(Posted for my short story archives. Originally shared as separate stories.)
Mike, and Brooke’s husband Will had already helped themselves to the beer, so they laughed and yelled from Tommy’s truck bed, while Brooke clutched the warm metal sides silently. She wondered why Allie got to ride in the front. Sure, she was Tommy’s wife, but she fished and camped. Allie wouldn’t mind the dusty toolbox digging into her back, or the beer-filled cooler bumping her legs.
At their usual picnic spot, Tommy regaled them again with the story of his ten-point buck as he cooked. “Guns are fine, but real sportsmen use bows.” He set down his spatula to take a swig of his beer as the burgers smoked on the grill.
“Tommy, the burgers,” Allie said.
“Shoot,” Tommy flipped each patty on a waiting bun. “Eat ’em while they’re hot!”
They each grabbed a plate, pouring out chips and piling on the condiments. Over the bonfire, they ate, drank, and talked past sunset, stuffing empty plates and cans into garbage bags.
Mike stumbled off, and returned several moments later. “Saw something weird… out watering the bushes.”
“What’s that?” Allie giggled. “A bear?”
“Birds. A bunch of ’em.” Mike said.
“Huh.” Tommy shoved himself up from the weathered bench, and strode past Mike, placing his feet with careful precision.
White shapes floated from the shadowy trees.
“What the-” Tommy planted his feet, leaning back to stare. A white blur plummeted towards his exposed throat.
The gigantic white owls dove at the rest of the group, sharp talons raking arms flung up to protect their faces. Clothes ripped like paper.
“The barn!” Will ran to Tommy’s crumpled form, stumbling to his knees and vomiting when he saw the red ruin of his friend’s throat. He scrambled away on his hands and feet. “Go!”
They raced to the wooden structure, a little used storage shed. Will stumbled in last, and slammed the door, dropping the metal latch.
“Oh God, what was that?” Allie crumpled against the wall. “Tommy!”
Mike tried to comfort her as Brooke examined Will’s deep cuts.
The door rattled, and the latch jiggled, then fell. Slowly, the door swung open, revealing a pale, slender young girl. She smiled at them, and pushed the door open further. Behind her, owls swooped into the barn.
Brooke saw the girl transform into an enormous snowy owl, and felt a moment of wonder before she screamed.
* * *
Blake jogged on a gravel path along the banks of the river. In the muggy summer air, the slowly rippling water appeared temptingly cool, but he knew it could easily conceal a gator or venomous snake. Someone screamed from the park, and Blake jumped, stumbling over a rock on the edge of the path. He tripped down the slope to the river before stabilizing himself. As he came to a halt, Blake felt a sharp pain in his calf.
Swearing, he stumbled back. He spotted the source of that pain–a snake lying on a nearby rock, half-hidden by a fallen tree’s branch. It had been sunning itself peacefully until he’d almost stepped on it, and now coiled dangerously.
“Cottonmouth! I’m going to die!”
The snake slithered off the rock away from him, disappearing behind the half-rotted tree trunk. A woman’s head popped over the edge of the log. “I’m not a cottonmouth, I’m a Florida Water Snake.”
“What?” Blake stared at her.
“Florida Water Snake. I’m not venomous,” she plucked a leaf out of her short brown hair. “You startled me.”
“I startled you? I. Startled. You?” Blake’s voice rose, and the woman made a shushing motion.
“You stepped on me,” she twisted to look at a spot on her back, revealing her bare shoulders. “I have a bruise.”
“You bit me!” Blake pointed to his injury, speaking quietly though he felt like screaming. The woman made him feel unaccountably guilty and stifled, like a disapproving librarian.
The woman shrugged. “You should be fine.”
“Should be?” Blake repeated in a strangled yell.
“If the bite heals within a day, come back here. I’ll wait by the jungle gym.”
“Why?” Blake examined the puncture wounds, which oozed blood and felt tender when he pressed on them.
“It usually takes more than one bite to make a weresnake, but you never know.”
“Are you in shock, or stupid?” The woman stared up at him, and shook her head. “Jungle gym.” She vanished.
When Blake leaned over the fallen tree trunk, he saw the tip of a snake’s tail disappearing into the water. He went home, cleaned and bandaged the bite wound, and tried to forget about it. Before he went to bed, he gave in and checked the damage. Instead of clotted blood or scabs, two neat pink scars decorated his leg.
The next morning, all that remained were the faint white marks of an old injury. Blake dressed like an arthritic old man, pulling on his favorite running shoes slowly and with much fumbling.
* * *
Two werewolves, walking side by side, filled the hallway. One jostled Gerald as they passed, bumping his shoulder without apology. Gerald kept walking.
The wolf who’d bumped him, a man with a shaved head and a gray wife-beater, sniffed the air and turned back. “Hey, man, do you smell bunny?”
Gerald stepped up his pace, being careful not to run. He reached the end of the long hallway to the bathrooms, flanked by doors marked ’employees only.’ The hall turned the corner ahead, passing by the kitchen and opening up into the dining area. Before Gerald could round the corner, a hand landed on his shoulder and squeezed.
“Don’t run, little bunny,” the shaved-head werewolf chuckled.
“I’m a hare,” Gerald shrugged off the hand. “Leave me alone. Paul will kick you out if you start a fight in his bar.”
The wolf shoved, pushing Gerald into the main room. Gerald bounced off the wall, and met the wolf’s fist as he got up. The wolf pounced on him, and something wet dripped onto his face. The wolf pinning Gerald to the ground had lost control, face warped into a spottily-furred snout. Ugly and lopsided, his face still sported razor sharp teeth jutting from his malformed jaw.
“Prey…” the werewolf growled, tongue sliding over his teeth as he lowered his mouth to Gerald’s throat.
Gerald shoved, rolling them both, and landing crouched on the floor. He assumed his half-form with the ease of painful practice. His melding wasn’t necessarily pretty, but it was symmetrical. He pivoted, kicking out with his enormous feet. He hit the werewolf’s leg, and bone snapped. The wolf lunged despite the jagged bone spearing through his skin.
Kicking again, Gerald crushed the wolf’s ribs and broke his other leg. This time, the wolf fell and didn’t get up, though he twitched and growled.
Paul lumbered up, transformed into a Kodiak bear.
Gerald hopped clear. “Sorry about the mess, Paul. He was going for my throat.”
The bear growled, scooping up the werewolf, and carrying him away.
Gerald headed over to the bar, his bloody mouth and scrapes almost gone due to a were’s quick healing. He needed a drink.