July 27, 2015

The Werewolf Judge
by Joe Baldwin (short, PG)
Cover image.
Image credit: Sand Pilarski. More info.

"Let them eat cake"? No, that's not what you want to say to this guy...

~~~

They don't usually ask werewolves to judge baking contests. They don't ask us to do much of anything. It's so unfair. What are we supposed to do with our time? Howl, screech and stare at the full moon? Full moons are a pain in my werewolf arse. I don't know why people are so pleased to see them. "Oh look, it's a full moon!" people exclaim, the same way they say, "Pete and Anne are getting married!" or "Deborah's got new windows!"

But as I sit here on the judge's table, watching a procession of cakes brought before me, each one more lurid than the last, it really hits me how much I hate having to go away to the countryside every time a full moon approaches. As each night goes by, that damn orb carves out a larger piece of the sky for itself and I can feel the wrenching, tearing pain in my insides building. If you think appendicitis or child birth is painful, you should try having a wolf inside you trying to force its way out. I get more and more ravenous, until my stomach is like a baby which just won't stop crying. Dummies or a mother's breast won't get it to stop bawling. It wants meat. Human flesh, in between its greedy little teeth.

To the humans gathered here, I'm merely the headmaster of a failing school, which is holding a cake sale to try to raise funds to stop itself from going under. But I don't care about running the school. The important thing about being headmaster is that it provides you with plenty of juicy meat. Parents, pupils, I don't discriminate. They're just different dishes to me. It's particularly satisfying listening to some whingeing Mum or Dad on parents' evening, letting you know in no uncertain terms that their kid is too good for this sinkhole of a school, when you know that at the end of the month you'll dine on their flesh. I love the sounds they make when I sink my teeth into them: spluttering and gurgling noises, as if they've swallowed too much water. The indigestion comes afterwards. You have to stand on stage and give a speech, singing the dead person's praises, saying things like "It's such a terrible loss" and "Mr. Jennings contributed so much to the school." If you're really good you can even squeeze out a tear.

Sally Jennings presents me with a strawberry cheesecake. I tell myself to be kind to her and I wolf down the slice, my mouth savouring the sweet sharpness of the strawberries and the soft white cream which massages my gums. It's almost as good as Mr. Jennings' liver. Sally watches me nervously as I eat the cake. She seems smaller than she used to. Before I ate her father she used to mouth off at everyone she met. She skipped classes, took food from the canteen and on one occasion stole Miss Williams' lipstick and used it to draw a picture of a cock on the chapel wall. No threat could curb her bad behaviour, and I spent long hours after work making her write lines while I tried to persuade her father that his daughter was not an angel but a demonic little clown who needed to be brought to heel. But the diminutive, cowed young woman in front of me, her happiness so dependent on me liking her cake, is a ghost of the hell raiser she once was. I decide to give her a good review because, really, when you've eaten someone's father, you can't get any nastier. The only way to go is up.

"That's wonderful Sally! Ten out of ten. You'll be a strong contender." Her thin, pointed face flushes red.

"Thank you, Mr. Canworth," she says. She kisses me on the cheek. The crowd coos and the awful band we booked, who normally play at weddings, strum along on instruments which sound broken.

"Who's next?" I ask.

"Me, sir." I turn and see Tom Hodgins approaching the stage. He's baked a chocolate cake. At least, I think it's a chocolate cake. The icing is grey, but one of the slices has already been eaten and I can see inside of his concoction, which is stuffed with chocolate cream. It's actually dripping from the cake. The whole thing looks diseased. I never liked Tom. He creeps me out, with his constant questions about lycanthropy. I sometimes think the little bastard knows.

"Right, Tom, and er ... what's this you've made?"

"A chocolate cake. I call it The Silver Bullet," he grins.

I feel the blood drain from my face. Beads of sweat break out on my brow and my hands shake as I take the cake from him. I place it in front of me, not looking at it but scanning the area for an exit. Come on. I pray to the god of werewolves, if there is one. Someone faint or something. But no one moves. A sea of faces stares at me expectantly.

