The pack was running, soring through the woods and the night as if they had wings. Connor, the Alpha, led the pace out in front, keeping his nose open for some deer or even a bear which they could hunt. His wife Justine sped up to run beside him and playfully bumped her shoulder against his. He responded by flashing her a wolfish grin and then they were off, racing against one another and leaving the pack behind.
They were evenly matched. He was stronger and more powerful, but she was smaller and quicker. Neck and neck they leaped over a brook and dodged trees gracefully, their enormous paw/feet pounding against the forest floor. Up ahead they could both see the unspoken finish line, a grassy field illuminated by the moonlight. Justine pushed as hard as she could, gaining ground and pulling ahead. Connor growled and bared his teeth, increasing speed.
As they crossed the finish line, Connors long nose reached the high grass first and he let out a bark of triumph. Justine stood panting for a few minutes and then whined doggishly at him. He grinned and wagged his tail to brag. For this he received a sharp nip on the ear.
She's such a sore loser, he thought getting ready to pounce playfully on her when her back was turned. He stopped when his sensitive nose picked up a sent that was not supposed to be there.
He huffed at Justine, but she had smelled it too and was already wandering off in the direction of the smell to investigate. Connor whined in protest, pleading her to stop and wait for the pack but of course she ventured on ignoring him. He had no choice but to follow her.
On the other side of the clearing she came to a stop and raised her hackles. Walking over beside her, he saw what she saw and gave a low growl.
There in the middle of the field, sprawled out on her side was a naked woman. She was in her late thirty's or early forties with long blond hair that was just starting to be streaked with grey.
Justine gingerly put a paw forward to get another sniff, but he snapped at her to stay back. She looked back at him with the same puppy look she used to give him when they were kids and he knew what she was thinking.
She might need help. We can't leave her here. He knew she had made up her mind and there was no arguing, so he sighed in agreement and gave a quick nod.
They both traced their sent back to the brook, where they met up with the rest of the pack. Taking a deep breath, Connor changed back into human form in order to explain things.
"Scott, I need you to go back to the road and get the van. Drive it along the old logging road as far as you can. We will meet you there to get out clothes. That way we can drive the stranger out to a hospital. The rest of you go home, I'll debrief you when Justine and I get back."
Austin growled his disapproval. Connor knew his brother-in-law though they should leave the stranger to die.
"Well too bad, don't quibble" Connor order him. Austin looked away from the alpha's gaze angrily.
Connor looked over at a thin grey wolf with cloudy eyes.
"Mamma, will you take the kids back and watch over them?" He asked his mother-in-law. The old wolf nodded and nudged one of the two smaller pups who were busy trying to bite each other's tails. They pleaded with their father when they finally understood they were being sent home and weren't going to see the stranger, giving puppy looks remarkably similar to their mothers. She huffed at them to silence their whining and gave them each a fond lick before they trotted off with their grandmother.
Connor changed back in to a wolf to run back to the field with Justine. When they reached the area where the stranger was they were startled to find her missing. Her sent lead into the forest and Justine, having the better nose, picked up on it immediately.
They were following the sent when all of the sudden the woman jumped out from behind a tree waving a large branch.
"Stay back!" She yelled swinging the limb madly. Connor flatted his ears and growled instinctively, but his wife simply blinked and cocked her head to the side thoughtfully. Connor could see her intention and tried to nip at her legs to stop her but, before he could do much of anything she changed.
The two women stood facing each other, completely naked. Justine had her arms out in the universal symbol for 'we mean you no harm' but Connor growled and jumped in front of her. Comparatively the woman was a giant, standing almost six foot tall and towering over Justine's small 5'2" frame. The stranger had lowered the branch and was staring at Justine in mild surprise.
"It's okay." Justine said in the voice she used to sooth the boys at night. With one foot she casually kicked Connor away (much to his annoyance) and move calmly closer to the woman. "We aren't going to hurt you, we just want to help."
At this point Connor too changed back into human form. The woman watched him change with fascination and then pointedly looked away from his naked figure.
