Trudy Bigg had a walk-in freezer. We had a dead werewolf in need of preservation. We rolled into the empty parking lot at MeeMaw’s with Maudie’s lolling carcass in the Jeep, wrapped in its borrowed tarp. The bar wasn’t open yet, but we could see Trudy lounging on the porch swing of the little cottage she kept on the hillside behind it, sipping coffee. I strolled to the foot of her concrete stairs, leaving Nick to guard our precious cargo.
“Hells bells, girl, you’re up early,” Trudy called down to me. “Get on up here and have some coffee.”
“I’d love to,” I replied, “but I have a favor to ask you. I’ve got something I’d like to keep in your big freezer for a couple of days.”
“No problem. Let me go grab the keys and I’ll be right down.”
Trudy joined us in front of MeeMaw’s, the keys on a lanyard trailing from her fist and jingling like Christmas. She cast a curious glance in the cargo area, saw the long tarp-wrapped bundle, and grinned at us.
“Don’t tell me you got yourselves an out of season deer. What happened, you hit it with this beast?” She thumped the muddy flank of the Jeep. “Happens all the time around here. Looks like a small one. I can give Dom a call and he’ll have it dressed and on ice for you in no time.”
Nick opened the tailgate and flipped the tarp open.
“It’s no deer, Trudy. And if you don’t want to help us with this, we understand.”
Trudy stared at the wolf for a long, silent moment. Her only outward reaction was to drum the fingers of her right hand against her thigh. She looked up from the body and met my eyes.
“Never heard of wolves around here.”
I calculated the risk of laying out the whole story, briefly imagined Trudy guffawing and then returning to her cottage to call the game warden on us, and I had nearly made up my mind to tell her anyway when Nick spoke up.
“Maybe not. But I bet you’ve heard of werewolves, haven’t you?”
Trudy did not laugh. Instead, she stepped close to the carcass and grasped it by its left hind leg. She pressed her thumb into the big paw pad, spreading the long toes. Three, where there should have been four. Next, she moved to the creature’s head. She hesitated, then grabbed an ear and tilted the head toward her. With the fingers of her other hand, she opened the eye. The orb rolled to look at us, unclouded and clear. It was the green of a forest glade ringed with topaz. Trudy let go of the wolf and stepped back, wiping her hands on her jeans.
“Sweet Jesus. You got her.” She stared at us. “That’s Maudie Egolf, isn’t it?”
She didn’t wait for a reply. She reached forward again and pulled the tarp over the body, then turned and strode to the door of the bar. As she turned the key in the lock, she looked back over her shoulder at us.
“Better get that bitch in here before anyone drives past and gets nosy.”
Half an hour later, the three of us pottered companionably about in Trudy’s cottage kitchen, assembling breakfast. Maudie was stretched on the floor of MeeMaw’s walk-in freezer under her blue tarp and Trudy had closed the bar for the day. I called Claudia.
“How’s the monster hunt going?” she asked, a ripple of laughter in her voice.
“Fabulous. We bagged a werewolf and want you to come up here to take a look at it just as fast as you can move your fanny.”
Claudia laughed. The sunny sound of it, free of any need to believe in our dark, inexplicable horror, would haunt me in days to come.
“Tess, you’re too much. Do you like the lodge? Is Mr. Egolf keeping it up nicely?”
I glanced at the others who had frozen in the act of setting the table, their ears tuned to my side of the conversation. I mouthed at them 'she doesn’t believe me,' and shrugged.
“Claudia, listen to me,” I said. “Preston Egolf is dead. Maudie Egolf is dead. When you get up here and see her body, you’ll understand everything. We have her in Trudy’s freezer at MeeMaw’s, but she can’t stay there for long. We need you to come now and bring whatever equipment you need to get bio samples. All those spook stories about Pepikissimo… they’re true.”
There was deep silence at Claudia’s end. When she replied, my bubbly college roommate had been replaced by no-nonsense, un-shockable Dr. Moon.
“You’re not shitting me, are you?” she asked, then began a firing a rapid list of requests at me. “Okay, don’t do a thing to the body. Let it lie in the freezer and don’t let anyone at it. Get me photos of the site where she died, and jot down anything you remember about the weather, temperature, and surroundings at the time of death. Do you have Preston’s body, as well?”
“No, it’s… gone.”
Silence again as she absorbed this.
“I’ll be there tonight. I’m getting my kit together as we speak. What does the body look like?”
I understood the implied question within the question.
“It’s a wolf, Claudia. Just a big old dead wolf.”
She let out a tense breath.
“I can’t believe this is actually happening,” she said, her calm voice hiding the intense excitement I knew she must feel. “I thought it would just be a ghost-chase all my life.”
“Welcome to the elite among cryptozoologists, sweetie,” I said, and rang off.
Breakfast waited on the table, and we all pulled up our chairs and dived in, well, like starving wolves.
“What I want to know,” Nick said around a mouthful of buttermilk pancake, “is how you knew, Trudy, that the dead wolf was Maudie. You sure didn’t seem surprised, either. What’s the story?”
