A Taste of Home – Chapter 19

chapter nineteen

The sudden silence among the dazed cordon of lawmen and civilians intensified the sound of the raindrops sizzling against the bulbs of the festival lights. Gone was the vainglorious laughter, having been replaced with progressively heavy and very audible breathing. Each of them struggled to process what they saw. Standing right before them, underneath the ancient oak trees of Myrtle County’s fairgrounds, was what appeared to be a werewolf. A very real one.

The fear among them was palpable, and a few of the frightened men gathered their wits about them enough to run away, while others remained in their places, frozen in terror. Everyone present had seen at least one or two werewolf films. Toby’s transformation was nothing at all like the movie studio offerings suggested. He neither screamed nor writhed about in pain. He merely stood on one knee, then dropped to all fours, sprouting hair over all his visible body. His troubled face then disappeared underneath an extended snout which was almost instantly covered with hair. The most disturbing aspect of his transformation was the appearance of his eyes. They no longer seemed human. They showed no fear, only feral rage.

Shattering the silence which accompanied the prolonged stare down, was a deputy who leaned nervously toward Sheriff McGee and asked, “What the hell just happened?”

He’d intended for his question to be discreet, but he spoke so loudly that he startled himself.

Temporarily breaking eye contact with Toby, McGee summoned up all his hot-shot hubris and replied nonchalantly, “It would appear, my good man, that Toby Liberman is a werewolf.”

Having duly answered his frightened subordinate’s question, McGee locked eyes with Toby.

Werewolf. The word was spoken aloud by the Sheriff. The word repeated in whispers around the remaining members of the sycophant sphere. Talking about it, albeit in hushed tones, did nothing to calm their fears.

Werewolves were fodder for comic books and Saturday afternoon matinees. The werewolf was the fictional creature immortalized by the great Lon Chaney, Jr. Fictional…until this evening. The beast was panting and pacing back and forth like a caged animal. It was clear he would not be content to remain surrounded. He wanted out of that circle. Also making its way around the circle, was the silent realization that this hideous creature’s mind was not simple at all. It was the complex mind of a human that now controlled the power, instincts and wrath of a merciless predator. A couple more deputies hastily left the circle and headed toward their vehicles.

The most vocal deputy continued to seek direction from McGee.

“You’re not even the slightest bit shaken by this?” he persisted. “A two-legged man stood directly in front of us and turned into a fucking animal and that doesn’t freak you out just the slightest little bit?”

“Not at all,” McGee returned. “It actually answers some questions I’ve been pondering over the past couple of days and explains some things that, until now, seemed inexplicable.”

“Well, no disrespect, Sheriff,” the frightened deputy continued. “But me and a few of the other boys are on the verge of creating a mess in our uniforms. Honestly, I think some of the others already have.”

“Be brave, Deputy,” McGee reassured. “This will all be over soon.”

As they spoke, the pace of Toby’s back-and-forth prowling quickened and suddenly he stood bipedal. This caused yet a few more of the men to run the opposite direction. They were unprepared for the confrontation that awaited them had they remained. Even though his eyes and facial features seemed unable to show any sign of human emotion, for a mere second the monster standing before them was smiling with satisfaction at the sight of men running from him. However, it appeared to a few of the deputies that Toby was trying with all his might not to show he was overjoyed with their fearful reaction. He was smiling, and the Sheriff was right. This would all be over soon. The conflict was inevitable. The only unknown was who would stand victorious at the end.

The whispers of the frightened men ceased, and McGee noticed all eyes looked to him for guidance. Before Sheriff Jessie McGee stood the bane of his existence. There was but one solution and it was simple. It was the same solution he’d attempted to accomplish day-to-day as far back as high school. Eliminating Toby Liberman prior to the current crisis would’ve raised too many questions, but now, everything seemed to fall perfectly into place.

Another frightened deputy leaned over to McGee with his own request for guidance.

“Sir, I don’t mean to be the one to interrupt your, um, moment…,” the deputy’s voice cracked. “But, in all fairness, a lot of the boys are wondering…”

“Dammit, boy, get on with it!” McGee broke eye contact with Toby once more and turned his attention to his frightened men.

 “What do we do now?”

