The Werewolf's Grandmother
It has to be tonight, she thought as she sipped her tea. The tension and anxiety of her decision made the gout in her ankle throb. But, gimp leg or not, the attacks had gone on long enough. It had to be tonight.
The curse has been in their family for generations - five or ten maybe, but at this point the origins were lost in family myth. Only the men were affected. Her mother liked to joke that God cursed women to be victim to the moon, so the Devil was left with the men. Making them wolves instead of grown ups. Outside of the family, the curse went unnoticed for centuries. Each full moon, the men would chain up in the stables and wait for the moon to wane. Then, the matriarch would come to them and the beasts would be men again. Rarely would the wolves escape, but then the worst that would happen was a couple sheep or a single cow would go missing or be found disemboweled. Their family was always quick to make it right. Under the guise of neighborly love and hospitality, they’d come and offer food and financial support to the farmer. As an unnamed payment for the livestock. With this reputation of altruism, they went unsuspected when questions to the cause of the missing or dead animals circulated.
Nora looked up at the half moon in the sky. Its light was dim, but her eyes were well trained to see in even the lowest of lights. Her eyes fell and rested on the barn that stood a quarter mile from the house. As she took another sip, memories of that night came back.
Because of their diligence to keep the wolves contained, escapes rarely happened. And centuries of tracking skills ingrained in their blood meant anything more tragic than a dead cow during the lean season was even rarer. But the last time that happened still haunted her.
She’d been sitting guard outside the stables. The wolves she knew as her beloved husband and son had gone quiet, their snarls, howls, and barks subsiding. In the silence and under the warm summer’s night air, she’s unwittingly fallen asleep. Who knows how much later, she woke up to the distant shouts of men. Heart pounding in her throat, she checked to see the chain snapped. Weak points in the links that unchecked rust had made thin. Cursing the moon, she'd started towards the shouting in the east. She ran with a slight limp from the newly set in arthritis. The lanterns of the Waller Farm were within sight when the twin shots of gunfire sounded, followed by the yelps of wounded canines. The men shouted more as they ran off to the woods nearby, lantern lights dancing like fireflies. She raced harder, hoping she could make it. But when the second pair of shots went off, Nora fell to her knees. She knelt there in the cotton field and wept until sunrise. She never got to bury them, her husband and son. The vengeful farmer Waller burnt the two wolf carcasses the following night in a huge bonfire. Instead, Nora had to explain the sudden absence of her men when the questions came. She’d said they’d gone to Virginia to see family and might be back in a few months. But then she’d hide herself away and grieve in private and loneliness.
She wasn’t alone, though. Cursed as they were, her son had married. Soon after, her son was born. The child’s mother passed away a few days later when her fever had refused to break. Jonathan was three when his father and grandfather were killed. So, he was raised by his lonely, grieving grandmother. As she watched him grow, dread of the boy’s future loomed like a fog in her mind. He grew into a happy child, very energetic and with a natural athleticism. When he turned thirteen, she told him of his fate and taught him the ways of the family.
His transformations went without incident for several years. The young wolf was bound in reinforced chains and Nora kept herself on high alert each full moon. But no matter the best laid plans can fall to ruin. Nora’s arthritis quickly progressed, making her joints weaker, and in his nineteenth year, he escaped the stables. She chased after him, but her aging body slowed her until he was out of sight. She’s only been able to track him down and bring him home well after dawn. After each escape, she’d double down on the restraints, telling herself this would do it. But her grandson grew stronger with each full moon, and soon he’d break from his chains again. Sometimes, she couldn’t find him for days after the moon began to wane, and she’d find the thin, scared wolf who’d become her son again as she’d come near.
It had been ten years since the last time the wolf had broken free, and the gout in Nora’s joints swelled and she could not follow. By the time she could try and find him, all trace of him was gone. He never strayed too far, though. Almost every full moon, livestock would go missing or turn up slaughtered in the fields. But no trace of the wolf was left. Still, Nora brought her stews and neighborly kindness.
