We have been taught to believe that werewolves only change into their cursed form on full-moon nights, but perhaps – and this is speculation – on nights without full moons, the animal shape, which is the cursed form, still awakens within the werewolf, yet it cannot be seen, only sensed. Maybe werewolves spend any night with a broken, shaved-down moon trapped in between two stages of being, aware of the animal hair and muscle growing to cover what to any passer-by looks like nothing more than regular human skin. On such nights, the werewolf alone is aware of her transformation.
The werewolf is female, and as the sun sets she feels within her human body the shimmer of the animal form slowly coming into tangible solidity. As the sun sets, the werewolf must continue to walk as though nothing was happening, as though she was one of many normal people on whose physical reality the loss of daylight has no noticeable effect; as though all the setting sun represented was a change of light. She must walk and feel herself change in invisible, uncommunicable ways. To the collective consciousness, a sunset is just a sunset, the transition into night. To the werewolf, it is a special kind of loneliness, the moment when she ceases to be part of the human crowd.
She doesn’t know any of this for sure, nor does she know where to turn for advice. She has learned to treat her condition as a research project, and analyses her symptoms and sensations until she reaches a more or less satisfying conclusion: Werewolves. Why not. Makes sense.
The sunset brings about transition: from being unified in her human form she becomes doubled up, both human and animal, and what hurts most is the speed at which the transformation takes place. When the hair begins to grow, it does so faster than human hair ever should, and within minutes claws curl and harden over her fingernails. From the human skeleton grows a second bone structure, animal teeth and bones sprouting from the human ones.
She knows little about the beast she becomes, but it isn’t as scary as it seems it should be.
As far as she knows, these silent, invisible changes mimic the real transformation that occurs on full-moon nights, when her body changes in a way that is visible and therefore true: the human skeleton takes on the shape of a wolf’s while above it the skin stretches and cracks, fur and claws and teeth shoot out of pores and nail beds and gums. She has to assume this, because she has never consciously lived through the full transformation. At some point during the process, her human consciousness shuts off. Or rather, the parts that make her consciousness a human one disconnect to make space for those that are animal. The werewolf takes over for the night.
She knows little about the beast she becomes, but it isn’t as scary as it seems it should be: it feels less like loss of control and more like getting to take a break from herself. And in some ways this break is welcome because it suspends for a moment the workings of a mind set on self-criticism and doubt and fear and worry, a churning human mind trying to figure out how to live, in favour of what, she assumes, is the straightforward mind of an animal.
But on any other night, when the moon is less than full and the transformation is both conscious and invisible, she is alone with the discomfort it brings, an unavoidable sense of one thing not fitting neatly into the other. The sun sets and the second body grows like a flimsy glove on top of the first. The transformation causes her shame, causes her to try to hide the new body even though it can’t be seen, and she finds herself writhing and squirming from the discomfort, and trying to wipe all emotion from her face when moving through the crowds at sunset as though nothing was happening to her, as though nothing was changing but the light. And yet, on the inside, a growling, a bristling, has begun.
The second body taking shape is one only she can feel: sharp cushioned paws cover her hands, a long face juts forward with a suddenly much keener nose, and a flat, tooth-ringed tongue drapes across her fat, tired human one. The body sits on her like a mask, like vapour that moves when she moves and yet feels different – differently. Finally, her spine extends backwards, lengthens into a tail swishing invisibly across the floor. In this state, she goes from being wholly human to an unfocused mess: a simultaneous tangle of fur and hairless skin, of two sets of teeth, of senses keen and hungry and yet dulled by cigarettes and city air.
So let’s say that on a hot summer evening the werewolf walks into a supermarket. The last of daylight is shining on her, the air is warm, and there is a fundamental solidity to her sense of self. She remembered to bring her reusable carrier bag and is wearing sensible shoes; she feels like a grown-up. She senses her body as human and unified, and in the midst of daily chores she is at peace.
In the parking lot, an excited crowd celebrates the summer by cracking open beverages and swinging shopping bags full of meats and cheeses they plan to grill in the open air, filling the night with their euphoria. The setting sun crackles and glows behind the buildings, and a ray of light shoots though the landscape hitting a group of men who, already drunk, are dousing each other with beer from their glistening cans. One of the men stands slightly aside, lighting a cigarette, and as the orange sunlight falls on his lighter’s flame it briefly looks as if he is setting the other men on fire.
