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The bedroom is dark and smells like wet dog. The mattress is stained with ugly things. There is a small television and a VCR and a stack of tapes with boys’ names written on the side.

Reagan gets down on all fours, carefully opens the door, and crawls out of the room.

The hallway is dark, and there are voices coming from downstairs—a whispered name, a woman screaming. It's the television, she realizes, but there are real voices too, murmuring beneath it, Eric’s and the wolf’s. She follows the sound down the hallway, going slow to avoid the floor creaking beneath her knees. She keeps low to the ground and makes her way to the staircase.

“I don’t think that’s—I mean, maybe I shouldn’t—”

“Shhh,” the wolf says.

Reagan peers down through the balustrade. Eric and the wolf are sitting on the couch, watching TV. The wolf is sitting too close to Eric. Eric isn’t wearing his glasses, or his shirt.

There’s an open bottle on the coffee table. Even from the stairs, Reagan can smell it, pungent and overwhelming. She shouldn’t be able to nearly taste it, but she can.

“It’s fine,” the wolf says. “Your parents are out of town; they’ll never know. And it’s good, right? You like it, don’t you?”

Eric nods but when he drinks from the bottle his whole face squishes tight and his eyes close. He sets it back down on the table too hard—the sound startles him and Reagan both. “Sorry,” Eric murmurs, listing to the side.

It took Reagan too long to get to the house. Who knows how much Eric has already had to drink, or what the wolf might already have done. Wolves like to play with their food, and she has an idea what kind of game this wolf likes.

The wolf smiles and steadies Eric with one hand to the chest. Reagan turns away as his fingers slide lower. “No apologies,” the wolf says, his voice gritty with want and unspoken things. “We're having fun tonight, aren’t we?”

“Yeah?” Eric doesn’t sound very sure that’s what’s happening, but the wolf ignores him.

“Hey, are you getting hungry? I know I am.”

Reagan’s throat tightens and she forces herself to turn back.

“Yeah,” Eric says. “Sure.”

“Great. I’ll order a pizza. You stay right there.” The wolf touches Eric again, pushing him lightly backwards into the couch, and gets up, walking towards the kitchen.

Reagan waits until he’s past and then crawls down the stairs and across the living room carpet, all the way to Eric’s feet. His eyes are closed, and he doesn’t hear her, not until she touches his knee; then he springs up fast, too fast. His head isn’t ready for it. He collapses back down to the couch, blinking hard. She puts a finger to his lips.

They’re as soft as she imagined and slightly damp too.

Reagan stands up and grabs Eric’s hand, pulling him to his feet and frantically looking around. She’d been so focused on catching up that she never bothered to think of an escape plan. The sliding glass door is close but easily seen from the kitchen. If they can get to the front door, though, if she can push him and out and tell him to run . . .

“You think I couldn’t smell you, little lady, the very second you crept into my home?”

Reagan spins and drops into a crouch instinctively. Eric stumbles behind her, falling back on the couch. The wolf walks into the room and leans casually against a wall—but too casually. He isn’t as calm as he looks—his pulse is pounding, under his skin, and his eyes dart this way and that. Sweat pools under his armpits. He doesn’t know what she wants, and he isn’t sure what to do next.

That makes two of them.

“What’s going on?” Eric asks. Reagan can smell the sweat on him, too—different, better, human. “Reagan? Mr. Garraty? What’s—”

“You can’t have him,” Reagan tells the wolf. “He’s not yours to have.”

The wolf grins. “I didn’t smell anyone’s mark on him.”

She bares her teeth. “Smell again.”

The wolf takes a step away from the wall and Reagan growls, ready to spring if necessary. She won’t win. He’s bigger and probably faster, and in her haste, she forgot to grab any rocks or even a knife to slit the wolf’s throat. If she attacks him now, he’ll kill her—maybe even eat her, although she isn’t entirely sure about that. She doesn’t know if wolves are cannibals. That never came up in any of her research for the animal report.

“My,” the wolf says. “Such lovely teeth you have, such big teeth. I didn’t think you even knew what you were yet.”

“I know,” Reagan says, fighting to keep the bitterness and fear from her voice. “I know. And Eric’s mine. Find another.”

