Read Full MoonCity Online

Authors: Darrell Schweitzer,Martin Harry Greenberg,Lisa Tuttle,Gene Wolfe,Carrie Vaughn,Esther M. Friesner,Tanith Lee,Holly Phillips,Mike Resnick,P. D. Cacek,Holly Black,Ian Watson,Ron Goulart,Chelsea Quinn Yarbro,Gregory Frost,Peter S. Beagle

Tags: #thriller

Full MoonCity (3 page)

BOOK: Full MoonCity
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Mel stood frozen, with no idea of what to say. It turned out her lack of response said it all.

“No,” he said flatly, as his expression changed, blood shining dully in his cheeks. “So obvious-what you are-stupid of me-I see now.”

His wife was already standing. He got up, too, and they left without another word. The single woman went after them, and then the other couple. Only the two single men remained.

Mel looked at them, wanting to pass off the defection of the others with some light comment, but afraid. She’d given herself away. Judging from the woman’s reaction,
lycanthropy
was not a term they used among themselves. And somehow
pack
was wrong, too, and maybe even
werewolf.
What did they call themselves? She tried to get some clue from the argument she’d witnessed, running it back through her head, but she’d been silent too long; she must have seemed utterly defeated, with nothing more to say, because the dirty man got up to go.

“Wait!” she called out. “Please don’t leave.”

He stopped and looked at her. She saw, beneath the grease and dirt and stubble that he might be quite attractive, and was spurred to make an effort. “I’m not… what he thought. And… maybe I did it wrong, the way I proposed this meeting and all, but I still… there’s a good reason for it,” she went on, desperately improvising. “I’d really like to talk to you. Can we just talk?”

His eyes bored into hers until she felt dizzy. “Okay,” he said, and stood there, relaxed, light on his feet, arms loose at his sides, waiting.

“Well… want to go for a drink somewhere?”

He shook his head, and her heart plummeted. But he plucked at his filthy T-shirt and smiled wryly. “I’m not fit for human company now. I came here straight from fixing my truck. I should have cleaned up first, but I was running late. We could make it another night.”

Her heart gave a hopeful leap. “Fine, yes, let’s. When?”

“Uh… how about Tuesday?”

She knew-they both knew-that would be the night of the full moon. Her mouth dried. She could only stare back at him with widening eyes and nod her head.

“All right. You like barbecue?”

“Sure.”

“Goode Company, on Kirby…”

“I know it.”

It was her favorite place for a sliced beef sandwich, even if it was always crowded at lunch. It was well inside the Loop, not far from where she worked. She wondered if that was home territory for him, or-deliberately? -not.

“Five-thirty all right with you?”

That would give him plenty of time to get far away from her after they’d eaten, long before the moon would rise, if he decided he couldn’t trust her. Fair enough. She nodded again.

“See you then,” he said. She stood watching the space where he’d been until a small sound reminded her she wasn’t alone.

The overweight young man in the short-sleeved white shirt stood up, his red lips stretched into a predatory smile. “I’ll take you up on that drink, right now,” he said. “I’d like to talk.”

She didn’t want to, but she made herself smile back in a friendly way.

“There’s coffee here,” she pointed out.

He wrinkled his nose. “Bet it’s nasty. Anyway, I’d rather have something cold. There’s a TGIF just off the feeder, how about that?”

“All right…”

“ Devon. I’m Devon.”

“I’m Mel.” They walked out together.

“What’s that short for, Melanie? Melissa? Melinda? No? Um, Okay, let me think. Melody? Melanctha?”

As they exited the building into the parking lot, he abandoned his guesses to suggest it would be a sensible, gas-saving measure to go in one car. “I have to swing back this way anyway on my way home.”

“Well, I don’t,” she said. “And I’m not leaving my ride.” She put on her helmet as she spoke, and indicated her Honda Nighthawk. “Meet you at Friday’s.”

 

TGIFs could be crowded and noisy at certain times, but a quarter to nine on a Thursday night was not one of them. Devon ordered a beer and a plate of nachos, and pressed her to have a specialty cocktail when she said she didn’t like beer, but she stuck to iced tea.

“Worried you might get drunk? Scared I might take advantage of you?” He gave her a loose-lipped leer. “You got a long way to go? I’d be happy to drive you home.”

