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Blame It on the Moonlight

Tim Waggoner

Tim Waggoner's latest novels include In the Shadow of Ruin, Stargate SG1: Valhalla, and Cross County. He's published over one hundred short stories, some of which are collected in Broken Shadows and All Too Surreal. His articles on writing have appeared in Writer's Digest, Writers' Journal and other publications. He teaches creative writing at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, and is a faculty mentor in Seton Hill University's Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction program. Visit him on the web at


Bill ran through the nightwood, branches snagging his clothes, scratching his fur-covered face and hands. Light from the full moon filtered down through the branches, providing more than enough illumination for his lupine eyes to see. The moonlight healed his cuts almost instantly, but each time he was wounded small amounts of his blood were exposed to the air. Not for very long, but long enough. The sharp coppery tang was strong in his nostrils, and if he could smell it . . .

From somewhere behind him in the woods, Bill's preternatural hearing picked up a rustling, followed by an excited insectine chittering. The sound hit him on a deeply instinctive level, stirring a feeling within him unlike anything he had ever known.

She was coming.

"Fear of the number thirteen . . . which one is that?"

"Not hydrophobia. That's fear of sailing."

"No, you dope, it's fear of water in general."

"What about triskaidekaphobia? It's got tri in it, and that means three, right?"

"Three's not thirteen."

"I know that, but it's the closest choice up there." Bill sat at the end of the bar, a bottle of light beer in front of him. He was doing his best to ignore Ryan and Luis. The two men sat nearby and were deeply into the trivia game currently displayed on the four flat-screen video monitors mounted around the bar so that every customer was afforded a clear view of whatever happened to be playing at any given moment. Bill could've done without the screens, just as he could've done without Ryan and Luis tonight. They both worked out at the airport loading freight onto planes, and they wore identical uniforms: light blue short-sleeved shirts, dark blue slacks, black shoes, dark blue ball caps. But despite their menial jobs, Ryan and Luis fancied themselves masters of all knowledge, whether mundane or arcane, and when it came to trivia, they could be annoying as hell. An image flashed through Bill's mind then: clawed, fur-covered hands ripping down one of the screens and using it to bash in the two morons' skulls.

He heard a throaty rumbling, and it took him a moment to realize he was making the sound. He stopped growling and took a sip of his beer, hoping that no one had noticed.

I hate full moons, he thought.

My Office—as in "I'm going to my office, honey, don't wait up"—was a small, unprepossessing bar located in a strip mall in downtown Ash Creek, Ohio. Nestled between a hobby store called Playin' Around and a restaurant with the exceptionally unimaginative name of Fond-oooo!, My Office consisted of a square bar area in the center of the building, a dozen or so tables with chairs placed around the bar, the aforementioned video screens, and not much else. You could get the usual assortment of beers and alcoholic drinks—nothing imported or too fancy, though—and something to eat off the appetizer menu, if you didn't mind stomach cramps. Light jazz music played softly in the background, the sort of music that's supposed to be atmospheric but which just ends up being depressing.

Bill wore a gray suit jacket, blue tie, gray pants, and polished black shoes. He'd come to the bar straight from work, as he always did when the full moon fell on a weeknight. He was the only patron in the establishment that actually looked like he belonged in a place called My Office. Not that there were many others here; it was slow tonight, even for a Wednesday. Besides Bill and the trivia twins, the only people present were Mark—My Office's owner and chief bartender, a literature professor with the improbable name of Jimmy Love who looked something like a clean-shaven Santa Claus, and a woman Bill didn't recognize. Bill sat at the north side of the bar, Ryan and Luis to his right on the west side, and Jimmy Love directly opposite Bill on the south side. Bill noticed that despite the early hour, Jimmy was already working on a brandy. Usually he had a beer or two first.

Must've had a rough day, Bill thought.

The woman—a slender, pretty blonde who looked to be in her early to mid thirties—sat alone at a table. She wore a brown sweater, jeans, and black boots. Her hair fell past her shoulders, and she had an . . . interesting scent. Bill inhaled deeply through his nostrils to get a better fix on it. There was something at once familiar and exotic about her scent, something that equally intrigued and disturbed Bill, though he wasn't sure why.

