Thank you for your service
Col. Miller was a highly decorated officer of the US Marine Corps. He proudly wore his medals of valor on his military jacket. A courageous man, a stubborn man, and a homeless and drug addicted man. His once handsome visage concealed by a graying, dirt covered, wild bush of a beard. Col. Miller’s military hairstyle had long ago got away from him, his once brown hair graying with age and now hanging down past his shoulders in scraggly knots. His once intense, caring gray-brown eyes now beaten down and defeated from years of living on the streets; his cheeks were sunken in, gums red and swollen, and jaw line sagging from his missing set of dentures, filling his face with deep lines, sunken in from malnutrition.
He cursed under his breath at the dried blood and torn collar of his once pristine camouflage uniform. Col. Miller would refuse to eat if his uniform had been tarnished and he only had enough coins to go to the Laundromat to clean the filth away. Homeless or not, he considered himself a proud patriot and any blemish on his fatigues was not acceptable in his eyes. He inspected the wound he had just received. At first he had cursed himself for not going to the emergency room, but now he could not believe his eyes, the bite mark had already healed itself. Little relief to him as he had been dreaming about a warm bed and hot food, assuming if he made it to the E.R. today they didn’t just bandage him up and send him back out the door.
Col. Miller’s hands were shaky as he downed with one gulp what was left of his half-pint of grain alcohol, warming him on the inside. Stomach growling with hunger as he walked the shadowy brick structured alleyway of Royal Bay’s business district, staggering toward his clandestine destination. He silently cursed the maniac he had followed down the alley last night. He had been too tired to walk all the way back to camp, and he hoped to beg a few dollars for bus fare off a guy who ran past. The guy had turned and leaned into him, trying to bite his face off; Miller shoved him away, but not before the guy had nipped his neck. What a freak!
“Can you give me a nickel?” There was barely concealed desperation in Col. Miller’s voice.
The crack dealer said nothing as he motioned by hand the universal sign “show me the money”. Col. Miller did just that, wads of cash crumpled and wet in his dirty hands. He had gotten the bills panhandling. Courtesy of the masses so wracked with guilt from the shadowy homeless veterans. Most had served their country but they were often damaged physically or psychologically past the point of being a productive citizen. A few silver coins or dollar bills helped to relieve their guilt while they looked the other way.
“Not my business, man,” the crack dealer observed as he handed Col. Miller a nickel’s worth of crack, eyeing him up and down, “but I got mad props for you, you’re a decorated soldier you shouldn’t be poisoning your body this way.”
Col. Miller laughed to himself, only outwardly nodding in acknowledgement of the statement made by the crack dealer named Maurice. Ironic, he said he respected him but always sold him the crack anyways. After several days without a meal and starving, freebasing cocaine made the pain of hunger and cold go way for a while, the bliss and numbness made the whole world go away as well. Shaking in anticipation he searched for his lighter.
When the transaction had been made Col. Miller had the poison in his pipe. He closed his eyes as he inhaled waiting for the bite of hunger to fade, but it would not disappear, and in fact every inhalation made the hunger seem worse.
“Whoa man!” Maurice was slack-jawed and dumbstruck as looked into Miller’s glowing eyes.
Col. Miller’s eyes narrowed as a new, unfamiliar and painful pressure grew in his mouth. The pressure in his jaws unbearable he opened his mouth to alleviate the pain, but drool spilled out onto the pavement. Maurice stood absolutely still, still gripping dollar bills in his hand. He could not believe his eyes; the former toothless Col. Miller now had a mouth full of canine fangs. He took a step back, his eyes fixed on Miller’s mouth.
“What the hell?” Maurice demanded.
Col. Miller pictured half his face sliding off, hitting the alley floor with a wet smack. He wondered if this was what a “bad trip” was like, he’d never felt like this before, he had always felt better after a hit or two.
