Toby felt himself waking from what seemed like the deepest sleep he’d ever known. He opened his eyes. His vision was blurred, but he recognized the fuzzy shapes and beeping sounds of a hospital room. He deliberately blinked twice and opened his eyes again hoping for some improvement in his vision. It was a bit clearer and his heart leapt as he set eyes on his daughter who was seated at his bedside and giggling with Becky Lowery.
Becky turned to glance at him and squealed, “Katie, he’s awake! Go get the nurse!”
Toby watched as Katie darted past two sheriff’s deputies and into the hallway.
“Nurse! He’s awake! My dad is awake!” she screamed.
Several nurses and a doctor responded quickly to Katie’s announcement. The deputies peered inside anxiously as the doctor spoke to Toby.
“Hello, Mr. Liberman. How are you feeling? Can you speak to me?”
“Katie,” he replied in a hoarse, raspy voice.
“Yes, Katie’s here. See her jumping up and down behind me?” the soft-spoken doctor replied as she pulled a tiny flashlight from her pocket.
She aimed the light into Toby’s eyes and asked him to follow it. She smiled as she placed the flashlight back into her pocket.
She asked Toby for his full name, his age, and if he could tell her where he was. As soon as Toby answered all the questions accurately, the doctor turned to Katie and said, “I think he’s out of the woods now.”
Toby felt certain such a proclamation would immediately be followed by a Myrtle County Sheriff’s Deputy reading him his Miranda rights. Instead, the room exploded into applause and cheers. Tears of joy streamed down Katie’s face as she gently embraced her injured father. He’d spent two long weeks in ICU. It was the most memorable October of his life, and much to his surprise, he’d lived to see November! He’d never expected this to be the case.
Jim Savage had come through and exposed Jessie McGee for everything he was and all he’d planned for the future of the sleepy town. Within hours of Toby’s rescue, footage revealing the Sheriff’s horrifying true nature was broadcast repeatedly. Not long after the story broke, news crews from all over the place descended upon the hospital. Reporters and photographers jockeyed for the best view of the hospital’s entrance, each hoping to catch a glimpse of the town’s new hero. This wasn’t to be. The rumors and exaggerations flew like crazed birds from the mouths of the townspeople. If there were unknowns in any given version of the story, most folks were more than willing to fill in the blanks with their own preferred details. There were others, albeit a very few, who stuck to the facts. Well, the facts as they heard them from their friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Much to the residents’ liking, Twin Oaks was finally on the map.
Once Katie resurfaced, she heard most of the wild rumors and just laughed them off. She knew the truth. She’d lived it. The horrible images and traumatic experiences she withstood at Jessie McGee’s hands would remain with her forever. In her heart, she knew she’d been the true hero of the day by eliminating Jessie McGee, but she would never speak of it. It was nearly a week before Katie showed her face in public, especially near the hospital. During the days she spent in hiding with Johnny keeping her company, she’d diligently tried to gain control of her newfound powers. The first few days she spent transforming involuntarily whenever she felt overcome with emotion. Katie dug deep, summoning all her self-control, and ultimately got a grasp on all things beastly.
Becky Lowery caught the first redeye flight back to Twin Oaks the same evening the story made its way into the national news. She wanted to get to Katie as quickly as possible and be sure she was okay. Her heart sank when she arrived in town and couldn’t find the girl. With Katie’s whereabouts unknown, Becky was the closest thing to real family Toby had, and she’d been allowed to stay with him. Save for a few bathroom breaks and trips to the hospital cafeteria, she never left his bedside. It was one thing to hear the wild stories of Toby’s alter-ego, but Becky hoped deep down she never had to meet the other Toby. Even though the newsfeed cut off before any paranormal transformations occurred, the deputies, paramedics, and men of the Sheriff’s posse whispered their stories, and the wind seemed to carry them from home to home. The tiny town’s newest rumor was based on fact. With little else to do in his hospital room, Toby tried to understand why Savage hadn’t revealed lycanthropy as the true savior of Twin Oaks.
