No Dogs Allowed
by Shell St. James
published in La Presa Literary Journal

Lizzie was counting Florida license plates, her breath creating foggy circles on the car window, when she saw the wolfman.

Of course, he wasn’t really a wolfman…that was only in the movies.

Right?

He was on a motorcycle. As he pulled abreast of their station wagon, tailgating a slow-moving pickup truck in the passing lane, she noted his license plate state with disappointment: Massachusetts. She cocked her head as she read the letters: HOWL.

Grandpa didn’t seem to notice, tapping his gnarled fingers on the steering wheel in time to “Superstition” playing on the radio. Gram was reading a novel in the front seat, a “beach read”, she called it. The cover showed a bare-chested man kissing a pretty woman.

Lizzie glanced at her brother, Sam, but decided not to mention the funny tag because of the license plate game they were playing. He had chosen Massachusetts to count, and he was winning. She fidgeted, barely holding her tongue, as the wolfman rode up beside them and she got a good look.

He wasn’t wearing a helmet and his black hair was long and wild, streaming away from a heavily bearded face with bushy eyebrows and massive sideburns. He wore wrap-around sunglasses and the only part of his face Lizzie could see was his long and pointed nose. It was hot today in South Carolina, and he wore a short-sleeved t-shirt with jeans and boots.

Lizzie stared in fascination at the thick hair (or was it fur?) that sprouted from his collar and covered his arms, her gaze traveling down to his hands, which were clad in black leather gloves. If she squinted her eyes, blurring her vision, his furry arms seemed to end in black paws.

He suddenly turned his head, catching her staring, and flashed a toothy grin. Lizzie blanched, immediately looking away and leaning back, her heart pounding. The vinyl seat stuck to her skin as she sat rigidly, staring straight ahead and waiting for him to pass. His smile had revealed long canine teeth, fangs ending in wickedly sharp points like their Jack Russell terrier back home.

“Ten!” Sam cried out triumphantly, and Lizzie jumped. Sam was pointing, not at the wolfman, but at a blue Honda two cars ahead. Lizzie suspected he had counted that same car a few hours ago, but it was April vacation and there were a lot of Massachusetts cars on the road.

She heard the loud exhaust pipes rumble as the wolfman’s motorcycle accelerated, maneuvering around the pick-up and heading on down the road. She relaxed, taking a deep breath, telling herself she’d imagined the fangs.

Soon they were pulling into the campground at Mackey Beach, and passing a center hub built around a manmade pond, complete with a fountain and swans. There was a sign posted at the campground entrance: “No Dogs, No Alcohol, No Firearms”.

Lizzie and Sam helped make camp, erecting a screen house over the picnic table, and setting up a small tent just for her and her brother. Her grandparents preferred to make their bed in the station wagon with the seats folded down. “Old bones”, Gram said, when Lizzie asked why.

Gram gave them bread to feed the swans and Lizzie and Sam walked through the compound, excited by glimpses of the ocean through palm trees. Anticipation of days filled with swimming and campfires bonded them, quelling their usual bickering.

As Lizzie stood near the fountain, tossing bits of bread to the swans, she heard the loud rumble of a motorcycle. Filled with dread, she turned to see the wolfman cruising through the compound, heading in the direction of their campsite. She squeezed her eyes shut, hoping he wasn’t looking for her.

A half hour later she and Sam returned to the campsite. Lizzie’s stomach dropped and her knees felt rubbery when she saw the motorcycle parked at the neighboring site. The wolfman was setting up a tarp, hanging it over a rope to create a rudimentary tent. No one, not even Sam, seemed to notice him.

Lizzie averted her eyes, hoping if she didn’t look, maybe he wouldn’t see her. Gram whisked them away within minutes, loading them all down with beach chairs and blankets, and she breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The day passed quickly, filled with swimming and sunning and eating ice cream. It was dusk before they returned to the campsite. Lizzie sneaked a peek next door. The motorcycle was still parked, but the wolfman was nowhere in sight. Her insides felt jittery as she looked at his tarp-tent, imagining glowing yellow eyes peering out at her. Was he in there?

That night, she and Sam roasted marshmallows as the moon rose, big and bright and full. Sam wanted to tell ghost stories.

Lizzie refused, putting her hands over her ears.

“La la la la la…” she chanted, closing her eyes and missing the look her grandparents exchanged.

“Some other night,”  Grandpa intervened as Sam scowled.

“Maybe tomorrow,” Gram said, and began telling a whimsical tale about a talking starfish.

Lizzie unblocked her ears, soothed by Gram’s entertaining narration, while Sam sulked until bedtime.

Though still very anxious, Lizzie was worn out and dropped off to sleep almost immediately. A sound woke her in the middle of the night, and she lay awake, listening to her brother snoring, and wondering what she’d heard.

Suddenly, a shadow appeared on the tent wall.

A large dog trotted through their campsite and Lizzie gasped, holding her breath, sleeping bag pulled to her chin. Peering over at Sam, she nudged him with her foot, but he rolled away and continued to snore. She lay still, waiting, as seconds turned to minutes, but nothing happened. Eventually she started to relax.

Just as sleep began to claim her, she heard an unmistakable sound. A howling, long and mournful, pierced the still night air, silencing the crickets and frogs. Lizzie’s eyes popped back open. It was a long time before she was able to close them again and finally drift off into a dreamless sleep.

The next morning, she crawled out of the tent, rubbing her eyes and needing the restroom. The air was still and soft, and the waves could be heard peacefully rolling in. Someone nearby was cooking bacon. As she hurried to the nearby facilities, she stole a furtive glance at the wolfman’s campsite.

It was empty.

The blue tarp-tent, the motorcycle, and the wolfman had all disappeared, replaced by a strange tableau.

White swan feathers littered the ground, caught on the sparse vegetation and fluttering in the ocean breeze. 

                                                                            

                                                                                 -the end-

camping story.jpg