Johnny had stated the old farmhouse wasn’t haunted, but it was about to be. An enormous meth operation was taking place underneath the floorboards of the old structure. It looked as though one big gust of wind might topple it. Unfortunately for Toby and Kurt, they didn’t have the benefit of Johnny’s ghostly ability to move about unseen.
The house was built in the early days of Twin Oaks when all it took to survive was a makeshift structure to keep the weather off one’s head and enough love to thrive. The overgrown yard was littered with rusted, turn-of-the-century farm equipment and a nasty looking open well. It probably contained the dead carcasses of every type of snake unfortunate enough to slither into its depths. Toby was afraid to look. The rear of the house was a different story altogether.
As they quietly cased the area, Kurt and Toby quickly noticed a well-traveled road cut through the woods for transportation of the poison being concocted inside. As luck would have it, a moving truck was currently parked close to the farmhouse with two men stacking boxes into its trailer. Stealth was imperative. If either of those henchmen were allowed to escape, the jig would be up almost immediately. All which transpired before would’ve been for nothing. The deer rifles strapped across the guards’ shoulders would make damn sure of that. Having returned to human form, the two would-be raiders hashed out their plan.
“Those two have got to go first!” Kurt ordered. “It has to be done quietly. If either of them makes any noise, the rest of them are going to come running and end our fun quickly.”
“Do you recognize them?” Toby asked Kurt. “Either of them the one you’re looking for?”
“I can’t tell yet,” Kurt replied, peering into the darkness and trying to make a positive ID. “Ten years of dope tends to change one’s appearance. I figured we’d just kill them all to be safe.”
Toby gulped again, realizing what was about to take place. He was going to commit the crime of murder again and, this time, of his own free will. The courage sustaining him over the previous couple of days drained his body hastily through his toenails. The feeling nearly brought him to his knees.
“Calm me down a little bit, man,” Toby said desperately. “Tell me some more of your story and how we came to be.”
Ducking down in the tall grass and waiting for the right opportunity to strike, Kurt continued the story he’d begun earlier that evening in the cemetery.
“Our French ancestor hadn’t been in America very long before he discovered the Viking clans had made it as far as this country, too. He came across a tribe of Native Americans infected with the virus who had learned to master the craft. He learned from them, but as the body count of British colonists grew, they got wise. The men would dress up as women and children to lure our kind out of hiding and then kill them. Having lost control of their own lands, they went into hiding and our kind has remained in hiding ever since. About twenty years ago, one man up in Wisconsin got a little too sloppy. He ended up making a name for himself. The locals called him ‘The Beast of Bray Road.’ A zoologist within our ranks fed some crap to the media and put all the blame on an African Hyena that escaped from a zoo in Green Bay.”
“I don’t know if I can do this!” Toby announced frantically to Kurt.
“Toby, you’ve got to! This all ends with you!” he whispered, attempting to instill some firm fortitude into the frightened man. “Try not to think about these people as individuals. Try to think of them as a collective.”
“What do you mean now?” he whined aloud. “Damn, man, make some sense for just once in your life!”
“Don’t think of the Sheriff as the one holding the whip,” he explained. “All of these guys are responsible for everything that’s happened to you. Your wife, your best friend, all of these guys had a hand in it!”
The glow in Toby’s eyes blazed ferociously as he dropped to his knees and began the anger-induced transformation. In Kurt’s opinion, it wasn’t happening fast enough for their needs. He needed to set a fire under Toby to cause a frantic rage of carnage.
“You know, it probably won’t be long before one of those guys gets his hooks in your daughter and sets her on the same path as her mother!”
Kurt barely had time to finish his sentence before the animal-like figure of Toby Liberman leapt from their brushy sanctuary and into the air, bringing his sharp claws down onto the two unsuspecting men who were still preoccupied with loading the truck. Neither had a chance to sound the alarm or fire a single shot. A couple of gurgling grunts later and they’d both fallen victim to the vengeance of the scorned man who now stood alone, victorious. It had begun, and it had been easy.
Before Kurt could react, the two bodies were flung into the woods where he was still crouched in hiding. The lifeless corpses landed just a few feet away from him. Toby approached Kurt’s hiding spot, walking upright as his fur and claws retracted. He took human form once more.
“Now that you can see them up close, do either of these guys look familiar?” he asked as he deliberately slowed his breathing.
