A Taste of Home – Chapter 16

chapter sixteen

The door of the Liberman home slowly creaked open revealing the rounded silhouette of an all too familiar adversary. Toby’s animal state granted him perfect night vision, and Toby instantly recognized as the man who’d tasered him upon his arrival at the Myrtle County Jail. The surreptitious manner in which the intruder had chosen to enter the home made it very clear that he hadn’t come on any type of official business. If that was the case, he would’ve been accompanied by several more of the county’s finest. He was alone, and Toby knew the intruder was likely there to do some of McGee’s dirty work. His gun was already drawn. 

Toby knew the slightest sound would alert the armed man to his presence and bring Katie and Jessica running to investigate. He chose stealth over a sudden, full-force attack. After all, Toby reasoned, no one knew he was at the house which meant Katie, Jessica, or both were the intended targets. It was clear Sheriff McGee was looking to tie up the loose ends once and for all, and the fact he didn’t scruple to have innocent women and children murdered infuriated Toby. It made sense from a brutal, heartless, tactical standpoint. Getting the girls out of the way would leave Toby with no support. Toby hated Jessie McGee with all his being, but it was not until this moment that he realized his enemy’s true capacity for evil. His deeper understanding of McGee’s rotten soul made the fur on Toby’s spine stand on end. He was resolute as he pressed on. He had to protect his family.

The moonlight that had aided the young deputy was eclipsed as he crept inside and gently closed the door. This was no matter as the glow from the fireplace was more than enough to illuminate the room so he could make his way further into the home without tripping. Toby crouched behind the living room sofa as he waited for the perfect time to strike, concealed from the deputy’s view. He didn’t want to give away his presence too early by casting a shadow from the fire. Step by step, the deputy moved closer to his own demise. Toby was genuinely disappointed the intruder would not recognize him in his current form. It was a trivial concern that quickly left his mind as he focused on protecting his family.

Suddenly, the deputy paused and remained motionless, listening to the quiet of the darkened home and silently reassuring himself no one inside was aware of his presence. The wide brim of his county-issued western hat was visible from Toby’s vantage point. As soon as the deputy advanced a couple of steps further, the job would be complete. To Toby’s surprise, the chubby-faced deputy turned and headed back toward the front door. A cautious kind of relief came over Toby. Perhaps the deputy had second thoughts about killing innocent people. Toby raised his head slightly above the back of the sofa only to recognize the assassin hadn’t changed his mind at all. The deputy gently locked the doorknob, the deadbolt, and the chain. After all, a few seconds of stopping to unlock the mechanisms might mean the difference between the success and failure of his evil mission. This man wasn’t as dumb as he looked.

The wolf stood on hind legs, revealing all his height and strength, and crept slowly behind his victim. Knowing that the poor idiot was only seconds away from his doom and that he’d never know why or how it happened almost made Toby sad. Almost. Why would he pity the invincible law enforcement officer?  His years of specialized training would do little for him now. When it came down to it, there was no type of training to prepare him for the raw power of nature. Inches away from the back of the intruder’s neck, Toby was surprised that his victim couldn’t feel the warm breath bearing down upon him. Suddenly, he could hear the sound of an upstairs door being opened followed by footsteps approaching; Toby’s worst fear was realized.

The young assassin perched himself by the base of the front door, waiting stealthily in the darkness for the first of his targets.

“Dad, are you still here?” came the young, angelic voice of Katie Liberman as she slowly descended the staircase.

Toby’s stomach sank as he watched his daughter walk into the nightmare. He turned to Reed and watched in horror as the man raised his weapon toward Katie. It was as if things were happening in slow motion, but Toby knew must act quickly.

 “Katie!” Toby shouted. “Get back to your room now!”

It was no use. Toby’s warning left his mouth as nothing more than a couple of frantic howls and a slight bark. The message was lost in translation. All attention immediately shifted to the living room where the primal noises originated. Katie hadn’t understood her father’s urgent warning, but he had created a distraction nonetheless, and that was better than nothing.