I recalled how Trudy had examined the wolf, noting its missing hind toe and the unusual eye color. Having grown up in a place similar to tiny, rural Davitt’s Grove, I was not as surprised by Trudy’s easy acceptance of local myth as fact.
Trudy lifted one scrawny shoulder. “Been hearing the stories all my life. Now, people talk but don’t full-on believe, you understand. And years would go by, quiet years, and the old stories would get to be just something to scare the campers with. Then, someone would go missing. Everything would flare up again, and folks that laughed at the tales before would be sure to have their rifles with them driving after dark. Maudie was always scary, from the time I was a kid, so naturally folks said she must be a werewolf. Living out there in the woods by herself, and just plain batshit crazy.
"My mother remembers when Maudie came home with Preston in tow. He was only a toddler, and Maudie had to have been near forty years old then. It was right after the disappearance of some people from over the line in New York. That was almost sixty years ago, and the boy grew to a man but the woman barely aged."
Trudy shook her head and spread marmalade on her toast. “I guess deep down we all knew what she was but knowing that kind of thing is pretty useless. Wasn’t no proof, and who do you tell? There’ve been a few over the years tried to get rid of her. Never turned out well for them. After looking at her down there, looking at what she became, I’d bet those men plain wet themselves to see it.” She took a healthy bite of toast, ruminating on the bad end of would-be monster hunters.
“That toe of hers… she hacked it clean off with an axe about fifteen years ago. Splitting kindling for her stove. Preston saw her do it, or nobody would have known. She held no trade with doctors. He was drinking in the bar, telling the story. Said she screeched and cursed a blue streak, then just bound it up with some of her herbs and went around barefoot for a couple of weeks. It healed like magic, he said. I saw the stump one day over at Red John’s when she brought the eggs in. She was wearing sandals, and she saw me looking at her foot and stuck it out. 'Pretty, ain’t it?' she said. Then just cackled like it was the biggest joke in the world.”
“Some joke,” Nick said. “I guess people around here will be relieved to be rid of her.”
Trudy nodded slowly. “Yeah, if there aren’t any more like her.” She went on to echo something Maudie herself had said to me. “Things like that will run in a family sometimes.”
The final report on our Davitt’s Grove adventure is an unsatisfactory one as so often happens in incidents of this nature. When we returned to MeeMaw’s to check on our treasure, we found the door to the bar pulled from its frame and flung into the dirt of the parking lot. The door to the freezer had been peeled downward like the top of a tin of sardines. Long grooves marred its smooth steel face. Maudie’s body was gone. Only a few tatters of the tarp remained.
Upon her arrival, Claudia assuaged her severe disappointment by collecting a sparse tuft of fur from among the shreds of tarp and a solitary bead of blood flattened to a tarry wafer near the ruined door. Nick and I had taken photos of the wolf carcass while it still lay on the porch of the lodge, and of the axe that killed it. These scant relics were all the physical proof we had to show for our harrowing encounter.
It seems reasonable to believe that whatever had pried its way into the freezer and absconded with the body was kin to Maudie, with a clansman’s stake in holding family secrets close. It appeared that Davitt’s Grove was not done with werewolves after all. We all agreed the culprit must be Red John Kovak, who had closed the Bait and Tackle shop and vanished, leaving the cliché of a Gone Fishing sign hanging askew on his door.
“That’ll piss everyone off,” was Trudy’s response. “It’s a thirty-mile drive to the nearest grocery store. People count on this place for staples like bread and milk.” She had glowered at the sign for a moment, then added in a soft voice, “And eggs.”
Trudy is sure that Red John has never harmed a soul, an assessment I’m inclined to believe.
“He’s in public view almost 24/7,” she said. “I know he’s a goofy bastard, but he’s not like Maudie was.”
Nick disagrees, and only time will tell which of us is right. One thing of which we are certain is that having opened the door to the impossible, we cannot close it again and go on as if we’d never seen behind it. Our investigations must change in both purpose and scope.
Claudia is moving forward with her plans for the lodge. She’s hoping Red John will return soon and agree to let her observe him. She likes Davitt’s Grove, and she loves Pepekissimo and Cold Ripple Lake. She expounded on her feelings about the place as we sat around the firepit on the lodge’s weedy terrace.
“This is an isolated rural community. It’s is a funny thing, but everyone has their place and function. People don’t have much here, and a lot is overlooked or forgiven in the struggle to survive. While the rules of community are observed, people aren’t penalized for strange ways. Obviously, that can’t extend to eating random visitors, but I think Trudy’s right. Maudie was a throwback. An aberration.”
I leaned back and looked up at the red sparks from the fire dancing skyward on a column of smoke, and at the shimmering veil of the Milky Way as it arced over us. Lycanthropy is certainly aberrant, I mused, but I understood the sentiment behind Claudia’s statement. A community like Davitt’s Grove is held together by more than mere adherence to social norms or to a consensus of ontological argument. Red John holds an integral place within it. Maybe even such an aberration as lycanthropy could, within limits, be overlooked. After all, a thing like that— I’m told—will run in a family sometimes.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this story and that you'll let me tell you a few more.