|BLOOD FEAST OF THE ASTRO-WOLVES by Neal Privett|
There is no place lonelier than a diner on a snowy night.
Derek Beaumont thought this as he sat in the corner booth and studied the other patrons whose tired eyes betrayed the cold hard fact that they also had nobody waiting for them. He took another gulp of the thick hot coffee and paused from his beat copy of Aldous Huxley to stare outside the window at the falling snow. The night outside the little diner was silent and peaceful, a scene suitable for a postcard.
“Get yourself one more cup of java, ladies and gentlemen,” the bus driver blared with a good solid smile that beamed from his cherry face like a light bulb. “We gotta get back on the road.”
There were six other customers. An elderly man wearing a denim jacket and a ball cap from a stockyard. A couple of college kids with fur parkas. A well-groomed couple that looked to be in their mid-twenties. And a very pretty girl with sandy blonde hair, alone and maybe lost in the snowy night like Derek was. All passengers on the bus line destined for the west. Land of enchantment, Derek thought. Fresh start. From Chicago, through Minnesota and Wisconsin, and into the Great Plains. Then New Mexico eventually. With all the cheap diners and leg cramps you could stand along the way.
“So where you headed?” The voice startled Derek. The concept of speaking to the other passengers had never actually occurred to him. The elderly man in the denim jacket smiled at him from the adjoining booth.
“Out west. New Mexico.”
“That right? What you gonna do out there?”
Derek thought for a moment. “I’m gonna write a novel.” He winced at how cliché it sounded.
“Oh…a writer, eh? That’s fine. What kind of stuff do you write?”
Derek groaned. “Well…I’m not exactly sure just yet.”
The old man’s response was interrupted by the sound of the burly cook clapping his hands to get everyone’s attention. “Right this way, ladies and gents…you can pay your checks over here!” The old man forgot the burgeoning conversation with Derek and rose to leave.
The cook loomed over the counter with his meaty forearms that were a veritable museum of sailor tattoos. The grimy man was ecstatic with the scent of fresh money coming to him. Kind of like a shark smelling blood in the water, Derek laughed to himself. The people lined up, crowding the guy, as if they were afraid the bus would leave them. The register rang as the cook happily punched in the numbers and gave back change.
Derek closed his book. The girl smiled as she moved past him. Derek returned the smile, then turned back to the window. He remained in the booth, watching the snow fall peacefully outside. The passengers passed by, headed for the register. Derek didn’t want to move. This was a nice place, an oasis in the night. The cups and saucers needed an oil change, but Derek loved little out of the way places like this. The Lost America, where time didn’t get the upper hand. He wouldn’t be surprised if a zoot suiter or a leather jacketed greaser stumbled in. He glanced down at the table. It was a road map of ancient cracks, coffee stains, cigarette burns, and graffiti. It was that kind of diner, a time machine with ghosts, and he hated to leave. The bus was dark and cold, and all the hateful visions and lost dreams left behind would appear like ghosts out of the snowy night to haunt and scratch him. Sleep would come later, but only after a couple more hours of tossing and turning and trying to shut out the bitter cold with his frayed old jacket.
Derek sighed. Yes, there was no place lonelier than a diner on a snowy night with the knowledge that you had to leave and endure another cold sleep on a damned bus. And during those long cold wee hours, you had to take care not to drown on your own forlornness in the middle of the night ocean.
“Hey buddy…better move it! You are gonna get left behind,” the driver bellowed. Another gulp of hot coffee waterfalled down Derek’s throat and he slid out from the booth he had staked out for thirty good minutes and drifted towards the counter.
The blast of cold air made the passengers gasp as they exited the diner, leaving behind that island of warmth and light that had been their haven from the chilly bus, if only for an instant. The little bell on the door vibrated in the icy wind as everybody pushed past, shivering and pulling their coats and jackets tight around their bodies. They all rushed to get back on the bus, even though, if asked, everyone would have elected to stay. Derek followed the others as he always had, trailing behind everyone else with head full of unfulfilled plans and visions of books he would one day write but had never gotten around to. Maybe New Mexico would be the catalyst he needed to get started. Derek lifted his face up to the sky and smiled as the snow caressed his nose. God, he hoped so.
The light appeared from nowhere.
Like a blast of green atomic flash, something…big and traveling faster than anything they had ever witnessed before soared over in a lightning fast trajectory towards the waiting earth. The people stood there, frozen with disbelief. It was a ship…almost circular, with fin-like wings on the sides and flaring rockets protruding from the rear. A glowing ring of green lights encircled the front portal, through which Derek could have sworn he saw occupants…as incredible as it seemed…beings from another world piloting the descending ship through the snowy firmament!
