Raccourci Island, LA 1844 A.D.
Poison green eyes tore through the mists toward the Malstros’ two-story plantation. Set back almost in the middle of Raccourci Island the plantation profited from the Mississippi River’s erratic nature. They produced a healthy amount of profitable sugarcane, but when the river spills its banks the laborers quickly switch over to rice production. The beast, panting in the hot Louisiana night crept up slowly, careful to not betray its strategic position in the sugar fields. He was keeping crouched down as he moved, almost onto his belly, until there were only several yards left until the end of the sugarcane.
Moonlight cast an eerie glow as the wind blew the Weeping Willows to and fro. Shadows danced along the ground from the blowing branches. The atmosphere was eerily quiet as the Wolf pack stealthily approached. Only the horses, a half mile away in a stable by the laborer’s shacks, which were down by the swamps, sensed a preternatural presence and they paced back and forth nervously. A Wolf-thing with green eyes had broken from the pack, a twisted abomination of dire wolf and man mixed together, hunting for livestock. This night was not unlike every other night where he was stepping farther into human domain and killing easy game. Tonight was a different matter altogether, though. The lycanthrope sat on his haunches, hidden in shadow along the edge of the field.
With slits for glowing green eyes, his form was something out of a nightmare. His sleek black withers looked like a shadow in the scenery, and his lupine shape towered over the little goats he stalked every night. But now he pined for something other than food. The smell of a human girl hung thick in the air, and it led in the direction of the house, upstairs. He grunted steam from his nose; his ears were animated, searching for threats anywhere, swiveling at the smallest sounds. He had a short muzzle and thick shoulders, a long body and long legs. The creature’s tail stood up in dominance. Her fragrance was emanating from the upstairs of the house and it was intoxicating. This night a different aroma hung in the air somehow. He smelled a mixture of him residing in her now and it emboldened him to come closer than he ever had before.
He zeroed in on the upstairs window. The light of the candles glowing in the room made it easy for him to see in. He focused his eyes toward the human shape. He remembered her even if it was only a silhouette that he was looking at. Candle light flickered and wavered as he watched, he adjusted his eyes to see the girl getting dressed beside her bed. He was suddenly grateful for his exceptional eyesight. Lust-filled thoughts teased him and his self-control began to ebb. A lust fueled heat started in his powerful neck and flowed down to his groin. Just then, for a brief moment, the curtains fluttered open further. A great surge of excitement rushed through the beast as he sat staring wantonly at her in the moonlight. His eyes moved from her soft blonde hair to the delicate ivory radiance of her bare skin. It had been countless years since he last felt that which a man feels for a woman.
The beast tilted its head, and the yearning for her touch began again. He could practically taste her rose scented flesh when a subtle change came to his nose on the wind. Every instinct warned him to be cautious, to be weary of his hiding place. Nevertheless, he inched closer, his lupine form now visible in the moonlight, a wolf with the mind of a man.
Aticus treaded a fine line between sanity and truly going insane. This night, coupled with the sweet fragrance of the girl his right mind turned a left. Damn them, the pack’s fear of humans, he thought. They were pitiful things, weak and stupid, no better than their own livestock. Why should any of them fear humans? Most humans no longer even acknowledged his kind anymore. Humans were the prey, abundant and ignorant, his cousin taught him that; but the pack still refused to hunt them. He felt that eating the human’s livestock was no better than being a mere dog, begging for scraps. Even now, he could faintly hear nervous whimpering, as his pack crept toward the pens. It was different in the old days. Hunting wild game then, this was plentiful with human existence still in its infancy. But the human population had exploded. As a result, finding wild game unmolested or unprotected to freely hunt, was few and far between, and the forests made way for dwellings and cities.
Aticus tried to stop it, but the fury stirred in him. He felt justified in his carnal hatred towards humankind. After all, they had hunted him first. It was man who hunted down his cousin on his father’s side, known as the beast of Ge’vaudan, years ago and killed him. It was man who surrounded Aticus in a field of rye. It was man who set ablaze the fields, hoping to burn him alive like they’d done to so many of his kind already. It was during that horrid plague that man thought, almost rightly so, that night-walking wolves and other such witchcraft was the cause. He grinned, thinking, teeth clenched. It was his only solace some nights that humans were often oblivious to the countless hordes of innocent mortals murdered, caught up in their own bloody hysteria.
The human mob had wanted him to die, had almost succeeded, almost. The flames had begun to lick at his flesh, and the acrid smoke was billowing forth, choking him. Pure instinct and adrenaline took over, and he began to dig furiously. There was no escape from the fire except down into the earth. So he buried himself in the moist soil, digging ever deeper down. He dug for what felt like an eternity. Eventually he lay completely immersed, snug in his own personal grave until the fires finally died down.
He was horribly scarred. It was on almost his entire body and he was still struggling to breathe from the heat that had singed his lungs, his face almost unrecognizable as he lay dying from his injuries. Fire was the one thing besides silver that he couldn’t heal normally from. But a chance encounter of another lycanthrope had saved his life. The Wolf Devon or at least that was the name the lycanthrope called his self. He vaguely heard yelps and grunts, though he wasn’t sure. The delirium grew and it was hard enough to concentrate. Devon, in wolf form, repositioned himself so that Aticus’ head was near his groin then he hiked his leg. Hot salty urine went in to Aticus’ mouth making him gag reflexively. Then Devon’s stream worked its way to the center of Aticus’ severely burned and scarred body. As soon as the wolf was done relieving himself he stepped back and watched his urine as it worked miracles.
Aticus’ scars started to harden in a yellowish transparent shell and then cracked and fell away leaving pinkish but healed skin on his chest. In addition, Aticus’ labored breathing was better now as he coughed up yellow crystals. In all his years, he thought, if a werewolf has been burned it would be the death of them. He stared in amazement at Devon.
Devon scratched his claws across his forearm until blood steadily flowed. He cupped his hands as the blood trickled into his palms and offered his life force to Aticus who selfishly gulped the blood down, the overspill trickling out over his chin. Devon explained to Aticus in his mind that the canine has a remarkable ability. Two separate breeds mate and their offspring become a wholly new breed all its own. So true of the lycanthrope, but instead of breeding, one kind gives their blood to a separate breed and the blood temporarily gains the abilities of the donor.
