Hunters turned hunted
David cursed his friends for poaching as the blood from the animal bite on his forearm still dripped onto his mud caked jeans. He needed to go someplace safe so he could get rid of four jackrabbits, two raccoons, one 12-point buck and, more importantly though, the bulk of them had long ago used up their tickets, an albino alligator that they had procured before all hell had broken loose. Dust and debris caked onto the windshield of his new Dakota pickup truck, making it hard to see out of. He pressed the button for the windshield washer fluid but that just made it worse. Dust became a muddy mixture the consistency of sludge, which seized the windshield wipers after smearing a brown mess across his field of vision.
“Damn it!” swearing, he slowed down and punched the dashboard with his fist angrily putting the truck into park.
He left the headlights on to shine weakly into the fields as he leaned toward the glove compartment and opened it revealing his 9 millimeter. Loading his gun he laughed hysterically. This puny thing is not going to stop anything substantial, David thought, let alone the beasts that had attacked them.
The day’s events suddenly catching up to him he lowered his head and sobbed. Two of his friends were dead and he hadn’t been able to do anything to stop it. With the truck stopped the eerie silence outside hit him like a sledgehammer as he mulled over all the possibilities in his head. Just an animal attack, he told himself, he didn’t need to run. But He couldn’t handle being caught poaching again. His third offense he faced a real possibility of prison time, leaving his wife, Jill and son, Jack, alone. He opened his red eyes and watched a bush across the clearing beside his truck. As it shook he gripped his 9 millimeter resting on his lap. He thought the beast had found him! He would inevitably be the third victim as he waited for the creature to burst out. The death grip loosened as he breathed a sigh of relief as a large rabbit bound out from under the brush, before disappearing again into the tall green grass.
He promptly realized a sudden change in his eyesight. Not at all daytime but the dead of night and he could suddenly see clearly. The full moon had radiated some light but not enough to explain his sudden clarity as if the noonday sun was high in the sky.
“I have to get to my uncle’s.” He told himself aloud.
Uncle Steve expected their group after the hunt and he trusted him. His uncle would know what to do next and being in familiar surroundings might relieve his sudden anxiety and obvious hallucinations. After getting out long enough to wipe the windshield with a greasy rag he slumped back into his seat and slammed the door shut.
“What a cluster fuck!” David yelled.
One more nervous glance around and he started the truck throwing gravel into the air as he pushed the gas pedal down, on the road again. Although he had cleaned his cab from top to bottom the peculiar odors coming from inside grew. He fought back the bile coursing up his throat as the aromas around him got stronger still. The smell of Crawfish, alligator with Cajun fixings, red beans and rice that he remembered eating over a month ago, so good he got an order to go. Now, no trace of food anywhere, just the mixture of smells had him nauseated.
He rolled down both windows and put two fingers to his neck to feel for his pulse, outrageously high. He could see the streetlights from the highway just ahead. He could feel his whole body throbbing with each erratic beat of his heart. I’m having a panic attack, he told himself, pulling onto the highway. It was hard to concentrate on the road as he nearly crashed into an oncoming driver who quickly flipped him the finger.
David could swear the hair on his back and neck was growing as he took one hand off the wheel to scratch on his scalp. His frame quivered as the thought of bugs moving back and forth over his body made him gag.
He blazed through a red light as he desperately searched around the cab for his cell phone, but found his half-full bottle of Jim Beam instead; this would make it all better! David downed the spirits, spilling not a drop, until the bottle emptied and his throat burned from the heat.
Two more turns onto another dirt road on route to Steve’s house he felt himself driving on autopilot. He felt like insects were crawling around beneath his skin on fire and at the same time itching beyond belief. David tried with both hands to relieve the incessant itch on his backside but he failed utterly. The road curved and he almost hit one of Uncle Steve’s neighbor’s mailboxes before he righted himself again. Finally past the six dilapidated trailers before his uncle’s gravel road. The intermittent streetlights gave way to densely packed Oak and Cyprus trees. His vision seemed to fade in and out. If not for the full moon and floodlights in the driveway David would have missed the place. Somehow Uncle Steve with shotgun and flashlight in hand was waiting for him out front of the cabin in an unincorporated village of Royal Bay.