“What the hell?” Reed spat as he frantically tried to process the noises he’d just heard coming from the darkened living room.

Before Reed could turn his weapon toward the disturbance, Toby jumped from the darkness and knocked the startled deputy onto his back. Reed’s head hit hard against the wood-paneled wall, and then he crumpled onto the floor. The impact separated him from his firearm; it hit the floor with an all telling clank. Taking advantage of his enemy’s temporarily neutralized state, Toby grabbed hold of Katie’s shirt with his massive jaws and carried her up the staircase into her room. Changing back to a more familiar form, Toby spoke to her in a language she could understand.

“Honey, calm down, calm down!” he attempted. “We’re in trouble and you’re going to have to listen to every word I say!”

“Daddy, who was that man?” she whispered softly.

“Baby, that’s a very bad man, and he’s here to do very bad things. I’m going to take care of him, but you’re going to have to be cool and let me do my thing.”

Toby listened to the hallway beyond the door for any indication that Reed might be approaching. There was nothing to be heard apart from the sound of a fat man struggling to recapture the breath knocked out of him.  He was not yet back on his feet and there was still time.

“I’m going to try and bluff him, baby,” Toby told her. “If I can keep him busy with conversation, maybe I can buy us the time to go out of a window or something.”

“Bluff him?” the teenage girl questioned. “Dad, you’re a fucking werewolf. Don’t bluff him. Go out there and eat him!”

“I’m not going to do that Katie!” Toby protested.

“Why?” she questioned again, agitated.

“Because I’m not!” he replied sharply.

“Why not?” she inquired again.

“Because I’m not going to rip out someone’s damn throat in front of my impressionable teenage daughter, thank you very much, Katie Liberman!”

Toby knew, with the circumstances as precarious as they were, he might have no choice but to do something violent in Katie’s presence. When Toby and Kurt launched their attack on the drug lab, the killing seemed to come easily, but this was a different story. If possible, he wanted to shield Katie from the kind of carnage slowly becoming his new normal. His mind raced for logical solutions to their current predicament, but his thoughts were soon interrupted by the voice of their nocturnal intruder.

“Toby Liberman! I can hear you up there!” Deputy Reed spoke with certainty.

“What do you want, Reed?” Toby yelled back.

“I want you, Mr. Liberman,” returned the deputy. “You’re a wanted man. Give yourself up and no one else has to die!”

“That’s a crock of shit, Reed, and you damn well know it!” Toby answered.

There was a long pause in the conversation as the intruder searched for the right words to persuade Toby to surrender. Using the silence to his advantage, Toby listened again to the creaks and moans of the home. So far, Deputy Reed wasn’t moving in on them, and he hadn’t used his radio to call for any type of backup. His intentions were obvious. No one else knew he was there, save one, and he obviously wanted it to stay that way.

“Why do you say that, Toby?” he continued. “You know I’m a man of the law, and I give you my word that no one will be harmed in any way. Just give yourself up.”

Clearly, the deputy hadn’t caught sight of what knocked him into the wall downstairs or the shooting would’ve already begun. Toby was certain there would be no negotiation with the man who came, not as a law enforcement official, but as an assassin.

“Before you walked in the door of my home,” Toby explained “You didn’t have the slightest idea that I was here, or you would’ve brought backup. I’m the most dangerous man in the county, remember? Pull the other one, fat-ass!”

“Yeah, you fat-ass!” Katie echoed.

Toby was taken aback by the utterances from the angel he was trying so desperately to protect, but ultimately his focus was unbroken. Unfortunately, the rustling sounds downstairs indicated the man was back on his feet and headed toward the stairs. Because they had both taunted him, the blame couldn’t be pinned onto any one person. The footsteps ascended the wooden stairs slowly, each creaking sound bringing with it a foreboding warning of what was to come if the deputy made it to the second floor.

“Daddy,” Katie whispered. “He’s coming!”

“I know, baby, I know!” Toby answered her frantically. “Get over there and open your window. Knock out the screen!”

“What about Mom?” she demanded. “We can’t just leave her here!”