Now, almost dying from his wounds, the words of his grandmother made sense to him. As she, So-seti, tutoring him before she got caught and was presumably killed by hunters, had said that only the lucky lycanthropes survive to see the next millennium, long life was a long shot. Evident by the absence of his lycanthrope aunts and uncles that had been hunted and killed when Aticus was young for their constant persistence to enter into human lands and hunt human owned livestock; gorging themselves until the humans were fed up with them.
Devon had given Aticus so much blood and urine the blood had mutated. Aticus could not be engulfed by fire like Devon but he could be immune to a brief flame. He went to the newfound Americas for a fresh start, leaving Devon behind, which made his heart ache a little, shriveled black thing that it was. He knew from the first moment he looked into Devon’s eyes that he was an intelligent lycanthrope and he could have learned much from him.
The New World, he hoped would heal his scarred psyche. He would be inconspicuous because the land was still so vast, uncharted and untamed. He was very wrong. Humans from all countries began to come in waves, building houses and churches. The Christians started paranoid inquisitions of their own, separate from the already whispered tales of pagans and other religions, sending his kind into hiding again. For all the horrors bestowed upon him by humans. When he thought about the young girl upstairs he found himself softening up again. After all, this young woman he watched had found him almost naked in the forest once, and instead of running in fright, she was mystified and intrigued. Shaking himself out of the memory, he was horrified to find himself almost at the edge of the front porch. It was almost like his body was on autopilot and Alicia was the programmed destination.
Alicia finished writing and closed her diary. She quietly stored it away beneath a loose floorboard under her bed. She hated to be secretive but she feared her father had been snooping around her room of late. Her heart hurt thinking of her father and what he must be thinking about her. As quiet as she’d tried to be, she was almost certain he had heard her leaving a few times as the sun was coming up. Though she thought his nervousness probably had more to do with the unexplained killings of their livestock weekly. She had watched him carry what was left, usually only a bloody pile of bones, to the edge of the woods several times and bury it. He never spoke of it, so she never asked. She had grown paranoid that her father secretly knew about her clandestine gallivants but she could not tell him about Aticus, how could she ever explain her love for him to her father? She couldn’t even explain it to herself really. It was a soul deep connection she felt to him.
Deciding that a quick wash would make her feel better, she grabbed the small bottle of perfume from atop her dresser. It was the only reminder she had of her mother, it a reminded her of a warm summer’s day laying in fields of flowers so she only used it when she was in dire need of feeling safe and comfortable. She undressed and laid her robe neatly across the four-poster bed, and then she headed toward the washroom where she filled a washbasin and sparingly added drops of the scented oil.
Her blonde hair, still wet, shone silvery in the candlelight and the smell of roses and apricot oils from her bath still hung in the air. She had a striking beauty about her, an hourglass figure, graceful neck, and heart shaped face. She slipped the cotton nightgown over her head, covering her budding breasts and pink nipples, taut from the cool night air. She opened the curtains wider; the reflections of her own face briefly startling her. She laughed at her own nervous reaction while unconsciously rubbing her thumb across her new onyx necklace a gift to her from her secret lover, just as she did every time she was anxious of late. She was ivory skinned and still slightly baby faced, her wide blue eyes gave the impression of surprise and her small cupids bow lips curved up in a smile even when she wasn’t happy at all.
She knew it was silly. No one was there in her window and the bedroom door was closed, but she could not shake the feeling of being watched. She turned back to the window, straining her eyes against the darkness, trying to make out the tree line. Then she caught a brief flash of green orbs below. It was a familiar green and reminded her of the man she had so recently found in the forest. A man who was strangely attractive and alluring, he had called himself Aticus. She thought about sneaking out this very night to visit with him in the quiet of the woods. She did not tell her father about him but she found herself thinking about him often during the times when they were apart. She pulled the curtains closed and sat down at her vanity, brushing slowly through her blonde hair; a ritual that soothed her since she was a little girl. She was almost asleep sitting in the chair when she heard a commotion coming from downstairs. She gasped and jumped up as she heard a gunshot echo into the night, her heart racing.
Gerome Malstros, a potbellied but otherwise muscular, elderly farmer and retired military man, had short-cropped gray hair, and light brown eyes that sat in a round, reddened face, watched his livestock from the screen of the open door in his living room. Though seemingly calm, he stood at the ready, blunderbuss in hand. The gun he got during his stint in the French militia, funded by a prosperous position in the God’s Light Inquisition, a radical fringe unit loosely tied to the Catholic Church, dedicated to eradicating all the “children of the night”. Mirtha, his second wife, was fast asleep upstairs, and he knew Alicia was taking a bath, her scented oils wafted down the stairs. The scent of roses reminded him of happier times before his first wife fell ill. Gerome could not sleep because for weeks now something had been picking off his cattle and occasionally one of his bigger goats. He often went to check the chicken coops but recently he had discovered a massacre there at well. He wondered if Mirtha’s sudden onset of illness hadn’t been from worry over the state of their farm. He was determined that tonight he would see them through till morning without a loss.
The teeth and claw marks told him that it was a big animal, definitely more than one. When he checked for prints, he knew the horrible, yet unbelievable truth. They were wolves and huge wolves at that. He had even seen a six-foot alligator splayed open and half eaten at the edge of the river further in the woods. If this could be believed, and the town was alive with rumors of the half beasts called loup garoux, werewolves. A sneer crossed the man’s face. He knew their secret, though there was little a fat old man past his prime could do about it. He paced around the living room, his overalls making a familiar swishing sound. Gerome stoked the fire place once again, adding a few logs. Then he resumed his place beside the screen door again.
“It’s gotten bolder,” he spit a pocket of chew out into an empty can as he focused in on glowing green eyes across the field. Legend or not, something was edging closer and closer to the house.
Close enough now that Gerome could make out the outline of black fur and white fangs as he stood in the doorway. He turned and lifted the lantern off the shelf by the door. He had it lit and before he had time to think about it, was running down the porch steps, as fast as his bloated legs could carry him. What was he doing? He wondered wildly. If he died tonight, who would take care of Mirtha and Alicia? He could not imagine that Alicia would be consolable; she had been so fragile since her mother had passed away, and had never really warmed up to Mirtha, had never considered his second wife anything like a mother. His heart was racing so fast he could see it in the rapid rise and fall of his own chest as he slid to a stop out in the yard, and only a few yards from where the beast sat on its haunches. He could faintly smell the putrid breath of the beast as it panted languidly, almost drooling. He began to second-guess his impulse to come out into the darkness, and tried to catch his breath, to get control of his rage.
