Eric’s wolf alerted in the middle of the day. He opened his eyes and moved his head so he could hear better. They had just gotten back to sleep after the excitement of hearing their Luna’s brother, Jacob Forrest, had gained back some vision after agreeing to be turned. Looking around, all seemed calm but the wolf was still restless. He pulled off the light blanket and rolled off the couch in the basement. He moved past his brother and Jacob who were sleeping on matching leather recliners. The Luna’s parents, Daniel and Ann, were on a mattress in the center of the basement room. With a last look around, went up the stairs to the main level of the house.
He opened the door, covering his eyes as the upper level drapes and windows let in a lot of light. Moving to the kitchen, he took a bottled water from the counter and gulped it down. As his nose lifted, he took a deep sniff, and that’s when it hit him.
Before he could react, his Alpha’s voice blasted through the link. “FIRE IS SPREADING THROUGH TOWN. EVERYONE GET TO THE BUSES NOW!”
Moving to the sliding door going to the patio, he moved the blinds aside and looked to the west. The smoke was moving towards them with the wind shift, and in minutes the sun was blotted out by the grey cloud. He could see the gusts in the trees; this was a worst-case situation; the sun had turned vegetation into kindling and the high mountain winds were now blowing it straight towards them. He heard Derek rushing up the stairs, and met him at the door. “Get them up,” he told him, “We’ve got to go NOW.”
They both rushed downstairs and woke up Silvia’s family. Quickly explaining the situation, the three were up and getting dressed immediately. “Make sure everything is covered up, including your face,” Derek directed. “We’ll go in wolf form.” As they were getting ready, Donald told them about the use of ski goggles. “Do you have any ski goggles or dark sunglasses?”
“In the garage,” Jacob said. He lead Derek up to where his ski equipment was located, and they grabbed some ski masks and three pairs of goggles. Derek could hear the wind howling and the smell of smoke was much stronger already. There were sunglasses in the car, they took that too, before running back downstairs to join the others.
“Here, put this on,” said Daniel as he tossed him a small backpack. Looking at Eric, he explained. “Bugout bag… change of clothes, water, a couple MRE’s and some other handy stuff.” He and his wife Ann were dressed and ready. Jacob handed them sunglasses and he put on the goggles as he led them all back upstairs.
“Change and I’ll put your goggles on,” Jacob said as they reached the door. Eric and Derek stripped, handing their clothes to Jacob before shifting into their wolves. Jacob stuffed the clothes in his pack before opening the door. They stepped outside into a nightmare.
Heavy smoke from the burning city choked their lungs as it blew into their neighborhood. Flaming embers set fires well ahead of the main fire line which was now just a half mile away. Their neighborhood, spared in the previous fire outbreaks, was going to be engulfed soon and fires already burned in the yards or houses around them. Daniel started to cough from the smoke, as Derek looked in the direction they needed to go to reach the buses. It wasn’t possible.
“Back inside,” Daniel said. They ran in and closed the door, taking deep breaths of the cool, clean air in the house.
“Alpha, we’re cut off. Leave without us, we’ll find another way.” Eric could feel the distress in Donald’s acknowledgement. “If we don’t make it, take care of Britney and Bethany and tell them we loved them to the end.”
“You tell them, get out of there and meet us in Corvallis.” He closed the link as they looked at each other.
“Can we outrun it?” Jacob was looking out the window.
“In this wind? Probably not. You can’t run fast enough, and with you riding us we aren’t as fast.”
Donald made the decision for them. “Everyone back downstairs, into the safe room. We’ll ride this out there.” They ran back downstairs and into the room, grabbing what food and water they could on the way. Donald closed and locked the vault-like door behind them. “This room is made of ten-inch-thick concrete, insulated on both sides. Only the ceiling and this wall will be exposed to the fire. Come on, we’ve got to seal it against the smoke.” He grabbed a roll of aluminum-backed tape off the shelf, and Derek helped him use it to seal the gap around the inside of the main door. When they were done with that, they moved on to the round escape hatch that led to a trapdoor in the closet of the master bedroom.
In the meantime, Eric and Jacob had wet down moved a couple of the mattresses and placed them against the door as insulation, using paracord to tie them in place. Ann had taken the remaining mattresses and blankets and set up a tent area in the far corner. She then moved the water, bugout bags and food supplies away from the man cave wall to help protect them from the heat.
By the time they were done with these tasks, they could hear the fire line passing above them. The sounds of the house catching on fire scared them all, as they retreated to the corner and held each other tight. The roar of the wind and the sound of houses collapsing and beams falling was the only sound for the next twenty minutes.
They could smell smoke was starting to get in, so Donald pulled out his last trick. He got up and moved to the corner where a large compressed air cylinder was tied to the shelf. Cracking open the regulator, it blew air into the room and he stopped when his ears started to pop. “What’s that for, Dad?”
