(Determined by a random story idea generator)
The story features a painter, who wishes that the end will come soon, and a convict, who can be overprotective.
It’s a comedy-horror story about the dangers of ignorance. It kicks off in a summer house with someone eavesdropping on a private conversation. (Note that: someone in the story is hiding a secret that cannot be revealed.) And there’s a twist! (Which I’ll keep to myself for now)
Present day, on a wooded peninsula somewhere in the northeast.
The trickiest part of getting his wife clean, after one of her “episodes,” was keeping the brains from clogging the tub drain.
Eugene learned that the first time she came home like this. He was just so desperate to wash it all away that he sprayed her from top to bottom, painting the walls and floor of the bathroom with diluted blood, the brains sticking in the drain holes like spaghetti sauce in a colander. His beautiful wife ended up sitting in a half-inch of reddish slurry.
So he refined his methods and, over the years, he’d only gotten more efficient and thorough. He became an expert in a skill he could barely understand.
It was two in the morning. Alice lay, inert, unconscious, nude, and blood-soaked in the tub, yet again. Eugene stood over her, surveying the mess, working out his game plan, aghast at the sight of her and gagging at the smell, watching both of them from a safe distance to protect his brain from the trauma. He wanted to run away or go to bed or cry or jump out of the window, but instead, he took a shaky breath.
No time for that.
Alice needed him.
Eugene fished the kit out from its hiding space behind the cleaning supplies under the bathroom sink. From this, he removed the clothespin, which he clamped over his nose, and the bandanna, which he tied around his head and over his mouth. Then he slipped on the elbow length rubber gloves and took the wide-tooth comb in hand.
“Let’s make you good as new,” he told his passed out wife.
Though his nose was cinched tightly shut, Eugene knew well the humid stench of sweet rot that steamed off of her, and imagined curls of it creeping under his bandanna, slithering across his tongue. He coughed, steeling himself; he didn’t want to go near her. Still, he lay down a folded towel on the hard tile, knelt on this and bent over Alice, placing his hand at the top of her back and shoving her forward so that her breasts slapped against the top of her thighs.
What Eugene did next, he did out of body. Dissociation was the only way to endure this.
He combed through Alice’s hair as if she had lice, collecting the brain bits—a significant amount of them this month—in a gloved hand and depositing them in the bathroom trash can. Though he tried not to think of whose skull they’d been scoured from, he inevitably did. An animal? He hoped so. Most likely human, though. Woman, man, child?
He shook his head. Don’t think about it, Eugene.
As he worked through her hair, Eugene thought of all the times he ran his fingers through its warm waves, or tucked a lock behind her ear. How alien each familiar strand felt to him now, how grotesque. It took fifteen minutes to strip it all clean. Then he was on to the next step.
He unfolded her heavy body and eased her mouth open, sliding floss between her teeth—lovely, straight teeth, and she had a dazzling smile to match. Now, he flicked out stringy shreds of tissue, which he also collected in his gloved palm. Then, he scrubbed vigorously under her nails with a brush, ran a cuticle tool under her nails, scraping out more tissue. Was this skin? Guts? He couldn’t tell and didn’t want to know.
Then, finally, he sprayed her with a soft surge of warm water. Pink streamed off her, little rivers of it, coursing across the basin of the tub toward the drain at her feet. He scrubbed her wet skin with the loofah—skin he’d traveled often with his fingers and lips—until every trace of the blood was gone. He rinsed the tub and filled it with warm, soapy water, and bathed her and washed her hair, and only then—when she was polished clean and looked herself again—did Eugene remove the clothespin and bandanna.
The room smelled of her soap and, faintly, of that humid stench and a hint of wet dog. He’d blame it Frieda, as usual. He went to the window and popped it open to let the evening breeze air out the room.
Alice could’ve been sleeping now. She was leaning back against the tub, eyes closed, wild hair tamed by water; its sodden curls clung to her, seductively tracing the side of her neck, her collarbone, the curve of her breasts. He sat down on the toilet and just looked at her, so helpless in the bath. So calm.
His best friend and lover.
She was such a beauty. In all the years he’d known her, Alice had complained about her size—that she was too big, too hippy, too sturdy, not feminine. Not like her sisters, anyway, who were slender and delicate. But Alice was delicate to him; tall as she was, Eugene was still half a foot taller. And her body? Perfect, in his opinion. It reminded him of one of those Renaissance beauties, with their rounded, soft curves, like Titian’s Venus of Urbino. The ideal of womanliness and sensuality. The comparison didn’t exactly offend her, but she didn’t like it either.
He drained the tub and lifted her out carefully and laid her on towels he’d strewn across the floor, then padded her dry.
How helpless she looked now, cleaned of the gore that had, an hour ago, made her so terrifying. She was pale and drawn now, like someone sick with flu, barely breathing. He took her vitals—blood pressure, blood sugar, oxygen levels—finding all of them abnormal. His throat tightened. This took so much out of her, and Eugene feared it had gotten worse each month. There was nothing for him to compare it to, no reference he could turn to for answers. It was all guesswork. What was next? How long could this go on? Who knew.
He leaned over her, kissing her lightly on the forehead, whispering “I love you,” with every ounce of strength he had.
Her wounds were minimal this month. She had a few superficial scrapes and cuts, but he’d avoided looking at the gash down the length of her arm. He barely touched it while cleaning her, refused to acknowledge its existence. Now, he forced himself to.
It was about three inches long and a half-inch deep. Alice healed with supernatural speed, but this one would take time. He had to close it up, but first—
A gag pulled at the base of his throat.
He put the gloves back on. Grabbed a set of tweezers, drew these slowly to the wound, fingers trembling.
Dr. Eugene Mayhorn knew what the insides of people’s bodies looked like, what the inside of Alice’s body was supposed to look like. He should’ve seen slippery, glistening, pinkish tissue, but he didn’t.
The skin was sliced clean, as if by a knife; the gash gaped open like a mouth, sucking air. And, poking up from its depth—from inside her— stark against Alice’s silken white skin—
A tuft of soft black fur.
It was the same shade as her hair.
Eugene didn’t want to go near it, not even with gloved fingers, but of course he had to hide it back inside her body and out of sight. He took a deep breath to steady his hand, but it still shook.
She’s unnatural… run away… run away… Once voice told him.
Toughen up. She’s your wife! cried another. Treat your patient!