The cabin looked desolate, abandoned and neglected. The Royal purple paint had long ago faded to pink. The horizontal planks dry rotted and termite infested, missing planks revealed torn insulation. The front windows were all broken, wrapped with aluminum foil to stave off the rain. In the front of the house, once a thriving flower garden now brittle, brown and pedal less, while the Ivy thrived and continued creeping up the walls of the cabin.
Uncle Steve nervously smiled periodically his toothless smile. A true swamp rat he had an unkempt long brown beard and ratty wild braided hair that hung to the small of his back. He had no shirt under dirty oil stained denim overalls.
“David what the hell happened to you!?” Steve yelled, standing back a healthy distance, his shotgun at the ready, he yelled eyeing the empty hitch behind the truck, then unconsciously looked toward the woods as if the boat had just been a pawn in a cruel game of hide and seek, “What happened to my boat?”
David put the truck in park and stumbled out of the vehicle. Steve cautiously laid down his gun and made his way over and put his arm around David’s broken body to help keep his knees from buckling. He was worried about his nephew but he was more worried about the boat that hadn’t come back with him.
“You had me worried when you called me.” Steve said still looking around for his missing boat as if it was simply hiding in the trees, too shy to come out.
“What?” David shrieked. He looked down at the cell phone clutched in his fingertips, he must’ve found the cell phone when he found the Jim
Beam and didn’t remember it “I called you?” Steve looked at David like he was out of his mind.
“Yeah you called me just a few moments ago but it was hard for me to understand you. Your phone must have been breaking up or something.”
Steve pulled out his cell phone and put it up to David’s ear to let him listen to the last saved message. As he listened to the message he was horrified. For one thing, he didn’t remember calling his uncle whatsoever, and for another thing he sounded like a monster. He heard guttural grunts and snarls sprinkled throughout the garbled message.
“I don’t even remember calling you.” David stated, confused, as a fresh wave of nausea began setting in.
“Man you look white as a ghost, what the hell happened out there? Where the fuck is my boat?” Steve whispered, unconsciously rubbing small circles on David’s back with his flashlight.
“Can we go in the house?” David groaned, the perpetual rubbing was helping with his nausea but he was fairly certain he was running a fever now as he wiped at the sweat already beading across his brow. The warm night air suddenly felt suffocating and overly damp.
David welcomed the helping hand from his uncle and they made their way into the cabin, the rust covered screen door creaking shut after them. The familiarity of his Uncle’s front room comforted him, the dim lights from the oil burning lanterns, and the Cedar smell from the logs of the walls felt like his youth down in the Bayou. Taxidermy deer, bear, and foxes were strewn throughout the room and along the walls in all directions, wicker chairs and Uncle Steve’s homemade bar remained the centerpiece of the entire room. David sat down in the middle of bar, Steve, confident that David was secure on his stool, made his way to the backside of the bar and leaned down to produce a lead crystal decanter full of caramel colored homemade moonshine.
David looked at himself in the mirror across the wall; he didn’t recognize what he saw. Bloodshot eyes peered back from a sweaty pale face; a wide nose with flared nostrils sat above a five o’clock shadow gone wild, even his cheeks and forehead appeared to have grown sparse thin hairs under the dust and mud that smeared parts of his face.
Steve tried not to look at David too blatantly as he took two dusty crystal glasses and poured himself a drink, downed it with one gulp, and then poured another drink and slid it across the bar toward David.
“Here, this will help calm your nerves and then you can tell me what happened in the woods...” Steve said, worrying about his missing boat, frowning.
“Don’t worry Uncle, your boat is safe,” David sighed between shots, “it’s at the campsite, the one out beyond the tributary?”
Steve knew this campsite, he took the nephews there when they were younger and that comforted him a little. He poured himself another shot, the seventh one since he brought out the dusty decanter, and then poured David his fifth drink. Steve patted David on the back, his skin was still burning hot but Steve could tell it had gone down at least a little because David’s trembling had subsided. In between drinks Steve managed to take David’s temperature despite his skin being so hot, his internal temperature was actually normal.
