I don’t need to watch to know where the woman has decided to hide. It’s always one of three places, and out of those three it’s usually one specific spot. It’s all so… predictable.
I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t absolutely need to. If I could avoid it, I would. That’s always the case. The problem is that I can’t. Not when my condition reaches this point.
I really thought that I was going to make it this time. That happens more often than you might think. I managed to get through the past two cycles without having to resort to this. I was so damn close to making it this time as well. Yesterday my hands started shaking, though, and that was soon followed by the sensation of itching in the back of my skull. I knew then that I was out of time.
There’s no point in lamenting what isn’t to be. I retrieve the pair of knives from the table. The blades bob up and down in the air due to my shaking hands, but I will just have to make them work. I slowly walk down the stairs leading into the main warehouse storage area.
This would not be my choice of hunting grounds. Much of the space is taken up by crates and storage containers, and all the doors and windows are chained shut. It creates a claustrophobic environment that offers no chance for escape, which in turn takes away any potential thrill and makes for a tedious experience. Unfortunately, it can’t be avoided. I can’t take any unnecessary risks, even if that means that everything has become repetitive and dull.
There was a time that I would have tried to drag this out for as long as possible. That was back when I still believed that I could make all of this mean more than simply fulfilling an unavoidable physical need. I thought that I could force satisfaction from it through ritual. Maybe there was a time when that did work, or at least when I could make myself believe that it did. Now, though, there’s no point. I just want it to be over with.
I make my way over to the large stack of crates with the opening between the bottom ones. This is where the majority of people choose to hide once they realize that escape isn’t an option. If she isn’t here I’ll move onto the storage container with the broken door, and from there to the small office near the large metal doors. Those are the only three places in the warehouse where hiding makes sense, so inevitably one of them is chosen. All so damn predictable.
I don’t have to check the other two hiding spots, because I can see the woman crouched down in the shadows between the crates. I sigh. Of course she is.
This isn’t some random woman. She is the chef and owner of one of the best restaurants in town. I stopped in to dine there earlier in the evening, and the pork I had eaten had been exquisitely prepared. The meal had been the highlight of my evening. I had hoped that I would be able to spare her. She had sent her staff home when she had closed the restaurant for the night, though, and she had stayed late alone to do the final bits of cleaning. With no time to find someone else, my hands had been tied.
She looks up at me with wide-eyed terror as I approach. It doesn’t have to take long or be overly painful. I’ll finish this quickly. I owe her that much for the pleasant meal.
Television shows and movies would have you believe that people start screaming at the top of their lungs or try to fight back when their would-be killer approaches. I’ve found that’s not typically the case. Oh, it does happen from time to time, but usually they behave the way that this woman is. She is frozen in fear, her mouth moving but no sound coming out. I suppose that this kind of reaction should make me feel powerful, maybe dominant. It does nothing for me.
I hunch over slightly to enter into the small opening. She’s whimpering now, but I ignore it as I raise the knives. The shaking in my hands is worse now, and it’s all I can do to keep my fingers wrapped around the wooden handles. I need to get this done quickly.
The knives plunge into her body, and for the first time she screams. I swear loudly as blood leaks out onto my hands. The blades haven’t gone into the points that I intended them to. I had tried to make the stabbing lethal so that she wouldn’t have to suffer. Now I have to do things the messy way.
I pull the knives free. I’ve waited too long, and my hands are shaking uncontrollably now. I have to forget the original plan and improvise. Tossing one of the knives back behind me, I wrap both hands around the handle of the one that I’m still holding. This is a bit better. I definitely have more control over the weapon even if I can’t hold it perfectly steady.
The woman is still stunned from the initial attack. I don’t think it’s registered through the shock that she’s been stabbed. She stares at me blankly as her hands press against the pair of wounds. Before she can recover, I thrust the knife forward and this time my aim is true. The metal slides into her chest and I feel it pierce through her heart. I make sure to remove it instead of leaving it in. That way the bleeding will increase and death will come faster.
I sigh again as I back out of the space between the crates and walk away. She’s not dead yet, but she will be in just a few moments. I’ve been doing this long enough to know when a wound is fatal. There’s no point in standing around and watching the inevitable.
I hold out my hands in front of me. They’re still shaking, but the tremors are smaller and easily managed. The itching is gone from the back of my head. It’s an improvement, albeit a minor one.
It’s just so fucking unsatisfying. It never feels the same way that it does during that incredible final night of the cycle. My dissatisfaction is quickly being replaced by anger. Why the fuck can’t it ever feel the fucking same? One night of an incredible indescribable unmatched high, and nearly a month of rock bottom and just trying to exist until the next one. How in the fuck is that fair?
I force myself to calm down. The answer is that it’s not fair, but there’s nothing that I can do about it, either. Besides, the end of the cycle is almost here. I just have to make it until tomorrow night.
The smart thing to do would be to clean up the mess that I have just made and go home to get some rest. I know from experience that I won’t be able to sleep, though, and I’m not in the right headspace to make sure that I take care of my crime scene properly. Both those things will just have to wait.
