It was a good thing that we had washed my cloths because Dan’s funeral was to be held that evening over at the town chapel. The ceremony lasted for an hour. Starting with Mass in the chapel a small well kept building with white siding boards, a high peeked roof of dark grey slate shingles. Protruding from the steeple was a tower that comprised the entrance way of the chapel housing also the town bell. This was tolled on the hour the number of hours it represented by the number of rings on the bell. From the early hours of the morning to the latter ones of dusk and then through the evening until the tenth hour the bell would be rung. The usual prayers and blessings were said, over the casket. During the beginning and ending of the mass. everyone was in black or in the darkest colors they owned. The grey shirt I’d used for my wolfen friend had been the closest I had to black, and the blood had washed out with a lot of effort. It may just as well have been the great flood that God used to wipe out the wicked in the world all over again. I remembered that in that Old Testament passage, God had only preserved Noah, his family and two of every creature accept those that swam from annihilation. It wasn’t what Father’s homily was about, but it seemed to fit the somber tears that puddled on the stone floor in this situation. My mother and I sat with the Smith family in the front row we’d been close friends for some time and it was only natural since no one else had known Dan’s family as well or as long as mothers had. The consecration followed the homily, and I kept asking in my head. “Why God? Why Did You Take Him Away?” I was angry with God for letting this happen, it was the reason why I didn’t go up for communion that and I needed to go to Confession. Dan’s father didn’t go up either. Perhaps he shared my sentiments. The Mass ended and the whole congregation processed to the cemetery, a large yard concealed behind a hedge of dark evergreen bushes right next to the church. Entering through the gate next just to the right down a short path when you exited the church. Being one of the pal bearers, I was right up at the head of the procession. Late spring was in full swing, a good deal of greenery, “grass, tulip/daffodil bulbs, fox gloves, pansies included” were in full bloom. We made our way through the yard of multi shaped head stones. To where there was one newly made one with the dirt freshly dug up from in front of it. The march stopped, Dan was lowered six feet bellow in the coffin of oak planks. The priest said the blessing and then sprinkling the grave with holy water, invited every one else to do the same before everyone left and the grave digger shoveled the dirt back into place covering the spot where Dan now rested.
The blacksmith, his wife, and old Jack came over to our house for a supper in memory of Dan, the priest was unable to attend as he was all ready having dinner elsewhere but he thanked us for the invitation before taking his leave. It may have been for the better that he didn’t stay. Old Jack and Smithy Thomas being long time friends from about the time they both were very young like Dan and me, were in the mood for hard numbing liquor. The fact that both their apprentices had been close friends had endeared me to the smithy family in a sense, and Dan’s death had been a hefty blow to them both.
The bottle was quite free that evening everyone, myself included, partook in a cup, “or five in the black smiths case.” As a result, he was out cold in the first hour, not having been much of a drinker to begin with. Jack was not far behind. My mother and Dan’s mother retreated up the stairs to mothers sewing room, leaving me to clean up.
