Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Fiction

I Was a Teenage Werewolf

Principal Ferguson’s Testimony

Before Miss Ferguson found Maude Lewis’ body in the school gym, none of us believed in the teenage werewolf. There had been rumors, of course. There always are. But many of us viewed Miss Ferguson’s discovery as confirmation of our worst fears.

Not everyone shared our certainty. There had been only a fingernail paring of moon that late February night, and a small but vocal minority of us argued that this precluded the possibility that Maude’s killer had been a lycanthrope. It was common knowledge, they contended, that werewolves only struck during full moons, often adding that one only became a werewolf by surviving the bite of another werewolf. No such attack had been reported.

The rest of us refrained from pointing out the errors in this fount of superstition. Instead, we asked the skeptics to consider the facts of the case as Principal Ferguson reported them to the Rockdale Gazette. She had been working late as she did most nights, partly, we believed, because she was lonely, having no family to go home to, and partly to accommodate Maude’s practice schedule. Maude was a talented gymnast who harbored hopes of a college scholarship and often stayed well into the evening to practice her tumbling runs and stunts.

Around eight o’clock on the night in question, Principal Ferguson had heard a brief shriek of terror. What she found when she investigated sent her flying back to her office in a seizure of panic and horror. She would not soon forget what she’d discovered in the gym. Some creature with superhuman strength—surely, it could not have been a man—had snapped Maude’s back like a twig and draped her supine body over the balance beam. It dangled there like it had no bones at all. Her abdomen had been torn open, spilling out glistening loops of yellow entrails. The stench was terrible. You wouldn’t think a pretty girl like Maude would have had such smells within her, Miss Ferguson said.

The Arrest of Tony Rivers

In a press conference the following afternoon, Police Chief Baker dismissed the rumors of a teenage werewolf, and announced that Detective “Don” Donovan, the lead investigator on the case, had already made an arrest.

Tony Rivers, a junior, had also been in the school that night. Tony had been working after hours as the custodian for almost a year by then, ever since his father had succumbed to brain cancer, leaving Tony and his mother to make their way as best they could. Tony had told some of us about his father’s transformation as the tumor ate into his brain. A gentle man, Ted Rivers had, by the end, become foul mouthed, and prone to fits of rage. To those closest to him, Tony had confided that though he tried not to think about his father’s death, it weighed constantly upon him: when he was doing his homework or watching TV, when he was pushing a broom down the halls of Rockdale High. It was the first thing he thought about when he woke up. It was the last thing he thought about when he went to sleep.

This was the grief-stricken young man the police had found standing over Maude Lewis’s body. Tony’s explanation for his presence was perfectly reasonable: he too had come running in response to Maude’s scream, arriving scant seconds after Miss Ferguson had locked herself in her office to call for help. Detective Donovan had taken him in for questioning anyway. Under interrogation, Tony said that he always escorted Maude home after Miss Ferguson locked up the school. It seemed unwise to let her walk alone, given the rumors that a teenage werewolf stalked the streets of Rockdale. Tony also admitted to an unrequited crush on Maude. And yes, she had recently—the night before her murder, in fact—rebuffed an invitation to join him at the Junior-Senior Prom. Had her snub angered him? Detective Donovan wanted to know. Did he approach her again the night of the murder? Did he lose his temper when she rejected him? Where was he when Maude died?

Tony barely had time to respond to one query—often incoherently—before the next arrived. His panic mounted, and when Detective Donovan confronted him with the final and most damning question of all—why had his hands been so bloody?—Tony’s answer made no sense. I couldn’t stand to see her all torn up like that, he said. I was trying to put everything back inside her.

Detective Donovan consulted the police chief. Tony Rivers was in a cell soon afterward.

The streets of Rockdale were safe, Chief Baker told us at his press conference. We had nothing to fear.

Other Cases of Teenage Lycanthropy

Our situation was not unprecedented. Other towns had been plagued by rumors of teenage werewolves: strange tracks in the snow, lupine howls in the lonesome morning hours.

