Cindy stretched, smacked her lips, and burped. She rubbed her eyes, then her stomach, and burped again. Scratching her head, still groggy from sleep, she yawned as she slowly opened her eyes and pushed herself upright. A thankful sigh escaped her chapped lips. She was in her bed, and Murphy, her dog, was snoring on his. His paws were muddy, and seeds covered his snout, but they were home.
Tossing the covers aside, she inspected her own condition. Burrs and tiny, sticky, pokey seed heads covered her pajama pants and the hems were damp, likely from condensation. If she had found water, a pond or stream, they’d be sopping. More annoying, however, they were shredded and revealed numerous abrasions and lacerations. She sighed resignedly; it was to be expected. She’d pick up another pair at the second-hand shop on her way to work.
Her pajama top had a few seed pods stuck to it and a new tear, but was relatively unscathed. At least she could salvage something. She had stopped wearing matching pajama sets years ago, instead purchasing mismatched pieces, old sweatpants, and t-shirts, at secondhand shops or bargain stores. Her family used to gift her cute sets, but she always felt guilty when they got ruined and had politely asked them to stop. It had been a vexing conversation. Cindy understood their motives and the goodwill behind each gift, but they hadn’t grasped the guilt and anxiety she experienced each time their gifts were shredded.
Her feet were bare, but relatively unscathed, only a few scrapes on the tops. She had spent years toughening them, only wearing shoes when necessary. Constantly being barefoot made her self-conscious, but wearing shoes or slippers to bed had proven disastrous; she either lost or damaged them, or worse, they got in the way and made her clumsy, causing more serious injuries.
She stood and attempted to comb her fingers through her hair. As she suspected, it was a tangled mess of burrs and seeds matching those on her pajamas. She had tried sleeping caps, but they got lost, torn, or somehow, snarled so intricately into her hair, she had to lob inches off. She had tried a short hairstyle as well, but that left her scalp vulnerable. As aggravating as it was to detangle, a loose ponytail or braid and some detangling crème proved her best option.
She rubbed her belly again as she stumbled into the bathroom. Sleepwalking always gave her indigestion. The doctors blamed the stress and subconscious anxiety of knowing she was a sleepwalker and might wander from her home. She believed there was more to her gastric upheaval than nerves. Her post-sleepwalking burps were always ferrous, bilious, unusually heavy, and staved off her appetite, sometimes for days.
Murphy would need a bath later, too. She scratched his head on the way to the bathroom. It was a comfort knowing he followed her on her excursions. Every dog they’d had, and some of the neighbors’, accompanied her on her excursions. Once, she woke alone in an empty doghouse with half a dozen dogs surrounding the structure in a protective circle, noses outward, rumps toward the doghouse. They wriggled and wagged their tails when she emerged, then led her home as a protective, happy, yipping pack.
She had also woken under the high school bleachers, in an abandoned car, on a carousel at the park, twice on a rock at the creek, in a canoe in dry dock (thankfully), three different treehouses, in more trees than she could recall, and most often, under shrubbery. Usually there was a dog snoozing in the vicinity, or if something woke her mid-walk, by her side, sniffing the invisible path she had been following.
While it had been quite a few years since she woke outdoors, or mid journey, it was still a relief to wake up gazing at the ceiling and walls of her bedroom. But that left the entirety of her venture a mystery; when she woke, she had no recollection of where she had been. At least when she woke up mid-walk or outdoors, she had reference points, convoluted and uninformative as they were. She was eleven the first time she woke outside of her home.
Mr. Gooding had heard what he thought was the obese racoon that had been terrorizing the neighborhood climbing his downspout. Hoping to solve the local rodent problem, he grabbed his BB gun and rushed outside in his boxers. Shocked to find Cindy waltzing on his roof in her nightgown and their dog chasing his tail on the lawn, he let fly a lengthy string of obscenities and nonsense. The sudden screeching startled Cindy awake, and she nearly toppled and fell from the roof as she re-oriented herself and stared at her neighbor flailing his arms and waving a gun.
