Taking advantage of dreary weather, I decided to write some quick, dark short stories. Winter and werewolves go together like shrimp and cocktail, so I mixed up a dose of the latter, added a special ingredient, and launched into a tale of the former. (Look for it right here in April or May.)
When I was in larvae form, about ten and living the good life in the Ozarks wilderness, I used to snuggle in my pink jammies beneath my blankets in my upstairs bedroom and read lurid tales of monsters and aliens by a flashlight’s dim glow. My boon companion was a transistor radio, the volume turned low, playing the dulcet strains of the only rock and roll station broadcasting at the ungodly hour of 10 p.m.–WLS Chicago.
Ah, the delicious terror of flipping worn pages and humming along with Jim Morrison as murder haunts the villages and countryside of Transylvania. Oh, the piquant flavor of dread as I near the chilling conclusion, already knowing the truth. On the final page, the villain is revealed, as I suspected from page one since I have read this book at least twenty times, to be a werewolf. The evildoer’s image remains burned on the inside of my eyelids.
The werewolf’s fangs drip with blood and werewolf spit. His red eyes, narrowed and brimming over with malice, gleam by the light of the villagers’ torches. He stalks through the streets on two legs. His wolfy ears lay tight against his head. His wolfy black hackles fuzz in an ominous display as his wolfy front paws claw for the next helpless victim who is, coincidentally, a girl in pink jammies screaming from an upstairs window.
Only the special ingredient in my shrimp cocktail, keeps me writing, even now.
What better way to spend a cold, winter evening than reawakening primal terror? I crack my knuckles, take another sip from my trusty goblet, and type.
We all know the traditional werewolf tales of a cursed ring or amulet, the full moon, and the silver bullet. And being a bit lazy, I was heading down the same path in my story. My main character, it turns out, is part Navajo. To add a dash of uniqueness, I decided to see if Navajo legend contains a version of werewolves.
Sitting in my upstairs office, sipping what has now become straight gin, scanning the tree line below for wolflike silhouettes, I learned the Navajo fear something much worse than werewolves. The Navajo skinwalker is a shapeshifter of an entirely different color.
According to Navaho belief, to talk of skinwalkers is to invite their notice. (Insert gulping noise to indicate both fear and the need for another drink.)
This seems like a good place to say: I write about legends of many cultures not to make light of these things but to share and cultivate appreciation. Culture was once spread by oral tradition where legends passed from one generation to the next by stories told around the fire. Blogs are the latest incarnation of storytelling. Basically, this is my disclaimer to any skinwalkers who may read my blog (a small demographic, but an important one) that I am a true believer and share knowledge respectfully and please don’t come to my house and cut my face off.
So what are skinwalkers?
They are witches—medicine men who turn to the dark side. It’ is important to note that not all witches are skinwalkers. All skinwalkers, however, are witches. They wear the skins of animals to gather that animal’s power, actually taking the animal’s form to accomplish whatever goal the skinwalker has in mind. While European werewolves are usually hapless victims of a curse and do not accept the transformation from human to animal willingly, skinwalkers become shapeshifters on purpose and retain their human cognitive powers throughout and after their shapeshifting adventures. Werewolves, on the other hand, seldom remember what havoc they wreaked in wolf form.
Skinwalkers can assume any form they choose and they don’t’ have to wait for a full moon to do it. Motivated by revenge or jealousy, a skinwalker may have a specific target, but that doesn’t stop them from random butchery.
Oh, and did I mention that to complete the indoctrination and become a skinwalker, you must murder a family member, usually a sibling.
Yeah. There’s that.
Traditionally, skinwalkers pursue only other Native Americans. I have a smidgeon of Native America DNA swimming amongst the plaid Scottish corpuscles, but I don’t know at what percentage skinwalkers consider a person to be enough Native American to be worthy of notice. I assume it is the same percent of Native American blood it takes to get a share of casino profits. That seems only fair.
If a skinwalker notices you, you have three options. You can:
(A) Die—possibly the easiest option—saves all that running around and screaming.
(B) Enlist the services of a medicine man or holy person to bless you and free you from the curse.
(C) Discover the identity of the skinwalker and say the name out loud three times in the presence of the skinwalker. According to the legend, the skinwalker will become ill or die soon after this public proclamation.
The universe is filled with mysteries. Who knows the truth?
As always, comments are welcome. Post your stories of werewolves and skinwalkers below. Or tell me where I got it completely wrong.
Next Week: Shadow People