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Only A Little Pinch

only a little pinch

Estimated reading time — 12 minutes

The GPS display cast its glow on Ralphie as he slept in the passenger seat, the half-empty box of Entenmann’s Minis still clutched in his hands. Powdered sugar around his mouth made an amusing contrast to the deep brown of his face and served as a reminder, not that I needed one, that he was only a child. A powdered donut dinner was poor consolation for what I’d unleash in him tonight.

The SUV jostled with each bump on the empty stretch of rural roadway. A Gibbous Moon rose from behind the tree line. That didn’t matter to Ralphie. When combined, two elements triggered his transformation, and a full moon wasn’t one of them. The sun sets, then pain is administered.

Our quarry, the man the media dubbed, the Deep Woods Killer or DWK, knew the nature preserve better than most people knew their own homes. He was so adept at covering his tracks that the authorities had all but given up on Kayla, the little girl he’d kidnapped and my son’s classmate. The dogs employed in the search for DWK couldn’t pick up his trail and soon lost Kayla’s. But the dogs’ noses were only superhuman.

Soon, Ralphie’s sense of smell would be supernatural.

Shortly after midnight, we pulled into an unpaved parking lot. Ralphie held the bright LED flashlight for me as I took my mountain bike from the trunk. The dark muted its metallic red sheen into the maroon of dried blood. I leaned it against the bumper, then checked that its all-terrain tires were fully inflated.

I took off my KeepYouFit and strapped it tightly to Ralphie’s wrist.

He winced.

“Sorry,” I said. “I have to make sure it stays on when you change.”

“I know,” Ralphie replied in a small voice. His scrunched face and futile effort to get his pinky under the band weighed on my heart.


I handed him the flashlight and asked him to help by keeping the light focused on me. It distracted him from his discomfort, and his eyes widened when I brought out the tranquilizer gun. “It shoots a dart that will put the bad guy to sleep,” I said.

I was a schoolteacher, not a soldier or a cop. I couldn’t even beat Ralphie at Call of Duty. If not for his rare genetic disorder—if lycanthropy counted as such—I’d have no business going into the woods tonight. Fortunately, this gun was air-powered and easy to use. It was already loaded with a dart. I felt the hard case with four more jammed into my windbreaker pocket.

I put my arm through the gun’s strap, and it rested comfortably on my shoulder.

Ralphie handed me the flashlight, then took off his socks and Nikes and stripped to his boxers. He tossed me his clothes, which I put in the trunk.

He crossed his arms over his chest, shivering in the crisp October air.

“I need a second, Ralphie. Can you check the head of the trail for any clues, something the cops might’ve missed?” I pointed behind him with the flashlight beam to where the police had erected a Trail Closed sign.

“Uh, o-okay,” he replied through chattering teeth and approached the trail head.
I quietly slipped out the yellow Taser from under a blanket.

His energy sapped by the cold, Ralphie had only taken a few steps when he stopped and turned. “Dad—”

“Sorry, Ralphie.” I fired. Two wires ending in tiny barbs pierced the skin of his spare frame. The Taser made a rapid clicking noise as enough electric current to bring down a grown man coursed through the boy’s body.

My eardrums ached from his high-pitched shriek, and he fell face first into the gravel.
I wiped the wet from my eyes.

Ralphie’s pitiful sobs ended abruptly. My pounding heart seemed to thunder in the following silence until Ralphie lifted his head, and a guttural growl escaped his distended jaw. Canines, long, pearly white, and sharp as spikes, sprouted from blood red gums.

It took all my will not to turn away when his cold, glowing yellow eyes, met mine. The thoughtful human in Ralphie wouldn’t remain much longer.

Cracks, pops, and tearing serenaded the transformation as reshaped bones were ripped from their sockets and flesh twisted, contracted, and stretched. The Taser darts popped out of his body, the shape of which was neither that of a boy or a wolf but a malformed abomination in between. He crouched, lifting his torso on humanoid arms that extended into paw-hands. A curved, black nail protruded from each stubby-finger. The KeepYouFit clung to his furry left wrist.

I swallowed the bile rising from my churning stomach and hid away the Taser. Approaching Ralphie, I pulled Kayla’s crude drawing of him from my jeans’ pocket and unfolded it. Kayla had recently passed it to him in class. She was his crush, so he’d saved it. Now, I hoped it would save her.

