Dan Caverly rubbed a small scar at the edge of his receding hairline. He hadn’t been back to the old farmhouse in almost a decade,…
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Dan Caverly rubbed a small scar at the edge of his receding hairline. He hadn’t been back to the old farmhouse in almost a decade,…
Dan Caverly rubbed a small scar at the edge of his receding hairline. He hadn't been back to the old farmhouse in almost a decade, and his eyes kept catching little changes that time had wrought on the place. The grass in his memory was much greener."So, are you gonna knock?" Erik said from the bottom of the porch steps. He rubbed the area above his eyebrow piercing in a familiar gesture. "Huh? Yeah," Dan replied absently, lowering his hand. Dan's son, Erik, had just graduated high school, and the apple couldn't have fallen much further from the tree. While Dan had been well on his way to becoming a Marine at seventeen, his son was a classic teenage slacker. Erik liked heavy metal, japanese cartoons, and marijuana. He kept his hair long and refused to shave, just to annoy his father. Dan had joined the military specifically because his own father had marched against the war in Vietnam. His father had done other things, too, which is why they were here. Dan knocked. "It's open," his father said. Dan stepped into the house. The lights were off, and dust hung suspended in the sunlight that streamed in through the window. The couch was old and threadbare, and most of the furniture had been here when he was growing up. "Dad?" he said into the dim house. "It's me, Daniel." "Dan-o? I'm in the den." His dad's voice sounded older, but no weaker than he remembered. Dan and his son walked through the living room, each step leaving a lasting mark on the outdated shag carpet. He opened the door to the den slowly, bright light pouring from the widening entryway. The den had been updated and cleaned. It was brightly lit, and a brand-new TV hung on one wall. Shelves lined the room, displaying their shining payload of football trophies from the 60s and 70s. There was an immaculate desk on one side, and a massive leather chair sat in the middle of the room, pointed at the TV. "Come on over here, Dan-o, I don't get around real great these days," The old coach said from the other side of the big chair as he muted the television. The old man had shrunken some since Dan had seen him, and the chair seemed two sizes too big. At 84 years, Earl Caverly retained the broad chin and sharp jawline he'd passed to his son and grandson. His hair was thin and gray, though it hadn't retreated as far away from his eyebrows as Dan's had. He had an old man's knobby joints and sagging skin, but his eyes were bright and active. "Hey, Dad," Dan said. He gestured for Erik to come around the chair. "This is my son, Erik." “Nice to meet you, Erik. I guess I’m your grandpa Earl. You may as well call me Coach, everyone always has. Well, except your father.” He shook Erik’s hand with firm authority. "Never thought I'd see the day, Dan-o. I guess I still think of you as the twelve-year-old kid that left with his mother. It's been a long time. What brings you back to Iowa?" "Straight to the point, I get it," Dan said. "I'm not exactly sure. You used to tell stories sometimes, about the summer of '76. I didn't know where else to go. Show him, Erik." The young man pulled up the hem of his shirt, obscuring the gas mask clad sci-fi soldier pictured on it but revealing a large gauze bandage. He peeled away the edge of the medical tape. Under the dressing were three long, open wounds. They weren't bleeding but otherwise looked fresh. "Hell, boy, that's a pretty good one," Earl said. "It's been weeks, Dad," Dan said. "It's not healing at all." "Were you not paying attention at all when you were a kid? I tried to prepare you for something like this. Where'd you come across that wound, Erik?" "We were hiking at Mount Hood," Dan said. "Let the boy speak for himself, Dan-o." "Well, we were hiking, like Dad said," Erik began. He was a lot shyer than the piercings in his face implied. "I heard someone shout for help, so I left the path to see what was up. By the time I got there, the lady who shouted was dead…" "Go on, boy, what did you see?" "It was a big damn monster. Scared the shit out of me. It was all furry and covered in blood." "That could be any of a dozen things. What did its face look like?" "Its face? I guess it was like a big wolf, but with more teeth, like a Powerwolf album cover. He came at me, fast. I punched him as hard as I could, and he ran away, but he got a claw in me." "Let me see your hands." Erik raised an eyebrow at his dad but complied. He wore a studded leather bracelet on his left wrist, and on his right hand were two rings: a stylized skull and a coiled snake. "Yeah, that skull ring there looks like it's probably silver. You ran into a werewolf." "It was, like, a for-real werewolf?" Erik sounded a little too excited at the idea. "So, am I a werewolf now? Because I got clawed?" "Hell, no. If you could get the curse from a claw wound, there'd be no humans left. Werewolves are born, boy, not made." "So why isn't it healing?" Dan asked. "Oh, that sucker won't heal until you kill the wolf that gave it to him." "How do you know?" "Well, I had a long conversation with a Den Mother once. Did I not tell you that story?" "You told a lot of stories, Dad, that's why mom took us to Oregon." "Yeah, she never did believe me. I was trying to teach you, Dan-o. I