I first met Larry late one Friday night in 1984 and he did not bite me.
Larry didn’t even look the type to bite. He was urbane, sophisticated, with what some might call good breeding. Not that I would have told him that. He might have thought I was referring to the side of his personality that came out with the wolfbane or the full moon. Depending on which version of the old rhyme you happened to believe. It was curiously inconsistent as to the cause of his regular transformations, but the end result was always the same.
The seams would split and his features would coarsen as his face underwent its stop-frame metamorphosis from clean shaven, presentable Larry, to the Larry with the full moon shadow. He would become the brute he so feared. The brute he so feared others fearing.
Or, perhaps, the brute he needed them to fear. Because it would justify his solution to the problem.
‘If I don’t do it, I’ll tear their throats out,’ he’d tell me. ‘Even those I love.’ He was thinking of dear, sweet Gwen, the girl from the antique shop. It was Gwen who’d sold him the wolf’s head cane and told him the legend I’d have thought he didn’t need to hear. Hadn’t he come across wolfbane before? Hadn’t he ever been out in a full moon? It didn’t exactly stand up to scrutiny. He must have known who he was inside. He must have known that it was his face looking back at him from behind the unconvincing rubber muzzle. That he and the hairy brute that didn’t in any way look like a wolf were one and the same creature.
You were supposed to know these things. It was highly suspect if you didn’t.
And I had been told as much myself. By the woman who’d laid there on the sofa, under the tartan blanket, that late Friday night in 1984. And so very many nights afterwards. ‘If they knew who you are, really,’ she’d said, not long before passing out in the usual position, ‘and what you’re really like, they’d run from you in a heartbeat. All of them. Believe me’.
Maybe Larry became my friend because I wanted to prove her wrong? I knew who he was really – or who he thought he was really – and I hung around, didn’t I?
Although he didn’t bite me, which certainly helped.
So, Larry stayed my friend through school, when I was there, and then at home, during the long periods of what we’ll call ill health. When I was undergoing my own transformation. Either into the ‘real me’, as I sometimes thought, or into a brute in the image of my absent father, as would be declaimed from beneath the blanket. And, all the while, Larry continued to warn me of the consequences of such transformations. How they would lead to a progressive piling up of bit players, until eventually one of the Above The Title stars might be at risk of a mauling. After which, there could only be one way out.
Larry wouldn’t even wait for the scriptwriters to make up some more nonsense like the wolfbane/full moon thing. I did say to him that if they could change the means by which he transformed, then surely they could change the means by which he freed himself from what he insisted on calling his ‘curse’. But, no, he was stuck with the ‘way out’ that he’d thought of back in the first film – even though it didn’t prevent him being resurrected again and again for the sequels – and, during that time when I was off school, when I was ‘ill’, when I was seeing specialist after specialist so the woman under the tartan blanket could be told what was wrong with me, so she could use their diagnoses as confirmation of my own irreversible transformation into something even further beneath her contempt, of course he was going to influence me.
I carried Larry with me through everything that followed. Or so I thought. When I ‘got my shit back together,’ as the woman under the tartan blanket described it; when I found my way back out into the world and got myself that first job, I kept Larry in mind, and – obviously – kept the tartan covered advice in mind, too. Don’t let them see the real you. Try very hard not to be that real you. Keep away from the wolfbane. Keep out of the moonlight. And no villagers – not even the bit part players – would be repulsed. Or worse.
That’s what I’d thought. Until people started dying off anyway. Not perhaps literally, but old friends, near friends, sort-of-friends, even family, were harder to come by, were deliberately making themselves scarce. And it was hard not to imagine the claw marks on faces and to wonder at my meaty breath in the morning. Was it safe even to have Larry as a friend?
In the end, it wasn’t an outright rejection. I didn’t tell Larry to go. But he disappeared, all the same. Perhaps once again determining, as he was wont to do at roughly 75-minute intervals throughout his strange dead/undead sort-of-existence, that he needed to off himself in order to protect those around him from his compulsion. At least until they made the next sequel. Which I wouldn’t be tuning in for.
And yet still they fell away. I tried to remember whether I’d let him bite me – whether I had asked for it in the midst of my own, non-full-moon-related madness. It was so easy to imagine the tartan blanket’s words making me do it. Go on, I might have said. If that’s what I have to be. Make me the brute, and that’ll make it alright. All of it. Including the Larry Talbot-Universal Pictures prescribed Noble Way Out, too.
It was as easy to imagine as it would have been for everyone else to understand. If I was the brute anyway, despite the therapy, despite everything, then there could be no escape from it. And if there was no escape, then Larry had taught me what had to be done. As a kid, I’d wondered at the tone of that first film – a hero who spends so much of his time wanting to put a stop to himself. Not exactly the kind of thing that has the kids wolfing down their popcorn – pun intended. But, still, that was the message. If you’re a brute – if you’re that kind of brute – then You Know What To Do.
And I did. And I came so close.
Until I caught Larry again, recently, almost as if he had known he was needed. It was late night, on one of the niche channels that still showed black and white movies. And there he was, lurking behind a tree, all muzzle and teeth, but the eyes from another face were the most compelling thing about him. They appealed for release. Just as when they’d first reached me. That night. 1984. When I was eight. And I watched the anguish in those eyes as he caught his reflection in a pool – as he tried to find himself in there – as he looked up, right out of the screen at me, and he implored me to check my own reflection.
Which I did.
No fur. No muzzle. No fangs.
But my skin – every inch of it – Tartan.
That’s what he had needed me to know. Larry Talbot. The friend who will not bite.
But who will recognize oh so very clearly where others have.