Kelsie fought hard to keep her eyes open through lit class, but they were so heavy. She
wondered what her mom and dad were doing. When her mind flashed backto the previous night, she had to shake the image out of her head. Long after they believed she and Graham had gone to bed, she had tapped on her parents’ door. No one answered. She nudged the door open, and got an eyeful of her father’s bare backside… and his tail… thrusting between her mother’s legs. No wonder they hadn’t answered. Kelsie shook her head again. She wasn’t sure how she felt about Dad having his tail out…
A soft tap at the door made everyone turn their head, grateful for the distraction. An office aide poked her head in and passed Mr. Washington a note. He read it, then squinted and re-read it.
“Miss Noel, you are dismissed.” He cleared his throat. “And clear out your locker on the way.”
Her classmates, her friends, turned to her with expressions of shock and concerns. All of the air left the room. Kelsie suddenly felt like a four-year-old again, pulled from her dolls and bundled into the back of the station wagon.
Hank and Amber were not in the attendance office when Kelsie arrived, but Graham leaned against the wall next to the door of the nurse’s office. The book bag at his feet looked like it was also weighed down by the contents of his locker.
“What’s going on?” she hissed.
Graham shook his head. “I dunno. But they were supposed to call the officers today. Maybe something went wrong.”
“Maybe they’re not really officers…”
“Kelsie, Graham,” the attendance clerk called down the hall. “Your parents said to meet them out by the baseball diamond.”
They exchanged a glance. Kelsie put a hand on her brother’s shoulder and led him through the high school. They paused at the back door and glanced around for the black van before stepping out.
The baseball diamond was behind the school, partially-concealed by a line of trees. Kelsie and Graham darted for the trees and paused among them. Their mother’s station wagon was parked between the trees and the school busses, well out of sight from passers-by. Amber was standing in the open driver’s door, shifting her weight and worrying her fingers. When she saw them among the trees, she glanced around and waved them over.
Graham ran and threw his arms around her waist. “Mom, what’s going on?”
Kelsie didn’t run, but hurried over to the passenger side. She ducked to peer into the window, to make sure the form in the passenger seat was her father, before she climbed into the back. She hugged him from behind and kissed his forehead. She gasped when he turned to her, revealing a violent red welt across his forehead.
“Daddy!” she squealed. “Are you OK?”
“Get in,” Amber said, turning Graham toward the back seat. “We’ll explain everything, but we need to go, now.”
For the first time in her life, Amber had allowed the kids to accompany her to present their father with clothes. Kelsie felt giddy as she carried her father’s clothes. Graham carried Hank’s boots and belt.
“Before we got together,” Amber explained, “your father spent all of his time studying the
history of werewolves, and trying all these crazy and… and dangerous methods to cure the infection. He got baptized, exorcised, he ate poisonous flowers, he skinned himself, he…” She cleared her throat. “He allowed himself to be crucified…”
“He what?” Graham’s eyes shot wide.
“But, of course, nothing ever worked. There was this one story about a man who would turn back into a wolf when he put his clothes back on, and another, later, story, that said it would work if a woman he loved presented the clothes to him. So after we met, after he–uh–revealed his condition, he asked me to present him with clothes. I did, and it didn’t work, but it was really sweet, so I kept doing it.”
Graham groaned. Kelsie giggled. An exciting, entirely new side of their family had been opened up for them.
“I wanna watch!” Graham said as a large wolf appeared at the top of a ledge. It was the same color as their father’s hair; Kelsie wondered why she hadn’t recognized it the moment she first saw it.
“No, turn around,” she hissed.
“But I wanna watch!”
Hank ran down, yapping and jumping to lick their faces. They knelt down to hug him. Kelsie smiled awkwardly as she scratched behind his ears. As the sky darkened, he padded a few feet away and turned to them with a doleful gaze.
Amber smiled patiently and pulled Hank’s jeans from the pile in Kelsie’s arms. “Cover your eyes.”