knew someday you'd run into something strange. That Brine Hag in Wisconsin told me so." "Brine Hag would be a badass band name," Erik said, under his breath. "Not the time, Erik," Dan said. "So, what do we do? How do we find this thing again?" "I'm not sure. It's been a long time. It's not like I wrote this stuff down." "Just tell us what you can remember. We'll figure it out." "Well, this woulda been April '76 probably. Back in those days, I had the world's greatest handlebar mustache and biceps like Mike Tyson..." ***** So, me and Bruce and Gary were coming back from another one of Bruce's failed bigfoot hunts up in Washington. We were still a long ass ways from the next town, driving down one of those mountainside roads in Gary's lime green Ford Torino wagon. He loved that damn car. We were finishing lunch, spam sandwiches, I think. I just cracked open a can of piss-warm Tab when something hit the car, hard. "Holy shit, it's bigfoot!" Bruce near-shouted. He was pretty young in those days and easily excited. "Shut up and get your gun," Gary told him from behind the wheel. "There's more up ahead." I abandoned my Tab to pour out on the floor of the backseat and grabbed my handgun. Damn Colt .45 was twenty years old by then, but it aged a lot better than I had. I chambered a round while I counted hostiles. Three big, hairy beasts were running alongside the car by then, going about thirty-five miles an hour on all fours. I rolled down the window as fast as I could. "Ah, shit," Bruce said, "looks like they're just werewolves." "You trippin, youngblood?" Gary pulled the sawed-off double-barrel from under the dashboard and handed it back to me. "It's broad daylight, ain't no full moon at lunchtime." "Try to tell them that," I said as I popped the break-action on the sawed-off. I leaned over the back seat to open the steamer trunk in the way-back. "Let's see how fast they can run." "I can dig it, Coach," Gary said. He put his foot down, and the wagon's engine screamed with effort. I dug through the various weapons, holy symbols, and explosives in the trunk. I'd never seen a werewolf before, but I knew we had some silver that we’d used against demons. Silver worked in The Wolf Man. Three whole shells of silver buckshot, a necklace we hadn't melted down yet, and two field point arrows. Not exactly an armory. Gary wheeled the Torino left, throwing me hard to the driver's side. The wolves must have been keeping up okay, damn station wagon wasn't really built for mountain travel. I grabbed two of the shotgun shells from the floor, where they'd fallen in a puddle of Tab. They were sticky and covered in dirt. I wiped one down best I could and popped the other in my mouth. Tasted like metal and gunpowder and warm soda, but it ended up clean. I popped them both in the shotgun and handed it back to Gary. "That's all you get, don't miss," I told him. Gary grunted an acknowledgment as a wolf slammed into the back of the car. The massive, man-shaped beast did it's best to hang on, but its weight shattered the hatch window, and he fell back to the ground. He didn't stay down long. I reached back into the trunk, which was now covered in glass, and grabbed my brand spanking new Allen compound bow. My baby packed a hell of a punch but was a solid four feet long and not meant to be used in the backseat of a car. I maneuvered the awkward thing to lay across the seat back and aimed out the back window. The werewolf that broke the window was none the worse for wear, and he was gaining ground fast. Crashing and swearing came from the front seat, and the double-barrel roared. I tuned it out best I could. I would only get one shot, and even if we died horribly, I wasn't going out alone. Before all this craziness started, I taught an archery unit in my PE class. We didn't cover moving vehicles, but I adapted what I could remember. I pulled back, centered my sights on the pursuing werewolf, and exhaled on release. Dumb ass wolf didn't even try to avoid my aim, and the arrow's silver point struck the center of his chest. He fell to a roll, transforming into a meat crayon as he left fur and flesh on the road. Smoke was rising from the arrow wound even before he'd rolled to a stop. He was out of sight around a corner before too long, but I was confident he wouldn't be getting up again. "Well, the movies were right about silver," I said as I turned around. The growling and swearing had continued, and I found Bruce in a knife fight with a werewolf that had latched onto the passenger side door. Bruce's wicked Filipino kris was keeping the wolf's jaws at bay, but it had already cost a fair amount of Bruce's blood. I pulled my Ka-bar from its place on my belt and reached out the rear passenger window to help, stabbing the wolf's broad back. He didn't really seem to notice, and the wounds sealed as quickly as I could deal them out. The Ford's wheels screeched as Gary rounded another corner. The change in speed allowed the werewolf to get one clawed hand into Bruce's window. To his credit, Bruce struck quickly, stabbing the wavy blade of his knife up, into the wolf's meaty forearm and through to lodge in the roof of the car. Now stuck to the vehicle, the wolf started jerking his arm back in a panic, but the knife was stuck fast. "Get back in the car!" Gary said, and I hopped-to with as much speed as I could manage. I had barely withdrawn from the car window when Gary swerved, bringing the passenger side of the car within inches of a fallen boulder. I was