Kristen Houghton

The January Editor's Pick Writer is

Kristen Houghton

Please feel free to email Kristen at: kristen.houghton@outlook.com


by Kristen Houghton

“Wolf’s-bane, young miss? Put some in pots near your front door. Keep you safe during this time of year.” Melinda jumped at the touch of the old man’s hand on her arm. “Buy some wolf’s-bane?”

The grocer, carefully placing the fruit and vegetables Melinda had just bought at his stand into a small paper bag, turned angrily to the old man standing near his customer. “Hey, you! You were told to stay away from the Farmers’ Market. Get out of here before I call the cops. Go on now, go. Leave my customer alone.”

The old man grinned a toothless grin at the grocer, tipped his hat to Melinda, and shuffled slowly away pulling his cart of flowers and herbs.

“Sorry. He’s been told to stay away from here. He’s just an old peddler. Hope he didn’t scare you.”

“No, he didn’t scare me. Just startled me is all.”

She looked at the cart the old man was pulling behind him. Wolf’s-bane—since she’d moved to this small town almost six months ago, she’d seen quite lot of the hood-shaped purplish blue flowers. Must be a spring thing.

Prominently displayed among the other florals, the deep purple flowers of the wolf’s-bane were glorious and rich looking. She’d been surprised that so many houses had this member of the buttercup family in ornate planters on their front stoops. It did look beautiful.

Melinda looked across the street where wolf’s-bane was growing in pretty clay pots. Beautiful maybe, but from what she knew about the flower, it was extremely poisonous. Why would she want to have a poisonous plant on her doorstep, and how would having that poison there keep her safe anyway? She felt sorry for the old man, but he must be crazy to be selling poison. Melinda smiled a bitter smile.

Her life was poisonous enough.

She walked home through the streets of her new town. Spring was just beginning and the burgeoning lushness of the gardens and parks was overwhelming. Everything was blooming with life. Everywhere she looked, life was being brought forth. Except for her. No life coming from her. Ever.

Melinda had never been able to conceive, no matter how hard she had tried, no matter what she put her body through to make it conceive. Her husband, worn out by her obsession to have a child, had at one time pleaded with her to consider adoption or a surrogate. But Melinda had been adamant that she wanted to carry a child of her own in her own body.

Her longing, her despair, all that effort and lack of success to conceive ended the marriage once and for all. The fighting, the bitterness, the cruel words flung at each other. Frustrated and angry, the day he left her husband had thrown the ultimate cruel jab at her. “No life wants to take hold and grow inside you. You’re poison, Melinda, just pure poison.”

She passed a house where a woman she met when she first moved here was putting fresh water in a bowl for a dog that was lying on a thick blanket nursing newborn puppies. Seeing Melinda, the woman waved her over.

 “Cassie just had her pups five days ago. Two of them! We’re keeping the puppies. I love them already. You should come and see them. Look at her, she’s nursing her babies. So sweet.”

Melinda approached the sweet scene and felt a sense of sadness overwhelm her. Motherhood—she couldn’t even bear to see a German Shepherd as a mother. The dog looked at her calmly with eyes that looked wise—wise and with an almost human compassion showing in them as if she knew of Melinda’s pain. Melinda turned away from the pity.

“Come sit on the porch and we’ll have lemonade and keep Cassie and her pups company while she’s giving mama-love.” She gestured to two comfortable chairs on her porch. Melinda noticed the purple flowers of the wolf’s-bane in a pot near the door. Their cheery brightness made her sadness seem even more pronounced.

Melinda shook her head no, saying she had work to do. She had to update the real estate properties on her computer. She was showing a few houses this week. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll come,” she said. Maybe.


On her walk home, she saw the old peddler pass on the opposite side of the road. The wolf’s-bane seemed to sparkle majestically in the sunshine. Wolf’s-bane. Poisonous like her womb.


That night, as she dozed on the couch, she dreamed once again of babies. She was always dreaming of babies but this dream was darkly different from any others. This time she was in a shadowy hospital room and it was almost nightfall. It was too quiet, too dark. A nurse was bringing her something wrapped in a soft blanket. Her baby. It had to be her baby! Feeding time said the nurse handing the bundle to Melinda, time for mama-love.