Kelsie turned, hugging her father’s t-shirt to her chest. Behind her, Hank whimpered and whined. The noises grew into a painful groan.
“It looks like it hurts,” Graham breathed. Kelsie put a hand over his eyes. They struggled ineffectually until Hank wasn’t a wolf anymore; now he was a naked man. Graham stilled, not daring to peek.
“I don’t know how I feel about this,” Hank said as he pulled the jeans up around his hips. He kissed his wife, then wrapped his arms around his daughter.
“I missed you, Daddy.” Kelsie squeezed him tightly.
“Oh, I’ve missed you too, sweetheart.” He kissed her hair.
Stepping back, she held out his shirt in imitation of her mother. Hank smiled tightly and pulled it on over his head.
“C’mere, you,” he said, grabbing Graham’s shoulder and pulling him into a hug. “Are you OK?” he murmured into his son’s hair.
“Yeah, I’m OK.”
“I’m sorry we didn’t show you sooner.”
“It’s OK. I love you, Dad.”
“I love you too, sport.” Hank ruffled his hair and turned to Amber. “You know what we could use?”
Kelsie giggled every time Graham squirmed in his seat. He had pelted his father with questions in the car on the way to the restaurant, but now they were in public, he struggled to keep his mouth shut. Hank smiled bittersweetly and ruffled his hair. He tried to keep the boy occupied by asking him about school, his work, his social life, but it was a battle to keep Graham focused.
Kelsie choked on air and coughed as Officer Schraeder stepped up to their table. “It’s good to see you again.”
Hank’s nose wrinkled, but he got his face under control before Schraeder turned to him and extended his hand. He wore a large silver ring on his index finger. “You must be Hank Noel. I’m Officer Schraeder. Good to meet you.”
“Sorry.” Hank held up his fingers, shiny with pizza grease. He leaned back in his seat, studying the man. He still wore all black–it looked like a uniform, but there were no identifying markings. He did not carry his gun this time. “Good to meet you too…?”
“I met your wife and your beautiful family after the–uh–tragic incident last month. Unfortunately, you had just… gone. I’m also quite the regular at the restaurant where she works. I’ve been eager to meet you.”
Hank glanced over the faces of his “beautiful family.” Amber smiled politely, and Kelsie did her best to follow suit, but Graham looked pale.
“Sorry, I have a very strict work schedule, and only get one week off a month to go home.”
“A whole week?” Schraeder raised his brow.
“If I’m lucky.”
“Well, I was wondering if I could talk to you about what happened, get your side of the story.”
Hank gave him a patronizing smile. “Yes, I would love to, but I’m having dinner with my family right now.”
“Of course. My apologies.” Schraeder reached into the inside of his coat. Hank tensed, flicking his eyes up with a hard gaze. Schraeder smirked and produced a business card. “My phone number is on the bottom. Call me any time. Sooner is better, of course.” His smirk twisted into a wicked smile. “Wouldn’t want to wait another month.”
As Schraeder left, he was joined by another man and a woman. Graham gasped. He and Kelsie exchanged a look.
“What’s wrong?” Hank asked.
Graham glanced up, then back out the door.
“They’ve been sitting outside the school,” Kelsie whispered.
Amber leaned over the table and whispered low, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“We were worried you would tell Dad not to come.” Graham hung his head.
Hank ruffled his hair. “It’s OK. This is OK. I’ll call them tomorrow and see if we can’t get all of this sorted out over the phone.”
“But, Dad… You should have seen his gun.”
Hank leaned back in his seat. Giving his son another tight smile, he ran a hand over his hair. “I’ve seen a lot of guns in my life. One more doesn’t scare me.”
Hank had trouble sleeping, although he and Amber had exhausted themselves. He watched her sleep, inhaling deeply until her scent made him euphoric. He had known the moment he first smelled her she was the one he would spend the rest of his life, as complicated as that arrangement would be. A mile away, he caught the scent and followed it through the woods to the over-turned car off the edge of the interstate. Even with Amber bleeding, bruised, and unconscious, Hank had never seen anything so beautiful.
