Note: I promised I'd occasionally write a short story. I popped this one together today. Once I knew the premise and the character, I had a fun time with it. In this werewolf case, you'll see the wolf is not the ugly one. Enjoy!
The fleeing woman stumbled along the edges of a creek bed, her sandaled feet digging into the muddy banks, sending her sprawling onto the mossy rocks. She let out a sob of anguish, searching behind her into the darkness of the ancient trees and raspberry brambles, searching for the source of her fear.
Abigail pulled her legs up protectively beneath her, oblivious to the cold water and the sludgy mud catching on the hem of her once beautiful gown now tattered by the thicket.
Beyond the sounds of the bull frog’s rhythmic bellows and the cicadas constant hissing there was another sound. Not the sound of heavy footfalls she heard earlier, following her through the woodland path to her home from the church dance. No, this sound was beastly and not 20 feet away in the bushes. It was grunting with labored breathing, rustling in the stale fallen leaves and woodland debris, digging at the earth.
Her heart racing wildly, Abigail looked around her for something protective. A snapped tree limb on the ground provided a sharp point. She waved the thick limb before her as if testing her ability to use a weapon. In all her years growing up in Virginia, she’d never encountered anything more menacing than a deer or fox. Whoever had chased her with increasing speed down the forest trail sounded like a man on two feet. This, however, sounded like a wild animal.
Can it see me?
Cautiously, she climbed upright again, feeling the muddy hem of her dancing dress. The fabric alone cost a fortune, but she was a 22-year-old woman hoping to find a husband. Not having gone to college, she wasn’t going to meet a professional man there, so she opted for the next best thing, her church’s lame Friday night dances. They were made for the unmarried parishioners to find one another, but Abigail found them to be nothing more than a room filled with widowers, middle-aged mama’s boys, and a couple of loose women hoping to find a sugar daddy.
Her situation was quite different than those women, however. The man who married her would also be receiving something besides her charming company. Her father had passed on, leaving her the estate. Admittedly, the manor home didn’t just run itself. She would need a man with cash, but it would be a mutually beneficial agreement. Not something…sordid.
Once up on the other bank of the creek, Abigail looked back cautiously. Though only threads of light came through the dense foliage along the waterway, reflected red eyes beamed back at her from the bushes.
If I’m seeing its eyes, it’s seeing me!
She held the stick before her in trembling hands and backed away slowly, not wanting to instigate its desire to chase. The minute she no longer saw those eyes, she’d run for it. Maybe climb a tree if she had to. She kicked off her muddy buckled shoes. The damn unfamiliar heels would surely send her sprawling.
On the list of should-have’s, she included “should have worn sneakers and carried shoes.” But, then, the bigger should-have was “should have found someone to teach me to drive.” Up until two weeks ago, she had a driver. Her daddy understood the needs of his motherless child and had really done his best. Well, up until he hung himself from the willow tree and left her with the devastating news he had put them in the poorhouse.
Damn him for not teaching me how to drive! Damn him for leaving me with all the ugly details of his finances! Damn him for ruining my pleasant memories of my favorite tree! How could he be so self-centered?
As she bumped into a tree behind her, Abigail realized she had to turn and walk back to the path. She was only 50 yards from the pasture and there she’d be out in the moonlight, an open target for a long walk of just less than a quarter mile before she got to the veranda.
With determination, she swung around, facing forward, stick in her tight fist as she found the path again. Littered with fallen leaves and twigs, it crunched noisily. The first few steps, she held her breath, trying to make no sound as she stepped down, but at that rate, she’d never make the pasture and that was the last big run before the door to safety.
Abigail steeled herself not to feel the pointed stones and branches beneath her bare feet. She took large sure strides down the dimly lit path. The trees overhead provided flickers of light from the full moon.
I won’t need a flashlight. Abigail mocked her earlier thoughts. Had Harry Turner offered to take her home, she wouldn’t be in this mess. How many ways does a woman need to hint that it’s a long walk home? Through the woods? For God’s sake, man! He’d managed to avoid her the entire evening. Perhaps he realized her social standing was far removed from his and was showing the proper deference. That was a good sign, it showed he would always realize she was the decision-maker and continue a meek stance.
There can only be one alpha dog in my home, Harry Turner!
In school, she admittedly ridiculed his short pants and mismatched socks and couldn’t help but cringe at his crippled limp from a childhood dog attack. He had done the most with himself he could, she supposed. He was dressed quite nicely this evening, had acquired a job as a loan manager at her very bank, and even smiled at her many times before he finally asked her to dance.
