Ash shivered a little in the night air. The temperature outdoors was starting to drop a little at night. Autumn was coming. The notion made his stomach twist. It had been the beginning of summer when he’d been abducted. It wasn’t outright cold yet, just cool. And he hadn’t been allowed to put on clothes since his had been taken from him. Sima might have allowed it, but Carol had objected strongly to the idea of him being allowed any clothing at all. He shivered again.
“Are you cold, Ash?” Sima petted him.
He made a small whining noise. The collar hadn’t been activated in a while, but the last time he’d attempted to speak had netted him another two days in the box. She unhooked the leash from her chair, and started walking him back to the building. He started to follow his mist… Sima. Her name was Sima. He was a cop, not a dog. She led him into her room, and patted the foot of the bed. He climbed up and curled into a ball. She laid down and went back to her book.
It was getting cold. It was past July, then. He’d missed his father’s birthday. The big five-oh. He felt tears prick the back of his eyes, and blinked them back. His friends were likely going on with their lives, now. Making plans for the upcoming semester, starting new jobs. His father had wanted him to meet someone who worked in the filing room. A nice girl who’d supposedly made the cookies to die for. Not so subtle hints about settling down and starting a family. What was his father doing now?
They hadn’t been laying there long when Sima suddenly sat up. “Oh, I almost forgot. I got you something in town.” She went to her dresser and took something out of her purse. He looked down at what she set in front of him.
A bright blue plastic squeaky bone. Her hand ruffled his hair. “A new toy for my good boy. Do you like it, Ash?”
It was a bright blue plastic squeaky bone. It was a dog toy. Her hand tightened in his hair, pulling the strands just a little. “Do you like it, Ash?” There was an edge to her voice now, a small note of threat.
The toy squeaked when he bent down and picked it up in his mouth. He squeaked it again. Sima smiled, and her grip on his hair once again became a pet. “I knew you’d like it.” She settled back down with her book.
His name was Bernard Rudolf Achterberg. He was not her pet. He was a cop. He was not a dog. The box was cramped, and dark, and painful. He just had to pretend, so she didn’t put him back in the box. He settled back down on the bed and began chewing on the corner of the bone. His name was Bernard Rudolf Achterberg. He was not her pet. He was a cop. He was not a dog.
Lisa leaped over the fence at the end of her run, coming down easily on the other side. She was about to head in when she saw movement. Two figures were standing near the car. Figures in uniform. One was speaking into a radio. “We’ll take a look around, see if we can figure out who it belongs to.”
What the hell were cops doing here? She watched them go into the first building, and immediately circled around to find her pack. “Cops are here.”
Carol sat up. “What, why?”
“I don’t know. My guess is a routine check.” She looked around. “Where the fuck is Sima and her pet?”
“Downstairs, in Sima’s room.” Carol stood.
“As long as they don’t see him, we won’t have a problem.” Lisa growled. “For the love of, put some damn clothes on.” Carol fled into her room. Lisa headed downstairs. Sima wasn’t in her room, and neither was her pet. She had to pick now to take him for a bloody walk?
Sima saw the squad car and immediately pulled Ash into the building. He resisted just a little, enough for her to be sure he’d noticed it too. Dammit, she’d left the remote in her room. She pulled him into a room, then unfastened the leash from his collar and shoved him against a column. “Put your hands behind your back, Ash.”
When he didn’t immediately obey, she narrowed her eyes. “Disobey and it will be four days in the box. Put your hands behind your back, Ash.”
He put his hands behind his back, and she used the leash to secure them to the column. She shoved her towel into his mouth to serve as a gag, then left the room, locking it behind her. Then she went to find Lisa.
Carol smiled at the cop as she spun her tale. They were cousins of the couple that owned the place, here to clean it up and get it ready, and were making a mini-vacation out of it. The woman appeared to be buying the story. Lisa came back up the stairs just as Sima entered. Carol smiled. “Beth, Mara, this is officer Sarah. She noticed the car here and was just checking in.”
“Thought maybe kids had broken into the place or something.” The office tucked her notebook away.
Sima smiled. “That’s what we were afraid of earlier. Found a couple piles of cans and cigarette butts, but no real vandalism. Guess it’s too far out of town for the punks.”
“If I can just get your IDs, I can get out of your hair and let you get back to your evening.” The officer smiled.
She was reaching for her forged ID when Lisa suddenly looked around. “Where’s your partner?”
Ash heard the door rattle. He’d managed to get the cloth out of his mouth, and caught himself nearly barking in response to the sound. It took him a moment to form words. “In here.”
