Cheeseburgers and Werewolves
Saturday, October 25 1958... Shortly after my twelfth birthday, my Uncle, who I rarely saw while my father was alive and I took a road trip that became a trip of a lifetime...
"Ain't much to look at is he?" the man asked, bending at the waist to inspect me. He was thin, a little on the tall side, taller that is, than my Uncle and almost bald. He was dressed in a pair of black slacks, a formal red vest over a plain, long sleeve white shirt and a matching red bow tie. I had seen him around once in a while but had no idea who he was or for that matter why my uncle had brought me to his house.
"Nope he ain't," my uncle countered. He stood slightly behind the man, leaning away from me, his hands in his pockets.
"I can see your sister Mary all over him," the man said with distaste, straightening long enough to run his hand in wide circles in the air as he spoke.
"Yup, sure can," my uncle answered dully, rocking heel to toe nervously.
"I don't know Frank, does he know anything?" the man asked turning to peer at me again.
My uncle frowned in response refusing to look in my direction.
"You got a name boy?" He asked sharply.
"Jack Erling," I returned now feeling cross.
"Fuzzy Jamerson," he pronounced thrusting out his hand for me to shake.
I complied reluctantly.
"Do you know anything boy?" the man asked sternly, reaching out to push my shoulder lightly to prompt a response.
"Yes sir, I do. I know a lot. Mama says I can be a lawyer when I grow up," I said defiantly, trembling a little inside.
"Sir?" He snapped, straightening immediately.
"It's his mama's doing," my uncle said roughly.
"Oh you got trouble here Frank, yes sir. Ain't no stopping it now. Hell, next thing you know the boy's gonna be reading the wrong books, hanging out with all the wrong people and wind up being a government employee or worst yet..."
"Don't say it Fuzz," my uncle warned, pointing at the man sternly. The look on his face concerned me; I had seen it only a few times in my short life but knew it meant trouble.
"Ain't no denying it son... you got the makings of a politician on your hands," Fuzz said defiantly folding his arms across his chest.
"Damn it, Fuzz I ain't gotta put up with talk like that," My uncle complained. He stepped closer to the man, poking him in the chest with a thick finger.
"Hold on, hold on ain't no point of gettin' all hot under the collar," Fuzz said waving my uncle off.
"Can you help him or not?" my Uncle asked.
"Well hell Frank, I can't go against his mama, now can I?" Fuzz complained, throwing his hands in the air.
"You can see I gotta do something before we loose him all together," my Uncle said, half shouting, pointing at me.
"I don't know... what do ya want me to do? I ain't no miracle worker," Fuzz asked.
"Do for him what you done for me and Buster."
Both men spoke as if I weren't even in the room. I was confused about what was happening and why I was here. Only now did I begin to wonder if my Mother knew where I was or what my Uncle had in mind.
"Frank, ain't no turning back once we start," Fuzz finally said placing a hand on my Uncles shoulder.
"The boy thinks he's smarter than me," my Uncle whispered harshly.
A chill of concern ran through me as both men turned in my direction.
"Alright, I'll do it. You call Tony... I'll handle it from here," Fuzz said softly, patting my Uncle on the back.
"Thanks Fuzz, you're a good man," he said straightening his shirt, pulling his pants up firmly.
Both men looked at me and fear suddenly filled my heart.
"I got some things to do. Fuzz here is going to look after you for a while... mind your P's and Q's and I'll be by to pick you up later on," my Uncle said, squeezing my shoulder firmly and with that he was gone.
I was suddenly uncomfortable as Fuzz just stood there looking me over.
"Here's how it works," he said in all seriousness, reaching into his back pocket. From it appeared a large red and white checkered handkerchief and a thin metal flask. He eyed me suspiciously as he twist the top off and took a swig. "Whisky?" he asked, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, extending the bottle in my direction.
"I'm twelve," I returned quickly.
"Ya want some or not?"
"No. Thank you," I said firmly, folding my arms.
"A beer man huh? Good for you."
"I don't drink. Mother says it’s bad for you."
"Got a smoke?"
"I'm twelve, I don't smoke," I returned now feeling cross.
"Oh sure, sure, well like I said this is how it works... you do something right I call you son... you screw up I call you boy," he said drinking from his bottle again.
"That ain't the way a man talk’s boy. None of that fancy sissy talk here. Hear me?"
"Okay," I answered not sure where this was going.
"Play cards?" he asked after another swig from the flask.
"Fish and war," I responded happily.
"Alright, good to know... ever play poker?"
