Disclaimer-----This story is written for enjoyment only and no money was made or infringement intended.
Comments------I would like to dedicate this story to my sister, Louise. Her undying love of this show and the actor who brought the character to life never fails and I hope she enjoys this story. Thanks to Antoinette for the wonderful beta and to Pamela for the collage she made to accompany it.
Warnings-------This story takes place around Halloween and will involve shape shifting werewolves, blood, strange happenings, and at times may even get gory, but I promise Joe Mannix will survive.
Definitions---OC names------- Makani---the wind
Joe Mannix silently cursed his luck and Mother Nature for combining forces to make his life miserable. The front tire on the passenger side of the rented car was flat, and the spare was in worse shape. It looked like someone had sliced through it and made damn sure he wouldn't be able to use it. He was cold, wet, and miserable and there had not been a car along this stretch of the road since he'd turned onto it several miles back.
Joe could just hear Peggy when she'd sent him off the day before with the promise that he wouldn't do anything stupid like taking shortcuts through areas he didn't know. Hell, this wasn't a shortcut…the man at the gas station had told him it was the only road that led out to the Turner Estate. Charles Turner, an elderly recluse who'd outlived most of his family, wanted him to investigate several claims that people were missing, and the man was willing to pay over his usual fee.
Lightning streaked across the sky, while thunder lent a sickening crescendo to the violent display. Trees along the edge of the road swayed dangerously, bending until the trunks creaked and threatened to snap. Leaves rustled as his surroundings darkened and the last of the daylight bled from the sky. The moon, large and round seemed to bleed red as if leached by unseen forces. Joe pulled his jacket tighter and glanced up and down the lonely road, wondering if he should stay with the car or try and make it to shelter before the storm grew worse.
The decision was taken from him when a single streak of lightning danced across the turbulent skies and struck the tree nearest the car. Sparks flew from the thick, elongated trunk and an earsplitting screech rent the air. Joe jumped back, staggering while trying to stay on his feet. He could not tear his gaze from the sight of the tall tree crashing down on the car he'd just been standing beside.
Joe stood up, ignoring the howling wind and pelting rain and tried to get to the car, but it was a useless endeavor. The main part of the tree had crushed the roof and flattened it so that if anyone had been sitting inside they'd have been crushed. He silently said a prayer of thanks before shrugging his collar up around his neck and looked up and down the road. He knew going back was out of the question because it was at least fifteen miles since he'd seen the gas station.
Joe sighed wearily and knew he would have to continue toward the Turner home and hope it wasn't as far as the gas station. He was soaked to the skin and water dripped from his hair, blinding him when it ran into his eyes. No matter which way he walked, he wouldn't get any wetter than he was right now. Taking a step back from the car, Joe frowned when he spotted a flash of light between the trees.
Not trusting his own eyes, the detective stood his ground and waited patiently for the flash to be repeated. When it did he smiled at the thought of finding shelter from the storm. He brushed aside the branches of overhanging weeping willows and kept his eyes on the light. The heavy downpour had made the ground soft and turned the surface into a slippery mass of mud and dead leaves, but Joe was able to stay on his feet. The light grew bigger and brighter and he tried calling out to whoever was there, but his words were drowned out by the violent storm that surrounded him.
By the time he pushed apart the last of the heavy brush, he realized he'd made a mistake, but was unable to stop the downward momentum that brought him crashing to the ground. Rocks, tree branches, and roots snagged at his clothing and tore at any unprotected skin, drawing blood to the surface. He hit the bottom of the overgrown trail and landed hard against several saplings.
Darkness reached out to envelope him, but not before he heard the cackling laughter and felt a cold hand cup his chin. A voice, ragged and torn spoke to him and Joe Mannix finally understood what fear was. Fear was realizing that childhood nightmares were not always part of a kid's imagination. There was something very real about the troll like creature that seemed to be sapping the very air from his lungs. Just before consciousness left him, Joe heard another voice and prayed it was someone who would help him.
"No, Grandmother, you can't do this anymore!"
"Quiet, Child, let me feast upon him before your mother decides to mark him."
"She'll be angry…"
"I don't care…this one should be mine…"
"No!" Joe Mannix screamed as fire burned in his lungs and blessed darkness reached out to rescue him.
Something warm touched against his skin and Joe moaned softly before opening his eyes. A vision of beauty sat beside him wearing a white gauze gown that did very little to hide the curves that screamed perfection. Her raven hair made her skin seem uncannily white as if her body lacked the pigment that gave people color. He tried to reach for her hand, but found his energy lacking and frowned when she touched his forehead.
"You need to lie still…you've had quite a fall."
The voice was seductively soothing while the soft blue eyes seemed to rake over his skin. Joe tried to think, but his mind seemed unable to grasp anything except his beautiful rescuer. He tried to sit up, but her right hand was placed on his chest and an icy chill raced through his body. He moaned and tried to fight the darkness, but it claimed him once more as he felt the woman's fingernails cutting into his skin and her voice spoke in is left air.
"You are mine, Lover, mine for all eternity."
"You know, Mother, he really does need a doctor."
"Well, that's not possible, Laili, right now the storm has everything in lockdown. The roads are closed and the bridge is washed out. We're all stuck here for the duration."
"What about grandmother…"
Joe had been trying to follow the conversation, but his mind seemed unable to grasp the words they spoke. He opened his eyes to mere slits and frowned when he noticed the two women standing at the far side of the room. They were both raven haired, approximately five foot seven and for all intents and purposes were as beautiful as any woman he'd ever seen.
"Hello, I'm glad you have decided to join us. How do you feel?"
"Tired…who are you?"
"My name is Resi and this is my daughter Laili…she found you at the bottom of the ravine that runs along the southeast ridge."
"There was someone else," Joe whispered and rubbed at his aching temples.
"Yes, my mother was there. She can be frightening sometimes, but she is harmless," Resi explained and touched his forehead. "You should sleep…"
"I need to call Peggy…"
"Who is Peggy?" Resi asked.
"She's my secretary and she'll be worried if I don't call her," Mannix answered, but felt the lethargy washing over his mind and body.
"Sleep, Joe Mannix, I will make sure she does not come for you," Resi explained and slowly ran her fingers along the marks she'd made with her fingernails. This man belonged to her now and no one would be able to take him away from her. She liked the ruggedly handsome face and the dark hair and slowly placed her mouth against his. She could feel each breath of warm air and knew her mother had tried to suck the life from his lungs. She would pay for that, but for now she was needed if the ceremony was to take place on All Hallow's Eve.
Peggy paced the office, worrying at her bottom lip while she waited for Art Malcolm to return her call. The policeman was a close friend to Joe Mannix and although he was on vacation, Peggy knew he was her best bet for help in finding her missing boss. The phone call from Charles Turner was not what she'd expected and she knew something had happened. The elderly recluse had told her a series of storms had swept the area and that the roads and bridges had been washed away during the severe flooding caused by the heavy deluge.
Peggy knew it would take several hours to get to the Turner Estate, but she would need Malcolm's help if she wanted to go through the local authorities. Right now she wanted to grab her keys and take off, but that would be foolhardy given the destruction Turner described. She would need to go through the small town of Red Ridge in order to find the back roads that would lead her to her destination. She reached for the phone, her hand poised over the receiver when the door opened and the policeman rushed in.
"Thank God, you're here, Art," Peggy said and reached for the notepad on her desk. She'd written down everything Turner told her, plus all the information she had from the day Joe Mannix left for Red Ridge.
"What's going on, Peggy?" Malcolm asked.
"Joe's missing, Art."
"Missing as in he simply forgot to call you or missing as in he never made it to a client…"
"He left two days ago to meet a new client up near Red Ridge," Peggy explained.
"Red Ridge? I thought that place burned down ten years ago," Malcolm said of the small town that had been leveled by an arsonist's blaze.
"Apparently Charles Turner…"
"The old recluse?"
"One and the same. He called Joe and asked for his help in finding several missing people."
"Why didn't he go to the local authorities?" Malcolm asked.
"Joe didn't tell me…all he said was that Turner was willing to pay for his services as long as he left immediately. I wish he would have turned the old man down…"
"One of your feelings?"
"Yes, I tried to tell Joe…"
"Peggy, Halloween is just a couple of days away…maybe that has something to do with what you're feeling."
"I wish I could believe that, Art, but something is wrong. I can't shake the feeling that Joe is in danger. Toby is staying with some friends for a few days and I'm going to drive up there. I was hoping you would call the Red Ridge Sheriff's department and ask them to help me…"
"I'll do better than that, Peggy, I've got a week left on my vacation…I'm coming with you," Malcolm advised.
"I can't ask you to…"
"You didn't," Art assured her, smiling when a look of relief formed on her face. If Peggy Fair was this worried about Joe Mannix, then it was serious enough for him to help her find the missing detective. Mannix had a penchant for making enemies, the kind who didn't give a damn who they hurt. If he stayed behind and something happened to either Peggy or Joe, he would never forgive himself.
"Thank you, Art," the pretty woman said and hugged him before turning her attention to the items on her desk. "I've left word that we're unavailable for a few days."
"Peggy, Joe's probably just so deep in the case that he's forgotten to call you," Malcolm told her.
"I wish I could believe that…but something tells me it's nothing as simple as that," Peggy said and grabbed her keys. "We can take my car."
"All right, but I'll drive," the policeman said and took the keys.
Joe could hear several voices raised in anger and forced heavy lids upward. He glanced around the unfamiliar room and frowned when the light from a hundred candles stabbed at his eyes. He shifted on the bed and stared at the two figures whose hands were crossed at their chests while a third figure stood quivering in the corner.
"Mother, you can't do this!"
"I can and I will, Laili…it is time my mother learned who has the power to give or take life."
"Laili, do not let her hurt me…I found him…he should be mine!"
"No, Mother, he is not yours! I am the Reaper…it is my right to feed first and to choose a mate who will bring me what I need to open the portal."
"Resi…I am Makani…I have the power to harness the wind…"
"Only when I see fit to allow it…"
Joe barely heard the words and the enunciation seemed wrong, but there was no doubt that the trio was in a heated argument. He struggled to sit up and tried to stand, but his legs refused to obey his commands. A soft moan escaped his lips, and he closed his eyes, snapping them open again when a hand landed on his shoulder and eased him back on the bed.
"Be still, Joseph, and allow me to take away your pain," Resi said, moving her hands across the strong bare chest. The marks she'd made earlier had faded, but she could still see them and smiled as her fingers felt the slightly raised welts.
"Re…si," Joe's voice crackled with pain, and despite the woman's warm words her hands felt as cold as ice and a strange tingling raced through his upper body. His heart beat faster, while blood rushed to his brain and a fiery liquid seemed to engulf his mouth when her lips touched against his own.
"You taste sweet, Joseph…you will make a fine mate for me…"
Joe thought he saw her blue eyes become ringed with red and shook his head, but she forced her tongue past his lips and explored the inside of his mouth. There was nothing romantic in her exploration and Joe renewed his efforts to get away from her touch.
"Do not resist me, Joseph, your arrival so close to the Eve of Samhain was foretold long ago and you will be at my side when the moon is high overhead and bloodlust fills our veins. We shall devour those who would slaughter us and leave their bones to dry in the sun like animals. We will be joined on the Eve of Samhain and no one will be able to stop us from strengthening our bloodline and broadening our hunting grounds. Makani will see that we are not interrupted while Laili keeps the daylight away from our feeding grounds until we have taken our fill…"
"I won't stay…"
"You do not have a choice in the matter, Joseph; you are part of my destiny and will help me open the portal that will bring my brethren to the new feeding grounds…"
"Hell is a fitting description, but my brethren do not come from the place you call hell. We came here over ten thousand years ago and have been forced to keep our existence a secret, but that will change now that you have arrived. You see it is destined that the Reaper who discovers his or in this case her perfect mate will be the one to allow our kind to rise up and take what is rightfully ours. You will willingly become my mate on the Eve of Samhain and that will be the sign for my kind to feed!"
Joe could feel his eyelids growing heavy and wondered what it was about her touch that seemed to sap the strength from his body. He knew he should fight, but for now sleep beckoned to him and he allowed it to over take him.
"Makani, you will use your power to harness the wind and keep the curious from finding our lair," Resi ordered. "Laili, you will keep the night dark except for the moon…allow the crimson flood to brighten the sky as a sign that our strength will not be defeated."
