On October 25 at Lunch With Books for our annual Halloween Special, we explored the bizarre and terrifying alternate universe of historic lycanthropy in the Friendly City.
The event featured five tall tales (or tall tails) -- by Cheryl Harshman, Kyle Knox, and Laura Jackson Roberts, yours truly, and Rich Knoblic -- about werewolves prowling our streets during the full moon,.
After the storytelling and merriment we offered the world premier of our new Halloween video, "Werewolves of Wheeling" by Adrian Niles and Jamie Peck.
For your seasonal amusement, we herewith present the full text of the stories and the video, and invite you to have a howlingly hirsute, horrifying Halloween!
Our first storyteller was visual artist, writer, storyteller, former librarian and OCPL board member, Cheryl Ryan Harhman, who hopes her story "illustrates how folklore comes into being and changes and adapts to its audience."
Maurice Sendak to Art Spiegelman: I remember my own childhood
vividly…I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know that I
knew. It would scare them.
The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind
his mother called him’WILD THING!” and Max said ‘I’LL EAT YOU UP!” so
he was sent to bed without eating anybody.
That very night in Max’s room the Full Hunter’s Moon grew
and grew until something very unusual happened to Max and he ceased
being a naughty boy and became…
Ah hoo! werewolves of Wheeling!
Ah hoo! werewolves of Wheeling!
And Max walked out of his room
and in and out of weeks
and almost over a year
to where the wild werewolves OF WHEELING are.
And when he came to the place where the wild werewolves are
they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth
and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws
til Max said ‘BE STILL!”
and tamed them with the magic trick
of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once
and they were frightened and called him there most wild thing of all
and made him king of all the wild werewolves in Wheeling.
Ah hoo! werewolves of Wheeling!
Ah hoo! werewolves of Wheeling!
“And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus begin!” And together all the
werewolves danced and howled in the full moon and sang songs like this
If you go down to Tunnel Green, you're sure of a big surprise
If you go down to the Market tonight, you'd better go in disguise
For every werewolf that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because
Tonight's the night the werewolves have their picnic.
Ah-hoo! Werewolves of Wheeling!
Ah-hoo! Werewolves of Wheeling!
Every werewolf who's been good is sure of a treat tonight—slurp!
There's lots of marvelous people to eat and wonderful games to
Beneath the streets where nobody sees
They'll hide and seek as long as they please
That's the way the werewolves have their picnic!
Ah-hoo! Werewolves of Wheeling!
Ah-hoo! Werewolves of Wheeling!
If you go to Mt. Wood tonight, you'd better not go alone
It's lovely down in Greenwood tonight, but safer to stay at home
For every werewolf that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because tonight’s the night the
werewolves have their picnic.
Picnic time for werewolves!
The little werewolves are having a lovely time tonight
Watch them, catch them unawares
And see them dance beneath the Hunters Moon.
See them gaily gad about
They love to play and shout
They never have any cares
But when the sun begins to rise and
They start to rub their blood shot eyes.
Will take them home to bed
'Cause they're tired little werewolves then
Ah-hoo! Werewolves of Wheeling!
Ah-hoo! Werewolves of Wheeling!
You’ve probably seen the recent renovations to the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. You may not be aware that one of the historic bridge’s massive cables are attached to a stone abutment in the basement of the Capitol Theatre. It is here, next to the coal fired boilers, that our story takes place.
On October 28, 1933, audiences at the Capitol Theatre would enjoy two performance. At 11:00pm, they would enjoy a special Halloween WWVA Jamboree. A new movie, “Meet the Barron” starring Jack Pearl and Jimmy Durante, would be shown in the inside the theatre prior to the Jamboree performance.
The stories on the screen at the theatre tell of fantasies in faraway lands. Audiences think the stories are imaginary, but they do not know what is below their feet.
Few people ever venture the two and a half floors below the Capitol Theatre seating. This is where workers shovel coal into the giant coal fired boilers to keep the theatre complex warm on these fall evenings. And it was here that a secret was held that few people knew about…. until now.
In a small room next to the boilers, there lived a werewolf – Ms. Priscilla D. Wolf. Ms. Priscilla had previously lived in a cave that was located on the steep bank above the train tracks next to the Ohio River. The cave was very close to the giant stone abutment of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, where few people ventured. She was precisely seventy years old on this evening.