"Are you okay, Mr. Canworth?" says Tom. His voice sounds like it's far away.

"I-I ..."

Miss Gates climbs onto the stage. Not her, not now, I think. What will the parents say?

"Herbert, is everything all right, dear?" she says. She touches my arm. My heart rate elevates even further.

Someone in the crowd shrieks with laughter. "Canworth and Gates, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G."

"SILENCE!" I snarl. I feel its jaws gnashing, the face behind mine, the bulging eyes almost squeezing their way past my own chestnut-coloured pupils. I remove Louise's hand roughly. She yelps in pain and runs off the stage, barging through the crowd and heading into the school. I watch her go and curse the beast inside me. A sense of total defeat comes over me. I'm a cruel monster anyway. If I die, then at least people will say it was unique. Not many people have been poisoned by a child at a cake sale. I cut myself a slice and take a big bite, almost gagging on it. It tastes foul, the flavour of death.

"That's ... a unique cake you've made there, Tom." I say. "It really stands out."

"I wanted to make something which reminds me of you," he says.

"Well, thank you. Why the name though? The Silver Bullet?"

"Sometimes, when you're having a go at me for not getting my homework in on time, it feels like being mauled by a wolf," he says. The crowd laughs and I breathe a sigh of relief.

I have a brief break before I have to decide on a winner, so I head to the bathroom, intending to vomit back up Tom's cake. I can't wait to stride back onto the stage and see the stupid smirk wiped off his face. I lock myself in a cubicle, feeling as if something isn't quite right. My skin hurts. It feels like it's tearing itself open and the sharp hairs of my werewolf form are poking through. Stop it. Not now, please not now. I reach out, grab some toilet paper to wipe my brow. The roll tears in half as my hand becomes a claw. Each finger is a razor sharp blade.

"Feeling a bit sick?" says a voice from the other side of the door.

"Tom, is that you?" I gasp.

"Yes sir."

"What did you put in that cake?" I say.

"A laxative. It makes whatever's inside you come out," he says.

My teeth lengthen. I cry out in pain as my gums split open. Droplets of blood spatter the toilet door. My head is covered in thick strands of hair. That beard I always wanted when I was a teenager has finally grown, but there's not a girl around to impress.

"Tom, you know what I am. Congratulations. What do you want? I'll make sure you pass all your exams. You can come and go as you please. Just leave me alone," I say. Both my hands are sharp as sabres.

"Please," he laughs. "It's not about that. I saw what you did to Sally Jennings' Dad. I was in your classroom trying to peek at the answers to that Maths test you made us do. I heard both of you walking towards the room so I hid in the book cupboard. What you did to him ... it was ... well, you're getting what you deserve."

"I can't control it," I say. "Do you know what it's like to live in secret because of something you were born with?"

"If you hate yourself that much, just do the decent thing and shoot yourself in the heart," he says. He rattles the door of the cubicle. "Come on out, wolf man. I promise I won't bite. I'll give you ten seconds, then I'm calling for the parents. I don't think they'll be happy when they find out. Ten ... nine ..."

My insides are splitting apart. It feels like hundreds of tiny snakes are writhing around in my belly, coiling around my innards and biting them, turning them red raw.

"Eight ... seven ..."

My pupils roll back. My vision narrows. The piss stains on the floor, the graffiti on the door, blur into one.

"Six ... five ..."

I howl and the fangs finally burst through my gums, my human teeth falling out of my mouth and hitting the floor with a splash. "TOM. I'M GOING TO PULL OUR YOUR INTESTINES AND SWALLOW THEM WHOLE!"

"Four ... three ... two ... one."

I scream as one after one my ribs shatter. I lash out at the door with my claws and it breaks in half. Tom stumbles backwards, his head hitting a sink with a crunch. I thrash around, wrecking the bathroom, pulling up taps, smashing the mirrors and sending hundreds of bits of glass cascading down onto the wet, sticky tiles. Shrieks and shouts are coming from the other end of the corridor. Louise's shrieks. No, not her. Anyone but her. I don't want to feast on my beloved. But the wolf races out into the corridor. He sees her running as fast as she can towards one of the classrooms, surges after her, intending to rip her open and swallow her in one beautiful mouthful.

