Finding My Werewolf Mask
Hide-a-Bed, July 4th, 1994
Of course I had to wear it to the barbecue. You don’t run
into something like that and not take it as an omen. Savannah’s
family didn’t care much for me anyway, and since the feeling was
mutual, acting like a jackass would be more fun than an M-80 in
the potato salad. There’d be lots of kids scrambling about,
cousins and nieces and nephews and shit, and if I was going to
top last year’s display, getting drunk wasn’t going to cut it by
itself. Savannah would be pissed at me for a week or two, maybe
longer, but things between us hadn’t been going so hot, not
since my tryst with the stylist from her shop. I looked at the
werewolf mask as a good thing. Wearing it to her family’s big
shindig could do us some good, start a dialogue. Really, when I
thought about how we’d been getting along, things could only get
I didn’t wear the mask until I got to her folks’. Savannah
never would have gotten in the car with me, even if she saw it
on the back seat. Plus, I had to drive, and those things aren’t
really made with peripheral vision in mind. I jocked the mask,
stashing it when I snuck out for a smoke, later driving off as
if nothing was up. On the way, Savannah warned me about drinking
too much, told me we were on our last rope, how one more
incident would do it. I didn’t know which incident she was
referring to, last year’s Fourth adventure or the stylist with
the little ass, but I figured either would have done it. I
couldn’t help but smile, knowing the mask was under my seat, and
when Savannah asked me what was so funny, I told her about
something I’d seen on the TV. That was plenty easy for her to
Savannah’s old man, for a rich prick lawyer, knew how to
throw a bash. Some guys prided themselves on their outdoor
cooking skills, wearing the apron and turning the meat with the
big tongs, but not Jerry Lee Henderson. The day before, he had
cooks come in and set up these steel drums cut into smokers. One
had chicken, one had steaks, one had ribs. If that wasn’t enough
to make me salivate, about a thousand ears of corn sat stewing
in this giant barrel of butter. A guy he knew from the Army was
setting up a fireworks display, just for us, probably bigger
than what the city had planned. A band played oldies, and was
doing a pretty good job with "Runaround Sue." There was a
canopy. Chairs sat in rows, padded in red, white, and blue.
There was booze, two kegs of Heineken, one of Miller Lite. And
wine—four different colors, poured by a dude in a white tuxedo
jacket. When I was a kid, I was lucky to steal a brick of
firecrackers from the Woolworth’s. Savannah had certainly seen
the opposite side of the tracks. These people needed some fun
they couldn’t buy in a store, or order around like dogs.
I couldn’t put the mask on, not right away. This was the
Fourth of July, Tallahassee, Florida, and you didn’t walk around
with a furry rubber mask on your face. The weather on the radio
said it would hit 98, but in the swamp, that meant like 120.
Wolf time would wait for two things: for it to get dark, and for
me to put one on. I could chill out in the mean time, work on
the latter, talk with the guy in the tux jacket, sip some wine,
pump some beers. Savannah would be off socializing with the
women, and the men, they knew better than to fraternize with me.
I’d said some things the previous year, what I thought about
NAFTA and the good Lord Jesus Christ, and from what Savannah had
been telling me, most of the men, including Jerry Lee, thought
maybe she was slumming.
I got away without talking to anyone for a few hours, just
some hello, how are yous in the food line, an excuse
me when I camped in front of the bathroom door. Some lady
I’d never seen asked about Savannah’s and my wedding plans.
Since the stylist, I don’t think our plans involved a wedding,
but to be honest, probably not before, either. Later on, other
women I didn’t know propped the same question. Mixing wine with
the beer might have made me paranoid, but I had the feeling
everyone was giving me the evil eye, that they knew my secret,
knew what would happen at nightfall. But for the most part, I
was able to blend in, just another guest at the party, a
friendly face in a ball cap and T-shirt, probably the guy who
set up the canopy and chairs, maybe one of the neighbor’s
friends from school.
As soon as the fireworks started, it was plenty dark enough,
and when I tried to get out of one of the padded folding chairs,
I fell face-first into a cooler of ice. It was time to sneak to
Upon putting on the mask, I remembered how uncomfortable the
damned thing was. The previous Halloween, I’d gone as the Grim
Reaper, just a black cape and a dull sickle from the shed. The
year before that, the werewolf. I wore a pair of jeans, a
flannel shirt, and the mask. Savannah wanted to rip up a cheap
wig, glue some hair to the backs of my hands, but I didn’t care
enough about Halloween to start attaching shit to my skin. The
mask was good. I was a werewolf, everybody would figure me out.
