sunrise was patched like a red n' gold quilt, but I didn't pay it no mind.
I was up in the dark, collecting eggs by feel and setting the milk out
to wait the cream rising. Momma shooed me away and said she'd get itthat
was her way of apologizing for last night. She doesn't like things like
wolves and bears; that sort of thing scares her. But she doesn't want
to make me frightened for no reasonI heard her tell a neighbor that
"Watch your step out there, Alfreda,"
she said by way of parting. "There's more between heaven and earth
than any man knows, I'll tell you." I must have looked as confused
as I felt, because she waved me off, her worn, pale face looking a little
disgusted. "Get me some onions and garlic from the garden on your
And so I was free. There was nothing like
walking through the long yellow grass, following the golden shadow that
was my father. People always said Dolph and I were like him, both in looks
and manner, and it was a compliment. He was the smartest man in our village.
Even smarter than Father John, I thought, although Momma was always running
to the priest. I don't think Papa's family ever had any use for gods.
But if gods helped Momma more than the oldest ways, that was all right
with Papa. "Whatever works" that's what he always
"Do you think something ate the wolf,
Papa?" I called as I tried to keep up.
"Hope not, child. A wolf pelt is worth
a lot. We should be in time, the sun's just rising." His deep voice
carried easily through the underbrush, although I'd lost sight of him.
"How much farther?" I asked,
catching my cotton dress on an ash shoot.
"Not f Alfreda, stay where you
I stopped tugging on my dress. His tone
would have warned me that something was wrong, even if he hadn't used
my full name. A bear? I waited, silent, for him to call, all the while
carefully unhooking my clothes.
There was a thunk as his ax bit into wood,
and the sound of something heavy falling. The grunt surprised mehad
he tried to break the wolf's fall? I crept toward the clearing.
"Papa " Before the word
was out I froze, as motionless as a stone. The sweet smell of blood tickled
my nose, and something queasy began churning in the depths of my stomach.
Somewhere off in the distance was the sound of a beautiful birdsong, one
I'd never heard before. Blood and songit was almost more than I
could bear without weeping.
He looked up from the twisted carcass before
him, his face set and gray. "I told you to wait." No anger;
his very lack of emotion frightened me.
I heard you, like you needed
help," I started, not sure if I should keep walking or hold my ground.
He made an abrupt gesture that drew me
to his side. We both stared down at the torn and bloody lump of flesh
and black fur, slashed by dog and steel.
It was a man. At least I thought it was...it
certainly wasn't a wolf. But it was hairier than any man I'd ever seen,
even the palms and soles of the feet; and the teeth seemed wrong. I was
sure I'd never seen him before. For a moment I felt fainthow could
my father have made such a mistake? It was a full moon last night,
you could see for miles
Then I understood, and I started to tremble.
I'd heard tales about wolves that weren't really wolves
I felt my father reach for me, his hands
tightening on my arms as he pulled me away from the thing. "This
goes no further, girl. Not to your mother, and certainly not to your brothersnot
"But" I started.
"We don't know whom we can trust,
child. Do you see? I know someone was bitten last nightmaybe more
than onebut we'll never be able to find out quickly if we announce
it. He might even run, like this fellow did, and plague some other community."
Papa broke off then and turned from me, surveying the bloody scene. I
kept my face turned toward the sunrise; the werewolf looked too much like
a man, and that worried me. Finally Papa fumbled in his pocket and pulled
out his pipe. Sitting down on a fallen log, he worked his flint several
times before the tobacco caught fire.
We shared a long silence while the wind
picked up and the sun crept through the undergrowth. I sat down beside
him, grateful that we were upwind of the thing, and waited while he did
his thinking. A man. That bloody mess had once been a man. Grandsir had
died quietly in his bedno blood, no pain that I could see. A man
shouldn't die in a field far from home with an ash spear through his heart
Shivering, grateful summer was not yet gone, I finally grew brave enough
to ask a question.
would the church be able
Papa didn't answer at first, only chewed
his pipe stem. After a while he said, "No, Allie. Exorcism's no good
for werewolves. There are things both old and new that can help, though
He reached for my collar and tugged on the chain around my neck. I wore
the metal cross of Momma's god, a tiny silver thing, the most valuable
possession I owned. "Good. Keep it with you always, even when you
sleep. Now, I need you to go get me something. Garlic. Enough to fill
a hole, oh, this big." He demonstrated, making a circle with his
arms. "Be quick, now, and rememberthis goes no further."
