a sense of wonder.
Big John asked me if I’d heard about the murder last night.
“What murder?” I asked. “Has there been a second murder since yesterday?”
Big John answered,
“Yes, they called the rescue squad last night, but there was nothing left to rescue. The place looked a suicide bomber had detonated. Christ, there were guts hanging from the ceiling like Christmas wreaths. We even called in the bomb squad but there was no evidence of an explosion. The victim was simply spread all over the room. They took him out in a bushel basket covered by a rubber sheet.”
Big John finished his drink and walked out the door.
One of the customers said in a sarcastic voice,
“Drive carefully ‘Big John’ one more arrest and they will throw you ass in the slammer. Then who would do grocery the shopping for sainted mother Marie, and her lovely sister Cleo? Even the Fire Chief does not have enough clout to cover your ass on the next one.”
The rest of the night went by quickly and then I had to face the walk home. It was 2: 00 AM, and impossibly it had gotten colder, especially walking into 35 mph gale force wind.
I walked as fast as I could, yet I still had to turn my face away from the wind. My trapper’s parka and Russian fur hat with the tie-down ear flaps barely blunted the wind’s knife edge and my beard froze solid into a mass of icicles Somehow, I made it home and up the stairs. As I bolted the door, I realized it was now Dec 23, two days past the solstice and on to the most terrible of nights, Christmas Eve. I wanted to write that night but I was almost afraid to turn on my word processor. Nevertheless, I did. The normal logon appeared on my monitor.
For an instant I felt the steel band around my chest relax and I took a deep breath, but then I sensed that I heard a voice. I heard it, but it was more as if I felt it in my chest, and I knew that I was not alone in my apartment. The machete was sharp on both sides, a relic of my teens. I jumped to my feet and stood en point.
“Who the fuck is in here?”
I screamed, “Who is fucking with my mind?” I didn’t need this; I didn’t need something trying to tell me its story. I tried to write but my fingers felt as if they were inside of boxing gloves. I could only sit and wonder what would happen next. Shadows are long at this time of year, and now I felt as if there were shadows within the shadows. Something is alive within the deepest shadows. How do you trap a nightmare? Everywhere I turned the unknown seemed to be behind me. Then I felt it relent. I turned on my AM radio to hear the news.
“The second of two brutal murders took place at about 11:00 P.M. December 23rd; the first took place the previous night. In both cases the victim was literally torn to pieces. And in both cases no murder weapon was found. We have a live interview with Detective Lulling, the first officer at the scene in both cases.”
“Detective Lulling, are there any leads in the case? Do you have any suspects? Can you tell us anything about the victims, do they have anything in common?”
I hated the sound of this guy’s voice, but nevertheless I continued to listen as he droned on.
“In answer to your questions, we have no leads, but we have put the particulars of both cases into our data base which– is this getting too technical for you?”
The talk show host replied, “Not at all, anyway this is late night radio and our listeners like these sort of details so take all the time you need, and give us all the gory details.”
“The point is that there have been rashes of these sorts of murders, sharing the same characteristics, the victim ripped to shreds, no evidence of forced entry and no stolen property. If we did a profile of the murderer you would have to describe him as having great physical strength, the wounds appear to have been made by something with very sharp teeth, very similar to a chain saw. Maybe I am getting a little ahead of myself; we still don’t have the coroners report, so who can say how it was done.”
“Thank you very much, Detective Lulling; and now a word from our sponsor. ‘Do you suffer from that itching burning feeling from hemorrhoid flare ups? If so, try icy hot and you will find yourself a perfect asshole’”
I hit the switch on the radio and got up from the bed. The wind made the single panels of the window rattle as if they were going to blast apart, and the wind howled like a Banshee’s wail for a lost soul. I thought, “less than an hour to Christmas Eve day.” Something started to click in my mind so I went to my Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural, ( a book which I kind of kept to myself) . It seemed to almost open by itself to page 453.
WEREWOLVES. “Were is Old English for man, and the easiest explanation of the werewolf legends is that the wolf was once a creature of terror all over the world, when the world was covered with forest. At a time when people also feared witches and magicians it was natural that the two terrors be combined. However, this view does not cover the facts as neatly as it might. For in the body of werewolf lore we encounter an oddity that is also found among vampire legends. The epidemics …”
I thought that this was too much a fucking epidemic of fucking werewolves. This line of thought would make me a candidate for the looney bin real quick. Then my apartment was empty, I could feel myself relax just that little bit. I was still on edge but it was not going to hit tonight. The rest of the night I tried to stay in touch with my past. Christmas is a time of regret for those who are forced to be alone. Nobody chooses to be alone on Christmas Eve. I thought about time and dreams, I thought of other ways to be in touch with the world and my past.
