Last week I mentioned a scene I had written using one of my buddies as the main character. Here is said scene. It's not meant to be a short story. It's simply a writing exercise that took on a bit of a life of its own. Read on if you date. But not if you're lupophobic.
Phil sat back in his chair and watched the computer monitor wink off, listening to its static hiss as it shutdown for the weekend. Only when his computer’s fan had died out as well did he realize how quiet the office was. He glanced at his watch. 7 pm on a Friday night made for a quiet office at the corporate headquarters for Sav-U-Mor Markets. He looked back to his monitor and saw his distorted reflection in its curved surface. Another week done.
It had been a productive day. A press release sent out for Romminger Vineyards’ Winter Festival and Open House, a couple of articles on local grown organic produce posted to the website, and some major rewrites of the company’s monthly newsletter. He grimaced. If only he could get the department heads to enroll in Grammar 101.
“Late night, eh, Phil?”
Phil swiveled in his chair to see his boss, Ted, walk up to the front door of their small office space. He was an older man, good-natured and professional. The two of them had worked together for a couple of years now, and Ted had assumed something of a mentorship role with Phil, taking him under his wing and helping him negotiate some of the corporate hurtles that inevitably came with employment with a family-run supermarket chain.
Phil nodded. “Yep. Got the Romminger release out. Should be a hit.”
Ted lifted his winter coat from the coat rack and pulled it on. “Good. Any plans for the weekend?”
Phil shook his head. “Nope. My wife’s out of town. Girls’ retreat. They’re staying up in a cabin at Tahoe. You know, no phone, no boys allowed.”
Ted laughed. “They’re brave. I wouldn’t spend a night up there.”
Phil frowned in confusion. “Why’s that? It’s Tahoe.”
Ted pulled some gloves from his coat pocket and began to put them on. “The animals. You saw the Bee this morning, didn’t you? They say the drought is drawing animals down from the Sierras in search of water. Lots of attacks, especially in the suburbs.”
“How many is ‘lots’?”
Ted shrugged. “Several, I guess. Fish and Game think they’re mountain lions, but they can’t be sure. There have been several deaths. Gruesome.”
“So then my wife should be safe, right?” Phil said. “She’s in Tahoe, and the animals are down in the suburbs.”
Ted thought for a moment. “Guess you’re right. Now that you mention it, pumas have been found as far into the valley as the slough outside Knights Landing. That was just a week ago.”
“Knights Landing? That’s fifteen miles away.”
Ted nodded. “Yup. Guess it’s us who should be worried.” He turned up the collar of his coat and picked up his briefcase. “Anyways, have a good weekend going stag. And remember,” he assumed an eerie voice, though his smile ruined the effect, “Be careful out there. T’will be a dark and stormy night.”
Phil smiled, “Yes, sir. I’ll have my pepper spray and gore-tex at the ready.”
Ted waved on his way out. “Good night, Phil. Close up and set the alarm, will ya?”” He opened the door and a gust of cold wind swept into the office. Ted turned into the wind and struck out into the dark parking lot.
Phil stared out the window. Nighttime already. He hadn’t gotten over spring being over, and already winter was almost upon them. 7 pm was as good as midnight as far as the sun was concerned this late in the year. He sighed, picked up his bag and coat, and made his way to the door. He put on the coat, slung his bag over his shoulder, set the alarm, and stepped out into the night.
Ted was right. T'was a dark and stormy night.
Phil looked up to see the black underbelly of rain-laden clouds as they slid across the sky, carried by a strong westerly wind and illuminated from behind by a full moon. Hetook in a deep breath. He loved nights like this, when the elements seemed to be conspiring against mankind. It made him want to strap on his hiking boots and hit the trails. Maybe Iceberg or Desolation. Hoover Wilderness. He sighed, knowing he would have to wallow in suburbia for the weekend, jealous of his wife’s wilderness retreat.
He looked around him and saw that the parking was mostly empty, which was surprising. Sav-U-Mor Markets corporate headquarters sounded illustrious, but it wasn’t much more than a small building set to the north of Sav-U-Mor Market’s store # 1, and the store didn’t look to be doing much business right now. It seemed that not many wanted to brave the storm tonight.