Inside the supermarket’s walls, people pilot their trolleys into the fruit and vegetable aisle while daylight fades outside the large windows. Young families loudly announce to each other what they want for dinner. A couple of teenagers argue about the health benefits of smoked salmon. A man tries to convince his wife to replace the green beans on their shopping list with peas. The supermarket’s sound system fills any gaps in the network of voices with soft, jingling sounds.
In the midst of this, the werewolf can feel the familiar stirring begin: inside her, the inevitable other body stretches and yawns. The sun is setting and tonight the moon isn’t full, and so the animal form shimmers and radiates inside her. It isn’t the same every night; some nights, she can barely sense the animal within the human, but on others the doubling is disorientating. Tonight, she is in public, stranded out in the open, and she is concerned.
On a psychological level, the transformation is a process of activation and deactivation of different parts of her consciousness; on a physical level, it is a process of lengthening, remoulding the body into a different shape with different organs and sensory abilities, with more hair, more muscle, more protection from danger and the elements.
The tail is her favourite feature, the one part of the transformation she looks forward to.
She takes a basket for her vegetables, and she feels both her large cushioned paw and her bony human hand close around its handle. Her limbs are stiff and creaky, as if a cold humidity had settled in them, and even though she rarely exercises, her muscles feel permanently sore. The problem with these nightly transformations is that even their phantom process takes a lot of energy, and the process slows her down. Despite the heat of summer, she has been craving warmth, as if a cold had taken root inside her, and she wants to remedy it by ingesting something wholesome and warm, something she made herself.
Waxy fruit and vegetables are stacked like jewels in their crates, steaming with cold air wafting into hot. Her wet canine nostrils are coming to life, going to work. They flutter almost a foot ahead of her human nose, towards the ripples of smells rising from the fruit crates, but no-one around her notices or even spares a glance for the werewolf body increasing in mass and melting through the outline of her human form; they don’t notice because to them nothing out of the ordinary is occurring. On the outside, her secondary dimensions are invisible, and others can’t see the claws on her feet scratching the sides of the crates, or the purse strap which, while appearing to rest comfortable against her human shoulder, digs deep into her swollen animal neck. If others are looking at her at all, what they see is a young woman in slouchy clothes, someone they assume must be a student here to buy a stack of ready meals.
From her backside, a tail begins to unfurl and reaches thick and heavy towards the floor. The tail is her favourite feature, the one part of the transformation she looks forward to, even though she only ever feels it grow from her as part of the nightly doubling. She experiences it as a flicker, the translucent image of a tail, part of the werewolf body that shimmers around her human parts. She has never seen herself bear it as a full part of her anatomy, and she knows she won’t because on full moon nights, when the real transformation begins, her human mind fades and gives room to the animal, an animal whose understanding of selves and bodies she herself has no access to.
She leans over a crate of tomatoes and tries to pick out the most suitable ones to make into soup. How many tomatoes will feed her for a week? Three? Four? Twelve? Her organs are duplicating, processing and demanding, and she feels the second spine twist and lengthen like a vine along a pole.
After years of these transformations, there are still things about the process she doesn’t understand or have answers to, such as how much food do her dinners consist of, and does she have a duty to feed this second body she senses? Do her portions need to be doubled, and if so can the werewolf body survive on the same food her human body digests? Six tomatoes or eight? And what do tomatoes mean to a werewolf palate?
She curls her tail in between her legs so as to avoid having it crushed by a stranger’s foot, because sometimes she forgets which of her bodies is in contact with the world. Presumably, the tail can’t be seen or felt by anyone but her, so she assumes no real impact would occur; a stranger’s foot coming down on her tail would sense only thin air. But to her the tail feels so substantial that she doesn’t want to risk so much as the possibility of pain. The possibility of pain scares her more than the pain itself.
Once, on a full moon night, she positioned herself in front of a mirror and waited for the transformation to occur. She wanted to witness what happens.
Once, on a full moon night, she positioned herself in front of a mirror and waited for the transformation to occur. She wanted to witness what happens, to see with her own eyes who or what she becomes, and she saw the skull remould like putty, the spreading of hairs like fire across the skin, the change in the eyes and the flaring of the nostrils; then her consciousness disconnected and the werewolf consciousness took over, until the next morning when she woke up in her house, curled up on the living room carpet, her nose pressed against her wrists.