I thought of my feeble human attempts to order my reality, to link my perceptions into some coherent unity that would silence my timeless fears. I read an essay about the time-space continuum by the father of modern English language fantasy Lord Dunsay, a famous horror writer, who said that if you looked at a map of the world it was flat and projected in Mercator form, but what you really needed to do was go behind the map where time and spaced worked differently, and he said that three quarters of a century before string theory physics said nearly the same thing. Everything might exist in real time I thought. How would I get there? How does one walk in the world of nightmares? Does one wish, does one dream, how do you hear the rats feet on broken glass? I was not the one to do this and yet I was being drawn to this thing in a way that was beyond me.
Maybe to take my mind off the horror I asked myself a question, “why is Christmas Eve the most terrible night of the year for the hopeless?” It is a time when things come up for an accounting. The bars close in the city at about 6:00, and those with families go home to them. For those without families, there is no place else for them to go. Some try midnight mass but you need to believe that you are in a state of grace for that. This holiday I did not have to clean up the Ohio Tavern. My shift ran from noon ’til closing, which was 6:30.
It was business as usual at the Ohio Tavern. Bud was in again today, and he was drinking extra-sharp ginger brandy again, the drink that had brought many alcoholics to the end the line in either death or recovery. Bud was in a really bad mood, I could always tell when he was quiet. So, I asked him what was wrong. Bud said,
“Did you hear that asshole Detective Lulling on the radio last night, who the fuck does he think he is anyway, Sherlock Holmes?”
Bud slapped the bar so hard the bottles on the wall rattled
“You know, he does not know shit about what he is talking about, chain saw serial killers, he will say anything to look like a big shot.”
“What are you trying to tell me?” I asked cautiously
“I was there when they did the autopsy on what was left of both victims. You know, that in both cases, they brought what was left back in a body bag. I am going to read this report, and it is about the same for both victims.
‘The victims in both cases were dismembered in a manner that can only be compared to the results of a shark’s feeding frenzy. The wounds were such that it is impossible to determine the exact cause of death, but in both case foreign tissue was found mixed in with that of the victims. At this time we are awaiting the lab reports in order to try to determine where the tissue came from. In addition, we may try to make some identification from blood typing. You can sometimes decide something about what something is by seeing how close it compares to some existing animal. For example, humans and some of the larger primates have almost identical blood protein.’”
I couldn’t help myself as I asked incredulously,
“Bud, we thought you were stupid. How is it that you know all this stuff? The word is that you don’t know a heart attack from a knife in the back.”
He answered gruffly,
“Just because I’m 68 years old does not mean I am fucking stupid. I let them tell those stories because it keeps my name in circulation, besides that incident took place in l967, a lot has changed since then.”
“A lot has changed since 1967.”
“In this town brains are cheap. Ph.D.’s wash dishes and drive cabs. The point is that some of those brains are working for me now. While that asshole detective was taking target practice with pigeons we were going to school. I can tell you that whatever is out there is probably the canine equivalent of saber tooth tiger, and it doesn’t leave ANY tracks and the DNA we found on the victim does not match anything in this world”
Just at that point a woman new to the neighborhood came into the bar.
One of the regular customers gave her a friendly greet by saying,
“Make sure that fucking door is closed tight honey buns, it’s cold enough to freeze the balls of a brass monkey, or a witch’s teat out there.”
The Ohio was not known as Madison’s friendliest tavern for nothing.
She was in her late twenties or early thirties, medium height and dark hair and clean. As she sat down at the bar I noticed she had very large hands for a woman. She did not belong in a place like The Ohio. Bud checked out and told me to keep my doors locked if it made any difference. I looked out the window and saw that the sun was setting. It was only a couple of hours until I would close up.
She looked at me with her dark eyes and asked for a bottle of Perrier.
“Sorry we don’t stock it. The best I can do is Canada Dry club soda with a twist of lime.”
Then I noticed that she was sort of quietly crying. This I don’t need, I thought to myself. This is the last thing I needed. I seem to remember things like this happening all my life.
