The Evening Wolf

The Evening Wolf copy

The six-by-eight cell had been home for so long it was almost all he could remember. There was a short time before the four stone walls and straw-covered floor that reeked of waste and was infested with too many things to name. There was a time before pain and starvation, sleepless nights . . . before Master. The pup did a good job at not remembering what could have been; instead he spent his time getting through each day. For one day he would be bigger, stronger. Too bad it was not this day.
The sound of footfalls made him cower in the corner. His whimpering was loud; the sound competed with the echoing of his heart in his ears, and his breathing coming too quick. He was powerless to stop the warm stream that ran down his hunches, soaking the already water- logged straw when he heard the jingling of keys. The sounds he made were almost human as he pressed his body tight into the corner. His cries fell on deaf ears. They always did. He dared not fight or bite. A boot-covered foot in the side could break ribs. He knew from experience. These were the times he fought extra hard to forget what it felt like to be held in a warm, loving embrace, or the sound of a voice that promised the world, and every touch—tenderness. Sitting in the cell alone, he won the battle to forget the too short time he’d spent with his parents. It was only when he was being taken from the cell did he think of them. Many moons had passed since their slaughter, thirty-six to be exact. He knew because he remembered every day of his life. It made the short time he’d been on earth that much worse.
The man who opened the door was one of the nicer ones, which meant he didn’t fear for his life when the man stepped into the room. That didn’t stop him from burying his muzzle in the corner, filling his nose with the stench of mold, mildew and waste, even still, his heightened sense of smell allowed him to pick up on the human’s scent. It was one of the many things that set him apart. One of the reasons Master kept him.
The man crossed the room in a handful of strides. A large hand fisted his fur, grabbing him by his scruff. “Come on mutt.”
He was three years old, bigger than the day they’d taken him but not big enough. He was too terrified to enjoy in the fact that the man strained to carry him.
Soon—but not soon enough.
Doors lined the walls along the hallway at regular intervals like sentinels. Some were cells and others were where the pup was sent for conditioning. But the man didn’t stop at one of the doors, instead he headed for the end of the hall where he pushed opened a door. Night air cooled the pup’s body. He breathed fast and hard, not from fright, but to fill his lungs with fresh air, his tiny eyes darting in every direction. He loved outdoors, even if he only saw it for a few precious moments, on fewer days. The last thing he looked at was the moon: a full one. He threw his head back and howled, the sound not at all matching his previous disposition, nor did it match his body. Cheers from the barn punctuated the sound. His handler chuckled, raised his arm until he and the pup were eye to eye.
“You’re going to win me a lot of money, aren’t you boy?”
No, there was no reason to fear this human tonight, something much worse awaited him on the other side of the double-wood doors. The noise was almost too much once inside. While he dared not fight his handler, he did bare his teeth and growl at the screaming men they passed. It was like throwing fuel on an already blazing fire. The barn smelled of sweat and blood, piss and shit. It demanded more. Fists were raised in the air, mouths were opened and yelling, excitement was the order of the night. The man chucked the pup in the ring; the hard packed dirt did nothing to cushion his fall. And he was the nice one. A second pup was tossed in on the opposite side. The shouts of the men surrounding the ring were endless thunder. The pup’s opponent hackles were raised, its lips peeled back, saliva dripped in ropes from his mouth and a low menacing growl escaped its throat. None of it bothered the pup. He was afraid of the rooms inside the big house, afraid of most his handlers, but things were different in the barn. In the barn pain was a lover’s caress and killing a kiss.
He walked towards his opponent: low to the ground, focused, as silent as the grave. He tuned out the yelling men. It was only the two of them. The other pup (also black) was bigger from being well fed. But sometimes size really doesn’t matter. It isn’t the dog in the fight—it’s the fight in the dog. The opposing pup lunged; his flight across the space was impressive. The pup moved to the left, threw his head back and grabbed the landing pup’s neck. His opponent’s jaws clamped down on his back. The pain was bad, but not the worst. Not with what Master did to him on a regular basis. They rolled around on the blood-soaked dirt—a tangle of legs and paws. Claws slashing, teeth tearing, even their tails seemed to fight as they battled. Here in the ring, he had his revenge. What he couldn’t do to the men who held him prisoner was taken out on those unlucky enough to be thrown in the circle with him. The surprised and pained yep of the challenger was the sweetest music. There was no mercy; he tore the wolf’s throat out. And because he’d been denied food for so very long—he ate.
He was born a werewolf. He was made a monster.

