Shifter by Robert A. Taylor

This story grew from a secret passion I have harbored for quite some time--the dream of being able to escape human confines and run free without regard to rules or restraint-- R.T.

Bernard cringed, unwilling entering the small wooden house. Sparse furnishings were barely visible, the city lights being dampened by thick, dark drapes. The sky was the blackened sink typical of a new moon. His abductor, obviously unhampered by the lack of visibility, impatiently pushed him on.

This man could be a rapist, or one of those people who like to kill you and cut you up. Hell, he might even eat me.

Led to the kitchen and forced to sit at a large, dilapidated table, Bernard's ankles were secured to the chair with lengths of nylon rope. His captor lit a lantern.

After a moment, Bernardís eyes adjusted to this new light, and, through a gradually dissipating cloud of cigarette smoke, he got his first good view of the man.

In any other setting, the man would seem utterly harmless. His sagging, green eyes emitted more of a feeling of hurt than of anger. He was of average build, leaning toward a slight chubbiness. Rounding the edge of his face was a short, well-groomed beard and a mustache that disappeared on either side into shoulder-length blonde hair. His countenance, coupled with his obvious good taste in clothing, suggested to Bernard an upper-class breeding.

From the spot on the street corner, where Bernard had been forced into the car, and during the long ride to the house, neither man had spoken a word. The pistol, silent as it was, had said enough. Now, in the seclusion of the house and with time to arrange his thoughts, Bernard's captor finally spoke:

"I know you are frightened and wish to know why you are here," he began. "And you deserve that. For now, though, allow me to introduce myself. My name is John."

The man paused.

Bernard guessed that he was expected to introduce himself, however, street life had taught him a million hard lessons. One of which was--never give info till you know what's going on. After a short but strained silence, John walked over and wrenched the wallet from Bernard's back pocket. He was perusing its contents as he continued:

"First, I want to assure you that I do not intend to harm you...unless you make me." John's words were accented with a tone of stern conviction.

"You see," he said, " I need a favor from you. And, as simple as it will be, you will undoubtedly find it one of the hardest things youíve ever had to do."

Bernard remained silent, analyzing his situation. Johnís nervousness and suggestive dialogue were unmistakable; the man obviously wanted some kind of sick, sexual fix. Given a choice, Bernard would've opted for his initial fears of a hate-filled Klansman. He felt the first hints of nausea. Any gory details and he was going to hurl all over the table. Though he had always considered himself a survivor, willing to do whatever it took, some things went over the line.

"You see, ...Bernard," John read from a tattered factory I.D. "About a year ago, something very dramatic happened, and I started noticing certain changes in myself." John put the I.D. away and slipped the wallet into an inside breast pocket.

Bernard could feel his stomach quivering as the man continued down that dark course.

"I started feeling differently about everything, especially other people."

Bernard finally lashed out in anguish, "Look man, if your going to rape me, letís just get it over with! Donít torture me by talking about the shit all night."

John expression underwent a dramatic change. In a moment, fatigue and nervousness gave way to unbridled hysteria, a short-lived but full-hearted laughter.

"Is that what you think you are here for?" John shook his head from side to side, as his smile finally faded. His head turned upward and his eyes drifted to the window and the moonless sky. He continued:

"My God man, it is nothing like that. However, I do wish it were something as simple. I am afraid that this situation is much more complex."

"Then why donít you just cut all the shit and tell me what the hell's goin' on?"

Although he obviously didn't mind pushing Bernard around, the expression on Johnís face suggested that he did not like being rushed himself. He had planned on taking his time. All his nervousness and melancholy were immediately displaced by a mixture of disgust and anger.

"Very well," he said, as he slipped his left hand into his lower coat pocket.

Bernard grew anxious when he saw this other pistol, much like the one in Johnís right hand. He relaxed a little only when John laid it on the table in front of him, its butt easily within his reach.

"I want you to kill me," John said.

At this point, it was obvious that, though not a sexual pervert or some minority-hating bigot, the man was definitely disturbed. For a moment, Bernard considered taking up the gun and doing just as John requested. Street-smarts even demanded as much. The old ways, however, were just that: a part of Bernard's past, a past he was still trying desperately to sever ties with. He decided to try talking his way out of it.

