He’s hungry. He eyes the full moon above him through a caul of bloodred. The moon shines as brightly as the sun, warming and energizing him, heightening his senses. He “sees” with all of them, but smell predominates. Before him, the streets of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood stand out in sharp detail, silvery and shimmering from the moon’s light, making it easy to track potential prey. And in the air, everywhere, are scents—beer, cigarette smoke, the pale fishy tang of Elliot Bay to the west, car exhaust. But underlying all this is sheer bliss. He lifts his snout to savor it: the aroma of human flesh… and blood. Blood pulsing in the bodies of hundreds of carousers out for a Friday night revel, coursing in and out of bars, heedless and unwary, celebrating the beginning of the weekend.
Their heat, movement, voices, and—most of all—scents give him a paradoxically hungry and deliciously tingling feeling of anticipation deep in the pit of his gut.
His leathery black nose quivers, pulling the scent inside, where he can savor it. His pale gray-furred ears point up to the moon, alert, alert for the sound of a man alone, one that’s ripe. He wants to howl but knows such a display will draw attention to him as he sits, panting, in an alley behind a Vietnamese restaurant shuttered for the night. Already a pair of men clad in jeans and tight T-shirts have wandered by and peered into the shadows the alley provides, wondering.
“Jesus!” one of them says. “Would you look at that? What is that? Some kind of dog? It’s huge!”
His friend leans over, farther into the alley, far enough for the creature to catch the scent of the man’s sweat underlying the cologne with which he polluted himself. The sweat makes his mouth water, his stomach growl, and makes him eager to pounce…. But he knows he must be patient. The night affords plenty of time to hunt.
Reward must always be balanced by careful calculation of risk.
“Yeah, dude. I think it’s a German shepherd… or a husky. Somethin’ like that. Come on, let’s get to the Cuff.”
“I thought we were going to Neighbours.”
“The Cuff has hotter guys.”
The men hurry off, unaware of how appetizing they are, how close they edged to their own demise.
He licks his chops and stares up at the moon as a cloud passes over, partially obscuring its radiance.
He has time to wait. Time to let the scents, sounds, and sights of the lively August night ramp up his hunger, his need, making the resulting feast all that much more succulent. There are practical reasons, too, for his patience. “In the Wee Small Hours” (as the song goes), there will be fewer witnesses to his impromptu alfresco supper of flesh and blood. The few people out—his prey—are more likely to be intoxicated and careless of heading down an alley just like the one in which he now crouches, waiting, every sense on alert.
Before dawn creeps up over the Cascade Mountains, he knows he’ll be intoxicated. That, and utterly satisfied. He circles a few times and lays down beside a dumpster.
He’s dozed off. When he awakens, the air is cooler and the night quieter. The sounds of traffic, laughter, and voices have diminished to almost nothing. The rush of wind ruffles his fur as he gets to all fours, raising his snout to test the air.
Yes. There are humans close by. Two. He smells their perspiration and, beneath that, their blood. Their warmth rides to him like a delicious current on the night breeze. He stands quietly, heart rate quickening, muscles tensing, tracking them. They are just outside the alley in which he waits and are making noises, not talking. But there are definite sounds. He moves forward, silent on black paws, to the alley’s mouth. In a darkened doorway, he hears the sound of human mating—grunts, groans, and sighs. He sniffs, calculating. There are two men, one of them older, not as healthy, and one young, vigorous.
Boldly he trots out of the alley and crosses the street to watch from between two parked cars. The men don’t even notice, they are so absorbed in what they’re doing, and he’s so full of stealth that he might as well be a ghost gliding through the night.
The pair occupies the doorway of a storefront, cloaked in shadow. Human eyes, passing by, would not even register their existence. But he can see them. The younger one, the one for whom he is already licking his chops, stands before the older one, jeans pushed down to his knees. His shirt is pulled up over his shoulders and behind his neck, exposing exquisite musculature and a constellation of inked skin. Throwing his head back, the young man whispers rapidly how “fuckin’ good” it all feels, while the older man kneels in front of him, his head bobbing up and down at his crotch.
The act takes fewer than ten minutes. The scent of sweat and semen hangs in the air. The older man rises, looks around, stuffs himself back inside his pants, and zips. He glances around again, although the creature can’t imagine why—there’s no one else to witness anything—and takes out his wallet. He digs in it, pulls out a few bills, and hands them to the younger man, the one with the shaved head, the bulging muscles, and the tattoos. The younger man snatches the money away and smiles. “Thanks.” He stuffs the money into his jeans pocket.