He heard Graham toss and turn in the other room. Hank had been lying through his teeth when he said the gun didn’t scare him. Guns always filled him with terror, even if the ammunition didn’t radiate the cold sensation of silver. He recalled the hole in the chest of the wolf who had died on his couch; He could fit several fingers into it, and didn’t find a bullet. He had his suspicions: a stake or harpoon, crafted from silver, fired from a large gun like the one Graham had described.
Wide awake, Hank played through questions Schraeder might ask and possible answers. He had done this before, but it had never felt as if so much were at stake. His face flushed as he imagined the three officers standing between the entrance of the middle school and the front steps of the high school, nudging one another as they spotted his children, making notes. Amber had been right; They needed a back-up plan, somewhere to run to.
Sighing, Hank got out of bed and went downstairs as quietly as he could. He did not have to think when he picked up the phone, just dial the numbers. It rang twice before a fail, concerned female voice answered.
Hank closed his eyes and hung up. At least that was an option, if all else failed.
The kids had begged to stay home, and it ached more than usual as Hank walked with them through the woods toward the school. His dread had been mounting steadily, and now he paced the living room, circling the phone.
Amber crossed her arms over her chest and leaned on the wall between the kitchen and the living room. Her expression was indecipherable. Hank frowned. She reached out to him and slipped her arms around her neck.
“We’ll be fine,” she whispered. “We may have to go, we may have to hide, but the kids are strong, and I am ready.”
Heart swelling, Hank kissed his wife. The phone interrupted them.
“I’ll bet you a nickel it’s Graham.” Hank lifted the receiver. “Hello?”
The line was quiet.
Banging on the front door made them both jump. The air filled with the pungent smell of fear. Hank stared, slowly lowering the receiver back to the cradle. Whoever it was knocked again.
“Go to the attic.” Hank kissed her and released her reluctantly. She padded up the stairs as he approached the front door. Clearing his throat and scratching the back of his head, he tried to keep his voice as casual as possible. “Who is it?”
“Officer Schraeder. Sorry about dropping by unannounced, but I was in the neighborhood.”
Hank pulled back the shade. He could only see Schraeder, but he sensed two men on the porch. The attic door scraped shut and the crossbeams slammed home. Hank unlocked the door and pulled it open with a smile.
“Officer.” He nodded and leaned out to find the sandy-haired man who had been at the restaurant. “Officers.”
They were both wearing their unmarked black uniforms. Schrader had a large, oddly-shaped gun strapped to his thigh. The other man carried a revolver on his hip. The cold, metallic feel of silver radiated from them. Hank’s mouth and nose was flooded with it, making him swallow repeatedly.
“Mr. Noel, this is my associate, Officer Gattos.” Schraeder gestured toward the man.
“Gato?” Hank smirked. The radiation was making him dizzy.
“Haha,” the officer said dryly. “Gattos.”
“Well, come in, officers.” Hank stepped back from the door. “I was just about to call you, in fact.” He held up Schraeder’s card.
“The blood appears to have washed out rather well,” Schraeder commented as he sat on the couch.
“I think Amber just flipped the cushions over.” Hank pulled a chair opposite the coffee table. Gattos stood at the end of the couch, arms crossed. “Please, sit.”
“Mr. Noel,” Schraeder went straight to business, “I’m sure you know the real reason we’re here, but before we get to that, we wanted to ask a few questions concerning the incident last month.”
“Yes, that poor man,” Hank said. “Any idea who he was?”
Gattos chuckled, but covered it by clearing his throat.
“The man,” Schraeder said with heavy significance, “was named Daniel Negusset. He was… not from around here.”
“Daniel Negusset,” Hank repeated, tucking the name away in his memory.