Even so, he did pick up the pistol--for several reasons:

First, he wanted to examine it, make sure it was in good working order. He also wanted to see Johnís reaction. To his satisfaction, the gun was a very real, very loaded .357 magnum, and, strangely enough, John seemed a little brighter. Just holding the gun made Bernard feel more secure.

Now this shit's even.

John allowed his own pistol to rest on the table, his finger still guarding the trigger. As for Bernard, he was enjoying the feeling of power it gave him, staring from behind the barrel of the huge firearm, as he raised it level with John's face. Just like the old days. It was only fair for John to get a taste, considering how things had gone so far.

"So, why exactly do you want me to kill you, man?" Bernard asked.

John looked down, as if to find the answer scrawled within the grain of the table.

He snuffed out his cigarette in a large, glass ashtray. "Does the term Shifter mean anything to you?"

Bernard puzzled. "You mean like in a car, a gear shifter?"

"No," John corrected. "Shifter is the politically correct term for a person suffering, or benefiting, as a few see it, from the condition of lycanthropy."

Bernard leered around his firearm at John. "Look man, youíre going to have to use English, okay?"

John gazed up with teary eyes.

"What I am trying to tell you is that I am a werewolf."

"Wait a minute, youíre a where...who?"

Bernard couldn't have heard the man right.

"Werewolf, that is correct. If you prefer, I will say that I am a mad man who thinks he is a werewolf. To me, it really makes no difference, as long as you can be strong enough to raise that pistol and use it."

Bernard considered the notion for a moment.

"And whatís the problem with being a werewolf John, Food King all out of Alpo this week?" Feeling that he had the full power of intimidation--his big buddy, Mr. .357, there to protect him, he began spitting sarcasm at John. More of the old ways.

"Look, I do not expect you to take me seriously. I do not really care. Just, please, do us both a favor and use that thing for what it was made for," John demanded.

Bernard could tell that his tactics weren't working. The man was planted firmly in his belief, far from caring about ridicule. He was pathetic and just wanted to die. Despite himself, Bernard began to feel a small measure of sympathy.

"Personally, I think your loony, okay. And, after what all you put me through tonight, I would like nothing better than to drill a little lead in your ass, but I just canít justify it man. Now look, I think you should do us both a favor. Iím going to untie my legs, then weíre going back out to your car and take a little drive back to town. Then Iím gonna get out, let you leave, and never see or hear from you again."

Bernard acted on his tenuous sense of control. He began leaning over to untie his legs, when he heard the familiar click of a hammer being pulled back. John, it seemed, was not giving up.

"Well, you see, Bernard, first of all, you are not going to drill lead into anyoneís ass; those are silver bullets. Also, I would not be doing you much of a favor if I let you go. The Beast within me knows your face now. If I let you go, heíll hunt you down and kill you, ...or worse."

Bernard looked and was quite surprised to find that the bullets in his pistol were indeed silver or at least some equally lustrous metal.

"And finally," John continued, "if you bend down to untie your legs again, before we are finished here, you are going to be missing half a head."

In an effort to show his seriousness, he once again brought his pistol level with Bernardís face.

"Now, like I said, take the damned gun and put it to work!"

Bernard grew increasingly anxious, still groping for answers as his pistol once again found its mark. "Why me?" he asked, stone-faced and cold. Again, like the old days, he was denying the tears that threatened to spill onto his own cheeks.

"Because I do not know you and you do not know me. When they find my corpse, there will be an investigation. They will look for evidence to tie this to someone I know. My intention is not to hurt anyone else or to get anyone in trouble. I really hate to force this upon you, however, I simply cannot go on like this. I have killed many innocent people and I am powerless to stop it. That should serve as a very good reason for you to do it. Just think of all the people you will be saving."

"This is insane. I canít do it," Bernard protested.

"Yes you can. That neighborhood of yours has quite a reputation, so donít tell me youíve never had to draw down on someone before. Besides, you have no choice. I hate to assign ultimatums, but it is either you or me."

