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21 November 2017 @ 07:30 am
_Stone_ part 13  
 

Chapter Desert #2

L

3rd Tuesday

I ran with Rachel Tuesday morning, then changed and headed for the bus stop.

This time I need to be well north and hidden when the Hunters came.

If they came.

I mean, unless they were grabbing locals . . . my stomach clenched at the thought. But if they weren't grabbing locals, what were they doing out in the desert?

I didn't even know if they were going to the same place every time.

There was a war memorial just off the highway a quarter mile past the road they'd taken. I rested there. Snacked down on salami, cheese, and bread.

Much better than jerky.

I closed my eyes. And just sort of felt everything around. The memorial park, some kids playing basketball, a few houses. No Bad Guys.

I stretched and headed up the road.

Six miles to where it turned. I cut across open desert well before I got to the turn. Undressed and hid my clothes. Changed and trotted off northwest.

I didn't have a watch, but they showed up about when I expected them. Sick green auras, coming right at me. I ran away, trying to keep at the periphery of my ability to sense them—and presumably at the limit of them being able to sense me.

And then they weren't there.

I turned around and flipped a mental coin; angled north off the road.

Another mile and I could feel them again. I got nearer, stopped when I could sense individuals. A couple impatient and irritable. Old. Half a dozen youngsters, more anticipation than excitement. Hunger not yet pressing. But building.

The young ones were working under the direction of the elders. Clearing away brush.

Oh yeah. They're clearing a circle, like where they tried to kill me.

They're planning to kill someone.

One of the older Hunters was trying to teach them something.

The dancing ground. The chanting. Irritation rose.

I backed off to where I could barely feel them and waited

I remembered the Hunter, probably some cousin to some degree of mine, talking to Rachel. Following to find where she lived. My stomach clenched.

I have to talk to Kris. He's some kind of cop. Maybe a detective, he wears suits everyday, and I can smell the gun oil, the leather, has to be a shoulder holster.

But will he believe me?

The sickly yellow-green glows, gathered together in three groups and started moving toward me. Since there was no reason to not believe that if I could see them, they could see me, I turned tail and bolted west into the desert. From what I hoped was a safe distance, I watched them drive back to the road and retrace their path. They turned toward Phoenix and sped up, disappeared beyond the limits of my odd "sight."

I turned and trotted back to where they'd been.

It was pretty obvious, from the ground. They'd parked on a slight slope, and over the crest, they'd cleared a circle of brush and rocks. And before they'd left, they'd dragged some dead mesquite back into the circle.

Hiding it from the air.

Two poles lay on the ground beside two holes dug into the sandy soil.

Poles. To tie their victims to. So they're planning on two victims?

They're all set up, whenever they want a dance. Do they work with the moon phases? I never noticed any difference. I suppose though, that it matters if you're driving across rough ground and don't want to show headlights.

I walked back to my clothes and curled up to sleep on them. The almost full moon rose before the sun set. If my memory of an astronomy class was right . . . tomorrow or the next day would probably be the full moon.

I'll go home tomorrow, warn Kris.

Somehow.

I have to trust him.



Chapter

K

The talk

Wednesday night?

Shit. This is going to be embarrassing.

Of course, if he is just a dog, he'll never tell anyone he was accused of being a werewolf.

If he even shows up tonight.

It was late when Kris got home. He sat in the car a moment, then repositioned the dash cam.

Nicole and Rachel were in the kitchen giggling as they cooked something that smelled fantastic. His guts unclenched.

Stupid idea. Really.

Nicole came out to give him a welcome home smooch. "If Rachel's going to keep that oversized mutt, we'll need a higher fence. Stone showed up in the back yard around noon, begging for food. He doesn't seem to be the least bit inconvienced."

Kris paused . . . and decided to not mention the wisdom of neutering . . . a possible werewolf. "Umm, yeah. So what smells so good?"

After dinner . . . he manufactured an excuse and invited Stone to take a ride.

Drove a few miles and pulled into a parking lot.

