From atop the boulder, Dan Gevaux watched as the lights sliced left, then cut right. They began to spin. Red-white-red-white. With a sudden flip, they vanished. Sounds of twisting metal and cracking wood tore through the night, ending in a loud, final crash as the car plunged into the dark waters of Lake Superior.
Dan leapt. Landing, his claws gouged small trenches into the frozen earth as he slid. He slammed against a tree stump. Pain roared through his hip. Blood trickled thickly down his leg. He ignored it, instead racing for the car as fast as he could. Breath shot from his mouth in quick, stabbing jets. The rocky ground was slick beneath his feet. His ears strained. The night was no silent save the hard winter wind and the skeletal rattle of ice-laden branches.
Dan vaulted onto the bluff where the car left the road. He leaned over the edge, looking down. Fifty feet below, land met water. The lake churned, its black waves capped with angry white. Shielding his eyes with a large paw, Dan shot a glance at the road. In the best of weather, it would be morning before some random skier placed his tentative 911 call, bringing help with its lights flashing, sirens wailing and rotors chopping through the sky. But more times than not, there would be no rescue - only a recovery. And even then, Superior rarely gives up her dead.
A snort. Frustration. Another glance at the road. Dan ran and jumped.
He slammed into the lake, going deep before bobbing back to the surface. The water was so cold it burned. Few things could kill Dan; hypothermia was not on that short list. Nevertheless, shock from the cold remained a very real threat and he knew it. Dan willed himself to move, forced himself to breathe. The lake's shallow here, he thought. The car's got to be on the bottom by now. With a gulp of air, he dived.
Though his vision was excellent, Dan could see little. The storm above had kicked up a furious swill of silt and sand from Superior's bottom. It swirled blindingly. Only the growing pressure deep in his ears told him he was descending. Suddenly, a flicker of red from below. Dan swam towards it, arms stroking hard and paws fanned wide. His claws scraped metal. The rear of the car. Pulling himself alongside it, he worked his way to the driver's side door. Grabbed the handle. Tugged. It would not open. The driver's side window had shattered when the car had rolled. Dan reached through it, snagging the driver. The man simply swayed to and fro, lifeless. In the passenger's seat, a middle-aged woman. Her chest had been crushed and her head bobbed at an unnatural angle. Dan let her be. A quick glance into the back seat. A young girl, no older than nine or perhaps ten. He pressed his numb, leathery paw pads to the side of her neck. A pulse, faint and weak. Dan ripped through the seatbelt holding her down. He yanked the girl with him, out the window, as he pushed backwards away from the car. Tucking her under a large arm, he shot upwards.
At the surface, Dan held the girl's head above water as he paddled furiously for shore. Waves battered them. Swells swamped them. Finally, his feet hit rock. Claws dug in. He lurched from the water, carrying the girl with him.
Dan laid her out on the stony shore. Kneeled over her. Used his large, shivering body to shield her from the sleet and snow. She was blue. Not breathing. Another gentle touch to the side of her neck. The pulse had disappeared. Panic. Dan rolled her onto her side. Slammed her small back with his large fist. Water trickled from her mouth. No cough followed. Purple lips did not twitch. Another hit. "Breathe!" And another. "Fucking breathe!"
But she would not breathe.
A half-mile away, along Rt. 41 north of Gable View, John Thibadeaux had just pulled to the shoulder of the road, his right rear tire a victim of one of the many potholes that pepper the roadways of Michigan's Upper Peninsula this time of year. As he pulled the spare from the bed of his truck, a long, mournful howl bellowed through the night. John Thibadeaux shuddered. It was the most pathetic sound he'd ever heard.
It was two days before the girl woke and when she did, it was with a start and a scream. Dan, dozing next to his fire pit, cracked open an eye. He stretched. With a yawn, he shook his head, driving away the haze of sleep. He rolled to his front and pushed up, padding on all fours towards the girl. His big, black nose twitched at her scent.
Eyes wide, the girl scrabbled away from him. She pressed against the smooth, wet wall of the cave, cringing. Trying to disappear.
"I'm not going to hurt you," Dan gruffed.
His words sounded more like barks, growls and snarls in an approximation of English than English itself. Yet the girl found she could understand them. Tears streamed down her cheeks in little rivers. She held her arms across her chest, cradling herself protectively.