Mr. Gooding stopped screaming and regained his composure, unloading the gun and calmly telling Cindy to sit where she was until he could find a ladder. Mrs. Gooding, hearing the commotion, joined her husband on the lawn, muttering and stuttering as she assessed the situation. She tightened her robe and rushed inside to call Cindy’s parents while Mr. Gooding retrieved a ladder from the garage and coaxed Cindy from the roof. The Gooding’s teenage son, Jimmy, slept through the entire ordeal.
The rest of the memory was a blur to Cindy. She was safely returned to her bed, and the neighbors were told of her predilection for sleepwalking, with instructions not to wake her, and to call her parents immediately if they spotted her wandering in her pajamas at night. A few days later, Jimmy and his friends found the racoon under a tree, dead. It had been mauled by a dog; everyone assumed the Miller’s German Shepherd had taken its revenge on the furry bandit.
That episode was the first Cindy recollected waking outdoors, but not the first time she sleepwalked. That happened before she could awake-walk. Her parents, much to Cindy’s chagrin, told the tale of their sleepwalking toddler every chance they could. They told it so frequently, Cindy sometimes felt the story as memory, wondering how much was suggested by the oft-repeated tale, and how much was genuine memory. She admitted it could be a cute story—if it had been a one-off occurrence and had happened to someone else.
They had put her to bed, and she had gone down without fussing. She had been a good baby, in that regard, quickly adapting a reliable sleeping schedule. That night, as her parents had been watching the news, they heard an odd noise in the hallway. Not quite a thump, it sounded like a clumsy burglar attempting to tip-toe in a creaky old house. The cat darted under the sofa with a hiss and hair on end, while the dog whimpered and crawled, belly to the floor and tail wagging, towards the darkened hall.
Spooked, Cindy’s father had grabbed a lamp while her mother stealthily slid her knitting needles from her knitting bag and wielded them like knives. Together, the trio crept towards the hall. Her mother flipped the light switch as they rounded the corner, where they found little Cindy, glassy eyed, sucking her thumb, growling and gurgling baby gibberish as she tottered in a tiny figure eight, repeatedly bumping against a wall, turning and walking diagonally in the other direction, only to bump into that wall, and start the cycle over.
Flabbergasted, and excited to see her on her feet, they stared at her and dropped their improvised weapons. Their excitement faded as they realized she was asleep and questioned waking her. Together, they devised a way, using a heavy blanket held between them while the dog circled little Cindy, to herd her back to her room. Once there, they continued circling her with the blanket until she wore herself out and curled into a ball on the floor before her crib.
The next morning, they had the camera ready to capture her first awake steps, but she refused to walk. She crawled expertly and would pull herself up, but any attempt to walk resulted in her plopping back on her diaper padded bum with a baby squeal and giggle.
Unable to determine how she had escaped the crib the night before, they took turns watching her as she slept. Late in the night, her father witnessed her climbing out of her crib like an experienced mountaineer. She wandered around the house, growling and babbling gibberish, just as she had the previous night. Eventually, she curled into a ball on the dog bed and fell asleep. The cat, once again, remained under the sofa, hissing, until they placed Cindy back in her crib.
It was a few weeks before she could successfully awake-walk, and by then her parents were so weary of her occasional evening adventures, they neglected to photograph the milestone. While she didn’t sleepwalk nightly, herding and protecting her from danger as she wandered through the house became an oft repeated activity. They discovered, after a few incidents of something startling her, waking a sleepwalking toddler resulted in hours of bawling and a very cantankerous child the next day. So they let her sleep.
Cindy’s sleepwalking continued into her childhood. They learned it was hereditary when her baby brother was born and Grandma moved in to help; her parents weren’t sure how to cope with a sleepwalking youngster and newborn. When Grandma witnessed Cindy’s sleepwalking firsthand, she suggested tying Cindy to her bed. When her parents stopped laughing and realized she was serious, Grandma explained she had been a sleepwalker, too. She once woke peering into their well. That episode had frightened Grandma’s mother so terribly, her parents tied Grandma to her bed at night—one end to the bedpost, one end around her waist. Grandma could untie the rope when awake, but not asleep. She never walked to the well again and eventually stopped sleepwalking altogether.