To nobody’s surprise, the Texas Rangers launched their own investigation into the corruption in the Myrtle County Sheriff’s Department, the drug lab, and the homicides. After one very long morning of being interviewed by an affable Ranger, Toby was exhausted and his ribs were killing him. The nurse brought him a dose of pain meds and he fell into a deep sleep. When he awoke, he found that an envelope was placed on his chest, just under the bed sheet. He opened it clumsily, still groggy from the pain meds and stared at it until his eyes could focus well enough to read. Just four simple words:
Regarding Savage – you’re welcome.
The message was printed on letterhead displaying the logo of Jimmerson & Wolf, Attorneys at Law, New York, New York. Was this an invitation to seek the true answers or a gesture of closure?
Toby was guarded upon his release from the hospital. It was for his protection while the Texas Rangers concluded their investigation into the evildoings of Jessie McGee and his minions. Many of the Sheriff’s flunkies were relieved Jessie McGee’s reign of terror had ended, but there were others who remained loyal, and the Rangers feared one or more of them might seek revenge. His home was gone, but he, along with Katie and Becky, happily occupied Johnny’s house while two Sheriff’s deputies and a Texas Ranger kept a protective watch over them all. After the experiences of the previous weeks, this arrangement seemed like a glorious vacation. The law enforcement officials watching over them were very pleasant company, even coming inside to watch television and chat from time to time.
The Texas Rangers’ investigation concluded that McGee had orchestrated much of the bloodshed and property destruction which took place in Twin Oaks. Throughout the seemingly endless interviews with law enforcement, Toby was very forthcoming minus one supernatural detail. Jim Savage’s video and audio exposé of Jessie McGee was a godsend for Toby. Just as expected, the Myrtle County Grand Jury returned no indictments against Toby Liberman for any of the recent murders due to a lack of evidence. Toby was officially exonerated of any wrongdoing in the deaths of Ryan Weldon, Cody Christian, Robert Green, Archie Weldon, Johnny Haynes, Deputy Reed, and his beloved Jessica Liberman. The case of the men who died in the underground lab was never officially solved. Most were vagrants and drifters with no one to identify them or claim their remains. Their homicide files remained open but seemed destined for the cold case collection.
All attempts by Jim Savage and law enforcement officials to question Kurt Jimmerson were answered with a letter from his law firm partner, Mr. Wolf. It stated that Attorney Kurt Jimmerson had not visited Texas in recent years, and due to his hectic schedule, would have to respectfully decline all requests for interviews failing the presentation of a subpoena. It went on to point out that the law firm’s investigators had scrutinized the audio from Jim Savage’s expose and, while someone named “Jimmerson” was referenced repeatedly, the name “Kurt Jimmerson” was never mentioned. The letter concluded by stating that “Jimmerson” was not such an unusual name and that the investigations would be better served by seeking out the “Jimmerson” who was relevant to the matter. Upon learning this news, Toby thought back to his conversation with Kurt in the jail cell and Kurt’s strange reference to his paperwork being “shredded.”
When all the official proceedings ended, Toby, Katie, and Becky claimed Johnny Haynes’ house as their own and began to allow themselves to think about returning to normal life. The turnout for Jessica’s memorial was massive. Some in attendance hadn’t even known her, but they wanted to show support and respect for Toby and Katie. Jessica Liberman, beloved wife, mother and sister, was laid to rest beside her brother.
When Toby returned to work at Ellen Air Force Base, he found himself in a new, supervisory position with a raise. He wasn’t sure if his promotion was the result of his sudden celebrity or fear of his rumored abilities. He really didn’t care. Mike Hathcock, his former boss, was now his subordinate, and it wasn’t long before the man submitted his letter of resignation. Most people just assumed it was due to embarrassment at the way he’d treated Toby and his fellow workers. Toby had certainly shown no signs of retaliation, being the epitome of the fair, even-handed, likable boss. His management style won him the loyalty of everyone on his crew. He’d never told anyone else, but a certain confrontation in a darkened hangar late one night was Mike Hathcock’s real reason for leaving.