"I will do as you say, Resi, but be warned that I am not one of your minions to be stepped on and discarded. I will feed with the first wave of our kind or…"
"Do not threaten me, Makani, for you will not like the consequences. Laili, see that Joseph is cared for while I am away. Do not let Mother feed off of him or you will both find out why I am the Reaper of our clan."
"I will protect him, Mother," Laili vowed. She knew her mother would be returning to their realm to arrange for others of their kind to come through on the Eve of Samhain. Once the portal was open and the invasion of reapers began there would be no stopping the deluge of evil that would become widespread. Laili knew she would have to go into the town and pretend she was part of their lives, yet it would not be long before the people of Red Ridge found out the real truth about the people who lived along Wolf's Hollow.
Art drove into the town of Red Ridge and pulled to a stop in front of the sheriff's station. The town was like every other rural town, the buildings nondescript. Movies that had played to audiences in the big cities months before were just opening in the small theater. A general store and small restaurant were just closing and Art looked at his watch. Again he was reminded of small town life with everything closing down at six o'clock so people could spend time with their families.
Peggy had called Charles Turner and was assured that the sheriff's department would afford them every courtesy in the search for Joe Mannix. The elderly recluse had also offered them both a place to stay during their visit. Peggy reached for the door handle, jumping when a large black dog jumped at the door, barking ferociously before its owner regained control.
"Sorry, Lady, Shiloh is a little skittish around strangers," the big man told her and hurried away before Peggy had a chance to acknowledge his apology.
"Are you all right, Peggy?"
"I think so…just caught me by surprise," she answered and watched as several other people walked along the street, bypassing their car as if they carried some unknown disease. "Art, does anything seem strange to you?"
"We've been in this town maybe ten minutes and everyone seems to own a black dog," Malcolm answered.
"They all look like the same breed," Peggy observed, opening the door and looking up and down Main Street. She clutched her purse to her breast and watched the people moving as if they were all on the same wavelength.
"This place gives me the creeps," Art told her.
"I'm Art Malcolm," the policeman said.
"I'm Sheriff Todd Jones…Charles Turner called and told me you'd be stopping by. Something about a missing man?"
"My boss…his name is Joe Mannix…"
"And who might you be?"
"Sheriff, this is Peggy Fair," Malcolm introduced the duo and then followed the older man into the building that housed the sheriff's office, the jail, the courthouse, and the municipal offices.
"Welcome to my town, Miss Fair. I'll do everything I can to help you find Mannix, but are you sure he's here?"
"He had a meeting with Charles Turner the day before yesterday," Peggy explained, accepting a cup of coffee from a woman who looked too young to wear the uniform.
"This is my deputy, Laili Galloway," Jones introduced them and smiled at the look of shock on the newcomer's faces. "I know she looks young, but Laili is actually in her late thirties."
"I would have guessed twenty at the most," Peggy said of the raven haired beauty.
"It must be small town living," Laili said, smiling at the policeman who seemed so shocked at her age.
"Laili, you live out on Wolf's Hollow don't you?"
"Have there been any strangers out your way in the last few days?"
"No, Grandmother has been complaining about the lack of visitors. Why? Is there someone I should be watching for?"
"Miss Fair, do you have a picture of Joe Mannix?"
"Of course," Peggy said, opening her purse and removing several snapshots. Most showed her, Joe, and Toby on several picnics they'd taken during the summer. "That's Joe sitting next to me."
"I haven't seen him, but I'd like to take this and show my mother and Grandmother. If that's okay with you."
"That's fine…please let us know if they've seen him," Peggy asked.
"I will," Laili said and turned to her boss. "Sheriff, if there's nothing else I need to go home. Grandmother worries if I'm late."
"Go ahead, Laili, I'll handle things here," Jones said and turned his attention to his guests. "I'm not sure how much help I can be, but I'm at your service. Do you have any idea where Mannix was headed…besides going to see Charles Turner?"
"Joe was anxious to meet with Mr. Turner…"
"Do you know why? Turner didn't exactly give me reason for hiring a detective," Jones told them.
"I didn't speak with Mr. Turner personally, but Joe told me there were some mysterious disappearances that had him worried. He wanted Joe to come down and take a look at a list he'd compiled and see if he could figure out where these people were," Peggy explained.
"Well, if Mannix headed right for the Turner place he would have gone by way of Still Meadow Road. The Turner spread is five miles along the outer edge of Lake Sterling. Now it's getting late and I'm afraid I have to get home or my wife will serve me cold stew and if you've ever had that you'll know why I am in such a hurry. Why don't you two take a room at the…"
"No, thank you, Sheriff, but I want to go out to the Turner place…maybe Joe is there now," Peggy said and turned toward the door.
"But it'll be dark soon…"
"That's okay, Sheriff, the car has lights," Art said.
"That's not what I mean…you can get lost out there and there's no telling what kind of creatures…"
"Creatures?" Peggy asked, eyebrows rising expectantly.
"Animals…there's bears and wolves and all kinds of animals in this area," Jones explained.
"We can handle ourselves, Sheriff," Malcolm assured him. "Just give us a map and we'll be on our way."
"Are you sure about this…I mean…"
"We're sure," Peggy vowed.
"Just make sure you stay on the main road and don't make any wrong turns. There are some dangerous curves out along Lake Sterling and that could probably be the reason for those disappearances Turner hired Mannix to investigate," Jones explained and handed Malcolm a may of the area north of town. "I've marked the turnoff for Still Meadow Road in red."
"Thank you, Sheriff," Peggy said, shaking the man's hand while walking to the door.
"Are you sure I can't convince you to wait until tomorrow?"
"No…we'll find our way," Malcolm told him and hurried to the driver's side of Peggy's car. They said their goodbyes to the sheriff and briefly wondered why the town seemed to have shut down, as if darkness was indeed a harbinger of ill winds. They drove out of town, neither one speaking of the strange behavior of the sheriff and his deputy.
"Mother, there are strangers in town and they are asking questions about him," Laili explained upon entering her mother's bedroom.
"Who are they?"
"There was a policeman named Lieutenant Art Malcolm and a woman named Peggy Fair. She said she was his secretary and she's worried that he hasn't checked in when he was supposed to."
"Where are they now?" Resi asked.
"They were speaking with Sheriff Jones and asking about Charles Turner. I believe they are going out to his home," Laili answered.
"It is time Charles Turner was dealt with. Tell your grandmother it is her feeding time," Resi said and laid a gentle hand on Joe Mannix's forehead. Her touch elicited a small moan as if the unconscious man could feel the cold blood hat ran through her veins.
"But isn't that dangerous so close to the ceremony?"
"I believe it is more dangerous not to deal with him. Do as I say, Child, and send your grandmother to me," Resi ordered. She continued to let her hands explore the warm body beneath her touch and smiled whenever he moaned. There were many scars, but they added to the nuances of Joe Mannix. Every bone in his body, every muscle, every drop of blood, even the air he breathed would belong to her after the ceremony was completed. She would be joined to this virile man and together they would rule the new order of beings that would inhabit the earth.
"Resi, Laili said you wanted to see me."
"Yes, Makani, there are strangers in town who could ruin everything if Charles Turner is not stopped. I want you to go out to his home and get rid of him. Make sure no one can find his body before the ritual," Resi told her and could feel her mother's excitement growing.
"Thank you, Resi; I will not let you down."
"See that you don't or you will join the sacrifices on the Eve of Samhain." Resi heard her mother leave and smiled at how well she knew her. Makani would take her fill on Charles Turner's body and soul before discarding his weathered carcass in some deep hole where even the sun could not displace the shadows.
"Joe, open your eyes and look at me," Resi ordered and placed a hand on either side of his face. She watched him struggle and finally allowed him to drive back the listlessness that kept him from seeing her completely.
"Who are you?" Mannix managed and tried to sit forward.
"I am your betrothed…"
"My what?" Joe asked, but his mouth was dry and he was grateful when she placed a cup of water to his lips. He drank slowly; frowning at the bitter taste it left in his mouth and lay back against the pillows.
"Sh, I will explain it all to you when the time is near," Resi said and slowly ran her fingers over his bare chest. She watched him frown and his eyes seemed to grow bright when he looked at her.
"Do…do you have a phone? I need…I need to call…"
"I'm afraid we don't have phones out this far from town, but when you're feeling better we will bring you into Red Ridge and you can call anyone you want to," she lied and knew the drug she'd placed in the water would keep him lethargic and easy to handle.
"Peggy…worried," Mannix said, licking dry lips as he began searching the room. Something about this place gave him the creeps, but his head hurt too much to figure out what it was. He tried to remember what had happened, but sighed as sleep overtook him. He drifted into a chilling dream that kept repeating every time he closed his eyes. Peggy, dressed in a gossamer gown of white laid out on a cold slab while someone chanted unintelligible words and candles flickered around him. The flames caught a glint of steel and a bright red drop of blood dripping from the tip of a knife. Fear clutched at his heart when he saw the hands holding the knife and realized they were his.
"Sh, Joe, it will be okay," Resi said and continued to influence his dreams. She was curious about the woman he called out for and wondered if there was anything between them. If there was then she would be a fitting sacrifice on the night she took this man as a mate.
Art Malcolm drove along the road, checking every now and then to see how far they had traveled. The turnoff for the road they were looking for was twenty seven miles northeast of Red Ridge and he knew they were closing in on that number now. Once on Still Meadow Road it would be another thirty two miles before they reached the Turner Estate. He glanced at the woman seated beside him and knew Peggy was worried about the missing man.
"Joe can handle himself, Peggy."
"I know," she said, a small smile forming on her face. "I just can't shake the feeling that something is wrong."
"He might have shown up at the Turner place and tried to call."
"Do you really believe that?"
"No…I don't," Malcolm answered honestly.
"Did you say something?"
"Yes, didn't Sheriff Jones mention Wolf's Hollow?"
"His deputy lives out there…why?"
"I just…I don't know, Art, but I think maybe Joe made a wrong turn. There's something strange about that young woman…she looks very young…"
"Could be they've found the secret to eternal beauty," Malcolm observed, and smiled when Peggy looked at him as if he'd grown another head.
"That's not what I mean, Art, she seemed in a hurry to leave and I wish I hadn't given her the picture of Joe."
"You really think she knows something about his disappearance?"
"Yes, I do…according to the map Wolf's Hollow should be the next road. Why don't we take a…"
"Wrong tune? Aren't you afraid we'll run into some blood sucking mad man with a thirst for flesh?" Malcolm's mouth curled up in a slight, off kilter grin.
"You've been watching too many horror movies," Peggy said, smacking his arm. "There it is!"
"I see it," Malcolm said and quickly turned onto the gravel road. The air around them seemed charged with electricity as fog quickly engulfed the car after they'd traveled less than five hundred feet.
"Where did this come from?"
"I don't know," the policeman answered and wiped the steam from the windshield. "It's hard to see anything,"
"Should we turn back?" Peggy asked as the car inched along the road.
"I would, but I can't see anything…Damn!"
"What's wrong?" Peggy asked worriedly when the car sputtered and stalled out.
"I don't know…there's plenty of gas, but there doesn't seem to be any power," the policeman answered and sat back in the seat. "I'll go take a look."
Peggy nodded and moved into the driver's seat while Malcolm moved to the front of the car. She popped the hood and lost sight of him when he lifted it.
"Laili, we have company," Resi said. She'd felt the shift in the air around them and knew someone had driven onto Wolf's Hollow. The name came from the stories that surrounded this area and she knew the stories were based on fact, although sometimes it took some changes to make the story unbelievable to the people who traveled the area. Wolf's Hollow was home to her kind for nearly five hundred years. This Samhain would be the anniversary that would see the culmination of everything they dreamed of come to life.
"They are on the Hollow…it is the two strangers you met in town."
"Do you want me to go after them?"
"No, I will take care of this myself," Resi said, eyes glowing green while her body began to change. Her fingers elongated, while her nails retracted and a howl ripped from her throat as the changes became more violent.
Art Malcolm stood and looked around when an ungodly sound echoed through the surrounding hills. He turned and stared into the foggy darkness as the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Wherever the sound came from it was too close and Art felt fear grip his heart and closed the hood of the car.
"Art, what is that?"
"I don't know, Peggy…try the car now!" Malcolm ordered, turning when the sound came from the trees to his right. He could hear Peggy turning the key in the ignition, but there was no sound form the car.