When the Capitol Theatre was to be built in 1928, Ms. Priscilla’s cave home was going to be destroyed. Disturbing werewolves is never advised. Since werewolves are a little known protected species in West Virginia, the state arranged to build a room for Ms. Priscilla around the abutment of Suspension Bridge in the basement of the Capitol Theatre, rather than causing unnecessary aggravation. The architect, Charles Bates, agreed.
The boiler room workers of the new Capitol Theatre enjoyed that Ms. Priscilla fed mainly on the dog-sized rodents that crept into the boiler room from the river. She kept the place, sanitary. There was also the occasional hobo that passed by on the train tracks out back and tried to seek a good night’s sleep in the basement, only to meet an unfortunate end.
The evening of October 28, 1933 was unlike any other. Most people know that the WWVA Jamboree performances at this time at the Capitol Theatre were often held at midnight because there were movies were playing before in the theatre.
They do not know that on Saturday, October 28, 1933, the Halloween WWVA Jamboree could have been held earlier in the evening. They also may not know that this particular evening was a full moon. They definitely do not know that werewolf pups are always born on the full moon before Halloween. It was for this reason, that a second showing of “Meet the Barron” was scheduled on Saturday. Ms. Priscilla would give birth to her only pup, Bates D. Wolf on this evening.
Ms. Priscilla had met one of those low-down Werewolves of London passing through on the train behind the theatre. Warren Zevon would write a song about him many years later. Once he found out the werewolf pup was on its way, he caught the next train out of Wheeling.
When the full moon before Halloween was coming Mr. Duvall, one of the furnace workers, told the theatre manager what was happening. The theatre managers intentionally scheduled a second showing of “Meet the Barron” on Saturday so that the WWVA officials would book the theatre for the Halloween Jamboree after the theatre had been cleaned from the movies. By this time, Ms. Priscilla would have finished howling and it would be quiet enough to hold the Jamboree. The managers didn’t want a sold-out audience sitting upstairs to hear their resident werewolf howling like crazy.
At 10:00pm on October 28, 1933, a werewolf pub was born after the movies had finished, the theatre had been cleaned and before the Halloween Jamboree began. The birth took place in the humble conditions of the dusty and damp in the basement of the Capitol Theatre, next to the boilers, and Suspension Bridge abutment. Horrific conditions for a human, but not bad for a werewolf. The pup was named Bates D. Wolf, in honor of the Capitol Theatre architect that helped protect Ms. Priscilla’s home.
Since werewolves live long lives, when Jamboree USA returned to the Capitol Theatre in 1969, Bates D. Wolf was still a young wolf. He would learn his deep, bass growl from listening to Johnny Cash through the floor. He learned to moan from George Jones who would occasionally stubble into the stairwell and cry over a recent breakup with Tammy. He learned to comb his long black mane from pictures of the silver fox, Charlie Rich. Although no one knew he existed, due to the places of his birth, Bates D. Wolf was quickly becoming the world’s greatest country music singing werewolf.
Bates couldn’t help put his werewolf twist on the songs he heard. He tried to sing Charlie Pride’s “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin.” He didn’t know what an angel was, so he sang “Eat a Rat Head in the Mornin.” He also sang tried to sing Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.” However, he didn’t drink alcohol, so he changed it to “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Eat This Hobo’s Femur.”
Eventually the old coal boilers were replaced with electric furnaces and the workers were gone. Ms. Priscilla died in 2003 at the age of 140. When the Capitol Music Hall closed temporarily, Bates D. Wolf moved from the old home. His location today is unknown. Some say he has been seen in Tunnel Green and Wetzel’s Cave. There were multiple sightings of him at Jamboree in the Hills in 2010. However, everyone who saw him was too intoxicated to take seriously.
My mother’s father was one of the boiler workers who helped with Bates D. Wolf’s delivery. The employees at the theatre in those days took a secret oath that they would never tell the secret that lie in the basement. When I went to work for the Capitol Theatre, he told me. However, in those days, if you told the secret you were subject to three outcomes – Ms. Priscilla, the coal fired boiler, or Bill Lias.