As Dan continued towards her, the child fell silent. The monster was huge. He was like a man, but was not a man. She didn't know what he was. He wore no clothes, the whole of his body instead covered in a pelt of heavy fur the color of snow. His arms were long, thick and muscled. They ended in oversized paws that crudely resembled hands. The monster's legs were not like a person's - they were backwards and strange, bestial even. His feet were big dog's paws and each of his toes was tipped with an enormous, black claw.
But what scared her most of all was the monster's head. It was the head of a giant wolf. His eyes were a sharp blue; even sharper teeth filled his mouth. "Stay away from me..." she whispered hoarsely.
Dan settled onto his haunches, tilting his head to the side in canine curiosity. "I'm not going to hurt you," he repeated. "What's your name?"
The girl ignored his question and instead blurted one of her own. "Where are my Mom and Dad?!"
Dan looked away, considering his words carefully. Against the far wall, his monstrous shadow danced with the flames. His gaze returned to her. "We can talk about that-
She bolted past him. Just as quickly, Dan was on her, pinning her gently to the ground. The girl squirmed.
"I'm not going to hurt you, but I can't let you leave, either," he growled.
"Let me go!"
The girl thrashed, cried for her parents.
Dan held her down until she grew still with exhaustion. "You can't leave. Not yet." The old blanket he used for bedding was near the fire. Taking it in paw, he wrapped it around her, tucking her in. "It's cold in here and the snow hasn't let up. Your Mom wouldn't want you out in it. My Mom wouldn't want me out there either."
The girl peered up at him with puffy, angry eyes. "You don't have a Mom. You're the Big Bad Wolf. I know all about you. My mom read me a story about you when I was little. You're mean. You eat people!"
Dan smiled, mindful not to show his teeth. "Stay covered." And with that, he turned and padded past his fire to the entrance of the cave where he sprawled out on his side, blocking it. He touched his hip where he'd gashed it a few nights before. The wound had completely healed.
With a sigh, he laid his big wolf head on his big wolf paws and let his eyes slowly slide shut. "Big Bad Wolf..." he gruffed to himself. The words rolled off his tongue. You eat people. Those words circled around and around his head as he drifted off to sleep.
You eat people.
"It looks gross."
"What is it?"
The girl blinked and scrunched her nose. "Deer? Like Bambi? How'd you get that?"
This time Dan did flash his mouthful of teeth. "I caught it. Now eat." He tore a hunk of charred meat from one of the legs and handed it to her.
Hesitantly, she took it. Held it to her nose. Nibbled. "It's reaaaally dry. My Mom can make better than you and she's not a good cook at all."
"I don't doubt that," Dan replied, watching her. He would eat later, at night, after she'd fallen asleep. He would hunt. Kill. Eat his prey raw and warm. Alive. "You still haven't told me your name."
The girl shrugged as she gave into her hunger, biting off a chunk of meat and chewing. It had been four days since she'd woken in the cave. She'd grown comfortable around the man-wolf, or at least convinced he had no interest in eating her. Besides, how many of her friends had a Big Bad Wolf of their own? None. And cooler still, hers could talk! Now that was something special, even if he was sorta pushy. "Do you have a name?"
"Are you going to tell me yours?"
With a giggle, the girl nodded.
She laughed as she chewed.
"What's so funny?"
"I dunno. I kinda want to pet you. You're so soft and fluffy!" She wiggled shyly, giggling all the while.
"Later. And only if you tell me your name."
"I'm Olivia," the girl said.
With a nod and a grin, Dan held out an oversized paw. Olivia grabbed the claw of his index finger and shook vigorously. "So where do you come from?'
"Milwaukee." The name was difficult for the man-wolf to pronounce. It came out Mir-rwar-kee.
"Nuh huh. You lie!"
"Talking wolfs don't come from Milwaukee."
"I wasn't always a talking wolf."
Olivia arched a brow, incredulous.
"I used to be a man."
"So you're like...a werewolf?"
"Uh huh," Dan said with a nod.
"But werewolves aren't real! They're in scary movies and stories. Jacob Black isn't scary, though. Or mean. He's hot."
Dan had no idea who Jacob black was but found it odd that a girl her age should find anyone hot.
Olivia continued. "Okay, if you're really a werewolf, why aren't you a man right now? Huh? Don't werewolves only change during the full moon?" She leaned left, peering past him towards the exit of the cave. Hard gray light filtered in through it. "It's daytime."
"Most werewolves change from human to wolf, but not all. Some stay permanently changed. Like me."