“Get off my land!” he screamed at it as if the animal could understand him. Suddenly remembering his weapon, he threw down the lantern and brought up the barrel of his gun and trained it on the dark shape, but the beast sat still in defiance. It even seemed to straighten its posture before it pointedly dropped its eyes from the girl’s window and looked into the farmer’s own, shining green pools staring back at him above glistening white fangs.
A low, deep guttural growl emanated from its throat. It smelled the anger that seeped out of Gerome’s every pore, but it smelled fear that emanated from him as well. It was a musky aroma that he rather liked a lot. The weapon would do little good for the man before sharp fangs could tear soft flesh. It rose up on the balls of its feet now, lengthening, standing erect before this dump of a man, more than six and a half feet tall. It curled back its lips to reveal a mouth full of jagged fangs wet with saliva. Huge muscles rippled beneath its ebony fur. A lupine visage, with vaguely human shaped arms and legs, six inch claws unfurled finishing the image of the beast.
Gerome’s eyes widened in shock, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing, what he had ever only half believed had just come to life before him. Just a minute before he had been looking at something, albeit freakishly large, that had wolf or animal features. Now this thing was halfway human, or a grotesque mixture of both. Gerome gaped at the huge beastly form as it prepared to lunge at him......and with blinding speed, that had become second nature to him after the days of pirating on the Gulf, Gerome lit the fuse of the gun and aimed. The flash and crack of the blunderbuss discharging startled the wildlife around them.
In one quick horrifying second the beast saw the glimmer of round shiny moons, the images of her Majesty the Queen of France, in the center. At the same instant he realized, horrified, the smart old bastard had filled the blunderbuss with silver coins! Death passed before his eyes, heat and searing pain spun him around as the coins found their mark. The impact knocked him into the mud. A stream of crimson trickled down from the socket where his left eye had been only moments before. The wounded beast convulsed madly, clawing at its face as Gerome watched in silent disbelief, his mouth gaping. The injured beast shifted back into a human like form, except for the left side of its face which was a twisted mass of lupine features without an eye and bits of matted bloodied fur which was pulsating, seemingly no longer under his voluntary control.
The beast went down on human hands and knees, now a pale nude figure of a man with long black stringy hair that hung in clumps about its face. It touched its ear which remained a wolf’s ear, twitching and bleeding. Then it touched its nose, a twisted mixture of human and animal. The pain was unbearable. Where the silver met its mark, it was a constant state of flux, trying to transform to wolf or man but failing to commit to either. It then grasped at the gaping hole where its eye had once been rocking itself in anger and howling in pain.
Gerome gave a shout of victory before he caught the glaring redrimmed eye of the wounded abomination. Glowing with rage, its fangs bared in hatred, cold chills rippled up Gerome’s spine as he met its singular gaze.
Alicia came running down the stairs from her bedroom, her legs taking her bare feet two steps at a time, but stopping at the cusp of the screen door, horrified by what she saw in the yard. With her dad’s forgotten lantern dimly lighting the scene, she saw the man prostrate on the ground before her father.
“What…what have you done?” She shrieked, tears streaming from her wide eyes.
She saw the injured man, her man from the secret outings, saw his naked manhood, powerful biceps, chiseled abdomen, and she could even see the fine hairs that covered his skin. Despite everything, this excited and shamed her. She could not help herself. She found herself unable to look away from him, even despite the intensity of the situation. She could not see the bloodied side of his face. He had his head down low, his hand covering the wound, but she could quite obviously see he was in pain.
The man-thing saw Alicia in the doorway. The fireplace illuminated her face, casting soft shadows on her expression of wonder and horror. She stood shivering in her nightgown. He could see the silhouette of her soft body and the tears that ran from her beautiful, stunned eyes. He felt something tugging at him, pushing its way to the surface, something he had not felt in centuries. He felt humiliation.
Another beast, a larger reddish-brown wolf with golden brown eyes, leapt over the cotton covered ground toward them; fur standing on end, aware that a shot had been fired, running to the black haired man’s aid. This beast had almost the exact form of a true wolf, only huge in comparison, and it had short dreadlocks in its fur. Two others, a grey wolf and a fiery red wolf fled when they heard the shot. Treading cautiously, the brown furred beast was weary of drawing too closely to the farmer but clearly concerned for the man. The wolf, Tomas, growled at Gerome who was standing in front of his pack-mate, in frustrated anger. Gerome hoped that the beast before him didn’t know his gun was empty and he had spent his shot, and he stood his ground, fearing to turn his back. Now there were two of them and he had only a lantern on the ground with which to defend himself. Cold beads of sweat formed in the lines of his face, a stalemate. It seemed that it could last for an eternity.
“Poppa, what have you done?” Alicia screamed again, and was off the porch now and heading, barefoot, straight towards the wounded man with up-raised hands.
“No don’t!” Gerome barked, stepping between his daughter and the wolf thing, never letting his eyes drift away from the wounded thing or the large brown wolf.
Alicia didn’t stop but she slowly crept up to the wounded man. She found herself reaching out to comfort the man from the forest, the musk he radiated intoxicating her.
The half man with black hair could not let Alicia see him like this. Embarrassment colored his pale face and Aticus twisted his body away. He sprang up from all fours, and ran off into the cover of the darkness beyond the lantern’s light. He could hear Tomas close beside him. Through the weeds and the thickets he ran, morphing into his animal form. Dirt changed to mud as his paws sank into the earth. Further and further they moved until he could feel drops of water on his face. When he could run no further he had stopped at the marsh, almost to the makeshift cabin he called home. He converted back to the broken man as he climbed the steps with the aid of two others, into the stilted cabin long ago abandoned by the help when they moved to the other side of the river one particularly rainy season.
As soon as the old man rushed to comfort his near hysterical daughter, the other beasts that had hidden when the altercation began, leapt from their hiding places behind an old shed and followed their pack mate into the darkness. When Gerome looked back he saw a blood dotted trail where the beast had fled back into the shadows. He would have pursued them, foolishly, had his concern for Alicia not been so urgent. Once he was able to coax and shuffle her back inside, Gerome finally calmed her down a little. He went about making sure all the windows and doors were nailed and bolted securely shut while Alicia sat clutching a blanket around her before the fireplace, sipping gingerly on the tea he had made her. He sat beside her and they both shivered despite the heat.
