April Moon Books’ latest anthology Flesh Like Smoke is out now.
Werewolves are probably my favorite classic monster. I’ve been enthralled by them since Lon Chaney Jr’s two memorable turns as ‘the Wolfman.’ I was also a tremendous fan of Fox’s Werewolf TV series, especially Chuck Connors’ turn as Janos Skorzeny, a salty old one-eyed shapechanging sea captain who made the main character’s life a living hell.
In my middle school years of (appropriately?) middling grades my parents picked up a near complete run of Marvel Comics’ Werewolf By Night at a flea market and used the single issues as a kind of incentive to get me to do my homework. I eventually earned them all, so I guess it worked, but I’ve probably retained more about Jack and Lissa Russell, Topaz, and their best friend Buck and the Darkhold than I ever did about math or science.
When Neil Baker put out the call for a shapeshifter anthology, I whipped up Philopatry, a tale of a South Boston Irish priest who calls on a notorious hitman and ex-altar boy to take out a vicious serial murderer plaguing the neighborhood. The bare bones of this story originated way back in high school, when I wrote and lost a story called The Hit with a similar premise, though set in my native Chicago.
The story draws inspiration from the hagiography of St. Philopater Mercurius, a Roman soldier who fought the Berbers under Emperor Decius. When Decius saw the numbers of the Berbers, he was afraid, but Mercurius prayed to God and saw a vision of the Archangel Michael bearing a sword, which he then gave to the saint. Mercurius wielded the sword to great affect and routed the Berbers utterly.
It also refers to the ancient Greek writings of the Cynocephalae, the Dog Heads, and proposes that what Michael gave to Mercurius was not a literal ‘sword’ at all.
It’s also a return of sorts to the Gate Of Heaven parish, which featured in my last published story, Thy Just Punishments, in Ragnarok’s That Hoodoo, Voodoo, That You Do.
Here’s an excerpt….
Outside it was still cold but the rain was dying off. The cars swished through the leavings and the gutters gurgled as they sucked the streets down to a tolerable level.
Their breath puffed out like fog as they talked.
“What do you know about the murders at Gate of Heaven last week?” Father Mike asked.
Terry had seen it on the news. A pair of teenaged girls had been found in the alley behind the church on East Fourth Street. The dee-techs were out all over asking questions. You could tell them from the real people by their cheap shoes and neat hair. They looked like wannabe FBI. A little too eager, or a little too old. Kid table feds. Anyway nobody knew enough to tell them.
“Couple of hoodies out after dark,” said Terry. “News said they got done same as that gook kid over on Washington two weeks ago.”
“Do you know what happened to that boy?”
“Somethin’ bad I heard. O’Malley says some sicko cut him up. I don’t know the particulars.”
They stopped at the traffic light, watching a Honda full of drunk townies swerve into the turn. A beer can rattled and spun in the gutter.
“He was torn to pieces, Terry,” said Father Mike, his lips trembling, and not just with the cold. “Like a piece of tissue paper somebody wiped their ass with. His liver and his heart were torn out. They were eaten.”
“Fuck,” said Terry, appreciatively.
Father Mike turned to him as the light changed, splashing his skin red as the Devil’s.
“And I know who the skid is that’s doin’ it, Terry. I know!”
Father Mike looked ready to blow his top. His fists came out of his pockets shaking. One gripped a little brown pill bottle, which he rattled and wrestled with for a minute before Terry reached over.
“Here lemme get that, Fadder.”
Father Mike turned the bottle over and shook a pill into his quivering palm. He slapped his hand to his mouth.
“What’s that, for your blood pressure, or something?”
“Yeah,” said Father Mike. “I gotta get out of this cold.”
They double timed it up the block to Dunkie’s. Terry sprang for a pair of regulars and skipped the honey dip, but got a box of munchkins for home. He didn’t think he’d have the appetite for it, but who knew what he’d feel like tomorrow.
They took a quiet corner booth and sat holding the coffees between their hands, feeling the warmth radiate. It was bright white in there, like a hospital.
“You zooin’ on me about this, Fadder?”
“God’s honest truth,” Father Mike replied, staring into his coffee but not drinking.
“How you figure you know who the nutjob is doin’ this?”
“The bastard told me as much in the confessional this past Saturday. He told me everything. How he follows them, stalks them, like an animal. What he….does to them.”
He made a rapid sign of the cross, put the hot coffee to his lips. He winced, but kept drinking.
Terry leaned back in his chair.
“Ain’t it a sin for you to be tellin’ me this? I mean, ain’t you got some kinda confidentiality rule about the booth? Like a lawyer?”
“Don’t you think it’s a sin to just let it to go on?” he said, putting the half empty cup down.
“So don’t I,” Terry said, nodding, rubbing his eyes. “So don’t I.”
“Terry,” whispered Father Mike, leaning across the table. “I was told….I asked around. And I was told that you….that you’re….”
Terry gave him a stony look and held up his hand.
Everybody knew Terry Dunne around the parish.
They knew about the shootout in Mattapan back in the 90’s, where four trigger happy micks who’d robbed an armored car and killed the guards under the nose of the Winter Hill outfit had been left bleeding in the gutters and how Terry Dunne started driving a Lincoln after that. Everybody knew who put the body of the wiseguy in the shipping container at Conley’s yard; the one that rotted in there all summer, froze, and blew up in the spring, so the cops had to pour what was left through a colander to find the bullet.
They knew how Pat Lonnigan, who’d stuck up a Cumbie’s just to get pinched so he wouldn’t have to pay all the horse money he owed Mickey O’Callahan, had somehow rolled out of the top bunk in the cell he shared with Terry at South Bay and busted his head wide open on the floor in the middle of the night. Everybody knew about the Jamaican nurse that had moved into Terry’s ma’s place that week and took care of her till they carried her out.
“If you’re gonna preach to me now….”
“I wouldn’t Terry,” Father Mike said. “Bless you, I wouldn’t. But somebody’s got to put a stop to this.”
Terry shifted in his seat.