The rockets from the craft were so hot that the falling snow melted instantly in the air and droplets of water rained down on the terrified people in front of the bus. Derek’s thoughts exploded into a million mental shards and in an instant, all that pulsated through his mind was the animalistic frenzy of raw fear that jolted the bus passengers into panic after the initial shock wore off. Everyone raced back into the diner. The bus driver slammed the front door shut and screamed, “We have to barricade this door!”
The cook raced around the side of the counter, tossing his dishrag behind him. “Jesus! Was that an airplane?”
The driver pressed his body against the glass door and glared at the frightened cook. “That was no airplane, buddy! We’re bein’ invaded!”
“Jesus…hell!” The cook rushed over and fished a set of keys from his grease stained pants. He fumbled with them until he found the front door key. He moved the bus driver out of the way and locked the door. He shook it frantically to make sure it wouldn’t open.
The diner was plunged into an awful silence…cold and motionless as ice forming on the eaves of a house on a winter’s night. Everyone backed away from the front door and windows, their eyes glued on the strange green glow outside, emanating from behind the bushes beyond the parking lot.
The snow began to fall again. The passengers slowly found some of their lost nerve and one by one, as curiosity got the better of them, they stepped closer to the window to look. The row of bushes blocked any view of the fields beyond, where an unsettling glow flashed on and off through the haze of the snow.
Derek glanced at the cook. “What’s back there?”
“Nothin.’ Woods. A big pond.”
One of the frightened college kids pressed his face against the window and groaned. “The U.F.O crashed back there!”
“What’re we gonna do?”
The cook rushed to the counter and grabbed the telephone. “I’m callin’ the police!”
The young husband growled impatiently. “About time someone did!”
The cook dialled the numbers frantically, then waited. He tried again and stood there with the colour draining from his face. “Phone’s dead!”
Everybody reached for their cell phones. Panic raged through the diner again when everyone realized that none of the phones worked. An unseen power had rendered technology useless. The cavalry was not coming. The people in the diner were alone and helpless…and they now knew it. Trapped in a roadside diner in the middle of the night with a spacecraft from another world sitting in the woods just over a wall of bushes.
“My phone’s dead, too!”
“Does anybody’s damned phone work?”
The jukebox went out next. Then the lights. A frightened hush took over the diner and everybody huddled together. “I got some candles,” the cook said.
“Unlock the door…everybody get on the bus! We’re leavin’ now!” The driver motioned the cook over to unlock the door.
“You’re takin’ me with you,” the cook cried out as he fumbled for his keys.
“Sure thing, Pops,” the driver said. “Everybody load up!” The passengers started for the door, but the driver held out his arm and stopped them suddenly. “Waitaminute…I left the bus idlin’…it ain’t runnin’ anymore!” He pushed through the door and rushed over to the waiting bus, now a silent shell with frost already forming in the windows. After three attempts to start the engine, the driver gave up and returned to the safety of the diner. “I don’t believe it,” he said, with a defeated smirk on his face. “The bus won’t start.”
“You mean we’re stranded here?” The young husband bellowed like a bull. “That’s a great bus line you got!”
“Hey, buddy…that bus is tip-top! This makes no sense!”
“The phones don’t work, either,” the elderly man said. “Something isn’t right.”
The stranded patrons pulled their coats and jackets close to their bodies and shivered. Everyone moved back from the front windows. The cook locked the door again and lit a half dozen candles. “Come on, everybody…have a seat and relax. Coffee’s on the house.”
The young husband sneered. “Relax? With aliens stalking around out there in the woods?”
“Someone will be along to help,” the elderly man said. “The police…someone!”
“I sure hope so,” the young wife said, emotion cracking her voice. Her husband pulled her close to him and kissed her forehead.
Derek glanced outside. “Rather than wait around, why don’t we investigate?”
The others stared back at him in silence. The bus driver removed his cap and rubbed his head. “Are you serious?”
Derek shrugged. “What else can we do?”
The young husband snarled. “You gonna be the one to go, buddy?”
“Sure. I’ll go.”
The driver shook his head. “I must be crazy, but I’m with you.”
“Me, too.” Derek turned around to see the girl standing beside him, studying him with an admiring smile.
The young husband shook his head in disgust. “You’re crazy!”
The driver glanced back at the couple. “I don’t see you doin’ anything.” He pulled the cap down over his face and zipped his jacket and nodded at Derek. “Let’s go!”
A sudden gust of wind caught the door and almost ripped it from the driver’s hand. The little bell sounded off again. The driver grabbed a flashlight from the bus and they moved single-file across the parking lot to the thick row of bushes. Derek couldn’t speak for the girl or the driver, but a sick feeling bubbled up from deep inside him and for a moment he wondered if maybe the guy inside the diner wasn’t right. Maybe they were crazy. But whatever his hesitations might have been, Derek pushed forward, pulling his scarf tighter around his throat and shielding his eyes from the blinding snow.
