Hunter's Moon (Chapter 7)
I listened, straining my ears, trying to determine a direction, but all I heard was the wail of a sax from the bar downstairs.
My shirt was wet with sweat. My heart thudded in my throat. My skin was covered with gooseflesh. It still took me several moments to understand that I was the one who had been screaming.
I set the gun next to the door. My hand shook and I clenched it until my fingers ached. I went to the sink, shoved my head under the water, drank directly from the faucet, then ran the cool liquid over the pulsing veins in my wrists. Slowly my heartbeat returned to normal.
If Edward could see me now, I'd be in deep trouble.
Because of my history, I was required to visit a specially trained J-S psychiatrist four times a year. This merely meant I'd learned exactly what to say to be declared fit for duty.
/ understand that killing the werewolves won't bring back my family.
No, I'm not searching for the white wolf on my own time.
"The dreams are gone," I whispered.
The empty room, which still rang with the echoes of my screams, mocked me.
I hadn't had a dream in a very long time. Sleeping in the daylight had taken care of the nightmares. But they were still there waiting for me to slip up. Just like the werewolves.
My head lifted. Droplets of water flew in every direction. I was dizzy. Breathless. Weak. I knew how to make that all go away.
Blood. Theirs. Now.
Only hours before, I'd decided not to hunt, but that had been before the dream. I no longer had a choice.
Scooping up my rifle, I headed out the door.
My watch said it was close to 4:00 a.m. I didn't have too much time before dawn. What I had would be enough. It would have to be.
As I reached the bottom of the steps I frowned. All the cars were still in the lot. The saxophone continued to wail. The lights remained on inside. Hadn't they ever heard of bar time around here?
The windows had been closed against the October night. I couldn't blame them. This far north, the first frost could arrive at any moment.
The glass was foggy. From age or a buildup of smoke, either way, I couldn't see anything inside but shadows. None of which moved. But then no one had been moving earlier, either, unless you counted the lifting of glasses to their mouths.
I dismissed the mystery of the bar patrons. I had better things to worry about. I could ask Jessie about the rules of bar time. If I actually cared. Or complain to Damien, though I'd rather avoid him as much as possible. I didn't need any more complications in my life – and Damien Fitzgerald had complication written all over him.
I practically ran into the woods, crashed loudly through the brush. I wasn't trying to be covert. Drenched in nervous sweat how many times over, I must have smelled like a wild animal. My hair, despite the dousing in the sink, stood up in grainy, stiff hanks. I didn't mind.
I wanted them to hear me, smell me, come after me. I didn't have all night.
"Come on!" I shouted as I picked up my pace.
Edward had taught me to hunt from the trees as often as possible. Even when you found their lair, being up in a tree to take them out was preferable to being on the ground.
Wolves were quick; werewolves were slippery and sly. Wolf body, person brain, deadly combination. A tall tree was the safest place. Though these wolves were special, they couldn't fly – yet.
But sometimes an opportunity presented itself and there was no convenient tree stand nearby. If Edward ever found out just how many times I broke the rules in order to kill the monsters, he would revoke my hunting rights for more than a day. He'd lock me up in a white room. Again.
I picked up my pace, needing to get farther into the forest, farther from Damien and his incredible nose. I planned on having another bonfire before daylight.
I'd been in decent shape before I became a Jager-Sucher, but once I signed on I learned how out of shape I was. Wolves would catch me if I ran. They can reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour and cover 125 miles in a day, though 40 is average. Wolves can follow a herd at a run for 5 or 6 miles and then accelerate. Werewolves don't need supernatural abilities when just being wolves makes them superhuman. Which was why I always carried a gun.
"There's just one of me!" I shouted. "I'm out here all alone. Come and get it!"
The J-S rule book said we needed to be sure we were shooting a werewolf. One way to do this, the preferred way, was to watch the beast change. However, Edward had taught me a few other less certain but no less acceptable ways, to be sure.
Real wolves would run from a human. Only werewolves ran toward them.
Both wolves and werewolves culled the weakest from the herd. Only werewolves attacked the strong.
Only animals with human intelligence did so with military precision.
The rasp of my breath, the stomp of my boots, the crackle of branches nearly drowned out the whisper of the wind through the trees, the buzz of any remaining mosquitoes, the rustle of night creatures in the underbrush. Because of that I didn't hear the silence. Not at first.
By the time I noticed how still everything had gotten – eerily so – it was too late. They were coming in fast from every direction.
"Standard attack formation," I muttered. "God, you're predictable."
My rifle had been modified from semi- to fully automatic by the geniuses of the Jdger-Sucher weapons division. The gun appeared normal, but it wasn't. One of the reasons I preferred it to the standard-issue DNR shotgun – a nice piece of hardware but not for supernatural baddies.
The automatic was completely illegal, of course, so arrest me. I didn't think the werewolves were going to call foul because I possessed the gun of a modern terrorist. When I got through with them they wouldn't be able to do anything but burn.
The first one burst from the foliage to my right. They were rarely able to wait. To stalk. To attack simultaneously. Someone always got eager, and then he was mine.
I waited until I saw the whites of their eyes. That they had whites was the reason I shot them. Look at a human's eyes, then look at a wolf's. You'll see what I mean.
