“I’ve seen a werewolf.”
I looked up, passed the circle of women cluttered around me, telling me stories of their sightings with the mythical beasts. My pen had been scribbling frantically until now. It stilled as I met her gaze.
After every encounter with groups like these I would wade through the claims, for hours on end, researching the clues, looking for contradictions, all to see if I could even begin to sort fact from fiction. If I was to ever unravel the mystery of the mythological beast that I believed existed, I would doubtless face countless false reports of sightings. And I had. Believe me, I had faced false reports of sightings, fightings and even matings with these strange creatures. But I knew this was different.
Something in her eyes screamed truth. It chilled me to the bone.
I stared at her, my pen slipping in my moist fingers. I felt that my jaw had gone slack and closed my mouth. My tongue pled for moisture.
“You—you’ve—“ I stammered. It was the first time I believed someone, and she hadn’t even spoken yet.
“That’s right, Newsy. Do you want my story?” Her question was more of a challenge.
The other women in the circle around me snickered wickedly. They knew the story already no doubt. So this was their game. Lure in the fancy tabloid reporter and scare her pants off with a ghost story. My skepticism rose.
“Yes.” I said, once again poising my pen over the yellow paper pad. My courage, as well as embarrassment, fully intact.
Her return smile shook me. It was growing dark outside already, an unfortunate part of winter. She stood across from me. Lipstick so deeply red it looked crimson. Piercing blue eyes accentuated unnaturally inside her painted black-rimmed eyelids. A delicate silver ring hooped through her bottom lip. The color of her auburn hair didn’t appear to be tampered with; she sported a few grays. She lifted the left side of her loosely fitted plum shirt to reveal three azure lines slashing across her pale skin, arcing from her navel to her rib cage. I gasped audibly.
“He gave me something to remember him by.”
For some reason, I was terrified. I couldn’t slide my eyelids down to wet my eyes; my gaze was entrapped on those hideous blue scars.
“Still want the story?” She chuckled.
I managed to look into her eyes and dip my head in a tight bob; words bubbled up in the back of my throat, but my tongue wouldn’t move to release them. The nod made my point though. She threw back her head in a laugh.
Then she motioned to the curtains across the room behind me. I startled as I heard the slide of metal rings over the brass curtain rod. I turned in time to see the red velvet drapes swinging obediently shut. She slapped her hand against the air in front of her and the lights died. Then she brought her palm to her mouth and blew over it. The congregation of candles cluttering the room each grew a flame.
“Then you’ll have to stay a while.” She looked right into my eyes.
I knew I looked like a virgin at an R rated movie. The other girls settled comfortably in their seats as if their favorite scene was about to play. My stomach lurched. But this was the story I wanted. Maybe I wanted them to be fake after all.
“Not a problem.” I choked. My courage was but a boneless ghost. But I was in too deep to pull out now.
“You’ve heard about these, I’ll wager.” She stepped toward me with those long, lithe legs and pulled an ornament from her titian hair, letting it fall loosely to her shoulders.
She placed the object on my yellow pad, right under the title: Where are the Werewolves? It was small. Delicate looking. No longer than my index finger, but as thick. One end was flat, with sleek compressions resembling the face of the man on the moon. The other end was tapered into a sharp point. Its metallic sheen glinted in the candle light. Silver.
“Is that a--?”
“You’re quick.” Her maroon-painted lips slid into a smile. “Silver pierces their skin like a hot knife through butter.”
Soft laughs echoed my nervous titter. I swallowed.
“I figure, you’re already a believer, so you might as well hear the story from someone who knows the truth. There are liars out there.”
I nodded. Pen ready. Hands resting against my yellow college rule, to hide the shaking.
She walked into the center of the room and turned back toward me before she lowered herself to the floor. The rest of the women followed suit and scooted closer, forming a half moon around her on the rug. I slid off my chair and joined them.
“It was a long time ago. Circa—well, nothing you’d believe.” She looked right into my eyes as she started.
“I was alone that night. My partner didn’t believe in provoking the soulless beasts that we were trained to kill. I, however, had a more romantic idea of what being a member of the DarkFighters meant, and since our first twelve hunts had turned up empty, I was determined to make number thirteen lucky. I was young, and stupid. But nothing short of fear can break a stubborn streak like mine.
I didn’t want something easy. I was going after the big game. Werewolves. One of the big three of the soulless. No rookie had ever killed one. I was going to be the first. After all, acing the ambush and kill stages of my training had left me one of the cockiest graduates. That’s probably why they made stuff-shirt the rule-follower my partner, but then they didn’t expect me to break all the rules. There were three. Rookies hunting alone was one of the no-nos. Rookies hunting on a full moon night was another. They didn’t have to be worried about the third though, no one in their right mind would be that reckless.
I let out a melancholy howl. Nothing. Pushing my way deeper into the forest I tried again. Nothing. I knew my sorrowful call was near perfect. Any werewolf in the district would have perked. Crackling my way deeper into the dense shrubs of the thicket, I found a spot to wait. The moon was bright, so I flipped the switch to my flashlight, and my artificial light went out. I waited for my eyes to adjust.
I sent out one more mournful cry. Nothing. I sank to the ground with my back to a tree and waited. A chorus of crickets and tree frogs kept me awake at first. Then their monotony started to sing me to sleep.
