A Short Story of The Great North Woods Pack
Copyright 2016 by Shawn Underhill. All rights reserved. This is purely a work of fiction. Anyone construing actual events from the following story does so at his or her own will. No animals were harmed. Shawn loves Italian food. He intends no offense to other cuisines.
This story is standalone and can be read on its own or in addition to The Great North Woods Pack series. It is inconsequential to the overall plot of the rest of the series.
Old longings nomadic leap,
Chafing at custom’s chain;
Again from its brumal sleep
Wakens the ferine strain
~John Myers O’Hara
Evie did not read the newspapers, or she might have known that trouble was brewing. Not alone for herself, but trouble for every member of the North Woods Pack. And beyond that secretive wolf pack in their remote corner of New England, the entire population of the eastern seaboard was mere hours from disaster. The rest of North America would soon follow, and from there the icy hand of death would reach out, its dark shadow stretching across the globe to the hapless world.
No grand scheme or sinister plot was to blame, but rather the unwitting workings of average men, driven by curiosity and the blind hope for riches. Groping in the dark for hidden gold and bragging rights, they attained neither, and succeeded only in unleashing an ancient peril beyond their comprehension.
It was a crisp October night, and the fallen leaves of New Hampshire’s Great North Woods were coated by a thin layer of frost. The light of the moon and stars shone pale through the leafless trees, casting shadows and dim reflections on those countless leaves. And on them fell the remarkably soft footfalls of a creature that was not supposed to exist.
But she was no common wolf.
Evie Snow was a holdover of the original strain, which meant a wolf of grand scale, descended from the relics of the younger world who spoke the original language of the earth and animals. At just sixteen she had responded to the calling of the first wolf. In return, like all of her kind, she had received a portion of the ancient one’s life. The gift of the wolf.
Being personally descended of the Snowe line, the primitive was strong in her, with her lineage tracing back to the harsh Northlands of Scandinavia and predating all known written history. Almost pure white in color, but for silver hackles and crest running down her back, she bore the likeness of her mother’s father, whose name in English was now Snow.
Born at the tail end of the 20th century, a vast gulf of ages separated Evie from the ancient wolves. Yet within her wild body of mystique there was little to distinguish those ancients from herself. Thriving in secret in the twenty-first century, their instincts lived on, enduring in and through her. And beyond her now rare coloring, within her sleek and ghostly outline persisted the strength and cunning of her eldest and wildest forbearers. From those primitives of savage times, ruled by the law of claw and fang, she had inherited her love of all things wild and places remote, her endurance and bold nature, and most of all her nimble speed.
On this particular frosty October night, Evie was not mindful of her forbearers as she darted so effortlessly through the dark woods. She certainly wasn’t aware of the growing threat from the east. As was her custom, she had spent most of the night roaming and reveling with her cousins and friends, the young of the pack who frolicked their nights away in the manner of excited dogs at parks. To band together and run and compete and mock battle was the compulsive expression of the depths of their natures, as well as the nightly outlet of their excessive energies. Therefore Evie’s attention had been focused wholly on the thrilling present, until the mindfulness of the approaching morning broke in on her fun.
Though the dawning day would bring peril, Evie sensed it approaching with no more trepidation than any other morning. Her only apprehension was the hint of remorse for the beautiful night having passed too quickly. Time always flies when one is having fun. The clear and frosty nights of autumn always passed too quickly, as did the fleeting October colors of the oak and fiery maple leaves.
An hour before sunup the pack of young wolves went their separate ways, and Evie left the northbound trail carving through the little town of Ludlow. From there she skirted the empty cornfields and pastures south of her grandparents’ house. Passing the long barns as quietly as a phantom, so as not to disturb the animals, she then crossed the frosted grass of the upper field and approached the big oak house from the side. Hopping onto the back porch, easily bypassing the steps, she neared the sliding glass door, slowing with each stride.
Before the glass she caught a glimpse of her white-furred, green-eyed reflection under the moonlight. She always dreaded mornings. A being of lore, her nights now played out like strange and wild dreams come true, whereas mornings, and their accompanying human responsibilities, felt like unusually harsh realities. To bid a beautiful night farewell was difficult. To bid the wolf farewell for the daylight hours was harder still. It was the purposeful act of stifling the truer, favored portion of her being. More so, it was to give up the thrilling strength and freedom of the wild animal, exchanging it for the monotonous daily routine of the post-modern human creature.
Her white head drooped. Morning was fast approaching. Try as she might, she knew that wishful thinking could not hold off the inevitable. So with a heavy heart she focused her mind and made the instantaneous shift to her two-legged form.
Entering the dark house, she closed the door softly behind her. Pulling on her warm robe, which was waiting just inside the door, she quietly crossed the great room on her toes, making a beeline for the kitchen. Her stomach was growling. A well-stocked refrigerator was one of the perks of the human aspect of her unusual life.
She was a few strides from the fridge when the TV in the great room suddenly blinked on behind her. Instantly it filled the quiet house with light and sound that was harsh and sharp to her highly sensitive eyes and ears. A quick check confirmed that the great room was in fact deserted. Yet the TV was on. Apparently of its own accord.
“What in Sam Hill?” she muttered, squinting as she went hunting for the remote control. Of course the news was on. She hated the news. And of course it was blaring. It would wake up the whole house.
“Leave it on,” said Joseph Snow.
Startled, Evie turned and looked up at her grandfather, the great leader of the pack. Sturdy and tall, appearing a fraction of his true age, he was standing by the balcony railing at the top of the oak staircase. Not so much looking out over the high-ceilinged great room, but looking squarely down at her.
“I’m sorry,” Evie said just above a whisper. “Did I wake you?”
“Don’t be sorry,” he returned and began ascending the stairs. “I woke up at precisely the right time.”
“Oh,” she exhaled, only mildly perplexed by his response. “Do you have the TV remote?”
“Well, who turned it on?”
He gave no answer.
“Then, I guess it grew a mind of its own,” she reasoned aloud. “It turned on by itself.”
“Strange,” her grandfather said with what struck her as unusual carelessness.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
“I’m afraid so.”
She watched him settle on one of the couches. Not only did his tone and mood seem unusually flat, he seemed abnormally fixated on the television. Which was far from normal.
Before she could ask more questions or reach any conclusions, her attention was drawn away from him. This time she saw her mother at the top of the stairway. Just behind her followed her grandmother. She looked closely at their faces. Neither seemed cheerful. Nor were they upset. They were just there. Their expressions were blank. Emotionless. They moved down the stairs almost mechanically and settled into the great room as if marching in a slow funeral procession.
“Did I miss something?” Evie asked, looking from one to the other. “Is this a joke or something?”
“No joke,” her grandfather answered.
“What is it?”
She took a breath before saying, “What is it?”
“One of my oldest fears has come to pass,” he answered. But there was no distress in his tone. And he’d spoken without taking his eyes from the TV.
Finally she looked from him to the TV, allowing her ears to absorb the sound she’d been working to block out. A news anchor was narrating video clips that seemed to be taken from a helicopter. The footage was jumpy, the scene chaotic. Colored lights of various emergency vehicles strobed in the dark, while the beam of the helicopter’s spotlight flashed over an area of disturbed earth. In the background there seemed to be equipment and machinery. Perhaps drilling and digging equipment.
“Looks like a real mess.”
Evie turned sharply to find her cousin Matthew seated on one of the big couches. They made eye contact for an instant and then he resumed watching the television.
“When did you get here?”
“Me?” Matthew said without looking at her.
“Yeah, you. I left you by your parents’ house five minutes ago. You’re telling me you got dressed and drove up here that quickly?”
He didn’t answer. Just shrugged and went on staring at the TV.
“Okay,” she said, turning back to her grandfather. “You know almost everything, Papa. Please tell me what’s happening.”
“On the television?”
“No, in general.”
“In general? I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific.”
“Are you messing with me?”
“What’s happening with us?”
“We are trying to watch the news, while you ask questions.”
“Did someone slip me a crazy pill?”
“Of course not.”
“I came in a few minutes ago, like any other normal night, and the place was perfectly quiet. Then the TV turned on all by itself and y’all started appearing like a bunch of zombies. None of you are acting right.”
“Y’all?” Joseph said, slightly furrowing his brow. “In case you’ve forgotten, my dear, you’re not living in the deep south anymore. This is rural New England. As always, you’re free to go on speaking as you please around home. But fair warning, it’s going to draw attention if you carry on like that out in public.”
She glared at him in disbelief, at a total loss for words.
“Okay?” he said.
She made only a small huffing sound in response.
“Good,” he said. Then he looked back at the TV.
“Will someone tell me what’s going on?” she said louder. “Please? And why hasn’t anyone made any coffee yet? It looks like we’re all up for the day.”
“Don’t look at me,” her grandmother said. “None of this was my idea.”
“But you’re usually so possessive of your fancy kitchen.”
“Not today,” she replied.
Joseph Snow looked at his wife. Then he raised the remote control to lower the TV’s volume. He set the remote back on the coffee table and then gazed thoughtfully at his granddaughter.
“What now?” she asked, staring back at him.
“You really want to know?”
“Well, if I had to guess,” he ventured slowly. “I’d say you were having a dream.”
She looked around at everyone. They all stared back at her strangely. Like she’d just knocked over an expensive vase.
“Seriously?” she said. “What are you all looking at? You’re all older than me and y’all are supposed to know more than I do about the weirdness that comes along with being a wolf.”
“I doubt this has much to do with being a wolf,” her grandfather said. “If I had to guess, I’d say this is all on you.”
“Ditto,” Matthew chimed.
Evie pushed her messy red-and-white hair back from her face. Crossed her arms. Took a deep breath. Exhaled heavily.
“It’s a dream,” her mother confirmed.
“Sure it is.”
“Wouldn’t I be able to tell?”
“That I can’t explain. But this is definitely a dream.”
“How do you know?”
“I’m your mother,” Janie said. “You’re all worked up right now, and yet, I don’t feel the slightest bit worried about you. I feel normal in every other way. So it has to be some weird, very realistic delusion you’ve conjured up.”
“Fine,” Evie said. “If it’s a dream, I want a nice fire in the fireplace. Instantly.”
A fire instantly appeared in the big stone fireplace.
“Okay,” she said slowly, her expression going from surprised to almost devious. “How about some music? I want Lindsey Stirling to come dancing through the room playing one of her violin songs.”
Lindsey appeared near the glass door, dancing and twirling and leaping about as she sawed on her violin. She skipped away through the length of the great room and disappeared down the dark hallway beyond the kitchen.
“Fascinating,” said Joseph Snow. “I feel entirely conscious, like my usual self, even though this is your dream.”
“Great,” Evie said. “Glad I could help you out.”
“Guys, I can hardly hear the TV,” Matthew complained.
“Sorry,” Evie snapped. “Didn’t mean to bug you during my dream.”
“Hey, this is some serious news. It looks like the undead are trying to take over the world.”
“Ugh,” Evie groaned, flopping back into a chair by the fireplace. “I’m not in the mood for a zombie apocalypse dream.”
“Not zombies, bloodsuckers,” Matthew clarified.
“Either way, it’s still—”
“Shhh!” It was her grandmother.
“That’s it,” Evie said. “I hate being shushed. Let me out of this dream. Be over! Wake up!”
“I said, I want out.”
She stood up and stared at her family, waiting for some further response or explanation. Seconds ticked by. Nothing changed. They went on staring at the TV as if she wasn’t there.
“Guess I’m stuck here for a while,” she muttered. “Might as well—”
“Shhh!” Her grandmother again. Not a quiet little shhh. I’m talking about the sort of shhh that makes you want to deliver a Tyson uppercut to the chin of the one shushing you.
For half a second Evie felt ready to explode with rage. But then she caught herself and stomped to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. In the process she made sure to rattle the silverware drawer with extra gusto and clatter all the cupboard doors.
The news was bleak. A rash of violence had erupted overnight in the otherwise quiet Canadian province of Nova Scotia. Hundreds of emergency calls had been placed by the hour during the course of the night. Some reported strange activity about homes and neighborhoods. Others described victims narrowly escaping vicious attacks from a terrifying apparition. Most reported missing family and friends.
A visual aid appeared on the screen. It mapped the timeline and progress of events of the night. Beginning west of Halifax, the rampage moved east into to the little city. From there it turned north before turning back west toward New Brunswick and the eastern border of the US.
The news anchor turned to eyewitness testimony given by a very frightened man. He claimed to work for a heavy equipment company that provided on-site maintenance to the equipment. Some twelve hours prior to this newscast he had been dispatched to repair a malfunctioning excavator. The excavator was being used on the infamous Oak Island.
The anchor interrupted the man, clarifying for the audience that Oak Island was home to the legendary money pit. The place where treasure hunters had been searching, unsuccessfully, since the late seventeen hundreds.
The witness resumed, explaining that there had been a buzz around the island in recent days, and the equipment had been used heavily. The team conducting the search had continued working later than normal on the evening in question, after making contact with a large underground structure some seventy feet below the surface. As the supposed treasure was carefully exhumed, the buzz about the island swelled to shouts of joy. Grown men were acting like kids at a little league game. At long last something significant had been discovered on the island, after hundreds of years of efforts, fortunes squandered, and multiple lives lost. Finally something tangible had been exhumed. Something apparently intact and undamaged.
