After a session with his court-appointed psychiatrist, Eric O'Neill meets a mysterious stranger at a local coffee house and learns he must confront the tragedy of his youth.
"And how does that make you feel, Eric?"
Eric had been looking out the window again, zoning off in thought. He didn't care for his court-ordered anger management sessions. He found them to be a complete waste of time. Nothing had changed, and he was already on his fourth doctor since his assault conviction. He just went through the paces; he had no feelings of remorse.
Nine months earlier he was out in a bar with some friends, and saw a man hitting a woman near the bathrooms to the rear of the club. Eric beat the fellow senseless, which again dragged him into the all-too-familiar criminal justice system—but this time as a defendant.
"Eric, last week I asked you to write a letter to your mother. She sent it back, 'Return to Sender.' How does that make you feel?"
"Dr. Cooper, to be honest, there's nothing I can do. She still blames me for his death."
Eric's latest psychiatrist, Dr. Meredith Cooper, sat back in her chair taking notes, half-moon spectacles perched upon her thin nose. "You spent four months in a hospital thanks to your stepfather's abuses. The fact that he died in prison is no fault of yours."
"What does any of this have to do with that asshole in the bar?"
"Eric, we are merely attempting to address any underlying issues you might have. By understanding your anger we can come to a solution that will help to calm your rage."
"Rage? That guy was beating his wife. There's no excuse for that."
"I understand your protective nature, Eric. It is due to the trauma you suffered as a child. You were your sister's guardian for many years. But you don't need to protect anyone anymore, especially strangers."
"Oh, yeah. We'll just call 911 and wait for an hour while some poor woman bleeds out all over the ground? No thanks. I'll take my chances and do what's right."
"Now, about your mother…"
"You sound like Freud. Look, I don't understand my mom. I've already said that," Eric droned. "This happened when I was a kid. She'll never get over it."
"Well, I believe it is you who needs to get over it. It's time to move on, Eric. You have a great career in engineering and a promising life ahead of you, and—"
"I only got into college because that bastard's family was rich and they paid us off," Eric blurted out in anger. "If it wasn't for the money I would have never gotten my education."
Dr. Cooper shook her head. "No, Eric. That's not true. I saw all of your transcripts from before the incident. You were on the right track. And you owe the family of Gordon Cisne absolutely nothing."
"Well, he's dead and Mom hates me."
"Eric, I don't believe your mother hates you."
"Maybe you should talk to her, then." Lifting his wrist, he looked at his watch. "So, are we done?"
"Yes, it is that time. I'll see you next week, Mr. O'Neill."
Eric entered his home and went straight for the refrigerator, pulling out a thick rib eye steak. He was about to throw it onto a frying pan when his phone rang.
"Hey, Cindy. What’s up?"
"How was your session today, big brother?"
"Same as always. She asks me questions. I lie. How's Mom?"
"She's okay. No, wait. She hates her apartment."
"I would too. That place sucks. She should never have sold her house. Can we move her?"
"I talked to her about it, Eric, but she likes wallowing in misery."
"Typical. I'll give you a call tomorrow. Wanna do lunch?"
"Sure! You buying?"
"Of course. Love you. Bye."
"Love you more!"
Still holding his phone, he used his free hand to throw the steak onto the frying pan, which was immediately followed by the crackling of hot oil against meat and the tantalizing scent of searing animal flesh. Less than two minutes later he slid the steak out of the pan onto a plate and made for his home office.
Falling back into his desk chair, he grabbed the steak with his hand and started to chew on it voraciously, holding the plate underneath his chin to catch any drippings. Eric looked around at various pictures in his office, concentrating most on the photo of his deceased father. Richard O'Neill died shortly after Cindy was born. Someone had cut the brake lines on his car, and he had driven off the side of the road one evening on his way home from work. The culprit was never identified, but Eric always suspected who it was: the man who lost in a battle of love for his mother during their college years. Gordon Cisne.
