The first time Ryan screams, Shane doesn't move from his spot beside the campfire. This lighting setup already took forever and now they're even further off schedule because Ryan's shy bladder won't permit him to take a leak unless he's at least fifty yards away from any other human being. Calling it the first time is actually misleading; this is the fourth time Ryan has screamed since they entered these woods in Walworth County, Wisconsin. The first time was because he saw an owl looking at him. The second time was because a moth flew too close to his hair. The third time was because he had forgotten that his backpack was strapped across his chest, so when he tried to take it off, he thought a monster had grabbed him. Shane didn't need Ryan to explain this thought process to him. He could see each stupid idea flick across Ryan's face one by one, like cycling through pictures on a View-Master.
This fourth scream doesn't register as significantly different in tone from any of those, so Shane extrapolates from this data set that Ryan is scared of something a) dumb, b) non-existent, and c) not worth Shane moving his feet away from this incredibly cozy fire. Shane lost his tolerance for the lake effect about forty minutes after he left Schaumburg. There's a reason people don't talk about the ocean effect; the only ocean effect is happiness. Wisconsin is honestly trash, there aren't enough cheese curds in the world to make up for--
Then Ryan screams again and Shane's lungs clench and his hands go clammy because that's not a normal Ryan scream, that's not an everyday moth scream, that's not even a Sallie house scream, and Shane's on his feet with his flashlight in one hand and a can of bear spray in the other, because there's only one thing in the physical world that Shane can imagine would cause Ryan to make a sound like that.
It takes Shane and Tristan and the rest of the crew a few seconds of clumsy Blair Witch hollering before they spot Ryan on the ground by a tree, one shoulder and knee in the dirt while he clutches his other leg. His jeans are shredded at the calf and there's blood, Jesus, Shane can't even tell how bad it is because there's too much fucking blood all over the place, which kind of means all signs are pointing to pretty fucking bad, genius, and that's Ryan's voice in his head which makes the pit of Shane's stomach hurt until he realizes that Ryan's speaking in real life too, Ryan's conscious and staring up at Shane with wide, manic eyes, and all he says over and over while they're dragging him back to the car is, "Did you see it?"
Ryan keeps his eyes shut while Shane peels back the loose scraps of fabric from his pants and washes out the wound with a bottle of water. Apparently enough of the shock has worn off that he doesn't also keep his mouth shut.
"Shit, dude, did it take out a fucking chunk? Are they going to 127 Hours me? What if it clipped a fucking artery or something, fuck, I don't know if I can feel my foot, take off my shoe and see if my toes are moving."
He's shaking so badly Shane has to lean half his weight on him so he can tape a pad of gauze in place.
"There are teeth marks," Shane says. "No chunks. Your toes are fine. Why is there a fucking crucifix in the first aid kit?"
Ryan snatches it out of his hand and holds it against his chest the whole way to the hospital.
The doctor, who's probably a year younger than Shane and looking at all of them like they're twelve years old and making backyard audition tapes for MTV's Jackass, says that judging by the bite pattern and their location at the time of the incident (in the goddamn woods in the middle of the night like a bunch of dumb baby idiots, some people save fucking lives for a living, but oh yeah, Buzzfeed, that's cool) they're most likely looking at a coyote or wild dog. Ryan's getting a couple sutures, some antibiotics and painkillers, and about six shots over the next two weeks.
Tom raises his hand. "Any chance of him getting those shots, um, gluteally?"
Shane and the doctor both look at him balefully, which makes Shane feel a little better about his general life direction.
"What?" Tom says. "This video's toast, we should take any hilarious opportunity we can get."
"Thanks, man," Ryan says. "Your support means everything at this difficult time."
"You got nibbled on by a fucking squirrel," says Tom, then he and Tristan shuffle out of the room, hopefully to get them all some coffee but possibly to go Instagram about how a rabid chipmunk bit Ryan in the ass.
Ryan, who's maintained a loose grip on his crucifix even though his body has been wrapped up in a warm fluffy Vicodin hug, blinks at the doctor.
"So, just. I mean, like. You can't say definitively whether it was a coyote or a dog," he says, in his very best I-know-and-respect-science tone.
"If you got some photos of the tracks, maybe. Sometimes it's hard to tell either way. But the rabies shots will have you covered no matter what."
Oh, no. Shane presses his hand against his forehead.
"But in theory there's a chance it could actually be another animal entirely. I'm just asking, can you one hundred percent say there's no chance this bite came from a wolf?"