“I’m afraid you’re mistaken,” the wolf says. He’s moving to the left now, circling her. “I’ve spent an awful lot of time on this one, becoming his friend, his mentor, the father he wishes he could have. His dad is out of town so often, you see. Eric needs a good strong male influence in his life.”

Eric's breath stutters out and then starts up again, unsteady and too fast. He uses her back to push himself up. His fingers are hot through her sweater, like they’re pressing into her bare skin. She growls again, involuntarily. She wants to turn around and drag him to the ground, push her body into his, bite into his neck.

“I think I wanna go home,” Eric says, bumping the end table as he backs up. “Reagan? Can we—”

“Another step,” the wolf says, “and I’ll rip out your throat.”

Eric stops.

“I told you,” Reagan says. “He’s mine.”

“And how do you propose to keep him?”

She hesitates, almost a second too long. The wolf steps towards her—

“I’ll tell,” Reagan says, and the wolf stops.

“You’ll tell?” the wolf asks incredulously.

Reagan nods. “If you eat Eric, if you so much as touch him, I’ll tell everyone what I saw. And you can’t kill me, either, you know. People . . . people know where I am. My mom knows. I texted her just before I crawled through your window.”

“Then I’ll kill her too,” the wolf says.

Reagan’s breath catches. She forces herself to inhale and exhale normally.

“That’s a lot of bodies,” she says, trying to shake the images of red and ripped flesh from her mind. “Or a lot of disappearances, anyway. You think they won’t lead back to you?”

The wolf paces back and forth, watching. Reagan keeps her body between him and Eric. “You’re bluffing,” the wolf says finally. “I can smell your fear. You didn’t tell your mom a thing.”

Reagan’s starting to regret that, but it’s too late to go back now.

“I can smell you too,” she reminds him. “Your shirt’s stained with sweat. You’re breathing too hard, and I can heart your heart thumping from here. You can’t be sure I’m bluffing, can you?”

It’s the wolf that growls this time, low and guttural. Hair stands on the back of Reagan’s neck. He shifts his upper body weight forward and bends at the knees, all coiled up and ready to spring. “I could—”

“This is what we’re going to do,” Reagan says, straightening slowly and grabbing Eric’s hand. “Eric is mine. He’s coming with me. You can eat whoever you want, but not Eric, not my Mom, and not me.” She turns to face Eric, takes in his pale skin and unfocused eyes. “Come on,” she says, yanking on his hand.

But the wolf cuts in front of them, blocking their way to the door.

“No,” the wolf says. “What’s to stop you from calling the cops as soon as you leave? No, if you want this one . . . you’ll have to eat him here.”

Reagan stares at him and tries to cover her panic by laughing. It’s not very convincing. She doesn’t have a lot of practice at it. “Now you want me to eat him?”

“I want to know I can trust you,” the wolf says. “I need to know you’re a real wolf, not some pup with a guilty conscience. You’ll eat him, and you’ll do it now, or you won’t leave this house alive.”

He’s left her no room to maneuver. She can’t dart around him, can’t jump over his shoulders, can’t duck between his legs or push him aside. He’s so much bigger than she'll ever be . . . but there has to be some other way, there has to be.

There’s not.

Eric touches her shoulder hesitantly, gently pulling her back. “Reagan?” he asks, looking down at her, and that’s a problem. He’s too tall for what has to come next.

“I never wanted to do this,” she whispers. “I hope you can believe that.”

“Reagan, what’s—”

She pushes him down hard, bringing him to his knees. He sways back, and she pulls him in, resting his forehead against her stomach. “If I promise you it’s going to be okay, do you think you can believe me?”

“No?” Eric says. “I don’t know? Are you . . . is this a sex thing? Or is it . . . ” He swallows. “Are you going to kill me?”

“I’m going to save you,” Reagan says. “I swear I’m going to save you. Close your eyes, okay?”

There are tears on Eric’s face. “I’m scared.”

“I know.” She pushes the hair away from his damp forehead. “I know. Close your eyes now.”

He does.

Reagan opens her mouth and stretches it as wide as it will go, then wider than that, and wider. Bones snap in her face. Her jawbone hangs low.

I'm so sorry, she thinks, and swallows Eric whole.