The three of them moved stealthily through the snow-covered parking lot, through the bushes and into the far woods. The terrain dropped down then rose steadily up again to a crest. The snow was deep at the very bottom of the gulley. The girl stepped down and quickly sank up to her waist. Derek watched her struggling for a second, then offered her a hand and pulled her free. She smiled in thanks. Derek found himself wondering what her name was. Maybe, if they all survived this, he would ask her.
No one spoke, but all three felt a shared and urgent sense of responsibility as well as a biting curiosity that was strong enough to propel them from the diner and into the night. Better to seek out the visitors and see what they wanted. At least that’s what rolled through Derek Beaumont’s mind as he pushed through the snow powdered pine branches towards the unknown. The stand of pines ended abruptly, and the hill rolled down again. Before them stretched the giant pond the cook mentioned earlier. The alien craft had skidded, then vanished beneath the water.
The pond was frozen solid except for a massive hole melted into the centre. It was the point of entry for something huge and very hot. Steam rose from the pond and the surface quivered and bubbled from the heat of the ship’s rockets.
“That ship crashed into the pond,” the driver whispered. “Incredible! I wonder if the pilots are dead?”
Derek shrugged. “I don’t know. Should we try to rescue them?”
“Look at the ice. The water in the centre of that pond is scalding hot,” the girl said. “I don’t think it’s possible until the ship cools. And by then it will probably be too late.”
“I think we should go back to the diner,” the driver said.
The girl was about to respond when she stopped and pointed at the ground on the far side of the pond. “Look!”
The driver pointed the flashlight in the direction of the ship. A trail of footprints in the snow led from the pond, up the bank and vanished into the trees on the far side. Beside it was another trail of prints. “Whatever is in that ship survived the crash and escaped into the trees.”
Derek moved closer and examined the prints. “They look like some kind of animal.”
The bus driver moved beside him. “Let me see. You know…this is really odd. These look like…wolf prints!”
The girl leaned in. “Wolf prints? Coming from the pond…from that ship?”
“I would know wolf prints anywhere. I grew up hunting in the Canadian woods. These are definitely wolf prints…I saw ‘em a million times in the snow as a kid. These are big damned wolves…bigger than usual. And you know what else?” The driver scratched his chin and chose his words carefully before he spoke again. “Whatever made those prints was walking on two legs!”
Derek and the girl shot the driver an uneasy look. None of this made any sense. A real honest-to-God U.F.O had just crashed in the woods, piloted by wolves and they had walked away from the accident on two legs seemingly without a scratch.
The girl tried to break the tension. “Do you think maybe that the cook spiked the coffee with something?”
The driver broke out laughing, but only for a second. He shook his head and pulled his jacket closer around his body. “It feels like it just got 10 degrees colder. Let’s head back.”
“Let’s see where those tracks go,” the girl said.
The driver threw his hands up in surrender. “Oh, no…I’m done. You two go right ahead. This is it for me. I don’t wanna find those things. My ticker can’t take this much excitement.” He lit a cigarette and walked back to the diner with a trail of grey smoke rising amidst the falling snow.
“I guess it’s just you and me,” the girl said.
“I guess so,” Derek said. “We have to be crazy.”
“No phones…no way to call for help. I think it’s better to see what’s out there. Maybe they mean us no harm.”
“They…the two-legged wolf-people who rode in on that flying saucer?”
“Come on,” the girl said. Derek followed her through the low hanging pine limbs that reached for the ground, held down by the falling snow. He shivered as a barrage of cold wetness slid down his collar. The night was freezing, but he knew that it wasn’t so much the cold that made his teeth chatter, but the unseen possibilities of what lurked in the trees ahead.
Moonlight bathed the woods all around them, and Derek found himself lost in an otherworldly glow. Had it not been for the unnerving fact that alien beings had infiltrated their planet, the snowy woods would have seemed to him a peaceful scene from a long-lost childhood dream. But as it was, the freezing night hid unseen terrors that his quivering mind could only guess at. Wolf-like shapes, raced across the moonscapes of his imagination and when Derek wiped the blinding snow from his eyes, the trees in the distance loomed uncomfortably like waiting shadows. The wind picked up and the torrent of snow stinging their faces increased. The two bent their bodies to the cold and continued.
They picked up the trail of prints in the snow and followed. The pine stand rose to a rolling crest, then tumbled swiftly down an embankment. The girl took a step and slid to the bottom. Derek followed. He tumbled once and landed on his face below. The girl laughed, almost falling in the process. Derek blew the snow from his nostrils and mouth and picked himself up. He smiled. Let her laugh. It was a nice laugh. A clean laugh. And it broke the iron-coiled tension in the air around them. The wolf prints stretched out before them, snaking through the low hanging pines. They brushed the snow from their clothes and kept moving.
