Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Beside him Ramona gasped and choked back a gag. “Where’s the werewolf?”
She put a trembling hand to her mouth as her horrified gaze traveled from one pile of werewolf to another. Bits and pieces had splashed the walls and splattered across the ceiling. Blood, skin, fur, and entrails dripped from the bars as if the werewolf had swallowed a grenade after pulling the pin.
“How the hell did this happen?” Ramona’s voice trembled. “Oh, God, this is awful.”
Tinker turned his back on the cage. Last night’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes threatened to spew from his stomach and project across the room. After several deep breaths, he regained control and turned to Ramona. “I want to know what did this and how it got inside this facility.” His demand came out forced and angry. She has to know.
“How would I know?”
“You were an animal for at least three months before we found you.”
Hurt flickered across her face. “So?”
“Wouldn’t you know what’s capable of this much damage if it existed out there?”
“No.” Her voice turned to ice, and Tinker cursed himself for hurting her and not trusting her. “But it scares the hell out of me.”
“I’m sorry.” He tugged her into his arms. “This…” he gestured toward the horrific mess in the cage …”shouldn’t have happened.”
Ramona pushed away from him, but avoided looking at the massacre. “I know.” She moved across the room and stood with her back against the wall. “Last night, the werewolf spoke to me.”
“It what?” Alarmed, Tinker stepped toward her. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It told me to let it go, or it would die here.” She gestured around the room. “I didn’t believe it.”
“Ramona, you must be mistaken. Werewolves that young aren’t capable of speech, especially in their wolf form.”
“It spoke to me, Tinker,” she forced the words between her teeth as if fighting to control her anger. “Why the hell would I lie about something like that?”
“I didn’t say you lied. I think you’re wrong, is all.”
“You still don’t trust me, do you?” Ramona headed for the elevator. “You still think of me as some sort of wild animal.”
“No.” He reached for her, but she dodged his seeking fingers. “Ramona.”
She slapped the up button and turned her back on him. When the door opened, she entered without another word. As the doors closed, she didn’t turn around to face him again.
“Damn it,” he whispered. She was beautiful and intelligent. Why couldn’t he get past the animal that lurked deep inside her?
The full moon rode low above the mountains and sailed past Ramona as she ran in her wolf form. She jumped a sturdy log and landed on the other side with light feet. Cool night air blew across her furred body as she kept up a grueling pace. Whenever Tinker entered her mind, she growled. It hurt too damn much to think about what he must feel toward her—disgust among other things. Part of her knew that wasn’t entirely true, but she pushed it to the side, preferring to linger in her anguish.
After an hour, she slowed to a trot and then finally to a walk. Breathing hard, she made her way to a small creek that meandered through this part of Grandma Mountain. Lowering her muzzle to the water, she lapped at it, keeping a wary watch on the night around her.
At a slight movement to the right, she jerked her head up, body tensed for fight or flight, depending on how dangerous the predator might be.
A shadow shifted out of the trees and formed into a man. Her stomach tightened with a rush of unexplainable lust. Jesus, what’s the matter with me? She felt as if she was losing control of her mind and soul—and didn’t like it one little bit.
The man came into focus and stepped toward her. “Hello, Little Red Riding Hood.”
Oh my God. It can’t be... The werewolf who attacked her grandmother all those years ago had returned from the grave.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
What the hell is out there?
Tinker didn’t seem to be concerned, and he, of all people, would sense the unusual or eerie. He had battled in every big and small skirmish the
“Tinker, doesn’t the air feel weird?”
He raised and eyebrow and looked around. “I don’t think air feels at all.”
Exasperated, she glared at him.
“I don’t know—something just feels off.” Maybe, still tense from being used as bait for the first time, the unease would turn out to be unfounded. She wasn’t crazy about posing as a snack for the Big Bad Wolf, but wolf blood ran in her veins, and she had the strength to keep a werewolf from killing her or doing serious damage while the rest of the team bagged the animal. But even she wasn’t invincible. Things out there could still kill her, and she was smart enough to be aware of it.
“It’s okay, Ramona. Everything feels cool.” Tinker unclipped the door remote from his tool belt and aimed it toward the kudzu. A hidden entrance rumbled into view and they ducked under it.
Ramona stared into the dark as the door slowly lowered behind them. A shadowy wisp shifted and faded into the trees. A bit of fog moving with the wind? Unease scattered goose bumps along her skin. Why can’t Tinker sense the damn thing?
They moved along a narrow hall, reinforced with steel beams, and took an elevator down one level. Everything gleamed with silver, turning the underground base into a strong fortress, keeping the werewolves in until they were well enough to be trusted outside. As long as Ramona kept up her daily inoculation of silver and didn’t get too close to the walls, she could handle silver poisoning.
“Did the werewolf bite you or scratch you?” Tinker asked as he raked her body with a concerned inspection.
“I don’t think so.”
“No room for I-don’t-think-so in this business? You’d better be positive.” He reached for her shirt and tugged it out of the waistband of her jeans. As his warm fingers skimmed her bare stomach, a pleasant shiver shook her body.
