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Christine pulled back the curtain and peered out at the darkening sky. That fucktard Chance still hadn’t gotten back from getting rid of the girl. Luke wanted to do it, one last chance to say goodbye, he said. Fuck her one last time was more like it, or worse, get soft and let the stupid bitch go. Chance could be counted on to take care of things. Was probably a bad idea to kidnap a baby sitter in the first place, but there had been a lot of bad ideas.
It was almost over. This was the last night of the full moon. By tomorrow, Tobias would be king, and they could make the hand off. She’d get her share of the money, and she’d never have to see any of these people again.
She pulled a mug out of the cupboard. It was pinkish mauve, and chipped on one corner. It had come with the house. She rinsed out the dust and spiders. The water from the tap still gurgled, and tasted of rust. She poured hot water over the tea bag and went back to the cupboard for sugar, only to remember that it was in the trunk of her car. She glanced at the locked basement door, then unlocked the kitchen door and went outside.
Thunder rumbled in the distance, and lightning flashed. The tops of the weeds bent in the breeze. The moist air smelled of ozone. As she extended her key to unlock the trunk, a blue flash of electricity arced from her hand to the keyhole, shocking her. She dropped her keys. As she bent down to pick them up, she thought she saw someone standing by the house. Just a flash of blue denim where there should only be the gray of dusk.
“Luke?” she called, but Luke wouldn’t be human again until tomorrow.
She would have liked to have been a wolf now, since it was the full moon, but someone had to remain human to make the hand off, and it was better her than them, as she could change when she wanted to. She was a true born wolf, after all, not like these pigs. That still counted for something.
Christine stood still and listened. Breezes and the distant rumble of thunder. A few frogs and crickets singing in the reeds near the ditch. She rummaged in the box in the trunk, digging under the camp stove and the can opener and the mess kit. She’d put the food in the other box. She had to move stuff out of the way to get to it. Sleeping bag stuffed tight. Canisters of fuel. Propane heater. Air mattress. Tarp. Tent stakes. Pulling out the food box, she rummaged through the foil packets of stew and the ramen and canned fruit until she found the cardboard cylinder of sugar, which had migrated to the bottom. As an afterthought, she brought out a box of cookies and pulled out two sleeves. Some for her, some for the brats, in case they started fussing.
She held the canister of sugar in the crook of her left arm. Her left hand held one sleeve of cookies, and her right held the other sleeve and her keys. When she reached up to touch the trunk, she got shocked again by a crackle of static, brought on by the approaching storm. She dropped the cookies and sugar. Cursing, she bent down again to pick them up. She heard the shuffle of feet.
“Chance?” But it couldn’t be Chance. He’d be driving back, and if he dug a deep hole like she’d told him to, he wouldn’t be back for hours.
She held still and listened. Wind. Crickets and frogs. Crackle of lightning. She set the sugar and the cookies on the trunk of the car, stuffing her keys into her pocket. She heard that sound again, like water pouring from a canteen, or dripping in a burst from a gutter. Then the wind shifted, and she smelled it. Pee. Human pee. Another smell drifted to her on the wind, something mostly human but skewed, as if the person were drugged or diseased or someone with a peculiar diet. That smell was stronger, but it came from the northwest, so it could have been coming from those neighbors who cooked up meth. The way the wind shifted here made it hard for her to tell where smells were coming from, especially when she was in human form.
She heard it again. A sudden trickle of water. Peeing. What the hell?
Christine slunk towards the back of the house. She’d never had reason to come back there before, never been curious. She hadn’t missed anything. Maybe it had once been a nice yard, with a garden and lawn. Brambles covered the slope down to the ditch, lumpy in places as if they covered the rotting hulks of dead vehicles. Only the tilted skeleton of a clothesline showed where the lawn had once been. The house didn’t look any better from this angle. Years of wind had sanded off the paint off the wood, now mottled gray and white. Never a handsome house, the years had not been kind to it. She wasn’t sad that she would never see it again.
She peered at the ground, trying to spot traces of someone’s passage. It had grown dark, and the clouds blocked the moonlight. Near the foundation, someone’s foot had crushed a dandelion. She smelled the green sap. She smelled the puddle of urine that dripped from the stem. She put her hand to her nose. You didn’t even need to be a werewolf to pick that up.
Walking along the back of the house, she smelled another puddle, and knelt down to inspect it. Human. Fresh. Female, she thought, and possibly pregnant, which explained how she was able to pee so often, but not why she was peeing here. The wind shifted again, and she covered her nose against the eddy of urine, ozone, and that diseased human smell, which had now grown stronger. Meth addicts coming here to see if they could squat? Weird, but the most plausible explanation.
Great. That was all she needed. Just wait until tomorrow, she thought. After tomorrow, you could cook up whatever you wanted in the house.
Christine stood again, slowly, to keep her joints from popping. She could walk more silently than a normal human when she was careful. She smelled a female human, a verbena-scented lotion, and sweat poorly masked by baby-powder scented deodorant. She smelled the diseased human smell, stronger, and she caught a whiff of anxiety. Then the odor of urine grew almost strong enough to taste, and she heard peeing again.
Loping forward, Christine ducked around the corner. She expected to see some scraggly meth addict peeing against the wall, maybe his crack ho standing next to him, twitching. Instead she saw nothing. An evergreen, half dead, leaned away from the corner of the house. Cobwebs blanketed the space between it and the rafters, and a bird’s nest had fallen to the ground, scattering empty shells among the weeds and crushed grass. Footsteps crushed a path circumnavigating the house, blazing the trail Christine now stood on. She took four steps forward and splashed in something wet. Thunder rumbled, and a drop splattered on her head, but it wasn’t rain she’d stepped in. Christine crouched down and held her hand over the puddle. It was still warm. What the fuck was this? An invisible pregnant meth addict, peeing around the perimeter of the house like a dog marking her territory?