The woods levelled off. In some places the knee-deep snow was packed tightly in against the trees like a blanket. Derek began to miss the coffee back at the diner. It tasted a little like old shoe leather, but it had been hot. He wondered if the girl missed the warmth and the bad coffee, too. He wondered other things…what her name was, where she was from, what she was doing riding a bus late at night, alone. The tracks in the snow continued. Where in the hell were these things going?
Derek stopped to rest. His breath rose into the air in steamy wisps. The girl glanced back. “Tired?”
“Just catchin’ my breath. What are we gonna do if we find these things?”
“See where they go and what they want, I guess. Maybe they are here by accident.”
“But what if they’re not? What if they’re invaders?”
The girl adjusted her toboggan and wrapped the scarf tighter around her chin. “Better to find out than sit around and wait on them to come after us.”
The tracks led them deeper into the trees. They cut across a small stream. Derek’s boots broke through the thin ice and water splashed on his jeans. He cursed silently as a shiver raced up his spine. The tracks continued through the pines to a large drainage pipe. Derek glanced up. “We’re back to the road.” He shined the light into the dark tunnel. The tracks continued through it and emerged on the far side in the snow.
Derek and the girl stopped dead in their tracks when they heard the howls. Two animalistic voices from another world, melding together into a terrible crescendo and rising high into the winter night. The girl reached for Derek and he pulled her close. They stood there in the drainage pipe with a savage chill running up and down their bodies as they held one another. The snow swirled around the end of the tunnel, the flakes dancing in the flashlight beam.
After a small eternity, Derek took the girl by her gloved hand and they moved through the pipe. A sudden lightning strike of fear exploded in Derek’s brain when two large shadows rushed past. He threw himself back against the wall of the drain pipe and pulled the girl with him. They melted into the shadows and waited.
The things were out there.
Derek caught quick glimpses of them as they raced past. On two legs. The sound of heavy footfalls in the snow and the hard breathing of running animals filled the tunnel. Another savage howl rocked the night and the girl bit her fist to keep from crying out. Derek tried to control his panicked breathing, but the very sound of his own heart beat louder than a drum and he wondered if the beasts could hear it.
After scavenging the low wet area beyond the pipe, the alien creatures vanished into the trees. Derek and the girl peered out cautiously and made sure they were alone before emerging. The snow was violently disturbed all around them. The beasts had been frantically trailing something. “Let’s get out of here,” Derek whispered.
The sight of a freshly killed deer caught the pair off guard. The dead animal lay in a pool of its own blood straight ahead. The snow around the carcass was stained with crimson splashes. The creatures had killed swiftly and silently. And they had quickly devoured about half of the meat. Steam rose into the air, shimmering in the light of Derek’s torch, and hot blood bubbled from deep within the stomach cavity, freshly ripped. A few snapped ribs protruded from the grisly kill.
Derek pulled the girl away and together they ran. They hurried across the low wet area, up the embankment, and onto the road. It was snowing even harder now. Everything was vanishing beneath a soft sheet of white. Derek and the girl started walking, leaning into one another for warmth. They halted a few steps later. The tracks appeared again in the flashlight beam, not yet covered by the fresh flakes. The things came from the woods and took the highway west. From the direction of the tracks, it appeared the beasts were keeping to the road. Derek looked around, trying to gain his bearings. The diner was in that direction.
A chilling thought suddenly occurred to him. “What if they headed towards the diner?”
The girl clenched her teeth. “God, where is the sheriff when you need him?”
“We are so isolated here that I doubt anybody even knows the ship crashed but us.”
The headlights of a car appeared ahead. The car rounded a curve and continued towards Derek and the girl. They signalled the driver to stop. But something was wrong. The car swerved out of control, coming right at them. Derek was about to grab the girl and bail off the embankment when the car swerved again and came to a crashing halt against a tall pine. Tons of snow barrelled down upon impact, covering the windshield and roof of the car, a gold coloured Dodge. Derek and the girl ran over.
The Dodge was still running. It was wedged against the tree, so it could not move any farther. The hood was completely caved in. The windshield was shattered in one spot. The sound of tinkling glass blowing in the wind and falling on snow filled their ears like a dirge. The front tires were flattened from the wreck. But the thing that caught Derek’s eye was the gashes on the side of the door. Huge rips in the metal, like claws.
“The windshield,” the girl said. She gestured to the smashed back window. “The tree didn’t shatter it.” Something had reached inside the driver’s window and smashed the man’s head against the windshield. Derek peered inside the car and immediately wheeled around in horror. He retched for a second, then vomited in the snow.
