e kept staring at a poster that was taped to the ceiling. Daft Punk, his favorite music group. He'd been staring at it for the last half an hour. Going through the permutations in his head. Trying to come up with any way out aside from the most obvious one. It was going to happen tomorrow, and he wasn't ready to go through the whole ordeal again. He wasn't ready the first time, but since it caught him by surprise he didn't have much of a choice in the matter.
Now he did. But it wasn't a choice he wanted to make.
Joseph Hartley lay on his bed, wondering how he was going to handle the next two days. Or if he even wanted to. In one hand, he held his cell phone, a 1-800 number already punched in and ready to call. In the other, a clear brown bottle filled to the top with his father's blood pressure medication.
With a sigh, he pushed the "Send" button on his phone and put it to his ear. He heard it ring one and a half times before someone picked up.
"National Teen Outreach Hotline, how can I help you?" It was a female voice.
Joseph was silent for a moment. Did he even want to talk to anyone about this? Still for some reason, he thought it would be rude to call a place like this and not use their services. So, he began to talk.
"Hi. What's your name?"
"You can call me Crystal."
"Hi, Crystal. I... I don't know if I should live any more." He didn't know how to phrase it; he didn't want to sound threatening, but he also didn't want this Crystal girl to take things lightly.
"OK. What was your name, please?"
"You can call me Joseph," he joked.
"All right, Joseph. Tell me what's on your mind."
"I'm a werewolf. I'm a fucking werewolf. I've already been through it once, and I don't want to do it again."
"How long have you been a werewolf, Joseph?"
"A month. Well, I don't know if they start counting when you're bitten or when you change for the first time, but my first change was a month ago."
"Tell me how it happened."
"Well, it's like this," Joseph explained. "Me and a few buddies, we went out two months ago. I snagged some beers out of the fridge, so we were living it up. Just happened to be a full moon that night, and one of my friends - his name's Brad - he's a werewolf. Been one his whole life. So of course he changed that night.
"We were getting pretty drunk after a while. We started talking about girlfriends. Brad comes up to me and asks if I've gotten my girl into bed yet. I get mad and say, 'Hey, bite me.' He was so fucking drunk he actually took it literally."
"I guess you didn't realize that that bite would make you a werewolf, too."
"I forgot the whole thing happened the next morning. So anyway, next month comes up, and I'm sitting in my room watching TV. I start getting this feeling, you know, like my stomach's cramping up. But I didn't think anything of it; I just thought I had a stomach ache. Then I got this really painful sensation just above my ass. I reached down there to rub it or something, and I felt something sticking out. I was growing a tail. I was growing a fucking tail. After that, everything all happened at once, and before I knew it - bam, I was a wolf. I couldn't see any colors, I could smell and hear everything in the house, and then came the really freaky part - it felt like someone else was in my head. Like an uninvited guest or something, telling me what to do."
"What did it tell you to do?" Crystal asked.
"It told me to get out of the house and not let my folks see me. So I did. I crawled out the window and snuck out to the park. I just spent the rest of the night out there, completely scared out of my mind."
"Did you talk to Brad about this?"
"Yeah. I grabbed him the next day and said, 'Hey, what the fuck did you do to me?' He didn't know what the hell I was talking about. I told him he turned me into a werewolf the month before. He said he was sorry, but I didn't care about that - I just wanted to know how to get rid of this."
"But there isn't a cure for lycanthropy."
"That's what he told me," Joseph replied. "I snapped. I socked him right in the face. Gave him a bloody nose. They suspended me for five days."
Crystal sighed. "So why do you want to kill yourself?"
"Tomorrow's another one. Another full moon. It's going to happen again. I don't want it to happen. I can't tell my folks - they'd beat the shit out of me. They'd throw me out of the house. But I can't help it."
"You might be surprised, Joseph. I can't tell you how many times I've seen kids who are afraid to tell their parents something. They may not like it, but they always understand."
"But that's not even the biggest reason I hate this." Joseph sighed. "It's that other person in there. He freaks me out. It's like I couldn't do anything without this other presence looking over my shoulder, you know?"
"Joseph, it's OK. You'll get used to it."
"How the hell would you know?" Joseph shouted into the phone. "How the hell would you know what it's like to be hungry all the time? Or to be afraid of kissing girls because you think you'll fuck them up too? Or feeling like you're being twisted and pulled apart? Or hearing voices in your head all the time? How the fuck would you know? You're not a werewolf."
Crystal paused for a moment. "As a matter of fact..." she paused again, "I am a werewolf, Joseph."
From inside a cubicle in a small office, a young woman sat at her chair, with nothing to stare at but a desk, a few motivational and instructional posters around her, and a telephone. She was a gentle-looking girl, with her blond hair styled into a ponytail, wearing a white and baby blue sweater. Her hands were fiddling with her necklace, upon which a small pink crystal was hanging on a charm in the middle.
She knew she was breaking the rules at this point. She was always told not to lie to a caller, because if she got caught it could anger the caller. She also knew, though, that the most important rule was to keep the caller on the line as long as possible. The more they talked, the less likely they would do anything rash.
"You... you're a werewolf too?" Joseph asked. "How'd you get it?"
"I was born a werewolf. My dad was one, too. So I know what it's like." She didn't, really; all she had was the experiences one of her friends had relayed to her. But she was going to see how long she could ride this out.
"How do you do it? How do you manage to change every month and not go crazy?"
"Well, I was lucky," Crystal falsely explained. "I was already used to it by the time I knew what was going on. You have it a little harder."
"No shit. I've only done it once." Joseph was silent for a moment. "How do you like it?"