“Not really,” Kurt replied, a little shaken by his apprentice’s talent for killing. “Good job though.”
“Well, let’s just have a look inside and see what we can turn up.”
Turning quickly and dropping again, Toby bolted in the direction of the old house with his head hung low, bracing for impact. With an explosion of splintered wood, he burst though the closest wall and the screaming began. Gunfire erupted almost immediately but no one exited the house. They all stayed to face their demise. Suddenly, another man’s body came crashing through the wall, making its own hole in the structure, and landed atop of the unfortunate men who’d met their fate moments earlier.
“Are you trying to stack these guys or are these just lucky shots?” Kurt yelled into the structure.
“Is that him?” Toby answered.
“I can’t tell, dumb ass! This one doesn’t even have a head!” Kurt informed him.
“Sorry,” Toby apologized from inside of the creaking structure.
Out of nowhere, the final piece of the puzzle flew through the air, landing at Kurt Jimmerson’s feet. Reaching out to catch it basket style, he peered into the vacant eyes of the unsuspecting tweaker but didn’t recognize him. Despite the likelihood that the man’s appearance had changed over time and the fact his body was missing from the neck down, Kurt was certain this was not the man who held him in bondage and forced him to watch his beloved family’s struggle. Perhaps he’d been barking up the wrong tree all these years and the cruel killer had never fallen in with the illegal activities of the good Sheriff. Regardless, Toby seemed to be enjoying the fun of revenge.
“Come on, I found the door through the fireplace!” Toby interrupted Kurt’s thoughts. “Let’s get this over with!”
Against his better judgment Kurt dropped to his knees, bringing on his own transformation. Leaping through the hole left in the wall from Toby’s last kill, he paused momentarily to witness the carnage dripping from the walls around him. It was something he never quite got used to, no matter how many times he did it himself. With an iron creak, Toby swung the door wide open inside the large fireplace. They rushed into the darkness and shut the door behind them. As quietly as possible, Toby followed Kurt again on all fours, ready for the next challenge.
Sparse, dim lights hung from loose wires in the cavern-like hallways. The construction of the place must’ve cost the unsuspecting taxpayers a fortune. They crept into the darkness without making a sound. There was no one to be seen in either direction. The only sound inside the structure was coming from a television directly ahead of them. Creeping like seasoned predators, they turned a sharp corner that led into a large, musty room. It obviously served as the dope house break room.
Crowded comfortably on the threadbare, mildewed couches sat ten of the Sheriff’s henchmen staring blankly at a black and white television set. It looked like they were watching college football. They seemed blissfully tranquil, unaware their wasted lives were about to end. Furry angels of death were hiding behind the couch closest to the open doorway, waiting to strike. Unable to speak, Kurt and Toby exchanged knowing nods of their heads. The horror began with a flash.
Kurt and Toby simultaneously leapt and went straight for the throats of two unsuspecting men on opposite sides of the room. Their lifeless targets slumped to the floor as the blood poured from their mortal wounds. This kind of murder was efficient and precise. Shocked and horrified by what they’d just witnessed, the remaining eight men scattered, but none had the presence of mind to leave the room. Loyal to their master’s operation, they produced their guns and began firing indiscriminately. The television screen was taken out by the first shot leaving the room enveloped in darkness. Toby and Kurt now held the advantage as their preternatural senses afforded them the ability to see perfectly with very little light. What they couldn’t see, they could smell.
Within seconds, the first of the men fell screaming. Kurt rushed to the doorway, preventing any escape while Toby took the rest of them down one by one in the darkness. With every swipe of his razor-sharp claws, the frightened screams were silenced. The last of the thugs fell over into a lifeless pile of flesh. Kurt took down two of them as they ran for the safety of the doorway. In the panicked confusion, two of the henchmen shot each other, saving Kurt and Toby some time and effort. The killers shook in unison, removing the blood that saturated their fur and painting the walls with a fresh coat of crimson. It was all too easy, but none of the men were the ones responsible for Kurt Jimmerson’s nightmares. The Sheriff had yet to make an appearance at his second office. These men were merely the pawns in his operation, but the rules of the game always forced them to be the first to fall. Somewhere in these catacombs would be the leader of the operation, if not the king himself.
