“One in Four Adults”
Cath Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and adults, from humor to horror. She is the author of the Klaereon Scroll series, the most recent of which is The Pawn of Isis, coming in March, 2019. She lives and works in Iowa, teaching English to non-native speakers.
She placed the pan on the burner. “Lycanthropy?”He wasn’t joking. “You know there are genetic indicators.”“First of all, just because Peter Stumpf is the most famous werewolf in the werewolf books, and you’re related, I don’t think that means you’re going to become a werewolf. He had an enchanted belt, right? That’s not a genetic indicator.”
She presses her cheek to the center of his chest, listening to thebeat of his hand-grenade heart.It ticks like a time bomb, but no, he insists it’s a grenade, pin forever almost-pulled, and through the skin at his sternum she can feel the telltale ridges, precise metal squares, sharper than bone. She strokes the shallow indents. He shudders.“It might go off at any time,” he says. A bit warning. A bit bragging.
“We Do Not Speak of the Not Speaking”
“What does my being from out of town have to do with it?”“Well,” Jake said, spitting a wad of tobacco on the stained porch, “if you weren’t a foreigner, you’d know who He Who Must Not Be Named is.”“I do know! He was some evil wizard gunshooter who came to this town ages ago. Tore up half the town with exploding bullets, before the Matron shot him in the head. My sister says he comes back every couple years, with glazed eyes and the scabbed bullet hole between his eyes, until the Matron sends him away again.”
Drabblecast 399 – Trifecta: We Don’t Talk Any More
by Amanda C. Davis
We Do Not Speak of the Not Speaking
by David Steffen
When Cassie stepped out of the general store, she saw a horseman galloping into town like he had the devil on his heels. “Now who do you suppose that is?” she asked.
Jake stopped his rocking chair, but said nothing.
“His business must be something mighty vital, to be carrying on like that.”
The young man sawed at the reins and pulled his horse to a halt in front of the store. His horse panted fiercely from the exertion of the run. “Someone’s coming! Someone’s coming!”
“Who’s coming?” Jake asked.
The young man didn’t seem to notice the question, staring intently back the way he’d come.
“I’m Cassie,” she offered. She’d seen him around, but had somehow never heard his name. The young man looked at her with an odd look to his eye, but still said nothing. “Wait a minute, it isn’t He Who Must Not Be Named, is it?” She’d heard all kinds of queer stories from her sister, who’d married into this dusty, odd little town. Cassie was only here for a few days to visit.
The young man exchanged a look with Jake. “Is she serious?” the young man asked.
“She’s a foreigner,” Jake said, as if it were an explanation.
“I’m not a foreigner. I live half a day’s ride from here with my pa. I’ve lived there my whole life. Ain’t exactly a different country.”
“Foreigner,” Jake said. “No insult meant by that, mind you. It’s just the way of things, round here. If you live in the town or a nearby farm, you’re a townie. Else, you’re a foreigner. Ain’t nothing more simple.”
“What does my being from out of town have to do with it?”
“Well,” Jake said, spitting a wad of tobacco on the stained porch, “if you weren’t a foreigner, you’d know who He Who Must Not Be Named is.”
“I do know! He was some evil wizard gunshooter who came to this town ages ago. Tore up half the town with exploding bullets, before the Matron shot him in the head. My sister says he comes back every couple years, with glazed eyes and the scabbed bullet hole between his eyes, until the Matron sends him away again.”
Jake shook his head. “You’re thinking of He Whose Name Must Not Be Uttered.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said, wasn’t it?”
“No, you said He Who Must Not Be Named.”
Cassie threw up her arms in frustration. “Well, what’s the difference?”
“Different people entire,” the young man said.
“Well, who’s He Who Must Not Be Named, then?”
“That’s me,” the young man said, simply.
“Why can’t you be named?”
“The Matron made a decree when I was born. She was dabbling into fairy magic at the time, and heard that if a fairy hears your name, they have power over you. For a few years, nobody was allowed to name their babies, because no name meant no weakness. It got mighty confusing, I hear, until the Matron told the parents they could pick out names.”
“Why not you?”
“The Matron said it was because we may as well have one of us be safe, but I think she had a dislike toward my ma. I hear my ma talked sass at the Matron once or twice.”
“Hush,” Jake said. “Have some respect for the Matron. She’s twice the woman your ma ever was.”
