Previous episodes can be found here.
They drove in shifts. John insisted on doing most of it. He didn’t need as much sleep as he used to.
‘Isn’t that every doctor?’ Kelly said.
‘Eighty hours a week and twenty-eight hour shifts. When I went back after the infection, I cruised through the day.’ he said.
She shifted in her seat.
‘Weren’t you scared about having an episode in the hospital?’ she said.
He nodded as he turned onto the interstate.
‘Yes but I wanted to study myself. There were a lot of other things which came along with the infection and not all of them were negative.’
Kelly liked watching his face as he drove. His beard had hints of gold in it and his hair fell around his ears where he needed to cut it. She liked how big his hands were and how gentle he had been. She recalled the trembling release of his orgasm and felt a hot flush of blood rise to her cheeks.
He glanced at her, mouth drawn into a line.
‘Are you okay?’
She sighed and tilted her head against the seat.
‘Yeah, just thinking about what we will do next, you know?’
He shrugged his shoulders.
‘Someone took the paperwork and they’ll be looking for me. If I’m on home ground, I have a place to work from on finding out who these people are.’
‘What was the thing in the briefcase?’
John unzipped his jacket and got out his phone. He passed it to her and she switched it on. He leaned to swipe his thumb across the centre and focused on the road.
He told her to activate the bluetooth and wait for the app to finish uploading.
‘What, you’ve got a version of you on your phone?’ she said.
He shook his head.
‘No, there’s a version of me in the cloud. It’s modelled on me but he’s developed further than me. No episodes, doesn’t have to eat or use the bathroom.’
Kelly shuddered and wrapped her arms around herself.
‘Is that something you could do afterwards?’
He bit his lower lip and looked out through the windshield.
‘I think faster than I used to. I used to read comic books as a kid and all my favourite heroes were the smart ones. Tony Stark. Reed Richards. Bruce Banner.’
Kelly frowned and studied him.
‘I don’t recognise the last one.’
‘The Incredible Hulk. There’s been a few of them but he’s the alpha. So I liked how they could just think through any problem and I always believed it was possible until you realise how long and difficult everything is to do.’
He peered through the windshield.
‘We need to get gas and I’m hungry. How about you?’
‘I could use a drink.’ she said.
They pulled into the parking lot and John stopped the truck. He sniffed and froze as he clinched the steering wheel. Kelly went to undo her seatbelt and John whispered a single word.
Kelly grew taut with concern as she stared out through the windshield.
‘I can smell blood.’ he said.
‘What are we going to do?’ she said.
He reversed the truck and Kelly looked at him.
‘You’re not just going to drive off,?’ she said.
He did not look at her as he drove down the road and pulled over. He undid his seatbelt and opened the door.
‘Wait here.’ he said.
He took off his jacket and unbuttoned his shirt as he got out
‘John, please. Let’s call the cops and go.’ she said.
He looked over his shoulder.
‘I can’t do that. Kelly. It’s not who I am.’
She watched him disappear off the road towards the back of the store.
The shadows hid him as she watched him remove his clothing and his shape warped and elongated before he fell onto all fours and the wolf emerged. It stopped and looked at her with his eyes before it ran towards the store.
Blood never lies.
John filtered it through his senses. The aldehyde triggered his hunger, but he leashed it to his consciousness and used it to focus his attentions as he charged through the trees towards the store. There was a fence and he charged before he transferred his strength to his back legs as he soared over the fence and landed in the delivery area of the store. His paws slapped against the concrete and he slinked into the corner, tasting the air for information. Three concentrations of corynebacterium jeikeium and five overall concentrations of thioalcohol compounds. Three men and two women. One of them was producing bursts of amino acids each time they breathed and John saw he was talkative by the bursts of scent which dominated the olfactory landscape behind the door.
There would be guns but he was used to them.
He nudged the open rear door aside with his muzzle and slipped through into the storeroom. It was dark, but he had no interest in the light. He raised his muzzle and growled from deep in his chest. It rumbled through the air, a low, cutting thing which would raise atavistic fears, the bowel-loosening threat which you couldn’t see.
He stopped and moved behind the door on the side it would open and kept himself low.
The debate came to him through the walls and he listened.
