Thursday, 1 August 2013

Werewolf of Bethnal Green

Tales of Odd
Mike Healey

The first story in my collection of twelve weird and wonderful stories is called:
The werewolf of Bethnal Green

It’s not at all easy to find a pet shop that sells werewolves, even in London’s Bethnal Green.

Chas had been walking for hours, trying every pet shop within a five-mile radius of his council flat. The dingy shop off Sidney Street, badly in need of a lick of paint, was his last chance.

‘Do you sell werewolves?’ he asked.
‘Maybe. Who’s asking?’
‘I am. How much?’
‘Pups is fifteen quid each but a fully-grown one will cost yer fifty.’
‘Show me.’

The shopkeeper - a tall, thin individual with the look of a cadaver - immediately disappeared through a curtain at the back of the counter. Chas followed.

It took a moment or two to adjust to the darkness but there, before him, in an iron cage at the far end of a room that smelled of dog shit stood the biggest werewolf Chas had ever seen. Mind you, he was no expert but this beast was lean, mean and with enormous red eyes. It turned to look at Chas, bared its fearsome teeth and growled while saliva dribbled obscenely from its yellow fangs.

‘Has it got a name?’ asked Chas.
‘I call him Spook cos he follows yer wiv his eyes in a very spooky way.’
‘Does it bite?’
‘You bet it does. Nearly took me bloody arm orf last week!’

The shopkeeper raised his left arm to reveal a very grubby bandage covering his hand and wrist.

‘Mind you, it’s only when he’s about to change that he gets nasty. Then you need to watch yer back. Other times, he’s as good as gold.’

‘I’ll take him,’ said Chas.
‘Giv us yer money and good luck. I think you might need it!’

Chas paid him his fifty quid in crisp pound notes and left the shop, with Spook in tow at the end of a long lead. At first the werewolf pulled in different directions and Chas had to give it one or two hard yanks - just to show it who was boss. After a while, however, it seemed to settle down and trotted along beside him like a well-trained poodle. It looked pleased to be out of that filthy cage and in the fresh air of Bethnal Green.

It was now quite late and all along the Mile End Road shopkeepers were pulling down metal shutters or bolting steel doors.
Being short and fat, Chas’s self-esteem was not particularly high at the best of times so it was with some surprise that he now noticed people staring at him. Or were they staring at Spook? Either way, it made a nice change from the hostility he normally encountered, especially from the numerous young thugs that lived hereabouts.

Perhaps now, with a real live werewolf at heel they might give him the respect he deserved.

Chas reached his block of flats, took the lift to the thirty-ninth floor and unlocked the door to his apartment. He immediately let Spook off its lead and watched him as he explored the flat, sniffing at the soiled clothes scattered all over the floor. Spook seemed happy enough with his new home. He even cocked his leg and peed all over the kitchen mat, as if to mark his territory. He then jumped up onto Chas’s unmade bed and before you could say ‘Transylvania’ was fast asleep and snoring loudly, as only werewolves can.

Chas was chuffed to bits with his new pet. Cats are ok but a real werewolf, well - that is something else! He lay down on the sofa, shoved a pair of socks into his ears and promptly fell asleep.

He woke early next morning to discover Spook trying to hump his teddy bear. This moth-eaten toy was a relic of happier, childhood times with his Aunt Edna who had brought him up - after his mum unexpectedly took off one night with a haberdasher from Stepney.

‘Stop it, yer daft bugger,’ said Chas, hurling a shoe at the great werewolf.

The shoe struck the animal on its left ear and for a moment Chas thought it might turn nasty but it didn’t. Instead, it gave him a filthy look and skulked off to the kitchen. Chas followed, feeling somewhat ashamed at having struck his new pet, and poured it a large bowl of milk which it lapped contentedly.

Later that morning he took Spook for a walk in Bethnal Green Gardens.

It was a beautiful spring morning and the trees in the park were starting to sprout leaves. There were quite a few people already out and about, mostly on their way to work but there were also a few loiterers - pimps, perverts, drug addicts, pickpockets etc. - all of whom stared in disbelief at the size of Chas’s new pet.

As soon as he smelled grass, Spook took an enormous dump - much to Chas’s embarrassment.

Now, it’s not generally known that werewolf shit is not doglike but consists of large, black pellets - rather like enormous rabbit droppings. True, they smell far worse but at least you can scoop them up easily. This Chas promptly did, using the Tesco bag he had brought for that purpose.

Chas may have been a dysfunctional, unemployed layabout but he always did his bit for the environment.