Katie returned to school, but her sudden boost in popularity was quite an impediment to her academics. She could rarely get anything done for fellow students constantly asking questions about the events that took place at the fairgrounds. Still an emotional and impulsive teenager, Katie experienced many instances of wanting to reveal her true self to her classmates, but better judgment always prevailed. She would, however, allow her eyes to glow yellow from time to time. That was more than enough to send annoying folks running in the opposite direction. The school counselor told Toby how wonderful it was that Katie had thrown herself into athletics to work through her recent trauma. The real reason behind Katie’s sudden enthusiasm for sports was that she now possessed enhanced strength, speed and reflexes even when she was in human form. She delighted in sports and quickly became the captain of several teams.
Toby and Becky had both lost their loves and helped one another through the grieving process, eventually developing feelings for one another. Katie had a mother figure once more and it appeared she was there to stay. The nuptials took place in the cemetery between Jessica and Johnny’s headstones. Unbeknownst to all but two in attendance, a spectral Johnny Haynes winked at Toby, blew a kiss to Katie, and looked lovingly at Becky Lowery before fading away. He knew for certain Becky was happy with his best friend and that his beloved niece was safe. Toby missed the banter he’d shared with Johnny over the decades, but soon found himself bantering in much the same way with his daughter. She reminded him more of Johnny with each passing day.
Toby encountered no sign of Jessica Liberman’s spirit since her death, but he hoped for sure she would’ve blessed the union wholeheartedly. Toby and Katie often strolled to the cemetery to place fresh flowers on Jessica’s and Johnny’s graves. They made some attempts to communicate, but it was not to be. They hoped Johnny would locate Jessica in the great beyond and let her know they were well and happy. With any luck, there was no unfinished business, and her soul was at peace from the moment she’d passed from this world.
One thing still weighed on Toby’s mind. Apart from the appearance of the mystery envelope at the hospital, Kurt Jimmerson hadn’t attempted to contact him. Every so often, a wild thought would cross his mind, and Toby would imagine going to New York, locating Jimmerson, and bringing the curse to a violent, vengeful, end. It was just a daydream, a distraction he allowed himself when his management duties became tedious. Anyway, Toby weathered enough vengeance and violence to last him the rest of his life and then some. Both Katie and Toby possessed complete control over their transformations. There were no more involuntary changes brought on by extreme emotion. This was a good thing, considering Katie was a teenage girl and just about anything could cause extreme emotion where she was concerned. Twice each year, they transformed to satisfy the hunger with wild game and to keep their beasts at bay. Their unique secret added a new level to their already powerful bond. They discussed it at length many times when they were alone. As much as they could, Toby and Katie kept things as normal as possible for Becky. They both loved her dearly, so they kept her out of the loop on all things wolf.
They told her they were going camping when they planned their biannual transformations. Becky’s idea of camping was sleeping where the hospitality staff turns down the beds and leaves mints on the pillows. There was no danger of her ever asking to come along, and lycanthropy was never discussed outside the fold of their happy new family.
It’s funny how people don’t appreciate the joy of normal life until it is ripped out from under them. Things did seem to be returning to normal in Twin Oaks, and the Liberman family was indeed overjoyed about it, although in truth, their joy was tempered with the pain of their lingering grief. Not a day went by that each of them didn’t think of Johnny and Jessica with a twinge of pain in their hearts. It was not unusual for any one of them to burst into tears occasionally. The three of them quickly developed a plan for these moments. It consisted of a game of “remember that time?” and they would share funny memories until the dark clouds passed. Because Becky could never truly comprehend what the two of them had gone through after Johnny’s death and her departure, she sometimes asked them to speak with her about it. Always wanting to protect her, they would oblige with short, cryptic answers. Other times, they would just tell her that she didn’t want to know. It was bad enough the Liberman name was now locally synonymous with celebrity.
Toby and Katie Liberman’s lives were altered so much in such a short amount of time that the two of them clung to one another wondering where it all started to go wrong. Despite the horrific events witnessed during the darkest days of their lives, things were set to rights by something very unusual. If not for their supernatural abilities, things wouldn’t have ended this way with the pieces falling into just the right calm, happy, normal places. Toby, Katie, and Becky were blessed with a taste of home once again. Things were different, but there was no denying it was home.
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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