Hunter's Moon (Chapter 1)
I much prefer the shade of blood beneath the moon to its shade beneath the stark electric lights. But I digress.
I am a hunter. A Juger-Sucher to those in the know – of which there are a select few. I hunt monsters, and in case you're thinking that's a euphemism for today's serial killers, it's not. When I say "monster" I mean hell unleashed, tooth and claw, supernatural magic on the loose. The kind of thing that will give you nightmares forever. Just like me.
My specialty is werewolves. I must have killed a thousand and I'm only twenty-four. Sadly, my job security has never been in jeopardy. A fact I learned all too well when my boss, Edward Mandenauer, called me early one October morning.
"Leigh, I need you here."
"Where is here?" I mumbled.
I am not a bright and shiny early person. This might come from living most of my life in the dark.
Werewolves emerge at night, beneath the moon. They're funny that way.
"I am in Crow Valley, Wisconsin."
"Never heard of it."
"Which gives you much in common with the rest of the world."
I sat up, awake, alert, senses humming. That had sounded suspiciously like dry humor. Edward didn't do humor.
"Who is this?" I demanded.
"Leigh." His long-suffering sigh was as much a part of him as his heavy German accent. "What is the matter with you this morning?"
"It's morning. Isn't that enough?"
I did not greet each day with joy. My life was dedicated to one thing – ridding the earth of werewolves.
Only then could I forget what had happened, perhaps forgive myself for living when everyone I'd ever loved had died.
"Liebchen," Mandenauer murmured. "What will I do with you?"
Edward had saved me on that long-ago day filled with blood and death and despair. He had taken me in, taught me things, then set me free to use them. I was his most dedicated agent, and only Edward and I knew why.
"I'm all right," I reassured him.
I wasn't and probably never would be. But I'd accepted that. I'd moved on. Kind of.
"Of course you are," he soothed.
Neither one of us was fooled by my lie or his acceptance of it. Which was how we both kept ourselves focused on what was important. Killing them all.
"The town is in the northern part of the state," he continued. "You will have to fly to Minneapolis, rent a car, go… east, I think."
"I am not coming to Shit Heel, Wisconsin, Edward."
"Whatever. I'm not done here."
I'd been working in Canada at Mandenauer's request. A few months back hell had broken loose in a little burg called Miniwa. Something about a blue moon, a wolf god – I hadn't gotten the details. I didn't care.
All I knew was that there were werewolves running north, plenty of them.
But as much as I might like to, I couldn't just blast every wolf I saw with silver. There were laws about such things, even in Canada.
The Juger-Suchers were a secret branch of the government. We liked to envision ourselves as the Special Forces of monster hunting. Think The X-Files versus Grimm's Fairy Tales on steroids.
At any rate, we were supposed to work on the sly. A pile of dead wolves – threatened at the least, endangered yet in some places – would cause too many questions.
The Juger-Sucher society had enough problems accounting for the disappearances of the people who had once been werewolves. Sad but true – it's easier to explain missing humans than dead animals, but such is the way of the modern world.
My job, should I choose to accept it – and I had, long ago – was to catch the werewolves in the act. Of changing. Then I was well within my rights to put a silver bullet in their brain.
Bureaucracy at its finest.
Catching them wasn't as hard to do as you might think. Most werewolves ran in packs, just like real wolves. When they went to the forest to change, they often had a lair where they left their clothes, purses, car keys. Going from bipedal to quadrupedal had certain disadvantages, namely, no pockets.
Once I found that lair… well, does the phrase "like shooting ducks in a pond" mean anything to you? It's one of my favorites.
"You will never be done there." Edward's voice pulled me from my thoughts. "Right now you are needed here."
"The usual reason."
"You've got werewolves. Shoot them yourself."
"I need you to train a new Juger-Sucher."
Since when? Edward had always done the training, and I…
"I work alone."
"It is time for that to change."
I was not a people person. Didn't want to be. I enjoyed being by myself. That way no one around me could get killed – again.
"I am not asking you, Leigh; I am telling you. Be here by tomorrow, or find another job."
He hung up.
Sitting on the edge of the bed in my underwear, I held the phone against my ear until the line started to buzz; then I replaced it in the cradle and stared into space awhile longer.
I couldn't believe this. I wasn't a teacher; I was a killer. What right did Edward have to order me around?
All the right in the world. He was my boss, my mentor, the closest thing to a friend that I allowed myself.
Which meant he should know better than to ask me to do something I'd given up along with my life.
I had been a teacher, once upon a time.
I flinched as the memory of children's voices lifted in song drifted through my head. Miss Leigh Tyler, kindergarten teacher, was as dead as the man I'd once planned to marry. And if she sometimes skipped through my dreams, well, what was I supposed to do, shoot her?
Though that might be my usual method for solving problems, it didn't work too well on the happy-go-lucky dream Leigh. More's the pity.
I dragged myself off the bed and into the shower, then packed my things and headed for the airport.
No one in Elk Snout – or wherever the hell it was I'd been hunting – would notice I was gone. As I did in every area I visited, I'd rented an isolated cabin, telling anyone who asked, and it was shocking how few people did, that I was with the Department of Natural Resources, studying a new strain of rabies in the wolf population.
This excuse conveniently explained my odd hours and my penchant for walking with a gun or three, as well as my cranky nature. The hunting and fishing police were not well liked by the common folk. Which got me left alone – my favorite thing to be.
I arrived at the airport, where I was informed only one plane a day flew to Minneapolis. Luckily, that single flight was scheduled late in the afternoon and there were plenty of seats.
I had ID from the J-S society, which established me as a warden and allowed me to ship my weapons –
a standard-issue twelve-gauge Remington shotgun, my personal hunting rifle, and a Glock forty-caliber semiautomatic, also standard DNR issue. An hour after touching down, I hit the road to Crow Valley.
I didn't bother to call ahead and announce my arrival. Mandenauer had known all along that I would come. No matter what he asked of me, I would agree. Not because I respected him, though I did, more than anyone I'd ever known, but because he let me do what I had to do. Kill the animals, the monsters, the werewolves. It was the only thing I had left to live for.