“You have to nurse this hungry child, Melinda.”

Cradling the warm bundle of baby, Melinda slipped her nightgown over one shoulder exposing her left breast to suckle her child. But something didn’t feel right—the baby’s skin—something was wrong. Melinda gently moved the blanket away from the baby’s face and gasped in horror! Fur! Her baby’s face had fur!

She looked closer. The mouth that pushed to suckle at her breast was a snout—a wolf pup’s head! No, no! She screamed for the nurse who came running into her room.

“This isn’t my baby—this isn’t my baby!”

“Now, now Melinda, this is your baby. You have to feed him from your own body. You have to give him mama-love.”

Melinda woke herself up screaming. Gasping as she came out of the dream, she tried to steady her breathing and adjust her eyes to the darkness. It was so real. Horrible dream. She looked around her small living room. Just a dream; it was just a dream.

She stood up slowly and stretched and that’s when she saw it. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a shadow pass by her bay window.

Cautiously she went to take a look. It was well after midnight. Who could be out there? A burglar? Someone creeping around her house in the middle of the night trying to break in? Fear hit her in the pit of her stomach.

But as she peered through the curtain, the shadow moved into the full moon’s light and Melinda saw a dog, a rather large one, run down the street. She sighed with relief—has to be Mr. Heller letting his dog out again. He worked a 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM shift at a local factory and came home around midnight. He let the dog out when he came home and sat on his stoop smoking a cigar while the dog ran around to do what he had to do. The dog was always off leash but so well-trained that he came back at a quick whistle from Mr. Heller. She laughed at herself for being afraid. Just Mr. Heller and his dog.

Rather than go upstairs to a lonely bed, she headed back to the couch. The moon was shining through her bay window and the branches of the tree in her front yard were displayed on the wall opposite the couch. As she closed her eyes, the shadow of a dog seemed to flit by her window again. A howl from somewhere drifted to her ears and the dog in her front yard began to bark. The howl began in earnest as if calling to the dog who barked incessantly for awhile. Call your dog home Mr. Heller, she thought before falling back asleep. Call your dog home.


The house Melinda was showing the next day was listed as ‘this desirable property.’ Showing it to a young couple who were expecting their first child was difficult. Melinda had to turn away every time the young mom-to-be cradled her large stomach. She had so wanted to carry a baby in her womb and feel that life inside of her. She sighed deeply.

But as hard as it was to walk them through the house, it was a necessity. Ever since her divorce, money was tight and she was still paying for the moving and relocation fees. Melinda needed the hefty commission the sale would bring in to pay her credit cards. She left the couple in what the wife was euphorically calling the baby’s room and went out front.

Sitting on the front steps, she closed her eyes and cradled her head in her hands. It was a nice little cul-de-sac with the woods bordering directly on the backyard. Lovely place to raise a child.

“Wolf’s-bane, young miss?”

Startled, Melinda nearly fell backward. Opening her eyes, she saw the old peddler from the Farmers’ Market standing in front of her.

“Put some wolf’s-bane in a pot on your front stoop. Keep you safe during this time of year, young miss.”

Melinda looked at the cart behind him. Beautiful colors of yellow, red, orange, and— right in the center of it all—the deep purple of the wolf’s-bane. The old man grinned a broken-toothed smile at her and nodded to the wolf’s-bane. “Protect you, young miss.”

Before she could respond, the young husband was standing at the front door, calling to her. The couple had made their decision—they wanted to put an offer in on the house right away. Shaking her head and saying no thank you to the old man, she rose and started toward the front door.

On impulse, Melinda turned and reached into her handbag. She took a five-dollar bill out of her wallet and gave it to the peddler. Poor man probably needed it more than she did. He grinned, pointed to the wolf’s-bane, and tried to give a pot to her. She shook her head again and walked away, leaving the wolfs-bane behind.