Ten years. Ten years alone, having to incredibly rely on the kindness of her neighbors as her condition worsened. Now, Nora sat in her rocking chair, recalling all the sleepless moons, the worry, all the fears that he was lost forever to the wild or to an angry farmer. As she stared up again at the moon, she readied herself. She focused, breathing slowly and rose to her feet. Her joints burned and throbbed as she shuffled from room to room of the small farmhouse, blowing out any candles left burning in the windows and putting out the hearth fire before finally going upstairs.
Jonathan’s room was still near, just as he’d left it when they’d gone to the stables that night. She went to the closet and took down a full set of clothes. They’d been his father’s before and when he’d grown, she’d passed them onto Jonathan. How excited he’d been then. She smiled at the memory as she placed them in the wicker basket on her arm. She packed a small helping of food as she came through the kitchen again then made her way to the front door. The night air was cool, the moon bright enough, and the cloud her breath made suggested snow was near. Norsa smiled at that. Winter was his favorite season. The little boy would run screaming into the snow in the mornings and not return until almost dusk, his face blotchy and frozen. She’d sit him by the wood burning stove and he;d ramble on about his adventures as he thawed.
That memory brought her warmth as Nora limped with her cane across the fields. Once well maintained and prosperous crop fields, they now were overgrown with weeds and meadow grass - reclaimed by nature. She prayed her grandson hadn’t gone the same way. The dry, winter ready grass crunched softly as she walked.
The half-moon lit the night just enough to guide her onward. And when she reached the woods, the beams of moonlight shone dim through the barren branches. She entered carefully. It wasn’t large, but she held the basket on her arm close to her as she walked between the close growing trees. It was slow going as she had to stop frequently as her joints burned. The gout flared at every exposed root her bad foot bumped into. The night was young, yes, but she had to get to him before it was over. She just had to.
After hours of stumbling and fighting through the forest, she had to rest. Finding an old fallen log, Nora eased herself down. Exhausted in body, her kind was striving to stay awake. “I’ll find you, my baby boy,” she said in the dark, rubbing her thin calf. “I’m on my way.” There came a rustle not far from her. It was too large to be a rabbit or a fox, and too low in the underbrush to be an owl. With a silent prayer for strength, she got up and moved to the right towards the sound of another slightly further rustle. She thought she could see a pair of glowing dots ahead of her. They’d appear for a few moments then disappear before reappearing again further away. “I’m on my way.”
Time flew by as she pushed forward. Soon, she could see a small clearing among the trees. When she finally got near the edge of the moonlit grass, she lost her footing. Nora fell forward and the pain flared in her leg to a blinding white. She cried out as she hit the grass and felt the arm that broke her fall crack and crumple beneath her. A high pitched whine joined her own cries of pain and she pushed herself up to look across the grove.
He was small and emaciated. The ridge of his spine was visible beneath the matted dark fur. He cowered close to the ground with his hackled around his neck and tail raised defensively. Topaz eyes glinted as they met her.
“J…J…Jonathan,” Nora whispered. “Sweetheart.” Cradling her broken arm to her, she struggled and strained to her knees. She swayed, the pain of her leg and arm making her brain feel hot and her vision blur. The wolf slowly crawled forward. The snow began to fall and glittered as it landed on his mangy fur. Just as Nora fell forward, the wolf was in front of her and she landed across his thin back.
When Nora woke from unconsciousness, she thought she was dreaming. Strong arms wrapped around her in a warm embrace against the cold. She smelled the wolf, and earthy wet-dog smell, and the smell of a man, musky with sweat. Nora looked up and into the face of her grandson. Ten years older. A grown man, yes, but the eyes and smile under the long hair and beard were her Jonathan’s. “Hello, Gran.”
She didn’t respond. Her weak, tired smile was frozen on her face as she looked with unseeing eyes. Jonathan pulled her against his bare chest and his howl of grief and love echod into the fallen snow.