Works in Progress

THE BLACK WOLVES OF BOSTON

Joshua really thought it would be easier to catch a rabbit; he was a werewolf after all.  The stupid things, though, could turn on a dime and kept zigging when his body kept zagging.

And then there were the trees.

He hit yet another oak tree, this one only about four inches wide, but enough to knock him down and nearly knock him out when he hit it.  Acorns rained down on him.  It felt like the oak tree was laughing at him.

“Stupid tree.”  He kicked it while still lying flat on his back.

There was a loud crack and it toppled slowly away from him.

Joshua groaned and slapped his hands over his eyes.  He was doing this at night so no one would see him or know what he’d done.  People might not notice if half the trees in the Back Bay Fens Park had face impressions but they weren’t going to miss a downed tree.

If he were a real wolf, or at least as real a wolf as he got, then catching a rabbit would be easier.  Maybe.  At least he probably could zig and zag faster on all fours.  He had no idea, though, if he was a traditional werewolf which needed the full moon or the newfangled sparkly kind that could pop the wolf out at any moment, like a very violent and hairy sneeze.

Of course, he wasn’t sure if he could kill a rabbit if he managed to catch it. And eating it?  The more he chased the stupid things, the less they seemed like tiny fried chickens.  His stomach growled loudly at the thought of crispy breaded meat.

“Oh shut…” He froze as he realized that he wasn’t alone.  Someone was standing behind him, just out of reach.  Oddly, he hadn’t heard them walk up.

“What exactly,” the person drawled out slowly in the tone you use on a misbehaving toddler, “are you trying to do?”  Emphasis on trying, because even the trees knew he was failing.

Joshua lifted his hands and tilted his head back.  A tall, lean young man stood looking down at him with his head tilted slightly in confusion.  His long hair was pulled back into a hipster’s ponytail.  He was wearing a long black coat and a white scarf that fluttered in the chilly wind.

“Landscaping,” Joshua said.  “I’m the new tree guy for the city of Boston.”

“Oh.”  The man eyed the toppled oak.  “I see.  I’ve been watching; you’ve run into a dozen trees now.”

“I’m testing them for rot.”  Joshua stated firmly.  “It’s very hard to tell from the outside.  You got to thump them good.  Like a pumpkin…” He was babbling like a complete idiot now.

The man tilted his head in the other direction.  “Aren’t you a little short for a tree trimmer?”

Joshua growled in annoyance and climbed to his feet.  Not that it helped.  Life had always been unfair to him, starting with his last name and ending with turning him into a very inept werewolf.  Along the way, for complete shits and giggles, it had made him embarrassingly short too.  Joshua only came to the man’s shoulder.

Smells had been driving Joshua nuts since he’d woken up a werewolf.  It’d been the scent of the rabbits that started the entire trying to catch them fiasco.  This man smelled of expensive cologne and something faintly sweet that triggered a strange urge to rub against him.  Joshua stepped back a couple of steps to lessen the effect; he didn’t want a repeat of the fire hydrant incident.  Stupid dogs.  At least, he assumed it was dogs.  He couldn’t imagine there were other werewolves out there, walking around on autopilot like he seemed to be half the time, pissing on fire hydrants without realizing what they were doing.

And to top everything off, his stomach growled again.  Loudly.

“You’re hungry.”  The man stated as a fact.

A growl of anger slipped out without Joshua even knowing it was coming.  His temper had become something separate from him; it roamed around him like a high school bully looking for victims.  Joshua closed his eyes and took a deep breath and found his center.  He normally was a much calmer person than this, but normally he was a much less hairy person than this.  He actually had five o’clock shadow for the first time in his life.

“Are you some kind of tree police?” Joshua asked without opening his eyes.  “Do you feel as if you have some kind of civic duty to come out here and – and – annoy the hell out of me?”

“Well – yes – I do have a civic duty to stop you – that is – if you needed stopping.  If you’d kept to simple tree assault, I would have just kept watching.  It was fairly entertaining, in a train wreck kind of way.  You’ve moved up to tree homicide.”

“Homicide?”  Joshua opened his eyes to give the man an annoyed glare.  “That implies intent.  At most, this is tree slaughter.  Maybe even just reckless endangerment – it might not be dead.”

They eyed the tree in silence.  His kick had sheered the tree trunk off five inches from the roots, leaving behind a jagged white stump, flowing with sap.

“No, that’s dead,” The man said.

“Yeah.”  Joshua had to agree.  It occurred to Joshua that this person might be undercover cop or some off duty park ranger or a very lost Canadian Mountie or something.  He’d seen Joshua destroy a piece of public property worth hundreds of dollars.  The man might try to arrest him.  That wouldn’t end well for either one of them.