But it was not chests of pirate gold that they unearthed. Rather, a large wooden structure. Something like a shipping crate. The outer layers of this box were rotting and crumbling, but being highly overbuilt, the inner layers of planking were still remarkably solid.
The witness hesitated.
“And then what?” the anchor pressed.
“It was awful,” the witness muttered, shaking his head and drawing in a long breath.
“I know you’ve had a rough night,” the anchor said. “But can you tell us what the searchers found in that box?”
“They pried it open,” said the witness. “There were big work lights set up everywhere, aimed at the dig site and at the box. I could see everything clearly. And they finally pried it open. And … I saw … There was someone in there.”
“Buried in the box?”
“Yeah, it was like a man,” answered the witness.
“Like a man?”
“Like a very old and shriveled man. All leathery. Skin and bones. But not exactly like a mummy. He looked like he’d been down there a while. But not too long.”
“How could that be?” asked the anchor.
“I don’t know. All I’m saying is that’s what I saw. It was a little like seeing those old photos of people in concentration camps.”
“So, you’re there working,” said the anchor. “There’s a buzz around the island. The thrill of anticipation.”
“It’s an historic moment.”
“Yes. To the searchers it sure was.”
“They found a withered, almost mummified human body within the box.”
“Strange, indeed. Now, can you tell us how this strange situation turned so deadly?”
“It happened fast,” replied the witness. “I couldn’t see everything once everyone crowded around closer. I just remember seeing the old man lying there, looking so strange. Almost like a wax dummy. Then one of the guys in charge reached out and touched him. He opened his eyes. The old man woke up. He grabbed the guy that was touching him and the guy started screaming holy hell. There was a struggle and everything just went crazy after that. Guys were yelling and running every which way. Next thing I knew, I saw this … thing.”
“Thing?” said the anchor, raising his eyebrow, sort of like Dr. Evil.
“It was like the old man. But he was younger. Stronger. And it started to grow wings. Kind of like bat wings.”
“You don’t mean like Batman?” asked the anchor.
“No, no, Batman wears a cape. I mean real wings sprouted out of his back. He came right up off the ground, flapping those wings, like it was a totally normal thing to do.”
“To say the least,” said the witness. “And that’s the last thing I remember. After that I was just running for my life to find a place to hide.”
“He’s heading to the US,” said Joseph Snow. “I’ll have to mobilize the Maine branch of the pack, if they haven’t already heard the news.”
“Are we positive it’s a vampire?” Matthew asked his grandfather.
“I’m afraid so,” Joseph answered.
“I only ask because it’s not unheard of for the Canadians to get drunk and riot about hockey games.”
“Well, nobody seems to have any clear footage of the vampire. I was just thinking, maybe this is just drunken hysteria gone crazy.”
“I see your point,” Joseph said. “But the fact is, drunken sports fans rarely grow wings from their backs. They may injure one another and possibly kill a few bystanders, burn a few cars and stores, but this incident has gone well beyond that. It is way too organized to be anything but the systematic work of a thief of life. And, given my theory of the island being a tomb rather than a gold depository, it makes sense. He was set loose by night, as luck would have it. Living blood reached out and touched him in his weakened state, giving him new life. Now that he’s been fed, he’s building a following, and he’s leading that growing force toward the greater population of the States.”
“Bad,” Matthew said under his breath.
“A nightmare,” Joseph said. Then he rose and walked to his study.
Evie was at the opposite end of the great room, leaning against the counter that separated the room from the kitchen. She was working on a leftover biscuit and sipping an excellent cup of brew. She had heard the news and had heard her grandfather’s theory, but she wasn’t all too concerned. As he disappeared into his study, where he spent much of his time, her cousin stood up and came to join her in the kitchen.
Joseph Snow stood before what appeared to be an ordinary bookshelf in his study. He moved a few books and reached into the shadows behind the shelf, feeling for the hidden locking mechanism. Locating it, he released the steel bolt, then stepped back, pulling the shelf slowly out into the open space of the room. Then he moved into the tunnel behind the shelf and flipped a light switch.
The rectangular secret room, lined with fireproofing behind the oaken walls, came to life. Here Joseph kept thousands of his rarest books and historical documents, stored in rows of seven-foot shelves and encased within a glass climate control system. A vast and priceless collection. Accumulated gradually over his unusually long life. His most prized material possessions.
One specific document had come to the forefront of his mind as he sat watching the news. A narrative of a sea voyage. The destination, an unnamed island. He need only find that document now to confirm his suspicion of the creature resurrected from its island tomb.
“Coffee smells great,” Matthew said, and slapped Evie on the shoulder in passing. Being several inches over six feet and strongly built, the slap was a little harder than she appreciated.
“Don’t touch me,” she said.
He stopped and stared at her, half smiling.
“Don’t look at me, either.”
“What’s your problem?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“Isn’t it easier to tell me than to have me guess?”
“You don’t usually give me grief.”
“Same with you,” he said. “You’re usually pretty mellow about things. So what’s up?”
“I don’t like this dream. Am I allowed to have an opinion in my own dream?”
“What’s so bad about it?” he asked.
She shrugged and took another sip of coffee.
“Oh, I get it,” Matthew said. “It’s one of those dreams you have absolutely no control over.”
“That, and it’s so real that it’s creepy.”
“It’s just not my idea. And honestly, I’m not really into horror.”
“Stop stressing. It’ll pass.”
“Not soon enough.”
“Could be worse,” he said, pouring his coffee.
“Could be a lot better.”
There was a knock at the front door before she could answer. No one else acknowledged the knock, so Evie walked over and opened the door.
Gathered on the front porch were seven or eight kids. All wore homemade ghost costumes. They were very short, looking strangely similar to the cast of an iconic Halloween cartoon special. One girl wore an ugly witch mask over her sheet. One boy had far too many eyes cut into his sheet.
In unison all the kids exclaimed, “Trick or treat!”
“Is it even Halloween today?” Evie asked.
“Sure,” answered the girl in the ugly mask.
“Even if it is, who goes trick-or-treating at dawn?”
“We’re not worried about those details,” said the girl. “We only want candy.”
“Great parents y’all have,” Evie shot back.
“Lady, we really didn’t come to chat. We’ve got a big party planned for later. Can you just give us some candy?”
“Lady? I’m sixteen, for your information.”
“Really? You’ve sure got a lot of white hair.”
“That’s a sign of my ancestors, if you must know.”
“Don’t whatever me, kid.”
“Can we just have some candy now?”
“You’re the mouthy one,” Evie said, glaring at the girl. “The wannabe doctor. The football prankster.”
“So what’s your point?”
“I don’t like you, that’s what. Try that football business with me, I dare you.”
The girl looked around at the other kids, hoping for backup. None was offered. Not even from the piano player.
“I knew this was a bad idea,” said the mouthy girl’s younger brother. “We wasted all this time getting here, I haven’t seen a single pumpkin patch around this farm, and now it looks like we won’t even get any candy.”
“Rats,” groaned the boy with too many eyes in his sheet.
“Sorry, we don’t keep candy around this house,” Evie informed them. “Even if we did, no decent parents would let their kids come near this place. Violent episodes have been known to happen around here.”
At this point the mouthy girl lost what little patience she had and turned to the other kids. She was complaining and trying her best to stir them up to a riot. Seeing this, Evie decided she was done playing nice. She focused her mind and in an instant made her human head change to her huge growling wolf’s head. The kids all fled in terror, hollering like crazy and making slow progress on their very short legs.
“Don’t come back!” Evie shouted after them, her head normal again. “And if you see a fat orange cat wearing a pirate hat, tell him not to bother!”
“This is getting weirder by the minute,” Evie said to Matthew, now back in the kitchen.
“No use complaining to me,” he returned, casually sipping his coffee.
“I was just saying …”
“Say all you want, cuz. I’m only a supporting character. Not much I can do to help you.”
She scrunched her brow. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just what I said.”
“What’s to explain?”
“Talk to me like I’m five,” she said. “Like I know nothing of my life.”
He sighed in that typically male fashion. As if being asked to communicate beyond grunts and gestures and fragments required a lofty effort.
“Please, Matthew,” she said.
“Fine,” he relented. “I was saying you know how it is. You’re one of the prime characters in this series. Right? So my point was, if you don’t like the way things are going, there’s no use telling me about it. Take it up with the man in charge.”
“Man in charge,” Evie repeated under her breath. Her head started to whirl. A hundred ideas and memories rushed at her at once. It felt like the house was spinning around her. She really had no interest in going to Oz.
“Don’t tell me,” Matthew said, his face brightening as he watched her. “You honestly didn’t know?”
Without answering him Evie sprinted through the great room so fast that she barely made the right-hand turn into her grandfather’s study. For some reason she’d always found left-hand turns to feel more fluid and natural than right-hand turns. The secret door stood open in the study. She went into the hidden room and saw her grandfather behind the glass barrier of the climate control system. She tapped the thick glass. He looked up from a document in hand and motioned her to enter. She opened the glass door and shut it quickly but softly behind her.
“Hey, you,” he said. “I’ve got news. My suspicions appear to have been on target.”
“Papa, are we all fictitious?” she blurted.
“It’s a vampire, all right. Hundreds of years old.”
“Are we the—”
“Imprisoned on that island.”
“—products of some weirdo’s imagination?”
“And not just any vampire.”
“Take it easy,” he said, glancing at her disapprovingly. “There’s no need to shout.”
“To begin with, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. Plenty of people ask these sort of questions at some point in their lives. Are we creatures or creations? Are we alone in the universe? If there are aliens somewhere out there, are they actually all slimy and gross and hostile? And if they are so hostile and dangerous, why do the largest military powers of the world spend all their time and money developing weapons to fight each other, rather than to repel the massive extra-terrestrial threat?”
“Please …” Evie said.
“What? You mean you’ve never asked yourself any of those questions?”
“No lessons now,” she said. “Just level with me. Are we fictional characters?”
“Of course,” he said. “I guess I just assumed that you understood that. Everyone else around here seems to.”
She swallowed hard and backed slowly away from him, to the door, her heart drumming and her stomach going all fluttery. She was smack in the middle of the worst sort of epiphany. All the strange facts and quirks of her life suddenly made sense in a sickening moment of clarity. She felt like she was possibly on the verge of a complete emotional upheaval. Since she’d never really had many of those before, it was sure to be a whopper. Like Mount. St. Helens.
“Our lives,” Evie proceeded slowly, as in a key scene of a great drama. “Not only are we made-up characters, we’re all from a male POV, aren’t we?”
“Yes,” Joseph confirmed. “I assumed you knew that as well. Now, about this vampire problem. I have in my hands an account written centuries ago, detailing the crossing of the North Atlantic by a group of—”
“Papa,” she interrupted. “I can’t handle these necessary plot components right now. Nothing is ever simple with this family. And you’re always mansplaining me about something or another.”
His eyebrows went up. “If that’s how you wish to see it,” he said coolly. “Perhaps you could spend the next century or so studying, as I have. Then I could save my breath. Maybe take a long overdue vacation.”
“That’s not even close to fair.”
“Neither was your totally uncharacteristic and disrespectful statement. But no hard feelings on my end. This is your weird little dream, not mine. I’m sure you’ll regret it in the morning and apologize to me, though I won’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”
Two or three seconds of heavy silence.
“Anyway,” Joseph said. “According to this document, the vampire appears to be from—”
“No,” Evie groaned, backing and reaching for the door knob. It all made horrible but completely practical sense. Only a male author would overlook his heroine’s feelings in favor of advancing the overall plot. In this case, a pack of really awesome wolves poised to face an undead leech bent on pillaging the globe.
“Go for a run,” Joseph suggested, seeing her distress. “If you can’t control yourself, go tire yourself out.”
“But that’s our answer for almost every problem,” she said. “Running.”
“Because it works,” he returned. “We are wolves, after all. And no one has the energy to raise pointless arguments after a good sprint.”
“I’m upset, in case you didn’t notice.”
“I did notice. Hence my question. Now I’ll ask another. Why has my stating of rather obvious facts upset you so?”
“Because …” she whined.
“If you don’t understand why you’re upset, how can you justify an emotional outburst?” he asked.
“Just once can I please act purely on emotions without being shown what a useless waste of time it is?”
“Of course you can. Just not in this house.”
“But it’s my dream.”
“True. But, as you can see, I am still completely myself within said dream, and I built this house with my bare hands as a refuge from the senseless world. You might be my favorite grandchild, but if you think I’m susceptible to emotional manipulation halfway through my second century of life, think again.”
That said he set down the document, produced a random violin seemingly out of thin air, and gave the strings a few light strokes.
“Since when do you play?” Evie asked.
“Since now,” he replied, and began playing slowly and thoughtfully a melancholy tune. Like Sherlock Holmes when he had some serious thinking to do.
Evie watched him for a moment with a swelling grumble of frustration rising up from her belly. When she could take it no more she spun and left the glass enclosure. Stormed from the study to the great room. Went out the slider. Slammed it almost too hard. Dropped her robe. Surged forward as the raging wolf and darted for the trail by the apple trees. She was heading to Oak Hill. The secret place of solace and pack meetings.