Whoever was on the other side hit the door with more force. The next blow broke the latch, letting the door open. The man on the other side was wearing a uniform. Ash couldn’t stop himself from smiling when he recognized the man. “Jacob.”
“Holy shit.” Jacob’s eyes widened. “Ash?” He immediately started untying Ash’s hands, then stripped off his jacket and handed it to him. “You’re…” He shook his head. “Half the force thinks you’re dead.”
Relief filled him. He wrapped the jacket around himself. “Please, just get me out of here, I — ” The collar came to life around his neck, and he screamed as electricity jolted through him. Jacob spun, weapon in hand. Carol was coming through the door, a gun in her own hand. Jacob fired two shots, taking Carol in the center of mass and dropping the woman.
“Ash, are you alright?” Jacob quickly started looking for a way to remove the collar.
He pushed himself off the ground and shook his head, pushing Jacob’s hands off the collar and pointing to the door. Jacob nodded, and moved through, checking both directions in the hall before gesturing to Ash that the coast was clear. “We radioed before we came in, they know where we are. My partner is —” Jacob’s eyes widened. “The fuck?”
Ash turned to see Carol back on her feet and walking toward them. “You son of a …” She made a growling sound. “I liked this shirt.”
Jacob’s gun came up, and then Lisa leaped down from the roof to land a couple feet behind them. The brunette’s eyes shimmered golden when she rose, and her mouth revealed inch long fangs. Her hand slashed at Jacob’s arm, opening jagged claw marks and forcing him to drop the gun. “Little pig little pig…” She straightened, and her body began distorting, taking on a more animistic form.
Electricity coursed through the collar again, driving Ash to his knees as he screamed in pain. Carol started to move towards Jacob, who was backing away, his eyes wide and terrified. “Run little piggy.”
Horror filled him as Jacob turned and ran, with the two wolf-women giving chase. Ash tried to scramble away as Sima walked over to him. Carol and Lisa were herding Jacob around the courtyard, slashing at him as he tried in vain to find some means of escape. He could hear them laughing. “Are you alright, Ash?”
“No, no, no, no…” Ash shook his head. “No, no, no, no.” He went to his knees and crawled toward her. “Stop, please, make it stop, please make it stop.”
“This is your fault, Ash.” Sima ran her hand through his hair. “I told you leaving your mistress was against the rules.”
“Stop, please.” He shook as he heard Jacob’s pleas. “Please, mistress, make it stop, please…” He made a whimpering sound when he heard Jacob start screaming. “Oh god, no…”
“You broke the rules, Ash.” Sima attached the leash to the collar again. She rose, and began leading him back to the building. He followed, on his hands and knees, trying not to look at the bloody scene by the pool, where Jacob was still screaming.
“Holy shit.” Magda heard Stephan’s voice. One of the younger squad members was behind the building, emptying his stomach. She couldn’t quite blame the man.
What was left of Jacobs was floating face down in the stagnant water of the pool. Most of him was spread out over the patio. His intestines had been ripped from him, and were hanging festively from the fence. She could only hope he’d already been dead by that point.
There were other scents on the wind. Three strong and unknown, three fainter and familiar. She recognized the scent of Jacob, and felt bile rise in the back of her throat. Sarah’s scent was in the parking lot and main building. She began walking, tracing the third scent. “Ash.”
“Magda?” She looked up to see Stephan walking toward her, a concerned look on his face. “Are you alright?”
“I can’t explain it, but…”
“You think these are these are our perps.” Stephan slowly nodded. “They’ve definitely got some kind of animal. I mean…” He shook his head. “Sick fucks.”
“Sarah’s not here.” She turned a slow circle.
She took a deep breath, searching the air. And found a scent. “Sarah’s not here.” She started moving toward her car.
Frustration filled her as Stephan opened the passenger side and slid in before she could get it into gear. “Magda.” He narrowed his eyes. “Talk to me.”
“Stephan, I…” She took a deep breath. “I can’t explain. I just need you to trust me.”
He nodded. “Go.”
Carol made a growling sound as Sima finished removing the bullet. She looked up at where Lisa was pacing, her face furious. “I am not hiding in the fucking woods.”
“I can’t get us any significant cash at 7 PM on a Saturday, Lisa.” Carol cringed a little as Lisa turned toward her. “Not without raising all kinds of red flags and risking someone finding our accounts.” She swallowed nervously. “It’s just until Mon —” She yelped a little as Sima started removing the second bullet. “I thought these couldn’t hurt us.”