It wasn’t like her friends were going to look at me with my bare
people hands—the mask covering my face—and wonder what the fuck
I was supposed to be. Savannah called me a half-assed werewolf,
but she’d called me worse, and when I told her Tinkerbell was a
rotten whore, it was time to go to the party. This was our happy
era, too, before things really started getting ugly, before we
meant the things we said.
When I got back to the fireworks show in the mask, nobody
noticed. Not one guest, not even the kids. Everyone was looking
up in the sky, watching the colored sparks in the backdrop,
rockets flying above the trees and past the moon, which was only
half-full. I thought about how cool it would have been if the
whole thing were there, full, me with my mask. Over 100 people
attended the barbecue, and as I stood behind them, I started
wondering how anybody gets to know 100 people, let alone wants
them at their house on a holiday. Then I realized it. Most of
these people were Jerry Lee’s clients, all tax-evaders and
DUI-dodgers and other crooks. Maybe I had more in common with
these people than I gave them credit for.
After about ten minutes and five grand worth of fireworks, I
got another beer and wandered off. There was a stream running
behind the Henderson property, a piss patch, really, a leak in a
pipe the old man had renamed Henderson Creek. The house:
Henderson Commons. The street leading in: Henderson Parkway.
That was the kind of man Jerry Lee was, had to own everything,
dip it in his name and let it dry, even bodies of fucking water.
This had always led me to believe that Savannah and I would
never last, that he’d never let it happen. Either he’d kick off,
or he’d see me gone. If either happened, I couldn’t say that I’d
have been all that sad, but until then, I was going to have my
Full of doe snot and fish shit, at least the Creek was
isolated. I took off my shoes and stuck my toes in the water to
cool down. As soon as the fireworks fizzled out, my plan was to
emerge from the treeline, stumble toward the kegs, maybe even
put my head back and howl. People would be saying their
good-byes and taking their doggie bags, and I’d give them
something to think about on the drive home. They’d reconsider
their plans the next year maybe. At the very least, it would
scare the piss out of the kids.
As I tried to take the mask off, which took some real
pulling, I heard a voice tell me to leave it on. "It’s sexy,"
the voice said, coming from behind me. Since the mask wasn’t
coming off anyway, I played along. Unfamiliar, the voice was
alluring, a female, and not Savannah. I turned to see who was
there, who was with me, but I’d fucked up the eye hole alignment
trying to peel the thing from my head. I couldn’t see dick. The
voice got closer to me, kept saying how she like my teeth,
asking if they were sharp enough to draw blood.
"Only one way to find out," I said, but with my nose pressed
flat by the latex, I sounded like Goofy, Mickey’s big dog pal.
I could feel the grass moving under me as the girl—her voice
said she was young—approached. Before touching the mask, she
walked a lap around me, asking me why I wasn’t watching the
fireworks with the rest of the crowd.
"Canines don’t like loud noises," I said. Not only did my
voice sound stupid, but I was taking the whole werewolf thing
too far. If this woman would’ve run screaming, left me to
suffocate inside an $18 Halloween mask, I would have deserved
Instead, I felt pressure against the mask, something inside
the mold of the mouth. The girl was sticking her hand inside,
feeling the teeth. She ran one finger across the upper bridge,
then moved down to the bottom and did the same. Her other hand
found its way against my chest, pressed flat, worked its way
down my V-neck and over my heart. She pressed her palm hard
against me and moved the other hand around the face, to the back
of my neck. She pulled me to her and kissed me. She kissed the
fucking werewolf mask, anybody who would give a damn staring up
at the sky back at the house. I’d had my share of ladies in the
past, but this kind of thing didn’t happen to me very often.
Savannah would die if she found out, but with how shitty
everything else had been going, I was due. Most of the time, the
dog bites you, but once in a while, you bite the dog.
Things elevated from there in good speed, as the girl, and
her hand, made their way south. She kissed my chest where her
hand had been, underneath my shirt, rubbing at my stomach and
squeezing at my ribs. Soon she fumbled with the drawstrings on
my running shorts. My breathing got deep, the mask choking me to
death. With a good, hard pull, I was able to remove it from my
head, my fingernails slashing hunks of flesh out of my neck in
the process. The air, as hot and thick as it was, felt like a
refrigerator. I took a deep, cool breath. Never again would I
complain about going to a Henderson family party, I thought to
myself, and looked down to meet my new best friend.
