The Artificial Werewolf
“Did they really have to put that up?” Mrs. Gulls asked herself after her daughter Megan let out a blood-curdling shriek the moment she spied the thing. It was three weeks before Halloween, and Mrs. Gulls was walking Megan home from school. A number of houses in the neighborhood featured decorative displays on their lawns and porches—ghosts made out of threadbare sheets, plastic tombstones bearing humorous names, jaunty scarecrows, pumpkins, and the like.
Yet none were so disturbingly graphic as the cause of her daughter’s terror: a life-size werewolf, which loomed in the Terry’s front yard under a tall Eastern pine. The creature, tall as a man, had sharp fangs in a snout that shot out, lean and hungry, like a real wolf’s. Aside from its shirt and pants, it was covered in coarse brown hair, and its arms (forelegs?) were extended menacingly, as if to grasp a victim in its curled claws. But worst of all were its yellow eyes, glassy yet feral, as if relishing her child’s terror.
Although Mrs. Gulls speculated that the werewolf had probably been purchased at the nearest Walmart and tried explaining that to her daughter, Megan would not stop crying.
“No, it’s the Big Bad Wolf, it’s real!” she blubbered shaking her head adamantly, defiantly, insisting on going home. It was not until Mrs. Gulls switched on Megan’s favorite TV show, Wild Kratts, that the child calmed down.
When Mr. Gulls came home from work that evening, Mrs. Gulls told him what had happened with regard to the werewolf display.
“It is kind of repulsive,” Mrs. Gulls said. “Have you seen it? It’s in the Terry’s front yard.”
“Didn’t notice,” Mr. Gulls said, frowning at his daughter, who was now mixing her peas with her mashed potatoes in a decorative way. “But I’ll take a look after dinner.”
When Mr. Gulls returned from his inspection, he told his wife that the thing certainly looked threatening, but he couldn’t very well ask the Terrys to take it down. Megan was by now playing on the carpet with her collection of little horses and little people. She had a barn and a corral to match. She enjoyed making the toy creatures talk to each other. Mrs. Gulls had once listened in on what her daughter had them say and was shocked to learn that it was some rather risqué dialogue she must have heard on TV. Mrs. Gulls made a mental note to monitor her daughter’s TV watching more closely but said nothing to her. She didn’t believe in censoring her daughter’s imagination.
“Poor kid,” Mr. Gulls said. “I hope that thing doesn’t give her nightmares.”
“We’ll see,” Mrs. Gulls sighed.
The big problem was that the werewolf stood between the Gulls’ house and West End Elementary School, where Megan attended kindergarten. Every morning Mrs. Gulls walked her daughter the few blocks to school and every afternoon walked her home. To avoid the werewolf display in the morning, they would have to make a left out the door instead of a right, walk nearly completely around the block, turn right, and walk another block to the school. Hopefully this detour wouldn’t be necessary. Hopefully continued exposure to the werewolf would lessen Megan’s aversion to it, as the psychologists said concerning phobias. Or if that didn’t work, Mrs. Gulls could always take her car and drive past the thing with Megan, who was so small she had difficulty seeing out the car windows.
“Do they make blinders for children?” Mrs. Gulls wondered.
The next morning, Mrs. Gulls and Megan headed out the door and turned right as usual. But when Megan spotted the werewolf, she let out another blood-curdling scream and clung to her mother. Up ahead Mrs. Gull could see the crossing guard and school children staring in their direction. Embarrassed, she decided to turn around and lead her daughter around the block. It took longer, but it was effective in stifling her daughter’s terror. Also, Mrs. Gulls reasoned that it was probably healthy for them both to do more walking since she had put on a few pounds in the past few years, and Megan was often glued to one screen or another.
That evening Mrs. Gulls told her husband what they had done to avoid the werewolf.
“You shouldn’t have to do that,” Mr. Gulls commented. He was a contract lawyer in a large Philadelphia firm and used to thinking of things in legal terms.
“How many weeks until Halloween? Three? That jerk Terry shouldn’t have put that thing up. How did the other kids react to it?” He questioned his wife, while casting a sidelong glance at Megan. Tonight, she was toying with her spaghetti and meatballs, swirling a meatball through the sauce with her fork as if the meatball were a car. She was always a picky eater. Now he had the uneasy feeling that she might also be neurotic.
“I didn’t notice any other children walking past it,” Mrs. Gulls said. There weren’t many houses on their block. They lived in a fairly prosperous town, an old-ring suburb, renowned in this part of the state for having a still viable main street instead of an avenue of boarded-up stores, and each house on their street had a fairly large lot.
“You shouldn’t have to make a detour for a Halloween display,” Mr. Gulls reiterated. The situation stuck in his craw. A thought occurred to him: maybe he should go out later that night and vandalize the creature. No, that wouldn’t be right. It could lead to a lawsuit. He decided to walk over to the house after dinner and speak directly to the owner of the werewolf display. Man to Man.