On all fours and almost fully wolf, Ralphie stepped out of his boxers to meet me.

The sheet of loose-leaf shook in my hand as I held it to his nose.

His black snout briefly sniffed the paper for her scent, then he spun around and bounded into the woods.

I pulled out my phone and jammed it into the bike’s handlebar-mounted holder. The flashlight attached to the mount beside it and became a headlight. In my haste, I’d let a breeze carry away Kayla’s drawing, but if my plan worked, she’d live to make Ralphie another one.

The Find My KeepYouFit creators never could’ve imagined their app to locate a lost device being used to track a werewolf. It did the job, however. I pedaled onto the trail with all the strength my legs could muster, keeping the display’s blue arrow, me, pointed at the blinking green dot, the KeepYouFit. The dot separated further from the arrow. I veered off the trail and into the brush to keep the dot center-screen, navigating the dense trees through a series of sharp turns.

The bike had been designed for the roughest terrain. I couldn’t say the same about my middle-aged self. I didn’t expect breathing to be a chore this soon into the chase nor the ache in my legs to grow almost unbearable. At least, my glasses stayed on as evergreen branches whipped my face, and a tall thorn bush drew blood from my cheek. The seat’s padding did little to spare my sore rear the constant jolts.

Relief and alarm dueled in my mind when the dot came to a stop. Ralphie wasn’t in sight. Had the KeepYouFit fallen off him, or had he found Kayla? If the latter, was she still alive?
As though in reply, a young girl’s high-pitched shrieking echoed through the trees. I followed the sound over a hillcrest and picked up speed on the downward slope. The triangle rapidly closed in on the dot. I looked up from the display to see Kayla, closing the yards between us with a fear-fueled run.

Squeezing the brakes wasn’t enough to stop my momentum. To avoid hitting her, I turned the wheel hard left. Splayed legs did nothing to keep me and my skidding bike from tipping over. I hit the dirt hard, and pain shot through my back where the butt of the tranquilizer gun dug in. Curses flowed from my lips.

Kayla stood over me, clothes in tatters and face barely recognizable under tear-streaked grime. Her dirty matted hair hung over her panicked eyes. “Wolf,” she shouted between gasps for air.

Everything hurt, but adrenaline got me to my feet. “Are you all right?” I asked, once I’d caught my breath.

“Wolf,” she repeated as if it was the only word she knew.

She seemed little more than scraped and bruised, thank God, and I took her sprint as a sign she hadn’t been badly hurt, not physically anyway. I took the gun off my shoulder. It seemed intact upon a quick examination and still loaded. I wiped dirt off the case of darts and returned it to my windbreaker pocket.

“Stay here,” I said.

Kayla dropped to the ground, hugging her knees to her chest.

“You’ll be okay.” I was promising myself as much as her. “I’m coming back.”

A spiderweb of cracks stretched across my phone’s screen, but it still lit up. I didn’t need to walk far before the triangle was almost on top of the dot, and faint growls reached my ears.


I froze. Without the sound of twigs crunching beneath my feet, I thought I detected a man’s grunting, as if in fear of my son or to challenge him. I detached the flashlight from my bike. A sweep of its beam revealed an area of rock and dense brush, but the sounds came from there. Another glance at my phone confirmed it was the direction I needed to go.

I pocketed the phone and directed my flashlight beam between bushes until it touched upon a cave mouth. The foreboding blackness swallowed the light.

Taking a deep breath, I pushed away the thick foliage concealing the entrance, crouched down, and ventured inside. Body odor assaulted my nose. Was that from DWK or me? Despite the chill, sweat soaked my skin. The close confines could’ve made me smell my own fear.

The ceiling lowered as I progressed, eventually forcing me to crawl. The echoes of struggle accompanied Ralphie’s growling and the man’s groans. I couldn’t have been but a few yards away from a life or death struggle.

The space grew until I could stand again, then briefly narrowed. I shuffled ahead sideways to enter a large cavern, well-lit by a tipped-over lantern. Now, the copper scent of blood hung in the dank air.


Dropping my flashlight, I employed both hands to aim my gun at DWK as he lay on the floor with Ralphie on his chest. The man looked like he did in the media sketches: lanky, with long, unkempt hair and a bird’s-nest tangle of beard.