“What’s wrong?” I sighed.
She looked me straight in the eye and by the way she talked I could tell she had been to college, probably for a number of years.
She pulled herself together, and said.
“I came to town to stay with this guy for a while until I could find a job after I finished nursing school at Iowa State.”
She seem to care what I thought of her as she continued
It’s not what you think, he’s gay. I came to 2214 Center Avenue, his address, and I found the house empty and two cops standing guard around that yellow tape used to mark a crime scene. Do you know what happened? Was there a bust in the neighborhood? Is he in jail?”
I thought, “this is not my job, to bring her the bad news.” I looked at today’s paper open on the bar, and cursed under my breath. By this time we were the only ones in the Ohio Tavern and it was my closing time.
The words just slipped out of my mouth.
“What was his name? Maybe I can tell you something.”
She grabbed my wrist; I could feel her nails dig into my skin. She was very strong for a woman.
“His name is Mark Briggs.”
I looked down at the newspaper headline; there is no suspect in the Briggs murder case. I told her the news.
She didn’t say any thing. Then she started crying.
“He told me it would be alright to stay with him until I got a job. The last time I saw him was three years ago at Iowa State. Who would do this terrible thing?” He told me I could be safe with him.”
My wrist started bleeding from her finger nails digging in, so I turned away from her thumb joint to break her grip. I got my hand free and just watched her cry. Then she stopped crying and said,
“Your wrist, your poor wrist, I’m sorry your wrist is bleeding. Look what I did to your poor wrist. Do you have any peroxide or anything to put on it?”
I answered that I would just wash it out.
“I have taken a nursing course that has to be cleaned out.”
So I got a small bottle of iodine that still had a little left in it and let her clean out the wound.
Then I asked the question that I hated to ask her,
“What are you going to do tonight? Where are you going to stay?”
“Do they have a women’s shelter in Madison?”
I answered that I wasn’t sure, but if they did it was probably a dump. I told her that there were some University Of Wisconsin buildings that stayed open all night, because it was clear that she did not have the money for a room.
I was living in a world where it was possible for someone to freeze to death. I looked deeply into her eyes and thought of all the trouble this sort of thing always implied. Trust died in the late 90’s. I remembered then that she reminded me of someone that had gone home with me in 1979, when a fuck was the answer to a bum’s dream. I added it all up in my mind and then said simply,
“You can spend tonight with me.”
“You have me wrong, and I am not cheap.”
She pissed me off and my voice showed it.
“You have me wrong too. I risk my life to take a stranger into my home. So take it or leave it. There might not be a tomorrow.”
We walked to my place together. To have sex with a stranger in this world was to risk your life. Generation Xers have taken to showing each other the results of their blood test. In my neck of the wood they did not take blood tests, the poor were even denied the sanctuary of sex. I wondered what she was thinking about as she walked with me, was she waiting for me to make a move, was she wondering if she would have to pay for her room with sex?
Then we were inside my apartment. She only had the things she wore and a few changes of clothes in her luggage. I asked her where she wanted to sleep as I heard the wind rattle the window panes again. Somehow the sound made me think of a timeless ghost ship. If it was possible, the wind had gotten fiercer and it was probably sixty below. The radiator whistled, and then I held her, her mouth tasted fresh and sweet, not what I expected, for a woman who had been on the lamb for three days.
She breathed, I held her.
“I hate this world. I hate what happened to Mark. Who or what would do that terrible thing to him?”
It was a few years past the millennium, and I was not sure how much farther we would make it. It used be that people played the Fin de Siecle word game, but we were at the Fin Du Monde. I could remember, she probably could not remember, what that other rock and roll world was like.
I gave her my robe and a towel and some soap and the window rattled again and I felt the roll of the ghost ship, I wondered where it would take us. She spent a long time in the shower, suppose she was trying to wash all the pain away. Then she came back to me wearing nothing but the robe and said something that stopped me in my tracks, she sounded just like a girl scientist that was a secret part of every woman in the world.
“I was tested for the HIV antibody three weeks ago I am not positive, nor am I in a high risk group. I think that the same thing is true about you. You have the look of some one who has been celibate for a long time. Are you an intravenous drug user?”
“I don’t think that I asked to fuck you, so what’s the difference?”
I said some what indignantly, just like I was an old fart, I was terrified of becoming.
