James Wilson pulled into the parking of lot of the In and Out convenience store with half a buzz…..okay 3/4 of a buzz. Okay he was drunk . But he was three miles from home and it was 3 a.m. so no one was on the road except him and a few lonely truckers. As he pulled in to the store the bright neon sign on top of the building through his vision for a loop. He had to blink his eyes a few times to erase the tracers that were trailing from the sign. He put his old Nissan Sentra in park and rubbed his face. He got out the car and stretched his arms. Tall and gangly he resembled a pelican flapping it’s wings. He had long black hair that fell to his shoulders .Thin broomstick arms and legs supported his lithe frame. It was October and the night air had a mean chill that forced him to pull his leather jacket tight The parking light was deathly quiet . The light above the gas pumps flickered intermittently . They did little to push back the inky darkness that loomed around the little store at the intersection of Rt.17 and 198. James stumbled then quickly corrected himself and walked toward the store. All he wanted in the entire world right then and there was a big hot dog and a bag of sour cream chips . Hopefully they would mask the smell of rum on his breath so Mary wouldn’t make him sleep on the couch again for being shit faced and not coming home after work and spending too much at the bar . He was sure she could come up with more to be angry about if he gave her the chance .Hopefully the onions on the dog and the chips would cut her off at the pass.
James entered the store and jumped a bit when a loud chime sounded. He put his hands up in mock surrender and nodded toward the chime. Humming lightly to himself he floated down the aisles. The bright fluorescent bulbs made his head throb .That was the first salvo from the forces of the army of hangover that would surely be attacking his body tomorrow. His mouth already had a horrid taste .His belches were explosions of lava and his guts felt like someone had dropped a grenade down his throat. All in all he felt like shit but he’d had a glorious time. He laughed as he thought of Mike doing the body shot off the 65 year old barfly and nearly barfing as he staggered away exclaiming “She taste like old baby powder!”
James stopped in front of the drink at the back of the store and thought about getting a bottle of water . A preemptive strike against the coming dehydration if you will. He perused the selection. He was not nor had he ever been a fan of Evian. He just couldn’t justify spending that much on a bottle of water. Liquor ,yes Water never! As he bounced from one foot to the other he noticed a reflection in the glass of the drink case door. A man was standing at the counter. His back was to James. He was broad as a bear with a shaggy head of unkempt hair that stood off from his head like an Afro.He was wearing a tight black t-shirt with a black leather vest over it.James recognized the vest as a cut from some motorcycle club he had never heard of called the Brotherhood of Gevaudan .Their symbol appeared to be a blood-red crescent moon. There was a young woman on the other side of the counter . The store had appeared to be empty when he entered it a few moments ago but James was drunk so what did he know? The woman had long black hair similar to James .He couldn’t really make out her features but she seemed to be slim and trim like a gymnast
James grabbed a bottle of Aquafina out of the case and turned on his heel to get his chips.
“YOU ARE MY BITCH!” a deep gravely voice roared. James dropped his bottle of water. The man at the counter had snatched the woman by her arm and had nearly pulled her over the counter. James stood stock still
“Let me go Pete. Jero is dead and I have left the life. I don’t run with the Brotherhood anymore.” the woman said coolly.
“Hey man what the fuck ?” James said. The words were out of his mouth before he even realized he was going to say them. They flew through the dead still air of the store like feeble stones .They hit the man at the counter and he turned around. James took an unconscious step backwards. He felt the handle of the drink case door press into his back.
The man at the counter looked at him with the most baleful expression James had ever seen on a human face. A shaggy beard matched the man’s hairdo. Ice blue eyes stared out from behind his hirsute visage with an intensity that made them sparkle.
“Shut …. the…. fuck… up” the man growled. He said the words with so much venom it was like he was biting them out of the air and spitting them at James. The woman suddenly pressed her hand to the man’s face. She didn’t slap him ,just caressed his face slowly. The man howled and jumped back from her ,surprisingly nimble for his size . He stroked his cheek for a moment then turned and stormed out of the store. James saw him mount a motorcycle that he was sure as hell wasn’t there when he pulled up and kick start it to life. The machine roared like a flesh and blood beast and then the biker pulled it hard to the right and tore out of the parking lot. He slid onto Route 17 heading south without braking . He ran the red light and then he was gone. James could hear his bike screaming in the dark ,becoming more and more faint until finally he couldn’t hear it at all.