Gerome went upstairs briefly to check that the commotion had not wakened Mirtha. She lay upon the bed, peaceful in her sickness, sleeping. He could hear the wheeze that she made every time she inhaled. He stood there a moment, listening, and then slowly backed out of the room and shut the door quietly behind himself. Back downstairs and into the living room, Gerome gently touched Alicia’s shoulder. She turned and he could see that she looked muddled and drawn, her eyes sunken orbs and moist tears clung to her cheeks; she had regained her usual composure, however.
“Go wake up Victor and the others. Tell them to saddle the horses.” He said, knowing that no harm would come to her in the brief walk back to the servant’s quarters behind the house. “After that, hurry up and go get dressed.”
Aticus was still losing blood, his already pale skin turning a splotchy blue. He stumbled into some clothes, not bothering to button up the shirt he put on, and then went to a trunk in the corner of the room. He threw open the lid so violently that the hinges burst, clattering onto the floor, the lid hitting the wall at an angle. Tearing through the contents until he found what he had been looking for, a French double-barreled flintlock shot gun.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Tomas gripped Aticus’ forearm and spun him around.
“Someone get me a rag for the bleeding!” Aticus growled, ignoring his friend as if he wasn’t there, barking his demands to anyone who would listen.
A gray haired old woman offered him a shirt that he quickly snatched from her hands and ripped up until it fit the upper left side of his face and he wrapped it once around his head and tied it off. After a quick adjustment, Aticus proceeded to fill the double-barreled shotgun with black powder, pack it, and load it. He inspected the gun briefly, pressing down a switch to reveal a razor sharp bayonet. He folded it back into place until he heard the click and then started off; pushing past faces frozen and afraid. He could only imagine how he looked to them right now. He was slightly trembling, whether from blood loss or rage he didn’t know.
“Wait!” Tomas barked, pressing his palm into Aticus’ chest,” At least let me get my clothing on and grab a gun.”
Aticus waited impatiently tapping his foot, adjusting and readjusting his makeshift eye patch until Tomas had gotten dressed and was ready to go. Aticus left and Tomas slammed the door behind him and jumped to the ground.
“Let’s do this!” Tomas said resolutely, shaking his head, dreadlocks swaying, as if to say he knew this was a bad idea.
With their guns securely slung over their backs they set off, still human, running only slightly awkwardly on all fours back towards the plantation. Ancient lycanthropes, their arms were longer than normal anatomy, proof of their age, with oversized hands. Running like a bear or a horse, both arms and legs synchronized and limbs were alternately stretched out or close to the torso. When their alternating limbs felt traction the hands or feet were respectively propelling forward and the process repeating again and again at break neck speeds.
This ends one way or another tonight, thought Aticus, still woozy from his grievous injury. He was getting dizzier and starting to see double, but it did not hinder him making his way through the swamp and into the forest. Aticus was a man possessed and Tomas could barely keep up with him.
The pair finally arrived to the edge of the clearing, the plantation so tantalizing close now. With his wolf thing eye he could see four servants, two on horseback, standing guard, another one hitching horses and the last one carrying things out of the house while the family hurriedly packed their belongings onto a trailer. He gestured silently for Tomas to circle around. Horses snorted and pawed nervously at the ground as the farmer hefted sacks and boxes, his wife and daughter tossing smaller items and articles of clothing haphazardly alongside them onto the bed of the trailer.
Without taking into consideration this was his only ammo, Aticus fired off a wild shot at the farmer who had taken half his sight. Everyone ducked, looking around wildly, and when no second shot rang out, they continued to load parcels and boxes with renewed frenzy. The two servants, guards on horses, fanned out farther from the family, the horsemen tried to reign in and calm their mounts with soft words and gentle pats. Their eyes searched the darkness blindly. With a single mindedness and complete focus, Aticus zeroed in on Alicia. A howl issued from behind the barn, only a few yards from the family. The horses whinnied and stamped impatiently. Gerome heard Mirtha gasp and then sputter and cough.
Aticus changed forms save for the wounded half of his face, his partially Lupine ears twitching. Tomas tried giving him instructions and warnings, but it was too late, he was on the move. He ran, now a two-legged wolf thing, Aticus first started toward the servant with the double-barreled shotgun. He lunged for his jugular, but the startled man slid sideways, almost falling from his horse and brought up the butt of his gun in time to stave off the strike. A clumsy hit to the head temporarily stunned Aticus, but he quickly came to his senses and put all his weight behind a lunge before the man could pull himself completely upright on his saddle. He knocked him into the dirt and pinned him there, his gun had clattered harmlessly away on the ground.
From atop the other servant’s horse his started to take aim but the gun was thrown from his grip as the horse’s powerful front legs began to kick blindly, big glassy eyes rolling back in to the horse’s head in fear. The man tried to regain his balance, the gun clutched in one hand, the other grabbing for the reigns but it was no use. He headed toward the ground and hit with a bone jarring thud. Aticus seized the moment. Canines sank into soft flesh, his muzzle wet from the crimson-colored life force spurting uncontrollably from the man’s shoulder. The man let out a hoarse scream before his eyes began to dim, his free hand scrabbling weakly at the ground.
Rising from a protective crouch over his daughter, Gerome looked up. The large brown wolf was still too far to harm his family but the black wolf with one eye now crept into striking distance to Alicia. The servant on the ground bravely waved a torch trying to scare it off. Frantically Gerome searched for his pouch full of coins, and found them. Just enough for one more shot, he dropped the black powder and silver coins in the blunderbuss and took sight of the black Wolf just as it started to jump up from the servant’s corpse.
A shot rang out, Aticus had been hit in the abdomen this time, knocking the wind out of him and sending him flying off the dead man. His belly was on fire. More deadly silver, but luckily it went all the way through and out his back. Aticus frantically looked around for Tomas, who now engaged the servants by the barn who trickled out, attracted by the loud conflict.
The farmer took advantage of the confused situation and scurried over to the team of horses, pushing his daughter up onto one and pulling his wife up behind him on the other. With steadily blurring vision, Aticus saw Alicia slipping away into the night. He saw red. With growing wrath and renewed vigor he stumbled towards the torches which lit the yard, and threw one through the living room window.
