Authors: Marcus Pelegrimas
Tags: #Fantasy, #Horror, #Occult & Supernatural, #Contemporary, #Fiction
“Through a magical teleportation system that we opened up,” Cole said.
Stopping at the curb on the opposite side of the street, Paige spun around fast enough for the bobbed ends of her hair to whip against her cheek. “It’s not magic. There is no magic. You know I hate it when you write something off like that.”
Cole grinned and showed her a quick upward nod. “Yeah, I know. Isn’t it nice just being away from everyone?”
Although reluctant to cave in all the way, she did give him a few quick pats on the face that verged on slaps. “And here I thought you were getting sick of me.”
“Not when you play rough.”
“Very nice. Can you hand me that empty bottle?”
Looking down at the plethora of dead soldiers scattered on the strip of grass between the curb and sidewalk, he asked, “Which one?”
Opting for one of the bottles that contained a minimum of backwash, he grabbed it by the neck and handed it up to her. “Cleaning up the neighborhood?”
“Something like that.” Wearing one of the widest grins she’d had in a while, Paige wrapped her hand over the bottle’s soggy label and whipped it at the front porch that was currently infested with goateed guys who took their fashion advice from Super Bowl commercials. It sailed past their heads and straight into the window behind them. “Since you don’t seem to have a job,” she screamed at them, “spend a few minutes picking up your goddamn trash!”
The porch dudes were too stunned to respond.
“Better?” Cole asked.
The pickup was covered in a yellow paint that had been faded by decades of punishment from a relentless sun. Even after the sky’s glare faded to a soft, burnt orange, the truck still looked like something that had been flipped out of the proverbial frying pan. Its frame rattled around a powerful engine humming with a dull roar as it slowed to a stop on the shoulder of County Road 407. The passenger side window came down, allowing the driver’s voice to be heard as he leaned over and asked, “You need a ride, buddy?”
The man who’d been walking along the shoulder of the road kept his hands in the pockets of a Salvation Army overcoat. A mane of tangled dark brown hair flapped against his face when he turned to fix blue-gray eyes upon the driver. “No, thanks,” he said.
“You sure? It’s a few miles until the next gas station.”
“I’m sure. Thanks, anyway.”
The driver grumbled under his breath and raised the window.
Having heard the man’s snippy comment just fine, Mr. Burkis turned away from the truck and let it move along.
“Funny,” said a voice from the hills amid a rush of bounding footsteps and the skid of heels in rocky sand. “After all
the death that has been brought to them from strangers, they can still justify stopping to ask for more from a monster walking along the side of the highway.”
The county road cut through a section of exposed rock that made the area seem like something closer to a desert than a place within range of so many rivers and dams. No running water could be seen from this stretch of road, although both of the men who now faced each other could smell moisture in the air as easily as they could feel the fading sunlight upon their faces.
“Hitchhiking, Randolph?” the vaguely amused voice asked in a guttural cockney accent. “You’ve never been one to indulge in the finer things, but surely you don’t need to travel on human roads.”
The man in the overcoat wasn’t impressed by the display of speed that had brought the other fellow to his side. He merely stuck his hands deeper into his pockets, turned away from the road and started walking at a normal pace into the surrounding wilderness. The new arrival fell into step beside him, wearing a set of rags that wrapped around his waist and hung over his chest thanks to the good graces of a few stubborn strips of leather and canvas. He wore no shoes. The hair sprouting from the top of his head hung in strands like greasy wires. A jagged scar traced the side of his nose, but that was the least of his injuries. His right eye socket was filled with a mass of hardened flesh resembling wax that had been stirred to the point of hardening.
“I stuck to the roads because I knew that’s where I would find you, Liam.”
“Have I become so predictable?”
“Only since you’ve become famous.” Stopping after cresting a small rise, Burkis removed his hands from his pockets so he could cross his arms sternly over a chest that was thicker now than it had been a few moments ago. “Didn’t you get enough camera time in Kansas City?”