Maurice slowly backed up, trying to make small, quiet movements, but it was too late. The glint of his sunglasses hit Miller’s eyes, making them glow brighter, and he lunged at Maurice. Maurice turned and as he tried to run, he stumbled and fell, sliding into the dingy brick wall on one side of the alley. He threw his hands up in defense, trembling, his eyes closed automatically. His heart still pounding, he peeked between his fingers at the decorated veteran gone deranged.
Col. Miller stood still as a statue, over Maurice with a full set of over-sized, bloodied, ivory fangs huffing loudly. Amazed at Col. Miller’s seeming transformation, he had always had a wild beard that made him look like a Wolf man, and his visage now was still that of a human’s face with the exception of the glowing eyes and pointy teeth. Maurice instinctively reached for the gun he kept in his jacket but Col. Miller’s supernaturally strong arms pinned him down to the ground and powerful hands gripped his wrists, pushing him into the dirt, he cringed with pain as his palms turned white, the blood flow in his veins interrupted.
Maurice tilted his head back and began laughing hysterically between grunts of discomfort, his gold plated teeth visible. He thought he would die by a bullet; some other gang member who wanted his corner, or by some hero cop who quickly cried “self-defense”, but not this kind of surreal situation. The Col. snarled, and Maurice cringed as a shower of hot spittle rained down on his face.
“Man!” In a last ditch effort to save himself Maurice pleaded for his life. “Man, it’s me, Maurice, I’m your main man, and we go back, don’t do me like this please….”
The Col.’s head moved back and forth inquisitively and for a brief moment something in his rage filled, beastly eyes became human again. Col. Miller released Maurice’s wrists.
“M…auu...rrr…i...ce!” Col. Miller’s inflamed mouth struggling to form speech.
Maurice could still see fangs glinting above him as he lay helpless on the ground, gently rubbing the feeling back into his tingling wrists. He started to sit up when Col. Miller suddenly struck out at his left shoulder. Searing pain went through his entire body as canine teeth scraped across his collarbone.
Maurice’s life flashed before his eyes, he resigned himself to the fact that these were the last moment of his ill-gotten life. Eyes swollen and puffy as he cried like a baby, he could feel and smell his urine as it was evacuating his body. He was gasping for breath, unable to even scream, as Col. Miller’s body pushed down on his rib cage.
“Mauriccce.” Col. Miller rumbled… breath putrid and hot against his face.
Maurice kept his eyes closed, his body shaking in fear for what was to come as he struggled to breathe. Suddenly he was able to suck in a breath as Col. Miller’s weight lifted off his chest. He sucked the precious air into his lungs in gasps as he watched Col. Miller run off on all fours, out into the streets of Royal Bay, his entire body shaking, Maurice blacked out.
The wild bearded lunatic, called Miller ran stealthily down boulevards, straying away from Streetlights. His body moving on instinct headed home to familiar aromas. As if in a dream, nightmare or an out of body experience he watched his body run to the relative safety of Royal Bay and his homeless encampment. He could see clearly the barrel fires and the makeshift tents which were still half a mile away, the full moon’s light guiding him with its glow.
Half a dozen men and women warmed themselves idly by a barrel fire; they were dressed in layers upon layers of filth caked clothing, unaware of the danger coming their way. An obese man, his head covered by a dirty black sock hat, was warming chicken soup in a can suspended over the fire, while the others anxiously waited for a chance at their one and only meal for the day.
“Colonel, is that you?” The woman with long, straw-dry brown hair called into the gloom beyond the fire.
Col. Miller watched as his body lurched onward, as if he was a marionette controlled by invisible strings, moved by an unknown master. He recognized the woman who was jogging up to him, concern etched across her sun burnt face; Nancy, a 30-something-year-old teacher, she had recently been laid off from her school and lost her home in the process. Nevertheless, the beast was in control of his body, fueled by instinct and an all-consuming hunger out of his control.
“Colonel Miller, what is wrong, are you hurt?” She reached out her hand to him as he turned towards the full moon light.