immediately sprayed with fur, blood, and viscera when the wolf splattered against the rocky surface. I got some in my mouth for sure. After a quick headcount confirmed that we were no longer pursued, Gary pulled to a stop at the side of the road. The arm that was stuck to the roof had started losing hair when the rest of its body died. Bruce pulled his kris free and tossed the severed hand, now all too human, off the side of the steep mountain road. For my part, I did what I could to clean the gore from my face, hair, and clothes, but my favorite plaid jacket wasn't saveable and had to join the arm at the bottom of the cliff. "Well, I'm not hungry anymore," I said as I pulled a fresh shirt from my duffel. "Did you guys know that werewolves could be out in the day?" "Nope, these are my first ones," Gary said, "but they was some bad mofos." "Yeah, I've never done werewolves before either. At least the silver thing worked," Bruce said. "It's a good thing I watched Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman so many times." "Even without Elvira's help, we'd have had some silver along," I said, "remember the demon in Lodi?” “Oh, yeah. That thing was gross.” "It's gonna get colder than a deuce tonight with no car windows," Gary said. "We best keep on truckin." We were all shivering pretty hard by the time we pulled into a little trailer-park about half-way to the next decent-sized town. The gravel parking area was empty. The sun had not yet set below the ridge of the craggy mountains, but the whole area was lit up with bonfires and christmas lights. Looked like they were having a party or something; there was a big bonfire surrounded by people playing guitars and hand drums. I had no idea what they were celebrating. It was still a solid week before Easter. We stowed our various weapons in the steamer trunk and tried to make ourselves presentable. Even if we could just bum a couple trash bags to seal the broken windows, we'd be able to drive the rest of the way down the mountain without freezing. Gary put on his shit-eatingest grin, and we approached the party. We got maybe half-way to the bonfire before a pair of women intercepted us. The older one must've been about 40. She had some gray streaks in her hair and laugh lines around her eyes. She had a confident walk that was all hips in her long linen skirt. The younger gal was about a head taller, and she was built like a tractor-trailer. Something about the set of her square jaw made it look like if she punched you, you'd stay punched for a good, long time. She was not happy to see us. "Gentlemen, what brings you to the Valley?" the older one said. "We had a bit of a car accident," I said. "Some windows broke, and we were hoping you might have something we could cover the holes with. It's getting awful chilly on the road." "Give them nothing, Den Mother," the big one hissed between her teeth. If she was trying to be quiet, she failed. "They stink of our blood." The older gal silenced her with a gesture and a flick of her eyes—no question who was in charge. "Maureen, why don't you have a look at their vehicle and see what they need," she said. "I'll go along," Gary said, his grin getting even shit-eatinger. Gary had a way of smoothing the edges off of his voice when he wanted to be charming. It was pretty annoying to me, but it always seemed to work out for him. He may have been barking up the wrong tree this time. The big lady left in a huff with Gary close behind. "Maureen, huh? I'm Gary. Let me show you what we need." "Thanks for the help. We don't have a lot of options just now," I extended a friendly hand. "I'm Earl. This is Bruce. He got cut up pretty bad if you’ve got some first aid supplies." "Joyce," she said. She didn't shake my hand. “Let me see your injuries, there Bruce.” Bruce gingerly pulled up his sleeves and unwrapped his makeshift bandages. The cuts were nearly healed already. “Must not have been as bad as I thought,” Bruce said, his eyes wide. "What kind of accident did you say you had?" Joyce’s eyes had gone hard and it felt like the temperature dropped thirty degrees. "I didn't, really. Something tells me that you're starting to get the idea, though. What's on your mind, Joyce?" I should have kept a weapon. "Fine. I'll start, you stop me if I'm wrong," she narrowed her eyes at me, and guilt flooded my chest. "You were driving through the mountains, and your car was attacked by, let's say, wild animals. You killed them." Bruce looked at me in a panic, so I did my best to look tough. I shrugged as nonchalantly as I could manage. "You used," she sniffed the air once, "guns, but also silver. How am I doing so far?" "We only defended ourselves. We sure weren't looking for trouble." “You killed the one that clawed you, Bruce. That’s why it healed faster than you expected. You're resourceful, and you survived, mostly unhurt. I think we may be able to help each other." Her expression hadn't softened, but her voice had. "First, you need to tell me why you were on my mountain with silver weapons." "Bruce, why don't you go help Gary." Bruce did as he was told, but the fear hadn't faded from his face at all. "This is a long story. Can we sit down somewhere? Maybe somewhere warm?" She escorted me to the nearest trailer. It was humbly decorated, and it smelled like hippies. I told her whole backstory and how we had the silver for demons, not werewolves. ***** "Wait, what is your whole backstory? What did you tell her?" Erik said, disrupting the old man's train