I didn’t even know her name as she went on, but in a way she had me pegged.
“Do you want to fuck, it seems so cold when I say it; I hate the way the words sound.”
So I took her in my arms and kissed her. The earth did not move, time and death still held sway, but I felt some things that I thought I was past and she seemed to almost burn against my chest as we connected. Afterwards,, lying next to me on the futon I spoke almost as if she wasn’t there
“We are both at risk from whatever killed Mark Briggs.”
Something I could not explain, yet I knew it was watching, waiting, as she asked me, almost as if I was not there as we unconnected again,
“My name is Jane. What does a fuck mean to you? Is it just a fuck? Do you think that this is my way of paying for a place to stay? I wonder what happened to my language. I try to say things, and I can’t. I just fucked a stranger without a condom and I have a dead friend.”
I kissed her lightly, holding her in my arms and said, “We will be at war. There are these things out there. One of us may be one of them. God, how can I keep it out? It moves like the shadows and it is in my house.” I heard a howl, perhaps it was the wail of my soul. But Jane had collapsed with no sleep for three days into a world where she was unreachable to me. Not even in my loudest voice.
I screamed, as I called out whatever was watching me.
“Damn you, come out whatever you are. Let me see what it is that stalks my soul.”
Jane dozed on the bed with the blanket wrapped around her.
It came out of nowhere; soundless like it was walking in fresh snow… It was just there, gleaming teeth in a shroud of fur! Yes, form and terror without substance, the ghost of Christmas Past with teeth in a ratty fur coat. It changed and I saw a huge noble wolf’s head, then a montage of jaws, teeth and red flaming eyes. Then it was gone and the room was silent. Jane still slept, the first rays of sunrise glinted against the window. In the frost on the window were the words,
“You will follow next time or lose what you have found to care for.”
They were such soft words from a monster who knew everything about me, while I knew nothing about it or about her. We had not been delivered, that much I was sure of. As I watched her softly breathing, I wondered how cold the world would get. How could it have come to know I cared for her before I did? The way that they played the game was to make you care first and then rip what ever you cared about out of your arms. Then I slept the sleep of the dead; there was nothing else to do my mind, body, and emotions were exhausted.
Sunday The Ohio was closed, and as is my habit, I turned on the radio. I was just in time to hear the now recognizable voice of Detective Lulling, along with the moronic voice of the same announcer,
“Detective with the two killings last night that brings the number to four in under a week, is that correct?”
“Chuck, how much time do I have to explain this, it’s not late night anymore.”
“Since you gave us the exclusive on this, our ratings are way up so go ahead and speak your piece.”
The cheap radio hissed and Chuck, the detective, continued his little speech, but now you could sense a kind of Dutch courage in his voice. He was just as flippant as ever, but it did not hide the fear in his voice
“This is not a good time to be out on the streets. We put extra officers on patrol but we have no new leads in the case. It seems that serial murders of this type are on the increase world wide. We recently linked with Interpol and even the Chinese and Russians, seem willing to co-operate on this matter. These things, or someone’s, are brutally killing people. I feel it is something like a world wide Manson cult, you know, or maybe some sort of plot or means of intimidation or something like that. I do know that panic won’t do any good.”
“Chuck we have a caller on the line. Are you willing to take his call?”
“Yes, go ahead. What is your question?”
“Well, you see Chuck, I just went outside of town because of our stupid gun control ordinance that those bleeding heart liberals and University professors rammed through city council with the help of their flunky mayor Paul Soglin. Well anyway, I was able to buy a 44 magnum in the town of Cross Plains, where a real man can still buy a real gun to protect the ones he loves. Well anyway how many grains of powder do I need to load into the cartridge case of my silver bullets, because I hear on television that a silver bullet is the only way to take out these things?”
Chuck took a deep breath, and you could tell he was being just a bit patronizing.
“Well the thing is, you know, that silver is a little lighter than lead so you would probably need a few extra grains of powder to maintain you killing power, and if you don’t clean the barrel right away it will tarnish all to a hell from the silver. Too bad we are the only ones that get to buy Teflon bullets.”
I thought, “That stupid shit is becoming a talk show celebrity. The next thing you know he will have his own show.”
The sun was up and its light and the radio woke Jane. I had the feeling that by sundown all pandemonium would break loose, not as a figure of speech but as the real deal. I had only this minute to think about Christmas Day. Was this the start of the new dark ages? Would grass grow in our streets? Would only a small number of us be left? And did I give a rat fuck?