He was halfway through his meal when an old newspaper article in a picture frame on the wall caught his attention.
He used to read it every day.
Eric dropped his plate onto the desk with a glassy clang. Standing up, he walked to the wall, pulling the picture off its hook and setting it on his desk. Steak back in hand, he studied the old article, starting with the headline:
'Dog Boy' Survives Near-Fatal Attack
He always despised that label—Dog Boy. Witnesses to the incident claimed Eric had turned into an animal and attacked his stepfather, which resulted in the man beating him over the head with a shovel. Eric lifted his free hand to his face and brushed his unkempt, reddish-blonde hair to the side, feeling the souvenir left by the shovel's sharp edge. It was still thick and swollen, even after sixteen years.
He hated the scar. It reminded him of that night.
Eric had just turned thirteen, and was at the local pumpkin patch with his mother, his little sister and his stepfather. It was three days before Halloween, and Cindy wanted a large, beautiful pumpkin. Their stepdad said no, but she begged for it, so Gordon picked it up and smashed it on the hard earth—then he punched Cindy in the face. She was only four years-old at the time. The last thing Eric remembered was seeing red—and then waking up in the hospital two weeks later, a titanium plate in his skull and a permanent scar crawling down the side of his face as mementos.
Eric could never understand why his mom would side with the man, even to the point of defending him in court. Yes, Gordon Cisne was wealthy, handsome and well-connected, but he was abusive to the extreme. He was also a religious fanatic, and forced his wife and her children to attend his cult-like church five days a week.
Gordon would use anything as an excuse to raise his hand; a light left on in an unoccupied room, a plate left unwashed, or even a substandard grade on a paper (only A's were allowed). Eric's mom, Nancy, was the primary recipient of Cisne's wrath, but Eric usually managed to get into the mix due to his protective nature, and almost always to his own detriment.
Eric finished his steak and wiped the juices from his fingers onto his pants leg. Putting the picture back, he looked at another framed newspaper item on the other side of the same wall. Dated approximately six years after the first article, its headline said Child Abuser Attorney Killed in Prison.
He didn’t even bother reading that one. He remembered it all—every gratifying word. Within a week of the article's publication he threw a party at his house while his mother was at work. He had even made a banner that said Burn in Hell, and hung it over the front door.
Then his mom came home early.
Within five minutes of his mother's impromptu arrival, Eric was packing his bags, never to return to her house again.
But that was a long time ago.
Eric pulled a bottle of Don Julio 1942 tequila out from a cabinet behind his desk and lifted the brown decanter to his mouth, taking a long, slow drag of the amber liquid.
This was his real therapy.
The Perfect Cup
The next morning Eric woke up and walked to the neighborhood coffee house, The Java Hut, two blocks from his home. Entering the comfortable, wood-paneled enclosure, he saw the usual cast of characters—all locals and regulars; holdouts against the corporate takeover of the coffee service industry. But on this particular day there was a new arrival—a tall, older man with a long beard, his mustache stylishly braided within. He wore a sleek, blue business suit and had his long, gray hair pulled back into a ponytail. Eric wouldn't have given the man much notice if not for the fact that the gentleman look his way and winked.
Hmm, that's odd…
"Hey, Piper," said Eric, always happy to see the cute, blonde barista who made the best cappuccinos on Harbor Blvd., and perhaps the entire city.
"Hi, Mr. O'Neill. The usual?"
"Yeah, that'd be great." Eric liked Piper, but never got the nerve to ask her out. He never had the nerve to ask anyone out. The biggest fear he had was that he would blow up on someone, and he certainly didn't want to take any chances with anyone as nice as her.
"Here you go, sir," she said.
"Thanks. And hey, my name's Eric. I'm not that old," he said with a chuckle.
Piper gave him a sweet smile as he accepted his drink. Eric felt a tingling sensation course down the back of his neck.