‘I’m telling you, there’s no dog out there, sir.’
‘The fuck you say, I heard something.’
‘Let’s go, man, Go.’
‘Please, you’re scaring my baby.’
‘You. You’re coming with me.’
‘No, please she’s just a -‘
John breathed in how two scent signatures moved in his direction. One of them reeked of corynebacterium jeikeium and amino acids whilst the other had a more metallic odour and a synthetic bouquet of stale perfume and laundry detergent. He would wait until the second signature came into the room.
The door opened and he squinted against the light.
‘Get the fuck in there.’
John watched her stumble through the door ahead of him but he leapt forwards and turned his head to the side, opening his wide mouth.
John clamped down on the denim clad knee and his teeth severed the ligaments and meniscus into shreds before he darted back, spitting the ball of gristle, bone and tissue out as he did. The gun fell from his hand as he fainted away, his face slack from unconsciousness. John moved through the aisle and kept his head low as he hunted for the other one.
John considered it fate the man was coming towards him with the gun raised ahead of him to fire. He remained in place, stepping to one side and rearing back, swiping with his forepaws to push the man off balance and knock the gun from his hand. He roared into the man’s face and caught the ammoniac tang of urine flooding the air before he backed off and bolted out the back door.
The woman sat in the corner of the storeroom and stared at the man with his leg bit in two at the knee. She screamed as John charged past and outside, leaping the fence as he moved on, looking for a place to shed his skin. He breathed through the pain as he came to a stop beneath a copse of trees, dissolving and reforming beneath the sloughing skin back into his human form.
Kelly’s lower back itched as she sat in the truck. She avoided scratching, but it prickled in waves of irritation which made her sweat until she reached and dug her nails into the skin at the small of her back.
Her fingers came away wet, shining with her blood. Kelly cried out and wiped her fingers on her thigh as she waited for John.
She watched him run towards the truck and opened the door for him.
‘We should go.’ he said.
She lifted her blood stained fingers to his eyes as she swallowed her fear and looked at his shocked expression.
‘There’s something on my back and it won’t stop itching.’
He started the truck and they drove off, hearing the shriek of sirens coming towards them.
Blood never lies, he told himself, but the truths were often worse. A small, ugly thought bloomed in his mind as he saw the cars go past. He needed to get her back to the house as he imagined the worst.
The phone pinged and John switched the speakers on.
‘How are you both?’
John and Kelly looked at one another, unsure of what to say.
‘We need to get back to the house. Did you run the tests?’
John chuckled through the speakers and sighed.
‘I did. There were multiple strands of DNA, not all human or even alive -‘
John lifted his chin
‘That’s great but I will need everything we have on any infection vectors we assessed.’
Kelly felt the blood drain from her face as she heard the one word she never considered.
Paul looked at Howie, soaked and shivering on the floor as he pointed the gun at him.
‘You stupid fuck, we went to school together, man. You come and rob my dad’s store, what were you thinking?’
Howie, coming down from the cocktail of amphetamines he needed to think this was a good idea and jabbered a litany of nonsense words as Paul kept the gun on him.
Laura came out from the back, soaked in blood with Joel’s shotgun in her arms as she leaned against the wall.
‘Something big got him.’ she said.
Howie sobbed for himself as Paul and Laura looked at one another, wondering how to explain what had happened.
‘Did you see it?’ Paul said.
Laura nodded and cocked her thumb over her shoulder.
‘The fucker pushed me into the stock room first and it waited for him. Bit his leg off and ran past me into here.’
Howie cackled as his sanity struggled to remain in check.
‘See, I told you, it weren’t no wolf. It was too fucking big, too fucking big.’ he said
Paul turned to Jenny who sat there, arms wrapped around herself as she stared at the floor. She had come in for a lottery ticket and a packet of cigarettes, paid for it in change before the two junkies had come in, hollering and spitting. She had borrowed Paul’s phone to call the police and thanked him when she handed it back to him.
Jenny looked up and Paul could not meet her gaze as she gritted her teeth.
‘It was a big wolf.’ she said.
She stared at Howie where he laid.
‘It should have bit your fucking head off.’ she said.
Paul saw the lights of the police cars and set the gun down on the counter as he waited for them to come in.