“Do you know the name?” Gattos asked.
“When you first saw him,” Schraeder continued, “did anything appear unusual?”
“More unusual than a naked man bleeding on my back porch?”
“Did his appearance change at all?”
Hank rubbed his face and furrowed his brow. “I can’t say that it did. It was really dark, though. The porch light’s been out for a while, and I waited for Amber and the kids to go upstairs before I opened the door.”
“So he was human when you opened the door?”
“Were there any clues as to why Daniel Negusset chose your house, out of all the houses bordering the woods?”
“Well, we were eating dinner pretty late in the evening. It’s possible ours was the only one with a light on. We’re also one of the only homes open to the woods, without any kind of fence or hedge along the back.”
“Why is that?” Gattos asked.
“They’re expensive, and I’m never home long enough to put one up.” Hank shook his head and re-directed his attention to Schraeder. “I don’t understand–is he suspected of wrongdoing? I thought he was the victim here.”
“No, no,” Schraeder chuckled, “not at all.”
“Oh.” Hank looked from Schraeder to Gattos and back.
“So, why did Negusset choose your house?” Schraeder’s voice donned an aggressive edge.
“I don’t know.”
“Did he know you?”
“Did he follow your trail?”
“Did he smell you?”
“Smell me? I would hope not!”
Schraeder did not ask another question, but held his hand out across the coffee table. The silver band glinted on his index finger. A smaller band encircled his pinkie. Hank glanced down, then back to Schraeder’s eyes.
“Let me see your hand.”
Hank rose his hands and displayed his palms, then the backs. He dropped them between his legs.
“Place your hand in my hand.”
Schraeder rose his brow.
“I think it’s time for you to go.”
“Then shake my hand and send us on our way.”
“Where is your wife, Mr. Noel?” Gattos asked with a sinister grin.
Hank shot to his feet. Schraeder followed, swinging his hand, hitting Hank across the forehead. The silver tore across his skin like a knife, leaving a blister in its wake. Gattos and Schraeder both reached for their guns. Grabbing his arm, Hank spun Gattos in front of him. He wrapped his free hand around Gattos’s throat. His nails lengthened into claws.
“It could be you, or it could be your whole family,” Schraeder warned, raising his gun to point by Gattos’s head.
“My family has nothing to do with this,” Hank said. “They’re innocent–they’re not infected.”
“Don’t let him scratch me, man,” Gattos murmured.
“Scratching is the last thing you should be worried about,” Hank growled. Relaxing, he allowed the beast out: His jaw lengthened, teeth sharpening, his hair thickened into fur. His shirt stretched at the seams and ripped. His belt resisted, but the buckle snapped free of the leather. His jeans frayed and split. The pungent smell of Gattos’s fear intensified. He reached up and grabbed Hank’s arm. Silver sizzled against his skin.
With a roar, Hank lifted Gattos off his feet, digging his nails in deep. Gattos screamed. Hank tossed him like a doll. His body hit Schraeder, knocking him to the ground. Gattos hit the kitchen floor and slid into the table. Schraeder swung the gun as he sat up. Hank tore it from his hand and grabbed his throat, lifting him off the ground.
“Do it,” Schraeder rasped. “Bite me.”
Hank chuckled, a staccato growl rising from his chest. He shook his head. Scowling, Schraeder kicked Hank in the chest. Hank doubled-over, the breath knocked from his lungs. He dropped Schraeder, but swung the gun. It caught Schraeder in the side of the head. The smell of blood billowed before a stream of it ran down his face. His body crumpled to the floor. The smell made Hank dizzy and euphoric in a way very different from Amber’s scent. He grabbed Schraeder’s shirt, pulled him forward, and sniffed him. Hank’s mouth watered. His throat constricted. He swallowed the animal appetite and turned toward the kitchen.