I shot a gray wolf in the chest. Then the one next to that, and the one next to that. I put my back to those bodies and mowed the rest down in a sweeping semicircle of gunfire.
Werewolves are good at making a plan, what they can't seem to do is improvise.
The last wolf hit the ground and silence returned to the forest.
"Automatic weapon, sweep pattern. Screws 'em every time," I murmured.
My heart still pounded fast and loud, but my hands had stopped shaking. I no longer felt weak. I no longer heard the voices in my head or the screaming in my ears. Life was good.
I counted bodies. Eight. Not bad for a night's work. Damn good for an hour's.
I leaned down, planning to drag them into a pile – the easier to burn them, my dear – and a low, furious growl rumbled from behind me.
I spun around, bringing the gun up at the same time. I never set my gun down. Never. Stuff like this had happened to me before. What had not happened was the click that signified empty when I pulled the trigger.
The wolf, a russet monster with big brown eyes, grinned. He'd flanked me. Bastard.
"Smarter than your pals, hey?"
His lip lifted, turning the grin into a snarl. I shifted, bending my arms and pulling the gun back like a Louisville Slugger.
He charged. I swung. The gun caught him in the head, but not hard enough. He hit me in the chest and followed me to the ground.
Edward had taught me a million things. The first, and by far the most useful at this moment, was how to grab a werewolf and keep him from eating your face.
I got one hand on the wolf's windpipe, the other around his muzzle, and held on. So far, so good. But how long could I hold him off?
Paws flailed, claws digging for purchase. I didn't worry about getting scratched. Lycanthropy is a virus of sorts. Like rabies, it's passed through the saliva. So a scratch wouldn't make me furry, but it would hurt.
However, if those teeth so much as pricked my skin, I'd be eating my associates raw within a day.
I took a deep breath and tried to shove the werewolf away. I got nowhere. The animal was stronger than me. I was doomed.
A rustle, a snarl, then another furry body hurtled through the night. I tensed, expecting a second attack.
Instead, the newcomer hit the wolf straddling my chest broadside, and they tumbled end over end away from me in a flurry of teeth, claws, and tails.
I didn't waste any time scrambling to my feet, retrieving my gun, and loading it as the huge red wolf and the smaller brown one fought.
I'd never seen wolves fight, except on TV. Never seen werewolves fight at all. I was glad I'd missed it.
The combination of animal body and human ruthlessness was horrific to behold.
They slashed and tore; blood dampened the ground; fur literally flew off them. I should have shot them both or at least run away. Instead, I could only stare, both repelled and fascinated by the savagery.
The russet wolf was bigger, broader, stronger. But the brown one was pissed. He snarled the entire time, as if teasing the larger wolf, egging him on to more daring feats. They were both covered in blood – their own and each other's – when the smaller wolf broke away, limping.
A real wolf would have let him go. The red werewolf charged. The other waited, waited, ducked as if giving in, then reached up and tore out the big bully's throat in one vicious yank. I had to admire his technique.
The injured animal took a few steps, as if to run away, hide, maybe heal, but it was too late. He crumpled, dead before he hit the ground. The brown wolf walked over to his prize, not a hitch in his step.
"Clever boy," I murmured.
He glanced up and cocked his head. Lifting my gun, I aimed right between his eyes. I couldn't see their color. The night was too dark, the moon too dim, the forest too thick. But they were human eyes. That much I could tell. That much was all I needed.
I thought of Jimmy, my sister, brother, parents. I remembered other people the werewolves had killed, other places they had decimated. The hatred that lived inside of me – every day, every night – flared, and my finger tightened.
The animal continued to stare at me. He didn't try to run. I could swear he was begging me to do it. So I hesitated, thinking of what Cadotte had said.
What if killing them is what they want?
If the werewolves wanted it, I knew I didn't.
I lowered my gun. The wolf snarled. His hackles lifted. Something was very wrong here.
Werewolves craved human blood. They did not kill one another. So what was the matter with this one?
Could he be something other than a werewolf? I'd seen a lot as a Jager-Sucher. Edward had seen even more. Every day, in amazing ways, new monsters came to life – one of the reasons Edward hunted less and stayed in the office more. The business he had started after World War Two kept growing and growing.
I stared at the brown wolf and considered my options. A monster was a monster, wasn't it? Just because I killed werewolves didn't mean I couldn't kill something else. Call it a freebie.
But I couldn't bring myself to shoot the wolf. I'm not sure why. The night's carnage didn't bother me. I'd seen a helluva lot worse, been the cause of it, too.
In all honesty, the bullets and the blood were exhilarating. Chalk up nine for the good guys. Except only eight of them were mine.
I hated to put an end to a perfect killing machine. Especially when he appeared to be on my side.
"Fine," I said. "Knock yourself out. Kill as many as you can."
The wolf did that canine head tilt again. Too bad his muzzle was red with blood. If I saw a dog like that, I'd be creeped out. As it was… I was creeped out.
Instead of waiting around until he ran off, then burning the wolves like I should have, I took my gun and headed back to the tavern more quickly than I'd come.
It was against my nature to leave one of them alive, but as I told myself over and over as I waited for the sun to rise above the trees, I could always kill him later.