“I’m a werewolf.”
He said it deadpan. No inflection in his voice, no hint of a smile, no boast nor irony. Just “I’m a werewolf.”
John found his jaw opening and closing as he tried to find a reply.
Having someone state that they are a werewolf is like felling a metaphorical giant redwood across a person’s train of thought, John found.
His mouth tried to open again, John shut it decisively.
Finding no way forward he tried to review the conversation for earlier errors or misunderstandings. They had been discussing martial arts, or in truth, John had while Peter had offered the odd nod. John had been musing aloud about the mixture of martial arts in which he was currently training. Taekwondo, all about kicking, and Wing Chun Kung Fu, all about punching, blocking and generally using your hands and arms to fight. He had wondered aloud if the combination of the two styles was the recipe for becoming an unbeatable fighter.
Unusually, Peter had brought something to the monologue. He answered the rhetorical question. “No.”
This had brought John’s first pause. The fact that Peter had chosen to speak on the subject of martial arts was sufficiently out of character to warrant attention, but for him to state such an opinion categorically, was quite shocking.
John had started to dismiss the statement by pointing out the shortfalls of kick-boxing, but Peter had again surprised him by interrupting to say he hadn’t meant there was a better style.
Perplexed, John had asked what he meant.
“Any human can be beaten by a werewolf.”
John was relieved to hear it was a joke, but also slightly irritated that Peter was wasting his time.
“A werewolf!” he’d scoffed.
Then he’d said it; “I’m a werewolf.”
The silence extended uncomfortably. John was lost for a reply. He looked at Peter, trying to interpret what he saw. Peter sat looking back at him, a blank canvas. He was betraying no emotion, but had a look about the eyes that John couldn’t define.
John’s first reaction was to laugh it off, but some deeper instinct was warning him not to. It wasn’t the wary-of-further-embarrassment warning that prompted you to exit promptly when someone told you that they’d accepted an invisible friend as their personal saviour, or the other not suffering fools lightly imposition of the nutter on the bus. It was a warning of real danger.
The silence was really dragging out now, and Peter was showing no sign of relieving it by word or deed.
John had a book of autostereograms at home. He had bought it on a whim and been amused by how you could be looking at a seemingly random pattern and then suddenly your brain flipped it’s perception over and you were looking at a 3d image coming out of the page. That was what it was like. The silence dragging on, the look about Peter’s eyes, his instinct confusing him, all disparate messages, then suddenly WHAM! One message.
The unease he was feeling, and his inability to instantly reply to the ludicrous assertion. The look around the eyes. He recognised with a horrible shock where he knew it from; the beginning of a fight!
You walk in, weighing your opponent up, not ready to give anything away, focused on what they were about to do. There is a tension, an uneasiness, before the first blow is landed. Fear and aggression being held in an over-riding balance. And the look about the eyes was what that concentration looked like.
Now the silence held a deeper tension, but in his sudden awareness John was even less able to break it. He’d known Peter since school, they’d truanted the boring bits together. He’d seen him throwing up after they had managed to buy some cider from an unscrupulous corner shop owner when they were fifteen. They had gone on his twenty first birthday pub crawl together, he still had photo’s of them when he’d been Peter’s best man. He’d dutifully drunk with Peter when Lucy had left him and taken his son to her new boyfriend’s house in Cornwall.
He’d know Peter, intimately, for over twenty years. He’d never been to any form of fighting club, he was easy going, and John knew he could have beaten him up without breaking a sweat. But now he felt he was starting to sweat.
Still Peter said nothing, nor changed his expression in any way, just watched.
John started exploring thoughts unthinkable a few minutes ago; had he ever noticed anything unusual about Peter? Was he ever mysteriously absent around the full moon? Had he ever been overly hirsute, or exhibited a predilection for steak tartar? John realised he was getting carried away with his speculation, he didn’t even know what a real werewolf was, or did.
With another sense of jarring shock he realised he believed Peter was a werewolf, whatever that meant. No, he knew he was.
He looked at Peter again, who sat there emotionless and inscrutable. From deep inside himself John realised Peter was reading him, aware of his chain of thoughts and waiting for him to reach…, what?
How was it he had never noticed that Peter was so…, still? He sat there exuding nothing but stillness, yet managed to purvey dangerously powerful potential.
It was so obvious John was amazed he’d never noticed it previously.
Or, to put it another way, why was it so obvious now?
John’s eyes widened. He held his shaking hands before him, as though he’d never seen them before.
“I’m a werewolf.” He whispered.