During Tuesday’s vice presidential debate, Jessica Valenti, a columnist for the Guardian, tweeted, "THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS PARTIAL BIRTH ABORTION THIS IS NOT A MEDICAL TERM." The morning after the debate, I found a dusty oak chest that contained an ancient scroll, on which I read the following:
"Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth."
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J. sat down again in the empty booth and stared at her cheeseburger deluxe. She took another sip of the milkshake before pushing them both away.
She’d asked for the spinach and feta salad, the closest thing to real food you could get in places like this, but the guy said they were out. She hadn’t really wanted anything. But she had been walking in a kind of terror-induced daze for half an hour without looking where she was going before hopping on the subway without checking the line. Now she was here in Kips Bay at some sleazy place with nothing but empty calories on the menu trying to decide what side of the booth she wanted to sit on.
Really, it was stupid. What the f— am I doing? I’m sitting in a shitty diner at three in the morning trying to convince myself that—but no, the thought was so absurd. She looked at the doorway again. There was nothing there.
She slammed her napkin-wrapped silverware on the table.
"There is no such thing as a werewolf!" she cried.
She peered around the room. The men behind the counter were bent over an iPhone, smiling. If they’d heard her outburst, there was no sign of it.
"There can’t be werewolves," she muttered. "They simply do not exist."
She reached into her purse for her phone and walked over to the bathroom. That was it: she could tweet about it. It was late and most responsible people with jobs were asleep or on their way there. But she had 135,000 followers. She could even turn on notifications from people she didn’t follow. It was stupid to feel this way, but it would be deeply reassuring, wouldn’t it, to sit and watch retweets from her numerous fans to pile up. Meanwhile, the burger probably wasn’t cold yet.
She thought about what she had seen from the window of her apartment: bright yellow eyes peering in at her, and a shadowy hint of mangy black fur. It had looked tall, at least seven feet. It was hideous and terrifying, like something out of a movie.
It was also stupid. She should have just put a pillow over her head and ignored it, but instead she walked right over to the window and stood there gazing back at the thing. It had looked curious—and hungry.
Then suddenly it disappeared, and she thought she was okay before she started hearing knocks at the door and, stopping only to grab her purse and throw on a pair of shoes, made straight for the window leading into the courtyard in the back. Thank goodness the place was on the ground level. It seemed so ridiculous now, but still, she thought to herself, she was sure she would have jumped if it had been five stories or 105.
After hopping the fence she’d stood in the street looking frantically around for a sign of the thing—the thing that, whatever it was, was not a werewolf. Nothing. Phew. She strolled furtively back to the front door.
You’re fine. You’re being absurd. There are no werewolves.
He was there again, pawing at the doorknob, his head veering toward the fire escape. Then two things happened: the creature let out a loathsome, disgusting howl, and she ran like hell past the brownstones and the Ubers and the late-night stragglers making their way home, to a subway stop, a westbound train, and, somehow, Kips Bay.
She took a final look in the mirror and went back to her booth. She decided she would skip the burger after all. Heck, it was late, but this was a safe neighborhood. She could go for a run. She wasn’t exactly dressed for it, but who cared? She reached for her AmEx. F—. Of course. You usually needed cash in places like this. Thankfully she had two twenties. She threw them on the counter.
"Thanks, guys," she said.
The one on the left looked up from the phone and winced.
"Sorry, check’s more than that."
What the hell was this? How much did a deluxe cheeseburger and a vanilla shake cost in the world’s greatest city at three in the morning?
"Could I see it, please?"
He walked back near the heater and came back with a handwritten bill. At the bottom, in ink, was the total: $427.68. She glanced at the items: there were 15 deluxe cheeseburgers, six orders of mozzarella sticks, two bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches, three grilled cheeses, five orders of chicken fingers, five chocolate shakes and two vanilla ones, a pita pizza, and a meat lasagna.
"I didn’t order any of this," she said incredulously.
Well, that wasn’t quite true.
"Or, what I mean is, look: I ordered a cheeseburger—"
"A deluxe cheeseburger," he chimed in.
"Okay, right sure, a deluxe cheeseburger. One of them. And one milkshake. What’s this other stuff?"
"That was the guy who was with you. The one with the beard and stuff."
Okay, this was some serious BS. You did not pull this crap on a woman who was half scared out of her mind in the middle of the night.
"There was nobody with me," she pleaded. "I was, like, totally alone. There was nobody else in this place except you guys. I was watching the door."
"He was sitting in the booth right behind you. He left when you went to the bathroom. When I went to bring him his check, he pointed to you and kinda ran off."
"But I didn’t even see you guys bring out any plates."
"You were staring at your phone."
She found this very hard to believe.
"Look, lady. Maybe this guy here stiffed ya. But ya gotta pay."
Whatever. You can do this. There’s no point in arguing with them.
"Okay, but will you take a card?"
He said nothing but took a white card reader out of his pocket and inserted it into the bottom of his phone. She handed him her AmEx. After he swiped it, she signed and headed for the door.
The sky was getting brighter. It was probably almost four. There was still time for a run. She reached her hands down to stretch. Damn it. There was something in her right shoe, which, she noticed, was scuffed.
Great. Just great. This is what you get for skipping around all night in sapphire-blue flats like an idiot. Maybe it was time to write another book.
"Excuse me," said a voice behind her.
The voice was courtly, old fashioned, almost ludicrously polite.
"Yeees," she said, still fumbling around for the stray pebble.
"I just want to let you know that I am, in fact, real."
There it was. She tossed the chunk of stray concrete casually into the street. Then she turned around.
The creature was disgusting. A mass of black and brown and white mottled fur, with bright eyes and foul breath and what looked like the world’s largest pair of Converse high-tops shoes over—what would you call those? Its paws?
"Wha—wha—wha—what is it? Please, don’t hurt me," she said.
Tears welled up in the beast’s yellow canine eyes.
"I mean you no ill will," it said, sobbing. "I just want you to acknowledge my existence."
"But you don’t understand," she said. "It’s not reasonable that you exist. Like, you should not be standing right here on Third Avenue staring at me with your fur and talking to me. It’s not convenient at all. It’s total BS, okay, and I don’t have time to deal with it."
"I understand how you feel," it said, clearly trying to keep its emotions in check. "But I don’t think you realize what it does to us when you go around saying that we are figments of people’s ignorant, diseased imaginations."
"But you are. There is no science that says you could be real. There isn’t even a real word for you."
"Of course there is. Lycanthropy is the unfortunate condition from which my kind suffer."
"Okay, but nobody who’s actually an expert takes lycanthropy seriously."
"There is an excellent book by Fr. Montague Summers, The Werewolf."
"Yeah, like a comic book or something, right?"
"I assure you it is a highly scholarly treatise."
"Anyway, it’s almost morning, right? You can’t come out in the morning, can you? You’ll melt or something."
She looked again at his sickening wooly face and reached out to touch his furry—what would you even call it? I guess this is his hand. Its softness surprised her.
Then she was almost blinded by red light. She heard the "eeee" of a siren. An ambulance passed and the werew—the creature, the whatever, scampered away on all fours.