This was the moment Jessie McGee was waiting for. After all his personal anguish, it arrived as the most climactic situation of his career. Every lawman imagined his own demise in a way which rivaled the best of the Clint Eastwood spaghetti western showdowns. These were the duels they’d been force-fed by their fathers via weekend television during their youth. These duels were so suspenseful they had the young viewers biting their fingernails to the quick as the cowboys stood eye to eye on the streets of nameless western towns. Tumbleweeds were a rarity in Twin Oaks, Texas, but McGee could have sworn one of them just rolled between them all. Toby’s pacing slowed and his eyes were now locked directly with the Sheriff’s. This was it.

“That’s a rather simple answer, my good Deputy,” McGee’s body tightened for the coming fight. “We shoot the son of a bitch!”

The sound of the Sheriff’s service weapon sliding out of its holster broke the silence, and the dozen deputies and civilian vigilantes who remained followed suit. The metallic mechanisms within the weapons loudly clicked the projectiles into the chambers. The ominous sounds echoed off the abandoned exhibit buildings and trees that blanketed them all. Knowing this was the moment of truth, a couple more men tucked tail and followed their peers into the parking lot and away from the slaughter. Still, the odds were clearly stacked against Toby. As the deserters fled, they thought of nothing but the safety of their own families if this situation was to turn horribly sour. The concept hadn’t been so frightening when it was perceived that a middle-aged, science fiction junkie was the wanted man, but now the undeniable truth was revealed. The peril of facing a wild beast resonated among all of them. McGee gave the men a rehearsed hand signal which brought them all into a firing line formation. Toby was now trapped between the trunk of the large oak tree and the guns of his captors.

“Fire!!!” shouted the Sheriff, as small pieces of hot lead left their resting places and flew frantically toward their target.

Toby leapt high into the trees as leaves and branches were shredded behind him, and the shatter of the hanging light bulbs showered sparks on all who remained below. Zigzagging from branch to branch, he felt the bullets screaming all around him as he fled for his life. He knew without a doubt he was going to have to take care of each and every one of his pursuers before he could ensure Katie’s safety back at the mausoleum. Until he could break them all up into smaller groups, all he could do was run for his life. With a few more quick leaps into the sanctuary of the tree tops, he was well out of sight. The gunfire behind him ended and the men could be heard yelling in confusion.

Back at the sight of the would-be massacre, the sharp smell of gun powder filled the air as the smoke cleared revealing a dozen men begging for guidance. Their confusion was compounded as the Sheriff broke into childlike, maniacal laughter and fell to his knees, reloading the ammunition supply in his weapon.

“Now what?” screamed one of the frightened civilians as he scrambled to load shells into the shotgun he held in his shaking hands.

“What the hell do you mean, ‘now what?’” McGee growled angrily. “You take your ass out there and get him! I want you to bring him back to me, dead or alive, so I can piss on his hairy face!”

Each member of the Sheriff-sanctioned lynch mob was more confused and terrified than ever before. Throughout their lives, there’d been many situations that caused their nerves to tighten and spark, but this was enough to throw out their combined law enforcement experience like empty beer cans. As the torrent of gunfire subsided, they each noticed their trembling legs were refusing to move in the direction of the fleeing supernatural killer. McGee noticed, too.

“What in the hell are you chickens waiting for?” he demanded. “I said to get out there, find that overgrown dog, and take him down!”

They searched one another’s eyes to see who would be the first to blindly follow the orders of the Sheriff and die at the hands of a horror movie nightmare.

“Sir,” one of them nervously inquired. “Aren’t you coming with us?”

“No, I’m not coming with you!” McGee mocked him in a high-pitched voice. “I’ve got more important fish to fry; this thing is going to get way out of hand if you jack-offs fail to do your jobs correctly.”

 “Well, where are you going?” another asked, not thinking of the repercussions.

McGee reached the end of his rope. “Don’t you worry about where I’m going! I ordered you to do a job, and I expect you to go out there and do it before I either make you look for another source of employment or shoot you myself! You know I’ll freaking do it, too! That was a lot of shooting we just did and there is always room for error when there’s a lot of shooting going on!”

With that, the men began to move in the direction of the abandoned midway with weapons drawn. Each of them knew Jessie McGee was not exaggerating in the slightest. From behind them, they heard his frantic footsteps run in the direction of his squad car. The door slammed and the car peeled out of the parking lot. Even though some of them assumed this to be an act of cowardice, others who worked with him over a period of several years knew he had something sinister up his sleeve. He always did.