"No," I said catching myself before the sir slipped out.
"Got any money?"
"No of course not," I said, surprised he asked.
"Ain't got no job, huh."
"Again, I'm twelve," I huffed.
"That ain't no excuse. I got my first job by the time I was nine."
"Mother says if I study real hard I can go to college and get any job I want."
"Question is boy, is it a fitt'n job for a man. Can you hold your head up and look yourself in the mirror and be proud?"
He had me there... I didn't know.
"Yeah, I thought as much. Alright boy, I'm out of whisky," he said turning the bottle upside down and shaking it. "Lets find my car keys, we got us a mission."
We spent the next ten minutes searching for his keys finding them at last wedged in the couch cushions. Reluctantly, I followed him out to the garage and with no little effort forced the large door open.
"You drive," he said throwing the keys at me without so much as a glance in my direction.
"I don't know how to drive, I'm twelve," I howled.
"Let me get this straight, you ain't got no job, you don't drink no whisky, you don't have no smokes and you don't drive because you're twelve or because that's what your Mama says," he taunted.
I turned the keys over in my hand as my heart beat wildly.
"Boy, ain't no man a man because his Mama done said so, now do like I say... you drive," he said sternly.
My mouth was suddenly dry, my hands trembled and as if in a trance, I slid behind the wheel. The car smelled of leather and cigarettes, each filling my brain with fear and excitement all at the same time. I grabbed the wheel, twisting its thick diameter several times and swallowed hard.
"Alright boy, pull the seat up until you reach them peddles there comfortable like," he said pointing to the floor.
I did as he instructed placing my feet firmly on each.
"Good then. See the one on the left? That little bastard is the clutch; you push it in and let it out easy like, understand? The one on the right is the gas, you give it a little goose when you let the clutch out and off we go. When you need it, step hard on the one in the middle and we glide to a stop. Easy as pie... get it?"
My heart pounded so hard in my chest I barely heard him. I nodded as if I truly understood.
"Alright boy, give her hell... start her up," He said pointing at the steering wheel.
Somehow the keys had found their way into the ignition. I had no memory of slipping them into place but there they were, calling to me to do his bidding.
I forced myself to swallow, pushing my heart back into place and out of my throat. My mind was a bowl of confusion, fear, trepidation and excitement swirling from one to the next faster than thought itself.
I turned the key and the motor jumped to life. It rumbled, loud and powerful, and rocked the entire vehicle and my skin tingled wildly.
"Alright boy, we going or not... push in the clutch and put her in gear," he ordered.
My hand shook as I reached for the lever and yanked it down and instantly the car lurched backward, killing the engine.
"It's alright, happens to everyone. Give it ago again," he said, opening the glove compartment. "Smoke?" he asked as he removed a cigar from its depths.
I was too scared to speak and simply shook my head in response.
"All the same to me, your loss," he said as he bit the end off and lit it. "Now, old Betsy here is just like a woman. She'll tell ya if you're doing her right or doing her wrong. Listen to her, pay attention to her and she'll purr like a kitten or growl like a punishing beast. You hear me boy?"
I heard him but I wasn't sure if I understood him. I nodded nervously, holding on to the keys the whole time.
"Now, boy, now," he said, making impatient circles in the air with his cigar.
The engine roared to life once more. I pushed in the clutch and eased it out.
"Give her a little gas... not to much," he instructed, pointing at my feet and the car slid backward.
My heart pounded so hard I almost couldn't breathe and before I realized it we were parked in his front yard.
"That was good son, right good," he said with a big smile, patting me lightly.
My whole body jolted at the word. There was something about the way he said it, or the way he smiled but I had never been happier in my life.
"Keep her on the dirt road and you'll be fine, understand?" He asked, rolling up his sleeves.
My hands were frozen to the wheel and I could do nothing beyond smile broadly and nod quickly.
"Well, come on then... lets go," he shouted with true excitement.
I fumbled at the gearshift and we lurched forward in three or four quick hops before the motor died once again. After a few more tries we were on a roll... 5 miles an hour or so down the dirt road outside his house but for me it felt like we were in a rocket. We passed several hours in this manner and I had to admit it all went by in a heart beat.
"You hungry boy?"
I shot a quick look at him, fearing what would happen if I took my eyes off the road and grinned. I was hungry but didn't want this to end.
"Well then, cheeseburgers all around, make a left at the next cross road boy and we'll drop in on a friend of mine and then we eat like kings," he said leaning back as far as his seat would allow, huffing happily on his cigar.