Pulling a set of keys out of my pocket, I remove the locks from one of the doors and pull the chains free. I toss them off to the side in a small pile and go outside. The cold winter wind immediately assaults me, and I grit my teeth as I wish that I hadn’t left my coat inside.
Before I leave, I go around the side of the warehouse until I reach a spigot. I turn the valve and freezing water starts pouring out of it. As quickly as I can, I wash the blood off of my hands and dry them on the legs of my jeans. I let the water run long enough to allow the ichor to flow into a nearby storm drain, then close the valve once again.
A light drizzle begins to fall as I walk towards town. The warehouse that I use is located at an old dockyard that hasn’t been in service for years. I don’t own it, and the various cargo items inside of it aren’t mine, but somewhere along the way the actual owner stopped caring about it and left it to rot. I look around at the other buildings that I’m walking past. They’re all in various states of decay. I often wonder what happened here to make so many people walk away at the same time and leave so much merchandise behind.
Having such a large area to myself, especially one that includes more contained sections throughout the site, has been extremely useful. No one is around to hear any noises from either myself or my guests, and there’s no security that might accidentally stumble on my activities. It’s basically the perfect environment.
I grit my teeth. Except it isn’t perfect, is it? If it was, maybe I wouldn’t feel so hollow when I treat my condition. Maybe I need a challenge, and this place is making everything all too easy.
I shake my head firmly. That isn’t it. I know that it isn’t. The abandoned dockyard gives me safety when I otherwise wouldn’t have it. I’m just irritable and lashing out. Another wonderful side effect of my condition.
My car is parked at the edge of the dockyard. I ignore it and continue on foot. I’ve found that the best way to prolong the effects of a treatment is to remain active. The physical activity helps to distract from the return of my symptoms, at least for a short while. I check my watch. About twenty hours left. Fuck.
The road leading away from the docks is empty. That’s no surprise, as there’s nothing else out this way. There’s no reason for anyone else but myself to be here. I walk down the middle of the road instead of off to one side. In a very real sense, this is my own personal domain.
I walk for over two miles before I reach an intersection. I continue forward without so much as a glance to either side. Both the left and right paths lead to highways. The direction I’m headed in goes into town. Before it does that, though, it leads right past a smaller diner that’s open all night. That’s where I’m going.
After another mile I arrive at the diner. I’m pleased to see that there are only two cars in the parking lot. I go inside and sit down at a booth in the corner. I’m alone in the eating area. The cars must belong to employees.
Speak of the devil. A woman comes out of the kitchen and gives me a smile. I see the smile slip a bit. It wasn’t by much, but I definitely saw it. Do I still have some blood on me that I missed?
“Looks like you got caught outside in this lovely weather,” she says to me. “Did your car break down or something?”
“Truck, actually,” I lie easily, my worries dissipating. “Just down at the 219 ramp. I called it in, but I can’t get anyone out until morning. I had to walk here.”
I wasn’t born a good liar. Quite the opposite, actually. I was terrible at it as a child, and every time that I attempted lying I would be caught. I’ve developed the skill over the years. It’s been a necessity that I do so. Now I do it as needed without even thinking about it.
I order a cup of coffee to start before asking to see a menu. I smell a fresh pot brewing somewhere nearby, and my walk through the cold and rainy night has chilled me to the bone. I avoid caffeine most of the time, but I’m willing to make an exception on this particular occasion.
When the waitress returns with my drink, I order something off the menu. It’s some sort of sandwich, but I’m not sure which one. I just point at a line and she nods before going back to the kitchen. I’m not actually hungry. I know that I need to eat, though. My body needs as many calories as possible during the final phase of the cycle.
The coffee helps get the chill out of my body. That, combined with time having passed since the kill, makes me feel more like myself than I have in days. It won’t last, it never does, but for the moment I don’t want to focus on that.
I sit in the uncomfortable booth for a little over an hour, slowly eating my rather mediocre chicken sandwich and drinking progressively worse cups of coffee. Eventually it’s time for me to go. The diner is only a few miles from the dockyard, and I don’t want to leave too much of an impression on the waitress just in case something happens down the line.
The waitress brings me the check, and as she does she offers to give me a ride back to my non-existent truck. I give her a smile and politely decline, telling her that I’ve been stuck inside it all day and it feels good to be able to walk around and stretch. She glances out at the still-falling rain and asks if I’m sure. I assure her that I am.
As she’s walking back towards the kitchen, I feel the familiar itching in the back of my head.
No. This is too soon. I’ve never had the itching come back just hours after making a kill. It’s always a few days at the very least before I start to notice it.
I sit still in the booth, the pin-like pricks working their way up and down my skull.
Something is very wrong. Usually the itching starts out so faintly that it’s barely noticeable. Over the course of two or three days it gradually increases in intensity until it’s so strong that it pushes me to the point of insanity.
That isn’t happening now. The sensation is already intense, and I can feel it growing steadily as each second ticks by. I don’t understand. This doesn’t make any fucking sense.