Things were happening so fast that Toby had failed to remember his wife sleeping in the next room. He hoped she wouldn’t wake to investigate the noise before he could get to her. The walls of the Liberman home were not particularly thick, but Jessica was exhausted and hadn’t any decent sleep for a long time. Toby prayed she was sleeping soundly.

“We’re going to have to go onto the roof and get her attention at the window. Now, go get the window open!”

The creaking on the stairs grew ominously louder.

“They’ll see us if we go out there!” Katie struggled to stay focused enough to help despite the frenzied thoughts racing through her frightened mind. “There’s got to be more than just him!”

“Honey,” Toby explained. “If there were more, they would’ve knocked. This guy isn’t here to arrest me. He’s here to kill us! Go, do what I say!”

Toby knew he was going to have to try and stall the deputy for a few seconds longer if they were going to make it out of the window to safety, not to mention they still had to get Jessica’s attention in a manner which would wake her up but not alert the approaching gunman.

“Reed?” Toby bluffed. “Is there any way out of this that ends with me in handcuffs in the back of your car and my family going free?”

“You said it yourself, Mr. Liberman,” the deputy laughed aloud. “You’re already well aware of my plan, so there’s no sense in lying to you. I’m going to kill the three of you and put an end to this nightmare you’ve created. The answer to your question, I suppose, is no.”

“Yeah, that’s what I figured with you being McGee’s monkey boy and all,” he stalled further. “When are you going to start living your own life and leave that bastard to dwell in his filth by himself?”

“I’m not here to take life lessons from a murderer, Toby,” Reed called back at him, the anger in his voice becoming noticeable. “I’m here to do what I’m ordered to do. Tonight, it just happens to be you.”

Toby glanced over his shoulder and saw Katie struggling with the weight of the window. He knew if he left his perch near the doorway to help her there was a possibility of their stalker getting the drop on the two of them. With an inconveniently loud squeak, the window slid open only a few inches against its frame, which had been painted over numerous times and jammed into itself by the shifting of the home’s foundation. 

“There’s no point in going out the window either,” Reed called down the hallway. “I’m going to get you either way!”

Katie stood near the window with an abrupt, defeated expression on her face. She knew their chances of survival were quickly slimming. Toby motioned for her to come near him. He pulled her in tight and whispered into her ear. 

“I’m sorry, honey, but it’s not your fault.”

“You’re damn right it’s not my fault!” she fired back as quietly as possible. “I’m not the one who painted over the window all these years and didn’t bother to check it. I’m glad the house never caught on fire or anything!”

“Katie, now is not the time to be having this argument! There is a freaking guy with a gun on the other side of this wall!” he reminded her.

He knew there was no other way. Whether he liked it or not, Toby was going to have to take this guy out, and quickly. It no longer mattered that Katie was watching. He would have to kill in front of her or allow her to be killed, and the latter was definitely not an option. He’d never faced a more desperate situation, and the sound of his pounding heart grew louder until it drowned out the slow, sinister footsteps of the advancing foe.

“Katie, go get in your closet!”

“But Dad,” she protested. “If he makes it past you, I’ll have nowhere to run!”

“You won’t need to run anywhere,” he promised her. “He’s not going to make it past me!”

The look of disbelief upon his daughter’s face was almost enough to bring him to his knees. Had he let her down so much and so often that she no longer possessed confidence in his abilities to protect her? His mind scrambled to find another solution to their dilemma. He quickly grabbed up the heaviest object he could find in the room, an antique Mickey Mouse telephone, and hurled it toward the window.  It shattered into a thousand tiny pieces.

“My Mickey!” Katie squealed under her breath.

“Just where the hell do you think you’re going?” the deputy questioned sarcastically.

“Reed, so help me, if you step foot in this room, I’m going to rip you into a million pieces and eat your heart before it stops beating!” Toby growled through his teeth.

“Well, that’s just a chance I’m going to have to take, Toby,” he called back. “I can’t let you out of this house alive.”

“I don’t think you quite understand the seriousness of your situation, Deputy,” Toby attempted to regain control of the conversation. “According to you guys, I have no problem killing people left and right. You’re nothing compared to the others who you’re counting against me already!”

