My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my occasionally altered infant tongue could make of either name nothing longer or more explicit than Pip, sometimes Yip. So I called myself Pip, on occasion Yip, and came to be called Pip. I give Pirrip as my father’s family name on the authority of his tombstone and my sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the silversmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them, my first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The enormity of my father’s stone, the shape of the letters, gave me an odd idea that he was fierce and stout, requiring great effort to hold back even in death, with coarse black hair curling over every inch of him when the moon was full— for he was my sire in the truest sense, responsible for the beast within me, according to Mrs. Joe. From the character and turn of the inscription, “Also Georgiana, Wife of the Above,” I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly, entirely human.
The wolfish nature was passed from male to male down the line, Mrs. Joe said, almost with a grudging air by way of explanation. There had been known to be female werewolves, but only as infected by a bite and never by birth (again with the bitter tone). And birth, or at least infancy, was quite a trial for my kind, or so it seemed by the five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside my parents’ graves, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine, who gave up exceedingly early in that universal struggle.
I believed that they had all been born as pink gasping babes, unable to cope with the violence of transformation when the first moon came and proved too strong a foe for their inferior infant bodies. I, on the other hand, was born under a full moon as a robust pup, and stronger in wolf form to handle the force of the change when it next came on, for experience had taught me that werewolf to human was a much less traumatic transformation than human to wolf.
Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within twenty miles of the sea. My first vivid and broad impression of the identity of things seems to have been gained on a memorable raw evening under a full moon. At such a time I found out for certain that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard, where Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana, wife of the above, were buried. And that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, also dead, were buried. And that the small bundle of shivers feeling his bones shift and grind, his skin stretch under a sudden flurry of hair, growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.
“Hold your noise!” cried a terrible voice as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll bite your throat out!”
A beast of a man, all in coarse grey, with a great silver cuff on his leg, stood suddenly before me. He was missing a hat and shoes, and had an old rag tied round his head. From the looks of him, he had been soaked in water, smothered in mud, lamed by stones, cut by flints, stung by nettles, and torn by briars. He limped, shivered, glared, and growled. His teeth chattered as he seized me by the chin, and he slowly took on wolflike proportions before my eyes.
“Oh! Don’t bite me, sir,” I pleaded in terror. “Pray don’t do it, srrr.”
“Tell us your name!” said the man. “Quick! Before the power of human speech forsakes us.”
“Pip.” It came out more a yip, as I was increasingly more wolf than boy.
“Once more,” said the man, staring at me with his hungry yellow eyes. “Give it mouth!”
“Pip. Pip, srrr.” The sir turned into an unfortunate snarl. I fought the temptation to roll over on my back, thus demonstrating my vast inferiority and probably sealing my doom.
“Show us where you live,” said the man. “Pint out the place!”
With more paw than hand, I pointed to where our village lay, on the flat in-shore among the alder-trees and pollards, a mile or more from the church. I shouldn’t have come out so late. On full moon nights, my sister usually had Joe lock me in. She would be in fits trying to find me. But the trouble I faced from Mrs. Joe paled in comparison to the fear of what the stranger might do to me, or what I might do out in the marsh when I was not quite myself, or more myself than usual, as it were, considering I was born a wolf.
The man, after looking at me for a moment, nudged me to the ground and sniffed at me, centering on my pockets and eventually tearing out a piece of bread with his teeth. I remained on the ground, on my back, instinctively submissive, trembling while he, on all fours, ate the bread ravenously.
“You young dog,” said the man, licking his lips, “what fat cheeks you ha’ got. Darn me if I couldn’t eat ’em, and if I haven’t half a mind to’t!”
I earnestly expressed my hope that he wouldn’t, or ended up merely whining as my tongue lolled half out of its own accord as I struggled to roll over to a more defensive posture.
“Now lookee here!” said the man. “Where’s your mother?” Being bigger and stronger, even saddled with that band of silver around his leg, he seemed more able than I to hold full transformation at bay. He stood to his full height.
I gestured with a paw.
He started, made a short run, and stopped and looked over his shoulder.
He quickly realised I had pointed at their graves.
“Oh!” he said, coming back. “And is that your father alongside your mother?”
I nodded and forced out the words, relieved to find I was still able. “Him, too. Late of this parish.”
“Ha! Who d’ye live with—supposin’ you’re kindly let to live, which I haven’t made up my mind about?”
“My sister, srrr—Mrs. Joe Garrgery—wife of Joe Garrrgery, the silversmith, srrr.” It was increasingly difficult not to growl.
“Silversmith, eh?” said he. And looked down at his leg.
After darkly looking at his leg and me several times, he pounced, rolled me onto my back, and stood over me, pinning me to the ground under him. His eyes looked most powerfully down into mine, and mine looked most helplessly up into his.
“Now lookee here,” he said. “The question being whether you’re to be let to live. You know what a file is?”
“And you know what wittles is?”
I nodded again.
After each question he bared his teeth so as to give me a greater sense of helplessness and danger.
“You get me a file. And you get me wittles. You bring ’em both to me. Or I’ll tear your heart and liver out.” He took a step away as if to let me up.
I was dreadfully frightened, and so giddy that I struggled to roll back to all fours. I was already nearly in full wolf form and sure to be locked in the moment I returned home. I supposed he was too weak from dragging the silver cuff to hunt his own food, but how was I to do as he bid?
He gave me a knock and I took a most tremendous roll, so that I was under him again. “You bring me, tomorrow morning early, that file and them wittles. You bring the lot to me, at that old battery over yonder. You do it, and you never dare to say a word or dare to make a sign concerning your having seen such a person as me, or any person sumever, and you shall be let to live. You fail, or you go from my words in any partickler, no matter how small it is, and your heart and your liver shall be tore out and ate.
“Now, I ain’t alone, as you may think I am. There’s a young man hid with me, in comparison with which young man I am a angel. That young man hears the words I speak. That young man has a secret way pecooliar to himself, of getting at a pup, and at his heart, and at his liver, and his blood. It is in wain for a pup or boy to attempt to hide himself from that young man. I am keeping that young man from harming you at the present moment, with great difficulty. He’s not like you or I, but something worse, something wicked, and he thirsts for blood. Now, what do you say?”
I tried to say that I would get him the file, and I would get him what broken bits of food I could, and I would come to him at the battery, early in the morning, but all that came out was a low rumble.
“Say Lord strike you dead if you don’t!” said the man.
I howled my agreement, and he let me up.
“Now,” he pursued, “you remember what you’ve undertook, pup, and you get home!”
At the same time, he writhed, his body shuddering, and dropped down to all fours as if finally giving in to the change from man to wolf as he made his way towards the low church wall.
As I saw him go, picking his way among the nettles, and among the brambles that bound the green mounds, he looked in my young eyes as if he were eluding the hands of the dead people stretching up cautiously out of their graves to get a twist upon his ankle and pull him in.
When he came to the low church wall, he got over it in a single pounce, one back leg dragging behind him due to the weight of the silver, which still clung to him, unshakeable. When I saw him turning, I set my face towards home.
I was frightened again, and ran home without stopping.
© 2011 Sherri Browning Erwin