Usually the rumors came to nothing. But in some few cases, what began as uneasy whispers escalated into outright horror. Missing pets, mutilated livestock, and worse. Much worse. The captain of the football team had been arrested for decapitating the head cheerleader in Bailey Downs, Indiana; the star mathlete detained for disemboweling his algebra instructor in Beacon Hills, New Hampshire; the Homecoming Queen taken into custody for slaughtering her entire court in Baker’s Park, California. These had all been crimes of unparalleled savagery and mysterious circumstance. No convincing motives could be discovered, no weapons capable of inflicting such appalling wounds.

Anonymous sources reported that the cheerleader and the teacher had been partially devoured. The Homecoming Queen had hunted down her friends on the court with uncanny speed, butchering six girls and their escorts in the space of two hours. In all three cases, the perpetrators had been tracked down in wooded areas hours after dawn. They had been uniformly drenched in gore.

The Rumors in Rockdale

None of us could have foreseen Maude Lewis’ death when Jim Whitt, a fifty-something graduate of Rockdale High, first set local tongues wagging. In the year since his wife had skipped town with a Bible salesman, Jim had taken to drink, often closing down the Four Roses Tavern. By the time he hauled himself off his barstool on the night of January 11th, he was more than a little unsteady on his feet. Halfway to his dilapidated farm—three miles out of town on Rural Route 41—he began to nod. He pulled over to rest his eyes in a wooded turnout just outside the city limits.

The howling startled him awake an hour later.

Just a dog, he assured himself as he pulled back onto the pavement. But he hadn’t gone more than a quarter mile before something big sprang onto the narrow road in front of him. For a heart-pounding instant, the creature—he did not know what else to call it—froze there, pinned in the splash of his old pickup’s one working headlight, its knees coiled, its arms flung up before it. Jim stood on the brakes, wrenching the wheel hard left. When the truck skidded to a stop, he reached for the rifle mounted behind him, but the thing was already gone, leaving him little more than a confused impression of slavering fangs, wiry fur, and hateful yellow eyes. It looked unnervingly human, he told Frank Lilly over bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon the next day.

“Could have been a bear,” Frank said.

But no bears had been seen around Rockdale for years. The whole thing was far more likely to be a figment of Jim’s whiskey-saturated brain, we concluded—and that might have been the end of it but for the incident at Mike Talbot’s farm. One early February night, the hunting dogs Mike kept kenneled near his barn woke him. When he walked out to check on them, shotgun in hand, he found them in a frenzy. They snapped and bayed at the surrounding woods. They gnawed at the chain-link mesh of their run. Then an answering howl clove the night—close, much closer than Mike would have liked. A wild, rank musk filled the air. Mike’s dogs whimpered and shrank away, their lips skinning back in terror. Something thrashed in the undergrowth at the tree line. Mike didn’t hesitate. He lifted his shotgun and discharged both barrels into the darkness. He was still fumbling with the breech—his hands were shaking, he would later report without shame—when the creature, whatever it was, crashed off into the woods. The animal stench faded. He’d driven the thing off, at least for now. He had no intention of waiting to see if it came back. He reloaded, retreated to the house, and put coffee on the burner. He didn’t sleep till dawn.

This was a more difficult story to dismiss. Mike was an unimpeachable witness. A Deacon at the First Baptist Church, he’d never been known to take a drink in his life, so his testimony added considerable force to Jim’s account of the creature on Route 41. Miss Drummond’s poodle, Yankee, disappeared from his fenced-in yard a few days later. When his half-eaten remains turned up on the high school steps the following morning, rumors of the teenage werewolf began to circulate in earnest, and though none of us really believed them, we liked to pretend that we did.

It was a pleasure to be afraid. We shivered with excitement when Andy Wilson swore that he’d seen an inhuman figure lurking in the gloom behind his father’s toolshed. We swooned with delight when Debra Anderson reported hearing something snuffling at her bedroom window. We jumped at shadows and hid under covers. We roved the streets in packs for safety, immersed ourselves in werewolf lore, and debated the teenage lycanthrope’s identity over chocolate malts at Mooney’s drive-in. Fear united us, and granted some few of us social opportunities we’d never had before. Tony Rivers wasn’t the only one who seized the chance to walk home with a girl who might not have given him a second glance beforehand.

