The Lodge Meeting
Clyde ran a finger along the smooth skin of Gwen's back and breathed a sigh of contentment. The late afternoon light that flitted through the slits between the blinds made her bare skin appear tanned instead of the pearly white it was truly was.
"Why the sigh?" Gwen asked.
"I was just thinking… Mark doesn't deserve you," Clyde said.
Gwen let out a sigh of her own. "I'm not getting into this again with you."
Clyde scowled; he didn't really want to have the conversation either. Gwen had made up her mind a long time ago. Even while sleeping with him, she still wore Mark's ring.
Feeling a little spiteful, Clyde thought of something to say that would ruin Gwen's afterglow. After a few minutes of pondering, the best he could come up with was: "I'm going to take a piss."
A few minutes later, Clyde stared at himself in the bathroom mirror. He was young, relatively speaking. Just a year or so older than Gwen; certainly not middle-aged, as Mark was. He could never understand why she had decided to marry a 40-year-old postal worker just after graduating from college. The only reason he could think of was Mark having a gigantic penis, but Gwen had since let him know that wasn't the case.
Clyde found his eyes watering from the stench of wintergreen aftershave that permeated the bathroom. He couldn't figure out how Gwen could stand kissing someone who smelled like that. In fact, he couldn't understand how Mark himself could stand the smell.
Clyde peered at the blue digits of the alarm clock as she slid back into bed. It was nearing five, when he would have to make himself scarce. Mark had never come home early yet when they were fooling around. Gwen told him that Mark never left work early, since he had a strong work ethic. Clyde had trouble believing that of a postal worker.
Gwen turned and faced him, he could see her grey eyes sparkle in the dim light. "You can come back later. Mark's got his lodge meeting tonight, and he usually isn't back until long after midnight."
"He belongs to a lodge? I didn't think there was anyone under 60 who still belonged to one of those things," Clyde said. "I thought they went out with the civil rights movement." Clyde said. "Then again, he is an old man."
Gwen playfully slapped him on the shoulder. "He leaves around 7, right after dinner."
"What lodge does he belong to, the Elks? The Mooses?" Clyde said. What was the plural of moose, come to think of it.
"No, he belongs to the Wolf Lodge, you know the one that's about halfway to Eau Claire?" Gwen said.
The Wolves, Clyde thought to himself. They had a lodge in Phileas, where he grew up. He remembered their lodge was about five miles outside the city limits. Perhaps they had something against paying municipal property taxes.
It was then that Clyde had a truly horrific idea; what if something should happen to dear old Mark on the way back from his lodge meeting? What if he was run off the road, or some madman stabbed him to death as he stopped for gas?
Clyde fought the urge to grin as he thought of Mark's grisly fate; he hoped that Gwen could see nothing in his eyes as he planned such gruesome mischief.
"I'm sorry hon, I promised the boss I'd put in a few hours tonight, in exchange for taking off early this afternoon," Clyde said.
Gwen let out a long sigh. "All you men ever do is disappoint me."
Clyde incessantly opened and closed the folding knife as he sat in his car. It had a sharp, curved blade made of some metal he'd never heard of. He'd considered buying one with a serrated edge, but didn't want to have to saw Mark's neck open; one clean cut was all he could probably get off.
He was parked down the street from Gwen and Mark's house, just out of the halo of light shed by the nearest streetlight. It was almost 7 o'clock, so he didn't expect to be waiting much longer.
He had never killed a man before. He'd grown up on a farm, and had castrated animals and drowned kittens and puppies whenever one of their dogs or cats got pregnant. He long ago learned to think of animals as nothing more than a machine; killing it was just turning it off. And humans were animals too… he knew he could do this.
He saw the headlights pierce the darkness at the end of Mark's driveway. Clyde shifted into drive and began to follow the man that was in the way of his happiness.
It took almost forty-five minutes to get to the Wolf Lodge, and most of that was along rural roads. The one in Phileas had been like that too; Clyde wondered if the Wolves had a fear of Interstates. Most of the roads were completely unlit, but the silvery light of the full-moon did a good job of illuminating the way.
The Wolf lodge was on a large wooded estate with its own private road. Luckily there wasn't a checkpoint at the entrance; Clyde doubted he could bluff himself past a security guard.
He parked as far away from Mark as possible in the large parking lot near the main lodge house; by the time he made it to the door Mark was nowhere to be seen.
A grey-haired old man with liver spots and sagging skin stood at a podium in the entranceway. Clyde strode up to him and gave him a grin. "My name is Ryan Dewey, I'm with the Phileas lodge. "
"Oh, pleased to meet you," the old man said. He started to flip through the log book that was in front of him, after a moment he stopped. "Oh, you wouldn't be in our book, would you?"
"I couldn't tell you, we don't even have a log book at Phileas, they just check our rings," Clyde said with a smile. He held him hand up "Sadly my diabetes is acting up, and I couldn't get mine on tonight."
"Oh swelling, I understand that," the old man said with a smile. "You can go on in, I wouldn't count on the bartender giving you a tab, though, being from out of town and all."