"You're shape shifters." The woman said, matter-of-factly. Connor and Justine looked at each other, a little taken aback.
"Yes, we are." He said. "How did you..?"
"I am….I mean, I was a hunter." The stranger said.
Connors whole body tensed, ready to jump back into wolf form and attack. Justine let out a small gasp of horror. The one thing they dreaded above all else, their worst fear; a hunter.
The woman saw their fear and put one hand up, the other still clutched the tree branch.
"Was, I was a hunter. Not anymore. I gave it up." She looked at them both, and came to a decision. "Tell you what, I won't hurt you if you don't hurt me. Deal?"
Again Justine and Connor shared a look and a silent conversation between them.
"Deal" He said, relaxing his shoulders. The woman dropped her stick.
"I'm Justine, and this is my husband Connor. What's your name?"
"Mary. Nice too meet you. You don't happen to know how I got out here, do you?"
"Sorry" Connor said shaking his head. "We just found you like this. What's the last thing you remember?"
Mary took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
"Fire." She breathed. "There was a fire and there was a Demon…Oh my God! My son! There was a demon in my son's room!" There was a panic and terror in her eyes that both wolves could identify with as parents. "And then I…" She continued a little stunned. "I died. I remember dyeing."
The hair on the back of Connor's arms was standing on end and he could see the goose bumps on Justine. Demons, people dying and coming back to life; this was way over their heads and out of their league.
"What's the date?" Mary asked.
"January 18" Justine told her.
"January? Of what year?"
"2014" Connor answered. Mary gasped and clutched her chest, silently doing the math.
"30 years. How could it have been 30 years?" She muttered "oh, my babies! I have to find them!"
Justine looked at Connor with one raised eyebrow. It was the face that meant, we still have to help her. He gave a micro nod at his wife to show he agreed.
"Why don't you come with us? When we get back into town we can help you google them." Justine held out her hand for the strange woman. Who tentatively took it.
"Okay, but what's google?"
It took them only a few minutes to teach Mary about the computer, she was a quick learner, and then they left her in Connors study to give her some privacy. She emerged a few hours later wiping tears from her face.
"They're dead." She said softly while looking off into the distance at long gone faces. "They're all dead. My husband, my boys. Oh god, my boy's!"
Justine held her hand as she cried, and Connor poured her a glass of his best whiskey, the expensive one Justine had given him for his birthday.
"You can stay here a long as you need." Justine told her when she had cried all she could. "Also, I have been meaning to hire some extra help in the kitchen if you want a job. See we own a bar and bakery here in town and lately it's been doing so well, we could use another employee. You can even stay here in our guest room if you like. I promise we don't have fleas'."
Mary nodded. "I would like that, but I have to ask…."
"We don't hurt humans." Connor said, seeing where her thinking was headed. "Every weekend or so the family goes on a hunt together, but we would never hunt a human. Strictly Deer or maybe Bear."
And so Mary joined the family. She started work helping Justine in the kitchen or serving drinks in the bar as necessary and in a few weeks she was babysitting the two boys Anthony and Joseph who were age seven and nine.
They reminded her of her own children so much it hurt. When Anthony would pester his brother she would wonder if her sons behaved in a similar manner. When Joseph came home from school with an A on his report card she wondered how her sons had done in school. She wondered what her youngest first words had been or who her oldest first kiss was. Every day she missed them and was silently angry that she never got to see their childhood. Never saw them struggle with puberty or talk with them as adults.
One day she was making one of her famous pies, a favorite among the pack. Joseph was hovering around trying to steal a slice before it went out on display for the public.
"Ms. Mary, why do your pie's taste so much better than mamma's?" he asked her. She smiled and ruffled his hair.
"It's because I add a secret ingredient." She told him.
"what is it?"
"If I told you it wouldn't be a secret anymore, now would it?" She laughed. The truth was that her secret ingredient was a little bit of cinnamon and nutmeg mixed together in the pie crust.