****

Present day
Body odor and the acrid smell of the campfire drifted on the night’s breeze. It mingled with those of alcohol (which the man had drunk earlier) and marijuana (which he’d just finished smoking). The camper’s clothes matched his collapsible shelter. A patch in the crotch of his pants kept him decent. The knees were worn out, a square of color, darker than the rest of the pants but still faded, showed where a pocket had been. Denim was not what made the material stiff. The jeans were as dirty as they were ragged. Every edge on the thin sweater was unraveling and the tee-shirt beneath had a rip that traveled entirely around it. Only an inch of fabric held it on the threadbare top. His shoes were more duct and electrical tape than rubber and leather. After dumping the contents of a can of string beans in a pot, he settled down on a pile of blankets that would pull double duty serving as his bed later in the evening. The man lifted his face, basked in the soft light of the full moon. The thing hiding in the shadows mirrored the action; closing its eyes, inhaling deep, flaring its nostrils, marveling in the surrounding smells both human and not. Its ears twitched as it listened to the symphony that only deep country offered: toads, cicadas and night singing birds. It loved when the moon stole the sky from the sun. Movement from the man drew the creature’s attention back to the reason it was there. The man took a rag and pulled the pot from the fire. The beast allowed him to finish his meal. It would be his last.
Moving in silence that was a contradiction to its size, each step bunched thighs as thick as an average man’s waist. Its arms, ending past its knees, sported claw tipped fingers as sharp as any blade. Thick black fur covered its chest and thinned into a line as it traveled down its abdomen but covered its powerful back and limbs. The massive head sitting atop a thickly veined neck sported a protruding snout, pointy-tipped ears and teeth too long to fit in the beast’s mouth. His canines lengthened in anticipation of meeting flesh; his mouth watered as it readied itself for the taste of blood. But its eyes—its eyes were beautiful. It may worship the moon but it was the sun reflected when he was more animal than man—two burning, golden orbs that were bright as the star at noontime on a clear day. In calmer times its eyes were the color of molten metal. When its form broke and mended, melted like warm wax, reshaped itself and cooled; man, beast or animal, its eyes remained the same. When its body lied, its eyes told the truth. It was not human. It took a step forward like a nightmare emerging from dark waters.
Marijuana hadn’t dulled the primal instinct of self-preservation, the man was up and running before his stoned mind registered exactly what his eyes widened at the sight of. There was no time to scream, he used everything in him to run for his life. The beast stopped only long enough to howl. The blood-curdling sound filled the night, silencing every creature within hearing distance. There were predators, and then there was . . . more. A thing so deadly that the respect paid was not earned, not taken or given, it just was. Like the sun rising in the east, or the moon controlling the tide.
A few steps were all the man made before he was taken down from behind. His mouth opened in a silent scream because sometimes pain is so great it steals the ability to make sound. Claws dug deep, one in his back, the other in his thigh and he was flipped over. Ropes of saliva dropped on his panicked face, ran in rivers into his matted hair. The beast buried its nose in the man’s neck and inhaled. It was a lot like smelling good food before digging in. It was exactly that. Moving quick as a viper, it struck. Not at the neck but in the man’s side, giving the muted scream sustenance. The bite exposed spine.
The earth drank his life’s blood as greedily as the beast that fed off his flesh. Too weak from blood lost and shock to do more than whimper, the man prayed for unconsciousness. It was too much to watch himself being eaten alive. He’d never been a religious man but he thanked God as his vision blurred—then darkened.
Teeth closing around sinewy muscle, warm blood filling its mouth; the last of the man’s life drained from his body. When the slow, steady squirts of blood ceased when the heart stopped beating the beast roared in frustration. The man had been homeless and half starved. There had been little meat and he’d died too quickly. The beast liked eating while its prey’s heart beat strong within its body. He always saved it for last, relishing it like a piece of soft candy. Chewing the last of what was in his mouth he buried his snout in the opening in the man’s stomach, burrowing upward, beneath the ribcage, until he reached the heart. Still so warm that it was easy to imagine it pumping.


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