WEREWOLF ASYLUM is the second book of my Wolf Boy Series. I was originally going to title it “Problem Parents” because that is what the story is about–three teenagers and the problems they have with their parents. Of course, the teenagers in question are difficult as well–one is a werewolf, one can turn into a bear, and one is a fledgling witch. Add a mad scientist into the mix, and the story really takes off.
You can get WEREWOLF ASYLUM in print or ebook at your favorite bookstore. It’s also available at Audible. Did you know that exercisers who take an audiobook to the gym work out 51% more often than those who don’t? They can’t wait to get back to the story.
Listen to this!
And here’s an excerpt from the book to whet your appetite.
by Roxanne Smolen
April 8, 2008, Loxahatchee, Florida
When I shifted into my wolf form that balmy April night, all I wanted was to escape the hassle of the day. You know, romp through the sawgrass, maybe chase a rabbit or two. I never expected to run into a bear. But there it was, up on its hind legs like it wanted to give me a big hug.
I froze, staring, my teeth bared in greeting. I knew there were black bears in Florida. I lived in the northernmost region of the Everglades. We had panthers, gators, pythons, and bears. But I’d never seen one before. All my fur stood on end, trying to make myself appear bigger, but the bear had me on weight alone.
It swatted me with one frying-pan-sized paw, catching my shoulder. I yelped and tumbled. At that point, any sane person would have run. Unfortunately, the wolf in me took offense. With a low-pitched growl, I leaped at it.
Here’s the difference between bears and wolves. Bears fight with their claws, and for good reason. They’re like a fist-full of daggers. Wolves fight with their teeth. I caught its forearm in my jaws and clamped down. The bear roared. It swung around, trying to shake me off. My backend swished through the air. Blood filled my mouth, hot and slick. I lost my grip and flew against a tree trunk.
Floridian forests aren’t like the forests up north. Back home in Massachusetts, I remember feathery grass, carpets of pine needles, and smooth-barked trees. Down here, we have porcupine palms and saw-palmetto. The ground is spiked with spiny cones. I struck an Australian pine, which isn’t a true pine tree at all, and slid down the trunk. The bark felt like concrete wrapped with razor wire. Tufts of fur scraped off as I fell—which only served to make me madder.
I launched myself at the bear, my jaws snapping at its throat. It batted me away with the strength of a major leaguer. I sprang again, this time spinning in mid-air and striking its chest with my hind legs—a move sure to impress any ninja warrior. My attack staggered it, and it came down on all fours. I climbed aboard, biting the back of its neck. My fangs penetrated the heavy fur. The bear rolled to knock me off, exposing its soft underbelly. I dodged its weight and went for its gut. My teeth caught something strange. I pulled back with some sort of belt in my mouth.
As if it were melting, the bear morphed into a kid. My jaw dropped, and the belt hit the ground. The boy scrambled to his feet. His expression went from shock to alarm and then to determination as he took a fighting stance before me.
My wolf chuckled at that, but my human side filled with questions. Who was he? How did he shift into a bear? I couldn’t wait to tell Brittany, the girl I secretly loved. I started the change back to human before I even made a decision to do it. My muzzle flattened painfully, sinking into my face. My fangs receded. With a liquid sensation, my ears slid down the sides of my head. My transformation was not as smooth as his, but moments later I got to my feet as a sixteen-year-old boy.
His eyes widened, and he took a step back. He looked like he feared me more as an unarmed kid. Then he squared his shoulders and lifted his chin. He was about my height with a weight lifter’s build. Probably had twenty pounds on me. He looked a bit older than I was. We faced each other, and it was weird because we were both naked, yet we weren’t in the shower room at PE or anything.
“Hi.” I tried to sound nonchalant. “I’m Cody Forester.”
“William.” The boy eyed me warily. “I never met a werewolf before. I thought your kind only changed on the full moon.”
I felt a twinge of panic. True, most werewolves only change with the moon. My ability to change at will made me an oddity. A super wolf, my Uncle Bob called it. And a super danger if it got out. Like gunslingers of the Old West, everyone would want a piece of me.
