An acrid odour gripped the room. The scent of death and decay were ripe, but darkness offered a shroud for the unspeakable horrors within. Quelling an intense sense of rising panic, Marcus fought to keep his nerve, his hands shaking as he shone his old torch into the impending gloom. The odour was getting worse, not of damp or mould, but a scent so vile that his stomach churned. Old floorboards groaned as he moved cautiously, testing to see whether it would hold his weight. Spiders scuttled in every direction as he probed deeper into a room that repelled him on every level.
The light from the torch began to fade, the beam failing to reach deep into the corners, but enough to send the fattest of rats scurrying from the invading light. Sweat dripped a trail down his neck. He felt chilled to the core and suddenly, with the last flash of light from his torch, his vision fixed, he stumbled backwards, fear gagging his reflexes. His strangled scream became a whimper as his weight took him off keel. He fell, hands outstretched, eyes enormous, his head splitting open like a shell on contact with the floor. His blood began to drip through the gaps between the floorboards to the room below. Darkness consumed him.
The creature knew this room. The overpowering saturation of scents made it giddy and it licked its lips with hungered excitement. It sniffed at the fresh blood on the floor, recognised its source and moved past, heading towards the ramshackle door at the back that led onto the moors. This room within the old shack held trophies, but no fresh meat.
The night air was cool. The breeze was light, but carried the information it needed. It loped along low to the ground, following Marcus’s musk, a blend of cheap aftershave, sweat and grime. It growled in frustration when it reached his car at the top of a track. It clawed its way round the metallic shell and stopped at the back. It investigated the tracks the tyres had left in the dry dust of the August heat. Its night vision was perfectly adapted, seeing the world in sepia tones of brown and gold. It began to follow the tracks and as it rounded the bend, frightened a deer that hadn’t heard its approach. For a moment it gave chase with a few excited bounds, then control returned and it headed back to the trail as it suppressed the predatory instinct. Tonight was about a far greater hunt.
At the foot of the trail the creature found the main road and became more wary than before. But its mind was set. It noticed the turn the tyres had made into the trail and smelt the rubber as it had bit into the tarmac. The direction from which Marcus had come was clear. It stepped across the empty road and worked its way into the grassy verge, disappearing from sight altogether. Its movement looked little more than a gust of wind at a casual glance.
The creature stopped and took a big sniff, raising its snout high into the air. Marcus had travelled with the window open. It raised its lips in a terrible grin, exposing streaked yellow fangs and ghostly pink gums. It knew it was close.
It entered the small town as the full moon broke from behind a bank of clouds. It crossed a park, now following instinct as much as scent in these surroundings that seemed so alien yet somehow familiar. It froze as a nearby yelp caught its attention. It had been so set on its mission it hadn’t noticed the golden retriever until it was nearly on top of it. It sprang silently onto the big yellow dog, burying its teeth in its throat and yanking its head back to break its neck. It left the body behind a flower bed, growling with gruff pleasure as it heard the elderly owner calling for the canine.
It found its way to a quiet cul-de-sac. At its end sat a large house with an impressive fir tree in the centre of the front lawn. It kept to the shadows as it approached. It somehow knew this was its destination. It reached up into the fir tree with its clawed hands and lifted itself into the dense foliage. It climbed upwards until it found a branch that would support it and give a good view of the house.
Marcus had been here. His scent saturated the place, just like at the shack. It saw the open window and focused on it. A lighter scent, honey like and wrapped in soft tones of fruit and flowers wafted towards it. Saliva pooled in its mouth and dripped from its jaws as the plan formed. The muscles in its legs tightened like coiled springs. It sprang from the tree and barrelled through the open window, knocking the curtains aside and landing clumsily on the bed. The little girl squirmed underneath it, waking from a peaceful dream into a very real nightmare of fur and fangs. The scream was muffled by a heavy blow from the creature’s pounding limbs. It scooped her up and flung her over its shoulder. A light appeared below the door and it heard footsteps coming along the corridor.
This was brazen, and a new experience for the creature. It had never been inside a home before. It savoured the vision it had of the girl’s mother finding it in all its glory, her child clenched within its claws. But this was not the reckoning it sought, though it had killed people before. Marcus knew that, that’s why he had come to the shack finally. The favour was simply being repaid. Death was coming, but tonight was not the time and this was not the place.
The creature climbed from the window and jumped down to the lawn, hitting the ground running. It ran on two legs well enough but wasn’t as fast as when on all fours. It also risked being seen, but it almost welcomed the trail of breadcrumbs any such sighting would leave. It would have to be cunning, patient and above all perfectly placed if Marcus was to be lead to the discovery the creature desired.
It reached the outskirts of the town without incident, almost disappointed. As it crossed the open country, it took longer and faster strides now that there was less chance of an encounter with a human. The glow on the horizon let it know that its time was short as the inky blackness of the night began to fade. The blood red colour of the heather in this eerie light seemed to welcome and beckon the creature back to the moor.
It reached the shack and slipped inside. It dropped the girl against a kicked-in doorframe. It slashed her arm with a surgical swipe of its claws. The blood flowed onto her white and pink bed clothes, but it ignored this and let it soak the thin material. It turned and sat on the bare wood with its back facing her. It positioned itself in the mirror, adjusting its position so that it could see the girl behind it clearly. Now it waited.
It was the same mirror that Marcus had seen when he stumbled his way through the shack. It was the same one that had reflected his fading flashlight. It was the same one he had caught his reflection in as the change had begun. The creature ran its claws down the scar of the already healed wound from where the fall had split the skull. Finding the house would have been easier if the creature could access Marcus’s memories, but the creature and he were as separate as night was from day. It was only in the few moments of dawn and dusk, when night and day were one that the creature had become aware of Marcus. The human was less aware, less instinctive, less primal, but his arrival at the shack could only mean he suspected. The change was coming and the creature’s conscience began to fade, but it grinned a terrible smile one more time as it glimpsed the human emerging from beneath. He would see everything. Coming to the shack had been a mistake for Marcus, but at least he would no longer live a life of doubt. Werewolves did exist, and he was one.
If you like what you’ve read, why not take a look at Shadow Beast, an even better read for Halloween!