When the werewolves first attacked, we didn’t stand a chance. Of course, I didn’t know they were werewolves at the time.
The four of us – Kim, Mark, Daryl and I – said goodnight and turned in for the evening, returning to our respective tents. We knew we’d have a long day of hiking and climbing the next morning, so we wanted to get some sleep. Besides, we’d had a couple of beers and very little rest. Add that on top of the couple of hours it’d taken us to get there, and you’ve got yourself four knackered twenty-somethings.
Our two tents were on opposite sides of the small campfire. I don’t know why they picked Kim and Daryl’s, I truly don’t. I suppose it was just random chance. Funny thing, chance, isn’t it? Kim and Daryl pitched their tent on the right-hand side of the clearing, Mark and I pitched ours to the left. That decision sealed our fates. I often find myself wondering if things would have turned out differently, had we swapped sides. Would Kim be here now, instead of me?
Mark zipped the tent shut, as I kicked off my boots. They were muddy as hell, and I was trying my best to not get the wet muck anywhere near our sleeping bags. I had gotten the first shoe off and was in the process of wriggling my way out of the second, when the screaming began.
“Kim? Daryl?” Mark called, frozen in motion. “You guys okay? What’s going on out there?”
The only response was an escalation of the shrieks. They were bloodcurdling. There was another noise too, but I wouldn’t be able to place it until much later. It sounded like a dog – a heavy, panting breath, and a deep, rumbling growl. Additionally, there was a wet, ripping noise.
Mark didn’t hesitate, and that’s probably what got him killed. He tore open the tent and leaped out, breaking the zip in the process. I distinctly remember the metallic little ping! it made as the mechanism snapped.
“What the—” he began, but then his words were gutted short, in a pained, gurgling squeal.
I was paralyzed, hands gripping one half-removed boot. I don’t remember what went through my mind then. I don’t suppose much of anything happened in my brain, other than sheer panic and adrenaline. Fight or flight trying to kick into gear, and all that.
The open flaps of the tent fluttered in the evening breeze, and I caught a glimpse of what was going on outside. I know that I didn’t fully understand what was taking place – not at first. I don’t judge myself for that. I can’t imagine there are many people who could see a thing like that and immediately make sense of the situation.
I don’t know if they even knew I was there. If they had seen me, they surely would have turned on me as well. There were enough of them to spare from the carnage happening by the firepit. I don’t know how many there were, but I’d say we were outnumbered two-to-one at the very least.
How did they not pick up on my presence? I’ve since learned they’ve got incredible senses. Their perception of smell is unparalleled, and their eyesight is unbelievable. I think they can also detect rapid heartbeats, too – like a shark. So, I honestly have no idea how I slipped under their radar that evening. My only theory is that their bloodlust sends them into a frenzy, hindering their ability to think coherently but heightening their ferocity. God knows there was enough blood that night.
And so, I sat there, transfixed, as the slaughter unfolded before me.
It wasn’t until the gunshots started ringing out that I was startled from my trance.
The sounds the beasts made as the bullets penetrated their hides… Well, I know I’ll never forget it. Not if I live to be a hundred years.
The animals clustered together as the gunshots echoed throughout the clearing. As they grouped into a tight bunch, I could tell their number had decreased. Whether some had fallen or fled, I didn’t know. The wolves formed a rough circle, snarling out at the imposing darkness that threatened their pack.
Pop! Pop! Pop-pop! More shots in the inky blackness of the night. A whine of pain. A howl of rage. One of the wolves raised its snout to the sky and bellowed a spine-tingling cry. The others followed suite, in an inharmonious chorus that made all the hairs on my body stand on end. And then they scattered. In every direction. For one moment, the blood-slaked campsite became a writhing mass of dark brown fur, snarling mouths, and green-yellow eyes as the werewolves fled into the surrounding trees.
Pop! Pop! Pop! Two people were entering the clearing, back-to-back. No, not people… they were children. A girl and a young boy. The girl stood head-and-shoulders above the boy, and her hair was tied back in a ponytail. They each had a pistol drawn. Despite how large the weapons looked in their childish hands, they carried the guns with an air of expertise and precision.
They stood that way for some time, backs to each other, slowly rotating in a circle, pistols raised, eyes scanning the surrounding treeline. Once or twice they levelled the guns to the woods and fired several shots into the vegetation. Whether they were aiming at the beasts or were simply discharging warning shots, I’ll never know.
After a while, the girl lowered her weapon and clicked something on the gun. She said something to the boy, and he did the same.
The girl shook her head as she inspected the gore strewn across the campsite. She wandered over the tattered ruins of Kim and Daryl’s tent, and poked her head inside. I watched as she nudged something with her foot. Her shoulders slumped. No, she mouthed at the boy. He nodded, and then started walking towards the tent that Mark and I had planned on sharing for the evening.
