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Authors: Gary Brandner

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The Howling II

BOOK: The Howling II
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THE HOWLING II

Gary Brandner

 

It had begun again…

Prologue

LOS ANGELES (UPI) - A fire of undetermined origin swept through a narrow valley in the Tehachapi Mountains north of Los Angeles yesterday, virtually wiping out the tiny village of Drago. Firefighters from Los Angeles and Ventura Counties brought the blaze under control early this morning, and had it extinguished before it could threaten any of the neighboring communities.

As yet there has been no reported contact with any of the residents of Drago. Authorities refused to make an estimate on the number of casualties as crews were still sifting through the ashes for victims.

The only known survivors at this hour are Mrs. Karyn Beatty and a friend, Christopher Halloran, both of Los Angeles. Mrs. Beatty’s husband was missing and believed to have perished in the fire. Halloran and Mrs. Beatty declined to speak with reporters.

According to U.S. Forest Ranger Phil Henry, the final death toll may never be known. Since Drago was not an incorporated town, no accurate records were kept of its population. It is estimated that between one hundred and two hundred people lived there. So intense was the blaze, which destroyed two hundred acres of timber in addition to the village, that searchers are finding it difficult to distinguish human remains from those of animals.

Chapter 1

KARYN KNELT ON THE moist grass and worked with her fingers in the dirt around the roots of the rose bush. There were no flowers on the bush, and there should have been. Karyn felt she was somehow responsible. Although David had never mentioned it, she was sure his first wife had been a gifted gardener. That was the trouble with marrying a widower - the departed wife was always good at everything.

As for Karyn, except for her houseplants, which enjoyed a special place in her affections, she had little interest in or aptitude for gardening. Outdoor plants, she felt, ought to be able to take care of themselves. However, David and Dr. Goetz thought getting outside and working with her hands was good for her, and she did not want to disappoint them.

While she poked idly at the damp earth, Karyn let her mind wander. There was vacation time to be worked out for Mrs. Jensen, the housekeeper, and a Parents’ Day coming up at Joey’s summer school. She smiled, pleased at the commonplace concerns that occupied her mind these days. It was a healthy sign, she thought.

Karyn did not hear the soft approach of the padded feet behind her. The first indication she was not alone was the huff of warm breath on the back of her neck. She started to rise, lost her balance, and fell awkwardly to the ground.

She looked up and saw the other face staring down into hers. Its black lips were stretched in a canine grimace, the yellowed teeth bared. She tried to squirm away, but two heavy paws pinned her as the animal dropped its weight on her chest.

In that instant, all the horror of Drago flooded back from the closed-off portion of her mind. The wolfish face with its long, cruel teeth came at her. She screamed. The weight on her chest lessened for a moment, and she rolled away, curling herself protectively into a ball. She felt the animal prod at her, trying to turn her over. She screamed again.

The back door of the house banged open and a solid woman with graying, blond hair rushed out. She ran heavily toward Karyn, still lying on the ground by the rose bushes.

“Bristol, stop that!” the woman called. “Come here, you bad boy.”

Cautiously Karyn opened her eyes. A few feet away, Mrs. Jensen stood with her hands planted on her hips. Sidling toward her, a don’t-hit-me look in its eyes, was a coltish young German shepherd.

“Shame on you,” Mrs. Jensen scolded the dog. “Frightening people like that.” She seized him by the collar and tapped him lightly on the nose. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Richter. He’s just an overgrown puppy. He wanted to play, that’s all.”

The back door burst open again and David Richter hurried out. He was a man of forty-eight, with a strong, serious face. He wore a sweater and slacks, this being Sunday, but he never seemed really comfortable without the three-piece suit he wore daily to the brokerage.

Karyn rose unsteadily to her feet. David ran across the lawn to her side and took her arm.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” Karyn said, still out of breath. “It’s nothing.”

David turned on Mrs. Jensen, who was still holding the dog by his collar. The dog kept lunging up, trying to lick her face.