Eugene looked at the wound from the corner of his eye, which leaked a hopeless tear. It trailed down his cheek, settling, salty and warm, in the crook of his mouth. He forced his arm to move, the hand and its tweezers getting closer, but he gagged again.
He stopped to breathe, slow and steady.
Eugene shot his arm toward the wound again. With swift, frightened movements, Eugene tucked the fur back into the gash, tucking it under Alice’s torn skin, smoothing down any stray hairs.
He collapsed on the floor next to her, leaning against the toilet, feeling faint and clammy. He ripped off his glasses and sat with his sweating forehead in his hands, shuddering and fighting the urge to vomit or run from the bathroom and then the house, leaving Alice to face this horror alone.
He shook his head. That wasn’t an option.
From his secret bag, Eugene pulled out a suture kit he’d pilfered from work. He changed into surgical gloves, took up needle and suture, and closed the wound expertly. The fur vanished and she was a normal woman again, who’d cut her arm in some random accident. She wasn’t strange, nothing was wrong. Nothing at all.
He dressed Alice in her favorite silky pajamas and carried her to their bed; he pulled the quilt up to her chin and kissed her on the cheek, the forehead, softly on the lips, and told her again that he loved her and blessed her with dreamless sleep.
She’d be unconscious for at least ten hours, maybe more.
As usual, that gave him just enough time to finish up.
There was a blood trail from the kitchen—where she’d collapsed—to the entry hall and out the door and the walk path; it disappeared into the grass. One broken window. She’d shattered the wooden garden ducks, which was a shame, because they were Eugene’s favorite. A few strips of grass had been torn up.
The damage wasn’t too bad this time. Small mercies.
He pushed through exhaustion to scrape up the blood, sweep the glass shards from the floor and board the window. He tossed the ducks’ broken Wellington boots into the trash and stamped down the torn grass. He stuffed a black garbage bag filled with bits of brain and guts and skin and a bloodied loofah into the trash can. When it was all done, Eugene stood on his front steps and stared into the quiet night.
Had anyone seen her this time? Where she’d come from? Where she’d returned when it was over? No one had yet—they were so far out in the boonies here—but eventually, their luck had to run out. At the thought, Eugene’s knees buckled and his head spun; he grabbed the door frame and steadied himself, listening to the crickets and the sounds of small nocturnal animals, flitting through the brush.
Eugene’s anxiety would shift now, from dread of the inevitable, to the fear of being caught. He turned his eyes to the stars. Before Alice got sick, he never prayed, but in the past few years, he’d made it a regular habit. Who else was he going to talk to?
“Please, Lord, cure my wife,” he begged. “And if you can’t, help us endure another month. And prepare me for the next full moon.”
Something flitted through the brush and he looked down at the yard, seeing nothing. He said goodnight to God and went inside.
It was 4 a.m.; Eugene’s hunger was catching up with him. He was always too nervous to eat dinner on the night of one of her episodes. In their dark, echoing kitchen, he watched a frozen dinner revolve in the microwave for five straight minutes, then thumped down into the basement. He set it on the TV tray and dragged it over to his leather club chair, where he sat down heavily. He flicked on the light and his TV, and started up a DVD of Three’s Company.
The theme song began. Eugene dropped back against his comfortable chair, staring down at the sad TV dinner, its cellophane limp with moisture, and went through everything he’d done that night.
Hair, teeth, nails… clean the bathroom, air it out…the house, the yard…fix damage… Beg God…
The steps flashed by in a blur, the memory of the night he’d just passed looking like the memory of two dozen other nights just like this one. Eugene didn’t know how many more times he could do it, especially since he didn’t know how many more times there would be.
‘Til death do us part.
Eugene had said the words twenty years ago and he’d meant them. He still did. But after what he’d done, he had to wonder: did whomever wrote that vow have this nightmare in mind?
Alice was starting to notice the effect it was having on him. He was jumpy, strained, and she’d caught him screaming into a pillow once or twice. This part of the ritual was meant to release that tension, so he could be normal in the morning. Or close to it, at least.
So, by the light of the flickering TV, with steam seeping from his dinner and his wife asleep two floors away, Eugene dropped his face into his hands, ripped off the lid he’d kept over his sadness and fear and anger and disappointment, and bawled until his dinner was stone cold.
Scrambled eggs with ham, for protein. Homemade rye toast, to settle her stomach. Detoxifying asparagus, drizzled with hollandaise, and a glass of grapefruit juice.
The detoxifying foods were very important to Eugene. Whatever toxins and germs and bacteria she’d picked up the night before had to be flushed out. It couldn’t be good for her. Could it?
It was shortly after noon. Eugene was whisking hollandaise with his sleeves rolled up, wearing one of Alice’s pink aprons over his shirt and slacks. The crying the night before had fortified him for the light of day and he was anxious to see Alice and clandestinely assess her condition.
But first, he had to know if last night’s episode made the news. It usually did.
On the small TV on the counter, a commercial flashed, and then the local news jingle began. Eugene felt a sharp pain in his chest as he drizzled in the last of the butter and whisked feverishly.
“Breaking news overnight,” said the noon anchor, a wafer-thin woman with unmoving blond hair. Seeing as she delivered the bad news every morning-after, Eugene had come to hate her face. “A body was found early this morning, an apparent victim of the mysterious beast stalking Ides Neck. Sibyla Stern has been on the scene all day. Sibyla?”
Eugene set down the whisk with a shaking hand, gripped the edge of the counter, cold sweat pricking his armpits, forehead, the small of his back.
According to Miss Stern, the body—or, rather, pieces of it—was discovered by a fly fisherman, on the banks of the Savage River, shortly after dawn. She noted that the mysterious beast had stalked the peninsula for five years and had claimed over sixty victims thus far. This time, remains were scattered over 4,700 square feet. A string of large intestine had been found draped in a tree, a liver sat atop a tree stump. Identification of the victim not possible at this time. Forensics was on the scene.
The police chief appeared, side by side with an animal control officer, for the usual comments. Eugene smelled burning meat; he flopped the ham steak from the skillet to a plate. The footage switched from the chief to Sibyla, standing a safe distance from the river; small figures milled about behind caution tape. Eugene heated butter in a fresh skillet, picking up an egg to crack as she finished up her report.
“…potential break in the case,” the reporter said.
