The feature story this week, “The Full Moon Group” by Dianne M. Williams is a Drabblecast original and reminds us that creatures of all walks of life need a little support now and then…
Time was running out, and Matt couldn’t stand the thought of driving home for the change. He turned off the car in the parking lot across the street from the stone church and checked the address. The internet ad said: “Shifter Support — we welcome all shifters. We take security seriously…”
The Full Moon Group
by Dianne M. Williams
Time was running out, and Matt couldn’t stand the thought of driving home for the change. He turned off the car in the parking lot across the street from the stone church and checked the address. The internet ad said: “Shifter Support — we welcome all shifters. We take security seriously.” With the full moon tonight, he needed his own place to shift, away from family, old friends, and old memories.
He trudged down the old stone steps around back.Tugging his shirt down, he pushed through the heavy oak door. The basement hadn’t been refurbished since the seventies. Cheap folding tables, warped by decades of heavy casseroles, held coffee and snacks against one wall. Folding chairs were arranged in a circle in the center of the room. Matt’s shoulders sagged when he saw the arrangement. They would definitely be expected to share about themselves.
His attention wandered back to the snack table. He was starving, but didn’t know if he could keep anything down. Shifting was terrible, feeling every bone in his body turn to fluffy white stuffing and his eyes and nose become plastic bits sewn on with thread. A shiver ran down his spine, welcome proof that he was still human for a little while. Hungry, but human.
Giving in to his stomach, Matt went to the table and loaded a few things onto a cheap paper plate. No point in turning down free food. He would never get used to the Midwest’s love of all things meat. Nothing but cocktail weenies and bacon wrapped things. Not a veggie tray in sight. He added a couple of cocktail weenies in barbecue sauce, a cocktail weenie wrapped in bacon, and what seemed to be a cocktail weenie wrapped in some kind of baked dough onto his plate.
He went to the circle and kicked a chair as far out of the arrangement as he could, the rubber pads squeaking across the floor. Matt dropped into the chair and poked at one of the snacks with his fork. Barbecue sauce stained the plastic tines a rusty brown color.
A big man with a dark scar down one cheek, and long hair pulled back into a ponytail, sat down beside him. The man wore a tie dyed t-shirt that said ‘Q-Bowl.’ The tie-dye really hurt the tough guy look. “Hey.”
Matt did his best to smile. “Hey.”
The man’s smile was as bright as his shirt. “First time with the group?”
“Um, yeah,” Matt said.
“Well, I’m Steve. I usually run the group here.” The man pointed to a handwritten name tag on his breast. In one corner he’d added ‘him/his.’
He held out a lean, hairy hand.
“Matt,” Matt said, shaking hands. He hadn’t thought to put any pronouns on his name tag, or even get a nametag for that matter.
Steve reminded him of his Uncle Jim who transformed into a leopard print bear at the full moon. He’d lost an ear during a transformation a few years back and it was too late to reattach it when they found it behind the dresser the next morning. It left his uncle with a similar scar down one side of his face.
“Are you new in town?” Steve asked.
Matt ate one of the slimy sausages, nodding. “College,” he mumbled. “I can’t shift in the dorm.”
“No, you can’t. All kinds of terrible things could happen with one of us in an enclosed space like that.”
Matt nodded, stuffing one of the pastry-wrapped things into his mouth. Turning into a teddy bear with that many teenage boys turned college freshmen around was a recipe for disaster. He could wake up with a tattoo or stuffed in the laundry chute or worse.
“Well, you’ll be safe here tonight,” Steve said. “We’re a docile bunch once we shift.”
More people had come through the door and now gathered around the snack table, talking like fast friends. Matt hadn’t seen so many wereteddies in one place before in his life, at least twenty people. The support group back home was less than half this size.
Steve checked his watch, and stood. “Why don’t we go ahead and get started? Help me with the shutters before you sit down, please.”
Uncertain if he should consider himself in the request, Matt remained in his seat while the others closed and locked a large, metal cage over each door and window. They weren’t kidding about the security around here. They’d never done anything like this back home. What was the point when they were going to spend the night with mouths full of stuffing and go their separate ways in the morning?
Steve tugged his t-shirt back into place and settled into a chair. “All right, let’s get started. We’re running a little late tonight, so we might need to cut sharing short. Still, I want to be sure that everyone who feels like they need to talk has a chance.”
He gave Matt a look on that last sentence and Matt turned away to make a study of the cheap linoleum floors, the kind that tended to peel up around the edges of the room.He definitely did not feel like he needed to talk. He’d talked himself out in his family’s support group back home. If he could sit in the corner for the rest of the night, ignored by everyone, he would consider the whole thing a success.