James picked up his bottle of water and walked up to the counter. His hot dog and chips were forgotten. He just wanted to go home. He placed his water bottle on the counter and began digging in his pocket for change. He noticed the woman was wearing ornate silver rings on both hands. A skull ,a star,a feather and other occultish symbols adorned her fingers.
“Gee you alright? What the hell was up with your boyfriend?” he mumbled. The woman didn’t respond. She was just looking out the broad picture windows that made up the front of the In and Out store. Up close James could see she was very pretty. She had dark tan skin which along with her coal black hair gave her a slightly Hispanic appearance. But her deep blue eyes were all Irish and English ancestry. So were her thin lips. Perhaps she was the end result of an early attempt at color blind love. She stared out the window for a minute then two. James leaned/stood against the counter. He cleared his throat.
“You should leave. Right .Now.” she said clearly .The statement was robotic . Just a simple declarative sentence . So why did the hair suddenly stand up on the back of James’s neck?
“Um can I get my water?” he responded meekly. The woman ,whose name tag said ‘Sandy’, dropped her head and shook it slightly. James put his money on the counter.
“Well um, there’s the money. So uh.. okay.” James said. The woman exhaled and pushed keys on the cash register. James glanced out into the parking lot. He still couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen that motorcycle earlier. He was more fucked up than he thought. The woman handed him a receipt and turned her back to him. James shrugged his shoulders and walked out of the store. The cold air slapped him in the face like a scorned lover. He hurried to his car and fell into the driver’s seat. He put his key in the ignition and twisted it forward.
Nothing. Not even the dry brittle click of a dead battery. He tried again .Nothing again. He cursed and tried once more. The car was as dead as Dillinger. James put his head in his hands. He was fucked. His cell phone was dead .All his buddies were probably home by now and the only number he had memorized was Mary’s. She was going to kill him if she had to come get him in the middle of the night. There house was only three miles away. Maybe he could walk . The white plumes of air coming out of his mouth made him nix that idea. It was too cold to walk. He wasn’t even going to attempt to look under the hood. He was a fair shade tree mechanic but in his inebriated state it would be pointless to start poking around the motor. Sighing he got out the car and stumbled back into the store.
“I thought I told you to leave?” the cashier said .Her eyes narrowed as she stared at him.
“Look I don’t want no trouble .But my car won’t start and I was wondering could I use your phone to call my wife. I need her to come pick me up.”
“No” the woman said . James cocked his head to the left.
“No? Come on man I just need to make one phone call. My cell died and I don’t have a car charger cuz I got a weak battery that is now a dead battery.”he said holding his hands out in supplication. The cashier crossed her arms.
“You need to leave. Walk . Run .Fly I don’t care how you leave but you need to go.” she said . James rolled his eyes.
“Come on don’t be a cunt. Shit I’m sorry I’m a little drunk .I didn’t mean that .All I wanna do is call my wife and I will be out of your hair. I will just tell her to come get me.” he said .He realized he was yelling. He didn’t want to yell but this fucking bitch was pissing him off and his car was fucked up again and Mary was going to jump all in his shit all because Mike wanted to have a fucking beer at Damon’s. The woman didn’t seem to be moved by James’s pleas or frightened by his yelling.
“Listen . I am trying to look out for your stupid drunk ass. YOU NEED TO GO!”she screamed. James was taken aback. He didn’t mean to scare the lady. He walked up to the counter.
“Look can I buy one of those wall outlet chargers? I will plug in my phone in the bathroom for two minutes and then I’ll be out of your hair. Please man .”he said. The cashier pulled on the chargers off the plastic carousel on the counter and tossed it underhand to James.
“Hurry up. “was all she said. James pulled out a twenty dollar bill and threw it on the counter. He didn’t wait for his change. He walked straight to the bathroom and ripped open the plastic wrapping on the charger .Grunting and holding on to the sink for balance ,he plugged the charger into the wall then plugged his phone into the charger. He dialed Mary’s number . The phone rang for what seemed like an epoch. Mary finally answered. James took a deep breath and explained to her where he was and what was happening.