Eugene smashed the egg against the counter and its slippery contents oozed across his palm. He listened raptly, viscous egg dripping onto the counter and the floor.
“Local residents claim there may be a witness to what happened here last night, howev—”
Alice’s footsteps were at the top of the stairs. She came down, steps creaking, Eugene’s heart shooting into his throat as he hastily picked up the remote with his egg-smeared hand and switched off the TV. He tried to limit her exposure to news of the Ides Neck Beast as much as possible. Who knew what it could trigger, deep inside her mind?
He was on the floor, sopping up raw egg, when she appeared.
“Good afternoon,” she said sleepily.
“My darling!” he cooed, smiling brightly as if nothing at all had happened—last night or this morning—and he didn’t feel, in that moment, like vomiting in the kitchen sink. “Your breakfast is almost ready.”
She made her way to the kitchen table, silk robe billowing behind her. He finished cleaning and cracked two new eggs and scrambled them, hoping to God she couldn’t see the sweat trickling along his hairline.
A witness, a witness, a witness, a witness…
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Okay, I think. Very tired and I have one of my migraines.”
She sat down and rubbed her forehead, squinting her eyes against the afternoon sunlight streaming in the window. He quickly drew the shade. Alice blinked painfully.
“It happened again, didn’t it? I blacked out.”
Eugene slid wet eggs in next to her ham, lined up a half dozen asparagus and enriched them with hollandaise, and brought this and her grapefruit juice to the table. He sat next to her and put a hand on hers; it was cool and clammy to the touch. Her blood sugar was still low; he pushed the grapefruit juice toward her. She sipped.
“Yes, my darling, but don’t worry about that now. Eat, and you’ll feel much better.”
“Nightmares, too. Awful.” She shook her head, as if willing the images to slip out from her ears. “Just awful. I wish the doctors could tell me what th—”
“Don’t think about that now.” He rubbed the back of her hand. “A good meal, some time in your studio, maybe a nice walk together… That will chase the dark thoughts away.”
“Yes, that sounds nice,” she said, and slowly, she ate.
And slowly—or maybe Eugene imagined it—her cheeks grew pink and her eyes brightened. She spoke of other things. The nightmares were fading. Eugene alone knew they weren’t actually nightmares, but memories of the horrors she’d inflicted the night before. And if she knew what she’d done… Well, Eugene didn’t want to think about it.
But now was the time of detox and recovery and routine, before it all started over again. Eugene would force himself to soldier on, but this time it would be harder. When Alice went into her studio, he’d find that news story online somewhere and figure out just how worried he needed to be.
What had the witness seen? Though more crucially—did this stranger even believe his eyes when they saw a fanged beast, with its hunched back and razor-sharp talons, ripping part flesh and bone as if it were paper? Did he believe it when that beast transformed into a nude woman, with Renaissance curves and flowing hair, stumbling as if intoxicated down Kingthorpe Road, dripping blood like breadcrumbs to their front door?
With any luck, the witness would think he’d gone mad. For that matter, Eugene wished he’d gone mad, too. Or maybe he had, and he just didn’t know it.
That would explain a lot.
Eugene had always liked the look of a man’s open chest, his moist innards exposed to the outside world.
Compared to the procedures that required only a small incision, open heart surgery was more dramatic. He found the sight of a man, sprawled on a surgical table inside out, oddly comforting, because it proved he was the same as everyone else. The same mechanical parts made his life happen.
Once you’ve seen a man in such a state, you understand that differences are invented. Everyone’s liver filters toxins, everyone’s pancreas breaks down fats, sugars, and starches, everyone’s anus expels waste, everyone’s heart feeds their body with oxygen and nutrients.
As to matters of the heart! The organ was Dr. Eugene Mayhorn’s favorite, of course. It was a fascinating and wondrous machine, with its tubes and chambers, pulsing with electricity, pumping blood in and out. His favorite surgery to perform was a coronary artery bypass grafting, and he was—had been—good at it. The best. He wasn’t just repairing a heart, he was making a new one, part of the creative force that first built it. He imagined himself doing it now—stitching a healthy vein to the blocked coronary artery, making a broken machine work again. Watching life happen, because his skill made it so.
Now, over five years since his last CABG, Eugene had to ask some harried woman in the grocery store what the difference was between bread flour and all-purpose flour. He withered under her stare, both impatient and pitying, as she taught him the difference in a slow, motherly tone. He got the bread flour—and every other item Alice had scrawled on the list—with his ego significantly diminished.
When she first got sick, she would ask him to run to the grocery store, apologizing as she did so and thanking him when it was done. Now, she just left him the list and it was expected that he would tend to it. She never thanked him anymore.
Eugene shoved stuffed grocery totes into the back of his car with more force than was necessary and slammed the door shut. The wind had kicked up since he’d been inside; the storm was nearing, giving the sky an ominous yellow hue. He slipped behind the wheel and put the keys in the ignition. The radio sputtered on.
He took a deep breath.
Massaged his face, hard enough to rip off skin.
He began his tantrum by slamming his feet against the floor mat. Then he slammed his palms against the steering wheel, screaming until he was hoarse and red in the face, his voice hot and sharp in his throat. He accidentally smacked the horn a couple times.
As abruptly as he started, Eugene stopped. He didn’t open his eyes to see if someone was watching him. He didn’t care. Eyes open or closed, calm or throwing a fit, he was a ridiculous, disused, and pointless man, demoted from a life of purpose and accolades to a domestic servant. His intelligence and skill were being wasted on mundane tasks he could barely accomplish.
Isn’t that what Alice did, for how many years? a voice reminded him. His arrogance ran out of steam, like his tantrum.
You used to make her a list. She washed your underwear. She even ironed them for you. Do you remember that?
Alice was intelligent and skilled, too. And she accomplished those mundane tasks he’d set for her with ease and perfection. She never complained. Eugene looked at himself, incompetent and self-pitying.
You’re an asshole, Dr. Mayhorn.
Eugene slumped in his seat and watched dozens of panicked shoppers push carts through the parking lot, stacked with essentials to get them through the storm headed up the east coast. Most of the shoppers were women.
By his own righteous logic, he and Alice were the same. His organs were slightly different, his brain functioned in a slightly different way. Was different better? Was different even real? Her organs and brain didn’t ordain her to a life of shopping and cleaning and washing dishes. It was so arbitrary, so foolish, when seen that way.