“Positive pressure, Jacob. As long as this room is a slightly higher pressure than the outside, it will keep smoke from coming in.” He sat down and embraced his wife again. The room was much hotter now, a hundred degrees by the thermometer by the door. He took a couple of bottled waters and handed them out. “Don’t move, let the cool concrete under and behind you help. Take your clothes off if you want, we’re all family here.”
Derek smiled. “Yeah, werewolves don’t have the same attitudes towards nudity that humans have. We can’t, we’d shred too may clothes in the changes.” They took their shirts off and leaned back against the wall. They tried to link Donald, but neither could. They reassured each other that he was too far away now, as they hadn’t felt a bond break.
The room was filled with the sounds of the house burning and collapsing around them. They jumped and held each other as the roof crashed down on them. “Don’t worry,” Daniel said. “The room is plenty strong, it will protect us.”
“I’m not worried about being crushed to death,” said Ann as she poured a water bottle over her head, shaking it into her shoulder length hair.
“But it’s a dry heat,” said Jacob with a smile.
“Yeah, so’s an oven.” She smacked her son’s arm and leaned back against the wall. “We’re going to be here a while, guys. Why don’t you guys tell us a story?”
Eric looked at her. “What kind of story?”
“I don’t know, tell us about your mates. How did you meet them?”
Derek froze. “That’s kind of embarrassing…”
“Even better,” Ann said. “Now come on, help us understand. What went through your mind when you first saw her?” She held on to Daniel’s hand as she looked at them.
“Well, she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, even if she was unconscious, covered in blisters and suffering from radiation sickness. She was in a tent by the river with her friends, and all I could think about was getting to her and making her mine. We were in wolf form, we shredded the tent and scared the crap out of their friends.”
“Oh shit,” Jacob said. “They must have freaked out.”
“They did,” said Eric. “They screamed and got as far away from us as they could. It didn’t help when we rushed to their friends, who were laid out naked on the sleeping bags, sniffed their… um…”
“Privates, then bit them on the shoulder.” Derek looked down in embarrassment. “It saved them, though. We laid down next to our mates and let Doc deal with it.”
They continued the story as the room went from hot to uncomfortably hot to unbearably hot. Daniel got up several times to let more air out of the bottle, but it did nothing against the heat radiating from the ceiling and wall. “One hundred thirty-two,” he said as he sat down. “I’m beginning to think this was a bad idea. I’m sorry.”
Derek shook his head. “It was the best idea among a bunch of really bad options. You gave us a chance.” He looked around. “Do you have anything to write with in here?”
“Yeah, just a second.” He got up and moved to a shelf, coming back with some pads of paper and pens. He handed each of the boys one. “What for?”
“If we don’t make it, eventually they will come back here and find us. I want Bethany to know I was thinking about her to the end.” He started to write, tears falling down his face and mixing with the sweat from his hair as he poured his heart into the goodbye letter. Eric was the same as he wrote to Britney. Even Ann started to write, letting her daughter know how much she loved her and wishing her happiness in her new life.
When it got too hot to continue, they set the notepads down and waited for death. Eric and Derek were praying silently to Luna, first for life and then for protection of their mates.
The sound of thunder pushed through the sounds of the fire around them. The five looked up at the ceiling as a stronger burst rattled the collapsed house. Minutes later, they could hear the downpour as the thunderstorm moved over the house. The hiss of the fire, fighting its own battle against the pouring rain, was music to their ears. Twenty minutes later, the room had cooled down slightly and they no longer heard the sounds of the fire outside.
“We have to let things cool down,” Daniel said. “Try to get some sleep.”
Their naps were fitful, but by the time sunset rolled around they were awake again. The room was back in the 90’s now. They removed the scorched mattresses from the main door and felt it, sighing with relief as it was cool to the touch. “Be ready to close it again if the smoke is too bad.” They pulled off the tape and Daniel moved the levers to open the door.
They pushed it open a few inches before it hit something. The basement was ruined, full of debris and wood, and they could see the sky when they looked up. “Fire’s out,” Daniel said. “It’s blocked, though. Let’s try the hatch.” They moved to the other side of the room and he climbed the ladder, unlocking the hatch, but he couldn’t push it up.
“Let me try,” Derek said. He changed places with him and put his shoulder into the hatch, applying his werewolf strength. There was some creaking before it moved, pushing the debris aside as he popped it open. He looked around; there wasn’t much left of the neighborhood. “It’s all right to come up.”
They grabbed their go-bags and went up one at a time, carefully moving off the concrete and onto the burnt area by the house. The storm had moved on, leaving behind a mix of ashy puddles and still smoldering wreckage. “We need to move south, Donald said they would meet us in Corvallis.” They started moving in a line, the young werewolves leading the way and picking out the safe path in the early night. The clouds blocked the moon, leaving only the eerie glow from embers still burning as they moved through the town.
