Updated: Oct 27
The howling Warren Zevon ringtone shattered my sleep. Forgetting to turn it off was a rare lapse. Ever since the bite during a drunken backpacking trip in Eastern Europe, my full moon routine ran smoothly.
If it’s spam, I’m going to kill something… again.
I tapped the icon and grimaced at the bloody thumbprint. There was only one person who would call this early.
“Were you asleep? I figured biologists would be up when the birds are busy. Squirrels too, according to your father.”
I needed coffee. The taste in my mouth could sink an aircraft carrier.
I ignored the bait. “How’s Dad?”
“Banging away in his workshop. Luke, it’s almost Christmas, and he’s not getting any younger. Would you rather come home for a holiday or a funeral?”
She was good. She was also right. I may be immortal, but my family isn’t. Feeling suddenly maudlin, I spoke before I could change my mind. “I’ll be there. You can make spaghetti and everything else I liked when I was ten.”
After a gap long enough for me to find my thermos, she said, “Really?”
I drank deep, relishing the hot bitterness. “Yes, Mom, really. Love you.”
* * *
My hometown is a Norman Rockwell postcard tucked into a pine-covered valley. The timing was dicey according to my full moon chart. Christmas Eve. I fingered the amulet and hoped it would be enough. The Romani witch couldn’t cure me but her magic maintained my sanity.
Blinking lights illuminated the life-size sled. Plywood elves waved with hinged appendages. This must be Dad’s project. Suddenly, I was glad I’d never have to retire.
Mom nearly took me off my feet. She’s like an undersized linebacker who knows just where to hit. All I could do was hug her back and savor the vanilla and cinnamon scent I always associate with home.
* * *
I begged off the whirlwind of cookie-bearing neighbors cooing over the return of the prodigal son. I had an hour before the third level of week-before-Christmas dinners. Tonight would be close-but-not-that-close neighbors, including the pastor.
I thumbed through my senior yearbook. In my football uniform and cardboard crown, I paled next to the visage that glittered even in black and white: Alison Kincaid. Being her Homecoming King had rated me one date that I’d turned into a lot of fantasies.
With a laugh, I tucked my memories back on the shelf and showered. I get musty when the moon is close and dinner looked like a marathon.
* * *
The buffet was a carnivore’s dream, right down to the lard-baked pie crusts. A vegan would have starved to death. I wandered out to the patio, only to discover I wasn’t alone.
“Luke, I’ve wanted to say hello, but your mouth was always full.”