As hard as he tried to rationalize the whole mess, Bernard kept coming up empty. The only thing that could explain Johnís obsession was that he actually believed he was a werewolf--which was clearly impossible. As a kid, Bernard had watched all the old black-and-white horror classics and, in his pre-adolescent mind, there had been room for such things. Everything back then was so big and intimidating. He soon found out that Monsters were indeed real, but much more terrible than the ones on television. Entirely different from Lugosi, the Chaneys, and Karloff, the real Monsters lived in your own neighborhood--not in a laboratory, or some far-away castle. The real Monsters stood on the street corners pushing crack, weapons, and prostitutes. Whatever it took to suck you in.

Bernard brought his mind back on task. "If what youíre saying is true, why donít you just do it yourself? Why donít you just take this gun and put a cap in your own ass?"

John was sweating now, thick beads that ran in rivulets and matted his hair to his skull. "It doesnít work that way," he all but shouted. "You do not understand the kind of control this thing has over me. Even though he only comes into full being a few nights each month, he is always here and he knows what Iím doing. As a matter of fact, he is beginning to suspect that I'm up to something with you, right now, but he doesnít have enough control over my mind to fully know, and won't until closer to the time of the shift. However, he could, and would, do things inside me physically to stop me, if I were to try it myself. Any other time of the month and he might even be able to stop you. This is the peak time for me Bernard. It has to be tonight."

"And if I donít kill you, youíre bound and determined to kill me?" Bernard asked.

"Yes. Like I've already said, the beast has seen you. If you do not kill me now, he will come for you and, if you are lucky, he will kill you. Trust me when I say, you do not want to look into his eyes. It would be much more gruesome than a gunshot. I would be doing you a favor to end it here. I wish I could do this thing myself, but since I cannot, you must grant me the quick euthanasia that I seek, or you will die instead."

Bernard cradled his head in his empty hand and sighed. He desperately wanted this morbid fiasco to end. To his own knowledge, he had never killed anyone. Sure, he had beaten people up and had even cut another boy once, but it was never fatal. If he had killed someone, it would have been during the sporadic gunfire of a shoot-out and, even then, he wasn't aware of anyone dying at his hand.

Also, it would also be very close and personal, if he shot John. The memory of it would live with him forever. And, if anyone ever found out what he did, he would probably lose his freedom, not to mention Sheila.

Who would ever believe that he had killed John because the man was a werewolf? Who, for that matter, would believe that John had made him do it?

On the other hand, if he didn't do as John wished ...

"All right...Iíll do it. But, first, give me the keys to your car."

Johnís eyes brightened as he dug out the keys to the sedan and tossed them over. "Bernard, do not think of this as murder," he explained. "You really will be setting me free and, for that, I thank you."

"Just close your eyes. I donít want you staring at me when I do it," Bernard said coldly.

He found it impossible to hold his hand steady. Squeezing the trigger in opposition to rival gunners was easy, but there had been far too much foreplay in this game. The travel of the trigger seemed to go on forever. Bernard squinted his eyes almost completely shut. His entire body stiffened, anticipating the falling hammer. Finally, the deafening boom of the .357 filled the room.

Bernard quickly untied his feet and headed for the door. Never wasting time to look back, he leapt into the car and left that place. Thank God it was finally over.

***

Bernard was lucky. Sheila had worked the early shift and was already in bed when he got home. He went to their bedroom and found her sleeping soundly. Apparently, she hadn't noticed his failure to come home. If the whole thing had happened on one of her days off, she would have been up crying and worried to death. He stood in the hallway marveling over her restfulness and finally decided not to worry her with it. He would come home early the next night and tell her everything that had happened. For the time being, he undressed and gently eased into bed beside her, wrapping his arm around her in a tight embrace.

The next morning found Bernard invigorated, all bad things seeming better in the light. The more he thought it over, and the more the coffee brought him out of his sleep, the more he persuaded himself to keep the whole thing secret. Of course, it was a terrible incident, but would it get any better by worrying Sheila? If he told her about it, she would raise all kind of hell and wouldn't stop until he agreed to either quit working late, or start riding the bus--neither of which appealed to him. Also, with their plans of "getting out," Bernard desperately needed all the overtime he could get. He weighed the situation during his walk to the factory, finally deciding that Sheila never needed to know.

Besides, itís not like John's ever going to tell anyone.

How would he? Bernard tried to imagine the maddening discourse: "I kidnapped this young man and took him out to my place where I tried to force him to kill me. Once there, he fooled me into believing he was going to do it, but shot me in the hand, instead. He then stole my car and got away."

