Eli in galaxy leggings looking resigned

Season One

Not Your Red Riding Hood: Part Four

The cave isn’t a cave so much as a tunnel. Charlie spends a few minutes scrutinizing the darkness to either side of them before resolving that “up” is their best course of action. She’s seen too many horror movies to try cave diving with an eight-year-old. 

“Maybe we can climb up,” Charlie says, eyeing the wall. “Here, I’ll give you a leg up.”

No response.

When she turns around, it’s to find Isabelle scrutinizing the wall like an archaeologist at the dig of a lifetime. She’s even got her phone out, using it as a flashlight.

“Little help here,” Charlie says.

Isabelle doesn’t even turn around. “I am helping.” Then: “Ah hah!”

Charlie groans. “You’re killing me here, kiddo.”

“I’m saving you,” Isabelle says proudly, wiping dust from the tunnel wall.

Charlie rolls her eyes. “I don’t think—”

And then she sees it. Damn, the archaeology dig hadn’t been that far off. There’s a symbol, a vertical line intersected by another diagonal line, chiseled out of the rock wall. 

“What is that?”

Isabelle practically beams. “Our way out,” she says, pointing into the darkness. “We need to go that way.”


The world record for the standing long jump is just over twelve feet. By his best guess, Eli’s about twenty feet away from the far side of the gorge.

Still. Death-by-splatter has got to be a better way to go than being mauled to death by a literal monster.

A loud, cracking groan splits the air as he pushes off, the sound of the makeshift bridge beneath them finally giving way. Heat rakes across the back of his calf as the rogue catches him with a claw, but it’s too slow to catch him fully, and for a long, breathless moment, Eli is soaring through the air, weightless as he waits for gravity to reassert itself. 

He hopes the gorge goes down far enough for the end to be quick. He hopes his body isn’t too messed up.

I’m sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry. I wish

The ground is rushing towards him too soon, and it takes him a heartbeat to realize it’s because he’s about to collide with the side of the gorge, not the bottom. Then he hits, another sledgehammer to his lungs, but even as his head spins his hands are clawing at the lip of the gorge, digging in, scrambling for purchase. Eli’s barely even aware of what he’s doing as his body seems to take over, arms hauling him up over the edge as his toes dig in for leverage, sending more dirt and rubble clattering down into the darkness below.

On his hands and knees on solid ground once again, fighting panic at how very close he was to not just one but two different yet equally grisly deaths, the sight of his own furred, claw-tipped hands barely registers. A snarling growl rings out, drawing his attention. Apparently the rogue had made it back to solid ground instead of being dropped into the abyss as Eli had dimly hoped it might be.

He pushes himself to his feet to face it across the yawning span of the gorge between them. Eli feels oddly distant from his own body, as though he’s merely a passenger along for the ride. The rogue paces back and forth as he watches, his thoughts too fuzzy to bother with more than the basics.

Enemy.

Danger.

Bad.

The other wolf howls again, head thrown back as it lets out its call, then crouches down, hind legs as tense as coiled springs as it prepares to jump. Eli bares his teeth in challenge, ready for a fight now, ready to—

BANG!

The gunshot comes from almost on top of him, and Eli drops to the ground, instinctively trying to make himself a smaller target. The rogue, on the other hand, lets out a howling cry as it clutches at its blood-soaked shoulder. Off to Eli’s right there’s the sound of a rifle cartridge being ejected, and then an answering scream—fully human, furious, and defiant.

“YEAH THAT’S RIGHT, FUCK OFF!” Alyssa bellows as the rogue turns to run, still impossibly fast even with only three good legs.

Eli’s legs are weak with relief, but he pushes himself to his feet. Alyssa glances over at him, her expression still fierce for a moment before her eyes go wide and horrified.

Her rifle swings around to train on him, and Eli’s heart stops.

“Shit.” Alyssa’s hands are unsteady as she ejects another cartridge. “Eli, I’m sorry.”

She’s going to shoot him. He can see it in the way she settles her rifle more firmly against her shoulder, the way her left hand tightens to steady her aim. His heart starts beating triple-time and he raises his hands in the universal gesture of let’s try to be reasonable people who don’t murder each other here.

His hands, still tipped with claws, still covered in dirt-streaked gray fur that continues up his arms.

. . . Shit, indeed.

“I’ll make it—holy hell!” 

She drops the gun down to her side, suddenly much taller. No, wait. Eli is shorter. He looks at his hands again, sees skin and scraped fingers and dirt caked under his short, human fingernails. Relief washes through him. And then he falls.

“Woah there, you’re already scuffed up enough.” Alyssa has one arm wrapped around him, holding him up. “Let’s not have any more tumbles today, yeah?”

“You’re strong,” Eli mumbles. He’s so tired, and talking is hard.

“Seems like I’m not the only one.” She hitches him a little higher and flicks the safety on her rifle into place with her free hand before slinging it onto her back. “I almost shot you,” she says, her voice barely steadier than his.

“I noticed.” He digs deep and finds the strength to take on some of his own weight. “Glad you didn’t.”

“Glad you shifted back when you did. Fuck, kid.” She laughs, starting to lead him slowly away from the gorge. “Good instincts.”

Eli smiles weakly. “Thanks. Shit. Charlie and Isabelle, they’re—” 

“At the diner.” She grins just as weakly back at him. “Well, Charlie is, according to her text. She dropped Isabelle off at home and she’s meeting us there. They’re okay.”

“Thank God. I really didn’t know what I was gonna do about it if they weren’t.” He limps along in silence for another few steps. “Can I ask you something?”

“I’d say you earned it, sure. Shoot.” She winces. “Uh. Sorry.”

He laughs at that, surprising them both. “Oh, shit. Fuck, that hurts. I think I bruised some ribs.” He takes as deep a breath as he dares. “How did I do that? It’s not even dark yet, and I shifted. And then I shifted back. I thought you said I was screwed if I shifted too soon. How—”

“Eli,” Alyssa says firmly, cutting him off. “Those are all really good, really fair questions. And I promise, we’re . . . we’re gonna figure out the answers.”

Meaning she doesn’t know, either. Cool. Cool cool cool.

“Cool,” he mutters. And then, after a moment, “Seriously, thanks. For not shooting me, and for the other. Shooting thing. That you did do?” He wobbles on his feet.

“Hey, no sweat. What I’m here for, right? Sort of.” Her grip tightens, and she takes more of his weight back on herself. “We’re almost back to where I parked; just a little bit farther, then we’ll get you back home. Lucky for you I keep a first aid kit and a spare change of clothes in the trunk—you look like you went ten rounds with a shredder.”

“Um.” He glances at her, then down at himself, and she shoots him a wry smile.

“I know, we’re not exactly the same size, but trust me—leggings and a sweatshirt are gonna be an improvement.”

“Okay.” He takes another careful breath, this one already deeper than the last. “I trust you.”


Another text from Charlie pops up on Alyssa’s phone when they’re halfway back to the diner. Alyssa immediately calls her sister back, setting the call on speakerphone so that she can hear for herself that Eli is alive and more-or-less well.

“We’re almost there. Let us know if it’s busy so we can go in through the—Eli, is there a back door? Fuck it, let’s just go in that way regardless. Eli here’s got a bit of a wardrobe situation going on.”

He can’t even blame Charlie for the way she doubles over laughing when she sees him, and just stands there for a full minute to let her take in the whole picture. Alyssa was right about his clothes being a lost cause, torn to shreds by the combination of falls, claws, and his supernatural transformation. The too-small galaxy-print leggings and bright pink hoodie are an improvement in terms of public decency laws, but not much else.

By the time he’s showered and scrubbed himself clean again, two things have happened: all of his assorted cuts and scrapes have almost entirely healed over, and the dinner rush has given way to the usual early-evening lull. He pauses long enough to grab the heaping plate of food his mom hands him, giving her a grateful smile, and slides into the booth where Charlie and Alyssa are waiting.

“Wow.” Eli glances between the two of them on the other side of the table. “Deja vu, huh?”

“Shut up and eat before you pass out,” Charlie tells him. “You burned an unbelievable amount of energy today with zero prep; you need to refuel.”

Eli doesn’t argue, just starts digging in. She’s right, he’s starving. He’s halfway through his double-decker burger and mountain of fries before he pauses and looks at them again.

“So.” He snags the ketchup bottle and squirts some out onto his plate. “I was thinking about it when I was in the shower.”

“Gross,” Charlie says automatically. There’s a muffled thump from under the table and then, “Ow! It was a joke.”

“Ignore her,” Alyssa says. “What were you thinking about?”

“I can’t go to Harford yet. Look,” he pushes on when they both open their mouths to argue. “We can talk about the rest of it, come up with a game plan, whatever. But I already talked to my mom about this.” Eli glances over at her, smiling back at her encouraging wink. “I can’t leave until we deal with this rogue. I won’t.”

“Eli . . .” Charlie looks to her sister, taking uncharacteristic care in choosing her words. “There are a lot of reasons that might not be a great idea.”

“I get that. But . . .” He picks up a french fry. Puts it back down. “There’s a lot of shitty, scary stuff in the world, and most of it—you know, I can’t really do anything about it.” His eyes dart over to his mom again. “I can do something about this, though. And as long as I can, I’m not gonna run away.”

“Wow. That’s noble as hell.” Charlie leans back against the bench’s vinyl-covered padding. “Stupid, but noble.”

Eli’s about to deliver what would be, frankly, a devastatingly witty response the likes of which the world has never known, but he’s distracted by the buzz of his phone in his pocket. He fishes it out, wondering who could possibly be texting him when almost everyone he knows is here, and sees . . . he sees . . .

Thanks again for taking Isabelle out today, she said she had a lot of fun. This is Owen btw.

No problem! She said she had fun?

“Hey Charlie, how did you and Isabelle get out, anyway?” he asks, astonished he hadn’t even thought of that until now, and looks up to see Charlie grinning knowingly at him. “What?”

“Look at that smile. Who ya texting, Eli?” He feels his face warming up, and she cackles. “Maybe staying in town isn’t totally noble after all, eh?”

“Would you just answer the question?”

His phone buzzes again:

She’s totally crazy about you and Charlie. I owe you big.

“—how to navigate. Eli. ELI.” His head shoots up again and Charlie gives him a look caught somewhere between fondness and irritation. “I said, there’s a whole system of caves running under this section of the park. The Blake family has lived here forever, and they’ve got nearly all of it marked with directional symbols and shit so you can find your way out. Isabelle said her dad taught them all how to navigate through it when they were old enough to start going out by themselves.”

“Charlie, let’s go to the counter and order some milkshakes.” Alyssa half-shoves her sister out of the booth ahead of her and gives Eli a pointed look. “Five minute break for you to get the teenage flirtation out of your system, then back to business.”

Eli doesn’t bother arguing, just immediately turns back to his phone. He’s texting with Owen Blake. They’re texting each other. Texting is a thing they do now.

You don’t owe me anything, it was fun. I thought your dad took your phone, though?

He did! But Mike felt bad for me and slipped me a prepaid one he picked up at the grocery store. Brothers: 1, Dad: 0!

Eli knows he must have a totally goofy grin on his face, but he doesn’t care. He’s halfway through typing out a congratulatory reply when another text pops up.

Anyway, you’re wrong: I totally owe you. Maybe I could buy you dinner this weekend?

Eli loses a good chunk of his allotted time just . . . staring at the screen.

Dinner.

Dinner with Owen.

Dinner with Owen, at Owen’s invitation, for which Owen wants to pay. Almost like a . . . like a . . .

Dinner sounds great, yeah, he finally manages to type out after no fewer than four separate drafts. Good. Casual. Aren’t you pretty much grounded until you graduate, though?

I’ve snuck out of the house before. I can do it again for a good cause ;)

“All right, bucko, time’s up.” This time Charlie snatches the phone out of his hand before he can stop her, and her eyebrows immediately shoot up. “A winky face? My dude, you are totally in there.”

“Drink up,” Alyssa says, setting a huge milkshake down in front of him. “Charlie, stop hogging, let me see!”

The two of them start peering at the screen between them, chattering about . . . Eli doesn’t know. The texts, he’d guess, but he’s so caught up in his own thoughts that he barely even hears. His heart is beating so hard he can feel it in his fingertips. Is it really possible that Owen just asked him out?

He has a full-body flashback to the night of the bonfire, sitting on a log next to Owen. His smile with the firelight flickering over it. The warmth of Owen’s side pressed against his. The way the scent of his cologne had made Eli’s head spin. He can practically smell it again now, sharp and woodsy and—

“Hey.” A hand settles over his on top of the table and Eli nearly jumps out of his skin. Charlie draws back immediately, but now she and Alyssa are both frowning at him in open concern. “Hey, you okay? You went from cloud nine to totally freaked out in like half a second.”

“On the body, and . . . and then today, at the gorge.” His eyes flicker around the diner, suddenly intensely aware of their public setting. “There was a smell. Cologne.”

“Okay,” Alyssa says slowly, her frown deepening. “Well, that could be a clue. Do you think you’d know it if you smelled it again?”

“I already did.” Eli swallows hard. “Um. I think Owen might be trying to kill me.”


The diner is bustling in a way that makes his hackles rise even if he’s not inside, instincts still on high alert from the chase earlier. The chase and the shooting. His shoulder still hurts like a bitch even with the accelerated healing. 

It’s got nothing on the sour feeling in his gut though.

Because it’s Eli. After all this searching, he’d been right under his goddamn nose the whole time. Right under his nose in the worst way. Of course. Of course it’s Eli.

Shit just got complicated.


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“Okay . . .” The tip of Isabelle’s tongue pokes out where it’s pressed against her front teeth, her forehead scrunched in concentration as she enters the coordinates that Charlie’s pulled up on her phone. “There. So I’ve set the waypoint, and now I just . . .” She pokes at the screen a few more times.

“Doin’ great.” Charlie’s voice is encouraging, but she looks as nervous as Eli feels. “So which way do we go?”

“The house is . . .” Isabelle turns slowly in place, eyes still locked on the GPS unit in her hand, until she finally lifts her head and points triumphantly. “Half a mile that way!”

“Superb, you funky little Girl Scout!” Charlie takes the unit from Isabelle and gives her a high five. “Let’s get moving. Did you hear that, Eli?” Her eyes lock on his, a little too wide above her encouraging smile. “Just half a mile from the house.”

“That’s . . . great.” Half a mile. Fuck. “Let’s get going.”

Charlie keeps up a steady stream of chatter as they start to walk—it isn’t hard, as Isabelle proves more than willing to go on at length about almost anything once you get her going—and Eli does his best to just let it wash over him. He channels all of his focus, trying to open up his senses and stretch them as far as they can go. Smell is a lost cause with so much to filter through, but hearing is a little bit easier. High-up branches creaking in the wind. The fluttering snap of bird wings. Chattering squirrels. What sounds like a few mid-sized animals making their way through the crunch of fallen leaves.

And then, at the very edge of his perception, what sounds like something bigger moving through the underbrush. The crack of a thick branch snapping under heavy weight. What his suddenly adrenaline-soaked brain is certain is a deep, guttural snarl.

“Hey Isabelle.” She looks up at him quizzically, cutting off whatever she was saying mid-sentence, and he summons up his most challenging smile. “I bet you a super sundae you can’t beat me back to your house.”

“Oh yeah?” There’s a calculating glint in her eyes, and he focuses on that to keep from looking over at Charlie who’s gone tense beside him. “With extra cherries?”

And extra whipped cream.”

“You’re on!” she says, dropping his hand and immediately bursting into a sprint over the uneven ground. “I want two kinds of ice cream!” she calls back over her shoulder.

“Go,” Eli says, and that’s all the prompting Charlie needs before she starts running as well.

Eli’s run from a lot of things in his life, but he’s never exactly been an athlete. Now, though, his legs and his lungs feel strong, his heart rate barely picking up as he practically flies across the forest floor. There’s a dizzying freedom to it, a stark contrast to the way running always felt before, and he makes a mental note to take the time to enjoy it when he isn’t running for his life from a dangerous monster.

Ahead, Charlie has caught up with Isabelle and is carefully keeping pace, and it would be easy for Eli to do the same, easy to overtake them completely. Instead he hangs back, still trying to listen. He still doesn’t know what he’s doing, but if the rogue is following them he wants to make sure it has to go through him first.

Fuck, that’s stupid. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Charlie, if we make it out of this alive I’m gonna kill you.

He’s still about a dozen yards back when there’s a loud groaning sound from up ahead where the girls are, and Eli watches as the forest floor gives way beneath them and they’re both just suddenly—

Gone.

Eli only just manages to skid to a stop at the edge of the ten-foot-wide hole that’s opened up in the ground, coughing against the cloud of dust and leaves.

“Isabelle?” he calls, heart in his throat. “Charlie? Are you both okay?”

“Ow.” Isabelle’s voice sounds more annoyed than pained, and Eli sinks down to the ground before his knees give out in relief. “That sucked.”

“We’re okay.” Charlie also sounds winded but otherwise steady. “What the hell, though?” A pause, then: “Shit, I’m probably not supposed to curse in front of you. Fuck!”

Eli’s laughing as he fumbles his phone from his back pocket and turns on the flashlight function. Charlie and Isabelle are getting to their feet, dirt-streaked and rumpled, but steady. The hole isn’t as deep as he’d feared—just a little over ten feet from the look of it—but still too deep for him to reach them.

“Okay, uh.” Eli glances around. “Maybe there’s like . . . a tree branch? Or something? I might be able to pull you guys up.”

“Actually,” Isabelle says, stepping over to one of the walls of what seems to be the small cave they’ve fallen into, “you might not have to.”

“I admire your confidence, girl, but these walls don’t exactly look climbable.” Charlie cranes her neck back to peer up at Eli. “See if you can find something we can grab.”

Eli gets to his feet and starts to look around. He thinks he might be able to snap a branch off one of the smaller trees if he has to. He’s giving one a testing pull when something catches his attention.

Something big is moving through the forest—he can hear it again, closer this time, and headed their way. Logic would dictate that there’s no reason to believe that it’s the rogue. There are lots of animals in these woods. It could just as easily be a bear, or a deer, or maybe even a moose.

But Eli knows. He doesn’t know how, exactly, but he knows. He can feel it, somehow.

The rogue is coming.


“Eli?” Charlie has her phone out, shining the flashlight around to make sure more rubble wasn’t about to collapse on top of them. She knows it’s been all of thirty seconds, but it already feels like they’ve been stuck down here for hours. “Oi, make a noise so I know you’re still up there, would you?”

“Hey.” Eli’s silhouette appears at the top of the hole again, backlit by the midafternoon sun. “I couldn’t find anything. But, um. Charlie, I think our friend is close.”

“Close.” Shit shit shit. They came out here straight after school, she isn’t even packing a can of mace right now. “Are you sure?”

“I can hear him. So. I’m gonna go . . . see if he’ll help. You two just stay here, okay?”

“Woah, hold on.” Charlie feels panic starting to rise up inside her and tries to force it down. “I don’t know if we should be splitting up.”

“Eli?” Isabelle sounds nervous now, and moves back to stand beside Charlie. “You’re leaving?”

“I’ll be back. I promise,” he says fiercely. “It’s gonna be okay.”

He’s gone before either of them can say another word, the sound of his footsteps fading quickly into the distance. Charlie drops into a crouch and pulls off her backpack, digging through it to look for anything that she could repurpose into some sort of weapon. A mechanical pencil is the best she has, unless she can manage to bore the rogue to death by reading it her copy of The Scarlet Letter.

That’s a solid plan B, anyway.

“Charlie.” Isabelle tugs on her sleeve, looking uncertain. “Are you freaking out?”

“I’m good, kiddo. Just . . .” Lie, lie, lie. “I’m not wild about small spaces. That’s all.”

“Well—”

Whatever Isabelle was about to say is cut off by a sound above them: heavy footsteps and heavier breathing, snapping twigs and a snuffling growl. Her eyes go wide and afraid, and seeing that, Charlie shoves down her own fear as she lifts a finger to her lips, then covers her own mouth with one hand. Isabelle follows suit, staring up towards the bare treetops and the blue sky overhead, nearly vibrating with tension.

Same, girl.

Charlie braces herself, preparing for a fight. The rogue has to know they’re here by now, has to have caught their scent. Might even already know they’re trapped. She doesn’t know how she’s going to protect Isabelle if it comes down here, but damn it, she’s ready to die trying. Maybe she can give it a bloody nose before it rips her apart.

A howl cuts through the air, echoing from somewhere to the south of them. And then, almost directly above them, an answering howl.

Heavy, thudding footfalls as the creature above them bounds away.

What.

Charlie can’t wrap her head around it. The two of them are sitting ducks, easy prey. A werewolf as far gone as the rogue should be running on pure instinct and bloodlust.

A werewolf as far gone as the rogue shouldn’t be shifting during the day.

“Was that . . . a wolf?” Isabelle squeaks out, and Charlie has to take several deep breaths before she can muster up an answer.

“Probably just a dog.” It’s bullshit, but Isabelle’s what, eight? Charlie can sell this. “Sometimes people dump strays in the woods and they go feral.”

“So.” Isabelle stares up at her, eyebrows raised. “Basically a wolf.”

Charlie laughs. “Whatever it was, it’s gone now.” She listens carefully, but there’s no hint that the rogue is doubling back. “That was kinda scary though, huh?”

“Yeah.” Isabelle lets out a shaky laugh of her own. “Wait’ll Ms. Dhar hears about this.”

“Maybe you’ll get a bonus Wilderness Survival badge,” Charlie grins.

“Do you think Eli is okay?” Isabelle asks quietly.

“I wouldn’t worry about him.” Charlie looks up again, trying to pretend she believes what she’s saying. “I’m sure he’s fine.”


Eli’s not fine. He’s never been less fine, unless you count the last time he’d been hunted through the underbrush by a monster. He can’t even bring himself to freak out about the damn howl that’d crawled up out of his throat like barbed wire. His freak-o-meter is tapped.

His running isn’t so effortless anymore—not with something just as fast as he is on his tail. The trees whip by like the world’s in fast forward, but he’s still at a disadvantage. He only has two legs; the rogue has four.

His only hope is to make it to civilization before the rogue catches him, but . . . no, not an option. He’s not leading this bastard to people, not when it’s already killed at least once. Eli won’t be responsible for more bloodshed.

Well, other than his own. Because fuck, he’s flagging. He’s flagging and he can practically smell the foul breath of the monster on his heels.

He should stop. Turn and fight while he still has the breath to do so. If he’s gonna go down, he’ll at least make sure it’s not worth the rogue’s while to double back for the girls. If he can just—

The ground falls away under his feet like it wants nothing to do with him. For a full half-second, Eli hangs in the air like a cartoon character before gravity joins the party and he falls.

It’s a gorge, he realises too late. A great big split in the earth a good thirty feet across and . . . a lot more than that down. Which is why it’s a lucky thing his flailing hands find a branch, even if the rest of him violently slams into the fallen log it’s attached to.

The breath isn’t so much punched out of him as taken out with a sledgehammer. It’s all he can do to keep his grip on the branch, the only thing between him and an . . . unpleasant drop. Then there’s a growl above him, and Eli swivels as best he can.

The rogue is no less monstrous in daylight. If anything it’s more, with Eli’s new senses bringing it to him in high definition and surround sound. The thing is straight out of a monster movie: bipedal, with hulking shoulders and huge, claw-tipped hands. Its fur is rust-colored, dark with red undertones when it shifts in the breeze. The dark eyes watching him are the most human thing about it. Its teeth, though . . . Eli can’t help but feel like he ought to be wearing a red cloak.

But no. He’s not some helpless babe in the woods. Not this time.

Eli grits his teeth and yanks himself up onto the fallen log. It groans beneath his weight, almost rotted through, but he’s able to gain his feet without it giving way. 

He’s lucky. So lucky. Two feet to the right and he would have been a smear on the rocks below. Instead, he’s balanced precariously on rotting wood that’s wedged diagonally across a perilous drop, facing off against a murderous werewolf.

Y’know what? He takes back the ‘lucky’ part.

The rogue snarls, falling onto all fours, and Eli realises it’s gauging the distance to the fallen log. It’s a ten foot drop, an easy leap for a werewolf—or it would be if the log were sturdy.

“Don’t!” Eli yells, feeling stupid until he sees the rogue pause. It can understand him, then. Eli swallows harshly as the log sways under him. “It won’t hold both of us.”

The rogue actually appears to consider this, and for a horrifying moment Eli worries it’s going to give up on him and loop back around for the girls. 

Then the bastard jumps.

The log shudders almost as violently as Eli’s nerves, but it doesn’t give way. A second later, he almost wishes it would. The rogue bears down on him like a nightmare, and Eli can’t back up fast enough, can’t block out the low growl, or the rancid breath, or the sharp woodsy smell that hits him behind his tongue—

Then there’s a loud crack, and Eli feels the snarl this time. Because it’s not the rogue. It’s him.

Eli doesn’t think. He jumps.


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Woods

Season One

Not Your Red Riding Hood: Part Two

“Would you just send him a friend request already?” Charlie sighs. “It’s not a marriage proposal, it’s just fucking Facebook.”

“I . . .” Eli’s mind spins, trying to figure out how to explain the complicated high school social strata, unspoken rules of engagement, and social norms that make her absolutely wrong. Not worth the time it would take, he decides, and forces himself onto a different track. “That’s not what I was doing.”

“Sure.” Charlie pulls her backpack on like a Babybjörn and leans against the lockers as she starts digging through the main pocket. “I’m sure you kept your phone in your locker all day to avoid the temptation of Candy Crush.”

“I didn’t hear from him all weekend.” Eli stares mournfully at his phone, unable to keep up even the shadow of pretense. “He must have been totally freaked by what happened at the bonfire.”

“Hey, speaking of you Hulking out, what’s the fallout been?” She pulls a granola bar from her bag with a triumphant noise. “Alyssa and I are standing by to smooth things over, but you’ve gotta keep us in the loop, yeah?”

“How could you—nope.” Eli slams his locker shut and heads for the front door without looking back. “Don’t wanna know.”

“Hey.” Charlie grabs his elbow, though she keeps pace beside him without complaint. “I’m serious. We’ve got your back. You know that, right?”

The tension in his shoulders loosens just a little. “I know. And I appreciate it, even if you make it sound like creepy Illuminati shit sometimes.” They push through the door, and after a day drowning in teenage body odor and terrible body sprays, the crisp, fresh air is the best thing he’s ever smelled. He glances around as they make their way down the front walk. “There hasn’t been any fallout, though. I keep waiting for it, but—I mean, I broke Austin’s arm,” he says, lowering his voice nervously. “I figured I’d at least get called in by the principal or the team coach or something. It’s weird, right? That I haven’t gotten in trouble?”

“Well‒incoming,” Charlie mutters, taking a step back and staring down at her own phone just as he turns his head to see Owen making his way towards them, hand raised in a wave.

“Owen!” Eli says, louder than he intended, and tries to clear his throat without being too obvious about it. “Owen. Hey.”

“Hey, Eli.” His smile is friendlier than Eli would’ve expected for a guy with a black eye, a guy who’s been conspicuously silent on all social media fronts since he saw Eli snap another guy’s arm on Friday. “I was hoping I’d catch you before you left. Hey Charlie,” he adds.