And yet every time he had to vacuum or clean the toilet or get groceries, Eugene found himself fantasizing about slicing through a breastbone, blood slick on his surgical gloves, and the steady thump of a heart, vibrating in an open chest cavity.
What had Alice fantasized about when she picked his socks up off the floor?
He should be happy for her. Despite her illness and the murders she’d committed, he’d never seen her more content. She was finding herself, her life expanding into something new. Truth be told, he was also envious. As her life evolved his diminished, into something smaller and insignificant.
He wasn’t Dr. Eugene Mayhorn anymore. He was just Eugene, who slammed his palm against the steering wheel one more time, then put the car in reverse, and backed out of his parking spot.
Tomorrow was going to be a very bad day.
The WYRU newsroom did a countdown every month to the next attack by the Ides Neck Beast. The radio host was practically manic with what should’ve been dread, but sounded more like excitement.
The next attack would happen that night.
Usually, the radio host would dramatically advise people to stay home—while secretly hoping, Eugene believed, that at least one person wouldn’t so the beast could tear them to shreds—but this month he didn’t need to.
Everyone would stay home whether or not a full moon was coming, because a hurricane was. Category three, downgraded from a category four. It may weaken further, to a category two by the time it hit the peninsula. Eugene had scrounged as many essentials from Wegman’s shelves as he could. He boarded the windows and would fill the tubs when he got home.
Perfect damn timing.
A month after the last attack, no more was said about the witness; it was either an unfounded rumor, or the witness didn’t believe his own eyes and kept his story to himself. The only development had been identification of the victims. Yes, two this time. Two was rare. The last time Alice killed two was last winter; two teen boys, who she’d ripped them both in half lengthwise. That one was tough. This time, it had been a man and a woman and their names were being withheld until next of kin were notified.
A man and a woman.
A nerve in Eugene’s testicles tingled unpleasantly and he squirmed in his seat, but it kept on pulsing, an itchy, irritating warning beacon.
“She has to eat, right? You can’t stop her eating….” He told himself; he didn’t have to be quiet here, alone in the car. “What could I even do? Kill her… I can’t—”
He stopped at a residential intersection, three miles now from home. In a quick second, a series of what-ifs flashed across his tired mind.
What if the hurricane was upgraded back to a category four? Alice would get out in the storm to feed—nothing could stop her.
What if the wind brought down a telephone pole or a massive old tree? And she just happened to be snarling below it at the right moment, and it fell on her…
It would be over. No more werewolf transformations. No more cleaning brains from her hair. No more lying. No more fear.
Before Eugene could stop himself, he felt utterly joyous at the thought.
A car behind him honked, snapping him from these morbid thoughts.
The red light had turned to green. He eased through the intersection and realized what he’d just been thinking. That he’d been hoping for his wife to die.
“You don’t want her to die,” he stated aloud, but only half believed it. “Do I? Maybe I do a little. I want the werewolf to die. Not Alice. But I can’t have that, can I?”
Horrible husband. Horrible man. He gripped the steering wheel, wishing it was his own neck. “In sickness and in health…”
Eugene drifted through another intersection and into the shadowed, desolate lane that stretched the final two miles to his house. The road climbed, swooping around a graceful bend, trees soaring overhead from both shoulders of the road.
“It doesn’t matter… if getting hit by a car didn’t kill her, a hurricane won’t…” It had happened a year ago; there was a nasty gash across her midsection and her pelvis was broken. She’d slept for two days, but she healed.
She’d always heal.
She was indestructible.
Even if Eugene wanted to kill her, he probably couldn’t. And wasn’t he just a little disappointed at the prospect? He never thought he’d yearn to be a widower.
The road flattened and straightened. A few houses peeked out from between the trees. Home wasn’t far now, and there was a day of mindless chores ahead of him.
“This is going to go on forever, Eugene. The rest of your life…” He grew more hopeless, the fantasy of Alice’s—no, the werewolf’s—death fading. “You’re forty-five. The average life expectancy for a white male is about seventy-six. That’s thirty-one years. Thirty-one. There are twelve full moons a year, sometimes thirteen.”
He did the calculations swiftly, mouthing the multiplication softly to himself like a prayer, stomach acid swishing in his throat. He hadn’t eaten breakfast, nor would he eat lunch.
“I have to do this three-hundred-and-seventy-two more times.” At least, and he was healthy. Maybe I should start smoking… His house was in view up on the left; he slowed the car, pressing his eyes shut for just a moment. “I can’t, Lord, I can’t…”
Would she only get hungrier and hungrier? Would it always be one victim a month, or more often two? Maybe three, eventually. That was so many dead people. Only one thousand souls lived on Ides Neck. Most of them were past child-bearing age. She could kill everyone on the peninsula before they had a chance to fill it back up again with children. And then she’d probably eat them, too.
No, you fool. That level of carnage would get too much attention. She’d be discovered… How could he just let so many innocent people die? And horribly…
He opened his eyes.
A figure burst from the trees on the left shoulder. He heard barking. The figure sprinted into the road.
Wide eyes, set in a young face, locked onto Eugene’s.
He slammed on his brakes.
Stupidly, Eugene shut his eyes again, so he didn’t have to watch himself run over a stranger.
The awful thump of metal against flesh. Then flesh against glass.
The tires screeched.
He stopped. But still, Eugene didn’t open his eyes.
Life flashes before your eyes before you die, so they say.
Eugene didn’t think he was about to die—he’d only been driving fifteen miles an hour. And he didn’t witness a retelling of his life. No, each image thrust into his view had to do with Alice.
The love of his life.
The first time he saw her, a darling, lovely girl of twenty-two. Statuesque and shy, with waves of dark hair falling down her back. Her smile…
Standing in the hallway, listening to his parents call her plain and burly and a gold-digging liar. Eugene had hit his father square in the teeth.
Appearing from beneath her veil, for her first kiss as his wife.
Making his dinner, laying out his suit. On his arm, laughing the way she used to.
The perfume and the purple dress and the black lace lingerie she used to wear.
The six-inch wide bite on her thigh. Just a dog? the ER nurse had asked, disbelieving.
And, a month later, laying beside him with the full moon streaming into their bedroom. A scream in the night. A lurking shape in the dark. What told him to run? Instinct. A guardian angel?
Hunting in their old neighborhood and the stink coming off her, the fur coarse and matted and the color of her lovely hair.
