by Richard Zwicker
I have a recurring nightmare where I think I’m suffocating—you might too if you had electrodes protruding from both sides of your neck. I wake up gasping, then realize it was only a dream. Except this time, it wasn’t. A hairy, long-nailed claw clasped my throat. I kicked up my right leg, producing a growling grunt and more importantly, freeing my windpipe. I then delivered a head butt, an effective maneuver as my flat skull has a large area of contact. A heavy weight crashed to the floor. I rolled off the other side of my bed.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Rowwrlll!” it said.
Keeping my eyes on the hairy, dazed mass, I feverishly lit my hurricane lamp. The fluttering light revealed a large, muscular brute, its body covered with fur. “Wolf Man” escaped my lips. A blast of December air from the open window told me how he got in.
“Why did you attack me?” I asked, though I was unsure if Wolf Men could speak human dialogue.
“Not attack. Wake. Need help.” He spit out his words.
“What kind of help?”
“Need find dead body of Milosh, bring to life, put curse back.”
The Wolf Man sat upright on the floor, looking slightly more human. “Gypsy son who put werewolf curse on Heinz Bauer.”
“You’re Heinz Bauer?”
I hated those kind of answers.
“Why do you want this Milosh brought back to life?”
His large body shook. “His nightmare over. Mine monthly. You bring him back to life. I reinfect.”
I sat on my armchair, which groaned under my weight. “You have me confused with Victor Frankenstein. I assumed his last name for publicity purposes. But I did not inherit his medical expertise. He’s also dead, his body frozen in the Arctic.”
“You have his papers.”
I shook my head. “The fire place has them.”
“Victor had assistant?”
“Igor? For surgery, I wouldn’t trust him to pull my leg.” Though I sometimes used him as an assistant in my detective cases.
“Stay away from him.”
“I desperate.” From his torn pants pocket he spilled a handful of coins onto the floor. “Find Milosh’s body. I return in month.”
With that, he leapt out the window and vanished, his loping footfalls echoing in the night. There were only three hours left until dawn. If he found Igor in that time, he was a better detective than I.
Perhaps my blighted past had numbed my nerves, but somehow I fell asleep after all that. In the morning I awoke to a tipped-over bookcase, a gouged nightstand with open drawers, tufts of fur, and a foul animal odor. After cleaning up, I brewed some strong tea and ruminated. How had such a crazed, tormented being found me? Would he even remember to return? I could let nature take its course, but the irony of someone artificially resurrected from dead body parts doing that was too much, even for me. I decided to look for Heinz Bauer.
Someone who turned into a murderous werewolf once a month would probably attempt a low profile the other twenty-nine or thirty days. Fortunately, when the creature emptied his pockets to pay me, he’d accidentally left a soiled handkerchief, a small key, and a rent receipt. Though the receipt contained no address, it was signed by Anna Holbein. I tracked her to a rundown house on the north end of Geneva. No one answered my knock, but the key fit the lock just fine.
The interior was simple, neat, and dark. All the doors were ajar except one at the end of a hallway. I pulled it open, revealing a room not much bigger than a closet, almost all of it taken up with prostrate Heinz Bauer sprawled half on and half off a disheveled bed. When I shook his shoulder, he turned over. His face was raked with scratches, but no blood. Perhaps I was his only encounter last night. I held up his key.
“I appreciate the gesture, but we hardly know each other.”
He didn’t even flinch at the sight of my seven-foot frame. Instead, he moaned, palming his head as if it were a coconut. “Mrs. Holbein didn’t appreciate it when she had to let me in at 5 AM.”
I placed the key on his nightstand. “Do you remember coming to my room last night?”
“I do.” His haunted eyes blazed in confirmation.
“You wanted me to find and reanimate the body of someone named Milosh. What’s that all about?”
He let out a sigh that could have registered in a hot-air balloon. “Ten years ago Milosh Salazar attacked a woman in the woods. I intervened and killed him, but not before he bit and infected me.”
“You’ve lived with it this long?”
He nodded. “I likened my transformations to monthly drinking bouts where I temporarily lost control. The morning after, I felt flattened and humiliated but swore to continue fighting. Then six months ago my parents discovered my secret, and I killed them both.”
I recognized the weight of remorse on Bauer’s words and body. “You or the Wolf Man killed them?”
