A Taste of Home – Chapter 10

chapter ten

Toby Liberman slept deeply for the first time in two days. His life had changed so much as of late. He wasn’t quite sure what was dream or reality as his mind chased the monsters of the night in all directions. For the time being, he was at peace.

He’d changed back into something more human-like during the previous night while sleeping. It had proven to be just as unbelievably painful as his first transformation. Toby discovered it was controlled by pure emotion, just as Kurt Jimmerson said before they parted ways. Through concentration and practice, a simple thought of the Sheriff sent him to the ground reeling as his bones cracked into position and hair covered his pale white skin. As soon as his breathing slowed and all was clear, a sense of physical normalcy returned. He practiced repeatedly until it became second nature, and he became accustomed to the pain. After all, it was the most productive way to occupy his time. He just needed to know why this was all happening.

His pursuers, thinking he ran to the next county or possibly further, never came near his macabre hideout. There were no sirens in the night or even a squad car driving through the cemetery. From his military days, he knew he had a tactical advantage when it came to the plan. The plan, though, was something which required input from his former cellmate and that person was nowhere to be found. Worst case scenario was that Jimmerson ran up north without so much as a second thought for the promise he made to Toby, leaving him on his own to deal with the problems bestowed upon him in the woods on that fateful, rainy night. Deep down, Toby hoped this thought was mere paranoia and his mentor would arrive at any moment. When in human form, Toby still had the ability to cross his fingers.

The trees became his best friends. At first, tired of waiting for advice, he used them to travel into town and retrieve things from his house; pillow, blankets, food, some clothing, and a battery-operated radio so he could keep tabs on the situation in town. With the strength of his new form and the agility of his untapped animal abilities, Toby travelled by jumped from branch to branch in the shimmering moonlight. Oddly enough, no matter how many people were looking for him, no one bothered to look upward. Even at Johnny’s funeral, he perched above the pastor who was delivering the service. Not a single soul bothered to scan the treetops for the one person who would want, more than anything, to be present to honor Johnny’s memory. It also gave him the ability to watch over Jessica and Katie without alerting them to his presence. He wanted to run straight through the door of the Haynes house and embrace both of them, but a few strategically hidden officers spotted around the home would take him down with their sniper rifles.

Johnny’s death came as a big shock at first, but Toby came to the realization that taking him out would’ve been the only real way Sheriff McGee could take over his household. This assured his victory when it came to bringing the “terrible beast Liberman” into custody. He still wasn’t quite sure how it all went down but his imagination created several scenarios, some of which fueled his practice transformations.

His new mission in life was to take out the Sheriff by any means necessary. Jessie McGee accomplished so many things in less than a week’s time. Toby’s marriage fell apart, his daughter’s world turned upside down, he’d become an animal who was wanted by every law enforcement agency within a hundred miles, and he was indirectly responsible for the death of his oldest, closest friend. When the time came, he would make sure it wasn’t quick, painless, or clean. If he was going down, he would give the media something to talk about for years to come.

There was a fine line between hero or villain and which designation would be assigned. In the days to come, something was going to happen which would force the people of Twin Oaks to choose sides. For the moment, he was content in the makeshift bed made atop the stone table between the walls of the mausoleum and the warm, yet tattered blankets protecting him from the chilly night air. A rush of cold wind blew in as the door burst open with a loud creak and immediately slammed shut. Toby was not alone.

Blankets went flying and the few photos of Katie and Jessica he’d taped to the crumbling stone walls fell to the floor. He landed on his feet in a defensive stance behind the raised stone table. He searched his mind frantically for something to upset him enough and initiate a transformation, but he could think of nothing. Scared that the game was about to come to an abrupt ending, he could do nothing but hide beneath his covers like a frightened child. As heavy footsteps descended the old stairway, Toby realized he was only about thirty seconds away from being captured or shot dead by some fat, worthless cop who would be hailed as the town’s savior on the front page of the newspapers. As the footsteps came to rest at the base of the stairs, Toby peered around the corner of his hiding spot to see the face of the one who would seal his fate. Behind the powerful blue glow of an LED lantern was a familiar and welcome face that signaled all was well.

“You son of a bitch,” Toby growled at the man in the shadows. “I think I pissed on myself!”

Quickly, Toby checked. “Yep, I did. Dammit! Do you know how hard it was for me to get these pants out of my house without getting discovered?”

“Yes, I do,” Kurt Jimmerson replied quietly. “So shut the hell up and quit acting like you’re the only one who has ever gone through this crap. You’re an idiot!”

“Why? Because I didn’t want to run around in my torn-up underwear?” Toby fired back.