At first, Abigail cringed at the idea of a railroad boy putting his hands on her. He was part of the group of families who had homes along the tracks where the Negroes settled in following the Civil War. Decades ago, they Negro families moved on, but the white families who settled into their old broken down shanties were the poorest of the poor and sometimes even…dangerous.
Nervously glancing back at the pathway, Abigail was comforted. She’d managed to outsmart the beast. Happily, she slowed down her pace and tossed aside her stick. The tree frogs and cicadas continued their song as she stepped out into the huge green pasture. The grass had grown quite a bit since her father’s passing. She had to let go the man who came and maintained the manicured lawns and formal gardens and orchards. One by one, everything was falling into disarray. She stopped in the full moonlight and held out the once sheer glittering nude cloth. Stained with splotches of mud, it now looked like a dirty apron.
She bit back another burst of tears about her situation. Admittedly, she had kicked and screamed through this sudden maturation process and every day there seemed to be more pity to add to the growing list. At least as fates went, Harry Turner was a reasonable sacrifice. Although still bearing the twanging tones and manners of someone raised on the tracks, he did have a position in the community, a secure place at the bank, and his awful limp wasn’t genetic. The thought of breeding with him and then bearing broken children would have been more than Abigail could bear.
She had seen him making friends with many of the laborers around town. They were a growing pack of the most common people. They probably looked up him as a success. That was good. When she landed Harry, she might be able to rehire her Irish lawn man. He was very good at following her orders and so strong she could hire him without other workers to manicure the boxwoods. Perhaps they could bring on some more of the harder workers to bring the property to its original shine. They’d probably feel honored to be a part of the resurrection of the York Estate. It was, after all, the shining glory of the historic town.
Abigail recalled the loose women at the church trying to gain Harry’s attention, but his pale eyes were riveted on her the entire evening. She didn’t know what to make of his icy gray eyes. They seemed both unfeeling and passionate. When his big hands held her during the dance, she’d endured his loafing gait and lurching movements and even his silence, but those eyes! Abigail shivered to recall how predatory they felt.
Halfway through the pasture, she stopped and studied the tree line. Something was rustling in the distance and all at once it burst from the trees into the brightly lit field. Even though the grasses were tall, it was taller, dark, and moving with alarming speed.
Abigail had no time to decide if the beast were a threat. It was running and that alone made it not friendly. She screamed out and ran, her lungs burning from the new introduction of strenuous activity. Like any Southern woman, it was beneath her dignity to run. Not now, however, she pounded barefoot towards the veranda only 50 yards away. Wheezing and hysterical, she looked back. The glance made Abigail stumble and she fell to the hard-packed dirt.
A deep feral growl sounded, followed by a snorting intake of breath and then another low raspy growl. Abigail came to her knees, shoving off on her quivering limbs, she tried to stand when it launched atop of her, crushing the air from her lungs.
“No!” She pleaded weakly.
It was heavy and solid, breathing loudly, smelling of wet dog and creek slime. She struggled beneath it as it poked a cold wet nose into her upturned hair and her bared neck. She stiffened, believing the dog would think she was dead. It would only bite her if she fought. Hysteria rising in her mind, Abigail wondered if this were the same beast that had attacked Harry Turner. Was this how he felt before it gnawed his leg? There was no way she was going to allow this beast to eat her flesh and cripple her for life!
Abigail remained still, holding her breath, heart pounding erratically. The beast slipped from her back as if disinterested and in that one brief opening, she crawled a few feet, leaped onto the veranda steps and looked back into the inky darkness. The bushes moved where the dog had escaped. Just as she opened the door, she heard a distinctly manly sounding chuckle, prompting her to slam the door and lock it eagerly.
Damn wild dogs!
Abigail’s feet were killing her as she tried to circle around the grocery store lanes in her yellow designer heels. A cart blocked her way as a stockperson was filling the shelves. She sniffed angrily.
The woman on her knees with cans of peaches in her hands glared up at her.
Abigail snorted as she went around the cart the careless attendant wouldn’t move. She knew that woman from back in grade school. She was simple-minded and plain as a Mormon girl. Not one bit of makeup, not one curl brushed out. Abigail’s nose wrinkled as she considered what the woman must smell like doing manual labor all day long.
Outside, she passed by the bank, taking her time and arranging her bag in her hands. She waited until two young men went by and flicked her hair back, hoping to make them turn and look. It worked! Hopefully Harry Turner saw that. His desk faced the front window. She set down her bag and pretended to sort through her purse for her keys.
The door opened and she tried not to smile in expectation of Harry’s attendance.