"Well, I always drink too much anyhow," Clyde said with a smile and walked past into the main convention room. That Frank Abignale book had been completely right: all he had to do was pretend that he belonged there, and no one would give it a second thought.
Clyde walked through a darkened hallway and emerged into a large dining room; there were at least fifty tables spread across the room, all of them large enough to accommodate five chairs. In the very center of the room was a circular bar, manned by a single bartender: a man who looked to be in his sixties at least.
Some of the others were seated at tables, a few lingered around the bar with drinks in their hands. Clyde fingered the folded knife in his pocket and decided a drink would help strengthen his resolve.
As the bartender was pouring his scotch, Clyde's nose unintentionally wrinkled; what he smelled was not the smoky bouquet of aged whiskey, but something much sharper-so sharp it caused his eyes to water-it was sweet as well. Schnapps; peppermint schnapps; no, he suddenly realized, not peppermint… wintergreen.
Clyde turned in the direction of the scent and saw Mark next to him at the bar; he was sipping some crass domestic brew from a bottle; there was an illustration of a stagecoach on the label.
Mark turned to look at Clyde; he didn't recognize him, of course. Clyde recognized Mark from pictures and from seeing him from afar as he skittered in and out of his house late at night.
"Nice to see someone closer to my age at these things, are you a new member?" Mark said.
"No… Well, yeah, I've only been in the lodge a couple of years. I'm in town on business, I'm actually from Phileas," Clyde said.
Mark nodded. "Ahh, I see. Nice town, my wife went to college there."
Of course she did, Clyde thought; that was where we met.
It was so unusual to be talking to the man he spent so much time loathing these past few years. He never really thought of Mark as a person; only as the thing that was keeping him and Gwen from being together.
He pushed the thought from his head; it would only make it harder for him to do what he'd come to do. After paying for his drink, and without so much as a nod to Mark, Clyde walked out into the dining room.
The next few hours were excruciating. Clyde played over a dozen hands of Gin Rummy and bullshited with some of the old guys. He frantically searched for opportunities to do what he had come for so he could get out of this oak-paneled hell.
He followed Mark to the bathroom around 9, and it would have been the perfect opportunity. There was about a dozen stalls in the bathrooms; Clyde could cut Mark's throat and leave his body sitting on one of the crappers; with so many other free stalls, it could be more than a day before someone found him. He didn't get the chance though: two old guys were sitting on a bench near the sinks and were arguing about who was the best James Bond.
Mark must have had a bladder like a camel, even though he drank more than five more beers he never got back up to go to the bathroom.
When 11 o'clock rolled around, the mood of the conversation began to change.
"I really need this," the bald man Walter said. "After fighting with the VA all month, and my kids trying to get me to sell my house. It's just because they're hoping they can inherit the money to bail them out of all the debts they racked up with their stupidity."
"Yeah, that's how I feel too," the tall, grey-haired man called James said. "This is probably the only time I ever feel truly alive. I wish we could do it more than once a month."
"Well, that isn't for us to decide," Walter said with a wry grin, the others at the table laughed.
At first Clyde thought it was pathetic that these men's lives were so empty that drinking cheap beer and playing cards with their friends was the highpoint. Of course he had to admit the only time he ever seemed to feel anything anymore was when he was with Gwen. This steeled his resolve, and reminded him of why he was here.
As the clocks in the lounge stuck twelve, all of the lodge members stood up in unison and started to shuffle towards a pair of doors opposite to the ones that led to the entryway. Clyde hoped no one noticed his hesitation, and he got up and followed them.
After walking through a dimly lit hallway they emerged onto a large wooden deck with stairs that lead to the darkened lawn below. They were on the other side from the parking lot; the woods wrapped this clearing, hiding it and any happenings from view. In the center of the clearing was a roaring bonfire; one of those steel barrel trashcans was suspended on a mesh frame above it. Something was bubbling inside the barrel; Clyde had never smelled anything like it; it smelled sickly sweet, but also bitter like herbs.
Even with the roaring bonfire the clearing was quite dark; Clyde suspected that if he surprised Mark he'd be able to slit his throat and sneak away without anyone seeing or hearing him.
Along the wall of deck was a long series of rectangular cubbyholes. The lodge members were taking off their clothes and placing them in these. What the hell are these people doing, Clyde wondered. He couldn't very well play along, where was he going to hide the knife?
He turned and started to walk back into the lodge.
"Hey Ryan, where are you going?" Walter—naked as the day he was born—called after him.
"Oh, I've got to go to take a piss," Clyde said.
"What, you can't wait five minutes?" James said. For some reason all the lodge members within earshot started laughing.
Clyde gave them a fake grin and walked back into the lodge; he waited inside the darkened hallway until the shuffling noise of the lodge members disrobing died down completely. Then he poked his head out the door. There wasn't a soul on the deck. Clyde walked over to the edge and looked down into the clearing. Far off the lodge members had formed a circle around the bonfire and the mysterious concoction in the barrel.
