An essay by Old Mother Shudders, as provided by Tom McGee
Art by Leigh Legler
There was a time when everyone knew to come to me for advice … but then my hair began to grey, my back began to stoop, my hands, once so strong, so capable, became frail and wrinkled. I began to shake, to tremble as my joints seized up one-by-one. Needed my ancient cane to prop myself up.
In a word, I got old.
“Old Mother Shudders” they began to call me. The kids at first, then the adults … then even I accepted it. If you live as long as I have, you carry many names: daughter, mother, wife … you come to realize that perhaps names don’t mean as much as we think.
What does matter is what we do.
I tell you all this, because I want you to understand what happened the night the women and children stayed home.
The night the lycanthropes returned.
The evening was bitterly cold, the kind of cold that gets deep into your bones no matter how much you bundle up, no matter how close you sit to the fire. There was an air of panic and agitation in our village. For years the mayor and the “elders” (a pack of ninnies several years my junior and very self-important) were convinced that the lycanthropes were gone for good. The last werewolf we’d seen had been in my youth, long enough ago that the hunters and village councilmen could pretend we were safe.
You live long enough, you come to realize we’re never really safe.
You learn to be ready.
When the first little girl went missing, the village councilmen were happy to concoct all manner of excuses and justifications, anything to avoid facing the truth: the monsters had returned.
Little girls don’t just go missing without reason on the night of the full moon around these parts.
Of course, when I told them that, they all ignored me.
“Crazy Old Mother Shudders,” they laughed, “Wants to live in the superstitious past. We’re modern people. All that unpleasantness is behind us.”
It took four more deaths before the word “lycanthrope” was even mentioned by anyone other than me.
We could hear them, stalking the woods. Howling. Waiting for the coming of the Long Night when the full moon would hang in the sky for hours and hours. It only happens once every seventy years … how could there be any doubt that the lycanthropes were just biding their time?
But now, of course, it was too late: they had claimed too many of our number, turned them. The remaining able-bodied men decided they had to take the fight to the monsters, before the Long Night began.
I offered advice on hunting the beasts as given to me by my grandmother, passed down from generation to generation, but of course they didn’t have time for me.
“Not now, Old Mother Shudders! The time for fables and fairy tales is over. Now is a time for steel and fire!” They declared, arming themselves and setting out to end the threat “once and for all.”
“The women and children stay home,” the lead huntsman declared and then they were gone, off into the woods.
The Long Night began early that year.
But where the men of the village had not the time nor care for the stories of an old woman, the women and the children listened. And listened well.
And so when the lycanthropes came for us, we were ready.
“Like this, Mother Shudders?” The little girl with flaxen hair handled the herb carefully, wearing gloves and placing it into the small stone basin. I nodded to her mother, who began grinding the herb with the pestle, into a fine powder–fine enough to be inhaled. We should have enough wolfsbane powder to defeat the creatures, but a little more can’t hurt.
“Just be ready to throw when you can smell the rot of their breath,” I told them. “It’s vital you wait until they are that close before you throw.”
The little girl nodded very solemnly. She would do well tonight.
We could hear them, in the woods, getting closer. The wolves had seen the hated fire leave held aloft in the hands of our clueless husbands, brothers, sons, and fathers. Fire is effective, to be sure, but it’s too obvious: every creature, living and undead knows inherently to avoid flame, why rely on something we fundamentally know to fear?
Better to hit them with the things do not yet know they should fear.
Amongst the sewing, weaving, and leatherwork the women of the village do, I’ve been having them make these pouches out of scraps. They’ve been doing it since the first little girl went missing, and now we have plenty. The powder bombs will buy us vital time to close the distance.
Then comes the silver.
When the children came to me and asked to hear the old tales, the ones that about monsters and genies and witches and faeries … the tales that actually teach you the important things in life, I made sure to always stress the importance of silver. Their parents would covet silver for status and vanity–mirrors and utensils, mostly. Nary a dagger or sword left amongst them–nothing so practical left unsold since the olden days.
And so, I told the children: when the day comes, when the monsters step out of myth and onto our doorstep, you must run and bring all the silver you can, no matter how unlikely its shape, for it is the silver that will save us all.
The children listened.
When the Long Night arrived, they brought it: spoons, forks, mirrors, combs, and best of all, knifes. We made a grand pile, and each person in the village took one. The one they’d use, when the time came.
I had already showed them how to use it, how to press it to the heart of the wolf and say the rhyme the whole way through. The one I’d taught them as it had been taught to me. As I had taught it to their parents, not that they’d remember it now.
The night is long,
The wolves are fierce,
Hands be strong,
Their hearts to pierce.
It was the exact length of time it took silver to burn through a lycanthrope’s chest and into its heart. Decapitation works too, but takes more work than is strictly necessary.
And so, armed with powder bombs, silver, and tales of monsters defeated and vanquished through valour and bravery by clever little people just like them, the children stood side-by-side with their mothers, grandmothers, and a little old lady, who shook gently and leaned on her ancient cane. My ancient cane.
Made entirely of silver.
In our lives, we carry many names–I am told that the monsters still have many for me. To the lycanthropes, I am Wolfsbane. They made a mistake, coming back here; I have killed hundreds of their kind.
It would seem that the lycanthropes have forgotten that their monsters, too, are real.
Together, we spend the Long Night reminding them.
The men returned in the morning, having gotten lost in the woods, to find their women and children enjoying breakfast, telling tales of our heroic exploits, and drying dozens of wolf pelts by the fire.
To say our heroic huntsman and the village council were humbled would be an understatement, but true nevertheless.
They were eying our food hungrily and our wolf pelts sheepishly. We’d made enough for them, of course.
We’re good at planning ahead.
As we ate, I agreed to tell them the stories they had forgotten if they vowed never again to disregard the lessons of age and the wisdom of stories.
Gathering at my feet as they did when they were young, we defenders of the village shared our stories and laughed and cried.
So that, little ones, is why you must carry garlic in your pockets tonight and help your parents sharpen the stakes. You know the story of the night the women and children saved home, but now it will be up to you. When the Long Night comes, the undead will follow. Wrap yourself tight in your wolf cloaks, they will keep you warm and make you brave.
Oh, do be a dear and bring the silver.
It works on vampyrs, too.
Once a feared and fearsome monster hunter, Old Mother Shudders now spends her times teaching the children of her village the important stories (which is, of course, to say the ones about monsters, genies, ghosts, and faeries), ensuring that whenever evil rears its head, her people will be ready. If you were to ask any of the monsters of the realm their thoughts, you’d hear all manner of fables about Old Mother Shudders as well … after all, even monsters have a boogeyman.
Tom McGee is a Toronto-based writer, playwright, producer, dramaturge, and puppeteer. If you enjoyed this story, check out Tom’s first novel, The Bloody Lullaby, on Wattpad! He is the co-founder of Theatre Brouhaha and Shakey-Shake and Friends Puppet Shakespeare Company in Toronto. He is also the show runner and Game Master for Dumb-Dumbs and Dragons and Star Trek: Redundancy, two narrative podcasts where comedians play RPGs for the first time with hilarious, disastrous, and occasionally heartbreaking results. Both podcasts are available at GarbageProductions.net and on iTunes. For more of Tom’s writing, go to WhaHappen.ca.
Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at http://leighlegler.carbonmade.com/.
“Old Mother Shudders” is © 2018 Tom McGee
Art accompanying story is © 2018 Leigh Legler