Aticus knew he was in trouble, the blood loss made him unsteady and stumbling he fell down onto one knee. A howl tore through the night air, a signal to retreat. He mustered the last of his strength and ran just as the house went up in flames. Mortally wounded but in hybrid form he made his way to the safety of the woods. Looking back, he saw two more servants put out the house fire; two more took off in pursuit of the Brown Wolf in the opposite direction. Safe now, Aticus let out a long, painful breath. He collapsed and felt his wolfs face hit the soft mossy ground. Before the darkness overtook him completely he caught a faint whiff of burnt roses in the air.
Absolute anguish could be seen in one cold green eye. Aticus snarled, grinding his canine fangs. He looked down at his feet annoyed by the weight of his custom-made leather boots. He was used to going barefoot so the weight of the shiny leather contraptions seemed ungodly. Such large casings made his feet feel as if he wore iron shackles. Oh well, he thought, a trivial matter when walking upright. It took two years to fully heal from his injuries. However, he had to wear a half hood to cover up his lupine ear, patches of scars, fur, unnatural half dog snout and missing eye. He was truly the stuff of nightmares now.
Aticus’ eye squints at the powerful light of the sun. He squirmed uncomfortably but there was little relief as he started to get a headache. Dull at first, then blinding, strong enough that he was barely able to think as it seized him. Two years ago he had taunted the aged farmer and his blunderbuss. Two years ago, he lay in a coma close to death. Two years ago he awoke to find himself out of touch. No longer in control, no longer alpha and it set off a chain of events that ended in an explosion that rocked the sleepy island.
He had trouble thinking and his head was pounding like a jackhammer. He laughed, sanity slipping away from him. An animal looked out through that mortal eye and what he saw was an endless supply of prey. The world was a smorgasbord for him, atop the food chain. He howled like a madman. The thought of every mortal he passed as an entrée on a plate humored him.
It was a bit of a walk on just two legs from the dense forest and down a man-made mud trail to his familiar swamp. Nothing remained of the small cabin he and his fold had once occupied. The burnt remains, what little there was, had returned to the Louisiana muck. He walked briskly across the moist ground stopping only now and again to investigate the sound of something odd beneath his feet, or an unusual smell. He could take a whiff of what was left with his animal nose. Sporadically he picked up the distinct smell of a decaying corpse swallowed now by the Earth.
His wolf brother, he thought to himself, a somber expression coming over him. A few more paces and he would be at the edge of the swamp, the very same swamp that had turned into the site of an earth shaking explosion. Aticus felt the weight of his shoulders as they drooped down at the remembrance of that horrible night. The memories slowly crept into the stronghold of his consciousness in great detail.
He remembered with agonizing pain as Lance, his beloved friend, and Tomas worked tirelessly to uncover him from his would be grave that horrible night. They tried to lift him as gently as possible, carefully propping up his bloody body. Aticus had screamed out in pain, clenching his teeth, as Tomas gingerly slid his arm under his back. It was hypersensitive and the slightest touch sent a new wave of nausea and unbelievable pain through his entire being. They had laid him down in the cabin and covered him up.
His body clung onto the purest instinct of its beastly self for survival. Fever dreams were the only vivid thing to him the first few months as his body attempted to repair itself from the inside out. He dreamt of water from the crystal streams of his youth, in the high steeps of the mighty mountains just north of the Gobi Desert. He slipped in and out of consciousness until his body healed.
In his few conscious moments he remembered his cohorts beside him, rubbing against his body with sadness and covering him with moist healing leaves. He could see the beautiful angelic face of a dark haired woman, Tonya, the breeder of the pack. Her belly swollen with the next litter, as she knelt down beside him and offered her swollen breasts to his greedy, hungry mouth.
So warm, bittersweet milk of nourishment the only thing he could possibly hold down. The milk strengthened and invigorated his body. Three months passed by in this helpless state, there came a new strange voice, Stefan’s voice. His calm reassuring voice reminding him that he would be okay, he just had to recover enough so that he could affect the change without it killing his weakened body. As soon as he could do this, he would be healing faster and be able to fend for himself.
Finally, he felt the skin on his face, and though raw, it was healing. He had managed to sit up and he felt movement in his limbs again. He turned his head slowly, the joints popping as they stretched and loosened. Aticus glanced around the room he was in, his eye sight no longer nearly perfect, but slightly cloudy as if he had just risen from sleep. A puzzled expression stretched across his face. Where was he? He had never seen this room before. Instinctively he sniffed the air then he jerked back as the smoke laced air burned through his nostrils. It seared his nose, throat, and lungs.
“You’re awake.” A slender figure stepped from the shadows of the room,” glad you made it.”
“I....” Aticus sputtered as he tried to rise up off the bed.
Every muscle in his body seemed to pull to the ripping point; his very bones seemed to ache. He paused for a moment supported by his arms, and then he tried again to stand up right, suppressing a scream inside. He shook his head to clear his vision. It was the gray-haired stranger, Stefan. He studied him intensely. Stefan’s blue eyes told the tale, ancient lycanthrope, both physically and spiritually. A nurturer by nature who couldn’t help seeking out those who cried out and Aticus’ dying yells for help called out to him. He answered his mission to help lost souls. Too much information for Aticus to handle, he collapsed back onto the cot and leaned into the wall.
Stefan had long full gray hair that fell over his wide shoulders. His eyes were wide, with a piercing gaze that seemed to absorb all the light in the room and cast it out in an eerie silver illumination like the Moon itself. High cheekbones gave him a look of distinction and his body was clothed only in a pair of homemade gray cotton pants, which revealed a muscular physique. His core muscles easily visible beneath his tightly stretched skin.
“I’m Stefan,” the figure offered, with a glimpse of a smile, “this is your home, protecting your fold, I saved it for you.”
“What?” He blinked in confusion and bewilderment. He felt his sight slipping away from him grasping onto the wall to steady his weakened body as he carefully lay back down on the floor.
He closed his eye and slumped onto his back, Stefan’s words echoing in his head. Aticus drew in the aroma of apricots and roses. He turned white as a ghost as memories poured through him. He dreamt about Alicia and days gone past when he had two eyes. He dreamt of Stefan too. Long ago, he remembered, Devon had told him of a lycanthrope who answered the pleas of his kind. Fading in and out of a restless sleep, Aticus wondered if he had called out to Stefan through the blinding pain. Had he somehow remembered Devon’s words?
He remained in the sanctity of his shack, but now Stefan was leader, it was no longer his fold now. Knowing he was nowhere near to being his old self, more helpless than he had ever been, and that there is safety in numbers. Stefan was a generous host as he had seldom a guest.