Clearing off the table, I stacked the plates and silver ware in a bucket letting my mind wander as I scrubbed the plates clean. “What would he have done if I’d died? Would he have cried as much as I had?” taking the bucket out to the edge of the woods I dumped the dishwater before taking the dishes in to dry. Seeing the pheasant carcass now golden brown and still stuffed partially with moms bread stuffing, I took it out to toss it, because it would not keep until morning unless it was chilled, and we didn’t have a root cellar or a place that was cold enough to save it but then something crossed my mind. My friend had not eaten all day! Rushing to my window, I tapped lightly and then waited. There was no response. Puzzled I rapped again, a little harder this time. When there was no response yet again, I noticed the window was unlatched and was slightly lifted. He had gone out already. I felt a touch of jealousy that he had escaped to the freedom of the woods and I had been stuck in the midst of the sorrow unable to escape my own grief. There had been the wine with dinner… but I didn’t believe in getting heavily drunk. Returning the bird to the kitchen, before going back out, I opened the window the rest of the way went in grabbed my flute and then headed to my no longer secret grove. I had promised Dan I would practice and I was not about to brake that promise either, it was all I could give him now. The wolf would probably find me there as he returned from whatever he was doing. The wood sounds were much more alive to me I thought as I followed the trail down to where it forked. One-way going farther down to where the single barge “owned by the black smith of course” was anchored in a boathouse, at the one spot in the river that was always high enough to float it if the want arose. The other part of the path lead through the back woods behind the town and ended where it looped up with the barge path. Taking the back woods path, I made for where the brambles and thorns grew thickest. It was this screen which had until recently kept my secret grove hidden from prying eyes. Going around the thorns by my usual path, I entered the grove and headed to the stump. Getting up on it, I stood and put air to the tip of my instrument. Placing my fingers accordingly, I started to blow. Twee, I winced and readjusted my fingers I started to play the tune “the vagabond.” At least I tried to, but it came out sounding a lot more like noise with bit's of the Vagabond mixed in buy... not all that close to the song. I sucked at this. Tossing the flute to the side, I decided to go for a walk. And so I found myself retracing the path of last night. I’d left some trail in my rush to get to the wolf, the other night, and I realized that it was probably this what had led the black smith to my hidden grove. Still, it didn’t make sense why was he out there with a cross bow shooting anything that moved? The wolfs reaction had been understandable enough. He’d simply been getting out of sight so he could preserve the fact that he existed as well as his refuge spot with me. The fact that he had hidden me with him must have just been habit, or perhaps a sign of how much he might actually care about me as his friend. I was touched by this new revelation. Did this wolf really count me a friend to where he feared for my well-being? On the other hand, perhaps the blacksmith posed a greater threat than I was aware of, but that couldn’t be right I’d known the man forever. Or at least the past nine years since he had moved here. I knew very little about my wolf, I didn’t know his name, who he was, or even what he looked like when he was human. “I’m not much qualified to be his helper or friend.” I thought darkly. “Why did he tolerate me?” I don’t know how long I walked for but I imagine it was two hours before I finally found myself in the place my feet seemed to have been leading me all along. The cemetery. “Of course” I thought. “To say good-bye to Dan.” I hadn’t really been able to at the funeral. More likely, I hadn’t had the guts to. Picking my way through the graves to where his lay. I wondered what I would say when I reached his grave. Would I brake down and cry again? Would I just stand there staring? I didn’t know. Finding the grave Marked Daniel Smith, I took a seat. The freshly packed earth filling my nostrils with it’s rich damp aroma. For a time I just looked at the headstone. Then I finally started to speak, “hey Dan, sorry I couldn’t get in to see you while you were sick. I tried you know.” An owl hooted some where in the distance. “Guess it doesn’t matter any more.” Pulling my knees up to my chest, I started to rock from side to side, as I felt the damp grass soaking the seat of my pants. “I can come see you when ever I want now.” it felt comforting to say this but I still felt a chasm in me where he was missing. “I just wish you could still come to visit me whenever you wanted instead of having to wait on me to visit you.” that did it, tears rolling down my face I just sat there again wondering the same question I had during mass. “Why God? Why him and why now?” Lost in my one-way conversation with the dead, I had failed to notice the figure who’d been behind me for the past hour. When I felt his hands on my shoulders for a moment, I dreamt it was Dan. The light squeeze he gave my shoulders however tipped me off to the fact that it was my wolfen companion. I leaned back and found myself being pulled up onto his lap. His arms folded around me in an intimate way that spoke of comfort. I surrendered to it as his wet tongue found my right ear. “Why’d he have to die?” I asked my comforting comrade. He didn’t answer for a time but then turning me so I could see him he tried to sign to me what he was