His breath caught in his throat.
The creature that lay dozing in the wide clearing was not at all how Tommy had expected it to look. Ever since he’d been little, he’d had an image in his mind of what a werewolf was supposed to look like, based mainly on old TV shows and movies. He’d imagined it to be bulky, like Zeke, with probably grey or brown fur, and certainly more wolfen features than his new companion’s feline ones. The creature here though…
It was supple, thin and elongated even when curled into a ball, with short jet black fur that seemed almost to be part of its flesh. The only thing Tommy had got right was that it had a muzzle, but even this defied his expectations; it was long and pointed, almost like a drill or a spike, set between the slits of its closed eyes. Two pointed ears sat high on the top of its head, twitching gently as the beast slept. Its forelegs were stretched out languidly onto the grass before it, and Tommy caught the glint of moonlight on razor sharp claws.
Tommy scanned the rest of the small clearing. It was roughly one hundred feet across, and there were a couple of metal park benches just behind where the creature slumbered, next to an overfilled bin, and what looked like a repository for animal waste. A pathway, made of the same loose soil and woodchips as all the others, ran through the middle of the clearing, while a tall metal lamppost, which would not have looked all that out of place on the other side of a wardrobe, stood darkened over everything else. The only light, as far as he could make out, came from the glistening moon that crept towards the horizon almost directly above the clearing, bathing the monstrous creature with a brilliant grey glow.
His eyes narrowed as they made out something by the side of the werewolf, an oddly shaped mound, trying to make out what it was. Then he blinked as recognition struck him.
“My God,” he breathed, an edge to his voice. “Is that…?”
“Yes,” came a soft growl. Chase, crouched next to Tommy and glaring at the creature, bristled with barely contained emotion. “Its last meal.”
Half chewed bones littered the torn clothing of the mound, and Tommy could make out a plain black handbag not far from the remains. He felt white heat rise to his face, and heard his teeth grind so loud he was surprised no one else could. He struggled to keep his stomach down, when all it wanted to do was empty itself.
“That’s not right,” he muttered, voice oddly distant.
“It’s why we do what we do, Brogan.” Wells’ voice was not unkind, making him glance over in shock. She eyed him intently, that weighing look in her eyes. He nodded, and she nodded back, understood his meaning; Yes, something needs to be done about this.
“Okay,” she continued, “Here’s the plan. Chase, you and Brogan take the left, wait for our signal to—“
Tommy was already moving in that direction when the dry twig snapped loudly beneath his feet.
All sound ceased. From the rustling of wildlife, to the soft whistle of the breeze, every noise cut out in an instant. Tommy’s eyes widened, and sweat beaded his forehead as he faced the others, each one wearing a mask of horror that he knew must match his own expression.
Tommy licked his lips. “Okay,” he breathed as softly as he could. “Maybe it didn’t hear that.”
Zeke glanced to the side, into the clearing, and his face dropped. “Oh crap,” the big guajer muttered. Tommy turned to look, and his stomach lurched.
The clearing stood empty.
“Into the open,” Wells yelled, voice loud and commanding. She was already moving forward, bursting free of the brush, her weapon raised. “And get those lights back on.”
The others obeyed in an instant, converging in the centre of the clearing. They stood back to back, eyes sweeping the woods around them. The trees remained deathly silent, though Tommy could hear little above the pulsating rhythm of his blood, loud in his ears.
Seconds passed, agonisingly slowly, but still nothing happened.
“Is it…” Tommy began, before swallowing the lump in his throat. “Is it still there?”
After another long pause, Wells finally glanced over. “I don’t think—“
The small movement was enough of a distraction. Like a black arrow, the werewolf shot from the foliage to Tommy’s right, directly for Wells, its outreaching claws seeking her flesh. At the last second she must have sensed it coming, because she threw herself aside just before it reached her, the claws only succeeding in tearing a long stretch out of her coat. An instant later and the thing would have disembowelled her where she stood.
