A Taste of Home – Chapter 23

chapter Twenty-three

Toby shot through the maze of oncoming trees with incredible speed, but the Sheriff was hot on his heels. He did have a slight advantage over the monster that trailed him. His smaller size gave him a bit more speed and a lot more agility. He hoped it would be enough to get him out of his predicament alive. If McGee ever caught him, it would all be over. The knowledge the Sheriff wasn’t chasing Katie was a boon to Toby’s confidence.

Toby had about one half of a brilliant idea and no clue as to whether it would work. The railyard beyond Ellen Air Force Base was just ahead and it was a labyrinth of hiding places. The smell of creosote and diesel fuel would mask his scent, and he could maneuver quietly amid the deafening roar of the idling engines. Many times during his employment, he’d been sent to the railyard to retrieve airplane parts that came in on a redeye rail. He’d never been crazy about being there after dark, but tonight, it was a necessity.

His mind was running even faster than his canine legs. He was betting on the activity of the railway yard, the inbound and outbound trains, and on the empty boxcars providing adequate interference between him and his pursuer. Jessie would need to be distracted long enough for Toby to dash back to the fairgrounds, scoop up his daughter, and head out of Twin Oaks forever. His plan of defeating or killing McGee with brute strength was fool’s folly. The creeping death that was Jessie McGee’s preternatural alter-ego was a good hundred yards behind him.  Toby put more distance between them with every lunge of his powerful legs. He picked up more speed as he headed to the railyard. His plan was just crazy enough to work.

As Toby emerged from the cover of the forest, the green glow of the yard’s lights against the cloudy sky came into view. He was no longer sloshing through the mud as the railyard boasted a surface covered in rocks and rail spikes. Locomotive headlamps shone from every direction, waiting to be directed into the yard for unloading. Toby noted these might serve as weapons in his arsenal. McGee was much bigger and stronger than he, but the power of a rolling freight train would be the perfect equalizer. His plan hinged on the confrontation taking place between this moment and the moment one of the trains entered the yard. He wasn’t ready.

Ducking low beneath the first row of railcars, Toby rolled onto a set of empty tracks and quickly scanned both directions for any oncoming hazards. He dug deep into the rocks and crossties, pushed his speed to a previously unobtainable level and dove into one of the open boxcars. The rumble of the hybrid diesel-locomotive engines in the distance were more than enough to keep McGee from picking up on Toby’s heavy breathing. Unfortunately, the friendly rumble which protected him from his enemy’s enhanced hearing also prevented him from hearing McGee’s approach. Without warning, the giant shadow of the Sheriff bolted past the railcar door. He passed up Toby’s hiding place and ran in the opposite direction. Exhaling deeply with relief, Toby slowly approached the door of the railway car and peered outside. There was no one in sight.

Slipping back onto the rocks as quietly as possible, Toby was slammed hard against the side of the rail car by the deafening screech of an approaching train’s warning signal. He pressed his body as flat as he could against the exterior of the railcar. The rolling steel missed him by mere inches as it headed into the railyard. He was temporarily trapped between the two trains, so he squeezed back into the open boxcar just in time to hear the pounding sound of giant paws on the roof above. Then, he saw his enemy’s shadow as it leapt onto the moving train. Toby remained as silent as possible. Taking advantage of the deafening sounds of the grinding steel, Toby flipped the far door into an unlocked position and opened it just enough to squeeze himself out to freedom. 

He dodged the yard’s floodlights, keeping to the safety of the shadows. He could no longer detect McGee by sight, sound, or scent. A fear-fueled thought, involving the Sheriff abandoning his pursuit of Toby and again focusing his attention on Katie, crossed his mind. Toby realized this was unlikely and beat back the fear. Chances were that McGee was not far from where Toby stood, and he was only waiting for the right moment to pounce. Leaping high into the air and landing on one of the railyard’s many elevated signal platforms, Toby surveyed the area around him for any indication of approaching danger. Still, nothing and no one could be seen against the blinding lights of the yard. Both trains were entering with their signals wailing like banshees warning everyone of impending danger. Then, he felt it all at once like an earthquake centered directly below him.

Jessie McGee was violently twisting and shaking the metal of the signal light platform to bring Toby crashing to the ground. As Toby gripped the light signal with all his might, the wires that attached the lights to their central power source were ripped away from their housing. Sparks flew everywhere in a shower of blue energy arching up the tower toward his perch. Discovered and trapped, he leapt high into the air again, landing on a moving tanker car covered in an oily substance. Unable to gain footing, he fell hard to the rocky ground. The powerful impact knocked the breath out of him. He was dazed, but immediately brought back to his senses by the sounds of the approaching monster. Back on his feet again, Toby bolted in the opposite direction and the chase resumed.