It wasn’t long before she overtook the now lost troop of cartoon candy beggars. While they screamed and scattered at the sight of her, the silver-white wolf kept her focus locked on the snooty one with the witch mask. She closed on her like a heat-seeking missile, and hit her about as hard. Her attack was brief but decisive, and the notorious mouthpiece was silenced once and for all. Then, turning from the mangled remains, Evie heard the other kids thanking her from their various hiding spots, while also begging to be spared.
“Get off our land!” she growled. “We are dangerously possessive of our territory. And never speak of what you have seen. Or else!”
From there she blazed up the trail to the hill, like hell on wheels, and lay atop the smooth stone of Moon Rock, the peak of Oak Hill. Thinking and stewing, she tried to relax as she watched the first dim light of day crawl over the tops of the sea of trees.
Racking her memory, she searched for any clue that might explain this dream. She never consumed mind-altering fungus growing in the forest. And it had been many months since she’d watched any sort of horror or vampire movies. So where had it come from?
Finally it hit her. By calming herself and employing her mind, she was able to backtrack through her memories and identify the source. At first she was annoyed, because her grandfather’s technique had worked so flawlessly. But once she let that annoyance go she felt a comforting wave of relief wash over her.
She ran like a speed demon back to the house.
Family and pack members had been piling into the house in her absence. The place, though large, was filling up fast. She worked through the crowd and found her mother and grabbed her by the wrist. They went through the kitchen and down the hall to one of the spare bedrooms.
“I figured it out, Mom,” she chirped through a proud smile. “I know what caused this crazy dream.”
“Dracula,” Janie stated casually while inspecting her fingernails.
“Ugh! How did you know?”
“I found your grandfather’s old copy on your bed after you ran out. I saw it and everything clicked. You fell asleep reading a Victorian horror classic. Combine that with your grandfather’s stories about Oak Island, and here we all are in a strange mashup. The book is being poured through now, along with digital copies on various platforms, for insight. Your grandfather and uncles are preparing a battle strategy as we speak. And, of course, for added insight, they’re playing the single greatest vampire movie ever made.”
“The one with Anthony Hopkins?”
“That’s okay,” Janie said. “But I’m talking about The Lost Boys.”
Evie collapsed onto the spare bed. Flopped back and had a little kicking and swinging temper fit.
“Feel better?” her mother asked.
“Why is our author doing this to me?” Evie said.
“Me? Excuse us all, we didn’t realize you were the only one involved. And doing what?”
“Leaving me so … So … I don’t even know what I’m mad about!”
Janie sat on the corner of the bed, saying, “Okay, let’s deal with this once and for all. What’s all this anger really about? Is there a mean girl at school? Or a popular boy that prefers blondes to redheads?”
“You’re kidding? In a male POV story? And I don’t even go to school anymore. You help homeschool me. Remember?”
“Oh, that’s right. So instead of being thankful for being spared from an awkward and unusually dangerous high school scenario, where all the students look like models in their twenties, you’re just angry because—”
“What? You could have some evil bitch from school trying to destroy your life for no good reason apart from jealousy. How great would that be?”
“Don’t you get it?” Evie fired back. “We’re all male creations. Don’t you see how weird that is for me as a female lead?”
“And you think everything is all fun and games for our author? Believe me, no man anywhere really understands females. And nowadays the majority of fiction is purchased by, you guessed it, females. You try guessing what the hell they feel like reading.”
Evie was shaking her head. “I refuse to go along with this guy’s version of me,” she stated emphatically.
Her mother scowled. “Let me get this straight. Amid everything that’s happening here, your greatest issue is having a male author? Baby, that’s not so PC. You know sexist sentiments go both ways. And in case you’ve forgotten, there is a vampire trying to start a global plague. As if the world isn’t screwed up enough as it is.”
“So what?” Evie said, sitting up beside her mother. “It’s only a dream. And what can he do to me?”
“The vampire or the author?”
“Well,” Janie said thoughtfully. “It’s not like he’ll kill you off or anything. But he might shift more of the focus to your cousin Erica. She’s got that Nordic name and fighting spirit going for her.”
“You want my opinion?” Janie asked.
“You might not like it.”
“I’m pretty sure.”
“I’m telling you anyway.”
“Fine, get it over with. Then we can go kill the stupid vampire to save the stupid humans that won’t appreciate anything we do anyway. Then maybe this stupid dream will be over. Did I say stupid?”
“I raised you right,” Janie said. “So behave. You’ve never given us a bit of grief until now.”
“Kind of a weird situation, don’t you think?”
“You are in complete control of whether you freak out or not. Sure it’s weird, but so what? Focus on all the good things our author has given us. Let the other stuff go.”
“That’s it? It all boils down to my attitude?”
Janie shrugged. “Either that or risk making people not like you. I mean, honestly, you have a pretty awesome life here. Never sick. Perfect teeth. You’ll look thirtyish at a hundred. Fishing for sympathy from readers that enjoy your life as an escape from the daily grind might not be your best bet.”
“I don’t really want my life to change,” Evie said. “The point is, with a male creator, I can’t go in a different direction even I wanted to.”
“So it’s purely a freedom issue?”
“Well, that’s not so bad. It’s not like you’re locked in a cage in some horror story, or being forced into an arranged marriage. Try pushing the perceived limits a little bit. Nothing crazy. Just enough to see what happens.”
“I can do that? Safely?”
“Within reason, I’d say. I mean, you’re asking these questions and haven’t been struck by lightning.”
Standing, Evie took a deep breath and said, “I’d like to feel less stressed.”
“And … I think I’d like a really beautiful gown.”
The gown appeared, hanging on a hook on the door. It was white.
“Red, please. To match my hair.”
It turned red.
Her robe switched places with the gown, and the gown fit perfectly. She looked down at it and made a few turns, running her hands all around. It was beyond amazing. She could create traffic jams strutting around in this thing.
“And amazing shoes that hurt my feet but make me taller and make other girls jealous,” she said next. “And my hair and nails all done up perfectly. And some freaking crazy diamonds!”
It all happened.
“See, isn’t this fun?” Janie said. “For a male author, he’s willing to work with you.”
“I guess he’s not so bad,” Evie admitted.
“Random question. Do you feel bloated? Have cramps?”
Evie shook her head. “Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever have.”
“Men can’t be that clueless.”
“They just assume we feel as good as we make ourselves look. Plus, not all wolves mate.”
“My boobs sure look bigger. Either they’re growing or the cut of this gown is ridiculously flattering.”
Janie nodded admiringly. “Maybe a little of both.”
“Okay, that’s enough,” Evie said. “I don’t want to be Jessica Rabbit with chronic back pain.”
“You should be fine,” her mother said. “In the long run, we really haven’t had anything too crazy to deal with around here. If you think about it, the male imagination could easily produce Stallone and Schwarzenegger, smoking cigars and riding through town in a tank. Or Clint Eastwood gunning down scumbags with his Smith & Wesson model twenty-nine.”
“Mom, seriously, how do you even know the gun details?”
She made a gun with her finger and pointed to her head. “Male POV.”
“You could have Jack Reacher going around head-butting people,” Matthew added, poking his head into the room on his way back from the bathroom.
“We have Lars,” Evie pointed out. “Same idea as those tough guys.”
Matthew nodded. “Speaking of tanks, have either of you seen Fury?”
“No,” Evie said.
“I did,” Janie said. “Powerful film.”
“That ending, right? Those dudes gave their all.”
“Aren’t you going to compliment me?” Evie asked him.
“What’d you do?”
“Look at me! I look like a fairytale princess. This gown must’ve cost ten grand. The jewelry must be a small country’s GDP.”
“Is that a zit on your forehead?” he said, squinting and staring.
She slapped both hands her forehead and felt around. She couldn’t feel anything.
“Gotcha,” Matthew said and he laughed and went up the hall to the kitchen.
“Mom,” Evie said, shooting her mother a pleading look.
“Relax,” Janie said. “There’s no zit. And you got your amazing outfit. Can’t you just be happy now?”
“I should be. Shouldn’t I?”
“That’s the myth of materialism. None of this crap offers lasting happiness. It’s like a high that requires more and more of the drug to achieve.”
“Back to me,” Evie said. “Isn’t the whole point of dressing up to have everyone making a big deal about it? To be the center of attention for a while?”
“You look amazing.”
“Of course you’d say that.”
“Well, what else do you want? Your name spelled out in the night sky?”
“No.” She shrugged and made a thoughtful face. “Maybe. Just for a minute or so.”
“Look, honey, here’s the deal. We’re supernatural beings living secretively in the real world. That means if you get into trouble Superman will not reverse the rotation of the earth to save your life. That would end all life as we know it.”
“No, I’m not listening anymore,” Evie said. “This is my dream and I’m taking the reins. Like a true fairytale … or at least a paranormal teenage story … now that I look red carpet fabulous, I’m gonna go get lost in the dark woods wearing this completely impractical attire. I might even complain about being cold. And when I do complain, it will be completely unapologetically, in spite of the fact that dressing this way is totally my idea, and I’m well aware of the cool climate. Take that!”
“Why would you do that?” her mother demanded.
“Because I can. Why else? I might even demand that someone cranks up the heat to accommodate my poor planning.”
“Fine, I give up,” Janie said with a wave of her hands. “But just so you know, crap like that irritates men and keeps them from being more willing to communicate and connect with us. It’s much easier on them to just get lost in their hobbies. Who do you think is watching all those YouTube videos about sharpening axes and building log cabins?”
Evie ignored her as she turned and dashed up the hall, running awkwardly in the fancy shoes.
“Open the doors,” said Joseph Snow. “This house feels like an oven with all these warm bodies packed in here.”
The front door was opened as well as the sliding glass door off the great room. Brisk autumn air wafted in.
“Now for the details,” Joseph said loud and clear. Then he paused, because from where he stood on the edge of the fireplace overlooking the great room, he saw Evie run out the front door in her fabulous red outfit.
“Tell us,” someone said from the waiting crowd.
Joseph collected his thoughts again and said, “We are dealing with—”
Just then Evie rushed back in carrying a plastic sled. All eyes were on her. She pushed through the crowd, stomped up the stairs like a horse in her fancy shoes, sat down on the sled and then came zipping down the stairs, screaming comically, skidded through the kitchen, and flew out the open doorway. Very much like scene of a popular Christmas movie.
“Are we almost done with this nonsense?” Joseph asked, looking around.
Everyone was quiet.
“Okay,” he said. “We are dealing with none other than—”
“Daddy,” called Janie from the kitchen. “Evie’s refusing to cooperate with the plot. Should I go after her?”
“Not yet,” he told her. “If the focus stays solely on her, we’ll never get this vampire problem dealt with. And if we don’t deal with it, I’m afraid this dream will just go on and on.”
Janie stuck her head out the front doorway and called after her daughter, “Go build an ice palace, you spoiled brat! Maybe find some bozo to lean over the railing of the Titanic with!” Then she composed herself and looked to her father.
“Well,” Joseph said. “Let’s get on with the problem, shall we?”
“Do we need to know the vampire’s name?” someone asked from the crowd.
“It can’t hurt,” Joseph replied. “Because he’s no average vampire. In fact, we could call him a son of dragons, as his father’s name implied. Yes, we are dealing with one of the sons of the legendary Wallachian prince.”
“Think of the Carpathian region of Europe.”
“Vlad the Third,” Joseph resumed. “The infamous impaler, said to feast in the presence of his dying enemies. Known more commonly, thanks to Bram Stoker, as the wicked Count Dracula.”
“What’s the son’s name?” asked one of Joseph’s sons. “Vlad Four?”
“Strangely, no,” Joseph answered. “According to what I’ve read, he was simply known as Dennis Dracula. His friends apparently called him DD for short.”
A murmur of scoffing passed through the great room.
“Okay, let’s be serious,” Joseph said. “This is Stoker’s nightmare coming to us through Evie’s dream, so it’s bound to take a few strange turns.”
The room settled again and Joseph resumed.
“As this old document describes, the young Dracula fled Europe after the news that the Turkish Sultan finally succeeding in killing his father. We know that according to Mr. Stoker, Vlad endured the grave to become the count. But his son, not realizing this, feared for his own life, and offered much gold to be smuggled west secretively by ship. Who provided the service? None other than a band of fierce Northmen, comfortable with the seafaring life. Not loyal to the Sultan, but rather to the highest bidder of their services.”
“How did Dracula’s offspring end up buried?” asked one of the many family members. It was someone without an assigned name or steady role in the series.
“That answer is found in the text of the sea crossing,” Joseph said. “Evidently the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in the Dracula family. The young Dracula attempted to feed on the Northmen during the crossing, just as his father did in Stoker’s account. After the first man was killed by surprise, the others deduced the cause, and after close examination realized their passenger was no average young man, but an undead parasite masquerading in human form. From there they took steps to lock him by daylight in the box of earth he had so strangely insisted upon taking aboard the ship. Once contained, they saw no need of opening the box again. When they found an uninhabited island here in the west, they decided to reinforce the box with oaken planks and bury him as is.”
Another murmur swept through the room.
