It took all of Cat’s courage to shuffle into the kitchen. Gran was fixing a bowl of granola, humming to herself like nothing weird had happened last night. Cat almost sighed with relief. Maybe it was just a dream after all.
All the same, she’d rather be out of town sooner than later.
“We’re leaving today, Gran,” she announced, pouring herself a cup of coffee. “Do you need help packing?”
“Oh, no, thank you dear,” Gran said, shuffling over to put a bowl of granola in front of Cat.
Cat almost sighed with relief. Gran wasn’t even contradicting her? She felt a weight lift from her shoulders and dug into her food with new energy.
“We should try to leave this morning,” she continued. “So we can get home by nighttime and get you settled in.”
“Yes, yes, we have to be inside before sundown,” Gran agreed. “I should be ready in an hour.”
“Of course,” Gran replied. “We can go to the grocery store to get some more food, have a nice afternoon inside, and then an early evening of rest.”
“Wait… What?” Cat asked. “No, Gran, we… aren’t going to the store. We’re going home. My home.”
“Oh, well, that’s not today,” Gran said with a light chuckle.
“Full moon,” Gran replied simply, munching on her granola. “I couldn’t possibly leave home on the day of a full moon.”
Cat couldn’t stop the groan from escaping her mouth.
“I’ve been here for days,” she whined.
“Yes, I’ve enjoyed our visit so much,” Gran said, reaching across the table to pat Cat’s hand. “Thank you for coming to see me.”
Great. Now she felt guilty.
She silently seethed as Gran ate her breakfast calmly and disappeared into her room. Cat called her mom.
“Hey, Kittie, is everything ok?” Mom asked, picking up at the second ring. “You didn’t call last night.”
“Yeah, I… fell asleep early.”
Cat sighed and trudged back to her room.
“I don’t know if I’m ever coming home,” she complained. “Gran doesn’t want to leave. I thought I could convince her today, but she said something about the full moon, and she can’t travel—.”
“Well, she’s always been a little eccentric,” Mom admitted. “Maybe it’s a superstition?”
Mom looked tired, Cat noted, like she pulled another all-nighter at work. Cat almost felt bad for complaining.
“Well, tomorrow isn’t a full moon,” Mom continued. “So, maybe just respect her beliefs about not traveling on a full moon and bring her up tomorrow?”
“Or I just head up now, and you can come down here and get her,” Cat countered.
Mom sighed deeply, and Cat instantly regretted it.
“I’m just worried about her being alone,” Mom said. “She’s starting to slip, I think, and you know our family has a history of mental health problems.”
“I have anxiety,” Cat countered. “She has old people brain. There’s a difference.”
Even as she said it, Cat couldn’t help but agree that Gran shouldn’t be left alone. A nagging voice in the back of her head told her it would be dangerous, but not because she was old. She shook her head with a sigh.
“She’s just so isolated there,” Mom continued. “What if she falls? How long before someone checks on her?”
Cat remembered all the keys Gran carried for all the locks around the house.
“What if she has another episode and starts wandering around at night again?” Mom asked. “We were lucky that patrol car found her last time. Next time, it could be ages before she’s found.”
Cat got a strange image in her mind: Gran walking through the woods with a sword. She sighed again.
“Fine, I’ll bring her up. Tomorrow,” she said. “We’re going to the store soon, but we’re only getting enough to last til morning. I swear.”
“If she still won’t go tomorrow, I’ll call around,” Mom promised. “I should still have some contacts in town who can help force her into the car without too much of a fuss. Just, try to be gentle. We don’t know her mental state right now. All this change could be frightening for her.”
“Fine,” Cat promised. “I’ll be on my best behavior.”
Cat realized two hours later that she shouldn’t have made any promises. Gran was currently emptying what looked like the entire meat section of the store into the shopping cart.
“Geez, Gran, how much food do you think we’ll need?” Cat demanded. “Are you having a party?”
“It’s a good sale on steaks,” Gran replied. “I can freeze them for later.”
Cat doubted Gran would be able to finish that many steaks. Or that she even had enough freezer space for everything. She considered emptying the cart when Gran wasn’t looking.
“Let’s check out the video section,” Gran said. “I’ll buy you anything you want. You must be bored without any wifey or computer.”
“Wifi,” Cat corrected her. “And, I have data, but I can’t get a great signal sometimes.”
“I have a video player you can use,” Gran said. “So when I go to sleep early you won’t be bored to death.”
Cat weakly protested, but she followed Gran to examine the pile of DVDs in the five dollar bin. Everything looked cheesy, but Cat didn’t really care. She had noticed the cute cart boy walking across the store. She wondered if her hair looked ok. She didn’t bring her frizz oil from home, so her hair had to stay in braids unless she wanted to look like a wild bush was sitting on her head.
Cat followed Gran through the store, thoroughly distracted. She forgot to slip the steaks out of the cart before Gran bought them all. She only came to her senses when they went outside.
