He could feel pieces of his flesh being scraped off as he careened through the trees and underbrush. Panting frantically he heard the drifting sounds of angry human voices and the incessant yapping of the hounds. Stumbling into a small clearing he fell face first into the moist, earthy mixture of decaying leaves and pine needles. In the thin shaft of moonlight that pierced the forest canopy he could clearly see the hand that extended from the end of his coat sleeve. The curse of the beast was upon him.
Bolting straight up in bed I gasp for air in an effort to supply oxygen for the frantic pounding in my chest. Still trying to catch my breath I stumble out of bed and grope for the lamp on my dresser. The flash of its bulb blinds me temporarily but I squint hard with one eye in an effort to see myself in the mirror. My hair appears to be sprawled at odd angles and I can feel sweat oozing from every pore in my body Finally, as my eyes adjust to the light the face in the mirror comes into focus. With a measure of relief I recognize the reflected features as plainly human.
Sitting at the kitchen table I hold an untasted cup of coffee in my trembling hands. My head is still filled with the foggy veil that defines the thin region between sleep and consciousness. As I fumble to gain control of my thoughts I realize that the scenario just played out was one that I had not seen before. In my slowly growing awareness I also know that the tenor of the dream has become all too familiar.
Shakily I set the coffee cup down on the table, lean back in the chair, and rub my eyes. Instinctively I know that this dream, like the others before it, will continue to haunt my sleeping hours until it has reached its climax. A wave of macabre anticipation suddenly flows over me and I speculate on the face that death will take in the final scene. Will it be the dogs in their frenzied state that shred the beastly flesh? I cringe at the thought and murmur a wish for a clean kill by a well placed bullet. As I push the chair away from the table and stand up I remind myself that the dream will not likely return tonight. Wearily I pour the cup of coffee down the drain and drag myself back to bed.
The next morning I awake with the details of the dream still freshly branded on my brain cells. Lying in bed I step through the scenes in slow motion as if editing a film frame by frame. As I replay it for the third time I finally concede that there are no new mysteries to be revealed and no major diversions from the basic storylines of the other dreams. I dredge up the memory of each of the other dreams and take some small comfort in their consistency. In the time since the first dream began each one has run its course and each has occurred just before a full moon was due I throw the covers to one side and swing my feet over the edge of the bed. As I sit there I try to downplay the significance of the thought that I have pushed to the back of my mind. Six dreams in six months – and this one will be the last.
…for the curse that is the father’s shall also be upon the first-born son. And thus it shall be for seven generations.
Carefully I turn the fragile yellow pages of the book in a futile effort to find the answer that has constantly eluded me. Hoping for inspiration I close the book then, with my index finger, I idly trace the embossed letters on the ragged leather cover. As I reach the last of the tracing I sigh then close my eyes in an effort to reduce external distractions. Silently I chant the words like a mantra hoping that they will reveal some answer more palatable than the one that constantly confronts me. Tearing my eyes open I bang my fist on the table in frustration. There is no other way – I must find the child.
“May I help you sir?” The woman standing behind the counter peers up at me from over the top of her reading glasses. Her gray hair and brown suit jacket give her the stereotypical look of a less than civil servant but her voice has a sincerely honeyed quality to it that belies the image.
“Uh, yes. I would like to see the records of births at the local hospitals this month.” She nods in the affirmative then goes off to retrieve the files. I had hoped to gather the needed information from the daily newspaper listings but recognized that the circumstances surrounding the birth and adoption placement would have kept that information from a normal public listing. When the clerk returns with the rolls of microfilm I resign myself to the tedium of deriving the information from other public domain sources.
The young woman who opens the door is attractive in a fresh-scrubbed farm girl fashion and I am momentarily at a loss for words.
“Mrs. Brampton,” I blurt out. “I’m with the department of Social Services and I would like to chat briefly with you about your adopted son. Here’s my card”
Reflexively she brushes back a loose strand of hair then gingerly reaches for the card.
“Is there a problem Mr., ah, Green?”
I smile at her and shake my head a little too enthusiastically.
“No, no, not at all. Just a routine checkup.”
She frowns slightly but then gestures for me to come in.
“Pardon the mess,” she says. “I get a little behind what with the new baby and all.” She smiles nervously and motions me toward a slightly thread-worn chair.
Opening my briefcase, I pull out a manila folder and make an exaggerated effort to let her see that the name `Brampton’ is printed on the index tab. She sits quietly with her hands folded as I take a stapled report out of the folder and quickly scan through the pages.