“Hmm? Oh, hey. Sorry,” she says, shooting a glance at Eli, “I’m just super invested in beating this level in Candy Crush. Pretend I’m not here.”

“So,” Eli rushes to redirect Owen’s attention, only to realize he has no idea what to say. “Uh. How was your weekend?”

Smooth, Swann. Very smooth.

“Uh. A little rough?” Owen rubs at the back of his neck, his smile turned rueful. “I’m grounded for the next month, and my dad took my cell phone and changed the wifi password. I get those back in a week, though, as long as I don’t fuck up again.”

For a moment, all Eli can do is blink. “You were the one who got punched, though,” he finally blurts out. “Sucker punched, I mean. I’m the one who broke—”

“Hey, uh.” Owen steps in and puts a hand on his arm, gently steering him a couple of steps away from the stream of students leaving the school. “So, I talked to Austin when I took him to the hospital,” he says in a low murmur, stepping into Eli’s space in a way that’s deeply, deeply distracting. “I made sure he knows that if he tries to get you in trouble I’ll make sure he goes down too.”

“Oh.” Eli’s heart is racing. What does he even say to that? “Thanks?” Jesus Christ. “But, uh, what about . . . everybody saw what happened.”

“Everybody at the bonfire saw him start throwing punches,” Owen says grimly. “Austin’s always been an ass, but he’s gotten way worse the past couple months. Everyone’s pretty sick of his bullshit; it wasn’t hard to convince them to go with the ‘he tripped on a tree root and fell wrong’ story.” His smile is back, absolutely devastating when he’s standing this close, black eye and all. “Don’t worry, you’re in the clear.”

Ignoring the instinct to check that there aren’t literal cartoon hearts floating in the air around him, Eli shakes his head. “That’s hands-down the nicest thing anybody’s ever done for me. But hold up, if everybody’s on board, how’d you get grounded?”

“Uh, I came home with a shiner and the homophobic asshole who’s been hassling me had a broken arm. My dad figured I was the one who did it, and I just kinda let him.” He shrugs. “Whatever, it’s not like I really care what he thinks anyway.”

“Yeah.” Eli tightens his grip on his backpack straps to keep from reaching out. “Still. That sucks.”

“In a weird way, I think . . . I mean, he was pissed, but I think he was kinda relieved, too? Better to have his son punch another guy than kiss one, y’know? Hey, maybe you could teach me how you did that,” he adds, grinning again despite the subject matter. “Just in case.”

“Oh, uh. That was just. Judo.” Eli hears Charlie snort. “Self-defense class. My mom and I took one when we lived in Chicago.” He laughs awkwardly. “I didn’t even realize I still knew how to do that.”

“Hey. Hi. Sorry to interrupt,” Charlie says, thankfully stepping in before Eli completely loses control of himself. “Owen, I think someone’s here for you? They were trying to get your attention for like ten minutes.”

“There’s no way we’ve been standing here that long,” Eli protests.

“It’s just an expression, nerd. They drove off,” she says to Owen when he looks towards the parking lot. “Do you need a ride? Because neither of us have a car.” Eli shoots her a look. “What? I was gonna suggest he come to the diner with us instead!”

“I definitely would, but that’s my brother. My dad doesn’t trust me to go straight home after school, so Mike’s picking me up every day, along with . . . yup.” He shoots Eli an amused look. “You might wanna brace yourself.”

“ELI!” She’s wearing a puffy pink coat instead of a hotdog costume, but Isabelle is instantly recognizable by her enthusiasm alone. She skids to a halt in front of them, practically vibrating with energy. “Hey!”

“Owen.” Another figure approaches on her heels, with the dark-haired classic good looks marking him as a Blake. “Hey man, we’ve gotta get going.”

“Mike.” Isabelle tugs at her brother’s hand, eyes still locked on Eli. “Mike, can Eli take me?”

“Take you where?” Eli asks, at the same time that Michael raises his eyebrows and says, “Oh, Eli.”

“Right!” Owen says quickly. “We’ve gotta go, sorry to keep you waiting!”

“We’re doing a geocaching scavenger hunt for Brownies,” Isabelle carries on as if neither of her brothers have spoken, “but Ms. Dhar says we can’t go in the Preserve by ourselves, and Owen’s grounded and Mike has his research project.” She stares up at him with wide, pleading eyes that have to be practiced. “Would you take me instead?”

“Isabelle, I told you he works at the diner after school,” Owen says with a barely-suppressed smile.

“He’s got today off,” Charlie jumps in, so quickly that Eli barely has a chance to wonder how Owen knew that. “Geocaching, huh? You know,” she says, digging in her bag and pulling out what looks like a chunky cell phone in a sturdy, rubberized case, “my sister and I got really into that a few years ago. Do you know how to use a GPS unit?”

“I’ve just been using an app Ms. Dhar had us download.” Isabelle steps over to peer at the machine that Charlie’s holding out. “Woah, cool.”

“We can all go out together, I’ll show you how it works,” Charlie suggests, glancing up at Eli. “It’d be fun.”

“Sure.” Eli can’t get his feet under him, but it seems harmless enough. He looks back and forth between Owen and Michael. “If it’s cool with you? I mean, I don’t mind.”

“He knows self-defense,” Owen offers.

“I do have some work I was hoping to get done today.” Michael hesitates, visibly debating himself for a long moment before he sighs and pulls his phone from his back pocket. “Eli, could I get your number, just in case?”

“I’m gonna have my phone,” Isabelle glances up to protest.

“And Mom and Dad will kill me if anything happens to you on my watch, so I’m getting his number. And—sorry, I don’t think I got your name.”

“Charlie,” she says. “No problem.”

The two of them rattle off their numbers for Michael to type in, and the Blake brothers turn to go. 

“Send me a selfie every half-hour, okay?” Michael tells Isabelle as they start to walk away. “I mean it.”

“I will, I will, see you later!” Isabelle turns her back on the two of them to beam up at Eli and Charlie, all but bouncing in place. “Let’s go hunting!”


The Adirondack wilderness is a national historic landmark, but it’s kinda hard to focus on its majesty when it’s now associated with two violent attacks. As Charlie teaches Isabelle how to use her GPS tracker, Eli feels a stab of gratitude that he’s out here with them. He may not have this whole werewolf thing entirely on lock, but he has a better chance than most of fending off another attack.

Not that there’s going to be one. The sun is high in a cloudless sky, painting the forest floor in dappled patterns, and the rogue only attacks at night.

Then again the rogue wasn’t supposed to attack at all until the next full moon.

“That’s so cool!” Isabelle enthuses, tugging on Eli’s hand like an excited balloon. She hasn’t let go of him once, not even as Charlie’s tech obviously cemented their new friendship. The closest she came was to take a selfie with the three of them to send to her brother, and even then she’d made Charlie press the button.

“We sure we’re going the right way?” Eli asks. It feels like they’ve been walking for hours, even if it’s only been long enough for a single selfie. Rose Lake’s township has long-since faded away, even from his own boosted hearing. Not that nature is all that quiet in comparison. He’s pretty sure he can hear squirrels having sex somewhere off to their right.

“We’re getting there,” Charlie says, not answering his question at all. That should have been a red flag, only the squirrels have gone from fucking to fighting and it’s distracting as hell.

It’s only when he smells the blood he realizes what Charlie’s done.

Keeping his voice casual he says, “I think I might know where we are.”

Isabelle looks up like he’s just spouted a sonnet. “Do you know the woods really, really well?”

“Some parts,” Eli says, shooting a glare at Charlie when Isabelle looks away.

Charlie doesn’t even try to deny it as she pokes through the underbrush. She’s about four feet away from a dark stain in the dirt. “Just figured we’d kill two birds with one stone.”

“We don’t kill birds,” Isabelle says like she’s two seconds away from throwing red paint.

“It’s an expression,” Eli says, reassuringly. “No killing, I promise.”

“Um.”

There’s a lot to be said for inflection. It can mean the difference between “Eli, stop being a goober” and “Eli, you’re grounded for a week”. The inflection of that um sounds an awful lot like, “Don’t freak out but we’re definitely in mortal peril”.

“Charlie?”

She turns, holding a digital watch with a smashed face, like whoever had been wearing it had hit the ground hard. But it’s not the watch that has Eli worried, it’s Charlie’s expression.

“I’m getting hungry,” Charlie says suddenly. “We should get back.”

“But we haven’t finished!” Isabelle protests.

“Yeah, but look at the time,” Charlie says, turning the watch.

The face is smashed clean through, the digits frozen at the hour it broke. Seven AM.

Fuck.


Alyssa smooths the map out, weighing a curling corner down with her cell phone. The couple in the room next door are having a fight about gas prices and Alyssa has to work to tune them out. Luckily the spell is a simple one: a few muttered words and her fingertips start to tingle as the spelled crystal does its job.

First, the path in. The crystal swings toward her as it always does, indicating the direction the rogue entered Rose Lake—or rather, the no-man’s-land where Rose Lake resides. 

No pack, no borders, no magic. America is threaded with such areas—great swaths of land that no pack has claimed. It makes tracking rogues a lesson in frustration since she can only magically trace a wolf’s path through pack territory. Once they’re in a no-man’s-land, it’s down to her good old fashioned human tracking—credit card receipts, rumored animal attacks. Sometimes, though, a rogue will get sloppy and cross into an area like Rose Lake.

Rose Lake is an island among territories, skirted on all side by packs. It means Alyssa can track it in, and she’ll know exactly when it leaves.

Alyssa works her way around the surrounding territories clockwise, the crystal remaining static with each recitation. The rogue hasn’t left town then. It should probably disappoint her—in a territory they’d have a pack helping them track the bastard. But Alyssa hates pack diplomacy. If she doesn’t have to defer to an Alpha while they clean up this damn mess she’ll be thankful for it.

Her laptop chimes as she’s rolling up the map and she rolls her eyes at the time. Lord save her from small town medical examiners. Slowest paperwork she’s ever had to wait on.

She sits down and boots up one of the numerous throwaway email accounts she uses for her spyware backchannels. 

The report is sloppy and lazy—the examiner obviously agrees with the authorities on the “wild animal” front. They haven’t even bothered guessing at a species, which is the height of amateur hour. Alyssa is about to chalk the report up to a giant waste of time when she gets to the time of death and freezes.

It can’t—

I’ll check out the scene, Charlie’s text had said. Alyssa swears and grabs for her phone, booting up her GPS tracker before switching over to text. Even if the medical examiner fucked up—no, she can’t risk it.

Rogue attacked after sunup, she types one-handed as she grabs for her Glock. Get out of the woods.

Goddammit. She’d been wondering how the rogue had gone so moon mad so fast. She hadn’t stopped to think maybe that it wasn’t mad at all. That it was killing deliberately.

They weren’t just dealing with a rogue werewolf. They were hunting a murderer.


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Not Your Red Riding Hood

Season One

Not Your Red Riding Hood: Part One

The morning is cool and crisp, the crunch of fallen leaves beneath her feet so blissfully autumnal that Carrie is almost too distracted to notice the dark stain that cuts across the path. She pauses, breath steaming in the chilly air, still running lightly in place. She runs this trail every morning, knows every stretch and curve of it like the back of her hand, and she’s never seen that before: a splash of some rusty brown liquid, not quite soaked fully into the dirt, leading into the brush beside the path.

The brush that, she’s fairly certain, never had quite so many broken branches, or looked quite this trampled down.

Almost as if something had been dragged through it.

Carrie hesitates. She should finish her run, go home, and shower. Go to work. Definitely not go tromping into the undergrowth to find a—a dead deer or something. Especially not when whatever killed it might still be in the area. Might still be hungry.

There’s something tangled on one of the snapped branches. Something that looks . . . almost like a snarl of blonde hair.

I’m going to have to call in late to work, she thinks, her heart racing, and she steps off of the path.


“I—yes, that’s right. I understand.” Eli’s mom wanders into their tiny kitchen, rolling her eyes dramatically. “I know we might get a better offer with a longer listing time, but I need to—yes, even if it could be dramatically more.” 

She paces back out of the room, either because she doesn’t want to distract Eli with the argument or because she doesn’t want him to hear her cursing. He gives it about fifty-fifty odds either way.

Eli is a mess. He still can’t shake the guilt that’s been nagging at him since last night. He remembers how excited his mom was just a few months ago, remembers stopping for the night on their way to Rose Lake and sitting with her at the tiny motel room table as they drew up a five-year plan together. Five years. It was the furthest ahead he could remember the two of them planning anything. His mom’s eyes had been bright as they’d gone over the diner’s menu, brainstorming ideas for new items they could introduce now that it was theirs.

And now they’re leaving. Again. Because he decided to cut through the woods one night instead of taking the long way home.

Oh, and there’s also the little matter where he broke someone’s arm and is, frankly, expecting either the police or a PTA mob to break down the door at literally any moment.

He opens up a new tab and brings up another website, filling out his search terms with the speed of long practice. He hates trying to find an apartment before his mom has a job lined up in their new city, but it makes for a decent distraction. And at least Charlie told him what area they’d want to look in so that the two of them would be going to school together. He’s never started a new school where he’s had a friend already waiting for him, and it makes the idea of leaving sting a little bit less.

Not much, but. A little.

“Okay.” His mom comes back in and drops down into the other chair, looking exhausted. “Roger’s going to start drawing up the paperwork. As soon as we have a buyer, we’ll be ready to go. I’ll call the high school tomorrow to see what they’ll need to get you enrolled. What’s left on the list?”

“The usual,” Eli shrugs. “Packing. Finding a job. Apartment.”

“Anything good so far?”

“One place that looked great.” He shakes his head. “The listing was totally shady, though. The place didn’t even show up on Google Maps—we’d have shown up and found out we signed a year lease on somebody’s closet or something.”

“You’ve got good instincts, kid,” she laughs, pushing herself to her feet and brushing a hand over his shoulder on her way to the fridge. “You thirsty?”

“I’m good. Hey. Mom?”

“Hmm?”

“I’m sorry.” He sees her turn around, but he can’t quite bring himself to look directly at her. “It’s my fault we’re moving again. We had a plan here, and now we’ve gotta abandon it, and I know you wanted—”

“Hey now.” She’s next to him in a flash, her hand gripping his chin to lift his face up until he finally meets her gaze, fierce and determined. “The only thing I wanted—the only thing I want—is for the two of us to be safe and happy. If that’s not here, it’ll be somewhere else, because all that matters is that we’re together. You got it?”

“Yeah,” he says, and his smile feels a little watery, but it’s real. “I got it.”

“You sure?” She looks skeptical, even with the smile she can’t quite keep out of her eyes. “Because I’ll make you write it out a hundred times on the chalkboard if that’s what it takes for it to sink in.”

“That’s the special board, mom.”

“And you write on it with chalk. Don’t backtalk your mother.” She presses a kiss to the top of his head before she heads back to the fridge. “So, other than the shady closet listing, how’s it look? Anything worth following up on?”

“A few places seem like they’d be okay. I’ve got a list going.”

“And what about your actual homework?”

“Already finished. There’s nothing really—” His phone buzzes on the table and he picks it up. “Nothing really tough. I didn’t have a lot.”

There’s a text from an unfamiliar number waiting for him:

someone found a body in the park

Then, a moment later:

this is charlie btw

Eli’s blood runs cold as he stares at the screen. He doesn’t know why Charlie would be telling him about a body, unless . . . well. Unless she thought it was werewolf-related.

Fuck his life right now, for real.

I’ve been home and at the diner all day, he finally texts back, and Charlie’s answer pops up almost immediately.

duh it’s not like i thought u did it. police are trying to keep it quiet but i guess it’s p brutal. how u feeling?

Fine? Freaked, but fine. Shouldn’t I be?

just lmk if you start feeling bitey

Fuck. His. Life.

hey small towns are gossipy right? lmk if you hear anything. maybe the vic knew the rogue, might be a lead

‘Vic’? Who are you, David Caruso?

EW HDU

just keep your ear to the ground, furball

Ear to the ground. Right.


Turns out working at the town’s only diner is the best ground ever to have one’s ear on. The dead body is all anyone is talking about, though without any official statements everything Eli’s making a point to overhear is filtered through someone’s neighbor’s nephew.

So far he knows it might have been an animal attack, a serial killer, or aliens—that last one courtesy of Mrs. Lilly, who thinks aliens have been mowing her lawn for the last four years. Then again, with Eli’s newfound furry status, who knows; maybe E.T. really is worried about old ladies’ hedges.

Still. His money’s on animal attack, provided you use a fairly liberal definition of “animal”.

His best chance of a clear idea of what’s going on turns up at 8 a.m. on the dot for his regular ham and cheese bagel. Deputy Ron August is a man that walks like he’s taking gravity personally, every step measured, precise, and poised as though he’s expecting to come upon a sharp cliff at any moment. Whenever he comes into the diner Eli has to squash the urge to ask him if he’s okay. Today is no different.

“The usual, Deputy?” Eli asks, clutching his notepad as the deputy climbs up onto a stool with the concentration of a mountaineer. 

“Thank you, my boy,” August says like there isn’t a mere stone’s throw between their ages.

Eli pours the deputy a coffee and steels himself before blurting out, “Busy day for the department.” Shit. “I heard.” Shit. “Around town?”

He’s officially awful at this. August knows it too, just gives him a look over his first sip of coffee that makes Eli rethink the gap between their maturity levels.

“Hmm,” August says, noncommittally. “I’m sure the grapevine’s already come up with ten different scenarios that are more interesting than the truth.”

“Which is . . .?” Eli says, hope like a brittle thread in his voice.

Deputy August rolls his eyes. “You’re terrible at this.”

Eli deflates like a balloon. “Tell me about it.”

Costa’s yell of, “Order up!” at the kitchen window almost drowns out August’s laugh.


Of course, there are more direct means of getting information about the body. Which is how Eli finds himself outside the town morgue at 2am watching YouTube tutorials on how to jimmy a window lock.

The mortuary is shuttered and quiet, the employees probably long home and asleep. Just like he should be, dammit. Only he can’t get the thought out of his head: animal attack. The bite mark on his arm may have disappeared, but he’s not an idiot. To someone not in the know, a werewolf attack might well look like a random animal attack. And if the rogue killed someone. . .

A part of him is arguing that this isn’t his problem. He didn’t ask to be attacked, to be thrown head-first into sharp claws and sharper teeth.

But he’s here now. And what he does next speaks more to his own moral compass than anything else.

The low basement window is as old as the rest of the building, with locks to match. Eli’s able to slide his high school ID card between the two panes and shift the rotating catch to open it. Or rather, that’s the plan until his ID gets jammed and he’s suddenly very aware that he’s just stuck something with his face on it in the lock of a building he’s trying to illegally break into.

His heart starts hammering as he tries to pull his card free, the window rattling loud enough that Eli fervently checks over his shoulder. Nothing. This side of the mortuary faces a blind alley between it and the post office. Eli turns back—

—and promptly has a heart attack.

He yelps, falling away from the window—and the face in it—onto his ass. He’s dead. He’s so dead.

And then he realizes the face is laughing. The super familiar face.

Charlie opens the window, still quietly cackling at him. “You should have seen your face.”

Jesus Christ. “What are you doing here?” Eli hisses.

“Same thing you are, hot shot,” Charlie says, stepping back from the window. “C’mon.”

Eli checks both ways down the alley but his yelp doesn’t seem to have alerted anyone of his foray into criminality. He slides forward and shuffles through the window, landing light-footed on the cold, tiled floor. His ID is under the window and he makes a point of securely pocketing it before he follows Charlie further into the darkness.

The mortuary is cramped, more of an afterthought than a real facility—Rose Lake isn’t big and Eli can’t imagine it gets a lot of use. Certainly not suspicious-death use, anyway. The room they’ve landed in is like something out of a crime procedural with the budget of a student horror movie. One wall is a bank of square doors just begging for a down-and-out detective to roll a body out of. In the middle of the floor is a metal table, all the creepier for how perfectly polished it is.

Charlie leads him across the room and into a small side office where Alyssa is hunched over the lone computer’s keyboard. She looks up when they enter and groans.

“You owe me ten bucks,” Charlie says. Eli doesn’t know whether to be impressed or offended.

“What’re you doing here?” Alyssa says, turning her attention back to the computer.

Eli hesitates. What is he doing here? “I had to know,” he says, not bothering to elaborate. There’s really only one reason he’d be interested in a dead body given the circumstances.

“You should have told us,” Charlie says. “We could have carpooled.”

And . . . she’s right. There’s no reason for him not to have been a team player, only . . . he can’t remember the last time he had a team. Uncomfortable, he just shrugs.

“What’re you doing over there?” he says to Alyssa.

She doesn’t look up as she answers. “The coroner hasn’t looked at the body yet,” she says. “We want access to the paperwork when they do.”

“She’s hacking the matrix,” Charlie says.

Alyssa rolls her eyes. “I’m installing spyware.”

Wow. This is definitely more boring than TV had led him to believe. Out of habit, Eli pulls out his phone. He and Owen never swapped numbers so he’s been a little obsessive about checking his Facebook friend requests.

“Are you Instagramming your first break-in?” Charlie says and Eli can’t help his small laugh.

“No, just . . .” He doesn’t finish the sentence.

“You could friend him, you know,” Charlie says and Eli has to fight the urge to clutch his phone to his chest like an offended old lady.

“I wasn’t—”

“You so were,” Charlie scoffs good-naturedly even as she lunges for his phone. “Here, I’ll do it.”

But his reflexes are too fast—Charlie’s left two feet short as Eli holds his phone securely out of her reach. Good to know he’s getting something out of this whole werewolf thing. Charlie whines like a five-year-old and Alyssa groans.

“Can you two please take this somewhere else?”

Charlie’s eyes light up. “Wanna see the body?”

Before he can answer, Charlie’s dragging him into the examination room. It’s obvious they’ve already looked at it because she bee-lines for one of the square doors before turning back to him. “Coming?”

And Eli . . . doesn’t know. He’s never seen a dead body before. Even when his dad died it was his mom who identified the body. Eli had been left in the hall, tears coming too hot and fast. He finds himself biting back the familiar sting even as he takes a step forward.

Charlie clearly has no qualms about dead bodies, unhesitating as she opens the cooler door and pulls out the metal tray. It’s too loud in the hush of the mortuary and Eli flinches instinctively. It’s easy to forget that they’re somewhere they shouldn’t be. Everything just seems so . . . ordinary.

Then Charlie pulls back the sheet over the corpse and things become very unordinary. 

Apple pie. Twice a week like clockwork. It was her favourite, she’d told him once. It reminded her of her grandmother.

Ms. Harker looks pale and strange and very dead. Her neck is a mess of pink flesh, the blood long-since drained—whatever killed her tore out her throat. Eli sucks in a breath and suddenly wishes he hadn’t. She smells like raw meat, like the stock Costa defrosts every morning before the breakfast rush. There’s a bitterness, too, something acrid and heavy on his tongue. It’s the same way Austin smelled when his arm had snapped in the woods.

Fear.

Steeling himself, Eli takes a step forward. This close he can see a flash of white in the mess that is Ms. Harker’s neck. Bone. Charlie’s only uncovered her to her chest, but even Eli can recognize the bite on her shoulder for what it is.

“Are you okay?” Charlie says, probably just now realising that dead bodies aren’t a big theme in most people’s lives.

Eli swallows. Is he? “Yeah,” he says finally. “I know her . . . knew her. She’s a regular at the diner.”

“Oh,” Charlie says, awkwardly. “Sorry.”

Eli shakes his head and takes another breath. It’s no better than the first but it gives him an idea. “If this is the rogue, could I smell it on her?” he asks.

Charlie shakes her head. “Maybe if you’d had a few years to get used to your senses,” she says. “New wolves are crap at differentiating input.”

Eli looks down at Ms. Harker again. She’s no less dead than before and Eli finds it makes him angry. “But I can try?”

Charlie has the decency to look sympathetic. “You can try.”

Before he loses his nerve, Eli bends over and takes a deliberate breath through his nose. But Charlie’s right: underneath the stomach-churning meat smell, there’s just a riot of different threads. The smell he thinks is fear—probably a specific mix of sweat and pheromones—undercuts everything, but other than that it’s a jumbled mix of decaying plant matter, a sharp woodsy smell, metallic blood, and countless other scents that coalesce into a brown sludge across his senses.

He wrinkles his nose as he straightens and Charlie raises her eyebrows. “Um. She smells like the park.”

Charlie pats him on the shoulder like she’s handing him a participant trophy. “Well, an attempt was made.”

“Done,” Alyssa says suddenly, and Eli’s half surprised he doesn’t jump out of his skin. “Let’s get out of here.”

Eli takes one last look at Ms. Harker before Charlie covers her face again. He’s very aware of how close he came to being in her place, a body behind a square door in a cramped mortuary. More urgent, though, is the feeling that it’s the last of its kind he wants to see.


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The morning is cool and crisp, the crunch of fallen leaves beneath her feet so blissfully autumnal that Carrie is almost too distracted to notice the dark stain that cuts across the path. She pauses, breath steaming in the chilly air, still running lightly in place. She runs this trail every morning, knows every stretch and curve of it like the back of her hand, and she’s never seen that before: a splash of some rusty brown liquid, not quite soaked fully into the dirt, leading into the brush beside the path.

The brush that, she’s fairly certain, never had quite so many broken branches, or looked quite this trampled down.

Almost as if something had been dragged through it.

Carrie hesitates. She should finish her run, go home, and shower. Go to work. Definitely not go tromping into the undergrowth to find a—a dead deer or something. Especially not when whatever killed it might still be in the area. Might still be hungry.

There’s something tangled on one of the snapped branches. Something that looks . . . almost like a snarl of blonde hair.

I’m going to have to call in late to work, she thinks, her heart racing, and she steps off of the path.


“I—yes, that’s right. I understand.” Eli’s mom wanders into their tiny kitchen, rolling her eyes dramatically. “I know we might get a better offer with a longer listing time, but I need to—yes, even if it could be dramatically more.” 

She paces back out of the room, either because she doesn’t want to distract Eli with the argument or because she doesn’t want him to hear her cursing. He gives it about fifty-fifty odds either way.

Eli is a mess. He still can’t shake the guilt that’s been nagging at him since last night. He remembers how excited his mom was just a few months ago, remembers stopping for the night on their way to Rose Lake and sitting with her at the tiny motel room table as they drew up a five-year plan together. Five years. It was the furthest ahead he could remember the two of them planning anything. His mom’s eyes had been bright as they’d gone over the diner’s menu, brainstorming ideas for new items they could introduce now that it was theirs.

And now they’re leaving. Again. Because he decided to cut through the woods one night instead of taking the long way home.

Oh, and there’s also the little matter where he broke someone’s arm and is, frankly, expecting either the police or a PTA mob to break down the door at literally any moment.

He opens up a new tab and brings up another website, filling out his search terms with the speed of long practice. He hates trying to find an apartment before his mom has a job lined up in their new city, but it makes for a decent distraction. And at least Charlie told him what area they’d want to look in so that the two of them would be going to school together. He’s never started a new school where he’s had a friend already waiting for him, and it makes the idea of leaving sting a little bit less.

Not much, but. A little.