“What do I fight a nightmare with Jane? What do we have to use against our deepest fears?”
“Not silver or Teflon bullets; I can promise that it lives on all of the attempts to kill it. Prayer is but an allusion.”
“Do we have any of our old gods? Do we have anything or anyone on our side? Is there anything in the world that does not hate us?”
She went on,
“You’re a fool if you think that this is a story about saving the whales. We are not part of some ecologist’s guilt trip. Something from the back of the map is ripping us to pieces because we, as humans, are setting the thing free. The whole world has let itself get like me. Let’s go for a walk.”
I don’t know why I let her talk me into it, but we went outside. It was a record low but the wind had stopped blowing, and the finest brittle crust was on the snow. This was the first day of the end of the world and I knew in some real and literal sense we had to go into that other terrible nightmare world. Perhaps what I was not sure of was how I would get there, maybe the key was that we were all drawn by this same mood. As we walked through the parish we saw Bud just getting out of mass.
But he came up to me as if he was running for re-election, then he sort of whispered to me,
“The reports are in and if the creature that the proteins described is alive in any physical sense it would be as large as a small horse, but it is canine in at least one of its forms. Science has taken us as far as it can.”
Then he asked me if I believed in magic, which made laugh for the first time because I though of Jane and the “Lovin’ Spoonfulls”, a group from the late 60’s. God, even for a moment to laugh. Magic, I thought, fuck, I don’t even know where we’re going. Large as a small horse only canine, I knew the thing did not look anything like that. It was noon and quiet, the sun’s disk barely showed above the cement block plant. No one was on the street except Jane and me.
Finally she said,
“Well, about last night, let’s just forget it happened.”
I don’t know why but she really pissed me off, and I snapped back at her.
“Forget what happened?”
I continued more loudly,
“I porked a total stranger, saw a monster, and now I’m elected to stalk a werewolf. I would like to fucking forget it happened. Somehow I have the feeling that more is happening than you are telling me about.”
“What do you want know?” she asked.
I snarled at her,
“It would be stupid to ask what a girl like you is doing in this part of the world.”
It was still bone chilling cold, she pressed against me as we walked to the bus station to get her stuff. Funny, when you are sitting at the end of the world you complain about how the fucking city canceled all holiday municipal service in order to make up for the cut off of all federal funds. It looked as if she was going to be staying with me at least until she could make enough money to go back where she came from. She only had two more large suit cases, a trunk and a backpack. She told me she traveled very lightly.
As I lugged her stuff back to my place she asked,
“What do people do for living around here? What kind of work can you get with a BA in natural science, and several nursing courses?”
I could not help laughing out loud. “You could find a career in food service or house keeping like the rest of us. You can also supplement your income by selling your plasma at the blood center. Did I mention hospital orderly or nurse’s aid?”
“In other words,” she said, “I can get a job shoveling shit like the rest of you.”
I think that she was trying to make a joke but I didn’t feel like laughing. It was strange to think that she was talking about the future as if there was one. This was a woman I had porked once, and I realized I knew nothing about her. So I asked her a few questions. I was never very good at this sort of thing and it was clear that I was not getting any better.
“About last night, ” I said, “I really don’t need this sort of thing; it is not part of my plans.”
She smiled. I hated the way women could always tell about me. As she said,
“It was also something that you have not done for quite a while.” She was slightly taunting, but a little compassionate in the way she said it.
“I can tell when a guy likes it so much that he loses it like you did last night, you were off before we started, but that’s okay.”
I became petulant and said,
“And something you do regularly with total strangers at every opportunity,”
I felt stupid saying that. It sounded like a fifteen year old who has just had his first fuck. For the life of me, as I looked at her, I had the image of two stars pulling past each other and then bursting into a terrible explosion of silent light. This is not my idea of the way you think about a one night stand. My life was in danger, my world was about to collapse and I felt as if a cannon ball were exploding inside of what had been a life of introspection.
She answered, “Not very often, as a matter of fact. Of course, you know that it is easier for a woman to get laid. It would only take me a couple hours if I wasn’t choosy. You, I would suspect would take a couple years.”
She sort of laughed as she said it and I knew that she knew she had me pegged. I wondered what happened next. I didn’t need to wait for long. You come to expect terror in the middle of the night, not in broad daylight as all conversation ended.