Reggie closed the bus door and accelerated out of the lot as soon as the two were aboard. Alpha Calvin had left ten minutes earlier with a full bus of people, some returning to their homes to the south, others fleeing in fear. Linking with wolves on that bus, he verified they were clear of the fire area and were on their way to Corvallis. He looked quickly in the mirror, Donald was working on the two that had just joined them.
Christine was sitting up, coughing from the smoke as an older woman rubbed her back. She was looking around with wide eyes at the people stacked like cordwood in the bus; every seat was full, and most had someone on their laps. The standing room only crowd had pushed towards the back to give them room in the aisle. Brian had shifted back, and Donald was working a pair of shorts up his legs as he was passed out in the aisle. The bus windows had been covered by blankets secured in the cracked open windows, casting a weird glow on the group as they sped south.
The fire chased them out of town, passing behind them as they crossed the Clark Fork River bridge on Highway 93. The river wasn’t wide enough to stop the firestorm, as the flaming embers easily passed over and started fires around them as they drove on. By sundown, Reggie thought, there might not be anything left of Missoula.
He drove on, peering through a slit in the blanket that covered most of the windshield, dark sunglasses on to protect his eyes as best he could. The mirrors on the front corners of the bus showed the red glow behind them as they fled. He pushed through his Pack bond, they had to know. “I need all Salmon pack members to check in and report your status. In the other bus, ask Alpha Calvin to do the same.” He mentally kept tabs as his people checked in, none were injured, thank Luna, except those from the fight. A few minutes later, he got the reports from the other Alphas. All present and accounted for in Donald’s pack as well, but Calvin wasn’t as lucky. All had made it out except Eric and Derek, the recently mated twin brothers, who had gone to save Silvia’s family.
They were on their own.
There was nothing else to do now, the Alphas agreed, except return to Corvallis and seek shelter until sundown. By the time they reached the small town of Lolo, he had caught up to Alpha Calvin’s bus and they pushed on through. Their visibility was so restricted and their minds so focused that they didn’t see the people in the houses waving, some even braving the sunlight to rush out towards the passing buses. They pushed on through the sun and smoke until they reached the city.
Calvin had linked Pack members ahead and they had used the underground tunnels from the city hall to the Public Service building, where two garage doors in the back were disconnected from their electric operators and manually opened. The buses pulled straight in and shut down, while Pack members raced to pull the doors down. In moments, the garage was dimly lit by the sun peeking through the garbage bags that had been taped over the windows. The tired and scared riders filed off the bus, and were led to the sleeping area for a needed rest.
Donald reached out for Candice, but Henderson was too far away for his new mate bond to reach. He settled into the cot, visions of her filling his sleep as he awaited their reunion.
Marcus opened the door to the office in the clinic quietly, trying not to disturb Raven who was sleeping on a mattress in the corner. He always woke up at noon or so to do midday rounds, and often was woken at other times when needed. His residency and military training helped him here, he had learned to fall asleep whenever and wherever, within seconds of his head hitting the pillow. The Pack members had removed all the desks and furniture from the small room and replaced it with a twin bed and single mattress; Marcus as the resident Doc had practically moved into the clinic.
The steady flow of new turns required monitoring during the fevers and the change, plus the newly changed wolves were prone to injury as they explored their new forms and started training. The Salmon pack had turned turns into a production line; each step monitored and directed for maximum efficiency. So far, two hundred and eighty-seven people had entered the line. Only five had been lost, three because they were too far gone even for the wolf change, and two who changed but showed undesirable characteristics, and Josi had to put them down.
Pulling his scrubs off, he lifted the covers and slid in behind Rachel. He moved until he was spooning her, his hand naturally draping over her rounded belly and his fingers splaying to cover it. At four months, she looked more like a six-month pregnant human as werewolf pregnancies were only six and a half months long. He buried his nose in her dark hair, his wolf relaxed and satisfied after the activities of the last night. His manhood started to stiffen against her athletic butt as he smiled and thought of what had happened last night.
He had been working almost non-stop for days, and Alpha Josi noticed it. “Doc, when was the last time you shifted?” He had tried to get out of the interrogation, but she was having nothing of his stubbornness. She called in the big gun- Rachel. Staring down the two, she told them that they had four hours to themselves and she didn’t want to see them anywhere near town until dawn. Rachel grabbed his hand and pulled him back to their room, where he shifted into his wolf and she helped attach his artificial back leg. She led him outside, where she shifted into her wolf. “Let’s run,” she said.
