Published on 2013/01/20

Grey Moon

C.A. Sanders

The Moon’s pretty big tonight, like a great dirty pearl in the sky. Once when I was a whelp I could look past it. Then the Wolf got all up in me. Now no matter where I am I feel it, stirring in my loins and in my heart and guts, tempting the Change ‘til I let Him out.

We all know the Moon, and my brothers and sisters feel it too.

I can hear the young’uns off howling in the distance. Ain’t surprised. There was some cowboys pushing a herd the other day—a small one, maybe 2000 head--and where there’s cattle, my pack can’t be far behind. These’re hard times, and a fat cow walking past your den smelling like beef and blood, it’s worth risking some buckshot.

I call them my pack, but they’re just the only pack in these parts. The old one I used to run with must be long gone. They live wolf lives, but I age like a man. Jehovah gave me the gift of watching everyone I love die.

That used to be me out there, howling my fool head off, but I just don’t have it in me anymore. There ain’t nothing left for an old gray paw like me. Oh, I still got the urges, but I got the aches an’ pains too.

There’s a prairie dog out there somewhere. The Wolf smells his blood and it’s so good that I start drooling. The urge in me is too strong tonight, with the Moon shining down on me. I know I shouldn’t do it, I’m a man and made my choice to live and die as a man. It ain’t proper, me actin’ the fool like this, but I take off my shirt and britches anyway and let the Wolf take over.

It don’t hurt. Not like you’d think. Your bones break a lil, and your flesh moves around, but you’re so full of life that you don’t feel it. Hell, you love it. You love it better than the best whiskey or spilling your seed in some cat house orphan. The Wolf is the feel of morning dew on your bare feet and rutting in the mud down in the shadows. The Wolf is the taste of an apple right off the tree and the smell of moss right after a good rain.

The Wolf is everything you love. You just have to watch that it don’t run off on you and turn into something worse.

The valley below still echoes with howls. I feel like they’re singing to me, and I feel the twinge in the Wolf’s heart. It’s been so long since I let the Wolf out, and he’s lonely. He’s only had me for company for months. I like to be alone, but he needs a pack. He can’t stand to be without them tonight, and I don’t have the heart to deny him.

I pad over to the prairie dog, and it pisses itself when it realizes what I am and how close it is. The lil whistle pig tries to run for its hole, but I spring and clamp my jaws down on its neck. The blood explodes in my mouth. I rip the flesh open and savor it, crunching the lil bones and cracking open the skull to get at the brains. Goddamn, this is Heaven.

* * *

It’s been a long time since I had a name, a real one, that is. Anyone who knows me from town just calls me Gray Mack, but that’s not my name. I hate them bastards. If I had my way, I’d let the Beast rip the throat out of every rancher an’ cowboy in the county. I’d take their fancy hats an’ their Peacemakers an’ piss all over them. This is my land, and they can stay out.

If I had my way, I’d tear the whole thing down like ol’ blind Samson bringing down the Phil’stines.

I remember the first time I changed. We were living in Virginny, now West Virginny I reckon, in the Tug Valley with the rest of my kinfolk. I had just turned fourteen and was feeling’ my oats, not quite a grown man but not a pup neither.

Those were good times, everything was young and green and full of hope. The palings was white and strong, the front swing gate was never squeaky, and me and my sissy would hang on it for hours, rocking it back and forth till Pa would call my name and we’d come running in the house. There was always something good to eat in there, and maybe tomorrow we kin go down to the swimming hole with our cousins, or go bullfrog hunting by the crick.

Then I ruined it. I went to bed one night and woke up with a mouth full of chicken guts. You laugh, I know, but when you wake up in your birthday suit and covered in blood and feathers and insides, the coop is littered with half eaten birds, and the old hound dog you raised from a pup won’t come near you, something’s wrong.

My great aunt, she knew what I was even if no one else did. They had creatures like me in Scotland, and she saw the signs. She tried covering me in oils and berry juices. She cut my hair clean off and burned it on a big bonfire. But the Wolf was too strong and I changed again at the next Moon. Killed a deer this time.

My kin had a big meeting to figger out what to do with me. All the folks from the valley rode in for it. When it was over, they all patted me on the head and said it’s a shame.

* * *

I make my way down to the valley. I hear the pack howling and it stirs me hot. I can smell the life in them, and for a moment, I’m young again. I reckon they’ve never smelled a were before. Will they even accept me or will they run?