Cindy’s parents didn’t tie her to her bed, but learning it was hereditary lifted a weight from all of them, including Cindy, who cooperated with all efforts to curb her nighttime excursions. It also gave everyone hope; she could very well outgrow it.
But she didn’t. And so they looked for other solutions. She took part in sleep studies, tried various medications, and went to therapy. None of the studies or medicines were helpful. They never found a reason for her affliction, and often, much to her and her parents’ embarrassment, Cindy slept peacefully during the studies. Her REM cycles were normal, her brain scans revealed nothing, she didn’t have sleep apnea or any sort of brain injury. Medications had no effect. Her sleep habits were routine, bed comfortable, and her diet strictly monitored for foods or additives that might affect her adversely.
Fearing something psychological, imagined, or attention seeking, she underwent grueling psychological test and social workers put her parents through arduous interrogations to verify abuse or neglect wasn’t the cause of her strange bruises, injuries, and nocturnal unrest. Her parents hired a night nurse for a few months, as an outside, non-partial witness. Fortunately, her reports were enough to dispel any suggestions of wrongdoing, false, or imagined actions.
Despite all the measures taken, resources used, and tests run, a cause was never discovered. And so Cindy and her family adapted.
They tried locks and baby gates, which she somehow unlocked, opened, or scaled while asleep.
They tried mummy style sleeping bags, which she found her way out of.
They tried an alarm system, unsubscribing to the service within months. When triggered, it automatically called EMTs and local police. Every time. Even if her parents or Grandma intercepted the call quickly, the hassle and paperwork involved left everyone frazzled.
They tried rearranging furniture to make it less convenient, more maze like, but to her parents’ amazement, and her little brother’s delight, she simply climbed over the obstacles.
Eventually, they conceded the best protector, nanny, partner, and guardian was their family dog. Dogs followed Cindy everywhere, regardless of time of day or her wakefulness. As long as they had a dog, it accompanied Cindy on her nocturnal strolls, and neither Cindy nor her brother objected to having a family pet.
Sleepwalking affected her waking hours, too. She hadn’t had many friends in high school or college. Most of the neighborhood kids had been kind to her, witnessing her struggle firsthand, when they cautiously assisted adults shepherding her home during her more agitated episodes. But they kept her at a distance, never befriending her. She never went to overnight parties, never stayed out past curfew, or did any of the many things normal teenagers do—slip into late night R-rated movies, steal beer from their parents’ fridge, or sneak out of the house when her parents were asleep. Well, she didn’t do it intentionally, while awake. And she rarely dated, unsure of how to broach the subject of her nocturnal trekking, and fear of being away from home after dark, with a romantic interest.
Anchoring her to her home, her sleepwalking hindered her wanderlust as well. She chose a college near home so she could commute instead of living in a dorm. She rarely went on trips with her family, instead watching travel shows and dreaming of a time when she could travel without fear of sleepwalking in an unfamiliar location. What if she got lost in another state? In a national park with acres and acres of wilderness? In a foreign land without her passport?
When the couple next door was considering moving into a retirement home, Cindy offered to purchase their home. It would allow her, a grown woman with a stable job, to live on her own while still being near her parents, those who understood her predicament, and remaining in a familiar area. The neighbors happily agreed, and they completed the sale within the week. Relief flooded Cindy as she signed the paperwork. She knew she couldn’t live with her parents forever, but until this option had presented itself, she wasn’t sure what other options she had.
Cindy chewed a few antacids, brushed her teeth, and plucked a few stray twigs from her hair. Her mouth was always extra sour the morning after a sleepwalking episode. She spit and stabilized herself against the counter as she gaped at her own reflection. The deep bags under her eyes would never disappear, and the thought saddened her. Vanity aside, they just made her look haggard. She sighed, wondering how far she had wandered this time.