Then Maude Lewis died.

Rockdale High Reacts

A feverish elation seized us at school the next day. The glamour of tragedy is contagious. Its aftermath permits no strangers. Maude’s close friends sobbed, and even girls who’d barely known her—even girls who had never spoken to her at all—wept. The boys—not without self-interest—tendered solace when permitted, and swelled with false bravado. And had we wanted to forget, to declare ourselves free of any obligation to grieve Maude or honor or avenge her, we could not have done so. The teachers were long faced and solicitous, engorged with empty platitudes. Yellow crime scene tape adorned the locked gym doors, and uniformed policemen patrolled the halls. Speculation rang upon every lip. Who could have done such a thing, we wondered? Did a teenage werewolf truly walk among us?

The news of Tony Rivers’ arrest, when it came that afternoon, settled the question for most of us. The crime did not conform to what we many of us believed about lycanthropy. A human suspect had been taken into custody, the investigation successfully closed.

But those of us who knew Tony could not countenance his guilt. He was, like his father before him, an essentially gentle person, soft spoken, shy. Surely he could not have committed such a crime—a conclusion confirmed in our minds by the publication of Miss Ferguson’s account of the brutal attack in the next day’s Rockdale Gazette. It had to have been the teenage werewolf, we concluded. Nothing else made sense.

Detective Donovan’s Doubts

Though we did not know it at the time, we were not alone in our misgivings.

What seemed like efficiency to Police Chief Baker felt like political expedience to his lead investigator. What seemed like homicidal madness to his boss—the boy had been trying to stuff Maude’s viscera back inside her abdominal cavity, after all—made a kind of bizarre sense to Donovan. In a similar situation—had someone gutted, say, his own beloved daughter, Sharon, a freshman at Rockdale High, and strewn her intestines around the room like garland—Donovan could very well imagine doing the same thing. He could even imagine that it might seem reasonable.

In short, Donovan was skeptical. If Chief Baker hadn’t ordered him to make the arrest, Tony Rivers would still be free. The narrative didn’t hold up to scrutiny.

No one denied that Tony had had the opportunity—but he was hardly alone. The school had been unlocked, open to any passerby.

Motive, Donovan believed, was equally problematic. Chief Baker ascribed the crime to Tony’s humiliation and anger at Maude’s rejection. This made sense at first blush, but Donovan couldn’t reconcile it with what he’d learned from Tony’s interview. Maude had been kind to the boy. She’d brought a casserole to Tony’s house after his father died. She’d attended the funeral. And she’d been gentle in telling the boy she didn’t want to go out with him. She valued him as a friend. They would continue to spend time together. She hoped he would still walk her home after she worked out at night.

More problematic still, Tony was a good kid himself—hard working, kind. Donovan knew this from his daughter, and he’d sensed it in the interview. Tony seemed to have taken no offense at Maude’s rejection. He seemed, sadly, to have accepted rejection as his lot in life. And he’d been genuinely distraught at her death—hysterical, even. Grief-stricken and destroyed. No doubt, a good prosecutor could make the motive stick at trial, but Donovan believed that it collapsed in light of any honest analysis.

As for means? Impossible. Tony had been a scrawny, ungainly young man before his father’s illness. After Ted Rivers died, Tony had grown haggard and pale, attenuated, weak. Even in the grip of unmitigated fury, of a hatred that burned hot and clean, Tony Rivers simply wasn’t physically capable of such a crime. Few men were. He could not have broken Maude’s spine. Could not have disemboweled her with his bare hands. And could not have—

Donovan shuddered.

Tony Rivers could not have chewed off her face.

Detective Donovan had heard the same rumors as everyone else, of course, but he’d never believed in the teenage werewolf. Now he wondered. How else could he explain the tuft of coarse brown hair they’d discovered in Maude Lewis’ death-clenched fist?