"Art, get in!" Peggy ordered as the howling intensified and the wind began to pick up.
"What the hell is that?"
"I don't know! Get in the car!"
"It's getting closer!" Malcolm said, glad they'd kept the roof up on the car. He got into the passenger seat and closed the door, rolling up the window as the sounds intensified.
Charles Turner was not a man who scared easily, but the sounds coming from outside his home sent shivers down his spine. Whoever or whatever was out there wanted in, but he'd made sure he locked everything up tight before retiring to his bedroom. The house was well lit thanks to the heavy duty generator he had installed. There were normally servants at the house during the day, but they refused to stay once darkness began to descend. He'd never been able to get them to talk about their reasons for being afraid, but something told him the reason was lingering outside his home now. He also feared that he was about to discover the explanation behind the disappearances in the area.
Charles stood up and reached for the small handgun he kept in the night table drawer and made his way to the window that overlooked the front yard of his home. The bright spotlights illuminated everything up to and including the trees nearest the house, but it was what lay beyond those shadows that terrified him. Another howl echoed through the house, the wind rattling the windows and shaking the doors, threatening to collapse the house to its very foundations. At sixty eight years old he was still able to do things on his own, and prided himself on his ability to defend himself. He had everything he needed in his personal workout room and still managed to bench press more than most men half his age.
The only parts of him that were showing his age were the need for strong glasses and the thinning grey hair. He glanced left and right and thought he saw a blurred shape racing along the edge of the property and he opened the window before aiming his weapon and firing several warning shots.
"Whoever you are I'm a damn fine shot and I'm not afraid to use my gun!" he shouted and watched the trees nearly bowed over with the rising wind.
Makani smiled, feeling the muscular skeleton that made up her body undulate expectantly. She harnessed the wind and raced along with it, darting left and right in an effort to keep the old man from seeing her. Her fur was long, shiny, and black and covered every inch of her body, except her face. She could stand on her back legs, but racing with the wind was better executed on four legs. She reached the house and watched as the fury of the wind storm she'd created rattled the two story house. She heard the window open and smiled when the old man's voice reached her ears.
"I warned you…I'm not afraid to shoot you!" Turner shouted.
The wind was hers to control and Makani used it to the best of her abilities. Over the years she'd learned how to harness it and the house shook to its very foundations when she stared at the silhouette in the upper window. She could feel his fear, hear the trembling of his body under her intense gaze, and knew she could easily scare the life out of the mortal. Yet she waited, prolonging the fear, gripping his heart with invisible fingers that made his blood slow as if ice crystals were forming in his veins.
The words were soft, but she could hear them as easily as if he'd screamed at the top of his lungs. She raced along the outer edges of the shadows, allowing him to see her real form before moving quickly toward the house itself. She gripped the latticework and began to climb toward her terrified victim and opened her mouth, relaxing her jaw and allowing razor sharp teeth to protrude. Her howl of pleasure rose with the wind and echoed throughout the landscape as her body shifted and changed, undulating with ecstasy at the thought of tasting blood.
Charles Turner stood frozen to the spot at the window, oblivious of the cold wind that whipped at his clothing and threatened to tear the gun from his shaking hands. Not only could he hear her climbing the outer wall, but he could smell her too. A cold, clammy smell of rotting meat that threatened to turn his stomach and burn through his gut. He backed away, unconsciously aware of the dangerous creature advancing on him, but unable to do anything but stare out the open window. The darkness was absolute, not even the light from his bedroom could penetrate it. Outside this bedroom was nothing but a black void, where no one could survive the turbulent winds.
"GET BACK OR I'LL SHOOT!" he screamed when a darker shadow stood out against the void and harsh laughter shook the walls. He took another step backward, holding the gun in front of him while watching his unwelcome visitor solidify before his eyes.
"Your bullets will not touch me, Charles Turner! I am as the wind and can move faster than a mere bullet!"
Charles watched what could only be described as a wolf stand on two legs and move toward him. The fur was thick and long and covered the body, masking the appearance, but what terrified him more than anything were the incisors that protruded from the creature's lips. Blood dripped from the tip of the upper set and his fingers pressed back on the trigger. Again and again he fired, the sound drowned out by the wind that seemed to come form the wolf like animal before him.
Turner continued backward until he came up against the wall and could go no further. His mind had time to register the fact that his gun was empty, but he continued to click it as the wolf advanced on him. He knew he was going to die, and he was prepared for death, had been for some time, but he wasn't prepared for the horrific death this creature promised. The eyes glowed red, the black pupil wide and catlike as they seemed to elongate before his eyes.
"I will take your blood as my own and your soul will never know peace, Charles Turner!" Makani said; claws extending as she loomed above him. The male oozed fear, and she knew she could gain strength from the feeding, but Turner was old and would not give her what she wanted, what her body craved. The bloodlust would grow worse as the Eve of Samhain grew closer and she would be freed to feed on the people of Red Ridge. The name suited her fine, for the streets would run red with blood until the portal was open and solidified. Hell would visit its horrors on the people of this world and she and her kind would be given the thrown to lord their needs over mankind. She raked her fingers across his chest and felt the warm blood spill forth.
Turner's fear was real and his eyes grew wide as he watched the elongated muzzle come down to his throat. He felt pain, a swift white hot agony that encompassed his whole body and knew death would not come easy as bit by bit its teeth entered his body while that rancid breath assaulted his nostrils. "Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," he whispered, but screamed when claws tore into his chest and wrapped its icy fingers around his heart.
Joe moaned and turned onto his side as consciousness slowly came back to him. He sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed his eyes, wincing when it set off fireworks in his skull. He waited for the dizziness to pass and finally opened his eyes and glanced around the room. The candles cast an eerie glow upon each shadowy corner, but the portraits on the wall were bathed in a red pigment that gave the impression of blood.
"What the hell is this," Mannix said and moved to the paintings that dominated the walls. Each one was filled with figures that reminded him of wolves, but unlike the real thing they stood on two legs. Thick black fur bristled across their backs while blood dripped from the gaping mouths. He knew he could not be seeing what his eyes and mind told him, but it didn't make it any less real. A shiver ran down his spine and he turned to see a young woman standing in the doorway.
"You should be resting, Joe…"
"Laili," the detective knew without a doubt that the raven haired beauty before him belonged in the portrait and yet, she appeared as human as he was.
"That is my name," she said, smiling as she touched his arm. "Mother would be upset if she knew you were out of bed. Come I'll help you back and bring you something warm to drink."
"No, I need to make a phone call."
"That is not possible, Joe. There are no phones this far outside Red Ridge."
"Can you take me there," Mannix asked.
"No, I am afraid you will have to wait until the storm ends," Laili told him.
"What storm?" Joe asked, frowning when he heard thunder in the distance. He would have sworn there was nothing to signal a storm, but the sudden sound of rain pelting off the windows gave credence to her words. "Where did that come from?"
"It's been like this all day…you've just been sleeping through it and I believe that's what is best for you right now." Laili offered him a cup of the tainted water and watched him drink most of it before placing it on the table.
"Laili, where is your mother?"
The young woman turned to see the hunched form of her grandmother lurking in the shadows. She knew where Makani had been and what she'd done, but had never approved of what her mother and grandmother did to assure their survival. Perhaps it was time they faced the truth…they no longer belonged to this world and should move on.
"Mother went to take care of some visitors," Laili answered. "You should go rest, Grandmother."
"No, I feel strong…I have fed and want….crave more," Makani said, licking her lips while gazing at the man standing next to Laili.
"What is she talking about, Laili?" Mannix asked, wondering why he suddenly felt drained. He looked at the glass, then at Laili, before turning his attention on the newcomer. Something was wrong in what he was seeing, but he couldn't quite grasp what it was as the darkness reached for him. He felt his legs give, but strong arms reached out to catch him and he realized exactly what was wrong with the two women. Both were covered in short soft fur, their eyes glowing red, while their arms and legs looked out of shape. The one called Laili lifted him into her arms, placed him back on the bed, and touched his right cheek. What should have been a soothing gesture filled him with icy fear, but he could no longer keep his eyes open.
"Sleep, Joe, Mother will be back soon," Laili said and turned to the older woman. "You did as mother said?"
"Turner is no longer a problem," Makani said.
"Did you hide the body?"
"What was left of it would not be recognizable as a human being." Makani made her way to the bed and looked down at the sleeping man. She wanted him, wanted to taste the strength she sensed from him. She touched his cheek, eliciting a soft moan from him that brought a smile to her twisted mouth.
"Mother would kill you for even touching him," Laili said and positioned herself between Joe Mannix and her grandmother.
"What your mother doesn't know won't hurt her," Makani said.
"She warned me that if anything happens to him while she's gone she will make you sorry," Laili said and saw the anger in her grandmother's feral eyes before the woman stalked off. She sat on the edge of the bed and tried to think of a way to help Joe Mannix, but nothing seemed to make sense.
Resi could see the two people huddle in the car and knew she could easily dispose of them, but something about the pretty woman raised her curiosity. The man could prove interesting as well, but she wasn't sure she could control him while her focus was on Joe Mannix and the woman.
Resi relaxed and allowed her body to go through the changes that would bring her back to her natural form. She loved the feel of her muscles strengthening, while fur covered her from head to foot, and her teeth distended through her gums. She raced around the car while her body went through the physical changes and knew the people in the car would be terrified when she finally allowed them to see her. A plan was forming in her mind and she knew how she could make this work to her own advantage.
She lifted her head toward the red rimmed moon and howled, long and loud while she circled the car.
Art knew whatever was out there was circling the car, but the darkness was absolute and not even the light from inside the car penetrated it. Something strange was happening, something unexplainable because the interior light was on, yet it did not go beyond the windows. He turned to look at Peggy and saw the fear in her eyes.
"What is that?" Peggy asked of the howl that rent the air.
"I don't know," Malcolm said, unconsciously reaching for his weapon.
"It sounds like it's getting closer," Peggy said and turned the keys in the ignition, but nothing happened.
"Lock your door, Peggy," Malcolm warned and checked his own door. The howling intensified just before the car bounced as if something had jumped on the trunk. They both turned, but could see nothing beyond the window.
Peggy turned off the interior lights, but could see nothing, just the cloying darkness. It was as if she and Art were cut off from the outside world, leaving them alone in a void that ad no end. She shifted and stared upward when the sound of scratching penetrated their sanctuary.
"I hear it, Peggy," Malcolm told her and lowered his window slightly.
"Whatever it is it sticks," Malcolm said, ducking as a talon scraped along the small opening. He quickly closed the window and unconsciously moved away from the door. They had no idea how long the enraged howling went on, but it stopped as suddenly as it started. Several shots rang out and a woman suddenly appeared at the driver's side window.
"Come with me if you want to live!" Resi ordered and waited for the window to be rolled down.
"Who are you? Where did you come from?" Peggy asked.
"My name is Resi and my home is just up the road," Resi said and pointed her weapon behind her. "We need to go now because it will be back. I think I winged it and that means it will be angry."
"What was it?" Malcolm asked, opening his door and stepping outside where the stench of rotted meat assaulted his senses.
"I'm not sure, but it's been hunting this area for many years. What's wrong with your car?" Resi asked.
"I don't know. It just cut out and won't start," Peggy answered.
"Leave it and we can send someone for it when the sun comes up. My home is not far, but we must hurry. If it catches our scent it will attack. Follow me."
Peggy wasn't sure what it was about the dark haired woman she didn't trust, but something about her didn't feel quite right. The darkness seemed to have parted when she showed up and the wind that had buffeted the car was all but gone. She turned and caught Art Malcolm frowning, but understood there was no choice, but to follow the woman.
Art listened for sounds of pursuit and quickly realized there was absolutely nothing, but the sound of their own footsteps as they ran along the road. Even the wind had stopped and the branches of the trees no longer scratched against each other. There was something amiss in this area, but before he could put his finger on the problem, a howl echoed and re-echoed through the landscape.
"We must hurry," Resi warned. She knew the sounds were made by her brethren from Red Ridge and that they were simply answering her cry for help. She had warned them not to interfere, but to give the appearance of an attack.
"How much further?" Malcolm asked and pointed his gun into the darkness.
"Just past those rocks," Resi said and raced forward. They reached the house and she held the door open until they were all inside. She looked toward the stairs when her mother and daughter appeared there. "Mother, Laili, we have company."