The older man begins to walk away, and the younger one grabs his arm. “No kiss good-bye?”
They both laugh. The older man pecks the younger on his mouth. At the same time, the younger man pulls him closer as if to embrace him and reaches back, smoothly pulling the wallet from the older man’s pants. The other man, unaware, hurries off into the night toward downtown.
“Muscles” counts the money, chuckling, then rifles through the wallet.
He hears the young man whisper, “What story will you make up for wifey about how you lost your wallet?” He throws back his head and laughs out loud at the thought. He pulls the remaining cash from the wallet, extracts a couple of credit cards, and tosses the wallet to the ground.
The creature takes him in with all his senses. He’s perfect.
He tracks his prey through the streets, uphill. He begins to question whether luck will be on his side when the man ducks into an alley. He follows, amused that, after all these blocks, the man has never once noticed him so close behind. The beast stares as his prey pulls out his dick and sprays a bright yellow stream on the brick wall before him. The scent of piss drifts over, ammonia-like, but it’s part of the man’s essence and his heat. Mixed in with the smell of it is also the scent of his semen, left over from his prior business transaction.
Drool runs from the creature’s mouth. He can wait no longer. He pounces, and without a howl, without a growl, without even a bark, he is upon him.
The man doesn’t even have time to scream.
Music from his clock radio woke Thad Matthews at 6:00 a.m. The song, “Smokestack Lightning,” yanked him from a heavy, dream-laden sleep. Its energy forced his eyes open wider, caused synapses, eight hours dormant, to tingle, and made him want to move. Nonetheless he slapped at the snooze button, silencing the bluesy wail, rolled over, and then pulled the comforter over his head. He was glad he had tuned his clock radio to KPLU, Seattle’s only all-blues all-the-time station, but he desperately wanted to recapture just a few more minutes of his dream, in which he’d found himself on the moors of England. All he could recall was that the moors themselves were appropriately fog shrouded and lit with a silvery luminance from above. Someone waited for him in the shadows and fog. And he couldn’t, for the life of him, know for certain if that someone meant to do him harm or meant to just do him.
He’d been having a lot of sexual dreams lately.
As much as he wanted to unravel the mystery of the dream—and to perhaps savor the vague sexual vibrations he was getting from it—sleep eluded him. He found thoughts of the day crowding in, preventing even the most remote possibility of a recurrence of slumber.
Thad sat up in the four-poster, rubbing his eyes like a little boy, and wondered why he bothered setting an alarm. He had no job to go to, no pressing engagements, no muse to answer to—hell, he didn’t even have an appointment for an oil change.
This day, like all his others, stretched out before him completely unmarred with obligations other than the requirements life imposed upon him, such as eating and going to the bathroom, which the erection poking up under his sheets compelled him to take care of. He called this morning wood a pee-on, because once he had put that particular need to rest, it most often subsided.
After stumbling to the adjoining bathroom and letting go with a flow that caused a mighty sigh of relief to issue forth from him, he thought once again that maybe today should be the day he looked harder into getting himself some employment—anything to put him into contact with other people and to fill his waking hours. Lord knew he filled out enough applications and answered enough Help Wanted ads on Craigslist to keep the officials down at unemployment sending him checks. But all his efforts, dishearteningly, were ignored.
It had been nearly four months since he had been laid off at Perk, the national chain of coffee shops headquartered in suburban Shoreline. Thad had been there for six years, in the marketing department, spending his days writing clever sayings for paper coffee cups and point-of-purchase signs for the stores. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. And writing phrases like “Plan on Being Spontaneous” paid the bills, even if it didn’t provide much creative or intellectual challenge. It helped sell coffee, and Thad never kidded himself, that’s why he was employed there.
Except now they didn’t need him anymore. Who would write the signs for their special Iced Coffee blend?
He gazed down at the bubbling golden froth in the toilet and flushed it away, along with his thoughts about his former job. He turned and rinsed his hands under the sink, then splashed cold water on his face. Standing up straight, he stared at his reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror.
“You’re too young for a life of leisure,” he said to his reflection, rubbing his hands through his short, coarse red hair, which stuck up in a multitude of directions. People paid good money for products that would make their hair look as fetchingly disheveled as Thad’s did right now. He peered closer at himself, taking inventory of his pale skin, his gray eyes, and the constellation of freckles that spanned his nose and the tops of his cheeks. He flexed, thinking he was looking a little flabby around the middle.