As he approached another set of boxcars, Toby was disappointed none of the doors were open. He lowered his head, charged with all his might, and made his own entrance as splinters of wood and steel exploded around him. With the Sheriff nipping at his tail once again, Toby leapt toward the night sky to gain higher footing on a set of stacked cargo containers just off the main rail line.

Turning quickly to determine McGee’s position, Toby saw the Sheriff coming through the makeshift opening in the railcar just as the approaching engine reached his location. The railyard noise made the sound of flesh thrown against metal inaudible, but Toby felt an undeniable THUD as the train smacked hard against McGee. The mass of fur and fangs was thrown somewhere outside of Toby’s line of vision. Toby scanned frantically in every direction for signs of McGee. He ran the length of the moving train and saw nothing at all. Toby jumped back down to the rocky ground and sprinted as fast as his legs would carry him in the direction of the fairgrounds. The Sheriff had sustained an unbelievably hard blow and was nowhere to be seen. It stood to reason that the impact may have killed him. Reason, however, had not been Toby’s friend lately. He’d seen enough horror movies over the years to know it wouldn’t be long at all before the monster was up and running again. Within moments, an angry, bloodcurdling, howl rose behind him. It didn’t sound like the howl of an injured animal. McGee was pissed, and time was of the essence.

Flying through the forest toward his daughter, Toby took to the treetops. He leapt from branch to branch, and then dove into the open field of the fairgrounds. Up on two legs, Toby flinched at the pain of his retreating disguise and yelled aloud.

“Katie! Johnny!” He called into the night, but there was no response. 

McGee’s squad car still sat in the spot where it was left earlier in the evening, and the spotlight still shone bright. Toby instinctively ran toward it. He looked inside of the vehicle where he saw the image of his frightened daughter.

“I’ve been here with her this whole time, man,” Johnny appeared beside him. “I know I can’t do much, but I stayed here with her.”

“I know, Johnny, you did good,” he reassured his friend. “But we’ve got to get the hell out of here and fast!”

Toby opened the door and gently removed his daughter from the vehicle’s floorboard.

“Come on, honey, we’ve got to get out of here!”

He placed her on her feet and kept his arms tightly around her. She was uneasy on her feet and held onto him as well. Suddenly, they all gasped and turned toward the edge of the tree line. The sound of violently cracking branches offered Johnny another opportunity to state the obvious. 

“Too late, man!” he screamed.

Toby had returned to human form only moments earlier and was unprepared for the attack. The forest began to spin around him. Katie tumbled hard across the rain-soaked grass and came to rest nearly ten feet away from them. As Toby struggled to get back to his feet, he was struck again by a thunderous crack against his ribs. Everything faded to black as Toby collapsed, face down in the mud as the unrelenting rain poured down on him.

“Damn you, you son of a bitch! Why can’t you just leave us alone?” Johnny screamed at the now human Sheriff.  He threw punches as he screamed, flailing his arms in attack but having no effect whatsoever. 

“Haynes, you should know by now that while I may be many things, I’m no quitter.”

Jessie McGee opened the driver’s side door of the squad car and retrieved his shotgun. Slowly, he moved through the slippery mud toward the open passenger side and removed a handful of shells from the glove compartment. Gently sliding one into the chamber, he cocked the weapon with a loud crack and began striding toward Katie.

“You can’t do this, Jessie!” Johnny’s apparition pleaded. “You can’t kill the girl!”

“Why not, Johnny Haynes?” McGee questioned. “As if I don’t have enough on my plate to deal with right now. This one will just grow up and cause me nothing but trouble. Anyway, she may look like her mother, but she got her attitude and smartass mouth from you and your muddy friend over there. She’s been a pain in my ass for too long.”

“You’re a fucking monster, McGee! You’re nothing but a spineless monster!”

“Well, Mr. Haynes,” Jessie McGee replied. “You say I’m a monster. I say I’m thorough.”

Scooting backward though the mud, Katie shook with terror as the approaching man pointed the cold steel at her head. Her instinct was to run for her life, but she barely possessed the strength to stand. Realizing it was completely useless, she stopped scooting in the mud, placed her crying eyes between her muddy knees, and welcomed the worst. Spitting another mouthful of blood toward the saturated ground, Jessie McGee allowed her one last option for redemption.

“Katie Liberman,” he began. “This is just how it has to be.  Anything you’d like to say, you little shit?”

Katie’s mind raced frantically as she tried to think of anything to say which would prompt him to end this quickly rather than torturing her. The perfect phrase came to her, and she spoke.

“Yeah, I do,” she smirked. “Watch out behind you, asshole.”

McGee laughed again as self-satisfaction engulfed him.

“Charming, to the last, Katie Liberman.  Charming to the last,” McGee taunted.