Did I do something wrong, change something about the kill? I shake my head. That doesn’t make sense. There’s no ritual or anything like that. Make the kill, satisfy the need. That’s all there fucking is to it. It’s not goddamn rocket science.
Calm down. Breathe.
Maybe there was something different about the woman that I had chosen. All that had mattered before was the killing, but I guess that it’s possible. There’s no way to know for sure.
Focus. Fucking focus. None of this matters. What matters is what I do now. There’s no way that I’m going to make it until the end of the day. I look at the clock hanging on the wall. The sun won’t even be up for another hour.
At the rate it’s going, the itching will reach its peak soon. When that happens, the pain will begin. It will feel like spikes being hammered into every inch of my body. I’ll be so blinded by the agony that I will no longer be capable of rational thought.
The last and only time that it got to that point, I regained my wits in the family room of a house that I didn’t know. The remains of three people, torn apart and barely recognizable as being human, surrounded me. Every inch of me was covered in hot blood. All my symptoms were gone, but I had no idea what had happened and where I was.
It had solved one problem and created a multitude of others. I can’t risk that sort of thing happening again.
There’s an odd thumping noise. I dismiss it as noise coming from the diner’s ancient-looking heating ducts. It continues, however, and it doesn’t seem to be coming from above me. I look down and find that my hands are shaking so violently that they’re banging against the top of the table. I stare at them for a long moment. I hadn’t even noticed that they were trembling. I wrap my fingers around the edge of the table and grip it as tightly as I can in an effort to stop them.
I’ve come to a decision. I don’t know when I started working my way towards one, or how I had arrived at this particular conclusion, but I know what needs to be done.
Taking my wallet out of my back pocket, I pull a few bills out and place them on top of the check the waitress had left me. I know that she’s watching me through the small window that looks out from the kitchen into the dining area. After all, I’m the only customer. I’m not going to be ordering anything else, and she’s already earned whatever tip that I decide to leave. At this point she’ll just want me gone so that I’m out of her hair and she can go back to doing nothing.
I allow myself a small imperceivable smile as she immediately comes out of the kitchen. Some people are just too easy to read.
I don’t have a plan. It doesn’t matter. I don’t need one. I’ve taken so many lives over the years that it’s instinctive at this point.
She reaches the table and puts her hand out to pick up the check and money. As she does so, my arm lashes out like a snake and my fingers dig into her brown hair. Before she can react, I’m slamming her face into the edge of the table. Her scream is silenced almost as soon as it begins. She slides to the tile floor, unconscious.
I know that she’s not dead. Instead of tending to that, I slide out of the booth and immediately head towards the kitchen. The waitress isn’t going anywhere, and even if she wakes up she won’t be in any condition to leave or present a threat to me. There’s one more person in the diner, though, and I can’t take the chance that they heard her short cry.
The door to the kitchen begins to open just before I reach it. I grab a steak knife out of a basket of silverware behind the counter before kicking the door back towards the person emerging from the other room. There’s a loud grunt as it smashes hard into someone.
Pressing my momentary advantage, I throw open the door and thrust the blade at the large man standing behind it. The knife isn’t nearly as sharp as the ones I keep at the dockyard, and the slightly serrated blade is designed for cutting rather than stabbing. I wasn’t expecting the person to be quite so tall, either. The knife digs into his flesh, but it’s not much more than a flesh wound.
Ducking my shoulder, I ram it into his chest to knock the wind out of him. He really is big. He’s got at least six inches and fifty pounds on me. This is the danger of not planning things out before killing. I find myself in situations like this where I can’t fully control what’s happening. At the end of the cycle this wouldn’t matter, but until then these kinds of risks are extremely dangerous.
He’s temporarily winded now, though, and he’s been wounded. Judging from the expression on his face, he’s also unsure of what’s happening. I can work with that.
I take a quick glance around me and my eyes fall on a skillet on the stove to my right. Its contents are sizzling from the heat underneath it. I pick it up by the handle and swing it like a tennis racket at the man’s head.
It impacts hard with his forehead. There’s a sickening crunch of bone, followed by a crackling noise as the hot metal burns his flesh. His mouth opens, but he doesn’t scream. Instead, he makes a gurgling sound as bloody foam spills out over his lower lip. Thick red fluid also starts to drip from his ears and the corners of his eyes.
The skillet makes a sucking sound as I pull it free from his face. It tears skin off as I do so. It sticks to the pan like burned leather. I swing the skillet for a second time, and he immediately slumps over onto his side. His right eye has come free from its socket, and it lays across the bridge of his nose with the optic nerve trailing back into the gap.
He’s almost done. I have to give him credit for surviving the two blows with the skillet, even if he did so with quite a bit of brain damage.
I allow the skillet to fall to the floor as I step over the man to reach a microwave sitting on a shelf. Unplugging it from the wall, I carry it over to him and take one last look at him as he twitches and convulses. I raise the heavy appliance up over my head before bringing it down as hard as I can. His damaged skull provides little resistance, and his body goes still.