Gattos pushed himself onto his back and groaned, gripping his wrist. When he turned to find Schraeder hanging limp from Hank’s hand, he scrambled back and reached his other hand across his hip to grab his revolver. He managed to get it free of the holster, but it slipped from his grip and hit the ground.
Hank took a few steps toward the kitchen and raised Schraeder’s gun. Gattos raised his hands in surrender, hiding his face behind his arms. His entire body trembled. The smell of fear mixed with the smell of the blood; The resulting sickly-sweet stench made Hank gag. He tossed Schraeder away. His body bounced off the couch and hit the coffee table.
Keeping the gun fixed on Gattos, Hank crossed the kitchen. He bared his teeth close to Gattos’s sweat-drenched face. Using his foot, he slid the revolver away.
“You shouldn’t have threatened my wife,” he growled.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. We weren’t going to hurt her, I swear. Please don’t bite me. Please…”
The smell of urine wafted up. Hank recoiled. Grabbing Gattos’s swollen wrist, he pulled him to his feet.
“How many of you are there?”
“Three altogether, or just three nearby?”
Gattos swallowed. His eyes darted around the room. Hank tightened his grip, making Gattos cry out.
“I don’t know! I dunno! We talk to others, but I don’t know how many or where.”
“How did you find me?”
“We followed the black wolf!”
“How did you find him?”
“He was killing livestock out near Newark.”
“And now you brought this to my family…” Hank squeezed his wrist a little too hard. The bones began to splinter. Gattos screamed. “Where’s the third?” Hank demanded, loosening his grip. “The woman who was with you last night?”
Amber’s voice made Hank spin, dropping Gattos. He hit the floor with a grunt. Amber was at the foot of the stairs with her back to them. She held her arms rigidly in front of her. Gattos’s gun was clutched in both hands, pointed at the front door. The female office stood in the open doorway, one hand on the door, one hand up.
“Crow,” Gattos moaned.
Hank sniffed. He could smell the salt of tears, urine, fear, blood. None of them were coming from Crow. She smelled of powder, silver, leather, and bubblegum. Hank couldn’t figure out why this last fragrance disconcerted him the most.
Slowly, Crow raised both hands and nudged the door closed with her foot. Amber’s hands shook. Hank felt sorry for her; She should never have been put in a situation like this.
“Shhh…” Hank laid a hand on her back. Her trembling eased.
A burning pain tore through his calf. Hank roared, collapsing to his knee. Amber screamed as his fingers involuntarily gripped her back, his claws digging in. The gun went off. Crow shouted. The smell of blood and gun powder filled the room. Hank twisted, swinging Schraeder’s gun, knocking Gattos’s head at an angle. His body slumped, hand still clutched around the silver-bladed knife sticking out of Hank’s leg.
The burning spread slowly from the wound, down to his foot and up to his knee. Hank exhaled slowly as he reached down and wrapped his fingers around Gattos’s hand, using it to draw the blade out. His vision blurred, white stars accumulating until he couldn’t see anything.
“It’s OK, baby. You’re OK. You’re gonna be fine. Everything’s gonna be OK…”
The smell of salt seasoned a delicious fragrance. Hank opened his eyes and still saw white, then red. Amber’s shirt. The scratches in her shoulder weren’t deep, but there was a large amount of blood.
“Oh, my God,” Hank tried to say, but it came out as a growl. Ashamed, he whimpered.
“Hank!” Amber sobbed. “Hank, c’mon, get up.”
Rolling onto his belly, Hank gingerly pushed himself up. Crow laid face-down on the floor, trembling and clutching her shoulder. She looked as if she had just gone down; Hank had only been out for a few seconds. He twisted to find Schraeder still lying in front of the couch. The blood on his forehead had clotted, but he was not moving. Gattos laid on the kitchen floor, his eyes wide, face pale, head parallel with his shoulder.
“Please, baby, we need to go!”
Hank’s leg was sore, but the heat wasn’t spreading any farther than just below his knee. He stood slowly, pulling Amber up with him, holding her close. The scratches on her shoulder crisscrossing older, healed scars from when he had gone too far in the heat of the night. She didn’t look hurt, just scared.