“No,” Jimmerson replied. “You’re an idiot because you’ve been running around to houses and funerals when I specifically told you to find a hideout and stay hidden!”

“I didn’t know if you were coming, dammit! For your information, I wasn’t going to miss the last time I would ever get to glance upon the face of my best friend.”

“Toby, it was a closed casket service. Nice try, though.”

Feeling like a scolded child, Toby slumped over in defeat and sat atop his makeshift bed once again. As he lit some of the candles acquired from the trips to his house, Jimmerson darkened his battery-powered beacon and sat next to him, pausing momentarily before comfort set in completely.

“Wait, you didn’t piss here too, did you?” Kurt asked sincerely.

“No,” Toby groaned. “Just the pants.”

“Just checking,” he replied as he settled in. “Toby, I told you to do these things for your safety and the safety of the ones you love. If you want to get through this, you’re going to have to pay attention and jump when I say so.”

“Great!” Toby barked aloud. “Just lay off the Yoda act for a few minutes and let me gather my bearings. I was sleeping when you came barging in here.”

Glancing around at his rudimentary surroundings, Toby’s guest appeared slightly impressed with what he saw. Granted, it wasn’t a place he would want to spend his nights, but for the time being, it would serve its purpose until the two of them were ready to make their move.

“This is kind of cool, in an H.P. Lovecraft sort of way,” Kurt informed him. “It’s almost like your own little wolf cave where you can hide out by day and run off to wreak havoc on those who have wronged you by night. I smell a comic book coming!”

“Man, you’re just full of them tonight, aren’t you?” Toby exclaimed, not amused.

“Look, I’m just trying to lighten the mood a little. I don’t want you to get all pissed off and wolf out to the point where I’ll have to show off my hairy side.”

Snickering, Toby explained his practice sessions from the previous couple of days. As far as he was concerned, he was getting pretty good at all of this. “I don’t think you’re going to have to worry much about that. I think I’ve figured it out on my own.”

“Yeah, I noticed,” Jimmerson said sarcastically. “It’s why your weak legs could barely support you when I got here. If you’re so good at it, why was there not a snarling beast here to greet me? What if I’d been someone else?”

“I was scared. I couldn’t concentrate on anything bad other than what was about to happen to me,” Toby explained to him, ashamed.

“On top of that,” Jimmerson continued. “You’ve been blasting that damn oldies radio station all day long. Anyone with halfway decent hearing would be alerted to your presence had they come close enough to hear. The coat hanger antenna sticking out the door is an attention-getter, too. I swear, had I heard “I Want You To Want Me” one more time, I would have come in here and killed you myself!”

“Well,” Toby attempted to reply both humorously and matter-of-factly. “It’s not every damn day that I kill people and have to hide out in cemeteries. There’s a learning curve. Back off!”

“All right, all right,” Kurt said defensively. “Just chill out. I’m here now and everything’s going to be cool. Don’t bite my head off or anything.”

Out of the corner of Toby’s fiery eye, he could tell Kurt was smiling a little.

“That was werewolf humor by the way.”

The cold air that Jimmerson let in upon his entrance was proving too much for Toby and he wrapped himself tighter into one of his blankets. He offered the other blanket to his new friend. Kurt graciously accepted. Toby glanced up at his guest. From what he could see by the flickering candlelight, his features told a story of how he’d probably been doing this sort of thing for quite a while. There was not even a hint of fear or uncertainty on his stone face, which caused an unusual comfort to wash over Toby. For some reason, he was beginning to think there was a chance for everything to turn out right. 

“Kurt,” Toby broke the silence. “How did this happen to you?”

“My mother was raped by a St. Bernard and I was born in a litter with eight brothers and sisters. Of course, six of them died because she only had two breasts.”

“Seriously,” Toby insisted. “I think it’s the least that you owe me.”

Kurt Jimmerson hung his head low as though Toby’s question brought forth horrible memories buried and forgotten for years. Slowly, he closed his eyes and took a painfully deep breath. Toby watched the changes on Kurt’s face as his thoughts seemingly wandered between happiness and tragedy. He liked to think of the latter as his imagination being tainted by a late-night horror movie stuck on replay with no “off” button. For the first time since their meeting, he seemed human. With a slight crackle of sadness in his voice, Kurt began his story.

“It’s been almost ten years now, but it still feels like it was only yesterday. At night, no matter how peaceful I try to convince myself I am, I can still hear the screaming from my wife and son. There was nothing that I could’ve done, and there wasn’t anyone around for miles to help us. We were at its mercy.