Crouched like a catcher behind the plate was Charlotte,
Savannah’s little sister, 15 the last time I checked, 16 if I
was lucky, 14 just as easy. She didn’t perform like someone so
young, but still, I stumbled backward and pulled my shorts back
up, tripping over the werewolf mask and falling on my ass.
"Charlotte, it’s Cyrus, Savannah’s boyfriend."
Charlotte stood up and offered me her hand, helped me to my
feet. She looked different than the last time I’d seen her. Her
hair was dyed black and cropped short, she had a lot of eyeliner
on, and her left ear was pierced about seven times. Any way you
dressed her, she was still jailbait, and Cyrus didn’t play that.
"I know," she said. "I thought you knew, too."
The cool air was feeling less cool, and the booze swirling in
my gut was making a play for my throat. Charlotte wore a flannel
shirt unbuttoned to a black bra, black-and-white striped tights
under a miniskirt, with green combat boots up to her knees. I
hadn’t seen her since the last Christmas Eve, and the only thing
I remember was her mother bitching about the double piercing in
her right ear. In hindsight, not a good strategy on Mom
Henderson’s part. This girl used to play volleyball and run for
student council. Now she looked like MTV after midnight. Once,
I’d sold her some pot, laced it with hash for the extra bite.
Things had obviously elevated from there. I was one squeal away
from a statutory rape case, and Jerry Lee knew every judge, DA,
and crooked pig in town. Putting me away was several birds with
one stone, a true gift from his god.
But selling me out did not seem to be Charlotte’s intention.
Instead, she declared the following: "I wouldn’t say anything if
I were you. Who do you think they’ll believe?" She followed this
with, "Sucks about Kurt Cobain, huh?" Then she walked away,
toward the house. Every few seconds, her form would light up
with the sky, a picture flash for every explosion, making me
wonder how well we’d been seen from the house, what the
fireworks revealed to the rest of the party.
I stayed by the creek for another half hour, waited for most
of the cars to pull away, for the real canopy and chair guy to
come and strike the set. I dipped my toes in the drink, as
planned, and sat on a willow root, sweating my dick off and
needing a beer. As soon as the coast calmed down, I put my shoes
back on, but not my socks, and set forth. Either I’d run into
Savannah screaming at me for getting lost, or Savannah’s father
and his gun. Half of me wanted Jerry Lee and his coon rifle. I
couldn’t stand Savannah’s bitching, but more than that, I was
sick of the whole goddamned thing, her family, the Hide-a-Bed,
my life. I’d squandered everything up to that point, missed some
real opportunities, and in general, been a fuck. If my time was
up, if I was going to take one in the heart, I couldn’t
complain. At that point, it bothered me more that I’d ripped my
shirt somehow, probably on a branch, right down the middle of my
I walked toward the voices, the entire lawn lit by tiki
torches, barely sober enough to determine which cluster of
lights was the house, which was the stars. I heard someone say
my name once, again, then a third time, then it stopped. When I
got closer, I could make out Savannah next to her father,
mother, and a large, male figure that could have been anybody,
probably the local sheriff, maybe some client with a violent
past. Nobody was talking, but they were all facing me, watching
my gait, hoping I’d trip on a divot and break my neck. I walked
with deliberation, ready to face whatever they had in store. I
clenched the werewolf mask in my hand, thought about pulling it
on, but was afraid it’d get stuck again. I should have left it
by the stream, but was glad I didn’t. It was mine.
Across town, where the back yards weren’t called grounds and
the houses didn’t have names, a pathetic, crappy rocket trailed
pink and white across the sky. The whole thing lasted about two
seconds. I couldn’t help but think that this one rocket, all two
second’s worth, was the highlight of some poor family’s holiday,
how they’d spent a week’s grocery money on it, that the kids’d
been waiting for two weeks to blow it off. Within a minute, it
would hit them that life was full of disappointments like that
rocket, that they’d shot their wad and it was no great shakes.
Whatever had been going on in their lives, they were hoping this
rocket would make it better, that all of their problems would
burn away in a flash of color and a loud pop. For their sakes, I
hoped they would realize how stupid they’d been, how nothing you
have to wait on ever makes your life better--it just means
you’ve spent your life wanting something else. Everyone figures
out, sooner or later, that you should just blow the rocket off
as soon as you get it, that you can always get another rocket,
and even if you don’t, you’ll live. Things never really change
because of a special day, because of some pretty light up in the
Michael Czyzniejewski was born and raised in Chicago.
He currently teaches at Bowling Green State University, where he
serves as Editor-in-Chief of Mid-American Review. His
stories have recently appeared in Northwest Review,
Witness, Cream City Review, Quick Fiction, and
American Literary Review.