I had single-handedly wiped out the entire supply of cheap cigars at the Convenient Mart. They used to be in a rack, at the cashier's counter, separated into cardboard dispensers by flavor. Cinnamon, berry, sour apple, peach, plain, chocolate, and a few that i couldn't distinguish either by the taste or the color of the wrapping. Chocolate was the best . . . didn't taste a whole lot like chocolate, but it didn't quite taste like a cheap cigar, either.
Then there was a point when the rack was removed, and remaining stogies consolidated into just one of the little cardboard boxes. Eventually i found the brand i tended to buy mixed in with these other, dark, stubby cigars . . . the kind with the plastic tip. I tried one once, and i enjoyed not having those miniscule bits of tobacco depositing on my tongue during the smoke, but their length and the slippery tip made it dreadfully hard to tap the ashes out the car window without losing the whole thing. Tonight, all that was left was a bunch of those, and one of the brand i liked . . . a berry-flavored. I pulled it out and set it on the counter with my change.
"Last one," the dark-haired girl in the red shirt behind the counter said, as she swiped it across the laser eye and took my money.
"If you know who does the ordering, please tell them chocolate is the best."
"You can keep the pennies."
It was almost April, but the forecast was still calling for snow. I lit my roll before stepping outside. I opened the door and shuddered against the crisp Pennsylvania wind i'd already been weary of since October. My car was parked around the corner. I got in, rolled down the window, started her up, and pulled out of the parking lot.
The store was right down the road from my apartment building. Three turns there, three turns back. I have a mix tape i made that starts off with Don Henley's "Garden of Allah". Seven minutes long, and i could usually make it there and back in the exact time it took to finish the song. And that's driving slow. I drove slow because i lived next to a large park, and frequently found deer or raccoons crossing the street on the way, sometimes even mangled and bleeding off to the side of the road . . . something i never wanted to be responsible for.
Turn one was leaving the Quickie Mart. Turn two was at a traffic light. Turn three took me into the parking lot for my building. The stretch between turns two and three was the most darkly lit, bordered on both sides by dense trees, and the most apt to present a challenge of unconcerned wildlife.
I was listening to the Don, taking a toke, taking my time when the thing that wasn't a deer or raccoon started to cross my path about twenty meters in front of me.
At the time, i was sure it couldn't be what i thought it was. Moving away from the trees on the left in a heavy scamper-skip that somehow put it on all fours and upright at the same time, or at least into a methodical rhythm between the two that pulsed with the strength and intent to present such an illusion, I'd be lying to tell you that i almost hit it. But as i slowed down to allow its crossing i swear the thing began to move toward me, and i gasped before realizing a conscious intention to do so. Thankfully, it continued to cross, and as i passed it i looked out my passenger side window.
It hadn't a neck, just wide shoulders, and an elongated face, and seemed to be nearly half the size of my Sentra in its bulk. When it turned to look at me (why was it looking at me in the car and not the car) i caught its eyes. They were red. Somehow darker and brighter than blood. I felt like meat and hit the gas. This would be a good night to stay off of the internet and get some sleep. Obviously, i needed sleep. Less than a minute later, i pulled into my lot and parked the Sentra.
Should have believed the unbelievable. Should have paid attention to the heavy beating of my heart. Should have allowed the car running with its headlights on parked by the dumpster where i like to finish my cheap cigars (no smoking in the apartment, my rule, they stink) to deter me from finishing this here cigar. Should have scratched it out on the pavement, should have went straight inside, up the stairs, and to bed.
Probably someone got the remote start going to warm up their vehicle from the room before taking off on a beer run (or maybe some other kind).
I stepped to the dumpster.
I paced back and forth for a few minutes, smoking. The running vehicle was none of my business, and i avoided looking inside for a long time. Until i caught that the driver's door was cracked, enough to trigger the dome light inside. Until i noticed that there was someone sitting in the driver's seat. Until i walked a little bit closer and stepped in something wet (there was snow in the forecast, but it hadn't come yet), whatever was going on inside the car was really none of my business. Even when i looked inside and saw an older gentleman, or what used to be one, staring blankly at the roof, head cocked back on the seat, with his throat ripped open and his left arm torn off (was the arm somewhere in the car) it still wasn't any of my business. What do i know about the kind of animal or machine that can crunch right through the bones of someone's neck so quickly as to leave a clean, vacant space where there used to be an airway?
But when i didn't run, when i stood frozen in astonishment staring at the butchery and when the guttural growl rose up from somewhere close behind me (but the dumpster was behind me), it became my business.
I never turned around before i took off, but i did scream. Oh, did i scream as i headed for the door, and i wish i could have screamed louder so that i didn't hear the moment when the thumping footfalls behind me ceased and gave me a split-second of extra panic i didn't need to realize that i was about to be trounced.
I was hit from behind by a wrecking ball that grunted as it knocked me face-first to the asphalt. I forgot the cold. I forgot the cigar. I looked up and saw the werewolf spinning around on its hind legs to face me. I don't know which one of us was more excited, but i thought i knew which one of us was the only one that could fit in the space between my car and the ground, and so that's where i headed. I leaped and rolled under the Sentra, and laid shaking as thick, black claws reached in and tried swiping at me. But they couldn't reach, so the creature jumped on top of and over the car to the other side, but i'd already rolled back again and began to think about how i was going to manage opening out the heavy front door with a monster chasing me when i couldn't even manage doing this while carrying a couple bags of groceries.
As it turns out, the motivation to have food and the motivation to not be food are two very different things, because when the ass-end of the Sentra lifted up, getting to the door and opening the door was exactly what i did. Never closed it . . . the werewolf did that for me when it slammed against it after it dropped my car. I heard the crash and the crunch on the first flight of stairs, and before i was halfway up the second there came a gross, splintering sound and a howl, and the reason my feet were the only ones i heard is that the creature was leaping straight at me one flight at a time. My own apartment was on the third floor, and i made it almost all the way up before a violent pain cut all the way down the back of my right leg, and i screamed again.
Then, for some reason, the thing stopped.
Leaking and panting, i unlocked my door and went inside.
I limped to the computer chair and fell over. Out in the hallway i could hear doors opening, and voices. Then a roar, and more screams. The blood on my carpet, my blood, had already turned black (was that right). The pain in my leg tingled, then tickled, and i thought i really should call the police as outside my door the screams were getting cut off in rips and shreds . . .
At this point the moon came out from behind the clouds. It was full, alright, but unusually red. Not blood-red. Darker. Brighter.
I really should call someone for help. But, you know, my leg feels better already. In fact, i kind of feel like running . . .