If John went to the authorities with a story like that, especially if he brought up the werewolf thing, he would probably get admitted to an asylum. He was going to have enough trouble getting his car back. Bernard had parked it at a convenience store, next to a sign that clearly stated, "ANY VEHICLE LEFT IN PARKING LOT WILL BE TOWED AT OWNERíS EXPENSE." Bernard chuckled to himself as he walked along.

Reckon they'll be callin' him lefty from now on.

The incident had all but slipped from Bernard's mind when, two days later, Sheila woke him from a badly needed sleep-in.

"Bernard," she demanded, "have you been drinking after work?"

"No baby, why?"

"Then have you been seeing someone else?" she asked.

"Baby, what are you talking about?" Bernard asked, as he struggled to wipe away the intoxicating mask of sleep.

"I found this in our mailbox," she said.

She was holding up his wallet.

"Why would your wallet be in the mailbox?" she asked, intent on getting to the bottom of things.

Bernard cringed. He knew, instantly, exactly how it had gotten there. John.

A new fear crept over him. What if this guy didn't move on to a new victim like he had hoped. What if he came back?

"Well?" Sheila insisted.

"I lost it two days ago. Didn't I tell you that?" Bernard knew that he hadn't. "Somebody must have found it, looked at my license, and brought it back."

"That seems real hard to believe considering the people around here," Sheila said skeptically.

She had a good point and still looked suspicious. Bernardís past was no secret to her and neither of them pretended that he had ever been an angel. Even so, he loved Sheila very much and could not imagine losing her. She was the only substantial thing he had in the world. Before she came along he had been a nonproductive lump of clay that she had quickly molded into a real man. He owed everything that was good in his life to her. Because of all that, he wanted to give her the happiest, most prosperous life he could.

"Baby, you know I love you more than life itself," he said, "and Iím not gonna hurt you. I promise."

Since it was their weekend off, and he desperately needed something to take his mind off John, he offered to take her to look at some new homes. Their search for homes served its duel purpose well, and even turned up a couple of new possibilities. The remainder of the weekend also went well. Monday morning came and Bernard kissed Sheila good-bye. They were off on a new workweek. Everything was going to be just fine.

That night, walking home, Bernard felt a curious paranoia. He had grown up in the streets and had learned to survive there. It was his home and, normally, he was not afraid to walk there at any time. He felt no more out of place in the 'hood than a valley-girl would in a mall. Tonight, however, something was different. One very important part of survival was instinct, and Bernardís instincts told him that he was being followed...watched.

Bernard quickened his pace, constantly looking over his shoulder. He had the recurring sensation of someone or something behind him. He tried to dismiss it as a delayed effect of the incident with John. But, whatever the feeling was, it would not be denied and nearly caused him to forsake his brisk walk for a full-fledged jog.

Then, he began to think of Sheila and he did start jogging. He had never liked leaving her home alone, but he never had much of a choice. After all, burglaries, murder, and all sorts of evil doings were common place in this neighborhood. This night, however, his worries were compounded.

If he'd thought it would do any good, Bernard would have alerted the police about John from the word go. But incidents involving gunfire had a way of turning bad for a black man. Now a psychopath knew where he lived, and possibly knew that Sheila was at home alone. Making it worse was the fact that Sheila knew nothing of John. Bernard began to feel that it might have been a mistake keeping it from her. If John decided to pay a visit, he would find her unprepared. Sheila was not stupid, and she would not let just any stranger in her home. But this guy was insane.

Bernard rounded the last corner and looked down at the three-block stretch that led to the entrance of his apartment building. His eyes lit up with an explosion of flashing lights and his heart was sent racing. He looked and saw what appeared to be the cityís entire regiment of police cars. And, among them, a solitary ambulance.

No tow-trucks or smashed cars, at least as far as he could tell. He was sure that it had not been a wreck. He ran wide open then, moving as fast as his trembling legs would take him.

There must've been a shoot-out.

As he got closer, he could tell that the exact center of the commotion was indeed the entrance to his apartment building. His pulse quickened and his heart tried to come out of his shirt. He began a silent prayer hoping that Sheila had not been harmed in any of the gunplay.