He followed her up into the hills, following the trail to the springs. They had shifted and soaked in the hot water, not too long as it wasn’t good for the baby, and then made love tenderly in the grass around it. They cuddled until their time was up, then shifted to wolf form and headed back down. His arousal didn’t abate in wolf form, and soon a game of chase ensued that ended with him mounting her and taking her again. Tired and sated, they took a different trail back down.
The blur of movement ahead of them caused Rachel to react instinctively, and she leaped forward and snatched up the rabbit in her jaws. Just before she was going to clamp down and decapitate it, Marcus shouted over the bond to stop. “It’s alive… it’s the first animal we’ve seen alive. Don’t kill it, we need to take it back.”
“If there is one, there will be more. We can raise rabbits for meat since there aren’t any deer or cattle or large animals left. We can’t survive on canned food forever.” She held the scared rabbit in her jaws the whole way back. He had linked ahead and a Pack member was waiting with a cage taken from the local vet. Tomorrow, Josi promised, they would scour the woods for more. Fresh meat was a huge thing for the future of their Pack. Marcus didn’t know why this rabbit had survived, but suspected it had stayed in its burrow and was somewhat protected during the day.
Thoughts of the sex from before caused Marcus to be fully erect, and the rod pressing between her butt cheeks was enough to cause her to wake. She moved her hips, encouraging him, and he moved his hand down and slipped a finger in to her moistening slit. She moaned in pleasure as his thumb teased her clit, and soon he had two fingers working her to a frenzy. “Marcus, wasn’t I enough earlier?”
“I can never have enough of you, love.” He shifted his hips down and replaced his fingers with his mushroom head. Slowly, tenderly, he pushed up into her as she moaned in pleasure. When he was fully seated, he stopped and kissed her. “I will never tire of this.” He started to withdraw, dragging out the pleasure, then pushed slowly back in.
“Faster,” she demanded. He started to thrust harder and faster, driving them both to a peak of pleasure. He twisted her sensitive nipples as he slammed as deep as he could, his seed surging forward and filling her, and the combined sensation set her off as well. She jerked in his arms, her eyes closed in pleasure as her body rode the waves, and then it all went wrong.
She felt a stabbing pain in her stomach, causing her to scream out. He immediately withdrew, and got up on his hands and knees to check her out. Her hand was on the right side of her stomach as she cried; her body fought through the contraction, but her mind quickly figured out what was going on. She had assisted on enough miscarriages to know the signs. “Our baby,” she cried.
“Mom?” Raven was up, holding her hand as she breathed through it. “What’s going on?”
“Come on, Raven, we need to get Mom to a treatment room.” Picking her up, they almost ran through the halls and into the room. He placed her on an exam table and pulled out the stirrups to put her legs up. “Raven, go get Tammy, tell her it’s an emergency.” Raven raced out of the room as Marcus pulled on gloves and used a towel to clean up. The towel was streaked with blood.
“I’m losing it, aren’t I?” Rachel was near hysterics as Josi came into the room along with Tammy. Josi went to her head, holding her hand and lending the comfort of an Alpha as she was tended to. Marcus was moving his stethoscope along her belly while Tammy prepared a speculum. Never had Marcus wished he had all his medical devices as much as now, but they were all expensive trash after the solar flare and had been tossed in the dumpster.
“There’s still a strong heartbeat, love. He’s still fighting.” The heartbeat was faster than normal, as the fetus was clearly stressed. They did an internal check, the cervix was still closed tight, and the bleeding had abated. Another contraction came ten minutes after the first. He gave her magnesium sulfate to help stop the premature labor. When he was done, he put her legs down and sat next to her and held her other hand. “All we can do now is wait. If the contractions and the bleeding stop, the baby can progress normally. Worst case, the bleeding worsens and the baby becomes unsustainable. You’re on bedrest for a week, we can’t risk anything causing the bleeding to restart.”
“Can we deliver?”
“It’s still too early, his lungs aren’t developed enough yet and we don’t have the equipment to support a birth this early. I’m sorry, love. I should have left you alone.”
She pulled him down until their noses were almost touching. “Don’t you EVER apologize for loving me, Marcus. I know if you thought there was any danger to me, you wouldn’t have done it.” She let him go. “Why did this happen?”
“I can’t know,” he said. “Stress, abnormal development, even damage from the flare. I know you were underground most of the time, but developing fetuses are vulnerable to radiation.”
“So we wait.” He nodded.
“And we pray,” said Josi. “We’re all here for you.” She leaned down and pressed her cheek to her, then got up and left; she would set up a rotation to ensure there was always someone in the room with her. No one would let her lift a finger for the next week.
Derek led the column south in wolf form through the ruins of the once vibrant town, carefully avoiding still burning debris and hot spots. Darkness had brought with it its own set of challenges. The wind and rain had helped with the smoke, but there was enough out there to make it uncomfortable. He also knew that as soon as it dried out, fires could reflash. The town wasn’t safe.