Having dropped his Tesco bag into the nearest bin, werewolf and master resumed their morning stroll in the park.

Everything was fine until Chas let Spook off its lead. Big mistake! The great animal immediately took off at astonishing speed, heading straight towards some woman exercising her dachshund. For a moment Chas thought it might attack the old lady but instead it grabbed her dog in its enormous jaws and tossed it high into the air, catching the terrified animal in its mouth as it fell back down to earth

‘Spook, stop it!’ yelled Chas.

The werewolf at once dropped the dachshund and came to heel, much to Chas’s astonishment. Fortunately, the dog was still alive but the old lady had fainted. Chas put Spook back on its lead and left the park as quickly as he could - before the police turned up.

It was now about eleven-thirty so they slipped into The Kings Arms for a swift pint or two - and to avoid the coppers, should they come looking for a short, fat bloke with a dog the size of a tank.

Once this had been Kray territory.

The Kray twins had terrorized this part of the East End for years yet today their old haunts were almost genteel. Bethnal Green was now the preferred location for well-educated, first home buyers or thrusting young entrepreneurs looking for a quick return on their investments. With the London Olympics looming, Whitechapel Road et environs was almost fashionable and many of the old bars, pool halls, clubs and cafes that psychopathic Ron and his evil little brother had ‘protected’ were now posh wine bars, Vietnamese restaurants, Chinese nail parlours or trendy clothes shops.

Fortunately, such improvements had bypassed The Kings Arms for it was still the dingy old Victorian pub it had always been

Chas ordered a pint of Fosters and a large bowl of Guinness for Spook and sat in his favourite corner opposite the telly.

Chas preferred to keep his own company - and now that of Spook, his new friend and ally. Mind you, it was unlikely that any of the regulars would choose to speak to him, not with a bloody great werewolf staring at you with its bloodshot eyes and lethal jaws unfurled. Spook was evidently a sloppy drinker and extremely mistrustful in company so that between each gulp of Guinness it would raise its snout and stare belligerently at those nearest to it - as if challenging them to try and pinch its bowl. None did, not surprisingly - thereby leaving Chas to enjoy his beer unmolested.

Two hours later and several pints the worse for wear, werewolf and master staggered out onto Doveton Street and headed home.

It was on the journey back to Chas’s block of flats that he began to wonder about Spook.

Normally, a werewolf exists in human form - until transformed, at the time of a full moon, into the monstrous lupine shape for which they are traditionally famous. But Spook was different. He already was in werewolf form. So what happened when he changed to his human form? The shopkeeper had said absolutely nothing about that, other than that Spook could turn nasty at such times. Besides, he rather liked Spook in his present, terrifying form. Having a werewolf as a pet gave him both street credibility and a measure of protection he had never enjoyed before. Could Spook’s human form do as much, he wondered.

The answer to these important questions came a few nights later as a moon as large as a double-decker bus rose over the roof-tops of Bethnal Green.

Spook had been behaving very oddly for the last day or so. On Tuesday, for example, he stopped dead in his tracks, keeled over as if pole-axed and lay with his legs in the air, twitching convulsively. This was not the first time this had happened recently and Chas had found that the only way to stop these convulsions was to kick him in the ribs. Spook would then stop, slowly stagger to his feet like a drunk, steady himself then walk on - as if nothing had happened. Very odd!

At night though it was far worse.

It was now Wednesday and the moon, although not yet full, shone over Bethnal Green like a great paper lantern.

That night Spook stood at the window staring out across the moonlit city, howling like the demented creature that it was. Eventually it clambered up onto the bed, lay down, scratched itself, licked its enormous genitals and promptly fell asleep. This was soon followed by loud snores and the most violent twitching - as if it were experiencing a terrifying, werewolf-like dream. It then rolled off the bed, landed in a crumpled heap on the floor, raised itself onto his front paws and staggered round the room, dragging its hind legs behind it. This bizarre movement was accompanied by the most heartbreaking howls Chas had ever heard - so much so that he hid under the bed with his fingers stuck in his ears until the noise stopped and Spook, utterly shattered, curled up in a corner and slept the Sleep of the Damned.

Thursday now and the moon rose in a cloudless sky, its baleful light illuminating the great city spread beneath it like a threadbare carpet.

