Beware the werewolf with teenage angst.
The Amazing Wolf Boy
Cody plans to become a doctor. Instead, he becomes a werewolf. The first time he shows fang and fur, his parents ship him off to podunkville to live with his black sheep uncle. His revised career choice is social hermit. As the new kid, he makes more enemies than friends. His high school teachers label him a trouble maker. The whole town hates him.
Except Brittany. She's beautiful, with her eyes painted black and her lips dark purple. When Brittany discovers his secret, she tries to cure him using crystals, candles, and magic potions. Cody falls head-over-tails in love, but he can never tell her. Girls like her aren't for him. He's the amazing wolf boy. Astound your family and mystify your friends.
While Cody moons over Brittany, a murderous pack of lycanthropes howl into town. They want Cody to join them. When he refuses, they kidnap Brittany and threaten to kill her at moonrise. Cody must master his untried superpowers or the girl he loves dies. Can he defeat the pack and save both their lives?
I’ll never forget the night my life ended.
It was Christmas Eve, 2007, and I was in France with my parents at Maison Kammerzell, one of those fancy historic restaurants. The room glowed with plastic icicles. Ropes of apples and mistletoe hung from the ceiling. My tie felt like a noose and my suit coat a straitjacket.
We were dining on le Reveillon, a holiday feast of roast capon, which is a castrated chicken, and boudin blanc, which always tastes like vanilla pudding to me. My mother waved her hands as she described in detail the Christmas decorations at the Charity Ball she chaired. I love my mother, I really do, but give her a glass of wine and she can outtalk an auctioneer. My father listened with a rapt expression, letting her build up steam. I thought about my DS back in the hotel room. Out the window, beyond the reflection of red and gold holiday lights, I saw a full moon.
As if someone threw a switch inside my head, my senses came alive. The room rang with the clink of china and crystal. The string quartet, whose Christmas Carols had gone all but unheard in the hectic atmosphere, now played sharp and clear.
Scents rose from my table and mixed with those from surrounding tables. I put down my fork, staring at my plate. My nose told me that the poor, mutilated rooster I’d been eating was stuffed with rosemary. The bird reeked. I couldn’t believe I’d put that in my mouth. It made my skin crawl. For real. I could see the hair on the back of my hands stand up.
Hair on my hands? When did that happen?
Before I thought of a satisfactory explanation, agony gripped me. I clutched the sides of my head. It felt as if my skull cracked open, as if someone pulled off my face. My teeth ached so bad I couldn’t close my lips. Drool dribbled down my chin. I covered my mouth with my hands and froze.
It didn’t feel like me. The nose was flat. The jaw protruded. I ran my tongue over my teeth. They were long and sharp. Like fangs. I leaped to my feet, almost knocking over my chair. While my mother prattled on about the ball, I rushed from the table.
My only thought was to hide. It might have made sense to yell for help, both my parents are doctors, but I didn’t want the other diners to see me. So I zigzagged through the tables with my napkin to my face, dodging curious stares. Panic churned the over-spiced food in my stomach.
I reached the lobby. A couple came in arm-in-arm through the door, and another couple greeted them. They laughed and shook hands, blocking the exit. A man stepped out of the men’s room, while two others went inside. Couldn’t hide there. Too busy. The smell of leather and fur radiated from the coatroom. When the distracted coat-check girl turned her back, I ducked inside.
Excruciating pain wracked my body. Every muscle clenched and twisted. I felt as if my bones shrank and elongated at the same time. Sweat poured from my skin. I tore off my suit coat and unbuttoned my shirt, gasping as cool air hit my chest. Trapped in a sort of mental haze, I climbed behind the mink and sable wraps.
My father’s voice snapped me to wakefulness. “I’m looking for my son, Cody.”
It sounded like he was at the front desk. I could walk that far. Still sweating, I got to my feet.
All four feet.
I yelped, and the sound that burst from my throat was not human. I stared at sleek silver paws. As I stumbled forward, my pants slid from my hindquarters.
“Cody? Are you in here?” my father called.
Before I saw him, I smelled him—from his shampoo to his shoe polish to the residue of dinner that clung to his pores. He stood in the doorway of the coatroom, his face unreadable. Then he said, “For crying out loud.”
Not knowing what else to do, I barreled past my father into the restaurant lobby. My paws clattered on the smooth floor, and my hind legs skittered sideways. I saw wood paneling and spiral staircases. People stood everywhere. Someone screamed. The maître d' shouted something I couldn’t understand.
Then I caught a puff of chilled, fresh air. I scraped and skidded toward the door, trying to spread my weight over four legs, and accidentally slammed my shoulder into a man’s hip. He fell, and the impact bounced me into a twenty-foot Christmas tree. One of my hind feet snagged a strand of holiday lights; the tree swayed and tinkled.
I bounded out the open door, leaping for freedom, and hitting the pavement on all fours. Lights flashed and dazzled my eyes. The sound of traffic roared. The stench of motor oil and hot rubber rose in swells. Pedestrians came from all directions. They trampled me and cussed, or jumped back like I was rabid. I scrambled to get out of the way.
I scented water and remembered passing a fountain on the way to the restaurant. I headed toward the smell at a trot, thinking it would be quieter there, and caught my reflection in a storefront window.
I was a dog. A large, silver dog with a short yellow tail. How could it be true? It had to be a dream.
Keep to the sidewalk. Try to look inconspicuous. Just a big fluffy pet wearing a necktie. My tongue lolled to the side. I closed my mouth but it dropped open again, as if my teeth were too large to contain.
The fountain was not as deserted as I hoped. It was a meeting place for lovers. Some of the girls squealed and pointed. Several couples hurried away. Maybe they thought I had rabies. I stood there, not knowing where to go or what to do. I felt scared and confused.
But also intrigued. I smelled fear on the people who stared at me, tasted their mingled scents on the breeze. I wanted to chase them just to see how fast they’d run.
What was wrong with me?
The wail of sirens rose over the street noise. Weird sirens, not normal ones like in Massachusetts. I never missed home more than at that moment. If I could just wake up, I knew I would find myself in my own bed. That thought held me, and I must have spaced. A moment later, two cars screeched to the curb. Several uniformed men hopped out. One held a lasso on a stick. They walked in my direction.