Liam smiled wider than any human could. The corners of his mouth stretched back to his ears, and a few of his teeth flowed into fangs as if melting down to points. “I made a damn fine run of it there, didn’t I?”
“You made a mess and you stirred up the Skinners, just like I said you would.”
“Always know best, eh, Randolph? Remember when you were the one listening to what I had to say?”
“That was a long time ago.”
“And in that time, you’ve become the one with all the answers?”
“This is my territory,” Burkis snarled. “You don’t get to come here and sully it by terrorizing humans for no reason. Feeding is one thing, but you’re—”
“Sending a message,” Liam snapped, in a way that sent his last syllables rolling along the tops of the hills. Immediately aware of the impact he’d made upon his environment, the man in rags lowered his chin as well as his voice. “So you found me. What do you want?”
Burkis pulled in half a breath and grimaced. “You reek of Mongrels.”
“Of course. The filthy buggers took me out of Kansas
“Before the Skinners could finish you off?”
“To be honest, I think they got closer to putting an end to my days than that group who cornered me in Whitechapel. I always knew the Mongrels were opportunistic little shits, but I never banked on them working with the Skinners.”
“That has yet to be determined,” Burkis said. “How did you get them to take your side?”
“A wild stab on my part. Common greed on theirs.” Casually shifting his gaze to the east, he squinted at the darkest horizon as if he could make out what was happening two states away. “I told the lot of them that Full Bloods are created when one of us bites one of them.”
“And they believed you?”
“One of them did. That’s all it took to get me out of there before I was damaged any further. After that, I suppose the one with the ambition had a convincing couple of words with some of his fellows, because getting bitten by me was all they could talk about when I woke up.”
“Please tell me you didn’t.”
“I did. Of course,” Liam added sheepishly, “some of them
didn’t make it. Seems those Mongrels aren’t put together as well as they like to think they are. They had me at a disadvantage so I nipped a few more. Only took some fingers and half an arm. Had to get down to the bone, after all.”
“I know that. What happened then?”
“What do you think happened? They changed.”
“Into something that’s close enough to a Full Blood to fool the likes of them.” Seeing the other man’s glare, Liam explained, “They’re stronger and bigger than what they started as, but they’re also a little slower. I’d say I did us a favor to that end. Takes away some of their speed advantage. Whether or not those Mongrels truly think they’re becoming Full Bloods, they trust me. I may possibly get more on my side. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”
Letting out a cynical huff from flared nostrils, Burkis asked, “You honestly believe they’d trust you after the history of blood spilled between our kinds? They took you away from the Skinners to use you, and they’ll keep using until they figure out a way to be rid of you.”
When Burkis started walking even farther from the road, Liam dashed around to get in front of him. “I know what I’m doing, Randolph! If you tracked me down to preach about the error of my ways yet again, you can stuff it up your self-righteous arse.”
“What I want is for you to help me find someone that can give us the answers we’ve all been after for longer than these cities have been scattered across this continent. We’ll need his help before one of the several that may have gotten your message pays us a visit.”
Not only did that cause Liam to straighten his posture, but it put a curious tilt into the angle of his head. “Go on.”
“I want to meet the Mongrels you changed. I’ve seen you in those videos that the humans have been passing around.”
“Ah yes. That motorist with the cameras. They all have cameras these days, don’t they?”
“And they spread their pictures like rumors over a campfire,” Burkis said.
“Have the Skinners seen my movies?”
“I’d wager so. But right now that’s not your concern. You were seen traveling with Mongrels, so I’m assuming those are the ones you altered. Any others wouldn’t split from their pack, and they sure as hell wouldn’t defer to you the way those did.”
“Wouldn’t be so sure about that.” Filling up the massive lungs within his chest, Liam expelled his breath and said, “But I could hardly ever slip one past you, Randolph. They’re not far from here. Maybe ten or twenty miles up in the mountains.”
“Take me to them.”