“I lied to you when we first met, sort of. I told you that I came here to hunt without being detected. In a way, it’s sort of the truth. There are other reasons, though. The wear and tear of the big city had been trapping me more and more each day, and even though I’d just made partner at the law firm I was working at, I still needed to get away for a while.

“My wife and I were on the verge of separating and I had made the sofa my new home away from home. With the work schedule, I was missing every pee wee hockey game my son was playing, and I was beginning to think someone was coming in and taking my place in the bedroom. In a last-ditch effort to save my marriage, I started asking around the firm if anyone knew of any good vacation spots, and it didn’t matter at the time how far away the destination was from our home. As a matter of fact, I thought the further, the better.

“Through the luck of the draw, I was appointed as a public defender for an out-of-towner that had gotten into some trouble in Manhattan on a vacation of his own. During my initial consultation with him, he’d told me that he was from Texas and how desolate and nearly deserted this area was. It sounded perfect. I started doing some map checking and some internet browsing until I found Lake Twin Oaks, just outside of town here. When we pulled up, we thought we were in absolute heaven. I pitched the tent and paid the campground owner a week in advance. 

“As the days passed, my wife and I began to patch things up and we were laughing and playing with one another like we hadn’t done since we were stupid teenagers in the Bronx. Every day, my son and I went fishing and swimming, while my wife caught up on some much-needed rest and reading. Hell, one night while we were making hot dogs around the campfire, we even spoke of purchasing a summer home around here or just picking up and moving altogether. It just couldn’t get any better, or so I thought.”

Toby watched Kurt like a young child viewing his favorite Saturday morning animated hero battle his nemesis. Noticing the tears welling up in the stranger’s eyes, he could tell this story was about to turn horribly tragic. The flickering candlelight which danced across the distraught face of Kurt Jimmerson made him seem almost mystical. Shifting a bit to get comfortable again, Toby settled in for what was left of Jimmerson’s tale of sorrow.

“Late one evening, I met a guy at the General Store on the edge of the lake who was just a bit too interested in who I was, where I was from, and where I was going. Not thinking too much of it and hoping the fact I was an attorney would’ve scared him from doing anything stupid, I was a little too open and friendly. After I got back to the family, I witnessed him on several occasions driving by our campsite, and it unnerved me to the point I almost told my wife to start packing. Unfortunately, I kept the whole thing to myself. Come to find out, it was the worst mistake I could’ve made.

“Later that night we started hearing footsteps outside the tent, and they were getting awfully close at times. Too close. Taking into consideration how the guy who’d suggested the place had emphasized the pleasant nature of the people around here, I had chosen to leave the gun at home. The only weapons I had were the ones nature provided. Trust me though; a stick, no matter how big, wouldn’t have done any good to anyone that night. I had to play the part of the brave guy and step outside to scare off whoever or whatever was playing with our minds.”

“As soon as I did, I was grabbed from behind and bashed over the head. I didn’t know who it was but the smell of the guy was horrendous. I was almost certain it was the man from the store. I begged and pleaded with him not to hurt my family, but he kept telling me over and over again that the situation was out of his hands and he wasn’t the one I needed to worry about. He tied me up to one of the trees and made me watch.

“Then, I saw him. He stepped out of the shadows, but not close enough for me to make out any kind of facial features or the color of his clothing. In all reality, I thought the guy was naked, which made me think I knew what he was about to do to my wife. I was dead wrong. Illuminated by the moonlight shining through the tops of the trees, I watched the shadowy man’s silhouette grow from the size of a normal guy to a beast of monstrous proportions. He turned and looked at me with eyes glowing like fire before he entered the tent. I could swear he was smiling at me.

“Both my son and my wife screamed my name for help for what seemed like hours, but because of his size and strength I know that it was all over in a matter of minutes. The glow of the campfire provided me with the views of their shadows inside and that was enough for me. Somewhere between the screams of my son crying out for me as he watched his mother being ripped to shreds by the monster inside the tent with them, I lost consciousness. I blacked out completely.

“The next morning when I woke up, I was lying on the ground below the tree I’d been tied to and the tent was gone, burnt to the ground. My wife and son were gone and so was any trace of struggle. The ropes had been cut away, and for some odd reason, it let me live. At first, I didn’t understand why but I later found out it was probably because the guy got more pleasure from knowing I would think about that night for the rest of my natural life. Even though I didn’t know where my family was, I knew for certain they were dead and no authority figure anywhere in this world was going to believe what I saw. Being in my profession for as long as I had been, I knew that a prosecutor would’ve turned the whole thing around if by chance they’d found their bodies and blamed it all on me. The only evidence I had of the events of the previous night was a giant gash on my right leg resembling some type of animal bite. Come to find out, my fate was much worse than that of my wife or my son.