One time she woke up underneath the sofa, the heavy darkness pushing her into the floor. She panicked in this confined space, not knowing where she was, and her sharp breath sucked in puffs of dust until she saw the exit and crawled out. Back in the light of day, she sat still for a while, squinting and sighing with relief.
She puts a dozen tomatoes in her basket and moves on to the greener vegetables, so green they nearly fade into their crates. Green peppers, green leaves, green celery. She grabs handfuls of each. They sit in her hands like clunky weaponry; she could take a stab at someone with this bouquet of Swiss chard. Her fridge is empty, and she wants to eat healthier, at least by human standards. Handfuls of green go into the basket – there is no use in counting or weighing when the animal rising like dough beyond its human mould is desperately hungry.
In front of a crate of ruffled salad heads, she tries to choose from the lovingly arranged selection as if from a nursery. According to her cookbook – which is really more of a nutritional guide – the darker the leaf, the denser in nutrients. She picks up a salad head from the upper right corner of the crate. The frills are dark at the edges and turn a lighter green towards the vanishing centre. She tries to imagine the salad’s delicate leaves weaving through the long rows of carnivorous teeth, the forest of sharp conical ivory. Leaves floating like silent silk shawls, slipping their folds around the smooth white cones on their way to the bright red back of the throat.
What if underneath this name she has given her condition, a name so old it might no longer apply, borrowed from lore and pop culture and the reservoir of human history, lies nothing more than a mistake? What if the side of her that’s unseen, wild, unconscious and independent, is not a wolf at all but merely a dog? A were-dog: domesticated, overbred, prone to tumours and easily affected by the weather, a creature who has given up independence for the sake of comfort, who yearns to be loved because to be loved means to be protected.
Perhaps it used to be that, in a distant past, the full moon turned man into wolf then back into man, but she has missed a step in the process, or added one too many. Perhaps she has accidentally domesticated a side of her that was meant to be wild, an outlet for the violence and consequence-free acts that are not to be performed in society. Are there, she wonders, people who don’t become werewolves but were-apes, or were-marsupials, or were-reptiles, who transform the same way she does every night into a double self, part-man part-animal?
She hates having a stomach that requires things to be easy, one that protests with cramps and churning if they’re not.
A woman has appeared next to her and is reaching for a pot of parsley, grazing the werewolf’s paw with her hand. The werewolf holds her breath, unsure if the woman has felt herself touch her. The woman, too, freezes for a moment, but she might just be considering the parsley she is holding. Then, the parsley disappears into the woman’s basket and they both disappear. Moments like these make the werewolf feel even more invisible than she is, even less real than she is to those around her, and her human mind jitters with irritation.
In the vegetable crates, carrots are resting on top of each other like bones. Not far from them are fridges in which plastic trays display cut-up pieces of meat. The werewolf positions herself in front of the carrots, but out of the corner of her eye she sees the meat, nothing but the meat, in all sorts of shapes: glossy pink teardrops, velvety red squares, circles marbled with white. She can feel their textures scrape across the roof of her mouth. Pink and red pin cushions to rest her teeth in, to contain their canine sharpness.
Focus. She returns to the carrots. Thick orange bones. She imagines them cracking between her jaws, giving in to their pressure just a little too easily. Some satisfaction might be gained from this. Her body is soft, in need of strength and backbone; it needs vitamins and vegetable fibre. Carrots, the cookbook lectures, are best eaten cooked. It makes them easier on the stomach.
She hates having a stomach that requires things to be easy, one that protests with cramps and churning if they’re not. She slides a carrot into a fiddly bag, resentfully. She wants to grab handfuls of them, snap them in half between her jaws, sending chunks of orange bone flying. Let them tumble into her second stomach, the stronger, harsher one; a stomach with acid teeth that breaks down just about anything. If only she could swallow stone and turn it into mush with the sheer strength of her organs. But here she is, contemplating the best way to make a jaundiced root more easily digestible and make it yield more fibre. She piles half a dozen carrots on top of the ruffled salad heads, forgetting for a moment about their fragility, and allows herself to slide, finally, towards the meat.