The Death of Helen Bissell

A week passed without incident, then another. Gradually, Rockdale returned to normal. We no longer roamed the streets in packs for safety. We dismissed as superstition the werewolf lore we had studied so intently mere weeks before. Talk at Mooney’s turned from the teenage werewolf to the Junior-Senior Prom. Our younger siblings once again skipped rope and played pick-up basketball as the March dusk enveloped our sidewalks and driveways. After Maude’s funeral, the crime tape came down from the gym doors, the police no longer patrolled our hallways, and the teachers turned their attention back to English and equations. At night, we slept with our windows open, and in the morning we walked to school without fear. Even those of us with doubts let down our guard as the days slipped by.

Then the teenage werewolf struck again.

Afterward, we would question our lack of vigilance. Many of us would blame Police Chief Baker for lulling us into complacency with his blind assurances that our streets were safe. Detective Donovan would blame himself. Others would blame the victims, Helen Bissell and Arlene Marshall, both seniors at Rockdale High. How could they have been so careless, we would ask ourselves.

But at the time, with Tony Rivers safely behind bars, the decisions Helen and Arlene made that evening must have seemed perfectly reasonable. They’d met at the public library to study for a geometry exam, and time had gotten away from them. One minute they were trying to figure out how to calculate the surface area of an irregular prism, the next Mrs. Landon, the Head Librarian, was ushering them into the night.

The Rockdale Gazette later reported that she’d closed the library five minutes early, a matter of some controversy, though most of us could not see how five minutes would have changed anything. There were no other patrons that night, and she’d hoped to make it home for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. How could she have known that a teenage werewolf lurked in the darkness outside?

How could any of us have known?

If we had, Helen and Arlene might never have been at the library in the first place. Failing that, they might have called a parent to pick them up. And in the unlikely event that they had decided to walk, they would certainly have taken a different route home. Their houses—they were neighbors, friends since childhood—lay on the other side of McComb Park. But going around the park added fifteen minutes to their walk. They decided to cut through instead.

By daylight, our park is warm and inviting. Sunlight slants down through ancient oaks, and old men gather on the benches to gossip and feed the ducks that cruise the lake. Lovers picnic on the lawn by the bandshell. Children climb on the monkey bars and chase each other through the woods bordering the asphalt path that bisects the grounds. At night, however, the park is an entirely different place, isolated and abandoned. The oaks loom like giants against the black sky. The monkey bars have a skeletal aspect. Inky pools of shadow gather between widely spaced lampposts (too widely, we would later contend) and the woods seem to press closer to the path.

Helen and Arlene were more than halfway through the park when a lupine howl shattered the pristine silence. Just a dog, that’s all, they reassured each other, as Jim Whitt had before them. But rumors of the teenage werewolf asserted themselves with fresh urgency. Another howl split the night as they passed into the bright pool beneath a lamppost. They exchanged glances, their faces white with dread, and hesitated, unwilling to brave the darkness, terrified not to. The next light gleamed like a beacon through the trees, just beyond a long curve in the path, and beyond that, one more was faintly visible, a hundred yards before the stone-columned exit of the park and the safety of the streets beyond. Another howl sundered the air. Reluctantly, they slipped into the gloom.

Maybe a third of the way to the curve, Arlene would later report, they realized that something was pacing them in the darkness under the trees. They began to walk faster. Their unseen shadow stayed with them. They got the first hints of a rank, animal stench, and when the next howl rent the air—the thing couldn’t have been more than twenty or thirty feet deep in the trees—the girls panicked. Dropping their books, they broke into a run. The next instant, the monster came crashing out of the trees upon them.

As it hurtled past her and carried Helen screaming to the pavement, the creature raked Arlene’s face with razor-edged claws. She caught what followed in glimpses, through the blood sheeting into her eyes: caught a flash of the thing, wiry and agile, as it crouched over Helen on legs of tensile muscle, a flash of its outstretched arms and curving talons, a flash of its face, its snout lifted to the sky as it howled in triumph. When the monster looked at her, its yellow eyes blazing in the gloom, its fangs glistening, Arlene whimpered. It leered at her. It grinned in mockery—if such a thing could grin—and then it turned away, sweeping one massive hand down and across Helen’s throat, silencing her in an arterial spray.