As they searched the numerous, damp, moss-covered concrete hallways of the subterranean structure, Toby began to feel like his fateful confrontation with Jessie McGee might have to wait. The men they’d encountered downstairs were so disorganized. It stood to reason that the leader of the operation was not present. They’d seemed too relaxed. It was as though the walls of their hideout had never witnessed a challenge from the outside. Who would challenge them, anyway? In this town, you were either in partnership with them, protecting them, or unmotivated to search the depths of the woods for an apparently purposeless abandoned farmhouse. The fact the town’s schoolchildren were scared out of their minds by rumors of ghouls and ghosts helped. It’d been the perfect hiding place for an operation such as this, until now. There were a lot of people dependent on their poison; they were going to be in need of some good, old-fashioned rehabilitation.
Painstakingly, the two hunters explored the structure with their ears pointed sharply toward the ceiling. As they reached an extended hallway illuminated by a single, low-wattage bulb, Kurt Jimmerson heard something. Echoing down the walkway from underneath a closed wooden door came the screeching voice of Axl Rose, a singer Toby knew all too well from his Guns N’ Roses days. The singer was belting out one of the bands most famous songs. It would be the ideal soundtrack for the carnage to come.
“Welcome to the jungle. We’ve got fun and games. We’ve got everything you want…”
The two of them paused simultaneously and stood upright once more in their human forms. The cracking bones and sizzling sound of hair retracting into their bodies could barely be heard over the music.
“There is a light coming from underneath that door. Someone’s in there,” Kurt said to Toby.
“Well, we can just take them out as easily as we did everyone else,” Toby replied.
“No, this is different,” Kurt cut him off mid-sentence. “There is a closed door between us and whoever is in there, and there’s no room to maneuver in this hallway. We won’t have the element of surprise, and for all we know, he could have a small arsenal in there!”
Toby flashed a grin and said, “Well, we’ll just have to be quiet, won’t we?”
“Man, I’ve got a weird feeling that one of two things is going to take place after I leave town,” Kurt sighed. “Either your recklessness is going to get you killed and subsequently get our kind plastered all over the six o’clock news, or you’re going to be the next Sheriff of Twin Oaks.”
“Well, you’ve got to have goals!” Toby quipped.
Sneaking quietly as possible to the edge of the door, they could hear nothing but music. That meant the person or people inside wouldn’t be able to hear the door opening. Toby hoped that whoever was behind the door was facing the opposite direction so they wouldn’t see it open. It was a 50-50 gamble, but it was one they’d have to take if they wanted to succeed in their mission. If anyone was allowed to escape, they’d run straight to the Sheriff and identify the two men who wiped out a big part of the dope house staff. The Sheriff, not having the slightest idea that a monster was coming for him, was eventually a major part of Toby’s revenge plan. Nothing and no one were going to prevent him from achieving his objective. He wanted his life, his wife, and his daughter back no matter the cost. Murder was getting easier by the minute.
With a silent turn of the greasy doorknob, the blaring music became louder.
“I’m on the night train, bottoms up! I’m on the night train, fill my cup! I’m on the night train, ready to crash and burn, I’ll never learn…,” continued the music.
Standing in front of a trash-covered table with his back toward them was a man who looked to be in charge. Still no McGee. He was meticulously pouring chemicals into large bowls on the table. The noxious chemicals were almost overpowering to Toby and Kurt due to their heightened sense of smell. They each had to fight the urge to cry out. Toby casually reached over to the CD player and pressed the stop button. The sudden silence was ten times louder than “Appetite For Destruction”.
“Well, well,” Toby spoke. “Archie Weldon. Who would’ve guessed you’d be the one at the end of Jessie McGee’s leash and running his dope operation?”
“Toby!” Archie screamed. “What are you doing here? You’re in deep shit, man! The cops are looking for you!”
“First of all, Archie,” Toby continued confidently. “You can go ahead and use your indoor voice. Yelling is a waste of energy. No one is going to hear you. All your dope buddies are lying dead in the television room and they’re not going to be much help. I hope they didn’t have any money riding on that football game. Second, even if the ones upstairs could hear you through all this concrete, it’s no matter because they’re a little on the dead side as well.”
“What the hell are you doing man?” Archie began to panic.
“Shut up! You didn’t let me finish!” Toby moved closer to him. “You set me up! You knew that I would go straight home and confront McGee. The only problem was that the good Sheriff didn’t think I had the guts to stand up to him.”
Kurt, who’d been listening quietly, finally came to life and stepped between Archie and Toby.
