“…The lord bless Charlie Mops!” The two men sang off-key as they stumbled through the woods, laughing all the while. The man on the left, a taller man with graying streaks that had just become apparent at his temples, took a long swig from a brown bottle clutched in his free hand, the other hand slung over his friend’s shoulder for support as they walked.
“You are a stinking drunk, mate.” Slurred the man he was leaning on, groping for the bottle for a swig of his own. This man, shorter and more barrel-chested than the other, was bald. Great forearms and thick wrists showed he worked outside if one couldn’t make out his tanned skin.
“Like you’re one to talk Ashton!” The taller drunk laughed, passing the bottle to his squat drinking buddy and stumbling away from him to a sturdy oak. He fumbled with the front of his pants in an effort to free himself, before his bladder finally gave up the fight of holding back a night’s worth of binge drinking.
Ashton drained the last of the bottle before throwing it far into the woods, the tinkling shatter of glass against a tree making him laugh. “That’s more like it! Damned woods are nothing but trouble…”
“Says the woodsmen,” Cackled the taller man as he sighed in relief, having finally freed himself from the confines of his trousers and begun releasing the pressure that had been building all night.
“I tell you, Brandon,” Ashton said after a long burp, rubbing one hand over his head slowly, “I really feel for James, you know?”
“I know; I know… nobody thought his little girl would get caught out under a full moon.” Brandon said as he sighed in pleasure, tilting his head to the side as he stared up at the cloudy sky, “Thought she had more sense, truth be told.”
“We all did!” Ashton loudly replied, spinning to look over at his friend. “My god, how much did you drink buddy?”
“Shut it!” Brandon laughed as he strained to push out the last few drops, shaking himself a few times before stuffing his member back into his trousers. “But seriously, have any of you or the other men seen any sign of anything?”
“This again?” Ashton slurred, rolling his eyes. “Like I’ve told everyone else, there’s nothing in these woods to be afraid of, just a few wolves that like to hunt when the moon is full.”
“But the way they found her…” Brandon said, a hint of uncertainty in his voice.
“She probably got hurt by the wolves and crawled up a tree, got tangled in the branches and bled out,” Ashton said, waving off his friend’s concerns. “Could have happened to anyone.”
A sharp crack in the distance caused both men to spin, Brandon cursing as he tried to quickly tie off his belt during the sudden movement. “What was that?” He drunkenly asked.
“Probably just the wind,” Ashton replied, his eyes still gazing off into the darkened woods. Another crack caused him to narrow his eyes as he watched a shadowy figure some twenty yards away duck into the brush. Leaning his head to the side, he watched the bushes shake and rattle as the figure moved through the underbrush with animalistic speed. “Brandon, uh, maybe we should just head back to the bar?”
“But I thought you said you had some whiskey stashed out near your worksite?” Brandon questioned, looking at Ashton as he turned and stumbled closer.
“Yeah, I’ll pay for some whiskey at the bar. Let’s just go alright?” Ashton said, throwing an arm over Brandon’s shoulder and marching him back the way they came.
Brandon didn’t seem to understand. “Why pay for something you already have? Let’s just go to your worksite and get the whiskey! It’s a little muggy out, but a fine night to drink under the stars, assuming the clouds move any.”
Ashton bit his lip and looked over his shoulder back into the woods where he threw the bottle. From underneath the penumbral darkness, he could see a pair of golden orbs watching him, judging him.
Ashton didn’t like what he saw in those eyes any more than he liked what he had heard happened to James’s girl this very morning. Turning, he shook his head slowly, his eyes pleading for the creature to go away, to find something else to hunt.
For a moment, Ashton thought that his message had been conveyed when the creature closed its eyes, vanishing from existence.
But then he knew he was wrong when it was upon them, howling madly as it tackled the two men to the forest floor, tearing into Brandon with sadistic abandon, silvery blood glimmering under the moonlight the peeked out from behind the clouds. Brandon, of course, cried out, but after a quick crack of his neck, his cries fell silent.
“Goddamn it Ashley, you need to control yourself!” Ashton said as he rolled to his feet, dusting off his sleeveless shirt as he watched the half-wolf, half-woman drag the corpse slowly into the underbrush, her muzzle firmly latched over Brandon’s shoulder. “I told you this morning, I can’t keep covering for you!”
Sitting back on its haunches, the strange creature whined like a pitiful dog, even as it tore a chunk of flesh away from Brandon’s still living form. Ashton did his best not to look into his paralyzed friends pleading eyes as he watched his sister tear into him like he would a steak.
Ashton folded his hands behind his head and blew out a puff of air. “Well, what are we going to do with him now?” He asked the feasting beast, who merely growled in response. “Hey, don’t take that tone with me!”
Ashley raised her bloodied muzzle up and brandished her claws, growling deep in her throat as she gazed at her brother. Is this it? Ashton thought as he reached into his back pocket.Is this where she decides to try and eat me?
As she crept over Brandon’s bleeding form, walking on curved talon and wicked claw, Ashton drew out a butterfly knife, spinning it open with a resolute clacking noise of steel on silver. Holding it as if he were about to drive it down into a freshly caught rabbit, the burly lumberjack stood and waited for his sister to make a move.