"I see that…welcome to our home," Makani said, smiling at the male.
"Thank you, Ma'am," Malcolm said.
"How is our guest?" Resi asked.
"He is resting, Mother, but I believe he needs a doctor," Laili said and saw anger flair in her eyes.
"I am aware of his needs, Laili, but there is nothing we can do until daylight…"
"Ms. Resi, we're looking for a friend of ours…" Peggy started, and saw something flicker in the woman's dark eyes. "He was supposed to visit Charles Turner, but he never made it there."
"A man stumbled onto my home yesterday, but he's been mostly incoherent. I don't even know his name, but if you think it could be your friend you're more than welcome to see him," Resi explained.
"Where is he?" Malcolm asked.
"Upstairs…Makani, you and Laili fix something hot for our guests," Resi ordered.
"Yes, Mother," Laili said, knowing full well what her mother wanted her to do.
"Follow me," Resi told Malcolm and Fair, and glared at her daughter when she passed by. She led the newcomers up the stairs and along the candle lit hallway before stopping in front of an open doorway. She led them inside and walked over to the bed where Joe Mannix slept deeply, thanks to the drugged water he'd been given.
"Joe!" Peggy explained and sat on the edge of the bed. She placed her hand against his forehead, frowning when her hand touched against cold, clammy skin. "He's cold."
"The heater is not working properly, but I'll get him another blanket," Resi told her and moved to the walk in closet where she kept extra blankets and linens. She listened closely and knew the man and woman were already suspicious of her.
"Peggy, I don't trust her," Malcolm said.
"Why?" Peggy asked.
"She said they found Joe yesterday, but could not get him to town because of the weather…the daughter, Laili, was in the sheriff's office. She could easily have brought Joe into town and gotten him to a doctor," Malcolm whispered.
"I thought there was something familiar about her," Peggy said, shaking her head when she saw the woman returning. She took the blanket and gently covered Mannix with it before retaking her spot on the bed. She heard a soft moan and watched the eyelids flutter, but he didn't seem to be completely awake. "Joe, it's Peggy. Art is here as well. We're going to get you to a hospital as soon as we can."
"He hasn't been awake since he got here," Resi explained, glancing at the door when she heard footsteps. "We really should let him sleep…"
"I'm not leaving him," Peggy said simply.
"Laili had brought you some coffee and sandwiches," the raven haired woman told them. She took a mug of the aromatic brew and passed it to Peggy before repeating the gesture with Art Malcolm. "Leave the sandwiches on the table and prepare rooms for our guests, Laili."
"Yes, Mother," the younger woman answered and left the bedroom.
"Resi, do you have a car?" Malcolm asked, not wanting to tip his hand that they knew Laili had been in town earlier that day.
"No…Laili does, but it's not running right now," the woman lied. There was something about the male that attracted her, but she had already chosen Mannix as her lifelong mate. Perhaps she would give this one to Makani; the older woman would probably tear Malcolm apart. Or he could make a mate for Laili if she chose him. The Eve of Samhain was close now…just over twelve hours and she would pen the portal that would allow her kind to move from the old world to this new one that was a fertile feeding ground.
"Joe, can you hear me," Peggy asked when it seemed like he was fighting to wake up. She reached out and touched his cheek, unaware of the scathing look she received from Resi.
Joe Mannix tried to hear the voices and make sense of what was being said. He could have sworn he heard Peggy's voice, but when his eyes opened to a mere slit all he saw was a dark haired woman with glowing feral eyes. It was frightening in itself, but Joe had never considered himself a coward and fought once more to open his eyes. The drugs in his body were too heavy and he could not acknowledge anyone before the dark veil closed over him again.
"Joe, we're going to get you out of here," Peggy tried, but the detective had lost consciousness completely. She sipped from the cup of hot liquid and felt it taking the chill from her body. She heard Art talking with the woman, but suddenly felt very tired and couldn't stop the yawn as she placed her hand over her mouth. "Excuse me…"
"You must be tired, Ms. Fair, why don't you follow me and I'll show you to your room," Resi offered.
"I'm fine," Peggy said even as her body began to slide sideways.
Art moved quickly, but not fast enough as the effects of the drug took control of him. He reached for the night table, knocking over a candle before falling to the floor. His vision blurred but he saw Resi use her hands to douse the flames from the candle before she looked into his eyes. What he saw sent fear straight to his heart, and he fought not to lose himself in their fiery depths.
Resi stared at the unconscious humans and allowed herself a slight smile before calling for Makani and Laili. Their strength was equal to any male, but it would take the three of them to remove the tall unconscious cop.
"You wanted us, Mother?"
"Yes, Laili, help me get them out of here!" Resi ordered. The trio lifted the woman first and carried her into the bedroom at the opposite end of the hallway and quickly bound her hands and feet, securing her to the bed before returning for the male.
"What are you going to do with them Resi?"
"I have not decided about the male, but the female will be part of tomorrow night's celebration. She will die on the altar and ensure that the portal remains open," Resi explained. She lifted the upper half of the male while her mother and daughter grabbed a leg each. Between them they carried him to the same bedroom were they'd left Peggy and quickly secured him with manacles and chains that ran through a series of loops in the floor and ceiling.
"I would like to have the male."
"You are a bit old to be taking a new mate, Makani," Resi said.
"I would not have him as a mate. I prefer to hunt. Killing Turner satisfied me for now, but the bloodlust is inside me and it is growing. I do not know if I can hold off until after the ceremony," Makani told her.
"You had better hold off, Makani! You do not kill unless I allow it for I will not chance you ruining our chances. The town of Red Ridge is only partially ours, but once the portal opens and more of our kind comes through the town will be overrun and we…the reapers…will take what we want and leave the rest for you. The Reapers are the natural leaders of our kind and you both know I am the strongest of all. It is the reason I was chosen to come through the portal that first time."
"Resi, you are strong and smart and I know you would not neglect your own flesh and blood," Makani said, watching her daughter closely. "I will do anything you say if you allow me to hunt this one!"
"You will do as I say anyway, Makani, or you will be dealt with accordingly…remember the hunts before we came here. How would you like to be the hunted instead of the huntress?"
"No…please don't do that," the elderly woman said, shrinking away from her daughter. The years before the portal had seen many of them hunted and torn apart by their own kind. The Reapers had been the most dominant and smart enough to know there was strength in numbers. They'd simply killed most of the lower breeds and kept only enough to satisfy their own bloodlust.
"Makani, you are my mother and I make exceptions for you, but I will not allow you to ruin the ceremony tomorrow night. You will have your part to play…as will Laili, but until then there is to be no more killing. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, Resi, perfectly," Makani answered and lowered her gaze.
"I am going to sit with Joseph…you will prepare things as instructed. Make sure the ritual blade has been sharpened and the chalice is ready. I will prepare Joseph's robe, but I want mine taken out of the chest and brought to me."
"I will do so, Mother," Laili assured her and walked away. The robe was made of a rich, red velvet material and trimmed with gold filigree. There were no pockets, but embroidered into the robe itself were pictures of the ritual hunt that took place on the Eve of Samhain. This year marked the 200th anniversary of the first hunt on this world, a hunt that had always been led by Resi. Tomorrow night would complete the circle and would see her take a true mate that would make her even stronger and guarantee that their reign would continue for eons to come.
Laili knew there was something different about her, but she had never been able to get her mother to listen. She'd been involved in several hunts around Wolf's Hollow, but only when the bloodlust had gotten so bad that it burned through her veins. She'd chosen her victims carefully, selecting someone from the cells in the jail. There had been only four in the last ten years and all had been drug runners or wife beaters who deserved to be killed. The problem was that the bloodlust made it necessary for her to hunt them down before killing them. The four males had been terrified when, in her wolf like form, she'd stood on two legs and literally tore them limb from limb before tasting their flesh and leaving their bones to dry in the sun of a nearby guley.
The memory of those hunts left a bitter taste in her mouth and she wonder whether she would be able to kill anymore. The choice was life or death for her; because without the hunt and the killing, the bloodlust would slowly eat her alive and she did not think she was strong enough to face that. With sadness in her heart, Laili knew she had to help these people, or there was no way she could live with herself. With that in mind she began to plan for the Eve of Samhain.
Through the long night, Resi watched the sleeping man while her mother kept their two guests in a drugged stupor. Laili had brought her robe to her before heading into town. She would not be returning until the next night, just in time to take her rightful place at her mother's side. Resi thought about her daughter…her chosen daughter with a mixture of emotions. She loved Laili, but even as a small cub there was something about her that did not set well with the other members of her clan. Most claimed that she wasn't a full shape-shifter, but if the truth was told none of them really were.
Shape-shifters were able to change into any form, but they could only change from human to wolf, but most times that was enough. Laili had taken part in several hunts, albeit reluctantly, but she'd killed when the bloodlust was on her and that had been enough to keep the others away from her. The Eve of Samhain would see Resi take the dominant position, not only in the clan, but of those who came through the portal. Blood would run free and people would die until the portal became strong and all her kind came through to become the dominant species of this world.
Resi reached down and let her fingers run through his hair and heard a soft moan escape form his throat. Again and again she touched him, relishing the feel of the well honed muscular chest and thighs. She'd stripped him of his clothing and marked him with the ritual liquid from the chalice they would both drink from the following night. She placed both hands on his chest and felt the strong beat of his heart beneath her fingertips and closed her eyes while feeling the strength flow through her body. Yes, he was to be her mate, a strong one who would give her many children before she was forced to kill him.
'Kill him,' she thought and knew there was no choice. Joe Mannix was not like them, not of their world, and although her children would be sired by him, they would be stronger than any of the others. She knew there had never been another who could lead her people as she had and now it was time for her to mate. She ran her hands down his sides, feeling the pleasure of warm flesh against her cold hands. Her fingernails became talons and she gently mark him from his navel to his manhood, bringing a thin stream of blood to the surface before rubbing the virile crimson fluid across her own breast.
She raised her head and screamed in pleasure, but knew she had to stop this before she went too far. She could not afford to use him until after the ritual, when the blood red moon was high. Makani would let the winds of change blow wildly through the area, bringing with it the promise of death. Even the sheriff and his pretty wife would die after the joining and the children would take part in the hunt. She had already chosen Laili to start the hunt…using her young body she could easily manipulate the minds of others.
"Tomorrow Night, Joseph…you and I will be as one and for a while you will know pleasure as you've never known it before."
Resi knew there was no one who could stop her and quickly removed her clothing before lying down beside her chosen mate. She could feel his heat and hoped he would not mind the cold blood that flowed through her veins. She spooned up against him and closed her eyes, praying she would sleep through the day and wake only when the time of joining was at hand.
The town of Red Ridge looked deserted the following day and well into the evening. Nothing moved in the streets, not even the dogs barked as the sun began the final leg of its journey. Most of the people who had not been touched by the night creatures that lived out near Wolf's Hollow hid behind closed doors with the curtains and shutters closed up tight. Families huddled in the main room as if waiting for the night terrors to end. People would die this night, die horribly in a hunt that was quickly forgotten the following day when the sun rose and a new day began.
There were stories passed down from generation to generation…some thought they were scare tactics used to keep rebellious children in hand, but for the older residents of Red Ridge fear was not something to be laughed at. Not when the moon rose high over head and was bathed with a red hue that spoke of the blood of those who'd already been part of the hunt.
Todd Jones came from a long line of Red Ridge Jones' and knew the horrible truth about the disappearances, and believed his family was amongst the chosen who would not be touched by the creatures that howled during the coldest, darkest part of the night. Creatures who preyed on the unsuspecting or the weak and it was up to him to help choose those who would be slain tonight. He'd been given the task from his father, who had it passed down to him from his father and so on. It was not something he took pride in, but if he did not choose, then his family would be amongst the victims.
Sarah Jones was an outsider who'd quickly come to understand that the town itself was damned, and that there was no way out once she'd married Todd. They had three children and he gathered them close when the wind began to rattle the window and doors. The flames in the fireplace would keep the creatures from entering through the roof, for the shape-shifting, wolf like animals could easily come through any entrance they chose.
Todd glanced at his wife and listened while she led their children in prayer and unconsciously began saying his own confessions in hopes of staying safe. For tonight was something his father had warned him of, a special anniversary that could see the creatures roaming free or bring death to them…he prayed for the latter, but has had happened to his grandfather 100 years ago he wasn't much into prayers on this night. The wind picked up momentum, rattling the house to its very foundations, and three children began to sob while holding onto their parents for dear life.