“Dammit James I got to be at work at eight in the fucking morning. Give me about thirty minutes. “she wailed.
“Thirty minutes?? You right down the road!” he said.
“I gotta get the baby up ,put her in the car seat. Put my own clothes on then let the car warm up. See what happens when you go out drinking ? Dammit James I’m not going to keep putting up with this shit. I swear to fucking God.”she said . James dropped his head.
“Okay. Mary look I swear I am never-“but she cut him off.
“Just be ready” she said. Then the line went dead. James nodded to himself and went back to the front of the store.
“Alright she will be here in about thirty. ”
“Thirty? That’s too dam long. You have to be gone before then. “she said. She ran her hand through her hair . James knew that as a universal symbol for frustration.
“Look what’s the big deal? Is your boyfriend coming back here with an AK??” James said .
“If you were lucky it would just be an AK.”she murmured. James walked around the left side of the counter and leaned against the magazine rack. He picked up a copy of Maxim and started flipping the pages.
“Well if I see him pull up with a bazooka I’ll run out the back door so that someone can tell your story. I’ll even say what a nice and quiet guy he was.” he said.
“If he comes back he will rip your guts out.”she said softly. James shrugged his shoulders again. His stomach was sending sour smoke signals to the back of his throat. He just wanted to go home .
James was just about to begin reading an article about the top ten criminal empires of all time when something slammed against the front window of the In and Out store. James jumped and let out a small cry as he heard the impact. He spun around and stared out the window. A large bloody smear was spread across most of the far right window pane . That window pane was at least four feet wide and five feet tall . The blood covered most of its surface. It was congealing in the frigid air. James rushed to the door and peered out into dimly lit parking lot. Right in front of the window on the sidewalk was the carcass of a deer .A buck by the size of his antlers. His neck was twisted at a weird angle and his belly had been ripped open like an envelope. Plumes of steam billowed from his ruined abdomen. Bright red entrails and organs were spilled across the sidewalk. The red smear on the window was deer-sized.
“What the fuck was that?” James said to no one in particular. “Did it get hit by a truck?” he whispered. The cashier came from behind the counter. She stood beside James for a moment and also peered out the door.
“No .I told you to leave now it’s too late.” she said. Her voice had a sad tone . James looked at her.
“What do you mean it’s too late? My wife will be here in like twenty minutes.”
“You should call her back and tell her to turn around. “she said .James was about to respond with a clever bon mot like “Fuck you.” but movement in the far corner of the parking lot caught his eye. There was a figure running across the parking lot. At first James could barely make out what it was. Then it passed under the pole light hanging off the enclosure that housed the gas tanks. James blinked . He blinked again even harder.
The figure running toward the store was a bear. It had to be a bear. Except it was running on two legs. It had thick matted gray and black fur all over its body. It was pumping its arms like a sprinter but it had to be a bear. It was tall .James guessed it was at least seven feet tall. It HAD to be a bear. Except on top of its head were sharp almost triangular-shaped ears. Not the cute button ears that even grizzlies sported. James stood frozen in front of the door. The bear that was not a bear was moving with terrible speed. James could see a set of glowing green eyes staring out of the dark mass that was it’s face. The bear that was not a bear opened it’s jaws and howled as it ran. James fell to his knees and covered his ears. The howl made his brain hurt. The cashier shoved him aside. In one deft movement she locked the door and pulled out a gun from her waistband. A black ugly revolver that she pointed at the door in a classic shooter’s stance. The bearthing launched itself at the window. James saw it fly through the air and then turn it’s body in space so that it’s shoulder hit the window first. James screamed . He felt the heavy sensation of hot piss soaking his boxers.
The bearthing slammed into the window like a cannon ball. The whole building shook. Chips and candies fell from the shelves like a piñata had exploded. The glass did not break. The thing stood and howled again and crashed it’s paws into the door. It did this like a boxer .One paw then the other in a fast and steady rhythm. The howl was filled with an inhuman rage. A hatred and anger that bubbled up from the blackest pits of Hell and spilled out into the night. James realized he was crying.