There’s a sound from out in the dining area. I hurry out through the kitchen door, worried that a customer has walked into my kill zone. Instead, I find the waitress struggling to get up. She’s leaning up against the side of the booth’s seat, the salt shaker she had knocked over with her hand lying shattered on the floor next to her.
I get another knife from the silverware basket and cross the distance between us. She looks up at me with glazed-over eyes, and I doubt that she can even see me. I adjust my grip on the knife and cut her throat. Blood bursts out from the gash. The small piles of spilled salt on the ground become sticky and clumpy as it covers them.
The itching has stopped. My hands are as steady as rocks. I sit down on a stool at the counter and sigh in relief. For the first time since the symptoms started this cycle I feel human.
With the relief comes a familiar bitterness. No matter how satisfying a kill is, it never has the same pleasure and overwhelming satisfaction that one does during the final night of the cycle. It’s infuriating. It’s like some higher power has decreed that I’m only allowed to be happy one night each month. Twice a month every two and a half years or so.
I allow myself a minute to sulk in my anger and disappointment before I force myself to put it aside. There’s a pressing matter to attend to. I’ve got two dead bodies and all the mess they created to deal with. It won’t be long before people start to arrive for breakfast. I have to figure out what I’m going to do before that happens.
It doesn’t take me long to realize that I’ve made a hell of a mistake. No matter what I do, this place is going to end up being a crime scene. Since it’s only a few miles from the dockyard, the police are bound to search it. When they do, they’ll find the woman that I killed earlier, likely along with evidence of previous kills as well. I don’t have any choice but to abandon the dockyard and move on to somewhere else. Probably another state entirely. I look up at the ceiling. Definitely another state.
Fine. If that’s what I have to do, it’s what I have to do. Going back around the counter, I open the cash register and take the small amount of money that it contains. I also go into the kitchen and take the money from the cook’s wallet, as well as a set of car keys from his other pocket. It doesn’t end up being much in total, but it’s better than nothing.
I just have to make it through the day. If I can do that, I can end the cycle tonight in a different place before continuing on my way in the morning. I just… I just have to make it through the day.
The kitchen provides me with the answer I need for covering my tracks. There is an exposed gas line that runs through the kitchen. Covering my mouth, I break a section of the line before quickly making sure that the pilot light in the stove is still burning. Good. I’ve broken a secondary line, not the main line.
I leave the diner through the front door. There’s still no one in the parking lot, and there isn’t any traffic on the road, either. I try the key that I took from the cook in the small white car first, but it doesn’t fit the lock. It slides easily into the driver’s side door of the red pickup, though, so I get in and start the engine.
The rain has stopped, and the first hints of the rising sun can be seen in the distance as I turn out onto the road and head away from town. After less than a minute of driving, I see what appears to be the light of a second sunrise in the rearview mirror. I nod to myself. It won’t be long before the fire at the diner is completely out of control, if it isn’t already. At the very least it will take the authorities a couple of days to dig through the rubble and ashes. Even if they somehow manage to find enough evidence to piece together what happened, I’ll be long gone before then.
The only thing working against me is the truck that I’m driving. It won’t take the police long to figure out that it’s missing. If they do that fast enough, they’ll be able to get word out across the state with the make, model, and license plate number. That could lead to disaster.
Luckily, I don’t have to stay in this pickup for long. I drive back towards the dockyard, going as fast as I dare on the slick pavement. I reach my destination without incident and pull the truck up to the edge of one of the concrete docks before putting it into neutral and getting out.
I try to push the pickup off the edge of the dock, but I’m barely able to get it to budge. I get down lower and press my back up against the tailgate as I push as hard as I can. It eventually starts rolling forward. There’s a crash of metal as the front wheels go over the edge. I nearly fall as the weight of the front end does the rest of the work for me. The truck slides into the dark water and sinks below the surface.
I give myself a few moments to rest before dusting myself off and hurrying over to the car that I had parked at the dockyard earlier. It’s a black four-door sedan, the kind that countless people drive in every city in the country. I check to make sure that my backpack is still in the passenger seat before opening the trunk and retrieving a duffel bag. I change out of my bloodstained clothes and into fresh ones before getting into the car and leaving the dockyard.
This time, I turn right at the four-way intersection instead of continuing towards town. My plan is to put as many miles between here and me that I can by mid-afternoon, then find a place where I can complete the cycle. I fish my cellphone out from the car’s glove box and bring up the Map app. The phone is a pre-paid one, of course, and I purchased it under a fake name. There are half a dozen other ones in the car trunk and one in the backpack, all of which are still in their packages and are listed under different names.
The map confirms what I already thought. If I stay on the highways and don’t make any stops, I can be out of Minnesota and into North Dakota by one o’clock. That should give me more than enough time to get myself oriented and figure out where I would spend the night.
So that’s what I do. Ignoring the fatigue that creeps in, I drive towards the state border, making sure to keep my speed at or under the limit to avoid the possibility of being pulled over. I have to resist the urge to go faster. While I know sticking to the speed limit is the smart play, I’m anxious to reach my destination.