“The first time I changed was when I’d just arrived back in New York. I was thinking about everything that happened, and I changed into the same type of beast that killed my family. That night, I killed two people in Central Park. Luckily for me, there are so many murders in New York that not a soul around even thought to point their finger at the crazy lawyer who howls at the moon. They thought it was a serial killer slaying, and they were looking for clues everywhere but in the right direction. Shortly after that, I learned to control myself a little better and learned it was something that depended on my emotions.”

Toby interrupted him momentarily. “How did you keep from just freaking out and killing people in such a large city?”

Smiling and crying at the same time, Kurt gave his reply. “Let’s just say there were a lot of pet stores that had to stock up on a regular basis.”

“Oh, crap!” Toby interjected. “Don’t tell me I’m going to have to raid people’s backyards for their dogs and cats!”

“Look, man, it’s either that or your friends and family but, don’t worry, I’m teaching you. I’m going to do it the same way it was done to me. Now, if you’ll shut up for a second and let me finish my story, I might be able to answer any further premature questions forming in that clueless brain of yours.”

Jimmerson was not crying anymore. “Come to find out, there were a lot more of us running around New York than I ever could’ve imagined.

“One night, I was chasing a rabbit through a park when I was tackled by another creature who looked identical to me. After we scrapped around for a little while, and we both realized it was futile to continue fighting, we changed back to our human forms and introduced ourselves to each other. I was never sure if he told me his real name or not, but I only knew him as Wolf. I know, not that clever of a name, but he insisted on it. Wolf was a Native American from one of the reservations in Oklahoma, and he’d been looking for a change of scenery. He had come to New York as a sort of tourist and was out having an evening ‘meal’ when he discovered me. He told me he’d watched me for weeks, as well as a few others of our kind, but I was the one that interested him the most. He said that I seemed too new at the game to be tainted. He wanted to help me.

“Over the next few years, he taught me to control the power completely. He, unlike me, had not been changed against his will. Wolf, as well as several others from his tribe, were born like this. I would go and spend my vacations with him and the rest of his tribe, and we would learn from each other and hunt together. I was totally amazed at how easily I was accepted into their pack. I think it was out of pity for the circumstances in which I officially became one of ‘them’ though. Either way, if there’s anything to be known about being a werewolf, I think I’d be a pretty good teacher. When we have more time, I’ll tell you everything. There is a lot of history to our kind.” 

Again, Toby interrupted the story of his newfound mentor. “What I don’t understand is why in the hell you have to teach me anything! Why, out of everyone in this town, did you pick me to make your freaking running buddy?”

Even though Toby was more informed now than he’d been in previous days, he still didn’t have many of the answers. The situation for Toby could’ve been much worse. He could’ve lost his family entirely like Kurt, but being stuck with a curse that was going to take hold of him every time he got upset and possibly feasting on his neighbor’s pets didn’t sound appealing. After several seconds of silence, prompted by Kurt’s blank stare in his direction, Toby decided to shut up and let the man finish his story. He hoped some of the forthcoming subject matter would have something to do with him directly.

“Thank you, Mr. Liberman, for your silence. That was just plain rude of you. So, I get this bright idea to keep coming down here to the lake as often as I can in hopes I’ll run into the creature responsible for murdering my family the same way my Native American friend found me. I pray I’ll be out here hiding in the wilderness and run into the asshole.

“So, here I am. I thought the closer I got to the area and the more I lingered, I would be able to sense him somehow, someway, but it only works in the opposite direction. Take you, for instance. I was able to find you because I changed you. You can sense the ones who ‘belong’ to you. I’d been sitting in the woods watching for quite some time before I entered this building. Basically, I must wait for him, I guess. He changed me. I have to be here long enough for him to sense me and come looking, if he even gives a damn. It’s been over two weeks and I haven’t heard a single howl, until I found you in the woods hiding behind a tree from that Sheriff friend of yours.”

“Okay!” Toby exclaimed excitedly. “Now we’re finally getting to the part of the fairy tale that has to do with me!”

Another cross look came from Jimmerson as he shook his head.

“The truth, Toby Liberman?” explained Kurt, nearly out of patience. “I don’t know why in the hell I changed you. If I knew you were going to be this much of a whiney-ass, I would’ve killed you to save myself the headache. I knew you were hiding from a guy with a loaded gun, and I didn’t want it to be an unfair fight if he caught you. It was almost as if something else took over my body and controlled me because I didn’t even know I’d attacked you until it was over. Maybe it was a sign from the gods. Maybe you were meant for this.”

