If it were about the money, I would’ve become a stripper instead of a writer. Enjoy.
The Northeast Texas drought that lasted almost a decade had ended, and now the rain poured down upon the rusted tin overhang of the building’s roof. The beating rhythm of the liquefied projectiles played out a song that resembled a never-ending drumroll to any audience that was close enough to experience the performance. Tonight, it only played for an audience of one. There, hidden deep within the shadows of the darkened structure, cowered a small boy by the name of Ryan Weldon.
Now Ryan, being a boy of only thirteen, was no stranger to fear and hiding. As a matter of fact, he’d gotten quite used to it. His mother had passed away six months earlier in a tragic automobile accident, and his own life hadn’t felt the same since. Before her death, he’d been quite the school bully, punching out the smaller children for their lunch money or any other sacred object they might’ve possessed which would’ve caused them to breakdown into tears at the mere mention of its loss. Yeah, it was mean, but it was fun. Growing up in a town such as this, sometimes you invented your own ways of passing the time. Now, the woman who had given him the breath of life no longer drew breath, and he hid in the shadows from bolts of lightning dozens of miles away. The epitome of bravery.
Soccer practice had ended an hour and a half earlier, and his father was nowhere to be found. Well, he was nowhere in the vicinity to be more precise. Ryan knew exactly where he was. His father’s newest and most frequent hangout was the local American Legion, which was a mere three blocks away. It was a great place for veterans to sit and reminisce about their military careers over a few cold ones. If you were Ryan’s father, however, it was a great place to sit alone and attempt to drink the place dry in the hopes your dead wife would mysteriously rise from her grave and join you. Sure, Ryan missed his mother too, but honoring her memory in deep thought was much better than drowning it. After all, this soccer thing was his father’s idea in the first place. Through the opaque blackness of the nighttime thunderstorm, those few blocks felt like miles.
The man tried to convince him this would be the best way to reintroduce himself to the kids his own age he’d been neglecting since the family tragedy. Ryan knew the true agenda behind this logic. This was nothing more than a carefully constructed plan to push him quietly out of the way so his father could spend more time at the bar. So far, it was working. It was now ten o’clock, and the only company Ryan had was a rising pool of collected and frigid rainwater nearing him with every passing second.
Reaching into the already saturated pocket of his athletic shorts, Ryan searched for his cell phone. Speeding through the list of frequently called numbers, he reached the one labeled “Asshole.” Now, of course, this wasn’t his father’s given birth name, but the only one to stick with Ryan when he first received his emergency phone. He pressed the talk button and awaited the inevitable.
“You’ve reached Archie Weldon,” the familiar and joyful sounding voice played, “and I’m sorry I missed your call. Don’t worry your pretty little head, though, because I’ll be back to you in no time.”
The call went straight to voice mail. He didn’t even bother calling again. By now, his dad was way too drunk to even notice the vibrating phone in his pocket…if he’d even bothered to bring it in the bar with him. Either way, Ryan was running out of reasons not to begin walking home on his own. The water collecting underneath the makeshift shelter was nearing the base of his ankles, and he could already feel the cold pouring into his shoes, soaking his socks. Not that he was afraid of getting wet, but being sick this early in the school year would be no picnic. The illness wouldn’t kill him, but the work he’d have to make up from missing the classes would. Sometimes, he thought his teachers just invented ways to keep him busy, because no other kid he attended class with had any trouble keeping up. Then again, no other kid his age just lost their mother. He turned again with his hands on either side of his face in an attempt to block out the glare of the streetlight above. He saw no movement inside the building- there was no hope for scamming a ride out of someone who still might have lingered inside. He was on his own, but he was getting used to it. Taking a deep breath and preparing himself for the icy shower he was about to receive, Ryan stepped forward into the night and left the confines of his now flooded hiding spot behind. The first drops of rain slapped him in his face like falling needles, causing a sting he wasn’t sure the rest of his body was ready for. That was when he first heard it.
A chilling howl pierced his ears, echoing from all corners of the building, electrifying his spine. This made the coldness of the rain feel warm and inviting by comparison. Frightened within an inch of his life, he jumped back underneath the safety of the overhang with his feet splashing loudly into the three-inch pool of water collected there. Keeping his feet dry was now a lost cause. As another screech of terror filled the night air, his feet became the least of his worries. Cowering back in the darkest corner of the building, just beyond the luminescent glow of the streetlight, Ryan buried his soaked face in his hands.