“No thanks.” What a creep. She couldn’t see herself putting up with this human personality even if he did turn into a wolf once a month, but he let fall various comments that made her feel sure he was another supernatural groupie, like herself. She had no idea if he believed her claim to be a werewolf, or if it was enough for him that she was female and hadn’t actually run away screaming.

Half an hour of his undiluted company was more than enough. Even though she brushed off his attempts to get her phone number and made it clear that she had no interest in seeing him again, she left by the back alley-an easy route for the Nighthawk, but it might be tricky for his Suburban. Instead of following the tollway feeder as usual, she took off into the nearest neighborhood, accepting the thirty-mile-per-hour speed limit and a meandering journey home for the certainty that she had well and truly lost her unwanted companion.

Ari-that was the formerly dirty man’s name-cleaned up beautifully. She wouldn’t even have recognized him on Tuesday if he hadn’t been waiting for her in the Goode Company parking lot and said hello as she was about to walk past.

His voice was the same, but-shaved, hair washed and fluffy, exuding a faint aroma of green tea and figs, attired in faded jeans and a snug black T-shirt-he was a different person, really quite dangerously attractive. Luckily, he noticed the Nighthawk, and that gave her a moment to recover outside the full beam of his attention.

“Wow, you have a bike.”

“Uh-huh. You?”

His lips pursed and he shook his head. “I wish. Maybe, if I make a little more money this year, I could afford…”

“You have a car, don’t you?”

He frowned. “So?”

“I mean, you could trade it in. You don’t need more than one set of wheels, do you?”

He shrugged uncertainly. “I’d rather just use it for fun, especially if I had somebody to ride with.” He gave her a look that was a reminder of her public claim to be lonely, wanting a pack to run with, and she became aware she was on a precipice, with no idea of how to talk herself down from her lie.

“Let’s go in,” she said quickly. “I’m starved, and the smell of meat is driving me crazy!”

Despite her words-and the fact that she’d had nothing to eat all day but a banana-pecan muffin and a skinny latte-Mel managed to consume barely half her sandwich, and that was a struggle. The sheer physical excitement of being close to this handsome werewolf, along with the fear that at any moment she’d say something to reveal her true nature and drive him away, made it tough to swallow.

They sat out on the patio to eat-the open air was humid and hot, but far from the unbearable sauna it would be in a few weeks-and while James McMurtry’s latest songs played in the background, they talked about themselves. Neither so much as hinted at the W-word, but concentrated on ordinary, ground-laying stuff about jobs and schools, musical preferences, and the best things on YouTube this week. It could have been any ordinary first date. Except that she’d never felt so nervous and excited, never had so much pent-up emotion invested in the outcome of any other date in her life. Maybe this was how women had felt in the olden days, when to sleep with a man was to seal your fate.

She heard very little of what Ari said; her attention was too involved with monitoring his responses to her. She knew he was attracted to her, and it was clearly no simpler for him than it was for her-she could feel the wary tingling of his nerves as he tried to make his mind up, which instinct to follow, to trust her, or not? It was all very nerve-wracking, but, in the end, as she’d hoped, he went with the physical attraction.

It was barely six-thirty, still daylight, when he suggested going back to his place.

“It’s not far,” he said. “We can have coffee, and I’ve got some Ben and Jerry’s in the ice box.”

“You give good directions?”

“No, I’m going to drive.”

She shook her head. “I’m not leaving my ride.”

He smiled slyly. “You don’t have to leave your ride. Wait’ll you see mine.”

It was an old Ford pickup truck, really old, like something her grandfather had owned. The back panel lay down to form a ramp; she could have ridden the Nighthawk up and in if she’d cared to. “There’s even a blanket to keep it warm, and a tarp to keep it dry if it rains. Not that it will rain.”

“Very cozy.”

“My neighbors think it drives down property values when I park it out front, but I’ve never had a more useful vehicle.”

“I bet.”

“So, are we on? Will you trust me to take you there?”

It seemed like a test, like, what would a real werewolf do? Maybe she should insist on keeping her own independence, but the connection between them was still so tenuous, she was afraid of losing him in the diabolical traffic that clogged the freeways at this time of day. What if she missed the exit and never saw him again?

“We’ll trust you,” she said.

“All right!”

They didn’t have to go on the freeway at all; it turned out that Goode Company really was Ari’s local barbecue place. His house was in an old neighborhood a few blocks off Bissonnet. Although several houses on his street were huge, recent constructions likely valued at half a million or more, his was the original bungalow built on the lot back in the 1950s. She remembered he’d told her he was an orphan, his mother having passed just a year ago, and wondered if it had been his childhood home.