“Now, now,” Joseph said, quieting them. “Leaving Dracula in his sacred earth may seem like an oversight to us, but let us be fair. These Northmen had not the benefit of Stoker’s work to guide them through the proper disposal of a vampire. Nor could they predict modern detection equipment discovering the box so far underground. They certainly didn’t know the island would become an object of obsession for treasure hunting centuries after their voyage. Rather than criticizing, let us credit them for setting up a chain of silent sentinels, the very cause that brought our pack to this continent. That protection extended long after the original men had passed, ensuring the island would be guarded until all possibility of Dracula’s survival had passed out of their realm of plausibility.”
“Then people got curious,” his son Lester said.
“Yes,” Joseph agreed. “I’ve tried and tried to purchase the island, to keep the suspected tomb undisturbed. But Oak Island is one egg I’ve never been able to crack. It may actually be as cursed as it is rumored to be.”
Standing up from the sled ride, Evie exclaimed, “I’ve always wanted to do that!” Then she kicked the sled aside and gave herself a quick check. Everything was still flawless. The sort of flawless that made plenty of women hate themselves.
Yet, for some reason, rather than seeing the cause of their problems, many of these women continued to use their spending power to support the massive industry based on completely unrealistic vanity and fictional glamour.
Weird products and wrapping rituals (not terribly different from ancient paganism) promising to be the fountain of youth.
Lotions and cleansers tested by being rubbed into the eyes of dogs and bunnies.
Horrid fragrances promoted by horrid celebrities. Many of the ads suggest the possibility of fairytale love, but instead the actual fragrance only gave you and those around you a headache.
We’ll leave surgical procedures out and focus mainly on products affordable to women of average income.
“Okay,” Evie said. “Back to me, please.”
(Sorry, I was ranting.)
She glanced around at all the vehicles parked in the yard. She didn’t want to run in her fabulous gown and shoes, so obviously she needed a vehicle. But under the grand circumstances, no normal vehicle would do.
Then, in the distance she saw two figures moving up the drive toward the house. They appeared to be teenage guys on BMX bikes.
“We heard you had a vampire problem,” one guy said as they skidded to a stop. He was breathing hard from pedaling, and on top of that it sounded like he was forcing his voice to sound deeper than it really was.
“Yeah,” agreed his less popular brother at his side.
“We’re the Fog brothers, from the best vampire movie ever,” said the first brother. “Edgar and Alan. We’re here to help you kill the bloodsucker.”
“Seriously?” Evie said, glancing from one to the other.
“Sure. We’re extremely dedicated to the cause.”
“You rode your bikes here to help us kill vampires?”
“All the way from California.”
“Whatever,” she said, motioning them to the door. “Go join the party. My mom will probably want your autographs.”
Now, back to the car issue.
Evie had a Miata. It was a fun car, but nothing spectacular. What she wanted now was something that screamed Look at me! A pumpkin turned into a rickety carriage just wouldn’t do. She needed something so rare and exotic that the manufacturer decided who they would sell their car to.
“I want the craziest Ferrari ever!” she demanded.
A red Ferrari Enzo appeared. Its V-12 engine was idling, purring a beautiful note from its tuned exhaust pipes.
“Sweet,” she said as she climbed in, and without having any insight as to the operation of such a rare car, she stomped on the gas and hit the paddle shifters through the gears, zipping down the long driveway as fast as she dared.
Now, the Ferrari was an amazing machine for a track, but it was poorly suited to a dirt road. She could barely control it, and when she reached the pavement at the end of the excessively long driveway, she got overconfident and stomped the gas hard. The tires instantly spun and chirped, the back of the car kicked out across the road, and it came to a crunching rest in a stony ditch meant to accommodate all the spring runoff of melting snow.
Our heroine was uninjured. She climbed out and ascended the ditch and stood in the road smoothing her gown. The car was a mess, but at least she still looked killer. Before she could demand a resolution to the car issue, a man in a truck arrived and offered to help.
“That would be wonderful,” she said. “I’m sure you know, women looking like me never have to personally change a tire on the side of the highway, or crawl under the car to hook a chain to the frame.”
“Wow, you are gorgeous,” the guy said. “You could say anything right about now, and I’d work very hard to pretend to be interested.”
“Easy there, buddy. I know I look twenty-something, but really I’m only sixteen.”
“Same age as my son. Wanna meet him?”
“Not really. Ever since I was little I’ve measured men against my grandfather. You don’t know him, but, pretty much everyone else is a weenie compared to him.” She shrugged. “Sort of puts me in a bit of a pickle.”
“I hear you,” the guy said.
Then another man stopped in a truck. Then a third man stopped.
“I notice you all leering at me,” Evie said. “Are you guys about to compete in the hope of impressing me?”
“Of course,” the first guy said, and at once the three men started arguing among themselves. Each claimed to know the most about cars and to be the best man to help the stranded young lady. Each claimed to have the best truck, with the most pulling power and best fuel economy. None of them were willing to back down, so inevitably a fistfight broke out. Then weapons were produced, and what began as intended acts of kindness, sadly, ended like a road rage incident. All three men lay dead.
No, Evie thought. Even though the fantasy of having multiple men fighting over me has failed to work out as I’d hoped, I won’t let it get me down. I won’t let anything ruin this fairytale scene. This is my dream.
Like a fairytale, or a musical, Evie began dancing and twirling her way into the enchanted woods. Though she wasn’t a great singer, she knew she needed some sort of musical backdrop to complete the scene. The trouble was, she didn’t know how those fairytale girls came up with lyrics and melodies on the fly. Finally she settled on imagining herself moving to some beautiful soundtrack that was being performed by a huge orchestra. They would of course be performing the score before a huge screen showing her as she danced.
Unfortunately, the resulting scene fell short of her grand expectations. She wasn’t far into the woods before her gown got caught on a branch. An average girl might have tripped, but not Evie. She twirled gracefully away from the branch, and looking back to see her gown clear the obstacle, she lost her balance when her foot struck a smaller branch obscured by dead leaves. Only her excellent reflexes saved her from a face plant into an icy mud puddle.
But, unfortunately, she did roll one of her ankles in the excessively high heels. Grumbling under her breath, she reached down and removed the beautiful but dangerous shoes. She tested her ankle. It was okay, being that she was significantly stronger than an average girl. So she mustered the enthusiasm to rebuild her inner house of cards and then resumed dancing in her bare feet.
Within a few minutes, though, the routine started to get old. Dancing alone started to feel more like mental illness than enraptured delight. What she really needed was a partner to spice things up and impress the already jealous audience. She made the request known aloud, and instantly she was given a partner completely suitable to her current surroundings.
A big black bear stood up and began dancing about on his short hind legs, all clumsy and awkward. Evie tried to take his paws and lead him through the steps, but soon found that he was hopelessly out of his element, and in her opinion, really wasn’t pouring his full heart into the effort. His massive belly certainly wasn’t helping matters any. She could hardly reach him with her arms fully outstretched without getting belly bumped. In the end she gave up on him and let him drop down to four legs, where he felt much more agile.
But maybe he’s my soulmate in disguise, she thought. Yeah, this is my dream, right? And I am a fictional female. So maybe this is fate. Or if it’s not fate, I can make it become fate. Maybe if I kiss him he’ll transform into my incredibly buff future mate.
It wasn’t the worst idea in the history of the world, but in all the confusion of that morning, Evie had overlooked one important detail. She had forgotten to brush her teeth before leaving the house, and as it so happened, this particular bear was in fact an individual, not a mindless animal. And the truth was that he wasn’t a big fan of coffee or coffee breath. Plainly speaking, he downright disliked anything that didn’t smell like berries or honey or ants living in rotted tree stumps. He ran from her attempted kiss (which she never asked permission for) and quickly disappeared into the woods, leaving our fabulous heroine dressed to kill but completely alone.
Then the dream took its darkest turn yet.
Evie spun quickly at the sound of low and unpleasant laughter. It was like a madman laughing to himself, mixed with a scuffing sound. What she saw made her skin crawl.
About thirty yards from her there was a rectangular hole in the ground. Beside it was a pile of fresh earth and loose stones. The pile was being added to even as she watched. It was a grave. The head of a man was poking up out of the grave.
Then he saw her.
No, she thought with a gasp, clutching her chest. I don’t want this story to take a turn that leaves me needing to be rescued from this psycho. Not in my dream.
The gravedigger was no average man. Of course, any man digging a grave in the woods would’ve been bad enough. A woman digging a grave in the woods wouldn’t have been much better. But this particular man was of the very worst sort to be found in the US.
No, not a harmless clown that you can just ignore, like a mime. And not like the prankster clown, Binky, from the old Garfield cartoons. I mean a very disturbing clown, bordering on demonic. Beyond ugly, with nasty yellow teeth filed to points. Dressed in tattered clothing, bright colors subdued with dirt and possibly blood stains, he had blotchy makeup smudged all over his hideous face, further distorting his already unpleasant features. All the standards for a scary clown. Evie guessed he was one of those creepers that kept turning up on the news, scaring folks and trying to lure kids into the woods.
“I hate the news,” our heroine muttered, knowing that if she’d been able to completely avoid it, a scene like this never could’ve crept into her subconscious.
“News?” the clown said in a taunting voice.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” she said louder.
With an exaggerated expression of shock the clown climbed from the grave and said, “Is that any way to treat a guest? I’ve been digging like a dog here. The Granite State is no exaggeration.”
“Yeah, tough cookies. You’re a trespasser, not a guest. And I happen to be having a very bad morning. Translation, I’m in a bad mood. That means you’ve got till the count of five to get away from me and off my family’s land.”
“Are you Wonder Woman or something?”
“Five,” she said, and as she spoke, just knowing that she was possibly seconds from becoming the wolf had a strong impact on her. It made her feel less like a fairytale character and more like her usual self. The real her, not this other game she’d been playing. Showing off for vanity’s sake.
For a contemplative moment she felt silly for her behavior. Embarrassment turned to mild pain. Her heart ached at the realization of her self-centered conduct. It was in polar opposition to a healthy wolf’s personality and complex pack structure. It didn’t fit with her life any more than her gown and shoes fit with the local terrain. But, thankfully, along with that hurt came the clear understanding that she’d finally reached the moral of the tale. With any luck that meant that the dream sequence was nearing its end.
She shivered. Her shoulders were bare in what was certainly sweatshirt weather. But now, seeing things more clearly, she couldn’t stand the idea of openly complaining about it as she’d planned.
“You still with me?” asked the clown.
“Five,” she said again with an icy glare.
“Would you like a balloon?” he asked, sneering through his nasty teeth as he produced a crimson balloon from behind his back.
“My, aren’t we a bossy little princess,” he said, stepping closer. “Don’t you like fun and games? Most princesses long for a little excitement. Isn’t this exciting enough for you?”
“You’re not as much fun as those kids from Maine,” he said, his voice deepening almost to a growl as he took another step.
Suddenly a different voice, seemingly laboring to sound tough, said, “Don’t you dare touch her.”
Evie and the clown looked at each other for a surprised moment. Then they looked over at the newcomer on the scene.
The new guy was just some guy. Nobody they recognized. He looked to be in his early twenties. Tall and thin and dressed apparently in leather pants and a tight shirt, at a glance he seemed like the sort of guy that cared immensely about his appearance. His hair was styled in a manner to suggest carelessness, but in fact had taken a good deal of effort to achieve.
“Who are you?” Evie asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” he returned.
“Don’t get all huffy, I was just asking.”
“I know. But it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m here now. I’m here to take you away from all this.”
“You heard me.”
“You want to take me away? From my home?”
“You are my home.”
“What? Have we even met?”
“No,” he admitted, looking to the ground. “Although it feels like we’ve known each other forever. You see, for a while now I’ve been admiring you from afar, waiting for the perfect moment. That moment has arrived. This is a perfect moment. Don’t you feel it?”
“And people say I’m weird,” muttered the clown.
“You shut up,” snapped the young suiter. “If you hurt her, you’ll destroy my only reason for living. I won’t let that happen.”
The clown made a taunting expression of shock and then started laughing, pointing his gloved finger mockingly at the young man.
“Try me,” the guy said.
“And you’ll do what?” returned the clown.
“To begin with, I’ll be very upset,” he said. “Then, I guess I’ll … Uh …”
At that point Evie broke in, saying, “That’s nice of you to stick up for me, but I can handle this. Really. I got it covered.”
“Maybe. But you shouldn’t have to,” the guy returned. “That’s why I’m here.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I guess I’m just not getting it. Who are you exactly?”
“My name doesn’t matter.”
“No, seriously. I’m asking you to tell me your name.”
“And I’m telling you, it doesn’t matter. I’m anyone and anything you want me to be, Evie. Don’t you see? You’re a female lead, and I’ve been sent to be the popular solution to any and all of your potential problems. Yes, that’s right. I’m a book boyfriend. But not just any book boyfriend. I am yours and yours alone. Other women hold no appeal to me, though many of them will find me dreamy. That means I’m clay in your soft, beautiful hands, Evie. You can mold me into whatever you desire at the moment, whatever fits your current needs and mood.”
(“Bwahahha,” laughed the clown.)
Oh no, she was thinking as she took a step back and said, “You said you’ve been watching me?”
“I know it sounds weird,” book boyfriend said. “But you’ll have to trust me.”
