“I remember my first time,” the voice woke me.
The sweet smell of tobacco was overcome by the scent of sweat and blood. My eyes blinked open and I found myself face down in the mud. I sat up and wiped a hand across my face, it came away covered in blood and clumps of fur. I turned in a slow circle as I stood trying to figure out where I was. All I could see were trees, I was in a forest that much was obvious but where I could not say. My eyes landed on the bloody remains of a deer, it looked like it had been ripped to shreds and gnawed on. Nausea struck and panic threatened to overtake me.
The pounding in my chest started to ease as I finally found the source of the voice. A man dressed in a flannel shirt and dirty jeans was sitting a little more than twenty yards away smoking a pipe and looking off into the distance. He was turned away from me and I could have sworn by the sound of his voice he was closer.
“The pain, the panic, the nausea,” he chuckled. “Yeah, the first time is a real trip.”
I opened my mouth to speak and coughed out a wad of fur. More fur followed, which led to vomiting some unidentifiable bloody chunks. The pain in my stomach receded and was replaced by a burning thirst.
“Water,” I croaked looking around.
“Stream over that way,” he pointed to his left, now my right.
I trudged in the direction he pointed and found a little stream as he said. I waded into it and fell to my knees, the water was cold and it felt amazing. Dunking my face in I took three wondrous gulps before I realized I was losing feeling in my extremities. The air caressed my wet, naked body and I closed my eyes to enjoy the sensation. I could feel it rushing over my feet and between my toes, the sun was caressing my shoulders and the entire forest smelled of life. It was exhilarating. I could feel them all around me. The sun seemed brighter somehow, the green in the trees more vibrant and the light reflecting off the water dazzled me with a spectrum of colors I did not even know the names of. Taking a deep breath I savored the scent of the forest, the dirt, the water, and the dash of rain in the clouds above.
“Pretty heavy, ain’t it?” The man had not moved but I could still hear him as though he was right beside me.
The mud squished between my toes as I walked back to where he sat. He was still facing away from me and the sweet smoke from his pipe swirled away above him, it made my nose burn and covered any smell he actually had.
“Who are you?”
The man chuckled and a beam of sunlight caught his long black hair highlighting the streaks of auburn and gray. I moved to see his face and he adjusted to keep me behind him.
“Should be asking what you are,” he grunted as he shifted his weight.
“You’re probably right but I’m not really versed on the proper conduct when waking up naked in the woods,” I waved my hand behind me. “Are we even in America still?”
“Just barely,” he said letting a thick cloud of smoke. “Upper part of Maine, almost Canada.”
“How did I get to Maine?”
“The first month leading up to the change isn’t what you’d call normal,” he stood and began to walk away from me. “You’re instinctively drawn where you feel safe. For you it was a nice piece of woods you could run around naked in.”
“Okay,” I started to follow him. “I’ll take the bait. What am I?”
“Werewolf,” the man said without breaking stride.
“There, wolf,” I pointed off to my left.
“Smart ass,” he sped up a bit.
I nodded and continued to follow him trying to figure out exactly why his explanation made so much sense. Faced with such supporting evidence I could not really force my mind to be shocked.
“The attack,” I looked down at my forearms.
The skin should have been a web of scar tissue. Being attacked by a wild animal left marks but my arms were smooth. I tried to think back to the time of the attack and after it. I was camping with friends and had taken a walk at night to clear my head. Something came out of the brush and attacked, I raised my arms in defense. I felt the teeth hit my bone, I felt the claws rake my chest and then I passed out. I woke up in a hospital three days later with stitches in places I did not even know I had. The weeks afterward were a whirlwind.
“Fine,” I shrugged. “I’m a werewolf, now what?”
The man stopped and so did I.
“That’s it?” He puffed.
“I wake up naked in the woods next to a gutted dear on the day after the full moon,” I scratched my nose. “Werewolf or drugs and I don’t do drugs.”
“Well, that was easy,” the man tapped out his pipe.
“Is there a hard part?”
“It’s a family trait,” the man turned around.
I knew that face, I had seen it almost every day growing up but never actually in person. Sepia tones and an old wooden frame did not do justice to his amber eyes and the near glow they emanated. He looked me in the eyes without having to adjust which meant he was about the same height as I was and we both had the same sturdy build.
The man nodded. My grandfather nodded. The man that was my grandfather nodded.
“I got bit before your father was born,” he tilted his head to the side. “Didn’t pop up in any of the kids or grand-kids until now.”
“How did you know I was…” I waved my hand. “Infected?”
He sighed, “that is a bit harder to answer.”
I took a deep breath and looked around, even though he was closer the scent of tobacco was barely there. My eyes caught the ground where I had been following him, he did not leave tracks.
“I’ve been dead for a while,” he shrugged. “This used to be my old hunting grounds. Moose, deer, and a poacher every now and then. Must have spoken to you too.”
“You’re a ghost?”
“How does that work?”
“Beats the hell out of me,” he turned and walked away once more. “I’ve got an old cabin up here a ways. It’s been sitting for a while but it’s better than nothing.”
“Thanks,” I looked at him and could see the forest in front of him. It took me a moment to realize I could see through him. “Grandpa?”
He turned around, “what?”
He looked down, “well, hell.”
“Is this supposed to happen?”
“Boy, this is my first haunting,” he looked back the way he was heading. “Over a hill there should be a little cabin, there is a stump with toolbox full of clothes in it. They’re probably mostly rags but it’s better than nothing.”
“Are you coming back?”
“I don’t know,” he put his pipe in his pocket and stood straight in front of me. “Silver hurts but it don’t kill ya. The first few months are the hardest, just stick to the woods. It might sound like a good idea but locking yourself up makes it worse. Watch your temper, if you didn’t have one, you do now and be careful around people. You’re stronger than you think.”
With that he was gone.
“Thank you,” I could not think of anything better to say.