saying. First pointing at the grave and then shaking his head vigorously. I was confused as I wiped my eyes not wanting him to see me crying. “What do you mean?” I asked. He pointed at the headstone and then to himself, then repeated the original gesture. I still didn’t get it. With still more vigor he thrust his pointing wolf paw hand at the gravestone and then at himself. Catching on or so I thought I asked, “You knew Dan too?” he shook his head. Frustrated, repeating again his gestures. “What do you mean?” Again the signing back and forth pointing at the gravestone and then at himself, the name and then him. “The Name!” My eyes going wide I think I had an inkling of where this was headed with this. “You’re?” I trailed off pointing at the grave because words seemed to fail me. He nodded jubilantly at my unasked question. I could only stare disbelieving. The friend of my child hood; the one I’d just spent the day crying my eyes out for was right here with me! Holding me on his lap, no less! “Di… Dah… Dan?” I finally managed in a whisper. “You’re… alive?” He smiled at me then and put his paws on my shoulders. “Thu , thu-huh-unksss.” Removing his hands he placed one too his chest. To the wounded part of his chest, I realized. Then, taking my hand, he put it to the wounded spot and pressed it there to his flesh. I could feel his heart beating like a drum! “How?” I asked him still more than a little stunned. Shaking my head trying to get control over myself, I asked him an easier question. “How long have you been one?” he pointed to the wound and then to me. “Since last night?” he nodded. “Wha-what happened.” I asked. He pointed to himself, “This is what happened.” I could not comprehend it. I mean I’d seen it before the time Rolf changed in front of me to run off. But this? I couldn’t see my Friend Dan doing it. I couldn’t see him exploding out of his own flesh into this form. Nevertheless something wasn’t right. Shouldn’t Dan have reverted to his human form? Moreover, why wasn’t he in a full wolf form now it was still a full moon! I tried asking him but he shrugged both times. “I don’t know” was all he could say to this. “You don’t know how?” shaking his head in “No I don’t.” he sighed in lament to the fact. Turning back to the grave a thought crossed my mind “Why this then, why cover it up.” A growl emitted from Dan’s throat, suddenly turning into a whine. It was unnerving; looking back at him I could see he was crying, it hurt to see him like this. Standing up I reached out and took his head in my arms stroking his face. I found myself acting very much as mother had for me just this morning. He was acting as if some one really had died. Then I realized, that in the minds of everyone he knew, Dan had in fact died. “Oh Dan.” I found I was crying with him too. “It’ll be all right you’re not dead to me, you never will be,” standing up himself, he turned to leave. However, surprising him and myself I didn’t let go of his neck I held on fiercely. I knew that if I let him go now I was bound to loose him completely. Each stride jolted me as he raced on, blindly bent on out running even pain.
My arms and shoulders screamed in protest, and I finally did loose my grip, but he had me in his own arms now, preventing my falling and being trampled. The forest was whisking by in a dark black blur with only hints and wisps of silver as the countryside changed rapidly. Abruptly we stopped. He was putting me down on a stump. My mind making a connection to the past I threw my aching arms around his neck again and refused to let him go.
“Don’t leave! Please don’t. It’ll be like you dying all over.” He flinched at this and I continued on the thought line.
“At least take me with you, I can go places you can’t I can learn things far easier than you can in your state.” He seemed to be relenting, comprehending the sense behind my argument.
“Come home with me for tonight and we can tackle this in the morning, Tomorrow, Together!” Saying this last bit with as much emphasis and finality as I was able, putting particular stress on the last word, he sighed giving in, in that way that Dan usually did when he knew there was no changing my mind even slightly with out putting me unconscious first. He scooped me up in his arms again “a very un-Dan thing to do,” and carried us both back to my house. We entered through the window. He slipping in first and lifting me up after. Everyone was long since asleep or passed out so I went and snagged the food that was left. He didn’t complain that everything was cold. Spending a particular amount of time on the chicken, I swear he had it picked dry by the time he was finished with it only he wasn‘t finished. I found this out when I went to take the skeletal bird carcass from him. He snapped at my hand giving a warning growl reminding me that even though this was Dan my best friend, it was also a lethal predator who had some behavioral deviances that I didn’t know about. This was only emphasized by him crunching up the chicken bones into a paste that he swallowed. Thinking back on how you weren’t supposed to give dogs chicken or pork bones because they splintered I thought to bring this up but then again I didn’t want to get bitten. When all of the chicken bones were gone Dan looked up at me expectantly. I handed him the next dish of leftovers attentively worrying that he might eat the dish too but as it turns out I didn‘t have to worry. He cleaned out all the dishes with his tongue and all I had to do was scrub and rinse them in soapy water after he was done. Putting the washed plates and dishes away, in the cupboard, I then proceeded to tidy up the room before going and washing myself.
When I at last made it to my room he was waiting for me all ready in the bed.
