Charlie watched Event Horizon when she was seven and had nightmares for months. Eli’s face looks like this is his equivalent experience.
The apple collides with the bully’s shoulder and he freezes. Along with half the hall. Ah, that kind of bully then. Eli looks like he’s about to throw up, and Charlie feels a twinge of regret.
Still. Damage done. Might as well roll with it. “Oh my god, Eli!” Charlie yells, like a scandalised grandmother in a strip club.
Eli looks like he’s wondering what it will sound like when Captain Teeth rips his spine out. At least he’s not running, Charlie thinks. And then the bully’s on him.
“You’re dead,” Captain Teeth growls, already swinging.
Eli moves on instinct—Charlie can tell because he looks as surprised as Captain Teeth when the fist sails right past the tip of his nose and into the locker. Charlie can feel the resounding bang in her bones.
The whole hall makes a collective, “Oooooooh,” sound as Captain Teeth curses, even as he recovers and swings again. Eli swerves out of his reach again. He looks a little like a wavy, car-lot tube man and this is the most fun Charlie’s had in months.
Missing a second time just incenses Captain Teeth even more. By the time he rears back to swing again his face is bright red, and there’s a nice cloud of rage-spittle around his mouth. Which makes the third boy stepping between Eli and his attacker particularly badass.
Christopher Nolan’s directing senses are probably itching like crazy.
“Hey!” the new boy says, shoving Captain Teeth back like a letterman-jacket-wearing superhero. “Back off, Tanner!”
Captain Teeth—Tanner—is beyond enraged. Charlie’s seen cartoon characters calmer in the face of adversity. “Fuck off, you fa—”
“Finish that sentence,” Super Letterman snaps, voice made of knives. “I fucking dare you.”
Tanner doesn’t, though his glare practically does it for him. Eli looks like he can feel the eyes of everyone in the hall like a rash. Charlie wants popcorn.
“Yeah, I thought so,” Super Letterman says, and Charlie fights the urge to slow clap. “Walk away.”
And Tanner . . . does. He looks like he’d rather skin himself alive than do it, but his sneakers squeak on the linoleum as he backs up nonetheless.
“Watch your back, Swann,” he says in parting. Eli’s apparently so high on stepping into this alternate reality where he’s not a smear on the lockers he just salutes in reply. And okay, she’s rooting for the kid now.
Reality hits unpause on the hall and students start moving in fits and starts, hissing to each other in excited whispers. This gossip will probably carry them through the next class and a half at least.
Super Letterman turns to Eli, and Eli suddenly looks like he’s swallowed his tongue. Charlie backs up against the lockers and feigns looking at her phone as she shamelessly eavesdrops.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Eli says.
When Charlie takes a quick peek, Super Letterman has an expression that makes him look like he’s wearing a leather jacket by association. It suits him like damn. Charlie’s waiting for an indie soundtrack to drop, any moment now.
“Yeah,” Super Letterman says, “I kinda did. You okay?”
“Yeah,” Eli says, and laughs like he’s just getting blood back into his brain. “He, ah—he missed.”
Werewolf, Charlie wants to hiss, but she’d rather eat her own leg than interrupt the real-life CW show she’s witnessing.
“No shit,” Super Letterman says, breaking into a grin and yeah, okay, she doesn’t blame Eli. If that was aimed at her she’d resemble a bag of mashed potato as well.
“You got some moves,” Super Letterman says, shoving Eli like they’re buddies. Friends. Pals. Only judging by Eli’s expression that’s not the interaction he was expecting, and oh my god, Super Letterman is into Eli too.
Whither art thou, popcorn?
“Yeah.” Eli sounds slightly hysterical. “I think I’d rather have whatever you just did though.”
“Ah.” Super Letterman glances after the bully. “That’d be insider knowledge.” He leans forward like he’s unaware doing so might kill Eli. And Charlie, who wants to sell the rights to this in Hollywood. “Austin’s one more infraction away from being kicked off the baseball team before the season even starts.”
“Being a dickbag isn’t an infraction?” Eli says, and looks like he’s struggling not to high five himself when it makes Super Letterman laugh.
“Not when you have a .300 batting average,” Super Letterman says.
Eli laughs too hard at that, but Super Letterman just glows, so Charlie’s gonna wrack up another point in Eli’s corner.
“Hey, a bunch of us are gonna head out to the cabin after the game tonight,” Super Letterman says, sounding just a bit too casual. “Wanna come?”