“Let me get this straight. You appear out of nowhere, say all that weird crap to me, and now you’re advising a lone teenager to trust someone she met in the woods?”
“This is similar to how many romantic scenarios unfold,” he explained. “A stranger appears. He himself doesn’t matter, except that he’s reasonably attractive. His only purpose is to be obsessively devoted to the leading lady. That’s you, Evie. So here I am. For you. I am you. You’re everything to me. Forever and ever. We must never be apart.”
“This is by far the worst dream of my life,” she muttered.
“But I’m in love with you,” he said, producing a single red rose from behind his back. “Don’t you believe in love at first sight? Don’t you want to run away with me? Maybe do a reality show or something?”
(The clown was bent over by now, holding his belly, laughing in gasping fits and struggling to breathe.)
“No,” she answered. “I actually like where I live.”
“Don’t you want to be with me?”
“Not at all. Honestly, you’ve started so badly, I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of that ever happening, even if we were the last people on Earth. Unless you brainwash me, of course. Or hit me with a tranquillizer dart and lock me in a cage.”
He clenched his jaw and shook his head slowly.
“Sorry,” she said. “Honesty prevents a lot of unnecessary melodrama. Just shooting you straight, buddy.”
“Buddy,” he repeated under his breath, still shaking his head. Then he got irrationally angry out of nowhere and clenched his fists as he shouted, “But you’re everything to me!”
“That’s it,” Evie said, holding up her hands. “Both of you, get the hell out of here! I’m a reasonably nice person, but this is getting out of hand. I really don’t want to lose my patience with you.”
Book boyfriend went on shaking his head. “You don’t mean that.”
“I really do.”
“You’re just upset.”
“Stalkers have that effect of people. And no I’m not one of those girls that openly complains but secretly enjoys the obsessive attention. I really, truly wish to be left in peace. Please.”
“You just need some time.”
“I need you to go away.”
He made a sudden agonized expression of pain. As if her words were bullets piercing his tender heart. Or as if his leg was being slowly gnawed off by a crocodile. His whole body convulsed. Then, randomly, he peeled off his shirt. Moved his hips sort of like Elvis. Flexed his abs and rubbed some baby oil all around his core.
Evie looked closer. He had flat abs, but he had definitely added some flattering shadows of definition to make them stand out. The makeup was rubbing off with the oil.
Why me, she thought as she looked over at the clown, who was by now choking with laughter. At least she could just kill him and be easily done with it. But this boyfriend guy would be harder to get rid of. He wasn’t evil. Just clingy and obnoxious. She didn’t have the patience to file a restraining order and then hope for the thin police coverage to actually be able to enforce it.
“Don’t look so angry,” book boyfriend said to her.
“I could do much worse.”
“It kills me to see you this way.”
“You don’t even know how close you are. Whoever you are, please go home.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“I really do.”
“We were meant to be together.”
“Isn’t it enough just for me to think so?”
“Not even close.”
“You’re breaking my heart, Evie. My home is with you now, wherever you may be. If you send me away, I’ll be lost. Crushed. Shattered. Destroyed. Devastated. All those overly dramatic phrases. My world will literally crumble.”
“Your world?” she shot back. “Are you hovering in a state of grace above the rest of us, in your own little dimension?”
He sniffed, shaking his head, and then brushed away a tear. Evie closed her eyes and started rubbing her temples. A hell of a stress headache was setting in.
“Please,” book boyfriend said. “Give me one more chance to prove myself to you. This isn’t a game to me.”
“It’s a nightmare to me.”
“Don’t do this to me,” he said, almost choking.
“Don’t tell me you’ve crossed oceans of time to find me.”
“That would be a lie. It’s like ten or twelve miles, really, from my mom’s place.”
“Good grief,” she fumed aloud, her eyes still shut. “Some girls get a perverted billionaire. Some get a cowboy or a Navy SEAL. But no, I get stuck with the perfect guy for Taylor Swt.”
“I can bury this weirdo for you,” the clown offered her, momentarily getting control of his laughter. “The grave is all set.”
“I want you both gone,” she said, opening her eyes and glaring from one to the other. “Not soon. I mean now! I’m about done warning you both.”
The clown looked back at the boyfriend, at which point he lost control and busted out laughing again. Simultaneously book boyfriend fell to his knees, leaned back, raised his fists to the sky, and began crying and wailing. It was a sound like every cute puppy in the world being murdered at once with a dull blade.
Evie took a deep breath. She was descended from greatness and mentored by her extraordinary grandfather. So rather than letting herself flip out, she decided to calm herself by employing the old tactic of counting to ten. She tried to imagine herself being in book boyfriend’s shoes, how pathetic his life must be in order for him to act this way. Then she actually did start to feel pity for him.
She went over and knelt by him and put her hand on his shoulder. He seemed to calm slightly.
“So, what do you do for fun?” she asked.
“You really want to know?” he said between sniffs.
“No. But I’m trying here.”
“Mostly I tend flowers,” he said. “I work in a greenhouse. My mom owns it.”
“Oh, a family business. That’s nice.”
He nodded. “My mom helped me paint on my abs to impress you. She says chicks dig abs. Except for the guys in that 300 movie. The Greeks were not nice to the people attempting to conquer and enslave them.”
She dodged all that mess and said, “Do you like sports? Or anything outdoorsy?”
“Not really,” he admitted.
“Not even hiking? Sightseeing?”
“I have allergy issues outside of a controlled environment.”
“Uh … What’s your favorite food?”
“Mostly microwave dinners. They give me a feeling of self-sufficiency without the hassle. And sometimes my mom makes excellent soy burgers.”
“Well that’s the problem,” Evie said brightly. “You know, I’ve heard that wonderful advances have been made in the battle against high estrogen levels in men. You should really look into it.”
He shook his head grimly.
“It’s not your fault,” she assured him. “Low T is mostly due to our terrible American diets. All that packaged junk food.”
“I don’t know,” he mumbled.
She stood and lifted him up by the arm, saying, “Up we go. No more sitting around being sad.”
“You’re very special,” he said.
She shrugged it off. Of course she was special. But she couldn’t agree with him without sounding like a conceited snot.
“And very sweet,” he added, leaning in for a kiss.
“Not really,” she said, pushing him back.
“You’re very patient, very gentle. You’re like a delicate flower, Evie. But much stronger. And sort of intimidating. Like a bulletproof rose. I love flowers. It’s just … so sad when they wither die. That’s why I feel like I should always be with you, to make sure nothing bad ever happens to you.”
“I’ll be fine,” she assured him. “Don’t even worry about it. And as for withering, I’ll still be turning heads when you’re eligible for Social Security. If the program even exists then.”
He forced a smile. “You’re very understanding, Evie.”
“No, I’m not. I just want you gone.”
“Don’t sell yourself short.”
“Not planning on it.” And yet some people dislike me for failing to be a clichéd airhead.
She walked with him for a bit, helping him along. Then she let go of his arm and encouraged him to walk on his own. He was laughing and smiling and gaining confidence with each step. Brimming with the pride of a child just learning to ride a bike without training wheels.
“I feel almost alive,” he said.
“Good. Just keep walking.”
“But I’m afraid that I’m running from love.”
“You’re not,” Evie said. “If you think about it, the most touching love stories usually employ the pain of separation as their primary device. So just keep going, tearing us apart and making the audience reach for tissues.”
“Good point,” he said. “But the fact is, I’ll never find another girl like you. You can’t deny that.”
“No, but you couldn’t handle me anyway.”
He came back and hit her shoulder playfully. She hit his in return. He winced and stepped away again.
“See?” she said.
“I think you’re just confused,” she said. “It can easily happen these days. Much of the entertainment we consume portrays the myth of attaining happiness by means of romantic relationships.”
He nodded without enthusiasm.
Evie started to speak but then suddenly paused. She realized that she was imparting a valuable yet unpopular lesson in the same manner as her grandfather. She understood how book boyfriend felt. Yet she also understood why her grandfather was always so immovable. There was no way of legitimately helping someone apart from dealing within the realm of truth. Anything less would be participating in games rather than actual assistance.
“Do you need a hug?” boyfriend asked.
“No,” Evie said, holding out her hand to keep him away. “My point is, other people can’t really make you happy. Sure, the idea works as far as selling music and novels and movie tickets to young people willing to believe the lie, but the actual evidence of real people says otherwise. Look at the divorce rates. Then consider that at least half of those that do stay together report feeling trapped and miserable. The fact is, other people are just other people. They’re not magicians here to satisfy our constantly changing emotions in this uncertain world.”
“You’re right,” boyfriend said bitterly. “I’m going to end up like up like an old Michael Bolton video, crying alone in the cold rain.”
“No, no, no,” Evie admonished him. “It’s high time for you to start thinking positively. Somewhere out there, I know there’s a special girl just waiting to act like your mommy. She won’t make you feel perfect all the time, but she’ll agree with all your opinions, wash your clothes, feed you, listen sympathetically while you whine, and hold you while you sob. If that’s what you really want, you just need to make up your mind to get out there and find her.”
“But … I’m not sure where to begin,” he said.
“Okay,” she said. “You seem nice enough, so I’ll give you some great advice.”
He looked at her expectantly.
“Get a guitar.”
He made a face.
“Write a ballad, dummy,” she said. “Girls will flock to you and then you can have your pick.”
“That would be great … if I had some musical talent.”
She smiled with a nonchalant wave. “Talent doesn’t matter in the twenty-first century. It’s the same as the art form previously known as literature. Any hack can self-publish his fiction these days.”
“So, you honestly think the music gimmick will work?”
“Do you honestly think Page and Plant took out personal ads to meet girls?”
“Great point,” he called, his tone brighter. He began walking faster.
“That’s right,” Evie called after him. “You’re doing great. Just keep walking. One foot in front of the other. Go get that guitar and get busy practicing.”
“Will do,” he called.
At long last, when book boyfriend was finally out of sight, our exhausted heroine breathed a heavy sigh of relief. One freaking ordeal after another.
Then the clown cleared his throat behind her.
“I haven’t forgotten you,” Evie said as she turned back to him. If memory served, the last number she’d stated in her countdown was three. Not two. And definitely not four. The number of the counting was surely three.
Now, her patience spent, she didn’t bother finishing the countdown. She had pretty much given up on the sweet fairytale charade, and deep down she really was a territorial wild animal at heart.
Time to set it loose.
In a blink she transformed, her body doubling in size, tearing her amazing outfit all to shreds, and she leapt with a snarl at the clown with her massive jaws ready to rend and destroy.
A moment later the clown’s severed arm dropped to the ground. The balloon floated up from the disconnected hand, while the rest of the clown began screaming in sheer terror, staggering and stumbling and bleeding. He was wishing he could go back in time and make better life decisions. Perhaps become a defense lawyer for child abusers. Possibly an opiate dealer. Maybe a telephone scammer of the elderly.
In the next instant Evie’s wild senses kicked in. A familiar scent reached her nose. Another wolf was approaching fast. And not just any wolf. It was her grandfather. She scanned around and stood waiting, watching his white bulk flashing between the shadowy tree trunks.
“What have you done?” he asked, looking from her to the body flopping on the ground.
“He was one of those clowns from the news.”
“Very well,” answered the great elder. “Now that your ordeal here has ended, I ask that you turn your attention to helping us.”
(“Help!” screamed the dying clown.)
“What can I do?”
“The pack requires your presence. At the least it requires your attention.”
(“I’m sorry,” gasped the clown. “It was only a joke. A bad joke. But a joke.”)
“Let us return to the house,” Evie said. “I tire of this scene.”
Her grandfather nodded, and walking at her side, asked, “While you have been away, have you made peace with your role?”
The two wolves exchanged annoyed glances. Even living in the middle of nowhere, enjoying a little peace and quiet seemed a hopeless pipedream. It just wasn’t possible to have a smooth and uninterrupted conversation, regardless of where one went to have it. They sped up to get away from the clown, but putting him out of earshot was no easy task, given their exceptional ears.
They were back to the farm in a few minutes and much of the pack, now wolves, was impatiently milling about the back yard. The sight of them all gathered there in the early light of day was overwhelmingly beautiful to Evie. Over one hundred wolves, all beautifully and uniquely colored. Strong and nimble. Growling and whining. Some of them restless, their hackles bristling as they anticipated the battle to come. Just seeing them in that moment made her heart swell with love and awed pride.
“This is your dream,” Joseph said to her. “We may all act independently, as you see. But we cannot go easily beyond your boundaries. It would be much easier on us if you would bring us east to Maine.”
“Otherwise you must all run a great distance,” she said.
“Yes. There is no other way to transport so many wolves.”
“Then, let us be done with it,” she said resolutely. “Where arguments fail, beauty speaks clearest. I now see my selfishness, and I see it clearest by the beauty of my great pack. Above all else I am one of you. My love for you all and my territorial instincts far surpass the momentary selfish urges of my human side. Forgive me, all!”
Of course there were no real hard feelings with the pack. Only restless energy and simmering impatience.
“Such is the greatness of our lives,” said her grandfather, taking the chance to impart a lesson. “Our hearts and loyalties surpass even our majestic bodies. No grudges are held. Only fools hold grudges against one’s own body. We are one great body.”