But, inside, it had the feeling of a place not long occupied. The walls were a freshly painted white, with no pictures or ornaments, and the furniture was sparse and new-looking.

He made coffee, and they made meaningless small talk, standing in the kitchen while they waited for it to brew. She could tell that he was nervous and excited, too, and she wondered how much time they’d have to make love before he began to change. How sudden would it be? And how much conscious control would he have? Would he attack her? And if he did, would it be with the aim of changing her, or to kill? Was she crazy to put herself at his mercy like this?

“Are you cold? I left the air-conditioning on, but-”

“No, I’m not cold. Not at all. The opposite, really.” Her gaze locked on his until he came forward and put his arms around her. They kissed for a while as her legs grew weak, and finally he suggested they move to the bedroom.

The bed faced an uncurtained window onto a backyard screened by a privacy fence.

“I can close it if you want, but nobody can see in, and with it open like this, when the moon comes up…”

“Mmm, nice,” she said quickly, sensing she was meant to finish the sentence and not knowing how. To distract him, she stripped off her top.

They made love, and the room grew thick with shadows as, outside, evening darkened into night.

When would it happen? Mel wondered as they lay tangled together, resting. She was alert, too tightly wound up with anticipation to truly relax, but she guessed from the laxness of Ari’s muscles, and the slow rhythm of his breath, that he’d fallen asleep. Presumably he’d wake up before he changed-wouldn’t he? Surely he couldn’t be so casual about it that he’d risk sleeping through the big event! But maybe it made no difference.

She tried not to fidget, tried not to be impatient, but her leg, trapped beneath one of his, began to cramp. She had to push him to free herself. “Sorry,” she whispered, and kissed his shoulder. No response. When she let him go he flopped back, a dead weight, and as she listened, she became aware of how silent the room had become; she could no longer hear his breathing.

“Ari?” She bit her lip, then laid her ear to his chest. Inside, his heart went on beating, and when she held her own and strained to hear, she could just make out the slow exhalation of his breath.

She looked out the window and saw the silver gleam of the full moon hanging low above the treetops.

She pressed his bare upper arm, squeezed it, tried to shake him awake as she said his name, but there was no response. She gently nibbled his ear, then blew in it, before giving it a sharper nip, but he didn’t so much as flinch or groan. If she hadn’t been able to feel his warmth and the continued slow thump of his heart, she could have thought him dead. Turning on the light, she leaned over him, lightly slapped his cheeks, then clapped her hands.

“Ari! Get up now!”

Not a twitch in reply. Lifting his eyelids, she saw his eyes were rolled up in his head.

She sat back on her heels. Her vision blurred, and then hot, fat tears rolled down her cheeks. Now she understood how a werewolf could spend the night under observation, and the hospital staff would never see anything they could not explain. Nothing happened, except inside his head, or inside the head of anyone who thought he was a werewolf.

For a while she wept, mourning the loss of her long-cherished dream. Then she went to the bathroom, had a shower, and dressed herself. When she came out, Ari was still lying as flat and motionless as a corpse on the bed. She supposed he’d be like that until dawn, when he’d wake up believing his wolf dreams were true.

Her hands clenched as she looked at him, and she felt a terrible urge to take revenge on his body; not to kill him, but to slash and cut and mutilate, to leave the mark of her anger and disappointment in a way he’d never be able to forget.

But that would not be fair. Of the two of them, she was the only liar.

So she forced down her fury, and turned away and went out into the night.

She was too angry, unhappy, and restless to go home; a long ride was the only thing that might make her feel better. She got on Highway 59, then took 45 going south. The flow of this main artery took her through the heart of the city and out, through south Houston, past old Hobby Airport, and down through the sprawling coastal suburbs, until she finally, truly felt she’d left the city behind. Past League City and La Marque, and then over the bridge to Galveston Island.

Tooling along Seawall, she spotted the giant shrimp on top of Casey’s and realized she was hungry, so she stopped for a big plate of cold shrimp with Cajun hot sauce and plenty of Saltine crackers, washed down with a light beer. Afterward, she rode the whole length of the island, all the way through the state park at the far end, where the darkness of night and the warm salty air and the empty space all around combined to soothe her troubled soul.

BOOK: Full MoonCity
13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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