The woman sipped a glass of red wine as she followed the trivia game on one of the screens. As if becoming suddenly aware of Bill's scrutiny, she turned to look at him. She locked gazes with him for a moment, smiled, and then turned her attention back to the trivia screen. Bill's growl was softer this time.

Mark gave Ryan and Luis—who were now snapping at each other for not going with triskaidekaphobia as the correct answer—fresh mugs of beer. A new question came up on the monitors asking which planet Phobos was a moon of. Bill could've answered that. He knew a lot about moons. Ryan and Luis immediately began arguing, and Mark left them to come over and check on Bill.

"Full moon tonight, eh?"

Mark was rail-thin, in his early forties, with jet black hair and a neatly trimmed mustache and goatee. Women found him irresistible, which was too bad since Mark was gay.

Bill swallowed another mouthful of beer then set his bottle on the counter.

"What makes you say that?" Bill said.

"Besides the calendar? For one thing, you hardly ever come in here on any other night." Mark grinned. "And I heard you growling a minute ago."

Bill felt his cheeks redden with embarrassment, and he had to resist glancing over again at the blonde. "Don't worry. I have it under control."

Mark reached down and tapped the bar surface near Bill's right hand—his currently human right hand. Five deep furrows had been carved into the wood, and from the look of them, they'd been there awhile.

"That happened months ago, Mark. I offered to pay for the damage."

"And I told you not to worry about it." Mark positioned his fingers over the furrows then slowly drew his hand along them. "I like them. They give the place a little character, you know?" He gave Bill a sideways look.

"Course, I could've done without having to clean up the mess you left that night. I had to replace a whole section of flooring. Bloodstains don't come out of wood."

"And you did accept my money for that repair, didn't you?"

"And happily so." Mark paused for a moment before going on. "Whatever happened to that guy who pissed you off that night? He never did come back in here."

"He tried to sue me for the nerve damage he received when I raked his face, but his lawyer refused to believe I was a werewolf, and he was forced to drop the suit."

"Good for you. Far as I'm concerned, the creep deserved it considering the sort of comments he made about your wife." Mark glanced at Ryan and Luis, who—along with Jimmy Love—were now debating whether golf originated in Scotland or France. "But don't get any ideas tonight. If you started attacking every jackass that came in here, I'd run out of customers."

Bill remembered the guy, and he remembered what he'd said.

I envy you, Bill; I really do. It must be great to really cut loose, to let go, to express your primitive side. I imagine your wife gets a little . . . curious when the moon comes up. Am I right? Let me ask you something: does your dong get hairy too? Is it a man's dong, a wolf's dong, or a cross between the two? Does it get bigger when you change? I bet your wife loves that! Bet she howls louder than you do!

And that was when Bill changed and took half the man's face off with a single swipe of his claws.

"Guess there wasn't a whole lot of point in defending Joan's honor that night," Bill said. "Considering she left me less than a week later." He felt his teeth ache, grow sharper, and he took another swig of beer to calm himself.

"You told me she left because her allergies were making her miserable, even when you were human."

"Yeah. It was either stay married to me or be able to breathe. She chose breathing. I understand, but it still sucks, though."

"Sure does." Mark glanced over at the blonde, who was still watching the trivia game. "You dating anyone right now? If not, you might think about going over to chat up Claire. She was in the other night, and we got to talking. Seems like a real great girl."

Mark believed in the long-hallowed tradition of bartenders being sympathetic listeners, but he took it a step further. He believed in actually doing things to make his customers' lives better. Mark claimed he was a Samaritan. Bill figured that was just another way of saying annoying busybody. Of course, if Mark hadn't been so sympathetic, he might not have allowed a reluctant werewolf to hang out in his bar every month during the cycle of the full moon. So Bill supposed he shouldn't complain. Bill felt an itching on the back of his right hand. He looked down at thick tufts of brown fur beginning to sprout from his skin. He concentrated and the fur slowly receded.

Bill looked up at Mark. "I don't think it's a good idea tonight."