“I need help,” I shouted. “Something’s wrong.”
Only, that’s not what came out. I frowned, replaying the rough sounds that burst from my throat. The men surrounded me, holding their arms from their sides like they were fences. I decided to try talking again. Maybe if I said something in Dog it would come out as English.
“Woof,” I barked. “Woof, woof, woof.”
The nearest guy tried to loop his lasso over my head. I dodged. He swung again, and I backed into one of the men. He wasn’t a very good fencepost—he went down beneath my weight.
I spun about, intending to speed away, but my hind legs ran faster than my front. I skittered around the fountain like I was running on ice. The bystanders scattered. The men spread
out, cornering me. A growl rose in my chest; my teeth bared themselves. Without thinking, I jumped. No, I soared. Right over their heads. Came down running and didn’t stop.
I heard shouts and the thud of heavy footsteps, but after a while, the sounds faded. I didn’t slow down. My nose led me to a brick-paved alley, and I tore through it, trying to catch up with myself. It was like if I could run fast enough, far enough, I might leave the nightmare behind.
After a time, pain overcame my horror, and I limped to a halt. My overexerted muscles screamed, and my paws felt raw and stone bruised. I was still in the labyrinth of byways, enmeshed in the rich odors of garbage. I saw recessed doors and bicycles leaning against walls.
Townhomes. Everyone asleep. Visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads.
My holiday dinner curdled in my stomach. I was thirsty. Someone left out a dog bowl, and the water was almost irresistible. I refused it. I would not drink like an animal.
With an almost drunken stagger, I continued to walk. The alley was bright. I looked up at the brilliant, full moon.
Tears burned my eyes. I wanted to cry. But I was sixteen years old. I hadn’t cried since I was a kid. Besides, if I started, it might sound like I was howling, and I couldn’t handle that.
In a doorway, I curled into a ball and put my paws over my muzzle.
* * *
I awoke to a frigid dawn. I was human. I was also naked. All I wore was my necktie from the previous night.
My body convulsed with shivers as I stumbled down the alleyway. I had to get to my parents before I died of exposure. There was no traffic so early in the morning. The street lamps were still lit. I stood in the shadows, searching for a signpost, a landmark, anything familiar. I didn’t know Strasbourg well, although I’d visited before.
While I considered how to get from point A to point B, a squad car pulled up the alley behind me. Some early riser must have seen me streak past their window.
I raised my arms over my head and shouted, “I’m an American,” as the police officer stepped toward me.
His eyes were amused. At least, he didn’t draw his gun. “You look cold,” he said in a thick French accent. His gaze settled on my shriveled shrinky dink.
I dropped my hands, covering myself. “I was…I am…” I wanted to tell him I was mugged and my clothes were stolen, but I was shivering so hard, I couldn’t get the words out.
He opened his trunk and removed a long, heavy coat. Perhaps he didn’t feel it was cold enough to wear such a garment. He tossed it to me, and I put it on. The coat was as icy as the air. If anything, I felt colder. He ushered me to the car and opened the door. I balked. I didn’t want to go to jail.
“My parents are staying at the Sofitel,” I managed to say.
“Oui. Your family contacted us regarding your disappearance and your mental aberration.” He pushed me inside with a practiced hand atop my head and slammed the door.
The car was so small I had to slouch to fit. The backseat smelled like vomit. There was no heat. The officer got in front and spoke French into his radio. I hugged my arms and puzzled over his previous words.
Mental aberration? Is that what happened? Had I only thought I was a dog? That would explain my father’s annoyed reaction when he saw me in the coatroom. The idea comforted me, as if being crazy was better.
By the time we reached the police station, I felt warm within the coat. The officer helped me out of the vehicle and up the stairs. Noise burst to greet us as he opened the door. The station was crowded despite it being dawn on Christmas morning. I walked at his side past the front desk, garnering more than a few stares. He led me down a corridor decorated with a line of threadbare tinsel taped to the wall. The floor was gritty and cold. We stopped at an office with Captain Jean Luc Boudreaux stenciled on the window. Inside, I saw my parents get to their feet. My mother’s eyes were puffy as if she’d been crying.
“Mom.” I wanted to go to her and hug her, but the look she shot me was not inviting.
My father handed me a fleecy jogging suit. I slipped on the pants, and then passed the coat to the officer. He accepted with a nod.
A bald man I assumed was Captain Boudreaux stood from the desk. “So we find the little boy and all is well, no?”
Wincing at the words little boy, I sat to tie my shoes. I felt invisible. No one spoke to me. My father signed a pack of paperwork. I imagined it like a receipt, like he was pulling a wayward puppy out of the pound. And just like that, we were free to go. Before I knew it, we were back at the hotel.
I wanted to talk about the night before, wanted to figure out what had happened, but I was still getting the silent treatment. My mother paced the room, avoiding my eyes. I stood at the door, wondering how to broach the subject.
At last, I said, “Am I crazy?”
“Don’t ever think that,” said my father.
“I must be.” I took a step into the room and held out my hands. My palms were raw from a night of running on all fours. “I thought I turned into a dog.”
“A wolf,” my mother snapped. “You turned into a wolf.”
Her tone was both disgusted and accusing, as if it were my fault, as if I’d been playing around. I was so taken aback it took a moment for her words to sink in.
“Wolf?” I remembered the full moon. “As in werewolf?”
But aren’t werewolves vicious monsters?
She stopped to face me, straightening her shoulders. “Your father and I have talked it over, and we feel it would be better for everybody if you went to live with your uncle in Florida.”
“What?” I stood there, dumbfounded. “I can’t live with him. I only met him once.”
“It’s for your own good.”
“But what about my life? What about school?”
“They have schools in Loxahatchee,” she shouted.
Loxahatchee. As if there were such a place.
Tears filled my eyes for the second time in as many days. “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe you’d send me away.” I expected them to take me to a doctor, or even a psychiatrist. But this?
“We already have your ticket,” my father said. “We’ll arrange for a car to pick you up at the airport and take you to Bob’s house.”
Uncle Bob. The black sheep. The only thing I knew about him was that he sometimes hit my mother up for money.
