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“Mangy no-good mongrel.” Pa swung the barrel of his .22 around and glared down its sight. With a hand that should have been occupied holding the gun, he swatted my shoulder. “See that, boy?” He pointed beyond the tree line.

I nodded. Something was moving in the moonlight along a row of headstones.

“I warned you, Manny Knutson,” Pa continued as if Mr. Knutson could hear him, “don’t let you cur foul my graveyard. Tonight will be the last.”

We sat hunched behind Mrs. Lucy Quick's stone, watching the plot where old Mr. Paddy McDonnell had just been laid to rest. The undertaker’s wagon left at sunset. Pa cursed them for fools and cowards. “No spirit’s gonna waste its time botherin’ the likes a’ you yellowbellies.”

As the caretaker of St. Roch’s churchyard, Pa demanded people show proper respect for the grounds. He even chased away visitors who wanted pictures by the statue of the saint and his dog.

“This ain’t no damn Coney Island,” he told them. “It’s a holy resting place.”

He told me he found signs of trespassing: grass flattened, flowers trampled, and worst of all, sacrilege—the dirt of new graves thrown about as if by some large animal. Pa said when he heard the dog howling from Mr. Knutson’s property, he knew.

Pa and Mr. Knutson never did get on. They never spoke but would exchange curt nods when they passed on the street, Pa muttering unrepeatable things after gray-bearded Mr. Knutson limped out of earshot on his game leg.

Mr. Knutson told us kids his limp came courtesy of Johnny Reb’s grapeshot. We thought he must be older than he looked. The adults said he was having us on.

“HA!” Pa sprang to his feet next to me behind Mrs. Quick’s ’stone. “Vermin!”

I watched the barrel of Pa’s gun track a dog the size of a small pony with grey, bristling fur. The beast made a beeline in the shifting clouds and moonlight to the McDonnell grave. An elongated shadow-beast trotted over the ground, attached to its heels. Two ears stuck straight up from its broad, flat head, bouncing in time to its determined pace. Its gait was off, for its hindquarters rolled like a ship upon the sea.

The flash from the muzzle of Pa’s gun split the blackness of the night. Too late, I tried to cover my ears. The creature leaped into the air. Snarling and howling rang out like cries from the pit. It grabbed at its flank with its paws. 

The hair rose on the back of my neck. What dog does this…?

I laid my hand across the barrel of Pa’s gun. “I think—”

“Ed?” A human voice called. In the dog’s place stood Mr. Knutson, pale in the moonlight and as naked as the day he entered this world. “Ed Markuson! For Chrissake, drop that damned gun! I’m bleeding!”

I rubbed my eyes. No. I wasn’t seeing what I saw.

Pa threw his gun onto the ground. “You jackass, Manny Knutson. Be thankful it’s just the .22, you wretched polecat!”

“You calling names, Markuson, with that stick up your—”

“Pa,” I began but got no further.

“I’ll show you a stick—” The sentence ended in a growl. Before my disbelieving eyes, my dear father, the man who’d read me bedtime stories and tucked me in when I was small, dropped to the ground on all fours. He vaulted over Mrs. Quick’s ’stone and bounded across the graveyard like an animal. Mr. Knutson turned to run, but with his posterior full of lead, he was no match for Pa. The two wrestled, cussing and snarling at each other. I heard yelps and unprintable oaths, followed by crashes in the shrubbery. I stood, craning my neck to see the fight, but caught only occasional glimpses of bare flesh and… fur.

I fumbled for Pa’s ammo box, withdrew two bullets, and searched for his abandoned gun. My fingers felt its cold metal. A shadow fell across my outstretched arm, and a hand seized the weapon.

“I’ll take that before you hurt someone, son,” Pa said.

I scrambled to my feet and backed away. “Yessir.” I trembled, thinking of the tanning sure to come.

Pa laughed. “Now’s ’bout a good time as any to teach you some things. Take a look at Manny Knutson.”

I looked over at the ashen form of Mr. Knutson limping toward the exit. Blood ran down his shoulders, hind end, and the back of his legs.

Pa handed me his keys. “Let him out, will you, boy?”

I gulped. He had never trusted me with his keys before. “Yessir.”

“Don’t say a word to him. Just let him go.”

“Yessir.” I sprinted away, heedless of what I might trip over.

Mr. Knutson did not look at me. I tried not to look at him but couldn’t resist. His distended nose bled red into his gray beard. He cradled his right arm with his left. His bloodied hand had swollen to the size of a cantaloupe half. I unlocked the gate for him, locked it behind him, and then returned to Pa.

“You know a man for years,” he said, buttoning up his shirt. “Thought he was smart enough to understand whose turf was whose. He could have lived next to us in peace for as long as he liked. I never bothered him.”

“P-p-pa, you’re a w-w-werewolf?”

“Don’t be a damn fool,” he snapped. “I’m the caretaker of St. Roch’s. I do what it takes to care for this sacred ground. Always have, always will. You’re no caretaker and never will be. You’re going to university.”

We saw no more of Mr. Knutson or—his dog.


I got my degree and married a delightful woman. We had two fine boys and a charming girl. After many years, when I made vice president of the accounting firm in the state capital, Pa wrote to congratulate me. He closed the letter as he always did:

The sleepers of St. Roch’s rest undisturbed.


Denise Longrie’s work has appeared in Drunken Pen Writing and Wisconsin Review. A forthcoming piece is scheduled to appear in Liquid Imagination. She has self-published a chapbook of poetry, a short story, and a nonfiction book exploring pre-1900 speculative fiction, By Firelight. Currently, she is toiling away by the sparkling light of a Jacob’s ladder on its sequel, It Came from the Pulps.


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