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Cycle of the Werewolf, Page 2

Stephen King

  The Beast, he tells them, is everywhere. The Great Satan, he tells them, can be anywhere. At a high school dance. Buying a deck of Marlboros and a Bic butane lighter down at the Trading Post. Standing in front of Brighton’s Drug, eating a Slim Jim, and waiting for the 4:40 Greyhound from Bangor to pull in. The Beast might be sitting next to you at a band concert or having a piece of pie at the Chat ’n Chew on Main Street. The Beast, he tells them, his voice dropping to a whisper that throbs, and no eye wanders. He has them in thrall. Watch for the Beast, for he may smile and say he is your neighbor, but oh my brethren, his teeth are sharp and you may mark the uneasy way in which his eyes roll. He is the Beast, and he is here, now, in Tarker’s Mills. He—

  But here he breaks off, his eloquence gone, because something terrible is happening out there in his sunny church. His congregation is beginning to change, and he realizes with horror that they are turning into werewolves, all of them, all three hundred of them: Victor Bowle, the head selectman, usually so white and fat and pudgy . . . his skin is turning brown, roughening, darkening with hair! Violet MacKenzie, who teaches piano . . . her narrow spinster’s body is filling out, her thin nose flattening and splaying! The fat science teacher, Elbert Freeman, seems to be growing fatter, his shiny blue suit is splitting, clocksprings of hair are bursting out like the stuffing from an old sofa! His fat lips split back like bladders to reveal teeth the size of piano keys!

  The Beast, the Rev. Lowe tries to say in his dreams, but the words fail him and he stumbles back from the pulpit in horror as Cal Blodwin, the Grace Baptist’s head deacon, shambles down the center aisle, snarling, money spilling from the silver collection plate, his head cocked to one side. Violet MacKenzie leaps on him and they roll in the aisle together, biting and shrieking in voices which are almost human.

  And now the others join in and the sound is like the zoo at feeding-time, and this time the Rev. Lowe screams it out, in a kind of ecstasy: “The Beast! The Beast is everywhere! Everywhere! Every—” But his voice is no longer his voice; it has become an inarticulate snarling sound, and when he looks down, he sees the hands protruding from the sleeves of his good black suitcoat have become snaggled paws.

  And then he awakes.

  Only a dream, he thinks, lying back down again. Only a dream, thank God.

  But when he opens the church doors that morning, the morning of Homecoming Sunday, the morning after the full moon, it is no dream he sees; it is the gutted body of Clyde Corliss, who has done janitorial work for years, hanging face-down over the pulpit. His push-broom leans close by.

  None of this is a dream; the Rev. Lowe only wishes it could be. He opens his mouth, hitches in a great, gasping breath, and begins to scream.

  Spring has come back again—and this year, the Beast has come with it.

  On the shortest night of the year, Alfie Knopfler, who runs the Chat ’n Chew, Tarker’s Mills’ only cafe, polishes his long Formica counter to a gleaming brightness, the sleeves of his white shirt rolled to past his muscular, tattooed elbows. The cafe is for the moment completely empty, and as he finishes with the counter, he pauses for a moment, looking out into the street, thinking that he lost his virginity on a fragrant early summer night like this one—the girl had been Arlene McCune, who is now Arlene Bessey, and married to one of Bangor’s most successful young lawyers. God, how she had moved that night on the back seat of his car, and how sweet the night had smelled!

  The door into summer swings open and lets in a bright tide of moonlight. He supposes the cafe is deserted because the Beast is supposed to walk when the moon in full, but Alfie is neither scared nor worried; not scared because he weighs two-twenty and most of it is still good old Navy muscle, not worried because he knows the regulars will be in bright and early tomorrow morning for their eggs and their homefries and coffee. Maybe, he thinks, I’ll close her up a little early tonight—shut off the coffee urn, button her up, get a six-pack down at the Market Basket, and take in the second picture at the drive-in. June, June, full moon—a good night for the drive-in and a few beers. A good night to remember the conquests of the past.

  He is turning toward the coffee-maker when the door opens, and he turns back, resigned.

  “Say! How you doin’?” he asks, because the customer is one of his regulars . . . although he rarely sees this customer later than ten in the morning.

  The customer nods, and the two of them pass a few friendly words.

  “Coffee?” Alfie asks, as the customer slips onto one of the padded red counter-stools.