“You aren’t coming?” I said, sounding like the little boy the captain had branded me.
My parents turned away.
So there you have it. My life was over. Not literally, of course. But as I stared out the window of the jumbo jet at the spreading void of Everglades below, I knew nothing was going like I planned.
I stood on my uncle’s porch, suitcase in hand, and pounded the door. No response. I felt like an idiot. Guess I wasn’t expected. Or maybe this wasn’t the right place.
My car and driver were gone. There were no other houses in sight. What looked like solid jungle bordered the yard. I walked along a wooden rail and peered through a curtainless window. The shadows inside were still.
With a groan, I sank onto a porch swing that hung by rusted chains. I was tired, and I hadn’t eaten since the capon the previous night. The jogging suit made me sweat in the Florida heat.
Miserable, I looked at an orange and purple sunset. It would be night soon. Would I change into a wolf again? I winced and pushed the thought from my brain. Where was my uncle, anyway? Probably at a party. It was hard to remember it was Christmas Day.
Maybe he hoped to avoid me. Maybe I wasn’t wanted.
Daunted by that thought, I walked around the side of the house. A window was open. Pale curtains fluttered like ghosts. I leaped for the frame and caught the sill, but couldn’t pull myself up. Grit stung my hands. I returned to the porch, stomped to the door, and knocked until it rattled. In desperation, I tried the knob. It was unlocked.
“Hello?” I stepped inside.
The house smelled like a dog. I wondered if my uncle had a pet. One look around the dim interior and I realized why he hadn’t locked the door. There was nothing to steal.
A battered recliner sat in the middle of the living room. Beside it was a metal TV table with a twelve-inch television on top. Probably black and white. I longed for the forty-two inch plasma in my room at home.
On top of the TV, a large jawbone gripped a stack of newspapers. Like a freaking paperweight. I wondered to what animal it had belonged. Maybe an alligator. My shoulders sagged. I dropped my suitcase, closed the door, fumbled for a light switch and found one that turned on a chandelier in an empty dining room. Only two of the bulbs lit.
A note was stuck to the television screen. It was addressed to me.
Cody, I couldn’t wait any longer for you to arrive. I have somewhere to be tonight. I know you understand. Your room is to the right. Make yourself at home. We’ll talk in the morning. Glad to have you here, boy. — Uncle Bob
Relieved, I picked up my suitcase and went to my room. I hesitated at the door. There was a wrought iron bed. No sheets. No pillows. No blinds on the windows. I sat on the mattress. My mom said she would ship my things when she got back from vacation. I hoped she wouldn’t, hoped she would reconsider my banishment.
Besides, where would I keep anything?
With a sigh, I peeled off my soggy sweatshirt and put on a tee with Recycle America printed on the front. The closet had no hangers, so I hung the sweatshirt on the bedpost to dry and set off for the kitchen. It was easy to find—I just followed the draft. The window above the sink was open. Beyond it, the sky darkened. My stomach did a somersault, and I wasn’t sure I could eat.
I needn’t have worried. The cupboard held a couple of mugs and a large jar of instant coffee. There was a white Formica table in the corner. It had four chairs, two of them tucked against the wall. There were coffee-ring stains on top along with a chromed, old-style toaster. Maybe there was bread. I searched the cupboard again, and then turned to the refrigerator. It held three beers and a bottle of ketchup.
“Cripes!” I slammed the refrigerator and stormed into my room. I decided to call my mom, had the cell phone in my hand. I didn’t know whether I would beg her to take me back or tell her off for sending me to Podunk land.
A sudden sharpening of my senses stopped me. I froze. I heard crickets and birds, smelled dust and the rich damp earth. Muscles squirmed beneath my skin. It was happening again. Oh, God, I couldn’t stand it. Frantic, I yanked open the bedroom window, climbed outside, and sprinted for the line of palm trees. My legs felt like they shattered with each step. I dove for cover, and then writhed in agony. I thought it would never end.
Then it did. I looked at my silver paws, and then placed them over my eyes. I needed help. But there was no one. There was nothing I could do.
A breeze ruffled my fur. I smelled flowers, stagnant water, and rabbit spoor. I heard insects in the brush and opossums in the trees. A bird let out a screech that made me feel I was in Africa.
The wind invited me to run with it. I refused. I didn’t want to wake up naked and lost again. Drenched in sweat, I stood and stepped out of my shoes. My bulky jogging pants slipped off my narrow hindquarters. Then I realized I still wore my T-shirt. I tried to grab it with my teeth, but only succeeded in spinning. I tried again and spun the other way.
A snarl twisted my muzzle. This was ridiculous. I threw myself onto my back, then wriggled and kicked, my hind legs digging my chest. The shirt would not come off.
I sat defeated in my Recycle America tee. The amazing wolf boy. No wonder no one wanted me.
The tears started. I couldn’t stop them. I cried like I hadn’t a friend in the world. It sounded like I bayed at the moon.
* * *
I awoke in the bushes, covered in dew. The sky was a soft gray. Birds sang in the trees.
My eyes burned, and I rubbed them as I looked toward the silent house. A blue pickup truck with an extended cab sat in the gravel driveway. I wondered if it belonged to my uncle. I had heard that my mother sent Bob money to buy a truck. I’d assumed it was a tricked-out show vehicle. This one looked like it was accustomed to hard work.
I dressed in a hurry, and then crossed the yard and climbed through my bedroom window. Noise came from the kitchen. My stomach fell. I was almost as apprehensive about seeing my uncle as I was about turning into a wolf.
I went to the kitchen. Uncle Bob stood at the sink making a cup of instant coffee with hot tap water. He had steel gray, over-the-collar hair and a thin build.
I cleared my throat. “Good morning.”
“Cody. Good to see you, boy.”
He held out his hand, and I shook it. His palms were heavily calloused. I wondered what he did for a living.
“Hey, you got tall,” he said with my mom’s smile.
I tried to smile back, but it felt like a grimace. Yeah, I got tall, seeing’s how the last time he saw me I was four years old.
“You have grass in your hair,” he said.
My hands jerked up, and I stammered, “Oh, I was, ah—”
“Want some coffee?”