The cashier held her position for just a few moments longer before she put the gun back in her waistband. She ran to the door marked”Employees Only ” and stepped inside room. Instantly the room was cloaked in blackness. The thing at the door stopped its assault. It raised its head and sniffed the air. A ragged circle of condensation began to form on the window in front of its muzzle. James closed his eyes tight and babbled a long forgotten prayer. When he opened them the thing was gone and the store was a dark a tomb.
“We gotta get into the freezer.” a soft voice said beside his left ear. James jumped and screamed. He scrambled to his feet and then fell into the Utz counter. He tumbled to the floor then popped up again like a jack in a box. He ran around the counter and crawled beneath it moaning. The cashier walked around the counter and squatted down so she would be eye level with James.
“Listen .We have to get in the freezer. That glass is bulletproof but it won’t stop him for long. And if he doesn’t break the glass he will find another way in. We have to wait him out . Wait til sunrise. I think the freezer is safe. I think.” she said patiently like she was talking to three year old.
“Call the fucking cops!!”James wailed. The cashier ran her hand through her hair again.
“That’s not going to work. He has probably already been to the police station and killed the dispatcher to give himself time to either convince me join him or make me join him. So we have to hide out in the freezer.”
“What the fuck are you talking about ?? That was a goddamn bear. “James said quietly. The cashier frowned.
“You don’t look stupid. Even though you did drink and drive. So you know that’s not a goddamn Winnie the Pooh out there. Tell me that you understand what I ‘m saying.”she asked.
“I don’t understand anything.” James moaned. The cashier grabbed James by his hair and dragged him from under the desk. She did it with such ease and confidence James was too stunned to fight back. He stood up and towered over her .Physically he did at least.
“Listen . I used to be just like that thing outside. My sire was killed and the curse left me. And yes it is a goddamn curse no matter what the Brotherhood says. But Pete he just can’t let it go. I’ve been running from him and the Brotherhood for thirty years. We,I mean they, are unstoppable killing machines when they are changed. Do you understand that? The only thing that can stop them is silver or sunlight. We got a little bit of silver “she said as she pulled up her shirt to show James the pistol and once more he noticed her rings”and sunlight is coming .But we won’t last much longer standing here talking .We have got to get in the freezer and lock the door!” she said. She poked James in the chest with a finger that felt as hard as iron.
“Where is your car? Can’t we make a run for it?”James asked. The woman rolled her eyes.
“Do you think you can out run him? Are you retarded? My car is around back. Here I’ll even give you the keys. If you really think you can make it.”she said. She dug in her pocket and pulled out a small ring of keys. James stared at the keys like a bird staring at a snake that had just entered its nest. He started to reach his hand out for the keys when a loud crash came from the back of the store . Both he and the cashier jumped. James rotated his head to the left slowly. The entire store was pitch black .Only a thin shaft of moonlight gave the most meager of illumination.
“What was that ?”James whispered. His heart was pounding in his chest. His throat felt tight as a new pair of shoes. The cashier pulled her gun out and pointed it at the drink cooler.
“Take the keys. Run”she whispered. She put the keys in James front pants pocket with her right arm while holding the gun in her left .Normally James would have come up with a clever double entendre. Cautiously she squeezed by him and took short baby steps toward the back of the store. She progressed carefully,kicking chips and cookies out of her way. James watched her with wide eyes. He didn’t want to leave and he couldn’t stand staying. Finally she stopped about a foot in front of the drink cooler.
“Alright Peter! Come on !” she screamed. “COME ON !!” she yelled. Nothing. Quiet ruled in the ruined kingdom of the In and Out convenience store. James stared at the back of the cashier’s head. His eyes could just make out her red smock and lengthy black hair. Nothing happened . There were a few clicks and random hums as the building settled into it’s foundations. The cashier didn’t take her eyes off the cooler.
James watched as dust motes danced among the moonbeams now streaming through the window. The clouds had parted and the moon was a fat onion in the sky.
“Where is that dust coming from?” James thought to himself. The store itself wasn’t particularly dirty. The shelves had gleamed in the soft fluorescent light before the lights had been extinguished. Something clicked in James’s head. A door opened for just a moment.