I almost nod off twice during the drive. Now that the symptoms of my condition are gone, at least for now, my body is more relaxed than it has been in quite a while. It isn’t helping that the roads in this part of Minnesota are mostly just trees and open land with nothing to break up the monotony.
It’s with more than a little relief that I reach the state border. There is a sign for a rest stop a few miles past the line, and I gratefully follow it into the parking lot. I need to get out and stretch for a bit, get some fresh air.
I’ve never been to this part of the country before, and I’m surprised to see that the rest stop isn’t one of the standard ones with just a few bathrooms and vending machines. This one is quite a bit larger, with a cafeteria-like section housing five or six chain fast food restaurants. There’s also a small arcade, as well as a side room with a dozen leather massage chairs.
I’m mostly interested in a kiosk just inside the doorway. It contains racks of maps and brochures, both for specific landmarks and for North Dakota in general. I take a few of them and tuck them under my arm before I buy some lunch. Once I have my burgers and drink, I pick a table in the corner away from the other people and open one of the maps.
I’m looking for a town to use for the night. It has to fit some specific criteria, though. It needs to have a large enough population to be worthwhile, but also not so large that it has a major police presence. The police aren’t a concern during the final night of the cycle. I’m worried about what could happen the next day.
I also prefer towns that are isolated. The more that things are contained, the better.
There don’t seem to be many options that meet my needs. I’m starting to think that I’m going to have to go with something less than ideal. I’ve had to do that in the past. Never on this short of notice, though. I don’t like going into something blind. It’s not looking like there’s a choice, though.
Wait. There. A small town about a hundred miles from where I’m at, with enough clustered streets on the map to imply at least a decent-sized population. I pull the town up on my phone and confirm this is indeed the case.
Broken Bend, North Dakota.
Finishing my food, I toss the wrappers and maps into a trash can. I make sure that I have directions to my new destination before I leave. As I hold the door open for an elderly man, I notice a newspaper rack off to one side. The story on the front page of the newspaper on top had the title ‘The Planets Align’.
I fish fifty cents out of my pocket and buy the newspaper. I return to my car and open it. According to the article, over a roughly eighteen hour period the Earth will be going in and out of alignment with multiple planets. It’s extremely rare for this to happen; normally three or more planets align for a short period of time, then move along their orbits until they’re no longer in a line with one another.
This is different. Because of where the planets are at in their orbits around the sun currently, the Earth has been and will be moving in and out of different alignments with different planets. Two of these events will involve the moon as well.
That has to be it. That has to be why my symptoms returned so quickly. I’ve always known that the lunar cycle is tied in with my own. Something about these planetary alignments must be throwing things off.
There’s nothing that I can do about it. I toss the newspaper into the backseat before getting back out on the road. It doesn’t really change anything anyway. I still need to reach Broken Bend and get myself situated before dark.
The path to the town that I’ve chosen takes me off the main highways and onto smaller state routes. The roads are in much worse condition on these, and I have to slow down to make sure that the car doesn’t bottom out in some of the larger potholes.
The forests are much thicker along these roads as well. The trees are taller and closer together, and their tops reach out over the road like a canopy. Even though it’s the afternoon on a sunny day, I have to turn on the car lights to see where I’m going. It’s like I’m driving through a tunnel.
Two hours after I leave the rest stop, I pass a sign with the words ‘Welcome to Broken Bend’ painted on it. Just beyond it is a wooden bridge that spans over a river. The car bounces uncomfortably as it passes over the boards.
A few minutes after leaving the bridge behind, the trees thin out and I arrive in town. I’ve found that most towns this size tend to look the same, and Broken Bend is no exception. The downtown area is comprised of local businesses, a couple of churches, a few government buildings, and a gas station on both sides. As I drive beyond that, I find that most of the older homes are on fairly large properties, but there are also some newer-looking developments with the houses much closer together. Past the residential areas are parks and nature preserves.
I smile slightly. This is perfect.
I begin to make plans. There’s a closed construction site just outside of downtown that I can hide my car in overnight. It’s in both walking distance to the various shops and businesses, as well as at least two of the housing developments. I can park the car, go into town until dusk, come back to the car to get ready, and head for the housing developments as night falls.
I pull the car into the construction site and maneuver it around the equipment to park it behind a long trailer. I take a moment to make sure that I have everything that I’ll need. It isn’t much. Since I’m going to be coming back to the car before nightfall, I only really need my wallet. I get out of the car and feel the cold air against my skin. Correction. My wallet and a coat.
I open the trunk and retrieve my heavy coat. While I do so, I also take out a large pocket knife. Typically I don’t carry a weapon with me. As strange as it sounds, it’s safer that way. I don’t have to worry about metal detectors or, as has happened a few times in the past, being frisked. Besides, it’s not like I really need it. I can be quite creative when it comes to figuring out ways to hurt people.
This is a new town that I’m not familiar with, though. It doesn’t hurt to take extra precautions.
My short trip into downtown Broken Bend is uneventful. Only a few cars pass by as I walk along the side of the road, and none of the drivers pay much attention to me. I’m not in any particular hurry. At this point I’m just looking to waste time until sundown.