Joshua bolted.

He was out of the park and half way down the street before he was fully aware that he was running.  Another two blocks before he realized that he had not clue where he was going.  Another block before he realized that, wherever he was heading, he was getting there amazingly fast.  He was running faster than the cars on the street beside him.  Not that they were going all that fast, but he was running at least forty miles per hour and he didn’t feel…

He missed the fact that the street ended.  He missed the turn.  He didn’t miss the wall.

He hit it and kept going, smashing through wood and drywall in a cartwheeling blur of destruction.  There were shelves of pots and pans and dishes and Halloween decorations.  Somewhere along the way there was a glass display full of knives.

He came to a stop on the far wall beside a display of Jack-o-lantern cookie jars, surrounded by broken china and drifting clouds of plaster.  He’d tripped some kind of burglar alarm, probably by flagging half a dozen motion detectors, and a bell was ringing loudly.  There was a butcher knife stuck in his thigh.  He stared at it, hyperventilating with fear.

He had a knife in his right leg.  A big, big knife.  In his leg.  The two together just looked so wrong it seemed like it had been photoshopped.

People died from things like this!  This could kill him.  Maybe.  He was a werewolf.  Knowing what kind of werewolf he was would be very useful right now.

He couldn’t catch his breath.  He was getting lightheaded.  He didn’t know if it was from hyperventilating or blood loss or both.  He closed his eyes and tried to center himself.  He was sure that his judo sensei never had this in mind when he taught Joshua how to meditate.

He heard the crunch of footsteps through the rubble.  Oh good!  The cops must have shown up.  They could get him an ambulance – after they arrested him for something.  Breaking and entering.  Or just plain breaking.  Lots and lots of breaking.  His breathing sped up and he opened his eyes.

The tall dude from the park was walking cautiously toward him.

Joshua was beyond caring if he was the police.  He pointed at the knife in his leg with both hands and whimpered.  “Can’t.  Breathe.”

The dude gave him a long, slightly confused, stare.  Pulling a paper bag from the nearby service desk, he crouched beside Joshua.  “Here.  Breathe into this.”

The name of the store was “Kitchen Kitsch” and the paper bag was red with white spots all over it.  The bag inflated and deflated like one of the Mario Brothers’ mushrooms.  He couldn’t stop whimpering.  He sounded like a kicked puppy and it was freaking him out nearly as much as the knife.

Joshua took the bag away from his mouth long enough to pant out.  “Call 911.”  Which got him another long stare.   “Call 911!”

The dude pointed to the left.  “Look over there!”

“Huh?”  Joshua couldn’t see anything beyond scattered pots and pans and a wall of Halloween decorations.

The man jerked the knife out of Joshua’s leg.

Joshua yelped and lashed out in sheer reflex.  It wasn’t a solid hit but the man tumbled away from him, taking the knife with him.  “You’re not supposed to take it out!  Only doctors are supposed to take it out!  Don’t you know basic first aid?”

“You’re a werewolf.”  The man called from behind a display of vampire kitchen timers.  “You can only be killed by cutting your head off.”

It was comforting for only a moment.  Then Joshua realized that the dude still had a seriously huge knife in his hand.

The part of him that was crying like a kicked puppy took off running.  Unfortunately it took the rest of him with it.

“No! Nononono!”  He cried even as he bolted.  This was what scared him about being a werewolf.  He wasn’t in control of his body any more.  Because of his last name and small size, he’d always been a target of bullies.  He’d learned early that they could hurt him but they couldn’t control him if he didn’t let them.  And then he learned martial arts and they couldn’t even hurt him anymore.  In the last twenty-four hours, it had been like he was strapped into a rollercoaster: all he could do was go for the ride and scream a lot.  His fear was that the ride would be through other people.  He’d become like the monster that made him, tearing his way through humans like they were so many blood-filled water balloons.

He was away from everyone he loved, but he wasn’t away from people.  There was a city full of strangers he could kill.

He knew nothing about werewolves but what was in the movies.  He hadn’t even believed they existed until he was attacked.  The tall dude, though, knew.

Joshua managed to force his body to make a left-hand turn at the corner, and again once he was across the street, and then a third time.  He came looping past the Kitchen Kitsch where the tall dude was standing in the hole in the wall.

“You’re really conflicted about this running away part, aren’t you?”  The dude said as Joshua dashed past him.

“Yes!”  He tried to put on the brakes but his body kept running.  He could smell his own blood on the man and his body wanted nothing to do with that.

The Black Wolves of Boston will be released in 2017.