The man she disemboweled. Guts snaking from a torn belly, shimmering in the moonlight. Blood arcing from his neck, a black silhouette. Eugene throwing up in the bushes.
Confused, angry, heartbroken, as he explained why he’d wrapped a corpse in the sheet and hid it in the lean-to in the woods and how his puke led the cops to their door.
Then, only him. In his cell and its cold white walls, two bunks, a small window in the door. A hard cot. Scouring newspapers once a month for news of her.
The first time he saw her after five years and he realized he’d never seen her really smile.
There was no dinner, no suit, no reason to hang on his arm, and there was laughing, but he’d never heard her truly laugh before either.
In the sterile offices of Dr. Monahan, Dr. Roscoe, Dr. VanTreese, Dr. Barmore. Their heads nodding as Alice listed her symptoms.
Fatigue. Migraines. Mania. Nightmares.
There’s nothing wrong with you.
Or, if nothing, it was emotional disturbance, menopause, bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome…
Except it was none of those illness. Dr. Mayhorn knew the answer, but there was no treatment. No cure, that he knew of.
The only solution was secrecy. His Alice wasn’t a beast. Knowing would destroy her.
Secrecy would save her.
This series ended with an image that wasn’t real, but definitely probable. Eugene saw himself in their summer home without Alice, without what her smile and her laugh had become and the woman she was now—more complicated and frantic and difficult, but more passionate and exciting, too—and he answered his own morbid question.
No, he didn’t want her to die. Even if she was a werewolf.
The car came to a stop. The images faded. The view beyond Eugene’s windshield was blurry at first, then shivered into focus.
Someone was groaning. A row of fingertips floated above the hood of the car.
Eugene looked down at a young man sprawled on the pavement. At first, his imagination painted a picture of a dead body, bloodied and broken at his feet, but then the body propped itself on its elbows and he saw reality.
Plus, he heard Frieda barking.
She bounded out of the trees, all cinnamon-colored fur and long legs, bared teeth and growling.
That was Alice’s voice, calling from the front porch. It was her dog—a replacement for Eugene when he was in prison. He’d never liked the Irish Wolfhound very much. He grabbed her by the collar to stop her lunging on the young man.
“She’s fine, dear!” Eugene called, then to the person he’d almost killed, “What the hell do you think you’re doing, running into the road!” This was impolite; it wasn’t his fault Eugene was having a bad day. “I mean—are you alright?”
The young man nodded as Alice raced onto the road. “Eugene! What’s going on?”
She looked down at the young man, laying suspiciously beneath the front bumper of their car, and her eyes widened. “What did you run him over for?”
“I didn’t run him over, dear, he—”
“It was my fault,” said the young man in a pained voice, while rubbing his leg. “Hi, Mrs. Mayhorn.”
Eugene violently stirred a spoonful of sugar into a glass of lemonade and dropped homemade French macaroons on a dessert plate.
It was a lame bribe, to keep the kid from calling the police. Eugene was a convict not a cardiologist, thus preemptively distrusted, and he’d already told one story to the police that they only half-believed but couldn’t disprove. He wouldn’t get another chance to fool them.
He put plate and glass on the coffee table, where Hunter’s mildly injured leg was propped on a pillow. Eugene had examined him, but his bones were intact and the skin wasn’t even broken.
What the fuck were you doing in my yard? Eugene wanted to ask. Instead, he sweetly joked, “So, Frieda gave you a bit of scare, eh?”
Hunter chuckled. His upper lip was sweating and he fidgeted. He was just a kid—somewhere between old enough to drive and old enough to drink. Eugene had reached the age where everyone under thirty looked like a fetus.
“What were doing out there, sweetie?” Alice asked. She faced him on the couch, legs crossed, arm draped along the cushions, hair messily tied up in a bun. Tendrils kissed her cheeks. She had taken to wearing rather flowy, riotous clothing; she fussed with a brightly-colored scarf in some vague tribal print.
“Uh. B—b—” Hunter was about to lie, Eugene sensed it in his flushed face. “Bird-watching?”
Alice slapped his shoulder and giggled. “Right before a hurricane?”
“And at noon?” Eugene retreated to the kitchen. “The best time for bird watching is just after dawn…”
“Is it?” Hunter squeaked. “No wonder I didn’t see anything.” He chuckled again. “It’s, ah, for an, uh… an assignment in school. P—P—Principles of Animal Biology.”
If Hunter was lying—and he definitely was—that meant he was up to no good. Their nearest neighbors had a daughter maybe around his age. Or maybe he was a peeping Tom? Beautiful as Alice was, Eugene didn’t think this kid wanted to catch a forty-three-year-old woman in her bra and panties. On the couch, he was leaning away from her, though perhaps he didn’t want to look too enraptured with Alice while Eugene watched. It wasn’t impossible; he should give his wife more credit. She and Hunter had crossed paths, after all; his mother took one of Alice’s painting classes at the community center.
While Eugene’s mind wandered, Alice and Hunter became engaged in a conversation that didn’t require his participation. So he busied himself in unloading the groceries and stocking the pantry and fridge, then cleaning a mess Alice had made in his clean kitchen; she’d also dumped her studio garbage into the kitchen garbage, and with a silent grumble, he yanked it out and hobbled with it to the back door.
Eugene kept their garbage bins wedged between the garage and the house. The lids were latched to keep out roving raccoons, a precaution he never forgot because he hated raccoons. There were four bins. Three were frequently brought to the curb for the garbage man, but the fourth he took care of himself. He couldn’t risk anyone seeing what was inside—bloodied loofahs, threads of random human guts, clumps of random human brains. He burned these in a fire pit in the backyard.
Except since Alice’s last transformation, the county had issued a burn ban; the hurricane on its way was bringing significant relief after a month of drought. Which meant the evidence was still hiding in the fourth bin.
Standing in the grassy lane between his house and garage, garbage in hand, Eugene realized all of this in a nauseating rush.
For the latch on the fourth bin had been compromised, the lid thrown wide open. He crept toward it and peered in—the black garbage bag had been ripped open, pouring out a sickly sweet stench. Flies buzzed ravenously from within.
Eugene dropped the garbage. At his feet, he spied a gouge in the earth—perhaps the heel of a shoe. Looking closer, he found several denting the parched earth, leading to his backyard, and he followed them out into the open, where they vanished. The wind whipped harder now, the clouds a sickly yellow-green, the air charged with electricity. He kept walking, purposefully into the woods behind his house, which would lead to a road that paralleled his own.