of thought. "I hardly think that's important right now," Dan said. "If I'm telling my grandkids how I found out about this stuff, I'm going to want to know this too. Who knows when we'll get back to Iowa?" "Probably never," Earl said. "If it's up to your dad, anyway." "Fine, tell the kid about the spiders. The short version, this is already taking much longer than I wanted." Dan said. "Okay, Dan-o, I'll go quick. You see, Erik, when I was a football coach right here in Forest City, a couple of students decided to clean up the school's sub-basement storage. I got to be their adult supervision. While we were down there, we were attacked by these big ass spiders. There were only three of the things, but they must've been eighty pounds each. The kids never had a chance. By the time I got over there, they were already drained and mostly webbed up. So, I grabbed a lady's shot put off a shelf, and beat the big spiders to death with it." "Wow. What about the other two guys? Bruce and Gary?" "Well, I don't remember the details, but Gary says he had a fist-fight with the Jersey devil, but I’m pretty sure that’s made up, like Mothman, not real, like chupacabra. Bruce's thing was the lower half of a dude that stood there while the top half flew around the room. I saw a lot of scary stuff back in the day, but that story still gives me the creeps." "What does that have to do with werewolves?" Erik asked. "Nothing, really," Earl said. "But, you know how when you hear a word for the first time, it suddenly seems like everyone is using it? Or like if you get a blue car, you start seeing blue cars everywhere? Well, it's like that with the monsters. Once you know that they're around, you can't stop seeing them." "Does that mean I'm going to keep getting mauled? That doesn't sound great." "Basically, yeah, and it’s not great at all. That's why I'm telling you this story, so it feels more normal when the next thing comes along." "So, this sort of thing happened to you a lot?" "Yeah, in '76 alone I had the clowns, werewolves, gargoyles, that hag in Wisconsin, tons of stuff." "That's great, dad, but we need to fix Erik's werewolf problem," Dan said. "Right, okay, Dan-o. After I laid out my situation, Joyce showed us around the commune and told me about her problem. ***** "You'll notice that there aren't any men here," Joyce said as we rounded the bonfire. "We keep it that way for a specific reason. You see, our curse is passed down through bloodlines. When one of us has a daughter, and the father is a human, the child becomes like us, one of the 'true' wolves. We become wolves whenever we like, and are only forced to change on the full moon. Even then, we are fully aware of ourselves and in total control." "That's nice," I said, "you don't have to hurt anyone you don't want to." "In fact, we hurt none of the creatures of the Earth. We abhor violence, and we eat meat only on the full moon. We don't mix with humans, not because we are dangerous to them, but because that's where we send our men. When our children are male, they may live their whole lives without knowing what they are. They change on the three nights around the full moon, and remember nothing of the experience.They merely wake up in a pile of hair with a headache and a bad taste in their mouth. Most assume they have a drinking problem." "Is that where the stories come from?" "Partially. In truth, even our men seek out the wilderness and do not often hurt people. Wolves, you see, only very rarely attack humans. That has always been the case." "So, why do people make horror movies where you attack Abbott and Costello?" "I quite enjoyed that one, actually." She let out a single, brief laugh before turning serious again. "The truth is, if one of us has a child and the father is also of our kind, the offspring is uncontrollable. The mothers rarely live through the process. The child becomes the kind of horrible, bloodthirsty monster you tell stories about. They can never take human form, and they live with only a predator's instinct to guide them." "I'm sorry, that must be hard on a community like this." "It is.” Her eyes went distant for a moment before she came back around. “Luckily, this is rare. We keep to the wild places, and the men live in the cities. On those rare instances when we meet, we can usually identify them, and we keep our distance." "Sounds like you've got it all locked down." "We thought so. Lately, vehicles on the roads of my mountain are being attacked. People are disappearing, and it's bringing my people unwanted attention. You are the first to have survived one of these attacks. So, I come to my request. My people have two problems. First, with your help, we might locate the den of these monsters. You can show us to the place where you were attacked, and hopefully, one of us can follow the trail back to where the attackers came from. It will be dangerous for you, as our lifestyle will not allow us to help in the fighting, but these monsters need to be brought to justice." "Wow, that's a big ask. What's the second problem?" "This one might be a bit easier for the three of you. Please, join our evening meal and celebration. Talk to people, have a drink. Give the women a chance to decide if they like you. Then, if you want, help us continue our bloodline." "That is a little easier. I'm sure you won't have a problem convincing the guys on that one. I'll talk to them about the other." "Thank you." "The thing I didn't tell you about the three of us, after we started