“Okay.” His mom comes back in and drops down into the other chair, looking exhausted. “Roger’s going to start drawing up the paperwork. As soon as we have a buyer, we’ll be ready to go. I’ll call the high school tomorrow to see what they’ll need to get you enrolled. What’s left on the list?”

“The usual,” Eli shrugs. “Packing. Finding a job. Apartment.”

“Anything good so far?”

“One place that looked great.” He shakes his head. “The listing was totally shady, though. The place didn’t even show up on Google Maps—we’d have shown up and found out we signed a year lease on somebody’s closet or something.”

“You’ve got good instincts, kid,” she laughs, pushing herself to her feet and brushing a hand over his shoulder on her way to the fridge. “You thirsty?”

“I’m good. Hey. Mom?”

“Hmm?”

“I’m sorry.” He sees her turn around, but he can’t quite bring himself to look directly at her. “It’s my fault we’re moving again. We had a plan here, and now we’ve gotta abandon it, and I know you wanted—”

“Hey now.” She’s next to him in a flash, her hand gripping his chin to lift his face up until he finally meets her gaze, fierce and determined. “The only thing I wanted—the only thing I want—is for the two of us to be safe and happy. If that’s not here, it’ll be somewhere else, because all that matters is that we’re together. You got it?”

“Yeah,” he says, and his smile feels a little watery, but it’s real. “I got it.”

“You sure?” She looks skeptical, even with the smile she can’t quite keep out of her eyes. “Because I’ll make you write it out a hundred times on the chalkboard if that’s what it takes for it to sink in.”

“That’s the special board, mom.”

“And you write on it with chalk. Don’t backtalk your mother.” She presses a kiss to the top of his head before she heads back to the fridge. “So, other than the shady closet listing, how’s it look? Anything worth following up on?”

“A few places seem like they’d be okay. I’ve got a list going.”

“And what about your actual homework?”

“Already finished. There’s nothing really—” His phone buzzes on the table and he picks it up. “Nothing really tough. I didn’t have a lot.”

There’s a text from an unfamiliar number waiting for him:

someone found a body in the park

Then, a moment later:

this is charlie btw

Eli’s blood runs cold as he stares at the screen. He doesn’t know why Charlie would be telling him about a body, unless . . . well. Unless she thought it was werewolf-related.

Fuck his life right now, for real.

I’ve been home and at the diner all day, he finally texts back, and Charlie’s answer pops up almost immediately.

duh it’s not like i thought u did it. police are trying to keep it quiet but i guess it’s p brutal. how u feeling?

Fine? Freaked, but fine. Shouldn’t I be?

just lmk if you start feeling bitey

Fuck. His. Life.

hey small towns are gossipy right? lmk if you hear anything. maybe the vic knew the rogue, might be a lead

‘Vic’? Who are you, David Caruso?

EW HDU

just keep your ear to the ground, furball

Ear to the ground. Right.


Turns out working at the town’s only diner is the best ground ever to have one’s ear on. The dead body is all anyone is talking about, though without any official statements everything Eli’s making a point to overhear is filtered through someone’s neighbor’s nephew.

So far he knows it might have been an animal attack, a serial killer, or aliens—that last one courtesy of Mrs. Lilly, who thinks aliens have been mowing her lawn for the last four years. Then again, with Eli’s newfound furry status, who knows; maybe E.T. really is worried about old ladies’ hedges.

Still. His money’s on animal attack, provided you use a fairly liberal definition of “animal”.

His best chance of a clear idea of what’s going on turns up at 8 a.m. on the dot for his regular ham and cheese bagel. Deputy Ron August is a man that walks like he’s taking gravity personally, every step measured, precise, and poised as though he’s expecting to come upon a sharp cliff at any moment. Whenever he comes into the diner Eli has to squash the urge to ask him if he’s okay. Today is no different.

“The usual, Deputy?” Eli asks, clutching his notepad as the deputy climbs up onto a stool with the concentration of a mountaineer. 

“Thank you, my boy,” August says like there isn’t a mere stone’s throw between their ages.

Eli pours the deputy a coffee and steels himself before blurting out, “Busy day for the department.” Shit. “I heard.” Shit. “Around town?”

He’s officially awful at this. August knows it too, just gives him a look over his first sip of coffee that makes Eli rethink the gap between their maturity levels.

“Hmm,” August says, noncommittally. “I’m sure the grapevine’s already come up with ten different scenarios that are more interesting than the truth.”

“Which is . . .?” Eli says, hope like a brittle thread in his voice.

Deputy August rolls his eyes. “You’re terrible at this.”

Eli deflates like a balloon. “Tell me about it.”

Costa’s yell of, “Order up!” at the kitchen window almost drowns out August’s laugh.


Of course, there are more direct means of getting information about the body. Which is how Eli finds himself outside the town morgue at 2am watching YouTube tutorials on how to jimmy a window lock.

The mortuary is shuttered and quiet, the employees probably long home and asleep. Just like he should be, dammit. Only he can’t get the thought out of his head: animal attack. The bite mark on his arm may have disappeared, but he’s not an idiot. To someone not in the know, a werewolf attack might well look like a random animal attack. And if the rogue killed someone. . .

A part of him is arguing that this isn’t his problem. He didn’t ask to be attacked, to be thrown head-first into sharp claws and sharper teeth.

But he’s here now. And what he does next speaks more to his own moral compass than anything else.

The low basement window is as old as the rest of the building, with locks to match. Eli’s able to slide his high school ID card between the two panes and shift the rotating catch to open it. Or rather, that’s the plan until his ID gets jammed and he’s suddenly very aware that he’s just stuck something with his face on it in the lock of a building he’s trying to illegally break into.

His heart starts hammering as he tries to pull his card free, the window rattling loud enough that Eli fervently checks over his shoulder. Nothing. This side of the mortuary faces a blind alley between it and the post office. Eli turns back—

—and promptly has a heart attack.

He yelps, falling away from the window—and the face in it—onto his ass. He’s dead. He’s so dead.

And then he realizes the face is laughing. The super familiar face.

Charlie opens the window, still quietly cackling at him. “You should have seen your face.”

Jesus Christ. “What are you doing here?” Eli hisses.

“Same thing you are, hot shot,” Charlie says, stepping back from the window. “C’mon.”

Eli checks both ways down the alley but his yelp doesn’t seem to have alerted anyone of his foray into criminality. He slides forward and shuffles through the window, landing light-footed on the cold, tiled floor. His ID is under the window and he makes a point of securely pocketing it before he follows Charlie further into the darkness.

The mortuary is cramped, more of an afterthought than a real facility—Rose Lake isn’t big and Eli can’t imagine it gets a lot of use. Certainly not suspicious-death use, anyway. The room they’ve landed in is like something out of a crime procedural with the budget of a student horror movie. One wall is a bank of square doors just begging for a down-and-out detective to roll a body out of. In the middle of the floor is a metal table, all the creepier for how perfectly polished it is.

Charlie leads him across the room and into a small side office where Alyssa is hunched over the lone computer’s keyboard. She looks up when they enter and groans.

“You owe me ten bucks,” Charlie says. Eli doesn’t know whether to be impressed or offended.

“What’re you doing here?” Alyssa says, turning her attention back to the computer.

Eli hesitates. What is he doing here? “I had to know,” he says, not bothering to elaborate. There’s really only one reason he’d be interested in a dead body given the circumstances.

“You should have told us,” Charlie says. “We could have carpooled.”

And . . . she’s right. There’s no reason for him not to have been a team player, only . . . he can’t remember the last time he had a team. Uncomfortable, he just shrugs.

“What’re you doing over there?” he says to Alyssa.

She doesn’t look up as she answers. “The coroner hasn’t looked at the body yet,” she says. “We want access to the paperwork when they do.”

“She’s hacking the matrix,” Charlie says.

Alyssa rolls her eyes. “I’m installing spyware.”

Wow. This is definitely more boring than TV had led him to believe. Out of habit, Eli pulls out his phone. He and Owen never swapped numbers so he’s been a little obsessive about checking his Facebook friend requests.

“Are you Instagramming your first break-in?” Charlie says and Eli can’t help his small laugh.

“No, just . . .” He doesn’t finish the sentence.

“You could friend him, you know,” Charlie says and Eli has to fight the urge to clutch his phone to his chest like an offended old lady.

“I wasn’t—”

“You so were,” Charlie scoffs good-naturedly even as she lunges for his phone. “Here, I’ll do it.”

But his reflexes are too fast—Charlie’s left two feet short as Eli holds his phone securely out of her reach. Good to know he’s getting something out of this whole werewolf thing. Charlie whines like a five-year-old and Alyssa groans.

“Can you two please take this somewhere else?”

Charlie’s eyes light up. “Wanna see the body?”

Before he can answer, Charlie’s dragging him into the examination room. It’s obvious they’ve already looked at it because she bee-lines for one of the square doors before turning back to him. “Coming?”

And Eli . . . doesn’t know. He’s never seen a dead body before. Even when his dad died it was his mom who identified the body. Eli had been left in the hall, tears coming too hot and fast. He finds himself biting back the familiar sting even as he takes a step forward.

Charlie clearly has no qualms about dead bodies, unhesitating as she opens the cooler door and pulls out the metal tray. It’s too loud in the hush of the mortuary and Eli flinches instinctively. It’s easy to forget that they’re somewhere they shouldn’t be. Everything just seems so . . . ordinary.

Then Charlie pulls back the sheet over the corpse and things become very unordinary. 

Apple pie. Twice a week like clockwork. It was her favourite, she’d told him once. It reminded her of her grandmother.

Ms. Harker looks pale and strange and very dead. Her neck is a mess of pink flesh, the blood long-since drained—whatever killed her tore out her throat. Eli sucks in a breath and suddenly wishes he hadn’t. She smells like raw meat, like the stock Costa defrosts every morning before the breakfast rush. There’s a bitterness, too, something acrid and heavy on his tongue. It’s the same way Austin smelled when his arm had snapped in the woods.

Fear.

Steeling himself, Eli takes a step forward. This close he can see a flash of white in the mess that is Ms. Harker’s neck. Bone. Charlie’s only uncovered her to her chest, but even Eli can recognize the bite on her shoulder for what it is.

“Are you okay?” Charlie says, probably just now realising that dead bodies aren’t a big theme in most people’s lives.

Eli swallows. Is he? “Yeah,” he says finally. “I know her . . . knew her. She’s a regular at the diner.”

“Oh,” Charlie says, awkwardly. “Sorry.”

Eli shakes his head and takes another breath. It’s no better than the first but it gives him an idea. “If this is the rogue, could I smell it on her?” he asks.

Charlie shakes her head. “Maybe if you’d had a few years to get used to your senses,” she says. “New wolves are crap at differentiating input.”

Eli looks down at Ms. Harker again. She’s no less dead than before and Eli finds it makes him angry. “But I can try?”

Charlie has the decency to look sympathetic. “You can try.”

Before he loses his nerve, Eli bends over and takes a deliberate breath through his nose. But Charlie’s right: underneath the stomach-churning meat smell, there’s just a riot of different threads. The smell he thinks is fear—probably a specific mix of sweat and pheromones—undercuts everything, but other than that it’s a jumbled mix of decaying plant matter, a sharp woodsy smell, metallic blood, and countless other scents that coalesce into a brown sludge across his senses.

He wrinkles his nose as he straightens and Charlie raises her eyebrows. “Um. She smells like the park.”

Charlie pats him on the shoulder like she’s handing him a participant trophy. “Well, an attempt was made.”

“Done,” Alyssa says suddenly, and Eli’s half surprised he doesn’t jump out of his skin. “Let’s get out of here.”

Eli takes one last look at Ms. Harker before Charlie covers her face again. He’s very aware of how close he came to being in her place, a body behind a square door in a cramped mortuary. More urgent, though, is the feeling that it’s the last of its kind he wants to see.


“Would you just send him a friend request already?” Charlie sighs. “It’s not a marriage proposal, it’s just fucking Facebook.”

“I . . .” Eli’s mind spins, trying to figure out how to explain the complicated high school social strata, unspoken rules of engagement, and social norms that make her absolutely wrong. Not worth the time it would take, he decides, and forces himself onto a different track. “That’s not what I was doing.”

“Sure.” Charlie pulls her backpack on like a Babybjörn and leans against the lockers as she starts digging through the main pocket. “I’m sure you kept your phone in your locker all day to avoid the temptation of Candy Crush.”

“I didn’t hear from him all weekend.” Eli stares mournfully at his phone, unable to keep up even the shadow of pretense. “He must have been totally freaked by what happened at the bonfire.”

“Hey, speaking of you Hulking out, what’s the fallout been?” She pulls a granola bar from her bag with a triumphant noise. “Alyssa and I are standing by to smooth things over, but you’ve gotta keep us in the loop, yeah?”

“How could you—nope.” Eli slams his locker shut and heads for the front door without looking back. “Don’t wanna know.”

“Hey.” Charlie grabs his elbow, though she keeps pace beside him without complaint. “I’m serious. We’ve got your back. You know that, right?”

The tension in his shoulders loosens just a little. “I know. And I appreciate it, even if you make it sound like creepy Illuminati shit sometimes.” They push through the door, and after a day drowning in teenage body odor and terrible body sprays, the crisp, fresh air is the best thing he’s ever smelled. He glances around as they make their way down the front walk. “There hasn’t been any fallout, though. I keep waiting for it, but—I mean, I broke Austin’s arm,” he says, lowering his voice nervously. “I figured I’d at least get called in by the principal or the team coach or something. It’s weird, right? That I haven’t gotten in trouble?”

“Well‒incoming,” Charlie mutters, taking a step back and staring down at her own phone just as he turns his head to see Owen making his way towards them, hand raised in a wave.

“Owen!” Eli says, louder than he intended, and tries to clear his throat without being too obvious about it. “Owen. Hey.”

“Hey, Eli.” His smile is friendlier than Eli would’ve expected for a guy with a black eye, a guy who’s been conspicuously silent on all social media fronts since he saw Eli snap another guy’s arm on Friday. “I was hoping I’d catch you before you left. Hey Charlie,” he adds.

“Hmm? Oh, hey. Sorry,” she says, shooting a glance at Eli, “I’m just super invested in beating this level in Candy Crush. Pretend I’m not here.”

“So,” Eli rushes to redirect Owen’s attention, only to realize he has no idea what to say. “Uh. How was your weekend?”

Smooth, Swann. Very smooth.

“Uh. A little rough?” Owen rubs at the back of his neck, his smile turned rueful. “I’m grounded for the next month, and my dad took my cell phone and changed the wifi password. I get those back in a week, though, as long as I don’t fuck up again.”

For a moment, all Eli can do is blink. “You were the one who got punched, though,” he finally blurts out. “Sucker punched, I mean. I’m the one who broke—”

“Hey, uh.” Owen steps in and puts a hand on his arm, gently steering him a couple of steps away from the stream of students leaving the school. “So, I talked to Austin when I took him to the hospital,” he says in a low murmur, stepping into Eli’s space in a way that’s deeply, deeply distracting. “I made sure he knows that if he tries to get you in trouble I’ll make sure he goes down too.”

“Oh.” Eli’s heart is racing. What does he even say to that? “Thanks?” Jesus Christ. “But, uh, what about . . . everybody saw what happened.”

“Everybody at the bonfire saw him start throwing punches,” Owen says grimly. “Austin’s always been an ass, but he’s gotten way worse the past couple months. Everyone’s pretty sick of his bullshit; it wasn’t hard to convince them to go with the ‘he tripped on a tree root and fell wrong’ story.” His smile is back, absolutely devastating when he’s standing this close, black eye and all. “Don’t worry, you’re in the clear.”

Ignoring the instinct to check that there aren’t literal cartoon hearts floating in the air around him, Eli shakes his head. “That’s hands-down the nicest thing anybody’s ever done for me. But hold up, if everybody’s on board, how’d you get grounded?”

“Uh, I came home with a shiner and the homophobic asshole who’s been hassling me had a broken arm. My dad figured I was the one who did it, and I just kinda let him.” He shrugs. “Whatever, it’s not like I really care what he thinks anyway.”

“Yeah.” Eli tightens his grip on his backpack straps to keep from reaching out. “Still. That sucks.”

“In a weird way, I think . . . I mean, he was pissed, but I think he was kinda relieved, too? Better to have his son punch another guy than kiss one, y’know? Hey, maybe you could teach me how you did that,” he adds, grinning again despite the subject matter. “Just in case.”

“Oh, uh. That was just. Judo.” Eli hears Charlie snort. “Self-defense class. My mom and I took one when we lived in Chicago.” He laughs awkwardly. “I didn’t even realize I still knew how to do that.”

“Hey. Hi. Sorry to interrupt,” Charlie says, thankfully stepping in before Eli completely loses control of himself. “Owen, I think someone’s here for you? They were trying to get your attention for like ten minutes.”

“There’s no way we’ve been standing here that long,” Eli protests.

“It’s just an expression, nerd. They drove off,” she says to Owen when he looks towards the parking lot. “Do you need a ride? Because neither of us have a car.” Eli shoots her a look. “What? I was gonna suggest he come to the diner with us instead!”

“I definitely would, but that’s my brother. My dad doesn’t trust me to go straight home after school, so Mike’s picking me up every day, along with . . . yup.” He shoots Eli an amused look. “You might wanna brace yourself.”

“ELI!” She’s wearing a puffy pink coat instead of a hotdog costume, but Isabelle is instantly recognizable by her enthusiasm alone. She skids to a halt in front of them, practically vibrating with energy. “Hey!”

“Owen.” Another figure approaches on her heels, with the dark-haired classic good looks marking him as a Blake. “Hey man, we’ve gotta get going.”

“Mike.” Isabelle tugs at her brother’s hand, eyes still locked on Eli. “Mike, can Eli take me?”

“Take you where?” Eli asks, at the same time that Michael raises his eyebrows and says, “Oh, Eli.”

“Right!” Owen says quickly. “We’ve gotta go, sorry to keep you waiting!”

“We’re doing a geocaching scavenger hunt for Brownies,” Isabelle carries on as if neither of her brothers have spoken, “but Ms. Dhar says we can’t go in the Preserve by ourselves, and Owen’s grounded and Mike has his research project.” She stares up at him with wide, pleading eyes that have to be practiced. “Would you take me instead?”

“Isabelle, I told you he works at the diner after school,” Owen says with a barely-suppressed smile.

“He’s got today off,” Charlie jumps in, so quickly that Eli barely has a chance to wonder how Owen knew that. “Geocaching, huh? You know,” she says, digging in her bag and pulling out what looks like a chunky cell phone in a sturdy, rubberized case, “my sister and I got really into that a few years ago. Do you know how to use a GPS unit?”

“I’ve just been using an app Ms. Dhar had us download.” Isabelle steps over to peer at the machine that Charlie’s holding out. “Woah, cool.”

“We can all go out together, I’ll show you how it works,” Charlie suggests, glancing up at Eli. “It’d be fun.”

“Sure.” Eli can’t get his feet under him, but it seems harmless enough. He looks back and forth between Owen and Michael. “If it’s cool with you? I mean, I don’t mind.”

“He knows self-defense,” Owen offers.

“I do have some work I was hoping to get done today.” Michael hesitates, visibly debating himself for a long moment before he sighs and pulls his phone from his back pocket. “Eli, could I get your number, just in case?”

“I’m gonna have my phone,” Isabelle glances up to protest.

“And Mom and Dad will kill me if anything happens to you on my watch, so I’m getting his number. And—sorry, I don’t think I got your name.”

“Charlie,” she says. “No problem.”

The two of them rattle off their numbers for Michael to type in, and the Blake brothers turn to go. 

“Send me a selfie every half-hour, okay?” Michael tells Isabelle as they start to walk away. “I mean it.”

“I will, I will, see you later!” Isabelle turns her back on the two of them to beam up at Eli and Charlie, all but bouncing in place. “Let’s go hunting!”


The Adirondack wilderness is a national historic landmark, but it’s kinda hard to focus on its majesty when it’s now associated with two violent attacks. As Charlie teaches Isabelle how to use her GPS tracker, Eli feels a stab of gratitude that he’s out here with them. He may not have this whole werewolf thing entirely on lock, but he has a better chance than most of fending off another attack.

Not that there’s going to be one. The sun is high in a cloudless sky, painting the forest floor in dappled patterns, and the rogue only attacks at night.

Then again the rogue wasn’t supposed to attack at all until the next full moon.

“That’s so cool!” Isabelle enthuses, tugging on Eli’s hand like an excited balloon. She hasn’t let go of him once, not even as Charlie’s tech obviously cemented their new friendship. The closest she came was to take a selfie with the three of them to send to her brother, and even then she’d made Charlie press the button.

“We sure we’re going the right way?” Eli asks. It feels like they’ve been walking for hours, even if it’s only been long enough for a single selfie. Rose Lake’s township has long-since faded away, even from his own boosted hearing. Not that nature is all that quiet in comparison. He’s pretty sure he can hear squirrels having sex somewhere off to their right.

“We’re getting there,” Charlie says, not answering his question at all. That should have been a red flag, only the squirrels have gone from fucking to fighting and it’s distracting as hell.

It’s only when he smells the blood he realizes what Charlie’s done.

Keeping his voice casual he says, “I think I might know where we are.”

Isabelle looks up like he’s just spouted a sonnet. “Do you know the woods really, really well?”

“Some parts,” Eli says, shooting a glare at Charlie when Isabelle looks away.

Charlie doesn’t even try to deny it as she pokes through the underbrush. She’s about four feet away from a dark stain in the dirt. “Just figured we’d kill two birds with one stone.”

“We don’t kill birds,” Isabelle says like she’s two seconds away from throwing red paint.

“It’s an expression,” Eli says, reassuringly. “No killing, I promise.”

“Um.”

There’s a lot to be said for inflection. It can mean the difference between “Eli, stop being a goober” and “Eli, you’re grounded for a week”. The inflection of that um sounds an awful lot like, “Don’t freak out but we’re definitely in mortal peril”.

“Charlie?”

She turns, holding a digital watch with a smashed face, like whoever had been wearing it had hit the ground hard. But it’s not the watch that has Eli worried, it’s Charlie’s expression.

“I’m getting hungry,” Charlie says suddenly. “We should get back.”

“But we haven’t finished!” Isabelle protests.

“Yeah, but look at the time,” Charlie says, turning the watch.

The face is smashed clean through, the digits frozen at the hour it broke. Seven AM.

Fuck.


Alyssa smooths the map out, weighing a curling corner down with her cell phone. The couple in the room next door are having a fight about gas prices and Alyssa has to work to tune them out. Luckily the spell is a simple one: a few muttered words and her fingertips start to tingle as the spelled crystal does its job.

First, the path in. The crystal swings toward her as it always does, indicating the direction the rogue entered Rose Lake—or rather, the no-man’s-land where Rose Lake resides. 

No pack, no borders, no magic. America is threaded with such areas—great swaths of land that no pack has claimed. It makes tracking rogues a lesson in frustration since she can only magically trace a wolf’s path through pack territory. Once they’re in a no-man’s-land, it’s down to her good old fashioned human tracking—credit card receipts, rumored animal attacks. Sometimes, though, a rogue will get sloppy and cross into an area like Rose Lake.

Rose Lake is an island among territories, skirted on all side by packs. It means Alyssa can track it in, and she’ll know exactly when it leaves.

Alyssa works her way around the surrounding territories clockwise, the crystal remaining static with each recitation. The rogue hasn’t left town then. It should probably disappoint her—in a territory they’d have a pack helping them track the bastard. But Alyssa hates pack diplomacy. If she doesn’t have to defer to an Alpha while they clean up this damn mess she’ll be thankful for it.

Her laptop chimes as she’s rolling up the map and she rolls her eyes at the time. Lord save her from small town medical examiners. Slowest paperwork she’s ever had to wait on.

She sits down and boots up one of the numerous throwaway email accounts she uses for her spyware backchannels. 

The report is sloppy and lazy—the examiner obviously agrees with the authorities on the “wild animal” front. They haven’t even bothered guessing at a species, which is the height of amateur hour. Alyssa is about to chalk the report up to a giant waste of time when she gets to the time of death and freezes.

It can’t—

I’ll check out the scene, Charlie’s text had said. Alyssa swears and grabs for her phone, booting up her GPS tracker before switching over to text. Even if the medical examiner fucked up—no, she can’t risk it.

Rogue attacked after sunup, she types one-handed as she grabs for her Glock. Get out of the woods.

Goddammit. She’d been wondering how the rogue had gone so moon mad so fast. She hadn’t stopped to think maybe that it wasn’t mad at all. That it was killing deliberately.

They weren’t just dealing with a rogue werewolf. They were hunting a murderer.


“Okay . . .” The tip of Isabelle’s tongue pokes out where it’s pressed against her front teeth, her forehead scrunched in concentration as she enters the coordinates that Charlie’s pulled up on her phone. “There. So I’ve set the waypoint, and now I just . . .” She pokes at the screen a few more times.

“Doin’ great.” Charlie’s voice is encouraging, but she looks as nervous as Eli feels. “So which way do we go?”

“The house is . . .” Isabelle turns slowly in place, eyes still locked on the GPS unit in her hand, until she finally lifts her head and points triumphantly. “Half a mile that way!”

“Superb, you funky little Girl Scout!” Charlie takes the unit from Isabelle and gives her a high five. “Let’s get moving. Did you hear that, Eli?” Her eyes lock on his, a little too wide above her encouraging smile. “Just half a mile from the house.”

“That’s . . . great.” Half a mile. Fuck. “Let’s get going.”

Charlie keeps up a steady stream of chatter as they start to walk—it isn’t hard, as Isabelle proves more than willing to go on at length about almost anything once you get her going—and Eli does his best to just let it wash over him. He channels all of his focus, trying to open up his senses and stretch them as far as they can go. Smell is a lost cause with so much to filter through, but hearing is a little bit easier. High-up branches creaking in the wind. The fluttering snap of bird wings. Chattering squirrels. What sounds like a few mid-sized animals making their way through the crunch of fallen leaves.

And then, at the very edge of his perception, what sounds like something bigger moving through the underbrush. The crack of a thick branch snapping under heavy weight. What his suddenly adrenaline-soaked brain is certain is a deep, guttural snarl.

“Hey Isabelle.” She looks up at him quizzically, cutting off whatever she was saying mid-sentence, and he summons up his most challenging smile. “I bet you a super sundae you can’t beat me back to your house.”

“Oh yeah?” There’s a calculating glint in her eyes, and he focuses on that to keep from looking over at Charlie who’s gone tense beside him. “With extra cherries?”

And extra whipped cream.”

“You’re on!” she says, dropping his hand and immediately bursting into a sprint over the uneven ground. “I want two kinds of ice cream!” she calls back over her shoulder.

“Go,” Eli says, and that’s all the prompting Charlie needs before she starts running as well.

Eli’s run from a lot of things in his life, but he’s never exactly been an athlete. Now, though, his legs and his lungs feel strong, his heart rate barely picking up as he practically flies across the forest floor. There’s a dizzying freedom to it, a stark contrast to the way running always felt before, and he makes a mental note to take the time to enjoy it when he isn’t running for his life from a dangerous monster.

Ahead, Charlie has caught up with Isabelle and is carefully keeping pace, and it would be easy for Eli to do the same, easy to overtake them completely. Instead he hangs back, still trying to listen. He still doesn’t know what he’s doing, but if the rogue is following them he wants to make sure it has to go through him first.

