Roger woke early the next morning, sweating from nightmares he couldn’t quite remember. The only images lingering from those dreams were of running through tangled woods at night while something with huge dark wings chased him. His mouth was dry and he had a terrible, throbbing headache.
Roger needed coffee.
As he stepped out of his tent, the Production Assistant put a steaming cup of freshly brewed coffee in his hands, along with a pair of aspirin. Roger swallowed the pills and washed them down with a mouthful of coffee which was black, with lots of sugar, and almost but not quite scalding hot. Just the way he liked it.
“Thanks.” He mumbled without even looking at his assistant.
His eyes were glued to the horizon.
The Eastern sky was red. Crimson. Blood-red without a hint of cloud or any other color. The eerie red light spilled over the beach, making the camp with its burnt out black lump of bonfire and littered beer cans look like a crime scene.
“That’s not good, is it?”
Nearby Thompson the cameraman was polishing the lenses he would need for today’s shoot.
“Means there’s a storm coming.”
“Are we going to be able to film today?”
Thompson glanced at the bloody horizon and shrugged.
“Too early to tell. If it’s not bright enough by noon, we should clear out. If it is bright enough, we should probably still clear out, but we might have enough time to shoot the main scenes before the weather turns ugly.”
“We’re going to film today.” Roger said, as if the sky itself were expected to take his direction.
Thompson went back to work on his lenses.
Roger took another swig of coffee. Boiling hot caffeine, sticky sweet, brewed strong enough to strip varnish.
Damn, What’s-His-Name makes a fine cup of coffee! Roger thought to himself as he awkwardly stumbled over the loose sand on his way to check out his Property Manager’s overnight construction work.
Mike, red-eyed and stubble-cheeked, was just putting on the finishing touches as his Director walked up.
“What do you think?”
Roger whistled appreciatively.
The “Gizmo” Mike had constructed looked like a cross between a jagged, frozen lightning bolt and a skeletal Christmas tree. He’d stripped most of the beach chairs for their hollow metal tubing, across which he layered strips of duct tape until the final result looked remarkably like steel girders. He’d even drawn on darkly shaded bolt-heads with magic marker, which looked cartoonish up close but was fairly realistic from mid-distance or beyond. Half the portable radios had been cannibalized with their transistors and wiring glued to the framework. Metal antennae sprouted from the upper reaches of the Gizmo like spines. Hooked up to the crew’s portable generator, nasty-looking electric sparks coiled between them. The Gizmo was crowned by a tall metal tube atop which an inflated beach-ball, spray-painted metallic silver, was fastened with glue and more duct tape.
“It’s…beautiful!” Roger gasped. “It’s simply beautiful!”
Mike let out the breath he was holding and sagged with exhaustion.
“That’s what you pays me for, Boss.” He joked hoarsely.
He walked over and gave the structure a little shake. It wobbled slightly but all the pieces remained solidly in place.
“It won’t stand up to any heavy winds, but it should be able to manage a stiff breeze or accidental bumps.”
Roger nodded and clapped him on the shoulder.
“That’s good work, Mike. Class-A improvisational engineering. You really came through for me. Thank you.”
Mike grinned like a kid.
“Why don’t you crash and take a couple hours worth of nap. We can manage without you until we need all three Monsters on camera at once. You earned it.”
“What about the suits…” Mike started to protest.
“Aw, Charlie and Bobby can manage the suits well enough by now. I’ll have What’s-His-Name help them out. You just get some rest. I want you clear and focused when we get to the big finale.”
Mike nodded gratefully and staggered off to his tent.
Roger walked up to the Gizmo and looked over the Wax Museum prop they’d salvaged the day before.
“Frankie, my boy, I’m gonna make you a star!”
He patted the shoulder of the remarkably life-like statue. The Monster was strapped by all the belts Costuming could spare to a “table,” which was really a beach-lounge straightened all the way out and covered with a tarp. The flesh showing through rips in the jacket shoulder was cold and hard, but Roger could have sworn that the eyelids of the Monster flickered ever so slightly, that there was a hint of an unpleasant smile on the black lips.
Roger took another blistering sip of coffee and swirled it around his mouth. Those dreams must have gotten to him more than he thought.
The ominous red of dawn drained away to reveal typically clear blue Florida sky by mid-morning. An ugly wall of black clouds crept up on the horizon, but seemed in no hurry to come any closer. Just in case, Roger had everyone not needed on scene pack up and load whatever could be moved out onto the motorboat. Anxious to squeeze as much filming as possible into the available window of clear skies, Roger drove his team at a frantic pace. They sped through a dozen scenes by that afternoon. Though some were rougher than Roger would have liked, “We’ll tighten it up in editing” and “We’ll cover that with a studio insert” became his mantras. Second takes were few and far between.
Much of the shooting covered improvised scenes with Roger playing the “Johnny Frankenstein” character, cackling, staring menacingly, fumble-juggling fake plastic organs, all the time laying down a non-stop patter of hipster lingo. Roger based a lot of his depiction of the character on a late-night television host from the Chicago area.
