art by Jason Stirret
Gullible Georgina Agravaine
by Michael J Greenhut
The sheriff asked me to believe that a telephone call turned Georgina Agravaine into a werewolf. Evidently, the caller suggested that she might be one, and that's when the trouble started.
I sat in his office with my ankles crossed, sipping a triple tall latte. "What type of crime does a phone call like that fall under?" I asked.
"Look, man, I get you don't believe me. But I know it happened," he said. "I played varsity with the guy who made the phone call. He does shit like this all the time during happy hour. I just never thought he'd land on Georgina's number, you know? She's… well, she's sweet and innocent. She believes stuff."
"But you don't," I answered.
"Hell no! Do I look like the kinda guy who'd let a phone call turn me into an animal? But you sound like a man who especially don't believe things, Celio. So maybe you don't believe she can't be killed. Maybe you don't believe we're all gonna die. Maybe you got one of those rifles waxed and ready."
He knew that I'd survived cancer by thinking my doctor was a quack and that his diagnosis was bullshit. He didn't know that, twenty years ago, I'd asked Georgina Agravaine to the senior prom.
I spread my hands. "Why don't you get the guy to call her back and tell her he lied?"
"I already tried that!"
Of course he did. I took a long sip of latte. "Did he call her when she was… you know, wolving?"
"He's dead, Celio! His throat's been ripped out!"
"That would make it harder." Even as I said this, I felt the latte burn down my thumb.
"Can you stop her, or should I get the boys? They're all pretty good shooters. Not as good as you, but they were on the varsity team with me, too, back then. Strong legs, strong arms, strong--"
"I'll do it."
Even my teachers called me, "Celio the Cynic." Since nursery school, I had envisioned becoming a film critic. As high school approached, my love-to-hate affair with film ended, and I decided I had really wanted to critique surrealist art.
During ninth grade, for a government class assignment to describe our idea of criminal justice, I handed in an 800-word essay about how lethal injection was more humane than the gallows. My detention lasted three days, ending on a wet Friday. I approached Georgina on the way out of the school gates.
She was playing hopscotch in a series of puddles. "Can I walk you home?" I asked, at the risk of becoming a decent person.
"You're sweet, but I'm not going home," she spoke like a moonstruck Muppet. Her double braids of mouse-brown hair crossed each other around the back of her neck. "You know where I'm going."
Danny Jordan's Grave. She had left enough flowers there to start a shop.
"He's not watching you from Heaven, he's rotting in the ground," I told her. "He's not going to hear you talking just because there's a stone over his body."
"You're an asshole." A sweet asshole. I could have lived with worse.
"He was never in love with you," I continued on my crusade to disillusion her. "They were messing with your head when they told you that. He would laugh at you behind your back with Doug and Joey."
I puffed up my chest with fourteen-year-old confidence, assuming that the truth would set her free and catapult her into my arms. She looked at me and said nothing. Her eyes always turned gray when she was sad, and at that moment, they looked like windows into a cyclone.
She turned the corner. I followed her to the cemetery, lagging half a block behind all the way, until she stood over Danny's tombstone. She snapped around and pulled out a neatly folded piece of printer paper.
"Look at what I drew," she told me. "I made it because I know you write about art. Maybe you can write about it for the next issue of the lit magazine. Do you like it?"
My jaw dropped. Her sketch looked like a photograph, and not the kind taken by my Uncle Waldo's epileptic attempts. A likeness of Danny Jordan held a likeness of Georgina in his arms, and I half expected them to wave at me.
"I asked if you liked it," she pressed. "If you want to walk me home, Celio, you'd better say yes."
The best response I could muster to keep my membership card as a precocious art critic was, "Uh-huh." To my shame, I wasn't even lying.
There was no arguing with that sketch. Danny Jordan had loved her; reality was beside the point.
I turned away from the old homeless man's body. Officers crawled over the alley like ants on a dropped cookie.
"That's the fifth," said the sheriff from beside me. "She's gonna kill again tonight, or my name's Angelica."