“But I am sorry,” Evie said. “I have slowed our response to this terrible threat. Now let us join the eastern pack. Let us defeat this destructive force once and for all!”
And be done with this crazy dream.
The Fog brothers looked at each other. Then they glanced around at their new surroundings. They were no longer in the oak house of Ludlow. Nothing but fields and trees surrounded them as far as they could see.
“Dude, where are we?”
“I’m guessing eastern Maine. That weird family kept talking about Maine and other wolves. I guess we’re there now.”
“How’d we get here so fast?”
“Who cares? At least we didn’t have to ride our bikes.”
“Totally, man. But think about it. It’s Maine. You know who comes from this state?”
“I meant Stephen King. What if he gets involved in this? We’re way out in the boonies here. Some seriously scary crap could go down.”
“Dude, I’m not even worried. We’re all set.”
“Honestly, we sort of suck at killing monsters.”
“No joke. But you see the size of those wolves? See how many there are? No one’s messing with them in their element like this. It would be total suicide. Even our blazed hippie parents could see that.”
“Did you invite those brothers?” Janie asked her daughter. They were both dressed in jeans and flannel shirts, fitting with their locale. Sitting in a fairly nice treehouse about fifty yards from the Fog brothers, they were overlooking a huge field of young spruce trees. It was a Christmas tree farm. A dirt road ran through the center of the field, leading into the shadows of the eastern woods.
“I didn’t invite them,” Evie returned. “I’ve never even seen that movie.”
“Must have been me,” Janie said. “I admit it, I love The Lost Boys.”
Evie was nodding as she said, “So I guess we’re left out of the battle.”
“I don’t want to fight. Unless there’s no other option.”
“Same here,” Evie said. “But a small part of me can’t help resenting Papa, and ultimately our author for this. You know, for being so overprotective of us.”
Janie shook her head. “I don’t get kids today. You enjoy all the perks of being a favored one, and yet you resent being left out of a vicious battle?”
“The world’s headed straight to hell,” broke in an older man on a horse. He tipped his cowboy hat to them and then rode off heading west.
“Who the heck was that?” Evie asked her mother.
“Reminds me of the sheriff from No Country for Old Men. Our author must admire Cormac McCarthy.”
“And who’s that scary guy holding what looks like an air tank?” Evie asked, pointing.
Janie looked. She felt herself shudder. It was him. The terrible man whose name sounded something like Sugar. The prophet of death. He was staring after the sheriff on the horse with what looked to all the world to be bad intentions. Then he started to follow him.
“Kill him,” Janie said to her daughter. “Quick, have the author kill the scary guy! Before he hurts the sheriff.”
Evie made the request to the author, though it wasn’t necessary. He had it covered.
Sugar stood still. A fine pink mist puffed out from his chest and then a low thump was heard, like the sound of a door closing in the distance. A strange expression passed over Sugar’s face. It was a look of surprise mingled with pain. He made not a sound. A black-red stain spread out across his shirt as the life pumped out of him. He touched the stain and then contemplated the blood on his fingers as the world slowly darkened around him and everything he had ever been and had ever done ceased to matter. Then he died. His dead body crumpled over, his whole existence reduced to nothing but fertilizer.
Mother and daughter looked around. About a hundred yards away they saw a tall man dressed in camo stand up from behind a tree. He held up his rifle and nodded to them. Then he faded back into the trees without expecting any further recognition or thanks.
“And who was that?” Evie asked.
“Reminds me of legendary SEAL Marcus Luttrell,” Janie said. “It’s fitting, actually, that a Texas boy should be watching out for the old sheriff.”
“Okay,” Evie sighed. “It was nice of him to take care of that, but let’s not argue or even talk anymore, so we won’t provoke anymore randomness. Let’s just wait quietly and see how the plot unfolds.”
The morning was mostly clear. In the distance a thin bank of clouds was rolling in from the east. Unnaturally thin and dark. Black. Faint thunder could be heard. Little bolts of lightning flashed here and there. The light of the rising sun shone dim behind the small storm, casting strange beams all around the low block of darkness.
“The vampire uses the weather,” said Joseph Snow, the great white wolf. He was standing before the assembly of warriors, a wild army over three hundred strong. Some of the pack had remained in Ludlow and some had remained in the Maine village of the Snows, to guard the children. And, in the event of a tragic loss on the battlefield, to ensure that the family bloodlines would not be completely lost.
“Father,” said Lester Snow. “The scouts return.”
The white wolf turned east and watched the small group of fast wolves crossing the open area. They ran with all haste until they were nearly upon the army, and then slowed, catching their breath as they told of what they had observed of Dracula’s army.
The news was worse than expected. Dracula’s force had swelled to four thousand vampires. They made slow but steady progress under their protective dome of dark clouds. Most of the converts looked crazed with the hunger for fresh blood. And at the front of the force marched an increasingly growing force of wild animals. Common wolves and coyotes, bull moose and bears.
“The wild animals respect us,” Joseph said. “Yet Dracula’s powers of persuasion are strong.”
“We have no choice,” said Harold of the Maine pack, another white Snow wolf. “We must use Spartan tactics against their greater numbers. We must punish them on the narrow road and crush their will to fight.”
“Sound tactics,” said Joseph. “But I wish no wolf to be lost in such a battle. Dracula is from a noble line of warriors. It is my hope that he will offer terms before the battle. I will go and meet him. I will offer myself to him, alone, that we may avoid this war.”
“No, father,” growled Lester.
“I must do what must be done, or lose my honor. If he defeats me, avenge me with all wrath.”
A great many growls and grumbles erupted from all the nearby wolves. It was fear and sadness and naked fury.
Joseph Snow took one last look at his pack, his family. Then he turned from them and began marching slowly east, alone.
“Father!” called Lester, a huge gray wolf now in a trembling fit of rage. “This cannot be the way!”
“Do as I order,” his father called back, striding confidently toward the black storm.
Lester could not contain himself. He bolted from the line and it took three wolves working together to push him back and hold him down.
“Stay down, boy,” growled Harold, a great elder and veteran of wars. “You will only distract him if you interfere. You will only lessen his chance of victory.”
“No king meets without his generals!”
Harold returned through his snarls, “As you say, few are bold enough to stand alone. He will fight easier on his own, without concern for us. And he will intimidate the vampire more with his solitary stand.”
Across the open space, at first Evie could not believe her eyes. But after a moment she did believe them, and Janie had to tackle her daughter and use all of her strength to hold her pressed against the trunk of the tree holding the treehouse.
“Calm down,” she was saying over and over. “He knows what he’s doing. Don’t change. Don’t distract him.”
“He can’t go alone!” Evie was saying through her tears. “We can’t let him!”
“It’s his choice,” Janie said through her own tears. “I don’t know why, but it’s his choice. We can’t interfere now. We’ll only make it harder for him.”
After a minute or more of bitter struggle, Evie relaxed physically and wiped her face on her shirt. She felt sick. The wolf was just a second away. But she knew that she couldn’t set it free. Her mother was right. There was nothing to do in that terrible moment but trust in her grandfather.
“I don’t understand this,” she said.
“I don’t either.”
“It’s a nightmare, Mom.”
“I know. Hold on. Just hold on. We’ll get through it. Okay? We always do.”
“But you know what they say about dying in a dream. What if Papa dies in my nightmare?”
“Don’t think that way. Please, don’t even think that way. Maybe … Maybe he’s trying to distract Dracula. Maybe he’s trying to get into his head. If Dracula loses control over the weather, the sun might scatter his army. That could be his tactic. I really think it is. I hope so.”
Dracula rode atop a stolen horse. He was wrapped in blankets taken from a clothesline, and every hour he took a fresh convert to his cause and drained that convert of every last drop of blood. Otherwise he would be too weakened by the effort of maintaining the storm. And remaining on the move was critical. To stop and rest would invite these strange modern humans to attack him.
They came at him from the air, in flying contraptions he did not understand. They shined their glaring lights on him, bright like the sun, and fired projectiles into his body from noisy little weapons.
A vampire rushed back to the center of the marching army, where Dracula, looking tired under his blankets, rode safely hedged within his converts.
“My lord,” said the vampire. “A wolf approaches. He cannot be controlled by suggestion as the other animals can. It is the largest wolf I’ve ever seen. And there are more ahead. Many more.”
“Guards,” Dracula called. He was already at ease with the English language, on account of all the recent lives he’d consumed. He did not fully understand the time he found himself in, but by the blood he had taken, he was learning how to function within it. “Surround me while I speak with this creature. I have heard rumors of such beings, even from my youth. Men that go about as great beasts at will. They are the hammers of the gods, fierce beyond measure and hard to kill. Keep careful watch.”
Joseph Snow stood near the edge of the open space bordering dense forest. A single logging road ran straight ahead. He sat, glaring with his green eyes at the ragged mob approaching. The weak autumn sun barely shone around the vampire’s churning storm.
The progression ceased. There were movements amid the ranks. The white wolf stared with pity at the crazed converts of the vampire. They were pale and filthy, almost like haggard victims fleeing a warzone recently fallen to an enemy. Between them and himself stood rows of strong wild animals. They looked more hypnotized and confused than fierce.
Then Dracula rode forth through the ranks, bodies parting from his way. He sat straight and proud atop his horse. He moved beyond the animals with several bodyguards around and then halted just shy of the open space. Perhaps ten yards separated him from the lone wolf.
“Do you understand my language?” asked the wolf.
“I do,” replied the vampire. “It comes to me through the blood of the wild animals.”
“It comes to me freely as a gift, so that I might look after the natural world.”
“Beautiful,” said the vampire through a sneer.
“The world has changed greatly while you have slept.”
“So it has. And now I will change it more.”
“Not while I live. You will not move west with any ease.”
“You have the courage, but not the numbers to stop me.”
“I disagree. I would rather not fight, and I trust you feel the same. Do not deceive me or yourself. Your force, though larger than mine, is not devoted to you, but merely under your spell. Your numbers mean nothing. Spare your mindless devotees of battle. Let us fight with highest honor, leader against leader, leaving out all the rest.”
“You speak of honor, old wolf,” said Dracula, smiling thinly. “Yet you take me for a fool.”
“I issue a challenge, not an insult.”
“Then, if I took your challenge, what would become of my army when I can no longer maintain the clouds?”
“They will run and hide. Some may survive until nightfall. Do not pretend it is them that you care for. Like a coward king, you ride amid your army rather than at the head of it.”
Dracula was gazing beyond the wolf, at the distant line of the assembled pack. They were formed up in large blocks, somewhat akin to the Greeks.
He looked back to the wolf and said, “I am weaker by day. You ask me to throw myself to your jaws in the name of honor?”
“Feed,” growled Joseph, baring his terrible fangs. “Feed on your wretched converts and come out again to meet me. I have not slandered you, but have spoken plain truth. If truth burns, blame yourself. But do not insult me in turn, for my patience is thin. We could have attacked you from all sides in the deep forest. Much of your force would already be defeated, and you would be battling not to be kept from a wooden prison, but from death itself. Yet knowing of your honorable bloodline, I chose honor first, and met you here.”
“Do you prefer honor to life?” asked the vampire. He pushed aside his blankets, his skin darkened, and he took the bat-like form, which was his strongest form, and the most demanding of his energy.
The white wolf looked beyond the bat creature to the churning storm. Amid the darkness there was a faint but sure difference as the sun’s rays struggled to penetrate the unnatural clouds. Dracula was strong, but not as strong as he wished all to believe. He was spreading himself too thin, hoping to achieve victory by intimidation alone. Joseph saw this clearly.
“From where you attain your powers, I do not know,” Dracula said, unfurling his spiny wings. “I could drain ten men and not gain the strength within a drop of your blood.”
“You will not taste it while my heart beats,” Joseph returned through bared teeth.
“I trust your word, worthy foe.”
“Your father was great and once fought bravely,” said the wolf. “Have you learned of his fate?”
“I have. Do not hope for me to repeat his mistakes. My appetite for women and the worship of brides will not shadow my decisions. I will only rest with such comforts when all threats have been put down.”
“That may be. But it matters not. Your pride in your powers has already assured your defeat.”
“Strong words,” returned the vampire. “A fine show you put on, old wolf. I do not blame you for your strategy. But in truth, all I have experienced from you are words, and I will not cave to them. Your methods would strike terror into a mortal, yet I am no mortal. I will not halt my progress because of your reasoning. And since you are so noble, great one, you will not cut me down here, away from my army, as you are well capable of.”
“Go now and feed yourself,” Joseph growled. “Retreat to the forest or advance to the open. We will cut you down all the same.”
“It’s okay,” Janie said to her daughter. “Look, he’s coming back.”
Evie watched silently, still wiping away tears as her grandfather walked back to the center of the open space. He sat facing the vampire’s horde, projecting an image of immovability.
Dozens of wolves closed around Joseph, while the bulk of the pack held back twenty or thirty yards in their formation. They were clustered in blocks of roughly twenty, and the blocks were staggered and arranged to form a point like an arrowhead.
“The vampire will not negotiate,” Joseph told his fellows. “Do not let them taste your blood, lest you give them greater strength.”
Then he turned at the sound of screams from the undead army. It was Dracula, frantically feeding upon his devotees.