“What the hell was that?” he thought to himself as his mind raced, searching through an endless sea of possible answers.
No dog or domestic animal he’d ever heard was capable of such a horrific sound. As a matter of fact, knocking out all possibilities of a local, native animal, he’d heard nothing of its kind on the internet or television nature shows he’d watched either. Of course, he never really paid much attention to them, just bits and pieces here and there from school, or when he’d wandered into the living room on occasion to turn the volume down after his father passed out from one of his numerous nights of tying one on. A few minutes passed since he’d re-entered his saturated sanctuary and, so far, no signs of any dangerous animal. The second sound seemed further away than the first, and whatever it was, logically, was moving in the opposite direction. Still frightened and shaking from the cold, he pulled his face away from his hands. Ryan was so consumed by his attempt to figure out the source of the howling, he hadn’t noticed his situation had improved slightly. The once fierce downpour withered away into a light sprinkle- the only time it had done so since the rain had begun nearly two hours before. Inching forward from under the tin overhang and back into the clouded night, he forced himself out into the wet, mud-covered lawn with no regard for anything which could be lurking in the darkness. He just wanted to go home.
A bolt of lightning flashed, illuminating his surroundings. The letter “C” had fallen off the side of the building from the YMCA logo, leaving behind nothing but a rust colored stain which stretched all the way to the ground. He’d always wondered about the birth of the Young Men’s Christian Association, as well as tons of other nonsensical things a young boy daydreamed when pretending to pay attention in a classroom, and never quite figured out why it attracted so many people in today’s changing times. It always reminded him of a recruiting center for unsuspecting altar boys with a line of priests licking their lips and rubbing their hands together in wait just beyond the sinister shower rooms. Sure, it was a sick and twisted way of thinking, but any thought to distract him from his present fear was a welcome one. Unfortunately, his father fell asleep, or passed out, fairly often while watching a jewel from his prized horror movie collection. Archie Weldon was left out of the running for “father of the year.”
In order to reach his home, the young teen had to cross two soccer fields with a row of trees between them. They were so thick; the opposite field couldn’t be recognized in broad daylight, let alone pitch darkness. He’d walked this path time and time again in the previous few weeks, but those walks always followed afternoon practices and not nearing the hour of 10 o’clock. Now that he thought about it, his father failed to pick him up from the majority of those, also. Why would tonight be any different? After this night, Ryan would take things into his own hands and quit relying on his alcoholic dad to be responsible. He paused at midfield of the first soccer pitch and glared at the dark line of trees which grew closer and closer with every step. Beyond, he could see nothing at all. The trees, another field, two streets over and he was home free…or at least that’s all he hoped lay in waiting between his saturated shoes and safety. If his father truly wasn’t home, he’d have no way inside, but he preferred to be stuck out in the elements hiding underneath his own porch rather than near some wild and crazed animal whose whereabouts were unknown. It’d been at least ten minutes since Ryan heard anything out of the ordinary. Maybe it left the area. Maybe, though, it was being purposely quiet, waiting just beyond the shadows, cautiously attempting to hide from the young boy who approached and now stood in the center of the open field. Damn his father and his horror movie collection! Ryan recalled the standard line anyone over the age of sixty fed him throughout his life when it came to the behavior of animals and whether there was any danger involved in approaching them.
“They’re just as scared of you as you are of them,” they always said. “Don’t pay any attention and they’ll leave you alone!”
A comforting thought in a desperate time of uncertain fear for anyone who wasn’t dealing with the possibility of coming face to face with one in the darkness. The lightning flashed again, and through the skeletal trunks of the trees he could see the edge of the next field. The flags that marked the out of bounds perimeters were flying violently in the storm driven winds, and he knew it was only a matter of time until the rain would pick up again. He noticed nothing at all, and it gave him a glimmer of hope in this otherwise hopeless situation. This kind of fear was the result of a science fiction overload. His heart began to pound a little faster with anticipation, bringing warmth to the tips of his fingers and toes against the cold night air. Leaving his perch at center field, he headed toward the white outline of the soccer goal, barely visible against the blackness of the upcoming trees.
