Walled Lake, Michigan
November 26, 6:47 pm
Cody Wolf peered doubtfully into the trees. He saw little in the darkness but heard plenty. Branches twitched like restless spirits. Leaves rustled, whispering in dry voices.
He knew instantly that the trees were nowhere he wanted to go. Not today, not on his thirteenth birthday. The woods always freaked him out in the dark, but a party waited for him on the other side.
If he could only get there.
“What are we waiting for?” his fourteen-year-old brother Brendan asked with a toothy grin. “You missed my thirteenth birthday party. Don’t miss your own. Let’s go, chicken.”
Cody ignored his brother and squinted harder into the trees. Darkness stared back, and his mind shouted silent warnings for him to be careful. Beware, Cody. Stay out. Don’t even think about going in there.
He knew he should listen, too, but the lure of his party was too much. Cutting through the woods was the fastest route home. It was the fastest way to cake and ice cream, presents, and cards stuffed with cash. As a bonus, it would also shut up his brother.
Finally Cody straightened his shoulders. He had made up his mind.
“I’m not chicken,” he said. “Come on. Let’s go through the woods.” And with that he started to walk toward the trees.
Brendan clapped his hands together, impressed. “You’re a big dog now, bro. No more little pup.”
“Whatever,” Cody grunted. “I just want to open presents before my next birthday. Now hurry up.”
With Cody in the lead, the boys shuffled into the woods. Dry leaves crunched under their feet. Shadows melted together, blending into solid darkness.
The full moon overhead was a rude, pale eye, staring without blinking. Its eerie light peeked through the branches like a nosey neighbor who watched but never helped. Cody couldn’t imagine a creepier setting.
The brothers walked without speaking for a time. They made it halfway through the woods. Then Brendan grabbed Cody’s arm.
“Freeze!” Brendan hissed. “Did you hear that?”
Cody stopped and frowned. “Hear what?” he asked. He listened but heard nothing more than he had earlier—the wind, his own breathing, other unidentifiable but normal sounds of the woods.
Was his brother trying to play a trick on him?
Brendan held a finger to his lips for silence. In the moonlight, his normally brown eyes looked yellow. Was that a trick too? Some kind of optical illusion in the dim light?
“Stay here,” Brendan said. “I’m going to check it out.”
Before Cody could stop him, Brendan turned and loped away back the way they’d come. He disappeared into the darkness as if swallowed.
Long, cold minutes passed as Cody waited. He shivered and stuffed his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. He glanced up. Even the moon had abandoned him, hidden behind a cloud. Cody was as alone as he had ever been.
Alone in the dark of the woods.
Finally he couldn’t take the wait or the loneliness.
“Brendan!” he called, his voice louder than he expected and ending on a strange high pitch. What a surprise. Cody hadn’t known he could howl like a wolf at night.
Cody Wolf, get it?
Cody didn’t. Not yet.
When his brother didn’t respond, Cody sucked in another breath to call again. He opened his mouth and—
“You don’t need to yell,” his brother said behind him.
Cody turned sharply, his mouth ready with sharper words. How dare Brendan vanish and then sneak up on him. It was Cody’s birthday. His special day! Everything was supposed to go right. Everything was supposed to be fun.
What he saw killed the words on his lips.
Brendan wasn’t Brendan. Not anymore.
A dog-like creature stood in front of Cody on two legs. Shaggy brown fur covered its body. Fangs as thick as fingers jutted from its canine face.
“Happy birthday, bro,” it growled in a familiar voice.
Cody staggered in jaw-dropping shock. The voice was rough but unmistakable. It belonged to his brother.
His brother the monster.
His brother the werewolf.
Cody was too scared to scream. He shoved the Brendan-wolf in the chest and ran. Home was through the woods and past Glengary Elementary. Less than half a mile, but light years away when a werewolf was chasing you.
“What’s the matter, bro?” Brendan barked behind him, a kind of laugh. “You always wanted a surprise party for your birthday. Well … surprise!”
