13. The Wolf

The priestess, mud still dripping from her white undergarments, contorts her face in horror. Before Richard can think, he hears the wicker door fly open, and the world turns read. The heat builds, not because of the blazing crimson moonbeams burning him from heaven, but a fire swelling under his flesh. Every inch of his skin itches as little grey hairs begin sprouting like a coat, covering his entire body.

Trembling, his knees buckle, and the hunter collapses upon all fours. Beneath him, the smooth floor shrinks. A fog rolls over his mind, filling his imagination with a rage to match the heat boiling under his skin. Without will, it grows within him, threatening to burst.

In his line of sight stands the priestess, the cot draped around her. His mind’s eye sees himself springing toward her, and venting all this newfound bloodlust upon the frightened girl. No, his fainting humanity shouts as if from across a chasm, an echo hardly there. Before the confused thoughts settle on an action, he hears a gasp from behind.

Twisting around, Richard shouts to the ceiling letting all the building fury out toward the man who opened the deadly door. Or, he means to shout. What follows is an animal’s howl, a not wholly unfamiliar wolf’s cry. Before him, Daniel faints, falling backward onto the street. The rotund creature smells sweet with fearful sweat. The wolf reaches out to pin its prey under a paw. Catching a bit of Daniel’s tunic, the monster enjoys the morsel’s squealing, fruitless scurry.

Unable to hold back his appetite a moment longer, he lunges forward to consume his treat. But his snapping jaws encompass only wind. The pig farmer breaks from the wolf’s hold, and runs across the street. Pushing, the monster ties to make it out the door after his quarry, but he’s too big to fit.

Stepping back, the wolf lunges into the imprisoning wall. Bouncing off it, the creature shakes itself. Hunkering as low as it can go, the monster springs at the door. The mortar crumbles around him like dust. Behind him, he hears a scream, but already is on the trail after that delightful smell of pig. Sniffing the air, he gets a good strong whiff blowing in from around the house.

Stalking over toward the pigsty, he sees the little hovel. Leaping toward this, he lands with a splat, sending the black manure splashing all about himself. Peeking his head into the opening, he hooks a snoozing sow in his cruelly curved fangs. Her screams wake the others as she is torn from her bed. With one swallow, she is gone. Six more times, the wolf feasts upon pigs, leisurely chewing the last two.

Feeling a sweeping drowsiness wash over, the animal belches, and begins forging a meandering path up the hill. The dancing moon ash hides his ascending form, growing only ever thicker. Atop the hill, the beast gazes all around, but sees only a flurry of pollen. Standing up on its hind legs, it makes a triumphant shout, filling the valley with terror. Leaping down the other side, the wolf races into the forest.

It’s a path known by instinct, a map written into the monster’s very heart. Bounding into the shadows, over fallen logs and under low hanging branches, he finds his way to the cave. Entering, he crushes the old bones, a macabre welcome mat, to powder beneath his gargantuan step. Howling, the monster announces its return.

Into the blinding darkness the wolf strides. What need is there of eyes when ears and nose so plainly reveal all the prey he could desire? Already he hears them, the ghouls, scampering away into the deepest depths they dare, but none are as daring as he.

Shaking the dusty red pollen off himself, the monster lurches forward, his howls filling the underworld with dread. And inside, like the smallest bit of a kernel, Richard drowns in the fiery oceans of rage.



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