Fuck, that’s stupid. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Charlie, if we make it out of this alive I’m gonna kill you.

He’s still about a dozen yards back when there’s a loud groaning sound from up ahead where the girls are, and Eli watches as the forest floor gives way beneath them and they’re both just suddenly—

Gone.

Eli only just manages to skid to a stop at the edge of the ten-foot-wide hole that’s opened up in the ground, coughing against the cloud of dust and leaves.

“Isabelle?” he calls, heart in his throat. “Charlie? Are you both okay?”

“Ow.” Isabelle’s voice sounds more annoyed than pained, and Eli sinks down to the ground before his knees give out in relief. “That sucked.”

“We’re okay.” Charlie also sounds winded but otherwise steady. “What the hell, though?” A pause, then: “Shit, I’m probably not supposed to curse in front of you. Fuck!”

Eli’s laughing as he fumbles his phone from his back pocket and turns on the flashlight function. Charlie and Isabelle are getting to their feet, dirt-streaked and rumpled, but steady. The hole isn’t as deep as he’d feared—just a little over ten feet from the look of it—but still too deep for him to reach them.

“Okay, uh.” Eli glances around. “Maybe there’s like . . . a tree branch? Or something? I might be able to pull you guys up.”

“Actually,” Isabelle says, stepping over to one of the walls of what seems to be the small cave they’ve fallen into, “you might not have to.”

“I admire your confidence, girl, but these walls don’t exactly look climbable.” Charlie cranes her neck back to peer up at Eli. “See if you can find something we can grab.”

Eli gets to his feet and starts to look around. He thinks he might be able to snap a branch off one of the smaller trees if he has to. He’s giving one a testing pull when something catches his attention.

Something big is moving through the forest—he can hear it again, closer this time, and headed their way. Logic would dictate that there’s no reason to believe that it’s the rogue. There are lots of animals in these woods. It could just as easily be a bear, or a deer, or maybe even a moose.

But Eli knows. He doesn’t know how, exactly, but he knows. He can feel it, somehow.

The rogue is coming.


“Eli?” Charlie has her phone out, shining the flashlight around to make sure more rubble wasn’t about to collapse on top of them. She knows it’s been all of thirty seconds, but it already feels like they’ve been stuck down here for hours. “Oi, make a noise so I know you’re still up there, would you?”

“Hey.” Eli’s silhouette appears at the top of the hole again, backlit by the midafternoon sun. “I couldn’t find anything. But, um. Charlie, I think our friend is close.”

“Close.” Shit shit shit. They came out here straight after school, she isn’t even packing a can of mace right now. “Are you sure?”

“I can hear him. So. I’m gonna go . . . see if he’ll help. You two just stay here, okay?”

“Woah, hold on.” Charlie feels panic starting to rise up inside her and tries to force it down. “I don’t know if we should be splitting up.”

“Eli?” Isabelle sounds nervous now, and moves back to stand beside Charlie. “You’re leaving?”

“I’ll be back. I promise,” he says fiercely. “It’s gonna be okay.”

He’s gone before either of them can say another word, the sound of his footsteps fading quickly into the distance. Charlie drops into a crouch and pulls off her backpack, digging through it to look for anything that she could repurpose into some sort of weapon. A mechanical pencil is the best she has, unless she can manage to bore the rogue to death by reading it her copy of The Scarlet Letter.

That’s a solid plan B, anyway.

“Charlie.” Isabelle tugs on her sleeve, looking uncertain. “Are you freaking out?”

“I’m good, kiddo. Just . . .” Lie, lie, lie. “I’m not wild about small spaces. That’s all.”

“Well—”

Whatever Isabelle was about to say is cut off by a sound above them: heavy footsteps and heavier breathing, snapping twigs and a snuffling growl. Her eyes go wide and afraid, and seeing that, Charlie shoves down her own fear as she lifts a finger to her lips, then covers her own mouth with one hand. Isabelle follows suit, staring up towards the bare treetops and the blue sky overhead, nearly vibrating with tension.

Same, girl.

Charlie braces herself, preparing for a fight. The rogue has to know they’re here by now, has to have caught their scent. Might even already know they’re trapped. She doesn’t know how she’s going to protect Isabelle if it comes down here, but damn it, she’s ready to die trying. Maybe she can give it a bloody nose before it rips her apart.

A howl cuts through the air, echoing from somewhere to the south of them. And then, almost directly above them, an answering howl.

Heavy, thudding footfalls as the creature above them bounds away.

What.

Charlie can’t wrap her head around it. The two of them are sitting ducks, easy prey. A werewolf as far gone as the rogue should be running on pure instinct and bloodlust.

A werewolf as far gone as the rogue shouldn’t be shifting during the day.

“Was that . . . a wolf?” Isabelle squeaks out, and Charlie has to take several deep breaths before she can muster up an answer.

“Probably just a dog.” It’s bullshit, but Isabelle’s what, eight? Charlie can sell this. “Sometimes people dump strays in the woods and they go feral.”

“So.” Isabelle stares up at her, eyebrows raised. “Basically a wolf.”

Charlie laughs. “Whatever it was, it’s gone now.” She listens carefully, but there’s no hint that the rogue is doubling back. “That was kinda scary though, huh?”

“Yeah.” Isabelle lets out a shaky laugh of her own. “Wait’ll Ms. Dhar hears about this.”

“Maybe you’ll get a bonus Wilderness Survival badge,” Charlie grins.

“Do you think Eli is okay?” Isabelle asks quietly.

“I wouldn’t worry about him.” Charlie looks up again, trying to pretend she believes what she’s saying. “I’m sure he’s fine.”


Eli’s not fine. He’s never been less fine, unless you count the last time he’d been hunted through the underbrush by a monster. He can’t even bring himself to freak out about the damn howl that’d crawled up out of his throat like barbed wire. His freak-o-meter is tapped.

His running isn’t so effortless anymore—not with something just as fast as he is on his tail. The trees whip by like the world’s in fast forward, but he’s still at a disadvantage. He only has two legs; the rogue has four.

His only hope is to make it to civilization before the rogue catches him, but . . . no, not an option. He’s not leading this bastard to people, not when it’s already killed at least once. Eli won’t be responsible for more bloodshed.

Well, other than his own. Because fuck, he’s flagging. He’s flagging and he can practically smell the foul breath of the monster on his heels.

He should stop. Turn and fight while he still has the breath to do so. If he’s gonna go down, he’ll at least make sure it’s not worth the rogue’s while to double back for the girls. If he can just—

The ground falls away under his feet like it wants nothing to do with him. For a full half-second, Eli hangs in the air like a cartoon character before gravity joins the party and he falls.

It’s a gorge, he realises too late. A great big split in the earth a good thirty feet across and . . . a lot more than that down. Which is why it’s a lucky thing his flailing hands find a branch, even if the rest of him violently slams into the fallen log it’s attached to.

The breath isn’t so much punched out of him as taken out with a sledgehammer. It’s all he can do to keep his grip on the branch, the only thing between him and an . . . unpleasant drop. Then there’s a growl above him, and Eli swivels as best he can.

The rogue is no less monstrous in daylight. If anything it’s more, with Eli’s new senses bringing it to him in high definition and surround sound. The thing is straight out of a monster movie: bipedal, with hulking shoulders and huge, claw-tipped hands. Its fur is rust-colored, dark with red undertones when it shifts in the breeze. The dark eyes watching him are the most human thing about it. Its teeth, though . . . Eli can’t help but feel like he ought to be wearing a red cloak.

But no. He’s not some helpless babe in the woods. Not this time.

Eli grits his teeth and yanks himself up onto the fallen log. It groans beneath his weight, almost rotted through, but he’s able to gain his feet without it giving way. 

He’s lucky. So lucky. Two feet to the right and he would have been a smear on the rocks below. Instead, he’s balanced precariously on rotting wood that’s wedged diagonally across a perilous drop, facing off against a murderous werewolf.

Y’know what? He takes back the ‘lucky’ part.

The rogue snarls, falling onto all fours, and Eli realises it’s gauging the distance to the fallen log. It’s a ten foot drop, an easy leap for a werewolf—or it would be if the log were sturdy.

“Don’t!” Eli yells, feeling stupid until he sees the rogue pause. It can understand him, then. Eli swallows harshly as the log sways under him. “It won’t hold both of us.”

The rogue actually appears to consider this, and for a horrifying moment Eli worries it’s going to give up on him and loop back around for the girls. 

Then the bastard jumps.

The log shudders almost as violently as Eli’s nerves, but it doesn’t give way. A second later, he almost wishes it would. The rogue bears down on him like a nightmare, and Eli can’t back up fast enough, can’t block out the low growl, or the rancid breath, or the sharp woodsy smell that hits him behind his tongue—

Then there’s a loud crack, and Eli feels the snarl this time. Because it’s not the rogue. It’s him.

Eli doesn’t think. He jumps.


The cave isn’t a cave so much as a tunnel. Charlie spends a few minutes scrutinizing the darkness to either side of them before resolving that “up” is their best course of action. She’s seen too many horror movies to try cave diving with an eight-year-old. 

“Maybe we can climb up,” Charlie says, eyeing the wall. “Here, I’ll give you a leg up.”

No response.

When she turns around, it’s to find Isabelle scrutinizing the wall like an archaeologist at the dig of a lifetime. She’s even got her phone out, using it as a flashlight.

“Little help here,” Charlie says.

Isabelle doesn’t even turn around. “I am helping.” Then: “Ah hah!”

Charlie groans. “You’re killing me here, kiddo.”

“I’m saving you,” Isabelle says proudly, wiping dust from the tunnel wall.

Charlie rolls her eyes. “I don’t think—”

And then she sees it. Damn, the archaeology dig hadn’t been that far off. There’s a symbol, a vertical line intersected by another diagonal line, chiseled out of the rock wall. 

“What is that?”

Isabelle practically beams. “Our way out,” she says, pointing into the darkness. “We need to go that way.”


The world record for the standing long jump is just over twelve feet. By his best guess, Eli’s about twenty feet away from the far side of the gorge.

Still. Death-by-splatter has got to be a better way to go than being mauled to death by a literal monster.

A loud, cracking groan splits the air as he pushes off, the sound of the makeshift bridge beneath them finally giving way. Heat rakes across the back of his calf as the rogue catches him with a claw, but it’s too slow to catch him fully, and for a long, breathless moment, Eli is soaring through the air, weightless as he waits for gravity to reassert itself. 

He hopes the gorge goes down far enough for the end to be quick. He hopes his body isn’t too messed up.

I’m sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry. I wish

The ground is rushing towards him too soon, and it takes him a heartbeat to realize it’s because he’s about to collide with the side of the gorge, not the bottom. Then he hits, another sledgehammer to his lungs, but even as his head spins his hands are clawing at the lip of the gorge, digging in, scrambling for purchase. Eli’s barely even aware of what he’s doing as his body seems to take over, arms hauling him up over the edge as his toes dig in for leverage, sending more dirt and rubble clattering down into the darkness below.

On his hands and knees on solid ground once again, fighting panic at how very close he was to not just one but two different yet equally grisly deaths, the sight of his own furred, claw-tipped hands barely registers. A snarling growl rings out, drawing his attention. Apparently the rogue had made it back to solid ground instead of being dropped into the abyss as Eli had dimly hoped it might be.

He pushes himself to his feet to face it across the yawning span of the gorge between them. Eli feels oddly distant from his own body, as though he’s merely a passenger along for the ride. The rogue paces back and forth as he watches, his thoughts too fuzzy to bother with more than the basics.

Enemy.

Danger.

Bad.

The other wolf howls again, head thrown back as it lets out its call, then crouches down, hind legs as tense as coiled springs as it prepares to jump. Eli bares his teeth in challenge, ready for a fight now, ready to—

BANG!

The gunshot comes from almost on top of him, and Eli drops to the ground, instinctively trying to make himself a smaller target. The rogue, on the other hand, lets out a howling cry as it clutches at its blood-soaked shoulder. Off to Eli’s right there’s the sound of a rifle cartridge being ejected, and then an answering scream—fully human, furious, and defiant.

“YEAH THAT’S RIGHT, FUCK OFF!” Alyssa bellows as the rogue turns to run, still impossibly fast even with only three good legs.

Eli’s legs are weak with relief, but he pushes himself to his feet. Alyssa glances over at him, her expression still fierce for a moment before her eyes go wide and horrified.

Her rifle swings around to train on him, and Eli’s heart stops.

“Shit.” Alyssa’s hands are unsteady as she ejects another cartridge. “Eli, I’m sorry.”

She’s going to shoot him. He can see it in the way she settles her rifle more firmly against her shoulder, the way her left hand tightens to steady her aim. His heart starts beating triple-time and he raises his hands in the universal gesture of let’s try to be reasonable people who don’t murder each other here.

His hands, still tipped with claws, still covered in dirt-streaked gray fur that continues up his arms.

. . . Shit, indeed.

“I’ll make it—holy hell!” 

She drops the gun down to her side, suddenly much taller. No, wait. Eli is shorter. He looks at his hands again, sees skin and scraped fingers and dirt caked under his short, human fingernails. Relief washes through him. And then he falls.

“Woah there, you’re already scuffed up enough.” Alyssa has one arm wrapped around him, holding him up. “Let’s not have any more tumbles today, yeah?”

“You’re strong,” Eli mumbles. He’s so tired, and talking is hard.

“Seems like I’m not the only one.” She hitches him a little higher and flicks the safety on her rifle into place with her free hand before slinging it onto her back. “I almost shot you,” she says, her voice barely steadier than his.

“I noticed.” He digs deep and finds the strength to take on some of his own weight. “Glad you didn’t.”

“Glad you shifted back when you did. Fuck, kid.” She laughs, starting to lead him slowly away from the gorge. “Good instincts.”

Eli smiles weakly. “Thanks. Shit. Charlie and Isabelle, they’re—” 

“At the diner.” She grins just as weakly back at him. “Well, Charlie is, according to her text. She dropped Isabelle off at home and she’s meeting us there. They’re okay.”

“Thank God. I really didn’t know what I was gonna do about it if they weren’t.” He limps along in silence for another few steps. “Can I ask you something?”

“I’d say you earned it, sure. Shoot.” She winces. “Uh. Sorry.”

He laughs at that, surprising them both. “Oh, shit. Fuck, that hurts. I think I bruised some ribs.” He takes as deep a breath as he dares. “How did I do that? It’s not even dark yet, and I shifted. And then I shifted back. I thought you said I was screwed if I shifted too soon. How—”

“Eli,” Alyssa says firmly, cutting him off. “Those are all really good, really fair questions. And I promise, we’re . . . we’re gonna figure out the answers.”

Meaning she doesn’t know, either. Cool. Cool cool cool.

“Cool,” he mutters. And then, after a moment, “Seriously, thanks. For not shooting me, and for the other. Shooting thing. That you did do?” He wobbles on his feet.

“Hey, no sweat. What I’m here for, right? Sort of.” Her grip tightens, and she takes more of his weight back on herself. “We’re almost back to where I parked; just a little bit farther, then we’ll get you back home. Lucky for you I keep a first aid kit and a spare change of clothes in the trunk—you look like you went ten rounds with a shredder.”

“Um.” He glances at her, then down at himself, and she shoots him a wry smile.

“I know, we’re not exactly the same size, but trust me—leggings and a sweatshirt are gonna be an improvement.”

“Okay.” He takes another careful breath, this one already deeper than the last. “I trust you.”


Another text from Charlie pops up on Alyssa’s phone when they’re halfway back to the diner. Alyssa immediately calls her sister back, setting the call on speakerphone so that she can hear for herself that Eli is alive and more-or-less well.

“We’re almost there. Let us know if it’s busy so we can go in through the—Eli, is there a back door? Fuck it, let’s just go in that way regardless. Eli here’s got a bit of a wardrobe situation going on.”

He can’t even blame Charlie for the way she doubles over laughing when she sees him, and just stands there for a full minute to let her take in the whole picture. Alyssa was right about his clothes being a lost cause, torn to shreds by the combination of falls, claws, and his supernatural transformation. The too-small galaxy-print leggings and bright pink hoodie are an improvement in terms of public decency laws, but not much else.

By the time he’s showered and scrubbed himself clean again, two things have happened: all of his assorted cuts and scrapes have almost entirely healed over, and the dinner rush has given way to the usual early-evening lull. He pauses long enough to grab the heaping plate of food his mom hands him, giving her a grateful smile, and slides into the booth where Charlie and Alyssa are waiting.

“Wow.” Eli glances between the two of them on the other side of the table. “Deja vu, huh?”

“Shut up and eat before you pass out,” Charlie tells him. “You burned an unbelievable amount of energy today with zero prep; you need to refuel.”

Eli doesn’t argue, just starts digging in. She’s right, he’s starving. He’s halfway through his double-decker burger and mountain of fries before he pauses and looks at them again.

“So.” He snags the ketchup bottle and squirts some out onto his plate. “I was thinking about it when I was in the shower.”

“Gross,” Charlie says automatically. There’s a muffled thump from under the table and then, “Ow! It was a joke.”

“Ignore her,” Alyssa says. “What were you thinking about?”

“I can’t go to Harford yet. Look,” he pushes on when they both open their mouths to argue. “We can talk about the rest of it, come up with a game plan, whatever. But I already talked to my mom about this.” Eli glances over at her, smiling back at her encouraging wink. “I can’t leave until we deal with this rogue. I won’t.”

“Eli . . .” Charlie looks to her sister, taking uncharacteristic care in choosing her words. “There are a lot of reasons that might not be a great idea.”

“I get that. But . . .” He picks up a french fry. Puts it back down. “There’s a lot of shitty, scary stuff in the world, and most of it—you know, I can’t really do anything about it.” His eyes dart over to his mom again. “I can do something about this, though. And as long as I can, I’m not gonna run away.”

“Wow. That’s noble as hell.” Charlie leans back against the bench’s vinyl-covered padding. “Stupid, but noble.”

Eli’s about to deliver what would be, frankly, a devastatingly witty response the likes of which the world has never known, but he’s distracted by the buzz of his phone in his pocket. He fishes it out, wondering who could possibly be texting him when almost everyone he knows is here, and sees . . . he sees . . .

Thanks again for taking Isabelle out today, she said she had a lot of fun. This is Owen btw.

No problem! She said she had fun?

“Hey Charlie, how did you and Isabelle get out, anyway?” he asks, astonished he hadn’t even thought of that until now, and looks up to see Charlie grinning knowingly at him. “What?”

“Look at that smile. Who ya texting, Eli?” He feels his face warming up, and she cackles. “Maybe staying in town isn’t totally noble after all, eh?”

“Would you just answer the question?”

His phone buzzes again:

She’s totally crazy about you and Charlie. I owe you big.

“—how to navigate. Eli. ELI.” His head shoots up again and Charlie gives him a look caught somewhere between fondness and irritation. “I said, there’s a whole system of caves running under this section of the park. The Blake family has lived here forever, and they’ve got nearly all of it marked with directional symbols and shit so you can find your way out. Isabelle said her dad taught them all how to navigate through it when they were old enough to start going out by themselves.”

“Charlie, let’s go to the counter and order some milkshakes.” Alyssa half-shoves her sister out of the booth ahead of her and gives Eli a pointed look. “Five minute break for you to get the teenage flirtation out of your system, then back to business.”

Eli doesn’t bother arguing, just immediately turns back to his phone. He’s texting with Owen Blake. They’re texting each other. Texting is a thing they do now.

You don’t owe me anything, it was fun. I thought your dad took your phone, though?

He did! But Mike felt bad for me and slipped me a prepaid one he picked up at the grocery store. Brothers: 1, Dad: 0!

Eli knows he must have a totally goofy grin on his face, but he doesn’t care. He’s halfway through typing out a congratulatory reply when another text pops up.

Anyway, you’re wrong: I totally owe you. Maybe I could buy you dinner this weekend?

Eli loses a good chunk of his allotted time just . . . staring at the screen.

Dinner.

Dinner with Owen.

Dinner with Owen, at Owen’s invitation, for which Owen wants to pay. Almost like a . . . like a . . .

Dinner sounds great, yeah, he finally manages to type out after no fewer than four separate drafts. Good. Casual. Aren’t you pretty much grounded until you graduate, though?

I’ve snuck out of the house before. I can do it again for a good cause ;)

“All right, bucko, time’s up.” This time Charlie snatches the phone out of his hand before he can stop her, and her eyebrows immediately shoot up. “A winky face? My dude, you are totally in there.”

“Drink up,” Alyssa says, setting a huge milkshake down in front of him. “Charlie, stop hogging, let me see!”

The two of them start peering at the screen between them, chattering about . . . Eli doesn’t know. The texts, he’d guess, but he’s so caught up in his own thoughts that he barely even hears. His heart is beating so hard he can feel it in his fingertips. Is it really possible that Owen just asked him out?

He has a full-body flashback to the night of the bonfire, sitting on a log next to Owen. His smile with the firelight flickering over it. The warmth of Owen’s side pressed against his. The way the scent of his cologne had made Eli’s head spin. He can practically smell it again now, sharp and woodsy and—

“Hey.” A hand settles over his on top of the table and Eli nearly jumps out of his skin. Charlie draws back immediately, but now she and Alyssa are both frowning at him in open concern. “Hey, you okay? You went from cloud nine to totally freaked out in like half a second.”

“On the body, and . . . and then today, at the gorge.” His eyes flicker around the diner, suddenly intensely aware of their public setting. “There was a smell. Cologne.”

“Okay,” Alyssa says slowly, her frown deepening. “Well, that could be a clue. Do you think you’d know it if you smelled it again?”

“I already did.” Eli swallows hard. “Um. I think Owen might be trying to kill me.”


The diner is bustling in a way that makes his hackles rise even if he’s not inside, instincts still on high alert from the chase earlier. The chase and the shooting. His shoulder still hurts like a bitch even with the accelerated healing. 

It’s got nothing on the sour feeling in his gut though.

Because it’s Eli. After all this searching, he’d been right under his goddamn nose the whole time. Right under his nose in the worst way. Of course. Of course it’s Eli.

Shit just got complicated.


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Howloween

Season One

Howloween: Part Four

The crowd is streaming around them into the bumper-to-bumper traffic in the parking lot when Charlie turns to him, hands tucked neatly in her pockets.

“So. What’s the plan, Wolfman?”

“Don’t call me that,” Eli says immediately. Then, “What do you mean?”

“Look, we both know you didn’t want to come here for the game.” She gives him a look, and the tips of his ears go so hot he’s surprised they don’t steam in the cold. “There’s a party at some cabin, right?”

“How did you know about that?” he frowns.

“Are you serious?” she groans, rolling her eyes so hard she probably gives herself a headache. “I was literally standing two feet away when Captain Letterman invited you. So? What’s the plan, is he meeting us here, or what?” Charlie’s expectant look grows to an impatient stare, then to dawning disbelief. “You did make a plan, right?”

“Um.”

“I can’t believe you don’t even know where you’re meeting your date!”

“He caught me off guard!” Eli protests. “Owen barely talked to me before last night when I took his sister home, I wasn’t prepared! And it’s not a date.”

“Wow. There’s just. There’s a lot to unpack there.” She lowers her chin, burrowing down into the thick scarf wrapped around her neck, and shakes her head. “I don’t even know where to start.”


“How about we just don’t, then?”

Eli shoves his hands into his pockets and tries to stay calm. She’s right, he has no idea what he’s doing. Maybe Owen wasn’t serious when he invited him. Maybe he was, but he changed his mind. Maybe—

“Hey!” The sound of an approaching group is cut through by a familiar voice, and Eli jerks his head up to see Owen breaking away from the pack, loping up to them with a broad grin. “You made it!”

“Yeah, well.” Words, Eli. Use your words. “It was pretty slow at the diner, so. Thanks for inviting me.” An elbow jabs into his ribs as they follow after the group, and he barely stifles a yelp. “Uh. Us. This is Charlie.”

“I’m new,” she says brightly, and—though it might be his imagination—eases a casual half-step away from him. “So, where’re we going?”

“There’s an old tuberculosis cure cabin out behind the school,” Owen explains, and nods towards the trees looming at the far side of the field. “We do post-game bonfires there.”

Charlie looks between them. “We’re going to a cabin in the woods.”

“We’re going to a cottage in the forest?” Owen says, spreading his hands and smiling, like he’s trying to look as non-threatening as possible.

“An abandoned cottage,” Eli interjects with a grin of his own. He has to admit, this tradition is weird as hell. “Where people died of tuberculosis.”

“Ah!” Owen says, holding up a finger like he’s John Watson. Eli would swear on a stack of Bibles that his eyes are sparkling. Unbelievable. “Then why is it called a ‘cure’ cabin?”

“I’m guessing because doctors didn’t know how tuberculosis worked,” Charlie says, lengthening her stride to keep up with them. “And ‘cure cabin’ is way better PR. Anyway, if I go missing, please know my sister has a gun.”

That particular dose of reality is a mood-killer, but Owen doesn’t seem to notice. He laughs, clapping Eli on the shoulder as he’s pulled away by a cheerleader.

“Okay. Maybe not a date,” Charlie admits, linking arms with Eli as they trek across the near-empty football field. It’s . . . pleasant. “I really appreciate the fact we’re willingly entering the woods where you were attacked by a werewolf last night.”

Or it was.

“We’re in a group?” Eli says, unable to hide the fact he’s tacking a question mark to the end of that sentence. “Plus,” he adds, “there’s gonna be a bonfire. In the middle of the woods.” He pauses. “That’s really fucking stupid, isn’t it?”

“Are you just realizing that for the first time?” Charlie snickers, and he shrugs.

“It’s not like I’ve ever been before. Post-game bonfires are for the team and their group. I’ve never been either.”

“Until now. You were invited by Owen Blake,” Charlie says. She leans in conspiratorially. “Who looks scarily like that dude from The Covenant.”

Oh god, he does. That . . . explains a lot.

“That movie was total trash,” he says halfheartedly, and Charlie pokes him in the side.

“You’d have to have watched it to know that.”

“Yeah, well.” Eli grins. “I never said it was bad trash.”

That gets a laugh out of Charlie and . . . it’s nice. It’s nice walking arm-in-arm with someone who talks like they already have in-jokes, and it’s nice to have Owen Blake shooting him a smile over his shoulder, and it’s nice to be among people and just be.

He could get used to this.

Charlie breaks off to mingle when they get to the cabin, and Eli could also get used to the way that Owen seeks him out as soon as they’ve got the bonfire going. The way he tucks into Eli’s side against the cold like it’s a normal thing to do.

Charlie’s shoots him a thumbs up from the other side of the bonfire and he almost bursts into flames himself.

“I’m really glad you came,” Owen says quietly, making Eli look at him in surprise. “I wasn’t sure you would—it doesn’t seem like you’re much of a joiner. I mean.” He frowns. “That sounded bad, but I didn’t mean—”

“No, it’s fine.” Eli’s face is only warm because they’re sitting so close to the fire, and that’s the story he’ll stick to even under pain of torture. “You’re right. I’m, uh . . .” He laughs a little. “I guess you could say I’m kind of a loner.”