Mark shrugged. "Suit yourself. But being a werewolf gives you a certain mystique, you know. You ought to put it to good use."

"Hey, Mark!" Jimmy Love brandished his empty snifter. "Hit me again?"

"You got it." Mark gave Bill a parting wink and went over to serve Jimmy another brandy.

Bill glanced at his watch and sighed. It wasn't even eleven o'clock yet. He had hours left to go until dawn, and already he'd had several flare-ups. Maybe if he started drinking something harder than beer . . . it was easier to maintain control when he was relaxed, and he was always mellow after a few drinks.

I bet your wife loves that! Bet she howls louder than you do!

Usually mellow, he amended.

"Excuse me?"

Bill was so startled to hear the woman's voice next to him that his upper canines instantly lengthened, piercing his bottom lip. The wounds immediately began to heal, and his teeth slowly retracted, though they remained somewhat longer than normal.

The blonde—Claire, he remembered—had walked over to the bar and now stood next to him. She smiled, somewhat shyly, "I don't mean to be nosey, but is it true? Are you really a . . . a werewolf?"

Bill liked that smile, almost as much as he liked her deep blue eyes. A thought passed through his mind: how had she been able to sneak up on him like that? His senses were always preternaturally heightened, even in human form, and no more so than during the cycle of the full moon. But he hadn't heard Claire approach. Maybe he was just distracted by his thoughts, and maybe the beer he'd drank so far was already having an effect on him. Maybe.

Bill smiled at Claire, keeping his lips closed to avoid displaying his teeth. "Where did you hear a wild story like that?"

Claire nodded toward the other end of the bar. "From Jimmy Love. I was in here a few nights ago and we got to talking. He told me that you always come in here during the nights of the full moon—and he told me why." Bill scowled at Jimmy, but the professor merely lifted his brandy and gave Bill a boozy smile as if to say, You're welcome.

"I'm Claire Avery, by the way." She held out her hand for him to shake.

"Bill Severt." He took her hand, concentrating to keep his nails normal length and his palm free of unwanted hair. Her grip was gentle but with an underlying strength, and she maintained physical contact with him a few seconds longer than necessary. Despite himself, the contact excited him, and Bill felt fur sprout on the back of his neck and the tips of his ears take on sharp points. If Claire noticed, she was too polite to mention it.

"Do you mind if I join you?" Claire said.

Bill gestured to the empty stool next to him. "Please." She sat down and put her half-empty wine glass on the bar in front of her. She then turned to Bill and gave him a warm smile.

"So it's true?" she asked.

Bill considered telling her that it was just a drunken joke Jimmy had been playing on her, but when he looked at her smile, he found that not only couldn't he lie to her, he didn't want to.

"Yes. I'm a werewolf."

She leaned toward him, eyes gleaming with excitement. "That's fascinating! When did you first find out?"

"When I was a kid. It runs in the family."

"And you come in here to . . . what? Hide out when you change?"

"Not exactly. As you might imagine, being a werewolf is more than a little problematic at times, and life is much easier when you can resist the change and remain human during the cycle of the full moon. Some werewolves lock themselves in cages, others practice meditation techniques to control the change. Me, I come here. Just like the show's theme song: 'Where Everybody Knows Your Name.' It's relaxing here, and the people are for the most part nonjudgmental, even if—"

"Hey, Bill!" Ryan interrupted. "What's the plant that werewolves are allergic to? Luis says it's belladonna, but I say it's wolfsbane."

"It can't be wolfsbane!" Luis protested. "It's too obvious!"

Bill sighed. "Or maybe not obvious enough. Wolfsbane is the right answer."

Ryan punched Luis on the shoulder. "See? I told you!" Luis glared at Ryan as he entered the correct answer into the trivia console.

Bill turned back to Claire. "I was about to say, even if they are irritating sometimes."

Claire laughed. There was a pause in the conversation as each took a sip of their respective drinks.

"So what happens when the bar closes?" Claire asked.

"Mark usually lets me stick around, and I give him a hand cleaning up. After that, it's close enough to dawn for the moon's influence to have waned, and I can go home." He smiled, hoping his teeth weren't too sharp to be intimidating. "Some wild animal I am, huh?"