The doctor's forehead creases. He glances at Shane, who peeks out from under his hand and grimaces apologetically.
"I can say it would have had to be a pretty small wolf," the doctor concedes. God, Shane hates it when professionals humor Ryan. Put on your big doctor pants and just tell him no! "And even in that case," says Doctor Enabler, "it probably would have taken about half your leg with it."
"Okay, but if you had to call it, like, percentage-wise," Ryan blurts when the doctor has one foot out the door.
The doctor chuckles. "Off the top of my head? I’d say around zero point two."
Anyone else would know they had been dismissed. Instead, Ryan's head whips toward Shane, his eyes gleaming with vindication.
"All I'm saying," Ryan says, for at least the eighth time on this five hour flight, "is how are you not even slightly freaked out that on the night of the full moon, in woods where there have been humanoid hairy beast sightings dating back to the fucking '30s, I get bitten by an animal which cannot be conclusively ruled out as a wolf. What are the actual chances of this happening? This is fucking unprecedented and you know it and your little oooh-listen-to-the-doctor bullshit is not helping anyone. Like that fucking doctor's not in on the whole--"
Shane elbows Ryan in the ribs, reasserting control of the armrest. "Oh, the doctor's in on the werewolf racket? They're all trying to keep it hush-hush? In that case you'd be in the fucking Walworth County morgue with a silver bullet in your head, pal, they're not letting you hop on the next--"
"Full moon. Wolf. That's how simple this is. That's some Occam's razor shit right there."
Shane barks a laugh loud enough to earn him a sharp glance from the flight attendant. "Yes, it was a full moon. In this instance the probability of there being a full moon was a hundred percent, because we planned this entire fucking video around us being in the woods for the fucking full moon."
"Because these woods are famous for what? Fucking werewolves."
Shane takes a deep breath. "Because two idiots thought they saw wolves, which are rare endangered animals in themselves, and then assumed, oh shit, that's actually my neighbor, oh my, witchcraft and devilry, instead of the actual Occam's razor here, which is that Idiot One saw a coyote and Idiot Two saw a dog."
As usual, Ryan pivots right away from that logic wall. "Well, only like two people a year die of rabies in the United States but I'm still getting fucking rabies shots, aren't I? There's no werewolf vaccine, there's no, like, conclusive medical werewolf test, nor is there conclusive evidence that werewolves don't exist, so you can't look me in the eye right now and tell me there is definitively zero chance whatsoever that I got bit by a fucking werewolf and now I have the curse."
Shane almost spits out his water. "The curse?" he repeats, delighted. This is why Ryan's nonsense is almost always worth it.
Ryan nods resolutely, and Shane twists in his seat to face him fully, leaning down until they're eye to eye. "There is definitively zero chance whatsoever that you were bit by a werewolf and now you have the curse," Shane says.
Huffing adorably -- Shane Madej is a realist who tells it like it is -- Ryan crosses his arms and leans into the far side of his seat, making use of all the four inches between them.
"Well, I guess we'll find out in about thirty days, smart guy," says Ryan.
The whole video gets scrapped, and Ryan gets his rabies injections in the upper arm, which isn't quality content despite his admittedly impressive delts. He has to be cleared by Buzzfeed's legal team before they can do another location shoot, so they end up shoehorning in a true crime episode about the Texarkana Moonlight Murders. It feels appropriate.
"I've got this kind of itching, burning feeling around the bite," Ryan tells Shane a few days later, glancing around the canteen to make sure they're alone.
Shane nods. "Yes, that is the sensation of a wound healing."
Ryan's eyes narrow. "And I'm craving meat, like, all the time."
Shane grins. "Meat is delicious."
Ryan takes a deep, loud breath through his nose. He might be trying to growl, which is precious. "Like, fucking rare, bloody steak. Like, dripping."
Shane's mouth starts to water, because he's a normal human being. "Sounds fantastic, I'm ready, let's do this." He stands up and slides his jacket on, slapping Ryan on the back, enjoying Ryan's glower. "Tell me when you start craving raw chicken, then we'll talk about your inhuman urges."
A few days later Ariel stops by the office to take Ned to lunch and she brings their dog Bean along, letting him off the leash briefly to skitter around the floor. After he chews on Keith's shoelaces and sniffs Eugene's crotch (eat your heart out, YouTube comments section) Bean investigates the other desks cautiously, puppy toenails rattling across the tile.