He focused on putting one foot in front of the other. One of those deliberate steps landed his right foot in a puddle of collected rainwater which masked a divot on the otherwise smooth playing field. His arms flailed wildly as his hands reached in either direction for something tangible to grasp, or even soften the impact of the fall, but there was nothing within reach. Gravity took over his fate, and he fell forward in what seemed like slow motion. Suddenly, he both felt and heard the loud crack of his right ankle as it reached the breaking point from being held stationary in nature’s booby-trap. Ryan screamed in pain as his face smacked the icy cold ground. He involuntarily inhaled a mouthful of mud, and his cries turned to a gurgling squeal.
Pulling himself up to a semi-sitting position, he cried in such a way that couldn’t be compared with recent memory. Only in mental flashes of his early childhood could he relate this feeling of pain and helplessness. There wasn’t a single spot on his body, clothed or bare, that was remotely dry now. The cold mud crept inside the legs of his shorts. Now, every single inch of his body was in major discomfort, including a couple which should never be made uncomfortable. Reaching desperately inside his pocket, he grabbed for his cell phone again and prayed silently it wasn’t in an inoperable state of failure.
Fumbling to dial the numbers with numb fingers and a brain full of pain, he called the one number drilled into his head since birth. Luckily, he’d never had to use it. 9-1-2. Dammit! The mud from his fingers slipped on the key pad. 9-1-1. The phone came to life and rang as thunder rumbled in the darkness.
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” calmly spoke the dispatcher.
“My name is Ryan Weldon,” he cried frantically, “and I’m all kinds of screwed up right now. I need some freaking help, man!”
“What’s going on Ryan?” inquired the voice on the other end.
“Dude, I was walking across the soccer field and I stepped in a hole or something. I think I broke my leg.”
The dispatcher spoke again. “Okay, Ryan, try and stay calm,” he said to comfort him. “Where are you right now?”
“Dude,” Ryan shot back angrily. “I just said I was at the frickin’ soccer field. Are you deaf? Don’t you guys have computers or something that show where I’m at?”
“Ryan,” the dispatcher interrupted, “you’re going to have to try and stay calm. You’re calling from a cell phone. It doesn’t work like that. Not in this county. You’re going to have to try and tell me where you are exactly.”
“Man, I’m in the middle of the YMCA soccer field,” said Ryan cynically. “I’ll be the only one with a wet ass covered in mud and a broken leg. You can’t miss me!”
“Okay, just stay calm,” repeated the dispatcher.
“Dude, I am staying calm!” Ryan’s voice crackled as he swallowed what was left of the mud.
“Okay, I’m going to get you some help out there, but I need to know if you’re on the north field or the south field.”
“Oh my god, man! You’ve got to be kidding me! I don’t know the whole north and south thing. I must’ve dropped my damn compass when I fell over!”
He was beginning to get impatient. “Just send an ambulance or a cop or something. Anything with a flashing light!”
The dispatcher was losing patience. “Look, kid. I’m trying to help you, but the entrance to one field is three blocks away from the other. If I get an ambulance stuck in the mud on the opposite field from where you are, that won’t be a whole lot of help now, will it?”
Gasping for breath to ignore the pain in his leg and gather his composure, Ryan continued. “It’s the field closest to the building. Right before you get to the trees.”
“Okay, little man,” the dispatcher continued. “Help is on the way. Just try to chill out and stay cool. Can you move at all?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t really tried,” Ryan replied curiously. “I can barely even see anything from all the mud on my face. Why?”
The dispatcher hesitated. “No reason, man, just stay cool.”
The creaking wheels in Ryan’s brain began to turn in a logical fashion. “Don’t pull that crap with me, man,” Ryan shot back. “What do you know that I don’t?”
“Well…I’m sure it’s nothing, but there have been a lot of calls about wild dogs near where you are tonight,” the dispatcher informed him.
“Yeah, I heard them,” Ryan said. “All the more reason for you guys to hurry the hell up!”