It was dark when Melinda finally pulled the front door of ‘this desirable property’closed and locked it. The couple had made an offer on the house and she had written it up and called the seller while they were still ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the crown molding in the dining room. The owner and the couple haggled back and forth for almost two hours before the sale was made. Then, to celebrate their purchase, she’d ordered pizza and had it delivered to their soon-to-be new home. She’d cleaned up after they left, then did a final walk-through the house to make sure everything was as good as could be for her clients.

The night was warm and sweet with the smell of lilacs and Melinda walked around to the back of the house and over to the small line of rocks that separated the backyard from the woods. A glance at her phone told her it was after 10:30 PM. She toured the yard making sure there was nothing that needed her immediate attention. Feeling suddenly exhausted by the long day on her feet and the sadness that always seemed to follow her everywhere she went, she sat down on an old Nantucket chair and, facing the almost full moon that was suspended in the clouds over the forest, she let her thoughts drift to her strange dream of the night before.

Just silly, just silly. Break it down, girl, Melinda thought to herself. Think about why you had that particular dream. Okay, here are the facts—I had seen my friend’s German Shepherd with her puppies, seeing her nurse her puppies made me feel sad that I can never carry a baby in my own body or feed a child from my own breast, and that is probably the reason for my strange dream that my baby was a furry puppy. And that word “mama-love” that the woman used for her nursing dog. Oh Lord! No giving of mama-love from me. Hearing that word drove the pain of being childless deep into my already sore heart.

“Mama-love,” Melinda said out loud. “Mama-love.” She covered her face with her hands and gave a rueful laugh. Will the sadness never leave me?

A few minutes later, a chilling sound made her sit bolt upright. She dropped her hands from her face, gripped the wooden armrests of the old chair, and stared out at the forest. That sound! Is that a howl?

Panic filled her tired mind. Oh my God, can there be a wolf out there hidden among the trees? Nothing but a line of rocks separates this yard from the woods. Her heart racing with a primal fear, Melinda held her breath and listened intently. But she heard no other howl, no other sound of danger. Nothing.

Nothing but the sound of crickets.

Melinda let her breath out slowly and looked up at the moonlit night sky. Probably just a dog somewhere howling at the moon so far away, howling at the moon. Melinda laughed as a memory came back to her. She’d been a freshman in high school and had questioned a teacher about an unfair grade in Algebra that had kept her off the honor roll. When the teacher refused to change the grade, Melinda said she was going to see the principal about it. The teacher had smirked at her and said, “Good luck talking to the principal, but I think you’ll just be howling at the moon—I doubt she’ll change your grade.”

Howling at the moon. Wanting something you can’t have. I can’t have—



It was past midnight and foggy when Melinda pulled into her driveway. A large dog suddenly appeared in front of the headlights and she slammed on her brakes, hitting the horn at the same time. Breathing hard, she watched as the shadow of the dog ran away. Was that the Heller dog? Jesus, Mr. Heller, she thought, please call your dog home before he gets run over by someone!

She watched as the dog stopped a distance away from her driveway and turned to stare at her sitting in her car. The eyes looked wise, all-knowing. Melinda stared at the almost human look in its startlingly clear eyes. Suddenly, throwing back its head, the dog gave a long and piercing howl. A muted, answering howl, came from far away. Melinda shivered at the sound and waited until the dog ran off again before getting out of her car and running into the house.

Everyone said that the three days of this month’s full moon were affecting domestic animals in strange ways. Indoors cats jumped from window to window in their homes and then ran around the house only to hide in the darkest places they could find. Dogs barked constantly and shivered whenever they went outside, whining to get back indoors. Wild animals were affected too. Birds were nowhere to be found in the skies or nesting in the trees, and the usual coterie of possums, raccoons, and squirrels that wandered backyards and open fields seemed to be in hiding. It was the oddest thing, said the local veterinarian. Just plain weird. Never known anything like this to happen before.

People stayed home after the sun went down and didn’t even venture into their own backyards after dark. Strange whispering sounds were heard late at night as if some unknown creatures were wandering from house to house looking for entry. Superstitious old myths were a hot topic of discussion whenever people were together. Strange tales were told—sometimes believed, sometimes laughed at but, in an abundance of precaution, certain herbs and plants were bought and placed around many houses in the old town. It’s the 21st century people said and superstitions are just that, only superstitions but still—you never know if there’s any truth to the old myths and all. You never know.