“I said they couldn’t kill us.” Lisa narrowed her eyes. “They still fucking hurt.”
“Thanks.” Carol smiled at Sima as the woman started bandaging the wounds. Then she took a deep breath, and looked up at Lisa. “Is it always like that?”
“The rush, the…” She laughed a little. “Did you see his face when he realized…” She shuddered just a little, smiling. “That was incredible. We were gods.”
“I remember my first.” Lisa let her head fall back a little as she leaned on the wall. “These two soldier boys thought they’d found themselves a fun afternoon.” She smiled at the memory. “Well, I had fun. After I was done I went and found the rest of their squad. They were out on some kind of survival training.” Her eyes danced a little. “They failed the course.”
“What about you?” Carol turned to Sima.
“My first was a woman.” Sima started putting her tools away. “She accused me of being a devil temptress, trying to steal her son with my wily foreign ways.” She shrugged. “After I killed her, I went back and stole her son. He was my first pet.”
He sat, feeling numb. His hands were secured behind his back, around a steel pole. Jacob’s screams still echoed in his ears. It was a nightmare. It had to be. He’d wake soon, safe on the foot of his mistress’s bed… Sima. Her name was Sima. He was a cop, not a… Her eyes, glowing like a wolf’s in dim light. Fangs and fur and claws and Jacob was screaming.
“Ash.” It took him several moments to realize someone was saying his name. “Ash.” Ash looked up to see Sarah. She was secured to another column, her hands above her head. She was staring at him. “Ash.” When she realized he was looking at her, she smiled. “It is you, isn’t it? We’ve been searching for you. You’re alive.” She looked around. “Do you know where we are?”
The old ranger station up on the north ridge. He made a small whining sound. She looked confused, then frowned. “Where’s Jacob?” Ash whimpered. “Ash, where’s Jacob?” He whimpered again, then shook his head.
That time, she understood. Tears welled in her eyes. “He’s dead, isn’t he?” Ash whimpered and nodded. “Ash, talk to me. How many of them are there?” Sarah frowned. “I saw three.” He nodded. “Just three?” He nodded again. “Alright, Ash, I’m going to swing my leg over to you. See if you can the utility knife out of my boot.” He stared at her blankly. “Ash?” She took a deep breath. “Ash, I need you to listen. Do you know who I am?” He nodded. “What’s my name, Ash?”
A whimper escaped him, and he started shaking his head. The collar was on and Mistress hadn’t given him permission to… Sima. Her name was Sima. He was a cop, not a pet. Claw and fur and fangs and Jacob screaming. Blood on their faces.
“Ash, Ash…” He looked up to see Sarah looking at him again. “Ash, I need you to stay with me. We just need to get out of here, and I’ll get you safe. I promise, Ash. Just stay with me and I’ll get us out of this.”
He’d tried to leave. Lisa was too strong, and he’d gone into the box. Two shots and Carol had gotten back up. Fangs and claws and Jacob screaming, teeth in his flesh, tearing and ripping. He shrank back away from Sarah. Leaving Mistress was against the rules. Sima. Her name was Sima, not mistress.
“Hey, stay with me.” Sarah swallowed. “Come on, Ash. We need to get you back to your dad. He’s worried about you.”
His father’s face, shining proudly as he accepted his certificate. It took him two tries to nod. “Alright, Ash. Come on, we can do this.” She moved her leg to him, and he shifted position, trying to get his finger at the knife.
They both froze as the door opened. Ash felt a chill go through him at the look on Lisa’s face. She was smiling at Sarah. She walked toward her, crouching a few feet away. “Officer Sarah Dougal.”
Sarah glared. “Are you the one that killed my partner?”
“I’m the one that ate his heart.” Lisa smiled, and her eyes changed. Sarah recoiled from the sight. “He was old, fat. Couldn’t even make it over a fence.” Lisa made a purring sound, and ran a finger up Sarah’s leg. By the time it got to her torso, the finger was a claw. “You, however, look like a runner.” She chuckled. “You know where we are, yes?”
Terror was clear on Sarah’s face when she nodded. “I…”
“I’m going to give you a five-minute head start, Officer Dougal.” Lisa stood. “You make it to the ranger station, you’re safe. You can bring them back here, rescue Ash, be his hero.” Her smile twisted. “I’m sure he’ll be grateful.” She went behind Sarah’s back, and started unfastening the cuffs. Carol and Sima stood in the doorway. Lisa hauled Sarah to her feet, and gave her a shove towards the door. “Ten minutes. Then…” She growled, her features becoming lupine. “The hunt begins.”