He was about ten footsteps away when he made eye-contact with me. Before I even knew what was happening, he’d flipped the safety off his pistol and was raising the gun. The girl saw this, eyes opening wide. She glanced from me to him and gauged the situation in the fraction of a second.
She was incredibly fast. The boy hadn’t begun sighting down the barrel before the girl was at his side, placing a hand on the weapon, forcing him to lower it. She saved my life multiple times that night.
“No!” she hissed. “No! She’s human!”
The boy’s face paled, and for a second I thought he might cry, but he didn’t.
“I—I’m sorry!” he said. He surprised me with how young his voice sounded, but I’m not sure why; after all, he looked no older than seven or eight. I suppose you see a boy with a gun and you instinctively assume he’s gone through puberty.
The girl rushed over; concern written across her face. “Oh my God, you’re alive,” she said. Her words didn’t make me feel better, but her smile soothed me a little. She glanced around at the crimson pools that were collecting in the dirt. “Come,” she said, tugging at my arm, “we need to get you away from here.”
“What’s your name?” asked the girl, as she wiped the blood from my face. “I’m Lilith,” she said, placing her hand over her heart as if making a pledge. “And this,” she gestured towards the little boy, “is Gregory.”
The kids had taken me to their cabin. It was a beautiful little place; incredibly cosy. There was a rich, ever-present smell of wood in the air, which I found to be calming. I wasn’t entirely sure how we’d gotten there. I know they’d led the way, offering words of comfort as we walked, but my memory of it is a blur. I expect I was a very poor conversationalist in those few hours following the massacre.
“Jess—Jessie,” I responded, feeling not quite there.
Lilith smiled as she cleaned the grime away. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Jessie. Although, I do wish we were meeting under better circumstances. I’m sorry about your friends.”
I nodded, not sure what to say. A silence stretched out between us.
“Werewolfs,” said Gregory, eventually, filling the empty space in the conversation. He was stood at the window, looking out at the foggy night. He exchanged a glance with Lilith. “…if you were wondering what they were. They’re werewolfs.”
“Wolves,” corrected Lilith. “Werewolves. But yes, Gregory is right. Those things that attacked you and your friends… I’m afraid to say that they are werewolves.”
I started to say something, then Lilith silenced me by raising her hand. Such a small girl commanded such immediate authority. “Listen. I know what you’re going to say. Werewolves don’t exist. We’re just children with overactive imaginations. Those were just wild animals, probably feral or rabid. And I’m here to tell you that I don’t care. Those things are werewolves, whether you believe me or not. Forgive me for saying this, but your friends are dead; killed by werewolves. Whether or not you believe in the creature that took them so painfully from your life does not alter their fate.”
I was too stunned to say anything.
“Additionally,” continued Lilith, when I didn’t fill the pause, “your belief in such a creature may well help you survive this night. I’d rather talk tactics with you, than debating whether a mythological creature might exist. We must deal with it, and so it exists. It exists until you are out of this situation.”
I didn’t know what the great hulking things that had ripped Kim, Mark and Daryl apart were, but the term werewolf didn’t seem too far off. I accepted it in my mind. Truth be told, I haven’t since looked back at those horrific events and doubted my sanity. There are werewolves, pure and simple. And they are out there.
“Where are your parents?” I managed to ask, eventually. I know it might have sounded like a non-sequitur, but it had been on my mind since I arrived at the cabin. No adults had come to greet me, and it struck me as odd.
“Gone,” Lilith responded, matter-of-factly, in the way someone would respond to the question What time is it?
“Oh,” was all I could manage. I wasn’t sure whether to pry or not. Ordinarily, when someone tells you their parents are gone, you don’t ask too many questions – unless the other person opens the conversation. But when that someone is an unaccompanied kid?
“Do you have any guardians looking after you?”
Lilith looked me dead in the eye. Her steely look unnerved me. I could tell that the girl was stronger than I’d ever be, even though she must’ve been half my age. “No. It’s just us,” she said. “The wolves took our parents. And so, we take the wolves.”
“They took—oh, I’m so sorry, Lilith.”
“So, it’s just the two of you?”
“Yes, Jessie. It’s just the two of us.”
“Right…” I said, not sure how to proceed. “How old are you, Lilith, if you don’t mind me asking?”
She stopped wiping my face. A pile of crusty red tissues on the table. “I’m eleven, Jessie. And Gregory is eight. But what do our ages matter? The wolves don’t care if you’re eight or if you’re eighty. They’d kill us all the same.”
“If they had the chance,” added Gregory.
“If they had the chance, yes,” agreed Lilith. “And we won’t give them a chance, will we?”
I swallowed this. “It’s just—how long has it been just the two of you?”
“Didn’t you try to call for help? For some adults, I mean.”
“Why? We’re doing fine, Gregory and me. We know how to handle ourselves. We saved you, didn’t we?”
“I—yes, thanks, I don’t think I thanked you for—”
“And it’s not like adults are any help anyway.” She didn’t say, Look at what happened to your friends; she didn’t have to. I knew Lilith was partly correct – if she had appealed for assistance, nobody would have believed them. But it still seemed wrong that two children were out here all alone, dealing with these monsters.