"Stone . . . we need to have a little chat. About what happened in Albuquerque." Kris turned and eyed the big dog in the back seat. "Or . . . do you prefer Leonard?"

The animal stiffened, backed into a corner.

And . . . his ears, smaller than most dog's, just the tips flopped over, shrank back against his head. And the muzzle, which had been more square than pointy was flatter and the hair seemed thinner . . . and there was a young man shifting around to sit like a human.

"Ow. That's not really fun, in case you wondered." The young man pulled what Kris had thought was a cloth collar over his head. He unclipped the dog tags and unrolled running shorts. Pulled them on.

"So what are you?"

"I'm not sure." The young man hunched his shoulders. "I was lost. Maybe my parents were killed. I don't know. I just . . . I was raised by some really great people. But they were old, and they died when I was in college. So I decided to try and find out who I was. Am. What I am."

"You didn't try before? Didn't tell the authorities?"

"I wasn't . . . I looked about five, I guess. But I wasn't actually talking, then. The Stones, they were my foster parents, they taught me to speak, got me up to speed that first year, so I could start first grade . . . Well, all I had were flashes of places, people I think were my parents, places they had been. After Mom died—my foster Mom—just a couple of weeks after Dad, I decided to try to find those places."

"Really?"

"Yeah. I'd been searching on the internet for years. So I went and found the zoo where that woman was frightened by the wolves. Found—I think—the Ferris wheel. Then I had a dream. It was rainy and cold and someone said 'I really miss the desert.' So I headed southwest."

"How'd you find them?"

"I . . . in Albuquerque, there was this restaurant. The waitresses kept looking at me, like they knew me and didn't particularly like me. I rented an apartment in the area. Ate there regularly."

His hands had been resting on the back of the front seat. Now his head lowered and he rested his forehead on his hands. "Two men walked up . . . they looked a lot like what I see in the mirror. They asked all sorts of questions. And said someone must have gotten careless and let a woman live. They said I should come to the meeting . . . I was . . . scared . . . their eyes were . . . not friendly. But I had to go, I had to find out."

"There were a couple dozen of them there. At this big empty warehouse. Men. Some women back to one side, and a few kids. Dogs. Except they weren't really dogs." His voice got tight. "The leader, they called him Jack, said they were the hunters. The hunters of men and the devourers of souls. Sons of the Great Demon Sack a diffle or something stupid like that. The All-Mother who had given birth to their ancestors. 'The Four Sons of Men' they said, all deep and dramatic. I thought they were trying to fake me out, scare me or something."

Kris's fingernails bit into the palms of his hands, as he tried to not interrupt the flow of words.

"I . . . asked what they meant . . . what did they hunt? 'Humans,' they said. 'Women are the most fun,' some of them said. They were grinning and laughing. I laughed. 'Very funny, now what are you, what am I, really?' They laughed . . . and said this could be a good night for a hunt." He straightened, took a deep breath. "Join us or die. We'll kill tonight. You or another."

"I said hell no, tried to leave. They wrestled me down and tossed me in the trunk of a car. When they hauled me out, we were out in the desert, the sun just setting." He rubbed his forehead, stress lines across his forehead and showing in his voice. "There was a pole at one side of an open space. They tied me to it and started arguing, well, like they were still arguing about something. 'Wasting a consecrated dancing ground on a crossbreed' they said."

"The older ones said they ought to just kill me and what if the Great Demon didn't like being given a cross-bred descendant? The young ones said they'd found me and that they had the right to dance with the demon."

Kris's stomach was in a knot. Demons on top of werewolves?

"We're not werewolves. We're not even really dogs."

Kris froze . . . Coincidence or did he just read my mind?

"Anyway, the old guys said 'Go ahead, be fools' and they drove off. They left one car, the two guys from the restaurant and two of the dogs."

A couple of deep breaths, then the boy continued. "They sent the dogs off to collect firewood. Then they started a little fire from some dried brush and started dancing around it and singing . . . I've wondered about hallucinogenic herbs or mushrooms or something . . . between the smoke and the dust they were raising . . . I don't know what I saw, but I'd been changing, got my paws out of the ropes

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