A knock at the door interrupted the family's prayers and Todd Jones was suddenly aware that their lives would always be in danger if the clan was allowed to continue their hunts. He looked at his wife and knew he had to find a way to change the way they led their lives. He stood and walked briskly to the door and took a deep breath before reaching for the handle.
Laili knew the decision she'd made was the right one, but it also meant she was condemning her mother, grandmother, and all of the others to death. She needed the help of someone she trusted, and knew in her heart that Todd Jones was her best choice. She'd changed into her wolf form and raced toward Red Ridge in hopes of giving the town a chance to prepare for what was to come. If the sheriff could get enough of the town to back him, they just might be able to defeat Resi and close down the portal for good. If they were successful the shape shifters would no longer have a way of entering this world, but it would also mean death to those who were already here. She reached the path that led up to the Jones' house and quickly shifted back into her human form. She knew the sheriff would be shocked to see her standing on his doorstep tonight, but it was a shock he'd have to live with. She hurried up to the door and quickly rapped on the surface.
"Todd…no, don't open it," Sarah shook with fear as she looked at the clock and knew darkness would soon be on hand. Something about the late night visitors scared the hell out of her.
"I have to, Sarah, if I don't I think tomorrow will never come for us. Something tells me tonight marks either the end of us or the end of them," Todd explained and turned the handle before pulling the door open. He was shocked to see the naked female standing before him, but he recognized her instantly. Her dark hair hung down over her shoulders while a light layer of dark fur covered her from head to toe.
"Todd, we need to talk."
"Laili, it's happening tonight isn't it?" Jones asked and stepped outside, closing the door behind him.
"Yes, it is, but it's not just a select few this time. Resi is planning a hunt that would see all of you destroyed and I cannot allow that to happen."
"Why Red Ridge? Why now?" the sheriff asked.
"I know you have part of the story, Todd, but you don't know it all. Two hundred years ago a portal was triggered between our worlds. No one knows why it happened, but Resi was the youngest and strongest of the females. The females are the hunters of our kind…the males have always been weak and unable to fend for themselves. Although that too has been changing in recent history…"
"Sort of the opposite of women's lib," Jones snapped, but found little humor in what was happening.
"I'm not sure what you mean, but it probably is. Anyway, Resi sees tonight as an opportunity for her to take a mate and strengthen her position. She feels that by taking a mate the portal will open and stay that way until all our kind have come through. We cannot allow that to happen, Todd…"
"Why are you here? Can you help us stop Resi?"
"Yes, I believe I can, but she is strong…"
"Why is Resi so strong?"
"She is the Reaper…not a reaper as your kind believes who steals souls. Resi takes her victims and tears them apart while she reaps the benefits of their flesh and blood."
"Damn…how do we stop something like that?"
"I will help you, but when I do you will have to kill all my kind in order to keep your world…your families safe."
"Tell me what to do, Laili."
"Guns are of no use unless you have pure silver bullets…yes, I know that sounds cliché, but legends do have a base in fact. The legend of the werewolf probably came from your people seeing my kind during a hunt, but there are other ways to kill us."
"With fire…you would need to trap us and make damn sure we all died in the flames. Those flamethrowers in the old army surplus warehouse at the edge of town would be the perfect weapon. It would be hard for some people to do this, but I think you could find the strongest men or women and see that it is done. Be warned there are at least a dozen shape shifters and they should all be at the ceremony, you have to strike when they are all there. It is the only way, Todd."
"Why can't we just let those who wish to go back through the portal?"
"Because if you allow the portal to open it will be too late. You need to go out to he hollow near my home and wait there. Bring the flame throwers and burn everything. Resi has three prisoners, but I will try and set them free, but if I don't I pray you can carry through with your job."
"I can do it, Laili, and I know several people who can handle what you've described. What time is this ritual to happen?"
"Midnight…when the moon is full and round and rimmed with blood red veins. You must strike at that time because Resi and the others will be immersed in the need to hunt and feed. It is a blood lust that cannot be denied so don't let them spot you until you're in position."
"What of you, Laili, why are you doing this?"
"Because I am not like Resi or Makani…I do not belong to their world and was taken from my home at an early age. I have been influenced by them, and have suffered through the bloodlust, but I can fight it because my kind has always chosen our hunts carefully. We hunt only those who deserve to be hunted…"
"Is that what happened to the prisoners that disappeared?"
"Yes, I chose them as my victims because they were destined to die anyway. I am not proud of what I've done, but I will not make excuses for who or what I am."
"It's like the old lesser of two evils," Jones snapped sarcastically.
"Yes, I'm sure it is, but you need to understand that the bloodlust and the urge to hunt are bred in our kind and not something we can fight…"
"You seem to be able to…"
"Not all the time, Todd, that's why I chose those prisoners. The bloodlust became too much and I knew if I didn't act on it I would be unable to stop myself from killing an innocent. I could not live with that. I have come to you with something that will probably mean my death, but I can no longer sit back and let Resi and Makani kill your kind. I must go back now, but please choose your friends wisely, because it will be up to you which of our kind lives."
Todd Jones watched as the woman who'd been one of his deputies over the last few years shifted and became a wolf like creature before his eyes. Her body undulated and fangs distended as the muzzle formed and became elongated. The eyes became feral and red as she looked back at him before disappearing down the deserted street.
Todd turned and walked back inside and took a deep breath before motioning his wife forward. What he had to say to her was not for a child's ears, and he hoped his wife would understand him leaving her and the kids alone.
"What did she want, Todd?" Sarah asked having heard the female voice.
"There's going to be a hunt tonight…"
"You already told me that, but why did she come here?"
"She came to warn me that tonight is different from other hunts. Tonight Resi plans to kill everyone in Red Ridge…"
"But she's supposed to select only the ones on the list you've prepared…us our children are not to be harmed."
"That's changed, Sarah, Resi is planning on opening the portal for good. We can't allow that to happen…"
"We could leave…take the children and run…"
"Run where? No town or city will be safe if Resi and her kind are permitted to cross through that portal. No, we stop this tonight…."
"We? Who do you think will go with you on this crazy hunt of yours?"
"Jamison…Carter…Billy…maybe a few others."
"Just what can you do to stop Resi and her kind?"
"Laili told me they can be destroyed with fire…but we have to move quickly before she completes tonight's ritual and opens the portal. I need to go before it gets too dark…I'll be back when this is all over!"
"Will you? I don't think so…I don't think any of you are going to be back."
Todd took his wife in his arms and prayed she was wrong. He wanted to ease her mind, but if truth was told he was scared to death of what was ahead for them on this unholy night.
"I love you," Sarah whispered.
"I love you too, Sarah. Take care of the children and make sure everything is locked up after I leave," Todd said and hurried to place his gun in the holster and prayed that Laili was wrong about only flames killing the shape shifters.
Art knew something was wrong and struggled up through the depths of unconsciousness until his eyes opened to narrow slits. Years of being a cop had given him an inane instinct for keeping still and feeling out how much trouble he was in. The scent of candles was strong and the light flickered around him, but he could only make out shapes, nothing distinct.
Malcolm listened carefully, heard nothing, and opened his eyes to look around the room he was in. His wrists were tied and held fast by two couplings that were embedded into the wall, while his ankles were likewise restrained to couplings in the floor. His eyes were drawn to the bed that was set across the room and he gasped when he saw Peggy Fair's unconscious form restrained on the bed. Art could not think past the fact that they were prisoners as his head began to pound unmercifully.
"Peggy…Peggy…" Several times he called her name, but received no answer except for the drummer inside his skull. He recognized the feeling and knew he'd been drugged, but fought to clear his mind as he tried to pull his hands from the restraints. Whoever had tied his arms had done a thorough job and he knew it would take a knife to get free.
Art shifted his body until he was able to sit up with his back against the wall. From this position he could see Peggy, but more importantly he could see the doorway. The candles cast an eerie glow over everything and shadowy forms seemed to slither along the walls, floor, and roof. He closed his eyes, waiting for the room to stop spinning and looked toward the bed. Peggy had not moved; she lay in the middle of the bed, her arms stretched above her head and tied to metal hoops in the wall.
"Peggy…wake up…Come on, Peggy…"
"So, the drug was not strong enough to keep you down."
"Who the hell are you?" Malcolm asked of the troll like creature who crawled into the room.
"It does not matter who I am and hell has nothing to do with it, but I assure you that we will get to know one another very well when the darkness creeps over your world tonight. I am called Makani and in your language that means The Wind. I can harness the power and make it work for me and tonight you and the woman will witness that power…"
"Makani, you should learn to curb your tongue!" Resi said from the pen doorway.
"Why, Resi, have I not told him the truth? Will he not be part of the hunt tonight…a special hunt that opens up a whole world of opportunity for our kind?"
"That is not for you to say," the raven haired beauty snapped. "Revert to the form we use on this world or I will see to it that you stay a troll."
"As you wish, Resi," Makani said and shifted into a tall raven haired woman who stood several inches taller than the other woman.
"What the hell was that?" Art asked, disbelief and fear evident in his words.
"We are shape shifters and contrary to what your sci-fi television shows portray we can not shape shift into anyone or anything. We have two…or in Makani's case three shapes we can take. This is the shape we chose for your world…so that we can blend in with you and live without causing fear. Our true form is similar to your wolves…only bigger and stronger and we have no fear of humans or their guns."
"You don't scare me…"
"We should, Art Malcolm, but you will understand why tonight," Resi explained and looked at the pretty woman sleeping on the bed.
"What have you done to Joe and Peggy?"
"Peggy is sleeping under the influence of a drug similar to the ones your people use. She will not wake up until the time of the joining…"
"What joining?" Malcolm asked, not all that sure he wanted to hear her explanation.
"Joe and I will be joined tonight in a ceremony that will bring our two worlds so close together that a portal will open allowing my kind to come through. This has happened a few times in the last two hundred years, but tonight will be the strongest. Tonight is the Eve of Samhain and it coincides with the two hundredth anniversary of our equivalent. On this night my kind will come to witness my joining and they will stay to participate in a hunt that will culminate in the killing of every resident of Red Ridge and finally see all of my kind come through the portal."
"Why are Peggy and I here?" Malcolm asked, trying to get as much information as he could in hopes of finding a way out of this mess.
"You will be part of the hunt. If Makani has her way you will be for her only, but as I told her that decision has not been made yet. Peggy will play an important role in tonight's ceremony. She will be the ritual sacrifice…killed by my chosen mate's hands. Joe will slit her throat and catch her blood in the chalice so that we can both partake of her…"
"Joe won't do that!"
"Joe will not have a choice. He will be kept semi conscious until after the joining is complete and we have mated. He will not realize what he has done until it is too late," Resi explained, tugging on the chain and rope system that kept the cop prisoner.
"Yes, he will, but as I said he won't realize it is happening until it is too late. Joe will think he is dreaming right up to the point where he drinks from the chalice," Resi explained. "Now I have so much to do to prepare for tonight and you will need your rest. Close your eyes, Art Malcolm, and sleep the sleep of the dead…"
"No…" the policeman whispered, but as her fingers touched his forehead his eyes closed and he gasped as if no air entered his lungs.
Resi look at her two reluctant guests and smiled at the though of what tonight would bring. Their sacrifice would indeed make the portal stronger and her joining fruitful. She would watch her children mature and rule this world as was foretold so long ago. She heard the whispers of the doubtful and shrugged them off…nothing was going to take what was rightfully hers…nothing or no one!
Resi donned her robe and stared at her image in the mirror. She knew she would be considered exotically beautiful and tugged at several loose strands of her silken black mane. Her body tingled with anticipation when she spotted the man sleeping in her bed. Joe Mannix would sleep until she awakened him and then he would help her meet their destiny together.
Resi looked up when her mother entered the room and was glad to see she'd taken the human shape at least until the ceremony. Her mother was stronger than most, but she could not stand up to Resi because the years had not been good to her.
"Resi, have you decided about the other male?"
"Yes, Makani, I have…you may have him, but not until after the ceremony is complete and he others come through the portal. I want you at my side wile Joe kills the woman and fulfills our destiny."
"Are you sure he is the one?"
