I crept through the underbrush, wincing at every crunch and snap underfoot, using my nose to avoid bashing into the trees, stopping now and then to get my bearings. It had been dark out there, but in here it was dark dark. I needed to work my way back to the Shriek Shack, find that Forest of Fear or Fright or whatever the hell it was.
I stopped by a log and closed my eyes, raised my head, let my nose work the scene.
Rotting vegetation. Mushrooms. Squirrels. Moss. Damp earth. Pine resin. Possums. Speed Stick deodorant–
Ah. I slowly turned back in that direction. Teenaged male. Also wearing . . . what was that, grease paint?
I went in his direction, taking my time, trying to be as quiet as possible. I stopped when I was able to see the purple and white lights strung through the trees that marked the trail. The boy wearing the grease paint was a few yards ahead of me; I could make out his shape in the dimness.
I knelt, fanned my hands over the ground until I felt a small branch. I kept an eye on the boy while I snapped the branch. He didn’t turn in this direction, and he didn’t call out.
All right then.
I shed the clothes and sneakers, bundled them together, and shoved them against a tree. Then I got on my hands and knees and let myself go.
My teeth began to push out of the sockets, lengthening, exposing their true size. A few seconds later, my jaw popped out of socket as my skull and bones began to fracture, the muscles and tendons jerking under my skin as they moved my skeleton into its new shape. Hairs popped out, coating my body in a coarse dark red fur. And somewhere in all that spasming and cracking, my ears became pointed and the skeletal tips of my fingers and toes broke through the skin, became claws that dug into the soft earth.
It took seconds. Five, actually. And when it was finished, I stretched and shook my head and huffed breath. Speed Stick Teen still had his back to me.
I crept forward, silent, my belly low to the ground. This was so much easier. I should’ve changed way back at the edge of the woods. Problem was, I wasn’t sure how long I’d be out here. The longest I’d been in my werewolf form was six hours, and those last few minutes, my muscles had throbbed.
I was behind the boy, near enough to him I could have reached out and poked his calf with a claw. He wore blue jeans, a plaid shirt, and hiking boots. He had a walkie-talkie clipped to his belt, and it buzzed static before a voice, male, asked if he was in position. I stopped, waited for his reply. He said he was ready. He moved forward a bit, out of my reach, closer to the trail.
I heard a group, all screeching teenagers, bust out of the Shriek Shack and trample this way. Their voices blended together, became one long run-on sentence.
“Oh my God–that one part, right?–clowns, I fucking hate clowns, and that guy–really thought the car was gonna keep on coming, I was like how the hell did they do that–and I took a picture anyway–and your stepmom is a total bitch, seriously, she–”
The teen in the grease paint rocked his head from side to side, took a deep breath, and staggered out of the underbrush, groaning and raising his arms. The group screamed and laughed, clutched each other, and hurried past while the teen–a zombie, I finally saw–lurched after them. He stopped when Freddy Krueger burst from the woods a few yards away.
I followed the group. After Freddy, there was a scarecrow planted in the middle of the trail. They gave it a wide berth, but it was just a dummy, not even animated. After that, Leatherface, complete with a running chainsaw (but no chain). Then two zombies. Then a girl in a white prom dress, with an eyeball dangling from a socket. She stood by the side of the trail, holding up her hands and asking the group to take her with them.
After that, nothing. I scouted ahead, but smelled no one. This part, the Shack let the woods do their work for them. The group found the parking lot and stood around, laughing and recounting what they’d just seen.
I turned back. The actors were back in their spots. The girl in the prom dress was adjusting the eyeball on her cheek. The trail wasn’t a straight shot, and there were a few curves where my rapist friend could take someone without being seen. I hadn’t smelled him, but I had stuck to one side of the trail. I needed to cross it, track the opposite side.
I decided to cross between prom girl and the zombies. I looked both ways and left the woods. I was in the exact middle of the trail, my feet planted firmly on the packed dirt, when I heard pounding feet and out-of-breath laughter coming up on my right.
Shit. Oh fuck me sideways. Shit.
No time to jump across.
I dropped to all fours and stared straight ahead.