"How do I like what?"
"Well, being a werewolf."
"It's OK..." Crystal had to think about how to answer every question before she said anything. "I think it's kinda fun to be something different for a while. It helps spice things up."
"Yeah, but then you change when you don't want to."
"Well, it's not like I want to or don't want to. It's just something that happens. You just learn to accept after a while." She thought back to an anecdote her friend had told her. "One time, I went to a Bone Krushers concert. You know, the all-werewolf band?"
"Yeah, I've heard of 'em."
"Well, anyway, Danny - the lead singer - steps up to the mike and tells all the werewolves in the audience to change, right then and there. Everyone that did got a free T-shirt from the band. And mine was autographed - which meant I got to go backstage and meet them all after the show."
"You got to meet the Bone Krushers?" Joseph asked. "That's so cool!"
"Yep." Actually, it was Crystal's friend who got to meet them, but the story suited the occasion just fine. "And when I was a wolf one night, I went to one of our school basketball games. You know that 'other person' you keep talking about? We call it our instinct. There was a guy sitting next to me during the game, and I kept hearing that voice telling me to try to talk to him. So I did, and he was a really cool guy. We've been going steady now for about 9 months."
"He doesn't mind that you're a werewolf?"
"Not at all. Actually, I think he kinda likes us more for some reason."
"See, Joseph? It's not as bad as you think. Once you get comfortable with this other part of yourself, it's actually a pretty neat experience. It's not like you're going to hurt anyone with it. And I think you've learned your lesson about getting drunk as a wolf, so you won't have to worry about that."
"You got that right," Joseph replied. "But still - how am I going to tell my parents about this? My mom's a pretty strict Catholic, and my dad isn't a whole lot better. I know they don't like werewolves. They see one on TV and they're calling him a monster or a devil or something. I know they aren't going to take this well. Especially when they find out how."
"A lot of parents say that kind of stuff," Crystal explained. "They just make assumptions based on what they see. They probably haven't seen a real-life werewolf before, so they're just going on stereotypes."
"So what should I do?"
"Just get them into a room and explain what happened. Tell them that it was an accident. Make them realize that even if you change physically, you're still the same person inside. They'll understand."
Joseph smiled a little. "Thanks. Maybe I'll wait until after tomorrow before I decide on this stuff." He thought for a moment. "I was wondering - did you want to go out and have a pizza tomorrow? You could tell me more about your experiences."
"I'm sorry," Crystal answered. "We're not supposed to meet with callers. Besides," she smiled, "I get nightmares if I eat spicy food."
"OK, it was just a sugg..." Joseph's words trailed off. "Wait a minute. Werewolves don't get nightmares."
Uh oh. Crystal nervously tried to back her way out of an obvious misstep. "Well... I mean - when I start to fall asleep, that's when I get them."
"No..." Joseph said softly, beginning to feel the onset of both anger and betrayal. "No! You're not a werewolf! You've been lying to me the whole time!!"
"Joseph, please -"
"Don't you 'Joseph please' me! I called you guys so I could have someone make me feel better about all this! If you weren't a werewolf, you could've said so!"
"But I was afraid you'd hang up-"
"So what, you lie to me instead? Well fuck you! If you aren't going to be honest with me, then don't be telling other people how to live their lives!"
"Please! I didn't mean to lie! I just panicked!"
"Shut up! I'm done talking to you!" With that, Joseph turned off his cell phone.
"No, don't hang up! Joseph, don't do this! Joseph? Joseph?!" It took a few moments for her to realize that the phone was disconnected.
In the hotline office, Crystal sat numbly at her desk. A feeling of hollowness and paralysis grew inside her. Her mouth hung open just a bit, her face a display of abject despair. She blew it. She knew she blew it. This would probably be enough to get her kicked off the stable of operators. All she could do was sit there. Sit there and think about what she had just done.
The next night, several miles away, a 15-year-old boy lay unconscious on a hospital bed. An IV was hooked up to his arm. A heart monitor beeped rhythmically and a ventilator hissed as it expanded and deflated.
"You were lucky you got home so soon, Mrs. Hartley," the doctor said, as Joseph's parents stood just outside the room where their son was resting. "If we didn't get his stomach pumped so quickly, he might not have made it."
"Oh, thank God," Mrs. Hartley sighed. "But… I don't understand. Joseph has never said anything that would lead us to believe he'd want to commit suicide. He doesn't have any mental problems, not that I know of. He's always been a happy, carefree kid. Why would he do something like this?"
"You'll have to ask him that when he regains consciousness," the doctor replied. "But for now, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave for the night. We have a policy not to allow visitors in our lycanthropic wing during full moon nights."
Mr. Hartley furrowed his brow. "What? What are you talking about?"
"It's nothing to be worried about, Mr. Hartley. We just need to have the area clear in case there are any complications when one of them transforms."
"Transforms?" Mr. Hartley asked, confused and a little afraid. "There must be some kind of mistake; my son isn't a werewolf."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Hartley, but according to your son's blood test, he carries all the pathogens found in the human-lupine bloodstream."
"Are you sure?" Mrs. Hartley asked.
The doctor nodded. "Positive."
"No, you're lying!" Mr. Hartley boomed. "Joseph isn't one of those beasts!" He shoved the doctor aside and barged into Joseph's room.
"Mr. Hartley, please -"
He only took a few steps before stopping dead in his tracks. In the same bed where Joseph was before, there now lay an adolescent lupine body, dressed in a hospital gown, with the same IV in his arm. His eyes were closed as he continued to rest blankly.