To my dearest Pumpkin,
I fear my pursuit of the werewolf has become an obsession. I’ve been tracking Beauregard for five straight weeks, including those two when I lost him in Pittsburgh, though that was due not to ill-attention or a lack of vigilance, but because I got off on the wrong exit just out of the Fort Pitt tunnels and ended up in a town called Monroeville. I did attempt to change course but was stymied by a seemingly endless stretch of fluorescent orange cones and a detour that took me around the city. I found myself on the Highland Park Bridge, but no one would let me merge, and thus, I remained there for quite some time enduring the slings, arrows, and extended fingers of Pittsburgh’s finest.
Beauregard, meanwhile, was prowling the North Shore. I knew it had to be him because a report emerged from the National Aviary that a sulfur-crested cockatoo named Stanley had been ripped from his cage and devoured in the night. The director found the bars bent and a mess of feathers on the floor. Their security cameras captured a furry blur of movement but no discernable features. The scene disturbed them, but the Aviary director didn’t pursue police involvement. Apparently, the cockatoo had learned several swear words and was telling visiting second graders to “eff off” and suggesting they “kiss his crested butt.” The director admitted to me, in private, that despite the anxiety of the break-in and subsequent property destruction, who or whatever had eaten Stanley had done them quite a favor.
I believe, based on one obscure report, that Beauregard then crossed the river and took himself for a ride on the incline. A group of celebrating bachelorettes reported a strange individual ducking into their funicular just as the doors were closing. They admit they were considerably inebriated, but two describe the individual as tall, hulking, and in need of a shave. A third claims he begrudgingly donned a “Here Comes the Bride” t-shirt and posed for a selfie with the women. Alas, these ladies were intoxicated enough that they had the camera facing the wrong direction, and the photo reveals little more than a blurry finger and a discarded can of Iron City on the bench. Nevertheless, as they remember it, Beauregard rode to the top, wished the bride-to-be a long, happy marriage, and ran off into the Mt. Washington night.
Nothing more has come out of Pittsburgh.
I’m on the road again. Reports of a shirtless, hirsute man in the town of Wheeling, West Virginia, suggest that Beauregard has crossed the state line and is heading toward the Ohio River. The trip from Pittsburgh, which should have taken only an hour, took eleven. I’m unfamiliar with the customs of West Virginia’s northern panhandle, but they seem to be holding some sort of extended road construction festival. The celebration centers around the ritual destruction of every bridge between Pennsylvania and Ohio, followed by a lengthy and painstaking restoration, during which the locals come out in great numbers to line up along the road in their cars. There seems to be no escaping the merriment, as there was, quite literally, an orange-barrel celebration at every entrance, exit, thoroughfare, side street, and alley. As an anthropologist, I wanted so much to pause and study this fascinating and no doubt beloved Wheeling tradition, but I knew it was my chance to close in on Beauregard.
Fate must have been on my side, dear Pumpkin, because when I stopped at the local coffee shop, the barista and I struck up a conversation. She mentioned, in passing, an odd visitor that morning. A tall, scruffy individual came in, well before sunrise, and ordered a soy mocha latte. I cannot imagine Beauregard imbibing something so hackneyed—his tastes have always run more along the lines of human flesh, and the occasional Lhasa apso in leaner times—but the woman at the counter specifically mentioned elongated teeth and a distinct body odor. Not the foul kind that breeds in armpits and feet; she likened it more to wet dog. Jackpot, Pumpkin! Either Beauregard has been prowling this neighborhood or the people of Wheeling need to be hosed down, taken to the dentist, and served a proper Columbian dark roast.
I believe he wanders through the neighborhoods at night. Residents have reported an increase in security camera activity and one Dimmeydale doorbell cam captured notable audio. You can hear footfalls on the porch, Pumpkin. Clomping feet. The scratch of a fingernail or claw on the handrail as whatever it is shifts its weight. There’s a low growl, one that sent chills through my old bones, the sound of a stunning and vicious creature, one not of this world, a living myth in human, canine form, seeking, always seeking a victim. In the audio clip, he breathes, inching his way along in the darkness.
Then, my love, you hear a bump and crash, followed by an expletive and a thud, and a frantic scrambling. Based upon the scene I found, it appears Beauregard climbed the stairs to the porch but, before he could seek a way into the house, knocked over a planter of mums, muttered, “Oh shit,” tried to sweep up the dirt with his paws, fell over a decorative barrel of straw, and fled into the night.
