Yes, it's the Halloween season again, and I feel peculiarly obligated to do something about it. Here's a little story of charm and male bonding (well, in a manner of speaking) to give you goose bumps, or maybe just an irritating itch somewhere among your private parts. The trouble with writing fiction fit for the season these days is the sad fact that world events are more terrifying than much in the universe of storytelling. By the way, I remind you that I'm really not any good at writing fiction in any form, so should you decide to read this and you hate it and it absolutely sucks, it's your own fault. You've been warned. Or is that warmed?
(Never Waste Words)
(A Delightful Halloween Story)
by Robert Barrow
Copyright 2013 (fiction) by Robert Barrow
(Any resemblance to persons living, dead or undead rises far beyond my ability to fabricate an unusual name that might actually belong to somebody.)
Brutally active winter storms should have yielded to the first idyllic hints of spring weeks ago, but the unforgiving north winds continued unappreciated mountain visits, transporting an unrelenting cascade of oppressively wet, heavy snow.
Few understood the situation's gravity better than Dalton Fentweather, a local handyman who resembled a slightly older version of country singer Hunter Hayes, a heartthrob observation which delighted many young women of the sparsely populated rural area. Though living alone in a small cabin in the woods, just a few yards off a logging road, he was never lonesome for female companionship -- generally acquired in a revolving door manner, with feminine faces arriving and departing with some regularity.
But romance was the last thing on Dalton Fentweather's mind during this snowbound afternoon. Despite the raging snows, mounting more than an inch in depth per hour, when Dalton peeked out a window and looked toward the logging road he could barely make out the shape of something -- or somebody? -- thrashing about in a snowbank.
Of course, he hesitated before investigating. Who wouldn't? What if the snowy lump was an enraged bear, somehow awakened from hibernation? Or some rabid animal?
After a few minutes of careful thought, Dalton donned a parka, grabbed his shotgun and carefully opened the cabin door, being careful not to allow winter winds to blow in any more white than necessary. Cautiously, he walked to the road, aware that the lump's movement had ceased.
As he approached the indefinite shape, its identity thoroughly masked by the blizzard's effects, Dalton proceeded even more slowly, until he ultimately stood just a couple of feet from it. Extending the shotgun, he gingerly nudged the figure with its barrel for a possible response.
"Ow!" shouted a human voice, as the figure of a tall man recoiled, arose and then stood almost upright. Dalton fell backwards in surprise, his fall broken sufficiently by the snow's depth on the ground. The stranger spoke, timidly:, as he reached out, gesturing with his left hand toward Dalton. "Help me. . .please, help me. . .I. . ." The man then collapsed onto a snowbank, motionless once more.
Footprints from way down the road could barely be seen as wind-driven snows obliterated every trace of their existence.
With considerable difficulty Dalton dragged the man into his cabin and lifted him onto a sofa, and the combination of height and weight provided no easy chore. Apparently sleeping or unconscious, the man dressed only in jeans and a torn black t-shirt would offer no resistance as Dalton looked him over. While no tattoos or other markings were evident on his arms, his wrists clearly displayed circumferential red marks -- as if they had been tied very tightly to a pole or tree, or perhaps handcuffed. Now Dalton allowed himself a measured degree of worry and fear.
He picked up the landline phone to call the sheriff, but its connection was dead. That wasn't unusual when the snow grew deep and winds took down poles. Like this week's snow.
Suddenly enlightened, Dalton whipped around to turn on a lamp switch and discovered that the electricity was also out. Same damned pole, he rightly presumed. He needn't have bothered with his cell phone, for that was out of energy and hadn't been charged for weeks, but he tried it anyway just to impress upon himself the hopelessness of summoning help.
Great, now what do I do about you? Dalton wondered, staring at the stranger on his sofa. Approaching the sofa, he knew he must, at least, try to determine an identity, so he took the liberty of exploring the pockets of the stranger's jeans. To his surprise, there was no wallet, no keys, nor pocket change -- but the left front pocket revealed a short strand of a material appearing to be from a thick white polyester cord . Again, Dalton focused his eyes upon the painful-looking red marks on his guest's wrists. Maybe an escaped prisoner? Maybe somebody abducted and tied him to a tree? Did some jealous husband or boyfriend do this? Of course Dalton Fentweather would conjure up a husband or boyfriend, for he suffered his own occasional encounters with jealous significant others who discovered his affairs with their supposedly faithful ladies.