Between the trees came a flash of color. Pale blue, on the side of road.
A shitty car. The kind of car a young man with no credit would pay cash for. Hunter’s? If it wasn’t, this was quite a coincidence.
Eugene marched up an embankment that led to the road. Up close, he found more signs this car belonged to a young man: a skull decal in the back window, a hoodie crumpled in the passenger seat, fast food bags strewn across the floors.
And in the backseat, a collection of weapons.
A shot gun.
A machete, of all things.
And a saw.
Why the saw? To cut off her head and make sure she couldn’t rise again?
The love of his life. But to Hunter, she was just a werewolf.
Witness, witness, witness.
How else would he know?
Eugene burst into the back door, sweating and heaving because he’d run all the way from the road back to the house. He immediately heard her voice, still chattering away.
“I’m so rude! How’s your mother? Mrs. Hodges is such a talented lady. She struggled a little bit at first, but now we’ve hit Impressionism, she’s really found her stride…”
Eugene stood just inside the kitchen, hiding while he calmed his breathing, watching Hunter’s profile. The young man glanced away from Alice, face pivoting forward, eyes down.
“She’s good,” he croaked. “She and Dad are good.”
Eugene’s phone made a sudden and deafening racket in his pocket. He pulled it out, emerging from his hiding spot into the kitchen, eyes to the screen and the urgent warning that flashed across its surface. Alice was watching him arrive and if she thought his sweaty appearance was strange, her expression gave no hint of it.
“Goddammit!” Eugene spat.
“What is it, dear?”
This is just what I need.
“Well… The authorities have banned all nonessential travel. The roads are closed, etcetera, etcetera…” He massaged the bridge of his nose; the sinus cavities below ached.
“Oh, no! What horrible timing.”
“You have no idea,” Eugene mumbled to himself.
“Hunter, honey, you’ll have to stay here till the storm passes. I can’t let you out on the road.” Alice was watching him and he must’ve pulled a face in response to this. “Can’t we, Eugene?”
He forced himself to smile. “No, of course not, dear.”
She turned to Hunter. “You should call your parents and let them know you’re here. They’re going to worry about you.”
Eugene shuffled into the kitchen, sliding his phone across the counter, propping his hands on his hips. He knew what Hunter was going to say before he said it.
“They’re unreachable right now, Mrs. Mayhorn,” Hunter said softly. “They left for a fishing trip a couple days ago.”
A half lie. They probably were on a fishing trip, and on the Savage River, too, but that was almost exactly a month ago. Then Alice dropped by and tore them to shreds, throwing his father’s guts into a tree and his mother’s liver onto a moss-covered rock.
“Well don’t you worry,” Alice said. “You’ll be perfectly safe with us.”
Maybe Hunter wasn’t such an idiot after all. He’d found them. And for the next twenty-four hours—longer, if the hurricane damage was significant—they were all stuck here together with no one to call for help.
If Hunter had any hope of success, he’d have to kill Alice before the full moon rose.
After that, not even God could save them.
Naturally, it fell to Eugene to craft a delicious meal in the dark, without electricity. He felt like a 19th century pioneer wife from the American frontier.
After three hours of preparation, he brought the last dish to the table— a bowl of chickpea, pepper, and chorizo salad. The tapas spread was impressive. There was also stuffed cherry peppers, pan con tomate with garrotxa cheese, fresh peaches wrapped in basil and prosciutto, prawn and avocado escabèche, a jar of pickled peppers, a dish of mixed olives, a basket of sliced crusty bread.
“My goodness darling! This looks absolutely scrumptious!” Alice exclaimed. Then, to Hunter, she added, “Eugene’s cooking has improved so much over the past few months. It’s like eating in a fancy restaurant every night!”
Eugene glowed under Alice’s praise. Not to toot his own horn, but the tapas was pretty enough for a spread in a gourmet magazine. By candlelight, the stuffed peppers and the escabèche in its lettuce cups and the wrapped peaches glistened—
Wait—what the hell was that dig about my cooking?
Eugene’s brief moment of pride deflated. He cleared his throat, forcing himself not to look as shitty as he felt, and sat. “Dig in!” he ordered half-heartedly.
It didn’t help that while he slaved away, Alice and Hunter talked about art and photography and other nonsense and played gin rummy in the next room and never offered to help, or that he’d intended this tapas for him and Alice as a romantic re-creation of their vacation to Spain. But Eugene kept all this to himself, smiling and sitting, not wanting to spoil his tapas with a tantrum. No one cared anyway.
It was about eight-thirty; the storm had been battering the peninsula for about two hours. The wind and rain wasn’t too bad so far, more like a very enthusiastic thunderstorm than a hurricane, and Eugene wondered if it would worsen as the night went on. He seemed the only concerned party—the mood at table was jovial. Hunter had fallen under Alice’s spell.
She’d always been a charmer, especially of men. With the intent gaze of her dark eyes and that throaty laugh, she could make the dullest of men feel fascinating and handsome. Perhaps tonight, her charm would save her, because Eugene didn’t know if he could.
It wasn’t like he hadn’t killed a man before. He had, perhaps a dozen of them, but that was in surgery and unintentional and thus very different. How could he take a life on purpose? He looked across the table at the boy, every muscle in his face alight with laughter, and so young, so horribly, inconveniently young. Hunter shoved a basil-wrapped peach in his mouth and caught Eugene’s eye.
“Killer dinner, Mr. Mayhorn,” he said as he chewed. “Thank you both, so much, for letting me stay.”
Alice patted his arm appreciatively, but Eugene only nodded, thwacking a spoonful of chorizo salad onto his plate. He couldn’t like the little shit, not when he may be forced to kill him three-and-a-half hours from now. Though it suited Eugene more to just talk to the boy, to point out that Alice and the monster she became were two different creatures, one unaware of the other. And an eye for an eye didn’t bring anyone peace, after all.
“You’re a handsome, strapping young man, Hunter,” Alice said suddenly; Eugene didn’t know if this was a change in conversation, for he hadn’t been listening to their prattle. “You must have a girl in your life! Maybe several…”
Hunter fiddled with a few olives on his plate, a smile plucking the corner of his mouth.
