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Twelve More Months in Tarker's Mills

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January

No flowers should bloom in the woods in January. It is a cold winter, colder than any in Tarker’s Mills can remember, except for the one when the killings began, the killings that most say were the Reverend Lowe gone mad, but a few whisper (and Marty Coslaw still insists) were a werewolf.

No petals should unfurl with force enough to crack the ice, and bloom in brilliant colors against a landscape that should be nothing but brown bark and green needles, white snow and black earth and cold gray stone.

No blossoms should open, none at all.

And yet…

February

The blossoms flourish in the bitter cold. They are a color never before seen in this world, a color that human eyes were not made to see.

If they grow unplucked till spring, bees and butterflies will crawl inside, sucking nectar and collecting pollen. All plants touched by that pollen will die. The bees will grow fat and white and sickly, and forget how to build their combs. The butterflies will forget how to fly, and die thrashing on the ground.

The blossoms flourish, and everything withers around them. Their color is even more beautiful against the bare black ground.

March

Who will pluck the flowers?

Kevin Stafford might, as an apology to Sue Cookson for forgetting Valentine’s Day. He bought her chocolate and roses the next day, but it wasn’t enough, not for the girl all the boys have their eyes on.

Sue Cookson might, as a treat for herself to console her for the foolishness of boys.

Jimmy Brown might, as a thank-you to his mother for buying him a red bicycle for his birthday. He’s old enough to know she couldn’t really afford it and young enough not to let that spoil his pleasure.

It might be anyone.

April

The moon shines high and full and bright on the woods outside of Tarker’s Mills, white as a pearl in a sea of tar. White as a fang in a werewolf’s jaw.

The wind howls. Or is it the wind?

Leaves crunch underfoot. But whose feet?

The deer huddle together, ears twitching, trembling with the readiness to flee. They know.

A whiff of carnivore musk, strong and acrid. One deer bolts, and the rest all follow. A wolf would pull down the slowest, but the herd would survive.

This is not a wolf.

The moon is white as splintered bones.

May

It was fifteen years ago, but Elmer Zinneman remembers what he saw and heard and smelled around Tarker’s Mills before the killing began. The crawling shadow over the moon. The owls hooting in eerie rhythm. The hay gone black and slimy in its bales, sending up a stench like rotten meat.

He remembers his eleven pigs with their guts strewn around the broken planks and snapped wires of their pen. He remembers the footprints, too. Like a man’s bare feet, but elongated, distorted… clawed.

Elmer looks at his mangled cattle—a huge financial loss—and considers investing in silver bullets.

June

Chris Wrightson has always been the biggest drunk in Tarker’s Mills. He still holds that title. Everyone thinks some winter night he’ll pass out behind a parked car and out of sight, and that’ll be the end of him. But God watches over fools and drunks. Chris staggers safely home on freezing nights, and only sleeps in the gutter in summer.

This fine summer night, a huge hairy form bends over Chris as he snores in an alley. Its lips writhe back from blackened gums. Its fangs gleam in the brilliant light of the full June moon.

And God blinks.

July

Marty Coslow is doing just fine, thank you very much. He went away to college, but now he’s back in Tarker’s Mills, trying to get a writing career off the ground. He has a tiny rented cottage, a typewriter, and a van with an automatic ramp and hand controls.

He also has the .38 Colt Woodsman that he used to kill the werewolf. And now that Elmer Zinneman’s cattle and Paul Hoover’s pigs, not to mention Chris Wrightson, have been found disemboweled and partly eaten, he celebrates the fourth of July by acquiring a fine new pair of silver bullets.

August

A traveling salesman pulls over to take a leak by the side of the road. He’s not afraid; the moon is bright.

Marty Coslow, who can’t walk, who has never been able to walk, wakes up on his bathroom floor with scraped shins and mud all over the soles of his feet. The shower is running.

He can’t remember anything. Except that last month he’d found the bathtub wet in the morning, and the drain clogged with what looked like fur. And hadn’t that happened the month before, too? And the month before?

Marty rinses his mouth, then spits.

Red.

September

Marty doesn’t want to believe it. He was never bitten, after all. But there were those flowers, those flowers in a color he was sure was a primary, but a primary he’d never seen, growing right by the edge of the woods where he could maneuver his chair close enough to pick them. He’d just wanted to identify them. But they died in his hand, leaving nothing but a black slime.

He spends the full moon with his van parked by a forest, fifty miles from anywhere. Even a werewolf can’t run that far in one night.

Just in case.

October

Kevin Stafford, long since forgiven, and Sue Cookson decide to go camping on Hallowe’en. Somewhere far away from trick-or-treaters, just them and the moonlight.

Only it isn’t just them.

Marty doesn’t mean to hurt anyone, not unless you count the odd deer or ten. He takes every precaution to stay away from people. It isn’t his fault that people don’t stay away from him.

Sorry don’t mean shit, he thinks to himself when he reads the account in the Portland Gazette afterward. He’d finally gotten a feature article published there, just the month before. He guesses it’ll be his last.

November

Why don’t you kill yourself?

Marty sits on his bed, holding a .38 Colt Woodsman loaded with a silver bullet. He can’t see any other way out. Even getting Uncle Al to lock him in a basement wouldn’t be foolproof.

He holds the gun to his temple, his hand shaking. Then he sees it: maybe, just maybe, another way out.

Marty unloads the gun and holds the bullet in his palm. Its cool smooth weight may be the last thing he’ll ever feel. Then, before he can lose his nerve, he puts it in his mouth and swallows it down.

December

Marty wakes up dizzy and weak, lying on moon-white sheets in a moon-white room. Machines chirp like crickets. His whole family is there, and they exclaim in relief and delight at the sight of him opening his eyes.

“What happened?” he asks. His throat is dry as a bone.

The doctor shakes his head, then speculates unconvincingly about an allergic reaction.

“Open the window,” Marty says.

The best Christmas gift he will ever get is the sight of the perfect circle of the glowing harvest moon.

 

Deep in the woods outside Tarker’s Mills, a dark seed sprouts beneath the ice.