I noticed he’d kept the apron on. I was grateful; slipping off my shoes and tossing my shirt over my head, I went and sat down on the edge of the bed. His hands reached out for me and I eased into them with out a struggle. Folding his arms over me again and licking my ear. I felt all right with it. I’d known Dan to be very reclusive when it came to emotions or stating his opinions. But since last night, he’d been more emotionally physical and confident than he’d ever been. It seemed like that any way. Doggy kisses, and sharing a bed were very un-Dan things and I didn’t understand it. Did these things come with his being a werewolf now? They must of I realized recalling earlier that day how he’d thrown me bodily into the river, the other Dan hadn’t been that malicious in his jibes and jests or if he had I certainly wasn't aware of the fact. Perhaps being a werewolf caused a person to be more expressive of themselves. Grudgingly I went to sleep fearing that when I awoke that he would be gone. After all, if he was capable of tossing me in the river he was perfectly capable of leaving once I fell asleep if he had set his mind to it. I really hoped that he had not.
I dreamt of wolves that night. Not werewolves but the usual kind that walked on all fours. There were seven of them. Sitting in a half circle around me, as I lay facing them the way I had going to sleep in Dan’s arms I remember them coming up to me one by one. Each planted a doggy kiss on my bare skin before walking off into the forest. When they’d all gone I shifted in the dream, and then…
…I became aware of myself slowly. The first thing that crossed my mind was that I felt cold. The next thing to register was the lack of a particular big, warm, furriness, behind me. By the time my mind took into consideration the position I was laying in I already knew what had gone amiss. Dan, he’d gone just as I feared he would. Suddenly I felt very Isolated, empty in a way I can’t quite put words to, like a whole had been punched somewhere around the spot my stomach should be. It wasn’t a hungry feeling more nocuous really. Rolling onto my back I stared up at the ceiling while not really seeing it. All I could see was that image of Rolf running into the forest never to really show his face again only it wasn’t Rolf who I saw, It was Dan his light grey form vanishing from view in the dark growth of the forest. A chill breeze followed the last glimpse my minds eye had of him stealing what little warmth my body retained. When a leaf landed on my stomach causing me to come back to reality I looked to the window. Sure enough it was wide open, no wonder I felt cold. Sitting up I made to go and try and find Dan. Disregarding how uncomfortable I’d be in the early morning without shirt or shoes I didn’t care, I wasn’t loosing my friend sliding a foot out first I looked through the clear glass pane, to see if Dan had left some kind of trail. Not that I expected him to. The sound of a loud crunching and slurping caused me to look down suddenly, and I’ll bet you can guess what I saw.
Immediately I pulled my leg back in the window, because just when I’d thought my worst fears had come to pass I suddenly got new ones.
Hunched over what looked like it may have been a small goat before he got his hands on it was Dan. His muzzle dripped blood as he ripped off yet another hunk of goat meat from the almost clean carcass. Like with the bird last night Dan had proceeded to crack open a number of the rib bones to suck out the marrow. A surge of nausea tinged revulsion swept over me, I’d never thought I’d ever feel this way about a werewolf, but seeing this carnage changed things. The only way I’d been able to tell it was a goat that Dan had, was because he hadn’t eaten the horns or hooves. He’d been extremely thorough in his cleaning of the bones… before he’d cracked them open that is. In taking breath suddenly shocked at what I saw, I averted my eyes from the seen bellow the window.