Chas was now prepared for the worse. He had seen the signs and knew that he was in for a rough night. He therefore armed himself with a baseball bat and crept under the covers next to Spook, half expecting to be eaten alive by morning. Spook, however, seemed calmer than of late and was soon fast asleep. Chas, his heat thumping, lay close to his great pet, breathing in the rank odour of its mangy fur. Soon he too fell asleep - a sleep though of troubled dreams and restlessness; dreams in which the great werewolf transformed itself into a creature of Hulk-like proportions - green, mean and utterly violent.

What actually happened was that in the morning Chas woke up in the arms of a very camp accountant from Peckham.

‘Bloody hell!’ said Chas as he leapt out of bed. ‘Who the fuck are you?’
‘I’m Nigel. Please to meet you, I’m sure.’

Nigel, stark naked under the covers, extended a podgy arm as if expecting Chas to kiss his fingers. Chas recoiled with all the repugnance of a true homophobic.
‘Where’s Spook? What have you done with him, your poof?’
‘Charming, I’m sure. I am Spook, you twat. I’ve changed into Nigel the accountant  
 from Peckham. Clever, eh?’
‘It ‘aint clever’, said Chas, ‘it’s diabolical! 

Chas grabbed his clothes and ran for safety into the bathroom. He emerged twenty minutes later, drawn by the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. There, dressed only in a plastic piny, stood Nigel, preparing breakfast.

‘Thought you might like something nice to start the day,’ said Nigel, placing the biggest fry-up Chas had ever seen on the table in front of him.

‘Ta very much,’ said Chas, tucking in. So much for homophobia!

Later that morning Nigel borrowed some clothes and went to retrieve his suitcase from the left-luggage office at St. Pancras railway station. He returned, dressed in tight fawn slacks and a yellow, cashmere pullover. Chas was horrified but said nothing. Besides, it was nearly dinner time.

‘Ow come you wos in that cage when I bought yer?’ asked Chas as he tucked into a delicious, homemade steak-and-kidney pudding with real mashed potatoes and mushy peas.

‘Funny you should ask that,’ said Nigel. ‘Seymour, the bitch, dumped me. I thought he loved me but clearly not.’

At this point tears welled up into Nigel’s eyes. He took from his pocket a large silk handkerchief and blew into it noisily.

‘Why did he dump you?’
‘Couldn’t cope with my mood swings.’
‘Mood swings?’

‘Well, you know what I mean - changing each month from Nigel to werewolf. Last month, the moment I assumed my werewolf form, he tricked me into visiting some horrid pet shop. Then, between the two of them, they shoved me into that filthy cage. That’s when I bit the shopkeeper. I hope he dies of rabies, the evil little tart.’

‘Blimey’ said Chas. ‘Some friends! So wot do you do - when you aint a werewolf?’
‘I’m a financial adviser to the rich and famous’, said Nigel. ‘You know - rock stars, thrusting young entrepreneurs, local drag queens, hairdressers.’
‘Does it pay well?’ asked Chas, his ears pricking up.

‘Very!’ said Nigel.

Over the next few weeks Chas’s normally humdrum life changed dramatically. It began in the flat. For the first few days Nigel worked tirelessly - washing, ironing, scrubbing and polishing until the place shone. He even bought new sheets and pillowcases. Mind you, peach was not exactly Chas’s favourite colour but they were very soft and smelled nice. Nigel also transformed the kitchen, from life-threatening tip to something The Naked Chef would have approved of.

These changes also continued outside the flat. For example, they started to frequent trendy wine bars rather than the dodgy pubs the ‘old’ Chas had preferred. They dined in smart restaurants and Nigel even showed Chas how to hold his knife and fork and select the best wines. Under Nigel’s tutelage, Chas began to read books and take The Guardian. They even gave dinner parties at the flat. At first Chas was rather shy of Nigel’s colourful friends but they all seemed very nice and treated him very affectionately - even if they did call him ‘Nigel’s bit of rough’ behind his back.

And so, as the weeks passed, Chas changed - from unemployed, dysfunctional thug to a smart young man, well dressed and popular amongst his (new) peers. His sex life improved too, although discretion does not permit a more detailed account here. Needless to say, it was all very different from what he was used to but ‘when in Rome, why look a gift horse in the mouth, eh?’

Sadly, all good things must come to an end and one night, four weeks later - as a bright, orange moon rose over the rooftops of Bethnal Green - Nigel’s pink, podgy face suddenly split asunder, revealing the horrendously hairy snout of a great, red eyed werewolf.

‘Thank gawd for that,’ said Chas as he cuddled up to his adorable, much-missed hirsute pet with its fearsome breath and slobbery jowls.

© Copyright - Mike Healey 2013

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