Sarah threw Ash a last desperate look before she started to run.
They hadn’t gone more than a mile before she pulled over and told Stephan to take the wheel. He gave her a curious look when she told him to keep it under thirty and rolled down the window, but didn’t ask. He just drove. Three times she had him make u-turns as she lost the scent and picked it up again at a turn. Magda had no idea how she’d explain this later, and right now her concentration was devoted to following the scent of those who had attacked her pack.
The scent vanished again, but there were no turnoffs. “Stop.” When he did, she scented the wind again. “Go back a quarter mile and pull over.”
As soon as the car came to a stop, she got out. Stephan followed, his gun drawn. His eyes widened as he saw the car pulled off and hidden. “Those are the plates Jacob called in.” He looked at Magda, and she could tell he wanted to ask. He kept quiet instead, and as soon as she started moving again he followed.
Somewhere in the distance, someone screamed. She tilted her head, listening. “Mag —” Stephan cut off at the faint sound of another scream. He swallowed, then nodded to her. She frowned. Follow the trail, or cut through to the sound of the scream? Magda growled, and started moving toward the sound.
Ash shivered and whimpered as Sima pulled him through the woods. At least she wasn’t making him go on all fours this time. His feet were already bleeding from various small rocks and twigs. It was hard keeping his balance with his hands bound behind his back. “You were a bad boy, Ash.” Sima shook her head at him. “You broke the rules.”
They stepped into a clearing, and he felt sick. Sarah was laying on the ground, torn open. Her leg was twisted, and he could see the bone sticking out. He heard a soft pained sound, and realized with horror that Sarah was still alive.
Sima flung him to the ground next to the woman. Lisa stood nearby, smirking. “Carol missed out.”
“Ash.” Sima’s voice was firm. She came over, and knelt next to him. Her fingers closed around a handful of his hair as she pulled him closer to Sarah’s agonized form. He could see the pain and terror in her eyes. Sima’s hand pushed him until his head was near Sarah’s throat. “Finish her.”
“No —” The collar activated, and he cried out in pain. He started trying to shake his head, but Sima held him fast.
“You can spend every night from now on in the box, Ash.” Sima’s fingers tightened in his hair.
The thought of the box made him whimper. Somewhere in the back of his mind a voice was screaming, telling him he was a cop, not a dog, not a pet, not a slave. Sarah was gasping now, pain lining every inch of her face. She was already dying. It would be a mercy and please not the box and the dark, cramped pain and he was not a dog or a nothing human would do this they were nothing human but he was. Wasn’t he?
His teeth closed over Sarah’s throat.
Carol gave a frustrated growl as she heard the scream coming from another direction. Somehow, she’d lost the scent. Dammit, she was going to miss the kill. She started to head back to see if she could pick up the trail again. Something rustled in the woods behind her, and then she saw two people. In the lead was a woman, an older battleaxe with gray in her black hair. Following her was a good looking black man dressed rather sharply. The black man was holding a gun. A small frown came to her face. Cops?
She started toward them, and then caught the woman’s scent. Her eyes widened. Now this could be a hunt. Carol started to move closer, and then the woman’s head came up. She looked right at Carol. The man’s eyes followed the woman’s gaze, and then widened when he caught sight of her werewolf form. His gun started to come up in her direction. Carol growled and flung a fist sized rock that forced him to dodge. Then she charged at the woman, taking her off her feet.
The woman rolled and caught her with a solid kick to the midsection, and Carol leaped back. She ricocheted off a tree to pounce again, taking the woman down again before she could fully rise. Her claws raked across the woman’s chest as the woman failed to dodge the attack. The man was back on his own feet, trying to figure out how to hit her without hitting his partner. Carol kicked off the woman to lunge at him, clawing the gun out of his hand and sending him flying backward. She turned back to where the woman had gotten up, and growled. Then she grabbed the fallen gun and pounced again.
Her target didn’t shift form, giving Carol a decided advantage as she tore at the woman, opening a gash in her shoulder. The woman hit her back, proving she was not without strength. Carol stepped back and fired three shots into the woman at point blank range. Then she kicked her down the embankment. The man called out his partner’s name. “Magda.”
Carol turned to see him fumbling for a gun in an ankle holster, and pointed his own gun back at him. She shifted partially back to her human form. “Don’t move.” He froze for a moment, starting up at her. He was bleeding from wounds on his arm and shoulder where she’d hit him.
As she took a step toward him, he threw himself to the side and came up holding his other gun. “Drop the gun.”