“Hey Aticus,” Tomas walked in and sat down next to him, putting his hand on his shoulder; “Really good to see you, I thought I lost you.”
He flashed a smile, Tomas was a loyal friend. Reddish-brown dreadlocks covered his head, and he had a noble jaw and pointed chin which was always unshaven, his eyes were the same rusty color of his hair.
“When the servants came, I was chased for twenty miles or so until I lost them in the swamp, where their horses could not follow, but by then I had lost your scent as well.”
Tomas wrapped his long powerful arms around his oldest friend, and then offered him a drink from his flask. Aticus took a big gulp and handed it back to him, the warm liquid passed down his throat and invigorated him. Blood from a recent kill hung thick in the air. Probably deer, he thought, his senses were not the same since the injury.
“Probably another deer,” Sneered Tomas, and took back the flask for another draught.
Aticus was restlessly shifting about, shaking his head left and right. Tomas lifted an eyebrow as if to say, I understand where you are going with this. He unfolded an old blood-crusted piece of cloth from his pocket.
“Here, I thought you’d like to have this.” Tomas tossed him something.
It was his modified eye patch he had hastily made that horrid night. Aticus held the blackened cloth in his hand. Tensing up, he eagerly tied it on. Something changed in his eye. The eye was cold as Ice. He clenched up his face, his entire 6 foot five frame tightened, throwing up an evil smile.
“So Stefan is pack leader now?” Aticus knew the answer to that question even as the wheels in his head were turning.
“Yes. When you were injured and howling for help, Stefan responded and you were in this coma for almost two years.” He searched for a shiny apple from the fruit bowl in the living room, bit into it; the juices flowed out the corners of his mouth.
So that meant that Aticus had called for Stefan, had probably invited him right in. That meant he owed him his life and much more, it had probably cost him his pack. Aticus remembered Devon’s urine streaming over him, the burns and how they tingled and itched as they had begun to heal. Devon told him during one of his more lucid moments about another ancient such as himself who might have helped him as well. Stefan. He remembered sarcastically asking Devon if he and this “Stefan” were God’s angels sent to help injured abominations. Devon had chuckled and everything went black again.
“And one of Stefan’s rules is that we don’t hunt men under any circumstances.” continued Tomas, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, snickering.
Aticus hit the table with his fist, scoffing. Something had changed in him after he had put on his cloth hood, a virtual rebirth. He continued to live under Stefan’s conditions, his pointless rules, in the murky swamp hidden by trees. He grew restless cooped up in this stilted shack with the mosquitoes, flies, and vermin. Always having to remain hidden in the shadows from what he considered to be weak hairless creatures. The only way he stayed sane was his loyal friends Tomas, Lance, and Montezu. He knew when the time came he could count on these allies who had been there when he was Alpha, before his injuries, which he still nursed. But about the others he wasn’t as sure. Bile grew with every breath. He shook. A cold chill ran down his spine. Touching gently the corners of his narrow lips he traced the scars of his face.
His gaze fell upon Stefan one evening who now sat in the corner, calmly staring off at the clouds, the sun beginning to sink below the horizon, heralding night. Stefan’s silver eyes gleamed as he watched the dying light with interest, his turning gray in the darkness.
“We can’t just sit here like he wants us to!” Aticus spat out the words, looking around at the others in the room, his gaze falling back upon
Stefan in defiance. “We were made to hunt not cower with fear!”
Aticus continued his speech, trying to rally support from those around him. Lance listened with seeming interest but continued to stare out the window of the shack. His brilliant red hair ablaze in the dying light of the sun, fierce blood-Brown eyes gleaming with inspirational anger. Tomas shifted restlessly, he sensed the anger and tension. He knew where it was all going to lead. He weighed the options silently.
If Tomas was uneasy, to the group it didn’t show. Aticus had been his friend and pack mate since the day he found Aticus and Lance on the planes hunting a herd of buffalo in what felt like a life time ago. He was slumped lazily between the wall and the floor. Tomas sat bare-chested with just a pair of handmade tan leather human-skin pants on. One outstretched leg rested on the floor the other leg bent toward himself, knee pulled up to his large caramel chest. His high proud cheekbones and golden brown squinting eyes betrayed his Native American origins, when he was angry they darkened to almost black. Smooth hairless skin made it easy for Tomas to paint on the ocher colored markings on his chest, the ritual of a skin Walker. He was a short thin man (though by no means as short as Stefan) as a Wolf it was easy for him to navigate through the thickets. His original fine shiny black hair had slowly turned a coarse brownish red, russet-colored fur, like a lupine.
The strongest among the pack all once Aticus had healed. Born with the parasite that spread through his body, he brought with it an enhanced sense of authority. Stefan stood up and stretched his limbs leisurely, then turned his eyes upon Aticus. Silver eyes full of wisdom appeared in Aticus’ blackened soul. Stefan was the smallest of them at about five feet, seven inches, but very muscular for his short frame. Sparse gray hairs covered the length of his body; his thin face had the markings of a true leader, though it held no real measure of his true age.
Aticus’ forehead creased with lines of anger. Hostility had emanated strongly from every pore of Aticus’ being during his argument. With each passing day Aticus felt himself stronger and Aticus saw strife growing amongst the pack.
The headaches Aticus suffered had been steadily increasing, and were almost unbearable. The majority of the pack had expressed frustration with Aticus and his restlessness. Even Montezu, a white haired, pasty colored albino man, born into a bloodthirsty shape shifting cult south of the border, had agreed with the others. Aticus was slowly dividing the pack. Some supported him as the rightful leader, but most were content with Stefan, the current Alpha male. Montezu did not begrudge Aticus his bid for Alpha, but he knew Stefan was less motivated by raw emotion and certainly less obsessed with vengeance.
Perhaps it had come time for a change though. After all, he had stood with Aticus, Tomas, and Lance to defeat the onslaught of human occupation just North East of the Mexican American border. He had once howled for help when the human mob encroached upon his hunting ground and it was Aticus, Tomas, and Lance that replied, not Stefan. Montezu was always impressed by Aticus’ ruthlessness. Montezu went to the live along the borders of Canada for a time every year but he always faithfully came back to Aticus and his pack. He had not expected to find Aticus no longer the Alpha upon his return some years ago.