As the deputies exited the cover of the tree line and entered the illumination of the fair’s midway, a more overpowering sense of trepidation was born in each of them. The fair patrons and ride operators had departed at the start of the torrential downpour, and nothing remained other than a feeling of anticipatory emptiness. The falling rain slapped hard against the rust-covered metal of the carnival rides filling the damp air with a deafening drumbeat. They proceeded cautiously, as death most likely waited for them around each corner. They were in Toby’s world now.

***

As soon as he’d put enough distance between himself and his pursuers, Toby transformed into his recognizable human state. The old carousel, the first structure he’d come to in his frantic attempt to escape, was now his refuge. Over the years, he’d delighted in the expressions of wonder on Katie’s face as she rode the carousel, but today, it only inspired uncertainty as to her well-being. Was she still safe with Johnny at the mausoleum? It saddened him to think that, even if she was all right, those expressions of childlike, innocent wonder were a thing of the past. Katie’s innocence was ripped away from her by circumstances created by others. He was in too deep to turn back now. His options were limited to prison or death, and honestly death was the preferred choice.

From his vantage point behind one of the antique horses, he could see the deputies gathering at the edge of the trees. As expected, they began to split up into smaller groups to search a wider area. Luckily, only three of them were heading in his direction. The overpowering lights from the canopy above illuminated the area around the carousel, but almost blinded the deputies who were headed directly toward it. They were not just heading toward a confrontation with a paranormal anomaly hiding amongst the silhouettes of the horses; they were heading toward a confrontation with a paranormal anomaly who possessed military combat training and a newfound thirst for blood and vengeance. The element of surprise was a great advantage in conflicts, and Toby was prepared to use it to his maximum benefit.

Toby listened intently as the three deputies crept close enough to be overheard.

“What if we shoot this thing and nothing happens to it?” one of the scared men asked another. “What if we drop it and it just gets back up?”

“Yeah!” said yet another. “It’s not like we’ve got silver bullets in these damn things!”

The third deputy was far from amused.

“You idiots shut the hell up!” he ordered. “I swear, you guys watch too many damn movies!”

Toby noticed all of them were on edge, because their legs seemed to carry them slower and slower with every footstep.

Fear was something that left him long ago. Kurt told him from the very beginning any type of bullet would stop him dead in his tracks. Werewolf or not, he was still a mortal being. Granted, he had limited advantage over his immediate adversaries because they were armed to the teeth. That served to equalize the power balance. He needed to be careful.

“Okay, you two split up and surround this thing from opposite directions,” announced the deputy who had appointed himself the leader of the group. “Keep your eyes open and shout if you see anything.”

Quietly, they nodded and followed his orders. From the safety of the ride operator’s nook, Toby could still see each of their locations without any obstruction. If the plan he’d concocted was to work, it would require extreme patience and calculated timing.  Closing his eyes, he concentrated with his other senses. Directly in front of his hiding place, the lead deputy stepped slowly onto the carousel platform and paused momentarily. He felt the base of the carousel tip slightly to his right as the second deputy stepped onto the ride. Finally, to his left, the ride balanced out as the third man stepped onto it. Now was the time.

The calliope music played at a deafening volume as Toby flipped the switch to the engine. The ride began to turn, throwing all three unsuspecting men onto their backs. Transforming quickly, Toby began to run in the opposite direction of the ride’s rotation, growling loudly.

“Holy Hell, there he is! Shoot, shoot, shoot!”

The beautifully carved wooden horses splintered and exploded as gunfire erupted from different locations on the carousel. 

“I can’t get a bead on him!” another yelled. “He’s running too fast!”

 “The mirrors!” the third one yelled. “Keep watching the mirrors!”

Unfortunately, Toby ran into the one man in the group who was an expert marksman. His tactical training notwithstanding, Toby failed to notice the mirrors on the inner column of the ride, and the experienced gunman was attempting to use them to pinpoint Toby’s location. Pausing again in front of the operator’s cubby, Toby kicked the braking mechanism, bringing the children’s ride to a screeching halt. As the music was silenced, the three dizzy deputies found one another and attempted to steady themselves. 

“Close your eyes!” one of them suggested. “You’ll stop spinning in a moment!”

“I am not about to close my damn eyes when there is a killer hiding over there!” the second deputy proclaimed. “I’m just going to have to be dizzy for a while!”

Silence enveloped the fairgrounds once again but only for a moment. The deputies’ radios crackled to life.

“Is everyone okay?” came the voice of one of the men from the far side of the grounds. “We heard music!”