Laughter came from her, and she tossed the gun aside. Then she whirled, moving faster than he could follow. Her claws raked a gash on his leg as she came down on him. Hot blood filled her mouth as she closed her teeth on his arm, and she felt the bone snap. He gave a pained cry and lost his hold on the second gun. She released him, letting him fall to the ground.
Then she smiled. He was a good-looking man, stolen from another wolf. Lisa would be so proud of her. He stared up at her, his eyes wide and filled with a mixture of anger, pain, and fear. “A nice little black cat…” Carol grinned.
And then fangs and fur hit her from the side, taking her off her feet.
Magda tore into the smaller wolf, opening the bitch from hip to shoulder. The other woman tried to turn to bite, and Magda caught the woman’s mouth and yanked, half ripping the lower jaw off. Her teeth closed around the bitch’s throat, cutting off the howl of pain, and then she tore her head back, tearing out the other wolf’s windpipe.
The creature was fast, but it sure as hell didn’t know how to actually fight. Her claws tore again at the softer underbelly, ripping their way upward. She caught hold of the bitch’s heart.
And then she tore it free.
Sima’s little pet was shaking, blood smeared across his mouth. It was an entertainingly pitiful sight. The female cop had led them on quite a hunt. She’d even tried to fight when cornered, flinging rocks and swinging a tree branch. Where was Carol? Her cousin had the worse nose of any —
Lisa twisted as she heard gunshots. Her eyes narrowed. “Oh, tell me she wasn’t stupid enough to end up by the ranger’s station or something.” She listened again, but heard no more gunfire. “Hunter, maybe?”
“Not those shots.” Sima rose. “Handgun, clustered.
“Well, maybe getting a few more bullets dug out of her will teach her to fucking dodge.” Lisa shook her head. “Come on, let’s find some place to sleep.”
“What about Carol?” Sima grabbed her pet, hauling him to his feet.
“She’ll find us.” Lisa shrugged. “Or more likely, she’ll call us and beg us to come pick her up somewhere.” She rolled her eyes and started walking.
There was blood dripping from her hands and mouth. Magda stood, panting. Stephan lay on the ground a few feet away, staring.
The body of the other werewolf lay on the ground, slowly returning to human form. A young, red-haired woman. Magda shook her head, and resumed her own human form. She wiped her mouth on her arm, then turned to Stephan. “You’re bleeding.” The werewolf had opened a gash on his leg, dangerously close to the artery. He was losing blood. If he didn’t get help soon, he’d likely bleed out. “Stephan, I need to…” He was still staring at her, his eyes wide. Her stomach lurched a little. “Stephan…”
“Give me a moment…” He closed his eyes, and took a few deep breaths. Then he nodded. “Okay.” He swallowed. “Okay. You…” He opened his eyes again, and looked up at her. “She shot you.” He shook his head. “She shot you.”
“Stephan, I need to put pressure on your wound, or you’re going to —”
“Right, I…” He nodded. “Okay.”
She knelt, stripping off her jacket and folding it into a makeshift bandage. His arm was bleeding badly as well. She took off her belt and used it to make a tourniquet on the leg, holding the bandage in place. Then she gestured at his tie. He pulled it off with his unwounded arm, and she used his handkerchief and the tie to repeat the tourniquet motion on his arm. “There are two more of them out there. I need to get you out of here.”
“What about Sarah?” He started shaking his head.
Magda winced, and sighed. “I can’t take two while I’m already wounded, Stephan. And if I don’t get you to a hospital soon you’re going to either die of blood loss or lose your leg.”
“Two…” Stephan nodded. Then he nodded again. “Two werewolves. Werewolves are real. My partner is a werewolf. My partner survived getting three bullets to the chest because she’s a werewolf. I just got my arm nearly bitten off by a werewolf.”
“Stephan?” She raised an eyebrow at him.
“What the fuck are we going to tell the…” Stephan started shaking his head. “Because we can’t tell them you’re a werewolf. They’ll put me in the psych ward and you at the humane society and…”
“Stephan, I think you…”
“Yeah, shock, maybe.” He nodded. “Okay.” He nodded. “Help me up. We’ll tell Vince we were going to get the ranger, to see if he could ID the animal, saw the plates on the abandoned car and then, uh…” He looked up at her. “Bear?”
“Bear.” She looked down at his wounded leg, then shook her head. “I won’t tell anyone this part, either.”
“What pa…” His eyes widened when she simply bent down and picked him up. He took another deep breath, then his eyes widened again. “You’ve been letting me win our sparing matches.”
“Let’s get you to an ambulance.”