by Kate England
After losing his wife, Hank believes he has become a werewolf and seeks out help.
Hank poured some of the near-boiling coffee into the thin paper cup, wincing as it singed his fingers. He had tucked the books he needed under his arm, squeezing them awkwardly against his ribs as he tried dispense the powdered creamer into his drink. Small delicate hands reached over his, plucking the non-dairy creamer from his hands and began to mix it for him.
Hank startled and the books under his arm toppled to the floor with a thud that caused every head in the cramped basement to turn in his direction.
“My fault!” said the girl who was now adding two sugars to his coffee. She had dirty blonde hair that looked like she’d cut it herself. Her eyes were two different colors, one brown as the coffee, the other a blue that was so light it was almost white. Everyone in the room turned back to their own conversations and the dull drone picked back up as though it had never happened.
“How did you know I liked sugar?” asked Hank, as he stooped to pick up his books. Call of the Moon had landed face up and was none the worse for wear. Lycanthropy: Fact or Fiction now had an ugly crease across the front cover, and Hank frowned as he tried to smooth it out.
“You smell sweet,” she said with a grin. “We don’t get a lot of your kind here.”
“Werewolves?” he said, feeling the blood rush to his face again. She arched a brow and blinked at him.
“Um, well…” she paused looking at him closely. Then held out a hand. “Waverly.”
“Hank,” said Hank, and shook her hand, feeling calluses on her palm.
“How did it happen for you?” she asked.
Hank picked up the coffee and took a deep pull. It was still far to hot, and he burned his tongue and hissed.
“I… I was attacked,” he said and he could feel has hands shaking. Waverly reached out and took the coffee from him before it could splash over the sides.
“They killed my wife, and I… I don’t know how I survived, but I did.”
He had been in the hospital for weeks on end. Nothing but white walls, beeping and constant interruptions instead of sleep. But it had been better than home. He thought he was ready for home. But he could smell her everywhere. He didn’t remember what happened, but when he woke up again, her clothes had been ripped to shreds and pictures pulled from the walls and smashed. Until there was nothing left that smelled like her. Until her eyes didn’t watch him from the walls, asking him why he was still there and she was cold and gone.
“That’s how I knew I was a monster. Who could do that? It was all I had left of her,” he said, his voice cracking.
Waverly hugged him. She smelled nothing like his wife. Nothing like any woman he’d ever smelled. Musky and wild, and he sobbed into her shoulder. No one looked over at them.
“Shh, honey, shh. You’re not a monster, baby,” she whispered, rubbing his back. She guided him to a seat, sat him down and pushed the coffee back into his hands. “And you know in your heart that we didn’t attack you or your lady, or you wouldn’t be here.”
Hank shook his head, wiping at his eyes.
“But I don’t remember things… And the moon. It was a full moon when they killed her,” he said.
She stared at him with her mismatched eyes, and he could see the tears she was holding back.
“I got bit when I was eight. Before I knew what I was doing, I chased down down a deer with the neighbor’s dogs. Then we went after the three-year-old Jenkin’s boy, Greg caught me before we got him. Gave me this,” she pushed her hair back and he could see a scar of puncture wounds on the back of her neck. She pointed to the sleight man in his sixties with silver hair and wire-rim glasses. “He saved me from killing that poor kid. Told me I wasn’t an animal. Showed me I wasn’t. I didn’t believe him for a long time, but then, eventually something clicked.”
“But I am,” he said. “I know I am.”
“No, honey. You’re just lost. But that’s okay, we all are. Why don’t you stay here and listen to the meeting. You can talk if you want, everyone gets a chance to talk.”
Hank stared at her mismatched eye, then nodded.
The sleight man with the wire rims stood up. The side-talk and laughter died away.
“Welcome to Lycan’s Anonymous, I’m Greg and I’m a werewolf.”
“Hi Greg!” said the crowd. Hank looked at the backs of people’s heads, some were long braids, others buzzed close to the scalp, some tattooed, others nothing but various hues of skin.
As the meeting went on, many people spoke about being infected, some had killed someone they love, others had learned about their infection before they turned and learned how to manage it. Some talked about how their families and friends left them one, by one. About the isolation.
Hank was crying now. Waverly handed him a tissue.
“Does anyone else want to share a story?” asked Greg.
Hank stood up.
“Hi, I’m Hank. I’m…” he paused and looked at the sea of faces looking him. “I thought I was a were-wolf. But..” He could feel his throat close.
“Hi Hank,” said Waverly, and other voice joined in until they blended and became one voice, helping him stand.
“My wife was killed. I was hospitalized. When I came home, I couldn’t deal with her being gone and I destroyed everything she touched,” he said. “Now it’s just me. I’m so tired of being alone.”
Hands clapped him on the back, at least one tousled his hair. A gesture that would have infuriated him yesterday, made him feel an overwhelming surge of love.
“You don’t have to be alone, hun. We’re all here for you. You’re welcome any time,” said Waverly. Everyone around him nodded.
“But, I’m not…”
“Shh,” said Waverly. “We know, baby. We know.”