A hot cappuccino in hand, Eric took a seat on his favorite couch, hoping the caffeine would cure his slight hangover. He hardly noticed when the older man he had earlier seen took a seat across from him.
"Good morning," the gentleman said.
"Hey. How's it going?" responded Eric, trying his best to be cordial.
"Oh, it is going… quite well, to be honest. And how are you feeling today, Eric?"
"What the hell? You know me? Have we… met?"
"Not in person. No, no, no my boy. But I know of you," said the gentleman.
"How do you know my name, then?"
"I make it a habit to know the names of all the people in my immediate vicinity."
"And… what's you name?" Eric asked, his throbbing temples muddling his thoughts.
"Pretty simple name there, Bob..."
"Yes, of that I am aware," said Bob, raising his brow.
"Oh, yeah. Sorry… hard night. So… what's up?" He wanted to feel uncomfortable, but Bob seemed harmless, and emoted a caring nature. Eric prided himself on being able to read people.
"I am aware of your past," said Bob. "You were once called dog boy, were you not?"
Eric tried to hide a snarl. "Oh… you're one of those."
"Those what, my son?"
"After that incident there was a whole crowd of fools that thought I was some sort of mystical creature."
Bob smiled. His blue eyes twinkled with what Eric could have sworn was some sort of delight. "No. I am not one of those people. However, I have something I would like to discuss with you. Could we go somewhere and speak in private?"
Eric gave Bob a curious glare, not sure where the man was going with this. "Um, I think I'm fine right here."
Bob seemed to sigh, nodding. "Much like another individual I once met in this establishment."
"Um, who's that?"
"His was called Glenn. He also refused to speak in private."
"Glenn… Glenn Davies?"
"Yes, that was his name," said Bob.
"He was an asshole. Ripped me off for eight grand in web development. I haven't seen him for a few months, but if I ever see him again I'll—"
"You shall not see him again," Bob confirmed.
"Better not. Anyway, if you don't have anything else to say I'm out of here." Eric went to finish the last of his cappuccino.
"You need closure, Eric. You suffered tragedy in your youth, and I am aware of your therapy sessions."
"Huh? Are you a psychiatrist?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes."
"So much for doctor-patient confidentiality." He paused. "What did Cooper tell you?"
"She stated that you need closure. I can offer that."
"First, I would like to unravel a mystery for you. It is in regard to your episode in the pumpkin patch so many years ago."
"What mystery, Bob?" Eric was starting to become annoyed.
Bob looked around, appearing to make sure no one was in earshot, and continued, "What the witnesses claimed they saw was quite correct. You did indeed go through a transformation on that particular evening."
"Yeah. I got pissed off. Cisne hit my sister so hard it knocked her unconscious."
"No, I am referring to what happened to garner you the label of dog boy."
Eric groaned. "Nothing happened. I just—"
"Regained something long-ago lost to your kind."
"Eric, centuries ago there existed certain subspecies of humanity. The fear and anger you experienced on that particular evening activated something buried deep within your genome. You started to become as your ancestors once were."
"And they were?"
"Lycans, created as the protectors of humanity."
"Yeah, right." Eric wasn't impressed. He found himself moving from merely annoyed to being upset.
"So, I have come to assist you in confronting your past," said Bob.
"With what? Kibbles-n-Bits? Dude, my head aches and I don't have time for fairy tales or crappy movies."
"Eric, please. I can take you back to that moment. There, you will witness the events as they unfold, and come to understand what happened. I believe that will provide closure."
"Is this some sort of psychotherapy? I heard about people being hypnotized so they could relive past experiences," said Eric.
Bob shook his head. "No, my boy. I can actually take you back. All I require is your cooperation."
"Cooperation? In what way?"
"You must not interfere. You can only watch."
Eric put his fingers up to massage his pounding temples.
"Oh yes, the tequila. Quite tasty, but not a very good cure for what ails you," said Bob. "I prefer Scotch whisky myself, although it tends to be an equally inefficient remedy."