“No, sir,” I said, and then blurted, “There’s nothing to eat.”
He slurped. “What, you didn’t eat last night?”
I frowned. Had he expected me to exist on airline food?
“I ate.” He patted his stomach. “Had me a nice rabbit dinner. Nothing better than fresh caught.”
“You like to hunt?”
“Sure. Don’t you?”
I’d never been hunting in my life. But I hoped to fit in, so I said, “I fish.” Although I hadn’t since I was ten.
“Fish?” He scrunched his face. “To each his own, I guess. Why don’t we go into town and get some breakfast.”
“Can I go like this?” I indicated my damp sweat pants and stretched out tee.
He shrugged. “This is South Florida. You can go in your skivvies if you want.”
We walked together into the gray morning. My nose twitched with flower-scented humidity.
“This will give me a chance to show you around.” Uncle Bob circled the cab of his truck.
I sat shotgun and buckled in. The first thing I noticed was the truck didn’t have a radio. The second was a baseball bat on the floor. I didn’t think it was there for sport. A knotted leather cord dangled from the rearview mirror. Feathers and animal fangs decorated its length.
“What’s that?” I motioned.
He winked. “Trophies.”
I nodded like it was normal to keep mementoes of road kill. I saw why my parents considered him a black sheep.
We lurched along the rutted roads that led out of the neighborhood, and finally pulled onto asphalt where we picked up speed. Outside my window, the landscape turned alien. It wasn’t like I’d never been in Florida. I visited Miami Beach plenty of times—blue water, white sandy beaches, high-rises. This was nothing like that. One minute we’d be in a jungle so thick you couldn’t see past the trees. The next, we’d be in a flat expanse of scrub and sawgrass that stretched for miles.
As if he sensed my bewilderment, my uncle said, “This here’s the northernmost tip of the Everglades. We got our share of ’gators. They’re surprisingly fast on land so don’t antagonize them. We’re also getting a nasty population of Burmese pythons.”
“Snakes?” Was this a joke? “I thought they lived in the rainforest.”
“Well, people think they can dump any old thing.” His voice trailed.
“Like that urban myth,” I said. “Alligators in the sewers.”
“Except this ain’t no myth.” He grew quiet for a moment, and then said, “It’s happening all over South Florida. People take things as pets and then tire of them. I heard they’re finding Japanese lionfish off shore. They’re that fish you usually see in home aquariums. If they don’t get them out of our waters, the buggers will ruin the reefs. They’re vicious predators.”
I added to the short list of things I knew about my uncle. He liked to hunt, he was an environmentalist, and he didn’t listen to music.
We passed a few crossroads. None had street signs.
Uncle Bob motioned toward one. “That way takes you to Belle Glade and the sugarcane fields. When they’re harvesting, it smells like burning syrup. If you go down that road, you’ll run into the back end of the safari park. It’s a four-mile preserve, sort of a drive-through zoo. All kinds of animals.”
“Do they ever get out?”
“I never heard of a lion getting loose, but you’ll see a runaway monkey from time to time. And their peacocks are everywhere. You probably heard them last night.”
I winced. I’d heard plenty of strange sounds last night, but I hadn’t been myself.
Bob pointed down another road. “That way leads to the Sunspot nudist camp.”
I sputtered. “As in no clothes?”
“They’re nice people. I don’t want you bothering them.”
I shook my head. “Never met a nudist before.”
“They’re like anybody else.” He grinned. “Only nekked.”
We stopped at a traffic light. There weren’t many other cars.
“This is Southern Boulevard,” Uncle Bob told me. “You’ll find most of what you need along here.”
I nodded and hoped I wouldn’t be around long enough to need anything. He was right, though. There were stores and chain restaurants I recognized. It was like a regular city, only in miniature.
We pulled into a parking lot for the Coffee Café. The pavement was cracked; foot-high grass sprouted through the fissures. There were only two other cars. One of them was a convertible with leather seats baking in the heat. The other had Sheriff stenciled on the side.
I hopped from the truck and circled around. If this was anything like home, cops usually knew the best places to eat. Uncle Bob seemed pensive as we approached the door.
Almost as if he’d waited for us, the sheriff came out of the diner. He had white hair and a mustache. “Morning, Robert. Who do we have here?”
“Hello, Brad,” my uncle said with no trace of a smile. “This is my nephew, Cody. He’ll be staying with me.”
“How do you do, sir?” I said.
He looked me up and down, ignoring my outstretched hand. “Well, young man. Let me know if you have any trouble settling in.”
“Thank you, sir.” I moved to step around him.
He blocked the door. “We like to think of Loxahatchee as the town that doesn’t ask too many questions. But that’s not to say anything goes. I like to keep things quiet, you know what I mean?”
“Yes, sir. I do,” I said.
“Excuse us, Brad,” my uncle said. “The boy here is mighty hungry.”
We stepped into the café. It smelled of coffee and pancake syrup. The room was dim compared to the bright morning.
I stood in the entryway and replayed the conversation with the sheriff. I had the impression Sheriff Brad didn’t much like my uncle—and by extension, me.
From across the room, a waitress called, “Bobby, nice to see you, hon. I have a table for you over here.”
We squeezed into the booth she indicated. It was by a window that overlooked the street. Stripes fell through the slats of the blinds, the light tinted pink by a transparent Santa Claus painted on the glass.
“How was your birthday? Good?” She poured my uncle a cup of coffee.
“Wonderful. My sister surprised me with the best gift ever.” He gave her a wide smile. “Anne, this is Cody. He’s staying with me. I want you to set him up with a tab, anything he wants, and I’ll tally up at the end of the month.”
They both looked at me as if I should gush with enthusiasm over my uncle’s generosity.
“Umm. I don’t really like coffee,” I managed to say.
Uncle Bob laughed. “Then get him chocolate milk. What kid doesn’t like chocolate milk?”
“One chocolate milk coming up,” Anne said over her shoulder as she hurried away.
They looked so pleased I didn’t have the heart to tell them I didn’t care for milk either. I rarely ate breakfast at home, just grabbed a Dew on the way to school.
When Anne brought my food, however, I was ravenous. I had eggs, sausage, pancakes, and a bowl of white soupy stuff my uncle called grits. It all tasted great. I couldn’t get it in my mouth fast enough.
