Constable Hung hated the night shifts. It was, she reasoned, probably a bad attitude for a police officer to have, but from her experiences the nights were when the worst things happened; drunken fights, domestic disturbances, and drug deals were not known to be common in the light of the day. With the setting sun the temperature, already low at this time of year, had plunged dramatically, forcing her to shift from one foot to the other in an effort to keep blood pumping into her extremities, and her breath to bloom thickly each time she exhaled.
Thankfully at this time of the morning there were not that many civilians milling around on the other side of the blue police barricade tape that served to keep them out of the gravel carpark. Still, she kept a half eye on them. You could never be too careful when the Great British Public were rubbernecking; someone would always try to cross the tape, and if the media got wind of this she just knew they’d be ones to try.
Behind her, and surrounding the rough grounded carpark, the woodlands sat dark, the shapes of the trees making disturbing silhouettes. During the day, the woodlands would be somewhere people would walk their dogs, or jog, or follow the trails to the wide clearings for picnics and games in the sun, away from the noise and bustle of The City. Now even the few scant lamps, merging with the flashing lights of the police cars, did little more than make the shadows deeper, and the dark spaces wider. The sort of things people got up to at this when the light had faded… well, it wasn’t something you’d discuss with your mother.
Not that she actually knew what was going on in there, not right now at least. They’d been told to close the area off and keep people away. Someone high up had issued those orders, along with another; to await the arrival of a special branch of law enforcement that Hung, with her three years in the service, had never heard of. She didn’t know when they’d be arriving either, so until then, it was her task to keep people from going past the barricade.
Scant moments later a plain white panel van appeared, its headlights illuminating the road as it neared the carpark. Hung shook her head. This wouldn’t be the first time tonight she’d turned away a vehicle of civilians who had been heading to the woodland area for… recreational… reasons.
The driver stopped the van just shy of the tape, but didn’t turn off the engine. Hung moved to the driver’s side, while the woman behind the wheel rolled down her window. She was a stern looking woman, with light brown hair pulled into a ponytail, and wearing a business suit beneath her heavy winter coat. Hung glanced quickly at the passenger, a needlessly too-handsome man wearing less formal clothing, who seemed to be staring at the woods with a hungry intensity.
“You’ll have to move the van out of the way,” Hung said. “And keep back, this area is off limits.”
“Not to us,” the driver replied smoothly, flashing a badge at her. “DSI. You’re expecting us?”
Hung was already nodding, though something of this whole situation didn’t sit well with her. Her brow furrowed. The woman’s badge matched what she’d said, and the constable had been told to await their arrival. But the van was nondescript, and the occupants – well, the man at least – didn’t have the look of any police officer he’d even seen. The back of the van was separated from the front by a full panel, with whatever was in there shielded from Hung’s sight.
“Is there a problem, Constable?” the woman said, her voice that of someone used to command.
Something’s not quite right, about all of this, Hung thought. “No, no,” she said instead.
“Good,” replied the woman. “Now move these people back. I don’t want to see so much as a hint of another person within fifty feet of this place.”
“Yes ma’am,” Hung responded, before stepping away from the van, and lifting the police tape up. A moment later, the van moved forward, under the tape, and into the darkness of the carpark, the gravel crunching noisily under the weight of its tyres.
Hung turned to the other constables. “Alright,” she said, gesturing to the small congregation on the other side of the barrier. “You heard the lady. Let’s get this lot moved back.”
When Wells reached the far end of the carpark, she turned the van around so that the rear end was facing away from the police line they had just passed. Tommy jumped out, the loose gravel stones crunching under his sneakers. The carpark was a large, almost circular flat piece of ground, roughly twenty meters in diameter. A short wooden barricade made of thick logs, just tall enough to reach Tommy’s shins, ran through the centre of the carpark, and similar barricades encircled the perimeter. A half dozen or so tall metal lamps sat at intervals around the outside of the carpark, releasing thin yellow illumination that leeched all other colour from the area. There were no other vehicles remaining.