Even in the wan moonlight, she could follow the path of broken weeds easily. Grass and flowers oozed sap from their snapped stems and dandelion seeds fled the approaching storm. The path turned the corner, leading to where Christine had left the cookies and the sugar on the trunk of her car. The sugar had rolled off onto the ground, but she didn’t go to save it from the ants, because she saw something more alarming.
The kitchen door was open.
Furious now, Christine strode into the kitchen. She glanced around, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. Her tea rested on the counter, string from the bag wicking cold chamomile. She didn’t see anyone. She strained her senses, trying to hear something other than the brats sobbing in the basement. She didn’t hear the woman, but she sensed someone in there. If this were Chance, playing some kind of practical joke, she’d tear his throat out. Even as she thought it, she knew it wasn’t Chance. She smelled the lotion and the human female sweat and the flecks of pee tracked in by the squatter’s shoes.
Her eyes flicked to the closet door. The shotgun was in there, on the top shelf, but the shells were in the back of the trunk along with the rest of the camping gear. She could go out and get them, load it, blow a new hole in the meth addict. But that would take too long, and it was messy, and if she killed the squatter, that would be one more corpse to deal with. It was bad enough they’d have to risk the babysitter, whom Chance and Luke swore had no family. It would be just her luck if the meth addict she blew a hole in happened to be the wayward daughter of the Governor, or some art student peeing in an empty house as a symbol of society’s oppression. If she didn’t kill her, that would be one more person who saw her face.
There were still wolves in America.
She unbuttoned her jeans and shimmied them down off her hips. She was already breathing heavily as she slipped her ankles through the denim. Hyperventilating, she shucked her shirt and bra.
She’d seen pigs and outbreeders change before. They sweated and panted like women in labor, and some of them needed almost an hour to change. But she was a true born American Werewolf. Daughter of werewolves. Granddaughter of werewolves. She could change from two legs to four in the length of a song on the radio.
Changing was agony, but it was a familiar agony. She felt better as a wolf than a human. One breath, and her bones loosened. Two breaths, and her organs shifted to make room for their new shape. Four breaths. Five. Joints mutated, limbs lengthened. Eleven breaths. Twelve. She resisted the urge to scream through half-formed vocal chords. Thirty breaths. Thirty-one. She saw the world through wolfish eyes, a bright gray gloom. Her claws dug sharply into the linoleum. Her thick fur protected her neck. Her jaws longed to bite.
The landscape of the house altered when smelled rather than seen. She didn’t notice the peeling wallpaper, the ancient wiring, defunct and painted over. She smelled instead the place where Luke had spilled creamer, and then sprayed poison to kill the ants that came to feast on the dried sugar and protein. The tan tower of pizza boxes smelled of garlic and the glue they pasted the fliers on the top with. The filthy smell of frightened bear-children oozed from under the basement door. The couch reeked of semen and fear, from where Luke had been raping his little pet. The baseboards spoke of mildew and rot, the geriatric stench of a dying house.
Christine could smell the intruder in the second bedroom, as clearly as roadkill in a closet. The floral and chemical combination of her toiletries wafted behind her like the trail of a comet. A few drops of urine and grass juice made her trail almost plain enough for a human with a head cold to follow. Christine slunk silently down the hall. She peered around the corner.
Chance had covered the windows with an old quilt, but the woman had slid it back. She stood near the door, pawing the wall as if feeling for the light switch. She found the first one, the old one, and pushed the button uselessly, then kept fumbling until she found the modern one still attached to wiring. She flicked the lights on, and Christine almost whined as the bright yellow incandescent bulb shocked her retinas. The woman flicked them on and off again twice more.
Christine backed away and blinked until the spot vanished from in front of her eyes. When she peered back into the room, she saw the woman standing in the corner. Whatever had made the woman invisible wasn’t working anymore, either because it had worn off, or because Christine was in wolf form. She was mostly looking with her nose, anyway. Her nose knew the woman was there, so Christine forced her eyes to cooperate.
She was moderately tall, sturdy looking, like an athlete. She had short brown hair, a hooded sweatshirt unzipped in the front, jeans, tennis shoes. No camera, or can of spray paint, so there went the art student hypothesis. She didn’t have the mien of a meth addict either, and that sick human smell wasn’t originating from her. The woman waited there in the darkness. Waited. For what?
Was this the cougar that Michael had warned them about before he disappeared? Had she killed Michael? Luke said the cougar story was bullshit, that Michael had double crossed them. Never trust a pig, he said, though he seemed fine with Chance. She never believed that Michael had double crossed them. He’d lost Sasha, for one, and for two, he never thought of himself as a pig, but as a werewolf who had to constantly prove he was equal to the name. And if he had double-crossed them, where had he gone? If he went to Los Lobos, he could have been killed for trespassing, or killed simply out of some sense of honor, cleaning out the apostates that the pigs of New Mexico were so fond of.
It wasn’t like the old days, when the Klo controlled everything from the Atlantic to the Rockies. She couldn’t just kill and bury and trust their control to keep the law out of it.
She shook her head. She was being cowardly. She’d chided Luke for not being able to kill someone, and now she was just as bad as him. A car pulled into the yard. Luke, back from his scouting mission, or Chance, back from doing his chore. She couldn’t let this woman see either of their faces. She’d show them how a true-born American werewolf got things done. She would end this.
Christine tensed her haunches. The woman hadn’t moved. Two steps and a spring later, she was leaping towards the intruder’s throat.
Like the book, but short on cash? New chapter next week!