Harry Gardner’s kneecaps shattered as his calves slammed forward. It didn’t hurt as bad as last month; it was amazing what you could get used to. The cartilage in his nose exploded and leaked into his sinuses–this part he didn’t like–as the skin on his face thrust forward and pulsed and went from gently oblate to pointed, and then the smells–O, God, the smells–distinct and real and waving through the air; then came the hair and the itching –O, God, the itching–he could not get used to that, never would: like a million beards filling out in seconds. Thicker and rougher than a man’s whiskers, though, and everywhere except for his dick and balls and a small patch on his belly that was the same color black as his fur.
His ears. Ever have your ears suck back in the sides of your head and relocate themselves to the top of your skull? It’s an odd sensation, but it was not truly painful but for the stretching flesh; not like the bones in his pelvis, which broke and reformed in seconds. It sounded like a thick branch splintering again and again. Harry Gardner writhed back and forth on the rug, and then tore it with new claws, three inches long and sharp, and then the worst part: his back. It was where he kept all his nerves, and the adjusting vertebrae sheered against their raw edges and he howled AHHWOOOOOO throwing back his massive head, and then he sank to the floor breathing heavily with his tongue laying out of his mouth.
After a minute, the bedroom door opened and Harry’s wife, Capolina, walked into the living room.
Harry wagged his tail and made small, tired noise.
Capolina sat down on the couch, all the way to the side, and patted the cushion next to her. Harry climbed up and set his head, which was the size of small cow’s, in her lap. She gave him scritchy-scratches and turned the teevee on. Looked down.
“Baby, you ripped the rug.”
She kissed her husband on the top of his snout, and he dozed off.
Each marriage is different.
There is a restaurant with no name in Little Aleppo, but it is not on the Main Drag like the bookstore with no title. It is in the Warehouse District and changes warehouses with some regularity. The elegance remains constant, however. Mr. Leopard guarantees elegance. The wine glasses were Riedel; the tumblers, Lalique; the forks were heavy as shit. Each table was carved from only one single piece of illegally-harvested redwood. The salt and pepper shakers are made from recently-collected ivory. All of the art had been stolen during World War II. Mr. Leopard believed in thematic consistency.
The restaurant with no name served food you could not order anywhere else in town.
Obviously, there was no sign out front, nor a valet or even a parking lot. Your reservation came with a ride in a nondescript car, usually a late-model domestic sedan. The interior was much plusher than you’d think from looking at it, and if you looked harder you would notice an almost invisible sound-proof barrier between the front and back seat. A gratuity for the driver was added to your bill, but you could afford it. Getting the phone number of the restaurant with no name cost $25 grand. In cash. Mr. Leopard did not extend any sort of credit.
Bald eagle. Lion, elephant, orca. Grizzly was a perennial. (Market rate.) Condor was getting rare, and therefore more expensive, but it was always available. When diners would ask what condor tasted like, Mr. Leopard would lean slightly forward at the waist as if he were sharing a secret and say,
“Like nearly-extinct chicken.”
And then he would smile, and his guests would laugh. Mr. Leopard was tall and hairless, and had too many teeth in his mouth.
But that was the menu. What kept them coming back to the restaurant with no name were the specials. The specials were food you couldn’t order anywhere else at all. Mr. Leopard did a brisket that would melt in its own mouth. Hanger steak with shimoji mushrooms that was to die for. Something he called veal.
“Surprise me,” his most loyal customers would say, and he always would.
Capolina Gardner had been rather surprised to find out her husband was a werewolf; she thought he was a drug addict. St. Agatha’s always did tend to over-prescribe opiates, and Harry came home with a bagful after his stay. It was a beautiful night in the Verdance, where everything grows, and the two of them were siting on a bench by Bell Lake smoking a joint and staring at the full moon.
“One of these days, I’m gonna buy you that moon,” Harry said.
“We don’t have rom for it.”
“I’m gonna leave it where it is.
“I wasn’t gonna put it in the house.”
“It wouldn’t fit at all.”
And then he kissed her.
And then a giant monster the size of a small cow attacked him. Capolina started kicking at it, and they both were screaming. From the lake, six enraged swans charged at the bear-dog-demon thing (it was dark and she was not wearing her glasses) and it ran off into the Segovian Hills. No creature made by God or Satan is unafraid of enraged swans. The wounds were bad, but not fatal. The doctors doped him up, stitched him back together, tested him for rabies, and sent him home to the one-bedroom cottage on Bailey Street that they had moved into after their wedding. She nursed Harry back to health, which was easy for her, since she was a nurse. There were also very gentle handjobs and arguments.