Montezu shaved the sides of his head, sloughing off luxurious long white hair with his rusting blade, and then burned sigil-like features on his temples, the blood trickling down his pale thick neck, down to his white silk tunic. He was a powerful man his shoulders were round and pronounced and he had wide muscled hips that in his Wolf form translated to a powerful and lethal take down. Born albino, his commanding features and a milk white complexion were odd to his Mesa American birthright of dark, tanned skinned, and almond colored eyed peoples.
Aticus had stopped pacing and his eye fell upon one of the younger men among them. Drake had dark brown hair and eyes, and a sturdy build. Drake seemed preoccupied with his thoughts, unconsciously tapping his foot, arms folded over his muscled chest. He cared little for what Aticus or Stefan had to say. The only surviving child of a litter of six by Tonya, the quarrels over power interested him very little.
Tonya tried to avoid the steady gaze of his one cold eye. After the incident between Aticus and the farmer they no longer hunted all together, but in smaller groups, ranging out much further from their usual areas. Stefan and some of the others had gone out on a hunt. Aticus meant to rally those who remained to his cause, perhaps to surprise Stefan upon his return.
“You fools! We cannot just wait here like this twiddling our thumbs... Humans are feeble little creatures, we don’t need to beg for scraps or bow to man’s rules,” Aticus paused, turning to look over at everyone, “Like
HE would have us do.”
He snarled impatiently. He tried to point out some of Stefan’s weaknesses, tried to interest them in the thrills of vengeance. He pointed to his missing eye and asked them to help him reap the payment for that painful debt the humans owed him.
He examined all his fellow misfits in the room, wondering who would support him in his call for action. His best friend, perhaps Lance had been listening more closely than the others. His red hair practically stood on end with enthusiasm. The setting crimson sun made the freckles on his face and body standout. His jaw was clenched and a red five o’clock shadow hid his pointed chin. He was shirtless with sparse red hairs on his chest a wiry frame, long arms and legs, and large pointed ears that translated to: a Wolf built for speed. In Wolf form he could hear a mouse building his nest 5 miles away, and could easily out distance most of the pack while out tracking. With his long reach he was once also the best at the lance, thus his name sake.
Long ago in England, renowned for his abilities at the tourneys, he was dispatched on a mission to get rid of a troublesome “wolf” with green eyes that was plaguing a small village. But nothing could prepare him for Aticus. The werewolf was on him before he knew what was going on. He was mauled and Aticus was about to finish him when he hesitated. It was something in his eyes or even the scent of his body, but Aticus stopped before the deathblow, making him his prodigy. And try to elude him as Aticus might, he had followed him ever since. Perhaps he would continue to follow him in this bid for Alpha.
No one had made a move to follow his lead. He could almost taste the tension and fear in the air. The pack had all been coddled by Stefan so long and still skittish from the conflict; they all had grown fearful of change, almost docile. So be it, at least no one would stop him. He had a score to settle still. As Aticus turned to leave, the door swung open in front of him. Stefan stood in the doorway, coming from the back room to help put away the night’s prize the bare-chested form of Drake. Aticus wondered how long he had stood outside the door, how much he heard.
Stefan met the steady gaze of Aticus. His silver eyes glared at him disapprovingly. Standing less than six feet tall, he tensed up every muscle on his small body. Only barely a fine, grey fur covered his body and face. They faced each other now. Aticus stood staring down his nose in hatred and defiance, his one good eye fixed upon Stefan. Tonya came from behind putting a restraining hand on his shoulder.
“Settle down Aticus, you’re still weak your anger will uncontrollably change you.” Tonya could not help her growing affection for him now that he grew stronger he exuded an irresistible pheromone and aura about him, but she also had a strong tie to the pack.
When she had been in the midst of puberty Tonya learned how to commune with her wolf spirit, taught by the kindly old medicine woman. Long midnight black hair, smooth tanned skin, and intelligent yellow eyes made it easy for her to be accepted into the pack after the slaughter of her tribe and family. A thousand cavalry had descended upon the Navajo, surprising them, and caught off guard they were quickly dispatched. Teepees were set ablaze. Children cried out for their mothers, most of who were cruelly tortured before being killed. She only survived the onslaught because she was able to transform, hundreds of people looking for natives, a small wolf easily slipped past them and she was safe. She traveled the land on her own, alone until she heard in the distant night a calling to join a young misfit fledging pack.
“Get away from me.” Aticus’ voice was scratchy and low as he violently shrugged her hand off his shoulder.
Tonya immediately stepped back, and started to cower in fear, floor boards creaked as she slowly retreated, watching, almost whimpering. Aticus’ muscles quivered and flexed rhythmically, his body hair growing erect and plentiful.
“Stand down, Aticus, I mean it!” Stefan yelled in a voice that was a calm and steady leader’s voice, with no hint of hesitation or fear.
Stefan stepped up the threshold to the shack stepping into the living room, void of all furniture except for a small wooden table directly in the middle of the room. The other pack members peeked out of their rooms to see what all the commotion was about. Aticus, fangs emerging as he willed the transformation, lifted a lantern from a nearby table. Too hasty to aim, he threw the lantern, which crashed against the wall, shattering glass and white-hot flames cascading down the dry-rotted wooden wall, onto the floor boards, and snaking down to Stefan’s feet. He instinctively leapt back then jumped out the door into the night. He landed awkwardly in an overgrown bush that surrounded the house.
Following after Stefan, who fled towards the woods, Aticus’ face was already contorting from that of a man’s, to that of a wolf-like beast.
He shed the few scraps of clothing that he wore, letting the full force of the transformation come over him. The muscles and limbs lengthen, reshaped to suit a lupine’s needs.
A collective gasp went through the group. A sudden flash blinded and incapacitated them when the flames spread on the wall and oil lamps suddenly exploded. The flames began to spread further, paint peeling and bubbling off the aged walls. It spread quickly through the living room, like ivy growing unchecked, and blocking the exits like a fiery wall.
Those trapped inside were now panicking, screaming, fire wrapping their bodies like death shrouds. One of the only females, Tonya, still cowered against the wall. The smoke was stinging her eyes and she clutched at her pregnant belly, as if she could somehow keep her unborn litter safe. Her other children were already choking to death across the room, unable to breathe in anything but the kerosene fueled smoke. Drake hunched under the smoke, braving the flames, desperately searching for more of the pack to save from the house. He heard Tonya’s coughing gasps and cries as he made his way along the wall, hoping he could still get to her. Tonya and Drake both looked at one another but just then, the heat and flames made another lantern burst upon a shelf, blinding all who were inside making their escape all but impossible.