Out of nowhere Scott came tumbling through the restaurant door, clumsily tripping over one of the customer chairs.
"Uncle Connor, Uncle Connor!" He screamed. Connor was taking inventory behind the bar.
"What?" he hissed at his nephew.
"It's Austin, he's killed someone! You know that mean old man who kept telling people we were evil? The police just found the body and they say it looks like he's been attacked by a wolf!"
Connor turned white as a sheet. Without saying a word he stormed out the door. Justine turned to Mary.
"Will you watch the boy's?" Mary mutter that of course she would but Justine was already halfway out the door after her husband.
Mary entertained the boy's with stories about her hunting days, after they promised they wouldn't be scared that night. Connor and Justine didn't come back until the next morning, so Mary and the boys slept in the small flat above the restaurant where Mary had been staying. Neither of the boys' kept their promise and both ended up sleeping in the same room as Mary.
When they did come back, Connor and Justin brought the whole pack, and the whole pack seemed to be barking even in human form at Austin.
"How could you!" Justine screamed at him "You selfish cocky bastard! I'm ashamed to call you my brother!"
"It had to be done Justine!" Austin yelled back "The old crone was telling everyone we were evil!"
"But he was just an old man and no one took him seriously, you fool!" Mamma shouted. "Now a dead body, now that they will take seriously!"
"Pffft" Austin waved his hand airily "No one is going to miss him! Don't you guy's get it? Our world id better with him dead! I did it for the Pack!"
"For the Pack!" Connor said "You're the one who doesn't get it. Dead bodies attract hunters, and hunters don't care if we've lived for 50 years in peace. If hunters see a Dead body, they will kill all of us. Without the slightest hesitation. Do you realize the kind of risk you have put my family at? My children!?"
These words seemed to sink in. Austin shook his head in horrified denial.
"They won't come. Not for one body. Not for just one."
"Are you sure about that?" Connor asked.
There was a few minutes of silence. Finally Connor sighed.
"Go home everyone. We have to open the store." And slowly the pack left and went on their way. As they prepared to open Connor and Justine discussed a suitable punishment for Austin. They were still mulling it over when Justine was pouring coffee to a customer and out of the corner of her eye she saw a black Chevy impala pull up.
She let out a slight involuntary screen and dropped the coffee. Abandoning the complaining customer she grabbed Mary and pulled her aside.
"Grab the boy's and hide in the attic. Do it now, and no matter what you hear, do not come down."
"But…" Mary started to protest.
"Mary please, you are a guest in our home, and do this for me. Please." Mary nodded and took the boy's upstairs.
Connor came to his wife's side, looking concerned.
"Babe, what is it? What's wrong?" She only had to say one word. One word and he understood.
He took a deep breath and tried to calm his suddenly racing heart.
"We have to act natural." He told her and she nodded.
A few minutes later two large men in black suits came through the door. One was particularly ginormous and had long hair, while the other one had sharp eyes and spiky hair.
"What'd the coroner say?" the shorter one asked the taller one.
"Claw marks are defiantly that of a wolf, but the heart is still there so probably not a werewolf. I don't know man, it might actually have been just a regular old wolf attack." The shorter one shook his head.
"No, Kevin looked it up and he says wolves aren't native to this area. Plus I asked around and apparently there is some local legends about shape shifters. Can I get a slice of that pie?" He asked Justine, who had been ease dropping on their conversation.
"What! Oh, yes, pie. Here you go." She said awkwardly giving him a piece and avoiding eye contact. The two men share a conversation look similar to the ones Connor and Justine where so good at.
"Thank you," the man said. "Hey, you don't happen to know any of the local shape-shifter stories, do you?"
Justine dropped the plate she had been cleaning and it shattered on the ground.
"No, no, no, Shape-shifters, no, No I don't." She stammered and bent to pick up the pieces of the plate.
The two men nodded to each other, both thinking the same thing.
The shorter one took a bite of his pie, then stopped. He stared at his plate.