Mark was at the other side of the bar talking to Jimmy Love. Both men glanced at Bill and gave him disappointed looks. Bill knew what they were thinking. He should be making the most of Claire's interest in his lycanthropic life-style to impress her. He should tell her stories of racing through moonlit fields, heart pounding, blood thrumming through his veins as he ran his prey to ground. But he wasn't the type to feed a woman a line just to get her into bed, no matter how attractive she was. Though he had to admit he was tempted. Not only was Claire beautiful, there was something special about her that he couldn't put his finger on. Though they'd only spoken for a few minutes, he felt a definite connection to her, a connection that seemed to be deepening quickly. Of course, now that he'd confessed to being a wimpy werewolf, she'd probably lose interest and leave, and he wouldn't blame her one bit.

So Bill was surprised when Claire said, "I think that's very responsible of you. Sure, hanging out here might make your life easier, but it also protects anyone you might, uh . . . go after. I admire that." She leaned even closer. "A lot."

Bill felt a certain part of his anatomy begin to change in a way that had nothing to do with lycanthropy.


After that, he expected Claire to continue asking him questions about being a werewolf, but instead she asked what he did for a living—he was an accountant—and told him about her job as a phlebotomist. The conversation moved on from there, and they talked about where they'd gone to college and high school, where they'd grown up, what movies and TV shows they liked, what sort of restaurants they enjoyed, places they liked to go on vacation . . . The time flew by, and though Bill knew it was way too early to be thinking like this, he couldn't help wondering if he was falling in love with Claire.

"Last call. You two want anything else?"

Bill turned to Mark, startled. He'd forgotten about the bartender, about the bar, about everything else except Claire. He looked around and saw that Jimmy Love was so soused he could barely stay awake—Mark would call a cab to take Jimmy home, as he always did—and though Ryan and Luis were still playing video trivia, they were too tired to argue about it anymore. Bill glanced at his watch and was surprised to see it was 1:45 in the morning.

"Nothing for me," Claire said. "Bill?"

"I'm fine."

"Looks to me like the two of you are quite fine indeed." Mark grinned and moved off to check on the others.

Bill reddened in embarrassment, but Claire just laughed. Somewhere along the line she'd taken to holding his hand, and she gave it a squeeze now.

"I'm not the type of gal who picks up men in bars, Bill, but I've had a wonderful time tonight. I hope you have too."

"I have." Bill was about to ask her if she'd like to have dinner with him—maybe not tomorrow or the night after, but when the cycle of the full moon was over—but before he could do so, she lowered her eyes and as she spoke her voice took on a wistful tone.

"I really like you, Bill. Very much." She gripped his hand tighter. "And that makes what I'm about to tell you so difficult to say."

Oh god, she's married! Bill thought. Or worse, she used to be a man! But it couldn't be either of those. He'd have smelled another man's scent on her, and if she was a transsexual, she'd still smell male to him. She did have that odd scent that he couldn't place, but whatever it was, it wasn't remotely male, he was certain of that.

"There's a reason I came in here tonight, Bill. Why I started coming here in the first place." A pause. "I was looking for you."

He frowned. "I'm not sure what you mean."

"You said being a werewolf runs in your family, right? Did your parents ever tell you about other creatures that change shape?"

"Sure. There are varieties of shapeshifters other than werewolves, though they tend to be rare." A thought occurred to him then. "Are you trying to tell me that you're a shapeshifter too?"

She nodded, still unable to meet his gaze.

"But that's wonderful! It means we can understand each another in a way humans can't. It'll bring us even closer."

"No, Bill, it won't. Not all types of shapeshifters are compatible. Did you parents ever warn you about certain kinds?"

Bill tried to remember. Like him, his parents had strived to live as normal a life as possible, and the times they spoke about their lycanthropic heritage were rare.

"They told me that were-bears tend to have foul tempers, and that I should stay away from were-rats or else I might catch something. But the only really dangerous shapeshifter they ever told me about was . . . " He trailed off as horrified realization set in.

Claire looked up and met his gaze. "That's right, Bill. I'm a were-flea."