Save for the KeepYouFit around his foreleg, Ralphie was indistinguishable from any other large, mottled gray and white-furred wolf. DWK held Ralphie as bay by having shoved his forearm, which was protected by the sleeve of a camo jacket, deep into Ralphie’s jaw, stopping the full force of his bite. Not before Ralphie had gotten in an attack, however, as evidenced by tears, the width of Ralphie’s nails, stretching down DWK’s jacket from chest to belly, soaking it red.

Unaware of my presence, DWK’s free hand grabbed the hilt of a belt-sheathed hunting knife. Ralphie didn’t have to be hit with a silver bullet to die. More Hollywood BS. He was far from invulnerable. I tried to keep DWK squarely in the gunsight’s crosshairs, but my hands trembled too badly. If I missed, very possibly tranquilizing Ralphie instead, we were both dead. DWK wasn’t going to idly standby while I reloaded.

I mumbled a prayer and pulled the trigger. The gun whooshed, and its dart stuck in DWK’s side. I didn’t worry about his jacket offering him protection. The darts were meant to pierce tough animal hides. DWK’s head turned, and his shocked eyes met mine before they closed. The knife fell to the floor. He was motionless save for the steady rise and fall of his chest.

Good. I didn’t want to kill a human being. Even if DWK didn’t act like one.

“Great job, Ralphie…”

Ralphie’s predatory eyes glowed in the beam of my fallen flashlight as they bore into me.
Ralphie wasn’t home.

He released DWK’s arm and stepped off him, approaching me as a pack of one, with slow, deliberate movements. His snarl revealed dagger-sharp teeth, dripping saliva and stained crimson with DWK’s blood.

I’d imagined this scenario, planned to sooth Ralphie with a soft voice while I reloaded, but the gun slipped from my sweaty palms and terror prevented my dry tongue from forming words.

Ralphie pounced. Sharp nails tore through my jeans as though I wore nothing and sunk into the flesh of my left leg. A howl of agony escaped my lip as his jaws closed on the flesh of my calf. I barely registered falling on my back and losing my glasses. Trying to kick my leg free only magnified the pain. I jammed my other boot into Ralphie’s snout to no avail.
I was going to die, but I pitied Ralphie more than myself. He’d transform back and find himself orphaned by his own actions. My God, what would that do to him? And who would take care of him if I wasn’t around? Who on Earth could? His mother disappeared after he was born, leaving hospital staff mauled to death, and the police covering it up. I learned I’d be a single parent at the same moment I learned that there was such a thing as werewolves.

Before losing consciousness to pain and blood loss, I remembered the darts in my windbreaker pocket. I reached for the case with my free arm and fumbled to open it. The darts spilled out. I grabbed one and sat up just enough so my outstretched arm could jam the dart into Ralphie’s foreleg.

Nothing happened.

The tranquilizer was formulated to bring down a 300-pound deer! Ralphie weighed nowhere near as much, but God only knew what kind of resistance a werewolf had.

I groped for a second dart and jabbed it into Ralphie’s throat.

He whimpered, and the pressure on my leg abated. His dulling eyes half closed, and he came to rest on his side. Within moments, he was snoring.

I slid away. Sitting up was met with nausea and vertigo. When the cavern stopped spinning, I felt around for my glasses, donning them in time to see Ralphie’s transformation in sharp focus. Dawn was still a long way off, so the tranquilizers must’ve triggered it. Something I hoped would happen but couldn’t know.

His body jerked violently. His bones snapped, ridges rising and falling beneath his stretching, balding skin, but he remained unconscious.

Forcing myself to look away from the horrid yet somehow mesmerizing process, I shed my windbreaker and wrapped it around my wound. Tightening it into a tourniquet hurt like hell but stemmed the bleeding. The pain quickly dulled…or I’d simply grown accustomed to it.
The two empty darts in Ralphie’s flesh left raised, little wounds when I plucked them out. I’d tell him to explain them away along with the Taser marks as scratched bug bites. I put the darts back in the case.

I took the KeepYouFit off his wrist, put it on mine, and dragged my body to the cavern wall. Its rocky protrusions helped me pull myself to my feet. Hobbling back to where Ralphie lay, I dressed him in my undershirt. It was huge on him, hanging as low as a nightgown, hopefully providing protection from scrapes as we made our escape. There was no recourse but to prop up his limp body through the narrow crevice and drag him behind me at the low-ceiling point.