A woman on the other side of the circle saved him by raising her hand. She couldn’t have been more than a couple of years older than Matt. She wore a flower headband over her close-cropped natural hair. Her name tag read ‘Naquisha’ and ‘her/hers.’
“I broke up with my boyfriend this week,” she said.
The rest of the group gave knowing nods. “The usual reason?” one of them asked.
“Fuck you, Humboldt,” Naquisha said. “But yes. The mysterious nights away and all of that.”
“That explains the haircut,” the woman next to Matt whispered.
Matt only heard her as a buzz in his ear, his mind on the bits of sky he could see through the windows.
“I’m really sorry, Naquisha,” Steve said, shooting the other woman a look. “Relationships are hard for people like us.”
Matt nodded along with the rest. He’d whispered phone calls on full moon days when he didn’t want his parents to hear him breaking plans with inevitable exes. And increasingly needy snaps and texts when he woke up the next morning. Where you at? Why won’t you answer me? Questions that Matt could never answer.
“What about you Matt? You have something to add?” Steve asked.
Matt cleared his throat. “I, uh, I just know what she means. About relationships. They all go horribly wrong after a couple of moons.”
“Some of us don’t even get that far in a relationship,” Humboldt said. He was a big man, burly as he mom liked to say, his jacket barely containing his shoulders.
“I mean it’s just easier not to get close to people is all,” Matt said.
Steve nodded. “It sounds like you have some experience with that.”
Matt touched his phone in his pocket, remembering Damien’s smile. “It’s not a big deal or anything. I have a boyfriend back home but he’s not ah– and he doesn’t know I’m ah– it’s gotten complicated.”
The woman beside him patted his shoulder awkwardly while Matt scrambled for some way to change the subject.
Steve saved him. “Barnaby, why don’t you tell us why you’re back here this month? You planned to shift at home last month. How did it go?”
Matt kept his head down in case these people tried to engage him again. They seemed nice enough, but he just wanted to get tonight over with.
Barnaby wore beat-up, brown loafers and khaki pants, the epitomy of the suburban dad. “Well, my wife and I talked it over. She was okay with it on a trial basis as long as our son wasn’t in the house when I changed. We both figured we could dope me up with tranquilizers beforehand and keep me in the basement.”
Barnaby rubbed his hands on his pants. “Well, the drugs worked alright, I was too out of it to use the stairs, but I found one of my son’s stuffed animals while I was down there. One of his favorites from our trip to the zoo last summer. It was a stuffed wolf. Hardly looked anything like the real thing, but man, he loved that damn thing. And well, I don’t know what happened really. I guess my other half didn’t like it much because there was hardly anything left of it in the morning.”
Humboldt snorted. “Tough guy like you is afraid of a pair of beady little plastic eyes?”
Barnaby glared at him, shaking the hair out of his eyes. “Shut up. My son really loved that thing. I had to drive two hours out of my way the next morning to replace it, and I shat polyfill stuffing for a week.”
Everyone but Matt laughed. Something felt off. In were-form, he couldn’t so much as move one stuffed paw. How had this guy attacked anything?
Humboldt snorted again and crossed his arms over his chest. “That reminds me of the time I woke up muzzle deep in deer entrails. This was back in my younger days, you understand. I used to drive out into the woods to shift. I was a well-fed city boy so my other form had never been hungry enough to hunt. I’d fight the local pack or find some piece of wolf-tail, but I’d never hunted before that night. I brought the doe down just before moonset so I shifted back with intestines squeaking between my teeth. I still can’t touch those little sausages.”
Matt looked at the bit of sausage left on his plate and his stomach clenched around one terrified, impossible thought. Holy shit these people aren’t wereteddies. They’re werewolves.
“For me it was squirrel bones,” Steve said. “I woke up in bed one morning with one jammed between two teeth. I had a heck of a time explaining that to the dentist.”
And they were off, swapping tales of animal parts and entrails. A growing horror wrapped itself around Matt’s legs and clawed its way into his chest. Moonrise was minutes away. He needed to get out of there. Now, right now. He eased his plate to the ground, hoping not to draw attention to himself.
He stood, the folding chair squealing on the linoleum floor. It fell over with a clatter of cheap metal. Heads whipped around, putting an end to their argument about rabbits and what made them such assholes.
Matt struggled to say something reasonable. “I really don’t think I should be here.”
“Everyone is welcome here,” Steve said. His chair didn’t fall over when he stood. “Why don’t you sit back down and we can talk about it.”