Phil zipped up his parka and turned to his car, but then thought better of it when his stomach rumbled. He looked to the street and swore he could smell Ludy’s Barbecue even though it was blocks away, and he knew that he must have a half rack of their pork ribs tonight. He smiled to himself. Maybe going stag wouldn’t be so bad. For just one weekend, at least.
He headed out to Court Street, which was dark and deserted. Even the streetlamps looked pale as the night set in. Court Street on a Friday night was just as empty as headquarters was right now. It was the hub of county activity every week day, as civilians and law enforcement and civil servants handled traffic and criminal cases and shuffled paperwork among the myriad county courts and departments that were located here. But now it was as dead as his blackened computer monitor.
He made his way westward, walking down the center of sidewalk, aware of the darkened alleys and old stands of oak trees that made for possible mugging spots. Court Street was, ironically, one of the meaner streets in town, and Woodland had plenty of mean streets. But it looked like even the street punks had gone indoors. It was that kind of night.
Phil hadn’t made it halfway to Ludy’s when it began to drizzle, a fine cold rain that began to soak his hair and dampen the noise of the traffic on Main Street to the south. The world grew a bit darker and bleaker, but he pressed on, his stomach once again protesting at having gone seven hours without food. He soon became lost in his own thoughts, thinking of his wife, wishing she were home tonight. It was a warm thought, something to fight off the cold that began to seep past the shell of his waterproof parka.
As he approached Elm street, a voice called out to him, breaking his reverie. “Heya, Phil,” a man’s voice said.
Phil turned around and saw a man standing on the sidewalk a couple of paces back, his legs spanned to shoulder width, his arms hanging at his side. He was of average height and build, wearing sneakers, old jeans, and a flannel shirt over a wife-beater. The man’s face was shrouded in the darkness between two street lamps. Phil frowned. He hadn’t even seen the man a moment ago, and he thought for sure he would have heard the man running to catch up to him.
“Hello? Do I know you?” Phil asked, glancing around, wishing there was at least a nearby moving car for company.
The man took a step forward, and Phil finally got a look at his face. “Yeah,” the man said, “It’s me, Johnny, from Nakato Farms.” Sure enough, it was. Phil recognized the man’s lean, sun-tanned face and unruly shock of brown hair.
Phil’s shoulders eased down with relief, and he pulled his hand back out of his parka pocket. “Hello Mr. Higgins,” he said, looking Higgins over now that he was better illuminated by a lamplight. His sneakers were mud-coated and his pants stained with dirt, not unusual for a farm worker, but there was something odd about his stance. Phil couldn’t quite place it, so he said, “You must be cold in only that shirt.”
“Don’t mind the cold,” Higgins said, staring at Phil.
Phil began to feel uneasy. Something about Higgins was off, though once again he couldn’t place it. He said, “Well, good to see you. Gotta go--”
But Higgins cut him off. “I liked your write-up. Saw it on your website. Didn’t have to make too many changes, did you?”
“Thanks,” Phil said, further disconcerted. Higgins sounded distracted, and his eyes were too wide. He could see the whites of them almost all the way around. His pupils looked dilated. Phil continued, “No, I didn’t have to make too many changes. You did good.” Higgins had done good. Nakato Farms had requested a feature on Sav-U-Mor’s website of their new organic rice certification, and Sav-U-Mor et Markets had obliged them. Phil had coordinated the write-up with Higgins’s help, and had ended up using most of Higgins’s material.
Higgins continued to stare at Phil, his hands hanging limp at his side, the wind tugging at his open flannel shirt. Phil shuddered just from the sight of it. How the man wasn’t freezing, he couldn’t know. Then he saw the dilated pupils again, and he understood. Higgins must be a tweaker. Woodland was full of meth users, and Higgins must be one of them.
Phil took a step back, and said, “Good talking to you. I’ve got to get home now. See you later.”
But before he could turn away, Higgins said, “But your car’s that way.” He jerked his head back towards the Sav-U-Mor parking lot, which was now blocks away.