"How do you know I drank tequila?"
"As I said, Eric, I know quite a bit about you. Now, would you like to learn what really happened that night?" Bob pulled a standard prescription bottle out of his suit coat pocket and handed a red-colored pill to Eric. "Here, take this."
"Hah. Who are you? Morpheus?" asked Eric, only to receive an odd expression from his new friend. "You forgot the blue pill."
Bob said nothing.
"You know… the blue pill? Never saw the movie, then…"
"I am unaware of any such individual or movie, but I can assure you that this tablet will immediately cure your headache," Bob responded, maintaining a blank expression.
Eric shrugged, taking the pill and swallowing it with the last of his cappuccino. To his pleasant surprise, his hangover was gone within seconds. "Um… wow. That works. What is it? How can I get a scrip for the pharmacy?"
"I am sorry. It is a private… prescription. Now, shall we be off?"
Impressed with the hangover cure, and not having anything to do until his lunch date with Cindy, Eric went to stand up. "Okay. I'll play along. Where are we going?"
"Outside. From there we shall go to that night at the pumpkin patch. I merely wish for no one to see our departure."
Exiting through The Java Hut's main entrance, Eric took one single step and then felt the ground beneath his feet become soft. No longer was it a warm, summer morning. It was night, and the cool air chilled him to the bone.
He was in the pumpkin patch.
Eric looked over to his side where Bob stood. The old man's weathered face showed sympathy for a young boy and an even smaller girl thirty feet away. Both he and Bob watched as a large man picked up a pumpkin and smashed it on the ground, while screaming at the small girl.
"Shit!" Eric cried out." That's Gordon. He's gonna hit Cindy."
The girl went down hard at the man's strike. Then Eric saw something he didn't remember.
His younger self threw his head back and howled. Hair sprouted from the youth's jowls, and his limbs seemed to lengthen. Suddenly distracted by the supernatural display, adult Eric watched in mixed fascination and horror, and then looked up to see a full moon. "Oh. My. God."
Shining in the Night Sky
"No, not God, as you call him, my boy. A genetic response enacted, providing you with the ability to protect your beloved sister. Unfortunately, your stepfather had a shovel in his hand and inflicted sufficient damage to your small skull. Now watch. I believe you will be quite proud of your younger self."
Young Eric leaped through the hair, his elongated limbs wrapping around Gordon Cisne's head. The boy was tearing at anything he could grasp, and was about to sink his newly-formed fangs into the man's neck when the youth was thrown to the ground. As he watched, adult Eric felt searing pain course through his body. Holding his hands up, he realized his fingernails had turned into thick, sharp claws. "Shit! What's happening to me?"
"Oh… my. I did not quite expect this to happen," said Bob, immediately gaining a concerned expression.
Eric turned his eyes back to the fight he had experienced, but not remembered, so many years prior. Cisne lifted a shovel high above his head.
Then adult Eric acted—purely out of instinct.
In a flash, adult Eric was on his stepfather, first stripping the man of his shovel, and then beating him without mercy. Using his claws, Eric slashed at the man's face as his younger self crouched to the side, watching with animalistic interest. Gordon Cisne was rendered unconscious in a matter of seconds and was already a bloody mess. Bob raced over, much faster than any old man could have ever moved, and grabbed Eric on the shoulder.
"My son, we must go."
Eric looked around, suddenly finding himself in his living room. Next to him was Bob, wearing a forlorn look, as well as a few spatters of Cisne's blood on his fine business suit.
"What… happened?" Eric asked, watching his claws retract. He also felt weak; out of energy. "I need a steak."
"Eric, I told you not to interfere. Now I must survey the damage you have wrought to the timeline."
Stumbling to the refrigerator, Eric grabbed a steak and a frying pan and got to work. A delicious smell filled the room. That alone had a substantial calming effect on him. A minute later, steak in hand, he grabbed his remote control and turned on the television. As the screen came to life Eric looked over at his fireplace mantle, noting two short jars on top. They had never been there before. "What are those?" he said, thinking out loud. Before Bob could respond, the television, tuned in to a newscast, detailed the latest events of the day.