Matt took a couple of steps backward, mindful of the chair folded up beneath him. “I just, it doesn’t seem very safe.”
“Hey, you’re as safe as you can be down here. The doors and windows are locked up tight. There’s no one here but us wolves,” Steve said.
“Aaaooooo,” Barnaby mimicked.
The mock howl slammed around Matt’s skull. Werewolves, real werewolves. Ohgodohgodohgodohgod.
He retreated from the circle until his back pressed against the bars locked over the door. They were solid beneath his hands. He gave them several sharp tugs; they didn’t budge. “Can you just let me out? I don’t want to talk about it.”
Steve came around the circle and set a hand on Matt’s shoulder. “I can’t let you go. It wouldn’t be safe.”
The mini sausages in Matt’s stomach churned as he shook the bars again. “You don’t understand. I’m not safe in here. I’m not a werewolf. I’m a werebear.”
Steve flashed a quick, understanding smile. “That’s okay. We welcome all kinds of shifters, here.”
Matt’s life flashed before his eyes, every inanimate polyfill moment of it. “But, I’m just a teddy bear. I’m going to turn into fluff and stuffing with little plastic eyes. You have to let me out before one of them eats me.”
The room was quiet. He pulled out his cellphone, but who could he call? 911? There was no way he could explain to the police that they’d need to rescue one grateful teddy bear from a pack of wolves when they arrived on scene. He thumbed his text messages open to the last unread. He’d been avoiding it, the little red 1 making him shifty-eyed with guilt every time he checked it.
I miss you. Received three weeks ago, after his last visit home. Matt missed Damien too He’d thought he could make a clean slate if he stopped going home every month. Cut it off before it went too far and Matt said something they would both regret. Cut it off before he had to say something about what he was.
“Have you ever come across any other type of stuffed were-animals?” Barnaby asked in a small voice. “Anything like …stuffed wolves?”
Matt shook his head. “Only teddies. Until today, I didn’t think any other kind of shifter even existed.”
Steve shook off his silence. “We don’t have time for this. Help me with the shutters so we can get him out of here.”
Matt stepped to one side and Steve grabbed one of the silver latches on the door cage., designed to be as hard as possible for a wolf’s paw to release. He struggled to keep hold as the silver burned his fingers.
Humboldt grabbed Steve and shoved him into the wall. “There’s not enough time.”
“No, there isn’t. We have to let him out of here before we change,” Steve said.
Humboldt’s lips pulled back in a feral snarl. “You can’t risk it. I won’t let you put lives in danger because of one stupid kid.”
Matt grabbed the latch nearest him and fumbled to get it open, unfazed by the silver. He had no idea how the latch worked, but he had to figure it out or the group would tear him to pieces. Literally. “But my life is at risk.”
Moonrise was coming for him; he felt it in his unsteady bones. The seconds bled out of him, soaking into a linoleum floor that had seen decades of seconds wasting away in this room. He looked over his shoulder at the far window
“I’m sick of your shit, Humboldt,” Barnaby said. “Let Steve go.”
He came up beside Matt and took hold of the latch, his skin blistering at the touch of silver. “I’m not going to let this kid die because of us.”
“And I’m not going to let you make me a murderer. Because that’s what we’ll all be if we get out of here,” Humboldt said.
“I don’t want to be a murderer,” Naquisha said from her chair in the circle. The rest of the group sat in their goddamn circle of cheap metal chairs, content to wait and see how the whole drama played out.
Matt didn’t need them or their pack mentality. He just needed these latches to release.
Barnaby had the first one open when Humboldt pushed him away. The latch clicked back into place with a terrible snicking sound.
“Stop being dramatic. You’re well fed,” Barnaby said, shoving him back. “All you’re going to do is chase some poor woman’s poodle for a while and pass out underneath the azaleas.”
“You don’t know what I’ve done,” Humboldt said with a growl.
“Squirrel guts and rabbit dens. None of us want to go back to that. I get it man,” Barnaby said.
Matt let them argue. Chasing poodles wasn’t in his DNA. Fiberfill stuffing and a stupid plastic nose were. And these damn latches were keeping him from having that DNA for as long as possible.
The growl in Humboldt’s throat started somewhere deep inside of him. Somewhere that Matt didn’t know was capable of human sounds. It vibrated out of his gut before it reached his vocal chords. And when it came out it was not the sound of a movie werewolf howling in the distance, but the primal noise of a human being pushed past his limits.
“You don’t know what I’ve done,” he repeated.