“You made friends with the new girl right away, though.” Owen’s smiling softly at him when Eli glances over again. “You didn’t just let her try to navigate a new school on her own. That’s really cool of you.”

“I didn’t really do anything.” Eli darts a look to where Charlie is standing, red Solo cup in hand, laughing unselfconsciously at something with another group. “I don’t think Charlie’s the type to have trouble fitting in. But thanks.”

They lapse into silence, and Eli’s heart speeds up. Why can’t he just talk? Say something, like a normal person! He’s never been good at this, always found it easier to stay the weird loner new kid rather than stumble through the unfamiliar territory of socialization rituals he never quite learned. And Owen is still pressed against his side, warm and solid and he smells so good, damn it, it’s hard to focus on anything else.

“Nah,” Owen finally says. “I don’t buy it.” He leans in, giving Eli’s shoulder a gentle nudge. “You look out for people. Isabelle says hi, by the way, and she told me to invite you over to the house to hang out.”

Eli blinks. “She did?”

“Yeah. I figured I’d start with something where it was just you and me, though.” Their eyes meet for half a second before Owen takes a drink, and Eli can’t tell if the red tint to Owen’s face is a flush or just the reflection from the plastic cup. “My house is kind of a zoo lately, anyway. My brother’s taking some time off of school, and it’s just kind of . . . tense. I ended up bailing on the Halloween party like five minutes after you left. Just couldn’t take it anymore.”

“Oh.” Bolstered a bit, Eli shifts so he’s angled towards Owen, though he almost can’t stand to lose the feeling of the other boy’s body against his. “Your parents don’t like your brother taking a break from school?” he guesses.

“That’s putting it mildly,” Owen snorts. “It’s . . . complicated, but even if everything else was great, my dad’s freaking out about the idea of Mike missing a whole semester.”

Eli nods. “He’s pretty intense about school, I guess.”

“He’s—my mom says ‘goal-focused’,” he says, making air quotes with his free hand. “He’s got these set ideas about what he wants for his kids. He wants Mike to be a lawyer.”

“What does he want you to be?”

“Straight.” Owen looks down, his hand tightening around his cup before he visibly makes himself loosen his grip. “My dad hasn’t wanted much to do with me since I came out.”

“Woah. That . . . that sucks. I’m sorry.” It’s not like he doesn’t know that that sort of thing still happens, but somehow it still feels like a shock. Like the world should’ve moved beyond that by now. “My mom was surprisingly chill when I told her I was bi. Uh.” Way to rub it in, asshole. “Sorry, that—I was going for like, empathetic support, not . . .”

“No, no, I get you.” Owen smiles at him, only a little bit hesitantly. “Your mom sounds cool as hell, though. You’re really lucky.” Eli’s face must do something because Owen continues. “Hey, it could be worse. He could have kicked me out.”

“Yeah.” Eli’s stomach drops just at the thought. “Still sucks, though.”

“Yeah. Yeah, it does.” Owen shakes his head. “Sorry, I’m being a total downer right now.”

“It’s totally fine!” Eli says. I don’t care what we talk about, I just want to be near you. No, shit, don’t say that! “If you ever need, you know. Someone to talk to? I, uh . . . I’ve got a lot of free time.”

He absolutely doesn’t, but he can’t be the first person to tell that lie, and he refuses to regret it. Especially when . . .

“I’d like that,” Owen smiles. “You’re really easy to talk to, you know that? I thought you’d be harder to approach, or I would’ve talked to you sooner.”

“You would’ve?” This time Eli’s certain the flush on Owen’s face doesn’t have anything to do with the firelight. The air between them feels charged, and Eli’s head is full of the scent of woodsmoke and cheap beer and Owen, and if he isn’t careful he’s going to—

“You’ve got to be shitting me! What the fuck is he doing here?”

Eli looks up but Owen moves quicker, surging to his feet in front of Eli like some weird echo of this afternoon, because it’s Austin throwing a royal fit as he rounds the fire toward them. Of course it is.

“Leave him alone, Tanner,” Owen says firmly. “I invited him.”

“Of course you did,” Austin sneers.

He doesn’t even slow his approach, which means the punch he throws lands with a sickening crack and all his weight behind it. Owen goes down like a sack of bricks, and people are shouting, but Eli’s not one of them. All he can see is Owen on the ground, and the blood on Austin’s fist, and then he’s catching Austin’s wrist as it swings towards him and twisting.

The snap of bone is audible—a clear crack, and then he hears Austin’s screams, and it was so easy.

He doesn’t feel himself let go, but he must, because Austin is staggering back from him, clutching his broken arm like a wounded animal. Like Eli had last night in the woods. He’s vaguely aware that everyone has gone quiet looking at him, but Eli can’t focus on anything but Owen’s blood in the dirt and the memory of Austin’s face when they’d both felt the snap.

Easy. So easy. So good.

He’s taken two steps forward before he stops himself and fights past the howling in his blood urging him to press the advantage, to finish it. His fists are clenched at his sides, his chest is heaving with furious, panting breaths, and all he wants to do is take one more step. One more step and he can make Austin pay for every awful thing he’s done in his miserable, pathetic life.

Austin is staring at him with wide, shocky eyes, his face bone-white as he cradles his arm to his chest. Terrified.

Rip him apart. It would be so easy.

Eli stumbles back, shaking.

And he runs.

There are footsteps behind him, running after him. He doesn’t look back. If he gets the shit kicked out of him it’s no more than he deserves, but they’ll have to catch him first.

“Eli!” Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Charlie. He runs faster. “Eli, wait!”

He’s faster than she is; he knows it in his bones. But he doesn’t know the woods, and all his new speed gets him is a hard fall when his ankle slams against a tree root and knocks him off his feet. He can’t just hear Charlie now—he can smell her, practically taste her scent in the air. Eli switches to pulling in shallow, panicked breaths through his mouth, trying to block out as much as he can as he curls in on himself amidst the fallen leaves.

“Hey.” Charlie’s voice is gentle, like it was when she talked him down . . .Jesus, an hour ago, if that. “Eli? Hey, I need you to breathe, okay? It’s okay. You’re okay.”

But he’s not. He feels a familiar tightening in his chest, and as his head swims he hears himself make a noise that sounds like a snarl.

“Eli?” Charlie sounds less certain now. “Eli, talk to me.”

“I . . .” He summons every scrap of control he has, focusing on her voice the way he did before, and manages to look up at her. “I think something’s wrong.”


By the time they’ve made it to Rose Lake’s only motel, Eli’s sprouted claws. Which, as weird shit goes, is edging towards the highlight of his evening. Even Charlie seems rattled as she wraps his hands in her scarf and yanks him the last few feet to her room.

Alyssa greets them with an unholstered gun in her hand because this is his life now, apparently. “What’s happened?”

“He’s turning,” Charlie says, and if her face is anything to go by, Eli’s not imagining the panic in her tone.

He doesn’t get the chance to ask what has her so spooked before a wave of agony rips through him, sending him to his knees on the stained carpet. Charlie’s scarf doesn’t survive the fall, torn clean through on claws that are sharper than they look.

Every time he closes his eyes he sees Austin’s face, the split second they’d both felt the crack. With claws like this he could’ve gutted him with one blow. God, he wants to throw up.

“—can’t be turning!”

“Why can’t I be turning?” Eli gasps, sagging as the wave pasts. It’s not his first. They’ve been getting stronger the whole way here, threatening to tear him in two with the pain.

Alyssa’s upside-down face swims into his vision and it takes him a moment to realise he’s on the floor, head in Charlie’s lap.

“If you turn without a pack—” She cuts off but Eli can see the rest of it on her face.

He’s strangely calm even as he says, “I don’t want to die.”


Charlie doesn’t realise she’s crying until she has to bite her own fist to stifle a sob. This isn’t how this was supposed to go. They were going to bring in the rogue and get Eli home. He’d join their pack and Charlie would tease him about his bad breath during his first shift and they’d laugh about it—they’d laugh so hard.

Instead she’s watching him crumple in her lap, bones in his forearms shifting grotesquely as his body fights the turn. She watched this once already. She can’t do it again.

If they can just get him back to their pack—

Their pack.

Alyssa comes back from the bathroom with a wet towel and Charlie grabs her arm. “Look after him.”

“What?” Alyssa says, startled. “Where are you going?”

“To do something stupid.”


Closing up the Diner is becoming a routine, one Penny can’t help but welcome after so many years spent on the road. It’s good for her. More importantly, it’s good for Eli.

He’s a tough kid—anyone who’d been through what he had would be—but he’s also one of the most compassionate people Penny’s ever known. He hasn’t had enough chances to indulge that side of himself, moving around as they had, cutting ties as fast as he could forge them. Rose Lake has been a long time coming and it’s oh so welcome.

As she shutters the blinds and flips the Closed sign on the door, Penny allows herself a spark of optimism, sputtering on a wick long-neglected.

Which makes the sudden hammering on the door like a bucket of ice water down her spine. Her first thought is, they’ve found us. But her second, they’ve found Eli, is strong enough to have her leaping for the handle.

The girl—Charlie—looks like she’s run from demons all the way to Penny’s door, and the look on her face does nothing to curb Penny’s rising panic.

“It’s Eli,” Charlie says. “He needs you.”


Eli’s teeth itch, which is one of the weirder sensations he’s ever experienced. When he reaches shaking hands to his face it’s to find his mouth is . . .full. Full and itching and then another wave of pain hits and he loses minutes—hours?—until he can’t—

“Why haven’t you called an ambulance?!”

What? “Mom?”

As soon as he calls, she’s there, warmth and safety and home. Eli curls into her, and he spares half a thought that he probably looks like the tail end of a horror movie right now. But his mother’s his mother, and she just holds him, rocking back and forth in a way that makes Eli’s spine loosen and his breath ease. And the pain . . . the pain is suddenly a creature to be collared and tied down.

“Shhh,” His mother says. “It’s okay. I have you, I have you.”

“I have you,” Eli says, and lets the darkness take him.


The streets are quiet, no monsters in sight. In the diner, not so much.

It’s late enough that light is beginning to trickle through the blinds, casting long shadows across checkered tiles and the single full booth. Four Eli specials sit demolished in front of four individuals, each as tired as the last.

It’s been a long night. And a longer conversation.

“How did you know it’d work?” Eli’s mother asks, hand reaching over to squeeze his.

Charlie’s eyes pinch, one of a dozen signs of residual stress. “I didn’t. But I hoped.”

Eli’s mother’s grip tightens, and Eli turns his hand over so he can squeeze back.

“We’re human members of a werewolf pack,” Charlie continues. “I figured if humans can be pack, then—”

“Then I’d be Eli’s,” Eli’s mother finishes and smiles. “Good call.”

“This isn’t over,” Alyssa says, having the grace to look apologetic as she delivers the news. “You staved off a premature shift but you’ll still have to make it through the full moon. You’ll have a better chance with a territory and full pack behind you.”

Which means moving again. Eli looks to his mother to find her looking back. We’re in this together, kiddo, her look says.

“And you’re sure your pack will take us,” Eli’s mom says, and Eli could hug her for how she stresses ‘us’.

Alyssa nods. “I’ve already called them.”

And just like that, Eli’s putting Rose Lake in his tail lights. He’s surprised to find the thought gets stuck in his throat—the memory of a body pressed against his side is one that particularly stings.

“What about the rogue?” Eli asks, and if it distracts him from warmer thoughts then so be it.

“The full moon’s been and gone,” Alyssa says. “We have a bit of time to track them before they hurt anyone else.”


Jen Harker hurts. She knows a broken arm when she feels it and a particularly jagged root has made a mess of her back. And the bite . . . the bite throbs.

It isn’t fair.

She can’t help the thought. She’s a woman of simple interests: good coffee, good books, and regular indulgences of both. A slice of pie twice a week if she’s earned it. She thinks she deserves an equally simple death, not whatever this is—this pain and terror and chanting and blood, so much blood. But in the end, when the black comes, all that’s left is relief.

In the end, it’s simple after all.


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Alyssa and Charlie

Season One

Howloween: Part Three

Charlie watched Event Horizon when she was seven and had nightmares for months. Eli’s face looks like this is his equivalent experience.

The apple collides with the bully’s shoulder and he freezes. Along with half the hall. Ah, that kind of bully then. Eli looks like he’s about to throw up, and Charlie feels a twinge of regret.

Still. Damage done. Might as well roll with it. “Oh my god, Eli!” Charlie yells, like a scandalised grandmother in a strip club.

Eli looks like he’s wondering what it will sound like when Captain Teeth rips his spine out. At least he’s not running, Charlie thinks. And then the bully’s on him.

“You’re dead,” Captain Teeth growls, already swinging.

Eli moves on instinct—Charlie can tell because he looks as surprised as Captain Teeth when the fist sails right past the tip of his nose and into the locker. Charlie can feel the resounding bang in her bones.

The whole hall makes a collective, “Oooooooh,” sound as Captain Teeth curses, even as he recovers and swings again. Eli swerves out of his reach again. He looks a little like a wavy, car-lot tube man and this is the most fun Charlie’s had in months.

Missing a second time just incenses Captain Teeth even more. By the time he rears back to swing again his face is bright red, and there’s a nice cloud of rage-spittle around his mouth. Which makes the third boy stepping between Eli and his attacker particularly badass.

Christopher Nolan’s directing senses are probably itching like crazy.

“Hey!” the new boy says, shoving Captain Teeth back like a letterman-jacket-wearing superhero. “Back off, Tanner!”

Captain Teeth—Tanner—is beyond enraged. Charlie’s seen cartoon characters calmer in the face of adversity. “Fuck off, you fa—”

“Finish that sentence,” Super Letterman snaps, voice made of knives. “I fucking dare you.”

Tanner doesn’t, though his glare practically does it for him. Eli looks like he can feel the eyes of everyone in the hall like a rash. Charlie wants popcorn.

“Yeah, I thought so,” Super Letterman says, and Charlie fights the urge to slow clap. “Walk away.”

And Tanner . . . does. He looks like he’d rather skin himself alive than do it, but his sneakers squeak on the linoleum as he backs up nonetheless.

“Watch your back, Swann,” he says in parting. Eli’s apparently so high on stepping into this alternate reality where he’s not a smear on the lockers he just salutes in reply. And okay, she’s rooting for the kid now.

Reality hits unpause on the hall and students start moving in fits and starts, hissing to each other in excited whispers. This gossip will probably carry them through the next class and a half at least.

Super Letterman turns to Eli, and Eli suddenly looks like he’s swallowed his tongue. Charlie backs up against the lockers and feigns looking at her phone as she shamelessly eavesdrops.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Eli says.

When Charlie takes a quick peek, Super Letterman has an expression that makes him look like he’s wearing a leather jacket by association. It suits him like damn. Charlie’s waiting for an indie soundtrack to drop, any moment now.

“Yeah,” Super Letterman says, “I kinda did. You okay?”

“Yeah,” Eli says, and laughs like he’s just getting blood back into his brain. “He, ah—he missed.”

Werewolf, Charlie wants to hiss, but she’d rather eat her own leg than interrupt the real-life CW show she’s witnessing.

“No shit,” Super Letterman says, breaking into a grin and yeah, okay, she doesn’t blame Eli. If that was aimed at her she’d resemble a bag of mashed potato as well.

“You got some moves,” Super Letterman says, shoving Eli like they’re buddies. Friends. Pals. Only judging by Eli’s expression that’s not the interaction he was expecting, and oh my god, Super Letterman is into Eli too.

Whither art thou, popcorn?

“Yeah.” Eli sounds slightly hysterical. “I think I’d rather have whatever you just did though.”

“Ah.” Super Letterman glances after the bully. “That’d be insider knowledge.” He leans forward like he’s unaware doing so might kill Eli. And Charlie, who wants to sell the rights to this in Hollywood. “Austin’s one more infraction away from being kicked off the baseball team before the season even starts.”

“Being a dickbag isn’t an infraction?” Eli says, and looks like he’s struggling not to high five himself when it makes Super Letterman laugh.

“Not when you have a .300 batting average,” Super Letterman says.

Eli laughs too hard at that, but Super Letterman just glows, so Charlie’s gonna wrack up another point in Eli’s corner.

“Hey, a bunch of us are gonna head out to the cabin after the game tonight,” Super Letterman says, sounding just a bit too casual. “Wanna come?”

Eli’s mouth becomes the MVP of the entire situation by not freezing like the rest of him. “Y-yeah,” he says, with only a slight hitch to betray the way his insides have probably just burst into flames.

Charlie’s witnessing history right here, folks.

Super Letterman grins and Charlie’s three seconds away from sourcing confetti. “Sweet! I’ll see you then.”

And then he’s walking away, and Charlie’s amazed Eli hasn’t thrown up some puppies and maybe a rainbow. Not even turning around to find her lurking like a creeper is enough to dampen his mood.

“That was adorable,” Charlie says and, god help her, she means it. She makes a mental note to find out Super Letterman’s name so she can come up with a portmanteau.

Eli’s grinning as he says, “I’m ignoring you forever now, thanks.”


“Forever” turns out to be until his shift at the diner after school, when Charlie slides onto a seat at the counter. It’s a quiet afternoon: one family of five is making a travesty of the back booth, and Ms Harker is at the counter eating her biweekly slice of pie, but other than that the place is empty.

Eli’s mom is out on an errand, leaving him to handle the customer service. Pros: he’ll get the lion’s share of the tips. Cons: short of dragging Costa out of the kitchen, Eli has to take Charlie’s order.

That doesn’t mean he’ll do it happily, though.

“Welcome to the Rose Lake Diner, what can I get you?”

He takes a petty delight in making his voice as flat and disinterested as possible, biting back a grin when Charlie rolls her eyes. She opens her mouth, but whatever commentary she was about to offer is cut off when a woman takes the stool next to her. Eli looks over, shifting into customer service mode, only to do a double take—height and a few years’ age difference aside, the newcomer is a carbon copy of Charlie.

“You must be Eli,” she says with a warm smile. “I’m Alyssa.”

She’s too young to be Charlie’s mother so . . . sister? Eli flashes back to last night, a dark figure taking off after the monster as Charlie stopped to check on him.

Perfect.

“Alyssa.” Eli starts to cross his arms when the bell above the door jangles and his mom enters, a frown forming as she notices his posture. Fuck, he hates working customer service sometimes. He straightens and settles for holding his order pad particularly aggressively. “You gonna try and get my face punched off too?”

Alyssa doesn’t even blink, just viciously pinches Charlie on the arm.

“Ow! Hey!”

Definitely sisters.

“What did you do?” Alyssa demands as Charlie squirms away.

“Nothing that wasn’t necessary.” Eli’s gratified to realize Alyssa’s backing him up in the glaring department.

“Okay fine!” Charlie says, throwing up her hands. “It was a dick move, I’m sorry! But you were being stubborn.”

“And you’re a crazy person,” Eli retorts, voice dropping to a hiss when Ms. Harker glances over from where she’s demolishing her apple pie. “Werewolves don’t exist.”

“You went with werewolves?” Alyssa groans, and Eli’s heart sings. He was right! He was absolutely— “Never lead with the truth! You know that!”

Damn.

“Come on,” Charlie snorts. “What should I have gone with instead, ‘rabid dog’?”

Eli raises a hand. “For the record? I totally would have bought rabid dog.”

Alyssa gestures sharply to him in emphasis as Charlie rolls her eyes again. It’s probably the weirdest conversation Eli’s ever had.

“Whatever,” Charlie says. “Well, that ‘rabid dog’ got away from us last night.” Eli can practically hear the quotation marks. “And we could really use your help tracking it down.”

Eli feels like he’s been sucked into an episode of that show his mom’s obsessed with. God, what’s it called? The one with the hot dudes who hunt demons and never fucking communicate.

“Who are you?” he asks quietly, belatedly realising it should have been the first question out of his mouth when Charlie rocked up in biology. “Why were you even in the preserve last night?”

Charlie opens her mouth and Alyssa clamps a hand over it, a big silver ring glinting on one finger. “Let’s just say we’re here to make sure the thing that attacked you last night doesn’t do it to anyone else. We-—ugh, really?”

She snatches her hand back, grimacing, and Eli feels like she should’ve known better. He’s known Charlie for about three seconds, and he knows she’s the type to lick a person’s hand if the situation calls for it.

“Okay. So,” Eli says as Alyssa scrubs at her palm with a napkin, “how am I supposed to help you with that?”

“Rabid dogs gravitate towards each other on the full moon,” Charlie says.

Jesus Christ. Eli looks between the two, praying for the punchline, but every second that passes makes it more apparent there isn’t one coming. This is happening. And it’s happening to him.

“You’re serious about this,” he says.

“Deadly. Also,” Charlie leans forward like she’s imparting a great secret, and Eli leans in to hear it. “I’d like the cheeseburger.”

His first impression was spot on: Charlie’s a little shit. Eli’s about to tell her so when a voice behind him interrupts.

“Good choice.” His mother’s hand rests on his shoulder, making him jump. “Eli, I need a second after you put in their orders, yeah?”

“Sure. I’ll just—um. Can I get you anything else?” he asks, turning back to the sisters as his mom moves to the end of the counter.

“I’ll take one of those cheeseburgers too,” Alyssa says with a faint smile. “Since they come so highly recommended.”

“Okay. I’ll just . . .” He gestures over his shoulder and steps to the order window. “Hey Costa, two cheeseburgers.”

There’s an ominous twisting in his stomach and a headache building behind his left eye, but there’s no point putting it off. His mom has settled at the counter to work on the books anyway, so it’s not like she wouldn’t notice if he started stalling. With a slight variation of his customer-service smile on his lips, Eli steps over to her.

“Hey.” He grabs a towel and starts wiping the counter. Something to keep his hands busy. “Everything go okay at the bank?”

“It was the daily deposit, it went just fine. Thought I’d stop by the store and pick up some cereal since we’re almost out.” She glances up from the screen, fixing him with a mild gaze that he doesn’t trust at all. “I ran into Mr. Pembroke while I was there.”

“Oh? Interesting.” His head throbs with how badly he doesn’t want this conversation to happen.

“Very interesting,” his mother says. “He happened to mention you failed your pop quiz this morning.”

Of course he did. Of course this is a thing that happens in small towns.

“It was one quiz,” he says.

His mother lowers the laptop screen, and his stomach lurches.

“I don’t care about the quiz,” she says quietly. She means it, too, Eli knows—she’s great like that. “I just want to make sure you’re okay. You’ve never flunked a quiz before, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from daytime TV it’s that one day you’re failing quizzes and the next day you’re snorting cocaine off bathroom counters.”

“Like I could even find cocaine in Rose Lake,” Eli says, and his mother gives him A Look despite his joking tone. “I’m okay, I promise. I just—I didn’t sleep well last night, that’s all.”

Amazing what heavy blood loss does to your circadian rhythm.

“You’re not getting sick, are you?” she frowns, and he pastes a hasty smile on his face.

“No, I’m fine!” His head throbs again. “I feel great.”

She doesn’t look convinced, but after a soul-searching look she nods. “Okay. Just—” She sighs. “You know I’ve always got your back, right?”

“I know.” And he does—he knows there’s nothing he could tell her that would make her turn her back on him, and he feels better just saying it out loud. Even if he has no intention of saying the w word out loud. Ever.

“I’m so glad I got so lucky with you.” She reaches over the counter and pats his cheek, and the lungful of her perfume is comforting even as it overwhelms him. “Don’t know what I would’ve done if you’d turned out to be a disappointment.”

Eli pulls back to swat at her with the towel, and she laughs, shifting back on her stool.

“Oh! Since I’m such a bright spot in your life,” Eli grins, then grins wider when his mother rolls her eyes, “do you think I can end my shift early tonight?” He goes back to wiping the counter to combat the urge to fidget. “I want to catch the end of the football game.”

“The football game,” his mother repeats flatly. “You. Want to go to a football game.”

“Yeah.”

“A game in which a ball is in play. A sportsball game, if you will. A—”

“Yes, okay, thank you,” Eli interrupts. “Can I go?”

She smiles. “Clean that back table and you’re good.”

“Have I told you lately that you’re the best mother I’ve ever had?” he beams.

“Why, thank you,” she says, winking at him as she brings her laptop screen back up. “I’ll be putting that on my resume.”


By the time he’s cleaned the horror show at the back table, he’s wrestled himself into some level of logic. The w word aside, something’s happening to him, and Charlie and Alyssa are the only people that might know what. So after he finishes, spends fifteen minutes trying on every shirt in his closet, and returns downstairs, he doesn’t hesitate as he approaches the sisters.

They’re having a heated, hushed argument as he approaches. One that cuts off abruptly when they see him.

“I—” Eli stops, pinching the bridge of his nose. His headache grows along with his anxiety. “Okay look, I might need to ask a few questions.”

“And the ostrich arises,” Charlie says grandly, only to be elbowed by her sister.

Eli covers his whole face as he asks, “I’m going to the game, do you want to come?”

“YES!” Charlie says, suddenly enthusiastic in a way that has nothing to do with sarcasm. When Eli puts his hands down it’s to find Alyssa staring at her suspiciously. Which can’t be a good sign.

Nevertheless, Alyssa says, “I have some research to do,” before turning back to Eli. “You kids have fun.” And then to Charlie: “Don’t do anything stupid.”

Eli’s regretting this already.


They’re halfway to school before Charlie breaks. “Okay hit me. I know you have questions.”

The game is already in full swing—Eli can hear the crowd already, which shouldn’t be possible. So, okay. Let’s start there.

“Why can I hear the game from here?”

“Super senses,” Charlie says happily as they cross the empty street. “Comes with the territory.”

“What else comes with the territory?”

Charlie, for once, looks like she’s considering her answer. “For you? Technically nothing.”

What? “Please talk to me like someone who’s only seen Ginger Snaps once, when he was eight.”

Charlie snorts as she jumps the curb ahead of him. She’s wearing thick-soled combat boots, but even so, Eli has a few inches on her though he’s on the street.

“Sorry,” she says. “A territory is where a pack settles. It . . . grounds the pack. Makes the members less volatile.”

“So without one, I’m gonna be volatile?”

“Eventually.” Charlie has the grace to wince as she drops the news. “The wolf we’re tracking? They haven’t got a pack or a territory. It’s made them . . .”

“Volatile,” Eli says morbidly, rubbing his arm.

“We call it Moon Madness,” Charlie says. “Wolves without a territory eventually lose their humanity. It’s our job to—”

Charlie cuts off but Eli can fill in the blanks. “So you’re hunters?”

“Not really.” She has to raise her voice now they’re nearing the field. “We’re Envoys.” Eli’s face must show his confusion because she continues. “We’re human members of the Harford pack. Werewolves can’t cross territory lines, but Envoys can. We’re tasked with tracking the rogue and either bringing them in, or . . .”

“Killing them,” Eli finishes. She doesn’t dispute it. The night suddenly seems a lot colder than it did before, and Charlie—short, round, spitfire Charlie—seems a lot sharper.

Eli’s never been a sports fan. Sweaty, fit people aside, it’s pointless. But he’s never been so happy to have a conversation cut off by a roaring stand of football enthusiasts.

They’ve caught the end of the game if the timer is anything to go by, so they don’t try to find seats. It’s pointless anyway—Rose Lake High’s sports teams are the town’s pride and joy. Everyone turns up for games, and they collectively celebrate or mourn wins and losses.