"Uhhhhhh. . ." muttered the stranger, apparently awakening. Dalton stepped cautiously to his side.
"Are you . . .can you hear me?" asked Dalton.
The bearded stranger glanced about, ultimately fixing his gaze upon Dalton. "Where. . .what is this?"
"I pulled you from the road -- you were huddled in the snow. The storm, you know."
"The. . . storm. . ."
"Yes. How did you -- where did you come from? What happened to your wrists?" Dalton inquired gently. The stranger seemed startled and sat bolt-upright on the couch. Dalton took a timid step back, but then stepped forward and guided the mysterious man to a horizontal position once again. He appeared remarkably weakened from some ordeal, or perhaps simply exhausted from his journey through the snowstorm.
"You. . .need to get. . . away. . .go. . .away," the stranger said, his voice almost inaudible now. Dalton strained to hear him speak. "You. . .you. . ."
"Who are you? What can I do to help?"
"I. . .am. . ." he said, his voice trailing off, but Dalton heard a part of one more word or sentence.
"What? Did you say rope? Did somebody tie you with a rope?" The stranger shook his head no and then passed out. There was something uttered before what sounded like rope, but words seemed to break up.
Dalton retrieved a jar of tea from the refrigerator, taking care to close the door quickly in order to keep precious cold air from escaping. The afternoon grew later and, despite the strange predicament before him, Dalton was grateful for a wood stove in the corner which kept the small cabin pleasantly warm. Having poured a small cup of cold tea for his guest, he gently shook the man, hoping to awaken him and force down a drink. Maybe then the man could speak more easily. His eyelids twitched and the lids opened.
"Wha. . .oh. . .I remember. . ."
"Here, drink a little of this, it's tea," Dalton offered. The stranger drank a bit and then swallowed more and more until the cup had emptied. "What's your name?"
The man needed to think, but replied, "They. . . call me. . . Austin."
"Austin. And my name is Dalton. Now, I gotta ask you, man, where are you from and how the hell did you get this far?"
Austin seemed puzzled, and a bit embarrassed. "I don't. . .don't. . .look. . . you got to. . . run away from me. You aren't safe here!" Austin was becoming rather frantic.
"What do you mean? Are you a convict? Did you escape from prison?!"
"Get away, get away!" The stranger slumped back onto the sofa, again with words drifting off as he mumbled, seeming to say ". . .can. . .rope. . ."
"Can rope? Are you from a rodeo? Is that it? Did you fall off a rodeo bus or, or a circus train or something?" But Dalton's words went nowhere. Austin was clearly asleep once again. Dalton grew frustrated -- immensely curious, but frustrated.
Afternoon slowly gave way to evening's curtain, sweeping away the snowstorm as a bonus. Unfortunately, the phone and electricity remained out of service, and there seemed no reason to anticipate any repairs -- or visitors -- until tomorrow at the earliest, for Dalton Fentweather resided in a very secluded area. But he entertained other concerns as he rocked forward and backward in his long-deceased grandmother's favorite wooden rocking chair, creating creaking sounds as he moved. What else would tomorrow bring? What should he do about his unexpected guest? When could he phone the sheriff? Or should an ambulance be summoned when circumstances allowed a call? Who is this guy? Sick? Crazy? Dangerous? Amnesia? Is he faking anything? Is his name even Austin? Is he listening to every squeak of the rocking chair right now, only pretending to be asleep?
Suddenly, the rocking chair ceased rocking. Dalton detected motion on the sofa where mysterious Austin slept. Rising from the chair, Dalton walked to a small closet in the room and retrieved a battery-operated lantern. He switched it on, bathing the one-room cabin in the cold, unpleasant glow of small fluorescent bulbs. He threw another log in the stove, then walked over to the sofa.
"Awake?" Dalton inquired.
"Where am I? I. . .oh. . ." Austin's tense words seemed a little more difficult to understand, almost as if he had cotton in his mouth. But he didn't. Austin, as if suddenly remembering something important, directed attention to his wrists. He held them in the air and examined the substantial red impression around each. "Ties. . .gone. . .got away. . .my bonds did this. . ."
Bonds did that? pondered Dalton to himself. Who would tie up a -- who is this guy? Dalton decided to let that revelation go without questions because Austin's anxiety already hovered near the explosive realm.