“They’re coming, just stay on the li…”
Ryan tired of his first official 9-1-1 experience. He hung up. They were on their way, and that’s all he cared about. Uncertain of whether he should attempt to try and move, he remained completely motionless, causing the cold to reach an almost unbearable state. Off in the distance, he heard the first comforting sound of the evening. The barely audible siren was a signal that help was on its way. One of the worst nights of his young life was about to come to an end. He laid backward onto the freezing, muddy field without a care for the condition of his soccer uniform. He was going to make damn sure his father never heard the end of this one. Chances were though, he would not really care enough to listen to the beginning of the story, let alone the end.
Shooting upward, he sat again with the reaction speed of a bullet from a gun. Another ear-splitting howl came from the direction of the tree line directly ahead of him, and it was uncomfortably close this time. Lightning flashed overhead revealing the silhouette of the trees but this time, through mud-clouded eyes, he thought he’d seen something new amongst them which hadn’t been there through previous strikes. Frantically, he found a clean spot on his uniform sleeve and wiped his eyes the best he could. Blinking, his vision blurred as another flash of lightning lit up the night sky. In between two of the trees…wait…what the hell is that? A dog?
Reaching underneath his leg with both arms and gritting his chattering teeth, he pulled upward with all his might. The pain caused him to become dizzy and nauseated. He choked back a little of the mud he’d previously swallowed. Almost at the point of blacking out, the vacuum caused by the hole finally gave way as his broken, slime-covered ankle flopped forward onto the ground. Putting all his weight onto his arms and good leg, he stumbled forward, falling again onto his hands and knees. Gathering his strength and focusing on the tree line, the lightning flashed once more. This time, there was nothing to be seen but the trees. Hopefully, it had all been just an illusion brought on by the overwhelming pain impulses.
He searched his mind for any signs of logic. Was he hallucinating from the pain? He had to be! It was the only explanation, or at least the only explanation Ryan was willing to accept which didn’t scare him out of his mind. There was no such thing as a dog who could get as big as what he’d seen in the shadows! It was more like the size of a lion that almost seemed out of place anywhere else but on some type of safari or zoo. If that was the case, the noises he learned from his childhood toys had all been a lie!
Using his upper body, which was now beginning to give way to exhaustion, Ryan crawled to the goal post of the soccer net. Groaning in pain, he pulled himself up to his feet as the searing impulses clouded his thought. Using the post to lean upon, it felt like someone had taken a railroad spike and hammered it into his lower leg. The siren of the ambulance was nearly on top of him now, and he could see the red and blue flashes of light reflecting off the buildings in the distance. He followed them with his eyes, counting the seconds and attempting to estimate how long it would take for the rescue party to arrive. The siren faded and the lights could be seen again…but they were on the other side of the trees! The other side of the damn trees! They’d gone to the wrong field!
Ryan screamed aloud in disbelief. “Hey, you bastards, I’m over here!”
He could hear some indistinct talking from the men on the other side of the tree line followed by the shutting of a door. “Hey!” he yelled again.
The engine of the ambulance roared to life. The tires began spinning but the lights failed to move. “Great,” Ryan said aloud, “they’re stuck in the freaking mud!”
He’d had enough. Stepping forward with his strong side and dragging his pain-filled leg; he lunged forward into the tree line separating him and the unfortunate medical personnel bogged down on the old road. Leaning against the closest tree, he could now understand what they were saying. There were two of them, and they weren’t having the trophy night of their careers.
“Just rock it back and forth, man,” one of them yelled to the other.
“No, No, No!” the yelling continued. “Man, you’re just burying the damn thing!”
“It’s too heavy!” called the other man, obviously the one behind the wheel.
“Look, keep trying!” the first man said. “I’m going to walk through the trees and see if I can find this kid. In the meantime, get on the radio and get a tow truck out here!”
“All right!” the driver yelled in perturbed agreement.
Against the red and blue flashes of light from the ambulance, Ryan could see the figure of the man walking directly toward him. This nightmare was finally reaching its end, and it didn’t matter what happened to the vehicle in the process. He took a few deep breaths and prepared to signal the guy to his location by yelling crazily. The other man beat him to it.
“Look out!” the man yelled as the shadowy figure of an animal darted across the field and headed straight for him.
The paramedic turned to run, but it was too late. The animal was much faster. He’d only gotten about five strides from where he stood before being fiercely tackled by the monstrous creature. It overpowered him almost instantly and took him down hard to the soggy ground. The man screamed and fought back with all his might, but it didn’t do much good. He’d already succumbed to the vicious attack and now lay still thirty feet away from where Ryan stood, terrified for his existence. Suddenly, the animal stood up on his hind legs and began walking toward the immobilized ambulance. Ryan didn’t know exactly what this animal was. It howled like a canine, but it walked on two legs.