My uncle chuckled as he snagged a piece of my toast. “I guess I forgot what it’s like to be a growing boy.”
I nodded and polished off my milk.
“After winter break, we’ll take you over to Seminole Bluffs and get you signed up for high school,” he said. “It won’t be like those prep schools you’re used to, but it has a good reputation.”
I set down my fork, suddenly losing my appetite. My prep school, as he called it, was going to get me into Harvard. I planned to become a doctor like my parents. How would that happen now? How could I go to a normal high school, act like a normal kid?
I sensed his eyes upon me and scrambled to hide my emotions. “Do they have extracurricular activities? I was president of the Science Club at home.”
“Sports.” He shrugged. “Home of the Hawks.”
My shoulders deflated. I liked sports, but I’d never be mistaken for an athlete. Too thin. And in spite of my dad’s assurances that I would grow to be taller than him, I was average height. Still waiting for that growth spurt. Uncle Bob stared at me, so I cast about for something else to say. “Will a bus pick me up?”
“Don’t think it comes out my way, now that you mention it.” He rubbed his chin. “Do you have a driver’s license?”
“I have a learner’s permit,” I told him.
“Good.” He stretched and draped his arm over the back of the booth. “I saw something the other day you might like. Hope it’s still for sale.”
I looked at him, my stomach doing a little flip. Was he buying me a car?
“Finished?” He motioned at my empty plate. “Let’s go have a look.”
We left the café and drove along a side street lined with pink and aqua houses. Icicle lights hung from the garages. Deflated plastic snowmen lay puddled on the driveways. A flock of wild parakeets flitted from tree to tree like a green cloud.
Uncle Bob pulled the truck up to a house with a yard sale out front. Rows of folding tables filled the lawn. Grass grew around their legs and gave the impression that the tables were permanent fixtures. They were piled with everything from clothing to dishes.
A man came out of the garage with yet another box of stuff to add to the disorder. He wore cut-off jeans and a Dolphins football jersey. His dark hair hung in a long ponytail down his back. I thought he looked Native American.
Uncle Bob got out of the truck and slammed the door. The man glanced over, and his broad face broke into a smile. He hugged my uncle like a brother. They slapped each other’s backs.
“Open for business the day after Christmas?” Uncle Bob said. “Aren’t you cutting the holidays a bit short?”
He shrugged. “Ah, well, it’s not my religion.” Then he looked at me. His eyes narrowed.
“Cody, my nephew,” Uncle Bob told him. “He’s down from Massachusetts.”
“He has your aura.” The man nodded as he circled me. “Yes, indeed.”
Uncle Bob draped his arm across my shoulders and dropped his voice. “Cody, Howard here is a friend. Best friend you can have. If you ever get in trouble, anything at all, he’s the man to see.”
“Day or night.” Howard raised his hand in a solemn promise.
I nodded and wondered how friendly either of them would be if they knew my secret. “Thank you, sir.”
“Welcome.” He glanced about as if he just noticed his yard. “I’d like to chat, but I have more junk to display.”
“Need a hand?” asked my uncle.
“No, I’ve got it. Why don’t you two look around?” Howard returned to his garage.
As if that were his cue, Uncle Bob set off through the cramped rows. It wasn’t easy to keep up. I couldn’t imagine why we were there. Howard labeled his wares junk, and he couldn’t have been more right. He must have an army of kids to accumulate so many cast-offs.
My uncle cocked his head as he peered beneath the tables. At last, he said, “Here it is. This is what I was telling you about.” He pulled out a rickety bicycle.
I took a step back. “It’s a bike.”
“Yeah. You’ll need something to get around on.”
“But it’s a bike. I don’t need a driver’s license to ride a bike.”
“You need identification. I don’t want you to pedal around without ID.” He rolled the bicycle back and forth. Both tires were flat. “Hey, Howard. How much?”
“Twenty-five dollars,” Howard called back.
“No, no, no. How much for me?”
Uncle Bob sat on the bike. It gave an ominous creak. “I’ll give you ten.”
Howard raised a hand in acceptance and disappeared once more into the depths of his garage.
With a wink and a grin, Uncle Bob handed me the bike and slapped me on the shoulder. “What else does he have around here? Do you need anything?”
I could have laughed. What could I possibly need? Here I was in South Florida with a suitcase full of winter clothes. “Hangers. For the closet.”
Bob slung a thick, red blanket over his shoulder. It looked hand woven. He peered into a box. “Ah, bed sheets. How about these?” He pulled out a set of mustard-yellow sheets printed with Scooby Doo.
I made a face. No way would I sleep on something like that.
“Come on.” He laughed. “What kid doesn’t like cartoons?”
We ended up with quite a haul. Besides the bike and bedding, we picked up some bowls and plates for the kitchen and some extra towels for the bath. I found a decent pair of jeans and a few T-shirts.
Howard claimed we owed eighty-eight dollars, but Uncle Bob talked him down to twenty-seven. We packed everything into the back of the pickup and said good-bye.
As I climbed into the truck, I felt dazed. Everything happened so fast. It was like if I bought those few things, I was agreeing to stay. Only I couldn’t stay. I wanted to go home.
“Just one more stop.” My uncle smiled as he drove back toward Southern.
I bit my tongue. My frustration erupted in an overwhelming anger at Uncle Bob. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t fair. He was trying to be nice. My exile probably messed up his life as much as mine. The people I should be mad at were my parents—but every time I tried to be, I saw my mother’s puffy, red eyes. I couldn’t blame them. I couldn’t blame anyone.
Uncle Bob pulled into the lot of a Walgreens Pharmacy. Red and green bells hung from the streetlights, and silver tinsel decorated the window. He backed into a spot, parked across the line, and took up two spaces. It didn’t matter. No one else was around.
“Coming in?” he asked as he hopped down from his seat.
I shook my head. “I’ll stay and keep an eye on the bike.”
He thumped the car door as if soothing a rhinoceros. “Won’t be but a minute.” He hurried into the store.