And then, God help her, it started to feed.

Arlene found her voice and ran screaming through the park into the streets beyond. She collapsed, still screaming, on the front porch of the first house she came to. It belonged to Larry Phillips and his wife, Esther, a childless couple with a penchant for jigsaw puzzles. When the door opened, Arlene lurched inside. Larry Phillips took one look at her, slammed the door behind her, and flipped the deadbolt. A moment later he was on the phone for help. His wife, meanwhile, was trying to stanch the bleeding from the gashes the monster had carved in the girl’s face.

Arlene Marshall would never be beautiful again.

To his shame, that was Detective Donovan’s first thought when he saw her in the hospital room where they had stitched her up. She was groggy with painkillers, and it took an hour or more—over the doctor’s objections—to elicit even a fragmentary version of what had transpired. Despite the evidence before him, Donovan reeled with shock and disbelief. It could not be, he thought. None of it. It must have been the morphine that accounted for her story. Yet the final detail she’d confided before the drug carried her off to sleep would not leave his mind.

The monster had been wearing a Rockdale Rams letter jacket.

The Aftermath of Helen Bissell’s Death

Most of what we knew of that night was the product of rumor and surmise, though we had some few facts at our disposal. The park was closed indefinitely, the Rockdale Gazette reported, and the contingent of policemen Detective Donovan had dispatched to search the grounds did not find Helen Bissell until well after dawn. Though the article was circumspect in its description, it was clear that Helen was no longer intact when they located her—that what was left of her had been discovered scattered throughout the woods, torn apart and half-eaten. We knew as well—or thought we did—that the teenage werewolf had been wearing a letter jacket, though Donovan had sworn the attending physician to silence.

Tony Rivers was released, but Vic Miller, star forward of the high school basketball team, a jealous ex-boyfriend of Helen Bissell, and proud owner of a Rockdale Rams letter jacket, was taken into custody. Released for lack of evidence soon afterward—his father was an attorney, a Rotarian, and a fast friend of the sitting judge—he returned to school, as did Tony Rivers, nursing a grievance. Tony’s shyness had been replaced with sullen resentment and hostility. Vic’s natural belligerence had been exacerbated.

Few of us—even the most skeptical—still doubted the existence of the teenage werewolf. Once again we grieved, ostentatiously, and with a kind of manic joy. It was exciting to be afraid, more exciting still to be feared—for now that the rumors had been confirmed beyond all doubt, we were feared. Tension gripped the halls of Rockdale High. Our teachers looked askance at us in their classrooms. Our parents sent our younger siblings to visit relatives in other towns. But why, we asked, smiling sly, secret smiles, because of course we knew. A teenage werewolf walked among us. Who could say who it might be? Who could say when—or whom—it would attack next?

Yet we were each of us confident in our invulnerability. Maude Lewis and Helen Bissell had met terrible fates, but no matter how well we had known them—and some of us had known them quite well—they were strangers to us in the end. To the young, the dead are always strangers, in transit of some inconceivable horizon, both proximate and impossibly remote. We understood that we could die, that we someday would, but we did not know it, and though we took precautions—once again we roved the street in packs and locked our windows at night—we felt at heart that they were not necessary. The teenage werewolf would strike again, but it would not strike us. We took comfort in our immortality, pleasure in our fear.

And we secretly thrilled in the power that the teenage werewolf had bestowed upon us.

For if we were both sovereign and slave to our terror, our teachers and our parents were slaves alone. As long as no one knew who the teenage werewolf was, it could be any one of us.

The Town Meeting

Two days after Helen Bissell’s death—after the children had been dispatched into the safe keeping of faraway grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, and after we ourselves had grown giddy with power and despair—placards went up announcing a town meeting. Such affairs were usually ill-attended, the speakers’ voices booming in the half-empty hall. My neighbor’s lawn is an eyesore, weedy and ungroomed. A red light should be installed at Third and Vine—traffic has picked up since the new A&P opened its doors. The proposed trailer park on State Route 321 must be opposed, lest visitors to Rockdale be given the wrong impression.