“I’m not worried about the boat,” Steve lied, glancing out the window. “What exactly happened out there today though? Is everybody okay?”
David began to break down and sob uncontrollably, “There was an attack.... two people are dead.”
David began to recount his long horrifying story in between sobs, while Steve downed another shot and huffed when he realized he had finished off the decanter. David explained that while their group of seven was poaching whatever game was available they came upon what they thought was a feral dog with a missing eye eating the remains of a rabbit trapped in one of their snares. Unsettled and willing to give up the hare to it, the group tried to back track and circle around the huge dog, but then it suddenly appeared on the trail in front of them. One friend in the group, Alex, got off two shots, missing it, before another huge dog came slinking out of the woods, this one a bright reddish copper color with two eyes. When it suddenly lunged he had been quick enough to fire another adrenaline fueled shot that tore a ragged hole through the beast’s shoulder, knocking it back with an angry yelp and a splatter of gore.
The black one ran to the red beast’s side, and then stood in front of him in a defensive position, teeth bared and snarling angrily. That was when Quinn LeBeau, the twin brother of Lou LeBeau, stepped forward and set his sights on the black dog with one eye, motioning for Alex to step back. Before Quinn had the chance to fire the large black dog-thing lunged up at him, its curved fangs tearing delicate flesh like a steak knife through butter. The enraged green eyed creature seemed to bask in the hot sticky spray from Quinn’s now mangled and exposed neck. His mouth gaped open in shock as he dropped to the ground, dead before he ever knew what hit him.
The hunters were all paralyzed with fear, unable to move, when the unthinkable began to happen; the wounded red dog-thing got up, its limbs unsteady as its paws dug divots into the dirt for balance. Its wounds seemed to heal by themselves. The bullet pushed outward in the bloody wound, the gaping crater’s edges seeming to pull in tighter as a gleam of the bullet broke the surface. The ravaged gore now made room for smooth healed tissue.
First one, then a second broke free of the undulating flesh and fell with a dull thud to the dirt beneath the animal. Meanwhile, the black furred dog-thing had dragged Quinn several feet away from where he had fallen and hungrily devoured the stomach contents of their fallen friend, and then proceeded to stand up on its hind legs and look unwaveringly back at the shocked group with what seemed to be distain. The dogthing then looked at its paw, and wincing, the paw slowly morphed into a human-like hand with six-inch long talons. It smiled, its muzzle drooling as it howled triumphantly into the sky, standing there like something out of a nightmare. David glanced up to gauge his Uncle’s reaction, half expecting to find him smirking and shaking his head, sure that they had gotten into the wrong kind of mushrooms out there in the woods. He was a little surprised to find Steve ashen faced and troubled looking. Steve swallowed hard and gestured for David to continue his story, clutching the empty glass in both sweaty hands. David leaned back on his stool and could almost picture the guts of his friend, Quinn, strung across the sticky dirt.
The red furred dog taking his orders from the obvious black leader, stood up on its hind legs too, metamorphosed slowly for emphasis into a man with the exception of a large beast’s head.
“You guys are in trouble now!” Incoherent garble spewed out from the red wolf-thing’s muzzle.
The half-inebriated group of hunters scattered like roaches in a dark room as if a light had suddenly been turned on, tripping over themselves trying to escape the nightmare before them. David went on to explain that group had separated and it was every man for his self. David only looked back for a second when he heard bloodcurdling screams from a silhouette being mauled in the growing darkness but he couldn’t make out who it was. He had made it to the campsite and his truck. Turning the key he was relieved to see it started on the first try when broken glass rained down on the back of his neck, he turned to see the black one eyed thing trying to shove its grotesque head through the cab window behind him. David explained how he tried to block the thing from biting his face off and was desperately trying to kick the truck into gear. He heard the gear shift, and as he hit the gas, the beast snapped one last bite and caught his forearm before the force of the truck moving launched him backwards and he slid off the bed of the truck.