I unlatched my seatbelt and slouched. Sweat trickled down my back. It was hot and humid. The morning haze burned off and left the sky a brilliant blue. I glanced at my watch. It was still set for France. Six o’clock. My parents would be getting ready for dinner. I took out my cell phone. The screen said it was twelve noon.
Without really planning to, I dialed my mom’s number. It rang four times. When it went to voicemail, I said, “Mom, this is Cody.” Then my voice failed. I hung up without another word.
Tears burned my eyes, but I blinked hard and nurtured my anger. I leaned out the window toward the lazy flow of passing traffic and listened to other people’s music. I wished I’d put some tunes on my phone, wished I had my mp3 player. When I packed for France, my parents told me I could bring either my iPod or my DS. I chose the DS. Now I rued the day. Total ruage.
Down the street, a Volkswagen Beetle pulled into a shopping center. I noticed it because Beetles weren’t common anymore and because it was painted lime green. The car parked and a girl got out. She wore black and white striped tights, a purple miniskirt, and a black tee cut to reveal her midriff. Her hair was short and angular. She was the most interesting thing I’d seen in this backwoods town. She went into Video Stop, a store where you bought and traded used videos.
My uncle wrenched open the driver’s side door. It startled me. He flipped his seat forward and piled some bags into the backseat. I glimpsed a box of Cap’n Crunch cereal and a jug of chocolate milk.
He climbed in and started the truck. “Anywhere you want to go while we’re out?”
“No, sir,” I said, my thoughts still on the girl.
“Then we’ll head home.” He beamed at me like it was a special treat.
We took a different route back. This time, we passed through orange groves. Fruit filled the trees. Their branches drooped. It smelled phenomenal, like perpetual breakfast. Then we reached a patch with the trees picked clean. They appeared diminished somehow.
Uncle Bob slowed to get around a pair of horses. “We’ve got some nice stables here. That’s how the Council hopes to lure more residents. Like it isn’t crowded enough.”
I looked in the side-view mirror at the girls riding the horses. They wore shorts and tank tops in spite of it being winter.
There were worse places to be exiled. But none of the girls were for me. I was the amazing wolf boy. Astound your family and mystify your friends. I wasn’t the kind of kid anyone would date. I thought about Video Stop girl.
Minutes later, we pulled onto the gravel drive of my uncle’s house. Trees rustled in the breeze. Birdsong filled the air.
“Do you own this place?” I asked.
“No. I rent. You know how it is. I don’t want to be bogged down if I have to move on.” He pulled the bags from the back. “Get the door for me, will you?”
I skipped up the steps and opened the front door. Unlocked again. Bob carried the bags into the kitchen and set them on the table. He’d gotten other things to eat—Spaghetti-Os, bread, peanut butter. He also bought a dozen coat hangers and a couple of twenty-six inch bicycle inner tubes.
“You’re probably used to a live-in housekeeper to cook and clean for you,” he said as he put the food into the cupboard.
“No,” I said. “Mom handled everything.” I didn’t add that we had a cleaning service come in three times a week.
“We don’t have anyone on staff here, either.” He looked at me. “We don’t even have a dishwasher. So here’s the thing. You clean up after yourself or you don’t. Whatever. But the rule is, you don’t complain about it. The place gets to be a mess, you don’t complain. You want something, you either get it or you don’t complain. You need help, you ask or—”
“Don’t complain,” I said. “Got it.”
“Good.” He clapped me on the back. “Let’s go get the rest of your stuff.”
We went to the truck where he loaded me up with clothes, towels, and bedding. The blanket made my nose itch, and I wondered if its last owner had been a horse. I carried everything inside. But as I reached my room, I stopped.
Evidence. That’s what I held in my arms. Physical proof that I lived there. If anyone saw this, I would be lost. I sat on the edge of the bed, afraid to set the stuff down, and thought about running away. My dad always gave me my allowance via a debit card. I had enough in the account for a bus ticket home. I could live in the bathhouse. My parents would never know I was there.
Until my friends came calling.
I groaned and thought about my friends, all of them enjoying holiday break with families who didn’t want to send them away, all of them looking forward to nighttime without worrying
about what kind of monster they might become. This was a nightmare. How could anyone turn into a wolf? It was impossible.
I sat up straight. Yes, it was impossible. This couldn’t be real. And if I was stuck in some sort of dream, all I could do was keep moving forward until I woke up. In the spirit of my new resolution, I made my bed with the Scooby sheets and placed the thick, red horse blanket on top. I stared at it and hoped no one would ever come into my room. Then I went outside to look for my uncle.
I found him in the backyard by a tool shed. The bike was upside down. Uncle Bob knelt beside it. He grunted as he tightened the chain. He’d repaired the tires. I also noticed his shed was better stocked than shop class when I was a kid. There were three cabinets on wheels, each drawer labeled, and racks of wrenches on the walls.
I crouched at his side. “How’s it going?”
“Almost done,” he said.
I tried to picture myself wheeling up and down Southern Boulevard. “Maybe we should have bought a bicycle lock.”
He smiled. “No one’s going to steal this beauty.”
I thought he was probably right.
He set the bike erect and bounced it a couple times. “Want to take it for a spin?”
“Maybe later,” I said. “It’s not really my thing.” I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been on a bike.
He turned away with a sigh. I recognized the sound—I’d stretched his patience. I wasn’t being the appreciative guest.
Keep moving forward, I told myself.
He wiped his hands on a shop cloth and put away his tools. Then he locked the shed with a heavy padlock. It figured he would lock his tools but not the house.
“I keep the key here.” He showed me a notch in the roof. “In case you need anything.”
“I don’t know much about tools,” I said. “But I’d like to learn.”
“I’d like to teach you.” His face eased into a smile. “Are you hungry? I make a mean grilled peanut butter sandwich.”
I nodded. “Sounds good.”
We ate our sandwiches in front of the television as we watched women’s volleyball. I didn’t know they televised that sport. Despite the spectacle of bounding booties, however, I couldn’t keep my mind on the game.
I worried about the coming dark. Would I change again? I thought werewolves only changed during the full moon, but last night was the day after. Would I change every night for the rest of my life?
I needed more information. If I had my computer, I could surf the Web. But, no, I was out here in the Everglades with nothing and no one. I would have to do research the old-fashioned way. Tomorrow, I would look for a library.