“Yeah, we found him!” announced one of the deputies in return.  “He’s over here at the Merry-Go-Round, but we don’t know…”

Before the man could finish briefing the others on what was going on, Toby leapt from behind the remaining horses and knocked all three men to their backs, disarming them. Growling and staring eye to eye with the now unarmed men, he swiped each of them across their faces, knocking them unconscious. He sprinted deeper into the midway.

On the other side of the fairgrounds, a group of six men, deputies and civilians responding to the gunfire entered the Hall of Mirrors situated halfway between the location of the previous Liberman sighting and the woods beyond. They knew he would use those woods to escape if given the chance. Knowing they could be walking into a trap, the men forged ahead with guns drawn at the ready. The rain beat heavily upon the tin roof of the structure eliminating any possibility of anticipating the approaching danger. They paused momentarily as one of them spoke.

“Explain to me why we’re going into an enclosed structure full of mirrors when we know there’s probably a lunatic killer inside!”

“Come on, you coward!” one of the civilian locals shot back. “There’s only one of him and six of us. If anyone needs to be worried about what’s going to happen in there, it’s him.”

“Besides,” one of the deputies reasoned. “There’s only one way in and out of here.  If we get him now, we can all go home and not have to worry about whether or not this guy is going to eat our children while we’re sleeping.”

“Well, good!” the originator of the conversation snapped. “I’ll just stay out here and guard the door and you five can go in there and get your heads bitten off!”

Another of the civilians chimed in.

 “Why do we pay your salaries with our taxes?” he said as he looked toward another civilian for approval.

In the rear corner of the mirrored maze, Toby Liberman laid in wait for the approaching assassins. While the rain beating on the roof proved to be a disadvantage to the deputies, it was no impediment at all to Toby’s preternatural senses. He could hear and feel every one of their heavy footsteps approaching from five different directions. Toby’s precise location remained unknown to any of them and it wasn’t long at all before the men began to communicate aloud, unwittingly providing verification of their locations.

“Anybody else lost yet?” one of them attempted quietly on the radio.

“Yep!” two more of them answered almost instantly. “Everyone else good?”

 “Yeah! I think we found the right way through this thing! Keep your eyes open!”

As they turned a blind corner, the ten-foot-tall monster appeared before the two men who had chosen the path to Toby’s hiding place, and they yelled like frightened children. Toby, giving it every bit of theatrics within, smacked their heads into one another knocking them unconscious. Toby swiped the fuse box to the structure with his sharpened claws, causing the lights within the building to strobe, effectively bringing the action to a stop-motion crawl.

“There he is! Fire!”

Gunfire erupted again shattering mirrors and some of the flickering lights. They filled the structure with rapidly fired, poorly aimed projectiles with every perceived movement from their elusive adversary. Immediately, the radios came to life with incessant inquiries from the man who’d chosen to remain outside.

“What the hell is going on in there?” the frightened lookout pleaded urgently. There was no response. Lowering the radio from his face, he realized his choice to stay behind hadn’t been wise.

Toby Liberman’s hirsute alter-ego now stood face to face with the only person blocking his exit from the building. As if struck by death, the man collapsed to the floor in shock without so much as a bark from the werewolf. He’d fainted. Taken slightly by surprise at the ease of his escape, Toby leaned down to grab the unconscious man’s uniform collar and pulled him into the building. Shutting the door securely behind him, Toby swiped the handle from its place on the door. The men who remained inside, still paranoidly firing at shadows, were now locked in.  If the three men from the carousel were still dazed and the six who were secured inside the Hall of Mirrors remained locked inside, only three more stood between him and another fleeting period of freedom. Katie! He corrected his train of thought, only three more stood between him and assurance of Katie’s well-being. He quickened his pace as he ran toward the edge of the fairgrounds.

Sprinting as fast as his animal legs would carry him, he headed in the direction of the farthest corner of the fairgrounds. There was no one behind him in pursuit and, so far, his tactical planning proved to be sublimely effective. With his peripheral vision, he noticed three flashlights searching in all directions, exposing the locations of the men holding them. They were looking deep into the shadows of a ride called the “Gravitron.” This ride was very familiar to Toby as far back as his fair-hopping days of the late eighties. A stroke of genius forced its way into his racing mind, and he quickly altered his direction toward them for a final confrontation. At this crucial moment, Toby had no greater friends than rapid rotation and gravity.