Little plastic trays full of the thighs and bones of chickens; further away, minced lamb is arranged like little squares of plush red carpet. She doesn’t know the first thing about cooking meat, but that doesn’t matter: she wants it all. A man with greying hair is holding a packet of mince up to his face and examining it closely. He seems like someone who knows what to look for. Then he crouches down, piles three packets of mince on top of the other stuff in his basket and starts rearranging his items. In one corner, he shoves what seem to be laxatives, packets of generic multivitamins in the other, and the mince in the middle. The man’s forearms are pricked with light brown hairs. Then, with springy thighs, he shoots back up and reaches for packets of chicken breast, which he wedges around the laxatives until the basket looks full. She must have been staring because the man finally looks up to meet her gaze and smiles. ‘Family barbecue,’ he says, waving his hand over the basket as though performing a magic trick. She nods slowly. She thinks he must’ve worked his way forward from the back of the store, where the pills and supplements are, rather than start at the entrance with the fresh food, where most people begin to fill their baskets. This must be a method that makes sense in his head, that he has devised for himself consciously, but she can’t imagine what the benefits are. She takes a few packets of chicken thighs from the shelf and puts them in her basket before she can remind herself of how dumb an idea this is. This morning, she put iron on her shopping list. The supplements are two aisles over from the fresh food, past the breakfast cereal, past the rice and pulses. She can’t remember which of the two bodies is in need of iron. And how could the werewolf have her blood levels tested anyway? The only time the animal form emerges is when the moon is full, and when it does it is in no mood for needle jabs.
The supplements are two aisles over from the fresh food, past the breakfast cereal, past the rice and pulses. She can’t remember which of the two bodies is in need of iron.
She walks into the next aisle and straight into a hushed argument: it’s the dairy aisle, and between its fridges two employees – a young man and woman – are stocking the cheese and disagreeing about something else. The woman tries several times to take the man’s hand as if trying to imprint her apology onto his skin, but he keeps pulling it away. Her voice is quiet, hurt; his is louder, full of conviction. Around is the fine mist of condensation, and towering over them is the huge cage of the stocking cart, filled with milk bottles and dairy products. The werewolf points her canine ears and lets the sounds rush in. She listens to the couple fight, the woman insisting, the man retreating, until an uncomfortable sadness fills her. But this sadness doesn’t belong to her, and she wants to hand it back to the people who are causing it. Three teenage girls have appeared next to her and seem hypnotised by a row of brightly coloured yoghurt pots. She walks out of the dairy aisle, vaguely remembering she needed butter, but it probably doesn’t matter.
As she walks past the cereal aisle, she hears rustling behind the cardboard boxes. She turns to look and sees the boxes shiver. The orderly way in which they were arranged is upset. From a gap between the boxes she sees the head of a snake emerge. This makes sense, she thinks. The snake’s long, thin body slides toward the floor, where it gathers like black rope, then it raises its head to look at her. Small dark eyes, with the roundness of surveillance cameras. Its bicycle tyre of a body unfurls and begins to slide away across the supermarket’s pink and beige tiled floor. She follows the snake, staring at the way it almost swims as it moves. Her basket feels light. She forgets about the transformation for a moment, and all that matters is the snake, this undulating compass needle. Hairless, limbless, it leads her in a dark line around the corner.
They enter the dry food aisle. This is a student favourite, for its convenience and affordability. Several young people with canvas bags just like hers are shopping for rice and pulses, so immersed in their purchases that they don’t seem to notice the snake sliding between their feet. Eyes to the ground, she follows the snake quietly. She feels the full weight of her tail swishing on the floor behind her, and she doesn’t want to risk recognising or being recognised. There is no use trying to pretend that things are normal.
A packet of rice makes it into her basket and she rushes after the snake, which has entered the frozen food aisle. Here, even more students have congregated, raiding the freezers for pizza and lasagne. In this new complexity of life away from home, and academic expectations, there is no point in making food more complicated than it needs to be. Simplicity is so reassuring. Caught in her double body, the werewolf feels confused, a mess of limbs and hair. The snake on the ground feels so simple in comparison, so straightforward. It doesn’t matter if this is the truth of the snake. What matters is that the werewolf is able, for a moment, to forget her complexity, the ridiculousness of her own reality. There is nothing confusing about the snake, and it feels good to let it guide the body and eye and just follow. She wants to let herself be carried.
They approach the deli counter and the snake disappears into a hole in the counter. The werewolf approaches. Sitting in crushed ice are bowls of shiny black olives, and they look to her like handfuls of small black snake eggs. She could stand here all night, waiting for them to break out and unfurl. Perhaps she could buy a tub of them. Olives are healthy, supposedly. She imagines their taste, bitter from the brine, but this upsets her werewolf body, which shivers with disgust. Olives taste like preservation, which is a human practice: keeping dead meat edible. But the werewolf body needs meat to be raw, as close to living as can be.
