The Write stuff: Wolfman Blues by Barry Gornell

Illustration: Grant Paterson
Illustration: Grant Paterson
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I met a wolfman at the bus stop last night, totally steaming. He’d been a couple of yards too slow and the bus had pulled away as he got to the stop.

I don’t think there was any malice on the driver’s part. I could see his heart wasn’t in the chase. He’d given up. When I got there he was slouched in the corner of the glass shelter, sitting with his hands in his pockets, head lolling on his chest.

“You could have caught that if you’d run,” I said.

He raised his head to stare at me, his eyes recessed behind a sculpted snout.

“There are no credible records of a werewolf overtaking any motor driven vehicle.”

Not really the response I was expecting, but there you go, that was me told.

Sensing no threat, I sat down in the shelter with him, to wait for the next night bus. A few minutes passed. He was halfway sleeping when his supporting foot slipped away on its leather sole, as if his legs were the half that was asleep, and he had to wake up to get his balance.

“’sake man,” I said, “you’re in some nick.”

He snorted, hot wolf breath steaming through his nostrils.

“Want some pakora?” I said, popping the polystyrene lid. He glanced at it and recoiled, waving it away.

“I like it,’ he said, “don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t like me.”

“I should have known better. Veggie pakora’s not really the kind of fare you should be offering somebody more craving of the flesh o tender maidens.”

I dipped and crunched into a piece. Red sauce dripped onto my leg as I checked him out. He was dressed to kill, straight out the Zevon song. I was taken by his waistcoat; kind of medieval tapestry thing going on, dogs and knights on the hunt and the like. His shoes were polished to a soldier’s standard but freshly scuffed. His demeanour wasn’t in keeping with his snappy attire though. I’ve not met many wolfmen in my time, but I never imagined them as slouchers. I gauged he wasn’t happy.

“Shite night,” I said?

“Eventually, aye.”

“Whered’ye get to?”

There was shame in his answer.

“I have been drinking the lycanthropous waters of the Woodside Social Club: wedding reception.”

“They had the desired effect, I can see?”

“Oh aye; transformation was miraculous. The comedown however…”

He sighed as he arched his neck backwards, exposing his throat. He held his head there for a moment before it lolled forward again. When he spoke, his voice was softer, confessional.

“I had told myself that I wasn’t going. ‘What’s the point,’ I said, ‘to once more submit myself to the rack’?”

“So, why d’you go?”

He wiped his knee, like Dave Allen did when he was playing for time.

“I’ve known the lassie for years. Couldn’t say no.”

“The bride?”

“Aye. The bride”

His tongue sounded too big for his mouth, caged by teeth. He took a quarter bottle from his jacket pocket and finished it.

“I take it you’re not the groom?”

“Think I’d be sitting here?”

“Don’t know; I haven’t seen the bride.”

His head snapped around. His eyes bored into mine.

“She was a vision.”

That was me told, again. The whisky released his tongue.

“She was a vision of such purity and beauty that I was emasculated, rendered helpless; weak and infirm.” He shifted slightly. “See, once I’d decided I was going, I had determined to arrive bloodthirsty and libidinous; show her what she was missing.” He released me from his stare. “The mere sight of her caused me to lose my powers of werewolfery. I committed an act of devastation.”

Devastation? Did I really want to know? I pictured a fevered night of snarling debauchery; saw nubile victims of foul behaviour such as would be in keeping with the creature’s habit.

“I told her I loved her. Told her she was my fairy tale.”

My skin prickled.

I felt pity for the heartbroke beast. I regretted the images I’d just created and was glad he hadn’t been privy to them.

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”

“Don’t be.”

He stood, stepped from the glow of the shelter and looked to the clear sky.

“I shouldn’t have gone. I know that now. It could have been avoided. My bad behaviour, see, is generally triggered by the setting of the sun and all that entails. Least that’s what I tell myself.”

I looked at the moon with him. Thin rags of cloud passed across its ancient face as he sang to himself.

“Wasted and wounded, it ain’t what the moon did, I got what I paid for now.”

