There is a monster inside me, a dark thing that is mostly sharp claws, sharper teeth, and blood lust. That need to kill is always with me, awake or asleep. You don’t want to know what my dreams are about. I can lie and say the beast really isn’t me, and to further my lie, I can point to what it does to my body when it comes out: the snapping and reshaping of bones, the pulling of ligaments, the straining of muscles, the short, slick fur. But the truth is, it is me. I have complete control over it. I can choose not to kill.
That day, though, I chose to kill.
I cut a bloody swath through them, those old men with their axes.
I took down the first one near his niece; she’d served nicely as a honey pot, and while he worked to free her, I leapt from behind the suitcases and ripped open his chest. His body hadn’t folded to the floor before I was upon the uncle closest to the barn doors. Off with his head.
The last uncle clutched his axe to his protruding belly and wheezed while his blood-covered niece screamed from the hood of Billy Perkins’s Saturn. I circled him, snarling and growling, while he swiped at the space between us with his axe. He finally lunged at me. I’m confident that he was the headsman of the group; his chopping motion was very fluid, very efficient. I jumped over him, landed behind him, and found his spine. Daisy continued to scream herself hoarse.
I stopped that.
Five minutes later, I walked outside, squinting into the too-bright afternoon. I needed a shower. The blood that had coated my fur had been left on my skin when the hairs retreated under its surface. Despite the sticky redness, I had dressed, but I wasn’t exactly comfortable. Drying blood itches.
I found the aunt in the quaint little diner. She sat in the booth I had recently occupied. She rocked from side to side, arms crossed across her chest, hands clutching shoulders. She stared at the tabletop, refused to make eye contact with me. I slid into the booth across from her. It took a few seconds of me staring at her, but her eyes finally darted up to mine. I said, “I guess you heard all that.”
Her eyes darted back to the table. I sighed and leaned back in the booth. “I would say I’m sorry, but I’m not. I mean, come on, you eat people. I may be a killer, but I’m not a cannibal. Even though, technically, since I’m a werewolf, I don’t think it would qualify as cannibalism. Or maybe it would. That’s kind of a gray area I don’t feel like exploring.”
She started moaning. I leaned forward and said, “You’re the last one left. I could let you live, but I guess you’d starve to death, unless there’re some Bob burgers stored away back there.” I jerked my head toward the back of the diner. “Physically, you don’t seem to be in the best hunting shape, although you gave me a pretty mean whack out there.”
I pulled out my Glock. “So here’s the deal. You can either starve to death, or you can put a bullet into your inbred, toad-squirming excuse of a brain.”
I set the gun on the table between us. “F.Y.I., if you think you’ll shoot me instead and dine on lycanthrope Lunchables for a week, I’m twenty times faster than you, and there’s only one bullet in that gun.”
Her jaw dropped open. A thick line of drool began working its way down from her lower lip. She reached a shaking, liver-spotted hand out for the gun. Once she finally had the gun in her claws, she started the slow, ponderous journey of placing it against her temple. Her hand trembled so badly, I was certain she’d miss her head, even though the gun’s muzzle was pressed right to it.
She said something.
I shrugged. “Whatever, lady. Enjoy your corner of hell.” I put my fingers in my ears.
She pulled the trigger. Despite my clever ear plugs, sounds were a bit diminished for a few minutes. I retrieved my gun and got out of that pit.
I reached civilization, and the convenience store. I stopped in, but the halfwit was gone. In his place was an overweight teenaged girl with purple hair, who had no idea where the guy had gone. He had ditched his shift, apparently; he wasn’t there when she arrived for work.
* * *
“Ms. Anderson?” Emily Perkins turned the dog tags over in her hands. “What happened to my brother?”
I had been dreading this. It had been almost twenty-four hours since I had recovered those tags, and I still hadn’t come up with a story to explain how I had gotten them. I didn’t think the It Was a Village Full of Cannibals but It’s Okay I’m a Werewolf and I Slaughtered Them All story would fly.
But I had to tell her something.
“He took a wrong turn,” I said. “He met some bad people. They killed him. And others.”
Tactful, Elizabeth, I thought.
We were in her motel room. It was supposed to be a non-smoking room, but I smelled nicotine. She sat on the edge of her twin bed, turning those dog tags over and over. I sat up a little straighter in the chair near the window, rotated my shoulders. I wanted out of there. I wanted my money, and to put this behind me. I had lost control and had killed four people,and granted, they had needed killing, but still. What I wanted most to forget about that day was that I didn’t feel any remorse or guilt over it.
She stopped playing with the tags. She looked over at me. “Are they dead?”
“Why . . . would you ask me that?”
She held up the tags. “You didn’t just walk up to some bad people and politely ask for these, did you?”
“Ms. Perkins, does it matter?”
“Are they going to do it again, to someone else’s brother? Or sister? Or daughter or son or–”
“No. No, they’re not.”
“Good. Did they suffer?”
For a moment, I allowed myself to flash back to that barn. To what it felt like to have a clawed hand inside a man’s chest, how his blood smelled and how hot it was. What it felt like to press my fangs against a man’s throat, to pause for a millisecond so I could savor the feeling of his pulse beating against my canines, before they snapped down and stopped that beating forever. How it felt to be free.