But despite this yearning, she can’t remember herself ever coming close to killing. Of course, she doesn’t remember what happens when she fully transforms, but she feels that an act like that would leave a mark on her motor memory. She can’t remember what she does after she transforms, or how she functions. It isn’t a total disconnect, however; rather, a gradual slipping into a different part of her consciousness, one her human consciousness has little to no access to. Sometimes what feel like memories will bubble up in her human mind during the day, or, more likely, at night when she goes through the doubling, the non-transformation where the werewolf body superimposes onto her human one and she becomes two things in one, and vague images pop up but never of anything particularly scary, never of anything that might need to be suppressed. It’s just that the way of seeing and feeling in these memories is so alien, so odd, that it feels like they can’t possibly be hers. She has no way of describing a scent she cannot possibly have smelled with her human nose. Has she accidentally domesticated herself?
The lack of damage is telling: she wakes from her werewolf state without the sensation of having killed.
The lack of damage is telling: she wakes from her werewolf state without the sensation of having killed, without the vague memory of having destroyed anything or driven fear into anyone’s heart; her flat is, but for the hair she sheds and the stains she finds in corners and on cushions, unmarked by the passage of a wild beast. She sometimes leaves a window ajar; at first, she did this to protect her own flat and allow the werewolf to escape into the world, where it might, from a selfish perspective, cause less material damage than if locked inside, but later she opened it so as to make sure the werewolf left the flat at all, out of a worry that it simply wasn’t interested in the outside world. She almost wants it to do damage, to live up to its name, but it doesn’t seem to, or if it does, it is so sneaky about it that it seems to come from a calculating mind rather than a free, careless animal one. It’s confusing to her, and she worries that something inside her, perhaps her only-child nature, has so internalised the need to be a ‘good girl’ that it extends even to her wildest manifestations, and instead of going on a rampage, her animal side simply makes use of the break from the critical side of her consciousness to take a good nap, do some stretching, and play with the cushions on her bed like a common pup.
Perhaps, she thinks, she wants herself, at least in her animal form, the form which, socially speaking, has more permission to be destructive because it is expected to cause destruction, to do some damage, to be wild, return to a wildness she has lost or was never raised to possess (connect with), and she wants the animal form to destroy and disrupt and terrify on her behalf, and the fact that it doesn’t deeply angers her.
She wants it to go out and disturb someone else’s livestock.
In the supplement section, she plucks a bottle of iron pills from the shelf almost without looking. Her stomach grumbles and people walk past her exuding clouds of artificial smells. The amount of smells around her makes her nervous. The floor has been recently cleaned and is still glistening, smelling of something other than floor. Even her human hair, a few hours after washing, sometimes starts to smell like fur.
The next aisle is empty but for a young woman pushing a stroller. The woman has stopped and pulled an item from the shelf: this is the aisle for baby food. Almost inevitably, she finds herself drawn to the young mother, who is reading the label on a jar. The werewolf’s animal jaw stretches towards the mother and her paws pull at her hands, trying to make them reach towards the mother. She turns towards the shelves to distract herself and picks up a small jar of bright orange mush so as to keep her hands busy. Carrots, of course. She shakes the jar a little and wonders if this might be an antidote to her urge to bite through the hard carrots in her basket. What if this urge is in fact hiding a different thing, the desire to be toothless, in a state where no-one might expect her to chew her own food? She cranes her neck to look at the baby in the stroller, and in its bald head and puffy eyes she sees a small creature so devoid of responsibility that it seems to have fallen asleep.
Inside herself she feels the werewolf yearning, yapping like a puppy.
The tips of the mother’s hair, dyed a rusty colour, are floating in frizzy patterns around her head as if carried by a gentle static. Closer to her scalp, dark roots are showing. The mother drops her jar into a carrier bag hanging from the stroller. The baby’s eyes open wide. It blinks, then recognises its mother’s face and produces a squeak, not unlike the yapping of the werewolf. The mother wriggles a finger across the baby’s cheek before taking a new jar off the shelf and reading the ingredients on the label.
Although referred to as creatures, werewolves are not in fact created; they emerge as a secondary form within a human body.