When Mr. Gulls walked outside after dinner, it seemed to have grown appreciably colder than it was when he had come home. The smell of smoke from fireplaces hung in the air, and fallen leaves crunched underfoot. As he approached the Terry house, the werewolf’s yellow eyes glowed, reflecting the bright light of the accent lamp his neighbor had set up to better display it.
“In all its blazing glory,” Mr. Gulls thought angrily. The werewolf wore a lumberjack’s red and black plaid shirt and jeans. Was it just his imagination or was there a dark stain on its shirt? Blood? Probably it was just the shadow cast from an overhanging branch.
Mr. Gulls knocked on his neighbor’s door, and Mr. Terry opened the door. Since introducing themselves a few years ago when the Gulls moved in, the Terrys and the Gulls had had little to do with each other beyond a cursory hello now and then. In fact, Mr. Gulls couldn’t remember Mr. Terry’s first name. Bill? Bob? Brian? Their disinterest in establishing a friendship wasn’t the result of any natural antipathy. Both were very busy men. Neither was inclined to take part in community activities.
Mr. Gulls thought he had explained the situation calmly and politely enough.
“So, your kid is afraid of the display,” responded Mr. Terry, a bulky man with thick eyebrows, a thick moustache and a stubble of beard the color of charred wood. “I’ll take it down November 1, not before. Tell your kid to man up,” he added.
“My daughter isn’t a man,” said Mr. Gulls.
“You know what I mean,” replied Mr. Terry. “These days girls are joining the Marines.” In the background, Mr. Gulls could see a dark-haired little boy waving a Light Sabre, yelling and racing around the living room, offering at imaginary enemies.
“My daughter is a little young for the Marines. She’s five years old,” Mr. Gulls explained.
”Same age as my son,” said Mr. Terry, “and he loves the thing. Don’t you Ryan?”
Ryan paused a moment in his play, regarded his father.
“Don’t you love the werewolf?”
Ryan shrugged. “Sokay,” he said before resuming his play.
Sensing that it was useless to speak further, Mr. Gulls turned and left, not before casting a savage eye at the offending werewolf, which seemed to leer back at him.
Later that night after he was sure his wife was asleep, Mr. Gulls got out of bed, pulled his pants on, went outside and kicked the thing over. Then he proceeded to step on its face. The plastic cracked under his heel like bones. One of the yellow eyeballs popped out and rolled into the grass. A light went on in the Terry’s house, as Mr. Gulls trotted back to his house.
Soon came a pounding at the front door.
After debating for a moment what to do, Mr. Gulls opened the door. There stood Mr. Terry in his bathrobe, his massive shoulders tensed, his face clouded by rage like Hades, god of the Underworld.
“You wrecked my werewolf,” he accused.
“Yes, I did,” said Mr. Gulls.
Now Mrs. Gulls appeared at the top of the stairs, her hair tossled, her eyes bleary, clutching her pink flannel bathrobe about her. Megan appeared by her side, rubbing her eyes, her mouth open in surprise. She was clutching a teddy bear in one arm.
“What’s this all about?” Mrs. Gulls asked.
Looking over Mr. Gulls’ shoulder, Mr. Terry looked up at her, at Megan, and then back at Mr. Gulls. His expression softened. His shoulders relaxed. He turned back to Mr. Gulls.
“Well,” Mr. Terry said, “if you feel so strongly about it, then to hell with it.”
“I’ll reimburse you for the damages,” Mr. Gulls offered.
Mr. Terry studied him a moment and then sized up the living room, what he could see of it.
“Fine,” said Mr. Terry. “Damn thing cost me four hundred bucks.”
“Send me an invoice,” said Mr. Gulls.
After apologizing to Mrs. Gulls and Megan for waking them up, Mr. Terry turned and trudged off into the dark.
Mr. Gulls turned to his wife and said, “Well, you won’t have to take a detour to school anymore.”
“Great,” Mrs. Gulls said. It was late, and as far as she was concerned, the incident had ended.
But a strange thing happened when Mr. Terry went to throw the remains of the werewolf display into the trash. As he was handling a large shard of plastic, it seemed to jump from his fingers and cut his hand. The cut developed an opportunistic infection, which he delayed in getting treated. By the time he went to the emergency room, the infection had spread to his wrist bone and did not respond to antibiotics. The doctors had no choice but to amputate his hand.
Mr. Gulls felt somewhat guilty when he learned what had happened to his neighbor. But after all, it was Terry who had put the monstrous creature on display in the first place.
Mr. and Mrs. Gulls never told their daughter Megan why their neighbor Mr. Terry now had only one hand. Anyhow, she didn’t really notice things like that.
Ruth Rouff is an educator and freelance educational writer who lives in Southern New Jersey near Philadelphia. She earned her BA in English at Vassar College and an MS in Education at Saint Joseph’s University. In recent years, Townsend Press has published her young adult nonfiction books: Ida B. Wells: A Woman of Courage and Great Moments in Sports. In 2016 Bedazzled Ink published her collection of prose and poetry entitled Pagan Heaven.