She let out a small gasp and pulled away from him, removing his fingers from under her shirt. “So, what if it did bite me? It’s not like it can hurt me.”
He returned his hand to her waist, fingers brushing her hip and up her back searching for wounds. His touch shouldn’t have affected her in a sexual way, especially since he had nothing on his mind but business. But, damn it, she’d been attracted to him from the moment she came out of her werewolf state with enough lucidity to notice he was a man—a powerful, dark-skinned male capable of satisfying her every desire.
“Shit.” She jerked away from him. If he touches me one more time, I’ll lose all control and kiss him or something.
Tinker misinterpreted her reaction. “Animal bites can get infected.”
Ramona almost laughed. Leave it to Tinker to worry about something so normal. “Relax. I’ll go to Dr. Garrett and get a thorough skin scan.”
“Good.” He put his arm around her waist, outside her T-shirt this time, and kissed her hair. “Coming to the cafeteria for supper?”
“In a minute. I want to go down and visit with the prisoners for a bit.”
“They’re not prisoners.”
“I’m sure the werewolves would have a different opinion.”
“We’re helping them, Ramona,” Tinker said softly.
“I know. I just remember the way it was for me when you brought me here.” If not for Tinker, the fear, helplessness, and rage would have driven her to beat her body black and blue trying to bust through the steel bars of the cage. Tinker had somehow calmed her. Brought peace. But he must never find out how she felt about him. He could never want a woman who was also part animal.
Ramona stepped back into the elevator and rode down to the fourth level where they kept the new recruits. Howls of rage pierced her ears before the elevator door opened and she stepped out. Another long drawn-out wail, full of hate and madness traveled the narrow corridor.
As she rounded the corner, the werewolf they’d captured a week earlier, hurled himself against the bars, desperate for escape. Grandma Base kept this set of cages separate from the others and sound proof. A werewolf’s first few weeks weren’t very pleasant, and the crew didn’t want them disturbing the others who were well on their way to recovery.
The cage next to that one stood empty and waiting for the newest capture to be brought in later tonight.
The werewolf ceased its howls and sniffed the air. It looked right at her. Hate replaced the fear, and he growled low and menacing, almost as if he recognized her as the enemy. Why wouldn’t he? She stood outside the cage. He squinted through yellow eyes and stared at her as if he planned how to rip her from limb to limb while he kept her alive to enjoy her screams of pain.
“We’re going to help you,” she said, keeping her voice soft. She wished she could offer him a gentle stroke along his beautiful, gray fur, but he’d probably tear her arm off if she tried.
The werewolf shook his head—one small shake—and then he bared his teeth as a ropy string of drool dripped from the fangs and splattered on the floor of the cell.
“Let me leave.”
Startled by the gruff voice issuing from something that shouldn’t be able to speak at all, Ramona took a quick step back. Had the damn thing spoken?
None had before.
“Let me go, and I’ll let you live.” Its voice sounded like a rusty pair of hinges swinging a door open.
Recovering from the surprise, she said, “I can’t do that.” How had they so miscalculated this one’s intelligence? Better, yet, why did the thing even have any form of intelligence whatsoever? It shouldn’t have in its first week as a werewolf. They’re supposed to be little more than wild animals. How had they even captured it?
“We can help you.”
“Let me go or I’ll die.”
“No one has ever died in this facility.”
“I will.” Fear flickered in his eyes as he stared at her and pushed his snout between the bars. “Let me go.” All the fight and hate had drained out of him. “Please.”
Egad! It’d said please.
“Trust me.” It was all she could offer him for now.
The werewolf gave a human-like snort, pulled back from the bars, and settled on the cot against the back wall. It flopped down like a tired dog and stretched out its legs. “Then I’m doomed.”
* * *
Troubled by the werewolf, Ramona tossed and turned on the bed in her quarters. If it was so intelligent, why had it attacked Tinker and put itself in danger of being caught? Did it have moments of lucidity? Did the human side come out in fits and spurts while in the throes of the moon’s madness? If so, it was the first of its kind that could accomplish such a feat.
Loud, frantic banging hammered against her door, snapping her out of the first stages of a groggy sleep. She sprang to her feet, yanked on a pair of jeans, pulled a T-shirt over her head, and stumbled toward the door as she tugged the hem of her shirt down over her stomach.
Tinker stood outside with hands that trembled and a white face.
My God, what could have happened to visibly shake up Tinker?
“One of the recent ...” He took a breath and stared at the floor. “It’s best if you saw it for yourself.” He circled her wrist with his fingers. “God knows I wish I could spare you that.”
Apprehension grew stronger as she followed Tinker to the holding level. What the hell would she find when she reached the cages?
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Yellow eyes illuminated a spot in the dark underbrush where moonlight couldn’t penetrate. Spooked, a lone coyote bounded across the path behind Ramona and vanished into the brush on the other side. Leaves and dead branches crunched under the coyote’s paws, and then faded into the night to be replaced by croaking frogs, in a nearby pond, and singing katydids.