The next day, Melinda put a note in Mr. Heller’s mailbox asking him to please keep his dog off her lawn and out of her backyard. “Your dog keeps waking me up with his howling and barking. Please keep him on your side of the road when you let him out at night.” She added that the Heller dog was running with some stray dog she’d seen near her house. Both of them large dogs, they made Melinda feel very uncomfortable.

All week, Melinda kept meaning to go to the Farmers’ Market and buy some pretty flowers for her front stoop including the beautiful wolf’s-bane. Maybe she thought, maybe some color on my front steps will make coming home to an empty house seem more bearable. Lots of color and variety to greet me, she thought. My life is dark and sad. I need pretty things.

But her days were so busy showing houses, writing bids, walking first time buyers through home buying strategies, that by nightfall she was exhausted and ready to just lie down on the couch and fall into a restless sleep. She decided that next weekend she’d make it her business to find the old peddler. I’ll buy some daffodils and that beautiful wolf’s-bane from him, she thought.

The last night of the full moon, Melinda was awakened by a piercing howl which sounded as if it was coming from inside her house. How can that be? she thought. All my doors are locked and so is the garage.

Sitting up on the couch, she looked cautiously around the living room, trying hard to adjust her eyes to the darkness. The moon came out from behind the clouds spilling its soft light into the room helping Melinda to see clearly. As the scene unfolded before her eyes, she froze and stared in disbelief. This has to be another strange dream, she thought. This can’t be real.

In a pool of moonlight in the middle of her living room, Melinda saw a large she-wolf lying on her side nursing a tiny grey ball of fur. The distant howl that had awakened Melinda was heard again. The she-wolf pricked up her ears, listened intently, sighed, then rose to her majestic height, and sniffed the air. She gently pushed the pup in front of her until they were right next to Melinda. Mesmerized and astonished at what was happening, Melinda heard the wolf speak to her in soft gentle tones.

“My mate and I searched and searched for someone like you, Melinda, someone with deep sadness who didn’t have that awful wolf’s-bane on the doorstep. No werewolf can come into a house that has wolf’s-bane by the door. And your sadness, your despair, was what we needed so desperately. Despair makes human blood pulse with hot, savory heat. I have more than enough milk to feed my pup but, a baby werewolf needs your hot human mama-love blood too. You understand. You have that to give in abundance, Melinda.”

The wolf looked tenderly into Melinda’s eyes before she bit deeply into her throat. The sharp pain she felt let Melinda know this was no dream. It was all real!

Melinda fell off the couch and onto the carpet. Urged forward by her mother, the wolf pup quickly began to suck hungrily and greedily on the hot blood seeping forth from the severed carotid artery. As her blood was being suckled by the baby wolf and before unconsciousness overtook her, Melinda murmured, “Mama-love. I have mama—”


In the early morning hours, the old peddler pulled his cart of flowers and herbs slowly down the road past Melinda’s house. The rich purple color of the wolf’s-bane in his cart seemed to shimmer more brightly in the rays of the rising sun. The old man shook his head sadly.

Young miss won’t need that wolf’s-bane now.

Kristen Houghton is the author of nine novels, two non-fiction books, a collection of short stories, a book of essays, and a children’s novella. The first four books in her best-selling series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation, are now available in a boxset. The series has been voted one of the top five mystery/thriller series by International Mystery Writers. She is also the author of the Horror Book Club award-winning Quick Read, Welcome to Hell.

Her latest book, Lilith Angel, was released in April, 2019. “Her parents are vampires, her boyfriend’s a werewolf, she has untried witchy powers of her own—but teenager Lilith is just trying to live a ‘normal’ life and pass advanced calculus! Life can be difficult for the otherworldly.”

Kristen Houghton has covered politics, news, and lifestyle issues as a contributor to the Huffington Post. Her writing portfolio includes Criminal Element Magazine (a division of Macmillan Publishing), Hartford Woman, Today, senior fiction editor at Bella Magazine, interviews and reviews for HBO documentaries, OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, and The Style Channel.