seeing the dangerous, supernatural part of the world, we decided to help as many people as we could. It's all we can do to balance the scales of all the deaths we've seen. And, while we're usually just helping regular folks, I can't imagine any of us saying no." *** "There's no way that's real, Dad," Daniel interrupted. "It sounds like the plot of a hotel pay-per-view." "Werewolf sex commune is awesome," Erik said. "I'd totally watch that." "It was the seventies. Americans were still reacting to the whole culture war phenomenon. There were different communes all over the rural areas. This wasn't even the only one I found that was filled with supernatural creatures." "You gotta be kidding me." "You want me to tell the story, or not, Dan-o?" "I don't want you to, Dad, I just want help with Erik's wound." "Well, I'll get there, just sit down and listen." *** That night went about how you'd imagine. The Valley commune had a homemade potato vodka that you could burn in a diesel engine. We had fun, and by the end of the night, Bruce and Gary had both found warm beds. When the next morning came around, we had cardboard and duct tape for the windows, and we drove Maureen to the place where we were attacked. She hadn't been one of the women who decided that she liked us, and it was fixing to be a long, quiet drive. Then Gary popped Stevie Wonder in the 8 track player. I can't say that Maureen softened, not really, but I do believe she smiled. Gary must've seen it in the rearview. "That's right Mo, ain't nobody don't like Stevie Wonder." "You got me there," Maureen said, "but only my friends call me Mo." "I'm sorry to hear that," Gary said with a smile. With the tension cracked but not broken, the ride got a lot more comfortable. About half-way through "Superstition," Maureen made a tsk sound behind her teeth, like somebody's disapproving aunt. "I gotta ask," she said, "how do you guys live like this?" "Like what?" I said. "Fighting monsters?" "No, the fighting I get, but this car smells like gunpowder, blood, and balls. And I'm pretty sure my feet are stuck to the floor mat." "It's not usually this bad," Bruce spoke up. "We did get attacked yesterday." "But where do you sleep?" "Wherever we can, really," I said. "Things usually work out for us, but when they don't, we sleep in the car." "But things usually work out," Bruce said. "It's like karmic balance. We see all this scary stuff, and we help people. A little luck comes our way when we need it." Maureen took a moment and looked Bruce over. "How old are you, kid?" "I'm nineteen, why?" "Wow. How long have you been doing this?" "Well, I was eight or nine when the aswang killed my parents. Since then, I've been seeing the monsters, but I didn't start doing anything about it until I was thirteen. So, six years, I guess?" "Dang, kid, I'm a cursed creature living in a single-gender commune, and even I had more of a childhood than that." "Well, you didn't get to choose who you are, and neither did I." The ride was pretty quiet again after that, although I couldn't feel Maureen's eyes burning the back of my skull anymore, so Bruce must have softened her up a little. We pulled up to the broken glass where we encountered the wolves before Stevie was done with side A. Gary pulled the car over to the side of the road, and Maureen got out to look around. I figured we'd give her some space, so we stayed by the car. "Alright kids, what's inventory like?" "I've got two loads of silver buckshot and a pocket full of regular," Gary said. "My kris and my nunchucks," Bruce said. "Nunchucks? Really?" I said. "Yeah, remember we capped the ends in silver when we fought that Oni. It didn't work then, but we still got ‘em." "Great. Now, if the werewolves don't get me, I'll die of embarrassment." "Aw, come on, Coach, I'm getting pretty good with 'em." "Well, I've got one silver arrow and my Colt. We've done more with less, but it’s not gonna be easy." I rummaged through the trunk, hoping for a lucky break. Then I found it in the form of a number 76 special incendiary grenade. "What's that?" Maureen asked. She'd returned to the car and was looking over my shoulder. "I'm pretty sure it's a war crime," I said. "White phosphorus grenade, burns to the bone." "Well, don't miss," she said. "They came from over that way. There's a dirt road that leads up into the canyon." ***** "Willie Pete? Jesus, Dad." "I know it, Dan-o, but we were up against all kinds of scary stuff. We had to take every advantage that came along." "So, it's like napalm?" Erik asked. "Napalm is bad enough," Daniel said, "it clings to you while it burns, so you spread it around when you try to get it off you. In some ways, white phosphorus is worse. It burns so hot and fast that it can suck all the oxygen out of a room. If the heat doesn't get you, then you die gasping. Now we only use it for smoke grenades." "Yeah, it wasn't the only questionable method we used in those days. Some monsters you run into are essentially unkillable. Sometimes fire is all you've got left." "But, inside of a werewolf there's a person, right?" Erik said. "Sort of. The wild-born ones are never really people," Earl said. "Still, it was an extreme measure." ***** We drove up the narrow dirt road for a couple miles until it cut down a series of switchbacks into a little valley. There were the remains of several small wooden buildings at the end of the road. It must've been a mining camp from the thirties. A boarded-up minehead sat on the far side of the little camp, its