First things first. I couldn’t risk shape changing with my uncle around. I had to either find an excuse to leave the house or get him out of the way.
So it was a relief when, later that afternoon, Uncle Bob said, “I’m going out tonight. Would you like to come along?”
“Ah, no. Thanks,” I said.
“Come on. It will be great. I’ll show you a good place to fish.”
“No, really,” I said. “I think I’ll hang out here and relax.”
“Another time, then.”
And just like that, he was in the truck and down the driveway—and I was alone, sitting before his flickering black-and-white TV as I awaited the night.
I rocked on the creaking porch swing until the sky turned purple and the crickets came out. It was like waiting for a bomb to drop. I was scared, and the more scared I felt, the angrier I got. I was not going to change into a wolf. I didn’t deserve this.
I stomped into the house, made a cold Spaghetti-O sandwich, and ate it over the sink. The kitchen window was open. It let in a variety of smells I wouldn’t have noticed before, from night blooming jasmine to the garbage can behind the shed. I faced the growing darkness as if to stare down an enemy.
My muscles itched to move. I wanted to burst out the door and run as fast as I could, feel my legs stretch beneath me, feel the wind in my face. But I figured that was the wolf in me, eager to get out. So I compromised—I walked. I walked from the kitchen to my bedroom and back again. I turned on every light I could find. Occasionally, I checked to see that hair hadn’t sprouted from my knuckles.
I’d left the television on and soon heard the beginning of a football game. Purdue and Central Michigan. I tried to watch but couldn’t hold still, so I turned up the volume and paced. It was a maddening game. Central Michigan scored four times in the third quarter and still lost. I yelled at the referees, yelled at the sportscasters, tore at my hair, and shredded my uncle’s newspaper. I don’t think I ever felt so angry in my life—and I’m not even a CMU fan. With my rage barely in check, I kept walking.
Sometime after midnight, exhaustion set in. I collapsed face down on my bed, aching and sweaty. The horse blanket itched where it touched bare skin. I didn’t mind. At least, I still had bare skin. It filled me with intense pride. I was human. I had beaten this thing.
With a tired grin, I sat up, pulled out my cell, and called my mom in France.
My father answered. “Hello, Cody.”
“Hi, Dad. Where’s Mom? Is she okay?”
“Yes, she’s…” he hesitated, “taking a shower.”
I heard the lie in his voice. She didn’t want to talk to me. I let it slide. “I’m calling with good news. It’s the middle of the night, and I haven’t turned into a wolf.”
“That is good news.”
“I can come home now.”
He hesitated again. “That’s a little premature, don’t you think, son?”
“Come on. I can control it. I promise it won’t happen again.”
There was a moment of silence as my life flitted across my eyes.
Then my dad said, “It would be better if you stayed in Florida for a while. Spend some time on your own. How are you getting along with Uncle Bob?”
A crushing disappointment hit. They didn’t want me. It had nothing to do with my turning into a wolf. They’d waited for an excuse to get rid of me.
“Cody? Are you there?”
“Yeah. I’m here.”
“Is there anything you need?”
Why did everyone keep asking me that? I rubbed my eyes. “My computer. I need my computer.”
“I’ll see to it.” His voice was cheerful. “Hey, thanks for calling. It’s good to hear from you.”
“Yeah. Enjoy your vacation.”
“We’re cutting it short, actually. Going home today.”
Home. I winced. A lump grew in my throat.
My shoulders sagged. I sat on the edge of my bed, staring at the phone. Call ended. It might as well have said life ended.
What had I done to make my parents hate me? I got decent grades. Never been arrested. Of course, there was the time Mickey Martin and I said we were spending the night in his tree house, and we really went to a party. They were angry about that. But hate?
Maybe I was just no good.
I lowered my face to my hands. I ached all over. Sweat poured from my body and chilled me. Feverish. Over the past year, I’d gotten unexplained fevers. Missed a lot of school because of them. I peeled off my shirt, crawled under the scratchy blanket, and fell into a fitful sleep.
I awoke to the sound of slurping. Sunlight poured through the window. The blanket and sheets lay in tangled heaps on the floor.
My uncle stood in the doorway, drinking coffee. “Morning. Tough night?”
“Guess so.” I sat up, yawning and rubbing my face. My hair felt stiff and stuck up all over. But the fever was gone.
“I need to go to work,” Uncle Bob said. “I have my own business, the Fix-It Guy. Home repairs, light carpentry, that sort of thing. Maybe you’d like to come along. We can make a day of it.”
“That’s really nice, but I kind of planned on biking into town today. I need to learn my way around.”
“Oh. Okay, then. I’ll be back around five.” With a nod, he left.
I listened to him rinse out his cup. Then the front door slammed, and his truck backed down the gravel drive.
I climbed out of bed and stretched, feeling pretty good. Feeling very good, actually. Strong enough to pull the ears off a gundark. I went over my plans for the day. My dad was right—I wasn’t clear of this thing just because I beat the wolf for one night. I needed information. I needed the Web. The library should have Internet access. I showered, ate, and hopped on my bike.
By the time I pedaled out of the neighborhood and reached the paved road, I felt like I was back in the shower. My hair dripped into my eyes, and my shirt clung to my back. I wasn’t used to the bike, wasn’t used to the humidity. My newfound energy had all but left me. But the land was flat. The road was smooth. I made good time the rest of the way into town.
Southern Boulevard was busier than the previous morning, but still not up to big city standards. As I merged with the slow-moving traffic, I set landmarks in my mind. I passed the Coffee Café and the street that led to Howard’s place. To my right was the Walgreens we stopped at. Across the way, I saw the Crestwood Shopping Center. A lime green Beetle sat in the parking lot.
Video Stop girl.
I copped a left so fast, a driver honked at me. My bike coasted as I glided up the driveway and onto the sidewalk. The car was parked near a light pole. I leaned my bike against a wall, wiped my palms against my jeans, and stepped toward the store.
A bell dinged as I opened the door. Cool air swept over me. I stood in the entrance and looked around. Movie posters covered the walls, and racks of used DVDs stood in rows.
From behind an Entertainment magazine, a girl said, “Welcome to Video Stop.”