Ryan climbs halfway out of his chair and wiggles his fingers in front of the dog's face, chirping in an abrupt falsetto. "Hey, doggy! Hi, fluffy pupster, good boy, you're a cute--"
Bean makes a vaguely insulted noise in his throat and snaps at Ryan's fingers before bolting back to his mom. Ariel scoops him up and grins toward their desk.
"Sorry," she says with a little wave. "He's shy sometimes!"
Ryan rolls his chair closer to Shane. "Did you hear that, man?" he says under his breath. "That dog hates me, did you hear it growl at me? It almost took my fucking hand off! It could smell the curse. It recognized me with its primordial wolf senses."
"It's a fucking labradoodle," Shane says.
"We share a common ancestor," says Ryan.
Shane feels a headache starting between his eyebrows. "I have ordinary everyday human senses and I hate you more than any dog possibly could."
When Ryan sends him the link to the isolated cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains, Shane assumes it's a historic murder location.
"It's my full moon safe house," Ryan says, like that’s a thing a person might ever need. "Look, just in case, you know, I need a containment plan. This place has a basement, I can seal myself up Evil Dead style."
"Because that really worked out for everyone," Shane says.
"If you have a better idea, I'm all ears, pal," says Ryan.
What the hell. Shane might as well lean into this. Maybe he should try feeding the delusion, like DiCaprio in Shutter Island. They might get a funny video out of it, in any case.
"Okay," Shane says, leaning toward Ryan conspiratorially. "Let's assume it's possible that you are indeed cursed. And during the full moon, presumably, there will be some kind of... something." He circles his hand in front of Ryan to indicate his whole situation. "Well, I think you owe it to both the scientific and paranormal communities to document the event for posterity."
"No shit," says Ryan, like Shane's the idiot here. "I'm going to have a camera on every fucking inch of this place."
Shane nods. "And it would probably be a good idea to have an independent third party present as a witness."
Ryan recoils like a shocked Muppet. "No, man, I can't -- that's way too dangerous. I can't ask you to do that."
Shane bites the inside of his lip to maintain his composure. "Hey, man," he says somberly. "Did Ray have to ask Egon? No. They were a team."
"I'm not Ray, I'm Venkman," Ryan says automatically.
"You're Rick Moranis."
"You're that ginger fuck from the EPA."
Ryan changes his Airbnb reservation to two guests.
Shane tilts his monitor toward Ryan. "It says if you drag a raw chicken around in a circle on the ground, the werewolf will be bound inside that circle. Worth a try."
Ryan chews on his bottom lip. "Yeah, but. Bears, though."
Shane stares at him. "You’re telling me a goddamn werewolf is going to be scared of an ordinary little bear?"
"Werewolves aren't magic! They're mortal flesh and blood!"
"Werewolves aren't magic," Shane repeats, putting his hands on his hips in an uncanny replication of the Spongebob meme.
Ryan puffs out his chest. "Fine. Bring some fucking chicken. I'm not even going to fight the bear, he's going to be my new best friend after we eat you."
A week before the full moon, Ryan texts Shane at 2:17 a.m.
Ryan need silver chains/cage
Ryan fuck you
Ryan you're uninvited
Ryan not safe
Shane doctor said "wolf" that bit you was tiny
Shane bit by tiny werewolf, become tiny werewolf
Shane you'll be pet sized
Shane you'll be a housewolf
Ryan fuckkkkkkkkkk you
Ryan maybe that werewolf was a kid
Ryan werewolf size proportional to human size
Shane yeah so
Shane you'll be tiny
Ryan's unusually quiet on the drive out to the mountains, tense and a little pale, tapping his fingers against his thigh and glancing at Shane from the corner of his eye every couple miles.
"You want to roll the window down?" Shane says. "You could stick your head out, might make you feel better."
Ryan flips him off silently.
"Put on some music. Look, I made you a playlist."
Ryan skips past Duran Duran, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Warren Zevon, and Shakira before he disconnects Shane's phone and turns on the actual radio, turning KDAY up loud.
"I hope you're more fun as a dog," Shane shouts over Tupac. "I brought a frisbee."
About ninety minutes before sunset, Shane films Ryan on the musty couch in what Shane is still pretty sure is a murder cabin.
"We're closing in on the full moon," Shane says. "30 days post-bite. Post-infection? Post-curse. However you choose to identify, Ryan, how are you feeling right now?"
Ryan swallows and shifts his weight noisily on the polyester upholstery. He scratches the back of his neck, then behind one ear, before catching himself and yanking his hand away, shaking it violently. "I'm, uh," Ryan says, breathing loudly into the microphone. This audio is going to be a fucking mess. They should have brought Tom.