My dearest Pumpkin,
I came so close, today. So close.
The Wheeling PD received a call from the waterfront along the Ohio River. A stray dog was down by the dock, a jogger said. It was monstrous in size and moved faster than any canine she had ever seen. She reported that it was chasing geese, yipping as they scrambled to the water’s edge.
She made a special point to comment on how cute it was to see an animal enjoying itself. I found the observation curious. There were several physical features she might have seized upon—his dark fur, his excessive height, and the fact that he was wearing a pair of Banana Republic, tapered khakis. But she zeroed in on his wagging tail, which leads me to believe the people of Wheeling are either a “glass half-full” kind of people…or completely oblivious.
I hurried down to the waterfront, where I heard a great deal of honking and flapping. I ran over the grass and peered down into the pavilion….and there he was, Pumpkin!
He ran about, nipping at the geese as they beat their wings in defense. On a side note, my dear, I have felt pity for many of Beauregard’s bloody victims over the years, but I can think of no creature who deserves it more. Though the city be friendly, the geese of Wheeling have the foulest of attitudes. The lycanthrope may be a hellhound, but the Canada goose is no doubt the dark lord’s finest creation. During my brief interlude by the river, I stepped in five green piles, was hissed at seven times, and bitten on the elbow, calf, and left butt cheek.
I crept along the walkway, Pumpkin, cannon net in hand—closer than I’ve ever come. I’ve followed this creature on foot, road, and rail. And always, he’s evaded me. The afternoon in Olympic National Park when those taunting Girl Scouts locked me in a Porta Potty and he slipped away, laughing. When I stalked him through the Georgia swamp and saw a twig that looked like a snake and screamed. When I’d recovered, he was long gone. And of course, his narrow escape out the back door of a Bavarian beer hall when I collided with a busty serving wench.
But finally, on the shores of the Ohio River, I’d caught him. A lifetime of work, study, chasing, and tracking led me to this moment. I had only to launch the cannon net and bring the man-imal down.
And so it is with great shame that I confess that I did not intercept the werewolf at the waterfront at all. As I stalked through the park, something caught my eye, but it was not some minion of Satan that seized my attention.
It was a groundhog. Sitting on a stone wall beside a trash receptacle. As I watched, it glanced to its left and right and then dove, snout-first, into the garbage can. There was a good deal of rustling and then it emerged, seconds later, clutching an oddly square piece of pizza between its paws. And to my great astonishment, the varmint sat back on its haunches, sank its gleaming teeth into the crust, and began to nibble its way through the slice. When it was done, it uttered a burp, climbed down off the wall, and waddled back into the bushes.
My dear Pumpkin, my travels have taken me around the world, and I have seen creatures most men could never dream into reality. But I have never seen a dumpster-diving rodent shove a block of pizza into its cavernous gob. I was entranced. Alas, when the astounding whistle pig of Wheeling receded and I returned to my senses, I realized my target had disappeared from the waterfront. Beauregard was gone.
I am heartsick. And, admittedly, rather hungry.
Today broke me. After my embarrassing failure at the waterfront, my mood hung low and black, and my energy levels rivaled that of an aging sea cucumber. A cursory search of the neighborhood around the coffee shop turned up nothing more than tired feet, a FedEx driver named Bart who told me, at length, about the parameters of his precancerous mole, and an opossum trapped in a garbage can.
Realizing I could search no further, I wandered to the rail trail. It was a lovely evening, and the late season crickets began to stir as the sun dipped low.
It was near Tunnel Green, an area reported to be haunted by the specter of the famous Hatchet Slayer’s first victim, that my burgeoning positivity again began to wane. In the fading light, the tunnel’s opening was a gaping maw, hovering over the path. Two crows, perched in a dying ash tree on the hillside, qworked to one another in their tree-branch language. The cold, musty air from the tunnel’s dripping innards swirled out of the darkness.
I am not a man easily frightened, Pumpkin. After all, my life’s pursuit revolves around a half-man, half-wolf that tears bones from their sockets, devours human flesh, and, if the National Aviary’s night watchman is to be believed, the occasional foul-mouthed parrot.