Nodding, I practically flew to my mother's
garden. I didn't know much about werewolves, but I did know you had to
do special things when you buried themor they didn't stay
buried. Fortunately garlic masters night things; it both controls them
and keeps them at bay. Momma devotes an entire plot to the stuff. I rooted
busily in the rows, pulling up handfuls of bulbs and scooping them into
my apron. Folks outside might've thought that night creatures were only
bogey stories, but back here in the hills we knew better.
As I turned to start back to the clearing,
I heard Momma calling me. "I'm still helping Papa!" I hollered,
not stopping to hear her question. There was no way to get back to him
fast enough. I sure hoped he knew how to keep the werewolf from rising
again at sunset. The thought of the walking dead froze my heart.
He'd been busy while I was gone. I made
sure not to look too close. The head was separate from the body, and Papa
carefully stuffed some garlic in its mouth. He'd cut a piece from the
ash copse, too, and driven it through the chest. Then we started to gather
takes a long time to burn a body. We covered half our faces with scarves
and stayed the course, but I will remember that smell until I die. The
sun rose high above us, and still the fire raged on. I tended it carefully,
watching for stray cinders, while Papa cut several thick branches from
the ash copse. By the time the reeking blaze had dwindled to coals, Papa
had peeled and sharpened three good stakes. The sight made me shiver,
so I concentrated on locating the wolf-man's ashes.
Werewolves burn cleanthere wasn't
a single chip of bone left. That surprised me, since the fire hadn't been
that hot, but Papa had left to get something, so I kept
silent. Before long he returned with a wooden bucket and a shovel.
We took every speck of those wolf ashes
to the crossroads by Faxon's farm. I carried the rest of the garlic in
my apron and dragged the stakes. Papa dug a real deep hole right down
in the center of the road. He set the entire bucket inside it, and had
me dump the garlic on top. It was a shame to see that fine bucket, garlic
spilling down its sides into the dirt, because I knew Papa was going to
bury it, too.
"Only ash slat bucket I ever made,
child. No better use for it," he remarked, as if reading my mind.
After smoothing some dirt over it, we laid stones on top, and finally
packed the rest of the dirt down tight, so the road looked clean once
more. Papa took the stakes from me, and we started for the house.
For once I appreciated those special looks
Papa and Momma could exchange, because Momma never asked to see the wolf
skin, and she didn't scold when I forgot the onions. Dolph and Josh asked,
of courseDolph told me he wanted to buy it from Papa for that girl
he's sparkingbut Papa told them it was too tore up to save, and
they believed it. I don't think I ever heard Papa lie before or since
that night. He did make the older boys scrub with sundew again, and stood
over them to see they did it right. Him and me, too, though I never even
touched the werewolf.
We were ready for supper when one of the
neighbors stopped by. Papa went outside to talk, and was shaking his head
when he came back into the kitchen.
"Eldon?" Momma said, and her
voice quivered, as if she didn't really want him to answer.
"Faxon's little girl died," he
said quietly, sitting down at our big chestnut table.
My mother gasped and put her hand to her
breast. "The poor man! Both wife and child gone before the year's
That's when I almost messed up everything.
"It was a blessing." Like always,
I was muttering; and like always, Momma heard me.
"Alfreda, whatever do you mean?"
Momma was both sharp and astonished. I saw the intense look Papa was giving
me and tore through my head for something to say.
"Isn't that what you always say, Momma?
That God loves us; and that when bad things happen, there's a reason for
it, even if we don't know it?" I feared it was awkward, but she seemed
to accept my twisted reasoning. She was silent several moments before
she told me not to say it in front of little Ben and Joe. Then the only
sound was of Dolph drinking still another glass of water.
I didn't eat much
all I could taste
was iron and ashes.