December 11th- The annual Hudson River Booze and Boobs Cruise was something of a local institution, a three hour boat ride from the port of Albany to the city of Troy and back again. The cruise offered a buffet, a bar and more exotic dancers than you could shake a money clip at. Ostensibly this low grade bacchanalia was a way for local entrepreneur Edward Fingle to raise money for the Tri-city IBS Treatment Society or T.I.T.S. for short. It was the kind of event that brought greasy ‘philanthropists’ from all across the tri-city area.
It should be noted that Edward Fingle is more commonly known around these parts as ‘Goodtime Eddie Filth’ and he has been running four ‘adult novelty’ stores since the 1970s. Goodtime Eddie used to be raking in the cash but just like every other brick and mortar store he had been hit hard by the online revolution. Businessmen like him weren’t prepared for a world where you can get live nude girls on your smartphone and dildos delivered by Amazon drones.
Because of these changes Goodtime Eddie needed the Hudson River Booze and Boobs Cruise to help balance the books. It was like his Christmas, Christmas with herpes.
The MS Better Knot had always been the ship of choice for Goodtime Eddie’s oceanic adventures. It was a three level cruise ship ten years past its prime but the lower decks had tinted windows and central air to keep the sights and smells of the event from the landlubbers.
As you can imagine, after each of these cruises there was public outrage, municipal embarrassment and condoms washing up on shore for weeks. The forces of decency would rally and vow to put an end to the Hudson River Booze and Boobs Cruise, but no one really thought the party would ever stop. Not when there was more than enough money for bribes after the owners, the caterers, the dancers, and local mobsters had been paid off. The only people that got shut out in the end were the only people left hanging were T.I.T.S..
But when the party finally did stop, it stopped forever.
I was drunk, seasick and horny. It was almost ten thirty at night and I believed I was the only person on the open air upper deck of the MS Better Knot. It was thirty degrees, just cold enough to make me feel like I might either sober up or pass out. The party raged on beneath me.
And yes I do mean raged. The booze and the boobs had done their ugly work making some of the male attendees aggressive and demanding. The bouncers had their hands full and they had begun deputizing members of the ship’s crew to keep what was supposed to be a nice charitable orgy from degenerating into a series of manslaughter charges. The more I thought about the things going on down there, the more sick to my stomach I felt.
So why was I here? Because this event had hired my Cousin Roy as the DJ and he’d gotten me a free ticket. I said I wouldn’t go but loneliness and the lure of free drinks had weakened my will.
I stared woozily up at the sky, there were no clouds, just bright stars and a brighter moon. I found myself wishing it would snow, wishing a blanket of white would cover me, this boat, this city, everything. I wanted… I wanted to feel cleansed. I wanted to know what the fuck I was doing with my life.
Most of all wanted to forget about Sara Bishop.
There was a crash to my right, I turned around expecting to see another partier in search of fresh air or an original place to throw up.
What I saw was a partier all right, he staggered along the guardrail; his face, throat and gut had all been torn away. Air whistled through his ragged neck, a loosened eye rolled and jostled against an exposed cheekbone. Entrails, reeking and bloody, brimmed from his belly, slithering down to his feet.
He blubbered and reached for me
Then something brought him down, a lean, canine shape.
I heard the bites that killed the already dying man. The loud snaps of a powerful jaw followed by grunts that might have been from effort or from pleasure. My every muscle was locked in place, I was utterly terrified but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was fascinated too.
The thing chomped and swallowed while I ever so slowly retrieved my smartphone and snapped a few pictures.
Click: A paw immersed in a shallow puddle of blood.
But the paw wasn’t right, it was clumped and gnarled like an old branch. Something about it made my skin crawl.
Click: A long arching back, a supine torso covered with hair but not thick with it. Its hindquarters were hunched, its shoulders were sagging, its blunt muzzle was buried deep in the torso of the dead man.
Like the paw, the entirety of the creature’s body was hard to look at. At one glance it brought to mind a sickly or deformed beast and with another it made you think of a child clumsily play-acting at being an animal.
Click: Closer now, zooming in. There were traces of what might be bruises or war paint along its throat. The jawline was distended and monstrous looking, the ear was pert and seashell like. With one eye it looked directly into the camera.
Without warning the thing loosed a long keening howl.
When it howled I screamed.