Such mundane matters interested few of us.

The teenage werewolf, however, engaged us all. Anticipating the turnout, the town fathers moved the meeting to the high school gym. We gathered in Section A, at center court, and watched our parents and our teachers, our coaches, our scout masters, and our pastors file grimly in. They did not acknowledge us. They did not speak among themselves. And when Mayor Flanigan called the meeting to order, there was barely a rustle as they settled their attention upon the makeshift stage. We wondered if they thought, as we did, of the bloodstains that had been scrubbed from the hardwood underneath.

Mayor Flanigan told us that we faced a crisis unlike any other that Rockdale had ever endured. He voiced our grief for Maude Lewis and Helen Bissell. He adjured us to cooperate with Police Chief Baker and Detective Donovan in the ongoing investigation. He quoted scripture and bowed his head in prayer. And then he summoned the witnesses. Jim Whitt was too drunk to testify (Mayor Flanigan summarized his account), but the rest of them took the stage one by one—Mike Talbot and Miss Drummond and Miss Ferguson, each of them building the case that something terrible haunted the streets of Rockdale.

Then Arlene Marshall mounted the stage, stitched up like a teenage Frankenstein. A whisper of shock ran through the gym. In the silence that followed, Arlene took the microphone with trembling hands and surveyed the crowd, letting her gaze come to rest at last upon us, her peers. We could not read her expression. We could not see beyond her ravaged face. The sutures—there must have been a hundred or more, black and knotty, the puckered wounds slathered with some glistening antiseptic balm—pulled her skin taut, her mouth into a snarl. Her voice was unsteady when she began, barely audible and difficult to understand, but as she shared her experience in the park she gained confidence. She held the audience rapt as she described the howling in the night, the stalker in the woods. Gasps erupted when the monster came crashing through the trees, and when she spoke the fatal words at last, when she said that the thing had been a teenage werewolf, clad in the letter jacket of Rockdale High, a single cry of sorrow and horror—it was a woman’s voice—scaled the walls and echoed in the raftered vault above.

Arlene left the stage, and—though the teenage werewolf sat somewhere in our section, hidden in a human skin—she took her place among us.

Detective Donovan was the next to take the stage. He begged of us our forgiveness. He had failed the town. He had assumed, even in the face of his own doubts, that Maude’s murder had been the work of a merely human killer—despite the impossible violence of the attack and the tuft of coarse brown hair he’d found in one clenched fist. He’d ignored the evidence. His imagination had failed him. He would refine the focus of his investigation.

Mayor Flanigan and Police Chief Baker were not so humble. They did not acknowledge their own failures, and did not examine past error. For them, the only question was the course forward. New policies were to be implemented. A strict curfew would be established and enforced. All high school extracurricular activities—including sports—would be put on indefinite hold. And it went without saying (they said), that the Junior-Senior Prom—a mere week away—would be cancelled. We stirred in discontent at the first of these pronouncements. A chorus of whispers sprang up in response to the second. An active outcry broke out at the third. Did Mayor Flanigan really think a curfew would contain a teenage werewolf? Had he forgotten that the basketball team was in contention for the state championship? And what about the prom? We’d purchased our dresses and sent our suits to the dry cleaners, made dinner reservations, ordered flowers. Did the Mayor intend to reimburse us for these expenditures—for a year’s worth of yards mown and snow shoveled, drive-in food delivered, babies sat?

He hesitated. He didn’t answer.

Police Chief Baker cleared his throat. He gave us a stern look, but we’d seen that look before. Our teachers used it when they caught us smoking behind the fieldhouse, and our parents used it when we came home late on Saturday nights. Our coaches used it when we took a bad shot or forgot the play, our pastors when we missed services. It no longer frightened us, that look. We knew it for an empty threat. We’d seen what a teenage werewolf could do, and we knew that Chief Baker too was afraid. What would we have him do? He wanted to know. Would we surrender the once peaceful streets of Rockdale to a reign of blood?

