“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.”
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”.
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.
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.
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.
Wanna support the werewolf shenanigans?
Hug Your Local Werewolf is a free fiction serial only possible because of our squad over on Patreon.
If you’d like to support what we have going here, you can do so for as little as $1 a month. Patrons get first access to episodes, behind the scenes insight, invites to live writing sessions, and more.
We’re teeny tiny independent artists so every dollar pledged helps us bring you more werewolf shenanigans.
So how about it? Ready to hug your local werewolf?