“It says here Mrs. Brampton that you and your husband received the child right after it was born.” I peer over the top of the papers and wait for her response.
“Yes, … yes we did,” she says. “We were told by the doctor that the mother was, uh, mentally incompetent.” I watch as her eyes dart toward mine. “They also said that the father was unknown.” She stops as if thinking over her last statement then turns fully toward me. “Has he returned to claim the baby?”
Now it is my turn to ponder her words. I stare back at her and recognize the pleading behind the question. “No,” I begin slowly. “The court has awarded you legal custody so he would no longer have a claim.” She looks down at her clenched hands and a flicker of relief softens her face.
I make a small display of thumbing through the report again so that she has time to regain her composure then I place the report back into the folder then clear my throat.
“Actually, one of the reasons that I’m here today is to talk a little bit about the biological parents.” This time I can see that her look is more quizzical than distraught. “Did anyone tell you why the mother was in the psychiatric ward to begin with?” Her eyes move up toward the ceiling as if searching for the answer.
“No, not really. They just said that it wasn’t hereditary so we need not be concerned for the baby.” She looks back at me with expectation.
“Please understand that what I tell you must be held in strictest confidence. You should tell your husband about it but please, no one else.” She leans slightly toward me as if preparing for the whisperings of a co-conspirator.
“The fact of the matter is that the mother tried to kill herself and her unborn child.” I watch her closely, trying to gauge the effects of my words. “The reason she gave is that she believes the father is a … a werewolf. I pause as she appears to be caught in a struggle between horror and confusion. “Naturally,” I begin again, “she felt that the baby’s death was necessary in order to terminate the bloodline.”
She remains silent for a couple of minutes and I can see the turmoil of emotions running through her body. Finally, her hands still twitching nervously in her lap, she tries to speak. “That … that’s just an old superstition though.” Her statement comes across as almost a question and I feel compelled to provide an answer.
“Actually that is generally true in most of the civilized world but there are still many areas where the belief that men can change into beasts thrives. In the case of the mother of your baby, though, she does not appear to have a history to her belief so we can only surmise that it is a delusion brought on by some sort of psychotic break.” I cough slightly and wait for a response but she sits rigidly with her lips pressed tightly together.
“Do you remember when the museum put on a special exhibit dedicated to art that depicted werewolves?” She shrugs her shoulders slightly. “It was quite remarkable, actually, to get such a glimpse into the primordial fears of our forefathers. It was also enlightening to see what real world forms they used to describe those fears.” I can feel the excitement rising in me as I talk but then catch myself before she can detect it. Nevertheless, I can see in her face a look of growing suspicion.
“That’s … very … interesting … Mr. Green.” She rises from her chair with a cautious deliberateness and then steps toward the door. “Now if you will excuse me, I have a lot of things to take care of before my husband gets home.”
“Yes, of course” I say as I place the folder back into my briefcase. “But I would still like to see the baby before I go.”
I sense that her suspicion changing to alarm as she glances quickly down the hallway. “I’m sorry,” she says nervously, “but I don’t want to wake him.” She opens the front door. “Maybe the next time you visit.”
Leaving my briefcase on the chair I walk toward her. “I’m afraid that there won’t be a next time Mrs. Brampton. I must see him now.” She turns in an attempt to run toward the baby’s bedroom but I grasp her shoulders firmly and shove her out the front door. I can hear her screaming through the growing darkness as I throw the deadbolt into place.
With great care I cup the back of the baby’s head in one hand then wrap my other arm underneath his backside. He stirs when I lift him out of the crib but his eyes remain tightly closed. As I press him gently to my chest he settles his head on my shoulder and gurgles slightly. His mouth finds his thumb as he drifts back to sleep. I kiss him tenderly then a tear begins to trace its lonely path down my cheek.
Outside the night sky begins to brighten as a full moon edges above the horizon. I clench my teeth in defiance as I feel my soul being eclipsed by the change. Summoning every ounce of my human strength to fight it I am determined not to leave until I know the answer. The coarse hair pushes outward from every follicle and my nails begin to grow longer and sharper. Fearing that they will harm the child I reluctantly place him back into his bed. I clutch the railing of his crib and strain to maintain my mental grip for a few moments longer. My heart leaps in fear as I see the baby twitch suddenly but then he settles down. His smooth pink skin is a stark contrast to my own hideous covering and provides the final answer I have been hoping for.
“Good-bye my son. At last our bloodline shall be free of this curse.”
With my last glimmer of sanity I force myself out of the window and begin running toward the flashing lights and wailing sirens.