Shadows on the Wall by Dan Voltz

Apr 08 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

“I’m interested in werewolves only so far as they can tell us something about humanity,” I said.
Jose stared at me blankly. He was wearing his Florida Marlins baseball cap, which was dirty and crusty with dried sweat. He had on a punk metal t-shirt, and shorts that had chains and looked like they’d been cut off at the knee with rough scissors.
“But my whole life is werewolves,” he said. “It ain’t like I got any other interests, Mr. Nancy.”
I cringed every time I heard my last name. There was no denying that my pudgy figure, short skinny arms, and pale skin undercut my many attempts at fostering a sense of my own masculinity. People always called me “ma’am” on the phone, and I had long ago admitted to a certain amount of femininity in my mannerism. My last name was like a mirror I couldn’t look away from and sometimes it made me feel ill when I heard it.
I put my hands on my hips. “Jose, this is the twelfth grade. It’s time to expand your horizons,” I said. I turned to the chalkboard and began to erase the elegant white lines that served as the only record of an hour-long lecture. “You’ve got to have some other interests. Perhaps even something that’s real. Skateboarding, maybe?”
Jose tilted his head to the side and narrowed one eye. “What did you say, Mr. Nancy?”
I brushed the chalk powder off my hands. “What? You’re not a skateboarder, then? What do they call them these days? Skaters? You’re not a skater?”
“I can’t believe you just said that to me.”
A cloud of white chalk residue lingered in the air. I stifled a cough. “I’m sorry?” I said. “Are you mad about the skateboard thing?”
“The werewolf. Thing. You’re gonna be so sorry you said that, man.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “Is that a threat? Because if that’s a threat I will send you to the principal’s office without hesitation. Absolutely none.”
Jose looked at me for another long second. His eyes were dark, hidden under the brim of his cap. “It’s not a threat, man. Just makes me feel bad for how dumb you are.”
“Yeah, well. No hats in class. Mister,” I said.
Jose tilted his head and walked out of the classroom.
The next morning I woke up with my wrists in handcuffs. I remember the sun peaking in through my thick, velvet curtains and thinking that I had overslept. There was a moment of panic, my eyes snapping wide, the desire to look at my clock.
I always made sure to wake up every day before dawn. That gave me time to go for a walk, make some scrambled eggs, and check the internet news before heading to the school at 8 a.m. It was in my attempt to confirm the time, to roll out of bed and check my clock, that I first discovered the handcuffs. And so slowly was reality setting in that the handcuffs frustrated me only because, were it not for my bindings, I might be able to make it to work on time.
I can be a very narrow thinker sometimes.
My mind became much clearer when I heard the growling.
It would not be unfair to say that I have always appreciated my privacy. My room was smallish, for I had a one bedroom apartment. The presence of noisy neighbors and my dwindling hearing ability (too much headphone jams when I was a teenager) had necessitated the soundproofing of my walls. I watched a lot of poetry on television, after all, and poets are not generally very loud speakers, especially when it comes to appreciating the nuances of a reading while trying to ignore the domestic violence next door.
I was thankfully still dressed in my pajamas. They were blue, soft, and the shirt had three large plastic buttons. My imitation silk sheets, however, were curled around my ankles, as though they were binding my legs.
I looked at the ceiling. It was only for moments, and halfheartedly, that I struggled against the handcuffs. Before any exertion, I knew it was pointless. It was impossible to ignore the conclusion that someone had broken into my apartment, drugged me, and, while I was passed out, confined me to the bed.
This situation in itself may not have been quite so alarming had it occurred after, say, a drunken evening at the bar. As I remained relatively convinced that I had come home directly after teaching, it was difficult to find comfort in the plausibility of drunken debauchery. The growling from the hallway lent credence to the conclusion that this was not a mutual or planned—if inebriated—event on my part.
A shadow crept along the pale hallway. The living room lights must have been on, and in the darkness granted by thick draperies, the shadow was truly startling in its stark contrast. The figure of the shadow looked mostly like a man, only eight feet tall, and elongated in all proportions. It was approaching my room slowly, one lumbering step at a time. I noticed then, even in shadow, the drool hanging from the shadow-caster’s mouth.
Sweat began to bead around my hairline. My puny arms started shaking uncontrollably, my hands fidgeting, twitching.
I was immediately flooded with regret, not for all of the transgressions of my life, but for the day before doubting the existence of werewolves. The drool, the deformed shadow, and the hideous growling left in me no doubt that I was having such an ironic visitation—a visitation that any of my twelfth grade literature student with a rudimentary grasp of foreshadowing could have seen coming.