Daniel, Ann and Jacob followed him, go bag backpacks on. Jacob’s wolf vision was helping him out here, he could see easily in the dim light so his Mom held onto his pack and his Dad on to hers. Eric trailed the group. They couldn’t move faster than the old couple could walk, so he was a little anxious. He wanted to get out of town quickly.
They moved along, over the Clark Fork River bridge and past the burned out buildings of the University of Montana. Continuing south, they moved from industrial to residential ruins until they joined Highway 93. The south side of the river hadn’t fared any better, even the Southgate Mall and Cabela’s were burned out shells. The fires had spared nothing.
They passed two golf courses, their trees burned away, before they reached the bridge over the Bitterroot River. Moving along the open lane in the center, the group crossed except for Eric, who had gone to investigate the Cabela’s to see if anything could be salvaged. It was lucky he was alone, because he was the only one who heard the soft cries coming from below the bridge.
“Derek, someone’s alive under the bridge, I’m going to investigate,” he sent to his brother.
“No, you guys keep moving. Keep an eye out for anything still driveable; an old car, truck, hell even a lawn mower. I’ll keep you posted.” Derek passed the direction on to his group, now that they were south of the river the damage wasn’t as bad. Outside the city, the lots were bigger and the area had some large commercial sections.
Eric moved between the cars and jumped over the guardrail into the burned grass. Moving down the slippery mud to the riverbank, he picked his way along to underneath the bridge where he scented two humans. The adult was on her back, her torso still in the water, while a toddler was sitting next to her and crying. She couldn’t have been more than three years old. “Momma! Momma, get up!”
Eric shifted and pulled on shorts from the bag he was carrying. “Are you all right?” He knelt next to the girl and pulled her into a hug.
The young girl looked up at him, her face was covered in soot as well as her clothing. She coughed a few times, then nodded. “Mommy sick.” He looked at her, she was in her early twenties and would have been an attractive woman, but her current state wasn’t good. Her hair was singed, she had burns on her face and neck, and her clothing was scorched and muddy. She was breathing with difficulty. Her eyes widened as she saw the half-naked man above her, she tried to speak but her throat was swollen and nothing came out. She was dying and she knew it. Taking a burned hand and grabbing his, she moved it to her daughter. She mouthed “Take her,” before she closed her eyes.
Eric knew there was not much time before she succumbed to her injuries; it was amazing she had made it through the firestorm and protected her daughter. He couldn’t let her die. “Miss, I can give you a chance to live, but you have to trust me.” She looked up at him, her mouth opening. “I’m a werewolf. If I bite you, the infection will help fix your body and you can live. You will become like me, but that’s not a bad thing. There are a lot of us out there, and we will help you adjust.” Her eyes got wide. “I won’t do it without your consent, though.” She closed her eyes, pain clear on her face.
Eric looked at the girl. “What is your name, little one, and who is your mom?”
“I’m Erica, I’m TWO!” She held up two fingers. “Mommy is Meghan Smith.”
“Erica, do you like dogs?” She nodded. “How about wolves?” She nodded again. “Good, I want you to be brave, nothing is going to hurt you. Meghan, please watch. I know you don’t believe me, but I’m going to shift. When I do, if you nod yes, I’ll bite you and start the change. If you shake your head no, I’ll stay with you until you are gone then I’ll take your daughter, I’ll find a family she can be raised by. All right?” She closed her eyes and nodded. When he saw her looking at him again, he stood and turned around. Kicking his shorts off, he shifted into his wolf before they could react.
“PUPPY!” Erica said. Eric turned and moved on his belly to her until she was petting his head. He licked her neck and she squealed. He linked to his brother, he needed him back here now, the others would have to continue without them for a bit. He stood up and moved over to her mother, looking into her eyes for her answer. She raised her hand, stroking his neck, before she nodded. He moved over to her left arm, looking into her eyes as he opened his mouth and she closed her eyes in anticipation. Biting down, her blood filled his mouth as his saliva started her change. He licked the wound closed and shifted back.
“It’s done,” he said. He sat by her side as Erica came and sat by her head. A few minutes later, Derek came down the riverbank and sat next to him.
“Meghan, I’m going to put you on my brother’s back and he will carry you out of here, all right?” She nodded. He picked her up as carefully as he could, minimizing the pain, and set her on his back. He pulled out his shirt from his pack and used it to tie her feet together so they wouldn’t drag, and used his socks to tie her hands in front of his chest. When he was done, Derek moved out slowly. “Erica, would you like a puppy ride?” She nodded and squealed in excitement. “All right, when I’m a wolf again, you climb up on my back and hold on to my neck, all right?”