The deputy was becoming less amused with every passing moment, but at least his advance halted. Perhaps he’d understood some truth in Toby’s threat. Both ambulance technicians were large, strapping guys, and all the goons in the lab below the old farmhouse were armed to the teeth. A twinge of fearful realization crept up the spine of the would-be assassin as he pondered the viability of Toby’s threat.

“You mean to tell me that you, Toby Liberman, are going to single-handedly take down an armed officer of the law and save the day in front of your slut wife and smart-mouthed daughter…and bells will chime, birdies will sing, and the good guy wins and the bad guy falls?”

“Well, yeah,” Toby replied. “That’s the plan, fat-ass. Why? You don’t think it’s possible?”

While the deputy was either in deep thought or stifling his amusement with the conversation, Toby motioned for Katie to go out the window. Mouthing to her in silence, he instructed her to carefully walk the edge of the house’s rooftop and wake her mother.

“How are we supposed to get down?” she whispered softly back at him.

“You two are going to have to jump!” he hissed back at her.

“Dad!” she tried to argue.

“Dammit, Katie. Go!” he commanded her as his eyes pierced the darkness with the seriousness of their yellow glow. 

Katie knew the argument was officially over.

As his daughter disappeared into the darkness beyond the window, Toby again focused on the assailant down the hallway who’d since resumed his advance. Their argument continued.

“No, Mr. Liberman, this isn’t like a comic book where a superhero in a gay costume is going to swoop in and remove the gun from my hand. This is a completely different kind of story where the bad guy is going to triumph over the even worse guy and piss on your grave when it’s all said and done. When I’m finished doing that, I’m going to piss on the graves of your wife and kid, too.”

“I honestly don’t think you know what you’re getting yourself into, Deputy Reed,” Toby warned again, his breath quickening. “If you come around this corner, the only thing you’ll be pissing on is yourself when I slash your throat and spill your blood all over my nice hardwood floor. Then, I’m going to mop it all up with the hair on your head!”

“Wow!” Reed stopped again suddenly. “You are a sick and twisted bastard! I can’t believe you’re saying all this in front of your own kid! Maybe I’m doing her a favor!”

“Trust me, if you step into this room, you’ll be doing us all a favor!” Toby promised. “None of us will have to worry about you ever again. This is your last chance, Reed!”

The realizations finally crystalizing in the deputy’s mind overpowered his courage, causing him to go weak in the knees as he realized he would likely suffer a similar fate to those others of late. He balked at what the targets holed up on the other side of the bedroom door had in store for him. Did Toby have a deadly weapon waiting for him? Where was all this idiotic bravado coming from? He felt compelled to ask the question.

“Do you have some kind of gun or something in there?” he inquired.

“Why don’t you come in here and find out?” Toby’s voice began to deepen.

Without warning, Katie arrived in the window alone. Her face showed ten times more fear than before.

“Mom isn’t in her bed!” she whispered loudly. “I looked and looked but she’s not in her bed!”

Just then, the realization hit Toby as he heard the light barefooted footsteps in the hallway. As though it was amplified a thousand times, the brass doorknob of the master bedroom clicked as it began to turn. This was followed by the fateful click of the locking mechanism releasing its hold on the frame. Slowly, with a deafening creak that filled the entire home, Toby’s beloved stepped into view, illuminated by the moonlight pouring though the open windows behind her. 

“Toby, are you still here?” she called into the darkness, oblivious to the danger lurking only ten feet away. “What’s going on out here?”

There was no time to warn her during the seconds which separated the sounds of the clicking revolver and a round being chambered in the deputy’s weapon.

“Jessica, GO!” Toby screamed.

His warning came too late.

He was immediately silenced by the deafening pop of the weapon.  He watched in horror as all life drained from her desperately searching eyes. Falling in slow motion to her knees, her fading pupils finally found Toby’s as she crumpled lifelessly in the pool of blood gathering from her mortal wound. In an instant, her soul was completely erased.