“Leastways,” the young man said. “He Whose Name Must Not Be Uttered used to be known as He Who Must Not Be Named, but when I came around the Matron decided that name worked better for me.”
“Anyhow,” Cassie said. “Obviously it ain’t you you’re riding ahead of. Is it He Whose Name Must Not Be Uttered?”
The young man shook his head. “Nope. I wouldn’t be riding ahead for him. He’s not dangerous at all since his bullets ran out. He just charges through town, guns clicking. The only thing powerful about him now is his stink.”
“Who is it then?” Cassie asked. “She Who Shan’t Be Spoken Of?”
“How did you know about her?” Jake demanded, suddenly very intent.
“My sister told me, but she only knew that name. Why can’t anyone talk about her?” The atmosphere seemed suddenly oppressive, as if the sky was pushing down on her.
The young man shifted uncomfortably, glancing up at the sky. “I don’t rightly know. We ain’t been allowed to talk about her for so long, I don’t even know who she was, or what she did.”
“Why can’t you speak of her, Jake?” Cassie asked.
“Can’t talk about that neither,” Jake said. “Tain’t safe.” Jake darted a glance upward meaningfully.
Cassie looked up. A black storm cloud was building rapidly directly above the town, surrounded by blue skies. Lightning played fiercely in its depths.
“Mayhap we could talk about something else,” Jake said. He sounded like he was trying to sound casual, but his voice was very firm.
“Okay then. All right, I’ve got one more guess.” She looked up again. The clouds were already dissipating into the dry air. “Maybe it’s It Whose Existence Shall Under No Circumstances Be Credited As Plausible.”
“Children’s stories,” the young man said quickly.
“Yes, yes of course,” Jake said, with a glance over his shoulder. “Old wives’ tales.” The clouds dissipated as quickly as they had formed.
A cloud of dust was growing over the road in the direction the young man had come from, and he jumped to his feet. “There he is! There he is!”
They all watched as it drew closer. “The mail coach?” Cassie asked.
“Yes, the mail coach! I’m expecting a letter from my sweetheart.”
“Didn’t you just get a letter from her yesterday?” Jake asked.
“And another the day before?”
“Oh yeah,” Cassie said. “My sister was telling me about her. She Who Never Shuts Her Yapper, right?”
The young man looked at her coldly. “She has a name. Mary, which you’d know if you’d bothered to ask.” He turned to Jake. “She’s rude, even for a foreigner, ain’t she?”
Jake shrugged, and went on rocking.
One in Four Adults
By Catherine Schaff-Stump
“Hey honey.” She watched him come in the front door and then turned her attention back to chopping steak, the bloody bits smearing the white cutting board with gore. “How was it?”
He walked into the kitchen and hooked chopped green olives with one finger. Chewing, he took a spot at the other counter and unpacked his lunch. “We have to talk.”
She put the knife in the sink, metal against metal. Frowning at the blood, she rinsed the blade. “That sounds serious.” She crossed the smooth wood floor to where the tea towels hung and wiped her hands dry. “What’s going on? Is there a problem?”
“Yeah, well,” his eyes grazed the cutting board, then moved back to her. “Dr. Banks found something odd.”
“Okay.” She swallowed her voice to control it, took a deep breath and tried again. “So the stomach biopsy?”
“Good.” She exhaled.
He took out an empty yogurt cup and a plastic bag, throwing one in the recycler and the other in the trash. “It’s something else.”
“Was there something else?” She rubbed her upper lip. They’d been worrying about the biopsy for two weeks, and it was nothing but a relief that it had come back normal. She blinked. “A mole?”
“Hairs. Dr. Banks found some unusual hairs.”
She laughed. “Hairs, huh? Well, you are turning into an old bugger.”
He didn’t laugh, and when she noticed, she clamped her mouth shut. Opening the bottom drawer of the oven, she pulled out a frying pan. “Excuse me.” She crossed in front of him and retrieved the cooking spray out of the spice cupboard. “So, hairs.” His cue to continue.
“They’re unusual. Like…wolf hairs.”
“Dr. Banks thinks that there’s a small chance that we’ll have to watch for lycanthropy.”
She placed the pan on the burner. “Lycanthropy?”
He wasn’t joking. “You know there are genetic indicators.”
“First of all, just because Peter Stumpf is the most famous werewolf in the werewolf books, and you’re related, I don’t think that means you’re going to become a werewolf. He had an enchanted belt, right? That’s not a genetic indicator.”