He stopped, letting the words sink in. They sank a long way. The howl that burst out pulled him onto his toes. His body strained skywards, arms rigid, fists balled, shaking with effort. It faded to a whimper. He sagged, shoulders, head and heels dropping.

“Got to get it out somehow,” I said.

“Aye.” He nodded.

“I’m not a bad wolf,” he said. “Some consider it the manifestation that best fits my personality; but really, it’s a place to hide.”

Turning at the sound of footsteps, he spied a couple across the road, dressed in black, some weird goth subset, all white make-up and shades.

“Like wearing sunglasses at night,” he shouted. “Trying to hide.”

He howled again, this time for pleasure and much to their amusement, stepping into the road with his arms raised. They howled back, obviously au fait with werewolves. Waving, they pushed into a close. He fixed his attention to the quiet street, absorbing his situation.

“My sandstone canyons.”

He went silent. Although his eyes were deep in shadow, I felt myself to be under lupine consideration.

“What would your cowboy name be?”

Genius question. I panicked. Lacking the gravitas to claim Sam the Lion, my favourite cowboy ever, I rifled through other cowboys but was slow on the draw. Had it been for real, such hesitation would have left me dead in the dust in Dodge. In a Glasgow bus stop, it merely gave him the opportunity to go first.

“My name’s Joaqim Basquez,” he said, straddling the centre line. “I’m a fur trapper, rejecting the violence of the gun. I spend most of my time in Canaddee, only crossing the border when the weather is most foul and the beaver seeks the feeble warmth of the South. Suchtimes, I favour Montana. I have scarce contact with other men. It’s years since I lay with a woman.”

I was stunned. It was something I’d not considered, creating a cowboy to suit, one that would fit properly. I was out of my depth. This guy knew the terrain.

He was still staring at me. All I could do was nod. I understood completely. Another hot wreath of breath wrapped itself around his head. He swayed and caught himself as gravity reminded him he was drunk.

Back in the shelter he slumped down. Knitting his fingers into his hair he pulled. The wolf head came off. He was crying.

“It’s just another mask though, hey?” he said, smoothing his own greying hair.

I was a wee bit embarrassed for him. He wasn’t the best looking. Not that the disguise was doing him a favour, but I could understand a girl’s reluctance to fall under his spell. His skin looked like he didn’t see much sun, like a security guard on permanent nights. I reckoned he hadn’t paid attention at school.

“You know what I don’t understand,” he said? “Just what it is that’s so antagonistic to my progress? I try.”

Considering him, suit crumpled, shoes scuffed, hair awry, I knew even in this state it wasn’t his looks. It was inside him.

“Sometimes it just doesn’t happen.” I said. “Look at me.”

He chose not to, intent on his own problems.

“At least she’ll be happy,” he said, trying his damnedest to smile. “If I make myself scarce that is.” A sob escaped before he clamped his jaw. He took a lungful of air through his nose and exhaled through gritted teeth, lips billowing until there was nothing left to blow, jaw-line muscles tight.

The bus appeared over the brow of the hill. Headlight beams turned his teardrops into silver bullets that fell from his jowl and soaked into his breast. Wise to their fall, he pulled a crisp white handkerchief from his inside pocket and dabbed his face. Rejection from the night bus would be the final wound of a pride-less night. Standing for his approaching transport he turned to me as if reconciled.

“Always the bridesmaid, eh?”

There was an evil hiss of air brakes and pneumatic doors when it arrived and the ruction of the interior hell bled out. I couldn’t face it. I decided to walk. I smiled as he asked the driver for a one way to Canaddee.


Barry Gornell, born in Liverpool, now lives on the West Coast of Scotland. He is a novelist and screenwriter, ex-fire-fighter, truck driver and bookshop manager. His short films, Sonny’s Pride and The Race, were broadcast on STV. Barry graduated from the University of Glasgow’s Creative Writing Masters programme in 2008 and was awarded a Scottish Book Trust New Writer’s Bursary in 2009. His first novel The Healing of Luther Grove, was published by Freight in 2012. His second novel, Dog Evans, is due in 2015. He currently writes for River City.