His eyes locked instantly on the dark foreboding woodland around them, with its deep shadows; any one of which could, right at this moment, be concealing a werewolf from sight. Most of the trees, as fitting for the time of year, were bereft of leaves, leaving only thin twisted branches that appeared to create disturbing shapes in that weak light. He could make out three distinct pathways leading from the central carpark, each one wide enough to fit the van down, the surface made of dirt and loose wooden chips. It was only the tall buildings, distant but still visible above the skyline, that reminded Tommy he was still in the largest city in England.
Wells emerged from the other side of the van, wrapping her knuckles three times loudly on the sides. A second later the rear doors opened, revealing Zeke and Chase.
“I get to sit up front next time,” said Chase as soon as his shoes hit the gravel, but he had a faint smile as he said that, looking at the big gurajer from the corner of his eyes.
“Hey, you’d complain too if you were always stuck in the back,” Zeke moaned, moving slower as he clambered from the van, his voice a low rumble.
“You should be quicker in calling shotgun then,” Tommy found himself saying, sharing a half grin at the large creature, and was rewarded with a barked laughed from Chase.
“You know the drill, Zeke,” was all Wells said, standing with her back to the trio and staring out towards the darkened trees.
“Yeah, yeah,” Zeke muttered. “Not my fault you humans tend to scream and pull guns when you see me.”
“Hey, I apologised,” exclaimed Tommy, and the three men (or two men and one gurajer) shared a laugh.
Wells interrupted their laughter. “Eyes on the prize, boys,” she said, moving to the van and climbing inside. She reappeared a moment later carrying four assault rifles, tossing one to each of the others and keeping the last for herself. Tommy caught his easily, before bringing it up for inspection; it was an L85A2, a weapon he knew to be common for the British Military, though his own service career had made the Colt Canada C7 more familiar in his grip.
“That’s some serious firepower,” he stated.
“We’ll need it,” said Chase, “if this isn’t another wild goose chase.” The other man’s grip tightened on his weapon, and for a moment the faint hints of a snarl appeared on his lips.
“Call Centre said not,” Wells reminded them, as she began handing out plain black, insignia free, bulletproof vests. As Tommy pulled his over his head – he was not that surprised to note that Zeke’s was large than any two of their put together – he recalled the brief she had given them before they’d left; the Call Centre had intercepted another report of a ‘big dog’, and from the description had confirmed it to be a werewolf. CCTV footage of the area registered it entering about forty minutes before, and no sign of it leaving. His stomach lurched again. A confirmed sighting. This was it, an honest-to-God werewolf. No wonder they needed the hardware, he thought, then wondered if bullets would stop something like that.
What had it been Wells had said? The older a werewolf, the more active it was in bestial form. He glanced up at the sky, the fat moon drifting slowly towards the horizon. He wondered how the old this werewolf would be, how powerful, how much of its human mind it would retain, then wondered how long it took before they held great control over their transformations. A few years? Decades?
Did they live that long? As excited as he was to be here – to have the shroud removed from over the reality of the universe – for every question he had answered, it just raised another ten. Part of him wished that Caine had let him in easily as planned; allow him to acclimatize to the pretty damned big culture shock he was going through. But then he thought, Werewolf! He didn’t know how common they were; he might never get another opportunity to see one.
“Which way?” Chase said, to Wells.
She pointed towards one of the darkened paths with the point of her chin, seemingly choosing it at random. “We’ll start there,” she said. “Form up, I want your eyes open for anything. Chase, bring up the rear.”
They flowed naturally into positions, and once more Tommy was impressed by their professionalism; weapons up, bodies alert, eyes scanning the crossover points. He may not know these people, may not even trust them yet, but he fit into their unit like a missing piece, and that was a great comfort, a great reality, after the instability of the last few hours.