Eli’s mouth becomes the MVP of the entire situation by not freezing like the rest of him. “Y-yeah,” he says, with only a slight hitch to betray the way his insides have probably just burst into flames.
Charlie’s witnessing history right here, folks.
Super Letterman grins and Charlie’s three seconds away from sourcing confetti. “Sweet! I’ll see you then.”
And then he’s walking away, and Charlie’s amazed Eli hasn’t thrown up some puppies and maybe a rainbow. Not even turning around to find her lurking like a creeper is enough to dampen his mood.
“That was adorable,” Charlie says and, god help her, she means it. She makes a mental note to find out Super Letterman’s name so she can come up with a portmanteau.
Eli’s grinning as he says, “I’m ignoring you forever now, thanks.”
“Forever” turns out to be until his shift at the diner after school, when Charlie slides onto a seat at the counter. It’s a quiet afternoon: one family of five is making a travesty of the back booth, and Ms Harker is at the counter eating her biweekly slice of pie, but other than that the place is empty.
Eli’s mom is out on an errand, leaving him to handle the customer service. Pros: he’ll get the lion’s share of the tips. Cons: short of dragging Costa out of the kitchen, Eli has to take Charlie’s order.
That doesn’t mean he’ll do it happily, though.
“Welcome to the Rose Lake Diner, what can I get you?”
He takes a petty delight in making his voice as flat and disinterested as possible, biting back a grin when Charlie rolls her eyes. She opens her mouth, but whatever commentary she was about to offer is cut off when a woman takes the stool next to her. Eli looks over, shifting into customer service mode, only to do a double take—height and a few years’ age difference aside, the newcomer is a carbon copy of Charlie.
“You must be Eli,” she says with a warm smile. “I’m Alyssa.”
She’s too young to be Charlie’s mother so . . . sister? Eli flashes back to last night, a dark figure taking off after the monster as Charlie stopped to check on him.
“Alyssa.” Eli starts to cross his arms when the bell above the door jangles and his mom enters, a frown forming as she notices his posture. Fuck, he hates working customer service sometimes. He straightens and settles for holding his order pad particularly aggressively. “You gonna try and get my face punched off too?”
Alyssa doesn’t even blink, just viciously pinches Charlie on the arm.
“What did you do?” Alyssa demands as Charlie squirms away.
“Nothing that wasn’t necessary.” Eli’s gratified to realize Alyssa’s backing him up in the glaring department.
“Okay fine!” Charlie says, throwing up her hands. “It was a dick move, I’m sorry! But you were being stubborn.”
“And you’re a crazy person,” Eli retorts, voice dropping to a hiss when Ms. Harker glances over from where she’s demolishing her apple pie. “Werewolves don’t exist.”
“You went with werewolves?” Alyssa groans, and Eli’s heart sings. He was right! He was absolutely— “Never lead with the truth! You know that!”
“Come on,” Charlie snorts. “What should I have gone with instead, ‘rabid dog’?”
Eli raises a hand. “For the record? I totally would have bought rabid dog.”
Alyssa gestures sharply to him in emphasis as Charlie rolls her eyes again. It’s probably the weirdest conversation Eli’s ever had.
“Whatever,” Charlie says. “Well, that ‘rabid dog’ got away from us last night.” Eli can practically hear the quotation marks. “And we could really use your help tracking it down.”
Eli feels like he’s been sucked into an episode of that show his mom’s obsessed with. God, what’s it called? The one with the hot dudes who hunt demons and never fucking communicate.
“Who are you?” he asks quietly, belatedly realising it should have been the first question out of his mouth when Charlie rocked up in biology. “Why were you even in the preserve last night?”
Charlie opens her mouth and Alyssa clamps a hand over it, a big silver ring glinting on one finger. “Let’s just say we’re here to make sure the thing that attacked you last night doesn’t do it to anyone else. We-—ugh, really?”
She snatches her hand back, grimacing, and Eli feels like she should’ve known better. He’s known Charlie for about three seconds, and he knows she’s the type to lick a person’s hand if the situation calls for it.
“Okay. So,” Eli says as Alyssa scrubs at her palm with a napkin, “how am I supposed to help you with that?”
“Rabid dogs gravitate towards each other on the full moon,” Charlie says.
Jesus Christ. Eli looks between the two, praying for the punchline, but every second that passes makes it more apparent there isn’t one coming. This is happening. And it’s happening to him.
“You’re serious about this,” he says.
“Deadly. Also,” Charlie leans forward like she’s imparting a great secret, and Eli leans in to hear it. “I’d like the cheeseburger.”