“LOOKOUT!!” he roared. The cashier turned around to face him. Her gun was at her side.
The thing that wasn’t a bear came crashing down through the ceiling tiles and aluminum girders that made up the roof of the store. It landed in a crouch then stood to its full height . It cast an unnatural shadow on the frozen drink dispenser. The cashier tried to raise her gun but the thing was faster than greased lightning. It slapped the gun out her hand then throttled her with one of its paws that looked disturbingly like a hand. Effortlessly it picked her up off the ground . It held her there for a moment ,breathing deeply . It cocked it’s head to the right and seemed to be studying her. The cashier raised her hand and pressed it against the beast. It cried out in pain and anger . It was a languageless cry but James understood it all the same. It hurled the cashier across the store. She barreled into the frozen drink dispenser shattering it and covering her in gooey red and green drink mix.
James took off in a desperate run . He paused for the briefest of moments to unlock the door then his feet were pounding on the asphalt . He turned right and made his way around the store to the gravel covered employee parking lot.
“Please don’t be locked please don’t be locked please don’t be locked “he yammered over and over again. His fear was a knot in his stomach that was continuously tightening. He didn’t dare look back .There was a white Honda civic in immaculate condition sitting in the parking lot. The parking lot dropped off into a slight hill and the car was precariously close to the edge. A flat dirty drive way weaved its way through the trees back to route 198. James pulled on the door handle. It opened. He flew into the car and tried to jam the key in the ignition. His hands were shaking and numb. The key fell to the floor mat
“Oh shit oh shit oh shit.!” he moaned. He reached down and grabbed the key. He slid it in the ignition . Before he turned the key the hackles on the back of his neck rose like zombies from the grave. Biting his bottom lip hard he craned his neck to the left.
There was nothing there. James squealed and turned the key.
Without warning the back glass of the car shattered inward spraying him with razor sharp shards. A huge fur covered hand reached into the car .The hand ended in wickedly curved ivory colored claws. A gigantic shaggy head followed the arm. James gagged as the thing filled the car with its fetid breath. It smelled like the bottom of a charnel pit. Like carrion and rot. James opened the car door and fell out onto his back. He rolled over until he was on his knees. He was about to spring to his feet when he heard a voice say
James looked up and saw the cashier. Or what was left of her.The right side of her face was flayed to the bone. Her eye flapped against her cheek bone barley hanging to a bloody pale stalk. A shredded left arm hung uselessly at her side.The red of her smock was covered by the scarlet of her blood. Her vicious wounds pulsated with tributaries of blood with ever heartbeat. Despite all this he right hand was steady and strong James felt the shadow of the beast fall upon him as he was on his knees.
“See you in hell Pete.” the cashier whispered. She pulled the trigger . The night was filled with a crack and concussive thud. James didn’t see where the bullet landed but he heard the creature’s agonized bellow. He didn’t turn his head but he heard the crash and snap of the beast rolling down the hill.
The cashier slumped to one knee. James jumped up and grabbed her around her waist. She was saturated in blood.
“Come on Sandy we gotta get you to a hospital. “James said between deep breaths.
“No. Just let me sit down for a minute.”she said weakly. James granted her request and propped her against the front wheel of her car. She leaned her head back against the fender wall. James looked at her .Really looked her. The flesh on her face was already healing. Her cheek bone was no longer visible.Her eyeball was edging toward her socket like a fish being pulled on a reel. She let her head drop forward and revealed a huge wet red smear on the fender of her car.
“He bit me. That motherfucker bit me.”she said . She took the gun and put the barrel under her chin.
“Wait Wait!! “James exclaimed.
“I was my sire’s first turn. His blood line began with him. Pete is an old wolf. I have no clue who his sire is or where to find him. His last name was Stubbe. Google it . Even though Pete is dead the curse is in me again.”she said looking past James. “Look at my fingers.” James looked at the rings on her hand that was holding the gun. The flesh under the silver rings was popping and sizzling like bacon on a griddle.
“There gotta be something we can do !”James said.
“There is .”she said She pulled the trigger.