"Yes, look at him. He is strong and virile and look at his coloring…the dark hair, the well muscled thighs, and his manhood….everything points to him being my perfect mate."
"Everything except that he's not of our kind," Makani told her.
"Everything else makes up for that. Look at Laili…she is not of our kind, but she has made a place as my daughter and even you have accepted her as family."
"Laili is different and was a partial shape shifter, but these people are nothing like us."
"It does not matter, Makani, I have made my choice and I will live with it," Resi vowed.
"Yes, but can we?" the older shape shifter asked before backing out of the room. "Have you asked yourself where Laili is today?"
"She is making sure everything is ready for tonight," Resi said and sat beside the man. She ran her fingers along the strong jaw and pressed her lips against his, before allowing him to wake up. The eyes were glazed, but they were filled with something she knew would have to be tamed. Even in a drugged haze, Joe Mannix looked ready to kill her. "It's nearly time, Joe. We will be going to the altar very soon and you will take your rightful place at my side."
"No…I won't!" Mannix vowed and struggled to sit up. His strength seemed nonexistent and he knew this woman had done something to him. His head pounded and he silently cursed whoever had allowed a drummer to take up residence inside his skull.
"You don't have a choice, Joe, for it was written long ago that a dark male would come to me on the Eve of Samhain. Your being here is the catalyst that will bring about major changes for both our worlds. You will be at my side when the others come through and the hunt begins."
"This is some kind of nightmare," Mannix ground out when she traced her taloned fingers along the marks she'd made. The five pointed star was a symbol she'd taken form this world and signaled the strength she felt growing within her. When the moon ran red with blood and her kind howled their pleasure, she would consummate the joining that would see Joe Mannix sire her children for years to come.
"Resi, the moon is as red as I've ever seen it," Makani called from the open doorway.
"The moon bleeds, Joe, and so will Peggy Fair…"
"NO!" Mannix snapped and fought to come off the bed. He saw the fear flash across the woman's face and knew she had overestimated her power over him. A blinding flash of pain twisted through his skull, but he forced his body up…further and further until he was sitting. He gripped her wrists and began to push her off of him. As impossible as it seemed the windows rose of their own volition and the wind howled through the room scattering the candles and anything else that wasn't nailed down.
"Stay back, Makani," Resi warned, enjoying the strength and determination oozing from the alpha male. She let him think he had her conquered and just as she would have folded to the floor allowed her instincts take control and reverted to her natural form.
Joe staggered and would have fallen back on the bed except for his need to make sure nothing happened to Peggy Fair. The wolf like creature snarling at him was larger than any timber wolf he'd ever seen and this one looked as rabid as any creature could be. He tried to back up, but his legs were against the bed and the feral animal lifted its upper body and its huge paws landed hard on his chest. He felt the claws dig into his flesh and cried out as dagger like pain shot through his chest. He landed hard on the mattress, but had the instinct to lift his arms up to protect his throat from the wolf. Saliva dripped from the tips of the animal's fangs and its jaw snapped several times before it released it's hold and turned away.
Resi knew she'd scared her captive, but there was an inner strength about Joe Mannix and she knew he would not go to his destiny easily. She would have to prepare the others and come back for him. She relaxed her hunched features and quickly rose on two legs to stare down at the male whose chest was bleeding from several puncture marks on his upper chest.
"You will be mine, Joe," Resi explained and moved forward, once more placing her hands on his cheeks and staring into his eyes. "Sleep…I will return when the time is right."
Joe could no longer fight her and soon felt his body and mind relaxing at her touch. There was no warmth form her, just a cold, dead feeling that spoke of hell. For Joe Mannix resided in hell and could see no way out.
Resi remained where she was for several minutes, drinking in the handsome features that set her body on fire. She would own him tonight and would use him until she tired of his body. She would even allow him to keep his own mind, but he would no longer have the will to fight her once he slit Peggy Fair's throat. With a leering smile, she licked her lips and left the room to check on the clearing that would be used for the ritual.
Todd Jones looked at the group who'd followed him to the army surplus warehouse. Roy Jamison, Sylvia Carter, Billy Parker, Stanley Cummings, and Martha Sherman had jumped at the chance to end the horrors that had plagued their town over the past 100 years. Of them all he knew Martha Sherman was the most reliable. The woman had spent time in the reserves and had volunteered to give them a quick lesson in how to use the flame throwers.
"All right, Boys, here's how these things work and let me tell you don't go aiming it at anyone you don't want BBQ'd," Sherman warned and quickly ran through the instructions on how to use the flame throwers. They made sure every weapon was filled to capacity and working properly before placing them in the back of the beat up Ford truck that belonged to Martha Sherman.
"Martha, you don't have to…"
"Can it, Sheriff. I've lived in this damn town all my life and I've had it with these rituals every damn year. It's time we took back our time and sent them critters back to whatever hell they came from," the elderly woman snapped and climbed into the drivers seat. "Are you boys coming or just standing there with your thumbs up your asses?"
"You heard her boys…Sylvia, why don't you ride up front with Martha and me?" Todd offered and wasn't all that surprised to see the woman jump into the back of the truck. This seemed right to him and he prayed they would be strong enough to become the hunters instead of the hunted.
Laili knew she had to be careful around Makani and Resi. The bloodlust was already on Makani and she'd seen the woman sharpening her claws in expectation of tonight's hunt. She prayed Todd Jones had been able to gather enough people to help rid this world of the menace her kind represented. The truth was her kind was almost as bad as Resi's but they had never tried to take control of another world.
Laili had seen Resi leave the house and moved inside. She listened for the elderly woman, but the house seemed unnaturally quiet. She moved across the lower floor and quickly made her way upstairs. She walked into Joe Mannix's room ad sat on the edge of the bed. The man was good looking and she briefly wondered what it would be like to have such a mate, but she knew that was not to be. She had to stop Resi, and make sure the portal closed forever. She touched his forehead and hoped she was strong enough to undo everything Resi had done. She needed Mannix to hear her and understand why she was helping him, but she could not explain it all in the little time she had. Some of her thoughts would have to be subliminal and she hoped he would be able to harness the power she was giving him…the power to fight Resi and the others before it was too late.
"Joe, I need you to listen to what I have to say for it is the only way to save your friends. I am not sure what will happen tonight, but if Todd is able to help he will be here. You must be strong and brave if you are to follow through with this plan…otherwise all is lost…"
"Laili, what are you doing here?"
"I wanted to be sure everything was in order, Grandmother." Laili turned and smiled at the woman who now stood tall on two legs. Makani was one of the few shape shifters who could manipulate her size as well as her shape. Right now she was dressed in a navy blue satin gown that clung to her body and belied her age.
"You should be at he clearing…making sure everything is ready."
"I have just come from there and the altar is ready for Miss Fair. I am sure Mother would approve of everything I have done."
"You'd better hope she is, Laili…Resi does not forgive mistakes."
"I am well aware of that, Grandmother. I must go ready myself for the hunt…has mother decided what she wants to do with Art Malcolm?"
"She has given him to me…but not until after the ceremony," Makani explained, slightly disappointed at having to wait so long.
"That is a wonderful honor…I am pleased for you, Grandmother," Laili said and moved to hug the older woman.
"Thank you, Laili, but I am sure Resi has chosen someone strong for your first kill of the night. I expect she has chosen several kills for all of us because she wants to strengthen the portal with a steady flow of blood."
"How can we be sure she is right in doing this?"
"She is the strongest and knows what she's doing. Resi wants to ensure our survival and to do that she has to make sacrifices…so what if the creatures in this world die? They are but toys that are meant to be played with before being destroyed and dealt with."
"They are not toys, Grandmother, they are living…breathing creatures and they have feelings…they…"
"It does not matter, Laili, you are young and do not comprehend what s happening, but tonight is a wondrous time for our kind. Resi has finally chosen a mate…one stronger than any of the males from our world and together they will have a strong bloodline that will continue down through the years. It is a time of claiming and that is exactly what we will do…"
"Is there a problem here?" Resi asked, having heard the last part of the conversation.
"No, Resi, I was simply explaining to Laili why tonight is so important. She is still a child and cannot grasp the nature of the hunt or the reason for the bloodlust."
"Laili, is this true?"
"Yes, Mother…I just don't like the idea of killing so many innocents."
"You really are still a child, Laili," Resi said and cupped the younger woman's chin in her hand. "That will change tonight for you will see the reason for my decision to take a mate. Tonight the females will take control of the hunt and we will kill enough of the creatures of this world to see our kind run wild and free over the Earth."
"Resi, is everything ready in the clearing?" Makani asked.
"Yes, it is and it is nearly time. Laili, I want you to help me get the female down to the clearing and secured to the altar. Makani, you are to stay here and guard the males until I return."
"As you wish, Resi," Makani said. She could feel the bloodlust raging within and fought the urge to kill the two males. She could tear them apart before Resi returned, but to do so would surely mean her own death at the hands of the leader of her pack.
"Come, Laili, it will soon be midnight and everything must be ready," Resi ordered. She led the way into the bedroom where the two captives slept and quickly release the loops that held Peggy Fair to the bed. They supported the unconscious female between them and quickly moved out of the room.
Makani watched them leave and entered the room to stare down at the male. She could not resist touching his chest and feeling the strong heart beating there. Tonight, during the heat of the hunt she would rip it from his chest and watch it beating before the man even realized he was dead. It would prove to Resi that she was strong enough to be at the front of the hunts to come.
"Soon, it won't be long more," she said and punctured his skin with her nail. She watched the blood well up to the surface and knew this one was strong. She turned away, knowing that to stay here would only lead to death…his and hers if Resi found out she'd sampled him before the time was right.
Todd Jones took a deep breath as Martha Sherman rounded the bend and stopped within half a mile of the clearing. He prayed they were far enough away so that the wolf-like shape shifters would not catch their scent. If things went as planned the creatures would all be at the clearing, even those that had spent part of their lives amongst the people in town. From what he knew of the shape shifters there were only a dozen including the three women who lived in Wolf's Hollow.
"Are you sure you know where this ritual is to take place, Sheriff?" Martha asked when they joined the others at the back of the truck.
"According to the legend their rituals have always taken place at the clearing in the hollow," Jones explained. He reached for one of the flame throwers and settled it in position before looking at the small group who volunteered to help take on the wolf clan.
"Wolf's Hollow has always had an air of mystery to it, but it's hard to believe there really is evil in this place," Sylvia Carter told them.
"Believe it…I remember seeing one when I was hunting with my father and brothers. We tried to kill it, but it disappeared into the forest," Stanley Cummings said.
"There have been a lot of sightings recently," Billy Parker added.
"Hopefully tonight we can stop the creatures from killing anyone else," Jones said.
"Do you trust Laili, Todd?" Roy Jamison asked.
"I don't know if I'd call it trust, Roy, but she came to me and told me a lot of things that tell me she's on the up and up. As I see it I don't think we have a choice in this. We've all heard the stories and whether we admit it or not there's some part of us that believes it because otherwise we wouldn't be here."
"The Sheriff's right…let's go smoke them critters out once and for all!" Martha said and lifted the flamethrower. She prided herself in her ability to face everything head on and that was exactly what she would do tonight and the consequences be damned.
Laili looked at the other creatures that had gathered for tonight's ceremonies. There were 10 females and two males, not counting herself, Makani, and Resi. The others would come through the gate when the time was right, at the heat of the ritual when Resi and her chosen mate shared the blood from the chalice. She would not let that happen.
"Laili, help me with her!" Resi ordered and moved aside to allow the younger woman to secure Peggy Fair's arms and legs to the black topped altar. She ran her hands along the exposed skin along her neck and then shifted the gauze material they'd covered the woman in until more of her breasts were uncovered.
"She looks so innocent, Resi…what if she has a family?" Laili asked.
"It does not matter because after tonight we will take what is rightfully ours," Resi said and straightened out the gossamer strands of material that covered the altar.
"I wish I believed as you do, Resi, but I can't…"
"You are not wholly a shape shifter, Laili, but after tonight it will not matter. You will see that we are the strongest of our species and everything else is below our kind. They will be used for the hunts and I promise that you will be given a choice as to who you take as your mate and who you will hunt. Perhaps Sheriff Jones would make a fitting first kill tonight…would that please you?"
"I have nothing against Sheriff Jones, Resi, he is a good man…"
"Yes, and that is where the problem lies, Laili, he is a man and as such does not deserve a second thought…"
"But you have chosen a male as your mate, Resi…how is that different?"