Time stretched out. In his mind, seconds passed in minutes, in hours. Wells rolled with her dive, the assault rifle slipping free from her grasp. Zeke roared, jerking his lager, modified, SA80 towards the moving monster, squeezing a thick finger on the trigger. The muzzle flashed bright once, then again, and again, followed by an explosion of noise.
Nimbly, the werewolf dodge aside the streaking hot rounds, twirling like a ballerina despite its size, bounding left and right but still coming forwards. Chase opened fire, screaming in pure rage, but the creature lunged to the right, landing on the raised back of the park bench. The bench creaked for a second under the werewolf’s weight, before it leaped from its perch, high into the clear night sky.
It hung there, silhouetted by the heavy pale moon, before reaching the peak of its jump and plummeting at speed down again. Directly towards Tommy.
He tried to raise his weapon, but his arms felt like lead blocks, his legs like jelly, and he knew in that instant that he was not going to be fast enough. This was it, this was the day he died. The thought stuck through his body with alarming clarity, and he found himself accepting the end. Sharp claws flashed as they reached for him, when suddenly Tommy found himself shoved roughly aside, sprawling on the cold grass.
Time sped rapidly back to normal.
He scrambled away as fast as he could before slipping around onto his butt. He looked back, expecting to see the creature stalking him, but instead saw his saviour. Zeke stood tall, his back to Tommy, and facing the werewolf down. The beast slunk low to the ground, all four limps cocked and ready to attack, and a growl on its inhuman mouth. Yellow eyes glinted with nothing but hatred and malice. Evil, Tommy thought. Its eyes hold nothing but evil.
The creature lunged for Zeke, who slammed a two-handed clubbing blow to the side of the werewolf’s head, knocking it off course. It spun with unnatural delicacy even as it touched the ground, launching itself back at Zeke. The gaujar opened arms wide, this time wrapping the onrushing monster in a huge bear hug. Zeke twisted and, with a great feat of strength, sent the monster flying. Again, the beast landed daintily on the ground, spinning nimble back to face Zeke.
But Zeke was not alone. At his side were Chase and Wells, the latter holding her SIG aimed towards the werewolf. The beast hesitated, and in that instant, Tommy was to his feet, adding his rifle to theirs. Those evil yellow eyes moved from person to person, weighing, measuring. Tommy could imagine it assessing how quickly it could move against how fast they could all open fire.
The creature opened its mouth, revealing rows of razor sharp canines, and its tongue lolled from the side of its maw. It reminded Tommy of those people who swore blind that their dogs were smiling at them; it really did look like it was grinning.
Then it turned on its heel, springing back towards the tree line in sharp zigzags, while Foxtrot opened fire. In seconds, it was gone from sight.
“No,” Tommy cried, not even realising he had shouted. Before his mind caught up with the fact, he was racing forwards, heading towards the place the werewolf had last been seen. Rage built in him, rage at what the creature had done, and at what it had attempted to do to him. He could not let it get away. Not knowing what it could do to some other innocent person. It needed to be stopped.
As he entered the tree line, he heard Wells yell his name, but ignored it. There was only one thing on his mind. It’s not getting away.
Deeper into the woods he followed it, not even needing the tracking skills his mother had imparted on him; the trail the werewolf left behind was a mile wide. And in a straight line too, as if someone had dragged a knife blade through the trees. A straight line, heading back out into the rest of the city. He redoubled his pace, ignoring the braches and twigs that caught on his flesh and clothing, tearing both, ignoring the roots that tripped him and sent him spilling forwards, off balance for a second before he could right himself. None of that stopped him, for he knew if the werewolf reached the concrete jungle, they would never find it again.