He laughed, without mirth. “The line between us has been blurred. Though the Wolf Man is dominant only one night a month, we are never completely separated. Sometimes, in human form, I do inexplicable things at his influence, while his visit to you last night was partially my intention.”
“You’ve accepted and used your monstrousness to your advantage as a detective. Like the Wolf Man, you were roiled by an uncontrollable anger against your creator. Yet, you overcame it.”
“By killing him.”
“But I’ve heard you now pity him. Anger makes the Wolf Man kill. If he could see Milosh as a kindred spirit, it could be a first step toward the fiend developing empathy and overcoming his need to kill. Milosh’s mother is still alive. Afternoons and evenings she and about fifteen other gypsies sell goods near the lake. We could talk to her, get a sense of her dead son as a tragic human being, and eventually the Wolf Man. What do you think?”
I thought it was rubbish. A kinder, gentler Wolf Man might ask, “Would you like your throat ripped or your head bashed in?” But you’d still end up dead. Then again, my anger had been tamed by music and the sight of a child.
“If you wanted my services, why didn’t you just come as Heinz Bauer?”
His body sagged. “I have spent most of my adult life denying the evil within me, but the fiend’s influence has only grown. I was afraid to seek you out, because all of this might bring me closer to the abyss. The Wolf Man, however, fears nothing. If you’re wondering where you fit in, I need someone who understands and can offer protection. Gypsies have long memories. Members of the Salazar family would like me dead.” He added, “I did pay you, after all.”
Unable to turn my back on a fellow monster in need, I took the case. I just hoped I didn’t get bitten by an infected wolf. I could see the next potboiler: “Frankenstein is the Wolf Man.”
That evening we found the gypsies’ wagon, parked near the port on the southern edge of Lake Geneva, where they sold Romani clothes, arts and crafts. In addition, some gypsies performed fast-paced folk songs on a Flamenco guitar, violin, and an old jug. A young woman with long black hair and native outfit danced. The mood was festive, and alcohol flowed freely. Bauer pointed out a much older woman seated behind a table of gypsy apparel, her gray hair wrapped in a bandana, her eyes combing the audience for customers. In contrast to the others, she appeared solemn and all business. I suggested talking to her right there, but Bauer insisted we track them to their after-hour location, then talk. He was the client.
The crowd cleared around eleven, the gypsies packed up their gear, and at a discreet distance, we followed them. They led us to the outskirts of town, in a northeasterly direction, four miles from the port. There they stopped.
Now that we had found their camp, Bauer advocated a direct approach. Leery of what the young Romani men might do after drinking wine all night, I advised caution. We waited until all the gypsies were setting up tents in front of us, then approached the old woman. The gypsies froze at the sight of us.
“You!” she said. Often, that was my nickname, but she was referring to Bauer. This surprised me, as I thought the two had never met.
“Florika Salazar, I know I’m the last person you expected to see …” Bauer said.
“Someone should do to you what you did to my son,” the gypsy hissed, then picked up a fallen branch and started hitting my client over the head with it. Bauer warded off the blows with his arms. I glanced at the wall of gypsies, but they just watched, perhaps used to their matriarch’s anger. I let her expend some energy, then pulled her off. She looked at me, then her stick, and dropped it to the ground.
“Old gypsy saying. He who beats tree with its own branch might as well spit in the ocean.”
One of the things holding back gypsies was their sayings.
“We are here because Heinz Bauer has a problem,” I said.
She snorted. “He’s the man who cries wolf every time he says his name.”
“His problem is your problem. When there’s a full moon, he is filled with anger that focuses on your son.”
“Heinz Bauer can do nothing to my son now.”
“We know that, but he wants to restore Milosh to life and re-infect him.”
“He’s nuts. What you want from me? Recommend asylum?”
“No. We want to defuse his anger. We wish to learn all we can about Milosh to convince the Wolf Man that his tragic life deserves sympathy rather than hate.”
She looked at us with suspicion. “What you want to know?”
“I’d like you to conduct a séance so we could talk to your son directly,” Bauer said.
“What you think I am? Postal service to the dead? They do not like to be disturbed. Are you even believers?”
Bauer insisted he was. I was a man of science—if not for science I wouldn’t be a man at all—but in deference to the pursuit of knowledge, I maintained an open mind.