“Workout day. I’ll head over to the gym today. I need it.” He sucked in his gut and let it out again, thinking it was empty and needed refilling. A Pagliacci delivery pizza only went so far. His slumber and active dream life, he supposed, had all but digested the pie.
Thad moved to the bedroom and began tossing pillows on the floor to make up his bed. He wasn’t sure why he bothered with this either, since it was unlikely anyone would see the military-neat bed except for him, when he would approach it once more this evening just to mess it all up again. But it was important to Thad to have a routine. Otherwise his days would blend into one meaningless chunk of time, formless, without definition or purpose.
It was becomingly increasingly hard enough to distinguish Tuesday from Thursday—or Sunday, for that matter.
Back when he was putting in forty-plus hours a week, he envied the increasing number of friends and acquaintances who had gotten laid off during the economic downturn. The money they made on unemployment seemed like enough—at least for him and his modest lifestyle in his Green Lake studio apartment—and the freedom they had seemed worth the cut in pay.
But now he wasn’t so sure. The uncertainty of what would happen if he still wasn’t working when the unemployment checks dwindled down to zero hung over him like a vague threat. And the freedom wasn’t really so great, when that same threat prevented him from spending much money, lest he should need it down the road for luxuries like food and a roof over his head.
Worst of all was what the job loss had done to his self-esteem. Thad needed some meaning in his life, a purpose. That much had been instilled in him since he was a little boy, back in Chicago growing up in the working class neighborhood of Bridgeport, where his father was a cop and his mother waited tables at a Lithuanian restaurant.
He pulled on a T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants, padded out to the office area of his apartment, and plopped down in front of his laptop. He planned to check out the classifieds on Craigslist, then Monster, then CareerBuilder. When he was first laid off, he looked only at writing and editing jobs but had lately broadened his search to include, well, just about everything. Thad realized he would work retail, man a customer service phone line, groom dogs, or wait tables, as long as he had a job.
Yet the rest of the world hadn’t gotten wind of his eagerness to accept any kind of employment. Or if they had, they weren’t saying.
Before he went through the often-depressing ritual of cyber pavement pounding, he would check out what had happened in the world since he had stumbled in last night from an evening of self-consolation and vodka on Capitol Hill. He hit the little orange-and-blue Firefox icon on the dock at the bottom of his screen to bring up the day’s online news…
And was jolted right out of whatever sluggishness he was feeling. He stared at the lead article for that day’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer. A chill coursed through him, and he slowly shook his head as he read the details of that morning’s top story, titled “Brutal Slaying in Capitol Hill.” The article described how an as-yet-unidentified young man had been killed in an alley in the Seattle neighborhood known for its heavy concentration of gay bars and clubs. Thad had to stop reading for a moment to close his eyes because the gruesome details were simply too much to bear. His stomach churned. The man had not just been killed but had been literally ripped apart. Very little blood was found at the scene. And forensics had already determined that there was no trace of metal found on the victim’s flesh, which meant that the deed had to have been done with something other than a knife. The worst detail of all was the fact that the remains bore definite signs that much of the man’s flesh had been eaten. Authorities are keeping details to themselves regarding who—or what—the perpetrator could have been. The story closed with the usual cautions about what to do—don’t travel alone, avoid strangers and unlit places—when something so unsettling and violent occurs.
Thad exited Firefox sooner than he had planned and stared out the window. His heart thumped in his chest. Bile splashed at the back of his throat and a cold sweat broke out on his forehead. He had been in Capitol Hill the night before, having a dirty martini or three at Neighbours, one of the gay ghetto’s most popular hangouts. He wondered if, as he had made his way back to the bus stop, he had passed the killer or killers. If perhaps the killer or killers had eyed him, wondering if he would suffice for their demented purposes. He could see himself through their eyes, being watched from the shadows of a vestibule or an alley as he made his way back to the bus stop on Broadway. He wondered if he looked appetizing. He had been told on more than one occasion that he was “tasty” and “delicious,” but those doing the describing were not thinking of him as dinner—at least not in the conventional sense. He wondered if perhaps the only thing that had saved him was the coincidental passing of a boisterous group from the University of Washington, coming up alongside him just as the fiend in the dark was ready to pounce. He shivered. For once, rejection was a comforting thought.
Rejection, under these circumstances, was the new “getting lucky.”