I shrugged, then motioned at the blood dripping down his arm. “Sorry I hurt you.”
Anger flared on the kid’s face. “You didn’t hurt me.”
“Well, you hurt me.” I rotated my shoulder, wincing at the score marks. With a grunt, I picked up the bear hide belt and sat on a nearby log. “So, what are you, like a were-bear?”
William gave an indignant snort and raised his chin even higher. “I am a medicine man, like my father before me. We are able to change into many animals.”
“With this?” I held out the belt.
His eyes flashed, but then he seemed to deflate. He took the belt and sat at the other end of the log.
After a few moments, I said, “Medicine man, eh? What tribe? Miccosukee?”
“I am half Navajo,” he said as if challenging me to deny it.
A creepy feeling crawled into my stomach. My uncle’s best friend was a Navajo medicine man. Without looking at him, I said, “Really? Who’s your father?”
“Garage Sale Howard?” I blurted.
He jumped up, face dark and hands clenched. “My father is a great man.”
“Chill,” I said. “I just know him, that’s all. He’s my uncle’s best friend.”
“Then speak of him with respect.”
“Does he realize you’re out here turning into a bear?”
William shook his head and slumped back down on the log. “He was voted out of the tribe. An outcast. The tribal council says I cannot see him or make contact.”
“That stinks.” I knew all about being an outcast. My parents banished me to Loxahatchee the first time I showed fang and fur.
William said, “Now my mother has taken up with another.”
“Top knot guy.” I met Howard’s rival during a trip to the Miccosukee Indian Village in the Everglades.
“Joseph Achak,” William said with a scowl. “I hate him.”
“No doubt,” I said. “But why are you here?”
“I left. Wanted to be nearer my father. Sometimes I see him.”
“So you live here? In the woods?” I remembered news reports about bear sightings in the city. “Hate to see the media blitz if Child Services finds out.”
“Do I look like a child?”
“Okay,” I said, “so you get hungry and you turn into a bear to eat. I get it. But where do you sleep? You can’t be a bear all the time.”
“I found an old fishing cabin in the Glades,” he said, then looked sorry he told me. “That’s a secret. I don’t want anyone to come looking.”
I nodded. Now we both knew secrets about each other. “You could stay at my house. I live with my Uncle Bob. Howard stops by pretty often.”
“No.” He stood. “No contact.”
“So you’ll defy the tribal council enough to run away from home, but you won’t risk seeing your dad?” I rose to face him, royally ticked off. How could he act like that? I would do most anything to see my dad again.
“Don’t comment on what you don’t understand.” With a scowl, William stomped off into the trees.
All I could do was watch him go.
The next morning dawned blue and breezy. Since I was out late the night before, I overslept my alarm. I made a Cap’n Crunch sandwich to eat in the truck as Uncle Bob drove me to school.
Uncle Bob had steel gray, over-the-collar hair and a thin build. He was known as the Fix-It Guy, a handyman who did odd jobs around town. In his spare time, he was a werewolf, although not many people knew that. I’d lived with him for only four months, but I felt pretty comfortable. He didn’t try to replace my parents. He was more like a close friend looking out for me.
Seminole Bluffs High School seemed blindingly white under the bright sun. Its expansive concrete courtyard had small holes cut out for trees to grow through. The only grassy area was the football field. Home of the Hawks. As we pulled into the drop-off area, I noticed Maxwell and Lonnie hanging around. They looked decidedly nerdy in their button-down shirts. It made me smile. At my prep school back in Cambridge, all the kids looked nerdy. I wondered what they’d think if they saw me now in my garage-sale t-shirt and jeans.
I hopped out of the truck and circled around to pull my bicycle from the back. I’d have to bike it home. My uncle drove me to class most mornings, but he was rarely able to pick me up again. Usually I made plans with Brittany after school. We were study partners, but in my head, we were more. Since she had just gotten out of the hospital, however, she’d probably take off a few more days.
My wolf sense seemed to be on high; I could hear laughter and conversation as far away as the buses. The stench of car exhaust assaulted me, mingled with a miasma of hair gel, perfume, and cigarette smoke.