I turned the wheel several times to make the corner but still wound up on the opposite side of the road.
My heart fluttered with embarrassment but my passenger said nothing about it at all and I gladly regained the center of the road.
"See that yellow house up there?" he asked, pointing.
"Yes," I gulped.
"That's your target boy, aim straight for her," he instructed pounding on the side of the car.
The house was surrounded by trees and sat on top of a low hill. I followed the ruts in the road to help me stay centered pulling up at last in front of our designated goal.
"Go head and shut her off son, you done a fine job."
I did as he asked freeing my stiff fingers from the wheel.
"Well now. Who's your chauffeur?" A woman called to us. She was hanging sheets out on the line and at first, I had not seen her.
"Howdy, Bobby Joe. My young friend here and I stopped by to see what you had cook'en," Fuzz said leaning out the window almost to the point of falling out.
"Well, maybe I do, maybe I don't," she said walking slowly toward the car, swinging her arms lightly.
"I ain't never known a Saturday night to go by Miss Bobby Joe Johnson without your stove celebrating the day," he said with flourish leaning all the further out the window.
"Why Fuzzy Jamerson, I think you might be trying to flatter me," She said with a large smile.
"Fuzzy Jamerson?" I snickered out loud without meaning too.
"You find that funny Jack?" he asked pulling himself back into the car.
"Who has a name like Fuzzy anyway?" I said trying not to laugh.
"I gave it to him," Bobby Joe said now leaning on my window. "Harry is his given name back when he had hair. Now we just call him Fuzzy," she giggled.
The way she said Fuzzy made me snicker all the more.
"Alright funny man, come on," he said opening his door.
Bobby Joe opened my door and we followed Fuzzy to the back of the house, entering from the kitchen door.
To my surprise, sitting at a large, round, wooden table was my Uncle Frank.
"Where you been boy?" he asked handing me a bottle of soda.
"I was driving!"
"Ya don't say."
"He done right good Frank. I think he can drive better than you," Fuzzy teased, pulling out a chair for Bobby Joe and then himself.
Sitting next to the table, straddling two chairs was a large galvanized wash tub full of ice and dozens of bottles of beer and soda.
"Jack here says he don't play no poker, only fish and war," Fuzzy said turning the chair around backward before sitting.
"We can fix that," my uncle offered rubbing his hands together.
"No gambling. I don't want any fist fights in my kitchen," Bobby Joe warned as she put on an apron.
"Alright, you boys heard the lady... $10 buy in."
"Fuzzy," she chided.
"Did I say $10 ? I meant $5," he said meekly. He turned to the cupboard behind him and produced a deck of cards.
"I don't have any money," I protested.
"Don't worry about it, I'll stake you," Uncle Frank offered pushing a stack of one dollar bills in front of me.
Each man threw a dollar in the middle and took a stack of chips in exchange, prompting me to do the same.
I had even less idea of how to play poker than I did at driving but at this point I was more than willing to learn. After about two hours of playing my pile of dollar bills had grown three fold.
"The boys to good for me, I need a break," Fuzzy said standing to stretch. "What do ya say too little target practice?"
I looked quickly to my Uncle in anticipation.
"Dinner in five," Bobby Joe called.
My head was swimming, I had driven for the first time, I had won lots of money, and the air was filled with the smell of cooking hamburger and now a chance to shoot a real gun.
"Smoke?" Fuzzy asked holding a cigar in my direction.
"I'll take one," Uncle Frank said, slipping it in his mouth.
"Sorry boy, Frank here got the last one."
"It’s alright," I returned a little more done hearted than I intended. I didn't want to smoke but I did want to be included.
"Alright boy set us up a couple of those empties," Fuzzy instructed, pointing at the empty beer bottles.
I gladly did his bidding setting the bottles on a log further out in the yard and ran back to them as quickly as I could.
"Ever shoot a gun?" Fuzzy asked kneeling next to me.
"No," I whispered. I was overwhelmed with the excitement of it all.
"This here's a pistol. It takes six bullets... 22's. Never point it at anything besides the ground or your target... got it?"
I nodded anxiously as he handed me the weapon. It was heavy, cool and surprisingly smooth to the touch.
"Now, you hold it like this," Fuzzy said positioning my hand as I held the gun. "Squeeze it easy like and..."
I did as he instructed and the air filled with the resulting bang. It made my heart skip a beat. Unbelievably it was more exciting than driving. I emptied the gun three times, missing every time but I didn't care.
"Dinner boys," Bobby Joe called and I was torn. I hadn't eaten anything all day but I wasn't ready to stop.