The distance she traversed while unconscious increased as her age had. As an adult, she had occasionally found herself miles from home after sleepwalking and she dreaded finding her way home when she looked like a horror movie extra. She had tried sleeping with her cell phone in a pocket, but lost one phone and damaged another beyond repair. Then she tried a smart watch. It, too, was damaged beyond repair. Deciding technology was too expensive an option, she took to sleeping in sports bras, stuffing a few bucks in it, and wearing a silicone ID bracelet. She had lost a few of the bracelets, but at least they weren’t terribly expensive.
Cindy stripped and stepped into the shower. The water stung as it washed away the congealed blood covering a multitude of gashes and abrasions. She tilted her head back and let the water soak her hair, then watched the pink water swirl around the drain for a moment before reaching for the soap and lathering, aware of the renewed stinging awaiting her as she cleaned her wounds.
She reached for the soft-bristled nail brush she kept in the shower to remove any grit that lodged in her skin. Cindy hated this part. It made her cry every time, not because of the pain, but because her skin would never be smooth. Embarrassed by the scars that crisscrossed her body, and lacking a good explanation for them, she always wore pantsuits or opaque tights and long-sleeved tops or dresses.
Done cleansing her wounds, she scrubbed her finger and toenails clean. Wondering how she got so much grime under them, and mourning her lonely life, an image flashed in her mind.
There was a feast. Lots of dogs. Howling. And the moon.
Last night’s moon had been exceptionally bright, and large. She’d have to check, might have been a super moon. She pondered the moon’s importance as she turned off the water and toweled dry, carefully patting the gashes and frowning as blood stained her towel and trickled from a few of the larger cuts. Bandaging her legs afterwards was an art-form she had mastered. She rummaged through her collection of multi-sized, shaped, and specialized adhesive bandages, gauze pads, and tape, and expertly staunched and covered her clean wounds.
She blinked at her reflection in the mirror and stared at her own eyes staring back at her. Sleepwalkers’ often walk with their eyes open. Cindy wasn’t the exception, that’s what made it so eerie. They couldn’t see anything, though; at least what they saw didn’t register in their brain as a memory. Or did it? Cindy could often recall vague images after an episode. But the images were dreamlike, like when she slept normally, she didn’t sleepwalk nightly. It often happened a few nights in a row, usually three, five at the most, but then it wouldn’t occur for a couple of weeks, and she’d sleep peacefully in her bed the other nights.
Super moon. She couldn’t stop thinking about the moon.
She made herself a cup of peppermint tea to settle her stomach and stared at the calendar on the wall. She blanched.
It couldn’t be.
She placed her mug on the counter and removed the calendar from its nail. She flipped through the past few months in disbelief.
She had started tracking her sleepwalking many years ago. She preferred conventional calendars for her notes; journals and planners didn’t allow her to find patterns the way a conventional calendar did, laying bare the patterns and coincidences in a neat and tidy grid. As a teen, she had started tracking her periods, thinking maybe there was a hormonal connection. As she had suspected, since she began sleepwalking at such a young age, she found no correlation. But the possibility had given her hope, briefly. Now she included unusual foods, stress factors, changes in routine, bedtime and what time she woke. After sleepwalking, she added her condition in the morning and any guesses where she had been. She had yet to find a pattern.
This was a new calendar. She found it on a clearance shelf when picking up pajamas at the bargain store and had bought it because the spaces were large enough to record everything easily instead of cramming it into a tiny box and abbreviating. This calendar included just about every holiday, Julien Calendar dates, and moon phases.
How had she never noticed? She only sleepwalked during full moons.
An onslaught of disturbing images flashed through her mind, causing her gut to seize and clench. She slumped to the floor, retching. The identifiable contents of her stomach, bones, gristle, chunks of animal flesh, oozed across the tile floor in a gelatinous slime of bile and foul smells, confirming the vague memories and dreamlike images of the previous night’s sojourn. She wailed, heavy tears mixing with vomit, as the realization sank in.
Cindy was a werewolf.