His uncle came around the bar to inspect his forearm, bushy gray eyebrows lifting in skepticism. The wound had strangely healed and it looked like it had been healing for a couple of days. David himself amazed he stared at his wound bewildered, the alcohol had kicked in and his nerves are subsiding. Something in the air smelled strangely, putting David off. Steve rattled on but David ignored him now intent on finding the source of the nauseating irritant coming from all around them. Suddenly that was all that he could focus on.
“Now are you sure that is all your blood?” Steve inquired. “It don’t seem like you would have been bleeding that badly with them little scratches and tiny puncture wounds” Steve stared at David, suddenly realizing that he wasn’t listening.
“What gives? Are you okay?”
David comprehended with an uncanny certainty that the source of the strange smell all around them emanated from Steve himself. Steve smelled like an outsider, putting out pheromones that told David that Steve was different somehow, dangerous. He wasn’t like what David was becoming as unseen parasites pulsed, divided and infiltrated inside him. He tried to resist the urge to bite his uncle but instincts took over him, and he and an irrational side of himself took over he had to protect himself from his uncle.
David pushed over the decanter spilling and breaking Steve’s precious crystal glasses as he lunged toward Steve’s exposed throat, his teeth sunk into flesh stopping only inches from his carotid artery. David’s thoughts and emotions were on overdrive he knew exactly what he was doing but could not help himself. War raged in his body an internal conflict in his mind too much for him to bear. He pushed away from his Uncle and flopped to the floor like a fish out of water, in the grips of a full body seizure.
Steve stood motionless for a moment, blood running over his hand as he felt his neck, his heart racing. He reached with bloody hand into the pocket of his overalls he thanked his lucky stars for his only real vice in another wise “off the grid” kind of life, pornography. This required him to put in a Wi-Fi that was now going to save his life and the life of his nephew. He reached and found his disposable prepaid cell phone and dialed 911.
David stopped writhing on the ground as his muscles tensed up the neck and lower back arching, his arms stretched out like a cross. Steve couldn’t believe his eyes David’s teeth and fingernails seemed to lengthen; his hands scrabbled lightly at the wooden floor, leaving marks in the wood. His mouth hung open as if his teeth were too big for it and his tongue lolled to the side.
David’s eyes suddenly sprang open, he roared, “Hungry!”
Steve jumped back, still holding his neck, as David began to get up from the floor. David didn’t give his bloody uncle a second glance as he headed out the door for the forest. Full of wildlife, it was like a smorgasbord for his ravenous hunger. Steve putting pressure on his wound with one hand and on the phone with the 911 operator with the other, without a second thought hurriedly rushed to his nephew’s aid.
When Steve stumbled to the truck and to David’s side he dropped the cell phone and gagged at the site of his nephew gorging on dead uncooked animal flesh. The sirens from the ambulance interrupted David’s feast; instinctively howling at the loud shrill cacophony. The deafening sound and alternating lights from the ambulance arriving was too much for David to tolerate and he fell on his head hard, for the second seizure of the night. The ambulance swung into the drive and paramedics ran towards his writhing body.
“Before his seizure he was hallucinating.” Steve explained to the paramedics, trying not to trip over his words in his panicked haste.
He had to explain that David had a fever and seizures and he had howled like a Wolf. Two of the paramedics, seeing the blood down the front of him, checked him over. The other paramedic, a trainee named Cody, sat by David, patiently waiting for his seizure to be over. Cody slid a cushion under his head and set his emergency bag on the ground. As the seizing began to lessen he pulled out his stethoscope, blood pressure monitor and other odds and ends. Finally lying still, he checked David’s pulse and put the blood pressure cuff around his arm.
“Where did the blood come from?” The paramedic tending to his neck asked Steve.
“What do you mean?” Steve scoffed.
The paramedic intently and thoroughly wiped at his neck with a gloved hand, clearing away the blood with a moist alcohol wipe looking for a wound but found none.
“Sir, the blood on your neck is not yours, except for your jagged scar, you’re perfectly fine.” The paramedic stated.
Steve gingerly reached up to where he had been bitten, and ran his fingers across the puncture wounds which moments before had been bleeding profusely, only to find raised lines and pink bumps where they had been. He stood there confused for a moment, as the paramedics turned to check on David.