When I reach downtown, I slowly walk past the various businesses and shops. A number of pedestrians greet me as I move down the sidewalk. I nod and smile at them in turn. These people have no idea what is coming for them tonight. That thought causes my smiles to become even wider.
It’s been a long day, so it’s a relief when I come to a bar. The painted window proclaims it as The Rockcreek Tavern. I open the door and head inside.
That’s where I spend the next couple of hours. The food is surprisingly good, the beer is pleasantly cold, and the patrons leave me alone. I’ve had worse afternoons.
I’m struck by the need to go to the bathroom. As I stand up to head to the restroom, I check the time on my phone. It’s just past five. That’s plenty of time to do my business, have one last beer, and start back towards the car.
It’s a single toilet bathroom. I lock the door before I relieve myself. Once I’m finished, I wash my hands and look at myself in the mirror. I’m feeling a bit warm. I suppose that shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s been a long day, and I’ve been on the road for most of it. It’s either from the stress or the beers.
I look at myself closely in the mirror. I definitely look tired. My eyes are a bit bloodshot, and there are dark circles under them. I’m also looking a bit pale. Sighing, I run a hand over my face.
I stop. My hand is shaking.
I force myself to stay calm. The shaking doesn’t matter. I’m only a few hours away from the end of the cycle. I can make it until then. There isn’t even any itching at the back of my neck.
Sweat begins to drip from my forehead. I’m getting warmer. Gripping the sink with both hands, I lean in towards the mirror and take a closer look at my eyes. The black of the pupil is no longer circular. Instead, it resembles a blot of ink that has run out across the blue iris.
It’s happening. The end of the cycle has arrived. The change is beginning.
This shouldn’t be possible. The change shouldn’t happen until the moon begins to rise. The sun isn’t even all the way down yet.
I remember the newspaper story about the strange planetary alignments. There must be something about them that’s not just causing my symptoms to return faster, but also forcing the change to happen earlier.
I need to leave the bar. If I hurry, I might be able to get to the car before-
There’s an audible snap as my right cheekbone breaks in half.
I gasp at the sudden blossom of pain. It’s too late. It’s happening now.
As quickly as I can, I strip off the clothes that I’m wearing. I normally have time to pack away any clothing so that I can come back for it after the night is over, but I doubt I’ll be able to retrieve them this time. It’s still best to take them off. The less restrained my body is during the change, the better.
I feel pressure in my upper back. This signals that one of the worst parts of the change is coming. I sit down on the bathroom floor and slide my belt out of my pants. Putting it in my mouth, I bite down on the soft leather. Mere seconds later, my arms slide forward in their sockets before dislocating completely. It’s terribly painful, but not as bad as what comes next. I lean back against the wall and close my eyes. My jaw presses into the belt so hard that my gums hurt as my leg bones jerk out of place.
I nearly black out as my spine pops and cracks, creating a steep curve near the top. Saliva and dark blood are leaking out around the belt from my mouth. More of it comes pouring out as the front of my skull starts breaking into pieces and my ribs pull apart further. I feel like I’m on fire, but I know that the worst is almost here.
During this part of the change, my pain is doubled. This is because I have twice the amount of nerves in my body, the ones running to my current shell, and the ones attached to what’s emerging. All of them are screaming in agony as they’re stretched and mangled and torn. There is no thought or reason. There is only the torture, deep and infinite.
I’m so lost in this void of torment that I can no longer register the individual changes that are happening. Everything is merely a part of the overall torment. I float in the agony as it engulfs me. Moments pass. Years, maybe. It’s impossible to tell. Time has no meaning now. Only pain exists.
Suddenly, mercifully, there is relief. My outer skin tears open as my new body emerges from underneath it. The belt falls from my mouth as I pant heavily. It’s like an unbearable pressure has been released. There are small stabs of discomfort as the change is completed, but it’s barely noticeable when compared to what I’ve just gone through.
The last of my bones lock into place. I can feel my rational mind beginning to slip. In moments it will be secondary to instinct. I never lose my mind completely. I’m fully conscious of what I’m doing. It just doesn’t matter.
I get to my feet. Everything feels so different now. Powerful. I can’t believe that I ever managed to stand on my weak human legs.
I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. The face of a wolf stares back at me. It is thin and gaunt, the skin stretched tight against the face and muzzle. The black fur is matted down with blood. I pull a loose strip of ruined flesh off of the bottom of my jaw.
Movies. Television. Books. Legends. They’re all wrong about werewolves. There’s a resemblance to wolves after the change, yes, especially in the face, but that resemblance only goes so far. My body is far more skeletal and thin than the popular interpretations. Certain parts of me like my clawed fingers appear almost delicate. I don’t have a tail, and my long muzzle contains multiple rows of teeth.
It’s my eyes that tell the true story. They are completely black, with pinpricks of red light barely visible in their depths. To look into them is to know fear. It’s to know death.
I hear movement out in the bar, and I turn away from the mirror. My senses are heightened far beyond what a human is capable of. I hear a stool pulling away from the bar. I can smell the scent of beer wafting in from under the door. I can see every crack and imperfection on the tiled bathroom wall. I feel alive in a way that I never do except when the wolf comes out to play.