“What’s that dog doing here?” David demanded.

“It’s my sister’s puppy,” Mrs. Jensen said. “He didn’t mean any harm.”

“You know we don’t allow animals here,” David said.

“I was just watchin’ the dog for an hour while my sister went to the dentist. She didn’t want to leave him alone.”

“Well, get him out of here,” David ordered. “And don’t ever bring a dog to this house again.”

“David, it’s not that serious,” Karyn said. “The dog just caught me by surprise.”

“He didn’t mean any harm,” Mrs. Jensen said again.

“Yes, yes, all right,” David said, softening his tone a bit, “but I want him out of here right now.”

“Yes, Mr. Richter,” she said. And to the dog: “Come along, you bad boy.”

As Mrs. Jensen led the dog around the side of the house, a dark-eyed boy of six dashed through the door and across the lawn to where Karyn and David stood.

“What happened?” the boy said, looking from one of the adults to the other.

Karyn ruffled his hair. “It’s all right, Joey. I was just startled by a dog.”

“A dog?” The boy looked around eagerly. “Where is he?”

“Never mind,” said David. “Mrs. Jensen took him away. You go inside now and wash up for dinner.”

Joey looked wistfully off in the direction the housekeeper had taken the dog. “Can’t I just go and see him? Just for a minute?”

“Inside, Joey,” said David. The boy trudged back across the grass and into the house.

“I feel so guilty because he can’t have a pet,” Karyn said.

“It won’t hurt him to do without one. Now let me help you inside. You’re still shaking.”

“Really, David, I’m quite all right,” Karyn said, but she allowed herself to be led into the house.

“Sit down there in the big chair,” David said when they reached the living room. “Put your feet up.”

Karyn did as she was told.

“Now wait right there and I’ll get something to calm your nerves.” He went off to the kitchen, and returned a minute later carrying a tall glass.

“Here’s a nice glass of milk,” he said.

A nice shot of Scotch would do her nerves a whole lot more good, Karyn thought, but she smiled her thanks and took the glass from David’s hand.

He stood with his arms folded, studying her gravely as she sipped at the milk. “You gave me quite a scare.”

“I’m sorry.”

“What a shame that this should happen just when you seemed to be getting better.”

Karyn set the glass down carefully on the end table next to the chair. “I hate that expression,” she said. “Getting better. It’s a constant reminder that I’m a convalescent mental case.”

“I didn’t mean it that way. It’s just that I’m a little disappointed that, after a year, Dr. Goetz hasn’t done more for you. Do you think we should try someone else?”

“Dr. Goetz is as good as any of them,” Karyn said. “Really, David, you’re making too much out of this. The dog came up behind me and took me by surprise. I overreacted, that’s all.”

“The dog,” David said, watching her. “It reminded you of that Drago business, didn’t it?”

Sure. That Drago business. The unpleasantness in the mountains. Nothing remarkable, really, just fighting off a pack of werewolves and seeing your husband change into… Karyn broke off the thought and shuddered.

David moved quickly to her side. “I’m sorry, dear, I shouldn’t have brought that up.”

Karyn squeezed his hand. “No, darling, it should never become a taboo subject, or I will be in trouble. And you’re right about the dog. Seeing its face suddenly so close to mine took me back for a moment to Drago. It’s been only three years, you know, and we’ve got to expect incidents like that from time to time.”

“And you’re still having the dreams, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Karyn admitted. “But not so often, any more.”

David frowned. “When is your next appointment with Goetz?”

“Tomorrow.”

“And you really think he’s helping you?”

“As much as anyone could.”

David patted her hand awkwardly. “All right, then, we’ll go on with him. I just hope he can make you see that this Drago business is all - behind you.”

As she lay that night in bed beside her sleeping husband, Karyn recalled his words. She knew that what he had started to say was “all in your mind.” She would be happier than anyone to be convinced of that, but it was not so. Drago was as real as the moon outside their bedroom window, and much closer. The werewolves were real too. And somewhere, Karyn knew, one or more of them survived.

