Howling Legion (Skinners, Book 2)

BOOK: Howling Legion (Skinners, Book 2)
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Skinners Book 2

Howling Legion
Marcus Pelegrimas

As always, I’d like to dedicate this to my wife, Megan,
for tolerating my ups and downs.

Contents

Prologue

Interstate 70 cut across Missouri like a belt that was…

Chapter 1

The baton in Paige’s hand had been carved from about…

Chapter 2

When Cole had arrived in Chicago to meet Paige for…

Chapter 3

Cole hadn’t felt comfortable anywhere since he’d seen his first…

Chapter 4

Lisa Wilson knew better than to walk by herself at…

Chapter 5

It was well past two in the morning, but there…

Chapter 6

The entrance to the Blood Parlor was just what anyone…

Chapter 7

As Cole kicked the chair away from the door, he…

Chapter 8

“That was great!” Paige said while steering the Cav onto…

Chapter 9

It was a long drive to Schaumburg, but thanks to…

Chapter 10

Paige’s hand locked around Daniels’s wrist to pull his finger…

Chapter 11

Paige jumped through the hole in the floor that led…

Chapter 12

A sharp rattle snapped Cole out of a heavy, dreamless…

Chapter 13

Werewolves came in a variety of flavors. In his short…

Chapter 14

It was past eleven-thirty by the time Officer Stanze drove…

Chapter 15

Sometimes Paige would eat anything that wasn’t trying to run…

Chapter 16

Forest Hill Cemetery was a large, sprawling property surrounded by…

Chapter 17

Cole had never felt so scared and so stupid at…

Chapter 18

The first two Half Breeds exploded from the shadows amid…

Chapter 19

The closest thing to a cop that Paige and Cole…

Chapter 20

It was a nice house built on a quiet block…

Chapter 21

Paige twitched a few times, rolled onto her back, stretched…

Chapter 22

Cole sat in the car and tapped his fingers on…

Chapter 23

It was about a three-hour drive into Omaha from Kansas…

Chapter 24

When Cole and Paige drove back into Omaha, they were…

Chapter 25

The first thing Cole thought about when he felt the…

Chapter 26

Mick, Val, and Quentin stayed behind to continue their investigation.

Chapter 27

Cole raced to the window but stopped short of jumping…

Chapter 28

Liam covered the first few miles in a loping run.

Chapter 29

Liam’s feet slammed against the pavement with enough force for…

Chapter 30

Paige hung onto her weapons with a grip that was…

Chapter 31

Cole’s spear hit Paige’s upraised baton with a crack that…

Epilogue

The chamber was so hot and cramped that it might…

 

Prologue

Thirty miles east of Kansas City, Missouri

Interstate 70 cut across Missouri like a belt that was hitched just a bit too high upon the state’s hips. The drive from St. Louis shouldn’t have taken more than three or four hours, but thanks to miles upon miles of orange cones, closed lanes, and detours, it took that long for Bob Rothbard to see any open road. Then again, nobody native to that area would have expected anything else during the middle of summer. There was even an old joke that the four seasons in Missouri were winter, autumn, spring, and construction. Unfortunately, construction was also hot.

Unrelentingly sticky heat seeped in through the cracks of Bob’s overly accessorized SUV like tendrils invading his air-conditioned sanctum. It crept through the vents and pulled beads of sweat down his wide, rounded face. Dark circles spread out from his armpits and dotted his light blue dress shirt. Tugging at the buttons running down his chest, he flapped his shirt to work up something of a breeze beneath the starched cotton.

Just as he was about to reach for the radio, Bob remembered the new remote controls he’d recently added to his steering wheel. Considering how much he paid to install the added convenience, he’d be damned if he would go back to doing things the old way. He ran his stumpy fingers over
the little buttons that operated the cruise control, headlights, and garage door before finding the miniaturized controls dangling just low enough to scrape his right knee whenever he made a sharp turn. Grunting as he tried to push a button without hitting the one beside it, he finally unleashed some Creedence Clearwater Revival that was loud enough to put a smirk onto his face.

Bouncing his knee and slapping the steering wheel as close to the beat as his chromosomes would allow, Bob gazed at the road he’d all but neglected during his tussle with the radio. Not that there was much to miss. Missouri was scenic in parts, but his view for most of the day had been marred by cement dividers and flashing signs warning him about the next set of dividers. One sign told him to slow down to 50 mph, but he ignored it. No cops were in sight. There were no workers to be found. Creedence was playing. He wasn’t about to stop for anyone.

Bob sang in the wrong key, injecting lyrics he’d misinterpreted since the first time he’d ever heard the song. Getting into his performance even more, he slapped the wheel hard enough for his left pinky to knock against the button that had been installed for easier access to his headlights. When his lights flicked off, he cursed and tried to find the switch again.

He accidentally pressed the garage door opener.

The side of his hand hit the radio control.

His left knee crushed the cell phone attached to the dash by a wire bracket.