He goes down easy, gliding down her gullet and resting low and curled in the bottom of her belly. It should be uncomfortable, those long legs and arms of his, sluggishly trying to push their way out. But it doesn’t hurt at all—she feels warm and full for the first time in . . . she doesn’t know how long. She’s been so hungry, so fucking hungry. She hadn’t even known how hungry, until now.

She could feel like this whenever she wanted. She could feel . . . sated, happy, full . . . and no one could stop her. No one could starve her. No one could scare her, not ever again.

“You know,” the wolf says. “For a minute there, I wasn’t sure you’d do it.”

Reagan looks at him. He’s not smiling—and why would he; she just ate his dinner—but she can see the relief in his eyes, hear his heartbeat start to slow in his chest. There’s something else too, in the way he shakes his head. A faint . . . nostalgia, perhaps, like he can see a ghost of himself inside her. Like he can still taste that first little boy he swallowed, however many years ago.

Eric tastes like whiskey and saltwater and something else, something she doesn’t have a name for. She wants to keep him. Her body is heavy, and all she wants to do is curl up and sleep with him trapped inside.

But she promised Eric she would save him, and she promised herself she wouldn’t be this thing.

The wolf turns his back to her, heading for the front door.

“I think it’s time for you to go, little lady. Not that it hasn’t been fun, but—”

Reagan springs onto the wolf’s back.

He staggers, falls forward. He’s still bigger, but he’s also off-balance, and she’s heavier than she was ten minutes ago with the weight of Eric inside her. The wolf’s nose smashes straight into the wall. Bones crunch and blood bursts, and he shrieks.

She wraps her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck and bites into the side of his throat as hard as she can. He yells out again and staggers backwards, slamming her into the wall. Reagan's head connects once, twice, three times; everything starts to tilt sideways and she can't catch her breath, but she laughs through the dizziness and a mouthful of blood. She squeezes tighter, tighter, tighter.

The wolf finally collapses to his knees. Blood gushes from his nose and spurts from his neck, and he blindly lashes out as she rolls off of him. His claws find her left arm and rake down her flesh. She dodges the next strike and circles around him, landing her heel into his ruined mess of a nose. He crumples, landing on his back, and she drops to straddle his waist and bare her teeth.

“Wait,” the wolf says. “Please. Wait—”

Reagan grins and rips out his throat.

She chews her food well, long after the wolf has gone cold. Then she rolls onto her back and tries to lie still, tries to breathe and think through the frenzy. Her jawbone is almost touching her chest. She slams it back into place with the palm of her hand.

She needs to get the stones. It won't be finished until she fills the wolf's belly with rock, but Eric is still inside her, and she promised to get him out.

Reagan crawls to the kitchen and opens drawers until she finds the knives. She picks the biggest one she sees and rolls up her shirt. The edge of the blade is cold against her skin and she shudders. She takes a few deep breaths, readying herself . . . and then a hand squeezes her shoulder.

Reagan yelps and whirls around, clutching the cleaver, but it’s not the wolf. The hunter stands in front of her, wearing his black hood and black half-mask, looking no different than he had four years ago.

“You came,” she says. “You actually came.”

“Late,” he says. “Sorry. Looks like you’ve been doing okay, though.”

He’s not joking, which means his definition of ‘okay’ is hugely suspect, but she doesn’t argue with him. Instead, she sinks silently down to the kitchen tile at his feet, lies back, and closes her eyes. She’s been trying to forget since she was eleven, but monsters don’t get to be wonderful and strange. Monsters get to die, and that’s all.

The hunter squeezes her hand once, and then the agony comes.

Reagan tries not to scream, biting into her lower lip, maybe chewing it straight off while trying to hold the pain in. It doesn’t work—she still screams for all she’s worth, only getting control over her voice when the weight in her belly disappears.

She opens her eyes. The hunter is helping Eric out of her stomach; he slides on the bloody tile, dripping and staggering and pale, but he’s alive. He’s alive.

“I’m so sorry,” Reagan whispers.

Eric doesn’t say anything.

She looks back at the hunter, who’s watching her. “I’m ready,” she says, and it’s a lie because she isn’t ready. She isn’t ready at all. She’s going to miss her mom and Eric and the sun and cartoons and history class and her future and all sorts of things.