We didn’t answer him.

Then someone—none of us saw who it was—yelled that half measures wouldn’t do. By all means impose the curfew and cancel the prom. But something more had to be done! Our townsfolk roared their approval. Put extra policemen on the street! Someone cried. And someone else: Issue the officers silver bullets! And then a clamor of competing shouts—wolf’s bane and monkshood and lock them all away!—this last plunging the crowd into a deep silence as our parents contemplated the lengths that they would go to tame or contain us—

A silence into which Arlene Marshall once again stood and approached the stage.

She leaned into the microphone.

“I always dreamed of going to prom,” she said, and after what she’d been through, who could deny her?

Thus it was decided.

Our Thoughts about the Teenage Werewolf

Who would take Arlene to prom? we wondered.

Following her mutilation, Jonathan Bowling—her boyfriend—had rescinded his invitation (inexcusably, we agreed) on the pretext that she had not sufficiently recovered to attend. When we told him that his place then was at her side—and not at the prom—he had no counterargument. His face burned with chagrin, his eyes with fury. He clenched his fists and set his teeth. Many of us feared him. He was big, a tackle on the football team, and short tempered. Yet even he had no strength to oppose the force of our unified opinion.

He reinstated his invitation.

Arlene, to her credit, refused him. Even if she had no other options, she told him, she would not deign to accompany him. As it happened, however, she did have other options—a plethora of them. The attack and its aftermath, most notably her solidarity with us at the town meeting, had conferred a kind of celebrity upon her. But she turned her suitors down, and asked Tony Rivers to be her date. They were kindred spirits, she said. They’d both been scarred by the teenage werewolf.

But hadn’t we all?

Hadn’t the teenage werewolf come to shape and define us? Wasn’t its existence, its endless capacity for violence, the single most important fact about us? Hadn’t our townsmen—our parents—made that clear? They wished to curtail our freedoms, cancel our sports, deny us, most of all, the zenith of our year—the axis about which our entire social calendar revolved. As far as they were concerned, until someone identified the teenage werewolf, we were all the teenage werewolf—and if at one level we resented this, at another it empowered us. In trying to save us, they had sought to imprison us. In seeking to imprison us, they had set us free.

The Friday before the prom, we cast our votes for queen. That night, we gathered to decorate the gym. We erected a band stand, unfolded card tables and disguised them with white linen cloths. We inflated balloons and draped ribbons. We hung a glitter ball from the rafters, like a shining silver moon, and felt wild currents flowing in our veins.

The Massacre at the Rockdale Prom

We woke to rain the next morning, but the weather cleared by ten. We heaved a collective sigh of relief. Cars needed washing, shoes polishing. We arrived early at the florist to collect our flowers—and sighed when we had to wait because everyone else had had the same idea.

Cliques clicked and gangs gathered.

We gossiped as we dressed. Our mothers clamped bobby pins between their teeth, plucking them out one by one as they constructed elaborate coiffures. Our fathers helped us knot ties purchased to coordinate with the dresses of our dates. Our stomachs churned with the magnitude of the occasion. We giggled in excitement. We put on stoic faces.

The prom officially commenced at 8:00, but most of us drifted in half an hour later. It wouldn’t do to arrive too early, and besides, we had other things to attend to. Dates had to be picked up, corsages affixed. Pictures had to be taken. Our dinner plans ran long. We ate with mannered precision, conducting stilted conversations over our food. We pretended at adulthood and found it all a bore.

This was not what we had expected at all.

We longed for freedom, not a preview of the pinched years to come.

Upon our arrival, we were alarmed to see that chaperones had attended in unusual numbers. Miss Ferguson was there, of course, as were our teachers. But Mayor Flanigan and Police Chief Baker had also shown up. Our pastors and our parents, too. Detective Donovan kept to the shadows, watching with a weather eye.