bracing beams and doors rotten with age. Near the minehead, a wall of felled trees was built, their cut trunks sharpened and pointed up, like a civil war fort. The walls were angled to join a cliff face on one side, closing off a small section of the valley. A pair of big ass wooden doors were built in on one end of the wall. The timbers of the wall and the doors were more recent than the rest of the camp, but they were still better than twenty years old. Gary stopped the wagon in front of the most intact of the old buildings. "Well, I guess we'd better look around," I said, though the spooky vibe of the deserted place was giving me the creeps. "Yeah, so, what's the plan?" Maureen said from the back seat. "Planning isn't really what we do," I said. "We prepare, then we see what happens. Plans have a tendency to go wrong anyway." "That's not even a little reassuring," she said. "I should be able to track the wolves if they've been here." We stepped out of the car cautiously, our various weapons readied. There was something unsettling about the little camp. It was too quiet by half. We were in a mountain valley with ruined structures, the place should have been lousy with small animals that moved into the ruins. Birds should have been singing their territorial songs and picking at the ground. Instead, it was silent as a tomb, and it felt wrong to disturb that with our presence. "I don't like it here," Maureen said, putting voice to all our feelings. "You ain't just a woofin, Mo," Gary's voice was unusually restrained. "This place freaks me out." "All right, everybody," I said, "we came here for a reason, let's get to it." I moved into the largest building, hoping to lead by example. I knocked my last silver arrow and mounted the sagging stairs to the front door. The door was laying on the ground, just inside the frame, and a thin covering of green moss put a splash of color in the otherwise dull ruin. The building must have been a bar or cantina for the miners. Several broken tables were littered around, and a long counter sat along one wall. Broken bottles left glass littered all over the floor, and the crunch of shards under my boots was way too loud in the spooky quiet of the area. I moved into a storage room behind the bar. It's roof was mostly intact, and the interior space was dark. I kicked through some of the debris, but it was clear that there was no one in there. When I turned around to head to the exit, an old woman was standing in the middle of the room. She stood in the center of a cluster of broken glass. Her bare feet lay directly on the shards, but they showed no signs of injury. Thin, white hair hung to her shoulders in a greasy mop. A flower-patterned nightshirt hung loosely on the tiny woman, and it stirred slightly in a breeze that I did not feel. "Um, hello," I said. My mouth was impossibly dry, and my words came out as a hollow croak. My guts were telling me to shoot the old lady and be done with it, but my head wouldn't allow it. I split the difference with a polite question. "Hello, ma'am. Is there something I can help you with?" I asked the question a little too loud, hoping the others might hear me. I didn't know what was going on, but I was sure I'd need backup. She laughed, covering her mouth with one wrinkled hand in a surprisingly girlish gesture. "How nice of you. No, I don't need any help, you're just in time." The remaining glass in one of the windows to my left broke and fell to the floor with a disturbingly festive noise. Dark fur rose into the opening, preceded by a long-fingered hand. The werewolf crept into the window with fluid grace. As it flowed to the floor, two more followed behind. I blew a shrill whistle through my teeth, a skill I picked up coaching football, and I trained my bow on the lead wolf. "Okay, lady, I don't know what the hell you're up to, but this place will be crawling with my buddies in a few seconds, so you'd better run away now." It was a pitiful bluff, but bravado was really all I had going for me. By the time I finished running my mouth, Maureen had appeared in the doorway. The woman shrieked in glee and made a small gesture with one hand. The whole front wall of the building exploded outward, showering the road with wooden splinters. Half a second later, a part of the roof fell out and down, crushing the Torino. Maureen was left untouched by the chaos, but I saw one fringed arm of Gary's denim jacket sticking out of the rubble. There was no sign of Bruce. "You brought me one," the old woman giggled. "I guess there was something you could do for me." She turned slowly to face Maureen. "This is wrong," Maureen managed to squeeze out through chattering teeth. As the woman turned to face her, she started shaking. Her whole body was nearly vibrating, and her head lolled to the side. "Oh, so right. You've forgotten your true nature, my love. Generations of polluting your bloodline with the filth of humanity has diluted your soul. I can make you remember, just like I did for them." She gestured toward the three wolves by the window. "Why?" I had to keep her talking, keep her distracted while I let my right hand drift off my bowstring, down toward the grenade in my back pocket. "Just out of sheer cussedness? What's in it for you? Angry pets?" "Only when they are true to their nature will they help me be true to my own." "Sure, great. So, what's your nature?" I kept my hand behind my back, though she never turned away from Maureen. I popped the pin out of the WP