He shifted and she clambered her way up, pulling painfully on his fur before she was settled. He started off slowly, she hugged his neck as they went up to the road again. She shrieked with excitement as they ran to catch up to Derek. The two wolves looked at each other and then settled into a fast lope, they needed to get back to their group and get to Corvallis as soon as possible. Derek looked over at the little girl and his wolf was happy they had saved them. “Good job, bro,” he sent over the link.
“It ain’t over yet,” Eric replied. They pushed on through the darkness, following the scent of the rest of their group.
Eric easily tracked Silvia’s family along the road as they worked to catch up. The scent was easily tracked when it left the road to the John Deere dealer. They trotted up to the gate, which was unlatched and left open. Moving inside the equipment yard, they followed the scents to the service area where a door had been opened to the inside.
Just before they entered, Daniel came out followed by his wife Ann and son Jacob, who was carrying a grey wall cabinet. “Good, you guys made it. How are you, young lady?”
“Good, I’m Erica, and this is my puppy Eric. Mommy is on Derek. They are fun!” She patted his neck and jumped a little on his shoulders, encouraging him to go.
“They are werewolves, not horses, young lady.” Ann came over and picked her off his back. “Aren’t you just a cutie?” She giggled and buried her face in her shoulder.
“You guys wait here, we’re going to see if any of these tractors still work.” They walked out to the line, Jacob had opened the key cabinet and was fishing out the right keys for the big tractors ahead of them. He was finding his vision to be quite good despite the dim light of the moon. Soon they were climbing up and trying to fire them up; the newer ones, with their electronics and monitoring systems, didn’t work. They soon found some older tractors that did. “Jacob, pull yours around, I saw some hay wagons in the back lot as we came by. Those will be perfect.”
While they were getting the trailers hooked up, Eric had shifted and dressed inside the building and came out to help take Meghan off Derek’s back. They could see already that the bite was accelerating her healing burns, and her breathing was much less labored than before. She remained unconscious, which they agreed was for the best as it beat the pain she must be enduring.
Derek went in and changed, and the twins stood with the women until the two tractors and hay trailers pulled to the front of the lot. “Jacob, we need you to take care of Meghan on the trip, keep her from rolling around and hurting yourself. Jump up there and sit against the front. Your Mom can help keep an eye on little Erica here.” Jacob looked at his mom, who nodded, so he jumped up and moved into position on the trailer his dad had been driving. They helped Ann and Erica up, who immediately started running around and jumping on the hay bales surrounding the edges, and then went over to Daniel. “We can’t go with you,” Derek said. “We have to go back. If they made it, there are others and we can’t leave them.”
Daniel put a hand on his shoulder. “I understand. You are good boys, your parents would be proud of you. I can take this tractor to Corvallis, you take the other one back.”
“You might find people along the way. My Alpha is offering shelter and sanctuary to all, if they come in peace they are welcome.” Eric shook his hand awkwardly as he was carrying Meghan, while Daniel gave Derek a hug.
While he jumped back up in the cab, Derek jumped on the hay wagon and knelt down to take Meghan from him. He moved forward and carefully set her in Jacob’s arms, leaning back against his chest as his legs encased hers and his arms carefully wrapped her torso, avoiding the healing burns. “That’s weird,” he said. Derek looked at him questioningly, so he continued. “She’s giving me tingles up my arm where I touch her skin.”
Derek snorted, but he wasn’t going to spoil it for him. His wolf wasn’t forward enough to talk to him but clearly his wolf recognized who she was. “Take care of her, all right? You both will end up going to Salmon to go through the changes and the schooling, and she could use a friend.”
Jacob nodded, his arms squeezing her gently as a need to protect her surged forward in his consciousness. “Nothing will harm her, she is mine to take care of.” His eyes flashed as he made this statement.
“I know.” Turning before he could start laughing, he linked the conversation to his brother who was already firing up the other tractor. He jumped off and waved to the group, as Erica started to cry because her pet wolf was leaving. Ann gave her a hug and sat her down on her lap before they started moving to the gate. Derek jumped on the back of the other trailer as they followed them out the yard, turning different ways as they reached the road.
Alpha Calvin moaned as he was woken up, the sleep wasn’t nearly long enough and his body protested briefly. He stood and dressed quickly, though; two of his Pack members were missing and he had to go back. He had discussed it with Alpha Reggie and Alpha Donald on the way back to Corvallis; he would lead a search party. Reggie and Donald would take the buses, dropping off the Henderson fighters and then Reggie would take the newly turned to Salmon to start the Wolf University, as they were calling it. (Wolf U just sounded right.)
The buses were the only vehicles that had escaped the fire, and Corvallis didn’t have more, so they were going in wolf form. Calvin gathered volunteers- Travis, James and Rob- and they took off north as soon as the sun was below the mountains. Pushing hard, they would be there in two hours.