I don’t remember running. I don’t remember running at all. I do remember falling down the stairs and landing with a thud onto the main deck. The smallest of the seven bouncers on duty, a pair of guys named Adam and Phil, helped me to my feet. They ushered me over to a chair at an empty table and got me a glass of water. Cousin Roy’s fifteen minute ‘My Humps’ dance remix was throbbing from the speakers. No wonder no one had heard the nightmare going on upstairs. “Aren’t you Roy’s brother?” Adam asked, “What happened?”
“Someone is hurt.” I pointed, “Up on the deck. There’s blood.”
What else did you expect me to say? That I’d seen a monster? I know better than that and so should you.
Phil went upstairs to check, I looked around the room. That thing, that whatever it was, could be anywhere now. If it moved on all fours it could slink between the tables and be on me before I could so much as piss myself.
That made me concentrate on my surroundings all the more but I saw no monsters, just table after table of empty, lonely and broken men and the single mothers, runaways and other lost girls trying to feign interest in what they had to say.
And make no mistake dear readers, I was very much a part of this scene. Sure, I partook in lap dances and dry banter from women that would never tell me their real names. Women I was treating with no more thought than a handful of tissues.
Suddenly I was being manhandled to my feet and dragged up the stairs by the bouncers. They didn’t look amused at all.
It seemed darker now but that might have just been the beginnings of the alcohol poisoning I had been courting all night. The Patroon Island Bridge was looming up ahead. No one was more surprised than me when I suddenly threw up all over the bouncer’s shoes. “Aw God Damn it!” Adam hissed.
“Never mind that,” Phil pulled me over to the far railing.
Of course there was no body. There was plenty of blood but no body.
“Now,” Adam said, “what the Hell happened up here?”
As far as interrogations go, the one I got from the two bouncers wasn’t all that bad. I told them what they expected to hear and insisted we had to turn the boat around and call the police.
Phil looked at me like I’d just beamed down from the Starship Peckerhead, “Are you outta your mind?”
“Someone might have fallen overboard!” I said, “We gotta get help.”
“All that happened is someone fell and hit their head,” Phil glared, “head wounds bleed a lot. Poor sap probably wandered back downstairs.”
“That doesn’t even make sense! Think about what–” I stopped talking when I felt a meaty hand on my right buttock, “Hey that’s my wallet!”
“Mr. Fingle doesn’t need the police or any kind of trouble,” Adam rooted around until he found my driver’s license. He pocketed it, “So you keep your mouth shut or we’ll find you and make you sorry.”
“I’m already sorry” I snatched my wallet back, “you guys are making a big mistake.”
They crossed their arms in unison. Phil said, “We’re professionals, we don’t make mistakes.”
“Oh please,” I rolled my eyes, “this isn’t Roadhouse. Can’t you see we’re all in danger?”
“Well… Well…” I self-consciously adjusted my straw fedora, “I haven’t been one hundred percent up front with you guys.”
“Oh?” Phil stepped closer.
“I saw something else… It attacked the guy… The guy that isn’t here now…”
So I told them everything, the whole story and I cringed with every word. When I was finished Adam asked, “Are you saying you saw a werewolf?”
“Hey now!” I raised my hands, “I did not use the ‘W-word’.”
“But that’s what you mean right?” Adam continued, “You’re saying you saw a monster eat somebody.”
I snapped my fingers and reached in my jacket, “Hold on. I snapped a picture of it…”
Adam and Phil stared at the pictures for almost a minute; then they exchanged glances and Adam tossed my smartphone into the Hudson River.
“Hey!” I shouted, “What did you do that for?”
“The rules said no recording devices allowed on the boat.” Phil said, “You remember that?”
“I think we’re beyond such concerns now,” I tried to match him glare for glare but that isn’t easy when your line of sight is roughly equal to a guy’s pectoral muscles. “We should be worried about the werewolf!”
The two bouncers started laughing. Adam gave me a shove, “Werewolf? All I saw was some naked hippie chick.”
“Yeah, you know all hairy and shit.”
I facepalmed, “Oh sweet lord.”
“All I gotta say is you better stay out of trouble for the rest of this trip or you’re gonna get a tasering.”
With that I was alone on the upper deck again. A hippie chick? I thought to myself, Was he for real?
He probably was, when faced with the preternatural most people default back to their most comfortable frame of reference. I guess Adam had a thing for hirsute ladies.