*****

Nine hundred miles away, in the grape country of California, another woman lay awake beside her man. Her long, supple body gleamed like old ivory in the moonlight. Across the pillow, her hair spread in gentle waves of glossy black, shot through with a startling streak of silver.

The man stirred in his sleep. The woman quieted him with a hand on his broad, bare shoulder.

“Rest easy, my lover,” she whispered. “Soon we will have much work to do.”

Chapter 2

FROM THE WINDOW of Dr. Arnold Goetz’s office in the new Farrell Building, Karyn could see the sailboats slamming across Lake Washington under a stiff westerly breeze. It was one of those brightly washed summer days when the dreary months of rain are forgotten and the people of Seattle go outdoors to celebrate the sun.

Karyn stood at the window talking in a flat, emotionless voice. Finally she said, “So that’s all there was to it. Just a silly incident with a dog, and it was all over in a minute.”

Dr. Goetz waited a full fifteen seconds. It was a technique of his that Karyn recognized. The purpose was to encourage the patient to elaborate on, or perhaps contradict, the last thought. When Karyn did not offer to continue, the doctor spoke.

“There is no doubt in your mind, then, that it was only a dog yesterday.”

Karyn spun around to face him. “Of course it was only a dog.” She walked over and sat down in the chair facing the doctor’s desk. “I was frightened for a moment because it brought back bad memories. That’s all.”

Dr. Goetz nodded sagely. “Yes, I see. And tell me about the dreams. You say you still have them?”

Karyn bit her lip and frowned. “Yes. And they worry me more than the business with the dog. Will I ever stop hearing it at night, Doctor? The howling?”

“You do understand that it is only in dreams that you hear this - howling?”

Karyn leaned back in the chair. Sunlight from the window caught her pale blond hair and made it a glowing frame for her face. She was twenty-eight now, and there were little lines at the corners of her eyes, but the touch of maturity only emphasized her beauty.

“Yes, Doctor,” she said wearily, “I know it only happens in dreams. Now. But three years ago in Drago, the howling was real. As real as death.”

Dr. Goetz touched his glasses. Karyn had determined that it was his unconscious gesture of disbelief. He put on an understanding smile.

“Yes, I see,” he said.

“Bullshit.”

The doctor brightened. Gut reactions always encouraged him.

“You don’t see at all,” Karyn told him. “You don’t believe Drago actually happened any more than my husband does. Any more than all the other people I’ve told about it.”

After his customary wait the doctor said, “Karyn, whether I believe or not isn’t important. What happened in the past or didn’t happen really doesn’t concern us. Our bag is the here and now. All that matters to us is how you feel about it.”

Karyn met the doctor’s sincere gaze. He was having a difficult time making the transition from the traditional Freudian to the trendy transactional school of analysis. Everybody’s got problems, she thought.

“What it makes me feel is scared shitless,” she said.

Pause.

“Why?”

“Because I know they aren’t all dead.”

“When you say ‘they,’ you mean - “

“I mean the wolves,” Karyn supplied. “The werewolves.”

She watched closely for a reaction - the narrowing of the eyes, or the little quirk, which she had seen so often, at the corner of his mouth. Dr. Goetz held his expression of friendly concern. He was good.

“Do you want to tell me about it?” he said.

“Doctor, I have told you about it.”

“Tell me again, if you think it would help.”

Hell, why not, Karyn thought. There was no pain in the telling any more, and that, at least, was an improvement. Maybe if she heard the story often enough herself it would become meaningless, the way a familiar word repeated over and over eventually becomes a nonsense sound.

She stood up again and walked back to the window. There, watching the peaceful scene down on the lake, she repeated the story of the damned village of Drago, and the six months she spent there with Roy Beatty.

BOOK: The Howling II
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