But the hair on my forearms rose as I crossed the tunnel’s threshold, and as its shadow fell over me, so did the cold silence of the old tube. I reached my hand out to touch the stone wall and sank my clammy fingers into a vein of algae slipping down the curve of the masonry. I pulled my hand back quickly and wiped it on my pants, turning back to look at the bike path in the fading dusk. It looked so desperately far away, and the tunnel’s other opening appeared to shrink in the distance, though it could not have been more than 500 yards.
I don’t know what the Hatchet Slayer’s victim endured, Pumpkin. I don’t know how fast the blows rained down upon him, if he was hit in the head and mercifully passed quickly, or if the murderer took his time disposing of his victim. The bloody scene played out before me at the far end of the tunnel. I saw the swing of the hatchet, heard the whine of the victim as he prepared for death. It took shape in my ears, a moan that grew into a howl, a howl that bled into a scream. I could hear him! I could hear the man’s death throes and the pulsating sob of the Hatchet Slayer as he finished his work.
I turned, Pumpkin, and I ran, and as I did, the scream grew louder. It grew closer. Indeed, it seemed to race up behind me, the ghost of the victim, released from his grave. I couldn’t outrun it. In the last moments before the shriek overtook me, I heard clanking metal and a low growl. My breath flew in and out of my lungs, my legs ached, and just as I prepared to be swallowed by evil, a gruff and gravelly voice cried, “On your left!” A gust of wind blasted my face and with it, came the scent of wet dog.
It was not a ghost, Pumpkin, but a man, moving quickly through the twilight, and the whine was not the death cries of a long-departed ghost, but the whir of an electric motor. Confused, I squinted against my fogged spectacles and peered out from the tunnel’s mouth.
It was Beauregard. On the bike path, riding an odd, battery-powered vehicle. He turned back to look at me, howling with laughter as he zipped away. Once again.
I am devastated. And confused. It seems the trail will go cold, here in Wheeling. I don’t know if I can find the will to pick it up again. Indeed, I am a broken man.
And where the fiend acquired a motorized scooter is beyond me.
Tom Clarke was 12 years old when he found out he had a cousin who’s a werewolf, from Texas.
Of course, Tom never would have known he was a werewolf if their grandfather hadn't died. Sometimes you don’t meet all extended family members until there’s a funeral. And it wasn't until the funeral that Tom found out he had cousins who lived in Texas at all. Tom had several thousand cousins so it wasn’t surprising that his parents never got around to mentioning them.
But these strangers didn’t look at all like Tom’s other pasty Irish cousins. In fact, they looked a lot healthier than those who had grown up in the rust belt pollution. They were tall and shiny and suntanned, and they smiled a lot. They were exotic. They looked like movie stars. Everyone was charmed.
When Tom saw one of them walk outside the funeral home for a smoke, he followed. He walked around back and arrived just as the Texan was blazing up a big Texas-sized cigar.
“Howdy pardner,” he said, “I’m your cousin Tommy.”
Hey, that’s my name too, Tom almost blurted. Instead, Tom said nothing. He just stood there, staring at him, happy that he called him “pardner” as if he was John Wayne and Tom was Gary Cooper. Tom envisioned Tommy at Gilley’s bar riding the mechanical bull as Debra Winger watched – Tommy Clarke the Irish-Catholic-urban-cowboy.
“Hey little buddy,” Tommy Travolta drawled as he exhaled, “can you keep a secret?”
“Now you have to swear. This is just between you and me, by God. I don’t tell this story to just anybody. You swear?”
Tom nodded again.
“Okay then. You know what a werewolf is?”
Did Tom know what a werewolf was? Did this rube come all the way from Texas just to sling insults? Now he was on Tom’s turf. What did this bumpkin know from werewolves?
Tom nodded again.
“Well that’s good see, cause you’re looking at one.” He looked away, returning his cigar to his mouth and relighting it. He squinted into the setting sun just as Tom noticed the rising full moon barely visible above his cousin’s Joe McCarthy haircut.
“You are not.” Tom said firmly. Who the hell did this two-stepping hayseed think he was talking to? What kind of a sick human being lies about something as cool as being a werewolf to his preteen cousin behind a funeral home, while the family’s patriarch lies dead within? Did this guy think Tom had forgotten about snipe hunting and finger pulling?
“Well then how do you explain this?” Tommy hissed, ripping open his shirt and exposing the hairiest chest anyone had ever seen.
