No Free Lunch

by Alex Bledsoe


Newell smiled as something smacked the wall of the old tool shed and a woman’s angry voice yelled, “What the hell!

He gave a satisfied sigh through the surgical mask he always wore outside the house, and heaved himself out of the rocking chair on his back porch. He paused for a quick whiff from his asthma inhaler, then tucked his daddy’s old .12-gauge shotgun under his arm. His shadow, cast by the rising sun, stood out in sharp relief on the front of the shed. He fished a key from his pocket, undid the lock and opened the door.

In one corner crouched a muddy, naked woman, her dark hair tangled and laced with grass and leaves. A tight leather collar encircled her neck, and a thick chain linked it to a swivel stake pounded deep into the ground. Genuine police handcuffs bound her wrists and ankles.

She glared up at him. “Get these damn things off me,” she snarled, her voice wet and gurgly, still half-animal.

“Not likely,” he chuckled.

She curled long legs under her body and arched her spine; the move was slow, languorous, provocative, but he recognized it as the preparation to spring. Even with her ankles cuffed, he knew she could easily leap the distance to him.

He aimed the shotgun at her. “Y’all be careful now, bitch.”

“Don’t call me a bitch,” she said through her teeth. The muscles along her back and thighs rippled with contained energy. “And god-dammit, I’m thirsty.”

“There’s the water,” he said, and nodded toward a large dog bowl.

Her green eyes flashed with venom, but her body relaxed as she crawled to the bowl, bent her face to it and began to lap at the water.

“I’m curious,” Newell said as she drank. “Which is the real you? Are you a human that turns into a wolf at night, or a wolf who becomes human at dawn?”

“I’m both,” she gasped between gulps. “You wouldn’t understand. And what the hell did you do to me?”

“That goat you just happened to find was tanked up on Benadryl.”

Benadryl? The allergy stuff?”

He nodded. “I got tons of it, prescription strength. Been using it for my allergies since before they made it over-the-counter. Makes you awful damn groggy the first time you take it, and tends to dehydrate you a little. So once you ate the goat, I just waited awhile and then followed you to where you fell asleep.”

She sat back on her heels and wiped her mouth with her hands. Despite her nakedness and bondage, there was nothing helpless or frightened about her. “So now you’ve captured a werewolf, fat boy. What do you plan to do? Screw me while I’m human?” She smiled viciously. “Or are you one of those weird rednecks that’s so far out in the country he has to get off on animals?”

“No, I don’t plan to s-screw you,” he said, unable to keep the red flush from his face at the mention of sex. He awkwardly pushed his inhaler under his mask with his free hand and tried to hold the shotgun steady with the other.

“Then you better know I’m going to kill you when I change again. Once the moon rises, these little toys of yours—” she jingled the cuffs for emphasis, “—won’t hold me for a second.”

“They’ll hold you long enough.”

Her expression darkened. “Long enough for what?”

“To turn me. When it gets dark and the moon comes up again, you’ll become a wolf, and then you’ll bite me.”

She smiled, and her tongue licked a stray droplet from her chin. “Bite you, hell. I’ll rip you into bite-size pieces.

“No. You’ll bite me, and then I’ll shoot you, and wait for my own change.”

She laughed, low like a growl. “Oh, please. You don’t know what you’re getting into here, asthma boy. I was born this way, I’ve had my whole life to master it. You’d go insane the first time you change, the first time you see the world as a wolf.”

“I’m willing to take that chance.” And he was, after forty years of extreme nearsightedness, of asthma that kept him almost sedentary, of the pot belly and baldness that made him realize he would never have the power of the young, handsome men he watched on the five-hundred satellite channels beamed into his home. Through the capricious curse of his genes, Newell the pathetic loser, who lived all alone in his dead parents’ house miles from nowhere and existed on his government checks, would never be able to summon big-breasted blondes at the snap of a finger. But Newell the wolfman would find those same women, all the beautiful ones who looked at him with pity and contempt, and rip their fickle and arrogant hearts from their perfectly-formed chests.

* * * * *

As darkness fell, Newell returned to the shed, his lungs tight with anticipation. He sucked a long draught from his inhaler and shone the flashlight on the woman.

She curled in the corner, knees drawn to her chest. Her dirt-coated body glistened with sweat, and her breath ran rapid and shallow. Newell cracked the shotgun and made sure the breach held a shell.

Her eyes, now glassy and dazed, opened slightly. “Are you really… going to kill me…?” she rasped.

He nodded. “Gonna shoot you dead. Nobody’ll ever know, neither. Got a big ol’ tub of lye in the cellar just waiting to burn you down to nothing.”

Her expression softened a little. “If I said… please… would it matter? If I promised to do… anything you wanted…?”

He shook his head. In her human life, this woman—sensually at ease with her own beauty—was exactly the kind of bitch who both ignored him and, he was convinced, laughed at him behind his back. She would be the first one to die by his hand, but not the last.

Now she smiled, and he noticed her teeth were noticeably larger, longer, sharper. “Then like the Chinese say, fat boy… be careful… you’re about to get… what you wished for…”

Hair sprung from every pore, in moments becoming sleek fur. Her face elongated, forming a muzzle that darkened as long whiskers wriggled out. Foam spewed from her lips as they drew back over fangs that gnashed and snapped at the air. The cuffs holding her feet and hands—now paws—yanked tight, and he knew they would break before long under the werewolf’s supernatural power.

Ignoring his tight, aching chest, he crawled to her and stuck his hand in her mouth.

With a deep snarl the fangs crushed bone and tendon. He screamed and tried to pull away, but she had him, and in his panic he couldn’t get the shotgun turned on her. The chain between the cuffs squealed as the links began to part, and he fumbled wildly with the gun.

He’d taken no chances, loading the shotgun shell with silver shot made from heirloom dinnerware. The blast practically tore her in half, pulverizing everything from sternum to pelvis. She made a sound like a dog hit by a car.

The echo faded. Newell carefully pulled his mangled hand from the dead werewolf’s mouth. He had four huge puncture holes from the fangs, and blood pulsed out with each rapid heartbeat. He watched the wolf, waiting for it to turn back into a woman like they always did in the movies. But nothing happened.

He smiled. Except for the blinding pain, it had gone exactly as he’d planned.

* * * * *

When he awoke the next morning, the bite wound had completely healed. So when the change came over Newell the next night, he was ready for it.

He stood, naked except for his glasses, before his full-length bathroom mirror, watching for any sign. Since he’d noticed it first in the girl’s teeth, he kept pulling back his lips and checking. In the harsh fluorescent light his pale, flabby body looked slug-like, an invertebrate coincidentally shaped like a man. But not for long.

He didn’t anticipate the nausea, the disorientation as his senses shifted into heightened canine awareness. He fell to the floor as his limbs changed shape, felt the tingles as fur sprouted from his skin. He opened his eyes, and saw the world through the eyes of a wolf, in dim color but sharp focus. He placed his four feet on the tile and lifted his weight, enjoying the way the muscles coiled and flexed. In the mirror, an enormous, elegant monster stared back at him.

Then his nose itched. He sneezed. He paused, shook his head, and sneezed again. His eyes began to water.

As he collapsed in an absolute fit of sneezing, he realized that no matter what else had changed, he still had his allergies.

One of which was to dogs.