I take one last look around the bathroom. There is blood everywhere, and pieces of my human skin cover the floor. Even though it’s my own blood, the smell of it excites me. I bare my teeth as I turn back to the bathroom door. Finally. After all this time, the hunt is finally here.
The door explodes into a shower of splinters as I burst through it. There’s a man standing nearby in the short hallway, a half-filled glass in his hand. His eyes grow wide with shock. Before he can say or do anything, my right arm is swinging towards him. The claws slide through skin, muscle, and bone as though they offer no resistance at all. His body splits into two pieces and falls to the ground in a heap.
Oh fuck yes. My heightened senses enhance every moment of the kill. It’s a pleasure that goes beyond the effects of any drug. More. I need more.
There are screams coming from the main room. Bar patrons are staring at me in surprise and horror, and some are fleeing towards the door. I take two strides forward before leaping over their heads and landing between them and the exit. No one leaves. This is my moment.
One of the customers swings a clumsy punch at me. I open my jaws to expose my rows of teeth and bite down into the flesh of his arm. The razor-sharp fangs sink in deep. With a twist of my head, I tear off the arm and fling it up against the far wall. The blood running down my throat tastes incredible.
I’m a flurry of suffering and death. Throats are torn, limbs are severed, lives are ended. Each kill increases my need for more. I revel as I rip apart the bar patrons. I am the god of the hunt, and it is my purpose to reap the prey.
The man behind the bar has a gun. He brings it up and fires once, twice, a third time. All his shots are true. I feel the impact of the bullets as they strike my skin. The metal is hot, and it singes the tips of my fur. My mouth opens slightly as a grin spreads across my face. The sheep believes it can harm the wolf.
I jump onto the bar and snap my mouth around the sides of his head. For a moment I let him struggle, my teeth piercing his skin as he tries to free himself. Now he understands his place in the order of things. His struggling ends as I clamp my jaws closed.
Music plays from the jukebox in the corner of the bar as I survey the room. The Rockcreek Tavern is now a monument to carnage. The scent of death fills my nostrils as I bask in the pleasures of the kill. I raise my head towards the ceiling and howl triumphantly.
A werewolf’s howl is not like a wolf’s. It is an inhuman sound, a deep guttural call that spreads fear to all that hear it. It is the sound of Hell’s gates being opened.
I need more. The hunt has just begun, and I intend to make the most out of every second.
I go out the front door and into the streets. People immediately begin to scream, but I ignore them for the moment. The sun is just beginning to set in the distance. The sky is filled with splashes of red and thick purples. I’m momentarily frozen in place. I’ve never seen the sunset before, not with these eyes. The charge has always happened after nightfall. Even through my frenzy the beauty of the scene before me is striking.
The spell is broken as I smell the blood on my fur. It’s time to continue what I’ve only just started.
A car is beginning to pull out of the parking space in front of me. Baring my teeth, I jump through the passenger side window and into the vehicle. In one motion I wrap my claws around the driver’s neck and throw both him and myself through his door. We land hard on the concrete. I crush his throat before looking over my shoulder to watch the car crash into an oncoming truck.
A man and a woman are running down the sidewalk away from me. I race after them and catch up to them before they even realize that I’m following. The woman falls as my claws and arm push through her back and out of her chest. Grabbing the man, I lift him up over my head and rip him in half, his blood and entrails pouring out of him.
I drop the body and narrow my eyes. The wind has brought a scent to me, one that isn’t the sweet coppery smell of blood or one of the common smells associated with a small town. This scent is much different. For the first time, not just during this change but for the first time ever in this form, I feel uneasy.
I don’t recognize the smell, but I do understand what it means. Someone else, something else, has already marked this town as its own. I’m in claimed territory.
It doesn’t matter. I only get this opportunity once per cycle. If another creature has claimed Broken Bend, it’s more than welcome to come try to defend its territory.
Most of the people have abandoned the street. They hope to hide from me, or at least put some distance between them and me. It’s a futile hope, and I suspect that some part of them knows that. I’ll hunt out those in the small downtown area, then move onto the housing developments. Before the night is over, I’ll slaughter as much of this town as possible.
I hear sirens begin to blare from less than a mile away. It isn’t often that I encounter the police while under the influence of the full moon. Normally I make sure that I’m in less public places than this when the change takes place to avoid that. The changes to my cycle from the planetary alignments is making this night far more complicated than it usually is. I bare my teeth, unable to contain my excitement. It’s been so long since my prey has tried to resist its slaughter. I’ve missed the thrill of it this so damn much.
The first of the police cars comes around the corner. I grab a nearby mailbox and tear it free from the heavy bolts attaching it to the sidewalk. With one arm, I fling it into the approaching car’s windshield. It shatters the glass and smashes into the upper body of the driver. The car veers wildly to the right and crashes into the side of a store.