Toby was staring at Kurt with his mouth wide open in shock. After everything he’d been through, the only man in the entire world who claimed any answers whatsoever ended the great reveal with a line equivalent to ‘I don’t know.’ Toby wanted to scream and yell, maybe even hit him, but he knew it would do no good at all. He needed Jimmerson’s help. It probably would’ve been a bad idea to piss him off. Kurt, seeing Toby was disappointed in everything he’d learned, threw a little loop in the story he knew would brighten his day just a little. Granted, it wasn’t a secret to the universe, but it would take a little of the weight off Toby’s shoulders.

“I’ll tell you this, though,” Kurt started once more. “When it was all said and done, and I had gone to the bar to wash away the guilt from biting a total stranger for no reason, I walked back to where I’d left you. You were still laying there in the exact same spot, still unconscious. In the distance, I heard some familiar howling coming from the direction where all those murders took place. When I exited the woods to get a better glimpse of my surroundings, that fat-assed deputy picked me up for public intoxication. You were clean as a whistle when I saw you. All I can think of was that you changed afterward, stumbled around for a little while, and then collapsed near where the slaughter took place.”

“Kurt, what are you saying?” Toby inquired with sincere hope.

“You haven’t killed anyone. I think it was the same guy that killed my family who did it. I’m closer than I’ve ever been to getting revenge, but it’s all going to have to wait.”

Toby looked shocked as though someone took the needle of an ancient record player and purposely scratched it across the grooved vinyl surface of an album.

“Why does it have to wait?” Toby said in surprise.

“Toby, regardless of what fuels me, I have a life to live somewhere else. I have a caseload to bear and criminals to defend, regardless of whether they deserve it or not. I learned a long time ago that I have to take care of myself first, and then plot the destiny of the one responsible for ruining my life second. If I lose my job, my home, my life, what good will that have done my family? I must head back to New York in a couple of days, so I’ve got to teach you what I know as quickly as I can. You’ll be able to handle yourself when the time comes. Don’t worry, I’ll get the bastard next year.”

“Don’t worry?” Toby growled. “I’m not even remotely worried about you! You seem to have everything well in hand and all planned out with a cozy little lawyer’s life to go back to a thousand miles away from here. Dammit, when I wake up tomorrow, I’m still going to be a werewolf in a town that’s out to get me. What the hell am I supposed to do when you’re gone?”

Kurt Jimmerson looked at Toby through the flickering illumination of the candles. With stern eyes fixed directly upon him, Kurt spoke the only word which meant anything.

“Survive.”

Toby, on the verge of hyperventilating, frantically paced back and forth in the darkness of the now frigid mausoleum. What kind of mentor just up and leaves at your moment of need? It was times like this he wished Johnny was still there to either stir him up and take his mind off the things that bothered Toby, or provide some sort of pseudo answer to lead him in the right direction.

“So,” Toby finally spoke. “What do we do?”

Smiling brightly in the darkness, Kurt replied as though he’d been waiting the entire night for that question.

“Mr. Liberman, we practice, because practice makes perfect. You don’t mind killing some people, do you?”

Toby sort of laughed underneath his breath a little too hysterically. “Well, after everything that’s been done to me as of late, I reckon there’s a few people around here who could use a good killing.”

Neither Toby nor Kurt could tell if he was joking sarcastically or if he was being serious.

“That’s the spirit!” Kurt exclaimed, echoing off the ancient stone walls inside the old crypt.

“Now, who do you want to shred up more than anyone else in this entire world?”

“The Sheriff!” Toby growled again.

“Okay, okay, too much too soon, man. Think smaller for now. We’ll get to him later,” Kurt interrupted, putting a leash on Toby’s will to avenge the loss of his normalcy.

“Well, if I knew who was responsible for what happened to Johnny, I’d like to take a whack at them, too,” he replied, a little more calmly.

“Dude, as much as I hate to say it, I’m almost certain the Sheriff was responsible for that as well. I’m sure he’s got some underlings running around somewhere that could use a good bleeding,” Kurt suggested.

“That’s cool,” Toby agreed. “I could definitely get into some of that action. We could go raid the speed houses, but I don’t even know where those things are located. I always told Johnny not to tell me, so I wouldn’t go there looking for Jessica on the nights she didn’t come home. Damn, if I could just talk to him one last time…”

Slyly, Kurt Jimmerson raised his right eyebrow as though he knew something yet to be revealed. 

     “Well,” he spoke surely. “Why don’t we go and pay Johnny Haynes a visit?”

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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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