Suddenly it was just standing there in front of us. It the size between a small bull and an exceedingly large mastiff. Its head was its most astounding feature. It had a neck as thick as Jane’s waist, its jaws were short and powerful, more like a human’s than a wolf’s or a dog’s. At first it simply stood there blocking our way. Its muzzle was bloodstained and it looked as if it was about to attack. My worst nightmare was standing in front of me in the cold winter light. Quickly, I looked at Jane who was standing a little behind me. The whole incident took place in much less time than it takes to tell it.
Jane walked towards it and it bared its teeth and rolled it gums back.
“You god damn fool, step back, it will rip you to pieces.”
She was now only about ten feet away from it. I picked up the broken board with a large spike in it, it must have been me with the two by four in my hand, as I seemed to look at myself from the outside. I was sure it was useless; nevertheless I thought I had to try. I grabbed her waist with one hand and sprang to drive the board into the creature. As I sprang towards it, everything around us disappeared. There was no light but we could see. We were inside the maelstrom, and we were moving outside of time, all time, past and future, seemed to be part of us. We were inside that blue light. We landed on a solid ground. It was not cold, it was not the east side. We saw the stars as if there were no clouds, the sky seemed to pulse, yet that blue light was constant and unblinking.
We seemed to be on an obsidian floor that reflected our feet and the sky back into our faces.
Then it was in front of us again, but this time it was not the ugly monster I had seen face us in the lot of the cement block factory. This creature was three yards long with steel blue fur. Noble beyond description, it moved almost like a cloud flying across the pale full moon. Its fur seemed to glow with an inner light while the light of the unblinking stars was caught in his pale blue eyes. Then it moved, half bounding, half running. For an instant I had forgotten Jane, as I looked for her, she was gone, but in front of me following the great wolf I saw another wolfish figure which Jane became, or had been always.
Rot in hell, my silent voice screamed rot in hell you filthy bitch. You changed. You left me. I felt lost, abandoned and desolate. Was I to die with out hope in this cold chrome lit world?
Then a childhood dream came to me. I had dreamed that if I willed it I could extend my jumps by wishing, and my jumps would become flight. I jumped and jumped until my four feet hit the floor. I was a great wolf. My nails scratched but did not mar the mirror surface. As I looked at the floor a wolf head looked back at me. I ran and jumped and bounded until I was with the two and we were three and we were one then three again. Then I ran with them, side by side. Now we seemed to be running back against a screen, a bubble of time. We ran back past human time, the stars were now like flashing lights as timeless movements streaked like meteors across boiling skies in an early august night. I felt as if continents moved under my feet, I saw all the animals as if they were spread out in some time-lapse window or, cyclorama. We ran back to the origins of life and time, back to a salt sea. Then back to a time when some mad scientists say the earth and moon were one in unity. We watched the first tides rip across as the earth gave birth to the moon from the womb of the Pacific Basin. Other tides then splashed up the tops of great mountains and we felt those same primal tides cast us out. As we ran forward in time, the sky became leaden with acid rain and trilobite-like creatures crawled out of oceans saline as our blood. Then we spun forward again, and I could move with them, effortlessly chiming across time. We ran in lush green fields, nipped the heels of twelve-foot sloths and side stepped woolly mammoths.
Then there were only the two wolves, she and I. She waited for me and we fucked as wolves, time held still and death cared not. We bucked, and bit, and fucked, and pistoned in and out ‘til we both exploded. We howled and screamed and ruled the worlds, even over time and death.
We stopped, panting, as our tongues and our feet sweated again. Was this it? Was this heaven, cried my human mind in my Dire Wolf’s body? Was I simply to be taken through some cosmic transmigration? I did not have to wait long for my answer, for the wolf king returned and now we ran forward in time. We saw the first man ape figures huddling around the flames from the lightning struck trees. We seemed to fly above a world where forest stretched from salt sea to dark ocean. We were one with the forest as our foot pads softly landed on pine cones. We saw the great battles spread before us.
We sat on the edges of time as the Roman Emperor Cesar Augustus general Varus marched his three legions into Tutetoberge veld. We watched the Germans and the woods rise up against them and rip them to pieces. I knew the rest the German tribes had sent Varus’ head beck to Caesar in a Jar of honey.