“It was a bear.”
“Squatch,” Harry said.
“There’s no such thing.”
“There’s no such thing as a lot of things, but that doesn’t make them not real.”
In Harry’s defense: he was much smarter when he wasn’t getting a very gentle handjob. Smart enough to write children’s books, as a matter of fact. Hadn’t sold any, but he had written a bunch. He would soon, though. He worked in the basement of the cottage. It was unfinished, just a wooden floor and a desk and chair. Lamp he had found in the trash and rewired. Harry wrote the words in longhand on yellow legal pads, and drew the pictures in a notebook with unlined white paper.
Capolina had gone back to work after a week, and he healed up quickly. There were nightmares, but that was to be expected after a trauma. He started on a new book. It was about a squatch named Ferguson who was very friendly and would never hurt a stranger for no reason. Capolina was working the night shift and had called down to him a couple of hours ago to remember to eat, but Harry had struck a good vein with his writing and then WHAMMO.
After the pain subsided, Harry Gardner had the oddest feeling that he was a werewolf. He looked down at his body, only to find that his body was now behind him, so he looked back at his body. It appeared suspiciously werewolf-like. He tried to call out to his wife, but it sounded like AAAaaawhoooOOOO and Harry noted that that was a rather werewolf-esque sound. He padded up the wooden stairs with no risers. The door was ajar and he nudged it open with his snout, which–he thought to himself–was not the way people opened doors. There was a mirror in the bedroom.
Motherfucker, I’m a werewolf, Harry said to himself. Shouldn’t I be ravaging through the village by now? Bounding through the moonlight on a wild murder spree? We really need a new dresser. Should I be thinking about dressers? Werewolfs don’t care about bedroom furniture.
Harry sat there staring his new, temporary self in the mirror for a while until he got hungry.
Well, he thought, this is it. The hunger shall take me and I’ll be forced to eat people.
The hunger had not forced him to eat people, and Harry walked into the kitchen and had the roast chicken Capolina had left him in the fridge. Then, he curled up on the kitchen floor, which he now found delightfully cool.
“What is this?”
Harry Gardner snapped his eyes open. He was naked on the kitchen floor and the sun was up and his wife was standing over him in light-green scrubs. He looked down and saw the body he was used to, pink and relatively hairless and bipedal
“How was work?”
“Baby, why are you naked on the kitchen floor?”
Harry decided to be brave and tell his wife the truth.
“It was hot.”
But then changed his mind and lied.
“So I slept on the kitchen floor.”
Capolina had pulled her long brown hair from its work ponytail, and it ran down the front of her scrubs that were now also covered with her folded arms.
“It was like 60 degrees last night.”
“Outside. Outside, it was 60 degrees. In here? A sauna.”
They had been married for less than three years, which may explain why Harry thought she was buying his story. He had propped himself up nonchalantly on his elbow.
“I think it’s the thermostat. Just went, you know, kablooey.”
“Seems fine in here now.”
Capolina was too tired to deal with whatever the fuck was happening on her kitchen floor, so leaned over and kissed Harry on the forehead.
“Good night, baby.”
She walked into the bedroom, and then their bathroom, where she checked the medicine cabinet to see how many pain pills were left. Then she popped one in her mouth, chewed it up, and walked back into the bedroom. She did not do well on the night shift–she was a natural early riser–and guzzled coffee throughout the hours, so when she got off she was frazzled and fuzzy and her stomach hurt and she felt dumb and drained.
Harry felt like he had been a werewolf.
He had to keep it from Capolina, he knew that. Three nights a month, he reasoned. What if I say that a big children’s book publisher in New York wants to meet with me? And so I have to go for three days? But she’d want to come. What if I tell her the publishers hate wives? No, that makes no sense. What if I just fucking run out of the house? Wait, no, that’s terrible. I’d have to come back and then what would I say? Maybe the monastery? I could go to the monastery. No! Fuck! Consecrated ground. Werewolfs can’t go on consecrated ground. Wait. Can they? I need to read a book about werewolfs.
The bell on the door of the bookstore with no title went TINKadink.
Mr. Venable was in his customary seat, wearing his customary suit. He was reading John Dos Passos because he supposed that someone still should, There was a thin line of green powder sprinkled on the desk in front of him. He needed a haircut.
“I’m looking for a book.”
“They’re that way.”
He pointed towards the back of the shop, the three towering shelves that made up four aisles receding into the distance, and the dogleg left that led to the annex and the basements and sub-basements.