The stands are packed full of yelling fans waving bright signs against bright jerseys and brighter stadium lights. In fact, everything’s bright. Even the noise.

Eli doesn’t realise it’s happening until it’s too late: his building headache starts chiselling behind his eyes, making the spotlighted grounds oversaturated and jarring. The lights themselves are haloed and piercing, and the crowd is too . . . too much.

It’s not just the noise; it’s what its made up of. There’s the voices, talking and yelling and muttering, but there’s so much more that Eli’s never noticed before. The crunching of chip packets, the grinding of teeth, and the incessant, omnipresent humming from the stadium lights.

It’s everything, all at once, and Eli doesn’t realise he’s clapped his hands to his ears until he hears Charlie’s muffled voice.

“Focus on me,” she’s saying. “Just my voice. C’mon, filter everything else out. Just me.”

Eli focuses and breathes and focuses and focuses. The crowd fades eventually, but the humming, the humming persists. It’s still a relief.

“What the hell was that?” he gasps, realising he’s hunched over under the stands. When did they move?

“It’s called sensory overload,” Charlie says, not without sympathy. “Fun, huh? My friend Hammy got it all the time. You’re gonna sense a lot more than you used to. Hear more, smell more. Sometimes your brain just kinda freaks out about it.”

“I feel like Hollywood hasn’t really prepared me for this whole werewolf thing.” And, huh. That’s what it feels like to say it out loud.

Charlie pats him on the shoulder, only a little condescending. “It does that about a lot of things.”

Eli scrubs his hands over his face and groans. “I hate this.”

“Hey, look on the bright side,” Charlie says. “You’re gonna be able to climb trees really, really fast.”

“You suck at this,” he says, through his fingers.

“Yeah, but it sounds like someone just scored a touchdown,” Charlie says. “And you didn’t freak out.”

And . . . she’s right. The crowd is roaring, but Eli’s so focused on Charlie he automatically tuned it out.

Charlie looks smug as hell, but Eli can’t even be mad. “You’re welcome,” she says.

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Eli in the woods

Season One

Howloween: Part Two

The woods are protected land, but humans are an invasive species, and generations of Rose Lake residents have cut numerous paths across the sections of park that butt against the town. Eli finds a wide, well-worn one and sticks to it, yanking his hood up against the evening chill.

Civilization is swallowed quickly by trees, and the streetlamps’ light along with it. Eli considers pulling out his phone, but the path is even, and the moon is just full enough to lend a glow to see by, and he’s hesitant to shatter the atmosphere with technology.

Eli has liked the woods in an abstract, city-kid way ever since they first moved to Rose Lake. After years of one densely-populated area after another, the wildness feels humbling. He remembers the day he and his mother arrived in town, the way he’d wanted to just . . . keep going. Adirondack Park was the biggest forestry preserve in the country. If they could make it past that first border of trees, they’d never be found.

He’s jostled from his thoughts by a rustling off to the right of the path—the sound of something moving through the trees. Something big enough to leave his brain scrambling to pull up everything he read during those first few weeks on local predatory species and what to do when encountering a bear. Isn’t he supposed to make loud noises from a safe distance? His eyes dart back and forth in the meager light. What the hell constitutes a safe distance in the middle of the woods?

Suddenly, the thought of getting lost in the park isn’t as comforting as it was five minutes ago.

Eli steels himself and keeps walking. If it’s some sort of animal—and it is, it has to be— it’s probably more scared of him than he is of it. At least, that’s what his mom says when she hears him making dying whale noises because he’s spotted a spider in their bathroom.

And oh, perfect, now he’s thinking about giant spiders. No more Lord of the Rings marathons for him. New rule.

The rustling stops as he starts walking again, then picks back up. Louder. Closer. Whatever it is, it’s moving faster now, more purposefully. Toward the path.

Eli stops. Freezes, really, as his brain helpfully reminds him that there have been credible mountain lion sightings in the Adirondacks. And didn’t Heather Mills say her brother spotted a moose near the old bridge last summer? He’s full of so much wonderful information about all the local animals that can turn a human being into jam. Sure would have been helpful to recall it before he’d cut through the woods in the dark.

Don’t run, Eli thinks, heart hammering in his chest. He remembers reading something that said you shouldn’t run, shouldn’t turn your back. Then the creature steps onto the path, and Eli’s brain stops trying to be helpful. It has nothing for him, no helpful tips or trivia from his reading, because the only books about something like this are in the horror section. Two legs, hunched shoulders, dark fur. Restless, flexing fingers tipped with ragged claws. Moonlight glinting off of teeth, teeth, teeth, and instinct takes over.

Eli runs, but he doesn’t get far.

It’s like being hit by a train. An impossibly heavy body slams into him from behind and what feels like a steel trap clamps shut over his arm. He sees the creature’s mouth—jaws, his mind babbles, snout—latched onto him, sharp fangs digging in, warm blood soaking his sleeve as it bears down.

His scream is from shock as much as pain. He hits the ground almost as an afterthought, breath punching out of his lungs at the impact. Reeling, gasping for breath, it takes him a moment to realise that whatever has a hold on his arm is dragging him backwards, off the path.

It’s got a nest, he thinks wildly. This hulking mass of fur and teeth—monster, monster, monster—has a nest and he’s gonna be eaten by its cute, furry young. The hand that’s not dangling uselessly from his shredded arm scrabbles helplessly at the forest floor. He digs into dead leaves, into dirt, before his fingers finally snag on a tree root. He fumbles for a desperate grip, and—

And regrets all his life choices as the monster growls low and yanks, tearing him harshly backward. The pain that rips up his arm takes his breath away again, and all that comes out when he tries to yell is a bubbly wheeze.

He’s going to die. Here, like this, cold and alone and dressed as a goddamn skeleton, because apparently the universe loves irony. He could almost laugh, and has the faint, detached thought that that’s probably shock.

There’s a popping sound, and for a staggering moment, Eli thinks its his arm. Then the beast flinches, and its jaw slackens, and he hears—

“Flank it!”

It’s a woman’s voice, followed by another pop, and Eli realises what the sound is: gunshots. Someone’s shooting at them. What a weird way to become a gun violence statistic, he finds himself thinking, and then suddenly—his arm’s free. It’s like being bitten in reverse, and if anything, it hurts more.

He rolls, scrabbling over gnarled roots and a wide slab of rock, away from the monster. He needn’t have bothered. Glancing frantically over his shoulder, he sees the black, furry mass booking it in the opposite direction. Eli’s heart almost gives out from the relief.

He can just barely make out a dark—thankfully human-shaped—figure chasing it, and Eli bites back a yelp when another one skids to a halt beside him.

“Can you run?”

It’s a girl. His age, maybe younger. He should tell her to be careful, there’s a monster in these woods.

“—you listening? Can you run?” she asks again, her voice lilting with a distinctly non-American accent, and Eli struggles to parse the words. Shock, he thinks again. Amazing how familiar the feeling is after more than a decade.

“I—yes,” he says. His arm is throbbing but his legs are whole, if shaky. The girl yanks him to his feet by his good arm and propels him back the way they’d come, towards the path. Towards town.

Run!” she tells him, and turns away, following the monster and her companion.

Eli doesn’t hesitate this time. He turns and he runs.


The diner is dark when he lets himself in through the back door. His arm has gone blessedly numb, which probably isn’t a good sign, but whenever his brain tries to tell him so his thoughts swim away from it.

It’s like trying to think through soda water. He can’t hold onto anything and random thoughts keep bubbling to the surface,  shifting his focus.

His mother’s pinned a note to the bulletin board at the bottom of the stairs.

Closed up early. Hope you had fun. Get some sleep xo.

He should wake her up. He needs a doctor. Or the police. Or both. Instead, his feet carry him upstairs and down the hall to his bedroom. He doesn’t bother with the lights. Doesn’t bother undressing. His arm is numb and his thoughts are too, and he just wants to sleep.

He sleeps.


There’s something in the woods. It’s loud and feral and feels like hitting a wall. A huge bang, bang—

BANG.

Eli’s body jolts awake before his brain does, and it takes him a moment to realise his mother’s knocking at his door.

“Opening in twenty! Up up!” she calls through the door before her footsteps recede.

It’s a familiar routine. His mother wakes him on her way down to open the diner. This is where he gets up and brushes his teeth and gets ready for school and—

Instead, Eli blinks at the ceiling and tries very hard not to look at his arm. He feels normal, which obviously means his arm’s fallen off and his body is trying not to process that fact. It’s a good approach, really. Smart. Eli’s taking notes because maybe if he never looks at his arm again, he can make it all the way to graduation before reality catches up with him.

Which is when Eli realises he’s rubbing his eyes with both hands and he flails upright.

His arm’s . . . fine.

Eli stares at it. And stares some more. It was a dream, he thinks hysterically. A bad, terrible, shitty dream. Only if it was, he’s still having it. Because while the skin of his arm is smooth and unmarked, the only reason he can see that is because the sleeve of his hoodie is in tatters.

The material scratches when he shifts, and it takes him a second to realise it’s because it’s stiff with dried blood.

His blood. Blood that came from his bloody but entirely undamaged arm.

“Last warning!” his mother calls, and Eli almost startles off the bed.

“Coming!” he yells, hoping the hysteria is only obvious to him.

He strips hastily, throwing the trashed costume into the dark recesses of his closet. Future Eli’s problem. Present Eli has to go to school. And probably flunk a chemistry test.

That, of all things, makes Eli swear as he heads for the bathroom.


Eli makes it to class with a whole thirty seconds to spare, which should earn him a medal after the night he had. Ms. Dhar shuffles some papers on her desk and ignores the last-minute scramble for chairs as the bell rings.

“Good morning, class.” Ms. Dhar squints at them through thick glasses, blinking like a kindly owl. “I trust your sugar crashes aren’t too dire.”

There’s a smattering of laughter, which ought to earn her a medal of her own. There aren’t many teachers considered well-liked by the Rose Lake High student body; Eli’s heard that Ms. Dhar, with her kind eyes and unshakable hatred of pop quizzes, is one of the only teachers in Rose Lake’s history given amnesty from all senior year pranks.

“Today we’ll be analysing the data you collected on last week’s excursion,” she says, and nods at Eli when he raises his hand. “I’ll have some of my own notes available for those who couldn’t attend.”

Which is Eli. And only Eli. Nobody else stayed behind; nobody else formed a third of the team responsible for the town’s only diner.

Eli starts to stand to collect the notes from Ms. Dhar, only to freeze at a knock on the door.

“Ah,” Ms. Dhar says, smiling as she turns towards the sound. “You must be Charlotte.”

The girl in the doorway doesn’t match her smile as she adjusts the backpack on her shoulder. “It’s Charlie, actually.”

Charlie, Eli thinks, barely hearing the rest of the class break out into excited whispers around him.

“Woah, did you hear her accent?”

“Right? She’s British!”

“Oh my God, Emma, Australian. What is wrong with you?”

All Eli can focus on is: Her name is Charlie. What a normal, unremarkable name. She looks normal, too: her long, dark hair is hanging loose and unstyled, and her round, scowling face has the healthy, freshly-scrubbed glow of someone who plays team sports for fun. He wonders if chasing wild animals through the preserve at night counts as a team sport, as long as you’re doing it with others. Eli’s hands are shaking, and he grips the edge of his desk until his knuckles whiten.

Charlie’s surly gaze passes over the class before snagging on him. Her eyes narrow like she’s trying to place his face, then widen in sudden recognition. And finally, she smiles.

Shit.

“It’s probably best you pair up with Eli. Eli, would you raise your hand?” Ms. Dhar says blithely, and Eli slowly lifts his hand despite never having felt more betrayed in his entire life. “We’re working on data collected on an excursion to Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine last week,” she adds, handing her a messy sheaf of papers. “You can both work with my notes.”

Charlie nods like this is a perfectly rational suggestion. Eli, meanwhile, is busy having a heart attack.

Ms. Dhar moves to her desk, and Charlie heads for Eli, unperturbed by the gauntlet of stares and whispers that accompany every new kid. Having suffered through more than his fair share himself over the years, Eli keeps his eyes fixed on his notebook in a gracious effort to keep from contributing to the attention. It’s not in any way because he’s shitting himself.

The chair next to him scrapes like the creaky-door sound effect in a horror movie, and Eli does his best to focus on Ms. Dhar as she starts the class proper. It’s going great right up until Charlie leans over and whispers, barely loud enough for him to hear.

“How’s the arm, hotshot?”

Eli whips his head around before he can stop himself, heart thundering like he expects to find last night’s monster leering back at him. Instead, there’s only Charlie, a teenager just like him, and as unthreatening a visual as he could conjure. She’s short, soft, and pear-shaped, and the shit-eating grin she levels at him just makes her cuter. It’s an impression severely at odds with the way just looking at her makes Eli’s spine want to crawl out the nearest window.

“I . . . have no idea what you’re talking about,” Eli mutters, choosing denial as the better part of valor.

“Oh, sorry,” Charlie says, rolling her eyes, obviously unimpressed with his tactical decision. “I must have you confused with the other dude who almost became werewolf chow last night.”

Eli very eloquently chokes on his own spit. Ms. Dhar looks like she’s not sure whether to scold him or ask if he’s okay; Charlie’s obviously trying hard not to laugh.

He waits until Ms. Dhar’s attention moves back to the lesson he’s hopelessly failing to follow, then hisses from the corner of his mouth, “You did not just say werewolf.”

“Pretty sure I did,” Charlie sniggers.

No,” Eli says. It’s an emphatic no. Very clear.

“No?” Charlie pokes his arm—the same arm he heard crunch last night. “How do you explain that then?” she asks.

Eli pretends to take notes. “I . . . ate some bad candy and had a nightmare. That’s all.”

Charlie snorts, loudly enough that a few people glance over. “Yeah, okay, Scrooge.” She pretends to be writing, glances at him again. “Seriously? You’d rather believe that you got food poisoning from some bad nougat and hallucinated a seven-foot tall monster instead of even entertaining the possibility of werewolves?”

“Of course I would!” Eli hisses. “I—”

There’s the sound of a throat being cleared, and . . . shit, okay, that’s definitely a scolding look from Ms. Dhar. He refuses to acknowledge Charlie for the rest of class, scribbling profanities in the margin of his notebook when Ms. Dhar assigns homework for the workshop pairs to complete together. Perfect. Amazing.

When he risks another glance at Charlie, hoping she’ll be as annoyed as he is, she’s putting the final touches on a detailed comic depicting a small figure being mauled by a wolf. Apparently satisfied with the line work, she grabs a red pen to color in the blood.

Ten years later, the bell finally rings. Eli doesn’t pack up, just scoops his books into his arms and bolts for the door.


Eli is a mess of nerves and denial, which is gonna make for one interesting werewolf. Charlie would be amused if there weren’t so much at stake.

Stuff it, she’s still amused. And relieved. She thought enrolling in high school was going to be a giant waste of time—she has bigger werewolves to fry—but here she is lab partners with their best chance of tracking the rogue. Alyssa’s gonna flip. Charlie can’t wait to rub it in her face.

Education is important, Charlie. Damn friggin’ straight it is.

She catches up with Eli despite her short-ass legs and his new fuzzball speed. “Come on!” she says. “This isn’t an ‘ignore it and it’ll go away’ situation.”

“Challenge accepted,” Eli snaps, swinging a hard turn like he’s been yanked stage left by an oversized hook. He’s practically huddled against the lockers, making a show of opening one that Charlie’s honestly surprised to find is his, given his actions are so random.

“What are you doing?” Charlie says, grimacing at the state of Eli’s locker. There’s an apple that’s seen better days almost falling off a crowded shelf, like a sentry to a kingdom of chaos.

Eli just rolls his eyes, flicks his gaze behind Charlie, and braces. The shove, when it comes, is hard enough that Eli bounces off the lockers, but Charlie can tell he exaggerates his wince. So. He’s smart, at least.

The boy who did the shoving is all teeth, from his mean smirk down to his trademark bully swagger. Charlie wants to punch him on principle. Instead she checks on Eli as the bully continues down the hall.

“Are you okay?”

Eli checks Captain Teeth is far enough away and then straightens. “I’m fine,” he says curtly.
“Please leave me alone.”

Charlie shrugs. “I can’t.”

“Right. Because I’m a werewolf,” Eli says, sarcastically.

Charlie’s never been the most patient person—she can hear her sister laughing at that understatement—and Eli’s pressing every button she has with this studied ostrich impression.

So she does what she does best: she snaps. “Fine,” she says, reaching past Eli into his locker. “You don’t believe me?”

“What—” Eli only realises she’s grabbed the apple when she hauls back and throws it.

Right at Captain Teeth’s retreating back.

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Isabelle Blake dressed like a hotdog

Season One

Howloween

The streets are dark and filled with monsters. The diner, not so much.

It’s to be expected. No kid wants real food when there’s candy to be had. The diner will get a spike over the next day and a half as parents try to coax their spawn from their Halloween haul—even deep-fried potato is better than death by chocolate.

But for now, it’s just Eli, one rowdy table of kids he vaguely recognises from school, some empty ketchup bottles, and his chem textbook. Mr. Pembroke is notorious for springing quizzes the day after town events and Eli’s been bitten before.

He’s almost got the continuity equation memorized when a mass of black is dropped across the pages.

“What—Mom!”

“It hurts me to see you like this,” she says like a woman grieving.

Eli rolls his eyes, grabbing the next ketchup bottle. “What? Studying?”

His mother is fast when she wants to be. The ketchup is out of his hands before Eli can blink.

“Working,” she says, squirreling the ketchup bottles away like Eli’s found the liquor cabinet.

Eli sighs. “I work for you, mother.”

“And I’m in half a mind to fire you.”

He grins, retrieving his chem book from under the pile of black. A black tracksuit now he’s looking properly. With bones painted on. Of course.

“No, you aren’t.”

She turns sharp eyes on him, but Eli’s well-practiced at seeing the softness behind them. Her lips quirk up. “No, I’m not.”

Eli leans over the counter. “Then—”

“But,” she continues, making Eli groan as he sinks back onto his stool, “I do wish you’d have some fun once in a while.”

“Chemistry is fun,” Eli says. He ignores the patented Mom Eyebrows that earns him. He’s well-practiced at that too.

His mother sighs, leaning away from the counter. Slow night or no, she’s perfectly put together to receive patrons. Serviceable blouse atop serviceable skirt atop serviceable shoes. The only hint of her love of Halloween is the cat ears on her usually also serviceable headband. Costa’s wearing a matching pair in the kitchen.

“I can’t believe I have to encourage my only son to get into the Halloween spirit,” she says to the ceiling. “Lord, why did you curse me with a responsible child?”

Eli knows this one. “Because you partied enough for two generations?”

The dishcloth to the face is expected but Eli’s laughing so hard he doesn’t dodge in time. Hard enough he misses the ringing door.

His mother doesn’t. You can’t take the hospitality out of the hospitality worker and she’s been in the industry for too long as it is. Waitressing is one of the easiest jobs to pick up in a new town.

By the time Eli’s looked to the door, frowned, then readjusted his eyes about two feet down, his mother’s already moving.

“Hello,” says the girl at the door.

She can’t be older than seven or eight, an age that makes the lack of adults around her a glaringly obvious detail. She’s also dressed as a hotdog which . . . awesome.

“Hello, sweetheart,” Eli’s mother says, rounding the counter, mom-mode engaged. “Where are your parents?”

“At home,” the girl says like someone imparting the weather. “I got lost.”

“Bummer,” Eli says automatically then immediately feels like an idiot.

His mother looks like she’s trying not to laugh as she ushers the little hotdog into the diner proper. Now that she’s closer Eli can see the plastic crown shoved over the tip of the sausage part of the costume.

“What’s your name, honey?” Eli’s mom asks as the girl clambers onto a stool next to Eli.

“Isabelle Blake,” the hotdog says, pulling an iPhone out of a hidden pocket of her costume like she’s an executive CEO. “I tried calling home but no one answered.”

Eli snags the significantly more battered cordless from the back counter and is handing it to his mom before she even looks up.

“Blake . . . as in Owen Blake?” Eli says. His voice is entirely normal when he says it too. Score.

Isabelle nods. “He’s my brother.”

“What’s your dad’s name, honey?” his mom asks, already dialing.

“Roger,” Eli and Isabelle say at the same time.

Eli feels his face heat up as his mother gives him a look before turning her attention to the phone. “Yes, sheriff’s office?”

Isabelle’s looking at Eli like she’s thinking of inviting him to a tea party so Eli deflects the best way he knows how. “You want a sundae?”

Isabelle’s face lights up and Eli slides off his stool as his mom steps out of the way.

“Were you out trick or treating?” Eli asks, pulling down a sundae bowl. An Eli special is in order. God help whoever has to get this kid to sleep later.

“Yep,” Isabelle says, popping the ‘p’. “Mrs. Shultz took me with Billy and Trevor but they went too fast and Ms. Devon hands out actual 100 Grands.”

“Oh man,” Eli says, pulling down the chocolate and caramel sauces. “I’d fall behind for those too.”

“Right?!” Isabelle says in the tone of someone who’s found their people. Eli has to wonder how many 100 Grand-hating heathens she’s come into contact with.

He’s putting the finishing touches on the mound of whipped cream when his mother comes back. She gives him an exasperated look when she sees the monster he’s handing to Isabelle. She’s never appreciated his artistic pursuits.

“So the bad news is the sheriff’s department’s busy,” Eli’s mom says. “And they can’t get through to your parents.”

“There’s a party,” Isabelle says, giving the sundae some super gratifying heart-eyes. “It’s loud.”

“Well, I’ve left a message at the station,” his mom says. “If anyone calls in—”

“I can take her,” Eli blurts out and yeah, his mom definitely knows there’s something up now.

“Can you now?” she says.

“I mean since all the ketchup’s mysteriously disappeared. . .”

There’s no way he’s getting away with this. His mother is smirking like that time he smuggled a kitten home in his hoodie. Nevermind it became Moose who’s probably asleep on his pillow upstairs. Isabelle is half-buried in ice cream and thankfully oblivious to Eli’s chill melting all over the tiles.

“Okay,” Eli’s mom says finally, clapping him on the shoulder like he’s just aced a job interview. “By the time you put your costume on Isabelle should have finished her sundae.”

Oh hell no. “I don’t—”

“Yeah, costume!” Isabelle says. She’s somehow got chocolate sauce smeared up to her temple. It’s goddamn adorable.

“Two to one!” his mother says, bundling the homemade skeleton costume into his arms. “Go get changed.”

“I hate you,” he says as he’s pushed toward the back.

“I know,” his mother says. “You should get back at me by having fun. Make some friends even. Stop being such a lone wolf.”

“I’m not alone. I have you,” Eli says, kissing his mother on the cheek exaggeratedly as he lets her push him toward the stairs.


It’s cold outside—certainly colder than fall ought to be—but the town has taken the temperature as a challenge. All of Rose Lake seems to be out, children streaking past with giant scarves wrapped around their necks like afterthoughts, dulling the effect of the more realistic costumes. Eli’s never seen a devil look so cozy.

Eli pauses outside the diner doors to check that Isabelle is comfortable, but her hotdog costume is apparently well-insulated. Even her hand in Eli’s is warm. She’s certainly better off than he is, with nothing but a sweatshirt and a thin knit hat against the sharp breeze.

They blend in with the throng as they make their way down the street. The ancient face paint he’d unearthed from the junk drawer makes his nose itch like hell, but Eli is glad for the way that it obscures his features and marks him as one of the monstrous crowd. Standing out is never a good thing in Eli’s experience—safer just to go unnoticed.

Okay, he thinks a moment later, as a trio of especially gory zombies step out to block his path. Okay, that was obviously hubris. This one’s on me.

The lead zombie is easily recognizable, even underneath the fake blood. Perpetually the new kid at school, Eli’s developed a keen memory for faces—especially when it comes to bullies. It took all of a day and a half in Rose Lake for Austin Tanner’s face to be permanently etched into Eli’s lizard brain.

Eli pulls Isabelle to a stop as Austin smiles. It’s a broad, familiar grin, and the faux-bloody smear across his teeth is the nicest thing about it.

“Would you look at this? I can’t believe it!” Austin says. “Has Eli Swann got himself a real, human friend?”

Eli’s gut sinks. It’s a frustratingly familiar feeling.

“Or—I’m sorry,” Austin continues, feigning awkwardness. “Is this a date?”

The two boys behind Austin laugh on cue. No school bully is complete without at least two minions following to snigger at their terrible jokes. Eli risks a closer look and recognizes the gap-toothed sneer and cartoonishly square jaw of Jacob Eames and Dan Wilder, two of Austin’s more vicious cronies.

This really must be his lucky night.

Eli ducks his head and tugs Isabelle’s hand, pulling her in a wide arc around the three boys. That’s the plan, at least, Only Isabelle isn’t moving. It’s like tugging on a statue, and when Eli looks back it’s to find Isabelle standing with feet firmly planted, scowling up at Austin like the world’s angriest hot dog.

“You’re an ass,” she says.

There’s a stunned silence in which Eli sees his life flash before his eyes, and then Austin howls with laughter. It’s about as pleasant as the smile was.

“Isabelle, come on,” Eli says. Half pleads, if he’s being honest. But it’s too late—Dan’s moved to cut off their route around the trio, and Austin has obviously scented blood in the water.

“She’s hilarious,” Austin says with an even meaner grin. “Where’d you find her?”

“He doesn’t have to tell you anything,” Isabelle says, curtly. This is a girl who’s never gotten a swirly in her life, and she’s gonna get them killed. “Let us pass.”

“Or what?” Austin says, baring his teeth.

He’s having the time of his life. Eli can see it on his face, like this is the best thing to happen to him tonight—which puts it smack at the bottom of Eli’s list. Eli’s focus narrows, blood starting its old familiar rush in his ears. Run, run, run, it seems to be chanting. But he can’t, not with Isabelle here. He can’t leave her. Austin will go for him first if he stays; maybe he can use that to his advantage. If he can just—

Then, suddenly, Isabelle starts to cry. Loudly.

The whole weird tableau freezes. And they are a tableau—they all realise it together as the other people on the street turn to see what the commotion is. Suddenly they’re surrounded by staring kids of all ages, many young enough to have their parents with them.

There are . . . a lot of parents, actually.

Clutching at Eli’s arm like a security blanket, Isabelle inches back from the trio as she wails, “Please don’t take our candy!”

Eli gets it at the same time Austin does. For a split second, Austin looks ready to clock Eli anyway. But then—

“Hey!” A woman holding the hand of a tiny, wide-eyed, apple-cheeked cowboy takes a scowling step their way. “What’s going on here?”

Dan breaks first, tugging on Austin’s jacket. “Hey man, let’s go.”

“Mary?” Down the street, a tall, broad-shouldered man starts heading towards them. “Everything okay?”

“Fuck. Scatter,” Jacob says sharply, and he and Dan take off in opposite directions.

Austin backs off, reluctantly taking one step, then two. “See you at school, Eli,” he sneers.

Then he’s running, too, leaving Eli feeling like he’s been yanked out of traffic. By an eight-year-old. He’s only vaguely aware of the woman questioning Isabelle, her small hand still gripping him tightly as she sniffles out answers. He feels like he blinks, and the two adults are walking off, and Isabelle . . .