grenade with my thumb. Then, I raised my voice to cover the pin and spoon hitting the floor. "Who the hell are you, anyway?" "I am Asena, I am Garmr, I am Lupa." She hadn’t bothered to turn and face me, and the grenade was cooking off in my hand. One, two... "I am the lord of all shape-shifters, body-snatchers, and the cursed." Three, four... "I am one of many. This world was ours before it had ever known men, and soon-" Five. "I don't give a shit." I lobbed the grenade at the back of the old lady's head. It was beautiful. The fuse popped just before it hit her. Smoke and bright light erupted from the little cylinder. Blazing metal shards rained down her back, burning away her nightshirt and igniting flesh and hair. She turned to face me, her skin blackened and falling off in chunks. She smiled, and more of her face peeled off and fell to the floor. She skewered me with her gaze as her eyes melted and ran down the remains of her cheeks. I couldn't move. Then she retched. Just started dry heaving. As gross as the whole situation was, that made it a hundred times worse. She coughed up a blob of black, viscous phlegm that stuck to her chin. Half a second later, the lump separated into four long globules that became fingers. The same thing happened on her upper lip. The fingers gripped on both sides, cracking the burnt flesh of her chin and nose. They moved away from each other, pulling the woman's mouth open until her jaw broke, the sickening sound was audible above the hissing of the phosphorus. The hands separated the rest of the way, ripping the burned woman in half and discarding the scorched husk. Standing in the remains was a creature. It was easily seven feet tall, and its chitinous, segmented body emitted a purple glow. It stood on four multi-jointed, spider-like legs, while two similar legs ended in pinchers. The top pair of it's eight limbs ended in large human hands. That's when I completely lost my shit. The normal-looking hands were the last straw. I loosed my silver arrow at the trio of werewolves, who hadn't moved during the whole grotesque process. My shot wasn't even close, and the arrow sailed through the window. I dropped my bow and hauled ass away from the whole mess. What little glass remained on the room's rear window cut the hell out of my back as I jumped, head first, out of the ruined building. God damn if Bruce wasn't standing right there to help me up. He had his nunchucks tucked in the waistband of his jeans, right next to three sticks of honest-to-god, wild-west style TnT. He started to say something, but we didn't have time for bullshit. I just started running. I'd come out of the building pointed at the log wall that ran along the bottom of the cliffside, so I made that my destination. Bruce outpaced me in a hurry, and by the time I'd caught up, he was at the gate, pulling on a big rusty chain that held the doors closed. I shooed him out of the way and pulled the Colt out of my belt. I must've been losing some blood, and it took me two shots to hit the chain through my swimming vision. Bruce pushed one of the double doors open, and we rushed through. The entire walled area was filled with cars. They were all damaged in one way or another, but they were lined up like a parking lot. We ran down the lane and hid behind a tan and brown Winnebago. Manufactured right in my home town of Forest City, Iowa. We barely had time to catch our breath before we heard the werewolves approaching. They weren't trying to be sneaky, their growls echoed off the canyon wall. I readied my Colt, now only six rounds in the magazine, and Bruce pulled out his nunchucks, which were silly, but they wouldn’t run out of ammo. We waited. When they were almost on us, Bruce leaped out of cover and just started wailing on one wolf with his silver capped nunchucks. The thing didn't even know what hit it. Bruce's hands were a blur, and the 'chucks were doing their job. Small plumes of smoke lifted from every impact point, and the werewolf whimpered like a kicked dog. Would've broken my heart if I wasn't busy dealing with the other two. Bruce's assault had made the other wolves a little skittish, and I threatened them with my Colt. It seemed like it was working, but they were just waiting for backup. The insectoid thing topped the outer wall and screeched encouragement to it's minions, just as another wolf jumped up onto an old dodge and howled. It was still wearing most of Maureen's orange sweater. I unloaded my handgun at the creature on the wall as I backed away. With one final whack, Bruce laid his wolf out and joined me. We were giving ground steadily, and the werewolves were just playing with their food, when, at the very edge of my vision, Gary popped his head into the open gate. He let the big door support his weight as he raised the sawed-off and fired. ***** "And that's when he shot me," Earl said with a crooked grin. "It just grazed me, but I gave him shit about it for years." "He didn't shoot you, Dad," Daniel said. "Of course he did, I've got the scar to prove it." "I've seen your scar, there's no way it was left by a shotgun." Earl lifted his shirt sleeve and examined the long furrowed scar that ran across his upper arm. "Huh, I'll be damned. When did he shoot me?" "How am I supposed to know? It just wasn't with a shotgun." "Must've been after he got that old Thompson from that gangster's Cadillac." "What?" Erik was flabbergasted. "When do we hear that story?" "Not now. Now, we need to find a werewolf." "Right, right. Werewolf," Earl