A jumble of thoughts swirled through his fevered brain: that’s a lot of hair…the skin under his shirt is a helluva lot paler than his arms…Jesus that’s a lot of hair…maybe he is a werewolf…where’s my gun…I don’t own a gun…yes I do—but it’s a BB gun…do they make silver BBs…what did I ever see in Kristy McNichol…wow that’s a lot of hair... run!
But before young Tom could move Old Tommy turned toward the now glowing full moon and emitted a howl just like Lon Chaney. Tom ran as fast as I could toward the door to the funeral home, his Toughskins swooshing as he went. He could feel the wolfman close behind. He swiped Tom with one of his foul, hellish claws, raking his neck.
“Duck! Fer crissakes duck Tom!” Came a scream from the parking lot ahead. Running toward him, Tom saw two of his Wheeling cousins, Jake and Tom (this is getting confusing, Tom thought). Jake had a shotgun that he must have pulled from his truck on the fly. He leveled it at Tom and hollered again, “Duck! Duck you moron!”
“No!” Tom screamed back. “It’s Tommy! Don’t shoot Tommy!”
“Tommy who?” the other Tom yelled. “Thas’s a dang monster!”
“Well dangit, he’s gettin’ away!” Jake yelled, lowering the shotgun.
Tom turned to see Wolfman Tommy ducking into the nearby woods.
He felt something warm on his neck. He was bleeding! He scratched me! It was the mark of the beast!
“What the hell was that?” asked the other Tom.
Tom tried to explain as the three walked back into the funeral parlor. But his redneck cousins weren’t buying his story.
Of course, cousin Tommy did eventually return, his shirt neatly buttoned to the neck. He looked utterly normal. Occasionally he would glance at Tom and flash a smug smile. But Tom knew his secret. Now they were brothers in the wolf.
In a way it was a dream come true. Tom couldn’t wait until the next full moon. There were scores to settle. Vengeance to be had. Bullies to be cowed.
When the next full moon finally arrived, Tom was ready. As the witching hour approached he decided that he’d better leave the house for awhile. There was no sense risking his family. He might not be able to control the predatory impulse. So I went for a long walk on the riverbank. It was dusk. He removed his clothing as he entered the woods. There was no sense ruining his new Steelers jersey when his body painfully morphed into that of a wolf. he could feel his blood rising. His skin was tingling as supercharged hair follicles prepared to erupt into a coarse, beastly new mane. Tom believed he could feel his teeth and nails elongating into fangs and talons. He began to run on his knuckles along the railroad tracks toward the Suspension Bridge as he prepared to morph into a four legged animal. To anyone unfortunate enough to be watching he might have appeared to be just another pale, fat, naked, delusional adolescent hopping through the woods on all fours at dusk – not an uncommon sight in rural West Virginia. But in Tom’s fevered brain, he was on the verge of becoming the terrifying lycanthrope—the wolf man of legend.
Suddenly, Tom’s vision blurred and his head began to throb with pain. Was this the beginning of the transformation? No. Something was terribly wrong. Something had struck his head from the side. He heard laughter. He looked up. Standing on the bridge peering down was the most egregious 8th grade bully: a boy named named Buster, and four of his friends. They were drinking beer and laughing – at Tom, who looked down at the beer bottle on the ground at his feet—Coors Light, the “Silver Bullet.” Damn!
“Sorry wolf boy,” Buster mocked, “you’re dead!”
Tom suddenly regretted bragging about his new found lycanthropic powers at school. It was hard to get the jump on bullies when they have good recon.
Buster’s friends broke into hysterics as Tom turned and ran – humiliated, but still quite human, and naked.
“Put some clothes on lard ass!” screamed Buster. “I’ve never seen a hairless wolf before.”
“He’s a poodle!” shouted one of Buster’s friends. “Run Poodle Boy, run!”
The laughter receded into the distance as Tom grabbed his clothes and ran for home, tears streaming down his all too human face.
The night air was cool. It could see each breath as it loped along the darkened path, circling back to the bridge. The transformation was complete. Its powerful muscles tightened as four lethal claws alternately gripped the earth, propelling the creature stealthily closer to its unsuspecting prey. Its keen ears twitched. It could hear their laughter and the clinking of bottles. They would be drunk by now, and still enjoying the afterglow of its humiliation – perfect. It sniffed the air—supersensitive canine olfactory senses roaring to life. It could smell their blood. Instinctively, its barrel chest emitted a low, steady growl. Drool slathered its black jowls as they receded in a grim lupine sneer, exposing three inch fangs. It crept closer, keeping to the shadows.
