It was boredom that decided me, eventually, to attempt the experiment; boredom, and not intellectual fervor – for I have always been, sad to say, deficient in that regard – nor yet devilry, as some have imputed. No, simply boredom, the desperate boredom of an idle, ill-spent life, and a head overfull with occult nonsense and theosophical discourses, that set the course of my life, and propelled me to that dark and damned experiment.
I was at that time a collector of spells. Not the spells that one normally encounters under that heading – not the blatantly fraudulent creations of the popular shyster, designed to ape more ancient beliefs – but actual, historical spells. I have published several pamphlets anonymously under the name Maro detailing my researches; I flatter myself that they are well-regarded by such as are interested in that esoteric field. Such vanities being the only expected or desired remuneration for their publication – I remember Simon Magus, and do otherwise.
In the course of my indolent researches, I came across a curious Roman fragment concerning the transformation of man into wolf, marvelously lucid and explicit in its directions, tucked away in an obscure late Latin volume by Theodorus Festinius Quiriac. On a whim – nothing more! – I decided to essay the cantrip: thus, midnight found me, shivering slightly, standing over my clothes in the middle of the municipal cemetery. With voice thickened by the hour, I intoned the strange Etruscan words recommended by Festinius and urinated in a circle about my discarded habiliments. With palpitant heart and nervous brain I awaited the consummation of my ill-struck fancy.
I must have dozed, then, lulled by the late hour and the length of my fond vigil, for when I woke the stars had swung through half their arc and the moon was retiring behind the trees, and my clothes were wet with dew. Cursing myself, I dressed, and made my way home, where I collapsed into a sleep that lasted days, waking weak as any kitten. After gathering what refreshment I could from a lengthy shower and several cups of strong coffee, I turned to the daily papers that had collected in my absence. Imagine my horror, then, to discover in banner font on the front page this headline, which appeared the day after my abortive magery:
POLICE SEEK NUDE ASSAILANT
The following story detailed a series of brutal attacks on several young women in the area surrounding the graveyard. One victim, Rachel Ortiz, had been most viciously abused and was receiving intensive care at the hospital. In a fever I tore through the remaining papers, growing ever more devastated with each headline.
VICTIM OF ASSAULT DIES
PUBLIC OUTCRY AGAINST MURDERER
TWO MORE DEAD IN NUDE ASSAULT CASE
DISTRICT ATTORNEY TO SEEK DEATH PENALTY
The papers slipped from my fingers and I collapsed on the floor in a swoon. How long I might have remained in this wise, overwhelmed by unutterable remorse, I cannot say; but, it must not have been above a very few minutes, for I was roused by a heavy pounding at the door. With slow and leaden tread I crossed the short distance to that portal; never had my apartment been so dear to me as then, life never so sweet! But, whatever my many sins, I was determined that cowardice should not be adduced against me, and so I squared my shoulders and stepped out to face my legitimate ending.
Instead of the imposing figures of the expected constabulary, however, my landing held only the frail curlicue of my landlady. “Have you heard the news?” that worthy asked. “They’ve got the beast that did so wrong by those ladies! Caught him right in the act, too, down by Comment Gardens, tearing at the clothes of the poor businesswomen, and him howling and frothing at the mouth like a wild animal. He’s escaped from some sanitarium or other, or so I hear.”
I don’t know what I said to her, what excuses I made, whether I was polite or whether I simply closed the door in her face, but once alone again I sank to the floor, relieved, and, in a certain sense, cheated. My hands were unstained with blood, it is true, but I was not free from guilt: though I had done no more than fall asleep unwisely in a morbid atmosphere, I had looked into myself and discovered an infinite capacity for blood. I was a man no longer; I was the wolf.