"Come on son, we got plenty of time for this, besides its starting to get dark. Let's eat," Fuzzy said, noting my disappointment.
"Dig in boys," Bobby Joe said as she placed the biggest pile of hamburgers I had ever seen in the center of the table.
I had never been happier... a huge pile of burgers, more potato chips than any one person could eat and all the soda I could want. I had never been happier.
I wasn't paying that much attention as the others talked amongst themselves until...
"You heard about what happened over at the Stockwell place?" My uncle asked.
"Not in front of the boy," Bobby Joe warned softly leaning toward him.
The tone in her voice caught me. She had a genuine level of concern.
I tried to divide my attention between what they were talking about and my plate.
"Yeah, I did. Shredded like paper I heard," Fuzzy added between bites.
"Old man Sanders lost his prize bull just last week," my uncle continued.
"Killed his dog too," Bobby Joe whispered hesitantly.
"What? What killed his dog?" I asked now paying full attention.
No one spoke.
"What killed his dog?" I asked again.
"Ain't nobody knows for sure," My Uncle said at last.
"They know, they just ain't saying it out loud. Don't want to get everyone all worked up’s all," Fuzzy said sarcastically.
"Ain't no one saying it out loud," Uncle Frank said with distaste.
"Ain't saying what?" I pressed.
All three looked to the other nervously and then to their plates.
"Ain't saying what?" I repeated, more urgently this time.
"Werewolf," Bobby Joe said softly leaning closer to me.
"Werewolf?" I asked even laughing a little. I was the only one. Everyone sat perfectly still, dead serious, looking at me.
"There are things out in those woods, boy that a man can't rightly explain. People say they've seen creatures... half man, half animal that God himself done forgot about roaming around out there killing livestock and eaten them right where they stand."
I scanned all three faces looking for any sign they were joking... they were not. I had to think about it for a minute.
At that moment there was a loud crash outside and my heart jumped.
"What the hell?" Uncle Frank asked standing.
"Frank..." Bobby Joe started.
"I'll be right back, look around a little you know," He said opening the door.
Another loud crash and I jumped in my chair.
"Lock the door behind me," he said and then disappeared into the dark beyond the back porch.
Time seemed to stop as we waited for his return. The tension was unbearable and then the silence was broken by a loud, blood curdling scream.
At that instant my Uncle appeared at the back door, pounding on the glass and screaming.
"Let me in, let me in," he screamed. Fuzzy and bobby Joe raced to the door to unlock it. They flung it open, banging it against the wall. My Uncle struggled to get inside but something was yanking at him, trying to drag him off into the darkness.
Fuzzy grabbed his arm trying to pull him inside. Only now did I notice my Uncle's clothes had been shredded and was covered in blood. Bobby Joe screamed and everyone was yelling at the same time.
Then to my shock as they were about to rescue my Uncle I saw the beast for the first time and my heart almost stopped. It was coming inside.
"Shoot it Jack, shoot it," Fuzzy bellowed at me as he pulled frantically at my Uncle to free him from the beast.
I grabbed the gun lying on the table and without thought pulled the trigger. The sound of the explosion from the weapon mixed with their screams and I pulled the trigger again... and again. The monster howled a horrifyingly painful scream and fell dead on the kitchen floor.
I fought to catch my breath, staring at the hairy thing lying on the floor and my Uncle spread out in the door way. He was covered in blood, his clothes shredded beyond belief. I was about to cry and our eyes met...
"Happy birthday Jack," he uttered weakly.
"What?" I asked confused and uncertain what he had said.
"He said Happy Birthday Jack," the monster repeated.
As I looked down at the creature that lay inches from where I stood it removed its head revealing the man inside.
"Happy Birthday Jack," Fuzzy and Bobby Joe said simultaneously.
I didn't know what to think as I tried to make sense of it all.
"All this was for you Jack. With your daddy gone I didn't want you to think life wasn't good any more," Uncle Frank explained.
I stood there, my head spinning wildly, and then against all my efforts to the contrary I cried...
I spent every Saturday after that with Uncle Frank and his friends Fuzzy Jamerson and Bobby Joe until I went off to college.
They're long since gone now and I never developed the desire to smoke but every once in awhile in late October when the temperature begins to drop and the leafs begin to turn, I light a cigar and let it burn. I watch the smoke slowly drift up to hang in the air and my mind is filled once more with memories of the old days with my Uncle Frank, his friend Fuzzy Jamerson... Not to mention that Saturday filled with cheeseburgers and werewolves.