When he backed away from Burkis, Liam hunched over and pulled his shoulders back while lowering his head. A ripple passed through his body that started from his ribs and flowed out in every direction, to stretch his skin and align his bones into a new pattern. His upper body became too heavy to maintain an upright stance, so he dropped down to all fours. Newly formed claws scraped at the dry earth, digging ruts into the ground as his legs became the hindquarters of an animal. His mouth extended into a snout, and the scar on his nose was soon covered by a patch of white fur that stood out from the rest of his coal black coat.
Randolph shrugged off his outermost layers of clothing before gripping the rocky surface beneath him. His body grew thick with layer upon layer of added muscle beneath dark brown fur. His shoulders and chest were accented by deep scars that looked more like scratches dug into the side of a mountain. The final moments of his transformation forced him to arch his back and hang his head as his face was bent into the fearsome visage of a Full Blood. Teeth stretched from his jaws, quickly becoming long enough to tear through his cheeks. When he opened his mouth and lifted his chin, the daggerlike protrusions shredded the sides of his face before his unnatural healing mended the ugly wounds.
Randolph’s howl was a long, steady cry. Liam added a harsher tone to the song that was more scream than melody. Together, they created a sound that scattered wildlife for miles around. The rodents, birds, and other animals in the
vicinity may not have encountered a werewolf before, but they knew when to clear a path for a predator that was superior to them in every possible way.
The first thing Randolph did after settling into his new form was to use his hind legs to kick some dirt over his clothes, the way a common dog would attempt to bury its scat. He then turned around, pulled in a lungful of air next to that section of ground and committed the scent to memory. When he turned to face Liam again, the other Full Blood was gone. Following the trail as if it had been painted onto the air in front of him, Randolph leapt toward the highway and landed several yards past it on the other side. He didn’t need the swirling motes of dirt to tell him something big had raced in that direction a short time ago. His nose was giving him enough information to find Liam, the driver of the truck that had offered him a ride a while ago, the previous ten other drivers that had passed through the area, and several dozen animals that would make a good snack along the way. Focusing only on what he needed, Randolph angled his head forward and started to run.
The wind caressed his face lovingly at first, but as he picked up speed, it rushed along his back and roared in his ears, pressing them flat against his wide head. His lips curled back to allow his tongue to loll out just enough to moisten his lips. When his paws touched the ground, Randolph gripped it tightly and sprang forward. Each leap sent him into the air long enough to stretch out his entire ten-foot frame from the tips of one set of claws all the way down to the opposite ones. He pulled his legs in, touched down and grabbed on tighter, as if the world itself was a beast he intended on mounting and taming.
Liam was in sight. The black Full Blood stayed low to better navigate the increasingly rocky terrain, while shooting a challenging glance over his shoulder. Curling his upper lip into a responding snarl, Randolph churned his legs in a powerful rhythm that covered miles upon miles with the ease of a loping stride. The sky stretched above them, presenting itself as the only thing able to cover more ground than the creatures below.
Mountains rose ahead of them. The werewolves’ paws scratched at the ground as they pressed forward and climbed upward without breaking their powerful strides. Even if their weight caused the rocks to give way beneath them, the creatures simply jumped over the shifting boulders with the ease of a dog hopping over a puddle. By the time they reached an oval basin surrounded by craggy peaks amid the Seminoe Mountains, civilization was a distant memory.
Randolph couldn’t see the Mongrels, but he could smell them well enough to set his sights upon a pile of rocks at the other end of the basin. After skidding to a stop, he paced in front of those rocks and issued a warning growl to let the others know he wouldn’t hold himself back for long.
Three Mongrels poked their heads out from behind or beneath the rocks. At least one of them had maintained his affinity for digging.
Having perched upon the edge of the basin, Liam slid down into the rough clearing awkwardly at first, while shifting his body into an upright form. By the time his feet touched the basin’s floor, they were large enough to support his towering, nightmarish frame. He stood on thick hind legs and hunched forward so his shaggy fists nearly scraped the ground. “This ‘ere’s Randolph,” he said in a thick cockney accent that was stronger when emerging through all those teeth. “An old friend of mine from way back.”