"I have the strength to take what I want, Laili…I can and I will take what is rightfully mine and unless you wish to challenge me then you will do as I tell you. Are we clear on this?"
"Yes, Resi, we are clear."
"Very well, go help your grandmother bring the male now and make damn sure she does not mark him before the ritual!"
"Yes, Resi," Laili said, and fled before her mother could see the distaste in her eyes.
Resi watched her chosen daughter carefully and wondered where the spark of rebellion was coming from. There was always a chance that Laili would be as weak as her sub-species foretold, but Resi had chosen her because she saw something that reminded her of herself. Could she chance being wrong on the Eve of what was heralded to be a new beginning for both their kinds?
Resi turned back to the captive and smiled when the eyelids fluttered and finally opened. The clearing was lit by the black candles and bathed in red from the moon that had risen above the horizon. She ran her fingers through the bowl of white paint and quickly made several symbols on the woman's breasts and forehead.
"You will make a wonderful sacrifice tonight, Peggy Fair, and then you will feed the minions when they enter through the portal. The first taste of your flesh will be mine…the second will be taken by Joe Mannix and seal the power of our joining…"
"No! Joe won't let that happen!" Peggy snapped and began to pull at her bonds.
"You don't really believe that anymore do you? I know you think you know Joe Mannix, but he is no longer under your beguiling wiles. I have used my own…"
"Tricks and drugs!"
"Perhaps, but it is working," Resi said, confident that tonight would end with the culmination of her dreams. "Joe won't be able to resist me once he arrives. He will take your life and feed on your body before it has even grown cold. Maybe I will allow him to taste your flesh before he kills you…would that be a better way to show him who is in charge?"
"Joe is stronger than you know!"
"Good, that will make this all the more fitting. The ritual is for a select few and I have the right to choose who becomes the elite clan on this world. Your kind will become food for…"
"You'll find we are not going to just roll over and let you take over," Peggy spat, eyes widening in shock when the woman's body changed and a huge wolf like creature stood over her. The two arms were no longer bare, but were covered in a coarse black fur and ended in five distinctly sharp talons.
"I could easily slit your throat right now," Resi told her and wrapped her right appendage around the woman's throat. "But I think it will be more fitting to have Joe do it. Rest, Peggy, the time is almost at hand."
Peggy tried to breathe, but the creature had succeeded in restricting her air supply. She gasped and choked when the female released her grip and through the roaring in her ears she heard the howling laughter echo through the night.
Todd Jones had positioned his people so they could cover the clearing without being seen, but he was still worried. Martha and Stan were reliable, but the others had never had to face killing anyone or anything. Billy was excited and seemed hyper, but he'd always been that way even as a kid. Roy could shoot, had been a contest winner in the shooting gallery at the fair several years running, but again it was different because this time the targets were living creatures and the bullets had been replaced by flames.
Todd had never considered himself a brave man, but tonight would prove that he definitely wasn't a coward. Tonight, alone, cold, and under the cover of darkness he was going to rid the world of a threat most people didn't know existed. It felt like something out of the monster of the week features such as the later shows of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
A sound to his left caught his attention and he sifted slightly to peer into the underbrush. Nothing moved, not even a faint rustling of trees, yet he could have sworn someone or something had been there. Shifting his gaze back to the clearing he lifted the night vision binoculars and counted the creatures that surrounded an altar of some kind. There were at least eight to ten of the wolf like animals he'd come to refer as the shape-shifters since his father first told him about them.
Laili had told him to watch and make sure all of the shape shifters were present before opening fire. He glanced at his watch and knew it was almost time, frowning when he saw two of the creatures enter the clearing, supporting a man between them. He wasn't sure, but something told him the man was the police officer who'd been in his office the day before. He watched as the man was secured between two posts before glancing back at the altar. There was little doubt in his mind that the figure sprawled there was the woman who'd been with Art Malcolm. He closed his eyes and sent a silent prayer that they could rescue the captives before destroying the creatures and the portal.
Resi could feel the fur thickening on her body while the muscles corded and undulated with excitement. Laili and Makani had brought Art Malcolm, but it was up to her to bring Joe Mannix to the clearing. She had already dressed him in the long black robe and the dagger he would use to kill Peggy Fair had been placed on a bed of red velvet next to the altar. Turning to the others she smiled and lifted her head to howl at the red moon high above them. The time was almost at hand and she needed to bring her chosen mate to the clearing. The others would wait for her return, before calling on the powers that would open the portal and solidify the path between the two worlds.
Resi raced toward the house and entered to find Joe Mannix exactly as she'd left him. She touched her fingers against his cheek, allowing him to open his eyes, while she controlled his mind.
"It's time, Joe…"
"I'm here, but I need you to come with me now."
"Wh…where?" Mannix mumbled, but slid his legs over the edge of the bed and sat up.
"We have to open the portal, Joe, but hat can't happen until the blood runs free and we partake of Peggy Fair's sacrifice," Resi said, watching his face for any reaction. The eyes remained locked on hers and there was an emptiness to them that made her smile. This was how she wanted him, at least until the time of sacrifice. She took his hands in her own and slowly led him out of the room and down the stairs. He followed her without protest and she breathed deeply of the cool night air. They reached the clearing just as the moon reached the halfway point and the clearing was bathed in red mist.
"Joe!" Peggy screamed when he stepped up to the altar.
"Joe! Don't do his!" Malcolm raged, watching helplessly while his friend was led to the altar and a blade was placed in his hand.
"Omni…insensi…shanookra…" the chant began low, but started to build as the wolf like creatures moved forward and stood on two legs.
Todd prayed the others were ready and that no one would jump the gun and start firing before Laili's signal. The chanting grated on his already rattled nerves, but he stayed where he was, watching and waiting. He could see the man who'd been led into the clearing and knew it had to be the missing detective, but he seemed to be totally unaware of what was happening around him. He shifted his body and got ready to move when the dagger was placed in the newcomer's right hand.
Peggy screamed when Joe Mannix lifted the dagger above his head. She could barely make out his features in the eerie glow, but there was no doubt who was standing above her. The chanting was strange and unintelligible, but the creatures circled the altar and stood on two legs, the dark fur and luminescent eyes sent a chill racing along her spine.
"Joe…please, Joe," Peggy tried and watched for any sign that he heard her.
"The time is at hand, Joe, kill her and taste of your future!" Resi chanted softly.
The creatures seemed transfixed by the ritual and seemed to have forgotten that he was there, and Art struggled to pull his arms free. He watched a dark shape leave the group and recognized the shape shifter when she stood before him.
"It's time, Art, you need to get them away from here," Laili warned and quickly slit the ropes with her talons.
"What about you?"
"I am one of them, Art, do not worry about me!" the female said and quickly returned to her place in the clan.
Peggy watched as the blade slowly descended toward her and felt tears slip from her eyes. There seemed to be no way of breaking the spell Resi had on Joe Mannix and she tensed her body against the expected attack. The red glow from the moon glinted off the blade as it neared her body and she closed her eyes in silent prayer, but the blow never happened.
Joe Mannix knew he had fooled the wolf like creature into believing she controlled his every action. He'd taken the blade in his hand, chanted while lifting it above his head, but midway through the downward curve he'd changed the direction of attack. Resi had been standing next to him, chanting and talking softly, her eyes glowing red as she waited expectantly.
Joe knew the blade would kill the creature before him, and drove the dagger into her chest. Chaos ensued, but Joe gave no thought to anything around him and reached out to release Peggy's arms. The chanting had turned to screams and howls of rage, but he didn't have the time to find out what was happening around him.
"I got you, Peg," Mannix told her, gasping as something slashed at his back. Pain erupted from his right shoulder to the bottom of his ribs on the left side. He could feel blood dripping from the wound, but could not take time to acknowledge it.
"Joe! Peggy!" Malcolm called and quickly made his way toward the two people at the altar.
"Art, Joe's hurt!" Peggy, said, keeping the panic from her voice at the sight of the shredded material soaked in blood.
"We need to get out of here!" Mannix said, aware of Peggy's concern, but unable to give any thought to the injury to his back. The clearing was suddenly lit by flames and the howls of rage suddenly turned into ones of pain and fear. He grabbed Peggy's arm and moved away from the altar, but something snagged his leg and pulled him down.
"Joe!" Peggy screamed and tried to get to him.
"Get her out of here, Art!" Mannix warned and kicked out at the shape shifter who'd latched onto his leg.
"You will pay for this, Joe!" Resi snarled. The blade was buried deep in her chest and she knew she was dying, but fought to kill the man who had betrayed her.
Joe kicked out and felt his foot connect with her chin, but the creature was stronger than he'd given her credit for and he felt his own strength weakening. The red glow of the moon glinted off the handle of the dagger and Joe knew it was his only chance. He drew back his leg, ignoring the talons hat sank into his left ankle and drove forward with every ounce of energy he had left. He heard her scream as he drove the blade into her chest and left only part of the handle exposed.
Mannix felt her release his leg and climbed to his feet. The clearing was engulfed by fire now…the bushes, trees, and shape shifters ablaze with the flames that shot from several directions. He couldn't take the time to thank whoever their rescuers were and darted away from a burning figure, diving into the thick brush behind the altar.
"You will die!"
Mannix fought to his feet and turned to find himself staring into a pair of red eyes that glowed from yellowed irises and felt the wind pick up around him. He tried to stay on is feet, but the creature advanced on him, howling with rage until she'd back him up against the altar. Joe felt the hard surface against his back and honestly knew what a cornered animal must feel like.
"I will tear your heart from your chest and eat it while it still beats!"
"No, Makani, the killing stops now!" Laili warned and waited for her grandmother to turn in her direction. She knew the others were dead or dying and that they were the only two left on their feet.
"You! I warned Resi not to trust you!"
"Joe, get out of here now!" Laili said and circled the elderly shape shifter.
"You have killed your own kind, Laili…I will see to it that they are wiped clean and their bones buried in feces…"
Joe knew there was nothing he could do to help the creature he knew only as Laili and back away from the duo when taloned claws slashed at exposed throats. He stumbled toward the edge of the clearing and searched the area for Peggy and Art. The area was no longer bathed in red mist, but was now completely filled with the white light of the flames that tore through the area.
"Peggy! Art!" Mannix shouted above the roaring wind and crackling flames. The stench of burning fur was nauseating, but Joe knew he had to escape before he was trapped with the dying shape shifters.
"Joe…over here!" Art called and moved to help the staggering detective. He knew Mannix was injured, but did not no the extent of the damage.
"Wh…where's Peggy?" Mannix stammered when Malcolm eased him to the ground.
"I'm here, Joe," the woman said and ran her eyes over the detectives face. "I thought…thought you were going to…Resi…she said you would…would…"
"I know, Peg, but Resi was not as strong as…as she thought…thought she was," Mannix told her.
"Joe, you're bleeding pretty bad," Malcolm said of the wound to his friend's back.
"I k…know…Resi…she…she didn't want to l…lose."
"Let me in there," an elderly woman ordered and nudged Malcolm out of the way. "Damn, that's gonna leave a mark. Todd, get someone to go up to my truck and bring back he first aid kit and the stretcher…it's folded up in the back under the old tarp!"
"I will, Martha," Jones said. "Billy, you and Stan go get what Martha needs."
"Who are you?" Malcolm asked.
"Martha Sherman…now make yourself useful and help me get this off him. What's your name?"
"Well, Joe, your back looks like ground meat right now, but we'll have you fixed up in no time."
"Are you a doctor?" Peggy asked.
"Used to be…guess I still am, at least in Red Ridge. Don't have much call for my sewing abilities, but I can see I'll have plenty of practice on you," Martha exclaimed.
"Don't let her gruff manner scare you, Miss Fair. Martha's taken care of more people than you can shake a stick at. She was in the forces and served overseas," Jones explained.
"How did you know where we were?" Art asked, wincing sympathetically when he saw the damage done to his friend's boss.
"Laili came to see me this afternoon. She said that if Resi opened the portal there would be no stopping their kind from taking control here," Jones answered.
"Laili didn't agree wi…with what Resi h…had planned," Mannix said, groaning when her fingers prodded the area around the gouges on his back.
"Sorry, Joe, but this is gonna need a whole boatload of stitches," Martha explained.