“Go,” he said as clearly as possible, nudging her toward the stairs. “Pack some bags.”
“What about them?” She looked from Crow to Schraeder.
Hank picked Schraeder’s gun up from the floor. Flipping it, he caught the barrel. “They can hide in the attic.”
Hank hated big cities. Even several miles out, he could smell the sewage and smoke, rotting food, unwashed humans. It was tempered by the smell of roasted chicken, the carcass of which sat atop the waste in the trashcan.
Taking a deep breath, Hank slipped his hands deep in his pockets as car doors slammed in the garage. Voices drifted through the door leading out to the garage, a woman speaking quickly and a man grunting his terse replies. He opened the door open for her and stepped aside.
The woman was in her early sixties, her hair dyed platinum blonde. She stepped into the kitchen and flipped on the lights. Catching sight of the man on the other side of the room, she gasped and jumped back. The man, silver-haired, stepped in front of her, raising his fists.
Hank cleared his throat and gave them a tight smile. “Surprise.”
The man’s jaw dropped. His eyes widened. He lowered his fists slowly.
“Hank?” the woman asked, nudging the man aside. “Henry, it’s Hank! Oh, you gave us a fright.”
“Hi, Mom… Dad.”
“Oh, our boy’s come to visit!” Cathy Noel shuffled across the kitchen with open arms. Hank allowed her to envelop him in an embrace and rock him side-to-side. “Hank, what happened to your face?”
“That’s what I’ve come to talk about–”
Henry eyes his son as he pulled the door closed. “S’been a while,” he said.
“Yes, it has.” Hank nodded. He didn’t know how else to respond.
“Is it safe for you to be here?”
“What?” Hank’s face fell when he realized his father was not referring to hunters. “Oh.” The pang in his chest reminded him why he had left.
“Oh, don’t you boys start. Hank, come in and sit down.” She tugged his arm toward the living room.
“Don’t, Cathy. He doesn’t need to get too comfortable. It’s been, what, ten years? He’ll be leaving again soon, I’m sure. He’s obviously only here because he needs something.”
Hank bared his teeth and nodded. “No, he’s right. I… shouldn’t get too comfortable.”
“So, what is it?” Henry took a few steps to stand in the middle of his kitchen. “Money? We don’t have any.”
“No, I don’t need money. I need a place to hide.”
“Can’t you just hide wherever you’ve been going the past thirty years?”
Hank took a deep breath and twisted his wedding band nervously. Amber usually wore it around her neck, but he put it on before they checked into the motel a few miles down the interstate. “It’s not for me.”
Cathy’s jaw dropped, as if she instinctively knew what these words implied. Henry was a bit thicker.
“Who’s it for then? And why should I help them?”
Hank cleared his throat. “It’s for my wife, Amber… Our children.”
“Children!” Cathy gasped. “You have children?”
Henry narrowed his eyes. “Are they… normal?”
“Normal?” Hank laughed. “No, they’re extraordinary, but…” He shook his head. “No, they’re not infected.”
“How many?” Cathy asked, eyes beaming. “How old? What are their names?”
“Kelsie and Graham. They are sixteen and twelve… well, almost thirteen.”
“Dear God! Sixteen and thirteen! And you’ve been–” Cathy chuckled. “You’ve been hiding them from us!”
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Henry demanded.
Hank scowled. The air in the kitchen grew bitter. Cathy prevented him from lashing out:
“Oh, Henry, after the way we treated him? I’m not all that surprised…”
Henry looked taken aback. He turned from Cathy to Hank and back again. “Treated him? What about how he treated us? I treated him like the animal he is!” He jabbed a finger toward his son.
“I am not an animal!” Hank pulled away from his mother.
“You sure acted like one! Tearing up the house, terrorizing the neighborhood, killing every cat and dog in town!”
