Howl of a Halloween

Ruebus sighed. The mountain air chilled him, and he pulled the thick blanket more tightly around him. He had already removed his clothing and placed them in a bag in the back of the pick up. He was miles out of town, and the scent of pine assured him of the closeness of wilderness. Night was falling and a few stars were already peeking out at the retreating day. His heartbeat had slowed and he was comforted by the methodical thud in his chest as he looked up to welcome the night.

He had found it amusing that the full moon had fallen on Halloween this year. Earlier in the day, he had even kidded himself that he would be able to stay in town, as everyone would think he was just wearing a costume. The smile had soon faded though. He could never completely remember the full effect of the transformation, but he was certain that it would be all too convincing. He could never even remember if he walked on two legs, or ran on four. In fact, all he ever remembered was what we saw and felt in his dreams. The chasing down of a deer or the bloodlust thundering through his veins just before terrible jaws snapped shut.

This was his fourth full moon. If he had known that the dog he’d hit that day was a wolf, he probably wouldn’t have even got out of the car. But that was old news now. One of the benefits of being a lycanthrope was a remarkable ability to heal and the scar had disappeared after his first full moon. He had been on the ranch, bringing in the horses when he had begun to change. The horses had been spooked all day. The next morning, he had found what was left of the two that hadn’t fled fast enough. Ever since then, he had made sure he was no-where near a human on the night of the full moon. He was never going to risk that.

The noise of the engine snapped him out of the trance he had slipped into. A car was coming up the road. It was still out of sight, far round the bend. But it was getting closer. His heightened senses took over, his ears, already slightly narrower and more tipped than a few minutes ago, seemed to prick up and follow the sound as it drew nearer. He was poised to run. But something held him there.

The car screamed round the bend, almost out of control. It was a black SUV, with tinted windows, and even his eyes couldn’t see the driver. The popping sound from the wheel arch came unexpectedly. The car was already sideways when the blowout shook the chassis, lifting it into the air as it spun wildly out of control. It crashed down onto its side and slid along the road in a shower of sparks and grinding metal, the sound so loud in his ears that he lifted up his hands to cover them. He could feel his hands and palms tingling as thick fur threatened to sprout from his pores, and his fingernails thickened and hardened as they rested against his skin.

The night descended still, and Ruebus knew that only a few seconds of his humanity remained. He didn’t look behind him as he heard the family scramble from the car. He ran in the opposite direction, driving himself further and further from the sounds and smells of the accident. He began to head for the tree line, hoping the wolf in him would carry on in the same direction. It was not to be.

The snapping sound in his knees drove him to the ground in a crumpled heap. As his leg bones broke, shattered and reformed into a new shape, he let out a blood-curdling scream of agony. It only ended when there was no air left in his chest. His eyes bulged in their sockets as they changed shape and colour, seeping blood as they did. The thick, dark brown fur erupted from every pore in his skin, as steel-like talons, as black as the oncoming night, curled from his fingers and toes. His spine cracked as it curved, sending him into a spasm of renewed agony. The changes hit him in waves, re-shaping his legs into powerful back limbs. His arms bent and buckled as they became heavy and hard. His skull flattened and fractured as long powerful jaws extended into place. As if in triumph of overcoming the frail human form it had been only moments ago, the wolf roared into the night air, and held its head high in a single, chilling howl.

The scents were what came to it first. The leaking oil from the upturned engine; the spilling gasoline, the wisp of perfume from the mother’s neck, the sweat and blood on the hands of the man. They all tempted it back towards the road. It slunk silently towards the brow of the hill where it already knew the car lay. At the ridge, it paused as it saw three people huddled against the underside of the upturned car. The wolf allowed them to see him as it took a few careless steps towards them, sending loose stones down the bank in their direction. It savoured the sounds of the screams and the smell of fear in the air as the two females stood up. It fixed its eyes on the man as it parted its lips and narrowed its eyes as it thought with evil pleasure of the nightmare its human-self would wake from the following night. And then it leapt.

~

If you like the short stories sometimes featured on this blog, you can find novels by the author here and here.

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Wolf’s Bane

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.

Halloween

If you like what you’ve read, why not take a look at Shadow Beast, an even better read for Halloween!

https://t.co/4y3gJq8Phi