Who cares, worrying is for old women and preachers. I'm a-going.

I tread along down the river bed a piece, keeping my nose up for them. They let loose another howl, and this time I howl back. Reckon its time I introduced myself like a gentleman. It gets quiet for a while, they’re trying to figger out what’s wrong with my scent. I howl again, louder, and I run up a knoll and see ‘em. Twenty, maybe twenty-five of the Moon’s sons and daughters dancing in her light. I run to meet them, and I do believe that my heart is singing a happy tune.

* * *

The day after the big family meeting, pa took his pokestock shotgun down from the fireboard and took me clean through the woods to the ol’ heath bald.

“Pa,” I said. “I’m sorry I killed them chickens.”

“I reckon you is, son.”

We kept walking. If felt like the air was moving all through me, like I was a leaf on a breeze dancing through the branches. Every footstep snapped a hundred branches an echoed them through the woods till every tree was singing us a ‘good evening.’

“You have to kill me now?”

“I do, son.” There was nothing in his voice, but I knew he was hurting. He never showed it if he was happy or sad and if he was angry he wouldn’t say nary a word about it.

It was such a purdy evening, the night Pa killed me. It was airish for the summer, but not too much. The jarflies was still out. The crickets were still chirping the way they do.

“I don’t wanna die, Pa.”

“I know. I don’t wanna kill ya. But yer like Isaac on the mountaintop, son, and I‘m ol‘ Abraham. He killed his, and I have ta kill mine.”

We walked for a lil while longer. “I’m powerful sorry, Pa.”

“I know. I know y’are.”

Pa lined me up on the top of the bald hill. I remember how clear the sky was, and that I was never gonna see that sky again. These were the last stars I was gonna ever see, so I better enjoy them.

Pa stood about thirty feet behind me. He had me turn around so I couldn’t see him. I like to think that it was so I wouldn’t see him cry, but I know he didn’t.

* * *

I kin smell each of the wolves alone now. The top wolf is a biggun, he ain’t happy to smell me. I move in a piece and they come to me. The top wolf keeps his tail up, but he don’t show his teeth. A real diplomat type.

I show my teeth to Top Wolf and walk right up to him. He’s big an’ young, but I’m much bigger. I reckon he smells man on me too cause he backs away with his teeth bared.

I leap at him and drive my shoulder right into his side. I knock him to the dirt like a buffalo and stand over him. He knows he’s beat. He rolls over onto his back and shows me his balls. I take a good long piss on him for good measure, then go meet the rest of the pack.

The top bitch’s a fine young thing, but she ain’t in heat. Too bad. I recognize a few of the older wolves and bump up against them. It’s good to see that the ranchers and cowboys haven’t wiped them out or driven them up North.

The Moon comes out again and floods the land with blue light. We start the dance, the way that we do when no one’s watching. I leap up over the top dog, then he leaps up clean over me. The top bitch is running back and forth chasing imaginary whistle pigs. Two of the pups start wrestling each other. Another rolls over onto its belly, and when his sissy comes close, he bites her ear and pulls her over. It’s all so beautiful an’ innocent that if I was in my man skin I’d bawl like a baby.

Then the shots ring out and everything goes to Hell.

* * *

I heard Pa’s pokestock fire and felt the pellets hit me in the back of my head like Gramma’s skillet. I reckoned I was dead for sure. I fell to the ground and my blood pooled around my head. But then something funny happened. I didn’t die.

I felt the Wolf moving inside of me for the first time, shifting around my insides to plug the hole. Then my skin split, and my guts started puffin’ out. My bones broke and I grew, and the muscles and fur and teeth and fangs, they all came out of me. It hurt like nuttin’ I ever felt before and ever would again, like my whole body was being torn apart from the inside with a pair of spoons. My backbone broke and then came together, only bigger, thicker, like a sapling rising up outta the ground.

The Wolf, he’s wild, but you can talk to him. Sometimes he gets pushed too far though, and something worse comes along. I call him the Beast, and he ain’t my best friend.

The Beast stood up on two paws and reached for the sky, howling and stretching out my body. I was warm, the new fur was powerful hot, and the new smells that hit me near knocked me clean off my feet. There was blood and guts on the ground like I had just been birthed, which I reckon I was.

* * *

Stupid. I should’ve smelled those cowboys miles away, what with their tobacco and whiskey that could burn your balls off. I should’ve been wary, but I let my guard down, let myself have one moment of joy.