scratched his chin for a moment. *** The shotgun blast missed all of us but hit the Winnebago's LP tank. Thing went up like the fourth of July. The explosion knocked me and Bruce on our asses, but the werewolves were closer to it. All three of em were thrown across the parking lot. Bruce helped me up, and we booked it away from the burning RV. At the end of the lane, there was a boarded-up old mine head. We had nowhere else to go, really, so that's where we ended up. The mine was dug into the cliff face, but it only went back about thirty feet. At the far end of the tunnel, a broad, dark shaft cut straight down, further than we could see by a long shot. "I guess the buck stops here," I said as I stared into the dark. Bruce just nodded and turned to face the entrance. I pulled the knife from my belt, and Bruce handed me his big kris. We walked together into the sunlight at the end of the tunnel. Aside from the two columns of black smoke, the sky was surprisingly blue. A rattling screech pulled my attention back to the ground. The eight-legged monstrosity was skittering toward us, crossing over the tops of cars without slowing. Bruce and I split up, moving to flank the creature as it approached. It lunged and snapped its pinchers at us, and we circled and struck back. The fight went back and forth for a while. I struck with both knives, and Bruce with his nunchucks. Felt like a hundred years, but it was probably about thirty seconds. We were exhausted, and the beast seemed tireless. Werewolf Maureen roared and joined the battle, a distraction that cost Bruce three fingers from his left hand, and he fell to the ground in pain. The creature moved to finish him off, turning it's back on me. I leapt up and buried both blades in it’s back. Dark goo leaked out of the wicked thing. The damage seemed to weaken it’s hold on Maureen, and the big wolf-woman howled. The sound sat on the edge of human and animal, almost words, but not quite. Maureen stumbled and fur started falling off of her arms and face. She shook until she was half-way transformed and covered in patches of dark fur, from her mostly human face down to her clawed bare feet. I pulled one knife from the thing’s back and plunged it back in, a little higher. The beast flung me to the ground, but the damage was done, and Maureen stopped shaking. She was coming back to herself. She shouted at the insect-thing, more incoherent almost-words, but clearly angry. The beast chittered back. I don't know if they understood each other, but both got their points across. Maureen burst into a run, charging her enemy at breakneck speed. She collided with the creature, and the two of them tumbled together, snapping teeth and clattering pinchers. They wailed and fought, rolling into the mine. I ran to Bruce. He'd managed to wrap his hand into the bottom of his shirt. He pulled a zippo from his pocket with his good hand and held it out to me. I took it without a word and grabbed the dynamite from his belt. The chattering and growling continued as I headed after it. My eyes adjusted to the shadow of the tunnel as I approached the monsters. I flipped open the zippo and lit it up. Maureen's wild eyes caught the light and reflected it, glowing in the darkness. She blinked, nodded once, and pitched both of them over the edge of the mineshaft. I knew my cue. I wedged the dynamite into some cracks in the stone near the drop off and lit them up. I was all the way back to Bruce when they blew. By the time my hearing came back, Gary had limped his way to the two of us. He was looking pretty rough, but I suppose we all were. We patched ourselves up as best we could and started going from car to car, looking for one that would start. We pulled out of that damned place in a ten-year-old jeep gladiator, and we never went back. ***** "That's a hell of a story, Dad, but I don't think we're any closer to helping Erik." "Sure we are, Dan-o, do what we did, get a wolf to track your wolf. In the garage, there's a green steamer trunk. In there is my old address book. I kept in touch with Joyce over the years; I'm pretty sure her granddaughter's address is in there. Tell her I'm your dad, and I'm sure she'll help you track your werewolf. You'd better take the whole trunk, though. There's probably some stuff in there that you'll want to have along." "Erik," Earl said after Daniel left the room, "there's a little bit more I gotta tell you. About a year later, Joyce tracked me down. She had a baby boy with her, who couldn't stay with the pack." "Is my dad a werewolf?" "Only a couple days a month. You think he still doesn't know?" "He can't. He was too surprised when I got clawed. It really shook him." "Well, that's good then. Just keep him away from any little old ladies when you're hunting your wolf. You'd better go help him with that trunk; it's pretty heavy." Erik rubbed the area above his eyebrow piercing thoughtfully. He shook his Grandpa's hand and turned to leave. At the door to the room he stopped. "Does it ever bother you?" "What's that?" "That some of the monsters you killed were people underneath?" "I've had forty years to think about it, kid. I figure I did more good than harm, all told." Earl paused and cleared his throat. "It's a hard life, Erik. Just do good when you can, and try not to go the other way. The abyss doesn't really stare back at you, that's all bullshit, but it does follow you. Be prepared, I'm sure you'll do great."
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