We are all afraid of something. It doesn’t matter how young you are, or how old, everyone is afraid of something.
And, sometimes, the fears we have are common. Or, at the very least, have common roots.
A lot of people fear those. They fear them because they fear what’s out there. What they don’t know:
That’s the root.
It’s a common fear.
One that comes to light all the time. One that gets shoved into our faces all the time, whether we realize it or not. Because there are a lot of things that are unknowns.
That’s why they were afraid of him.
Why I was afraid of him.
I didn’t know how to respond. How to react. He was an unknown. A giant question mark sitting in my classroom.
It didn’t occur to me until later, but:
We were question marks to him, too. At this point, monsters had been completely outed. Not a single one remained hidden. Or, at the very least, not a single one was doubted. They all existed. If there was a mention of them in folklore, if there was a hieroglyph out there, if there was a painting on a cave wall, no one thought it was make believe.
It didn’t take us long to figure out which creatures needed monitoring and which ones were reasonable. Creatures like sea monsters, nandi bears, bunyips, those were all instinctive creatures. Monsters that required policing, that required rangers (of sorts) to keep them in check and away from civilization.
And then there were monsters that were the opposite. Monsters that weren’t segregated from society.
They were integrated.
Vampires, lizard men, swamplings, and all other humanoid monsters, they were invited in. Allowed to join society, in their full monstrous glory.
And that includes werewolves.
Which was what the new boy was.
And he showed it.
Before, when monsters were still myth, we had them in society, but they were forced to hide their monstrous parts. Forced to pretend they weren’t what they were.
We did away with that as a society. As a culture.
But just because he could show his monster side didn’t make it comfortable for the other students. In fact, it was the opposite.
Nearly everyone was afraid of him.
His ears were nearly always slanted, wary after the first week of little to no reception. Of feeling unwelcome.
Luckily, he never bared his teeth at us, or flexed his claws.
But they still existed.
And that was enough for the class.
All the other students kept away. Kept watch on him. Eyed the werewolf boy for signs that he might attack. Like he was some kind of rabid dog. A ticking time bomb, waiting to reach zero.
It pains me to admit it, but…
I was no exception.
I, too, watched him warily. As if he might blow his lid at any moment.
Until the field trip.
The Botanical Gardens was, by far, one of the most boring field trips for kids in the fourth grade. I mean, plants? Walking around, following strange people, listening to them talk about plants?
But that’s what we did.
Luckily, our guide this year didn’t go into a lecture on how we were lesser than ants (and, to her, people probably were, or, at the very least, noisy children were). However, our guide was just as boring as any one of them from my previous experiences.
About midday, we finally stopped to take a break. Thanks goodness.
And that’s when I noticed he wasn’t there.
The werewolf boy.
He was gone.
My brain started backtracking, trying to think of the last time I saw him. In what place.
And then, once I thought I had an idea, I went looking.
I don’t know what drove me to do it. Possibly, it was my instinct. Being an older sibling to four others, you kind of develop something of a motherly instinct. Or it could be that I had general and genuine concern for everyone and anyone, including werewolf boys.
Either way, I ran off alone to find the werewolf boy, all my fears abandoned.
If he was in trouble…
And he needed someone…
Then damn all my fears.
Of course, I was still young, so that’s not how I thought of it at the time, but still. That was the notion of what I was feeling.
So I ran.
Fueled by the fear of what could have happened to him. By the unknown of where he was, how he was doing.
It seemed he wasn’t doing well at all.
Currently, he was being cornered by some fifth graders. A group of fifth graders notorious for being bullies.
His ears were flat against his head, his body hunched.
We’d learned a little bit about werewolf body language before he’d transferred into our class. So, although I wasn’t directly familiar with it, I still had some knowledge.
His body was speaking for him right now, and it was saying:
I’m afraid, and, if you don’t back away, I’ll do what I have to do.
Or something like that.
It was definitely a threat. His body language was communicating, quite clearly, that he would defend himself if he needed to.
Which wouldn’t be good.
One of the bigger bullies stepped closer to him, smirking.
Which is, of course, when things might have gone bad.
If I hadn’t stepped in the way.
I stared him down a moment, and he stared back. Like two lions looking at each other. All fierce determination and pride.
Eventually, he backed down.
“Whatever. Wolf mutt isn’t worth it anyway,” he remarked as he lead the retreat of the bully group.
I waited until they were out of earshot.
Then I turned to my classmate.
“You alright?” I asked.
And, clearly, he was not.
Something no one had told me before was: sometimes werewolves flatten their ears to hide how they’re trembling.
And he definitely was.
I felt his fear like a punch to the gut. As if I were directly responsible for it.
“It’s alright, they’re gone,” I consoled.
He nodded, not looking me in the eye, but, rather, down at the dirt. “Thanks,” he whispered.
It came out as a half-whimper.
And that was when I realized that it wasn’t just us, the human kids, who were afraid.
He was too.
Humans had groups, even if they weren’t packs. Groups of friends, or confidants, or thugs like they had in the bully group. Either way, most of us had something. People we hung out with, or relied on.
And he had nothing.
Werewolves weren’t used to that. Not used to being completely alone.
It hadn’t occurred to me until I saw the trembling. Until I understood the scene like he would:
Another pack, challenging him.
Him, on his own. No one to back him up.
It was sort of unheard of amongst werewolves, They all had packs to some degree.
Having no one?
It left you with a big question mark. Who would lend a hand when you needed it? Who would back you up when you were in trouble? If another pack challenged you, what would happen to you?
And I was sure he had no idea either.
And it was terrifying to him. So much so that he couldn’t speak. Couldn’t look at me.
It was… heartbreaking. To know that I had been ignoring such a need. It was like walking by a faucet that was running, over and over again, and never moving to shut it off.
Now that I knew, I could fix it.
I wouldn’t just walk by anymore.
“Well, let’s go. I’m sure the teacher is wondering where we are. We stopped for lunch in the cafeteria area, so they should still be there,” I reasoned.
His eyes lifted to mine, and I saw he had been trying to hold in tears.
“Won’t we get in trouble? For wandering off?” he asked.
I shrugged. “If we do, then we’ll get in trouble together. That makes it not so bad, right?”
He didn’t quite believe me, I could see it in his eyes. Not because he didn’t think I was bad company, but because I’d been ignoring him all this time, too. Having a sudden change of heart was throwing him off. He wasn’t sure if he should believe it.
Which was fine.
If I were him, I wouldn’t believe it either.
But I’d show him.
Show him I was serious.
My company probably wasn’t as good as having a pack behind him, but still. It was all I had.
And, if he wanted, I could still do my best. Still hang out with him.
I was only one person.
Really, that’s all it takes not to be alone anymore.
Author’s note: another story about a werewolf. Whoops.