The girl looked, too, and turned away. The man inside the car was dead. His head reclined at a weird angle on the seat’s headrest. His neck had been broken, but not from the impact of the wreck. Three bloody lacerations rolled beneath the dead man’s chin, laying open his throat. The man had not been dead long. Wet blood still bubbled from the gaping wound. The dead man’s face was crushed in. His nose was completely gone. Spattered blood and bits of ragged flesh hung from the broken windshield glass.
Derek shined the light down the length of the corpse. His intestines lay in a pile beside him in the seat. The flesh around the man’s chest and right arm showed the tell-tale signs of teeth. They had gutted him inside the car and had taken as many bites as they could before the car got away from them. The man was already dead before the wreck. The wolves must have hit him out of nowhere like an atomic bomb, breaking his body and ripping into his flesh with their razor-sharp claws.
The man sat in a twisted, awkward position. His right leg was broken and wedged up under the dash, keeping his foot stuck firmly on the gas pedal. That’s why the car was still running. Derek reached inside the car and switched off the ignition.
Thinking quickly, Derek reached inside the car and opened the glove compartment. He shined his light inside and found what he hoped was there. A gun. He took it and checked to see if it was loaded. “Thank God,” he said. “The poor guy never had a chance to use this. They must have hit him hard and fast.”
Another howl echoed from deep in the night ahead of them. It was the sound of hunters, excited and lusting after blood. Earth blood. And it seemed human or animal did not matter.
“What if these things came here to hunt,” Derek mused. A terrible shiver twisted his spine, almost snapping his back as the words left him. “What if they came here from outer space for meat?”
“You mean ‘open season’ on us?”
“That’s too scary to think about!” They moved stealthily down the snow-blanketed highway towards the diner.
Derek held the girl tight and the gun tighter.
A hot rush of relief came over them when they saw the dimmed neon lights of the diner in the hazy distance. But their elation faded quickly when they saw the front door. The glass had been shattered. Pieces of plywood now covered the holes. Part of the large front window was missing as well. Derek could see a light dusting of snow that had blown in on the window side tables.
Derek called out. There was no answer at first. But after a moment, the familiar voice of the bus driver greeted their ears, partially muffled by the falling snow. “Is that you guys? God, I am glad to see you!”
Derek stepped over the broken glass and splintered wood. His boots crunched as he moved. “Is everybody okay?”
The bus driver frowned and gestured to two bodies covered with blood stained table cloths.
The cook stepped out from behind the counter. Spatters of blood covered his wife beater. “Goddamned monsters! They hit the front window, bounced off…then they busted through the front door! We couldn’t stop ‘em!”
The elderly man walked over to Derek. He blew a silent sigh of relief when he saw the old coot. The man shook his head frantically, as if he did not believe his own words, “Werewolves…that’s the only way I can describe ‘em! Werewolves in space suits!”
Derek glanced around the room, then back at the sheeted bodies. “Who…?”
The girl moved close to Derek and took him by the arm.
“The young couple,” the bus driver said with a groan. Derek noticed the blood trickling through the cuff of the driver’s leather jacket. Tiny droplets splattered on the tile floor. “One of the damned things bit me when I tried to brace the door. Came through on top of me.”
“I’m fine. Wrapped my arm up with a rag. That kid was a real jackass, but I didn’t wish nothin’ like this on him. Things ripped him and his little wifey to shreds with us beatin’ ‘em with brooms. The cook even hurled a meat cleaver at ‘em. Didn’t do no good.”
Pools of blood ran together in the centre of the floor. Small bits of raw meat were scattered amidst the broken glass. Derek spied something shiny and reached to pick it up. He recoiled in disgust when he realized that it was a human tooth.
The elderly man in the denim jacket pushed the cap back on his head and sighed. “Damn shame, those two kids!”
The wide-eyed college students in the parkas sat together at the bar, staring off into space. They were eaten up with fear; it had swallowed them whole and trapped them in its awful belly. They reeked with it and from the looks etched onto their traumatized faces, they would never escape this terrible moment, no matter how many years passed them by.
Derek lit up. “Hey…that car!”
The girl moved closer. “What do you mean?”
“The car that crashed into the tree…I can’t believe I didn’t think about it earlier! The car was running! It came from the direction of…what’s the next town over?”
“Bakersville,” the cook replied.
“The girl smiled. “So there’s a chance that the saucer isn’t controlling all of the machines and power in Bakersville…which means we can get help!”
“That’s right,” Derek said. “I’ll go…bring back help!”
The driver frowned. He rubbed his wounded arm and shivered. “Kid…don’t you think you’ve risked enough already tonight? You two were lucky the first time.”
“Somebody’s gotta go for help,” the girl said. “Count me in, too!”
The driver coughed as another savage chill ran up his spine. “God…I think I’m runnin’ a fever. It’s that damned wolf bite.”
The girl frowned as she lifted his sleeve to examine the wound. “It’s infected. We’ll try to find some antibiotics in Bakersville.”