“Just one thing,” Bauer said. “I’m very busy the next few weeks. Could we do this on the 17th of next month?”
Florika’s eyes widened, and so did mine. “You want a séance on that night?” Her breath came out like air from a bellows. “We can do that.”
After we walked away, I said, “What’s the idea …” Then I figured it out. “There’s a full moon that night.”
“This won’t work unless the Wolf Man gets the information directly.”
“Oh, and he’s going to intellectually process this information and become a monk? What’s to stop Florika’s sons from filling you with silver bullets?”
“Then my problems will be solved.”
“Wonderful. Now why don’t you tell me how she knew you?”
He looked up at the starless sky, then back at me. “We used to live in Zurich. After I was first infected, I approached her.”
“And she was unsympathetic?”
“She said nothing could be done, then her family disappeared. For years I thought, good riddance, but after I killed my parents, I thought only she could help me. Five weeks ago I tracked them to Geneva. This will work, or it won’t, but either way, it will be resolved.”
It was a dilemma. Unlike gypsies, the Frankenstein family had only one saying: “What have I done?” which covered the sins of omission as well as commission. I would accompany Bauer to his séance.
In the meantime, I pursued less monstrous cases. The bearded lady at the circus suspected her trapeze artist husband of swinging beyond the safety net of their marriage. I caught him sticking it to the sword swallower. A man bought a pearl necklace that turned out to be fake and wanted someone to lean on the seller for a refund. The sight of my face inches from the transgressor did the trick. My unusual height helped with another assignment, to get Frau Kirshner’s cat out of a tree.
The afternoon of the next full moon, Bauer and I walked toward the gypsy camp. It didn’t surprise me that their market stall closed early that day. Clouds drifted across the twilit sky, while a faint breeze animated the woods.
“I’m assuming it doesn’t matter if we don’t see the full moon,” I said.
“It takes more than clouds to stop this,” Bauer said, his face grim. “It won’t be long.”
“How does it feel, to change?”
“To lose the sanctity of one’s own skin is terrifying, but worse is the gradual merging of wolf and man. My morality has become fluid. I need you to ensure some stability.” He handed me a pistol. I held it like a dead weasel.
“I rarely use these.”
“The silver bullets inside could come in handy.”
I reluctantly pocketed the pistol. We trudged a few minutes more.
“Do you ever ask yourself why?” he asked
I shrugged. “Everybody does. Eventually, you realize it’s better to ask, ‘Now what?’”
He nodded. “I agree.”
A mile from the gypsy camp I heard a savage growl. I turned and saw Bauer convulsed in pain. “Time to put your kid gloves away,” he said, hair sprouting from the unwilling garden of his flesh. His skull widened, his hands lost their definition, and his body curled like an ape’s. His arms crossed over his face, but he couldn’t ward off what was already inside him. The hairy arms dropped and the slobbering jaws of the Wolf Man jutted toward me.
“Are you all right, Bauer?” It was one of the most ridiculous questions I’ve ever asked.
“Let’s go,” he growled.
I wondered how much of Bauer was there, but I doubted even he knew. Choices were hard enough without having to deal with conflicting ideas of right and wrong. I led the way, slowing our progress with many backward glances.
Three burly male gypsies, each with pistols, met us at the edge of an open field. With calm deliberation they escorted us to a small round table set in front of their wagons. Florika sat flanked by two other chairs. A simple candle flickered in the center.
“Sit,” she said. The Wolf Man growled but obeyed, her guards wrapping chains around him, then standing behind us. “Have either of you participated in a séance before?” I said no, while the Wolf Man grunted. “I guarantee nothing. I cannot make contact with an unwilling spirit.” She glared at me. “No refund though.”
“I understand.” At this point I just wanted to get through the séance without anyone dying.
“I do this not for you, but to free my family from your hate,” she said to the Wolf Man. “If we make contact, do not break the circle of hands.”
I glanced at Bauer, his fur glistening, I hoped, from an effort to control himself. “We will cooperate,” I said.
“Very well. Let’s begin.”