I bounced my bike onto the curb and raised a hand in farewell. Uncle Bob drove away as Maxwell and Lonnie approached.
“Hey, where you been, man?” Maxwell asked.
I was ready for that. I’d missed the past two days of school, and I’d concocted a story about having the stomach flu, complete with illustrations. But Maxwell didn’t give me time to get into it.
He said, “Is it true your girlfriend was kidnapped by a serial killer down by the old rock quarry?”
“B-Brittany?” I spluttered, not knowing how to answer. I couldn’t tell him the whole story, that the serial killer in question was actually a murderous werewolf, and Brittany was kidnapped to punish me for not joining the pack.
Lonnie said, “Don’t try to deny it, man. It was all over the news.”
“No,” I said, “I mean, she’s not my girlfriend.” Not officially, my thoughts added.
Maxwell blinked and gave his glasses a shove. “Really? I thought you were together.”
“I’d like to be, but—”
“Hi, Maxwell,” a female voice purred. Alitia Carpenter smiled over her shoulder as she walked by, her blonde curls ruffling in the breeze.
“Later, man,” Maxwell told me.
“Seeya,” said Lonnie.
I grinned, shaking my head. As I walked my bike to the rack, I thought about Brittany being my girlfriend. It would be too good to be true. She once told me that she loved me, but I couldn’t count that. We were running for our lives from the pack of werewolves at the time. However, when I visited her in the hospital on Monday, she kissed me. In front of her mother, no less.
Did that mean we were together?
I glanced at the student parking lot. Brittany’s lime-green Volkswagen Beetle wasn’t there. Her car was wrecked in the kidnapping. I felt as responsible for that as I did for her safety.
No. I wouldn’t tell anyone that she was my girl. I didn’t want to jinx it by blabbing it around school.
I left my ratty old bike unlocked, certain that no one would bother to steal it, and headed to Trig. As I had been absent for two days, I was a little behind and had to pay attention in class. It was torture. Mr. Varney had to be the most boring teacher in the world. But I was rewarded for my efforts when I got to World History an hour later and found Brittany there.
She was stunning. Her hair was black and streaked with purple today, and her lips were deep violet. Her dark tank top showed off her pale shoulders and long slim arms. Her miniskirt accented her perfect legs. My heart skipped in circles as I stood there watching her. She was surrounded by a group of chattering, giggling girls. Perhaps they thought she was cool for having her life threatened. She looked up, saw me, and rolled her eyes. I smiled and let her have her moment of fame.
I didn’t see her again until lunch. She sat at our table with her customary tray of yogurt and an apple. I felt so relieved to see her there. It was like everything was back to normal. I picked up a bag of chips and a couple of Dews.
“Hi,” I said as I reached her.
She motioned at the chips. “Is that all you’re having?”
“Hey, it’s potatoes. It counts as a vegetable.” I sat across from her, basking in her smile. Her long bangs trailed into her eyes, not completely hiding the Band-Aid over the stitches on her forehead.
“What?” She laughed, and I realized I’d been staring.
“I like your hair,” I said, “much better than the pink.”
“Oh, I only did that for my mother.”
“Your mother likes bubblegum hair?”
“No.” Brittany grinned. “She hates it.”
I opened my Dew. “I’m really glad to see you, but don’t you think you should have taken off a little more time?”
“I couldn’t stay at home with Grandpa Earle hovering over me. He means well, but…” She cut a slice of apple with a plastic knife and handed it to me.
Earle Meyer was old but a decent guy. He took in Brittany, her little brother Butt Crack, and their mother after a messy divorce.
“Anyway,” Brittany said, “I feel much better. Except my stitches are beginning to itch.”
“Hear anything about the car?” I remembered the panic I felt when I first saw Brittany’s Beetle at the bottom of the cliff at the old rock quarry. Double that when I realized she wasn’t inside.