"…and we've been waiting for an important announcement from Gordon Cisne, pastor of the Universal Church of Truth and Enlightenment. Let's go to Trisha Tamura for the details."
"Hello, Jonathan. We're here at the Universal Church of Truth and Enlightenment, where controversial pastor, Gordon Cisne, is about to make an announcement. Ah, here he is. Let's listen in…"
Eric watched in horror as his stepfather, who should have been dead, stepped up to a podium littered with assorted religious symbols. Not only was the man alive, he looked different than Eric remembered; his face was covered with scars.
"Good afternoon, everyone. I have called upon my faithful flock to accompany me in this joyous event. After meeting with my family, my advisers and my god, I have made a decision that will affect every man, woman and child on this planet. It is with great excitement, as well as the utmost humility that I am announcing my candidacy for President of the United States, under the New Faith Party ticket. I believe that together we shall usher in a new age for mankind, bringing peace through force and faith, as well as—."
Cheers, cries of joy and raucous clapping interrupted Cisne.
"What the hell? How is he alive?" Eric slapped his hand against the side of his face, immediately noticing that his thick scar was gone. He used his knuckles to rap himself up alongside the head: no metal plate, either.
Bob put a hand on Eric's shoulder, saying, "I believe this is mostly my fault. I failed to anticipate that you would be similarly affected by the full moon, just as you were some sixteen years ago. So, when you prevented that horrid man from attacking your younger self, you apparently also saved the cad from a well-deserved prison sentence. As he was never incarcerated, he was not murdered by a particularly nasty individual whilst in a prison shower. He went on to form this religious order, which, by the way, is inherently dangerous and poses an extreme threat to all humanity, as it combines the very worst qualities of all major religions of this terrifying, new era."
"I have to call Cindy. She can fill us in," said Eric.
"My boy, Cindy is with you. She will always be nearby," said Bob, now wearing a mournful expression.
Eric gave Bob a confused glare and turned his attention back to the television, where Trisha Tamura was concluding her segment.
"…Yes, Jonathan. Despite his suspected involvement in the deaths of two family members ten years ago, Mr. Cisne currently enjoys a high favorability rating, so his candidacy will no doubt present a danger to the ruling party."
"Deaths?" Eric bolted over to the fireplace mantle, dropping his steak and grabbing one of the odd, new jars. At the bottom of the small vase was a tiny, metal plaque:
CYNTHIA EUGENIE O'NEILL - BELOVED DAUGHTER AND SISTER
"This isn't happening," whispered Eric as he dropped to his knees, pressing the cremation urn up against his chest.
Bob walked over and picked the slab of meat up from the floor. After depositing it in the trash, he went back and kneeled next to Eric. "Fear not. Although changes have been made to the timeline, they are currently of a temporary nature."
"Huh? What do you mean?" Eric cried out, tears streaming from his eyes.
"What is done is not permanent. We still have a chance to rectify this situation and set things right."
"How do I do that?" Eric cradled the cremation urn in his arms as if it were a newborn child.
"When a change is artificially made to a timeline, it creates a temporary, alternate timeline. If left alone it will become what we call a schism—a permanent, alternate timeline—in which you would reside, due to your actions. But by going back to the event within a certain amount of time, you can change the direction of history. However, what you do will have to be of your own free will and volition."
"I can change things back to what they were?"
"You can do anything you like. Have a seat and ponder it for a moment. When you are ready we shall depart."
Eric got up from the floor and sat on the couch, Cindy's urn in his lap, as he considered his options. After what seemed like an eternity he looked up at Bob, hard resolve reflecting in his eyes. "I'm ready."
"So, you know what you must do?"