“You’ll recognize them instantly. Made out of paper and lies.”
“I’m looking for a specific book.”
“How specific? Do you have a title?
“Our gyre of specificity is widening. I heard you got eaten by a squatch.”
Harry’s eyes lit up.
“Yes! It was a squatch! No one believes me.”
“That’s because you’re an idiot. There’s no such thing as squatch.”
Mr. Venable sipped from his coffee cup and mumbled into the mug,
“What is the genre of book you seek, Gardner?”
Harry looked around the store as casually as he could manage. His hands were in the pockets of his jeans and he had been in too much or a rush to put on underwear.
“Are you asking me?”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather sit on my floor reading through the children’s section without buying anything like usual?”
“No. I am a purchaser today.”
“Werewolfs. Like, a history of ’em.”
“A history of werewolfs?”
“A book about the legends. The whole thing of it. GRRRR and all that and the moon. Werewolfs.”
Harry was wonderful with the English language when he had time to sit and think about it, less so when he extemporized.
“The annex. Take the ladder up; the stairs need debreeding. Fourth row on my right. You’ll see a shelf with only maroon-colored books on it. Walk past it without browsing. Keep going. If you see the Hermitage, you’ve gone way too far. Turn right at the shelf that smells like garlic and you’re there.”
“Werewolf section is next to the dracula section
Harry walked into the bookstore with no title via the row on the left, and a barefoot man in a black suit walked out of the row on the right. He was tall and hairless, and carrying a large hardcover book, which he placed on Mr. Venable’s desk. He was careful not to upset the line of green powder.
“An Illustrated History of the Seattle Pilots?”
“I have varied tastes.”
The man smiled. He had too many teeth.
The man laid a bill on the desk and said,
“Thank you very much.”
“Find everything you needed?”
“And even more.”
Harry read while he walked. Burchard’s Intro to Lycanthropy. Mr. Venable said that it was the text they used in the Therianthropolgy course at Harper College. There were, according to Burchard, seven ways to become a werewolf and one of them was what had happened to him. Fucker got some slobber in me when he was trying to eat me. Fluid transfer, there you go, number two on the list. (Number one is the seventh son of a seventh son thing. Ways three through seven are: cursed by God/god/gods; gypsy incantation; rare side effect of aspirin; magical soup; peer pressure. )
But, he read hiding in the bathroom of the cottage on Bailey Street he shared with his wife, there was only one outcome: giving in to the animalistic urges implied by the body and lusting for human flesh. There was nothing in the book about taking the news rather well (he congratulated himself), eating some roast chicken, and falling asleep on the kitchen floor.
When Capolina woke up, Harry was gone. He had left a note on the couch saying he had gone to run errands with a drawing of a happy goat in the corner. She left for the hospital around dusk and he still wasn’t back because he was hiding down the street behind a bush watching to see when she would leave. When people walked by, he pretended to look for his contact lens. When she disappeared around the corner, he counted to a hundred and went home.
This is worse, Harry Gardner thought. He was sitting naked on the edge of his bed waiting to turn into a werewolf and thought to himself, this is much worse. Last night, I didn’t know it was coming. The actual transformation bullshit was awful, but at least I didn’t have to worry about the whole thing. It was dark out. He had drawn the shades, but he could see that it was full-on night by now. Was it cloudy? Oh, fuck no, this can’t be like the cartoons where I keep switching back and forth every time the moon goes behind a WHAMMO.
He opened his eyes to a mirror. Yup. Not a dream. Werewolf. Bloodlust? Didn’t seem so. My name is Harold Nance Gardner and I’m married to Capolina Yvette Gardner née Barnard. I went to Harper College and graduated with a degree in Art. My phone number is 821…oh, goddammit, it’s me. I’m stuck in a werewolf. What the fuck?
Harry cast an angry, black eye on Intro to Lycanthropy, which was sitting on the nightstand. He would have to return it, he thought, but then considered what he would say when Mr. Venable asked why. Instead, he crunched it in his massive jaws and shook his head back and forth. It was a lot more fun than he would have assumed, and he realized what dogs saw in it. Paper was flying everywhere and he was growling and drooling and having himself such a time that he didn’t hear Capolina walk in the front door.
“Baby, they sent me home because there were too many–”
And then she was standing in the bedroom doorway.
Harry turned around, dropped what was left of the book. He had never seen her this scared and it frightened him and he dropped to his belly and whimpered. His front paws were under him.