They were beneath the bridge now. They had built a fire and were huddled around it, smoking, drinking, and laughing—teenaged boys at their worst. The stench of their cigarettes and joints was repugnant. It snorted.
“What was that?” said Buster, whipping his head around in mock terror. “Is that you again poodle boy?”
They all laughed – for the last time.
It threw back its head and bellowed a bloodcurdling howl loud enough to wake the dead. They jumped to their feet, confused, whimpering, frozen with fear. Just before the carnage began it smelt urine. One of them had pissed himself with fright. Before they could move, it was among them— leaping, slashing, snarling, biting; a whirlwind of teeth and claws, shredding flesh and shattering bones. It continued to massacre their remains long after they were reduced to a gory pile of severed limbs and steaming innards. Slowly it came down from the high of the kill, still growling, teeth gnashing, fur matted with hot blood.
It howled once more, barked, then ran off into the woods.
Tom woke up in a small wooded area, surrounded by strange looking dogs. One of them was licking the blood from his fingers. Startled, he scrambled away until his face was smashed against a chain link fence. The dog growled at him, then loped away. Tom could see people in the distance, peering into the enclosure, pointing. It took him a minute to figure out he was in the Red Wolf habitat at the Oglebay Good Zoo, largely because there was a big sign that read “Red Wolf Habitat - Oglebay Good Zoo.”
Then it all flooded back into his brain like he’d had a hard night of drinking.
It was the werewolf hangover.
His body was covered in drying, sticky blood. Wait. What had he done? Buster was an asshole, but he didn’t deserve that. And those others? Had he really killed them all?
He climbed the chain link fence (slowly, because he was really bad at climbing things). And ran toward the woods (well it was more of a fast walk than a run). He made it home about an hour later, covered in tiny cuts from the branches and brambles. He’d swiped a sheet from someone’s clothesline on the way to at least cover his nakedness and the blood.
As he got close to the porch he could hear voices and laughter.
There, sitting in his mom’s glider having a grand old time were Jake, the other Tom, and … Texas Tommy.
What the hell? Tom thought.
“Well howdy pardner!” Tommy beamed. “Where the hell ya been? Your ma’s worried sick!”
“Yeah!” said Jake. “Where ya been, dummy?”
The three of them laughed and Tom felt a wave of nausea.
“What’s with the sheet?” the other Tom mocked. “You a ghost now? Ha ha! Boo!”
They all laughed some more.
“Shut up!” Tom barked. “Leave me alone.”
“Aw now lookey here pardner.” Said Tommy. “I got somethin’ to show ya.”
He pulled his hand from behind the glider, and there it was, the hairy claw of the wolf! Only, now Tom could see the rubber bands holding it over his all too human paw. They all laughed again. Tommy howled like Lon Chaney as he pulled on the wolf mask, completing his costume.
“Got ya!” he mocked as the other two fell out of their seats laughing.
“Sucker!” Jake howled.
“Let’s go snipe hunting!” the other Tom chimed in.
Tom looked down at his hands, still visibly blood-stained from the night before.
“Jesus,” he thought. “What happened last night? What the hell actually happened?”
I was hesitant to accept today’s invitation to discuss Werewolves of Wheeling because of the recent spate of assaults on public speakers such as the incident at Chautauqua and Chris Rock getting bitch slapped. So in anticipation of possible hostile werewolves secretively blending in with the audience I have taken a few precautions to ensure my safety.
First, when a blue moon occurs, which is when a full moon appears twice in the same month, I invoke the power of the Blue Moon. Imbibe the Blue Moon and you can be found in Mount Wood Cemetery safely howling at a full moon.
Second, in werewolf folklore it takes a silver bullet to kill el loco lobo. I brought a silver bullet to kill a werewolf, but I killed the silver bullet. In fact, I originally had a six pack of silver bullets, but, I got thirsty.
Third, and to repeat I take such elaborate precautions only because of the possibility of rogue werewolves hiding amongst you, I have enlisted a guard for protection. Please meet Growler.