A moment later he burst from the foliage into a small grassy area, pausing a moment, panting hard. His heart pounded in his chest, a strong, solid rhythm. Before him was a short wall, a little over waist high, of crumbling red bricks, and over that lay a deserted street, bathed by the glow of a dozen streetlights. He raced towards the wall, slinging his rifle over his shoulder, and leapt, vaulting over the wall. He landed in a crouch on the other side, head snapping up and searching both sides of the thankfully deserted street. Where…?
Down to the left he saw it, ducking into an alley way. Tommy gripped his rifle in his fists again, and sprang to his feet, racing towards the alley. As he reached the mouth, he flattened himself against the wall. Carefully, he inched his head over the edge, peering inside. The alleyway ran for a little distance, about 100 feet, before ending abruptly. On that far wall was a single door, painted a deep red, but shut. Above the door was a single bulb, flickering erratically, casting long and deep shadows down the rest of the alleyway. To one side lay a large metal dumpster, overflowing with trash, some of which spilled to the floor beside it, mingling with discarded bin bags. The floor was littered with more trash – broken bottles, discarded wrappers, half eaten food – and dirt, and a rat rushed suddenly across the distance, making Tommy start.
Careful, he told himself. Be careful.
Cautiously, he edged around the corner, creeping forward into the alley, his rifle leading the way. He tread carefully, so as not to disturb anything that might break beneath him – he’d learnt his lesson quickly. The beam of his torch swept from side to side as he peered into every darkened space, into every nook and every cranny. Onwards, ever towards the dumpster. When he came in line with it he paused again, steeling himself. Then he darted forward, snapping his weapon towards the other side of the dumpster.
He let out the long breath that he had not even realised he held. He knew he had seen the werewolf enter the alley, knew it hadn’t gone through the door at the far end, but if it was not hiding behind the dumpster, then where…?
From the corner of his eye he saw a shadow drop silently from the rooftops, back at the mouth of the alley. The shadow landed effortlessly. As Tommy spun, the werewolf raised itself effortlessly onto hind legs, standing more like a man than the beast it had appeared in the clearing.
“Alone at last,” it said, that wicked grin back on its face.
“Dammit, Brogan, wait!”
Monika raced through the trees, Chase at her heels, trying to keep up with Zeke. The big guajar bounded a pace further from the humans with each one of his long strides. Damn fool, she thought, rushing off like that after a werewolf. Branches and twigs poked at her as she ran, and there was a terrible rip as one caught the tear in her jacket from the ‘wolf’s claws, slashing it open further. She was lucky she’d managed to avoid those claws, kept them from doing the same to her flesh. You didn’t want what would happen if those claws got you.
“Brogan,” she yelled again. “Brogan, stop. Don’t chase that thing on your own.”
Zeke loped ahead of her, pulling away, and a few seconds later he rushed out of the woodlands and into open space. He paused a moment, ears pricked up and head swivelling this way and that, stopped long enough for Chase and Monika to catch him. As soon as they were by his side, though, Zeke was off again, leaping a low wall with each. Monika’s breath was ragged as she ploughed on after him.
Zeke was still bounding across the road when the sudden burst of gunfire, wild and rapid, caught Monika’s ears. Flashes lit the mouth of an alleyway a little way down the street. Then both noise and light were cut off, and a man screamed.
“Fuck,” breathed Chase, still right by her side. Zeke had reached the alley, but Monika pushed herself to run faster than she had before, despite the dropping feeling in her heart. Zeke rounded the corner, weapon up, and started to fire. Bullets tore into the alley, but his spray was wild, darting left and right and up and down, as if his target moved with lightning speed. The humans reached the alley just as Zeke stopped firing, his feline features creased with unmistakable anger.
The alley was empty; the ‘wolf gone. But something lay in the middle of the floor, a rumpled heap in a pool of rapidly spreading blood. Chase and Zeke kept their weapons up as Monika silently moved towards the broken shape, knowing what she would see before the light of her torch even revealed it.
“No,” she breathed, staring in horror at the shredded and bloody skin. “Not again.”