“Are you sure?”

Reagan nods and stares up at the ceiling. Her stomach still burns, but not like it should—a human girl would be dying or dead right now, but blades alone can't kill a wolf. She thinks, given enough time, all the pain would melt away. Even her split skin might eventually stitch itself back together. Her insides want to heal. She can feel them trying.

They won't get the chance.

The hunter crouches next to her. “Okay,” he says, and something sharp bites into her flesh, slides through and pulls away. Reagan glances down, confused. There are no rocks inside the hunter's hand, just a needle and thread. “But—”

“I only kill bad wolves,” the hunter says. “Never the good ones.”

“There are good ones?”

The hunter smiles softly as he sews. “It’s not what you are that makes you a monster, little girl. It’s what you do. That’s the difference.” He makes quick work of his stitches and soon she’s in one piece again. The pain is not gone but significantly diminished. He offers her his hand.

She doesn’t take it.

“You don’t know,” Reagan says. “The things I think about sometimes, the way I get. You don’t know, how I get so . . .”

The hunter takes hold of her chin and forces her to look at him. “The trick isn’t to stop wanting,” he says. “Everybody wants.”

“Then what’s the trick?”

“It’s . . .” The hunter looks around the room and shakes his head at whatever he sees. “It’s finding someone who wants what you want, and when you want it. Then, then you can have your fill.”

“Do you have what you want?” Reagan asks.

The hunter picks up his axe, still dripping with her blood, and smiles as he slides it back in the sheath with its sister. “I’m getting it tonight,” he says. He offers her his hand again.

She still doesn’t take it.

“You know,” she says. “When you get back to writing your blog, it might not be a bad idea, talking about good wolves. Some people might find that kind of thing relevant.”

The hunter inclines his head.

Reagan finally takes his hand and climbs to her feet. Eric, beside her, is silent and shaking. “Are you okay?”

Eric laughs.

Reagan bites her mess of a lower lip. “If there had been any other way . . .”

“But there wasn’t,” Eric says. “Right? You saved me?”

“She did,” the hunter says.

“Mr. Garraty . . . he was going to eat me?”

“He was. And I doubt he’d have been kind enough to let you back out.”

“But he’s dead,” Eric says. “You killed him, right?”

“She did,” the hunter says. “But I’m here to make sure he stays that way. You two should probably go on home. Don’t tell anyone you were here.”

“What about the cops?” Reagan asks. “Fingerprints?”

“I’ll take care of that,” the hunter says.

They walk through the living room, stepping carefully around the wolf’s body. Reagan stops when she reaches the front door and turns back to the hunter.

“I never thought I’d see you again,” she says. “Thanks for coming back.”

The hunter nods. He lifts his hand, and she thinks he’s maybe going to pull her in for a hug, but instead he pushes his fingers against her bloody mouth, gently forcing her lips apart. “Look at these teeth of yours,” he says.

She winces. “They keep growing.”

“They’re beautiful,” the hunter tells her. “Don’t be ashamed of them. You just keep using them well.”

He releases her mouth and opens the door.

“Or,” the hunter says. “You will see me again.”

 


 

 

Reagan takes Eric back to her home.

He’s still a little drunk and definitely in shock, so she gets him some water and tells him about wolves. She knows more than she did yesterday, a lot more, and most of it good. She saved Eric tonight. She couldn’t have done that, if she was human.

She still cleans up, though, in the downstairs bathroom while Eric takes a shower upstairs. Her stitches are already fading and her jaw is firmly in place. Good. Mom probably couldn’t handle seeing something like that.

Reagan’s cutting two slices of birthday cake when Eric calls her name. She finds him sitting on the couch, looking out the window. He’s staring at the wolf’s house, which happens to be on fire.

Reagan has to pull her eyes away. “Cake?”

Eric turns. “Sure.”

She sits down next to him. He takes her hand. “Thanks,” he says.

“You’re welcome.”

They eat their cake in silence. They watch the house burn.

 


 




Carlie St. George sleeps during the day, works at night, and feasts primarily on sugar. She is a Clarion West graduate whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lightspeed, The Dark, The Book Smugglers, and Daily Science Fiction.
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