Assured that Steve did not need dire assistance the paramedics were off to assist Cody. When they rounded the trainee, one of the guys sucked in a breath. Cody had a tongue depressor down David’s throat so he could get a better view of his mouth, a gloved hand checking David’s lips and gums.
“Don’t do that Cody!” The paramedic exclaimed. “He could have a seizure again.”
Before the paramedics warning could register in his mind, the unconscious man woke up and growling bit down on Cody’s thumb. He yanked his hand out quickly but it was too late, the latex barrier of Cody’s glove had been ripped open, the skin was exposed. As Cody stumbled back to assess the damage David jumped to his feet and ran toward his Uncle.
“Quick, grab me six units of Alprazolam.” The second paramedic ordered to the first paramedic, who was already on the radio to headquarters.
The paramedic thought the Alprazolam would ease David’s seizure symptoms and it would also calm him down, sedating him. Despite being the size of a professional football player the paramedic had trouble restraining him. The paramedic scowled; incensed that the situation had even gotten so out of hand due to Cody’s bumbling. The paramedic glanced around to see Cody sitting in the dirt still inspecting his hand and was relieved when Steve stepped in to help hold David. He wrapped his arm around his crazy nephew’s abdomen and the other arm rubbed his shoulder trying to speak soothingly to him.
David’s nose scrunched up as he breathed in Steve’s aroma and stopped struggling. Pleased, Steve’s scent had changed, smelling just like him now. The lull in the madness was more than the paramedic needed to inject the Alprazolam and sedative into David’s arm, instantly sedating him. Collectively, everyone breathed a sigh of relief as David started to go slack. The three paramedics secured David on the gurney, stuck an IV into his arm, and threw the latch on the wheels to keep the gurney from moving.
“I tried to warn you to not stick your fingers into the patient’s mouth,” the blonde-haired, middle-aged paramedic smiled, “if he is epileptic, well… you know the rest. Have your thumb checked out; know a human mouth has more bacteria than a toilet.”
“Yeah thanks.” Cody grimaced, “I don’t think he drew blood though.” He assured them while he wiped his hands with disinfectant.
As Cody spoke he didn’t notice the pink streaks forming in the foamy hand wash and he quickly dried his hands off, just his luck! First night out while training to become EMT, and he screwed up everything! He would’ve have kicked himself if not for the fact the feeling strangely anxious and figured the burning in his thumb was enough of a punishment.
“Don’t beat yourself up too badly tonight, Cody, just rest.” The linebacker sized paramedic said, patting him on the back. “It is a full moon out tonight, everybody is a little crazy and out of sorts.”
The ambulance driver loaded David into the ambulance bed while the dusty blonde haired linebacker headed back to Steve to get any medical history about David. He could smell the alcohol emanating from Steve’s mouth as he talked and knew the other guy in the ambulance had been drinking as well. He asked about illicit drugs being done, a flat denial, but he wondered if the toxicology screen would come back clean. Inwardly he shook his head and decided that these guys brought this on themselves. After getting a quick report written up, the ambulance took off down the dirt road leaving Steve heading back inside alone.
The backlight from the computer put off an eerie glow as Steve searched the web for something specific. It wasn’t the usual pornography that he was searching for tonight, unlike every other night, it was something different. He didn’t hit his usual websites, full of buxom blondes wearing only fur or guns, but instead looked up a history of lycanthropy.
Steve’s gums hurt a growing pressure in his jaws more than he could stand. He ground his teeth back and forth and white porcelain powder flaked over his computer desk like a miniature white-topped mountain. He read a couple of paragraphs, clicking on another link, and then finally went back to the first. He rubbed his eyes, strained from reading, and then caught the reflection of himself on the monitor. He had a new fresh full set of teeth, but ground and to the point of being fang-like in appearance. His familiar usual reflection had all but vanished; all his life he had felt the call of the wild, had been hot headed and instinctual preferring to live off the land. The parasites found a good host with Steve, as he looked at the canine like man staring back at him; he wasn’t afraid, but almost pleasantly surprised.