"Dude, you said something about roping, that you could rope?" Austin appeared puzzled.
"No, I don't rope, don't know where you. . ." Then a mental light bulb switched on in Austin's head. "You didn't hear. . .everything I. . .said. . .you. . .missed. . .I. . .miss. . ." Words were becoming hard for Austin to select.
"You worked with a rodeo or a circus. I know it, I just know it!" insisted Dalton.
"I DON'T!" shouted the bearded man, his voice reverberating throughout the cabin. He was becoming more excited, causing his words to make less sense. "No! I. . .lie. . .lie. . ."
"What's a lie? Are you lying to me?"
"Not lie. . .not a lie. . .I. . .you. . .miss and. . .rope. . .tha. . .tha. . .lie. . .the rope. . .missed word and. . .the. . .rope" said Austin, frantic in his inability to say exactly what he meant. His eyes grew wide in the lamplight. "Run! Run!" Ru. . ." Austin collapsed again, seeming to pass out.
What the hell? Dalton questioned out loud. He felt his own heart pounding in his chest as the stranger's breaths grew labored and frequent. Missed word and -- the rope? Or did he mean miss or even miz. or -- or? Dalton remembered a word he heard on TV now and then, not often, but enough so he remembered it. He grabbed a dusty dictionary off a shelf. Dalton never used a dictionary, but it had been a gift and he kept it around just so folks wouldn't think he wasn't smart.
He thumbed slowly through the book's pages, for word searches were never his thing. Finally he came to the M section. But how to spell the word? With considerable effort and eye strain, Dalton at last stumbled upon what he thought the stranger might be attempting to say. The word was misanthrope. "Hmm," Dalton said as slumped over the dictionary, "it means somebody who dislikes other people. Miss-an-tharope." Dalton turned his head and looked at Austin's tall form, lying unconscious on the sofa, and then returned his attention to the dictionary. Well, that word certainly seemed to fit him, unless he meant somebody else who doesn't like people, thought Dalton.
"GET OUT!" Austin yelled, and a dozing Dalton Fentweather fell out of the rocking chair, landing on his knees. He stood, focusing upon Austin, who now sat straight up on the sofa, his legs planted on the floor.
"Oh. . .um, Austin -- calm down. You're so. . ."
"You must go. . .quick. . .I. . .the headaches. . .I. . ."
"Were you telling me," Dalton began, gingerly broaching the subject, "that you're a mis. . .a misanthrope?"
Austin's dark eyes widened as, for a change, he was the one looking upon the other as possibly crazy. "What?"
"A miss-ann-tha-rope," repeated Dalton, slowly this time.
Austin's head cocked sideways. Then he spoke again, his words even more difficult to understand than previously. His words seemed so jumbled and uncertain. "Lie. . .you missed. . .lie. . .I. . .can. . .the. . .rope."
Dalton shook his head in discouragement. "Sorry dude, I don't understand." Austin pounded a fist on the sofa, frustrated in his lingual disability. To make matters worse, the lamplight started to flicker, its batteries obviously failing. Dalton glanced at a wall clock and noted the time was nearing nine o'clock. He threw another log in the stove so at least warmth would get him through the night. And his guest, of course. "I have a gas range, so at least I can fix us a can of soup," Dalton explained. Austin said nothing, and his silhouette showed him running thin fingers through his hair.
Dalton turned his attention to a cupboard filled with soup cans. Though the lamplight was almost extinguished, he was grateful for light from the full moon, just rising over the eastern horizon, its welcome beams shining through tree limbs outside and deep through the windows on that side of the cabin.
"Well, I don't know what you like to eat, but I can do chicken noodle or vegetables and beef, or clam chowder. Anything there appeal to you?" Austin remained silent, just sitting motionlessly. Dalton focused upon a few other cans. "If not, I have corn chowder or onion soup, or maybe beans and bacon, and I have. . .what was that you said?" Dalton heard something in a low tone, but couldn't make out any words. By now, he was used to that kind of response from his strange guest. He received no reply. "Um, okay, well we have to choose something. I mean, you have to eat, you know. I'm sorry about the power failure and the phone -- and, goes without saying, the food available. Okay, let's go for something simple -- chicken noodle. Just have to find a can opener."