Jessica took one final, weak breath. As she exhaled, she spoke a single word, “Toby.”

The searing pain and cracking of bones within Toby’s body began instantly. This transformation was not the result of free will. This was raw, unmitigated rage, and he would direct it all toward the monster who just killed a beloved wife and mother in cold blood. Katie returned to the windowsill and was crying uncontrollably at the sight of her mother’s lifeless body.  She hadn’t taken notice of the beast writhing on the floor in a most unusual manner. Now was the time. 

“One Liberman down, two to go!” chuckled the deputy in victory.

His pompous arrogance was short-lived.

Toby came smashing through the barrier in an explosion of sheetrock and wood as if it were made of mere cardboard, knocking his unwitting foe hard against the opposite wall. He viciously slashed at the deputy’s chest causing the gun to fly free and blood to spatter the pristine walls like a morbid Pollock painting. In shock at the unexpected bloodshed, the deputy fell to the floor and began scooting backwards toward the stairway, screaming incoherently as he left a snail trail of blood in his wake.

“What the hell are you?” he cried in a mangled voice as the animal stood tall on his hind legs.

Toby stood motionless in the hallway as he coldly stared down the deputy. The cold night air rushing in through the broken window made his breath visible, which aided his horrifying aura. With lightning speed, he moved in on his target, grabbing him by the foot with his teeth. The deputy screamed again in agonizing pain as the bones were crushed with the force of his monstrous jaw, yet he fought with every ounce of strength remaining within him for his survival. With panicked strength, he struck the beast across the face with his intact foot and managed to free himself momentarily with the powerful kick. He crashed hard against the floor once again and crawled pathetically for the safety of the stairwell towards front door. 

Shaking off the sudden blow from the deputy’s boot, Toby lunged maniacally forward at the fleeing, terrified man. Howling ruthlessly with angry, animalistic rage, he reached for the officer’s uninjured foot before he could tumble down the stairway toward the living room. He missed by inches and cracked his head into the upstairs wall, fracturing it into splinters. Reed finally landed at the bottom of the staircase. He fought to regain his ragged breath and make his way toward the front door. 

“This is Reed! This is Reed!” he called frantically over his radio. “I need backup at the Liberman home, and I need it now!”

Dispatch replied but the message was incomprehensible to the quickly fading deputy. The drops of blood draining from his chest cavity turned to torrents as the slashes widened with his struggle. From the darkness at the top of the stairs a pair of piercing, luminous eyes announced imminent demise. 

Turning desperately on his remaining foot, Allen Reed stretched for the doorknob and twisted with all his might. His effort was in vain. Shock was setting in from the blood loss, and he struggled with blurry vision and shaky, fumbling fingers which wouldn’t seem to do his bidding. A final rush of adrenaline gave him the strength to reach high for the chain lock and slide it open. A quick glance over his shoulder confirmed that the horrific image of the animal continued to advance, eyes glowing, down the staircase. It snarled viciously at its victim.

Reaching lower for the deadbolt and clicking it open, the cold night air slapped Reed in the face, sharpening the pain in his chest and foot. He leaned towards freedom, but at the last second, he was pounced on from behind and dragged brutally back into the home. His arms flailed wildly as he grasped for anything to use in his defense. He reached his hand deep into the roaring fireplace and, ignoring the pain of the fire against his flesh, firmly grabbed hold of a flaming log.

The impact of the makeshift weapon rung hard against Toby’s head but there was little effect. As he knocked the log from Reed’s hands, the deputy made his final plea.

“Don’t kill me, Toby! Please, don’t kill me!”

Toby’s image shrank suddenly from the animal’s full height and his human features reappeared in the darkness to confront the pleading, dying man.

“Don’t kill you?” Toby spoke maniacally. “You mean, don’t kill you like you just killed my wife? Don’t kill you like you’ve killed so many others on the orders of that lunatic you call a boss?”

Coughing blood onto the floor below him, Reed stumbled again toward the door. The blood loss had caught up to him and there was no way back. 