  Well, still time to catch that second show, Alfie thinks, turning to the coffee-maker. He don’t look like he’s good for long. Tired. Sick, maybe. Still plenty of time to—

  Shock wipes out the rest of his thought. Alfie gapes stupidly. The coffee-maker is as spotless as everything else in the Chat ’n Chew, the stainless steel cylinder bright as a metal mirror. And in its smoothly bulging convex surface he sees something as unbelievable as it is hideous. His customer, someone he sees every day, someone everyone in Tarker’s Mills sees every day, is changing. The customer’s face is somehow shifting, melting, thickening, broadening. The customer’s cotton shirt is stretching, stretching . . . and suddenly the shirt’s seams begin to pull apart, and absurdly, all Alfie Knopfler can think of is that show his little nephew Ray used to like to watch, The Incredible Hulk.

  The customer’s pleasant, unremarkable face is becoming something bestial. The customer’s mild brown eyes have lightened; have become a terrible gold-green. The customer screams . . . but the scream breaks apart, drops like an elevator through registers of sound, and becomes a bellowing growl of rage.

  It—the thing, the Beast, werewolf, whatever it is—gropes at the smooth Formica and knocks over a sugar-shaker. It grabs the thick glass cylinder as it rolls, spraying sugar, and heaves it at the wall where the specials are taped up, still bellowing.

  Alfie wheels around and his hip knocks the coffee urn off the shelf. It hits the floor with a bang and sprays hot coffee everywhere, burning his ankles. He cries out in pain and fear. Yes, he is afraid now, his two hundred and twenty pounds of good Navy muscle are forgotten now, his nephew Ray is forgotten now, his back seat coupling with Arlene McCune is forgotten now, and there is only the Beast, here now like some horror-monster in a drive-in movie, a horror-monster that has come right out of the screen.

  It leaps on top of the counter with a terrible muscular ease, its slacks in tatters, its shirt in rags. Alfie can hear keys and change jingling in its pockets.

  It leaps at Alfie, and Alfie tries to dodge, but he trips over the coffee urn and goes sprawling on the red linoleum. There is another shattering roar, a flood of warm yellow breath, and then a great red pain as the creature’s jaws sink into the deltoid muscles of his back and rip upward with terrifying force. Blood sprays the floor, the counter, the grille.

  Alfie staggers to his feet with a huge, ragged, spraying hole in his back; he is trying to scream, and white moonlight, summer moonlight, floods in through the windows and dazzles his eyes.

  The Beast leaps on him again.

  Moonlight is the last thing Alfie sees.

  They cancelled the Fourth of July.

  Marty Coslaw gets remarkably little sympathy from the people closest to him when he tells them that. Perhaps it is because they simply don’t understand the depth of his pain.

  “Don’t be foolish,” his mother tells him brusquely—she is often brusque with him, and when she has to rationalize this brusqueness to herself, she tells herself she will not spoil the boy just because he is handicapped, because he is going to spend his life sitting in a wheelchair.

  “Wait until next year!” his dad tells him, clapping him on the back. “Twice as good! Twice as doodly-damn good! You’ll see, little bitty buddy! Hey, hey!”

  Herman Coslaw is the phys ed teacher at the Tarker’s Mills grammar school, and he almost always talks to his son in what Marty thinks of as dad’s Big Pal voice. He also says
“Hey, hey!” a great deal. The truth is, Marty makes Herman Coslaw a little nervous. Herman lives in a world of violently active children, kids who run races, bash baseballs, swim rally sprints. And in the midst of directing all this he would sometimes look up and see Marty, somewhere close by, sitting in his wheelchair, watching. It made Herman nervous, and when he was nervous, he spoke in his bellowing Big Pal voice, and said “Hey, hey!” or “doodly-damn” and called Marty his “little bitty buddy.”

  “Ha-ha, so you finally didn’t get something you wanted!” his big sister says when he tries to tell her how he had looked forward to this night, how he looks forward to it every year, the flowers of light in the sky over the Commons, the flashgun pops of brightness followed by the thudding KER-WHAMP! sounds that roll back and forth between the low hills that surrounded the town. Kate is thirteen to Marty’s ten, and convinced that everyone loves Marty just because he can’t walk. She is delighted that the fireworks have been cancelled.