Although referred to as creatures, werewolves are not in fact created; they emerge as a secondary form within a human body, superimposing themselves upon the physical reality of the host. In folklore, this occurs when a human is cursed, or comes into contact with food or water soiled by the mouth of a wolf. A werewolf is the result of an infection, or of revenge. What matters is this: a werewolf isn’t made the way babies are. A werewolf occurs; therefore, it isn’t an individual creature but an occurrence, a phenomenon.
It seems important to note that werewolves don’t live with their parents. While wolves live and hunt in packs, werewolves are solitary. In fact, werewolves aren’t wolves, but a composite of a human body and a cursed, animal-shaped body. The cursed form is animal-shaped, yet not purely animal, as a blood test might reveal: the DNA is not recognisable as any specific species of animal, making the werewolf its own, unchartered thing, different – we suppose – for all werewolves, as it is influenced by the human body from which it grows, in the same way a plant is influenced by the soil from which it springs.
So who are the werewolf’s parents? Human bodies don’t come out of nowhere, and, biologically speaking, every person has a set of parents. The parents, therefore, belong to the human body, and the werewolf simply emerges, later on, as if by accident, within this flesh, and has as parents only the trauma, the moment of infection, that made her occur.
Having conceived the human body, the parents have no connection, physically speaking, with the emergence of the animal form. In fact, they are unaware of it: the transformation took place only after the werewolf moved away from home. The child establishes physical distance between herself and the parental home, and finds herself in a different context, difficult to navigate, and it is in this state that the werewolf has the chance to infect and emerge. If the werewolf were still living at home, the transformation would be harder to explain; in fact, the emergence of the werewolf is likely to break the bond between child and parents further, and in this isolation the werewolf can be sure to exist in her preferred state: isolation.
In all likelihood, the parents wanted something more for their child than being a werewolf; they may have promised her a future of straightforward ease, with a home, a family, and a career. When the time came to leave the parental home, the child entered the world on a quest for the pieces to this safe and comfortable life. But on the way something happened: her energy waned and the child was left tired and drained.
The werewolf looks at the jar of mushed carrots in her hand and thinks about the orange bones she wants to feel breaking between her jaws. The jar contains these bones reduced to a pulp, as if regurgitated just for her by a loving parent. Probably even easier to digest than cooked carrots; probably the easiest thing in the world. Inside her, the yapping and stirring continues, as if a tiny puppy were trapped between her ribs. She takes four jars and puts them in her basket, balancing them on top of the carrots. She knows she is buying something she doesn’t need, but it doesn’t matter.
The werewolf walks past, and the bodies she is manoeuvring feel messy and monstrous and terrifying.
In the stroller, the baby is staring at her with a large, toothless smile. When it sees her looking back, it laughs. The small puppy inside the werewolf shivers, and begins to growl, an inexplicable growl, as if the baby’s presence threatened its own wellbeing. In the baby’s face, a sudden switch occurs, and the laughter tips over into crying. The yapping blends in with the baby’s wail, and the werewolf feels her cheeks burn red. Without taking her eyes off the jar, the mother says sshhhhhh and rocks the stroller gently.
The werewolf walks past, and the bodies she is manoeuvring feel messy and monstrous and terrifying. The mother looks up and, seeing her trying to sneak past, smiles. ‘Oh,’ she says, ‘sorry.’ The werewolf turns her head and smiles back awkwardly.
But the mother’s eyes have already moved back to the label.
She finds herself facing cans of pet food. She feels the thick rough hairs piercing and pulling upwards through her skin like thread taut on a needle. It occurs to her that she could easily start thinking of this second body as her pet; a pet that happens to live inside her, and that she happens to share a nervous system with.
She takes a can from the shelf and reads the label. Tuna casserole. Another one reads: Chicken Pieces in Gravy. The names sound like human dishes, but the pictures on the labels reassure: inside the can are indistinguishable clumps of meat in a glossy sauce. Of course, the part of her she thinks of as an animal cannot be thought of as a pet, because it isn’t completely animal to begin with. No werewolf is ever a wolf through and through, never indistinguishable from the animal it imitates.
Pet food mimicking human dishes is a strangely comforting thought. She loads the basket up with cans of dog food: tuna casserole, chicken in gravy, lamb tagine. Perhaps this is the compromise she has been looking for. Animal needs fulfilled through the lens of human manufacturing.
The one thing she noticed when transforming, in fact, the first thing that happens, is that her voice disappears.