Ryan rolls his shoulders back and forth, his muscles tense and stupidly defined. Fucking P90X. If Ryan were going to be a werewolf, he'd be a sexy Twilight one. Were the werewolves in Twilight sexy? Shane assumes they must have been.
"I feel itchy," Ryan says. Well, no shit. Did Shane mention the polyester upholstery? "Like I have a fever, but I'm not sick, just. My clothes feel too tight, I'm too hot, my skin itches, my fucking teeth are sweating."
Shane nods slowly. "Oh," he says. "Well, neat."
Ryan licks his lips, swallows again. It's loud on-mic, the kind of noise that usually grosses Shane out, but right now. Well.
"I don't know, man," Ryan says. "Maybe you should go, because I just. Like, I can hear your heart beating. And you kind of. Smell good."
Shane blinks. Ryan shoves himself up from the couch with a grunt and starts pacing the room. Prowling, one might say.
"Open a fucking window," Shane says. "It smells like 1987 in here."
With all his alleged superhuman strength, Ryan can't budge the ancient dirty window more than a couple inches. He gulps cool air, tugging at the front of his t-shirt. It's thin and gray, and Shane can see the sweat marks at his shoulder blades, the small of his back. Ryan reaches over his head and grabs the back of his collar, pulling the shirt off with one hand.
"Sorry, fuck," he says. "I seriously feel like I'm going to burst out of my fucking skin. What the fuck is this?"
He's starting to breathe fast and shallow, so Shane thinks what it actually might be is a good old-fashioned panic attack. He gets Ryan some water, puts a cautious hand on his shoulder. Ryan really is burning up.
"I don't know, man," Shane says. "Maybe you should go lie down."
Ryan guzzles the water, a few drops slipping down his chin, his chest. "No, I just, um," he says. He takes a half step toward Shane, sways forward a little, closes his eyes. Shane has to push against his shoulder to make sure he stays upright. "It's just," Ryan says. "Dude, you smell so fucking good."
Shane's mouth is suddenly very dry.
"Well, that's. Thank you. Nice of you to notice. I mean, I try."
Ryan nods, slow and heavy, like he’s drunk. "Can I just, um."
He steps all the way into Shane's space, lifting himself up on his toes so he can bury his nose in the crook of Shane's neck, dragging in a desperate breath.
"Fuck," Ryan says, rocking back on his heels. "What the fuck, Shane?"
"I don't know," Shane says. He spreads his fingers out against Ryan's shoulder, slides his thumb across Ryan's collar bone. "Hear me out, though. I think maybe you should take your pants off, just in case. You don't want to end up in Hulk shorts, that's never a dignified look."
Ryan's eyes go wide and bright. "Yeah, I, uh, I had these tailored, actually, so it would be a waste to--"
Shane grins. "Plus you don't want to offend the magical elves who darn your tiny garments."
"Fuck you, you know what, just get the fuck out of here, get out there in the woods where you belong, you fucking Slenderman," Ryan says, but he starts unbuttoning his pants anyway.
They never got around to opening the window in the bedroom and the sun is blazing through it by the time Shane wakes up. Ryan's still mostly on top of him, heavy and breathing damply against the middle of Shane's back. Shane wriggles a little, trying to give his lungs more room, and the bed creaks ominously and Ryan snaps awake with a hilarious yelp.
"Morning," Shane says.
Ryan sits up and rubs his eyes, looks at the window, blinks, and rubs his eyes again.
"Morning? Oh, fuck, it's morning! Shane, do you know what that means?"
"You should take a shower," Shane says. It's not a guess.
Ryan kicks his bare leg under the sheet. "No, fucker. It means I didn't turn after all. I'm cured." He collapses onto his back and grins dopily up at the ceiling, then at Shane, one hundred watts of pure dumb happiness shining right in his face. "Your love broke the curse," Ryan says.
Shane presses his face into the pillow and groans. "First of all," he says, "I never said I love you, and secondly, that's not how werewolves work."
Ryan, as usual, cannot dispute these facts, so he kisses Shane instead.
When Ryan finally lets him up for air, Shane says, "You can't expect to win every argument like this from now on."
Ryan straddles Shane's chest and pins Shane's wrists over his head, looking extremely proud of himself for someone who weighs about as much as a medium-sized cat.
"Of course not," he says. "I'll just keep winning every argument the exact same way I did before."
Shane groans. "God, you're a fucking monster."
Ryan's eyes light up, glinting almost yellow in the late morning sun. "Don't say I didn't warn you."