The sun has set now, and the sky is growing darker. A second police car comes into view, its red and blue lights flashing and its siren shrieking. It stops a block away from me and two officers get out, using their car doors as shields as they pull their guns free from their holsters. I begin running towards them, my jaws gnashing and my claws flexing eagerly.
I get about halfway before I stop. The air is full of the smell of the other creature. It’s stronger now, no longer the lingering scent of something that had previously passed through but instead the fresh odor of something approaching. I ignore the officers and inhale deeply. It’s coming from upwind. Either this creature doesn’t know that I’m here, or it doesn’t care that it’s announcing its presence to me.
There’s something about the scent that makes me feel unsettled. Even though I don’t recognize it, it’s like some primal part of me, some past memory buried in my werewolf biology, knows that it means danger is near.
I know that there are other unnatural beings out in the world. I’ve encountered a few over the years, but none of them had triggered this sort of response in me. I was the alpha predator. Nothing was above me in the food chain.
The hairs along my back stand up as the smell continues to grow stronger. I try to tell myself that these feelings are only a result of the unusual circumstances surrounding tonight’s change. My instincts know that this isn’t true.
The officers begin to fire their guns. I barely noticed as some of the shots strike me. I concentrate on the smell, trying to decipher what I can from it.
Thoughts begin to flash through my head. No, not thoughts. More like… impressions. The scent makes me think of the dark cold waters of the deepest oceans, the still and silent darkness down far below the surface. At the same time, I am reminded of the vast night sky, of the black emptiness between stars. The images flash through my mind quickly like single frames of movie film in a projector. There is madness in them.
Fog is starting to fill the streets. It is cool and thick, and it makes my skin feel greasy. It has come out of nowhere and is rapidly becoming too dense to see through. It smells the same as the approaching creature.
The police officers have stopped shooting at me. I turn my head towards them and find that they are no longer pointing their guns at me. Instead, they are standing perfectly still, their faces blank as they each point the index finger of their left hands towards me. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
People that had been hiding from me inside of the businesses are now coming back outside. Each of them has the same blank look on their faces as the officers, and they’re all pointing at me in the same way. I growl at them in warning. All of them no longer smell human, and instead reek of the scent of the fog.
My instincts scream at me that I need to abandon my hunt and escape. Whatever is coming for me isn’t just unnatural. It’s not of this world.
I shake my head in frustration. This is my night. This is my hunt. It is my right to spill blood and feast on flesh.
I hear the creature coming. It’s close; if it wasn’t for the fog, I would be able to see it already. It sounds… I don’t know how to describe it. The closest word I can think of is wet.
I look around at the gathered people as a realization comes to me. This isn’t just some other creature’s territory. The territory is part of the creature. I’ve come to a long-conquered town. All of the citizens are extensions of its will.
My bloodlust melts away. If I remain, it will take me as well.
I run, moving on all fours to get away as fast as I possibly can. The scent of the creature rapidly fades into the distance; it’s not following me, at least not at any significant speed. Its smell is still around me, though, and it’s closing in from both the sides and in front of me. The fog is expanding outward, and more people are coming out of their shops and homes.
The otherworldly creature doesn’t believe that it needs to personally come for me. It thinks that it can tighten a noose around me with its followers.
If I was human, I could get back to my car and drive out of town. In this form I don’t have that option. Instead, I plunge into the woods at the edge of downtown.
There are people waiting for me just inside of the treeline. These aren’t just standing and pointing, however. Each of them is armed, most of them with knives and the rest with various tools. They swarm towards me in a semicircle, looking to cut off my escape.
I howl as I charge directly into the middle of the crowd. Their master may make me afraid, but these are just humans. With teeth and claws I tear into their bodies. There are no screams or wails of pain. They are completely silent as they stab at me with their knives before being torn apart. As the last one falls I pause to catch my breath.
The creature’s scent is closer. While the people weren’t able to stop me, they were successful in delaying me. I continue on.
Something slams into my side hard, and I lose my footing. I strike a tree before sliding to a stop. I reach down with one clawed hand and touch where I was hit. I’m bleeding.
A man steps out of the brush and into view. He is soon followed by one woman, and then another. They are all holding heavy-looking rifles. Bullets don’t typically hurt me, but these are large caliber weapons and pack far more of a punch.
I regain my footing and keep running. Shots are fired, but none of them manage to hit me. I’m moving slower than I was just moments earlier. The round that pierced me must have hit something important. I’m having a harder time breathing, and my right leg is slightly numb. I ignore these things and push on.
I don’t stop until I reach the river marking the edge of town. Without pausing, I plunge into the water. It is freezing, and the cold causes my wound to hurt more. More gunshots sound from behind me. I hear some of them slap the water, but nothing comes close to me.
I reach the other side of the river and pull myself up onto the bank. I hurry into the cover of the nearby trees before stopping to look back the way I’ve come. There’s no sign of either the townsfolk or the fog, and I can no longer smell the creature’s scent on the air. I’ve made it out of its territory.
I look down at the blood dripping from my wound. It will soon heal. I raise my head to look back at the other side of the river, feeling shame as I do so. Something unholy has claimed Broken Bend, and it is the true alpha.