“It’s not totaled or anything. The bumper is dented, and the trunk is dinged. One headlight is smashed.” She took a bite of apple, leaving purple kisses on the skin. “Because it’s a bug, they’ve had to special order everything. They’ve already got the windshield in. They tried to talk me into the tinted kind, but that didn’t suit Baby.”
“Yeah, as in come on Baby, you can do it.”
I chuckled. I never knew she named her car.
“The real problem is that the tie rod is broken, and it will take time to get the part in,” she said. “Mom got a loaner from the insurance company, but she won’t let me drive yet. She’s making Grandpa chauffeur me around like a little kid. Parents can be such pains.”
“Speaking of parents,” I said, “did you know Howard had a son?”
“I met him last night. I was—”
“Hi, Brittany,” a girl said.
Brittany looked up. “Oh, hi, Katie.”
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard about you on the news,” Katie said. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Brittany said. “Glad it’s over.”
I smiled and nodded as Katie walked away. “Anyhow, I was in the woods and I came across this bear. Only it wasn’t a bear, it was—”
“Brittany, I’m so glad you’re all right.”
Two more girls stopped at our table.
One of them asked, “Were you scared?”
Stupid question. I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead.
“Maybe we can go to the mall after school today,” the other girl said.
“I’d better not,” Brittany told them. “I still get really tired.”
“Oh,” they both crooned and patted her back.
After they left, Brittany said, “So, you met a bear in the woods.”
“William the Bear,” I said.
“No. He turned into a boy. He uses some sort of magic belt.”
She nodded. “A hide belt. Remember? We read about those when we were researching werewolves.”
“Ohmygod, Brittany, you were kidnapped?” a girl squealed as she led three more to our table. “Was he cute?”
“No, Amber. What are you thinking?”
“What kind of thing is that to ask,” I said, my voice rising. “Get out of here. Leave her alone.”
“Well, check out Mister Jealous,” Amber said, although she seemed more amused than miffed.
They walked away.
Brittany said, “Don’t look now, but you have an admirer.”
I glanced around and saw Efrem Higgins sitting at a nearby table. I hated Eff. He hated me, too. Enough to call his football-playing cronies together to play piñata with me. When Eff posted pictures of the beating on MySpace, his coach found out and turned him in. The courts saddled him with one-hundred and twenty hours of community service. And he was kicked off the school football team.
“Yeah,” I said, “he was hanging around in PE, too. All his friends seem to have abandoned him.”
Brittany muttered, “Serves him right, the psychopath.”
“It’s no fun being alone.”
“You’re too forgiving,” Brittany said. “Anyway, I didn’t know Howard had a son, and I think he would have told us. After all, he introduced us to his ex-wife. Maybe we should talk to him about it.”
“Yeah,” I said, and finished my Dew.
Lunch ended, and I reluctantly said goodbye. I kept Brittany in my thoughts the rest of the day—the crinkle of her nose when she smiled, the tilt of her head to keep her bangs out of her eyes. It was almost as good as having her with me.
My last hour was Shop. I dreaded taking the class at first, but I found that I liked working with wood. Besides, all you had to do was show up and you got a passing grade.
I joined Maxwell and Lonnie at their worktable. We’d finished making birdhouses and had progressed to decorative mail caddies, the kind you might set on the kitchen counter to hold the day’s bills.
“No, stupid,” Maxwell told Lonnie as I sat down. “The top is supposed to look like waves, not pumpkin teeth.”
“So,” Lonnie said, “my waves are just a little choppier than yours.”
Maxwell jostled him. “Let me fix it.”
“No.” Lonnie pushed back.
“What do you think, Cody?”
“Well,” I said, studying the misshapen box. “If you paint it yellow, it would look like the sun. You know, the way little kids draw it. Your mom would love that.”
“Yeah.” Lonnie smiled, his eyes lighting as if with fresh inspiration.
Just then, an annoying tone crackled from the intercom, and Vice Principal Overhill said, “May I have your attention, please.”
Maxwell gave Lonnie another shove. Lonnie hip-checked him, sending him staggering. They laughed in hissing whispers.
“Boys,” said Mr. Conklin, the Shop teacher.