The girl I saw before. She had black, spiky hair and wore a T-shirt with Spear Britney printed across the front. I wanted to stand there and stare at her.
But that would be too weird.
So I walked slowly up and down the aisles, one eye on her. I decided I could get information here as easily as I could at the library. I picked up a copy of Teen Wolf with Michael J. Fox and took it to the counter.
“Hmm.” She tapped the cover. “You know, if you’re interested in werewolf movies, you might like the Ginger Snap series.”
She came around the counter and brushed by me. She smelled like fresh mangoes. Maybe her hair gel. I followed her, feeling self-conscious. She plucked a DVD from the wire rack and held it out.
“I just like to watch movies about werewolves,” I said. “I don’t really care about them or anything.” I took the movie from her without looking at it and backed smack into the shelves behind me, which caused an avalanche of DVDs.
“Hmm,” she said. She knelt to pick them up, and her miniskirt rose up her thighs.
I tore my eyes away and knelt beside her to help with the mess. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.”
“That’s a relief.” She pursed her lips as if holding back a laugh.
“Uh, I’m Cody. What’s your name?”
“Brittany.” She stressed the tany as if I might get her mixed up with the other one.
“You’re really knowledgeable about movies. You must like working here.”
She shrugged. “I only work on school breaks. My mother thinks it will keep me out of trouble. Of course, she didn’t know you were coming in today.”
She cocked a brow at me, but her eyes sparkled, and I knew she wasn’t angry. Together we restocked the upper shelves. Many of the movies didn’t have their original cases, which made it difficult for me to spot their titles. Brittany was a lot quicker at alphabetizing than I was.
She stood back to look at our handiwork. “So, do you want to buy Ginger Snap or not?”
She breezed past me again, and I breathed in her scent. “Cash or credit?” she asked.
I felt a sinking sensation. Were my parents angry enough to cancel my debit card? Brittany stood behind the counter, brows raised, looking at me.
I handed her my card. She swiped it, watched the screen, and then handed it back. The transaction went through.
“Come again.” She smiled.
She had a perfect smile.
I took the bag with the two movies and backed toward the door. “Sorry about…” I gestured with my thumb, “all that.” I bumped into a rack labeled New Arrivals. This time, I only dislodged one movie. As I bent to pick it up, I knocked over a life-sized cutout of Darth Vader.
“It’s all right. I’ll get it.” She hurried toward me. “Just go.”
“Sorry,” I murmured and slipped out the door.
I walked to my bike and leaned against the wall. As far as first impressions went, I’d done worse. Like the time I was shooting baskets and wanted to show off in front of Meredith Taney by hanging from the hoop. Only I missed, seeing how I’m not that tall, and my watch tangled in the net. I just swung there until the backboard came down on my head.
At least, Brittany didn’t seem to think I was a total dork. Closing my eyes, I thought about her smile. She wore purple lipstick. I wondered what it tasted like. Then I looked at the bag with the movies and realized I had no way to play them.
Dork. I shook my head, pulled the bike around, and rode into the street. The Café looked good for lunch. It was busy, but Anne remembered me and gave me a hug. I sat at the counter with a turkey sandwich—fresh sliced, not that pressed stuff—and declared it my new favorite. She seemed pleased.
Anne gave me a milk to go, and I headed back to my uncle’s house. The afternoon was hot—probably in the mid-seventies. I was used to snow. But I kept Brittany’s smile with me as I pedaled, and it passed the time.
When I reached the neighborhood, I decided to tour around. It was tough going. The dirt road was full of small rocks and seashells. The homes were back from the street, some big, some small, some with immaculate lawns, others not so much.
As I approached one house, a dog yapped. An old lady tended a flower garden. The heavy floral scent hung in the humid air. Beside her, the tiny dog barked like he wanted to take my leg off. I frowned. Dogs usually loved me.
I leaned on my pedals to pick up speed when the little dust fluff darted out. I stopped before I ran over him.
“Oh, dear.” The lady hobbled toward us, one hand on her hat. “Roscoe, come here. You naughty boy.” She caught the dog in her arms. His growl sounded like a wind-up toy. His black eyes glared from a mound of tan fur.
“Ferocious,” I said.
“I’m so sorry, young man. I’ve never seen him act like this.”
“No harm done.”
“You must be Cody. I’ve heard so much about you. I’m Edna Binkley. That’s my husband, George, on the porch. He’s confined to a wheelchair. Stroke, you know.”
I blinked. “How do you know my name?”
“The whole town was abuzz about you. But now they’re all talking about that mauling instead.”
“Really? I haven’t heard about a mauling.”
“Gruesome,” she said with obvious enjoyment. “A woman’s body was found down North Road ripped to shreds. Some sort of animal attack. The authorities figure she’d been dead at least two days. Poor thing.”
She continued talking, but a sound buzzed in my head and covered her words. I was a wolf two days ago. Had I murdered a woman? I didn’t think I hurt anyone. Yet both times I became a wolf, I fell asleep. What if I hadn’t slept? What if I blacked out instead?
“So you see why the safari is under investigation,” Mrs. Binkley said.
“Yes, ma’am,” I murmured. I felt like I might puke right there in the street. “Well, I better go.”
“All right, dear.” She smiled, and her little dog glared knowingly in her arms. “Bye, now.”
I made it back to my uncle’s house and left the bike in the yard. I stumbled up the porch steps. How could this be happening? How could I go in just a few days from a normal kid to a monster that killed people?
Once in my room, I fell onto the bed. My head spun. I went over the night I turned into a wolf. I’d made it to the tree line, and I remembered I howled at the moon. Then nothing.
Except during that nothing, I apparently mauled a woman to death.
I considered going to the authorities. But what would I tell them? They thought a wild animal was involved, not a kid. They’d probably laugh. Give Mrs. Binkley something more to gossip about.
My parents must have known this would happen. That’s why they got rid of me. I couldn’t go home. I had to live a life of secrecy. I had to stay away from other people.
The thought brought an image of Brittany with her spiky hair and perfect smile. I felt like she’d just broken up with me. Like I’d lost her—which is crazy because I never had her in the first place.
A thought came to me—wolves mate for life.