“Okay. Find the sheriff, too. Be careful,” the driver said.
Derek handed the pistol to the driver. “Here…you might need this.”
“You need it more,” the driver protested. Derek shook his head and moved towards the door.
“You kids watch out for those damned monsters,” the cook added. “Straight there…straight back.”
“Tell somebody what’s happening here,” the old man said.
Derek nodded as the door swung open and they vanished into the snowy night once more. They moved steadily down the frozen highway, over the ridge, and down into Bakersville. Every dense patch of trees screamed at them and every shadow jumped out with fangs bared. But they made it into town a couple hours later without incident. Derek was relieved to see the town limits sign, but the thought of what might have happened if the wolves had found them along the way made his spine almost snap with a savage icy shudder.
Derek and the girl walked into town only to find it deserted. The snow beat against dimly lit buildings that betrayed no signs of life inside them. The kids moved, with the grinding sound of their boots in the snow, under the main traffic light in town, past the old post office, past the saloon and across Main Street before they stopped.
A howl resonated suddenly from the deep woods that surrounded Bakersville.
The terrified kids pulled close to one another and listened, with the breath frozen in their throats. Another triumphant howl rang out, echoing across the otherwise silent town. Derek felt his heart quiver and miss a beat inside his chest. Somewhere out there was a meat-eating horror from beyond the stars. A space-wolf with a predatorial instinct like its terrestrial brothers and sisters, but with the intelligence to build a ship and fly it halfway across the galaxy. Derek let the thought sink in until he couldn’t bear it any longer.
“Come on,” Derek whispered. They moved across the deserted street to the drug store.
The bell rang as they entered. The warmth welcomed them in and wrapped itself around their frozen bodies. Jazzy elevator music played softly over the speakers. Derek glanced around frantically. There was no one there.
The girl split off and moved cautiously up one aisle, then another. Derek found something for wounds and shoved capsules and bandages into his coat pocket. Then he moved past the toothpaste and mouthwash, past the magazine stand where Alfred E. Newman grinned mischievously back at him from the cover of Mad Magazine. He moved around the corner of the next aisle and almost screamed when he bumped into the girl. She blew a sigh of relief and gestured towards the counter. They inched their way closer and slowly peered over.
The girl gasped and turned away. A wave of nausea overcame Derek once more and he stumbled, catching himself on the counter before he collapsed. “God!”
Two corpses lay in a heap behind the counter, their throats torn out. One of them, Derek figured it was the pharmacist, judging from his blood spattered white coat. The dead man was missing his eyes. The door behind the counter…which probably led outside, had been wrenched off its hinges and tossed aside like a section of cardboard. The urge to flee hit them and they raced back outside.
The grocery store was across the street. The automatic doors swung open and they rushed inside. Derek’s heart sank when he realized that there was no one there. The two kids raced up and down the deserted aisles. It was as if everyone had just walked away.
The girl grabbed Derek’s arm and motioned for him to stop when they moved past the meat counter. Bloody paw prints decorated the floor and inside the glass counters were splashes of red blood from the ripped open packages of raw meat. The wolves had been through there, devouring all the beef, chicken, and pork. Nothing was left.
The girl hesitated, then peered over the counter. No bodies were there. She motioned towards the swinging door beside the meats, where the freezers and stock were. Derek had the same thought: maybe there were survivors hiding back there.
The girl pushed through the swinging door, with Derek right behind her. The back room was quiet except for their snow-caked footsteps on the concrete floor. A single light bulb hung from the ceiling on a wire. Each wall was lined with cans and boxes draped in broken shadows. On the right was the freezer. A thin streak of light emanated from the cracked door.
Derek reached for the handle. A sliver of frost had formed on the door frame. He pulled it free and peered inside the freezer. The gore-soaked vision of about two dozen bodies assaulted his senses. Several corpses hung by meat hooks from the ceiling. Several were stashed on shelves, their dead eyes glazed over with frost and frozen wide with fear. A couple of people were cut into portions, their meat wrapped like steaks with paper. The girl glanced over Derek’s shoulder before he could stop her. She wheeled around and fled the freezer. Derek slammed the door shut and ran after her.
He caught her on the milk aisle. She struggled against him for a moment; her eyes filled with panic. “Calm down…it’s gonna be alright,” he pleaded until the girl finally relaxed and buried her head in his coat. Her sobs melded with his sobs and they stood there in the grocery story, shielding one another against the horror they found themselves mired in.
“That was deliberate,” she said. “Those things know what they’re doing…they are here to hunt us and take our meat!”
“Too bad they’re not vegetarians, right?”
She laughed and threw her arms around Derek’s neck. Her lips met his and Derek knew that he was not alone in the night. Someone stood with him.