Marcus went to breakfast, Raven sitting in his lap, and then they brought a plate to the Clinic for Rachel. She was sitting up, a mess of pillows behind her, and was happy to see her family. Raven climbed up with her as Marcus brought a stand over to hold her plate. “How are you feeling his morning, honey?”
“I’m fine,” she smiled. “No more pain, the bleeding has stopped. I feel good.” She hugged Raven as her husband worked his hands around her belly, sniffed her deeply, and used his ear then his stethoscope to listen in.
He smiled. “Fetal heart rate is back to normal, I can’t sense anything else.” She started to talk, and he cut her off. “That doesn’t mean you can get up. A week of bed rest you shall have, we can’t take any chances with our son.”
His two ladies looked at him in shock. “Son?”
He nodded. “His scent is getting strong enough I can tell.” He gave her a hug and they kissed deeply, while Raven scowled and complained about them being ‘gross’. “I need to go up to North Fork tonight, if the radiation may have caused you issues I need to check on Megan; she was only two months pregnant when I saw her last week.” He sighed as he thought of it, it wasn’t many days but with everything that had happened it seemed like a lifetime ago.
“I’ll be fine here, nobody lets me do a thing anyway.” She laid back as Raven snuggled in by her side. “When are you leaving?
“Soon, I’m going to see about a car. I’ll be back before sunrise.” He kissed her again, gave Raven a hug and left the room.
Raven noticed her tears, and kissed her cheek. “It’s all right Mom, you need to finish your breakfast. My baby brother is hungry.” They both laughed as she reached for the plate.
Daniel was starting to feel like a celebrity. Unlike the vehicles that had sped past the small towns of Lolo and Florence, the tractor was louder and slower. This allowed the few survivors in the towns and farms to hear them coming and make their way out. He had already stopped three times, picking up a total of eight survivors, all eager to find shelter and community with others.
They were just south of Florence when four big wolves moved to surround them. Some of the passengers started to scream, one even pulled a pistol, but Ann quickly calmed them down. Calvin jumped up in the back and Jacob tossed him a pair of shorts he had quickly pulled from his bugout bag. He shifted and pulled them on, to the shock and amazement of the new refugees. “Where are Eric and Derek? I can smell them…”
“They went back to Missoula to look for survivors,” Ann said. “I’m Ann, my son Jacob, husband Daniel is driving. We’re Silvia’s parents. We rode out the fire in our safe room under the house.”
“I’m thrilled to meet you guys,” Calvin said as he smiled widely. “We’ll be going then, we are his Pack and we can’t leave them to do it alone. You’re heading to Corvallis?”
“Yes, with whatever strays we find along the way.”
One of the strays piped up. “We would see vehicles at night. One night a military truck came, the men beat up a few people and took Jessie away. After that, we stayed hidden. When we smelled the fire, we took a chance on this tractor.”
“So there may be more?” Calvin looked around, already thinking.
“I wouldn’t doubt it,” Ann said. “You might have to search house to house to find everyone.”
Calvin walked to the back and jumped off, dropping the shorts he shifted back to his wolf. Picking them up in his teeth, he put them in the back of the trailer and turned, letting out a long howl of greeting. He reached out through the bond, but it was too far. As the tractor started to move again, the four wolves raced north in a line, happy to hear the boys had at least survived the fire.
“What’s the plan,” Derek said to his brother over the noise of the tractor. They were passing over the bridge they had found Meghan under, back into the burned out wasteland that used to be Missoula.
“We’ll go back to Daniel’s house first,” he replied. “I want to get the guns, ammo, and supplies that he had down in the room. Then we’ll head east until we reach the edge of town and make our way back along the edges of the fire damage until we get back here.”
Derek nodded. “We barely survived even with all the preps Daniel had made, so there’s no point in checking the bad areas.” He looked around at the devastation. “We might be able to scavenge stuff later, but this thing isn’t that fast. We’ve only got about three hours until we have to be heading south if we’re going to make Corvallis by dawn. I’m going to shift and run along, just in case.” He stripped and changed into his dark brown and black wolf and jumped off, moving silently through what used to be a nice residential neighborhood. He didn’t find anything by the time they reached Daniel’s house.
Eric went down into the room that had saved their lives and handed stuff up for Derek to take and carry to the hay wagon. It only took a few minutes, as the fire had taken everything not in the room, but they had a dozen rifles, more handguns, plenty of ammunition and a dozen cases of MRE’s, plus some more clothes for them. When they got back going again, they were shocked when a familiar voice came over the Pack link. “ERIC! DEREK! Where are you,” their Alpha asked.
“We’re just east of Silvia’s parents house, moving to the east end of town. We are doing a drive through sweep for survivors.” Eric had a huge smile on his face as he replied.