Panic filled her, tangled and matted brown hair falling around her whitened face as she looked down, but she had not yet registered what happened. Blood jetted from the four now missing digits on her left hand. She stared at her mangled hand, her eyes widening to comical proportions, pain not yet registering in her mind. She looked back up to the fiend that stood before her. She had no time to react as Col. Miller seized her forearm with his powerful grip, yanking her closer and fangs punctured her skin, chewing through her elbow in violent crunching bites until her lower arm was ripped free from her body. Gnawed, loose skin flapped in the wind. An arterial spray of blood painted her vision red as she began to fall back, the shocked teacher dead before she could utter more than a strangled cry, she hit the ground.
Col. Miller saw the shocked and horrified faces around him, able to remember and name some of them in his head before he blacked out and his infected body, driven by instincts and primal urges, completely took over. One by one, the persons fell to the beast’s unquenchable rage and hunger. When all was said and done, the bodies littered the ground all around him, blood pooled at his feet, and finally the fog lifted from his mind.
“What the hell, guys?” Sgt. Alexander yelled.
Sgt. Adam Alexander heard the commotion and emerged from his makeshift tent. He leaned forward in the wheelchair and wheeled off to see what was going on. Only 27 years old; another veteran in the US military deployed in Afghanistan before an IED permanently took him out of action and claimed one arm and both legs. He wore a prosthetic arm that attached to the stub of his right shoulder; the doctors had done nothing about his missing legs, a mishap in his insurances, so he was wheelchair bound for the rest of his life.
The aroma of barbecue assaulted Adam Alexander’s senses, his gut twisting in knots from starvation, mouth salivating in anticipation. He wheeled himself with one hand faster than seemingly possible, afraid the barbecue he had smelled would be running out before he arrived. He was almost smiling when he turned the corner and his chair bumped into a detached and mutilated human leg. He looked up, seeing bodies and parts strewn haphazardly about. Sgt. Alexander’s hand hurt from the pressure of the wheelchair’s wheel as it had skidded to a stop. He convulsed and vomited after taking in the site that lay before him. Wiping his mouth, he turned his head, hearing a sound near the edge of where the light from the barrel fire barely reached.
Col. Miller sat on his haunches, greedily consuming what look like a large order of ribs. Alexander froze; still in the dark shadow of an overpass, he hoped that Col. Miller did not see him. Thick clouds of smoke blew across in front of him, smelling of charred flesh, obscuring his view momentarily. His heart was pounding so hard he thought that alone might betray his position. Slowly he wheeled back, edging closer to some of the makeshift tents, hoping to find refuge from Col. Miller’s view. Nevertheless, Col. Miller stopped his consumption of the dripping human flesh just as quickly and niffed at the air around him as the wind changed, zeroing in on another living target, Adam Alexander. Never in his life had Adam felt the term “sitting duck” been more relevant.
Adam tried to turn his wheelchair, to escape, too slow, the cumbersome wheels catching on the rough ground. Col. Miller was on him in an instant, knocking him and the wheelchair over onto the ground with a clatter. Adam looked desperately into Col. Miller’s vacant eyes as they looked up at each other, their faces only inches away, but the person that used to be Col. Miller was there no more. Years of military training, instinct and the will to live made Adam fight back. With his one good arm, he pushed Col. Miller back and with his elbow, hit him in the throat, knocking him down in a heap.
“Hey Miller, you off your fucking rocker or something?” Adam screamed as he dragged his wheelchair in the dirt between him and Col.
Miller, clutching it like a shield.
Col. Miller, not deterred by Sgt. Alexander’s barricade, reached out and stretched his muscular limbs over the chair, found Sgt. Alexander’s throat easily and began squeezing, blocking off his airway. With a last ditch effort, Alexander struggled to take in another mouthful of air and shouted in a scratchy voice.
