Elves tapping on the glass next to me, fat guy’s blood coating the air, Wilson staring at me with that mashed bullet in his hand . . . too much, so when the dad asked how I was, “I’m fine,” came out in a snarl that made him stop and put up his hands.
“Oh. Kay,” he said. He took a step back.
I wanted to tell him that I was sorry, but then a young guy in a Texas A&M jacket stepped up to the glass and brushed aside the heavy curtain. For a second, I wondered where he’d come from. Then I remembered: the diner. The young couple in the back. With dealing with Luke and Wilson and worrying about the kids, I’d kind of forgotten about them.
The elves stopped tapping on the glass. A&M’s girlfriend said, “Bradley, what are you doing?” She was pressed in close to the fireplace that dominated the west wall of the house. I couldn’t remember if the TV Brady Bunch house had a fireplace or not. I knew that it did not have a giant saltwater fish tank near its staircase, with what looked suspiciously like a miniature great white shark swimming around inside it.
“They are ugly little fucks,” he said. He grinned at me. “Right?”
The elves started biting at the window. The clacking of their sharp little fangs against the glass was a hundred times worse than the tapping.
“Get away from there,” I said.
When Bradley didn’t immediately obey–and honestly, keyed up as I was, the Flash wouldn’t have obeyed fast enough to suit me–I shoved him back a few feet.
“Hey!” he said, once he came to a stop. “Hell makes you think you can touch me, huh?”
“Shut up,” I said.
“You can’t just manhandle me like that, right?” He looked around for backup. “Right?”
“Shut up,” Wilson said. He put the bullet in his jacket pocket. “What’s the plan?” he asked me.
“You really think that once Christmas morning rolls around, the town’s gonna just let you all leave?” Wilson grinned. “Like I said before, you are not the first people to do this.”
I looked at the fat guy. Someone had brought him a yellow dishtowel for his nose. He sat by the fireplace with it pressed to the lower half of his face. He took it away long enough to say, “They’re gonna kill all of y’all.”
The dad and mom hugged their kids close. The single mom took her daughter’s hand. They were all looking at me, even Bradley. I gripped the Beretta a little tighter. I really hadn’t thought about that.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Just . . . let me think a second.” I checked my wristwatch. 8:30 pm. We had until what, a minute after midnight, Wilson had said earlier. I walked to the window. The curtain was closed, but I could still hear the elves chew at the glass. I put my hand in my jacket pocket, felt my keys. All I’d had to do was blow by those old goats. But no. I had to stop. Had to be the hero.
I took them out. Turned to the others. “Everybody have their car keys?”
Everybody did. We’d been searched for weapons, but had been allowed to keep our keys and phones. And why not? The road out didn’t exist. Phones didn’t work.
I outlined my plan. Someone would get to the diner. Get a car, one that would hold everybody. The family of four had an Expedition. That would work. Pile everyone inside it right before midnight, when the town was still buckled down, and race to the diner, to the other vehicles. Get everyone in their respective cars. Get the hell out once it was Christmas morning and the road was back.
The dad said, “Who has to go? How do we decide that?”
“I’ll go,” I said.
He shook his head. “Those things will kill you.”
Wilson’s turn for the head shake. “She only has to worry about one. The rest are for us. There’ll be only one after her.”
“See?” I smiled.
Dad said, “Sure, only one elf. It worked out so well for that other guy, didn’t it.”
“I can handle one elf,” I said. I went to the window, parted the curtain. The elves stopped their glass chewing. They stared in at us. I waved my hand slowly back and forth, watching. Saw one elf focused on my hand. The others kept staring past me. My elf was in the middle of the pack. Its ears twitched.
“Piece of cake,” I muttered. I checked the Beretta. Nine in the clip, one in the chamber. I handed it to Luke. He grimaced.
“Really don’t like these things,” he said. “Whyn’t you keep it? Gonna need it out there.”
“I think we’re gonna need it more come Christmas morning.”
“Still. Come on. You can shoot that thing.”
“It’s gonna come at me fast, I think. I shoot at it, I’ll only waste bullets. Can I have your keys, please?” I held out my hand to dad.
After a few seconds of muttering among themselves, I received the keys to the family’s Expedition. I shoved them into my jeans pocket.
I slipped out the back door of the house, by the kitchen. The back yard was blanketed in white. Nice outdoor kitchen though, along with a huge swimming pool and a hot tub. I bet a lot of back yards here had the same setups. Assholes.
I climbed the fence, came down in the neighbor’s back yard. Swimming pool, outdoor kitchen. But no hot tub. My bad.
I ran to the front, the fence between me and the elves, but not for long. I cleared the fence, hit the sidewalk, started running full-out as soon as I had my feet under me.
Behind me, I heard a bell jingling.
I ran track in high school, but I wasn’t the fastest. That distinction belonged to Jenna Holt–predictably, her nickname was Holt the Bolt–but I had the best stamina. Becoming a werewolf augmented it. I wouldn’t even be breathing hard when I got to the diner.
If I made it. Because the elf was on the back of my neck before I’d cleared the neighbor’s lot. It weighed almost nothing. It was like being tackled by a kitten.
Then the teeth clamped down.
“Aaaaagggghhhh! Fuck! FUCK!”
My feet slid on ice. I went to my knees, arms flailing behind me, searching for that little son of a bitch. I had the best stamina. I still did. Speed, however. No match for this thing. I had heightened reflexes, but that didn’t translate to foot speed. Jenna had always beaten me. She might still beat me. Or not. Last I’d heard of her, she had moved to Navasota and gotten hooked on meth. Or maybe the meth had come first. Whatever. A werewolf and a meth head. That would make for a great ten-year class reunion. When was that? Next year? Was it really only next year?
I found the elf. Snagged its little jacket and pulled. Blood was flowing down into the back of my leather jacket. Blood was hot. I was cold.
There was a blast of really bad pain amidst the pretty bad pain, and then the elf was in my hand. It tried snapping at my face. It was struggling, thrashing, and for its size, it was really strong. It dug its claws into the back of my hand.
I nearly dropped it. Felt myself leaning to my right. Things were . . . going a bit hazy. Hard to think. Shock or blood loss. Who knew. Could be the cold. Hypothermia. Never mind all that. Kill this thing. Kill it.
I twisted its head around. I felt bones crack. I tossed it to the snow.
“Ah. Hell.” I felt the back of my neck. Wet, ruined crater. Skin was tingling back there. Weird, familiar sensation going on along with the tingling: a sort of pulling. I was healing. Whatever wound that thing had caused was closing up. Still felt out of it. I tried getting up.
I put my hands in my pockets. The keys. People were depending on me. Get up. Get up.
High-pitched growl coming from my right. What now? A hell Yorkie?
No, the elf. Apparently, breaking its neck hadn’t worked.
It jumped for my face. I caught it again, this time slammed it to the ground. I punched it in its nasty little face. Tore my knuckles open on its teeth, but that was all right. I hit it again. And again.
I didn’t stop until I realized I was hitting only wet sidewalk. I raised my dripping fist. Black blood. It had black blood.
I shuddered and scrubbed my hand in the snow.
Then I got up and started running again.