“Great to hear you guys again. We ran into the Forrests on the road, they were doing the same.” He paused for a second. “Keep doing what you plan, what is the town like?”
“Anything in city center and west is gone. The rains came late, so there are still spots to the east and on the south side of the river that aren’t completely burned out, that’s where we are headed.”
“OK, we are north of Lolo and should be to town in twenty minutes. We’ll run to the east end on the south side of the river and search on the way back, we’ll meet you at the bridge.”
“Sounds good, Alpha. We don’t have a lot of time, this tractor tops out at twenty miles an hour with this trailer and we have to leave by midnight to make it back to Corvallis before dawn.” Derek broke off the communication as they continued to search through the town. There wasn’t much hope in this area; even the houses that weren’t burned, when he checked the people were bloated from radiation deaths. He only found one person who looked like he was killed by the fire, probably by the thick smoke that blew across the town. “Derek, there’s nothing here. Let’s move down by the river and start working our way back.”
They reported their findings to their Alpha, whose group was now reaching the east end of town on the south side of the Clark Fork River and the campus of the University of Montana. Calvin told him to head back to the bridge and work the south side east, then they would meet and work their way back out of town on the south side of 93.
Alpha Calvin split his people up to move through the campus; it wasn’t long before they smelled humans, and they were alive and cooking something. Travis led the way to a courtyard where a few dozen people, mostly women with a few men, were huddled around a barrel. They were drinking cokes and eating meat they had taken from the cafeteria freezer room. Their attention was on the fire, so when a wolf ran in, he was almost on top of them before a girl noticed him and screamed.
The group spun to face the four wolves bearing down on them. One of the men unholstered a pistol and pointed it at the lead wolf, just as Travis stopped and shifted into his human form. There were gasps and screams as the well-built naked guy stood up, and they didn’t end when the other three shifted as well.
“Fuck me,” said the guy with the gun as he lowered it. “Werewolves?”
“Exactly,” Travis said as he approached. “I’m Travis, this is James and Rob, and this is our leader and Alpha, Calvin Pierce. We come in peace, we are searching the town for survivors.”
“What if you find them,” a young lady asked. “Do we become like you?”
“You will have that option if you choose it, Miss, but no one will force you to do anything. Here’s the situation; there aren’t many people left, as you know. Werewolves survived better than most because we are stronger, have better immune systems and heal faster. As a result, it fell to us to help those around us. We have Packs from Salmon to Henderson that are organizing with the surviving humans to form communities, places we can survive and thrive in the future. Those who join us will find shelter, food and security. It’s up to you, though- if you aren’t interested, we will move on and look for others.”
The lady looked him in the eye, she wasn’t the only one struggling not to look down at the prime specimens nude before them. “Can you give us a moment to talk?” He nodded and they left the area, returning only when they were waved back. The man with the pistol was the apparent leader of the group. “We accept your offer, on the condition that we can leave if we don’t like what we find.”
Calvin walked forward and shook his hand. “I would accept no less. Come on, we have some walking to do. We’ll meet up with your ride along the way as we search the town. Stay together and head west on 5th Street.” The four shifted back to their large wolves to the amusement of the group, and they all headed west off campus and into the remains of the town.
It took less than an hour to meet up with Eric and Derek, there were lots of wagging tails and howls of joy as they came together. The group of humans watched the greetings, then moved onto the wagon as Eric waved them up. “Don’t worry about them, they need their wolf forms to smell for survivors. They’ll spread out and keep fairly close to us, but we’re going to start heading out of town. Calvin said you were all at the University, how did you survive?”
“We were all in the same class when it happened, a chemistry lab in the basement of one of the buildings.” The guy with the pistol had sat close to the front so he could talk. “When the power went out, most people ran outside to the light, which ended up killing them. We had Bunsen burners for light, and we had chemicals out, so we decided to wait out the power outage where we were. When we finally figured out what was going on, it was too late to save those who went upstairs. We hid in the tunnels between buildings, figuring that would shield us. The tunnels are still labeled as fallout shelters.”
Another girl picked up the story. “You saw the bodies, there were too many to bury. We kept together, but never found other survivors. We’ve been living off food from the cafeteria, coming out only at night. You aren’t the first people we’ve seen, but when those trucks came through one of us saw the girls tied in the back and we knew they were bad news, so we stayed hidden.”
“That’s a good thing,” Eric said. “Those bastards are all dead now. We took them out the night before the fire, and rescued all we could.”
They were moving along near Spartan Park when Travis noticed the scent of humans. Letting out a howl, he ran towards the house just as the door opened and a man came out. Before anyone could react, the man raised a shotgun and Travis was knocked down by the hail of buckshot.
“NO! CEASE FIRE! CEASE FIRE!” Eric shouted as the others ran to his aid.