His theory of armed battle began to wear thin as he closed in on the scene. There was one, actually several, missing factors. Specifically, there were no gangsters. None lying on the ground and none in the back of the police cars. In fact, nobody appeared to be sporting handcuffs at all.

He reached the crowd of assembled police and paramedics and stopped behind two officers who stood talking. At first they didn't notice Bernard and continued to speak openly.

"...Yeah, I know. Itís the full moon. Thatís when all the real loonies come out. I donít know if it really makes people crazy or what, but thereís probably some connection," said the older one.

"Yeah," his partner agreed, "only an animal would do something like this."

Bernard stepped up closer behind the two, but they quit talking and turned around. The older of the two began to address Bernard, "All right sonny, you need to move along, this aint no peepshow."

"I live here. I need to get inside. My wifeís in there," Bernard responded anxiously.

"Whatís your name son?" the older man asked.

"Bernard...Bernard King. My wife, Sheila, is in there. What the hell happened anyway?"

The older cop then looked at his partner. The young rookie turned to take a quick glance at the building then shifted his stare to the sidewalk. It was obvious that the matter, whatever it was, must be pretty bad.

"Son, you need to come over here with me," the older cop said. "The Captain needs to speak with you."

The next seven hours were a blur, a nauseating ride that began in the front seat of the police car. The Captain began his third degree, refusing to answer any questions himself, especially about Sheila. He wanted to know Bernardís entire history, to which Bernard obliged as concisely and patiently as possible. Then, the point came when he asked Bernard if he had any enemies and Bernard knew for certain: Somethin's happened to Sheila.

He watched the ambulance lights disappear through the busy streets, as the officer finally began to let him in on what was going on. Bernardís mental capacity for stress had long since been filled and only small parts of the Captainís words actually registered. His voice came low and hollow, like the voice of a horror film narrator. "...found her body...unusually mangled...ripped and torn...wild animal...very sorry...questioning...everything we can do...need you to come down town...Mr. King...Mr. King...Mr. King!"

Bernard no longer existed in a state that incorporated time as a dimension. He was merely hovering in his own little plain, occasionally staggering up to take a glance at reality and then sinking once more into his dark abyss. He took only small pieces of input from the people and things that surrounded him. He could not remember the drive to the station. He could remember little flashes of screaming, although he could not remember what he had been saying. He could also recall some fits of kicking, crying and wrestling with officers. They had eventually gotten control of Bernard physically, and his mind retaliated by shutting down once more. Had he been able to observe himself from the outside, Bernard would have instantly recongnized himself as a character from those old horror classics: He was a zombie.

Exiting one blackout, Bernard found himself behind the wheel of his Volkswagen. He had his hand on the ignition and was staring down at a scrap of bloodied cloth, a piece of Sheila's nightgown. Beside it lay his Smith and Wesson nine-millimeter. It was morning, and overcast.

Looking over his shoulder, he saw the ripped, yellow police tape which had formerly blocked the apartments. Whatever he'd seen inside had been too much to register in conscious memory. Turning back to the road ahead, he fired the Volkswagen to life, and drove off into the drizzling rain. He tried the windshield wipers, with no response. This was sometimes the case with the old car, so he resolved to wipe the tears from his eyes instead.

Bernard knew damned well how to hunt. Even though he had never spent half a day in the woods, he was sure that he could hunt down and kill right alongside the best of them. He'd learned how to hunt on the streets--a merciless, demanding teacher. On the street, your game was able to defend themselves with any number of weapons. He knew all about stealth and how to sit and wait, letting the adversary put themselves in a compromising position. This day, however, Bernard threw all his technique to the wind. He planned to march right up to John and blow his ass away, as violent and messy as possible.

He didn't really care if he got caught, either. After all, he wasn't sure if he could go on living anyway. All of his life he had feared death and had struggled to live. This extreme fear, coupled with a little knowledge on how people got dead, was what had enabled him to survive for so long. Now, death was beginning to appeal to him. He began to long for itís dark, quiet embrace. But first, he had to set things straight.

It was early when Bernard reached the house. He guessed that John would still be sleeping, if a man could after doing what John had done. The place looked very different by morning light. Not nearly as menacing as it had been on that dark night, a mere week ago. Back then, it had looked like a set for a horror movie. Like it should have been filled with bones, meat hooks, and buzzing chainsaws.