I tried to speak to Jane, but the words were formed in my mind not made with my lips. Where the fuck are we, my mind screamed out? What place is this?
But I did not scream, I howled and she howled back. Twice more we saw battles. We saw the waves of Mongols break from the east as they gashed into the darkened pine forests. We saw an army go mad and rip itself to pieces as sharks in a blood feast.
Once more, as modern time ripped the dark wood, we saw a terrible wave of tanks break from the west against bottles full of gasoline. We saw tanks die in the woods as the lines held and held, yet we still ran against obsidian turf and felt its cold against our feet.
Then the woods died. As we ran through nightmare cities instead of prey we saw all manner of human suffering. Instead of the wood’s cathedral ceiling, we saw vast empty canyons of buildings. My man’s mind ran in wolf body. I felt what it meant to run and howl, to be free. But, why this knowledge for me? To know what it meant was the story. Why do gods choose whom to speak to? I found no answers as we ran ahead to our own time, back to my own east side.
Then a wall crashed against my wolf’s skull as my left forepaw was caught the jaws of a monster bear trap. I fought as man and wolf. I howled and cried to the moon but there was no answer. The trap and chain made me material and substance. With all my strength I pulled. My paw sheared and ripped as the trap snapped me back and held me in an eternity of pain. There was no way free and I felt my self drowned in distant human voices.
No way out but one, my wolf’s brain screamed, else I’ll die like this. With what strength my great jaws had left, I bit through the fur, flesh and bone ‘til my jaws crashed together in a crescendo of pure agony. But I was free as I limped on three paws. I could bleed or freeze to death in this strange body as the tabloids screamed of record cold and record wolf. I did not freeze, I did not die, but there is a chunk of time which can never be accounted for. Sometime I may read the report that was filled when the rescue squad picked me up. If I read it, I don’t think it will tell me any more than I remember. I awoke as a man, my fingers tingling, burning and itching. As I tried to scratch them, I felt a woman hand on my left wrist.
“Don’t do that,” she said, “you will only start the bleeding again.” Time realigned, I was home. She looked at me with her black eyes, as I lay wondering what future I would have as a one handed bartender.
It was Jane; there next to me in my place, I was not alone. I turned on the radio one last time. The godammed thing always seemed to be on the same program, with the same host and the same guest.
“Chuck, can you tell us anything about the rumor that something really big and weird was caught in a bear trap four or five weeks ago?”
“Can you be just more specific, Don, you know that there are lots and lots of rumors around?”
The announcer, sounding like he thought he was Larry King, pushed the Detective, as his voice got shrill.
“Let me read this report to you. It’s from the Department of Comparative Anatomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It indicates that the left forepaw found in the trap could not belong to any living canine carnivore. It further indicates that the animal’s size would be twice as large as even the largest mastiff. It states that the paw represents either a genetic defect or a living representative of a type of animal now commonly known as the dire wolf, thought to be extinct since the third inter glacial period”
“Come on Don, what are we trying do here, promote a horror movie or start a panic? These things go in cycles you know, sort of like the moon and tides. We have not had a killing now for the last several weeks.”
“Turn it off Jane and try to explain to me what a bartender without a left hand does for a living. Did that thing happen to me? Was that my hand in the trap?”
She looked at me and shrugged, “I’m going off to work at the AIDS clinic. I guess that whatever it was, it needed to tell someone something about what it feels like to run free across time and what it feels like to be caught in a human trap.”
I screamed, and held up my hand. What was left of the stump had almost healed.
“Why the fuck me? Why the fuck me?”
She shrugged again and I wondered if that was the only gesture she knew. I think she sensed my irritation but she was just too confident to care.
“The gods choose who they talk to. In any case, you will not be simply playing your hand out like you expected. It seems you will have to find something else to do with your life.”
I wondered if she was one of them. I wondered if it was all in my mind. But as the door closed I felt that she would be back, and I cared about that.
It takes longer to dress when you have one hand and a stump; I had to be particularly careful how I closed my fly, for example. I thought with a little practice I might get used to it. I could still type with one hand and now maybe I did have something to shout at the world. It took me a little while to get used to locking my door with one hand and I noticed I was holding a lot more things in my teeth. It was now the first week in February, and the temperature was above freezing, so maybe the world was getting another chance, and there were six weeks of my life which I could never account for, and I ran with a Wolf king I never, never wanted to see again.