Part of me wanted to leave these idiots to their fate. What would happen if I literally jumped ship? Could I make it to shore? I could probably make it, I’d dealt with worse than hypothermia in my life.
But that would mean leaving Cousin Roy, and other semi-innocent people to a fate they didn’t deserve. I had to do something, so I decided to present my case to the captain of the MS Better Knot. He might take me seriously.
Sure, and daisies might grow out of my ears.
Sighing with resignation I headed up the stairs to the bridge. I rehearsed the lie I was going to tell in my head, editing out any details that might arouse suspicion or laughter. I was so focused on this that I almost didn’t notice when my hand came up from the railing wet and red.
Oh no. Oh no…
I froze in place and thought about turning back but after a moment of self-hatred I started up the stairs again. But a little more slowly and quietly this time. There was a small fire extinguisher in a case on the wall. I grabbed it.
The engines of the boat thrummed, the waves lapped and splashed against the hull. I could hear the sounds of laughter and pounding of the music down below me. The stars began to pale as the lights of the patroon island bridge grew larger and the flash of headlights passing across it became brighter and brighter.
The door at the top of the stairs was a sliding metal affair, it looked very secure, too bad it was wide open. There was blood on the walls and the instrument panels, there were bits of the bridge crew smeared around the floor. A bit of the captain here, a bit of the first mate there, a bit of something unrecognizable in the corner.
I walked into the room; I wasn’t hoping to find survivors, I was hoping to find the radio so I could call for help. I could hear hissing static nearby, the handset had been ripped out and the controls had been smashed.
There was a roar. Then a flash of pain as I was thrown forward. A sharp ache bloomed up the right side of my back, the kind of ache that always precedes an unhealthy amount of blood loss.
Terror and adrenaline kept me on my feet. I spun around swinging the fire extinguisher. Metal struck bone. Teeth clattered to the floor.
I brought the fire extinguisher back around again for another swing. Another ugly crunch of bone, my attacker- the creature- the werewolf went down.
And thank God for that because the torn skin and muscle of my back was screaming now.
No time to rest, I thought, Finish this. Could I really crush the thing’s skull? If it really was a werewolf shouldn’t I be looking for something made of silver? I stood over it, saw it thrashing half-heartedly.
Finish this! It was more than a thought now, it was a primal instinct. Grunting at the pain I raised the fire extinguisher above my head.
And that was when the MS Better Knot crashed into the Patroon Island Bridge.
You must know the rest, it was the news story of the year. The MS Better Knot striking the Patroon Island Bridge and capsizing. The five dead, including the captain and bridge crew, and two missing. The millions of dollars in structural damage done to one of the main routes from Albany to Rensselaer. The full-fledged boat rescue in the middle of the night that was made the more insane because Cousin Roy had decided to leave Gordon Lightfoot’s Summertime Dream playing at full volume before abandoning the DJ’s booth in favor of a life raft.
The wound on my back was a deep one, stitches couldn’t close it, they had to use surgical staples. I see an epic scar in my future. I also see a long wait at the DMV to get my driver’s license back since bouncer Adam was among the dead.
When I consider what happened that night I think about Tyke the elephant.
Stay with me on this, I’m going somewhere.
In 1994 during a performance of the Circus International in Honolulu, Hawaii Tyke went berserk, killed her trainer and ran wild through the streets. Twelve people were injured and eventually Tyke was brought down in a hail of gunfire.
I think about that poor creature, snatched away from anything remotely resembling a normal life and forced to perform for the amusement of others. I think I can understand why that elephant did what she did and I bet you can too.
Item: Among the injured was a dancer named Zora. Investigations revealed that she was a fifteen year old illegal immigrant that had been smuggled into the country from Armenia and forced to work as a dancer and a prostitute by Edward Fingle’s adult entertainment company.
Item: Further investigations revealed that several girls on the Fingle payroll were in the same situation as Zora.
Item: Goodtime Eddie Flith is in a lot of trouble and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
Item: Despite having a broken jaw, dislocated shoulder and shattered clavicle Zora disappeared from the hospital shortly after her identity was discovered and hasn’t been seen since. The authorities suspect Goodtime Eddie’s associates had something to do with it but I’m not so sure.
I don’t think I’ll ever know who, or what, the girl named Zora was but I think I can understand why she did what she did and I bet you can too.