"You'll need to look at his ankle too, Martha," the sheriff said. He knew the others were watching the clearing and had seen Laili and Makani locked in a battle for supremacy that would end in both their deaths. The flames engulfed the remains of the shape shifters and were quickly destroying everything that proved their existence. He heard a scream of agony and watched as Laili changed her form and stood tall on two legs as Makani's twisted form toppled into the raging fire and was soon obliterated.
"It's over," Laili told them.
"Laili…there has to be some way…" Jones tried.
"There isn't, Todd. I don't belong here anymore than Resi or Makani or the others. Have no fear, Joe, the marks on your back, chest, and ankle will not leave any lasting scars and contrary to the legend you are not doomed to walk the night as a werewolf. I wish there was more I could have done, but at least you are safe from Resi and the others like her."
"No, Laili…don't!" the sheriff shouted, but watched helplessly as the woman slowly dissolved into the wolf and walked into the flames that had already claimed her family.
"Is this the right one, Martha?" Billy asked and handed the woman a large first aid kit.
"That's the one, Billy," Sherman said and quickly opened it. "Joe, I'm going to give you something to help with the pain before I clean and cover these wounds and get you back to town."
"O…okay," Mannix whispered and tried to find a comfortable spot. He felt a hand slip into his own and stared into Peggy's eyes, smiling weakly in spite of the pain that seemed to be advancing along his nerve endings and trip-hammering through his skull. He gently squeezed his fingers and felt something cold eased across his left forearm. He watched as Martha Sherman injected something into his arm and soon felt the agony ease to a slightly more bearable level.
"That should make you a little more comfortable," the woman explained and returned her attention to the injuries on his back. The wounds were deep, but except for covering them with bandages there wasn't much she could do until they reached town. The small clinic she kept on the outskirts would do until he could be transferred to a big city hospital where they had better equipment to deal with his injuries.
Peggy could hear the others talking, but her gaze remained fixed on the detective whose eyes were slowly closing. So much had happened since he'd left to meet with Charles Turner, but most of it didn't seem possible. She knew most people would laugh if she told them what she'd seen and heard in the last 36 to 48 hours.
"Peggy, we need to get him on the stretcher," Malcolm said and eased the weary woman away from their friend. Joe's hand continued to clasp hers and she refused to release it until he was safely situated in the back of the truck. Stanley Cummings had brought Martha's truck closer to the clearing in order to make a shorter trip for the injured man.
"Martha, you go on back to town and take Billy with you so he can come back to pick us up," Jones explained.
"Billy, you're driving…you go hitting anything bigger'n a pinhole and I'll make damn sure to lance that boil with a blunt knife! Peggy you hop in the back with me in case he wakes up," Sherman ordered. "Todd, I'll call your wife and have her call the others to let them know there's nothing left to fear. Art, you get on up here too!"
Art easily jumped into the back of the truck and settled down next to Peggy. The night air held a chill and he quickly helped Martha cover the unconscious detective with an emergency blanket. The truck began to move along the old trail until they reached the main road. Art wished he had something to cover Peggy with, but most of their clothing had been taken by the shape shifters.
Martha looked at the two people seated in the back with her and realized they must be freezing. The gauzy material that covered the woman was paper thin and would do very little to stop the chill October wind. She reached into the open storage area and grabbed two musty smelling, but clean jackets she kept for hiking in the woods and tossed them to Art and Peggy.
"Thank you," Peggy said and quickly donned the clothing.
"You're welcome," Martha said and nodded her approval at Peggy's actions. That the pretty woman didn't turn up her nose at the smell alone showed the woman had guts as well as looks. She turned her attention back to her patient and knew there wasn't much more she could do until they arrived at her clinic.
Joe felt the truck come to a lurching stop and tried to keep from crying out when his back came in contact with the floor of the truck. He opened his eyes and tried to focus on anything but the pain and son found a soft hand touching his chest.
"You're okay, Joe," Peggy told him. "Martha is a doctor and she is going to take care of you."
"Mar…tha?" Mannix asked.
"That'd be me," Sherman explained. "You just relax while Art and Billy get you inside and then we'll see about making you more comfortable. I believe there's a nice warm bed with plenty of blankets just waiting for you."
"Sounds g…good," the detective said, closing his eyes and clenching is hands into fists as Art and Billy pulled the stretcher from the back of the truck and carried him inside.
"Put him on the examination table," Martha ordered, quickly flipping on the lights while her patient was settled on the table. She opened the cabinets and removed the items she would need and moved to wash her hands. "Get his clothes off!"
Joe heard her speaking and tried to sit up, but was forced to be still by Art Malcolm's hand on is chest. "I'm okay, Art, just let me sit up for a minute."
"Joe, don't be so damn macho. Let them get that robe off…"
"I will, but it would be easier if I s…sat up," Mannix told her.
"True, all right you two help him sit up," the physician ordered.
Joe allowed Peggy and Art to help him, and soon felt them easing him out of the black robe. The blood from the wounds had soaked through the bandages Martha used and he winced when he finally stood on two feet. His pants quickly followed and he suddenly realized he'd been barefoot since the beginning of the ceremony.
"All right, Joe, I want you lying down on your right side," Martha ordered. She'd caught a glimpse of the wounds on his chest and knew they would need to be cleaned, but would not require stitches. She looked at Peggy and tossed her a pair of surgical gloves. "Put those on…"
"Why?" Peggy asked.
"Well, I'm gonna be busy with his back and ankle. I figured you could handle his chest. There's a basin under that cupboard and everything else you need to clean his wounds is on the counter. Think you can handle that, Peggy?"
"I can handle it," Peggy assured her.
"Good," Martha said and began setting up and IV line. "Now, Joe, I'm going to get you started on some fluids to help replenish what you've lost. I'm also adding some antibiotics and pain medications so just relax, close your eyes, and sleep."
"Sounds…good," Joe told her and closed his eyes. He son felt a sharp prick on his left hand and knew he physician was inserting the IV catheter. It wasn't long before whatever else she'd added to it eased the pain and he relaxed toward sleep.
Joe opened his eyes to sunlight streaming through the partially open drapes. His body felt numb, but his mind was quickly clearing and he turned his head to the right. He smiled at the sight before him; Peggy was curled up in a chair with a blanket covering her from toes to shoulders. Her eyes were closed and her soft breathing told him she was sleeping.
Joe realized he was not in a regular hospital room and that the bed he was in was a lot more comfortable than many of the ones he'd slept in. The mattress was firm, yet yielded to his body, there were several pillows piled behind his head, and a couple at his back to keep the pressure off the wounds. The blankets that covered him smelled slightly of moth balls, but it wasn't an unpleasant scent. He shifted slightly when a shadow filled the doorway and stared at the woman standing there.
"Well, it's good to see you're finally awake," Martha Sherman said and moved into the room.
"Is Peggy okay?"
"She's fine…just finally gave in to what her body was telling her…well with the help of a little light sedative that is," Martha explained and quickly checked her patient over. "Well, I must say this looks better than I thought at this point. How do you feel?"
"I'm not feeling much of anything right now," Mannix said with a slight grin.
"That's for the best considering how many stitches it took to close those wounds to your back."
"I stopped counting at 100," Martha told him, adjusting the flow of the IV. "The ankle wasn't too bad, but you'll be limping for a few weeks. I'd rather you use a cane…"
"Hold on a minute there. Let's not go jumping the gun here. You won't be on your feet for a few days yet," Martha warned. "I catch ya before I tell you and I'll put you out for the duration."
"He won't do anything stupid…"
"Hi, Peggy," Mannix said, smiling when the pretty woman pushed back the blanket and moved to sit on the edge of his bed.
"How do you feel, Joe?"
"Better, Peggy, like I told the doc…"
"No, you told me you were numb…never said nothing about feeling better," Martha lightly chastised.
"Joe does tend to understate matters when it comes to his health," Peggy said and looked up when Art Malcolm stepped into the room.
"How long have I been out?" Mannix asked.
"Three days," Peggy answered. "We were going to have you transferred home, but Dr. Lewis and Martha thought it was better if you stayed here."
"Dr. Lewis said something about Martha doing what he's been unable to," Malcolm said with a soft chuckle.
"What's that?" Mannix asked.
"Something about keeping you in bed until you're well enough to be up and about," Peggy said.
"Tell him he's a real barrel of laughs," the detective said, yawning and closing his eyes as the medication he'd been given took affect.
"You go ahead and rest, Joe," Malcolm said.
"Peggy, there are sandwiches and cookies in the kitchen and I brewed a fresh pot of coffee," the physician explained.
"Go on, Peggy, I'll stay with Joe," the policeman offered. He knew Peggy was still worried about her boss, but there wasn't much more she could do. The doctor had been pleased when his fever had broken that morning, but she'd told them he still had a ways to go before he was healed.
"You'll come get me if he wakes up?"
"I will…go on, Peggy," Malcolm ordered and watched the pretty woman reluctantly leave the room.
"She really cares about him."
"Yes, she does, and maybe someday people's prejudice won't get in the way of how others feel."
"It's a crazy world we live in, Art, but it's also a promising one. Maybe someday prejudice will be a thing of the past," Martha said and the two grew quiet while watching over the sleeping man.
Joe sat on the swing and watched the people walking along the sidewalk. He wore a heavy sweater and was covered with a warm blanket while he sipped the cup of hot, sweet cocoa Martha brought him. He knew he was finally on the mend and they would be leaving for home the next day. The people of town seemed to have forgotten the horrors they'd faced over the last 200 years, but something told him the events would be passed down from generation to generation until it became just another urban legend. The sun had long since gone down and with it came the cold darkness that once had the people of Red Ridge locking their doors and cringing in fear of what walked their streets.
"Joe, are you all right?" Martha asked. She'd been watching the detective closely and knew he'd been thinking about what he'd witnessed.
"I'm okay, Martha, but sometimes I wonder if what we saw was real," Mannix told her.
"Sometimes it's best to just forget," the woman said when Art and Peggy joined them.
"Did they find out what happened to Charles Turner?"
"No, but there was evidence that he fought whoever…or whatever entered his home," Malcolm explained.
"What about the…the creatures…Resi and Laili?" Mannix asked.
"There's no sign they ever existed except in our memories," Martha told him. "Sheriff Jones and a few others went out to the area. All that's left is a black circle where the clearing was. What's strange is the house they lived in was also burned to the ground. There's no evidence that there'd been anyone living there for over a hundred years."
"They were there," Joe told them.
"Believe me we know that, but perhaps it's best if we did forget what happened out there. People don't like the unknown and tend to forget that evil is not simply a word or concept. There is real evil out there and it comes in all shapes and sizes," Martha explained.
"The stuff of Urban Legends," Joe whispered.
"Yes, but like Laili told the sheriff all legends have some basis in fact," the physician told him. "The very fact that we're here talking about it will probably go down as a legend…otherwise people would be scared to death just to peek through their windows. Red Ridge is my home and I'm not proud of some of our past, but I am proud of the fact that we defeated an evil force that most people don't and won't ever know about except in some tabloid newspaper."
"Little green men kidnapped my husband and sent him back with no memory," Mannix quipped.
"Perhaps…as I said it's for the best. I'm sure some people would call it a defense mechanism," Martha said and watched him finish his drink. "It is damn cold out here and there's a nice warm fire going inside sand you are still recovering from your encounter with an urban legend…"
"Yes, you are, but you'll be more comfortable tucked up in a chair in front of the fire. Besides, I have a pot of chicken soup ready and a loaf of warm bread to go with it."
"Chicken soup…food for the soul," Mannix said and smiled before standing and following them into the house. He stood in the doorway and watched the moon come out from behind a cloud. There was none of the crimson coloring he'd witnessed on the Eve of Samhain and he sighed tiredly. Perhaps it was best to just forget what they'd seen, but he no longer saw the world as a place where the common criminal was his worst enemy. There were things that were worse than thieves and they hid in the darkness waiting for the right time to attack.
"Coming, Joe?" Peggy called and tugged on his arm until he closed the door and walked with her to the kitchen.
Something rustled in the brushes along the road to Wolf's Hollow and an enraged howl rent the air, but was quickly swallowed up by the wind that swept down from the mountains. A lone wolf, covered in sleek black fur that looked scorched in places, howled at the white orb that had risen high in the sky before disappearing into the trees and leaving no evidence that it had ever existed.
Or is it?