This time the words made the hair on Matt’s arms stand on end.
“Why don’t you share with the group?” Steve said, his voice taking on a deep growl.
Humboldt showed his human teeth and snapped at Steve. “I killed a man, is that what you want to hear? Some dumb hunter out in the woods at the wrong time. Woke up still gnawing on his orange vest. Are you happy? Is this what you want?”
Humboldt shoved Steve against the wall again, and then twice more. “Is this what you want me to share?”
Steve grabbed Humboldt’s jacket and pulled him close. “I want you to feel safe here to share whatever you need to share.”
“If you let this dumb kid out, then there’s nowhere safe tonight,” Humboldt said, knocking Steve away.
Barnaby grabbed Humboldt from behind and the two fell to the floor.
The latch slipped from Matt’s hands. Brown fur sprouted from his arms; his fingers curled against his palms, hands becoming useless paws. Moonrise grabbed hold of him by the guts, turning them to polyfill, and panic turned to fear.
Every part of Matt’s body smashed together. His head dropped down three feet. Legs, once long and lean and supportive, became useless bags of fluff stuck out in from of him. His head was suddenly too heavy to be supported. There was a sickening moment of vertigo and then he fell backward onto the linoleum floor, away from the door. He stared at the ceiling.
The screen of his cellphone cracked as it landed beside him. He wasn’t going to have the chance to respond to Damien’s last text.
He couldn’t see them, but his teddy bear ears heard the wolves all around him. They were small, hesitant sounds at first. A few steps here. A low growl there. A soft chuff in the night. The wolves were still getting their bearings.
He heard the clatter of paws on metal as one of the wolves found the snack table. He thought about tiny sausages bathed in red as the sounds of wolves eating worked their way into his brain.
Heavy steps padded up to him. A wolf stepped into his peripheral vision, lanky and lean, the kind of wolf used in the movies when they needed a well-built animal to take down a deer. Or a bear. A real bear. It had to be Humboldt. The eyes were the same.
Humboldt snuffled at the ground around Matt and wrinkled his nose. His fangs showed, polished to a pearly white that morning when they were still human teeth. Matt could see that he’d added a second name tag underneath his shirt, now stuck to his wolf hair. It read ‘Fuck you, I’m a Wolf.’ There were no pronouns.
Humboldt the wolf came nose to nose with Matt the teddy bear. He chuffed heavily and Matt got a face full of wolf breath. He couldn’t so much as wrinkle his nose in this form. Matt willed thet universe to change things, to call the wolf away with a dramatic howl, to have a werewolf hunter break through the shutters, but there were no howls or hunters. Just the sound of wolf feet on cheap linoleum and a lone teddy bear.
Matt felt a growl before he heard it, a low, throaty thing that rumbled up from the cold floor. The synthetic hairs on the back of his neck trembled with it.
Humboldt turned to look. Matt couldn’t, but he knew instinctively that another wolf was approaching. His view was blocked by the wolf in front of him. Humboldt growled as he turned to engage, revealing a smaller brown wolf with shaggy hair that fell over his eyes. The lanky animal could only be Barnaby’s wolf form.
Humboldt advanced, leaving Matt alone on the floor. He listened, straining to hear the low growls and soft steps over the sound of the buffet table being taken down. If the wolves hadn’t started well fed, they were now. All except for Barnaby and Humboldt.
Their claws clicked on the floor slowly, evenly. Matt imagined them circling each other. Their paws beat out a slow rhythm punctuated by growls until the movement stopped.
It was fast. There were barks. There were snarls. And then a heavy thud as one of them was knocked aside. Matt didn’t know who it was. But one of the wolves left the fight with a sullen yelp. And the other advanced on a soft teddy bear laying on the floor.
Barnaby’s wolf face with its shaggy hair over the eyes came into Matt’s view. He pressed a warm nose into Matt’s fuzzy belly and pulled in Matt’s scent.
Matt couldn’t stop the thought. It’ll be the teeth next, with the ripping and the shredding. And the polyfill stuffing everywhere. Just like his son’s stuffed wolf.
He watched the shaggy brown form make a circle around him. Barnaby stood over him for a minute more, and then the wolf curled up around him, gently folding his paws around Matt’s bear form. He laid his chin on Matt’s fluffy belly. Soon, Matt became aware of Barnaby’s even breathing as the wolf dozed.
Matt couldn’t turn to look at him. But he knew that as long as his teddy form was pinned between those two huge paws, he would be safe here. And he took that kind of safety seriously. Matt hoped Damien would agree when he called him.