Ryan was frightened beyond motor functions and the ill feelings plaguing him on the soccer fields now returned with different intentions. He hid his face in his mud-soaked shirt and grabbed onto one of the ancient trees, praying desperately for some type of comfort. It wasn’t a dog. It wasn’t even an animal. It was walking! Peering out from behind the tree again, the man inside the ambulance was giving it everything he had, slinging mud in all directions to get the vehicle moving.
“No, No, No!” the ambulance driver screamed as the creature approached the open window. Ryan hid his eyes to block out the image he knew was coming next. There was another gurgling scream and the wheels went quiet, no longer spinning to break free from the muck. The creature howled with its ear-piercing cry. This time, it was done in a sense of triumph. Ryan clutched the tree tighter.
The rain fall increased, drop by drop, until it poured from the sky with tremendous force. The rotting smell from the fallen leaves wafted upward as the ground was bombarded with water from above. Ryan’s stomach lurched upward. There was no chance of stopping it. He could hear the downpour pelting against the yellow vinyl jacket of the medical technician. The man still wasn’t moving, and there was no sign of the one who drove the vehicle. The creature finished whatever he’d been doing with him and was now walking slowly toward the distance. Just then, the wretched smell of death stirred up by the renewed rainfall reached Ryan’s nasal cavities. It was too much to handle. He leaned forward and vomited uncontrollably onto the fallen leaves below.
The creature paused. Ryan froze, swallowing whatever remained of the foul-tasting bile. With his nose high in the air, the creature sniffed for the source of the disturbance. Slowly, it turned its piercing gaze toward the tree line as though it was staring directly at him.
“Oh Shit!” Ryan muttered as the creature dropped to all fours and sprinted toward his location. Instinctually, the boy turned to run. He’d forgotten about the pain in his ankle long ago. Instantly, he fell to the ground. The fear was a stronger driving force, though. Ryan jumped to his feet with all his might, but his fate was already sealed. Slammed from behind and knocked to the ground by unimaginable force, the weight of the creature pinned him motionless on the forest floor.
“Get off me, man! Get the hell off of me!” Ryan desperately screamed, but his cries were ignored. Something warm dripped onto his neck and felt the heat of the creature’s breath as it leaned closer to the back of his head. His senses were overpowered by the scent of fresh death emitted by the creature’s exhale. Ryan began a useless plea for what remained of his young life.
“Please don’t kill me man! Please don’t…”
Ryan’s final words were interrupted by what felt like hundreds of burning knives plunged deep into his flesh. As the creature tugged upward with a force unlike anything he’d experienced before, Ryan’s world began to fade into nothingness. The dark overpowered him and, for once that cold evening, he thought little of pain, soccer, or his father who had been the cause of this situation from the beginning. From now on, Ryan’s mother would be the one raising him again, but in a place beyond the comprehension of mortal men. With a final flash of his worldly vision, he thought he’d seen the distinct image of his mother standing before him and holding out her hand as if to try and pull him free. Perhaps it was gesture to save him from this macabre fate bestowed so early in life. With another stab and rip from the creature’s mouth, that image faded to nothing. The all-consuming darkness was all that remained. It was as though he was stuck in a repetitive dream in the stages just before waking. When a new light found him, all signs of fear and pain were nonexistent.
Winner – 2011 Reader’s Favorite Award
Toby Liberman is nearing the end of his rope. After a fateful confrontation with his wife’s lover, he is chased into the woods only to be discovered by an unidentifiable creature. He is attacked and rendered unconscious. Upon waking at the scene of a gruesome triple homicide, Toby is arrested as the sole suspect and thrown into a jail cell with a strange man that knows way too much about his predicament. The stranger reveals to Toby that he now possesses the curse of the werewolf. Using his new-found strength to flee his captors, Toby begins to discover that things are not what they seem in the sleepy town of Twin Oaks, TX. Now hunted by law enforcement, as well as the town’s gun toting civilians, Toby seeks vengeance against his false accusers and embarks upon a quest to clear his name once and for all.
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