His first impression was spot on: Charlie’s a little shit. Eli’s about to tell her so when a voice behind him interrupts.
“Good choice.” His mother’s hand rests on his shoulder, making him jump. “Eli, I need a second after you put in their orders, yeah?”
“Sure. I’ll just—um. Can I get you anything else?” he asks, turning back to the sisters as his mom moves to the end of the counter.
“I’ll take one of those cheeseburgers too,” Alyssa says with a faint smile. “Since they come so highly recommended.”
“Okay. I’ll just . . .” He gestures over his shoulder and steps to the order window. “Hey Costa, two cheeseburgers.”
There’s an ominous twisting in his stomach and a headache building behind his left eye, but there’s no point putting it off. His mom has settled at the counter to work on the books anyway, so it’s not like she wouldn’t notice if he started stalling. With a slight variation of his customer-service smile on his lips, Eli steps over to her.
“Hey.” He grabs a towel and starts wiping the counter. Something to keep his hands busy. “Everything go okay at the bank?”
“It was the daily deposit, it went just fine. Thought I’d stop by the store and pick up some cereal since we’re almost out.” She glances up from the screen, fixing him with a mild gaze that he doesn’t trust at all. “I ran into Mr. Pembroke while I was there.”
“Oh? Interesting.” His head throbs with how badly he doesn’t want this conversation to happen.
“Very interesting,” his mother says. “He happened to mention you failed your pop quiz this morning.”
Of course he did. Of course this is a thing that happens in small towns.
“It was one quiz,” he says.
His mother lowers the laptop screen, and his stomach lurches.
“I don’t care about the quiz,” she says quietly. She means it, too, Eli knows—she’s great like that. “I just want to make sure you’re okay. You’ve never flunked a quiz before, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from daytime TV it’s that one day you’re failing quizzes and the next day you’re snorting cocaine off bathroom counters.”
“Like I could even find cocaine in Rose Lake,” Eli says, and his mother gives him A Look despite his joking tone. “I’m okay, I promise. I just—I didn’t sleep well last night, that’s all.”
Amazing what heavy blood loss does to your circadian rhythm.
“You’re not getting sick, are you?” she frowns, and he pastes a hasty smile on his face.
“No, I’m fine!” His head throbs again. “I feel great.”
She doesn’t look convinced, but after a soul-searching look she nods. “Okay. Just—” She sighs. “You know I’ve always got your back, right?”
“I know.” And he does—he knows there’s nothing he could tell her that would make her turn her back on him, and he feels better just saying it out loud. Even if he has no intention of saying the w word out loud. Ever.
“I’m so glad I got so lucky with you.” She reaches over the counter and pats his cheek, and the lungful of her perfume is comforting even as it overwhelms him. “Don’t know what I would’ve done if you’d turned out to be a disappointment.”
Eli pulls back to swat at her with the towel, and she laughs, shifting back on her stool.
“Oh! Since I’m such a bright spot in your life,” Eli grins, then grins wider when his mother rolls her eyes, “do you think I can end my shift early tonight?” He goes back to wiping the counter to combat the urge to fidget. “I want to catch the end of the football game.”
“The football game,” his mother repeats flatly. “You. Want to go to a football game.”
“A game in which a ball is in play. A sportsball game, if you will. A—”
“Yes, okay, thank you,” Eli interrupts. “Can I go?”
She smiles. “Clean that back table and you’re good.”
“Have I told you lately that you’re the best mother I’ve ever had?” he beams.
“Why, thank you,” she says, winking at him as she brings her laptop screen back up. “I’ll be putting that on my resume.”
By the time he’s cleaned the horror show at the back table, he’s wrestled himself into some level of logic. The w word aside, something’s happening to him, and Charlie and Alyssa are the only people that might know what. So after he finishes, spends fifteen minutes trying on every shirt in his closet, and returns downstairs, he doesn’t hesitate as he approaches the sisters.
They’re having a heated, hushed argument as he approaches. One that cuts off abruptly when they see him.
“I—” Eli stops, pinching the bridge of his nose. His headache grows along with his anxiety. “Okay look, I might need to ask a few questions.”
“And the ostrich arises,” Charlie says grandly, only to be elbowed by her sister.
Eli covers his whole face as he asks, “I’m going to the game, do you want to come?”
“YES!” Charlie says, suddenly enthusiastic in a way that has nothing to do with sarcasm. When Eli puts his hands down it’s to find Alyssa staring at her suspiciously. Which can’t be a good sign.