Even the gym’s transformation disappointed us. The card tables were rickety. The folding chairs betrayed the illusion of elegance. The balloons drooped. The hors d’oeuvres left much to be desired. The cheese tasted ashy. The cookies were dry, the punch thin. And while we told ourselves that the band was fantastic, we knew that it was second rate. Their covers were pale shadows of the rock ’n’ roll we’d grown to love, their harmonies off key.

Yet we danced as if our lives depended on it. We danced like the twelve princesses in the tale. When the band played a slow song, we clutched each other close—too close, our chaperones would have said. In the shadowy reaches of the room they stirred as if to intercede, but then fell still. And when the band swung into a fast song, we whirled around the floor, waved our arms, drew each other close, and whirled away again. Our parents looked on in disapproval, but they did not speak.

The dancing became wild, frenetic, Dionysian. The staid adult masks we’d donned over dinner slipped and fell away entirely. And then the music stopped. We all froze panting on the dance floor as a spotlight illuminated Miss Ferguson, thin and pale upon the stage. It was almost eleven by then, the climax of the night, time to announce the prom queen. One by one, to squeals of triumph and delight, her court was appointed: four handmaidens and their escorts, arrayed in a crescent moon around the stage. And then, with a drum roll, Principal Ferguson opened the envelope containing the Prom Queen’s identity. She unfolded the page within, she scanned it silently. She leaned in to the microphone and read it aloud.

“This year’s prom queen is Arlene Marshall,” she said.

The room burst into riotous applause.

As Tony Rivers squired her to the bandstand, we stomped our feet for Arlene. We cheered, we roared as one, and when she dipped her head to accept the crown, we howled. We howled and howled, like wild things, like monsters and like wolves. Her tiara on her head, Arlene turned to the microphone. Before she could speak—had she even intended to speak?—her visage bulged grotesquely, stitches popping, and cracked along the fault lines of her wounds. We gasped when she reached up with her fingers and tore back her human face to reveal the muzzle underneath, slavering and snapping at the air. Her yellow eyes glowed with untamed freedom and with joy. She lifted her head, baying into the dark vault of the gym with its glitter-ball moon. And even as a tide of lupine transformation swept the crowded dance floor, as we too clawed apart our faces to free at last the ravening beasts that lay underneath, teenage werewolves each and every one—even as we assumed our true and long-hidden forms, unknown even to ourselves, our werewolf queen claimed her first victim, decapitating Principal Ferguson with a single swipe of her hand.

Our muscles tightened and grew tenfold strong, agile, quick. Our fingers sprang razor-edged claws, our pores coarse hair. And our senses sharpened. The gloom of the gym was blasted clean with white, hot light, and we could hear the pulse of blood in every human vein. We could smell it, too, metallic and hot. We could smell everything—the sweet tang of the punch and the terror of our chaperones in their sweat upon the air, even our own rank and randy musk—and we wanted to wallow in it all, to fight and fuck and eat, eat, eat. We were famished and insatiate, bottomless pits of raw appetite. Nothing had ever been so awful. Nothing had ever felt so good.

We reveled in it. Leapt on tables and smashed chairs. Snarled and howled and took our chaperones down. They stood in shock before our fury. Police Chief Baker died with his revolver still holstered. Detective Donovan got off a single shot before a teenage werewolf bit off his hand and took him to the floor. Someone kicked open a door and we eviscerated them as they fled into the night—pastors and parents, coaches, teachers, the mayor and the city council, too. We ripped out their throats and tore off their arms. We ate of their flesh. We drank of their blood. We killed them all and we devoured them, and then we stood on the roofs of their cars and howled our triumph at the moon. We were teenage werewolves and we owned the night.

We would never let them tame us.

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Dale Bailey

Dale Bailey

A winner of both the Shirley Jackson Award and the International Horror Guild Award, Dale Bailey is the author of The End of the End of Everything: Stories and The Subterranean Season, both out in 2015, as well as The Fallen, House of Bones, Sleeping Policemen (with Jack Slay, Jr.), and The Resurrection Man’s Legacy and Other Stories. His work has twice been a finalist for the Nebula Award and once for the Bram Stoker Award, and has been adapted for Showtime Television’s Masters of Horror. He lives in North Carolina with his family.