The rain had already stopped and the sun was trying to break through. Bernard looked to the sky and then back to the small wooden house. Now it appeared to be nothing more than what it really was. Just a little, run-down, getaway. Actually, it could have been quite lovely, if not for the evil that had made its home within.

Bernard checked the tiny garage and found Johnís car there. The front door was secure, but he found easy access through an unlocked window at the back of the house. At last, his misspent youth was paying off.

Inside, he found his prey sleeping peacefully in the houseís one small bedroom. Looking at him made Bernard seethe. The man had brutally murdered his wife and had done unspeakable things to her body. And now, here he was, lying all comfortable and snug with pleasant dreams dancing around in his head. These thoughts, and the content look on Johnís face, intensified Bernardís already monstrous hate. Everything went red, as Hell-fire blazed behind his eyes.

The words spewed from his lips. "Get up!"

John stirred a little and Bernard screamed again, kicking the bed, "Get the hell up, mother-fucker!"

This time, John sprang to a sitting position. He seemed in shock, as he surveyed the wild-eyed young man standing before him. A tear-streaked face screaming mindless obscenities, and between them an automatic pistol.

"Bernard, wait just a minute, calm down."

"You just sit there and shut the hell up. Iím in control now Mr. Wolfman!" Bernard was still screaming. "I donít want to hear but one thing from you, your confession!"

"My confession? What in the world are you talking about?" Even as the question rolled off his lips he began to realize. Vague memories of the night before began to surface. Like so many times before, horrid images of blood and screaming victims flashed through his mind. The morning after was always the hardest part.

"Thatís right, you know what you did," Bernard accused.

"My God, the girl. She was your wife, wasnít she?" John asked, as if he really didn't know. He was trying, as always, to separate himself from the hideous beast within.

"So you admit it then. Thatís good. Now Iíll have a clear conscious. I knew it was you anyway. I just wanted to hear it from you."

"Wait Bernard, you donít understand..."

"Oh, I understand just fine. I donít know how you got so fuckin' sick, but it was probably your own damn fault. The way I figure, if you go to trial, theyíll put you in an asylum and eventually youíll go free. But, see man, you're too damn crazy to be out here with the rest of us, and so we aint botherin' with the police. Iím gonna give you what you asked for. I shoulda done this the first time I was here."

"My God, man, don't you see? It was the beast, the wolf! I tried to warn you..." John pleaded.

"Look man, if you say anything else about a damn wolf, the first bullet is going right in through your lips. Now shut up and prepare yourself for judgment." With that, Bernard cocked the hammer and brought aim with Johnís head.

"Wait Bernard, you canít do it with that, it will not..."

The shot rang out and John stopped talking forever. The gun seemed to have a life of its own as two more shots, both in the head, went off. Bernard stood and stared at the corpse that lay on the bed before him. There were small pieces of skull and brain, which had scattered and clung to the adjacent wall. Some of the larger pieces were slowly sliding down, leaving dark, bloody streaks in their wake.

There, you crazy son of a bitch. Gave you what you asked for, and I didn't need no damn silver bullets to do it, either. Looks like those lead ones worked just fine.

As he turned to leave, something caught Bernard's eye. A letter, lying open on the dresser. Probably more werewolf-shit. He left it, returned to his V.W., and sped away.

Bernard lay in a tiny, cold, jail-cell. It amazed him how the police could never find the slightest lead on his wifeís murder, yet they caught him so easily. Bernard knew that, most of the time, you had to be thinking clearly to get away with something like murder. On the morning in question, he had not been clear headed at all. While leaving, he had passed a car--turned out it was Johnís landlord. After that, the police had no problem running ballistics. When he was questioned, Bernard said nothing. With an excuse like the werewolf story, he figured it was better to take the fifth. It didn't help.

The trial was over in record time--one month after the murder. In another two days, he'd be transferred to the State pen and placed on death-row. Sleep had come only a few times since Sheilaís murder and when it did it was not much of a relief. Every night his dreams were filled with terrible visions of John and wolves, snarling and ripping on his dead wife's body. This night was no different and soon he found himself struggling from his sleep.