"Yeah, Bob. I know. I just need a favor…"
Eric stood out on the plush soil of the pumpkin patch. He wore a blue bandana around his neck, and was trying his best to look like he was pumpkin hunting. Then he saw them approach: his family.
"Here we are, son. Five minutes earlier, as requested," said Bob.
Eric looked up at the full moon and felt an overwhelming, painful sensation encompass his body. His fingernails became claws, his canine teeth became deadly fangs and hair grew on his jowls.
He was ready to make things right.
After pulling the bandana over his face, he walked in the direction of his younger family, and bumped into Gordon Cisne. "Watch where you're going, asshole," hissed Eric, followed by a deep, penetrating growl. He knew Cisne wouldn't back down. Moving across the pumpkin patch, Eric could smell the man following him across the field. He reveled in the scent. It was like he was hunting, but with his prey pursuing him out of pure ignorance.
"Hey, dickhead. You'd better watch where you are going," crowed Cisne.
Eric turned, and dropped the bandana, his unmasked face causing his stepfather to grow a surprised expression. Eric knew the man recognized him, somehow.
With one quick, savage swipe, Eric took out his stepfather's windpipe and jugular veins, his moon-driven claws easily cleaving through the soft flesh. Blood spurted out in obscene torrents. There was no sound aside from a light gurgle, and Cisne fell to the ground, bleeding out onto the dark soil. Within seconds he was dead.
Nancy screamed in horror, while young Eric held Cindy and covered her eyes. Replacing his bandana, adult Eric looked over and noticed the youth hadn't changed like before, which he saw as a good sign. The next thing he knew, he felt a hand on his shoulder and the scenery changed.
Eric stood in front of his house, waiting as his transformation reversed course. Once his fingernails were back to normal, he looked at Bob, not knowing what to expect next.
"So, did I do the right thing?" Eric asked, reaching up and touching where his scar should have been, finding nothing.
"That, my boy, is up to you."
"Why are we outside my house, and not inside like before?"
"Go on, my son. Have a look," Bob said with a kind smile.
"Okay. Will I see you again?"
Bob's smile changed to a whimsical grin. "Yes, I believe we shall meet again—quite soon, in fact. You are a very special individual, Eric, and I will need to tutor you on some of the specifics of your kind. In any case, I must depart. Until next time, my young friend."
"Hey, one more thing," said Eric.
"Your name's not really Bob, is it?"
The old man again grinned, his blue eyes beaming in the late-morning light. "No, it is not. Perhaps when we next meet I shall reveal it to you."
"Sounds good," said Eric, turning to his house.
Eric walked up to his door, and hesitated before opening it. He heard voices—happy voices, layered with laughter.
Steeling himself, he walked inside.
"Huh?" Eric looked on with amazement as Cindy jumped up and gave him a tremendous hug. He held his sister tighter than he ever had in his entire life. The effects of his recent transformation still lingering, he took in her scent, swearing to himself that it would never expire.
"Whoa, bro—don't crush the goods!" Cindy yelped.
"Hi, sweetie. I'm making pasta. You want red sauce, or Alfredo?" asked Eric's mom, Nancy. Gone were the bags underneath her eyes, the sallow complexion and the constant expression of abject misery. She looked fantastic, like she did when his dad was alive. Best of all, she spoke to him; something she hadn't done in years.
"Oh, hey… Mom. Um, Alfredo?" he responded, releasing the death-grip he had on his little sister.
"Hi, Eric," said a familiar voice from the living room.
Eric walked around the corner. He couldn't say anything at first. He just grinned.
"I hope you didn't forget about our date tonight…"
"No, Piper. I didn't forget at all. I'm really looking forward to it," he responded, receiving a soft smile from the attractive girl. He lied, but it was okay. He would figure out later what he had invited her out to do.
Surveying the expansive room, he looked back at the fireplace mantle. There were two urns on top, but this time they were accompanied by small, framed pictures; one of Richard O'Neill, and the other of Gordon Cisne.
Eric decided to let it go. Life was going to be good.