Day job interfered with finishing the second half of this, so you will get a chapter in two parts this month.
Happy Snow Moon!
“Turning back—” Cassie cuts herself short and eases off the gas, letting the car coast. It’s nearly silent, and she can hear something moving whip fast through the big field on the other side of the road. The corn’s been cut down, of course, but there are still enough stalks she can’t quite make out what’s there.
She draws her gun and lets it rest in her lap, her right hand curled around it, then kills her headlights with her left hand. Her eyes adjust fast to the lack of light, but she doesn’t see anything else, not even a shadow moving. With the window down, she can hear the harsh blow of the wind – it rocked the car the whole way out – but nothing more.
Her instincts are good, her skills honed. She’s been hunting werewolves for more than a decade, she’s got the best team in the field. Once she gets a glimpse of the hair on its chinney chin chin, she’s never let a wolf live more’n a couple full moon cycles, tops.
She’ll kill them all, she will, even if it takes her forever and a day.
Werewolves hunt beneath the full moon because, well, werewolves, but also because more people are out, taking advantage of the extra light, at least when the weather is warm enough. Werewolves don’t need the light to hunt, but the extra prey helps.
Cassandra Jones hunts beneath the full moon because, well, werewolf hunter, but she does her reconnaissance under the new moon. Most people fear the darkness, and fewer people outside means fewer chances that she’ll get caught. She slips through shadows, easing her way between houses and down dirt roads, checking out all the places she thinks the werewolf will likely strike.
(Back in black, she thinks, and laughs. She spends so much time alone, it’s a good thing she’s learned to amuse herself.)
She thought being stuck in this small Kansas town between full moons would suck, but it’s not been so bad, really. They’re the only people staying in the motel (which is really more of a bed and breakfast, as tiny as it is), and the owner’s a little old lady with skin worn by sun and wind and a sweet smile. She was a farmer’s daughter, and then a farmer’s wife, and when they sold the farm to some big conglomeration, she bought and fixed up a house and turned it into the little motel. It was her dream, she says, and she’s happy to have it at last. She makes the best biscuits and gravy and coffee Cassie’s ever tasted, and even gets Miguel’s bacon right. (Miguel likes it crispy, but not too crunchy, cooked well, but not overdone, and even with all the cooks in all the places they’ve hunted together, Cassie can count maybe five times he’s been satisfied. Maybe less than that.)
Down the street (there’s really only the one main street, but the rest of the town meanders around it, tiny streets weaving together and apart, and it really doesn’t make much sense at all, but it’s been fun exploring it), Samantha finds a diner with big burgers and sweet potato fries and fresh sweet tea. They meet up there late in the afternoon — Cassie sleeps during the middle part of the day, grabbing breakfast-for-dinner when she comes back to her room — before Cassie heads out at night.
The unseasonably warm weather lasts and lasts. Cassie still doesn’t think 50 or 60 degrees is warm, but it’s gotten all the way up to 70 a couple times, and seeing pictures of the big blizzard a few years back (and even just pictures of last year’s snows), well, she’ll take 50s and 60s over that any day. In the afternoon, she goes for long runs, keeping in shape, and sometimes, once she clears town, she’ll stop by the side of the road and tip her head back and bask in the sunlight.
It’s not a perfect place. She gets the side-eye from some of the locals (Miguel does too), and a couple nights, she’s gotta take extra care to make sure she doesn’t get caught snooping around. Samantha gets harassed by some of the local boys. If they got close enough, Samantha could lay them flat, but they never do, and she shrugs and keeps on. The law’s good, though, none of them seem to have any problem with Cassie and her team.
They’ve been in better places, but they’ve been in worse, too.
Cassie takes a couple of side jobs while she’s waiting. Place like this, she’ll drive a day or two for a side job just to keep busy until the next full moon. Samantha finds two of them, one a nearby haunted graveyard (she debunks that one easy, it’s not hardly any work at all; she doesn’t expect it to be real, not with the vague descriptions of the woman in white. Mostly it’s teenagers hanging out and pretending to cast spells. She takes the job because she likes graveyards, finds them pretty and peaceful. It’s a good thing she takes it, though. She likes teens, too, and appreciates the opportunity to make sure they’re not messing with things bigger and more real than their fake spells. This time, they’re not) where Samantha spends an afternoon making grave rubbings and a night recording Cassie searching for ghosts.
(They bust ass during the summer to get enough filmed to last the rest of the year. Samantha used to do the editing herself, but it’s amazing what a little popularity will do. They’ve got a producer now, and if you would have told Cassie back when she started hunting that people would actually pay her more to debunk the stories than to save people’s lives, well — she might have believed you, she always was a cynical little shit, but back then she would have hoped you were wrong.)
The other one Samantha finds is fake, too, and that’s to be expected. Cassie’d bet, if there was anyone around willing to take it, that every state has some sort of goatman story: the devil, a witch, a monster, whatever it is, always lurking. It’s a good drive down into Missouri. Miguel goes with her, leaving Samantha to keep watch. There’s nothing to this Goatman’s Grave, and the worst thing that happens is she gets thick, grainy mud all over her favorite boots. She’s slogged through worse in them, and it’s always worth the time it takes to scrub them clean.
(Miguel drags her to this minuscule pie shop in a nearby town so crowded inside that claustrophobia tightens her throat even though they’re the only people there. He read about it in one of his guidebooks, and it lives up to the praise. He gets a slice of cherry and a whole dutch apple to share with Samantha. Cassie hates fruit pies, but the chocolate creme is rich and decadent and just the treat she wants after another bum job. Local hole in the walls brimming with surprisingly tasty food, and enough video footage to keep the money rolling in, those are the best parts of false alarms.
Of course, if Samantha hadn’t been the one to suggest it, she would have guessed Miguel tracked down a local legend just so they could get the pie, but hey, it’s good, she wouldn’t even really fault him for that.)
The third job, Cassie finds herself, a millionaire family down on a big ranch in Oklahoma, and the monster tearing up their livestock is very real. Real, and driven by a curse, she figures out, and it takes three whole days to find all the charms buried around the perimeter. Once she burns them with the proper herbs, it’s no big thing to take out the monster, fangs and claws and horns be damned.
They don’t charge every person who asks for help, but some they do. Millionaires, definitely. And she’s learned to get money up front. Half down, she says, and they pay that willingly enough, but after she tucks the burned charms into a bag — the ashes might be useful for something else — they don’t want to pay her the rest.
Cassie figured at the beginning that would happen. Big part of being a werewolf hunter is knowing human nature and reading people fast, even if werewolves aren’t human and most of them don’t fake it very well. She has to be prepared for the ones that do. She mentally doubled her price about a minute after sitting down with them — all those rules about where she could and couldn’t go and what times she could and couldn’t be on their land, most of which she ignored anyway — so she’s already got the amount she really wanted for the job. However, it’s the principle of the thing, and she lets the monster tear up their land one more night. It’s no longer bound to their fields by the charms. Cassie lurks, keeping an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t hurt the family or head toward anyone else’s land. It does go close to the house, and they fire off some shots, but even though they hit it — or so they claim — the bullets do nothing.
They’re happy to pay up after that. Cassie gets her money, makes sure they don’t see what she uses to treat her weapons, and kills it with ease. She burns the body herself, too, mouth and nose covered. It doesn’t stink the same way werewolf fur does, but it smells bad enough.
That’s enough time down, she thinks, and heads back to prepare for the next full moon.
(to be continued)