  Even Grandfather Coslaw, who could usually be counted on for sympathy, hadn’t been impressed. “Nobody is cancellin der fort of Choo-lie, boy,” he said in his heavy Slavic accent. He was sitting on the verandah, and Marty buzzed out through the french doors in his battery-powered wheelchair to talk to him. Grandfather Coslaw sat looking down the slope of the lawn toward the woods, a glass of schnapps in one hand. This had happened on July 2, two days ago. “It’s just the fireworks they cancel. And you know why.”

  Marty did. The killer, that was why. In the papers now they were calling him The Full Moon Killer, but Marty had heard plenty of whispers around school before classes had ended for the summer. Lots of kids were saying that The Full Moon Killer wasn’t a real man at all, but some sort of supernatural creature. A werewolf, maybe. Marty didn’t believe that—werewolves were strictly for the horror movies—but he supposed there could be some kind of crazy guy out there who only felt the urge to kill when the moon was full. The fireworks have been cancelled because of their dirty rotten curfew.

  In January, sitting in his wheelchair by the french doors and looking out onto the verandah, watching the wind blow bitter veils of snow across the frozen crust, or standing by the front door, stiff as a statue in his locked leg-braces, watching the other kids pull their sleds toward Wright’s Hill, just thinking of the fireworks made a difference. Thinking of a warm summer night, a cold Coke, of fire-roses blooming in the dark, and pinwheels, and an American flag made of Roman candles.

  But now they have cancelled the fireworks . . . and no matter what anyone says, Marty feels that it is really the Fourth itself—his Fourth—that they have done to death.

  Only his Uncle Al, who blew into town late this morning to have the traditional salmon and fresh peas with the family, had understood. He had listened closely, standing on the verandah tiles in his dripping bathing suit (the others were swimming and laughing in the Coslaws’ new pool on the other side of the house) after lunch.

  Marty finished and looked at Uncle Al anxiously.

  “Do you see what I mean? Do you get it? It hasn’t got anything to do with being crippled, like Katie says, or getting the fireworks all mixed up with America, like Granpa thinks. It’s just not right, when you look forward to something for so long . . . it’s not right for Victor Bowle and some dumb town council to come along and take it away. Not when it’s something you really need. Do you get it?”

  There was a long, agonizing pause while Uncle Al considered Marty’s question. Time enough for Marty to hear the kick-rattle of the diving board at the deep end of the pool, followed by Dad’s hearty bellow: “Lookin’ good, Kate! Hey, hey! Lookin’ reeeeeel . . . good!”

  Then Uncle Al said quietly: “Sure I get it. And I got something for you, I think. Maybe you can make your own Fourth.”

  “My own Fourth? What do you mean?”

  “Come on out to my car, Marty. I’ve got something . . . well, I’ll show you.” And he was striding away along the concrete path that circled the house before Marty could ask him what he meant.

  His wheelchair hummed along the path to the driveway, away from the sounds of the pool—splashes, laughing screams, the kathummmm of the diving board. Away from his father’s booming Big Pal voice. The sound of his wheelchair was a low, steady hum that Marty barely heard—all his life that sound, and the clank of his braces, had been the music of his movement.

  Uncle Al’s car was a low-slung Mercedes convertible. Marty knew his parents disapproved of it (“Twenty-eight-thousand-dollar deathtrap,” his mother had once called it with a brusque little sniff), but Marty loved it. Once Uncle Al had taken him for a ride on some of the back roads that crisscrossed Tarker’s Mills, and he had driven fast—seventy, maybe eighty. He wouldn’t tell Marty how fast they were going. “If you don’t know, you won’t be scared,” he had said. But Marty hadn’t been scared. His belly had been sore the next day from laughing.

  Uncle Al took something out of the glove-compartment of his car, and as Marty rolled up and stopped, he put a bulky cellophane package on the boy’s withered thighs. “Here you go, kid,” he said. “Happy Fourth of July.”

  The first thing Marty saw were exotic Chinese markings on the package’s label. Then he saw what was inside, and his heart seemed to squeeze up in his chest. The cellophane package was full of fireworks.

  “The ones that look like pyramids are Twizzers,” Uncle Al said.

  Marty, absolutely stunned with joy, moved his lips to speak, but nothing came out.

  “Light the fuses, set them down, and they spray as many colors as there are on a dragon’s breath. The tubes with the thin sticks coming out of them are bottle-rockets. Put them in an empty Coke bottle and up they go. The little ones are fountains. There are two Roman candles . . . and of course, a package of firecrackers. But you better set those off tomorrow.”