Thompson managed to find several diplomatic ways of asking his Director to tone down the hammy over-acting but a lot of the material still came out as cringe-worthy scenery chewing. Directors directing themselves rarely turned in quality performances. Roger’s over-the-top Johnny Frankenstein was destined for side-splitting camp.
Thompson gritted his teeth, struggled mightily to maintain a straight face, and kept the cameras rolling.
Crazy Larry leaned back and let the sun warm his face. He wiggled bare toes in the shallow surf. Larry had a bad night full of chills and shakes and spasms but he’d gritted his teeth and maintained control. The Moon, just a thin splinter away from Full, tugged at him, pulled at his insides. Larry likened it to trying to control an explosive incontinence, complete with cramps and trembles and unpleasant internal gurglings. Geoffrey hated it when he described The Change that way, wrinkling his nose and frowning disdainfully, but it was the truth. That was the most honest comparison Larry could make.
But the night was over and that ghastly blood-stained dawn faded away to reveal lovely blue skies. Larry felt an immense sense of relief, and he didn’t even have to clean up the mess The Wolf usually left for him. He’d put on his loudest, brightest tropical shirt and white dungarees and came down to the surf’s edge to smile at the world. Radcliffe said that the movie crew were wrapping up and preparing to leave the island. They were already packing their motorboat to go. They planned to be gone before nightfall.
That came as an immeasurable relief to Larry.
Tonight the Moon would be too full to deny.
The Wolf would prowl tonight. There was nothing Larry could do to stop it.
But the kids would be away and, with a terrible storm brewing, even the pygmy deer were likely to be safe. The Wolf did not like to get wet. It’d had bad experiences with water and ice in the past. Most likely The Wolf would slink through the island’s scrawny woods until it reached the House on the top of the cliffs. There it would lurk and sulk under the eaves, trying every door, every barred window for the hundredth time until the sun rose.
With a little bit of luck, Geoffrey would be there in the morning to give him a hot toddy and let him dry off in front of the mansion’s huge fireplace.
At worst, he might catch a mild case of the sniffles, if the night was unusually cold or extremely wet.
Mid-afternoon, however, brought a terrible shock.
The surf got rougher after mid-day. The storm on the horizon was creeping steadily closer, though for the moment the skies overhead remained blue and clear. Larry moved higher up the beach to lounge against a sea-grass tufted dune. He sipped cloudy white coconut juice from a glass Mason jar. Just the juice, no rum. He never needed to drink during the day before a change. It was like his body was super-charged, clean and tingly like the air before a thunderstorm. Any alcohol would have just been burned off by his revving metabolism and he would be lucky to catch even a mild buzz.
So, Larry sipped coconut juice, lounged propped on his elbows, and watched the sea gulls soar by in wavering crescents.
The first tremble swept through his body, followed by an icy chill. Larry shivered a little and attributed it to a chillier breeze blowing in ahead of the oncoming storm.
Bewildered, Larry touched his face and found a soft layer of fuzz covering his cheeks. He looked at his hands. Hair was curling up out of pores on the back. The tips of his fingers felt raw and heavy. His fingernails were thickening rapidly into claws.
Horrified he jumped up and looked at the sky. It was still blue, though dark streaks of clouds were beginning to stretch over the island. He looked to the horizon. A cough of fear burst from his throat, part shout, part growl.
The Moon, Full and baleful bright, was edging over the horizon. It looked like the top of a skull rising out of the ocean. The Moon looked different in daylight. More china-white than silvery, and it was overlaid with a blue haze that made it look like sky-blue lakes filled the craters.
Certainly, the Moon rose during daylight hours, from time to time, but Larry had never experienced The Change until nightfall before.
This time, The Wolf burst suddenly out of his every pore, discharged through skin and muscle. A dark stain seeped out from inside his skin and soaked through his clothes. Once bright white with vivid colors, the clothes he wore now appeared dark gray. Because The Change was not just a physiological alteration, but the manifestation of a dark curse that bore with it a metaphysical shadow. Darkness, literal and bestial, took over Larry’s body.
For Larry there was horror, shame at losing control, and ultimately the immense relief of an unbearable tension flowing out of his soul. Larry had never experienced The Change so suddenly, so instantly. In just a few seconds, rather than the long agonizing minutes he usually suffered through, The Wolf Man squinted against the unaccustomed glare of sunlight. He sniffed at the breeze. So much salt and wetness from the sea, the flinty taste of sand, the poultry stink of gulls overhead, but there was something else too. Thin, from a distant source, he could smell the coppery tang of Meat! Stained with smears of rubber-scent, palm oil, and the grit and chalk odor of make-up, there was the fresh, pink, salty smell of Meat.
Drool spilled over the Wolf Man’s black gums and bared teeth to splatter on the sand.
He tipped his head back and howled at the sunny sky with all his might. Inside that howl, drowned out by the baying of the beast, were the sounds of Lawrence Talbot crying out.