Nevertheless, Alyssa says, “I have some research to do,” before turning back to Eli. “You kids have fun.” And then to Charlie: “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Eli’s regretting this already.
They’re halfway to school before Charlie breaks. “Okay hit me. I know you have questions.”
The game is already in full swing—Eli can hear the crowd already, which shouldn’t be possible. So, okay. Let’s start there.
“Why can I hear the game from here?”
“Super senses,” Charlie says happily as they cross the empty street. “Comes with the territory.”
“What else comes with the territory?”
Charlie, for once, looks like she’s considering her answer. “For you? Technically nothing.”
What? “Please talk to me like someone who’s only seen Ginger Snaps once, when he was eight.”
Charlie snorts as she jumps the curb ahead of him. She’s wearing thick-soled combat boots, but even so, Eli has a few inches on her though he’s on the street.
“Sorry,” she says. “A territory is where a pack settles. It . . . grounds the pack. Makes the members less volatile.”
“So without one, I’m gonna be volatile?”
“Eventually.” Charlie has the grace to wince as she drops the news. “The wolf we’re tracking? They haven’t got a pack or a territory. It’s made them . . .”
“Volatile,” Eli says morbidly, rubbing his arm.
“We call it Moon Madness,” Charlie says. “Wolves without a territory eventually lose their humanity. It’s our job to—”
Charlie cuts off but Eli can fill in the blanks. “So you’re hunters?”
“Not really.” She has to raise her voice now they’re nearing the field. “We’re Envoys.” Eli’s face must show his confusion because she continues. “We’re human members of the Harford pack. Werewolves can’t cross territory lines, but Envoys can. We’re tasked with tracking the rogue and either bringing them in, or . . .”
“Killing them,” Eli finishes. She doesn’t dispute it. The night suddenly seems a lot colder than it did before, and Charlie—short, round, spitfire Charlie—seems a lot sharper.
Eli’s never been a sports fan. Sweaty, fit people aside, it’s pointless. But he’s never been so happy to have a conversation cut off by a roaring stand of football enthusiasts.
They’ve caught the end of the game if the timer is anything to go by, so they don’t try to find seats. It’s pointless anyway—Rose Lake High’s sports teams are the town’s pride and joy. Everyone turns up for games, and they collectively celebrate or mourn wins and losses.
The stands are packed full of yelling fans waving bright signs against bright jerseys and brighter stadium lights. In fact, everything’s bright. Even the noise.
Eli doesn’t realise it’s happening until it’s too late: his building headache starts chiselling behind his eyes, making the spotlighted grounds oversaturated and jarring. The lights themselves are haloed and piercing, and the crowd is too . . . too much.
It’s not just the noise; it’s what its made up of. There’s the voices, talking and yelling and muttering, but there’s so much more that Eli’s never noticed before. The crunching of chip packets, the grinding of teeth, and the incessant, omnipresent humming from the stadium lights.
It’s everything, all at once, and Eli doesn’t realise he’s clapped his hands to his ears until he hears Charlie’s muffled voice.
“Focus on me,” she’s saying. “Just my voice. C’mon, filter everything else out. Just me.”
Eli focuses and breathes and focuses and focuses. The crowd fades eventually, but the humming, the humming persists. It’s still a relief.
“What the hell was that?” he gasps, realising he’s hunched over under the stands. When did they move?
“It’s called sensory overload,” Charlie says, not without sympathy. “Fun, huh? My friend Hammy got it all the time. You’re gonna sense a lot more than you used to. Hear more, smell more. Sometimes your brain just kinda freaks out about it.”
“I feel like Hollywood hasn’t really prepared me for this whole werewolf thing.” And, huh. That’s what it feels like to say it out loud.
Charlie pats him on the shoulder, only a little condescending. “It does that about a lot of things.”
Eli scrubs his hands over his face and groans. “I hate this.”
“Hey, look on the bright side,” Charlie says. “You’re gonna be able to climb trees really, really fast.”
“You suck at this,” he says, through his fingers.
“Yeah, but it sounds like someone just scored a touchdown,” Charlie says. “And you didn’t freak out.”
And . . . she’s right. The crowd is roaring, but Eli’s so focused on Charlie he automatically tuned it out.
Charlie looks smug as hell, but Eli can’t even be mad. “You’re welcome,” she says.
While we have you here…
Hug Your Local Werewolf is only possible because of the support of our pack over on Patreon.
If you like what we have going here, you can support us for as little as $1 a month. Patrons get first access to episodes, behind-the-scenes insight, author Q&As and more.
So how about it? Ready to hug your local werewolf?