Here is one from my collection, Triple Shot of Werewolves. This one is about a backwoods folk magician and a cursed man desperate for help. I give you, Moonshine.
Carson sat in his idling car, staring at the path that lead deep into the shadows of the mountainside. Driving all the way out to the boonies seemed like a good idea this morning, as it did a week ago when he got wind about the place. But now that he had driven the long miles, followed the endless wind of backcountry road that snaked around the mountain, only to end up at the ass end of nowhere with a mile more still to go, he wasn’t so sure anymore. The trail was only just visible—a narrow swath cut from the surrounding countryside, long since overgrown with weeds and probably teeming with dangerous wildlife. It seemed ridiculous that the answer to all of his prayers lay at the other end. Then again, just a few years ago, the idea of a man turning into a wolf seemed even more ridiculous.
Yet it happened to him every full moon.
For five years he had suffered. Five years of torment and torture, of uncontrollable rage and the instinct to kill, kill, kill. Within a year of contracting the condition—after he learned to lock himself up good and tight during those dreaded moon cycles—Carson started his search for an antidote. With a veiled hint here, and a cryptic suggestion there, after years of searching, he stumbled across an address as home to a possible cure.
Climbing from the car, Carson tried to push his worry out of mind, concentrating instead on the possibilities of returning to a curse-free life. He remembered a time when he enjoyed his life, when Barbara still loved him and he didn’t have to chain himself in the basement for three days every month. He wanted those days back. He wanted Barbara back. If this place held his cure, he wouldn’t leave without it.
Carson pushed aside a low hanging pine branch to shine his flashlight on the trail. There was no going back, he told himself. Only forward. Forward to freedom. The earth gave way under his feet as he moved along, the ground made soft through the years from endless layers of decomposing needles. He blamed this uneven footing for his mounting nervousness, but at his heart he reckoned there was another reason he shook with fear. A real and dangerous reason his hackles were raising of their own accord.
The woods were thick with the things. He couldn’t see them, not yet, but he could sense them on all sides. Sense them as well as smell them. Twenty, maybe more, which was a hell of a lot of wolves when one thought about it for too long. They were watching him from a safe distance, judging his worth, and his purpose.
The closer Carson drew to the path, the more nervous he became. The beast in him was never afraid, but Carson wasn’t a beast. He was a man.
And a coward.
Within a few feet of the place, he chickened out, turned and set off for his car again.
“Whar ya goin’, boy?” a woman asked.
Carson fell still at the question and considered the remaining distance to the car. While he contemplated ignoring the voice and getting out while the getting was good, he heard a distinct metallic click.
“Put dem arms whar I can see ‘em,” the woman said. “And den ya turn about, real slow like.”
Lifting his arms, Carson did as asked, turning in a slow half circle until he was facing the house again. He could make out the bulk of someone seated, half hidden in the shifting shadows of the porch. The long barrel of a gun peeked out of the darkness, its cold steel catching the moonlight in that certain special way that only a deadly weapon can.
“I asked, whar ya goin? Boy?”
“B-b-back to my car,” he stammered. “I shouldn’t have come here.”
“Naw, ya shouldn’t‘ve. But yar here now. Ain’t ya?”
Carson shrugged, unsure what he was supposed to say. To his delight, the woman lowered the gun, which disappeared into the velvet shadows of the porch. The snap of a match sounded, followed by a flare of light. After she touched the match to a lamp, the single flame became a soft glow, illuminating the porch and its owner to a surprising degree.
The woman wasn’t just old, she was ancient. Her pale face was shrunken with wrinkles. Her shriveled nose and lips and cheeks looked more like they belonged to a corpse than to a living person. Stringy clumps of gray hair hung to her bony shoulders. A layer of worn and tattered cloth, that had long since lost any semblance of clothing, only just covered her liver spotted forearms and lower legs. A pair of the most calloused bare feet Carson had ever seen bore yellowing, gnarled toenails that threatened to curl back into the very flesh of the owner at any moment.
One word leapt to mind as he gaped at her. Hag. In the halo of light sat the living embodiment of every fairy tale witch ever written. Snow White’s stepmother would have given her eyetooth for a disguise half as frightening as this old woman’s natural appearance. She looked like she had seen the better part of a thousand years and could take another thousand without a second thought. In short, she was creepy, she was scary and she was disturbing.
She was also Carson’s last hope.
In the time it took to assess her, the old woman struck another match, which she used to light a pipe. Between billowing puffs she asked, “Whatcha name, son?”
“Carson,” he said. “Carson Jackson, ma’am.”