“Due to recent tragic events,” said the intercom, “grief counselors will be available to all students for individual sessions from eleven until two. We encourage everyone to make an appointment.”
In an undertone, Lonnie said, “I’ll be grief stricken if it gets me out of class.”
“Right,” Maxwell said. “Our poor, dear friend Brittany. She might have been killed.”
I smirked. “You guys don’t even know Brittany.”
“We know she’s hot,” Maxwell said.
“Double hot,” said Lonnie.
“Besides, what do you care if we get to know her better? Seeing how you two aren’t together.”
“Yeah, man. Study partners. Lunch buddies. You better make your move.”
I nudged him with my shoulder. “I’m working on that.”
Eventually, class ended. I hung around in front of school, hoping to wave goodbye to Brittany, but in the crowd, I must’ve missed her. Disappointed, I hopped on my bike and pedaled down the street.
I didn’t feel like going home to an empty house, although you’d think I’d be used to it. I grew up that way. Both my parents are doctors, and they were never home when I lived with them. Now that I was older, I had choices, so I headed toward Howard’s house.
Howard Shebala lived on a street lined with pink and aqua houses. Between drought and water restrictions, the usually immaculate lawns looked brown, the flowerbeds sparse and wilted. In Howard’s front yard, the shaggy grass lay in worn out lanes between rows of tables. The Garage Sale sign was a permanent fixture.
As I pulled my bike up the driveway, I noticed only one shopper, a woman with a small boy. The kid kept reaching up on tiptoe to drag items off the tables. I leaned my bike against the garage door and walked to where Howard sat with his customary lemonade. He stood as I approached, his ponytail swinging onto his shoulder. He was short and stocky—and a Navajo medicine man.
“Howdy. Good to see you.” He shook my hand. “I’m sorry to hear of your recent trouble. Is Brit all right?”
“She’s amazing,” I told him. “So brave.”
“The rest of the pack got away?” He said it as if he thought they were a danger, but I knew they weren’t. They were followers. Sycophants. They wouldn’t be back.
“The sheriff has the leader,” I said. “He’ll never get out. Brittany plans to testify against him, but even if she doesn’t, they still have him on the other murders.”
Howard shook his head. “The wolf in him cannot be incarcerated. Come the full moon, who knows what will happen?”
My face grew warm. This was the first time Howard spoke openly to me about werewolves. It was a touchy subject, not only because he knew my secret but because I should have realized he knew. His pet name for me was Mai Coh, which meant shape shifter.
I said, “Between you and me, I don’t think that wolf will be coming out any time soon. You see, your wife, er, ex-wife, Chelsea, told Brittany and me about a potion to change a wolf back into a man. We used it on him.”
Howard stared at me. Then he threw back his head and laughed. Great resounding guffaws. I’d never seen anyone laugh so hard.
When he quieted, I said, “I didn’t tell my uncle that part.” I hoped Howard would take the hint and not mention it. I didn’t want to have to explain to Uncle Bob that I’d been trying to cure my own lycanthropy; he seemed quite content with his werewolfism.
Howard wiped his streaming eyes and slapped me on the shoulder. “A wise decision. So, young Mai Coh, what brings you to these parts?”
“Socks. I’m running low.”
He nodded and led me through tables of neatly folded Levis and stacks of t-shirts. He stopped at an open box. “I know I saw socks around here somewhere.” He pulled out belts by the handful and draped them over the table, trying to peer to the bottom of the box. “Nope. Not this one.”
As I watched him replace the belts, I said, “What would you do with all this stuff if it started to rain?”
“Not likely. Worse drought I’ve seen in many years.”
“Has it ever happened?”
“Certainly. But not often. Florida weather is predictable. It hardly rains in winter, and in summer it rains everyday like clockwork. I just set my alarm clock and clean up when it goes off.”
I shook my head, gazing over the many tables. “You need an assistant.”
Howard grunted and moved to another box. The lone shopper waved to him and, kid in hand, walked off without buying anything. They left a trail of fallen Tupperware and paperbacks on the grass.
Howard said, “She never picks up after him.”