Isabelle’s face is dry and composed.

Eli stares at her. She’s terrifying. In a different way than Austin, sure, but still.

“That was incredibly manipulative of you,” he says, amazed, and Isabelle grins.

“Thanks! That was fun.” Her hold has loosened, but she leaves her hand in his. “Can we get more 100 Grands on the way?”


The Blake house looks like something that would make a Jane Austen heroine gasp delicately on approach. It’s huge, hogging the curve of the entire cul-de-sac. There are giant columns bracketing a door you could drive a car through and high, arched windows that look like they should have ghosts lurking on rotation. It’s one of the oldest buildings in town mostly because the Blakes are one of the oldest families in town. Eli knows this because half the goddamn place is named for them.

As Eli and Isabelle near the mansion Eli becomes very aware he’s wearing a tracksuit with dollar store craft paint on it. Light and laughter is spilling out the entryway and Eli feels like he’s approaching the mouth of hell, trying not to breathe on the Rolls Royce parked in the drive as he goes.

Isabelle speeds up as they reach the front steps, all but dragging him in her wake.

“Come in!” She says, excitedly. “I’ve been learning foxtrot!”

That sounds . . . like Eli’s worst nightmare. Not least because Isabelle seems to think he should already be schooled in ballroom dancing. Oh god, there’s probably a ballroom. He digs his heels in at the door, rebounding back like some sort of underprivileged vampire. “No, I should—”

“Isabelle!”

They both look up at the new voice. And it’s—

It’s Owen Blake. Owen Blake hurrying toward them down a frankly unnecessary set of ostentatious marble stairs. It’s like every fantasy Eli’s definitely never had after watching She’s All That when he was eleven. Jesus, he’s even in formal wear.

“You’re in so much trouble,” Owen says. And yeah. Eli knows.

Because Owen looks like he should have a soundtrack. Like his gracing a room should be accompanied by an enterprising yet authentic indie rock song. A song that says, Hey there, this is The Guy, the one with the really nice shoulders and the tousled hair. He could whip out an acoustic guitar at any moment and you’d be legitimately into it, isn’t that disgusting?  

Eli’s spent a lot of time being offended in Owen’s presence.

Tonight he’s even more offensive than usual, dressed white tie with honest-to-god tailcoats. He should look like an underaged limo driver but instead looks like he’s stepped off the cover of a steamy regency romance novel. Eli only notices the mask in Owen’s hand when he drops to one knee in front of Isabelle. And the top hat. And the rose. Oh god, he’s Tuxedo Mask. It shouldn’t work but it does.

“Mrs. Shultz is shitting bricks,” Owen says, ruining the gravitas of the moment by pulling Isabelle into a hug. He’s wearing white tailored gloves and Eli has to bite the inside of his cheek for an entirely unrelated reason, thanks very much.

“You shouldn’t say ‘shit’,” Isabelle says. Her voice goes wobbly at the end of the sentence and Eli can’t blame her given the night she’s had. It’s probably catching up to her in the worst way.

Then Owen looks up at Eli and Eli can’t imagine her night’s gonna outstrip his. “You’re Eli, yeah?”

Six months of shared classes flash through Eli’s head like a war reel. “Um. Yeah.”

Owen smiles, straightening up, though he keeps hold of Isabelle’s hand. It shouldn’t make something clench behind Eli’s ribs, but here he is.

“Your mom finally got through and told us you were coming,” Owen says. “Thank you for bringing her back safe.”

Eli feels like his whole face might evaporate. “It’s no problem.” It was a slight problem. “It was on my way.” It wasn’t on his way.  Then because he’s panicking, he gestures to the rose. “You’re not gonna throw that at me are you?”

Fuck.

Owen laughs like Eli didn’t just hand him the keys to his dignity. “You’re the only one to get it,” he says, and Eli’s suddenly weirdly proud. “Everyone else thinks I’m the Phantom of the Opera.”

Eli forces a smile like that visual isn’t also devastating as hell.

“Is there punch?” Isabelle says suddenly, breaking the tension so beautifully Eli could high five her. “I told Eli we could have punch.”

“There is punch,” Owen says, grinning at Eli like they’re sharing a joke. Like they’re two people who share jokes now. Just two guys, sharing jokes. Joke sharers. Eli’s gonna get a grip any moment now.

Eli swivels, thumbing over his shoulder into the darkness, where no one can hear him berate himself. “I should really get back.”

“Noooooooo!” Isabelle says, like he’s stuck a pin in her. “Staaaaaay!”

Owen nudges her, even as he says, “You sure? It’s all stuffy lawyers fawning over my brother in here, you’d be doing us a favour.”

“Yeah, I’m—” Eli steps back, like he can back away from his burning face. “I have to help mom close up.”

“Oh. Okay,” Owen says, and it’s awkward. God, it’s so awkward. “Thank you again.”

Eli nods. “It was nice to meet you, Isabelle.”

Isabelle waves sadly and Eli nods again, like an idiot, getting one last eyeful of Owen’s tailored suit, and broad shoulders, and really . . . just really nice smile before turning away.

He waits until he’s back to the street to indulge in a hearty facepalm. It’s cleansing. A suitable end to a suitable day. The only cake topper his life needs now is running into Austin and friends again on the way home.

Eli pulls out his phone to check the time, then gets an idea and pulls up Maps instead.

Rose Lake is chiseled from the wilderness of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, but not very well. Sections of the preserve encroach on the town, forcing civilization into large crescents, cutting parts of the town off from each other with swaths of forest.

The Blake house is on the end of such a U, with the main township and the diner at its opposing curve.

Eli pinches into the map and does some math. If he follows the streets he can be back home in about thirty minutes. If he cuts through the woods then it looks like he can make it in half that.

And avoid any chance of running across Austin again. That thought is all Eli needs to turn off the path and into the trees.


The woods are protected land, but humans are an invasive species, and generations of Rose Lake residents have cut numerous paths across the sections of park that butt against the town. Eli finds a wide, well-worn one and sticks to it, yanking his hood up against the evening chill.

Civilization is swallowed quickly by trees, and the streetlamps’ light along with it. Eli considers pulling out his phone, but the path is even, and the moon is just full enough to lend a glow to see by, and he’s hesitant to shatter the atmosphere with technology.

Eli has liked the woods in an abstract, city-kid way ever since they first moved to Rose Lake. After years of one densely-populated area after another, the wildness feels humbling. He remembers the day he and his mother arrived in town, the way he’d wanted to just . . . keep going. Adirondack Park was the biggest forestry preserve in the country. If they could make it past that first border of trees, they’d never be found.

He’s jostled from his thoughts by a rustling off to the right of the path—the sound of something moving through the trees. Something big enough to leave his brain scrambling to pull up everything he read during those first few weeks on local predatory species and what to do when encountering a bear. Isn’t he supposed to make loud noises from a safe distance? His eyes dart back and forth in the meager light. What the hell constitutes a safe distance in the middle of the woods?

Suddenly, the thought of getting lost in the park isn’t as comforting as it was five minutes ago.

Eli steels himself and keeps walking. If it’s some sort of animal—and it is, it has to be— it’s probably more scared of him than he is of it. At least, that’s what his mom says when she hears him making dying whale noises because he’s spotted a spider in their bathroom.

And oh, perfect, now he’s thinking about giant spiders. No more Lord of the Rings marathons for him. New rule.

The rustling stops as he starts walking again, then picks back up. Louder. Closer. Whatever it is, it’s moving faster now, more purposefully. Toward the path.

Eli stops. Freezes, really, as his brain helpfully reminds him that there have been credible mountain lion sightings in the Adirondacks. And didn’t Heather Mills say her brother spotted a moose near the old bridge last summer? He’s full of so much wonderful information about all the local animals that can turn a human being into jam. Sure would have been helpful to recall it before he’d cut through the woods in the dark.

Don’t run, Eli thinks, heart hammering in his chest. He remembers reading something that said you shouldn’t run, shouldn’t turn your back. Then the creature steps onto the path, and Eli’s brain stops trying to be helpful. It has nothing for him, no helpful tips or trivia from his reading, because the only books about something like this are in the horror section. Two legs, hunched shoulders, dark fur. Restless, flexing fingers tipped with ragged claws. Moonlight glinting off of teeth, teeth, teeth, and instinct takes over.

Eli runs, but he doesn’t get far.

It’s like being hit by a train. An impossibly heavy body slams into him from behind and what feels like a steel trap clamps shut over his arm. He sees the creature’s mouth—jaws, his mind babbles, snout—latched onto him, sharp fangs digging in, warm blood soaking his sleeve as it bears down.

His scream is from shock as much as pain. He hits the ground almost as an afterthought, breath punching out of his lungs at the impact. Reeling, gasping for breath, it takes him a moment to realise that whatever has a hold on his arm is dragging him backwards, off the path.

It’s got a nest, he thinks wildly. This hulking mass of fur and teeth—monster, monster, monster—has a nest and he’s gonna be eaten by its cute, furry young. The hand that’s not dangling uselessly from his shredded arm scrabbles helplessly at the forest floor. He digs into dead leaves, into dirt, before his fingers finally snag on a tree root. He fumbles for a desperate grip, and—

And regrets all his life choices as the monster growls low and yanks, tearing him harshly backward. The pain that rips up his arm takes his breath away again, and all that comes out when he tries to yell is a bubbly wheeze.

He’s going to die. Here, like this, cold and alone and dressed as a goddamn skeleton, because apparently the universe loves irony. He could almost laugh, and has the faint, detached thought that that’s probably shock.

There’s a popping sound, and for a staggering moment, Eli thinks its his arm. Then the beast flinches, and its jaw slackens, and he hears—

“Flank it!”

It’s a woman’s voice, followed by another pop, and Eli realises what the sound is: gunshots. Someone’s shooting at them. What a weird way to become a gun violence statistic, he finds himself thinking, and then suddenly—his arm’s free. It’s like being bitten in reverse, and if anything, it hurts more.

He rolls, scrabbling over gnarled roots and a wide slab of rock, away from the monster. He needn’t have bothered. Glancing frantically over his shoulder, he sees the black, furry mass booking it in the opposite direction. Eli’s heart almost gives out from the relief.

He can just barely make out a dark—thankfully human-shaped—figure chasing it, and Eli bites back a yelp when another one skids to a halt beside him.

“Can you run?”

It’s a girl. His age, maybe younger. He should tell her to be careful, there’s a monster in these woods.

“—you listening? Can you run?” she asks again, her voice lilting with a distinctly non-American accent, and Eli struggles to parse the words. Shock, he thinks again. Amazing how familiar the feeling is after more than a decade.

“I—yes,” he says. His arm is throbbing but his legs are whole, if shaky. The girl yanks him to his feet by his good arm and propels him back the way they’d come, towards the path. Towards town.

Run!” she tells him, and turns away, following the monster and her companion.

Eli doesn’t hesitate this time. He turns and he runs.


The diner is dark when he lets himself in through the back door. His arm has gone blessedly numb, which probably isn’t a good sign, but whenever his brain tries to tell him so his thoughts swim away from it.

It’s like trying to think through soda water. He can’t hold onto anything and random thoughts keep bubbling to the surface,  shifting his focus.

His mother’s pinned a note to the bulletin board at the bottom of the stairs.

Closed up early. Hope you had fun. Get some sleep xo.

He should wake her up. He needs a doctor. Or the police. Or both. Instead, his feet carry him upstairs and down the hall to his bedroom. He doesn’t bother with the lights. Doesn’t bother undressing. His arm is numb and his thoughts are too, and he just wants to sleep.

He sleeps.


There’s something in the woods. It’s loud and feral and feels like hitting a wall. A huge bang, bang—

BANG.

Eli’s body jolts awake before his brain does, and it takes him a moment to realise his mother’s knocking at his door.

“Opening in twenty! Up up!” she calls through the door before her footsteps recede.

It’s a familiar routine. His mother wakes him on her way down to open the diner. This is where he gets up and brushes his teeth and gets ready for school and—

Instead, Eli blinks at the ceiling and tries very hard not to look at his arm. He feels normal, which obviously means his arm’s fallen off and his body is trying not to process that fact. It’s a good approach, really. Smart. Eli’s taking notes because maybe if he never looks at his arm again, he can make it all the way to graduation before reality catches up with him.

Which is when Eli realises he’s rubbing his eyes with both hands and he flails upright.

His arm’s . . . fine.

Eli stares at it. And stares some more. It was a dream, he thinks hysterically. A bad, terrible, shitty dream. Only if it was, he’s still having it. Because while the skin of his arm is smooth and unmarked, the only reason he can see that is because the sleeve of his hoodie is in tatters.

The material scratches when he shifts, and it takes him a second to realise it’s because it’s stiff with dried blood.

His blood. Blood that came from his bloody but entirely undamaged arm.

“Last warning!” his mother calls, and Eli almost startles off the bed.

“Coming!” he yells, hoping the hysteria is only obvious to him.

He strips hastily, throwing the trashed costume into the dark recesses of his closet. Future Eli’s problem. Present Eli has to go to school. And probably flunk a chemistry test.

That, of all things, makes Eli swear as he heads for the bathroom.


Eli makes it to class with a whole thirty seconds to spare, which should earn him a medal after the night he had. Ms. Dhar shuffles some papers on her desk and ignores the last-minute scramble for chairs as the bell rings.

“Good morning, class.” Ms. Dhar squints at them through thick glasses, blinking like a kindly owl. “I trust your sugar crashes aren’t too dire.”

There’s a smattering of laughter, which ought to earn her a medal of her own. There aren’t many teachers considered well-liked by the Rose Lake High student body; Eli’s heard that Ms. Dhar, with her kind eyes and unshakable hatred of pop quizzes, is one of the only teachers in Rose Lake’s history given amnesty from all senior year pranks.

“Today we’ll be analysing the data you collected on last week’s excursion,” she says, and nods at Eli when he raises his hand. “I’ll have some of my own notes available for those who couldn’t attend.”

Which is Eli. And only Eli. Nobody else stayed behind; nobody else formed a third of the team responsible for the town’s only diner.

Eli starts to stand to collect the notes from Ms. Dhar, only to freeze at a knock on the door.

“Ah,” Ms. Dhar says, smiling as she turns towards the sound. “You must be Charlotte.”

The girl in the doorway doesn’t match her smile as she adjusts the backpack on her shoulder. “It’s Charlie, actually.”

Charlie, Eli thinks, barely hearing the rest of the class break out into excited whispers around him.

“Woah, did you hear her accent?”

“Right? She’s British!”

“Oh my God, Emma, Australian. What is wrong with you?”

All Eli can focus on is: Her name is Charlie. What a normal, unremarkable name. She looks normal, too: her long, dark hair is hanging loose and unstyled, and her round, scowling face has the healthy, freshly-scrubbed glow of someone who plays team sports for fun. He wonders if chasing wild animals through the preserve at night counts as a team sport, as long as you’re doing it with others. Eli’s hands are shaking, and he grips the edge of his desk until his knuckles whiten.

Charlie’s surly gaze passes over the class before snagging on him. Her eyes narrow like she’s trying to place his face, then widen in sudden recognition. And finally, she smiles.

Shit.

“It’s probably best you pair up with Eli. Eli, would you raise your hand?” Ms. Dhar says blithely, and Eli slowly lifts his hand despite never having felt more betrayed in his entire life. “We’re working on data collected on an excursion to Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine last week,” she adds, handing her a messy sheaf of papers. “You can both work with my notes.”

Charlie nods like this is a perfectly rational suggestion. Eli, meanwhile, is busy having a heart attack.

Ms. Dhar moves to her desk, and Charlie heads for Eli, unperturbed by the gauntlet of stares and whispers that accompany every new kid. Having suffered through more than his fair share himself over the years, Eli keeps his eyes fixed on his notebook in a gracious effort to keep from contributing to the attention. It’s not in any way because he’s shitting himself.

The chair next to him scrapes like the creaky-door sound effect in a horror movie, and Eli does his best to focus on Ms. Dhar as she starts the class proper. It’s going great right up until Charlie leans over and whispers, barely loud enough for him to hear.

“How’s the arm, hotshot?”

Eli whips his head around before he can stop himself, heart thundering like he expects to find last night’s monster leering back at him. Instead, there’s only Charlie, a teenager just like him, and as unthreatening a visual as he could conjure. She’s short, soft, and pear-shaped, and the shit-eating grin she levels at him just makes her cuter. It’s an impression severely at odds with the way just looking at her makes Eli’s spine want to crawl out the nearest window.

“I . . . have no idea what you’re talking about,” Eli mutters, choosing denial as the better part of valor.

“Oh, sorry,” Charlie says, rolling her eyes, obviously unimpressed with his tactical decision. “I must have you confused with the other dude who almost became werewolf chow last night.”

Eli very eloquently chokes on his own spit. Ms. Dhar looks like she’s not sure whether to scold him or ask if he’s okay; Charlie’s obviously trying hard not to laugh.

He waits until Ms. Dhar’s attention moves back to the lesson he’s hopelessly failing to follow, then hisses from the corner of his mouth, “You did not just say werewolf.”

“Pretty sure I did,” Charlie sniggers.

No,” Eli says. It’s an emphatic no. Very clear.

“No?” Charlie pokes his arm—the same arm he heard crunch last night. “How do you explain that then?” she asks.

Eli pretends to take notes. “I . . . ate some bad candy and had a nightmare. That’s all.”

Charlie snorts, loudly enough that a few people glance over. “Yeah, okay, Scrooge.” She pretends to be writing, glances at him again. “Seriously? You’d rather believe that you got food poisoning from some bad nougat and hallucinated a seven-foot tall monster instead of even entertaining the possibility of werewolves?”

“Of course I would!” Eli hisses. “I—”

There’s the sound of a throat being cleared, and . . . shit, okay, that’s definitely a scolding look from Ms. Dhar. He refuses to acknowledge Charlie for the rest of class, scribbling profanities in the margin of his notebook when Ms. Dhar assigns homework for the workshop pairs to complete together. Perfect. Amazing.

When he risks another glance at Charlie, hoping she’ll be as annoyed as he is, she’s putting the final touches on a detailed comic depicting a small figure being mauled by a wolf. Apparently satisfied with the line work, she grabs a red pen to color in the blood.

Ten years later, the bell finally rings. Eli doesn’t pack up, just scoops his books into his arms and bolts for the door.


Eli is a mess of nerves and denial, which is gonna make for one interesting werewolf. Charlie would be amused if there weren’t so much at stake.

Stuff it, she’s still amused. And relieved. She thought enrolling in high school was going to be a giant waste of time—she has bigger werewolves to fry—but here she is lab partners with their best chance of tracking the rogue. Alyssa’s gonna flip. Charlie can’t wait to rub it in her face.

Education is important, Charlie. Damn friggin’ straight it is.

She catches up with Eli despite her short-ass legs and his new fuzzball speed. “Come on!” she says. “This isn’t an ‘ignore it and it’ll go away’ situation.”

“Challenge accepted,” Eli snaps, swinging a hard turn like he’s been yanked stage left by an oversized hook. He’s practically huddled against the lockers, making a show of opening one that Charlie’s honestly surprised to find is his, given his actions are so random.

“What are you doing?” Charlie says, grimacing at the state of Eli’s locker. There’s an apple that’s seen better days almost falling off a crowded shelf, like a sentry to a kingdom of chaos.

Eli just rolls his eyes, flicks his gaze behind Charlie, and braces. The shove, when it comes, is hard enough that Eli bounces off the lockers, but Charlie can tell he exaggerates his wince. So. He’s smart, at least.

The boy who did the shoving is all teeth, from his mean smirk down to his trademark bully swagger. Charlie wants to punch him on principle. Instead she checks on Eli as the bully continues down the hall.

“Are you okay?”

Eli checks Captain Teeth is far enough away and then straightens. “I’m fine,” he says curtly.
“Please leave me alone.”

Charlie shrugs. “I can’t.”

“Right. Because I’m a werewolf,” Eli says, sarcastically.

Charlie’s never been the most patient person—she can hear her sister laughing at that understatement—and Eli’s pressing every button she has with this studied ostrich impression.

So she does what she does best: she snaps. “Fine,” she says, reaching past Eli into his locker. “You don’t believe me?”

“What—” Eli only realises she’s grabbed the apple when she hauls back and throws it.

Right at Captain Teeth’s retreating back.

Charlie watched Event Horizon when she was seven and had nightmares for months. Eli’s face looks like this is his equivalent experience.

The apple collides with the bully’s shoulder and he freezes. Along with half the hall. Ah, that kind of bully then. Eli looks like he’s about to throw up, and Charlie feels a twinge of regret.

Still. Damage done. Might as well roll with it. “Oh my god, Eli!” Charlie yells, like a scandalised grandmother in a strip club.

Eli looks like he’s wondering what it will sound like when Captain Teeth rips his spine out. At least he’s not running, Charlie thinks. And then the bully’s on him.

“You’re dead,” Captain Teeth growls, already swinging.

Eli moves on instinct—Charlie can tell because he looks as surprised as Captain Teeth when the fist sails right past the tip of his nose and into the locker. Charlie can feel the resounding bang in her bones.

The whole hall makes a collective, “Oooooooh,” sound as Captain Teeth curses, even as he recovers and swings again. Eli swerves out of his reach again. He looks a little like a wavy, car-lot tube man and this is the most fun Charlie’s had in months.

Missing a second time just incenses Captain Teeth even more. By the time he rears back to swing again his face is bright red, and there’s a nice cloud of rage-spittle around his mouth. Which makes the third boy stepping between Eli and his attacker particularly badass.

Christopher Nolan’s directing senses are probably itching like crazy.

“Hey!” the new boy says, shoving Captain Teeth back like a letterman-jacket-wearing superhero. “Back off, Tanner!”

Captain Teeth—Tanner—is beyond enraged. Charlie’s seen cartoon characters calmer in the face of adversity. “Fuck off, you fa—”

“Finish that sentence,” Super Letterman snaps, voice made of knives. “I fucking dare you.”

Tanner doesn’t, though his glare practically does it for him. Eli looks like he can feel the eyes of everyone in the hall like a rash. Charlie wants popcorn.

“Yeah, I thought so,” Super Letterman says, and Charlie fights the urge to slow clap. “Walk away.”

And Tanner . . . does. He looks like he’d rather skin himself alive than do it, but his sneakers squeak on the linoleum as he backs up nonetheless.

“Watch your back, Swann,” he says in parting. Eli’s apparently so high on stepping into this alternate reality where he’s not a smear on the lockers he just salutes in reply. And okay, she’s rooting for the kid now.

Reality hits unpause on the hall and students start moving in fits and starts, hissing to each other in excited whispers. This gossip will probably carry them through the next class and a half at least.

Super Letterman turns to Eli, and Eli suddenly looks like he’s swallowed his tongue. Charlie backs up against the lockers and feigns looking at her phone as she shamelessly eavesdrops.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Eli says.

When Charlie takes a quick peek, Super Letterman has an expression that makes him look like he’s wearing a leather jacket by association. It suits him like damn. Charlie’s waiting for an indie soundtrack to drop, any moment now.

“Yeah,” Super Letterman says, “I kinda did. You okay?”

“Yeah,” Eli says, and laughs like he’s just getting blood back into his brain. “He, ah—he missed.”

Werewolf, Charlie wants to hiss, but she’d rather eat her own leg than interrupt the real-life CW show she’s witnessing.

“No shit,” Super Letterman says, breaking into a grin and yeah, okay, she doesn’t blame Eli. If that was aimed at her she’d resemble a bag of mashed potato as well.

“You got some moves,” Super Letterman says, shoving Eli like they’re buddies. Friends. Pals. Only judging by Eli’s expression that’s not the interaction he was expecting, and oh my god, Super Letterman is into Eli too.

Whither art thou, popcorn?

“Yeah.” Eli sounds slightly hysterical. “I think I’d rather have whatever you just did though.”

“Ah.” Super Letterman glances after the bully. “That’d be insider knowledge.” He leans forward like he’s unaware doing so might kill Eli. And Charlie, who wants to sell the rights to this in Hollywood. “Austin’s one more infraction away from being kicked off the baseball team before the season even starts.”

“Being a dickbag isn’t an infraction?” Eli says, and looks like he’s struggling not to high five himself when it makes Super Letterman laugh.

“Not when you have a .300 batting average,” Super Letterman says.

Eli laughs too hard at that, but Super Letterman just glows, so Charlie’s gonna wrack up another point in Eli’s corner.

“Hey, a bunch of us are gonna head out to the cabin after the game tonight,” Super Letterman says, sounding just a bit too casual. “Wanna come?”

Eli’s mouth becomes the MVP of the entire situation by not freezing like the rest of him. “Y-yeah,” he says, with only a slight hitch to betray the way his insides have probably just burst into flames.

Charlie’s witnessing history right here, folks.

Super Letterman grins and Charlie’s three seconds away from sourcing confetti. “Sweet! I’ll see you then.”

And then he’s walking away, and Charlie’s amazed Eli hasn’t thrown up some puppies and maybe a rainbow. Not even turning around to find her lurking like a creeper is enough to dampen his mood.

“That was adorable,” Charlie says and, god help her, she means it. She makes a mental note to find out Super Letterman’s name so she can come up with a portmanteau.

Eli’s grinning as he says, “I’m ignoring you forever now, thanks.”


“Forever” turns out to be until his shift at the diner after school, when Charlie slides onto a seat at the counter. It’s a quiet afternoon: one family of five is making a travesty of the back booth, and Ms Harker is at the counter eating her biweekly slice of pie, but other than that the place is empty.

Eli’s mom is out on an errand, leaving him to handle the customer service. Pros: he’ll get the lion’s share of the tips. Cons: short of dragging Costa out of the kitchen, Eli has to take Charlie’s order.

That doesn’t mean he’ll do it happily, though.

“Welcome to the Rose Lake Diner, what can I get you?”

He takes a petty delight in making his voice as flat and disinterested as possible, biting back a grin when Charlie rolls her eyes. She opens her mouth, but whatever commentary she was about to offer is cut off when a woman takes the stool next to her. Eli looks over, shifting into customer service mode, only to do a double take—height and a few years’ age difference aside, the newcomer is a carbon copy of Charlie.

“You must be Eli,” she says with a warm smile. “I’m Alyssa.”

She’s too young to be Charlie’s mother so . . . sister? Eli flashes back to last night, a dark figure taking off after the monster as Charlie stopped to check on him.

Perfect.

“Alyssa.” Eli starts to cross his arms when the bell above the door jangles and his mom enters, a frown forming as she notices his posture. Fuck, he hates working customer service sometimes. He straightens and settles for holding his order pad particularly aggressively. “You gonna try and get my face punched off too?”

Alyssa doesn’t even blink, just viciously pinches Charlie on the arm.

“Ow! Hey!”

Definitely sisters.

“What did you do?” Alyssa demands as Charlie squirms away.

“Nothing that wasn’t necessary.” Eli’s gratified to realize Alyssa’s backing him up in the glaring department.

“Okay fine!” Charlie says, throwing up her hands. “It was a dick move, I’m sorry! But you were being stubborn.”

“And you’re a crazy person,” Eli retorts, voice dropping to a hiss when Ms. Harker glances over from where she’s demolishing her apple pie. “Werewolves don’t exist.”