“Oh, he’s blushing! He’s in love, Eugene! How wonderful!” Alice smiled, taking Eugene’s hand, giving him a knowing look. “Everyone needs someone to lean on in hard times.”
“Well, I was in love.” He rolled an olive between his thumb and forefinger. “Still am, technically, but she hates me.”
Alice’s smile collapsed. “I can’t imagine that’s true, sweetheart.”
“No, it is.”
She let go of Eugene’s hand so that she could offer both to Hunter. He studied her palms, laying in front of him on the table, sighed deeply, and took them in his own. Perhaps her charm would save her after all.
“Tell me what happened.” Alice squeezed. “Maybe we can fix it. What’s her name?”
“Is she a local girl?”
“No, she’s from the city. We met at university, actually. She’s studying sociology, so she can be a police officer.
“She sounds like a very impressive young lady.”
Hunter nodded with a heavy head. “She is.”
He was silent awhile, but Alice was never one to give up. “Why do you think she hates you, sweetheart?”
“Well, I applied for this internship last semester, at a studio. It came down to a choice between me and this other girl, someone from my color theory class. I heard a rumor that she was going to get it.”
His cheeks deepened to scarlet, his nostrils flared. Eugene recognized this as equal parts anger and embarrassment.
“Dahlia knew someone associated with the studio—a patron or something—through her father. She made a call and just like that, I got the internship. She told me what she did.” Hunter’s voice was tight, brisk with annoyance. “I turned it down and she broke up with me, like, immediately. Called me a sexist asshole.”
Alice released Hunter’s hands. Her smile had faded and she was scowling, absorbing the boy’s story.
“So…did you turn it down because the other girl deserved it more than you?”
Hunter slid his hands back into his lap. “No, I hadn’t really thought of that.”
Alice’s tone had shifted. It wasn’t warm and inviting anymore, but challenging, and a bit indignant. The transformation was rather sudden.
Her charm, and its intoxicating effect, was fading.
“I told her I wanted to earn it myself. That it wasn’t her business.”
Eugene found himself nodding; Alice caught it, shooting him a look that said he was wrong to take Hunter’s side. But he couldn’t help it—he understood. A man needed to make his own way.
“Why isn’t it her business?
“I don’t know.”
“Dahlia was just following her nature, helping the man she loves.” Alice rolled her eyes, mumbling, “though I suppose you were following yours.”
Hunter shrugged and grunted, at a loss. Alice sat back, crossing her legs, folding her hands on her knee, appraising him.
“Do you know what your parents’ marriage is like?”
It was as though someone had hit a pause button. Every muscle in Hunter’s body went still as stone, except his Adam’s apple, which bobbed hard in his skinny throat.
“They’re happy?” he croaked.
“Sure they are, hon.” Alice snorted. “He makes all the decisions. Where they go on vacation, what model car they buy next, how they invest their savings. Susan’s never told me she’s unhappy, but she’s a mouse. Given that, it doesn’t surprise me that you’ve taken this tone with Dahlia. Not at all. We tend to mimic our parents’ relationships. Take, for instance, mine. My mother was an accessory on my father’s arm, pretty and pleasing and invisible. The only point of her was to put others at ease.”
Alice glanced at Eugene and her lips tightened, and he knew she wanted to say more. How she had been accessory on his arm for most of their marriage.
“What is so terrible about a woman taking charge?” she asked.
“It’s not a hypothetical, I’m asking you. Think. Challenge yourself.”
Hunter’s muscles loosened enough to let him scowl. “All I can tell you, Mrs. Mayhorn, is how it made me feel.”
“Good, tell me that then.”
“Like I’d been castrated.”
She stared at him, a funny smile playing on her lips. “It’s hilarious, really, that you people think you do anything on your own. That women are not constantly, subtly, helping you every minute of your incompetent lives.”
“Alice, I don’t think that is ap—”
She shot Eugene another look that said it was, in fact, perfectly appropriate.
“I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Getting sick does that to you. I’ve thought about my mother and sisters and the girls I grew up with and how I used to be. The men who kept us, kept me, in our places. You know why you do it? You know why you don’t want us to take charge?”
Hunter shook his head. “I don—”
“Because we might get ideas about our worth and maybe decide we don’t want to iron your underwear and lay out your clothes and fix your meals. You need us in our place—keeping your households, having your babies—so you can go out into the world and make something of yourself. You don’t want competition. You keep us dependent and inferior, defining us according to what you like, making us ashamed of our true nature, rejecting us when we’re different. Keeping us down, below you.”
“I don’t think Dahlia is only good for making babies and staying home, Mrs. Mayhorn.”
She pointed a finger at him. “You only think that’s what you think. But you’re lying to yourself. If you truly believed that, you would’ve thanked her for helping you get that internship and taken it without a moment’s hesitation. Good for her, I say, for trying to help you, and for breaking up with you when you didn’t appreciate it. I wish I’d had as much gumption when I was her age.”
“So my feelings don’t matter, then?”
“No, they don’t. Not in this case, because you’re wrong.” Alice slapped her hand on the table. “You’d do well to listen to what I’ve said. Maybe it’ll make you a better man.” She shook her head and stood. “Jesus Christ… I thought the younger generation would be more open-minded. I’m going to go into my studio. You’re welcome to come in and join me when you’ve realized I’m right. If I feel you deserve it, maybe I’ll even give you some advice on how to win Dahlia back.”
Alice popped a stuffed pepper in her mouth, grabbing an oil lamp, floating out of the room and across the hall to what had once been their enclosed porch, but was now her studio. She snapped the French doors shut and became a shadowed specter on the other side of the glass, sitting before her easel.
With her gone, Hunter’s penitent attitude vanished. He pushed his chair back and Eugene glimpsed two clenched fists.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” Eugene said. “You’re going to help me clean up. Or do you think that’s a woman’s job?”
Hunter gave Eugene a look he didn’t need to clarify with words. She’s castrated you, too, hasn’t she?
They worked in silence; Eugene put tapas into Tupperware and assigned Hunter to the dishes. The storm had become a bit more enthusiastic, rain battering the plywood protecting the windows, wind screaming. Across the hallway, behind the French doors, Alice had taken brush in hand and the thin shadow of it flicked across her canvas.
It was two hours to midnight.
Two hours before she transformed.
Hunter had to kill her before that. Eugene assumed he understood the impossibility of doing so after, when they’d both have to make a run for it, out of the house and into the hurricane.