Clyde walked down the wooden steps to the grassy clearing and, making sure to stay in the shadows, made his way towards the circle. The light from the fire made the circle too bright for him to kill Mark without anyone seeing; he would have to wait to get Mark on his way back to the lodge. In fact, there was even no need to surprise him, he's strike up a conversation with him, steer him away from the others, and calmly slit his throat when they were completely hidden in shadow; but first he'd have to figure out which of the men in the circle was Mark.
Suddenly, with no prompting at all, a chant rose up among the lodge members. For the first time the strangeness of the situation finally penetrated Clyde's consciousness. What the hell were these people; devil worshippers? Warlocks? That might explain why their lodges were always so far away from town.
"A boon I ask you, mighty shade," they spoke in unison. Clyde's eyes leapt from face to face; he couldn't find Mark. Where was he?
"Within this circle I have made, make me a werewolf strong and bold!" their voices rang out.
Clyde stopped dead in his tracks. His mind stupidly made a connection; Gwen telling him about the Halloween party last year when Mark refused to dress up. He told all the party guests that he was a werewolf, but it was one of the other 28 days of the month.
"The terror alike of young and old; Grant me a figure strong and spare; the speed of the elk, the claws of the bear," the voices chimed in the cold air.
Clyde felt a moment of perfect, pure terror; and then he felt liberated. These people were crazy, of course; but the fear had finally cleared the angry haze that had occupied his mind all afternoon. He couldn't kill Mark; he knew that now. He was going to make Gwen his; but not like this. Mark didn't deserve to die for their common fault: loving Gwen more than life itself.
Clyde flicked the blade back into the knife's handle and started to turned back towards the lodge. Behind him the chant continued, getting angrier and more energetic. He turned around to give the group of weirdoes one last look—and immediately wished he hadn't.
The change wasn't complete yet, they were still human in most senses of the word, but they were now hunched over, their arms hanging limp—like a wolf standing on two legs. Their voices, however, had undeniably changed: Clyde couldn't even make out the words, their voices had become lupine snarls.
Suddenly the fire flared up, and a white light filled the entire clearing; Clyde had to throw his arms up to cover his eyes; the light faded just as suddenly. When Clyde's eyes finally readjusted he was the only human being left in the clearing.
The things that stood in the circle were clearly not wolves, but they weren't men either. They were large and stocky, their fur-covered bodies rippling with muscles. Their eyes gleamed with a white inner light, and their razor sharp fangs reflected the light of the full moon.
They knew he was here; either they had seen him during the flash, or perhaps picked up his scent, but they all turned to face him, and then leapt at him. Clyde turned tail and ran, but he got less than ten feet before he felt one of their giant bodies slam into them. They rolled on the ground; after a few spins Clyde was able to release the blade on his knife, which he somehow managed to not drop. He stabbed the werewolf repeatedly in the chest; it was taken aback at first—Clyde allowed himself to hope that he had actually hurt it, but then it lunged at him, ripping into the flesh of his chest with its fangs.
The pain was agonizing, Clyde felt his eyes brimming with tears from the pain; a strangled scream escaped his throat. Then, suddenly, it was over. After a moment Clyde opened his eyes. The werewolf he had stabbed was fighting another of the pack; but the fighting wasn't like the savagery of the werewolf's attack on him. They weren't trying to kill, or even really hurt, each other. They were settling an argument.
Finally the wolf Clyde had stabbed backed off, flashing his fangs for good measure, but still backing away.
Why had the wolf saved his life; was he one of the lodge members he'd been bullshiting with? Were they defending him? Those thoughts evaporated as the werewolf turned to face him; his eyes glowed red and he bore his fangs. The rest of the werewolves stood silently; almost as if at attention. For whatever reason, Clyde belonged to this particular wolf.
The werewolf drew nearer, and Clyde realized that its scent was familiar. At first he thought it was the smell from the potion in the barrel; but then he recognized the scent as wintergreen. This wolf was Mark; but why had he interfered?
The werewolf came closer to him; his nostrils flared as he sniffed Clyde. Suddenly a low grumble began deep in his throat, then he started barking savagely. In horror Clyde realized; Gwen, he's smelled her on me.
That wasn't Clyde's last thought, by far, but it was the last coherent one he had. Mark took his time as he ripped Clyde apart.
Plop, plop, fizz, fizz.
Gwen opened her eyes; the lamp on Mark's nightstand had been turned on. He stood next to it, crumpling up the Alka-Seltzer packet and throwing it into the trashcan. He was wearing only his pajama bottoms, Gwen felt slightly aroused as she looked as his hairy, muscular chest.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you," Mark said.
"That's okay," Gwen said with a smile. "What time is it?"
"Just a little past three," Mark said. "The lodge meeting ran sort of late."
"You don't think you're getting another ulcer do you," Gwen said, motioning to the glass of bubbling water on the nightstand.
"No, nothing like that; just indigestion. We had a rather large feast at the lodge meeting tonight; I think I ate a little too much."