“You locked me in a box!”
“You were wild!”
“I was scared!” Hank screamed. “I was angry! I was just a kid–I didn’t know what else to do. I needed you!”
Henry recoiled. Hank shook with rage. The hair on the back of his neck began to bristle. He gritted his teeth and forced it back down. Shaking his head, he waved a dismissive hand.
“Forget it,” he said in a calm, even voice. “I’m sorry. Forget I asked for anything.”
“Hank, don’t.” Cathy placed a hand on his arm. “We’ll give you anything you need.”
“Dad’s right.” He pulled his arm free. “I need to go; It’s not safe.” He pecked her on the cheek and turned into the living room. He limped heavily, swinging his stiff right leg.
“Henry, do something!” Cathy hissed.
Family photos covered the walls of the living room and hallway. Hank wondered what they told guests about their son, who never seemed to grow older than thirteen. Swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat, he let himself out the front door.
The sky was covered in a humid haze. The moon look like chalk on a blackboard. Hank gazed up at it bittersweetly. His eyes dropped to the house across the street. It looked presentable in the light of the moon, but he could smell the rot and mold wafting from it. His throat grew tight as he stared at the front door.
The house had been small but pristine, and more than enough for its lone resident. Hank had received a set of binoculars for his birthday. He didn’t mean to pick on his neighbor, but most of the other houses were obscured by hedges or fences. Meanwhile, the house across the street, as uninteresting as it appeared, was left unobstructed.
“Any developments, Mr. Bond?” Hank whispered. He donned a black turtleneck and his father’s bowtie, and crouched in the dark. His mother would throw a fit if she saw how he was bending the blinds to poke the binoculars through. He rolled the dial on top. The neighbor had left the living room light on; Hank could see rows of books stacked neatly on shelves across the walls, thick, heavy tomes with confusing titles that looked so boring.
“Not a sign of life all day,” he replied to himself. “I do believe–wait!”
A cream-colored Ford Crestline barreled down the street, skidding in the snow. It almost hit a mailbox as it pulled into the driveway.
“The good doctor has returned!”
The man did not climb out of the car so much as he fell out, collapsing onto the driveway.
“Oh!” Hank jumped to his feet. He paused for another look. His neighbor pulled himself up on the car and staggered to the front door. His body quaked and jerked. He struggled getting his key into the lock, dropping the keyring twice.
“Mom,” Hank called, “I think there’s something wrong with–”
The man stepped over the threshold and fell to his hands and knees. He arched his back as if he were having trouble breathing. His foot hit the door, slamming it closed. Hank lost sight of his unwitting victim.
“This is now a rescue mission!” Hank gasped, tossing the binoculars on his bed and running out of his room.
“No running!” Cathy called.
“Something’s wrong!” Hank stepped into his mud boots and banged out of the house. The cold air felt sharp in his lungs. His heart pounded. Despite the possible emergency, he was thrilled–he had never been allowed to go out after the streetlights were on. They glowed faintly over their yards, competing with the full moon, shining clear and bright in the sky. Behind him, he could hear Cathy shouting for his father. Hank quickened his pace; He didn’t want his dad to get there and spoil the entire adventure.
A sliver of light shone across the neighbor’s front porch from a crack in the door. The kick hadn’t secured it shut. Hank called out as he nudged it open.
“Hello? It’s Hank Noel. Is everything OK?”
The house was immaculately clean, as always, except for a trail tattered clothing leading into the house from the door.
“Are you ok? I saw you fall.”
Hank’s heart pounded. He was certain he was about to stumble over the dead body of his poor neighbor. He felt ashamed for spying. A pair of patent-leather shoes sat at the mouth of the hall. A tattered pair of suit trousers and torn suspenders lay in front of a closed door. A strip of white linen had been caught as the door had closed. Hank tugged at it and raised a trembling hand to the knob. The door was surprisingly heavy, and he grunted as he pushed it open. A dress shirt fell and crumpled on the floor.