For a moment, I tried to recall the exact point in time when I gave up critiquing art to become a sharp-shooting bounty hunter. Georgina had never sketched anything else--she had expressed her belief through that medium only so she could win mine. When did I finally admit that no other artist in this century would make me doubt my senses the way she had? When had I oiled my first rifle?
"Did you hear me?" asked the sheriff.
"Your name is Angelica," I told him.
"Uhh," he answered, scratching his chin. "You gonna find her before tonight and tell her she's not a werewolf anymore? I'd do it myself, but, you know--you knew the girl."
I nodded and walked away, practicing the speech on myself. It's just some animal. It won't be her. You'll be killing a wild animal.
"You're not a werewolf," I told her that night as I stood in her front yard. I aimed my rifle at the silhouette's torso as it crept toward me, standing on its hind legs but periodically falling onto all fours, like a giant toddler learning how to walk. "The sheriff wanted to tell you himself, but--"
She snapped toward me like black, furry lightning. Suddenly I was on the ground, and my chest felt warm and wet. "You're a werewolf," I corrected, gasping for breath.
Georgina growled at me, but not in the Lon Cheney, Jr. fashion. If I had heard the growl from a distance, I would have wondered if it were a beast or a distraught mother finding her babies murdered.
As she pulled back a limb to strike again, I pointed behind her and said, "Oh, my. Whatever might that be, over there?" She turned her wolf-head to where I was pointing, and sniffed.
I seized the moment, and my rifle. Just as she turned back around, I fired. The bullet went through her chest and knocked her head over heels. She fell face down onto the ground, but snapped onto her feet instantly. I fired twice more, knocking her back down. She stopped moving.
My hand only began shaking when the fur and fangs receded.
The night of my senior prom, I drove Georgina home, half expecting my palms to melt the steering wheel.
"Your hands are shaking," she told me. She had given up her twin braids for a single, which she pulled across her bare shoulder.
"Because I want to have sex with you," I answered, "But I won't since you'll probably pretend I'm Danny Jordan."
"Is that wrong?" She talked to me as if I were reading her a bedtime story. "I mean, if it's wrong or if it bothers you, I can think of you instead of Danny for the first twenty minutes."
"Deal," I said. I kissed her for five seconds, then stopped. Her lips had kissed me back with all the passion of cold spaghetti, which told me that she was keeping her word.
"I'm not a rapist," I answered, getting out of the car. I walked around to her side and opened the door. As I helped her out, she laced her fingers through mine and squeezed my hand. Some part of me stirred, and it was not between my legs.
"Um, maybe you could let me pretend that you're Danny for the whole thing."
"Can't someone from the football team do that? Like, oh, any of them?"
"I don't want the football team to do it."
For most of us hunter-folk, understanding women is a Holy Grail type of quest. Georgina Agravaine was less than helpful to the cause.
As Georgina's wolf features receded, her body curled halfway into a fetal position. She looked at me through a jungle of brown hair, dirt, and twigs. "How many people did I kill?"
A middle-aged prank caller; an old boozehound; two police officers. A small boy was in critical condition with a mangled arm and neck. I cleared my throat, preparing for my duty as Sir Celio, knight of truth and… well, truth.
"How many?" she repeated.
I paused, then took her fingers in my palm. A chill spread up my wrist, and I wondered how much body heat those fingers would sap.
Sir Celio, knight of…
"Nobody was hurt," I said. "But you could have killed many. I--I had to…"
Georgina gave a slight nod, which I might have imagined. I loosened my grip on her fingers, preparing to switch hands. With sudden strength, she clasped my arm and almost yanked me off-balance.
"Don't," she said. "I only have seconds. Don't let go."
"My arms don't come off my shoulders."
She smiled, as if her mind were a million miles away and counting. "You're funny when you're not mean."
My eyes began to water. "I'm allergic to wolf hair," I said. "Like onions."
"Almost there… hold on to me, Celio."
Her hand went limp. I sat down, holding on to it. By the time I let go, dawn had arrived.
This story was first published on Tuesday, March 5th, 2013