When he awoke, somehow things looked different. The room seemed slightly brighter. Then he noticed the light pouring in from the full moon outside. The lines on the floor that were normally straight shadows of the thick, iron bars were different. Someone, or something, had broken the two center bars and left them twisted and pointing inward. This amazed Bernard and, at first, he thought he was still dreaming. Then he noticed something lying on the floor in the blue square of moonlight.

A letter...

Slowly, he went over and picked it up. It sported an amber-colored smear and large holes, puncturing it from both sides. He read:

 Bernard,

I do hope that you receive this in time. I want you to know that it is a terrible thing you've done. You should never have run out like that. I am truly sorry that I chose you. I did not want to cause you any grief, but someone has to do this. Please come back and finish the job before any harm comes to you. I am a very docile person and I would never do anything to harm you, but I cannot control this beast inside me.

I will leave my gun, the one with the special bullets, for you in the shed. It will be in the large red toolbox. Bernard, you must use that gun. Normal bullets will do no more than harm me, while the beast will live on. Trust me, you do not want that to happen.

If I die and he lives, you will be lucky if he chooses to kill you, because he will seek a new home and you do not want to afford him that luxury. It is pure hell.

You see Bernard; I have been in your shoes. A man came to me with this same request and I gave in and shot him. As it turned out, the fool did not comprehend even the simplest matters concerning lycanthropy. His bullets, you see, were mere lead, not the silver that must be used to kill a were-creature.

At any rate, I thought no more of it until this thing came to me a month later, on the very next full moon, and took itís home inside me. Please, do not wait and prove my words. Come and finish it. The beast has to be stopped.

John

 

Bernard looked over his shoulder to the mangled bars and shuddered. For the first time, he realized that John had been telling the truth. He was not the crazed liar that Bernard had suspected, but everything he had claimed to be, a man with a very serious problem.

 The questions bloomed in Bernard's fevered mind:

If the wolf brought me the letter, why didnít it kill me? Is it just trying to rub this all in?

Bernard decided that it was now his responsibility to hunt the beast down, no matter how long it took. After all, John really had been an innocent pawn in the evil creature's game. And his wifeís murder had certainly not been avenged. He crammed the letter into his shirt pocket and went to the door of his cell. The guards were all on the other side of the wing's front door, solid except for its small square window. On this side were nothing but fitfully sleeping inmates, safely locked away in their cramped, roach-ridden cells. Bernard returned to the window, carefully manipulated his body through the twisted, broken bars, and jumped.

When he hit the ground he was running and did not stop until he was a good ten blocks away. He reached the City Park, sat on a bench, and tried to formulate a plan. It was going to be hard as hell to catch a wolf; the creature could be anywhere. The first step was going to be getting that gun at Johnís place. Without it, he did not even want to find the beast.

Bernard left his seat on the bench and started walking again. As he headed down the streets he passed a few people here and there. Once he passed a girl, obviously a hooker, judging from her appearance. In spite of only recently losing Sheila, he noticed a peculiar feeling returning. Looking at the girl was arousing him a great deal. He could not take his eyes off her, and the more he looked, the more he wanted her. He could envision himself attacking her from behind and forcing himself on her, whether she wanted him or not. Suddenly, any other way seemed ridiculous. He felt himself losing control over his desires and even turned to follow her.

Bernard felt a string of saliva fall from his lips, as he watched her backside sway. He imagined himself leaping on her back and ripping away her clothes. In his mind, he could hear her scream as he forced her down and dug his nails into her back. His heart began to race in anticipation, as he quickened his pace.

At one point, the hooker turned casually and looked over her shoulder. She spied Bernard with the ravenous look in his eye and started walking faster. He picked up his pace to a point just before jogging. When she noticed this, she broke into a dead run.

Bernard was now beyond turning back. He was going to have her and it was even better that she was scared. He wanted to hear her beg and scream. He began to pant, as his step increased, also into a run. He was salivating copiously and nearing his target when a car turned a corner just ahead and started down the street. The girl bolted toward the vehicle, frantically waving both arms.

The sedan stopped and a window went down. The girl looked back at Bernard, one last time, before snatching at the door and climbing in. Any price was right this night. Bernard watched as the Sedan sped away, cursing silently as he ducked into the shadows. He wasn't sure what had come over him. He had never felt that way before. Had never wanted to hurt a woman to get sexual pleasure.

He brushed the feelings aside and loped back down the street.

 

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