“Let the wild animals go ahead of us,” the vampire ordered his generals, now that he had gorged himself. “Let these wolves struggle against them before meeting us. And when we do meet them, do not play into their tactics of fast strikes and singular battles. Stand strong, several of you against one of them, and do all that you can for even a drop of their blood. From it, your strength will be greatly increased. Then they will fall to you with ease.”
Within thirty minutes the black storm had darkened and advanced over the field of battle. Dracula’s minions advanced behind the line of wild animals, and the entire force spread out in a long line, so as to impose their superior numbers against the much smaller pack. Dracula sat atop his horse at the center of the army with rows of guards encircling him.
“Fools,” he scoffed, surveying the field and the outnumbered pack. “You have wasted your chance to employ Spartan tactics against us in the tight spaces of the forest. You have given away your advantage for sake of honor. And now your battle formation borrowed from Alexander will fail. A brave idea, but you have not the numbers to succeed.”
For a moment the bat creature laughed to himself, reveling in the victory he would soon enjoy. He wiped blood from his foul lips and then shouted the order for the wild animals to attack.
At the vampire’s command, nearly three hundred wild animals began a furious stampede. The ground shook under their weight. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of brute muscles and claws and teeth, antlers and hooves, charged at the pack. It was the kickoff of a wild Super Bowl.
Across the field, Joseph walked at the front of the arrowhead formation. He began trotting, head low, ears back and eyes fixed ahead. The pack moved behind him, in unison, like one massive body. They picked up speed, staring into the faces of the bears and wolves and huge moose charging them. The wild animals were slightly outnumbered by the pack, but they were still a formidable force.
Then, as Joseph and the elders had expected, as the wild animals drew nearer, they began to slow. The nearer they came to the lords of the forests, they less power Dracula’s dark spell of suggestion held over them. Seeing the great pack, they began to remember that they were wild animals who answered to none. The wolves they revered. The bat creature whispering lies in their minds they surely did not.
The line of animals slowed to a confused walk. They shook their heads, ridding themselves of the vampire’s voice. Then, something like the scene out of Braveheart, they met in the middle with their former, supposed enemies, and then joined rank with the forest lords. They turned and faced the army of ragged human converts who cared nothing for the natural world or their dark leader, but like him, craved only the taste of blood.
Dracula’s eyes opened wide. His spell was broken. He shook with rage, then screamed in a voice like the wind for the infantry of three thousand vampires to attack in one big wave.
His mindless masses could only obey their master. Their only weapons were sticks and stones. They ran, faster than any human, and collided with a line of wild animals that far outweighed them and sent them reeling and spinning. Some were torn in half or impaled on moose antlers. Others were ripped apart by bears and wolves and coyotes and even foxes and bobcats.
One brave little chipmunk held out a stick and tripped one of the vamps by poking the stick through a looped shoelace. The vampire, who happened to be a female convert, staggered and fell headfirst into the waiting jaws of a wolf, who promptly liberated her screeching head from her undead torso.
“Wow, did you see that?” Evie asked her mom.
“See it?” Janie said. “That was the worst scream I’ve ever heard. I’ll have nightmares about that sound.”
Just behind the front line, Joseph Snow and a group of seasoned elders turned sharply to the right, moving out from the arrowhead formation. They ran parallel with the long line of vampires, and just as Alexander had proven thousands of years before, the left flank of the enemy line saw the movement and took the bait.
Once several hundred vampires had turned to follow the breakaway wolves, Joseph and his team watched for the perfect moment, then cut back sharply to the left and dove into the opening the vampires had left in their line. The wolves ran full speed and carved through their disoriented foes, essentially cutting Dracula’s huge force in half, like a spear point piercing and displacing soft flesh. What little order there had been in the army soon fell apart, and the forces of the undead descended into total chaos, fighting only defensively.
Dracula, still atop his horse, saw Joseph coming straight for him. His white fur was stained with blood from slashing foes in passing. His green eyes were terrifying. The vampire could feel himself being stalked. Like he was being reeling in. He knew he was mere seconds from the most brutal fight of his life.
With a roar of anger he unfurled his wings and took flight. His startled horse fled, and the white wolf snapped at his bat-like feet, his terrible jaws clicking just inches from them. He came to a rest on a thick branch of a leafless maple tree.
Looking down at his foes, the vampire was too overcome with rage and fear to even attempt to shout orders. His force still outnumbered the wolves, but he could not deny the terrible proof of his eyes. Within a few more minutes he would be down to less than a thousand of his weakest fighters, after the bravest leading the charge. The battle still raged, but it was already determined. Dracula was beaten and he knew it. The limbs and heads of his converts were being torn off by the second in every direction of the disorganized fight. Screams of agony filled the air. The ground was stained dark with spilled blood.
All the while the white wolf glared up at him. Through his snarls he called to him, “You have no honor!”
“They’re falling back to the woods,” Evie said. “I can’t see what’s happening. Where’s Papa?”
“Let’s get a little closer,” Janie said.
They climbed down from the treehouse. Moved passed the terrified Fog brothers as they hugged one another and shivered. Staying low, mother and daughter crept closer to the battle.
Dracula stood in the tree, contemplating his options. He could simply fly away and start a new army. That would be the wisest move. But he knew he would be seen evermore as a coward. Without respect, how could he enjoy power? How could he intimidate and lord over those who knew he would turn and flee at any moment?
He looked down. There was a bear climbing the trunk of the maple tree. Another bear began climbing another nearby tree. More came. In all seven or eight bears were trying to surround him and force him into a decision.
“I must fly,” he said to himself. “I must endure.”
Then, from below, he heard the white wolf calling him a coward. Challenging him to come down and face him. The words pierced him like blades. His hateful eyes flared, and he transformed into a single bat that began fluttering east.
Instantly the bat was accosted by swooping owls. It dropped lower and lower, until finally Dracula took his lowest form by transforming into thousands of rats. If he was to flee, he would flee every which way, not in the open sky for all to see and mock and attack.
The wolves reacted quickly. What rats that made it into the trees escaped their jaws, but those who could not zig and zag and find cover fast enough were crushed between the jaws of great wolves and common wolves and coyotes.
Screaming with rage, Dracula recalled himself to his large bat form. At least a quarter of the rats had been killed, and instantly he felt how much weaker he was. He was also standing on the ground, surrounded on all sides. The last of his converts were being torn apart before his eyes. Their screams pierced him like taunts.
He made up his mind. If he had suffered the humiliation of imprisonment for hundreds of years, he could survive the humiliation of fleeing from these wolves in his most powerful form, a form that no owl or eagle could threaten.
He spread his spiny wings and began to rise.
But this time he did not escape.
A wolf lunged at him from behind and clamped down on one of his wings. Dracula fell back to earth. At the order of the old white wolf he was released, and he stood and faced his enemy, his only hope being for the wing to heal fast enough to allow him to escape.
The wolves formed a large circle around the vampire and the leader of the Snows. All were stained with blood and many were favoring injuries from fierce battle. Even Joseph Snow was favoring an injured foreleg.
“So it is your way,” seethed Dracula, glaring hatefully at the old Snow.
“Not my way,” Joseph returned. “All this carnage and gore was your will, not mine.”
Dracula said nothing to that. He feigned a smile, exposing his teeth. Then he lunged at the massive wolf with every ounce of strength and rage within him. The two met in a collision of fury and snarls. Tumbling and rolling, the vampire sought a hold with his strong arms and a chance to bite and draw powerful blood from the great wolf. All this while the white wolf snapped and spun and darted for a death grip with his mighty jaws.
Evie and Janie finally quit sneaking and transformed into wolves. They came up on the huge circle and pushed their way through the huddled bodies for a glimpse of the battle. Both were whining with deep concern, though the larger battle was already won. Joseph Snow meant the world to his daughter and granddaughter.
Amid the furious chaos of the fight, two things happened in Dracula’s favor, and they happened within a second or two. Though engrossed in battle, the elder Snow’s great senses alerted him to the presence of his daughter and granddaughter. Then, a second later, he was aware of another presence.
In the momentary distraction, Dracula gained a hold on Joseph’s injured foreleg. Before the wolf could repel his grip with his snapping jaws, the vampire wrenched the foreleg, snapping the bone so that it protruded from the leg. The white wolf issued a sharp cry of pain.
Dracula stood back long enough to enjoy the sight of the injured wolf struggling to rise onto three legs. He moved his wings, feeling that the injured one was not quite yet ready for flight. Then he looked around, half expecting to be blindsided by another wolf.
He was partially right.
But instead of being blindsided by one of the closest wolves, instead, in turning he saw the circle parting, allowing a dark figure to push through. He did not know that this massive black wolf was Abel, Joseph’s wild brother, but the vampire sensed the peril of his great presence all the same. He was massive and he moved without the appearance of nerves or concern. His hackles were rigid like porcupine quills.
For an instant the vampire contemplated his options. Dive on the white wolf and get his blood, or attempt flight with his wounded wing. In his mind’s eye he saw the memory of a child he had fed on. That child had recently watched The NeverEnding Story, and the fear and awe that child had felt for the creature G’mork struck him now suddenly with a chilling dread that was all too real. This approaching wolf was possibly more terrible than G’mork. The eyes were differently colored, like coals, and the cool menace of his glare and the gleam of his fangs out of his dark bulk shivered the vampire’s upright corpse.
For the first time since he’d been set free, Dracula wished he was back in his black and silent tomb under Oak Island.
Abel hurled himself at the vampire standing over his brother. Dracula resisted, trying in vain to gain flight, while hearing the cheers and jeers of all the surrounding pack. The two combatants tumbled and rolled briefly, before the vampire found himself pinned flat on his stomach. The black wolf was even heavier than the white, and slightly stronger. Certainly he was overflowing with an awesome rage, and Dracula was growing weaker by the second. His storm clouds were being dispersed by the sun’s light. His army was utterly destroyed and in tatters across the bloody ground.
Now his face was pressed hard into the ground. He screamed and cursed as he felt his wings being torn from his back. His arms and legs flailed, but the effort availed him nothing. He was outmatched. Overpowered. He knew he should have swallowed his pride and flown away while he’d had the chance.
Staring death in the face, Dracula reacted with a rage all his own, gathered all of his remaining energy, and poured it into one great effort to free himself. Letting go of the storm completely, he burned the last of his strength in one furious burst. He struggled and rolled onto his back and grasped with both arms for one of the wolf’s forelegs. Momentarily he caught one leg and gave it a twist, just before darkness closed around him.
The wolf had clamped his massive jaws around his head, and now he saw nothing but teeth and gums and darkness. The pressure of the wolf’s bite was horrific. His head was being reshaped, as if made of clay. He squeezed and twisted the wolf’s leg with all his might, feeling his own head being hopelessly crushed, the fangs slowly sinking into the skull, and the entire head being slowly pulled away from his neck at the same time. It was a scalding pain so intense that it robbed him of the strength to harm his foe. It was the pain he’d inflicted on others being multiplied and returned to him in one horrific moment.
Snarling, seething through clamped jaws, Abel pushed down hard against the vampire with both forepaws. He was mashing the creature down into the earth under his weight, while using the muscles of his neck to pull at his grotesque head. He pushed and gripped tighter and pulled harder. Every muscle in his great body was flexing in ripples. He could feel the creature being crushed and stretched to the point of breaking. Yet he felt no pity. He would not bargain and would not relent until this threat was banished from the Earth. It was not his way.
With a strangled scream Dracula felt the last of his life faltering. His body was being broken as his head was being torn off. His voice failed. His energy ceased. Black blood rushed out of his neck.
A moment of relative silence fell amid the large circle of watching wolves.
Abel stood back from the twitching corpse and spat the head out onto the ground. Looking round at all the wolves in their wide circle, he noted that many were injured and most were bloodied. The sun’s light grew ever stronger, and under its rays the vampire’s broken body slowly degraded to ash in the shape of a corpse. Then Abel looked to his brother, who was battered and dirty and standing painfully on three legs.
“You will heal,” he said with a deep and sandy growl. “And you will be stronger for it.”
“I will,” Joseph agreed. “My deepest thanks.”
Abel kicked dirt at the ashy corpse with has hind legs, like a dog amid a territorial ritual, and said, “You may thank me by removing this filth from my territory. Burn every scrap of these wretched slugs.”
That said, he turned and passed through the parting crowd of wolves.
“Wait!” Evie called after him, now standing at her grandfather’s side. “Come back! This is the perfect chance for us all to set aside our differences and have a big family hug.”
The old loner’s only reply was to laugh in his growling manner as his dark frame joined the shadows of the trees.
It was just after seven in the morning when Evie rose and took the Dracula book down to the study. Her grandfather was at his desk, reading over something or another. She walked over beside him and grabbed his arm and examined it.
“Morning,” he said, looking curiously at her.
“Right as the rain. Yourself?”
“Oh, nothing,” she said. “Just a creepy dream.”
He looked at the book and smiled.
“I wasn’t all myself in my dream,” she explained. “I was disrespectful to you and I’m sorry. Even though you told me in the dream that you had no hard feelings, I’m still sorry. Because later, I was afraid something would happen to you. And …”
He nodded, almost knowingly, and said, “Maybe tonight you should choose a story with a lighter theme.”