He wiped the counter unnecessarily; it was already clean. He was biding time. How do you broach the topic of your wife being a werewolf? Where do you start when trying to convince a determined young man not to avenge the brutal deaths of his parents?
How could Eugene argue that the life of his wife was more important than the lives of everyone else?
The only argument that came to mind was that he didn’t love everyone else; he loved Alice. He knew every part of her, her loveliness and kind heart, her perseverance and creativity. She was worth saving, even if she was a murderer, because she was a victim, too. He had to make Hunter understand that. Eugene cursed the universe for this predicament. For the bite of a strange and unknown creature that had changed their lives forever. For the forces beyond his control that made his life so damn complicated and horrific.
And this idiotic boy who thought he could right the wrong that had been done to him.
Eugene tidied chairs and folded placements, reciting possible openers to himself, blocking Hunter’s route to Alice’s studio, watching a muscle twitch in his jaw as the boy understood he was losing time. And so was Eugene—the last of the dishes slid into the drainer and Hunter was popping out the sink plug, the water sucking down the drain.
“All done, Mr. Mayhorn,” Hunter said, drying his hands on a dish towel.
He turned to face Eugene. The boy’s eyes flicked over his shoulder and across the hall toward Alice’s silhouette.
“Is there anything else you need me to do?”
Eugene stood in front of the fridge. All the tapas had been put away. His kitchen was spotless. There was nothing else for anyone to do. Except the one thing. Eugene still didn’t know what he was going to say.
His mouth opened.
“She has no idea she’s a werewolf.”
It was a start. And it would have been quite embarrassing if this had all been a misunderstanding. If the shitty car on the side of the road wasn’t Hunter’s, and Eugene had misread the clues about his parents. In that case, he’d just confessed the secret he’d been protecting for five years.
But Hunter’s expression didn’t flicker.
Only two people in the world knew that Alice was a werewolf, and they were standing in this kitchen.
“What does that matter?” His voice shook with anger, and forced bravery.
“It matters a great deal, son.” Eugene took a step toward him, arms outstretched. “You’ve spent the evening with her, you see what a lovely woman she is. Alice and the monster—they’re two different creatures. She, my Alice, has never hurt anyone.”
“Do you hear yourself?”
“I love her, Hunter.”
“As much as I loved my parents? You know what she did to them, right?”
“She didn’t do it. It was th—”
“It. Was. Her!”
One long stride brought Hunter chest-to-chest with Eugene. He was shorter by a couple inches, but the boy had the strength and stamina of youth, broad shoulders, and thick arms.
“If she lives, the beast lives. It keeps eating, it keeps killing. That’s hundreds of dead mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sons, daugh—”
“Enough with the speech, Hunter. I get the picture.”
A strong gust buffeted the plywood nailed over the kitchen window. Rain poured liked an overturned bucket.
“How long have you known?” Hunter asked. “Since the beginning?”
The boy looked at him with such disgust Eugene became very interested in the the kitchen tile at his feet. Damn the young and their way of seeing the world as it should be, not as it is. So idealistic, so sure. With age comes the caveats, the justifications, the “but, ifs.” If it was Hunter’s wife—or his mother, or sister, someone he’d die for—he’d understand. He’d have done the same. Eugene had to believe that.
“You should’ve killed her and stopped this. It doesn’t matter that you love her.” Hunter voice was hoarse with angry tears. “You selfish bastard!”
Eugene shoved the boy back; he moved two measly steps. A vein erupted across his forehead. A bicep bulged. Eugene shoved him again. Energized, he grabbed Hunter’s shirt and pushed him across the kitchen, against the breakfast table—which scraped out of their way—and pinned him against the wall.
He could’ve ended it right there. Wrapped a hand around Hunter’s throat and watched him die, saving Alice, saving himself. Eugene wanted to, but his hand didn’t move even though his brain grasped the consequences. Hunter would kill Alice, or he’d escape and tell everyone what she was, and someone else would come to kill her. Eugene remembered the little voice in his head on the drive home from the grocery store, showing him a future without Alice and their monthly ritual and wondered if those thoughts were closer to his true feelings than he wanted to admit.
“Hunter!” Alice’s voice cried out. “I’ve decided to forgive you. Come on in here and keep me company. I’ll show you what your mother’s been working on.”
The boy easily yanked Eugene’s hand off his shirt and shoved him aside. “That sounds great. I’ll be right there, Mrs. Mayhorn,” he called back, and followed her voice.
“Do you really think you can kill her? Honestly?”
Hunter turned around. Over his shoulder, Eugene could see Alice’s studio door cracked open and her, standing at a work table.
The boy nodded. “She’s ruined my life. I can’t forget what she did. I can unsee what she is. I can’t live my life knowing she’ll do it again. I don’t understand how you can.”
He walked toward the studio and Alice beyond. Eugene followed.
For five years, he knew full well what she was doing every month. He picked the brains from her hair. But the victims were nameless, like a package of pork chops wrapped in cellophane. Those pork chops had once been a living, intelligent pig, too, but that didn’t stop him eating it. Somehow, he’d gradually told himself what Alice did was no different. But it was, and goddamn Hunter for showing him that.
He was culpable in every death. But what could he have done? He was loyal to Alice, she was his responsibility, not everyone else.
Eugene noted the time as he passed the stove— eleven p.m. In this last hour, he couldn’t kill Hunter, not even for Alice. Not now, with the heavy, gruesome understanding of what he’d allowed to happen for five years. Not now, when the question of whether it was indeed for the best nagging at the back of his mind.
Allowing people to be killed was more his style. He’d done it for five years. And how would he explain to Alice why he murdered a twenty-year-old kid? She’d leave him. He’d probably go back to prison, because he was shit at disposing of bodies. This was one of those lose-lose situations. And he was so tired of it all, and happy to let someone else decide what happened next.
All he had to do was almost nothing at all, just delay Hunter somehow. Stretch out this hour until the moon rose and Alice turned into something else, and then Eugene didn’t have to do anything but run away.
She’d rip his head clean off.
Cut him in half with her talons.
Hunter didn’t deserve it. No one did. But none of them deserved any of this, and Eugene had no idea how to make it stop. He didn’t know how to move forward. He couldn’t go back.
If Alice wanted to be in charge so much, let her.
Eugene needed a break.