“You know we don’t really know what happened there.”
“Yes, we do. A bunch of poor villagers wanted his fortune and decided to kill him. You were lucky his son ran for it.” She grabbed a bowl of onions and threw them in the pan, then turned on the burner, the bug zapping sound of the gas lighter igniting a flame. The kitchen smelled like a garage for a moment.
He put a fiber bar and a banana in his lunch box and put it on top of the refrigerator as the onions began to hiss. “Lycanthropy isn’t all that unusual. “
“One in four adults have hairs like this and don’t even know it.”
She mixed the onions in the olive oil. He was looking intensely at her. No, she was pretty sure he was looking at the chunks of sirloin on the cutting board. Which was disturbing.
“And,” he continued, “usually nothing happens. They just have odd hairs. Eyebrow hair, hair in their ears, up their nose.”
“Are you,” she pointed at him with a spatula. A small square of onion fell onto the smooth wood floor. “thinking about eating this steak?”
“I was thinking we needed to put the kettle on, to rinse the cutting board after you put that in the pan.”
Good answer. Usual answer. She buried the spatula in onions after another stir and handed him the kettle. He moved closer to her to fill it. “So, what I’m hearing is that you have some hairs that might indicate you could turn into a werewolf, but you probably won’t. “
“I’m supposed to react to that how?”
He lit a burner under the kettle. “I don’t know. How do you think I feel? I’m the one that might turn into a werewolf.”
“Well, yeah. There’s that.” She felt like a heel. She kissed him on the forehead. “So, where do we go from here?” She scraped the cuts of meat into the pan, and the fragrance of onion and searing meat hit her nose in a cloud of culinary bliss.
“I’m supposed to take some pills for four months. “ On the counter where his lunch box had been was a pill bottle as large as a telescope. “Wolfsbane.”
“You can get that at Walgreen’s?”
“Apparently. I take it four times a day, eight times during the full moon.”
“Sure. I should probably switch to a vegetarian diet.”
She turned off the burner and pursed her lips. “Okay. I wish we’d had that information a little sooner.”
“It’s supposed to help with any tendency toward blood lust, if I, you know, start changing.”
The teakettle whistled. He wrapped the handle in a hot pad, put the cutting board in the sink, and poured away the blood. She put a lid on top of the half-cooked steak and onions. “That’s a big change.” She touched his arm. “We’ll make that work. Beans are awesome.”
“An excellent source of protein,” he quoted. “Then we just watch. Well, Doctor Banks watches. In another six months, we’re going to see if I have more wolf hairs, if my canines elongate. We’ll do a DNA test, make sure that nothing is looking canine. We’ll do that every six months.”
She stared at him. “I don’t know what to say.”
“I want you to leave me.” He grabbed her hands. “You’ve got to leave me.”
Her chin jutted out. “I’m not leaving you.”
“Every six months is all insurance will pay for. What if I turn into a werewolf? What if I attack you? What if I kill you?”
He pulled her close. She smelled him, the musky warmth. Life would be impossible without him.
She sniffed and blinked. “It’s not certain you’re going to become a werewolf. What if you’re just the guy who looks like he could be a werewolf?” She smiled. “You know, unibrow, furry chest. You’ve always been that guy. We’ll pay for an extra test in between, each month if you like. I’ve got a little money put aside. There’s no certainty, right?”
“None.” He stepped away from her, holding her shoulders. “Don’t you think it’s too risky?”
“You might become a werewolf. But you’re always going to be the man I married. We’re doing this together. If one in four adults have this, there has to be equipment at Care Pro, right? Whatever wolves need.”
He cried and she cried for a time. The sun outside their kitchen window dimmed in earnest. “Okay,” he sniffed. “Okay. That’s doable. It’s a plan.”
Her eyes were red. The great illusion of normal was something she would work fiercely to maintain, as much as she could. “Why don’t you get your clothes out for tomorrow? I’ll set the table.”
He hugged her again ferociously and walked into the hallway to climb the stairs. She uncovered the half-cooked meat, popped a braised red cube into her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. One in four humans turned into a wolf, huh? The reverse was also true. One in four wolves changed into a human. She’d been pretending so long, she forgot sometimes. That was the real reason they never had her family over.
She swallowed, making sure to lick the blood off her teeth. As a carnivore herself, she knew the vegetarian diet was the last thing he needed. It was probably time to go paleo.