Cody ran harder.
He broke from the trees minutes later, heart pounding in his throat. He was covered in burrs and scratches. Welts reddened his skin. But Cody didn’t notice. He felt nothing. He was numb to everything except one fact.
His brother was a werewolf.
A glance over his shoulder told him that Brendan was close, maybe a hundred yards behind. He ran on four legs like an animal. His long pink tongue dangled from the side of his open mouth.
“This can’t be happening,” Cody panted in disbelief. Wait until their parents found out!
As he passed the school, he sprinted harder. He was on the home stretch now. He could see his long ranch-style house ahead. Cars filled the driveway. Lights shone in every window, revealing the people within. He spotted Uncle Rusty, cousins Jason and Heidi, Grandma Robinson. All of them were waiting to wish him a happy birthday.
Cody reached the front door and clawed at the handle. His lungs burned, yet he found the breath to scream.
“Mom! Dad!” he gasped as he burst into the house. “Brendan is a—!”
The people inside cheered as one, devouring his words. Like an organized pack, they pressed forward and surrounded Cody. Some of his relatives reached out to shake his hand or ruffle his hair. He received several hugs. Aunt Pam snuck in a kiss.
The crowd overwhelmed him, and his head spun. He couldn’t catch a breath. It was too much, too close.
“Wait! Stop!” he begged. “Give me a second. I have something to say!”
He pushed through the crowd and turned to face it. The confused yellow eyes of his family stared back. They looked disappointed. Some of their ears even seemed to droop like those of scolded dogs.
Cody shook his head angrily. No, no, no. Yellow eyes and drooping ears? Impossible!
Except for Brendan’s, that is. Cody had seen his brother’s yellow wolf-like eyes and tall pointed ears.
“Listen, everyone,” he said rapidly. “We’ve got a problem. A big problem. You probably won’t believe me, but it’s true. So I’m just going to say it.” He swallowed hard, still trying to believe it himself.
“Brendan is a werewolf.”
He expected rolling eyes and laughter. No one would believe him! But he got nothing, no response. The crowd didn’t flinch. It went quiet, dead silent. Two dozen yellow eyes watched him intensely like the full moon.
“Didn’t you hear me?” he snapped. “I said Brendan is a werewolf!”
Still more silence. Then—
“Did someone say ‘werewolf?’”
Cody spun on his toes, feeling hopeful. The voice belonged to Grandpa Wolf, his favorite relative.
Cody’s hopes evaporated. Grandpa Wolf wasn’t himself. He wasn’t the man Cody knew. Grandpa Wolf’s voice came from a werewolf standing on two legs and covered in silver fur. He clutched a polished pewter tray in his padded front paws. On the tray sizzled a steaming t-bone steak, medium rare.
Complete with thirteen lit candles like a birthday cake.
“Happy birthday, Cody,” Grandpa Wolf growled. “Is everyone ready to sing?”
“Nooooo!” Cody howled in his best Luke Skywalker impression.
But as the crowd started to sing, it started for Cody. The change. His transformation from boy to wolf. First his fingers and toes stretched and thickened. Then his hands and feet sprouted hair. The muscles on his arms and legs bulged with the strength of a beast.
“What’s happening to me?” he cried.
But he knew. He knew. Cody was becoming a werewolf. Just like his brother, just like his grandfather. He was a werewolf like everyone else in his family.
The change happened to them all for the first time on their thirteenth birthday. That’s why he had missed his brother’s thirteenth birthday party. To protect the family secret until Cody was ready.
When the change was complete, Cody dropped to all fours. Energy pulsed through his new canine body and there was something he needed to do outside.
Quickly he bounded through the door and lifted his shaggy head. Then he howled at the full moon as if he owned the night.
Happy birthday, Cody Wolf.
Happy hairy birthday.
The End Copyright © 2012 David Anthony and Charles David Clasman. All rights reserved. www.realheroesread.com