With a swish of cold air and flying rain, the squad car’s bumper slammed devastatingly hard against the Sheriff’s body knocking him face-first into the mud. His shotgun and ammunition were knocked from his hands. Flinging the bumper aside with the same effortlessness he’d fling a cigarette butt, Toby Liberman raised his head high toward the cloudy night sky and released an ear-splitting howl. He then fell to his knees in weakness. His chest bowed and flexed violently as he tried to breathe, but the injury to his ribs was making it increasingly difficult to take in a full breath. Katie jumped to her feet and fell hard into her father’s bloody, furry, arms and hugged him with all her strength.

“You did it, Daddy!” she cried. “You did it!”

With renewed strength, Katie attempted to help her father stand, but her efforts were in vain. He fell to his knees with every attempt and began to cough streams of blood. He rolled onto his back. His fading vision focused on the moon peeking at him through the rain clouds. If he’d truly ended his rivalry with Jessie McGee once and for all, he had paid the ultimate price.

“Come on, man, pull yourself together!” Johnny pleaded. “Someone’s got to take care of Katie, and trust me, you don’t want to die. Get your hairy ass up off the ground!”

“Come on, Daddy! Please get up!” Katie pleaded.

Rallying all his strength, Toby began to lean upward again until he was in a standing position. The pain in his chest and back was almost unbearable, but his will to continue was stronger. It seemed as though things were moving in slow motion.  The moon was once again hiding, but not behind clouds. This was different. The Sheriff pounced, throwing Katie to one side and landing hard against Toby’s already serious injuries. With the swipe of a clawed paw, the flesh of McGee’s face ripped open like paper and an ocean of flowing blood followed. Digging deep for any untapped reserves of strength, Toby jumped again to his feet to face the injured monster who stood before him. 

Adrenaline and survival instinct kicked into overdrive as Toby delivered blow after fierce blow to McGee’s bleeding body. McGee lunged forward and sunk his dagger-sharp fangs into Toby’s flesh. Toby instantly forgot the intense pain coming from his fractured ribs as a chunk of meat was ripped from his right shoulder. Stumbling backward and growing ever weaker from blood loss, he found the strength to strike once more. Toby dove forward with claws extended and stabbed them deep into McGee’s upper body. He then slashed the Sheriff’s chest exposing punctured arteries that spurted blood. McGee kicked as hard as he could with his powerful hind legs sending both men flying. They each landed hard as unmoving, bloody, masses.

Katie ran to her father only to see the glowing life force fading from his animal-like eyes. She hugged him as unintelligible sounds gurgled from his mouth. This was the last time Katie was going to spend with him, and he couldn’t even speak to her, but his fading eyes conveyed unmistakable, unconditional, unwavering love. He lacked the strength for a transformation. This was how it was all going to end. It was beyond his control. 

Katie Liberman stood and faced Jessie McGee with seething anger oozing from her every pore. The Sheriff pulled himself together and stumbled into his bipedal form once again. His hysterical laughter was interrupted by the violent coughing it brought on, and he fell to the ground. He continued to chuckle. It was a defiant, maniacal laugh. As he pulled himself along the muddy ground, grasping for anything to hold on to, Katie noticed the reason for his crazy laughter. His shotgun was almost within his reach. Pulling the cold steel barrel toward his bleeding body, he dug his hand deep within his tattered pocket. He retrieved another shell and added it to the chamber.

“You know,” he announced in a voice much weakened by his injuries. “This could’ve all ended hours ago, but this is the path you’ve chosen, and I’m here to oblige your decision.”

Still struggling to stand, he forced the barrel of the shotgun into the soft ground to serve as a crutch. “It’s what I do, Katie Liberman,” he laughed again. “I protect and serve. Tonight, I’m protecting myself, and serving oblivion.”

Katie, already having come close to death multiple times in the previous few hours, watched in horrified silence as it approached her yet again. If she was going to die, she wanted to die with her father. She lay beside him and hugged him gently, so as not to cause him any more pain. Toby wrapped his bloody paw around her in a feeble show of protection. She tried to calm her racing mind to produce a solution. It was completely useless. There was no escape from the evil she faced. 

A bolt of lightning glinted off the steel barrel of the Sheriff’s shotgun for a second, but that second dragged on for an eternity to Katie. In that second, her early life flashed before her eyes. Visions of a much younger Katie giggling while being bounced on her father’s knees, and memories of throwing cookies across the kitchen from her highchair as her mother scolded her, filled her mind. Then, she saw herself taunting the young boys in her class as all the other girls marveled at her fearlessness. This almost brought a smile to her terrified face. Would her Uncle Johnny be waiting with open arms on the other side to take her up and teach all that was left to be taught? Would they all be reunited somewhere else and carry on as a family the same way they’d done in the world of the living? There were so many unanswered questions tormenting her as the squashing sound of the boots came toward her with each step of McGee’s feet. She could neither see nor hear him, but her Uncle Johnny knelt next to her and offered gentle words of comfort.