Ramona stopped and listened for preternatural sounds in the night. Lightning bugs flashed on and off around her as their little green butts threw off faint light. No stealthy steps or ominous twigs cracked. So far, so good.
Her nostrils flared and she sniffed the wind. Wet dog smell gagged her with its powerful scent, which meant the beast lurked a little too close for comfort.
“Damn it.” She drew in a sharp breath and adjusted the microphone in her ear. “Tinker don’t do that. You scared the crap outta me.”
“How else am I supposed to guide you?” She envisioned Tinker’s raised eyebrow. “You need to get used to the voices in your head.”
Another voice piped in, “Because we’re always there.” Crazy laughter followed.
Tinker laughed. “Cut it out before Ramona stomps back here and knocks us in the head with that basket draped across her arm.”
Exasperated with the men she considered family she said, “What is it?”
“Do you really think a werewolf is stupid enough to fall for the Little Red Riding Hood thingy?”
“Ramona, it’s not a thingy, it’s an operation. And, yes, new ones always do. They’re not in control yet. Haven’t learned it. Besides you’ve wanted to kick wolf butt since the day one tried to eat your grandma years ago.” Tinker pulled away and said something to one of his men that she didn’t quite catch, and then he came back. “You’re ready for this, kiddo, now relax.”
“Shush, I need to concentrate.”
“Zipping my lip. Remember, you’re not alone out there.”
“We’ll be there in an orgasmic second if you get into trouble,” Tinker said to the sound of snickering behind him.
Orgasmic second? Only a wood cutter’s son would come up with something like that. “Gotcha, now be quiet.”
Ramona shoved back her red hood and moved through the quiet night. The forest had gone as silent as an empty, broken down building at midnight and nearly as spooky. Easing the basket of no-existent goodies to the leaf strewn path, she reached beneath the red-checkered cover, meant to keep cookies warm, pulled out a silver dagger, and slowly rose. Eyes wary, she glanced from one dark shadow to another.
An electric current pulsed in the air. Something watched her from the edge of the trees. Its malevolent gaze raked her body, mind hungry for more than just a bloody kill.
Murderous and full of blood-lust.
Not the werewolf she sensed behind her.
She shrugged out of the red cloak and let it slide to the ground. Ramona touched her ear, but before she could contact Tinker with her concerns, a fury bundle of confused rage sprang out of the bushes and tackled her with a fetid snarl.
A swift, upward kick to the stomach with her both legs dislodged the werewolf, tossing him several feet away. She rolled and scrambled to her feet, turning with a roundhouse kick to the chest as the animal leaped for her again.
The creature tumbled into the laurels, but bounded out almost as quickly as it had gone in. With a growl, it attacked again, slapping the breath from Ramona’s lungs as two huge paws smacked into her chest. Beast and woman landed with a bone-jarring jolt, as its weight crushed her into the soft ground. Yellow, slobbering, razor-sharp teeth snapped closer and closer to her throat.
Ramona gagged. The damn thing had been at something rotten earlier, and its breath nearly fried the hairs in her nose as she tried not to breathe through her mouth and taste the foul odor. Puking on her first mission would not be dignified. Neither would dying.
“Tinker! If you want this cursed thing alive, you’d better bag it now.” She held the werewolf’s jaws from her neck at arms length, pushing against its shoulders, her strength waning as the wolf growled above her, dripping drool onto her face. She released one shoulder and groped for the dagger, ready to plunge it through the beast’s heart if the team failed to get to her in time.
Suddenly it arched its back, howled in pain, and loosened its grip on Ramona. Another drug-laced dart sank into the wolf’s neck. It snarled and clawed at the offending stink, swayed above her, and shook its head from side to side as if trying to dislodge a hornet. Another dart, and then another launched into its hide, burying under its fur to sink deep into the flesh below.
Ramona rolled out from under the werewolf right before it landed face down with a thud and final spasm.
Men in camouflage and army boots trampled through the bushes, dart guns pointed at the motionless animal at their feet, hands on triggers, waiting to see if it would move again. It twitched one last time.
“Ramona, you okay?” Tinker reached down and offered her a hand.
“Yeah, just peachy.” She grasped his fingers and let him tug her upward. “Cutting it kinda close there, don’tcha think? Another second or two, and you’d be wearing this little red cape--hunting me.”
“Naw. You make a much prettier Riding Hood. Wolves can’t resist that sweet, innocent thing you got going on.” He scooped the cape up off the ground. “Besides, I don’t think I’d fit in this thing.”
Ramona stared back at the werewolf, feeling sorry for it even though one had tried to kill her grandma over twenty years ago. A human dwelled in there somewhere. Probably a good human unlucky enough to get bitten by a werewolf. “Will they be able to help him?”
“I hope so. I hate to think we’re putting your life at risk for no good reason.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
Tinker threw his arm around her shoulder and said, “How about we leave these boys to what they do best and head to Grandma Base for some milk and cookies.”
As they moved down the path, a chill worked its way along Ramona’s spine. Something still lurked in the dark trees just out of sight.
Something more dangerous than a newborn werewolf.