A rolling cloud of smoke poured from the porch as she sucked on her pipe in silence for a moment. “Ya from ‘round these parts?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m from Troy.” Carson started babbling then. He knew he was babbling the moment the words slipped from his nervous tongue, but there was little he could do to stop it. “It’s a little town in the foothills. I don’t live there anymore, of course. Lord no. Not for a long time. I live in Charlotte now, but I was born and raised-”
“Carson?” she interjected.
Carson bit his tongue to stop his babbling.
The old woman grinned at his nervousness, leaving Carson to stare at her again in wonder. The rest of her stood as a testament to the ravages of time, yet her teeth appeared brand new. Pillars of pearly perfection, they all but shimmered in the lamplight. He considered asking her how she kept her teeth in such good shape after so many years, and with the habit of the pipe, then thought better of it.
“Ya can put dem arms down too,” she said.
“Yes ma’am.” Carson dropped his hands, which he had been holding above him at her request. Smoke continued to pour forth from the small pipe, and Carson resisted the urge to wave it away. Nor did he cough. Or remind her of the evils of tobacco usage.
At length she asked, “So?”
“So.” He supposed she was making idle conversation.
“Well?” she asked.
Carson sighed. “Well, well, well.”
“For Pete’s sake, son! Ya gonna tell me what drags ya all da way out here?” She paused in her rant to snap up the shotgun. “Or am I gonna have ta put some buckshot in ya pants ‘fore ya answer?”
Carson returned his hands to the air as she trained the gun on him. “Don’t shoot! I came for help.”
The woman narrowed her eyes at him. “What kinda help?”
“I heard that you …” Carson let the words trail off, unable to bring himself to say them aloud.
Carson mumbled his answer.
“Speak up, son,” she said. “I fear I’m a trifle deaf.”
He sighed again, then said, “I was told you know the cure for lycanthropy.”
For several heartbeats they stood in silence, Carson staring down the barrel of her shotgun as she squinted up at him through the gun’s sights. Then she lowered the weapon, gathered her lamp and pipe, and stood. Her body groaned as she moved, the eerie echoes of creaking joints and twisting leather sounding from her every step. She slipped into the house, leaving the door cracked behind her and Carson alone in the darkness.
There he stood, fear and confusion his only companions.
From deep in the recess of the cabin she asked, “Ya gonna stand out thar all night? Or ya gonna come on in and git what ya come for?”
With no other choice, Carson followed her inside.
The interior of the shack was homey, with lit lamps and candles scattered about the one-room dwelling. The room was sectioned as any home would be; kitchenette complete with a deep washbasin and wood stove, living area including a comfortable-looking couch, and a draped-off area he assumed was her boudoir. Along one wall, above the sink, hung bunches of herbs and dried flowers, lending the air an aromatic touch.
But all hominess ended there.
Shelves lined one wall, containing all manner of jars and bottles, which in turn contained all manner of bizarre things. Most of it Carson couldn’t hope to identify, but among the strange mix he swore he saw a pair of human eyes floating in a dark liquid. Across from the shelves stood a single bookcase, crammed to bursting with dusty tomes and yellowing papers. More books were stacked in front of the case, in piles sometimes waist high. The books on top bore no titles, nor did any of the spines facing him. Instead they displayed esoteric symbols that he had never seen before.
In one corner of the room, away from the bookshelf, was a hauntingly familiar contraption. A cast iron cauldron sat at one end, its contents fed into a wild looping of copper tubes that went up and down and in and out and eventually led to a clay jug at the other end. The old woman stoked the fire under the cauldron, at which it bubbled merrily, and the copper tubing drip, drip, dripped a clear substance into the jug. Beside the jug sat a filthy, grit-encrusted mason jar.
As Carson laid eyes on the herbs and the bottles, the books and the cauldron, he realized everything he had heard was true. “You do practice witchcraft.”
“Folk magic,” she corrected him. “I don’t do no witching, so ya best get dat idear outcha head, son.”
“Sorry.” He dipped his head in shame.
The old woman waved away his contrition. “Enough flappin’ ya gums. Ya bring money?” She held out her hand, flexing her fingers in the classic ‘gimme’ fashion.
Carson nodded as he pulled a wad of bills from his jeans. He knew she would ask for payment, so he brought everything he had. Which didn’t amount to much. “One thousand dollars.” He placed the wad in her outstretched palm.
She kept her hand held out, and stared hard at him.
“It’s all I have,” he insisted.
She grunted at him. “That’d be mighty fine, if dar warn’t another thousand in your other pocket.”
Carson’s eyes went wide, because she was right. “How could you possibly know that?”