“Don’t worry, kid. This will all be over soon. It only hurts for a second or two.”

“No sir,” Jessie McGee spoke as he looked at the ground beside her. “I’m going to enjoy this. She won’t be as lucky as you were, Johnny Haynes.”

Katie immediately began to scan the ground for any object that could be weaponized. She thought it unlikely she’d find anything useful, but there was no way she was going to make her death an easy task for Jessie McGee. Blindly reaching all around, she found her hand brushing across her father’s sharp fangs and a very frightening idea came to her.

Quickly springing to her knees, she looked deep into her father’s eyes for any signs of life. Slowly, his eyes seemed to focus on hers. He no longer had the strength to raise his paw to protect her. He tried, but it immediately fell into a puddle of blood and rainwater. She forced her bare arm deep within his jaw. She then used her knee to press her father’s poisonous teeth deep within her flesh. Katie cried out in pain from the self-inflicted wound and her scream echoed throughout the empty woods. McGee halted his clumsy advance. He was overcome with disbelief at what he’d just witnessed.

The child jumped to her feet and turned to face McGee as her confidence slowly began to build. She glared angrily at him as he raised his weapon. The change was almost instantaneous. Her bones cracked as she fell to her knees in pain. The sound of her pale skin stretching along with the cracking bones created a terrible symphony of transformation. A coat of light-colored fur began to cover her body. Her small, delicate, ears became raised points on either side of her head, and suddenly, she could hear what seemed like a million never-before-heard sounds. Her face was no longer recognizable as it quickly became transfigured into one which resembled her father’s in his current form. She raised herself high onto her hind legs and stared at McGee with glowing, piercing eyes. She held her mouth toward the infinitely cloudy night sky. The Sheriff dropped his weapon to the ground and placed his hands over his ears to shield them from the horrendous howl of the enraged she-wolf. Silence fell momentarily, and the distant sounds of Twin Oaks’ canines replying to her beastly call became audible.

McGee grabbed his weapon and aimed it, only to realize his target had disappeared. He scanned the area frantically, but there was no sign of the young wolf. Katie slammed hard against his back, knocking the weapon out of his hands with such force it exploded as it made impact with the ground. As he again rose to his hands and knees, it became apparent the blood loss he’d suffered made it nearly impossible to defend himself.

Another swipe of Katie’s powerful paw across his shoulder sent him onto his back. Slowly, she pressed her weight against the man, pinning him hard against the ground, and he began to sink into the muck. Jessie McGee had nothing left. No more dirty tricks or manipulative words to save his own life. The temperature had dropped considerably in the preceding hour. Despite the cold air, he felt like he was too close to a fire when she pressed her snarling face against his. Raising her head again, Katie sent another bloodcurdling howl into the night before sinking her fangs deep into the Sheriff’s neck. He felt the agony of the wound but lacked the strength to scream out in pain. The macabre sounds of crushing bones and tearing muscle did his screaming for him. As Katie pulled back, she exposed his almost decapitated head. Jessie McGee’s life was ended by a most unlikely adversary.

She rolled onto her back and howled victoriously in a way which almost resembled the uninhibited laughter of a child. Cut short by the sound of approaching sirens that were attracted to the chaos at the fairgrounds, she jumped to her feet defensively to challenge all who would dare approach her. 

“Katie! Katie! Can you see me? Can you hear me?” Johnny appeared before her. “Katie!”

Her triumphant zeal was reduced to sad confusion as she beheld the ghostly image of her beloved Uncle Johnny. Awestruck, she reached out her paw and attempted to touch her loved one. It passed right through him. But he was there. She could see him.  She could hear him. She was not alone.

“Baby, you can’t fight all these people!” he counseled her. This ain’t like the movies. Regular bullets will kill you! Let them come and try to help him. Right now, you need a safe place to hide so that nobody sees you like this. Come on!”

She whimpered and nuzzled her face softly against Toby’s, who had reverted to his human form as the life drained from him. She glanced back at Johnny with yellow eyes filled with hesitation.

“There’s nothing you can do right now! You’ve got to get out of here before they arrive, baby. Now, come on. Follow me!”

Johnny’s image floated in a blue mass of energy into the darkened woods of Twin Oaks. Katie followed closely, but she glanced back at her father being surrounded by the red and blue flashing lights of emergency vehicles. Turning her attention back to her uncle, she gracefully traversed the forest floor. So much happened to Katie Liberman in such a short period of time that introspection was a luxury she couldn’t presently afford, and she hadn’t a spare moment to think about how her new supernatural identity was going to change her life forever.

     Many times throughout the years, it was said that nothing exciting ever happened in Twin Oaks, Texas. This old adage was no longer accurate. Katie lowered her head against the rushing wind created by her incredible speed and quickened her pace even more, disappearing into the darkness of the forest shadows.

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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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