Suddenly Dan’s wolf head appeared in the window, muzzle still bloody. He licked his chops and started to climb in. My first reaction was to sit in stunned fear. My next reaction…
… In my haste to get away from what I’d seen I neglected to remember that my bed was only so wide. Looking up from the floor with a sore posterior I saw the Image of terror framed in my window. With a blood stained maw and claws the beast in my window appeared like a nightmare out of hell. He climbed into my room clearing the window sill seemingly intent on following me. Scrambling I slid away from that sight, scooting through sawdust and wood shavings trying to make a pointless flight, desperately trying to escape that hellish creature that now stepped onto the bed making his way to the floor to catch me. Crying out never occurred to me and fighting… It would have been like throwing a toothpick at a falling redwood tree in hopes of diverting it’s descending course from where you happened to be standing. Coming to the floor his eyes aglow he crawled on hands and knees looking more and more like a great timber wolf as he padded across the room. I reached the wall helpless to get away as he got right before me. Trapped with no where else to go I turned my head away from his, unable to hold his stare. A whimper escaped me then while his blood stained muzzle brushed up against my chest. Closing my eyes tight I tensed for the end knowing that in the next instant that those fangs would be crushing my wind pipe. I’d misjudged Dan. His new form was as unpredictable as the wind and now I was about to experience first hand just how dangerous he’d become. My heart pounding fit to burst I waited. Feeling the hot rancid breath of death washing over my face I gave a sob followed by another…
A Whine in front of me caused me to look. His eyes caught mine and the hurt I saw there stung me. Bowing his head to me Dan pushed his great wolf head against my chest rubbing in… Apology? Slowly I reached up with my hands to bury them in his fur. He rubbed all the more insistent now that I’d responded “Dan?” I said in a quiet sort of croak, fear having made my throat very dry. A series of whines followed my parched query. Not holding back now I swallowed what saliva I had in my mouth hugging Dan’s head with intensity willing the terrible moment to be past forever. I must of kept his head clasped in my embrace for awhile because he pulled out of it and then turned his still bloody muzzle up to nuzzle my face, painting it red in the process. “Hey Dan.” I asked as I rubbed his snout despite the blood. “Uh, could you clean me up when you’re done?” Looking me in the eye he nodded licking his chops. “We should wash you up too.” I said seeing how his front paws and maw were still soggy and crimson. Getting up off of me he crouched on his hind legs and grabbing my right hand he lifted me back to a standing position. The goat blood on his paw spliced hands coating my wrist where he’d grasped them to lift me up. They’d need bathing too. Reflecting on what had just happened I could see that Dan never had intended me any harm. This made me feel quite foolish, it was still quite early I realized and looking at my bloody arms another thought came to mind. Where had the goat come from! More importantly had any one seen, or heard it being taken? The details would be in the days gossip for certain, but right now the body needed to be disposed of, or at least what was left, and if Dan had left a blood trail… The memory of smithy Thomas’s cross bow action was all too clear in my mind for comfort. Were he not drunk and asleep in the front room of the house I wouldn’t have let Dan set one foot out side until I’d seen for myself that the smith was in his forge and not out hunting.
Dan Got up and taking a seat on my work chair made a whine noise to get my attention. Once he had it he beckoned for me to come to him. I came over giving him my wrists and face to wash with his doggy kisses. While he washed the dab of goat blood off of my chest I noted that the bed sheets would need to be washed again. I sighed, what else would need to be washed off before decent people got up to discover the missing goat. If it was indeed just one.
“You need to be more careful from now on” I said looking into Dan’s eyes as I said this. “I can understand that your hungry, but why did you have to steal some bodies livestock?” Dan stopped lapping the blood from my chest to listen more intently. Stepping back I looked him up and down. “I mean what if some one saw you, if word got out that there‘s another werewolf in town it wouldn‘t be possible for you to stay here safely.” Dan looked at me apologetically giving a small whine at the not being able to stay part. “Couldn‘t you have taken something other than a goat?” I said putting my hands on my hips, irritated at the risk he’d taken. Growling slightly he folded his arms across his chest and gave me a look that said “well what would you have taken in my situation? I was hungry.” Stifling a yawn I decided to let the issue lie for now, besides he was getting more blood on himself, “Come one don‘t do that, I still have to clean you up remember?” Unfolding his arms Dan looked over to the open window and then back to me like he had some unfinished business to see to before his bath. “Yeah go finish up” I said patting him on the shoulder and giving him a push to get him going in that direction “Just make sure you cover your trail and bury anything that‘s left in an out of the way spot, and be careful ok.” Dan nodded and then waved to me after he’d climbed out