She turned, smile fading fast. It was the fussy old sour manager who had been bothering her about her late payments.
“I don’t have good news for you, Miss. Your home will be on the auction block in one week’s time. The man is putting the notice up on the door of your home right now.”
She blinked, mouth hanging open most ungracefully.
“You can’t do that!” She snapped. “It’s my family home!” The man seemed entirely too pleased to be announcing such an outlandish thing.
“I’m sorry.” He said quite insincerely, “There have been no payments for six months’ time.”
“What am I supposed to do? You have to give me more time!” She called out as the door swung shut.
Fuming and angry beyond belief, Abigail snatched up her bag and rushed through the parking lot. The opening to the side walk was blocked by the trash truck picking up a huge bin.
“Get the hell out of my way!” She bellowed over the noise, her beautiful features distorted and red.
The men stared her down and snarled back at her. She recognized the passenger. He was that nasty man who used to chauffeur her. He was also snide and she could sense his disdain for her. He was lucky her father employed him. He no doubt had some kind of nefarious criminal background, the muscular type with tattoos and all. He had an Italian name she could never recall. She cringed whenever his dark eyes watched her in the rear view mirror when he was driving her. He always smelled of garlic and sweat.
The men laughed as they took her time. She growled and turned, taking the other end of the parking lot out to the back alley. It was past suppertime and getting dim. It was a good mile home and the heels had already blistered her on the way to the store and Harry had not come out to her rescue! Why was the world not cooperating?
Have I fallen out of God’s good graces?
Hobbling down the road, grasshoppers whizzed past her and caterpillars littered the asphalt. She swatted and snarled at them as they got in her way. At one point, her feet began to bleed, her hair began to, heaven forbid, frizz from the humidity!
A 15-minute rest later, Abigail managed to yank her sandals back onto her swollen feet and watched the cars go by, the drivers studying her, recognizing her, and continuing past. She threw a tin can at one of the bastard Irish who made up most of the population in her town. Even the police car drove right on when she waved him down.
“I’m reporting you O’Toole!” She waved her fist.
In spite of her anger, Abigail had to tiptoe on her painful feet. Her grocery bag became heavier and heavier as she finally sighted the welcoming sign of the Negro lawn jockeys that flanked her driveway’s entry.
The blanket of twilight filled in the landscape and Abigail was having trouble focusing on the length of the pebble driveway. The pasture took on the spooky colorless tones of the last night when the beast chased her through the field.
She shouldn’t have left the house so late in the day, but she slept in and found it hard to decide what to wear. How did one go about enticing a man who had no prospects if he didn’t have a thick wallet? She knew revealing clothing would likely put him off. He might be from coarse origins, but he was devoted to church and ignored the flashy girls. Abigail had been so proud she chose the yellow sundress that was bright and happy and yet covered her adequately. The matching sandals showed that she would make a stylish addition to his arm and a boost to his career when the aging manager was about to retire.
Gingerly, she removed her sandals and walked through the tall grasses of the pasture. The manor home needed new paint and the roof needed some tar patching. Abigail always imagined putting a large fountain in the boxwood gardens or maybe in the orchard. Images of Harry saving her house for her and making the necessary changes to bring renewed status to her family name, made her smile.
Oh drat! When I marry him, I have to become a Turner!
Halfway through the pasture, the light was squeezed from the day and the manor house without its porch light on was only a darker splotch of darkness. Worrying about the wild dog, Abigail picked up her pace, swinging her shoes in one hand, her grocery bag in the other. With a sigh she considered other changes to make in the estate and then was imparted with a wonderful idea.
I can marry him for six months and then divorce him and take him for whatever money he has. If I plan it right, I can just sleep with him once to consummate the marriage. Yes, in the dark, that’s the only way I want to be approached by him!
Something dark from the corner of her eye caught her attention and when Abigail swung her head around, she saw a dark figure on the edge of the driveway. Another one stood not far away in the pasture, then another and another. She dropped her things and raced towards the mansion, her feet going fast but her body tipping forward from the momentum. She stumbled onto her knees on the veranda stairs.
The white paper of the foreclosure sign was the last thing she saw before the frenzy of beasts leaped upon her body.
There wasn’t even time to scream as her body was sliced and peeled, torn, and butchered. The snorting, growling, and gnawing filled the air with the metallic scent of blood. The leader stood up on his hind legs and stepped back, stumbling slightly. He licked the blood from his snout and limped away. When they were quite satisfied with their frenzy, the Italian chauffer, the Irish landscaper, the grocery store stock girl, and the police officer O’Toole followed their limping pack leader.