"Dude, are you alright?" The tall one asked. The shorter man sniffed, fighting back tears. All of the sudden something about this pie made him feel both incredibly safe and also really want to go hide in a corner to cry.
He threw down his fork, suddenly angry at the sudden surge of emotions he couldn't control.
"Common Sammy, let's go."
"But you haven't finished eating your…"
"I'm not hungry."
The taller man hurried after the other one, a concerned look on his face.
Justine and Connor wasted no time after that. They kicked everyone out of the store and piled Mary and the kids into a minivan. Once home they called over the pack.
"We're moving. Start packing right now." Connor ordered and everyone did just that.
It was almost dark and everyone was almost ready when they came. They could see the impala's head lights and knew it was the end.
Justine hugged her children to her and cried into their hair while Connor watched on with a look of absolute sorrow.
"Scott, you are the fastest. Turn wolf with the boy's and run." Connor ordered him.
"Uncle Connor…" Scott moaned through his tears, but Connor pushed him away and he slipped out the back with the boy's. The rest took up defensive positions around the house and turned out the lights, ready for the two men to come in the front door.
"I don't understand. Why is everyone so sad?" Mary asked. "It's just two hunters. We can defend ourselves against just two."
"It's not just any hunters though, it's them." Justine explained. "The brothers are the two most deadly hunters that have ever lived. They've killed demons, they've killed angels, and they've killed leviathan. A handful of shape shifters is just a walk in the park for them. All we can do is try to give the boy's enough time to get away."
"Angels? There's no such thing?" Mary said
"Ha, welcome to the new millennium dear. Angels are everywhere, and the only thing that has any chance of scaring the soldiers of god himself are the two men that are coming for us right now. They say even archangels fear them." Mamma said.
"Well I'm not going down without a fight." Mary said brandishing a long knife from the kitchen in one hand, a hand gun in the other.
"If we're lucky they'll kill us quick. I heard that one of them is a master torturer who trained in hell. Like actual hell. And the other was personally tortured by Lucifer for over a year."
"Shut up Austin." Connor said.
"I'm just saying. They say even Death is afraid of these guys. That they imprisoned him and that even if you kill one, the other will just bring him back. They say if you want to stop them, you have to kill both of them."
"Austin shut up or I swear I will …." Justine started but then stopped. They could hear a growl in the dark signally she had changed into wolf form. A gunshot filled the air followed by a small yelp.
Connor howled in morning. He didn't see the machete as it hacked into his wolf back, breaking his spine. He whined for a second until the machete came down again, decapitating him.
Through the dark, Mary could see the man's silhouette in front of the window. She took aim and shot, satisfied to hear the sound of ripping flesh and a scream of shocked pain.
"NO!" Shouted the giant man, seeing the other one fall. He causally tossed aside Austins wolf body, which had spurted blood all over the place when the man slit his throat. The giant turned and saw her still pointing the gun, and barreled toward her. Mary ran, ran through the kitchen and down the hall, knocking over chairs and tables as she went trying to hinder the man's path. He smashed though the obstacles with ease. He chased her to the basement door, and going down the steps she missed one and tumbled down. The man in pursuit took them four at a time until there was nowhere left for her to run. She frantically searched the basement wall for an escape, but found none. Scared, and sure she was about to meet her death, Mary put her hands above her head and turned around to face the tall man.
He shined his flashlight on her face and gasped. Suddenly the hand on his gun and the hand holding the flashlight shook. His whole body shook.
"Stop it." He warned, anger pulsing through him.
"I'm not doing anything, see I give up. You win." She said waving her hands in the air in case he missed them.
"I said STOP" he snarled with such ferocity that she had to take a step back.
"If you think wearing that face will protect you, it won't. You're not her. I know you're not her. She's dead." He spat.
"What?" She said, a horrible though occurring to her.
"You're. Not. Her." He said though clenched teeth.
"Not who?" Mary asked, horrified by the possible answer.
Sam screamed and ran forward pinning her neck against the wall with one hand and shoving the gun against her temple.
"You're not my mother."