All of Phil’s warning flags were going up. He felt a cold rock settle in his stomach and his hands began to tingle from an increase of adrenalin. “What is it you want, Mr. Higgins?”
Higgins smiled. It was a lop-sided smile that didn’t reach his eyes. He sniffed at the air with a subtle flaring of his nostrils, and his eyelids became heavy, as though he were smelling the sweetest perfume.
All at once Phil became aware of the fact that Higgins was standing downwind from him, and that his stance looked off because he was balanced on the balls of his feet. Like someone ready to pounce. Phil stepped back, feeling the cold in his belly grow even colder. “What do you want? I need to get home. My wife’s waiting.” He didn’t think it wise that Higgins should know that he was stag this weekend. He reached his hand back into his parka pocket.
“No she’s not,” Higgins said. “She’s in Tahoe.”
Phil stared at Higgins. There was no way the man could know. He hadn’t told anyone but Ted, and his wife hadn’t decided to go until late this afternoon.
“You should run,” Higgins said, stepping forward, still oblivious to the cold.
Phil felt stunned, almost dizzy. Higgins’s voice was distant and removed, but his eyes had taken on a hungry look. “What?” he asked.
“You should know why I chose you,” Higgins said. “They said I had to pick a big guy, someone strong, someone who might be able to handle himself.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Phil said, stepping back again.
Again, Higgins followed. “So I picked you.” He shrugged. “Think of it as a compliment. I had to choose someone who could defend himself for my first kill.”
Phil felt numb, his mind coming up blank as it tried to process what was happening. Then he felt a surge of anger. “Get the hell away from me.”
Higgins ignored him. “Can’t hunt with the pack until I’ve made my first kill.” He took in another deep breath, and Phil knew for certain that Higgins was somehow smelling him. Higgins shuddered as though with ecstasy. He behaved like a beast of prey who had just cornered his quarry. He slowly began to crouch down. “Run,” he said, his voice lowering to a growl.
Phil turned to run, his heart pounding, his mind scrambling, trying to understand.
Then he heard Higgins growl low and launch himself at Phil’s back.
Phil spun around at the last instant and brought his hand out of his parka, wielding a can of pepper spray. It was something he always carried with him, something he had picked up while backpacking in Glacier National Park. It was originally meant for bears, but he had kept it on him as a reminder of his love for the outdoors. And now it was staving off a madman.
The pepper spray streamed out in a jet that was caught by the stiff wind and driven into Higgins’s eyes. Higgins twisted in midair, caught in the middle of an inhuman leap, and let out a bestial yelp. He crashed into Phil, carrying them both to the ground.
Phil rolled away, his shoulder flashing with pain from having been driven into the concrete. Higgins scratched at his eyes, still letting out pathetic yelps. The rain surged down then, in a downpour that drowned out all other sound and color. Phil scrambled to his feet, staring at what had moments ago been a business contact, who was now talking of killing and packs and hunting. He didn’t know meth could be this bad.
Higgins let out a plaintive howl, then rolled to his knees. He looked up at Phil with hunger in his red, bleary eyes, and he gathered himself for another leap.
Phil had only a moment to react, and he fell back on the Judo lessons he had taken as a teenager. It wasn’t a conscious decision, just something his body fell into, though the memory of it was years old. As Higgins streaked towards him, carried forward with monstrous strength, Phil caught his outstretched arms and rolled back with him, using Higgins’s momentum against him. Phil then kicked out with his feet, sending Higgins into a high arc to crash hard on his back into the wet concrete of the sidewalk several feet away.
Phil staggered to his feet again, his pepper spray can gone, his knuckles bloodied, his mind in a whirlwind. He stared down at the unmoving form of Higgins, trembling now with shock and with the aftermath of the adrenaline that still coursed through his veins. Higgins wasn’t moving. He didn’t even look to be breathing. Only then did Phil see that Higgins’s neck was bent at a sickly angle.
Phil stumbled back into the side of a building, still staring at Higgins. “What the hell?” he whispered.