“You went with werewolves?” Alyssa groans, and Eli’s heart sings. He was right! He was absolutely— “Never lead with the truth! You know that!”

Damn.

“Come on,” Charlie snorts. “What should I have gone with instead, ‘rabid dog’?”

Eli raises a hand. “For the record? I totally would have bought rabid dog.”

Alyssa gestures sharply to him in emphasis as Charlie rolls her eyes again. It’s probably the weirdest conversation Eli’s ever had.

“Whatever,” Charlie says. “Well, that ‘rabid dog’ got away from us last night.” Eli can practically hear the quotation marks. “And we could really use your help tracking it down.”

Eli feels like he’s been sucked into an episode of that show his mom’s obsessed with. God, what’s it called? The one with the hot dudes who hunt demons and never fucking communicate.

“Who are you?” he asks quietly, belatedly realising it should have been the first question out of his mouth when Charlie rocked up in biology. “Why were you even in the preserve last night?”

Charlie opens her mouth and Alyssa clamps a hand over it, a big silver ring glinting on one finger. “Let’s just say we’re here to make sure the thing that attacked you last night doesn’t do it to anyone else. We-—ugh, really?”

She snatches her hand back, grimacing, and Eli feels like she should’ve known better. He’s known Charlie for about three seconds, and he knows she’s the type to lick a person’s hand if the situation calls for it.

“Okay. So,” Eli says as Alyssa scrubs at her palm with a napkin, “how am I supposed to help you with that?”

“Rabid dogs gravitate towards each other on the full moon,” Charlie says.

Jesus Christ. Eli looks between the two, praying for the punchline, but every second that passes makes it more apparent there isn’t one coming. This is happening. And it’s happening to him.

“You’re serious about this,” he says.

“Deadly. Also,” Charlie leans forward like she’s imparting a great secret, and Eli leans in to hear it. “I’d like the cheeseburger.”

His first impression was spot on: Charlie’s a little shit. Eli’s about to tell her so when a voice behind him interrupts.

“Good choice.” His mother’s hand rests on his shoulder, making him jump. “Eli, I need a second after you put in their orders, yeah?”

“Sure. I’ll just—um. Can I get you anything else?” he asks, turning back to the sisters as his mom moves to the end of the counter.

“I’ll take one of those cheeseburgers too,” Alyssa says with a faint smile. “Since they come so highly recommended.”

“Okay. I’ll just . . .” He gestures over his shoulder and steps to the order window. “Hey Costa, two cheeseburgers.”

There’s an ominous twisting in his stomach and a headache building behind his left eye, but there’s no point putting it off. His mom has settled at the counter to work on the books anyway, so it’s not like she wouldn’t notice if he started stalling. With a slight variation of his customer-service smile on his lips, Eli steps over to her.

“Hey.” He grabs a towel and starts wiping the counter. Something to keep his hands busy. “Everything go okay at the bank?”

“It was the daily deposit, it went just fine. Thought I’d stop by the store and pick up some cereal since we’re almost out.” She glances up from the screen, fixing him with a mild gaze that he doesn’t trust at all. “I ran into Mr. Pembroke while I was there.”

“Oh? Interesting.” His head throbs with how badly he doesn’t want this conversation to happen.

“Very interesting,” his mother says. “He happened to mention you failed your pop quiz this morning.”

Of course he did. Of course this is a thing that happens in small towns.

“It was one quiz,” he says.

His mother lowers the laptop screen, and his stomach lurches.

“I don’t care about the quiz,” she says quietly. She means it, too, Eli knows—she’s great like that. “I just want to make sure you’re okay. You’ve never flunked a quiz before, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from daytime TV it’s that one day you’re failing quizzes and the next day you’re snorting cocaine off bathroom counters.”

“Like I could even find cocaine in Rose Lake,” Eli says, and his mother gives him A Look despite his joking tone. “I’m okay, I promise. I just—I didn’t sleep well last night, that’s all.”

Amazing what heavy blood loss does to your circadian rhythm.

“You’re not getting sick, are you?” she frowns, and he pastes a hasty smile on his face.

“No, I’m fine!” His head throbs again. “I feel great.”

She doesn’t look convinced, but after a soul-searching look she nods. “Okay. Just—” She sighs. “You know I’ve always got your back, right?”

“I know.” And he does—he knows there’s nothing he could tell her that would make her turn her back on him, and he feels better just saying it out loud. Even if he has no intention of saying the w word out loud. Ever.

“I’m so glad I got so lucky with you.” She reaches over the counter and pats his cheek, and the lungful of her perfume is comforting even as it overwhelms him. “Don’t know what I would’ve done if you’d turned out to be a disappointment.”

Eli pulls back to swat at her with the towel, and she laughs, shifting back on her stool.

“Oh! Since I’m such a bright spot in your life,” Eli grins, then grins wider when his mother rolls her eyes, “do you think I can end my shift early tonight?” He goes back to wiping the counter to combat the urge to fidget. “I want to catch the end of the football game.”

“The football game,” his mother repeats flatly. “You. Want to go to a football game.”

“Yeah.”

“A game in which a ball is in play. A sportsball game, if you will. A—”

“Yes, okay, thank you,” Eli interrupts. “Can I go?”

She smiles. “Clean that back table and you’re good.”

“Have I told you lately that you’re the best mother I’ve ever had?” he beams.

“Why, thank you,” she says, winking at him as she brings her laptop screen back up. “I’ll be putting that on my resume.”


By the time he’s cleaned the horror show at the back table, he’s wrestled himself into some level of logic. The w word aside, something’s happening to him, and Charlie and Alyssa are the only people that might know what. So after he finishes, spends fifteen minutes trying on every shirt in his closet, and returns downstairs, he doesn’t hesitate as he approaches the sisters.

They’re having a heated, hushed argument as he approaches. One that cuts off abruptly when they see him.

“I—” Eli stops, pinching the bridge of his nose. His headache grows along with his anxiety. “Okay look, I might need to ask a few questions.”

“And the ostrich arises,” Charlie says grandly, only to be elbowed by her sister.

Eli covers his whole face as he asks, “I’m going to the game, do you want to come?”

“YES!” Charlie says, suddenly enthusiastic in a way that has nothing to do with sarcasm. When Eli puts his hands down it’s to find Alyssa staring at her suspiciously. Which can’t be a good sign.

Nevertheless, Alyssa says, “I have some research to do,” before turning back to Eli. “You kids have fun.” And then to Charlie: “Don’t do anything stupid.”

Eli’s regretting this already.


They’re halfway to school before Charlie breaks. “Okay hit me. I know you have questions.”

The game is already in full swing—Eli can hear the crowd already, which shouldn’t be possible. So, okay. Let’s start there.

“Why can I hear the game from here?”

“Super senses,” Charlie says happily as they cross the empty street. “Comes with the territory.”

“What else comes with the territory?”

Charlie, for once, looks like she’s considering her answer. “For you? Technically nothing.”

What? “Please talk to me like someone who’s only seen Ginger Snaps once, when he was eight.”

Charlie snorts as she jumps the curb ahead of him. She’s wearing thick-soled combat boots, but even so, Eli has a few inches on her though he’s on the street.

“Sorry,” she says. “A territory is where a pack settles. It . . . grounds the pack. Makes the members less volatile.”

“So without one, I’m gonna be volatile?”

“Eventually.” Charlie has the grace to wince as she drops the news. “The wolf we’re tracking? They haven’t got a pack or a territory. It’s made them . . .”

“Volatile,” Eli says morbidly, rubbing his arm.

“We call it Moon Madness,” Charlie says. “Wolves without a territory eventually lose their humanity. It’s our job to—”

Charlie cuts off but Eli can fill in the blanks. “So you’re hunters?”

“Not really.” She has to raise her voice now they’re nearing the field. “We’re Envoys.” Eli’s face must show his confusion because she continues. “We’re human members of the Harford pack. Werewolves can’t cross territory lines, but Envoys can. We’re tasked with tracking the rogue and either bringing them in, or . . .”

“Killing them,” Eli finishes. She doesn’t dispute it. The night suddenly seems a lot colder than it did before, and Charlie—short, round, spitfire Charlie—seems a lot sharper.

Eli’s never been a sports fan. Sweaty, fit people aside, it’s pointless. But he’s never been so happy to have a conversation cut off by a roaring stand of football enthusiasts.

They’ve caught the end of the game if the timer is anything to go by, so they don’t try to find seats. It’s pointless anyway—Rose Lake High’s sports teams are the town’s pride and joy. Everyone turns up for games, and they collectively celebrate or mourn wins and losses.

The stands are packed full of yelling fans waving bright signs against bright jerseys and brighter stadium lights. In fact, everything’s bright. Even the noise.

Eli doesn’t realise it’s happening until it’s too late: his building headache starts chiselling behind his eyes, making the spotlighted grounds oversaturated and jarring. The lights themselves are haloed and piercing, and the crowd is too . . . too much.

It’s not just the noise; it’s what its made up of. There’s the voices, talking and yelling and muttering, but there’s so much more that Eli’s never noticed before. The crunching of chip packets, the grinding of teeth, and the incessant, omnipresent humming from the stadium lights.

It’s everything, all at once, and Eli doesn’t realise he’s clapped his hands to his ears until he hears Charlie’s muffled voice.

“Focus on me,” she’s saying. “Just my voice. C’mon, filter everything else out. Just me.”

Eli focuses and breathes and focuses and focuses. The crowd fades eventually, but the humming, the humming persists. It’s still a relief.

“What the hell was that?” he gasps, realising he’s hunched over under the stands. When did they move?

“It’s called sensory overload,” Charlie says, not without sympathy. “Fun, huh? My friend Hammy got it all the time. You’re gonna sense a lot more than you used to. Hear more, smell more. Sometimes your brain just kinda freaks out about it.”

“I feel like Hollywood hasn’t really prepared me for this whole werewolf thing.” And, huh. That’s what it feels like to say it out loud.

Charlie pats him on the shoulder, only a little condescending. “It does that about a lot of things.”

Eli scrubs his hands over his face and groans. “I hate this.”

“Hey, look on the bright side,” Charlie says. “You’re gonna be able to climb trees really, really fast.”

“You suck at this,” he says, through his fingers.

“Yeah, but it sounds like someone just scored a touchdown,” Charlie says. “And you didn’t freak out.”

And . . . she’s right. The crowd is roaring, but Eli’s so focused on Charlie he automatically tuned it out.

Charlie looks smug as hell, but Eli can’t even be mad. “You’re welcome,” she says.


The crowd is streaming around them into the bumper-to-bumper traffic in the parking lot when Charlie turns to him, hands tucked neatly in her pockets.

“So. What’s the plan, Wolfman?”

“Don’t call me that,” Eli says immediately. Then, “What do you mean?”

“Look, we both know you didn’t want to come here for the game.” She gives him a look, and the tips of his ears go so hot he’s surprised they don’t steam in the cold. “There’s a party at some cabin, right?”

“How did you know about that?” he frowns.

“Are you serious?” she groans, rolling her eyes so hard she probably gives herself a headache. “I was literally standing two feet away when Captain Letterman invited you. So? What’s the plan, is he meeting us here, or what?” Charlie’s expectant look grows to an impatient stare, then to dawning disbelief. “You did make a plan, right?”

“Um.”

“I can’t believe you don’t even know where you’re meeting your date!”

“He caught me off guard!” Eli protests. “Owen barely talked to me before last night when I took his sister home, I wasn’t prepared! And it’s not a date.”

“Wow. There’s just. There’s a lot to unpack there.” She lowers her chin, burrowing down into the thick scarf wrapped around her neck, and shakes her head. “I don’t even know where to start.”


“How about we just don’t, then?”

Eli shoves his hands into his pockets and tries to stay calm. She’s right, he has no idea what he’s doing. Maybe Owen wasn’t serious when he invited him. Maybe he was, but he changed his mind. Maybe—

“Hey!” The sound of an approaching group is cut through by a familiar voice, and Eli jerks his head up to see Owen breaking away from the pack, loping up to them with a broad grin. “You made it!”

“Yeah, well.” Words, Eli. Use your words. “It was pretty slow at the diner, so. Thanks for inviting me.” An elbow jabs into his ribs as they follow after the group, and he barely stifles a yelp. “Uh. Us. This is Charlie.”

“I’m new,” she says brightly, and—though it might be his imagination—eases a casual half-step away from him. “So, where’re we going?”

“There’s an old tuberculosis cure cabin out behind the school,” Owen explains, and nods towards the trees looming at the far side of the field. “We do post-game bonfires there.”

Charlie looks between them. “We’re going to a cabin in the woods.”

“We’re going to a cottage in the forest?” Owen says, spreading his hands and smiling, like he’s trying to look as non-threatening as possible.

“An abandoned cottage,” Eli interjects with a grin of his own. He has to admit, this tradition is weird as hell. “Where people died of tuberculosis.”

“Ah!” Owen says, holding up a finger like he’s John Watson. Eli would swear on a stack of Bibles that his eyes are sparkling. Unbelievable. “Then why is it called a ‘cure’ cabin?”

“I’m guessing because doctors didn’t know how tuberculosis worked,” Charlie says, lengthening her stride to keep up with them. “And ‘cure cabin’ is way better PR. Anyway, if I go missing, please know my sister has a gun.”

That particular dose of reality is a mood-killer, but Owen doesn’t seem to notice. He laughs, clapping Eli on the shoulder as he’s pulled away by a cheerleader.

“Okay. Maybe not a date,” Charlie admits, linking arms with Eli as they trek across the near-empty football field. It’s . . . pleasant. “I really appreciate the fact we’re willingly entering the woods where you were attacked by a werewolf last night.”

Or it was.

“We’re in a group?” Eli says, unable to hide the fact he’s tacking a question mark to the end of that sentence. “Plus,” he adds, “there’s gonna be a bonfire. In the middle of the woods.” He pauses. “That’s really fucking stupid, isn’t it?”

“Are you just realizing that for the first time?” Charlie snickers, and he shrugs.

“It’s not like I’ve ever been before. Post-game bonfires are for the team and their group. I’ve never been either.”

“Until now. You were invited by Owen Blake,” Charlie says. She leans in conspiratorially. “Who looks scarily like that dude from The Covenant.”

Oh god, he does. That . . . explains a lot.

“That movie was total trash,” he says halfheartedly, and Charlie pokes him in the side.

“You’d have to have watched it to know that.”

“Yeah, well.” Eli grins. “I never said it was bad trash.”

That gets a laugh out of Charlie and . . . it’s nice. It’s nice walking arm-in-arm with someone who talks like they already have in-jokes, and it’s nice to have Owen Blake shooting him a smile over his shoulder, and it’s nice to be among people and just be.

He could get used to this.

Charlie breaks off to mingle when they get to the cabin, and Eli could also get used to the way that Owen seeks him out as soon as they’ve got the bonfire going. The way he tucks into Eli’s side against the cold like it’s a normal thing to do.

Charlie’s shoots him a thumbs up from the other side of the bonfire and he almost bursts into flames himself.

“I’m really glad you came,” Owen says quietly, making Eli look at him in surprise. “I wasn’t sure you would—it doesn’t seem like you’re much of a joiner. I mean.” He frowns. “That sounded bad, but I didn’t mean—”

“No, it’s fine.” Eli’s face is only warm because they’re sitting so close to the fire, and that’s the story he’ll stick to even under pain of torture. “You’re right. I’m, uh . . .” He laughs a little. “I guess you could say I’m kind of a loner.”

“You made friends with the new girl right away, though.” Owen’s smiling softly at him when Eli glances over again. “You didn’t just let her try to navigate a new school on her own. That’s really cool of you.”

“I didn’t really do anything.” Eli darts a look to where Charlie is standing, red Solo cup in hand, laughing unselfconsciously at something with another group. “I don’t think Charlie’s the type to have trouble fitting in. But thanks.”

They lapse into silence, and Eli’s heart speeds up. Why can’t he just talk? Say something, like a normal person! He’s never been good at this, always found it easier to stay the weird loner new kid rather than stumble through the unfamiliar territory of socialization rituals he never quite learned. And Owen is still pressed against his side, warm and solid and he smells so good, damn it, it’s hard to focus on anything else.

“Nah,” Owen finally says. “I don’t buy it.” He leans in, giving Eli’s shoulder a gentle nudge. “You look out for people. Isabelle says hi, by the way, and she told me to invite you over to the house to hang out.”

Eli blinks. “She did?”

“Yeah. I figured I’d start with something where it was just you and me, though.” Their eyes meet for half a second before Owen takes a drink, and Eli can’t tell if the red tint to Owen’s face is a flush or just the reflection from the plastic cup. “My house is kind of a zoo lately, anyway. My brother’s taking some time off of school, and it’s just kind of . . . tense. I ended up bailing on the Halloween party like five minutes after you left. Just couldn’t take it anymore.”

“Oh.” Bolstered a bit, Eli shifts so he’s angled towards Owen, though he almost can’t stand to lose the feeling of the other boy’s body against his. “Your parents don’t like your brother taking a break from school?” he guesses.

“That’s putting it mildly,” Owen snorts. “It’s . . . complicated, but even if everything else was great, my dad’s freaking out about the idea of Mike missing a whole semester.”

Eli nods. “He’s pretty intense about school, I guess.”

“He’s—my mom says ‘goal-focused’,” he says, making air quotes with his free hand. “He’s got these set ideas about what he wants for his kids. He wants Mike to be a lawyer.”

“What does he want you to be?”

“Straight.” Owen looks down, his hand tightening around his cup before he visibly makes himself loosen his grip. “My dad hasn’t wanted much to do with me since I came out.”

“Woah. That . . . that sucks. I’m sorry.” It’s not like he doesn’t know that that sort of thing still happens, but somehow it still feels like a shock. Like the world should’ve moved beyond that by now. “My mom was surprisingly chill when I told her I was bi. Uh.” Way to rub it in, asshole. “Sorry, that—I was going for like, empathetic support, not . . .”

“No, no, I get you.” Owen smiles at him, only a little bit hesitantly. “Your mom sounds cool as hell, though. You’re really lucky.” Eli’s face must do something because Owen continues. “Hey, it could be worse. He could have kicked me out.”

“Yeah.” Eli’s stomach drops just at the thought. “Still sucks, though.”

“Yeah. Yeah, it does.” Owen shakes his head. “Sorry, I’m being a total downer right now.”

“It’s totally fine!” Eli says. I don’t care what we talk about, I just want to be near you. No, shit, don’t say that! “If you ever need, you know. Someone to talk to? I, uh . . . I’ve got a lot of free time.”

He absolutely doesn’t, but he can’t be the first person to tell that lie, and he refuses to regret it. Especially when . . .

“I’d like that,” Owen smiles. “You’re really easy to talk to, you know that? I thought you’d be harder to approach, or I would’ve talked to you sooner.”

“You would’ve?” This time Eli’s certain the flush on Owen’s face doesn’t have anything to do with the firelight. The air between them feels charged, and Eli’s head is full of the scent of woodsmoke and cheap beer and Owen, and if he isn’t careful he’s going to—

“You’ve got to be shitting me! What the fuck is he doing here?”

Eli looks up but Owen moves quicker, surging to his feet in front of Eli like some weird echo of this afternoon, because it’s Austin throwing a royal fit as he rounds the fire toward them. Of course it is.

“Leave him alone, Tanner,” Owen says firmly. “I invited him.”

“Of course you did,” Austin sneers.

He doesn’t even slow his approach, which means the punch he throws lands with a sickening crack and all his weight behind it. Owen goes down like a sack of bricks, and people are shouting, but Eli’s not one of them. All he can see is Owen on the ground, and the blood on Austin’s fist, and then he’s catching Austin’s wrist as it swings towards him and twisting.

The snap of bone is audible—a clear crack, and then he hears Austin’s screams, and it was so easy.

He doesn’t feel himself let go, but he must, because Austin is staggering back from him, clutching his broken arm like a wounded animal. Like Eli had last night in the woods. He’s vaguely aware that everyone has gone quiet looking at him, but Eli can’t focus on anything but Owen’s blood in the dirt and the memory of Austin’s face when they’d both felt the snap.

Easy. So easy. So good.

He’s taken two steps forward before he stops himself and fights past the howling in his blood urging him to press the advantage, to finish it. His fists are clenched at his sides, his chest is heaving with furious, panting breaths, and all he wants to do is take one more step. One more step and he can make Austin pay for every awful thing he’s done in his miserable, pathetic life.

Austin is staring at him with wide, shocky eyes, his face bone-white as he cradles his arm to his chest. Terrified.

Rip him apart. It would be so easy.

Eli stumbles back, shaking.

And he runs.

There are footsteps behind him, running after him. He doesn’t look back. If he gets the shit kicked out of him it’s no more than he deserves, but they’ll have to catch him first.

“Eli!” Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Charlie. He runs faster. “Eli, wait!”

He’s faster than she is; he knows it in his bones. But he doesn’t know the woods, and all his new speed gets him is a hard fall when his ankle slams against a tree root and knocks him off his feet. He can’t just hear Charlie now—he can smell her, practically taste her scent in the air. Eli switches to pulling in shallow, panicked breaths through his mouth, trying to block out as much as he can as he curls in on himself amidst the fallen leaves.

“Hey.” Charlie’s voice is gentle, like it was when she talked him down . . .Jesus, an hour ago, if that. “Eli? Hey, I need you to breathe, okay? It’s okay. You’re okay.”

But he’s not. He feels a familiar tightening in his chest, and as his head swims he hears himself make a noise that sounds like a snarl.

“Eli?” Charlie sounds less certain now. “Eli, talk to me.”

“I . . .” He summons every scrap of control he has, focusing on her voice the way he did before, and manages to look up at her. “I think something’s wrong.”


By the time they’ve made it to Rose Lake’s only motel, Eli’s sprouted claws. Which, as weird shit goes, is edging towards the highlight of his evening. Even Charlie seems rattled as she wraps his hands in her scarf and yanks him the last few feet to her room.

Alyssa greets them with an unholstered gun in her hand because this is his life now, apparently. “What’s happened?”

“He’s turning,” Charlie says, and if her face is anything to go by, Eli’s not imagining the panic in her tone.

He doesn’t get the chance to ask what has her so spooked before a wave of agony rips through him, sending him to his knees on the stained carpet. Charlie’s scarf doesn’t survive the fall, torn clean through on claws that are sharper than they look.

Every time he closes his eyes he sees Austin’s face, the split second they’d both felt the crack. With claws like this he could’ve gutted him with one blow. God, he wants to throw up.

“—can’t be turning!”

“Why can’t I be turning?” Eli gasps, sagging as the wave pasts. It’s not his first. They’ve been getting stronger the whole way here, threatening to tear him in two with the pain.

Alyssa’s upside-down face swims into his vision and it takes him a moment to realise he’s on the floor, head in Charlie’s lap.

“If you turn without a pack—” She cuts off but Eli can see the rest of it on her face.

He’s strangely calm even as he says, “I don’t want to die.”


Charlie doesn’t realise she’s crying until she has to bite her own fist to stifle a sob. This isn’t how this was supposed to go. They were going to bring in the rogue and get Eli home. He’d join their pack and Charlie would tease him about his bad breath during his first shift and they’d laugh about it—they’d laugh so hard.

Instead she’s watching him crumple in her lap, bones in his forearms shifting grotesquely as his body fights the turn. She watched this once already. She can’t do it again.

If they can just get him back to their pack—

Their pack.

Alyssa comes back from the bathroom with a wet towel and Charlie grabs her arm. “Look after him.”

“What?” Alyssa says, startled. “Where are you going?”

“To do something stupid.”


Closing up the Diner is becoming a routine, one Penny can’t help but welcome after so many years spent on the road. It’s good for her. More importantly, it’s good for Eli.

He’s a tough kid—anyone who’d been through what he had would be—but he’s also one of the most compassionate people Penny’s ever known. He hasn’t had enough chances to indulge that side of himself, moving around as they had, cutting ties as fast as he could forge them. Rose Lake has been a long time coming and it’s oh so welcome.

As she shutters the blinds and flips the Closed sign on the door, Penny allows herself a spark of optimism, sputtering on a wick long-neglected.

Which makes the sudden hammering on the door like a bucket of ice water down her spine. Her first thought is, they’ve found us. But her second, they’ve found Eli, is strong enough to have her leaping for the handle.

The girl—Charlie—looks like she’s run from demons all the way to Penny’s door, and the look on her face does nothing to curb Penny’s rising panic.

“It’s Eli,” Charlie says. “He needs you.”


Eli’s teeth itch, which is one of the weirder sensations he’s ever experienced. When he reaches shaking hands to his face it’s to find his mouth is . . .full. Full and itching and then another wave of pain hits and he loses minutes—hours?—until he can’t—

“Why haven’t you called an ambulance?!”

What? “Mom?”

As soon as he calls, she’s there, warmth and safety and home. Eli curls into her, and he spares half a thought that he probably looks like the tail end of a horror movie right now. But his mother’s his mother, and she just holds him, rocking back and forth in a way that makes Eli’s spine loosen and his breath ease. And the pain . . . the pain is suddenly a creature to be collared and tied down.

“Shhh,” His mother says. “It’s okay. I have you, I have you.”

“I have you,” Eli says, and lets the darkness take him.


The streets are quiet, no monsters in sight. In the diner, not so much.

It’s late enough that light is beginning to trickle through the blinds, casting long shadows across checkered tiles and the single full booth. Four Eli specials sit demolished in front of four individuals, each as tired as the last.

It’s been a long night. And a longer conversation.

“How did you know it’d work?” Eli’s mother asks, hand reaching over to squeeze his.

Charlie’s eyes pinch, one of a dozen signs of residual stress. “I didn’t. But I hoped.”

Eli’s mother’s grip tightens, and Eli turns his hand over so he can squeeze back.

“We’re human members of a werewolf pack,” Charlie continues. “I figured if humans can be pack, then—”

“Then I’d be Eli’s,” Eli’s mother finishes and smiles. “Good call.”

“This isn’t over,” Alyssa says, having the grace to look apologetic as she delivers the news. “You staved off a premature shift but you’ll still have to make it through the full moon. You’ll have a better chance with a territory and full pack behind you.”

Which means moving again. Eli looks to his mother to find her looking back. We’re in this together, kiddo, her look says.

“And you’re sure your pack will take us,” Eli’s mom says, and Eli could hug her for how she stresses ‘us’.

Alyssa nods. “I’ve already called them.”

And just like that, Eli’s putting Rose Lake in his tail lights. He’s surprised to find the thought gets stuck in his throat—the memory of a body pressed against his side is one that particularly stings.

“What about the rogue?” Eli asks, and if it distracts him from warmer thoughts then so be it.

“The full moon’s been and gone,” Alyssa says. “We have a bit of time to track them before they hurt anyone else.”


Jen Harker hurts. She knows a broken arm when she feels it and a particularly jagged root has made a mess of her back. And the bite . . . the bite throbs.

It isn’t fair.

She can’t help the thought. She’s a woman of simple interests: good coffee, good books, and regular indulgences of both. A slice of pie twice a week if she’s earned it. She thinks she deserves an equally simple death, not whatever this is—this pain and terror and chanting and blood, so much blood. But in the end, when the black comes, all that’s left is relief.

In the end, it’s simple after all.


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