Dalton fumbled through a drawer in the moonlight, finally locating the necessary instrument. He began opening the can, though the process was slow. But he heard a noise and stopped cold. It was the sound of something, something like the ripping of fabric over by the sofa. "Oh," Dalton responded, "I never thought to get you out of those wet clothes, though I didn't think they were all that wet. But go ahead and shed 'em if you want, I'll get you a robe or something." Dalton continued opening the can. Again, he paused. "What are you doing? No, really, what?"
In the moonlight, Dalton saw his dictionary lifted into the air by a tall figure, standing, that of Austin himself. As Austin began thumbing through pages, Dalton thought he detected considerably more hair covering his guest's face, and deep guttural sounds seemed to emanate from Austin's throat.
"This. . .this. . .lie. . .can. . .the. . " Austin ripped a page from the dictionary and propelled it toward Dalton, who picked it up from the floor. "Now. . .read. . .read!" Austin seemed to growl in demand. The page was from the L section. Dalton wasn't quite sure what to look for. "Lie. . .lie. . .lie with a why. . ."
Lie with a why? Oh, this guy has to be nuts, thought Dalton, holding the page in the moonlight, running his finger slowly down the entries: "Lycaenidae. . .lycaenid butterfly. . .Lycaeon. . .lycanthrope. . .ly. . .wait, lycanthrope? Lycanthrope? Is that the word? Austin?" Dalton assumed he found the right word, because Austin had ripped a little tear just above and below the word.
Heavy breathing sounds reverberated throughout the cabin, but suddenly Dalton wasn't sure of the exact direction. "What is that? Wait, let me see what it means. It says, a monster who changes from human to wolf, particularly when the moon is full. Well, that's crazy, isn't it? Why would you tell me. . .hey, where are you?"
As if in response, a huge, furry shape rose from a crouched position, blocking the moonlight, growling and swinging thick, canine-like upper extremities as it howled with a sound creepy and emboldened enough to wake the dead -- or even enough to wake those among the living who were usually consumed and entranced by electronic games, unaware of their physical surroundings.
Shocked, Dalton dropped the dictionary page, momentarily mesmerized by the hulking animal-like figure just feet away and slowly approaching in a menacing fashion. He suddenly longed for his shotgun, forgotten somewhere in the darkness, and surely out of reach.. Helped by the occasional flicker of the nearly useless lamp, Dalton retrieved the can of chicken noodle soup and flung its contents at something called Austin, covering the creature with what the can's label described as home-cooked style soup to please the whole family. In a lightning-fast follow-up, Dalton shoved the sharp-edged can into a mouth containing large, white teeth reflected in the moonlight, and instantly recalled that he paid handsomely for that soup -- but then, regaining his wits as the creature screamed in pain, he rushed to the door, flung it open, slammed it shut and ran off into the woods, leaving Austin's fundamentally transformed self trapped in the cabin.
The deceptively serene moonlit evening evoked a terrible chill, but Dalton didn't care as he leaped and stumbled his way through deep snowdrifts, attired only in a flannel shirt, jeans and sneakers. The night seemed so still, aside from distant howls and the sounds of breaking glass. Dalton's fearful and racing thoughts included, rightfully, assumptions that tomorrow would bring no trace of Austin, but one heck of a cleanup challenge at the cabin after he notified the sheriff of, frankly, his unbelievable story.
Unfortunately for Dalton, however, though he didn't notice at first, in his haste to get away, his tomorrow would never arrive, for he was running right into the path of something horrible coming his way, an unrestrained, frenzied werewolf twice as large as Austin. As the terrifying, deeply fur-coated creature leapt, knocking Dalton Fentweather to the ground, all business as it prepared to sink its long, yellowed fangs into his chest cavity, the last things Dalton would ever see were portions of a heavy white nylon rope wrapped around the monster's front legs, dangling in the snow and ready to fall off. It momentarily, tragically, occurred to the young man that the missing rope segments may also have confined Austin until he broke free, along with his companion, leaving those red marks on his wrists. Indeed, the lycanthropic beasts had probably been trapped in their bonds by some unknown captor, and he, she or they who confined the two -- if only two -- likely lay dead, somewhere far away.
Dalton attempted to scream, but before he could produce more than just a gurgle, the full moon above was briefly traversed by a spray, a bloom really, of reddish mist, accompanied only by the sounds of teeth crunching through ribs, and distant wolfish howls.
-- THE END --