“Do you have kids?” I said as if just thinking about it.
He buried his nose in the box. “Why do you ask?”
“The first time I saw all this stuff, I thought you must have a whole slew of kids to have so many castoffs.”
Howard grunted again. “EBay.”
He looked up. “I’m running a business here. Most of my inventory comes from EBay. I stock the items I figure I can sell, up the price a bit for profit, and make a living.”
“No kids, then.”
Howard sighed. “I have a son.”
“Really? What’s he like?”
I blinked, not sure if I should apologize or call him on it. Before I could respond, he held up two white socks bundled with a thick rubber band.
“How many do you need?” he asked.
“Five or six pairs.”
He pulled more socks from the bottom of the box. Some had red or blue stripes on the tops and some were plain white. “Two dollars a pair.”
I grimaced. “But they’re used.”
“No, they aren’t,” he said. “My friend’s an amputee, gives me all his left-handed socks.”
I pulled a five-dollar bill out of my pocket. “This is all I have.”
“The magpie flies even in rain.” Howard muttered one of his indecipherable sayings and took the five. “Don’t tell anyone I gave you such a good deal. They’ll all want something.”
He walked back to his lemonade, pulled a plastic Publix grocery sack from under the lawn chair, and placed the socks inside.
“Thanks,” I said, accepting the bag. “See you later.”
“Tell Bob my Rummy cards are lonely.”
I slung the bag of socks over my handlebars and took off, feeling bemused. I didn’t really need socks, but I knew there was no getting information from Howard without buying something. Only I hadn’t gotten much information. All I knew was that either Howard or William were lying to me. Maybe both.
It was late when I got home. My uncle and I live in a small, two-bedroom house with almost no furniture. It’s set back from the road, surrounded by woods. The neighbors can’t see or be seen. It’s a perfect den for a couple of werewolves.
I dumped my bike in its usual spot on the grass. As I clomped up the wooden steps to the porch, Uncle Bob arrived. He parked his truck on the gravel drive and climbed out with several Publix bags of his own. His held groceries—chocolate milk, instant coffee, bread, and what smelled like a family-style fried chicken dinner.
I opened the door to the house and held it for him, and my stomach growled as he passed. It smelled great.
We didn’t often cook in my new home. Of course, my mother, the brain surgeon, rarely cooked either. Our housekeeper, on the other hand, could’ve been a Japanese chef. Lots of greens. Fresh seafood. I missed the comforts of my home. But I was pretty much a vegetarian then. I couldn’t go without meat now.
I followed my uncle into the kitchen, and we sat down to fried chicken, potato salad, and baked beans. A breeze blew through the open window, flapping the curtains. Uncle Bob insisted on keeping the window open regardless of the heat, a habit I was coming to appreciate.
“Heard you go out last night,” he said as if reading my thoughts.
“I just needed to unwind.”
“Have you heard from Brittany?”
“She was at school today. Looks great.”
“Good. Now you can stop worrying about her.” He poured me a tall glass of chocolate milk.
Glasses were a recent addition to the household. I guess Uncle Bob felt more domestic now that we both decided I would stay. The adjustment period was as difficult for him as it was for me. I hated Florida at first, but now I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I would never run away.
Which made me think of William.
“I stopped by Howard’s today,” I said, tossing chicken bones into the empty bag. “I asked him if he had any kids, you know, with all the junk he has around, and he said he had a son but he was dead.”
“Willie.” My uncle nodded. “I suppose he is dead, figuratively speaking. I don’t know if Howard told you this, but he’s a full-blooded Navajo. He lived among the Miccosukee for many years. When his wife divorced him, the tribal council banned him from their land.”
“They can do that?”
“Guess so. Willie was thirteen at the time. A tough age. A tough situation for both him and his father. He must be seventeen, now. Lives with his mother. Howard never talks about him.”
I took a long pull of milk. How could Howard neglect to mention he had a son? Was he happy to disown William, or was it too painful to think about him? I wondered if my dad ever spoke about me. Did he tell people I was dead? “What would happen to Howard if he defied the council and visited his son anyway?”