Bob finally got his lights back on just in time to swerve away from the shoulder and back onto the road. His heart raced as he overcompensated for his lapse. His hands wrapped tightly around the only two clear spots on the steering wheel and his eyes soaked up everything in front of his SUV. The skies had darkened enough for the newly paved highway to blend in with the flat ground on either side of it. Because the vehicle raised him comfortably above the common folks in their little cars, and his lights had been accidentally flipped to high beam, he could see all the way to the next green mile marker on the side of the road.

A car in the oncoming lane flashed its brights and honked in a polite little beep, so Bob lowered his window and flipped the guy off. Fully satisfied with himself, he raised the window, turned up Creedence and slammed into a mountain of black fur that took up his entire lane.

Bob’s air bag exploded from his steering wheel and hit him in the face like a prizefighter wearing a canvas pillow around his fist. The SUV’s front end groaned as the back end lifted up off its tires, hung there for a second, and dropped back down again. He pulled in a breath, but immediately regretted it. His back and neck hurt like hell and he thought he might have broken his nose. The bitter, coppery taste of his own blood trickled down his throat.

Bob pushed the air bag away from his face. The more pain he felt, the more he flailed to clear his line of sight.

“What the hell?” he grumbled. “Did I hit something?”

As soon as the air bag was out of his way, he looked through his cracked windshield. A glow appeared upon the pavement and grew as it brought along the roar of an approaching engine behind him. The roar was quickly joined by the blaring of a horn and the squeal of tires.

Realizing his window was up, he tried to lower it, but could only get it down halfway. That was enough for him to stick his chin to the opening and scream, “Go around me, asshole!”

His engine was still running but sounded rough. The moment Bob touched the gas pedal, the SUV shuddered and lurched forward. He steered for the side of the road while mentally calculating how badly he’d be screwed by the local mechanics.

“I swear to Christ,” he growled as he slammed the SUV into Park and pulled the door handle, “if this is because of some damned deer or an idiot drunk, there’s gonna be hell to pay.”

It took some work, but Bob managed to get the door open. After wrestling to get free of his seat belt, he got out to survey the damage. He winced at the pain in his legs, gingerly touched his blood-smeared nose, and grunted, “Could’ve been worse.”

A few more cars sped past, all of which made sure to give him plenty of space as they continued along their way. Bob knew well enough that he would never have stopped if the situation were reversed, but swore under his breath at the fact that nobody stopped for him. He swore even louder when he saw the mangled fender, broken headlight, and cracked grille on the front of his beloved SUV. Wisps of smoke curled from the engine and something under the hood rattled. Even though he didn’t know a lot about cars, he knew sounds like that were always expensive.

Now that he was looking at the front end of the SUV, he could see long, wiry strands of black hair snagged upon the mangled grille.

“Damn animal,” Bob grunted. “I knew it. At least I killed the son of a bitch.”

Looking around to verify that statement, he realized there was no carcass on the pavement. He squinted toward the shoulder of the highway but could only see a shadowy outline of some trees and a few buildings much farther along the road. About a hundred yards away a billboard from the Missouri Department of Transportation promised SMOOTH ROADS AHEAD in friendly, illuminated letters.

Another car whipped by, splashing its headlights upon mile marker twenty-six. The flash caused Bob to shade his eyes and shift his focus back to his vehicle. As he walked around to get a look at the passenger side of the SUV, he skidded on the unpaved shoulder.

Something moved a bit farther off the road. Seconds later a pair of crystalline eyes caught a faint glimmer from the starry sky. By the time Bob realized the creature behind those eyes was running toward him, there was nothing he could do about it.

The beast’s torso had the mass of a bear, but was shorter in length and wider around the chest. Its front legs were just over half as long as its hind legs, and all four paws were capped by claws that dug trenches into the gritty Missouri dirt. Its eyes flashed in the light of another approaching car, and before Bob could cry out to that fellow motorist, the beast had knocked him flat onto the ground.

His entire body ached from the crash and his head was spinning. The sky and ground tumbled as if wrestling with each other. When his back hit something solid, he got a real close look at one of his brand new radial tires. The paw that hit the ground beside him seemed almost as big as the tire itself. Its fur stank of hot motor oil and antifreeze.

Bob tried to sit up, but was roughly pushed down again. Claws the length of his hand punctured his chest, holding him in place as wide, unnaturally clear eyes glared down at him. The beast’s pointed ears, long snout, and wet nose had a vaguely canine appearance and were covered in black fur. A wide mouth filled with rows of dagger-sized teeth stretched all the way back to the base of its skull. Whenever Bob squirmed, the black creature leaned down to mash its paw a little harder against his chest. Flecks of chrome from the SUV’s bumper were snagged within the beast’s fur along with chunks of colored plastic from the headlight and turn signal.

“Get away from me,” Bob snapped in the gruffest tone he could manage. “Go on! Scat!”

The creature curled its lips and studied him carefully. If he hadn’t known any better, Bob would have sworn it was grinning at him.