of my window again. Putting on a fresh shirt I decided to leave the sheets on the bed until I was done washing Dan up. It’d probably be a bit yet before I could actually wash him so I decided to see about finishing the last bit of smoothing out on the chair commission that I’d sat Dan in the first night he got here. The piece was part of a dining room set that the Seamstress in the town has commissioned Old Jack for. It had been a perfect final piece for his apprentice David, Jack had decided so I’d gotten the job, and been told to do my finest work (Since the seamstress and Jack had a thing for each other.) I took my time making sure not to damage the wood with to overzealous a hand that had done in some of my work when I was younger. The legs were mostly what needed the attention right now. The clacking sound of Dan gnawing on the bones again made me stop my work. Curious to see what Dan’s new eating habits were I decided to sneak a peak, climbing onto the bed and looking out the window I watched Dan’s teeth working on a leg bone, he bit down hard and with an unmistakable crack the bone broke, a red liquid trickling out which Dan slurped up with a very satisfied look about him. It was a bit more than I could handle though. And as the Cracking and slurping continued I decided I’d better get out of the bedroom before I lost whatever was left in my stomach from last night. Opening my door and then quickly closing It I surveyed the Living room The black smith and carpenter were still passed out cold on the sofa and in the cushioned chair. As for the Kitchen it was just as I’d left it last night before going to bed with my friend. Mother had drilled into my head, clean kitchen good, dirty kitchen bad, since before Aunt Joy died. The place was definitely up to her standards but since there was another woman over it was my job to get breakfast on. This meant Thyme tea for the men (to help with the hangover’s) and mint tea for the ladies, eggs enough for everyone to have two and coffee to follow since so many guests were over. The thing I was really not looking forward to having to make this morning was biscuit’s. I’d have to make a double batch and get out some of the strawberry preserves from last years canning. Pumping some water into the kettle for the tea, I set the pot to boil and then went about getting everyone’s tea and coffee cups set up places set in the dining room and then gathering the ingredients for the biscuits.
Having all but forgotten about Dan I went out to get some eggs and the preserves from the cellar, while I was down there I thought that maybe Mother would want to serve some canned pears as well so I grabbed a jar of those before heading back up to go back inside. I almost dropped everything when I came up from the cellar, coming face to face with Dan. “I told you to be careful!” I hissed after my heart had stopped pounding from the fright. Dan panted in his laughing sort of way but got serious quickly as I came the rest of the way out of the cellar setting things down and closing the doors. “I‘ll be in the room to wash you in a few minutes if your ready.” I said looking for Dan’s confirmation he nodded his doggy head before walking back around the house to where my window was. It was still unreal seeing him about Three to two and a half heads taller than me. Stopping at the corner of the house he looked back and I could tell that it wasn’t me he was looking at. His nose was a dead give away. “Don‘t get any ideas,” I said kicking the latching board back into place over the cellar doors “We can‘t start taking food from the cellar to feed you,” Looking a little abashed Dan ducked out of sight before I could say anything else.
Going back inside, I had yet another surprise and in a way relief. Finding Mom and Mrs. Smithy down from up stairs in two of mothers White Night gowns over which they had aprons on I quickly looked down out of modesty. Looking up at me Mom Said “David your up early.” surprised as I it seemed. “Yeah well we had guests and…” I trailed off setting the basket with the eggs, and preserves on the table and quickly making a bee line for my room quite embarrassed myself for having walked in on them while they were in such a state. Entering my room, closing and locking the door behind me as was my new habit. I saw Dan waiting for me on the bed his hands had some soil on them which told me what had happened to the parts of the goat that Dan didn’t eat. “Good thinking” I said going to the window to see if any stains needed to be washed off the side of the house. From the look of things Dan had taken care of those too. “Alright lets get you cleaned up.” Taking the cold water from my wash stand pitcher I had Dan rub his paws with the bar of soap as I poured some water over them. While Dan scrubbed I took a cloth and wetting it in the pitcher I went to work on his elbows and muzzle,(basically wherever there was a blood stain on his grey pelt.) Dan cleaned up fast and rinsing his hands in the basin he then got a hold of me hooking an arm around my neck. “Hey, Dan, what are you doing.” I protested as he took the wet towel and rinsed it in the basin. Bringing it up to my face he started washing me. “Hey, cut it out, I can do it myself.” Dan gave the pant laugh, at my complaints “Come on it‘s cold” he held the cloth against my face at that comment. I got the message, he was having a little revenge for the water being cold. “Ok Dan I promise the water will be warm tomorrow.” He pant laughed at me again but he did release me from the neck hold taking the cloth off of my face as well.