She eyed him in silence again.
Carson pulled the second wad of bills from his opposite pocket, and was thus parted from his two thousand dollars as she deposited the bills somewhere amidst her billowing garments. With a sharp clap that made him jump, the old woman rubbed her hands together.
“Now,” she said. “What do ya want?”
“I don’t want to change anymore,” he said.
“Is dat so?”
“Why? Most folks would give dey life for da one ya lead.”
“Because they don’t know what it’s like. It’s painful and exhausting. I’m tired of this double life. I only want one life.”
“Den dat’s what ya gonna get.”
Carson smiled. “Really?”
“It’s what ya done paid for, son.” She shuffled to the contraption in the corner, snatched up the jug and jar. Carson sat and waited as she poured a measure of the liquid into the dirty jar. Grit and grime spun in the eddy of the swirling fluid, some sinking to the bottom, some floating at the top.
“What happens now?” he asked.
“Now,” she said as she replaced the jug under the ever-dripping tube. “Ya drink dis.” She returned to his seat, holding the full jar to him.
Carson stared at it with disgust. “What is it?”
“What’s it look like?”
“Guess again, son.”
Carson shrugged. The only thing he was sure of was the fact that he had no intention of drinking from the filthy jar.
The old woman looked to the ceiling as she gave him the answer. “It’s moonshine.”
All at once the contraption made sense. It wasn’t some mystical alchemical device. It was nothing more than a common still, producing homemade liquor. Carson shook his head. “No thanks. I’m afraid I’m not much a drinking man.”
“Ya’ll drink dis and like it.”
Carson supposed she offered it out of kindness. That perhaps the cure was so painful or even difficult, she offered the moonshine as a way to relax him before they began. “I really don’t like white lightning, thanks.”
She furrowed her brow. “Aint white lightnin’. I said once dis is moonshine. White lightnin’ is a whole different kettle of magics.”
“That’s all well and good, but I think I’ll pass.”
“Damn it, son! Ya want ya cure or not?”
For politeness’ sake, not to mention that of his two grand, Carson snatched the jar from her and took a sip. Being from the South, and bearing many relatives amongst the hills and mountains of the Carolinas, Carson had been privilege to the occasional sip of homemade liquor in the past. It was nothing like the concoction in the filthy jar. Corn liquor had a distinct taste, which was tantamount to a slap on the tongue followed by a punch to the throat. This moonshine, however, was sweet, like the juice of some exotic fruit.
Before he knew what he was doing, Carson gulped half the jar.
“Whoa,” she said. “Take yur time.”
He did as asked, smacking his lips in delight between sips. “That’s quite pleasant. What is it?” He pulled another swig.
“I see,” he said between sips. “You don’t have to tell me.”
“I told ya. Moonshine. Pure shine from the full moon, collected from midnight dewdrops over thirteen lunar cycles. Distilled, concentrated and refined.”
He almost choked on the last swallow. “You’re kidding.”
“Naw. Dat’s pure moonshine you drank.”
Carson stared at the empty jar, overcome with a feeling of wonder and a lingering sense of heartburn. “And how is it supposed to keep me from turning into a wolf?”
She laughed and shook her head before she said, “It ain’t.”
“It don’t keep ya from being a wolf. Not at all.”
The world spun in a swirl of confusion as Carson recognized the first signals of the change. It was impossible, the moon was nowhere near full. Yet there he stood, arms itching, face sweating, belly rumbling. It was the change all right, and it came on him faster that ever before. He wasn’t a very bright man, but it didn’t take long for him to connect her words, his action and the oncoming shift.
He held the empty jar up to her. “What did you make me drink?”
She laughed again. “I told ya son, moonshine. Every pup knows moonshine’s what brings on da change. Only ya been getting shine in small doses. Now ya gots a heaping helping.”
Pain shot across his body in bright firework bursts. He threw the jar to the floor, wincing at the shatter of glass as well as the tear of fabric. The woman stood back as he dropped to the floor on all fours, assuming the aged position of the shift. Cracking bone and shredding muscle echoed through the shack as his body rearranged itself.
“Why? I didn’t want to change anymore …” he croaked before his mouth shifted to a snout.
She shrugged. “And ya won’t. Ya see, a little moonshine brings out a little of da beast.”
Carson writhed in pain and terror as he realized the mistake of his request far, far too late.
“But a heaping dose of shine,” she explained. “Well, dat brings da beast all da way out. Ya got what ya asked for, son. Ya ain’t gonna change naw more.”
Her final words were lost in Carson’s wild screaming that shifted with his body until it was a long, aching howl.