Once in the open, I collapsed with him on my back. We weren’t making it back to the SUV. My phone showed two precious bars, and I called 911.

Kayla’s parents could’ve flooded the hospital with their tears of joy upon reuniting with her.
The emergency room staff dressed Ralphie in a gown and wheeled him into another area for examination. He slept soundly through it all.

My leg suffered no permanent damage. Crutches would keep me mobile until I healed, while the powerful pain killers brightened my mood. I refused to stay the night for observation or receive rabies shots, however, which alarmed the doctor. Unable to force treatment on me, he could only shake his head.


The police had waited until the ambulance got me to the hospital before questioning me at length. They weren’t concerned about my practice of hunting deer at night with a tranquilizer gun. That wasn’t illegal or unheard of, nor was having your son with you. Riding a bike into the woods was NOT what deer hunters did, so I didn’t mention mine. The police either didn’t find the bike or found it but assigned it no importance.

Dumb luck, I told them, brought me near DWK’s cave, and Kayla’s cries led me inside. After all, how could I have possibly tracked him down when all those seasoned searchers and their sniffer dogs couldn’t?

I described Ralphie and I’s scuffle with DWK and his big dog, the one that bit me. That explained my wounds as well as Ralphie’s various cuts and bruises, though not why he was undressed. I fell back on the everything-happened-so fast-it-was-all-a-blur cliche. The air was heavy with unspoken skepticism, but they agreed that the important thing was that I managed to get a tranquilizer dart in DWK before he could plunge his knife into the children or me.

They couldn’t wake Ralphie to question him. Because he was obviously exhausted by the emotional trauma, I told them, implying that teaching made me sort of an expert in child psychology.

DWK, now in custody, was still out cold when they found him and apparently mauled by his own dog. Though, they had yet to come across a dog in the vicinity. I had no doubt my version of events would prove more credible than a psychopath’s story of a wolf should DWK relate what happened. Should any mention of a wolf come from Kayla’s account… Well, she suffered a terrible, traumatic experience. There were simply no wolves native to that area.

I played with my phone on an uncomfortable bed as twenty minutes passed, then forty, then an hour. They were taking a long time with Ralphie, even by emergency room standards. With the aid of crutches, I made my way over to the nurse’s station where a smiling young woman in a lab coat overheard me ask about him.

“Are you the child’s father?” she asked.

“Yes. Where is he? What’s taking so long?”

“He’s right down the hall.” She gestured to her left. “I’m Doctor Singh, the attending pediatric physician.” Singh seemed too young to be a doctor or to even have a driver’s license. “I had great difficulty waking your son, so I ordered bloodwork done on him.”

“Bloodwork?” I snapped. “There’s nothing wrong with him.”

The doctor’s smile melted away. “You signed the consent form for your son’s treatment, sir. That includes any tests I deem necessary.”

I ran my hand through my graying hair and pulled it back, helping myself to nod while forcing my lips to stretch into a civil smile.

“Ralphie somehow ingested a benzodiazepine sedative,” she said matter-of-factly. “Do you keep Valium or some other tranquilizing medication in your home?”

I replied with a curt, “No,” not having planned on the hospital doing anything to Ralphie beyond bandaging him up. I rescued a little girl from the Deep Woods Killer, but now I had to worry about a visit from the Child Welfare? What the hell?

The doctor attempted to ask me further questions as I hobbled away but, thankfully, didn’t pursue me. There were social workers who’d do that.

I came to an area sectioned off by curtains. From across the room, I heard an older woman’s voice coo, “You’ll only feel a little pinch.” Ralphie’s protests followed. I headed in that directions.

My blood turned cold when my son’s words morphed into a piercing cry. Shouting his name, I ditched the crutches and limped to his location as fast as I could. Panting and in pain, I pushed back the curtain to find Ralphie in a bed, eyes screwed shut with tears leaking out their corners. A thick needle sunk into his wrist attached tubing to an IV.”

“Sorry to cause the child so much discomfort.” The nurse, a gray, grandmotherly type, sounded truly remorseful. “I had trouble finding a vein and needed to stick him a few times.”

“Stick him a few times?” I asked softly, though I had heard her.

A growl rose from deep within Ralphie’s throat, and he opened his eyes. They glowed as yellow as the gibbous moon shining through the window.

Credit: Dr. Jason Gorbel


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