Bill yanked his hand away from Claire. It all made sense now. Her strange scent, her career as a phlebotomist . . .

Laughter erupted from the other four men in the bar.

"Sorry you two," Mark said. "We couldn't help overhearing. All right, I admit it; we were eavesdropping. But a were-flea? Come on!"

Mark, Jimmy, Ryan, and Luis burst into another round of laughter.

"What's she going to do?" Ryan said. "Make you itch to death?"

"I've heard of dates that suck, but this is ridiculous!"

Luis added.

More laughter. But Bill wasn't amused, not in the slightest.

He began speaking in a hushed, frightened voice. "A were-flea is the only true predator that other shapeshifters have. They are extremely rare, created only when a flea bites a shapeshifter in animal form and then turns around and bites a human."

Claire nodded. "It happened on a camping trip when I was twelve."

Mark and the others had stopped laughing and were now listening intently. Bill continued.

"Like other shapeshifters, were-fleas transform during the cycle of the full moon. They are driven to seek out other shapeshifters and—"

"Feed on their blood," Claire finished. She gave Bill a sad look and said, "I'm sorry. I truly am."

Jimmy Love belched loudly then and said, "That has got to be the most idiotic thing I have ever—" and then he screamed as Claire began to change.

Her skin became a shiny reddish-brown as exoskeletal armor replaced flesh. Numerous hairs and short spines extruded from her shell, tearing through the fabric of her sweater. The upper half of her body remained roughly humanoid, but her bottom half became entirely insectine, and her jeans shredded to make way for a large abdomen and four long segmented legs. Her blonde hair retreated into the shiny surface of her reddish-brown head, and her eyes became large and black. Her nose flattened until only two small nostril holes remained, and her teeth sharpened to fine points. Her arms grew longer and leaner, and her hands transformed into wicked curved claws perfectly designed for grabbing and holding onto prey.

Bill had never seen anything so terrifying—and in her own way magnificent—in his life.

She lunged for him, and Bill threw himself off the barstool just in time to avoid Claire's claws. He spun in midair as he fell and landed gracefully on all fours. He'd instinctively changed into his own lycanthropic form—half-man, half-wolf—on the way down, which was a damn good thing, for only his lupine speed saved him from Claire's next attack. With a single thrust of her four powerful insect legs, she became a blur as she shot toward Bill. He swiftly rolled to the side, but not quite fast enough to avoid Claire raking his back and tearing his suit jacket and the shirt beneath it to ribbons—not to mention gouging bloody furrows into his fur-covered flesh. But Claire's ferocious momentum kept her moving past, and she skidded across half the bar, knocking over a number of tables and chairs before managing to bring herself to a stop.

Bill leaped to his feet, tore off the ragged remnants of his jacket and shirt, and cast them to the floor. The wounds on his back burned like fire, but already the pain was lessening as his lycanthropic metabolism worked swiftly to repair the damage. Bill turned to see how the others were, and he wasn't particularly surprised to discover that all four of them—Mark, Jimmy, Ryan, and Luis—were staring at Claire with various mixtures of horror and disbelief.

"Get out of here!" Bill yelled. "She only wants me!" At least, that's what he tried to say. His werewolf throat was no longer designed to produce human speech, not to mention that it was a real bitch to enunciate properly with a mouthful of fangs. So his warning, instead of coming out as words, came out as a series of snarls and growls.

Mark, Jimmy, Ryan, and Luis tore their gazes off Claire, looked at Bill, then started their own nonsensical yelling—only theirs was spurred by sheer terror.

Great, Bill thought. They think I'm a bloodthirsty monster too.

His friends were frozen with fear, and he knew that if he and Claire continued to fight inside the bar, one or more of the others was bound to get hurt in the crossfire. And while Bill was fairly confident were-fleas only drank the blood of other shapeshifters, he wasn't entirely sure on that point. What if, once she had drained him dry, she decided to have one of his friends for dessert? Bill had no choice. He had to draw Claire away from the others, and fast.

He ran toward the door.