“No worries there,” she said. “I’m never reading another vampire book again. At most I might watch The Lost Boys with Mom. Well before bedtime.”
“The one thing about modern fiction I never could stomach,” Joseph said. “All the damn vampires.”
Interview (Cast & Author)
Paul and Lester Snow burst through the front door of the oak house, roughly herding three men. One man wore a fancy suit and the other two, dressed plainly, held camera and sound equipment. The one in the fancy suit was Gorge Snuffleupagus.
“Father,” said Paul. “We caught these men sneaking around the property after asking a lot of questions at the restaurant.”
“I’d greatly appreciate a quick interview,” blurted the reporter. “Please. Give me ten minutes.”
“At ease,” Joseph Snow said to his sons. “Take the equipment from the men and let Mr. Hippopotamus have a seat.”
Everyone congregated in the great room. Janie was humming the tune of I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. The sliding glass door was opened so that Abel could join the interview without lowering himself to enter a human structure. He glared at the strange men and growled low, but he said nothing, because at that point he had very little understanding of current journalists. Evie was obviously nervous. After all the author had recently put her through, she couldn’t help being afraid of what might happen next. She didn’t have the patience for a love triangle or being kidnapped or something like that.
“Don’t worry,” Shawn told her. “I’m done picking on you for a while. You can just cruise for a bit.”
“No cameras, no recorders,” the journalist said, sitting across from the family. “May I jot some notes?”
“If it makes you happy,” Joseph answered, staring the man down.
Gorge nodded and said, “I’ll get right to it. Regarding your series, I have to ask, why isn’t it a teenage romance series?”
“Why isn’t a golf ball a tennis ball?” Joseph returned.
“Okay, touchy subject,” said the journalist.
“None of the books are categorized or described as romance,” Shawn said. “If that’s not enough, skim a few of the reviews. Unless you’re Mulder or Scully, the truth isn’t that hard to find.”
Gorge nodded and scribbled a few notes. “Shawn, this story was a departure in tone from the rest of the series. Do you enjoy being perpetually sarcastic?”
“Why can’t you write about teenagers falling in love and saving the universe together?”
“Can you imagine having your arm chopped off by an axe?”
“I’d rather not. Why did you have Evie take a shot at Taylor S? You know it’s practically illegal not to be an adoring fan of hers.”
“It was a joke,” Shawn said. “I doubt she’ll hear about it from her castle in the clouds. And if she does, she’s free to make a joke about me. All she’s gotta do is make a crack about her income compared to mine.”
Gorge looked at Joseph. “How do you feel about Shawn introducing vampires into your lives?”
“I’m glad their gone.”
“What about readers?” Gorge pressed. “Many readers may feel sympathetic towards Dracula. Though he was described as a hideous bat creature turning his alleged victims into soldiers of darkness, perhaps he was beautiful on the inside. Maybe just misunderstood.”
“Readers are free to feel at their own discretion,” Joseph said.
“Don’t you agree? Shouldn’t efforts be made to understand and accommodate the undead within the rest of society?”
“As with Stoker’s Dracula, our setting is within the real world,” Joseph said. “And we were dealing with Mr. Stoker’s style of vampire, not the more recent soap opera variety.”
“You don’t think society at large should embrace them?”
“I’d prefer to move on.”
“Am I understanding this correctly?” Gorge said. “Your attitude seems to suggest an implied superiority to the vampires.”
“Obviously I like wolves better than vampires,” Shawn answered for Joseph. “Blame me.”
Gorge turned to Shawn. “How do you think that makes vampires feel?”
“You could at least pretend to care.”
“Okay, when you’re not writing I understand that you test classified military jets.”
“Have you ever won any writing awards?”
“If it really matters, not since third grade.”
“That’s a long drought.”
“Get your jabs in while you can, buddy.”
“You don’t appreciate reporters much, do you?”
“I have nothing against the sort that actually report. I dislike the ones that ask stupid questions. How did you feel as you stood watching your house go up in flames? ‘Freaking great!’ And as you can guess, I can’t stand the passive aggressive journalists that ask loaded questions designed to make anyone that might disagree with them look stupid. It’s the post-modern way of starting a fight without risking a punch to the nose.”
“You think violence solves problems, Shawn?”
“Can you back that up?”
“I’m from New England. We don’t send taxes across the pond to the crown anymore.”
Gorge looked at Evie and asked, “As one of the primary characters, how do you feel about being held back in pack status do to your age and gender?”
Her eyes rolled.
“Has my question made you uncomfortable?”
“Should I really be the new leader at sixteen?”
“Why not? It’s fiction.”
“By that reasoning, since it is only fiction, should the pack start flying in formation and honking like a flock of geese?”
“All of you stubbornly refuse to bend to my suggestions,” Gorge complained.
“Have you ever had to run for your life?” Evie returned.
Gorge ignored her and pressed, “Wouldn’t you prefer your life to go differently? Perhaps you could mate and reproduce sooner rather than later. Teen Wolf Mom. Then, maybe you could lose that mate in a tragic twist and end up being a single mother with eight pups to care for, all the while struggling to find the courage to dare to love again.”
“Evie looked at Shawn and almost growled, “I hope you have plans for this guy.”
Shawn nodded slowly.
Gorge looked back to Joseph. “Now, about your brother.”
“Fair warning,” said the elder Snow. “My brother can be a touchy subject.”
“Is there any way you could convince him to be more tolerant of humans?”
“Maggot!” Abel snarled at him from the open doorway.
Gorge kept on facing Joseph and said, “I’ve noticed that you clearly favor antiquated reasoning compared to more modern ideas. Can you honestly justify your prejudice?”
“You disagree with my worldview.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Not in so many words, no. But your expression and posture say otherwise. That’s on top of the slight chemical change within your brain I detect on your scent. A seizure alert dog has nothing on my nose.”
“There’s no need to brag about your allegedly superior senses, sir.”
Joseph smiled and said, “I’ll do you the favor that journalists rarely return and I’ll answer you straight. Yes, obviously I favor the older philosophies. Partly because I believe them superior, and partly because I am old myself. You may label them antiquated as a means of discrediting them, while passively insulting me at the same time. That’s about the best strategy you could hope for in an impossible fight. In sum, I reject your weak notion altogether.”
“Am I not entitled to my opinions?” Gorge said.
“Of course. Gather your opinions in your left hand, sir. Then gather some horse droppings in your right hand, and tell me which hand weighs more. You think me an old fool for my devotion to older ideas. Well, you are free to hold that opinion. And, in fairness, perhaps you are unaware of the fact that our author has been greatly influenced by older writers who managed to engage and entertain their readers, while also enlightening them.”
“Fiction should only entertain,” Gorge said. “Enlightenment should only come through journalists.”
“Some very prolific writers disagree,” Joseph said. “Dickens, Hemingway, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Conan Doyle.”
“Of course you don’t respect them, or the writers who influenced them. They didn’t even use cellular phones. How could they possibly compete with twenty-first century journalists?”
“Next question,” Gorge said.
“There will be no happy end to this conversation,” Joseph warned. “Why continue?”
“I will not be intimidated, sir.”
“Very well. Allow me to elaborate my antiquated ideas. I could mention the old joke about those living in glass houses throwing stones. Or I could simply ask you how you arrived here in this nowhere town.”
“We flew,” Gorge answered defensively. “Clearly I don’t have four legs and paws to run fast on. Someone of your supposed intelligence and experience must surely understand that.”
“Manned flight is significantly older than yourself, Gorge. How antiquated of you.”
“I don’t think I appreciate your tone.”
“Have you ever ridden in a car, sir?”
“What sort of question is that?” Gorge snapped.
“Of course I have. There’s no need to insult me.”
“You don’t mind being carried atop four antiquated inventions known as wheels?”
“Sir,” Gorge said firmly, visibly agitated. “You are a wolf, which is arguably the most polarizing animal in the world. How dare you question me and my rights when your kind is known for killing?”
“How about those fancy shoes?” Joseph returned. “Did those come from a calf that cheerfully volunteered its hide to be stretched on behalf of your feet?”
“Shoes can’t be produced magically.”
“And wolves must feed themselves, since they are excluded from all salad bars and buffets.”
Gorge sighed. “My remarks were only meant to make you look bad, not myself.”
“Clearly,” Joseph returned. “And as to your vicious wolf stance, how many Americans would you estimate have been killed by wolves this week, compared to those killed by other humans?”
“That’s an unfair comparison.”
“It leaves me with no legitimate response. All I can do is resort to my emotions and perhaps pin an unflattering label on you.”
“Shall we shake hands and quit?” Joseph asked.
“Wolves have scary teeth,” Gorge said. “Justify that.”
“And vampires don’t? You love them so much.”
Gorge shook his head.
Joseph resumed, “The last time I checked, more people are hospitalized monthly for bad reactions to vitamins than have ever been hospitalized as a result of wolf attacks. Please rationalize your stance on wolves, sir, so that I may better understand you.”
“I guess this interview is over,” Gorge said.
“Of course. Take your baseball and run home if the opposing pitcher refuses to lob you an easy homerun.”
“Fleas and ticks,” gorge said in his bitchiest tone yet. “Do they pose a problem for the pack?”
“Keep on slinging that mud,” Joseph returned calmly. “Work yourself deeper into the muck.”
Gorge looked to an imaginary camera and said, “Let’s take a quick commercial break.”
Nothing changed. There was no fade to commercial with peppy music. Only silence and thinly veiled hostility.
“I appreciate your time,” Gorge said to Joseph. “Now, if you could have your sons return us to your airstrip, we’ll be on our way.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” Joseph said, rising from the couch.
“And just why is that?”
“Your chartered helicopter is being disassembled for parts as we speak. It is of no practical use to you now.”
The journalist swallowed hard, looking around at all the family.
“Come along,” Joseph said, helping the man stand from his chair. He took his notepad and directed him to the porch.
“You can’t be serious,” the journalist said.
“Deadly,” Joseph returned. “But do not despair, Mr. Tippingapplecarts. Your two friends, along with your pilots, probably being paid a fraction of your salary in exchange for their risk, will be offered a chance to relocate to Hawaii. That’s after signing a strict nondisclosure contract, of course. I’m sure they’ll gladly accept the offer.”
The two men in the kitchen were nodding with wide eyes, though Gorge couldn’t see them.
“And me? D-d-don’t I get to go to Hawaii?”
“Murder is disgraceful, even within the animal kingdom,” Joseph explained. “Unfortunately for you, our survival depends largely on secrecy. That means that the defense of our territory is a just cause for the death of a foe. In short, no, you’re not going to Hawaii.”
“B-b-but I’m no foe. I can keep my mouth shut.”
“Ah, if only I could trust you,” Joseph returned as they stepped onto the porch. Mere feet separated them from Abel. The ill-tempered old wolf rolled out his tongue and bared his teeth in a menacing smile.
“Please, you can’t just let your G’mork brother kill me.”
“He’s inspired by G’mork, not exactly like him,” Joseph clarified. “Furthermore, in truth Abel’s less patient and less willing to explain himself to a perceived enemy. He certainly can’t be stopped by a boy with a sharp stone.”
“Your home and family is lovely,” said the journalist. “My questions … I was only doing my job. In reality I love wolves. M-m-maybe you could let me go and I could start a wildlife sanctuary!”
“Do you see those apple trees way across the back yard?” Joseph asked.
Gorge stared silently.
“How long would you guess it would take you to run to them?”
“Take heart,” Joseph said. “Because I freely admit that you are not the worst of all media personalities, I will grant you a fighting chance of survival. Though my brother is a savage, he is not without a code, and he will honor my wishes on my property. I’ll give you a ten-second lead on your way to those trees, starting from the moment your feet touch the grass beyond the porch steps.”
Gorge swallowed. He was as white as a ghost.
Joseph resumed, “If you can reach the shade of those apple trees before my brother catches you, I promise he will let you live. And not only will you live, I will personally fly you home in my jet and grant a live interview on the evening news. Then I’ll buy your dinner.”
“This isn’t fair,” the journalist whispered.
“The world is often unfair,” the elder Snow returned. “Which is why this country desperately needs professional journalists, operating on the principal of honesty, to keep the general public aware of what is truly happening beyond their daily routines. It’s really no different than needing auto mechanics to properly tighten lug nuts, or chefs to take care not to lose bandages in the mashed potatoes. It could all be easily summed up as integrity.”
“B-b-but I can change,” Gorge said. “I can set my opinions aside and convey truth. I’ll become a new man. Please, my reform will make a beautiful story!”
“I’m sorry,” Shawn said through the doorway. “I greatly admire Dickens, but this is not A Christmas Carol. The truth is, whenever I try to write cozy stories, nobody buys them. A perfect example is The Earthkeepers.”
“Best not keep my brother waiting,” Joseph said, giving the man a little push. “My advice is not to look back once you’ve left the porch. Face front, focusing all your might on reaching the destination at hand, and you just might make it.”
Guys, it’s only a joke. No annoying journalists actually got hurt.
Feeling bored? Aimless? Drop by Facebook Shawn Underhill (Author) where I share news about my stories and lots of pictures of awesome wolves. Someday I might offer to give away a new car, but I can’t make any concrete promises.
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