"Because of the way we were infected. A man I once trusted was a werewolf and I didn't know it. He gave me a shot. It had some of his blood in it. Exposure to werewolf blood causes a permanent transformation. That's what happened to me..."
"Did you know his blood was in it?"
"Why'd he do it?"
The werewolf shook his head. "That's a story for another-
Ears perked. Swiveled. Instantly, Dan leapt to the entrance of the cave. Swung back towards Olivia. His nose was working furiously. "I want you to stay here. Do not come out. Do you understand?"
Olivia, startled by the sudden commotion, simply stared at him.
"Yes," the girl said quietly.
Dan crept from the cave. Hugging the ground, he crawled into the brush beneath a large dogwood tree. His nostrils flared wide. The crunch of snow filled his ears. The hum of an engine. He waited.
A Ford Expedition drove into view, silver sunlight rolling off its windshield like mercury. The truck stopped. Its gearshift click-clacked into park. The door opened and a woman in her late twenties stepped out from it. She wore blue jeans and a puffy winter jacket. Long, black hair framed her soft, pink face. Squinting, he peered at the cave. "Dan?"
The werewolf bounded from his hiding spot, reaching the truck in two, large leaps. The woman stepped back, hand flying to her chest as she gasped. "Jesus Christ, Dan, don't do that!"
Dan reared onto his two hind legs and wrapped his arms around Stacey Reynolds as he nosed behind her left ear.
"That's cold and wet, you know."
"Dan stepped back, holding her hands in his paws. He grinned toothily. "What can I say? I get excited when I have visitors. If I had a tail, it'd be wagging right now."
Stacey rolled her eyes. "I'm your only visitor, you dog."
"All the more reason for me to be doubly excited, then!"
She leaned against the front of her Ford. "As much as I'd like to, I'm not here to stay. I stopped by to give you a head's up. The Sheriff's department pulled a car from the lake yesterday."
Dan said nothing.
"There were two bodies in the car. A couple, Sharon and Tad Taylor. According to Sharon's sister, their daughter was with them. Her body wasn't in the car. The police are almost certain she was pulled out by the current, but just in case, they're organizing a local search. There'll be cops and volunteers up here by tomorrow afternoon.
"They won't find me," Dan replied with a small shrug.
"Yeah, I know. But I still wanted to-
A voice from behind. "Is that my Mom? Dan, is my Mom here?"
Dan dropped to his paws and whipped around, a blur of movement. With a snarl, he bared his fangs. His fur bristled. "Get inside!" he roared.
Olivia ran back into the cave, shrieking.
Dan plopped down, head hanging between his front arm-legs. His upper lip still twitched slightly. He closed his eyes.
Hands settled on his shoulders. They squeezed. "Why is she here, Dan? Why is Olivia Taylor in your cave and why were her parents dead in their car in Lake Superior?
Dan glanced up, avoiding Stacey's eyes. "I'll explain," he gruffed. "But first, there's something you need to see..."
Stacey ran a finger across Olivia's side, tracing the remains of a bite mark. The bite had healed so completely it bordered on invisible. She pulled the girl's shirt down, tucking it into the waistband of her pants. "I'm gonna go talk with Dan for a bit. Are you gonna be okay?"
"Yeah," Olivia said with a nod. "I'm sorry I made Dan so angry. I just thought you might be my Mom..."
Stacey poked the girl's nose with a finger. "Dan should be apologizing to you, button. I'll be back to check on you in a bit. Stay out of trouble."
Olivia smiled as she held up her right hand, the tip of her index finger touching the tip of her thumb. Her other three fingers fanned out over them. Ok.
Dan was sitting on the bank of the stream that buffeted the clearing outside his cave. He did not turn as she walked up behind him. "You alright?" Stacey asked, settling next to him in the snow.
"No," Dan gruffed with a slow shake of his head. "Just when I think I've got this whole thing figured out, the Wolf knocks me right back onto my ass again. I didn't mean to scare her like that."
"I know. She'll be fine."
Together, they listened to the stream burble. Long minutes passed. "What was I supposed to do, Stace, let her die?"
"I don't know," Stacey replied, her eyes never leaving the shimmering water. "But I don't think infecting her was the right thing, either."
"You weren't there."
"She's alive. Unlike me, she can still have a life. It's once a month. I can show her to cope with it. How to live with it."
"She's a ten year old girl." Stacey's voice was a whisper. "Her parents are dead. And as if that wasn't bad enough, now she has this to deal with..."
Dan's ears flattened. He shot Stacey a stern glance from the corner of his eye."