Foxtrot Squadron moved forward, out from the meagre lighting of the carpark, and towards the pathway Wells had indicated. High intensity beams attached to the barrels of their weapons led the way, but that only made the darkness around their pools of light heavier. The ground crunched softly under their feet, but noticeably less so under Zeke’s. For all his size, Zeke – who stalked behind Tommy in their train – moved as quiet as a… well, a cat, Tommy thought, with just a touch of self-reproach.
The darkness held stubbornly away from each of the tall, straight metal lampposts that dotted the pathway every fifty feet or so, though the light from them did not seem to sink far into the trees and brush to either side. Those trees formed a thick and solid roof over the pathway, blocking even the light of the moon. It was almost as if something held the darkness in place, against the lights best efforts. Tommy shuddered, in part from the chill of the air, and he could feel the fine hairs on the back of his neck stand up the further along the pathway Wells lead them.
At the paranoid snail’s pace they took, it was a few moments later that they reached the first lamp that was out. Further away was darkened too; all the lamps had gone out. The blackness encroached heavier here, pressing around them ominously. Even the rumble and din of the city around them was muted here, so faint their barely registered. The blood pumped loudly in Tommy’s ears, almost deafening him to anything else. It was all he could do to stop his limbs from shaking. God, I want to run, he thought. I want to turn around and just run. His breath bloomed rapidly before him.
There was something fundamentally wrong here. There was no other way to describe the sensations that hung in the air, chilling the very marrow of his bones.
There was a crack, off to the left, and Tommy swung around to face it, training his weapon at… at what, exactly? Probably just a small animal, he tried to tell himself, hoping it sounded convincing.
“Zeke.” Wells voice cut through the chill. “Up front. Show us the way.”
Zeke moved forward, but not before pressing a large paw on Tommy’s shoulder and giving it an oddly reassuring squeeze. “Keep your mind clear, Rook,” he whispered, as far as someone with a voice like his could whisper. “Bad things hang in the air when there’s a ‘wolf about.”
“And turn those light off people,” Wells continued, ignoring the exchange. “We don’t want to give it any more of a heads up than we need to.”
“S-shouldn’t…” Tommy began, then licked lips that were dry before trying again. “Shouldn’t we keep the lights on? We’ll get lost in this darkness.”
“Zeke can lead us just fine,” Wells replied. He could just about make out her face in the dimness; she wore the look of someone who was growing impatient at explaining things to a child.
“How so?” he whispered. “It’s not like he has night vision goggles or anything.”
Zeke turned now, his eyes glistening as he looked about him. “I’m like a big cat,” he said simply.
Tommy tilted his head to one side as he stared, open mouthed at Zeke. Then realisation stuck. “Oh,” he muttered, a touch sheepishly.
The four bunched up closer at the moved on, using small touches to keep the others within distance. The pathway was wholly black now, and Tommy could only barely make out the massive shape of Zeke as he moved before him. Despite that size, Zeke moved with even more stealth than he had before, his boots making no noise on the pathway. By comparison, Tommy’s footfalls sounded loud in his ears, and his clothes rustled as they brushed passed thin branches and twigs that stuck out into the path. He really is just like a big cat, Tommy thought of the blurry white mass in front of him. I wonder what else he can do.
Then Zeke stopped, so suddenly that Tommy almost walked into his back before he’d realised. Zeke sniffed the air in a distinctly un-cat like manner, and a soft rumble rose from his throat.
“You got something?” Wells whispered, her voice carrying through the darkness despite the hushed tones.
Rather than answer, Zeke turned aside, moving off the pathway and into the wooded area that lay to the right. He moved with ease, avoiding branches and boles that Tommy could barely see even inches from his face. Foxtrot squadron trailed slowly, creeping through the trees, following the indistinct shape of Zeke.
Up ahead, through the thick clump of trees, Tommy could make out a faint light, a soft grey glow that grew brighter as they neared, that made the shape of the oaks and birches around them stand out in sharp relief. Zeke stopped, and the other three moved to other side of him, looking out at the grass clearing that began just feet away from their position. The clearing was lit only by the gentle light of the full moon. And in the middle of the clearing was the werewolf.