The snow had ceased falling outside. And the bone-chilling rays of a full moon ripped through the clouds, illuminating the deserted streets of a doomed town. The moon was so bright that the kids shielded their eyes from the silver glare as they turned the corner onto Market. The girl saw it first. Down the street was a police car…parked at the gas station.
They raced down the snow packed sidewalk and stopped short of the car. The wind blew a cloud of snow their way. Powdery sheets of white rained down from the roof of the station. The lights were on inside, but there wasn’t a human to be found. Derek moved closer to the patrol car parked beside the pumps. A ticking bell sound greeted his ears and when he got close enough, he realized that the snow was melted around the tires. The nozzle lay in a heap on the pavement, spewing gallons of gasoline onto the ground. It pooled around the car and rolled in a steaming river towards the station, melting a swath of snow in its wake.
The officer lay slumped over against the steering wheel. His head was missing and in its place was a bloody stump that oozed freezing gore. Derek reached into the car and took the officer’s revolver. He checked to make sure it was loaded and shoved it down the front of his pants.
“There’s nobody to help us here,” he said. “We need to go.”
A loud crash made the kids take cover behind a gas pump. Derek’s stomach twisted, and his heart turned to pure ice when he saw the outlines of two figures rummaging through the empty gas station. The sound of breaking glass filled the winter air and a severed head came rolling across the snow, coming to rest in front of the fuel pump the kids cowered behind. The eyes gazed blankly at Derek and blood pooled slowly around the nose and mouth, dribbling into the snow. Derek hid his eyes and tried to ignore the horror before him. Another crash came from the station. The kids glanced up to see the wolf men piling bodies up before the door. One of the beasts pushed through the door with a limp body strewn across its massive shoulder. It dropped the dead man atop two others and returned back into the station.
Derek reached into his pocket and found a book of matches that he had picked up from the diner. He looked at the girl and winked, then rushed past the pumps, amid his companion’s frantic whispered protests. He thought for a moment, then quickly jammed a metal paper box under the door handle. A steady flow of gasoline covered the front of the station, enough to cause a massive explosion. He peered inside. The monsters were so busy investigating the interior of the station that they did not notice him. Wet, gasoline-soaked pawprints dotted the inside floor. He took a newspaper from the box and folded it, then he motioned for the girl to run.
Derek raced to a safe spot, lit the newspaper with the matches, and tossed the flame into the growing pool of gasoline. Great orange and blue fingers of fire appeared and swam the trail of fuel, right up to the front door of the station. The kids ran away as fast as they could. A massive explosion rocked the night a second later and knocked them sprawling face down into the snow. Derek looked back to see an Olympian tower of smoke and flame rise into the sky. The station was gone…in its place was an inferno, and somewhere in the midst of that destruction were the two aliens. Derek silently prayed that they were incinerated, but somehow, he knew that it wasn’t true. A sudden howl of rage and pain came from the burning ruins of the station and a tall figure engulfed in orange flame bolted from the fire and raced screeching down the road a hundred yards before collapsing into the snow. Derek paused for a moment, then walked over to the burning wolf man. He stood defiantly over the creature, watching its fur melt into nothingness and the flesh underneath bubble and sizzle.
The girl took his arm and stood beside him watching the monster cook. “Where’s the other one?”
Derek glanced back at the station. “It’s dead.”
They waited a moment, to make sure that nothing else emerged from the wreckage, then they walked around the corner and found a blue pick-up truck on the street with the keys still in it. The girl climbed into the passenger seat and stared thoughtfully at Derek as he turned the key and the engine sprang to life. “Why is the power still on here?”
“Maybe the saucer took the power out back at the diner. Bakersville is a few miles away from the crash site. Maybe the energy from the ship didn’t reach this far. Who knows?”
Something crashed into the side of the truck all of a sudden. The girl screamed and fell into Derek’s lap. He shoved the gun towards the passenger window and gasped in amazement at the frightened and very human face staring back at him through the frosty glass.
The man beat frantically on the window and cried out, “For God’s sake…help me!”
Derek reached over and unlocked the door. The man winced as he climbed inside. Derek noticed the bloody towel wrapped around his arm. “You’re hurt,” he said.
“One of them bit me.” The man coughed violently. He shivered and gritted his teeth as a wave of fever wracked his body. Derek turned the heat up. The truck pulled away from the curb and headed out of town. Derek blew a sigh of relief.
The man continued, “They came outta nowhere…took over the town. Killed almost everybody. Started dressing them out…like deer.” The man massaged his wounded arm and stared out into the night. “Thank you for picking me up. I’m probably the last living person left in this town.”
“We witnessed the handiwork of those things,” the girl said.
“Where did they come from?”
“Outer space,” Derek said.
The man shook his head in disbelief. “Werewolves? From space?”