Stefan knew it would eventually come to this. Aticus was from powerful stock. Since the beginning, when he stepped in as Alpha to fill the void of a near dead Aticus, he knew that Aticus would never listen to reason. If a show of power was what it would take, then by God, that’s what he’ll get, Stefan thought turning on his heels, sliding in the grass making a stand.
Stefan changed form more slowly. They were now both fairly changed and standing face to face to each other. Teeth bared, Stefan leapt forward without hesitation. His claws going for the beast’s black furred throat. Aticus threw him off easily. A small group, a mingling of man and beast, those that had escaped the cabin, gathered around to watch the life or death battle, circling them.
“You’re too weak Stefan!” Spittle dripped down his muzzle as he barked. “You’re too complacent and you said yourself, you wanted to die my friend, so here is your chance!”
Stefan knew this was true. His reluctance to change shape made him age more normally and his bones began to normalize too. A lycanthrope that changes just every other week has bones like titanium from the shattering and subsequent re-calcification that the bones go through. He was, for all intents and purposes, just like a changeling again and that didn’t bode well for him now.
The black and the gray wolves circled each other carefully studying each other, looking for an opening, a weakness. They made a circle in the weeds, flattening them under their malformed feet.
“It’s my pack! And the pack needs strong leadership!” Aticus’ breathless words were scratchy and snarled, far from human. He seemed to be waiting for a reply.
Stefan stiffened up, realizing that Aticus was trying to distract him as he closed the distance between them across the circle. A quick arc of Aticus’ right arm, and claws tore into Stefan’s gray furred abdomen. Stefan snarled, quickly sidestepping the second strike, and turned his head so that his powerful jaws sunk in to Aticus’ ribs with a sickening crunch. Calculating eyes focused upon the larger black Wolf as Stefan feigned backward, predicting the next strike Aticus would make. The black beast back-peddled, dazed, shaking its head, a fresh claw wound to its side.
It was a lucky hit, Aticus thought, and lunged in for another attack. He hit nothing but empty air as a blur of silver slipped by him. Stefan sprang up behind him, claws raking across his massive back and around his middle. Wisely, Stefan locked his sinewy arms around him, forcing Aticus toward the fire that had spread from the rubble of the cabin, over the ground and onto some nearby sapling trees. Kicking furiously to regain his footing, Aticus sent up burning embers into the night sky. A dead patch of weeds went up in flames as the embers settled on them. A crackling fire was building before Stefan’s eyes.
The flames spread wickedly, winding toward the swamp just behind them. A ghastly realization came over Stefan. He remembered that swamps were notorious for producing methane gas, which would normally be acceptable, except that the fires were spreading and there was a low floating cloud sitting directly behind him. Aticus sniffed the air and backed up, then picked up a branch that had fallen and stuck it into the burning weeds. Stefan’s keen ears perked up, he knew what was coming next. Before anyone else had realized the danger, Aticus threw the fiery branch with all his might, spittle flying with the branch from his mouth. Now is the time, Aticus thought, to test the gift Devon had given him. The sound of gas igniting was unmistakable. An explosion rocked the earth like a massive quake. The top of the water and the surrounding land lit up in a ball of fire. Flames devoured the dead leaves that lay about, setting the trees and field ablaze within seconds.
Despite the fiery chaos, two forms emerged. Stefan was now engulfed in flames and Aticus as well. They were locked in mortal combat. They rolled on the forest floor among the flames, snarling and tearing at one another. The rest of the spectators tried to flee, monstrous figures running about in pain and confusion as once again flames threatened to engulf them.
Aticus clamped onto the Gray wolf’s exposed throat. Simultaneously his claws tore into Stefan’s side ripping muscles and tendons, tufts of burnt fur flying up into the air. The heat from the fire was intense and nearly unbearable. The blood spilt from both combatants, painting patches of ground crimson. In the end only one could live. A howl from Stefan, badly burned and bloodied, wafted through the air until it was interrupted by Aticus’ claws sinking into his breast plate, cracking it wide open. Stefan let out a wet gurgle as Aticus’ arm vanished into his chest. His claws squeezed Stefan’s heart and with one violent yank and a spray of blood, released it from his chest.
Aticus viciously gobbled up the falling alpha’s still beating heart, blood pouring down his chin. A wave of ecstasy came over him, knocking him on his back and for the first time he could remember, the pounding in his skull had ceased. His eye dilated as the Wolf’s blood mutated and coursed through his body like heroin running through his veins. When the wounded beast had finished gobbling up Stefan’s pineal gland tears of victory flowed freely from his one good eye.
Aticus shook the memories out from his head and sighed. He retraced that horrid night as he searched for and found his doublebarreled flintlock. He flipped the switch with his thumb and smiled as the bayonet flipped out. He sloughed off the dirt and sniffed the barrel of his gun. He could still smell the black powder emanating inside the barrel. Aticus secured the gun to his belt.
One more place to see before he moved to the old Land. He adjusted his gaze to the dilapidated plantation house. He stopped and stood in what he knew had been the very spot where the gun had taken his eye. Yes, it took even more than that from him, he thought. Reliving the moment, the instant he saw the muzzle flash and the gleam of silver just before it struck his face and ripped the organ of sight from his head.
The same old porch he had stood in front of, while he watched his prize slip from his grasp. Slowly Aticus trudged up the steps of the porch to say goodbye. The screen door creaked as it closed, his skull felt like it would explode as he rubbed his temples to alleviate some of the pain. Headaches he had off and on since the silver fragments still embedded into his brain his sight began to get hazy. Aticus slowly took the stairs, stopping immediately at Alicia’s room. Sneezing as dust swirled up, he pushed open Alicia’s bedroom door. Stopping for a second, unaware that Alicia’s diary had been kept just under the floorboards, then opening the windows and stepping onto the small second story balcony. White knuckled hands gripped the porch rails; maybe there would be a hint of her in the balcony, Aticus thought. He sniffed the air around him then drew in a deep breath before crinkling his nose in disgust. Maybe it had been wishful thinking on his part but he could smell no trace of her, not even a hint, and no sign of Alicia whatsoever. He tried to get a hint of roses, like laying in the dew soft lawn as the sun peeked up on a warm spring day. A tear sprang out of his eye, nothing, no hint of her at all.