My eyes popped open to the sharp crack of a stick splitting. Something was entering my thicket. I turned to look and felt the warm mist of breath against my neck. Fearing the worst, I closed my eyes and turned toward the heat. A resounding growl spurred my heart to beat faster. I opened my eyes.
Its serrated smile was inches from my face. Its breath was rank with the stench of blood, and sprays of red dotted its muzzle. I shivered. Goose bumps rose over my whole body, starting with my scalp and rippling down my legs. A werewolf.
I wanted to scream, but I was frozen. Slowly I inhaled. The breath I pushed out fueled the most bleak howl I’d ever mustered. It was perfect. Beautiful. The werewolf inched back and threw his morbid head back, stretched his unnaturally long neck and joined me.
Our voices mingled in bittersweet communion for an eternal moment. Then, he turned toward me, put his nose up to my throat and inhaled. He expelled the hot spray so forcefully that my shirt fluttered. A look of confusion enveloped his eyes. Then his brows lowered in anger. Fear shook my heart as he grabbed me and flung me over his shoulder
None of my kicking or scraping slowed his pace as we raced through the woods. My screams fell on deaf ears. He clutched me tighter and I felt his razor claws rip through my shirt and penetrate my skin. Still, I squirmed against his hold.
He took me to a dilapidated shack nestled under leafless trees. He brought me inside and tossed me like a featherweight. I landed with a jolt on a bed. The moonlight spilled in perfectly through the window and I could see him clearly.
He towered over me, standing on his grotesquely malformed hind legs. His ears twitched. He leaned closer to me and I found my scream. At the sound of it his head shot up. His ears sprung forward. Then his long neck arched toward me and his answering call was a growl so deep I felt it reverberate through my heart. His ears flattened. His lips curled. His teeth gleamed in the moonlight. That was the last clear image I saw as he struck.
His massive form encircled me and I screamed. Reaching for the silver weapon I had thankfully woven in my hair, I rolled out of the way. His jaws clamped around pillows. He launched after me, feathers clouding my view, I ducked. My silver weapon flailed clumsily out in front of me and I felt it catch.
He howled and staggered away from me. The feathers began to settle as I stared at him for a beat.
Shaking, he crouched low and whimpered. A trick. My head knew it was a trick, but my heart caused me to hesitate. He uncoiled and roared like thunder as he flew toward me. I ducked and skidded under the bed. He screeched as he crumpled into the wall.
Turning and looking around, he began to shake. He stumbled to the bed and fell atop it. It began pulsating violently above me. He screamed. He wailed. I held one hand over my mouth and the other gripped the silver spike. Tears wetted my cheeks and my body shook from hidden sobs of fear. I could finally feel the burn in my side where his claws had sliced me open while he clung to me and ran.
Then everything went still. The quietness enveloped me like a thick fog dulling my senses. I pulled myself out from under the bed. My blood smeared along the floor and I felt sick as I stood. I kept my back to him afraid the sudden quiet was meant to lure me out of hiding.
Slowly I turned. He was wet with sweat, lying on drenched sheets, naked. Vulnerable. My hands shook. It was now or never.
Courage gripped me and I thrust my hands above my head. Plunging them down, silver spike first, I felt the tip pass through his chest with ease. But I stopped. I had broken the third rule. I looked at his face.
It wasn’t the same. It was distinctly human. His whole body was. Slick with sweat, he shivered, but his eyes remained closed even as crimson leaked out around the silver blade in his skin. I couldn’t push it in farther.
He wasn’t a monster now. He was a man. A young man. Weak and cold. I could have finished it there. I could have killed him, but my conscience wouldn’t allow me to pass the blade that so easily penetrated his sternum any farther.
I pulled the stake out. His eyes shot open as if the silver leaving his system had awakened him. Shocked, he stared at me, pulling blankets around himself and moving away fearfully. His eyes fell on the blood at that dripped so freely off the weapon. Then his fingers touched his chest.
“Give it to me.” He said in a voice so hoarse I nearly screamed again.
I extended my hand and let the weapon fall onto the bed.
“I didn’t—I wasn’t—You were a monster!” I cried. Tears streamed again as I coughed on my own thick spit.
He looked at my red-stained, shredded clothes and closed his eyes. His fingers wrapped around the silver, his knuckles turned white and blood dripped from his fist, oozing out from between his fingers. Then his eyes opened. He looked at me. Into me. I swear his gaze reached my soul. Before I realized what he was doing, it was done.
He slumped back against the headboard, the silver sticking from the hole I had started. His eyes remained open, but they read the intimate thoughts of my soul no longer. A desolate ululating echoed in the distance. Moonlight broke through the clouds, filtering through the window, kissing his face. His shadow spilled out beside him, the shadow of a wolf.
“I ran.” She finished her tale and I exhaled. She was obviously pleased with my attentiveness.
I stared at the small weapon on my paper. It looked so innocuous. Wait.
“You took the weapon back before you ran?” I’d caught her. She was lying. I could have sworn she spoke the truth to me though! She was so convincing.
“I knew you’d be clever enough.” Her rich red lips stretched into a smile. “No. I left the weapon. Where it was.”
“It wasn’t long enough to pierce through his heart.”