“Looks that way.”
“They’re dead now. We blew them up at the gas station.”
The man leaned back in the seat and grinned. “Way to go.”
“Where to now?”
“Little diner the next town over. We got people waiting for us,” Derek said. “We’ve got something for that arm, too.”
The man lurched forward suddenly and cried out in pain. Derek pulled over to the side of the road. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he replied, in a half whisper. “Yeah…keep drivin’. I’m fine.”
Something hit the truck suddenly and spun it around in the road. Derek threw the truck into drive and floored the gas pedal. The truck sailed off into the darkness. Something raced alongside the truck. Derek recognized the tall, dark figure right away.
It was the other wolf! Rivulets of smoke rose from its charred hide and trailed off into the cold air. The creature was covered with burns, but it came after them with every ounce of rage and strength it had. The man screamed from the passenger side as the wolf-thing slammed into the truck, sending it skidding off into the ditch. Somehow Derek pulled the wheel and handled the truck back out onto the road. They kept moving. The beast came right at them again. This time Derek swerved and knocked the monster sprawling. It fell in the road, rolled, and came back at them.
The wolf slammed into the truck again. The girl glanced over at its horrible face, covered with hairless blistered flesh, pressed against the window. The hunter from other worlds…the child of other moons… howled defiantly and fell back. But it possessed otherworldly strength and agility and sprang over the back of the truck as if the vehicle were standing still. It vaulted over the hood and planted its feet firmly into the road, bringing the truck to a screeching halt as if it had crashed into a tree.
Derek pushed the accelerator, but the tires spun helplessly. The beast lifted the truck and howled, sputtering blood and foam across the hood. The monster growled and barked, gnashing its teeth at the humans helplessly trapped in the cab.
Derek stared through the cracked windshield in horror. Burning yellow eyes glowed back at him hatefully from a disfigured face and pools of bubbling saliva formed around yellowed fangs in anticipation of the kill. Derek knew that they would not die easy.
“Cover your eyes!” He screamed and aimed the gun at the beast’s eyes…those terrible burning eyes! He pulled the trigger and a storm of breaking glass showered them. The wolf dropped the truck and fell back into the snow.
The truck bounced as it rolled over the top of the wolf-thing. Derek felt the bones crunch and the breath gurgle as it was forced from the thing’s body. He stopped, threw the truck in reverse, and rolled over it again. He pulled away and ran over the monster again and again until it was a pile of festering, steaming gore.
About a mile out of Bakersville, the wounded man lost consciousness. The girl tried to rouse him, but to no avail. Derek pushed the truck forward into the night…hoping that somehow the man’s life could be saved back at the diner.
They pulled up at the diner sometime later, after many miles of darkness fed by fear, with the cold rays of the winter moon beating down on the truck. Derek threw the truck into park and hopped out, racing to the passenger side. He froze. The man had regained consciousness and glared at him through the frosted window.
Derek shivered as he gazed into burning yellow eyes.
Patches of fur sprouted from the man’s face and hands. Fangs jutted from his blackening lips and claws appeared on his upraised hands…the curse of the astro-wolves’ infectious bite! Derek screamed at the girl, “Get out of there!” She sprang from the driver’s side of the truck and scurried across the snow. Derek stepped back and aimed his pistol right at the man’s face. He pulled the trigger and the wolf vanished amidst an exploding sea of glass and blood. The wolf man slumped forward and did not move again.
The power was still out. Derek and the girl stepped inside the candle-lit diner. The girl slid her arm around Derek’s waist. “Where is everybody?”
“I don’t know…maybe in the back?”
“My name is Kate.”
Derek smiled and leaned down to kiss her. Now he knew her name…that soft, beautiful name that meant he wasn’t all alone in that cold night on planet Earth. “Nice to meet you,” he beamed.
Something came out of the shadows just before their lips met…something covered in dark fur that ripped the girl out of his arms and sent her decapitated head sailing over the counter and her body flailing in the opposite direction. Something that tore the life and the warmth from Kate...destroyed every moment that Derek could have shared with her for the rest of their lives. Something terrible that sent the woman he could have loved reeling into the next world without warning. Derek screamed when he recognized the bus driver’s jacket. He emptied his gun into the wolf man’s eyes.
Silence crept back into the diner.
When his eyes adjusted to the half-light, Derek noticed the splattered blood on the far wall. In the corner lay the dismembered fragments of the remaining passengers. All of them sliced into pieces by the monster’s claws. Derek recognized the blood-soaked parkas of the college kids, the cook’s tattoos, and the old man’s denim jacket. His stomach felt as if it dropped a mile deep all of a sudden.
He dropped the empty gun and walked outside. He stood there in shock, staring up into the firmament. It was snowing again. Saucer-like ships with swirling green lights flew over. The sky was filled with them.