Looking over his shoulder, the attendant winked at her as he pumped gas. “That is what we call a wolf moon,” he said, glancing up at the night sky. His words came out as little frozen puffs in the cold January air. “It won’t be like that again all year.”
He finished filling up her tank and replaced the gas cap, his ancient, arthritic hands swollen and chapped from the cold. He wiped them on a filthy rag that he stuffed into his pocket. His name, Ernie, was embroidered on his jacket in red thread.
Leyla leaned forward to get a better view of the moon out of her front windshield. “Why do they call it a wolf moon?” she asked.
He smiled at her. “The native Americans who used to live around here said it made all of the hungry wolf packs howl outside their villages. But there is more to it than that. It’s when the moon comes closest to the Earth, and it’s the biggest and brightest full moon of the year.”
“It’s beautiful, Ernie,” she said softly.
“Beautiful it may be, but you don’t want run out of gas on a night like this. That moon brings the monsters out,” Ernie said, “and the crazies, too. You should take care, miss.”
Leyla thanked him and handed him a wad of bills, telling him to keep the change. She shook her head as she pulled away. She’d forgotten how superstitious the people could be around here, and how much they believed in all of the old stories.
It had been a long time, but she remembered the way, driving along the old country roads of her childhood. The bright moon reflected off of the snow-covered woods, bathing them in an eerie light. It wouldn’t have mattered if it were pitch black to Leyla, though. She would always be able to find her way home.
The silence enveloped her. Not a creature stirred in the frozen forest. Some animals slept away the winter in hibernation. The others seemed too frightened to come out on a night like this. Even the wolves were quiet.
Leyla turned on the radio and sang along to an old country ballad. Her mother used to listen to this kind of music. They’d often sung together while driving on this very road. She sighed. Her mother had died almost a year ago. She was the only one left now.
A dark shape appeared on the road in front of her and she slammed on her brakes, startled to see a man walking alone on the side of the road. He waved when he saw her headlights and she hesitated only for a moment before she pulled over and rolled down her window.
“Are you okay?” she asked. The man, tall and dark with broad shoulders and the beginnings of a scruffy beard, seemed to be around her age, and that surprised her. He’d appeared older, smaller, and less intimidating when she’d first spotted him huddled against the bitter cold. He looked half frozen, and his teeth chattered when he answered her.
“I ran out of gas a few miles back, and I don’t have reception here on my cell phone,” he said. “Could you give me a ride? My house isn’t far.”
Leyla paused, carefully assessing him, before she unlocked the door. “Get in,” she said.
The man climbed into the car, rubbing his bare hands together and holding them up to the heat coming out of the vents. “Thanks,” he said, as residual shivers passed over his body. “My house is near the lake. If you drive a few miles, you’ll see a turn on the right. It’s only five minutes by car, but it would have been a long cold walk.”
Leyla glanced at him as she began driving. “Are you living in the old Bardolph place?” she asked.
He looked surprised. “Yes,” he said. “I’m Jeremy. Are you from around here?” he asked. Leyla could hear the doubt in his voice as he took in her expensive car and designer clothes. People from these parts usually couldn’t afford such luxuries. Her handbag alone cost more than most made in a month.
Leyla nodded, almost laughing at the tone in his voice. She could tell he wasn’t a local boy, and he seemed to have low expectations regarding the natives. “Born and raised,” she said proudly. She extended her hand, her eyes never leaving the road. “I’m Leyla, by the way,” she said.
He took her hand and shook it. She could feel the icy coldness of his skin through her leather gloves. “Nice to meet you,” he said.
“So, how long have you been here, Jeremy?” she asked.
He blew out a sigh. “Too long,” he said. “I came here to get away from the city. I thought I’d enjoy a quiet life in the county. I also wanted to escape from my problems, but now I know it’s not for me. I hate this place. My lease will be up soon and I can’t wait to get out of here.”
“I left a long time ago,” she said quietly, “but I’m glad to be back. This is my home.”
Jeremy looked out of the window, and there was a rather uncomfortable silence before he finally spoke. “I didn’t mean to insult you,” he said. “I’ve just had a rotten day. A rotten year, to be exact.”
“Well, I hope things get better for you,” she said. “And the Bardolph place is beautiful. At least you live in a nice house.”
Jeremy shrugged. “I guess. There is just something weird about it. The rent was dirt cheap, and it was nice enough in the summer, but lately…”
Leyla waited for him to continue, but he remained silent. She remembered what Ernie had said about the moon bringing out the crazies, and wondered if she should have just driven past when she’d seen Jeremy stranded on the roadside. She frowned, immediately dismissing her concerns. He might be odd, but he wasn’t crazy.
“Old houses can be like that,” she said, “in the winter, with the wind howling, it can get a bit creepy.”
Jeremy shook his head, his dark hair brushing against his shoulders. “No, it’s not that.” He turned to her, a strange stillness to his face. “It’s like I know something is about to happen, that something really bad is coming, but I can’t stop it.”
Leyla’s heart began to pound in her chest. Suddenly it felt too hot in the car, almost stifling. She reached over to turn down the heat, and Jeremy gave her an apologetic look.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I guess I’ve just been on my own too long.”
Leyla laughed, but it sounded oddly tense. Her throat seemed tight and she swallowed, trying to relax. She wasn’t feeling well, but Jeremy didn’t seem to notice.
“Leyla. That’s an unusual name. I remember it from a song I heard a long time ago,” he said. Leyla realized he was trying to be conversational, to make up for his earlier weirdness. She wiped the fine sheen off sweat off of her forehead, her hands trembling.
“It means night beauty,” she said.
Jeremy smiled at her, showing even, white teeth. “It suits you,” he said, taking in her dark, silky hair and pale skin. She knew he was attracted to her. She could sense it. She could almost smell it.
Leyla cleared her throat, and tried to clear her mind as well. She felt cloudy and strange. “The old Bardolph place is the stuff of legends. Do you know what the name Bardolph means?” she asked.
Jeremy shook his head. She could tell he wasn’t really interested in a local history lesson, but she continued anyway. “Bright wolf. They say the family who owned this place descended from real live wolves. Once a year, on the night of the wolf moon, the brightest moon of the year, they come back and change into their original form.”
Jeremy looked like he was about to laugh, but something about the expression on her face stopped him. “You don’t really believe this stuff, do you?” he asked incredulously.
Leyla turned to him, feeling her bones begin to elongate and the fur pop out over her skin. Jeremy watched in horror, comprehension slowly dawning on his face. She stopped the car in front of the crumbling old mansion, and smiled at him, fangs brushing her soft, pink lips.
“We really weren’t properly introduced. I’m Leyla Bardolph, the last of the great Bardolph family. I have to tell you, this the first time I’ve changed and I’m simply famished,” she said, leaning towards him as the wolves in the distance began to howl. Jeremy screamed as she sank her teeth into the soft flesh of his neck. She looked at him, blood dripping down her chin, puzzled by his reaction. “Why else would they call it a wolf moon, silly?”