“I’m so stupid,” I said. My lips quivered, and the words came out like jello. I pushed my head back into the pillow. “Why am I so stupid?”
A growl was my only answer—but as the source of that primordial sound rounded the corner and crossed the threshold of my room, I collapsed back into my bed not with fear, but rather relief. I rolled my eyes, closed them, and then returned their gaze to my doorway, where I could see clearly Jose standing there.
I regained control of my bladder. “What are you doing here Jose?”
Jose stood in the doorway and stared at me. I couldn’t make out the fine details of his face. He was wearing the same clothes he had on yesterday—the intimidating shorts, the punk rock t-shirt—only absent was his baseball cap. Without the cap to confine it, his long hair erupted in all directions, like an untempered of weeds in a vegetable garden. I couldn’t be sure due to the strong back light, but I thought his hair looked almost gray.
“You’re on very thin ice here, Jose,” I said. I tried to be stern, but my trembling voice betrayed my intention. “Very thin ice indeed.”
“It’s not like I had a choice, Mr. Nancy,” Jose said. It may have been my imagination, but his voice seemed deeper, more mature, and more resonant.
“I know, I know. You’re still upset about that thing I said, aren’t you?”
“Not the skateboard thing.”
“Right. The werewolf…thing. But, I mean, really? How necessary is this? If you inspect my bed you’ll find, I’m sure, a small wet spot between my legs. That’s, um, recent, and a testament to my truly felt fright.”
“Mr. Nancy,” Jose said. He wouldn’t step into the room. He wouldn’t let my eyes adjust. “You’re a teacher. An English teacher. You of all people should appreciate the rules of things.”
I stared at his silhouette. “There’s an exception to every rule!”
Jose hangs his head. “Of course you would say that, Mr. Nancy. That’s what all English teachers say. You should think before you say those things.”
“I know.”
Jose patted his hair back with his hand. Then he took something out of his pocket, I couldn’t see what. He took a step forward and closed the door to my bedroom behind him. The room was suddenly cast in darkness, the only illumination coming from a single jagged shard of sunlight that broke through a separation in my curtains.
Finally, with the door closed my eyes could adjust. Slowly I was able to start making out the details in Jose’s face. I could see his arching eyebrows, his chubby cheeks scarred from chicken pox. I could see his pouting lower lip, which, combining with the flat forehead that made him look, somehow, extra-intelligent.
Whatever was in Jose’s hand, he brought it up to his mouth. No, he put it in his mouth. Then he took his hand away and showed me a mouth full of sharp, jagged teeth. After that, he put a fake plastic wolf nose over his face—the kind you buy for three dollars at a costume shop.
“That’s a really fake nose,” I said.
Jose shrugged. “The teesh ahr real.”
He pointed to his teeth. “Real.”
“Oh. Shit. You went all out. I especially liked the, um, drooling in the hallway.”
Jose nodded.
“Right,” I said. “Can I say something first?”
Jose shrugged.
“And, just as a side note, shouldn’t you, ah, be coming at night or something? On a full moon? It’s freaking daylight out there.”
Jose cleared his throat.
“Okay.” I pulled against the handcuffs. “Well. I guess, you know, I’ve sort of lived for English. Not like I have a family or anything. Well, will you take care of Eli?”
“My cat. Will you?”
Jose nodded again.
“Good. He’s a good cat. I’d hate to see him put down. He bites sometimes. Chases me around when I haven’t fed him and bites me. You know. It’s not like he did anything. He shouldn’t pay for my, um, mistakes.” I took a deep breath. “Now that I think about it, do you know what would have worked better? If there had been a pack of werewolves.”
Jose hovered over my bed, listening, grinding his teeth.
“Because then I could have been sure to notice the four shadows on the wall. You know. And really hammer home the point.” I tried to make a hammering gesture with my arm, but just pulled the chain on my restraints.
Jose shook his head. “Hoo muckh.”
“Yeah. Yeah, you’re probably right. Anyway. This isn’t exactly what I meant when I said I would die for my art. Well. I never said that. I suppose if I had, a painting would have fallen on me shortly thereafter. Or something. Impaled with a pen. You know.”
Jose was tapping his foot. “Ah’ve got hkool.”
“Right. Right. Hope the sub’s okay.” I took a deep breath. “Okay, I’m ready.”
And then Jose, the would-be werewolf, leaned forward, and dug his teeth into my neck. I screamed. My body convulsed and every muscle tensed and my eyes bulged so much I thought one of them might dislodge.
I saw the blood splatter against the headboard, could feel more of it escaping from my neck, running down the canals in Jose’s teeth, dribbling from his chin, staining my sheets. There was a lot of blood. My blankets grew hot and sticky and heavy.
I took a deep breath and screamed some more. Then everything went black, but slowly, like it was a fade out on TV before a commercial.
It occurred to me, to late to move my lips, that I should have told Jose that Heaven wasn’t real. That would have been a good one.

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