The top wolf dies first. His skull gets blown clean apart by a rifle bullet. Two more shots, and one of the striplings falls with a yelp. The pack scatters, and I try to herd the pups down into the riverbed, low and away from the cowboys. There’s some laughter, the sound of a bottle being passed, and the rifle fires again. I hear one of the old wolves let out a gurgled yelp. They must’ve got him in the ribs and his lungs are ripped through. More laughter--I have trouble understanding man-speak when the Wolf is out, but it sounds like they’re placing bets.

This whole valley is bathed in moonlight. The Moon’s lured us in and betrayed us to our enemies.

Another pup is blown apart in front of me and I yelp in shock and revulsion. That’s no way to die—scared, confused, crying for his Ma and Pa.

The cowboys are laughing hard and clanging bottles together. I pivot hard and run straight at them. One of them spots me and shouts. I see a flash of light and feel the burn on my shoulder like a thousand bees, but I’m happy, cause that’s one less bullet that can hit the pups. I’ve only got three good legs now, but I keep running. I can already feel the shredded muscle knitting back together, but it’ll take a while afore it’s all healed. The harder I run, the more it hurts. I focus on the pain. The pain makes you sharp and strong. The pain brings the Beast.

* * *

Pa was just standing there, eyes bugged out of his head, and the Beast turned to face him. Pa let his pokestock fall from his hands and it hit the scrub hard. He didn’t run, which is good cause the Beast was all in me and would’ve chased him down. The Beast lumbered up close to him till his spit and breath was hot in his face, and Pa still didn’t make a move.

I fought The Beast from the inside. I swear I fought as hard an’ fierce as any man ever did. I shouted and kicked, but I didn’t own my voice, and the Beast wouldn’t let go his using my body. I was a rider on a run’way train.

Pa started to cry. “I didn’t wanna do it, son. At the meeting they said ‘yer cursed,’ and that ‘everwhere you go, people gonna die.’ But yer my son, and I shoun’ta done it. Please forgive me.”

The Beast howled, and I smelt my Pa piss himself like prey. I was shamed for him, but I don’t blame him. I don’t blame him for nuttin.

The Beast raised both claws and raked them across Pa’s chest. He grunted and fell to the ground. Blood poured from the tears in his heart until his blood puddled in the dirt. The Beast raised his head up and howled again, and then it fed. It was the best meal I ever tasted.

* * *

Another shot scatters the rocks in front of me. I’m less than fifty feet from them now. I’m waiting for the Beast to wake up inside of me. I want to lose control, I want to let him destroy these sons o’ whores for taking such a beautiful moonlit night and painting it in our blood.

Thirty feet now. I hear the click of a rifle reloading. Twenty feet and I make my leap. The gun echoes in my ears and the blast feel like a stampede in my chest. I fall backwards and I know that half my chest is gone, the lead pierced me all the way through.

This is it, I think. This is what I wanted. Now the Beast is gonna come and he’ll bring a reckoning that these boys’ll never forget.

This is what I think when I shut my eyes.

* * *

I wake up and I’m a man again. My chest feels like I’ve been branded. I look down and there’s a two inch wide scab there. My shoulder is still sore, but that one’ll be fine by the time the day’s done. I stand up and I’m feeling all dragged out, like I ran a hundred miles.

I spend the morning collecting the dead and giving them a proper burial. Don’t they deserve it? They lived and loved and died like the rest of us. They deserve a lil respect. I turn back to the Wolf and use my paws to dig them some shallow graves. Most of the pack is dead, and the flies are already starting to flock . I start with what’s left of the top wolf and I move from there, but when I come to the pups, I can’t dig anymore. I sit back on my haunches and howl and howl and howl until the wind and the canyons are howling along with me and it sounds like a whole pack of ghost wolves singing down the sky, waiting for the next moon.

I know what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna find those cowboys, and I’m gonna make them shoot me every night until the Beast shows up and he gives me my revenge. He’s gonna tear the whole thing down like blind Samson, and when he settles down for his supper, it’ll be the best meal I ever tasted.

C.A.Sanders spent the first ten years after college working the most unique jobs that he could find so that he would have material to write about. The short list includes work as a tarot reader, a limo driver, a con artist, and the annoying guy that puts flyers on your car.

Sanders currently writes fiction and nonfiction and is currently shopping his first novel. He is a music columnist for and, and his fiction has been published in magazines such as Dream Forge, Babel, and SLAB.