Another car whipped past the SUV. When the creature turned its head toward the highway, Bob slapped at the paw on his chest and attempted to slide out from under it. His plan was to get away from whatever the hell the thing was and climb into his SUV. Even if there was a lot of damage done to the vehicle, he should be able to get to a gas station or something. He might have ripped apart the engine or every other piece of machinery under the SUV’s hood, but at least he could get away from the wolf-thing.

It was a good plan.

Unfortunately, it came up short when his fist pounded against the creature’s front paw without putting a dent into its thick, wiry fur. In response to the pathetic attempt, the creature snapped its head forward to sink its upper teeth into the meat of Bob’s shoulder and the lower set into the flabby layers of his left breast. Bob’s eyes were wide-open, but his
vision was clouded by a pulsing field of dark colors. The creature’s teeth drilled down far enough to hit bone, turning Bob’s pain into a solid thing that rose up in the back of his throat to choke him into silence. As the wolf-thing dragged him away from the SUV, Bob scraped and kicked the gravelly earth. Every time he moved, the creature’s fangs tore his flesh a little more.

Bob tried to grab the creature’s face or claw at its eyes, but he only had the strength for a couple fumbling slaps before clenching his eyes shut tight enough for tears to burn out of him like kidney stones. Even when the dragging stopped, the black creature’s teeth were still in him. Straining to look up, he could see one of the beast’s crystalline eyes staring right back down at him. It wasn’t the eye of a wild animal. In fact, the thing didn’t even seem hungry. It wasn’t mauling him or tearing away pieces of meat. It simply watched.

Whenever Bob tried to squirm, the creature subtly shifted its weight or adjusted the angle of its head to keep him in place. After a few moments it lifted its paw to place it gently upon the ground next to Bob’s leg. Its lips curled up as if to let Bob know there were several more inches of fangs that could be driven into his chest if the need arose.

As the cold, clammy certainty of death seeped through him, Bob lifted a hand to grab at the creature’s eye. His hand was less than a quarter of the way there before a growl churned from within the creature that Bob could feel all the way to his fingertips. Along with that sound there came the subtle squish of hellishly long teeth being carefully eased from the pits they had dug into his flesh. The creature then twisted its head about half a degree to one side and sank its fangs in while scraping against a shoulder blade and pushing against a rib.

The wave of pain that followed was enough to take all the fight from Bob Rothbard. He slumped against the ground and let his eyes settle into a comfortable spot. A few cars roared past, but they were too far away to do him any good. Bob could no longer even see the glow of headlights. Pain had become a numb chill, which trickled into his core where
it became a burning knot. His guts clenched to kick up a load of bile that rose to the back of his throat before receding.

The creature watched him carefully. When Bob went completely limp, it opened its mouth to pull the long, stalactite fangs straight out of him.

A wet sucking sound filled Bob’s ears. He couldn’t move. Blood pooled inside each wound before leaking out and spilling onto the ground.

Bob Rothbard was dying.

The creature with the black fur reared up onto hind legs that creaked like old lumber, to become longer than they’d been a few moments ago. After a few bones cracked into place, the creature was able to stand upright. Its gaping smile shrank down a bit and some of its teeth retracted into bloody gums. As its head stretched into this new form, a patch of white fur on its nose thinned out just enough to reveal a jagged scar. The creature stood like a terrible sentinel watching over its meal. All the lights from the highway or the heavens were barely strong enough to cast a glow upon its coal-black fur. When the sound of a passing truck receded, the beast knelt down to enclose both of Bob’s feet within one elongated hand.

“Wh-Why?” Bob groaned.

Although it had started dragging Bob by the legs, the creature stopped and hunkered down as if mimicking the four-legged thing it had been a few moments ago. Tall enough to lean toward Bob’s face without compromising its grip upon his feet, it lowered its round, wet nose to Bob’s wounds.

Gazing up at the creature in the same confused reverence he would give to a tornado, Bob moaned, “Why…me?”

What flashed across the creature’s face began as anger but quickly shifted into disgust.

Bob was dragged even farther away from his SUV before being set aside. From there, the creature started to scoop out handfuls of earth and toss them into the darkness. Suddenly, it stopped digging. When it found Bob curled into a sobbing ball, it became even more enraged. Thick, meaty fingers wrapped around Bob’s torso, lifted him up and slammed him down.

Bob hit the ground as if he’d been dropped from a hundred feet in the air. When the beast spoke, it was in a growl that was colored by a rough cockney accent. “Your whole filthy, noisy species are only good at two things.” The creature lifted Bob up over its head. “Breeding,” it snarled as it cracked Bob’s spine against a rock. “And whining!”

Holding onto Bob’s crushed body, the creature lifted him up so he could stare directly into the human’s glazed eyes. “Strutting and boasting when you get your way, but listen to you blubber when things take a turn you don’t like. ‘Why me?’”

When Bob Rothbard hit the rock again, his entire body conformed to its shape as if he’d been pasted onto the uneven surface.

BOOK: Howling Legion (Skinners, Book 2)
8.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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