“I’ve got a better one for you, Mr. Liberman,” he interrupted the conversation. “This is the one.”
“What are you talking about? Who are you?” Weldon asked frantically.
For ten long years, Kurt Jimmerson had waited for this exact moment. Archie Weldon was not the one responsible for slaying his family and initiating the curse that forever altered Kurt’s life, but he was a party to it all. He was the one Kurt met at the General Store. He was the one who stalked the family’s campsite. He was the one who bashed Kurt over the head and tied him to a tree. Archie’s face was burned into Kurt’s repressed memories. Those memories came rushing back to the forefront of Kurt’s consciousness the moment he set eyes on Archie Weldon. This was no longer Toby’s victim. Realizing this, Toby stepped back out of the way to allow Kurt the pleasure.
“So, tied anyone up to any trees lately?” Kurt growled in anger.
“Man, I don’t know what in the hell you’re talking about, stranger!” Archie replied, searching for a way out.
“Oh, we’ve met before,” Kurt continued. “So you and I aren’t strangers. What happened?
Did the murderer fire you and you had to come be second banana for a corrupt cop?”
Archie Weldon was truly lost. He’d done so much over the years that he couldn’t possibly remember every hapless victim who crossed his wretched, crooked path.
“Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about. You must have me confused with someone else.”
“No, Mr. Weldon, I don’t believe I do,” Kurt fired back at him. “When you go to sleep every single night with an image burned into the back of your eyelids, you tend to be very certain when you see that image again. About ten years ago; a man, a woman, and a small boy on a camping trip. Any of that sound familiar?”
Kurt and Toby watched as the expression on Archie Weldon’s face remained one of horrified confusion. He always knew a day of reckoning would come, but he’d hoped an explanation would accompany it. The color ran from his face as fear gripped him. Archie knew he would never again have to worry about weaseling out of a sticky situation. This one was as sticky as they came.
“Where is he?” Kurt ordered him to answer. “Where in the hell is the big, hairy guy that you worked for?”
Archie knew that any answer he offered would be useless.
“Man, I still don’t know who you are or what kind of bullshit you’re talking about!”
No matter how outwardly calm Kurt Jimmerson appeared to be, he was on fire inside. Now was the time to quit playing games and put the memories of his wife and child to rest forever. It had to be classy, though. They deserved that much. He slightly nodding for Toby to approach; he was about to quiet a decade’s worth of nightmares forever.
“Mr. Liberman, if you don’t mind, could you assist me for a moment? Could you restrain Mr. Weldon here and hold his hand for me?”
Simultaneously frightened and anxious, Toby answered happily. “Certainly! Mr. Jimmerson, happy to help.”
“Thank you, sir!” Kurt said as he turned his burning gaze toward Archie. “Mr. Weldon, would you just look at the disheveled state of my attire? I really must apologize for my bloodstained clothing. Please allow me to slip into something that perhaps you’ll recognize.”
Kurt dropped to one knee and deliberately kept the transformation to a slow pace to prolong Archie Weldon’s comeuppance. The rearranging of flesh and bone filled the room with horrific cracking and squelching sounds. Archie Weldon tensed up in Toby’s arms as though he’d experienced this vision before. When the change was complete, Kurt stood upright, turning his glowing eyes to meet Archie’s horrified gaze. The monster exhaled heavy against Archie’s face. A fear-fueled adrenaline rush gave Archie just enough strength to break free of Toby’s grip. He pushed Kurt’s face away from him in a desperate gesture of fear.
Kurt decided to follow Archie’s act of pointless desperation with a show of deliberate mutilation. A snap of bone was followed by a shower of blood and Archie Weldon’s hand was thrown to the far side of the room causing him to scream into the darkness of the catacombs. It was a great reaction, earning Kurt the undivided attention of the squealing man, but it wasn’t quite enough. Reaching with his fur-covered paw, he snatched Archie’s other hand and repeated the process. There was another snapping sound and a second fountain of blood flowed from the new wound. Toby released his grip on the suffering man. The unimaginable pain, blood loss, and trauma sent Archie Weldon into shock. With an involuntary jolt that caused his entire body to twitch briefly, he lost consciousness.
“Damn, man, I thought I was bad. YOU are flat out brutal!” Toby commented.
Kurt took human form once more, shaking off what remained of the monster. He wiped away the blood droplets remaining on his wrists after the fur retracted.