Stacey held up a hand. "Sorry, I didn't mean it like that. But admit it, you know what's going to happen when she changes. She'll be like Pedersen was; she'll be like you were."
"I told you, I'll show hoer how to handle the transformation and-
"You're telling me that you're just going to sit around and puppy-sit while she wolfs-out? She'll kill and you know it! She will! And no offense, Dan, but I don't exactly trust you when the moon is full. Not when the Wolf is around."
"I'll help her wake up after the change..."
"You don't have a clue how or why you woke up!" Stacey said, exasperated. "You just...did. Your kind aren't supposed to regain their human minds when they're wolves. They're animals. You're the exception, and even that's questionable during a full moon." She paused. "Werewolves are predators. Brutal, vicious predators. They kill." Her voice dropped, shaking. "You killed, Dan. You killed two men. Two good, decent men. You ripped them to shreds."
Memories tore at Dan's mind. The screaming. The begging. Blood. Viscera. It was everywhere. Marty DuLong's head severed. Weston Parker's gutted body. They haunted his dreams. They were the Wolf's trophies, not his. "Pedersen did that to me. He made me what I am. He sired the Wolf. That's on him," Dan growled weakly.
"If that's how you need to rationalize it so you can sleep at night, go ahead. But understand this, you did this to that little girl. You turned her into a monster. Not Pedersen. Not the Wolf. You. You bit her. You infected her. You sired her. And when she changes, she will kill and that will be on you!"
Dan jumped up. "Then help me! I fucked up!" he snapped. His speech was little more than barks and growls. "I tried to do something good with this horrible thing I've got and I fucked it up, okay? I admit it. I fucked it up! But I'll tell you what, Stacey, I sure as hell wasn't going to simply stand there and watch her die! Not when I had it within my power to save her life! And if that means she has to spend a night a month roaming the woods and howling at the moon for the rest of her life, that sounds like a pretty fucking fair deal to me, all things considered!" He crocked back onto his haunches, holding his muzzle between his paws. "I couldn't let her die. I couldn't. Not after what the Wolf's done. Not after what I've done." He looked utterly defeated.
Stacey held him gently, laying her head against his big shoulder. "I'll help you, but you need to make me a promise..."
The clouds were the color of gunmetal. Though he could not see it, the Wolf could feel it - the moon was full and it was calling to him.
Stacey, bundled in her puffy winter jacket, huddled next to the fire in the middle of the clearing. Burning wood cracked and popped. She tossed another log onto the flames and stoked them with a long stick. The Wolf had already come. He had golden eyes and stripes of silver and brown streaking through his fur. He was bigger than Dan; his claws longer, teeth sharper.
Stacey blew into her hands before turning them to the fire. "How long?"
"Soon." The sound was hardly a word at all.
The Wolf padded over to her, sniffed her hair before shoving his nose into her crotch. Stacey shoved him away. "Stop." His upper lip wrinkled at her. The Wolf was less responsive and far more aggressive. More feral. Yes, Stacey had been honest with Dan when she'd told him she did not trust him as the Wolf, but had she been honest with herself? She didn't know.
The werewolf curled up in the snow just feet from her, watching. Stacey didn't like the look in his eyes. It was dark. Cunning. Malicious. It hinted that he could turn on her in an instant. Shred her. Revel in it.
"You're safe," the Wolf growled as if he'd read her mind.
"Just remember your promise."
"I'll protect you. And I'll kill her if-
A sudden scream of pure agony. In an instant, the Wolf had launched himself over Stacey, racing for the cave. Stacey scrambled to her feet, stumbling after him through the snow.
Inside, a fire burned in the fire pit. Above it, a make-shift clothes line held Olivia's freshly washed clothes. The girl was on the ground, naked and writhing. There was a crack, followed by a pop. She screamed in pain as her body reorganized itself. Olivia was growing. Her face elongated. Tufts of thick, gray fur spread across her arms and legs. Her mouth widened, filling with razor-sharp teeth. Claws sprouted from her fingers. She thrashed. Her cries dropped in register, growing more and more guttural.
The Wolf turned on Stacey. "Get out," he growled.
"But I thought-
The werewolf's lips curled, flashing his inch-long fangs. He started stalking towards her.
Stacey slowly backed away, her eyes never leaving the monster. She could sense the tension in his muscles as he slowly lowered himself to the ground, gaze locked solidly upon her.
"Leave!" he growled viciously.