The overhead light was on, and the ceiling fan, too. It rattled. Harry had been meaning to tighten up all the screws on it because Capolina had a recurring phobia about the whole contraption loosing itself and crashing down on her while she slept. He was taking up all the space in between the bed and dresser–squeezed in tight, actually–and his fur was greasy and bristly and coarse and did not reflect the overhead light or ruffle in the breeze of the fan. Peaked ears blacker inside than out. Pointed snout that did not even try to hide six-inch long fangs. Shoulders too broad to be a real wolf.
Capolina had pissed herself and Harry could smell it, full of fear, and he hated himself for doing this to her and made even more pathetic noises; he buried his head under his left paw.
They stayed like that for a few moments.
And then Harry, very slowly, uncovered his head and raised it. He did not make eye contact with Capolina, but he raised his head just a foot and, with his teeth, opened the middle drawer of the dresser. Just a few inches. Put his snout in. Came out with a pair of his own boxer shorts. Pale blue. Put them on the floor and nudged them towards her.
Slowly still, he pulled out another pair. White with thin maroon stripes. Nosed them her way.
Capolina tilted her head just like the RCA dog and said,
He did not leap up in joy and begin licking her, but his tail did thrash back and forth.
“If you’re Harry, bark three times.”
They weren’t really barks, more like BORFF BORFF BORFF, and Capolina tilted her head the other way and her eyes opened real wide and she said,
“I TOLD you it wasn’t a squatch!”
Harry got to his feet, all four of them, and they were the same height.
“Jesus, baby, you’re fucking terrifying.”
His tongue was the size of her face, and he licked it over and over. Later on, Capolina called for pizza and they watched the Late Show on KSOS.
The Purveyor was greasy and short and had been smoking the same cigarette for at least a decade. They did not make the brand anymore. He kept it in the right corner of his mouth and the eye above it was squinted shut. It was a cool day out, but he was sweating as he unloaded the packages from his van into the kitchen of the restaurant with no name. Not all the way in. A busboy met him at the back door and take the meat, which was wrapped in thick, waxy, yellow paper, from him, The Purveyor was not allowed in the restaurant. Mr. Leopard stood by with a clipboard and a pencil, making indecipherable notes to himself. When there was nothing left in the van, Mr, Leopard paid the Purveyor in cash. Most days, there was nothing spoken beyond a price.
Today, Mr. Leopard said,
“There is, I believe, something new in the neighborhood. And old. Something very old that is also new.”
“Which the fuck is it, old or new?”
“Fuck that. Can’t be.”
“Ancient, but recently arrived.”
“You’re such a pompous fuck, you know that?”
There was no magical reason the Purveyor couldn’t come in the restaurant with no name; he was just a little prick, and Mr. Leopard hated him.
“I think there’s a werewolf.”
“Easy enough just to say that. Don’t have to go all spooky-fucking-ooky, Why don’t you just hold a flashlight under your face, monster mash?”
“Can you get me the werewolf or not?”
The Purveyor was wearing a flat cap, and he took it off and rubbed at his wet, bald skull. Looked up at the sky, down at the ground, the sky again. Put the cap back on.
“I can get anything. I’m the Purveyor.”
Mr. Leopard said,
“Did you look cool in your head doing that?”
“Oh, don’t pretend you weren’t trying to be cool, Sidney.”
All of the busboys had left the kitchen.
“Can you get the werewolf or not?”
“Of course I fucking can. Where is it?”
“Within walking distance of that bookstore on the Main Drag.”
“The one that asshole owns?”
“Guy’s a fucking asshole. You met a werewolf in a bookstore? I met a hula dancer in jail once.”
“I didn’t meet the werewolf. I overheard him.”
“Overheard him? What, growling in the romance section?”
“Asking for a book.”
“How does a werewolf ask for a book?”
“The werewolf was a person at the time. Bookstores are open during the day. Make some inferences, please.”
“Heard a guy ask for a book. That’s your werewolf?”
Mr. Leopard was very tall and had too many teeth. He bent at the waist towards the Purveyor, whose real name was Sidney, and Sidney saw his eyes change from blue to black and back again. It happened quickly, so the Purveyor wondered if it was just a trick of the light, so Mr. Leopard did it again. Slower. He had far too many teeth.
“I recognized the tone of voice.”
“I can get him.”
“Anything else besides ‘lives near a bookstore?'”
Mr. Leopard smiled.
“His name is Gardner.”
“That was the hula dancer’s name, too.”
The Purveyor walked back to his van and slammed the back doors shut. It was east to get lost in the Warehouse District, but he didn’t take one wrong turn and shortly enough he was driving up the Main Drag, which is a road in Little Aleppo.