The crushing pressure that he felt diminished slightly and he drew in another precious breath. After a moment’s hesitation, Sgt. Alexander saw a flicker of recognition come into Col. Miller’s eyes, and the Col. slowly let go of his stranglehold on the Sgt.’s bruised neck. With the exception of a full set of canine fangs and gleaming eyes, Col. Miller looked, for all intents and purposes, entirely human again.
Miller wiped sticky blood from his mouth with the back of his hand as recognition of the disabled man on the ground come flooding back to him. It was Sgt. Adam Alexander, essentially a brother in arms who the Colonel had always looked up to, and had even come to love. He fought the beast inside as he stepped back from Alexander, grabbing his wheel chair and up righting it for Adam and wheeling the chair toward him.
“What’s happening to me?” Col. Miller growled.
As he tried to speak the pain and distortion of his jaws from the newly formed fangs made talking almost impossible to him, a distorted slurring garble was all that the Sgt. heard. However, the pain and confusion in the Colonel’s eyes were more than enough to convey what he had meant to say, as he helped the Sgt. onto his chair. Then he recoiled stopping a few feet away, a miserable moan escaping his drooling mouth.
“Hold on, Miller, wait….” Adam put his one good arm out and put his hand up in a gesture for him to stop. “We’ll figure out what’s happening together, all right? Don’t run off.”
Alexander could almost see the beast compelling Col. Miller in his unnaturally bright eyes. Miller seemed to be fighting some primitive inner impulses that were plaguing him. Adam wheeled closer as the Colonel clawed at the sides of his head, fighting an internal conflict in his mind, then letting out a deafening howl that pierced Alexander’s ears.
“Friend!” The Col. struggled to speak, to argue with himself.
Locking eyes with Adam, the Colonel suddenly attacked. He lunged and bit down on his friend’s right shoulder, the prosthetic tearing off in the process. As suddenly as the attack had erupted, Col. Miller backed off again, retreating to the shadows but watching Adam with focused curiosity. “You son of a bitch, you bit me!” Adam cried.
Looking at the gaping hole in his shoulder where the prosthetic arm had been attached only a second ago. Adam leaned forward, suddenly feeling flushed and dizzy as the shock wore off. Nausea wracked his body and his vision began to dim right before he vomited and started shaking. His body skittered on the ground as he seized, toppling out of his chair, foam poured out of his mouth.
Col. Miller watched in unexplained eagerness as Adam’s right shoulder sprouted tendrils that snaked out and writhed like live wires. In the middle of these moving vines there formed a gelatinous mass that would shortly become humerus bone. Miller held his breath with exhilaration as the developing arm took shape and then became what appeared to be a fully mature Wolf’s arm. It was the same with the lower limbs too; the parasite had a blank canvas to work with, freshly forming a wolf’s appendages, complete with hocks and a long slim tail.
Adam wept with confused gratitude he flexed his now fully functioning legs, and began to sprint for the first time since coming home stateside, he ran. He ran directly at Colonel Miller. He hit him with so much force, Miller was knocked off his feet, landing on his back in the blood stained dirt. Adam hugged him, for the first time with two arms. This was followed by a sloppy doglike lick from a still human tongue to Col. Miller’s cheeks and face, while whimpering happily.
Adam had quickly decided, while he still did not know what happened to him he would follow Col. Miller to the ends of the Earth if he so ordered it. However, he had a hunger that the usual can of beans or corn mash could never satisfy. His insatiable hunger would have to wait as his newly acute supernatural senses told him that groups of outcasts, runaways and homeless people were making their way along the tracks toward the camp. Sgt. Alexander and Col. Miller looked at each other as they sniffed at the air. They had no reason to speak; just giving a series of grunts was all that it took to agree upon their plan. A primitive sort of telepathy, honed to perfection throughout the millennia by werewolves, cemented their battle plans. The sparse hairs on the back of Adam’s neck rose up and he felt alive for the first time since his injury as Col. Miller circled around the back and hid in the bushes waiting for the first group. There would be an ambush, those that died from their injuries would be consumed and the survivors were to be welcomed into Col. Miller’s own special military.