She closes the door just before he's on her. The metal screeches as the wolf drags its claws along the handle. It punches the glass window and thrusts its hand into the jagged hole. The woman yells for help and then a blinding pain erupts in the wolf's claw. She beats it with a chair, breaking every bone in its hand. The wolf yanks away the door handle and then smashes the metal barrier down. Louise is on all fours, scrambling away, the thick strands of her hazel hair all over her face and in her mouth. She sobs, pleads, begs as the wolf advances, ready to deal her some serious payback for the mangled hand she gave it. It bears its teeth at her, thick dollops of saliva drip onto her skin, trickling into her sweat. It grabs her with its good hand and places its teeth to her neck.

There's the sound of an explosion and the wolf shrieks. Blood spurts from the wounds torn into its back, coating the jagged hairs in scarlet. It swipes at the attackers and sends them flying out into the corridor. Crimson rivers stream along the floor. When it turns to resume its feast, all it sees is an open window. Louise has escaped. More shots pummel its hide. The heat of the bullets, the smoking wounds in its flesh, the beast is dying. Its hairs drip blood as the men in black uniforms fire round after round. It roars at them, blowing the hats off their heads, and then with one last, desperate charge it breaks through the ring of assailants, bounds down the corridor, its vision darkening and its limbs shedding hair ...

I awake to the sound of water streaming and crickets humming. My eyes burn as a white light flashes above me. Where am I? I can feel grass against my bare skin. There's something else on it too, something trickling down it. I groan with pain as I sit up. Slowly my surroundings come into view. A muddy river is gushing by. I am lying under a tree which has tufts of hair hanging from the branches. How did I get here? Flecks of blood are spattered on my thin arms. Images of screaming people enter my head, of Louise scrambling away on all fours. No. Please God no. Then I remember the bullets and the open window. I didn't kill her. I laugh loudly and dance under the tree, sending the birds which were pecking at the hairs flying away.

I realise as I look down at my body that I have no clothes on. That's one of the worst things about being a werewolf. Your clothing expenses go through the roof. I've started stealing other people's washing, rather than buying my own. I have several names among the local law enforcement, such as The Washing Line Bandit and the Clothes Stripper. I prefer the second one. Then I feel a twinge of pain as I realise I'll never get to undress Louise. Maybe it's for the best. If I'd left town every time it was a full moon, she'd think I was cheating on her. No. I'm glad she's still alive. I'll just have to find another werewolf. It shouldn't be too hard. Wherever there's dead poultry, missing clothes and a distinct lack of astronomy societies, there's a werewolf.

But these are concerns for the future. As soon as I figure out where I am, I'm heading back.

There's a little boy who needs to be taught a lesson.

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Article © Joe Baldwin. All rights reserved.



In This Week's Press:

The Werewolf Judge -- Joe Baldwin
~ "Let them eat cake"? No, that's not what you want to say to this guy...

When Fairy Tales Come Alive 30 -- Lydia Manx
~ Jeff the cat inhabited by Eddie the demi-god may be the key to finding out what Ruby has been up to with her dark magic...

The Lake Of Vice And Valour -- Ndaba Sibanda
~ A timely vision of rights and responsibility...

THE ODDS 152 -- Bill Harvey
~ Remember which direction is which when you turn that dial...

Going Hungry 13 -- Sand Pilarski
~ The recession of 2007 is all too real for Gloria. No money, no jobs, no security...

Gone Girl: DVD Review -- Bernie Pilarski
~ SPOILER ALERT! Do not read this review if you have not seen the movie...but do not spend money on this movie until you do read the review.

Updated Blogs -- Piker Press
~ Once again, here are the updated blog entries in the Piker Press Blogroll. Good reading this week!