We joined hands, the Wolf Man’s right completely obscuring Mrs. Florika’s left. She spoke to her dead son, apologizing for disturbing his rest. She explained our purpose: that the Wolf Man wanted an opportunity to confront and understand the man responsible for his infection. Finally, she pled for Milosh to speak. The Wolf Man echoed the excitement with growls of increased volume. At some point the candle blew out, throwing us into darkness. If the gypsies intended to take out the Wolf Man, this would be the time. Nothing happened, however, except Florika moaned either nonsense syllables or Romani words, her voice an octave lower than normal. I grew impatient, when abruptly she switched to my native German.
“You are the man who killed me. Why have you disturbed my rest?” a low voice asked. The Wolf Man hissed.
“Heinz Bauer is struggling with the werewolf curse, as you did,” I said.
“There is but one escape. I was freed when you beat me with the silver walking stick. My family can offer you a less painful exit. One silver bullet and your agony will be over.”
“That’s not the type of freedom we are seeking,” I said.
The Wolf Man leaned forward. “Where you buried?”
The spirit laughed. “In the shade of the woods, the murmur of water, in the embrace of my family, while you run tormented, above ground, with nowhere to hide.”
That meant nothing to me, but at that moment the full moon broke out from behind the clouds. The Wolf Man lifted the table and crashed it against the three armed gypsies. They fell back while the Wolf Man’s chest split the chains like noodles. He then dashed into the woods. I pulled out my pistol and flourished it at the other gypsies pouring from their tents. I backed away, then broke into a full run for the woods.
I could only follow the Wolf Man. For five minutes I dodged tree trunks, my legs buckling against unseen rocks and holes, my less-than-handsome face raked by gnarled branches. Eventually, I came upon a smaller field, where I tripped over a tombstone.
Landing hard on my shoulder, I swore mightily, then heard a gurgling pond, a savage panting, and the sound of digging claws. I rolled to my other side and saw ten gravestones dotting the field. Next to one, thirty feet away, the Wolf Man swiped handfuls of dirt into the air.
I jumped to my feet. “Stop!” I yelled, but he ignored me. I rushed to the gravesite, but he’d already torn off the coffin lid and pulled out a skull.
What I saw next I didn’t want to believe. The outline of Milosh Salazar’s skull fluttered like an echo. A shadowy light, like a candle in a fog, lit up the reassembling bones. The trunk and limbs filled out. The Wolf Man shook the corpse as would a tiger with a helpless deer in its mouth. Except this deer wasn’t helpless. With each shake it got longer, broader, more defined, until I heard the slap of a hairy open fist. The Wolf Man lost his grip, while reborn Milosh scrambled to his feet. The two werewolves circled each other, swiping and snarling like living hatred.
“Heinz, back away from him!” I warned, but neither listened. I raised my pistol.
Bauer threw me a baleful glance. “Just spare him.”
Milosh leaped at his foe. Though I was fifteen feet away, there was no escaping the snarling, scratching, bloody blows, and screams of pain. I had no moral conflict in putting Milosh out of his misery—only a fiend would have dug him up for torment—but could I snuff out the life of Heinz Bauer as well?
I fired into the center of the savagery that was Milosh Salazar. His death bellow filled the air as he grew limp in Bauer’s grasp, then fell to the ground. Among the trees I spotted five gypsy men, guns poised.
We watched the fallen werewolf transform, the hair and skin disintegrating, leaving a decayed corpse. The surviving Wolf Man looked at me.
More shots rang out, mine and the gypsies’. As the Wolf Man hit the ground his body transformed back to Heinz Bauer. As I loped to it, he turned to me, grimacing.
“Only my death can separate me from the werewolf, but I can live a normal life if you bring me back.”
“I told you, I don’t have that ability. I’m not a scientist who thinks he is God. I’m just a detective.”
His last words were, “You’re a functioning monster.”
I tried to save him. I preserved his body in ice and combed the Frankenstein castle for its secrets. The tangled wires and the hideous, dust-gathering machines sat within those crumbling walls like the shards of an obscene idea. But I could not bring it or Heinz Bauer to life, for it was not my idea, nor should it be any human’s. Like Bauer and the Wolf Man, it had to die with Victor Frankenstein.
Richard Zwicker is a high school English teacher from northern New England whose short stories have appeared in “Penumbra,” “Perihelion Science Fiction,” “Plasma Frequency Magazine,” and other semi-pro markets that don’t begin with the letter “P.” He lived and taught in Brazil for eight years but is still a lousy soccer player.