GROWLER the puppet: Hello! My name is Growler and I am a small wolf pup. And just like you I have a lot of growing to do. And just like you I have a lot of learning to do. And just like you I’M A STINKIN’ ROWDY! HAHAHAHA.
Let us begin. I’d like to open by reviewing the historical backdrop of how werewolves, which are not native to North America, came to reside in Wheeling. It is an intriguing cause/effect chain of events that begins at the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War.
At the end of the war English aristocrats were forced to relinquish their claims to property. William Penn lost Pennsylvania, Lord Baltimore lost Maryland, Oglethorpe lost Georgia, Pa Ingall’s lost Walnut Grove, etc. The initial government wished to populate the countryside and displace the Native Americans. They rewarded soldiers and others with land grants to settle the newly acquired territory. When Europeans got wind of this land give away a mighty exodus ensued.
The departure of hearty European stock caused the First Great Werewolf Conclave to be convened by their leader Alpha BigBad Werewolf. It was held in the Romanian region of the Transylvania Alps on the outskirts of Sibiu in 1779. The results of a fact finding committee determined that the dwindling food supply was not the result of what conspiracy theorists believed at the time. French lé werewolf cuisine had not run amok from gastronomic experimentation nor was Bavarian hoarding a factor. The committee concluded that the food supply had merely walked off to the seaports, boarded small ships, and set sail for the Americas.
After little discussion, with no gavel pounding, it was motioned and seconded by unanimous howling that werewolves would follow their prey to America.
GROWLER: Grrrrr, Bark! Bark! Bark!
ME: What is it, Growler!?
GROWLER: Sorry. False alarm. It was just Bill adjusting his boxers.
The initial migration was disastrous. The lycanthroped wolfmen left the trip planning up to their human wives. The unaware ladies envisioned a romantic moonlit Love Boat cruise to America. About halfway across the Atlantic all Hades broke loose when the full moon appeared. The early werewolf migrants were pitched overboard by Slavic passengers from steerage with their pitchforks.
Following these early catastrophes the human form wolfmen made the travel arrangements themselves and safe passage prevailed. Destination ports included: New York, Boston, and Baltimore, while French speaking lé werewolves opted for New Orleans, kosher werewolves preferred Miami, and el lobo werewolves disembarked in Cancun.
Upon arrival at the eastern seaboard the werewolves followed the trails over the Appalachians to Wheeling and other wilderness outposts. Frontier life was fraught with danger where the two distinct species coexisted. One, an invasive species, knew the score, while the human species frequently pondered, “Where’s Billy? He was here a minute ago.” The werewolves were complicit in letting the Native Indians take the blame for vanishing pioneers.
As manufacturing became dominant the werewolves blended in posing as salespeople for a variety of firms. Going on pretend sales junkets during full moons, the wolfmen wrote up fake sales tickets to submit to their bosses while frolicking in the forested mountains enjoying the camaraderie of other miscreant werewolves.
Things went well for werewolves until the Great Population Collapse of 1919 with the depletion of human and werewolf offspring. Originally, it was blamed on a lack of iodized salt but the statistical analysis study by Professor Heinrich Von Gooddoggy debunked this theory. Instead, it was proven that households with dogs (aka werewolves masquerading as pets) tricked the family canine into taking a ride to the vet to get a flea bath. When the werewolves awoke, groggy from the anesthesia, they experienced a burning sensation in their groins. Thus ended the reproductive lives of neutered werewolves as lobos and as transformed men of the household, causing the lack of offspring.
Once the ruse was discovered werewolves initiated a PSA campaign, with the message spread successfully by the butt sniff technique. It brought the problem to a halt with the slogan: Beware, be werewolf, Don’t fall for the call for the doggie ride, go hide.
Over the decades the werewolf/human relationship has settled into a symbiotic relationship. Occasionally, Officer Stahl must fill out a missing person report, but werewolves have been successful in keeping their existence in Wheeling in the dark.
However, I warn you, a troubling new trend has emerged in recent years. Werewolves are boldly and brazenly walking alongside us disguised as emotional support companions. To which I warn you, “Beware. Beware of the werewolf there.”
I’m storyteller Rich, and I’m Growler, and we thank you for the listen. We had a howling good time!