A staircase led down into a dark basement. Hank scanned the walls for a light switch, but found none, but a string hung at the bottom of the stairs. The steps were gouged with deep scratches. Hank swallowed hard and stepped down.
A rasping, gasping noise came from the darkness. Someone was down there for sure. It sounded like they were having trouble breathing.
“I’m–I’m coming down!”
After two slow, tentative steps, Hank sprinted down. Grabbing the string, he pulled it. A dim light illuminated only the bottom of the stairs.
A roar tore through the silence. Hank screamed as a large, white body hit him. Crushing jaws sank sharp teeth just where the shoulder meets the neck. Claws wrapped around his arms, pulling him down. The heavy body crushed him. Hank felt like fire ran down his shins as clawed toes dug down his legs. He continued to scream. The creature shook his head, jerking Hank’s frail body.
“Hank?” His father’s voice, full of fear. “Hank!”
The thing released the boy and leaned up. Blood ran over its chin, matting the fur of its chest. Seeing the creature clearly, Hank tried to scream again, but couldn’t. His mouth filled with fluid, and he could only gargle and choke.
“Oh, my God.”
Two clicks. His father pumping his shotgun. Abandoning the boy, the thing pounded up the stairs, toward the noise. Henry Noel screamed, followed by a gunshot. The thing yelped. Banging. Breaking glass.
Hank couldn’t breathe. He felt a great weight settling on his chest. He was so tired… so tired… Boots on stairs thudded down toward him.
Hank didn’t respond as he felt his body lifted off the ground. He felt oddly light. It must have taken no effort at all to lift him. He turned his head. The blood that had flooded his mouth poured out, leaving a slick trail as his father carried him up the stairs. The door was growing closer, but the light was getting dimmer.
Hank didn’t make it out.
Cursed, they called him. Wild. Infected. Haight called him an anomaly. It didn’t stop Hank from making love to his wife or hugging his children for the three nights and two days he had with them. He had wasted enough of that precious time. He was about to step off the porch when the door opened behind him. The faint smell of tobacco gusted around him as his father pulled the door shut again.
“I shouldn’t have come,” Hank said.
“I realized…” Henry took a deep breath, full of resignation, “you wouldn’t have come if you didn’t have to.”
Henry stood beside his son. His eyes followed the same path Hank’s had. “Are you in trouble?”
“We’re in danger.”
“What kind of danger?”
“Hunters. Werewolf hunters.”
Henry chuckled. “We coulda used them back when–”
“Don’t.” Hank stared at his father with hard eyes. Henry cleared his throat and gave a curt nod. “They showed up at our house last month. Today, they attacked me. They’ve been stalking the kids. Loitering at the restaurant where Amber works. I need to hide them. I need to take them somewhere safe.”
Henry sighed. He nudged Hank’s arm and held out a key. Hank stared at it for a moment before he accepted it.
“It’s… the least I can do.”
Hank nodded, biting back a bitter reply. He grunted as he descended the stairs, and paused at the bottom. “You may want to consider taking Mom somewhere as well.”
“They know my name. That means they know your name.”
The Delaware River lapped the banks of Pennsylvania in the still of the night. Kelsie drove slowly. She had taken over for her mother when her shoulder started to bother her. Amber and Graham were asleep in the back.
Hank patted Kelsie’s arm and pointed. He hadn’t had an address, but he would have recognized the building anywhere: Plate glass windows across the first story, a dock running down one side and around the back. In the moonlight, it looked gray, but he knew it was still the same shade of light blue it had been when he was a boy. Kelsie pulled up to the curb.
“Dad, where are we?” she whispered.
“We’re still in Pennsylvania.” He smirked. “New Hope.”
She leaned over the wheel and gazed up at the building. “Is that a diner?”
“We’re hiding in a diner?”
Hank chuckled. “No, we’re going to live there.”