Her human stomach grumbles from reading the names of dishes on the labels, while her human throat constricts at the thought of swallowing the contents of the can. She checks the label for counter-indications but can’t find any. There isn’t really anyone she can ask for help with this sort of thing. And within her, the body of not-wolf-not-human-but-both doesn’t know what to think but wants, wants, wants, will eat the contents of the can gladly, will eat everything, anything, not think about what’s good for it, or appropriate, or safe, will try to gnaw through the metal of the can; a body that only wants, and ceases to want only when it is afraid.
It has been almost a year since she moved out of her parents’ house. It has taken her this long to wonder how they took care of her to begin with. So many things she never knew she needed to worry about. Her parents were the mechanism behind the daily appearance of food, behind the cleanliness of her surroundings, behind timetables, behind bedtimes. Leaving them has cracked open the system, given her so much agency.
She puts more cans into her basket, then realises she may have crushed the tomatoes and salad. She assesses the damage: the tomatoes are bruised, one of them is scratched and bleeding out its seeds, but she decides to keep it. She wants to get out of here.
She gets in line at the check-out, her basket in one hand, fingering the magazines with the other. Pages of thin, sharp paper. She fears for a moment her claws will get stuck between them and tear the frozen stares of the cover models to shreds.
The one thing she noticed when transforming, in fact, the first thing that happens, is that her voice disappears. Her ability to speak in human language or even human sounds disappears, sometimes as early as an hour before the transformation takes place on a physical level. She can growl, she can bark, she can yap, she can howl (she’s tried), and her voice carries far (something she feels self-conscious about in an apartment complex) but it is no longer a human voice. It is animal, canine, and language, though still in existence inside her head, cannot come out of her mouth. This is the oddest part of the transformation, even odder than the physical stretching, lengthening, and shifting of muscle mass and bone structure.
After a full moon, she wakes and her life feels straightforward, and she feels put together. This feeling wanes quickly.
When she wakes from her full moon transformation, she feels rested in a way she never does when she wakes from a normal night. After a full moon, she wakes and her life feels straightforward, and she feels put together. This feeling wanes quickly, but it is undeniable nonetheless. But on most nights, the second body is just a ghostly presence, faint yet inescapable. She is happy when she can sleep through the sensation of being more than one simple, straightforward thing. Her dreams are fast-paced, destructive, full of teeth. On most mornings, she wakes up tired.
A clerk walks past her and before she realises what she is doing she taps on the clerk’s shoulder. He turns around; he is young, perhaps a few years older than she is.
‘Yes?’ he says.
‘Excuse me,’ she replies.
The clerk nods. ‘Yes,’ he says again, trying to sound more helpful this time.
She points to her basket and says, ‘I don’t really know…’ She can’t think of how to put what she’s trying to say.
‘Did you find everything you were looking for?’ the clerk asks.
‘I think so,’ she says. ‘I’m just not sure if I need any of it.’
‘If you want me to put anything back for you,’ the clerk says, ‘I can.’
‘How can you tell you have everything you need?’ she asks, ‘I mean at what point do you know?’
The clerk looks confused. He adjusts his glasses and says, ’Have you had a look in at our selection of vitamins and supplements?’
Behind her, an old woman clears her throat impatiently; the queue has advanced. The werewolf feels like laughing but she doesn’t, suddenly afraid the enormous flashing teeth will become visible, and scare those around her, even herself. The clerk doesn’t know, the old woman doesn’t know, and her parents probably don’t know either. It’s a miracle people survive on a daily basis at all, with so much choice yet so little knowledge of what they need, and in what quantities, and in what combination.
‘I’ll come back tomorrow,’ she tells the clerk, and leaves the queue, abandoning her basket there on the floor. She walks towards the sliding doors behind which the warm evening air awaits the animal body within her, which is stirring and impatient, which wants to run and howl and feel its own strength rage against the world.
On full moon nights, her human body finally disappears, giving way to a different body, to different proportions. Muscles grow larger, skin grows thicker and is covered in painfully fast-growing hair. On her extremities, teeth and claws grow into weapons. The transformed body carries a constant inner growling. Her entire body become more dangerous than usual, and an incessant destructiveness inhabits her. Far inside this taut, fur-covered body, her human mind goes to sleep. The animal senses are sharp because they are less prone to doubt, less unsure of themselves. They are what they are, unapologetically. On full moon nights, she exists.
Image credit: Lou Bueno, All Lost in the Supermarket, Pt. 2 [106/365], New York, 2007.
Part of The Learned Pig’s Wolf Crossing editorial season, spring/summer 2017.