As Toby leapt high into the air and growled ferociously above them, the three men were knocked to the ground unexpectedly. Immediately springing to their feet, they began firing blindly into the dark, Texas night.

“Cease Fire! Cease Fire!” the only legally deputized member of their party screamed at the other two. “Dammit! Stop shooting before you kill someone!”

“That’s the plan, Deputy Dumb Shit! We’re trying to kill the thing that just buzzed us!” the gun-wielding civilian shouted back. “In case you didn’t notice, we haven’t heard anything from the other nine people that we came out here with! I’m shooting at anything that moves!”

Their contentious conversation came to a sudden halt as they spotted the human form of Toby Liberman standing in illuminated glory at the entrance of the Gravitron ride.

“What’s wrong, boys? Are you feeling a little inadequate?” Toby taunted them.

“We couldn’t care less, fuck stick! Your ass is going down!” yelled one of the civilians.

“We will see,” Toby announced as he disappeared into the darkened ride.

Like bolts of human lightning, the three men fought for position on the stairway which led to the ride. Once inside, their flashlights darted all over the empty internal chamber of locked cages that secured the riders when the vehicle was in operation. Each cage was empty and there seemed to be nowhere else for their target to hide.

“Keep your eyes peeled, boys!” whispered a civilian as he spit a large stream of chewing tobacco onto the floor. “He’s got nowhere to go in here! We’ve got him cornered!”

“Oh yeah?” the deputy replied. “Then, where in the hell is he? Search all of those cages!”

The three men began their search, going from cage to cage revealing no sign of the man they pursued. The three of them came to a terrible understanding that seemed to slap them all at once as they met up again at the back of the ride, the farthest point from the entry door. Turning their flashlights again to their previous location by the ride’s entrance, they illuminated a smiling, human, Toby Liberman.

“For future reference,” Toby scolded. “When you’re looking in all directions, look up! Up is a direction, too!”

As they turned their flashlights upward to the ceiling of the ride, they saw splintered claw marks punctured the wood and canvas beginning directly above their current position and ending at the spot where their search began.

 “Catch ya’ on the flipside, fellas!”

With that, Toby slammed the cage door behind him locking the men inside. Transforming momentarily, he used his strength to remove a handrail from the stairway and twisted it inside of the locking handle. Immediately, the three trapped men began to spray the metallic cages with bullets as they ran toward the now blocked doorway. As Toby flipped the switch for the ride to begin its rotation sequence, the popping sound of gunfire abruptly halted as the three of them were swept off their feet by the ever-intensifying spinning.

“Hang on to something!” Toby heard one of them yell as the machine began to tilt on the axis of an ascending arm and all three men were plastered to the cages on the perimeter of the ride by centrifugal force. 

Thirty minutes earlier, Toby had felt he was trapped in an inescapable situation; he now trampled through the swampy fields that lay just beyond the edge of the fairgrounds, leaving the tormented screams behind him. The edge of the woods, and his path back to Katie lay just ahead. It was only a matter of time before his greatest fear would either be quelled or realized. He’d shown great restraint and spared the lives of many who would’ve gladly taken his in a heartbeat. If he found his daughter harmed in any way whatsoever, the next confrontation would not be so clean.

As he paused to glance back at the hilarious confusion he’d caused at the fairgrounds, he noticed the flicker of squad car lights in the parking lot outside of the main gate. He never truly expected any of them to stay trapped and knocked out for long, and he shuddered to think the relentless pursuit was about to start all over again. They absolutely had to be led in the opposite direction of the cemetery and Katie. He must get them all onto some familiar turf in order to turn the tables and outwit them. They would be a lot smarter this time around.

His deep train of thought was suddenly derailed by the loud explosions of jet engines brought to life on the opposite side of the highway from the fairgrounds. The green glow of the flight line lights at Ellen Air Base beckoned to him only a quarter mile away; he knew of no other place he could navigate in the dark like the hangars at his former workplace. After all, if his supervisors never caught him napping during his tenure there, the few remaining deputies would be clueless to his every move. On top of that, they had no jurisdiction there, and it would be difficult to even get through the front gates! It was a far better plan than gravity rides and fun houses! He changed directions so abruptly that his clawed paws skidded in the mud.

He headed in the direction of the deputies who were loading up in their vehicles. For the plan to work, he had to get their attention again, not that he’d find it to be a big challenge once they saw him.

     “Hang on Katie,” the message ran through Toby’s head. “Daddy is coming.”

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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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