Still, some poor soul had not been as lucky as he had, and today forensics was probably busy trying to figure out just who this unfortunate soul was. From what Thad had read, it didn’t sound like they had much to go on. Dental records, maybe? What kind of animal would not only kill a fellow human being but also eat his flesh and drink his blood? Was this a human being at all? Thad had heard of bears occasionally making their misguided ways down from the mountains and into Seattle, but they usually got no farther than suburban parks and backyards. And the “bears” that routinely cruised the Capitol Hill neighborhood were of a much more cuddly variety.
Surely, though, an animal couldn’t have been roaming around busy Capitol Hill on Friday night. The neighborhood, on weekend nights, was a blur of barhoppers and partiers, its hilly streets filled with people and cars jockeying for position. Loud and well lit, it was the kind of neighborhood that would scare the shit out of an animal, at least an animal with normal fears and inclinations. This had to be the work of a person, or people, right? And whoever was behind such a thing had to be majorly warped. Thad had a quick vision of pale gray eyes and enormous canine teeth until he banished the imagery to the back of his brain, grateful for another kind of canine distraction.
That distraction had just sidled up beside Thad, her arrival signaled by a clicking of toenails on hardwood. Thad glanced down at his gray-and-white Chihuahua, Edith, staring up at him with her dark eyes. Her tongue stuck out one side of her mouth, giving her a both comical and wizened appearance. The dog was about a hundred years old, and Thad thought, for better or worse, she was his very best friend in the world. Edith got up on her hind legs to paw at Thad’s lap, indicating to him that he was not the only creature in the house that had to pee first thing in the morning.
Thad got up and, with Edith following impatiently behind, slid into flip-flops and grabbed her leash. “C’mon, sweetheart, let’s take a little walk down to the lake, and then we’ll see about getting us both some breakfast.”
Saturday passed much as Monday had, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and so on. In other words, Thad cleaned his studio apartment that didn’t need cleaning; updated his Facebook status five times and his Twitter status three—stealing quotes from Lily Tomlin and Kathy Griffin to make himself sound more witty than he was; searched on Facebook for several hours for old friends, relatives, classmates, and boyfriends; made tuna salad for lunch—half the can of Chicken of the Sea went to Edith, who seduced him out of it with her eyes; and streamed three episodes of True Blood on his laptop.
By six o’clock Thad was staring out the window and thinking about counting his freckles, just for something to do. Perhaps he could shave the hair between his eyebrows? Do another online crossword? Google himself again?
“I gotta get out of here, money or no money.” He glanced down at Edith, who was lying at the opposite end of the couch. She looked up at him as if she understood and then glanced over at the door.
“That’s right, sweetheart. Daddy needs to get out… at least for a little dinner.” Thad had just gotten a flyer in the mail the day before, describing a new place that had opened on Green Lake Way called the Blue Moon Café. He had gone by it several times during his runs around the lake and watched as the restaurant had slowly come together: one day kitchen equipment was delivered, another it was dark cherry tables and chairs, yet another a shipment of beer and wine. Yet he had no idea, really, what kind of cuisine they’d serve.
But one thing Thad had loved about the Green Lake neighborhood when he moved in was its abundance of stores, restaurants, pubs, and cafés within walking distance. Thad had never owned a car and didn’t want one. So he liked to support the businesses there, even though many of them were more geared toward families and couples than the livelier—and gayer—Capitol Hill neighborhood, ten or fifteen minutes away depending on traffic.
After serving Edith her dinner of Thad’s own special blend of brown rice, chicken, and peas and carrots, Thad hit the shower. He took a long time under the hot spray, washing and conditioning his hair, soaping every orifice, and shaving the hair on his balls and adjacent to his penis, revealing his manhood in its most flattering light. Even in Green Lake and even on an outing for a quiet meal, one never knew whom one would meet. Besides, Thad had all the time in the world.
Don’t remind me, he thought, sliding his head under the shower to rinse the conditioner from his ginger hair.
He dressed in a pair of black jeans, combat boots, and a vintage Cockney Rejects T-shirt he’d found a couple of weeks ago at Value Village. He worked a dollop of hair wax through his hair, making it stand on end fetchingly and giving him that just-out-of-bed look. Although he hadn’t made it to the gym that day, the black made him look thinner and made his shoulders, naturally broad, stand out. The thin cotton fabric also clung alluringly to his pecs.
He thought briefly that he should head to Capitol Hill instead, or even the University District just east of him, but Thad was the kind of guy who, once he had made a plan, stuck to it.
He took Edith out for a quick bathroom break, kissed the top of her head, and set off for the Blue Moon Café. His step was light, and he’d set his status on Facebook to “optimistic.”
Who knew what the night would bring?