“Well, hello, Ms. Betty!” a familiar voice called.
Cat wondered why the mayor was at the store again, but she didn’t have time to ask before Gran began chatting with him.
“How are things going?” Gran asked. “I saw that they were starting some sort of road work on Lion’s Crossing, and, honestly, the road there was so good I don’t know why you would fix it. Now, Bexar Street is so bumpy my dentures pop out of my mouth every time I—…”
Cat withdrew from the conversation while the mayor gave a bemused smile. She was having the worst luck today, she thought glumly, sitting on the bench in the shade a few feet away. First, she couldn’t go home. Now, she was stuck hanging around while Gran gossiped.
The cute cart boy nodded to her and sat on the bench. They were about a foot away, but she felt the nervous sweats kick in.
“Hi,” she replied in a voice that came out as a whisper.
“Are you from around here?” he asked.
“I’m, uh,” she said slowly. “I’m visiting my Gran!”
How had she forgotten the answer to such a simple question?
They fell into silence, and Cat wished she could think of something interesting to say. Or even something uninteresting. She just wanted to talk to him.
“So, are you from around here?” she asked.
And immediately regretted asking that.
“Yeah, I work here,” he replied, showing her his name tag. “I’m just on my break.”
“Yeah, no, of course,” Cat said quickly. “I mean, have you always lived here?”
“Oh, yeah,” he replied.
Cat almost sighed with relief. Conversation saved.
“So, is there… anything to do around here?” Cat asked. “So far, I’ve just seen a couple restaurants and the grocery store.”
“We’ve got more than that,” he said with a cool smile. “I, uh, actually have a few days off work next week. Maybe if you’re still around, I can show you some places?”
“Y-yeah,” Cat said. “That’d be… that’d be fine.”
She tried to sound less excited than she actually was as she plugged her number into his phone.
“Oh,” he said with a sheepish smile. “I almost forgot to ask: can I have your name?”
“It’s Cat,” Cat replied with a flush.
“That’s a nice name,” he said. “Well, I’ll see you around, Cat.”
“Yeah, see you,” Cat replied with a smile.
She watched him walk away and resisted the urge to dance. This day was getting a whole lot better, she thought.
It was only after he left, though, that she realized she forgot to get his number. Or his name. She knew she saw his name tag. So why couldn’t she remember it?
She didn’t have much time to think about it, though, because Gran called her over, saying the steaks were getting too warm under the summer sun. Like it was Cat’s idea to stay outside chatting away.
Gran turned in for bed almost as soon as they got home and put all the steaks in the freezer. She pointed to a tin jar filled with herbs and suggested Cat drink some while watching her movie before shuffling away and locking her bedroom door.
Cat boiled the water and went back to her room to find the DVD player in the closet. She hadn’t noticed the TV in the room before. Probably because it was so old she assumed it was there for design purposes. It was dusty and large, like a giant gray box, but it seemed to work just fine. After connecting a few wires, she managed to get the movie to play.
It was about as good as a discount bin movie could be. There was some cartoon werewolf chasing some animals. Or maybe the animals were chasing the monster. She couldn’t pay attention to the movie because she kept glancing at her phone, hoping cart boy would text her soon. About halfway through the movie, she realized she had forgotten to make tea. With a sigh, Cat paused the movie and returned to the kitchen. She heard a soft click as she entered and froze.
Gran was sneaking out the back door.
Cat pinched her arm. Then she pinched it harder. She was definitely not dreaming. There was Gran, in the same overalls from last night, walking the same way Cat had seen her go last night. Only this time she was carrying a large reusable shopping bag.
Cat checked her pocket. She had her phone, and she was going to be sure to get a picture or video this time. Once Gran was a good distance away, Cat opened the back door and slowly trailed after her.
The cane was almost shining under the light of the full moon. Cat could have sworn it looked like a sword. No, it was a cane. No, it looked sharp just then. She would’ve stopped to take a picture, but Gran was moving quickly. Much too quickly for a woman who needed a cane and walker on the regular.
Gran returned to the clearing, and Cat ducked behind the same tree as last night, feeling an odd sense of deja vu. Only last time Gran wasn’t throwing things.
Cat watched as Gran began tossing steaks from the reusable shopping bag in a wide circle around her. Cat couldn’t help but feel salty. She had to carry all those steaks in when Gran was just planning on throwing them on the ground?
Satisfied with her work, Gran eased herself onto the tree stump. Cat held her breath, waiting for something to happen. But then she got impatient.
It’s been, like, ten minutes already, she thought. What’s Gran waiting for?
Maybe Gran was actually just batty. Cat pulled her phone out of her pocket. She should call Mom. Mom would know what to do for sure.
Her heart sank as the words no signal flashed across her phone. That was impossible. Her network covered all of Texas. She had 5G. Cat resisted the urge to throw her phone. Maybe she just needed to go closer to the house to make a call. But then she’d leave Gran. Maybe she should go get Gran. But Gran totally made her seem like she was dreaming everything last time. How could Cat make sure she wasn’t going to be manipulated again?