“They’re coming back,” said Gregory, peering through the blinds.
“I’ve never used a gun before!”
“This is a night full of firsts for you, then, I’m afraid,” said Lilith, handing me the pistol. “Father taught us since we could walk. And don’t bring up the topic of gun control – now is not the time. We can talk politics when the dawn arrives.”
“Okay,” I said, meekly. I felt like a child being told what to do, but I wasn’t complaining. They obviously knew how to handle the situation, and I… well, I didn’t.
“Chances are,” said Lilith, looking down the barrel of her own gun, “you won’t even have to use it. But, y’know… just in case. Flick the safety off, point at whatever you want dead, and squeeze the trigger. It helps if you breathe out whilst doing it.”
“Do bullets work against… them?”
“Good question, but… E.T.A., Gregory?”
“They’re gathering at the edge of the woods. Ninety seconds or so, I reckon.”
My heart began thumping heavily in my chest. THUD. THUD. THUD. I was sweating profusely. Ninety seconds? I thought, as the alarm bells began ringing in my head.
“Right you are, Gregory.” She turned back to me. “Hollow points filled with silver dust. Stuck in place with adhesive. More economical than making the entire thing out of silver. We crushed up mum’s jewellery. Not all of it was real, though, so, if in doubt, keep firing. Not every bullet is lethal, and the ones that are don’t always KO them in one. Depends on where you hit them.”
The little black weapon was surprisingly heavy. THUD-THUD-THUD went my heart. “You fought them a lot?” I asked, turning at the pistol in my hands – the first real gun I’d ever held. CZ 75 B CAL. 3 LUGER was stamped on the barrel. I had no idea what it meant.
“They normally leave us alone, for the most part,” said Gregory, pushing a clip into his pistol. Click!
“But it seems we disturbed their hunt, this evening,” Lilith said, as she slid a blade into her boot. “Fortunately for you.”
“I think they’ve learned it’s not worth the risk, with us,” Gregory added, with a nod. “There’s always easier prey coming through here.”
“I think they want you, though,” Lilith said. “They’d probably leave us alone if we threw you out the front door…”
My hammering heart sped up. My mouth went dry. “I—I don’t… why—”
“But we’re not gonna do that,” she added, with a wry smile. “Nobody dies if we can help it.”
Clack-clack. Gregory pulled back the slider on his pistol. “Better get ready, Lil,” he said.
I was expecting the wolves to come crashing through the windows and doors; for us to put up a final stand inside the house, like in that old black and white movie where the dead come to life.
Instead, Gregory and Lilith rushed outside to meet them. I think that’s why I’m still alive – they caught the beasts off-guard. Who’d expect two kids to rush out to face a pack of lycanthropes, guns blazing? I didn’t anticipate it, and evidently, neither did the werewolves.
I wish I could say that I joined them, that the trio of us fought the werewolves off, bullet casings raining to the floor. Alas, I stayed in the cottage and watched the siblings slice neatly through the pack. I held my gun in trembling hands, observing the black rectangle of the front door. Nothing came through it, however. Lilith and Gregory made sure of that.
There was just one moment when I feared for the kids. An enormous wolf came tearing out of the trees, making a beeline for Gregory. It was clearly the alpha.
Look out! I wanted to scream, but the words caught in my throat. It didn’t matter, though. Lilith had seen him – probably well before me.
She didn’t even flinch. She shot out his front legs with pinpoint precision, and as the howling creature crashed to the ground, Lilith put several bullets into its oversized skull. Maybe a few more than was necessary, but she was clearly sending a message: Don’t you dare touch my brother.
After the big one dropped, the others seemed to lose their nerve. They scattered, much like they had at the campsite – in every direction, panicked, eyes rolled white.
“Come with me,” I said, holding their hands. The early rays of the dawn were creeping through the surrounding trees. I kept glancing around, peering at the shadows pooling around the bases of the trees, but Lilith reassured me that they didn’t hunt during daylight. “You can have a normal life…” I gestured around. “Away from all of this.”
“Why?” She asked with such an intense honesty that I was taken aback. “So that I can enter the school system? Get an education? Go to college, graduate, and try to find a job that I like?”
“Besides,” added Gregory. “Someone’s gotta keep an eye on the people that come through here, right, Lil? Where’d you be, if we hadn’t stayed here?”
Dead, I thought, simply.
“Right, Gregory. Speaking of, we should think about putting signs up… to deter any further casualties.”
“I just think you should consider—” I began, but then Lilith cut me off, one last time.
“Consider a normal life? Carve a lasting career in something I’m good at, grow old, and die?” Lilith shook her head. “No. I know what I’m good at.” She pulled back the slider on her gun. Clack-clack. “This.”
11th October 2019
Written for Reedsy’s weekly Short Story Contest