  Uncle Al cast an eye toward the noises coming from the pool.

  “Thank you!” Marty was finally able to gasp. “Thank you, Uncle Al!”

  “Just keep mum about where you got them,” Uncle Al said. “A nod’s as good as a wink to a blind horse, right?”

  “Right, right,” Marty babbled, although he had no idea what nods, winks, and blind horses had to do with fireworks. “But are you sure you don’t want them, Uncle Al?”

  “I can get more,” Uncle Al said. “I know a guy over in Bridgton. He’ll be doing business until it gets dark.” He put a hand on Marty’s head. “You keep your Fourth after everyone else goes to bed. Don’t shoot off any of the noisy ones and wake them all up. And for Christ’s sake don’t blow your hand off, or my big sis will never speak to me again.”

  Then Uncle Al laughed and climbed into his car and roared the engine into life. He raised his hand in a half-salute to Marty and then was gone while Marty was still trying to stutter his thanks. He sat there for a moment looking after his uncle, swallowing hard to keep from crying. Then he put the packet of fireworks into his shirt and buzzed back to the house and his room. In his mind he was already waiting for night to come and everyone to be asleep.

  He is the first one in bed that night. His mother comes in and kisses him goodnight (brusquely, not looking at his sticklike legs under the sheet). “You okay, Marty?”

  “Yes, Mom.”

  She pauses, as if to say something more, and then gives her head a little shake. She leaves.

  His sister Kate comes in. She doesn’t kiss him; merely leans her head close to his neck so he can smell the chlorine in her hair and she whispers: “See? you don’t always get what you want just because you’re a cripple.”

  “You might be surprised what I get,” he says softly, and she regards him for a moment with narrow suspicion before going out.

  His father comes in last and sits on the side of Marty’s bed. He speaks in his booming Big Pal voice. “Everything okay, big guy? You’re off to bed early. Real early.”

  “Just feeling a little tired, daddy.”

  “Okay.” He slaps one of Marty’s wasted legs with his big hand
, winces unconsciously, and then gets up in a hurry. “Sorry about the fireworks, but just wait till next year! Hey, hey! Rootie-patootie!”

  Marty smiles a small, secret smile.

  So then he begins the waiting for the rest of the house to go to bed. It takes a long time. The TV runs on and on in the living room, the canned laughtracks often augmented by Katie’s shrill giggles. The toilet in Granpa’s bedroom goes with a bang and a flush. His mother chats on the phone, wishes someone a happy Fourth, says yes, it was a shame the fireworks show had been cancelled, but she thought that, under the circumstances, everyone understood why it had to be. Yes, Marty had been disappointed. Once, near the end of her conversation, she laughs, and when she laughs, she doesn’t sound a bit brusque. She hardly ever laughs around Marty.

  Every now and then, as seven-thirty became eight and nine, his hand creeps under his pillow to make sure the cellophane bag of fireworks is still there. Around nine-thirty, when the moon gets high enough to peer into his window and flood his room with silvery light, the house finally begins to wind down.

  The TV clicks off. Katie goes to bed, protesting that all her friends got to stay up late in the summer. After she’s gone, Marty’s folks sit in the parlor awhile longer, their conversation only murmurs. And . . .

  . . . and maybe he slept, because when he next touches the wonderful bag of fireworks, he realizes that the house is totally still and the moon has become even brighter—bright enough to cast shadows. He takes the bag out along with the book of matches he found earlier. He tucks his pajama shirt into his pajama pants; drops both the bag and the matches into his shirt, and prepares to get out of bed.

  This is an operation for Marty, but not a painful one, as people sometimes seemed to think. There is no feeling of any kind in his legs, so there can be no pain. He grips the headboard of the bed, pulls himself up to a sitting position, and then shifts his legs over the edge of the bed one by one. He does this one-handed, using his other hand to hold the rail which begins at his bed and runs all the way around the room. Once he had tried moving his legs with both hands and somersaulted helplessly head over heels onto the floor. The crash brought everyone running. “You stupid show-off!” Kate had whispered fiercely into his ear after he had been helped into his chair, a little shaken up but laughing crazily in spite of the swelling on one temple and his split lip. “You want to kill yourself? Huh?” And then she had run out of the room, crying.