“Mr. Reed, you’ll be dead in a few moments, and there’s nothing at all anyone can do about it. However, I plan on making those last few moments as excruciating as possible. As far as I’m concerned, you deserve nothing less than that.”

Changing quickly once again, Toby’s wolf-like mouth sunk its razor-sharp teeth into his victim’s neck and ripped outward as bones snapped and sinew tore. The deputy slumped, lifeless at last, onto the floor showing no signs of making yet another last stand.

Taking human form again, Toby Liberman wiped the blood from his face with what remained of his tattered shirt sleeve. He then flung the mess from the destroyed garment into the fire, causing the flames to spew upward with a flash. Turning swiftly, he saw the small frame of the fragile Katie Liberman standing halfway up the stairs. Her eyes were fixated on her father. 

“Katie,” he spoke without looking at her. “I had no choice.”

“Dad!” she interrupted, screaming, “The house is on fire!”

Toby quickly scanned the room for a something to douse the flames, but it was already too late. The flaming log he’d knocked from the deputy’s hands rolled toward the drapes and instantly spread to a rug. The fire was out of control.

“Katie, we’ve got to get the hell out of here!” he yelled, sprinting to her location on the stairs. 

The young girl lunged toward the open door with her father but was suddenly frozen remembering who they were leaving behind.

“What about Mom?” she cried.

“It’s too late for her! If we go back, we die too!

They stepped onto the front porch as the fire blazed behind them and watched as two more Sheriff’s cruisers screeched to a halt, lights flashing and sirens wailing, just next to Reed’s parked vehicle. The driver’s side doors of the vehicles swung open simultaneously revealing two more armed law enforcement officers with guns drawn.

“Liberman! Put your hands in the air and get on your knees!” one of them yelled.

The fire raging behind Toby and Katie left them nowhere to go but forward. Toby glanced down into the frightened, sad eyes of his trembling daughter. She looked as though she’d experienced quite enough for one lifetime. He left the decision up to her.

“Do you feel like giving up?” he asked seriously to Katie. “Do we end it all here? I’m leaving it up to you, kiddo.”

Finally, the answer came, and much to his liking.

“Mom wouldn’t want us to give up,” she replied determinedly. “How fast can you run?”

“Pretty fucking fast, baby.”

Again, the deputies gave their warning as the sound of metal clanking could be heard over the roar of the flames, making it clear their weapons were now at the ready.

“Last chance, Liberman!” announced the deputy to their left. “Get on the ground, now!”

Paying no attention to the loaded weapons currently pointed at them, he glanced down at Katie once again.

 “No matter what happens, you hang on tight, and don’t let go.”

“I won’t, Daddy,” she replied sweetly.

Toby dropped to his knees as instructed, but what happened next was not part of the deputies’ plan. He transformed quickly. Katie leapt into the air, grasping two handfuls of fur as she landed upon his back, and the chase was on. Gunfire rang out from behind them, the bullets flinging mud and debris to the left and right. The two of them sped frantically toward freedom, zigzagging in and out of the dangerous path of gunfire. In a blur of fur and little girl’s screams, they leapt high over Reed’s abandoned squad car parked between the two deputies and headed straight for the safety of the woods. Stunned by what they’d just witnessed, the officers stared blankly at one another in disbelief. Toby Liberman’s secret was officially out, but there was little chance anyone would believe them if they shared what they’d seen.

“Dispatch…,” the deputy spoke shakily into his radio.

“This is dispatch. Go ahead.”

“Wake Sheriff McGee,” he returned. “The situation out here at the Liberman house just changed drastically. Don’t even bother asking me to explain it. I still don’t understand it myself. That freak donned some kind of realistic looking wolf costume and blew right past us. You might want to call the fire department too because he made sure to set his house on fire before he left.”

     Though they were temporarily out of danger, the two deputies didn’t dare secure their weapons for fear of what might happen next. This was the most unusual week of their careers, and they weren’t about to take anything for granted. As the burning house’s roof collapsed upon the frame structure, they were beginning to believe they were well overdue for pay raises. The hysteria grew with each passing day.

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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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