“Everything all right?” came a man’s voice from Phil’s right.
Phil looked over to see a black-haired man approaching from the east along Court Street. He was wearing a heavy, loose trench coat that was cinched tight against the rain. He looked to be in his forties, and he moved with strength and authority.
Phil hoped the man was law enforcement, leaving the county buildings late. “He…he,” Phil said, stammering and pointing at Higgins. “That’s Johnny Higgins. He came after me. I. I, I didn’t mean to, he just--”
The man walked over to Johnny and looked down. He frowned. “Fool,” he muttered to himself. “Can’t even kill right. Always over eager.” The man then looked over to Phil, giving him the first good look at his face.
Phil shrank against the brick of the wall at his back.
The man’s eyes glowed yellow.
The man threw his trench coat off, revealing his naked form, all muscle and sinew, uncaring of the cold. Only now did Phil see that the man wore no shoes. As he glanced down at the man’s feet, to look anywhere but into those inhuman eyes, he saw the man’s toes twist and grow claws. There was a crackle of bone and a tearing sound of flesh being ripped apart. The man’s lower legs folded back with a hideous twisting motion as though they were breaking at the knee of their own volition. Phil looked up and could see now that he wasn’t a man anymore.
He was a monster.
The man’s flesh had sprouted with thick, course black hair. His body twisted and contorted, growing even more sleek and muscled. But Phil’s eyes were drawn to the monster’s face. He had grown a snout with massive fangs, and a tongue lolled out and dripped thick strands of saliva. His ears had grown, as had his eyes. Phil looked down to the man’s hands, knowing what he would see. And he was right. They weren’t hands anymore, but claws, wicked and curved.
All thought of fighting fled Phil as he stared into the monster’s eyes once again. The monster let out a bellow, a roaring challenge, and then surged forward on its hind legs, its claws raking out and slashing across Phil’s shoulder.
Phil dropped to the ground and the monster was on top of him, his canine jaws streaking down in a flash of teeth. The flesh of Phil’s neck and chest screamed with pain, as warm blood oozed from his torn flesh and soaked into his parka.
The monster straddled Phil and raised his head, opening his jaws in an otherworldly howl at the moon. He then looked back down at Phil, and he lunged down for the kill.
But in that last instant the darkness of the night was broken by two flashes of light, accompanied by twin muffled cracks of sound. The monster above Phil jerked to the side as his head exploded. It slumped to the ground beside Phil, twisting and thrashing, seeming unwilling to give up life even as its lifeblood pumped in rapid surges out of its neck and into the storm drain in the gutter.
Phil tried to sit up, but his shoulder and neck flashed with a pain that caused his vision to darken.
Just then the figure of a man loomed into his vision. The man was wearing all black, dressed like some commando on an urban nighttime mission. Even his face was covered with a black ski mask. He wore a heavy flack vest, with pockets filled with ammunition clips. His belt carried radio equipment, a pistol, more ammunition, and what looked to be a silver knife. But Phil’s eyes were drawn to the assault rifle in the man’s hands. A thin trail of smoke issued forth from its muzzle.
The man knelt down beside Phil, and he reached into a pocket. A moment later, Phil blinked as the man shined a flashlight into his eyes. The man then let the rifle dangle from its shoulder strap, and he reached down to pull back Phil’s shirt. He let out a small grunt and then reached up to pull off his ski mask.
The man looked to be in his thirties, his eyes grey and hard, his face all sharp angles. He looked like a man who had joined the Special Forces in his youth and had gone career. “You okay?” he asked in a low voice.
“Don’t know,” Phil managed to say, struggling to sit up again.
The man stood and stepped back, giving Phil room. Phil fought the pain and managed to sit up. He looked over and saw another commando crouched beside Higgins’s lifeless body. “This one’s dead,” he said. He then turned to the man standing beside Phil. “How about him?” he asked, nodding toward Phil.
The man looked down at Phil. “The werewolf bit him. He’s most likely infected.” He squatted down beside Phil and looked into his eyes. “You put up a good fight here. Looks like you’ll be coming with us.”