Stacey spun and ran. At the mouth of the cave, she tripped. Went sprawling face-first into the snow. On her hands and knees, she scrabbled towards the bon fire. For the large stick. The closest thing she had to a weapon. No sooner had she snagged it than a sudden flurry of snarling and growling erupted from the cave. Dogs fighting. She spun about, eyes wide. A loud, yelping cry yipped from the cave, followed by a high-pitched whine, then nothing at all. "Dan?" she called.
Stacey stood up, holding the stick out in front of her. She took a step towards the cave. Then another. Her breath plumed rapidly in front of her face. "Dan, are you-
Something large lunged at her from the darkened mouth of the cave. It hit her in the side. Sent her spinning sideways into the snow. It was Olivia. She was as large as a man and covered in blood. Dan's blood. She snarled, her lupine face twisted in bestial rage as she circled Stacey - her prey - stalking on all fours.
"Olivia, I know you can hear me! I'm Stacey, Olivia! Stacey!" she pleaded as she slowly reached for the stick. Her fingers wrapped around it. Olivia leapt. Stacy swung, connecting with the side of the werewolf's head. The stick cracked, its top half launching off somewhere into the night. The blow sent Olivia tumbling into a bank of snow with a loud, crying yelp. "Dan!" Stacey screamed as she turned and stumbled towards the cave. "Dan! Where are the fuck-
A body-check from behind sent Stacey sprawling face-first to the ground. She rolled, swatting upwards with the remains of her stick. Olivia caught it in her mouth, bit down and shook her head wildly, trying to wrench it away. "Olivia, stop! It's me! It's Stacey!" With a whip of her head left, the werewolf tore the rest of the branch from Stacey's hand. She dropped it. Stood over her, pinning. Her lip wrinkled. Inch long teeth hovered above Stacey's throat. She could smell Olivia's breath. It reeked of dog.
"Olivia, look at me! Look at me!" The werewolf's eyes shifted, meeting hers. They narrowed, then widened. In them, Stacey saw something she couldn't quite believe.
A glimmer of recognition.
From the cave, a monstrous roar. Olivia's head shot up as the Wolf launched at her. The side of his neck had been slashed open. His entire left side was soaked with blood. He hit her square. Sliding backwards through the snow, the Wolf landed on top of the Olivia, biting at her throat.
"Dan, no!" Stacey grabbed her broken stick and ran towards them. She aimed for the Wolf's head. It rocked forward sharply, violently. He spun about, snarling. Enraged. Stacey staggered from him. He lunged and knocked her down, slashing. His claws tore her jacket. They almost tore her flesh. "No!" she cried as he reared up, claws splayed and aimed at her head.
Without warning, the Wolf jolted forwards as Olivia slammed into him from behind. He toppled. Flipped. Landed hard on his back. Stacey shot backwards, away from him. He wouldn't be getting up. A jagged branch jutted raggedly from his chest, impaling him to the remains of an old log. The Wolf twitched, then grew still.
Stacey glanced at Olivia. She was confused by her transformation and on the verge of panic. "It's okay, hon," Stacey tried to reassure. "Just stay where you are." She turned her attention to the Wolf. It took some time and effort, but she finally pulled him free of the branch, taking care not to infect herself with his blood. The wound from the log, ironically, did not concern her. It would heal and do so quickly. It was the gash on his neck that worried her. Only three things can kill a werewolf: silver, wolf's bane and another werewolf. And Olivia's claws had struck him true and deep.
It was almost a week before Dan showed any signs of recovery. He had lost a lot of blood and was weak and easily fatigued. He couldn't hunt so Stacey brought meat from the local butcher shop. "What is that? Prime rib?" he asked, pink tongue swiping from side to side across his furry muzzle.
"You wish. It's left-overs. You know, the stuff no one wants that the butcher usually tosses out at the end of the day. The gross stuff."
"Gross only to your kind," Dan gruffed, grinning. "To me, it's gourmet!" He looked at Stacey. "How's Olivia doing?"
"She's devastated and needs time to grieve. She'll be living with her aunt in Marquette. She needs to be with family."
Dan nodded. "She still shouldn't be around people when she changes."
"And neither should you, for that matter," Stacey replied. "I've spent some time with her aunt. Don't know how long it'll last, but I've talked her into letting Olivia stay with me once a month. I'll bring her out here when the moon is full."
"That'll be good. The Wolf could stand to learn a thing or two from her."
"And so could you..." Stacey said, laughing.