“Who knows? Maybe they’d excommunicate the entire family.” Uncle Bob got up to make a cup of instant coffee with hot tap water.
I watched him for a moment, then shook my head. “That’s brutal. What did Howard ever do to them?”
“There was an incident,” my uncle said, slurping his mug.
When he didn’t elaborate, I knew the subject was closed. I gathered the trash from dinner and carried it to the garbage can behind the shed. My unofficial chore. The sun was down, and the surrounding trees looked black against the pink sky. I listened to birds settling in for the night. Field mice scampered through fallen leaves. Farther off, I heard peacocks calling, making the place sound like the set of a movie.
For a moment, I wanted to slip out of my clothes and into the wolf, romp through the trees and swampland. But that was a dangerous habit to get into. Just because I could change into a wolf anytime I wanted didn’t mean I should. After all, I had a human side, too. I couldn’t be a wolf all the time.
I wondered about William living in the woods as a bear. Why would he refuse to see Howard when clearly he loved his dad? It wasn’t like he had parents like mine. My parents banished me to Florida without a clue. They never told me that lycanthropy ran in my family or what to do if I suddenly turned into a wolf, like I had in that restaurant in France. They were all about secrecy. From their neighbors, from society. From their only son. I would never forgive the way they abandoned me. Still, I wished I could see them, if only to tell them that.
When I went back to the house, I found Uncle Bob in his beat-up old recliner in front of our twelve-inch black-and-white television. Watching Jeopardy was one of his nightly rituals. We exchanged nods, and I hurried to my room to call Brittany. My nightly ritual.
She picked up on the second ring. “I wondered when you would call.”
I smiled as I always did when I heard her voice. “Did you miss me?”
“Always,” she said, “but that’s not it. I have to tell you that I won’t be at lunch for the next few days because I have appointments with the school grief counselors at that time.”
I winced as if she’d slapped me. “You’re still that upset?”
“Not me. It’s my mother. She thinks I’m repressing the horror of the ordeal and need to let it out. Her words.”
I groaned. “I feel so responsible.”
“That’s silly. You couldn’t know what would happen. Maybe you should talk to a counselor, too.”
“Yeah, I can see it now.”
“Don’t make fun. I wonder if they have werewolf therapists or werewolf doctors.”
“Why would they? There’s no such thing as werewolves, remember?”
“Now who’s poking fun?” I said. “I’m telling you, he’s out there. He said he’s living in an old fishing cabin.”
“I know where that is. At least, I might. There’s a fishing cabin in the Everglades out on State Road 80, kind of community property. Grandpa took Butt Crack and me there when we first moved down. The original owner must be long gone. Of course, you can’t really own anything in the Everglades.”
“Howard told me his son was dead. That really bothered me.”
“Because he lied to you?”
“Sounds kind of harsh, that’s all.”
“I can’t imagine how anyone can live by themselves in the woods,” Brittany said. “We should take some groceries to him.”
“Whoa,” I said. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I was supposed to keep the whole thing a secret.”
“It’s no big. I’ll just raid the pantry.”
“But—” My mind whirled, searching for a way to derail her. “You aren’t driving yet. How are we going to get there?”
“Maybe my friend, Eileen, can take us.”
I frowned. “Does she go to our school?”
“No, she’s homeschooled. Eileen Beamer. I’ve known her since I moved down. She lives at the Sunspot.”
“A fulltime nudie?” I blurted. The Sunspot Naturist Resort bordered Brittany’s house. I had a quick image of Brittany’s grandfather sitting with his pellet gun, shooting nudists who strayed from the nature trails into his yard. “I thought only tourists stayed at the Sunspot.”
“Not all the residents are tourists,” Brittany said. “Remember the fortuneteller we went to? She lives on the resort.”
“The grandmaster. How could I forget?” The grandmaster scared the life out of me by predicting that I would sacrifice Brittany for the greater good.
“Then it’s settled,” Brittany said. “Let’s plan a trip to the old fishing cabin on Saturday morning.”
I ran my hand over my face. William the Bear wouldn’t be happy.
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