Cat felt goosebumps climbing up her neck. She wondered if there were coyotes around. But they always made more of a yipping sound in her experience. This sounded deeper and too big to be contained in a small coyote body.
It was probably in her head, Cat told herself. Gran didn’t even move when she heard the sound. Then again, Gran might not have her hearing aids in. Cat ignored the last thought and tried to calm herself down.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then another. Deep inhale through the nose. Exhale through the mouth. She let her breathing return to normal.
She could still hear the deep exhalation, though.
Only, it sounded more like panting than breathing. And it came from behind her.
The goosebumps flashed across her entire body, and Cat slowly turned her head around. The moonlight illuminated bits of the forest in silvery light. Shadows spread across trees. She glanced at the trunks, branches, rocks on the ground—
Bright red eyes got larger as the branches cracked.
A large beast pounced, and she ran towards the clearing. Her foot caught a rock, and she face-planted. She felt a squish under her chest. She must’ve fallen on a steak.
“Well, you’re not supposed to be here,” Gran noted.
Cat tried to scramble towards her.
“The-the-there’s—” she cried, panic rising and cutting the words from her throat.
Another branch cracked and it stepped into the clearing.
It was a giant wolf—no, man—no, monster. Cat couldn’t tell. It was large and furry and seemed to walk on its hind legs towards her. Even if Cat was standing, she’d only come up to its shoulder.
Gran didn’t even look bothered. She gave a low whistle, and the creature dropped to all fours and wagged its bushy tail.
“You smelled the meat, didn’t you?” she asked.
The monster wagged its tail harder, and Gran nodded, giving permission. The monster snatched up a steak and gobbled it in a single bite. Cat stumbled to her feet and backed up as it eyed the steak she fell on.
“What. The. Hell.”
“I don’t think your mother would approve of that language,” Gran chided.
“I don’t care!” Cat nearly screamed. “What the hell is going on?”
Gran glanced around, like she was taking in the scene with fresh eyes. Then she chuckled.
“Oh, yeah, it can be a little confusing,” she admitted. “Okay, I’ll allow swearing just this once.”
Cat gave her a wide-eyed look. Gran was focusing on her language? While a giant furry monster was eating in a circle around her?
“Would you believe this is all a dream?” Gran asked curiously.
As if to strengthen her idea, Gran lifted the legs of her overalls a bit and gave a tiny jig— something between a tap dance and an Irish reel.
“Well, it was worth a try,” Gran said with a sigh.
The monster finished the last of the steaks and licked its chops. Like it was hungry for more.
“Is the monster going to eat me?” Cat whimpered, moving closer to Gran.
“Of course not,” Gran said. “And it’s quite rude to call him a monster, you know. He’s a werewolf.”
Cat was pretty sure her heart was about to go into failure.
“Oh, please, like you’ve never heard of them,” Gran chided.
“I’ve heard of them, but I just didn’t know they actually existed.”
Cat looked at the creature more closely. Without actually moving towards it, of course. It had sharp teeth and claws, but the red eyes seemed less threatening than she expected. It reminded her of a puppy almost.
“Is it… your pet?” she asked cautiously. “Did you come here just to feed it?”
“You can’t have a werewolf for a pet,” she said. “He’s only in wolf form during the full moon. Every other night he’s human.”
“So this is a human?”
“Right now, no.”
“Do you know who it is?” Cat asked.
“Mayor Castio, of course,” Gran replied calmly.
“Yes, but he’s technically been mayor for a few years and a werewolf since he was a little kid.”
“How did he even get elected?” Cat asked incredulously.
“No one knows, of course,” Gran replied. “Things would get very messy very quickly.”
Cat tried wrapping her head around things. She saw that Gran was still holding onto her cane, but it didn’t look strong enough to take on the mayor if he decided to bite.
“He won’t bite,” Gran said, as if reading her mind.
“Then why did you have a sword before?” Cat asked.
She really hoped the thing she thought was a sword before really existed. Maybe Gran had it tucked behind the tree stump, just in case.
“Just because he won’t hurt me doesn’t mean other things won’t try to,” Gran replied.
“How many werewolves are there out here?”
“It should only be one,” Gran said, her eyes scanning the forest.
Gran gave her a wry look, and Cat felt like she was starting to piece things together slowly.
“Last night,” she said. “You were upset about something. Was it another werewolf?”
“You’re too smart for your own good,” Gran said with a deep sigh. “I honestly hoped the herbal tea would’ve worked better on you.”
Both Gran and the werewolf stiffened. With a whimper, the werewolf dashed off, tail between its hind legs.
“Stay close,” Gran said, her usually cheerful expression dark.
She tapped her cane to the ground. In a flash, it turned into a silver sword. Cat’s relief that she didn’t dream up the sword quickly melted when she heard a low rumbling sound.