A warm summer wind blew across the meadow, rustling the leaves in the trees and bushes all around them, but both of them stood as still as statues, waiting for the other to make the first move. The only sound in the clearing was the rasping breath of Brandon as he lay dying, watching on in morbid fascination as he continued to feel the cold vice of death close ever so slowly around him.
Growling, Ashley turned and allowed her long tail to tuck between her legs as she slumped into the bushes, whimpering like the bitch she was.
“That’s right,” Ashton called out, silently flipping the blade closed, “Slink off into the darkness like you always do. I just wish you would show this kind of cowardice every full moon instead of hunting down and slaughtering our neighbor’s cattle, or worse, our actual neighbors!”
Ashley continued to whimper as she licked at her forelegs, cleaning the blood from her sickle-sized talons.
“That’s right, whimper all you want! But tomorrow I have to go with the other men and try and hunt down the wolves that killed that little girl you mauled. Do you know how hard it’s going to be for me to hide you for the next three days?”
Ashley’s golden eyes stared forward at Ashton as he lectured, her tongue racing out from behind her teeth to lick and clean her muzzle.
“Why can’t you just hunt deer, hmmm?” Ashton asked, walking up to Brandon as he slipped his folded blade back into his back pocket. Squatting down low, he heaved a sigh and ran a hand over his bald head. “You paralyzed him… at least, he doesn’t feel anything, I think.”
Squatting next to Brandon, Ashton realized three things in the next few moments as he sister sprung from her position mere feet away.
The first was that he shouldn’t have put his weapon away, as that was the only thing that kept her at bay.
The second was that she proved just how crafty a hunter a wolf truly is as she rolled with him to the forest floor, her hind legs raking across his stomach, painfully rendering his hard muscles into bloody ribbons in seconds.
The third was how badly it hurt to have one of your own family members to attack you when you were only trying to help them.
Throwing her over him with a well-placed foot to her stomach, Ashton rolled over and pulled out his knife once more, flipping it into a locked position as he stood on shaking legs. The slash marks across his lower belly had cut deep into the muscle, and he could feel the blood gushing from the wound.
“Ashley! Don’t make me do this!” Ashton begged, brandishing his knife in a hammer fist.
But the wolf-girl was no longer capable of reasoning. She spun from her prone position onto all fours, growling and beginning to circle Ashton, looking for an opening. While she still had the dexterous hands of a human, each finger ended in a hooked claw that allowed her a good deal of traction. In the blink of an eye, she went from being a few feet in front of him to on top of him again, her teeth sinking into his shoulder as she sought out a tender vein.
Ashton grabbed her wrist with his free hand and bent it back, causing her to yelp and let go of him, granting him the freedom to slip the blade between her ribs two times in rapid succession. Black blood spurted from these small punctures, and she howled in agony as the silver blade burned her flesh. Slapping a paw over the wounds, she lashed out at her brother, slashing across his face with her wicked claws.
Backing up just enough for the razors to merely cut skin deep, Ashton rammed her with his shoulder while still gripping her left wrist, throwing her off balance as he yanked the arm high, dropping her onto her back with a yelp and a whine.
Dropping to his knees between her legs, he rammed the blade home into her neck, pulling it up to sever her esophagus and jugular in one fatal twist of the knife. As she lay bleeding, she whined a low keening whine, feebly moving her limbs about as if she could try and savage her brother once more.
Heaving a sigh and running a bloody hand over his face, Ashton turned and looked over at his drinking buddy, whose glassy stare told him he was dead. Turning back to his sister, he took a tuft of her fur near her right ear and brought her golden orbs to bare right into his own brown eyes.
“You made me do this Ashley. You made me do this, and for that, I will never forgive you.” He growled, tears streaming down his bloody face. “But know that I love you, and I wish you the peace of the grave. I’ll make sure you’re buried with mom and dad.”
She whimpered on final time as her last bloody breath escaped her throat, the final vestiges of life draining from her completely. Ashton knelt over her as he watched her change, slowly reverting to her human form, laying nude ion a pool of shimmering silver blood, glinting in the moonlight.
The news spread like wildfire the following morning; though for Ashton he could hardly care less. He had his fair share of well-wishers come by and offer their condolences for his sister’s apparent death at the hands of the drunkard Brandon, and the other men of the village offered to let him sit out on the hunt for the wolves that had claimed James’s daughter and Brandon.
Ashton thanked them for their kindness and kept to his cottage for the day, nursing the rapidly closing wounds he’d received from his sister the night before.
“Have to come up with a reason to leave soon,” He grumbled to himself as he pulled a new shirt on over his broad chest, the slashes on his stomach mere scabs now. His shoulder was still tender from the bite that had passed along the curse, but he could deal with such a minor inconvenience, “Don’t want to hurt anyone here that I know and love. Maybe it would just be best to move out into the wilderness, build a home there.”
Gazing out his window into his backyard where two headstones stood, a plot being dug next to the two for his sister.
“No… I can’t leave my family.” He growled beneath his breath, leaning heavily against the window as he watched the gravediggers work, resting his head on his forearm. “I guess Javols will still have a beast within it… at least for now.”