“It wasn’t pretty, and I’m not happy about it, but that son of a bitch had it coming!”
Kurt Jimmerson looked over the nearly lifeless body of the man who assisted in the taking of his sanity so many years ago with an obvious sense of disgust. Archie Weldon’s bleeding slowed but was still flowing freely onto the floor below. At any moment, the heavy breathing would slow to nothing and half of a painstakingly well-planned revenge would be accomplished. With a miniscule memory flicker from his family’s horrible incident, a decision was made. It still wasn’t enough to quell the screams which replayed nightly in his subconscious. Dying this way still wasn’t good enough. Reaching onto the table and grabbing every vial and beaker of chemicals available, Jimmerson reached high into the air and then back down, smashing them all into the face of his victim. Instantly coming back to life, the screaming man leapt to his feet as his face smoked and burned. Chunks of blood-covered flesh dropped to the floor with every swipe of his handless wrists. Toby ran for the door without looking back. The smell of toxic chemicals and burning flesh was too much for him, and those were just the smells. The images were far worse. Dropping to the floor, Kurt Jimmerson followed with a transformation into the primitive killer and stopped Archie Weldon’s screaming once and for all. Raising his head high and baring his blood-drenched teeth, he sent an ear-shattering howl echoing through the tunnels and into the dark Texas night.
Toby waited patiently for what seemed like an eternity. He crouched in the darkness at the edge of the woods. All was deathly quiet. The screaming from within the building had long since ceased. The distant sound of thunder could be heard as Kurt Jimmerson exited through the fireplace door and into the open air of a starry night. A sliver of lightning from the clouds heading their direction kissed the ground. In a way, the constant rain had blessed this area so much as of late. It seemed to be a metaphor for the events transpiring on this night. For so long, the dry summers had parched the ground and dried the waterways causing a panic in nature. With the recent days upon days of rain, the land had begun to renew itself, and life was flowing in harmony. The lives of the people in the town of Twin Oaks were affected in a similar manner. For years, the citizens of Twin Oaks, intimidated by the iron fist and tin star of Sheriff Jessie McGee, allowed their lives to be altered into something unpleasant. Now, an unlikely hero had risen from their ranks to set everything right, one shred of evil at a time. It was only a matter of patience before Toby would face McGee. Tonight, he would have to take consolation in the knowledge that he’d sent a very clear message to his nemesis.
“Toby, help me spread this gasoline around so we can burn this place before the rain starts again!” Kurt summoned him.
“I take back everything I said before,” Toby said to Kurt as they emptied the cans and tossed them into the high grass. “What I’ve done tonight is nothing compared to what you did in there. You’re the master, and I bow in your presence.”
“You’re damn right, and don’t you forget it!” Kurt smiled, chuckling at the compliment. “Search those three guys for a book of matches or a lighter.”
Toby reached down into the pile of bodies he’d accidentally stacked at the beginning of their escapade. Of course, the only one who had any source of fire was the one missing his head. The wet sounds of the guard’s insides attempting to seep out through the opening at his neck nearly made him lose the contents of his stomach. He reached deep into the pocket of the victim’s bloodstained cargo pants and found a flip-top lighter. He was amazed at what had been accomplished. As he looked back over his shoulder at the carnage and destruction he’d helped to cause, he felt a renewed sense of optimism. Only days before, he’d been the frightened little sheep in a herd of thousands like him. Tonight, he was the wolf all sheep would fear. He flicked the lighter and paused for a moment to appreciate the dance of the tiny flame, then casually tossed it into the middle of what remained of the house’s exterior structure. With a brilliant flash, the structure began its journey into oblivion.
“Come on!” Kurt shouted. “They’ll be able to see this soon and they’ll be coming. We’ve got to get the hell out of here.”
“The truck!” Toby exclaimed. “We can take the truck! The keys are in the ignition!”
Sighing, Kurt Jimmerson placed his arm around Toby and pulled him tight into his embrace. “Mr. Liberman, you’ve learned a lot tonight, perhaps too much, but there’s still a lot more. Don’t you think the Sheriff would raise an eyebrow when he passed his own ‘dope mobile’ on his way to the fire?”
“Oops, I wasn’t thinking,” Toby confessed. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without you, Kurt. I don’t know if I can do this alone.”
“Sure you can,” Kurt smiled in the darkness. “But I don’t know what you’re going to do without me either.”
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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