She tried to intercept him halfway across the bar, but as she leaped toward him, he jumped straight up, and she sailed beneath him. Chittering in frustration, she once more crashed into tables and chairs, reducing them to so much kindling. Bill landed easily and kept running.

He reached the door, yanked it open, and plunged out into the parking lot.

The cool night air welcomed him, and the light from the full moon overhead washed down on him like a restorative balm, healing the last of his wounds and infusing him with a fresh strength and vitality. The strip mall that housed My Office was located next to a small strand of woods—another reason why Bill liked coming here during full moon nights. If he could reach the woods, he might be able to escape Claire. The trees were thick and close together, and they'd interfere with her jumping. Bill knew he could outrun her in a strict footrace, for there were few things on Earth faster than a terrified werewolf running for his life. He fixed his gaze on the line of trees on the other side of the parking lot and poured on the speed.

He heard the sound of My Office's door being smashed open, followed a second later by triumphant chittering as Claire slammed into his back. The two of them skidded across the parking lot, reopening the slash wounds on Bill's back and giving him a nasty case of road rash on his belly and chest. As soon as they came to a stop, he tried to crawl away from Claire, but she grabbed hold of him with her claws and flipped him over onto his back. He grimaced as his wounds ground against the blacktop, and he attempted to slash out at Claire with his own claws, but she grabbed hold of his arms with her middle set of legs and pinned them to his side. He was helpless.

She bowed the humanoid half of her body down until her head was only inches away from Bill's. Her black insect eyes shone with reflected moonlight, and even though he knew he was about to die, Bill couldn't help but think of how strangely beautiful they looked.

Bill expected Claire to sink her fangs into his neck, but instead she opened her mouth wide and stuck out her tongue. It was longer than a human's and it tapered to a needlelike tip. Efficient design, Bill thought.

She leaned closer and her tongue darted toward Bill's neck, the needle-tip sinking into his flesh. It stung, but it didn't hurt as badly as he'd feared. He felt the pull as his blood was suctioned into Claire's tongue, and she chattered softly in a kind of satisfied ecstasy.

He soon began to feel lightheaded and his vision started to grow hazy around the edges. His werewolf physiology could heal almost any wound, but there was no way it could replace his blood supply as quickly as Claire was draining it. Another few moments, and it would all be over.

Without thinking, and not quite understanding why he did so, Bill lifted his head and gave Claire a kiss on her carapaced cheek.

"It's okay," he said. "I know you can't help it."

Bill lowered his head back to the ground and waited for darkness to claim him.

The suction stopped.

Claire's eyes gleamed even more brightly now, and at first Bill couldn't understand why. But then he realized: it was because they were filled with tears. She was crying. Her needle-tongue withdrew from his neck and receded into her mouth. She gazed down at him, and though her face was utterly inhuman, Bill had no trouble at all reading her expression of loving sorrow.

A series of clicks and pops came out of her mouth, and though it didn't sound very much like human speech, Bill still understood her words.

I'm so sorry.

He rose to his feet and she pulled him into an embrace. He hugged her back, his strength swiftly returning now that she had stopped draining his blood. He glanced to the right and saw Mark, Jimmy, Ryan, and Luis standing on the sidewalk in front of My Office, watching.

"That," Mark said, "has got to be either the sickest thing I've ever seen or the sweetest."

"I vote for both," Jimmy said.

Ryan and Luis agreed, and the four of them went back inside the bar, presumably for another last round of drinks.

Bill grinned and hugged Claire even tighter. She hugged him back with two arms and two legs, softly thrumming a sound like a kitten's purr into his ear.

Bill continued running through the woods, weaving between the trees. If he could manage to keep enough obstacles between them, he just might be able to avoid her. All he had to do was make it to the other side of the woods, and then—

He heard her chittering a half second before she landed on him, driving him to the forest floor. He lay there as her tongue slithered forth from her mouth and gently touched its needle-tip to the back of his neck. She drank several swallows, not enough to seriously deplete him, and then drew her tongue back into her mouth.

"Tag," she chittered. "You're it!"

Then she hopped off of him, spun around, and jumped away in the opposite direction, laughing.

I love full moons, Bill thought. Grinning, he gave chase.

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