(From the "Werewolf" Creature Features)

It
seems like yesterday, but it was seven years ago. Wait, could it
have been that long ago? It’s still so fresh on my mind. Smells,
sights, and sounds usually leave me soon after they’re experienced
but not this…

Man,
time does really fly.

I can
still smell the honeysuckles that seemed to engulf us on that path
as we tore down it.

I had
promised my friend Scott that I’d help prepare him for boot
camp. His father asked one thing of his son, a tour with the Marines,
and Scott would never let his pop down. “The Sarge”, as
we all called him had a trophy case full of medals and awards and
attributed a great deal of his success and happiness to the traits
he honed in THE CORPS, and Scott was always looking for more ammo
in his quest to be a better person. So I did my part by keeping
him honest as he ran his six mile (!) course through the path that
winded through the woods near his home. I did this by driving behind
him on his four-wheeler, which I had drooled over from grades 3
to 7, but only rode for the first time that day. I rode and waited…

It
was a fair deal for me. Even though my fascination with off-road
vehicles had long since died, all I had to do was hang behind him
about twenty-five feet and if he slowed down I was to pull up behind
him and force him to run or face the wrath of my bloated, treaded
rotisseries of rubbery doom (known as tires to the common folk).

I had
my walkman on with the Braves spring training game being broadcast
happily into my skull and it was an absolutely gorgeous day in March.
There were no worries. I just scooted merrily along, not really
needing to worry about keeping him on pace considering he was the
star quarterback since birth and showed no signs of fatigue as of
yet. I just relaxed and enjoyed the day. Maybe too much.

I was
zoning out (I do that from time to time) and nearly ran him over
when I looked up and saw him kneeling next to something on the ground.
It looked like a matted blanket left outside too long. I slammed
on the handbrakes, finally realizing that my job as his motivator
had ended for the time being. If my reflexes were any worse, Scott
would have been either the twins his parents never had or at least
the owner of a Kawasaki logo forever bonded with his chest. He had
completely forgotten about me anyhow, but was reminded by the walkman
that bounced off his shoulder. Once attached to my body, the AM/FM
device was sent free in the melee between my brakes and the muddy
path, choosing to bond with my kneeling friend. I didn’t hold
a grudge, he was kinda beefy.

He
looked up at me, and I swear it was a look I’d never seen on
him before. This is a guy who could snap most anyone in two wearing
an expression that appeared to be a combination of sadness, sickness,
pity, and raw fear that sent chills up and down my spine. It’d
be like being a P.O.W. for most of your life only to have help arrive
in the form of a lost tourist. Scott was the rock I usually leaned
on, but he was just as useless as I usually was. His eyes were glassed
over and empty. Unable to handle it, I looked down at the “blanket”.

It
was a bear. Not the cuddly, cute kind but the vicious man-eating
kind. The kind that looked like at least 800 pounds of muscle and
wild determination. The kind you see on those horrible “When
Animals Attack” shows nowadays.

I’d
have said 900 pounds, but there was a gaping hole beneath the chin
of the beast that ran all the way down to the belly which had lessened
the load a bit. Dried blood marked a path through bits of lung,
meat, fat, and intestines. Certainly, this wasn’t the way I
wanted to see anything, least of all an animal as mysterious and
beautiful as a Grizzly. I’d felt like I was “behind the
scenes” and I didn’t like the way it struck me. Surprisingly,
I kept my lunch down and actually found it impossible to look away.

Scott
looked up at me and said in a cracked voice that he’d never
seen something so sad before and started to cry. I joined him, glad
he went first since I’d have felt stupid doing it by myself.

A little
background:

We
had met in cub scouts and the one thing about Scott that could never
be taken away from him was his dedication to the animal kingdom.
His summers were made up of Humane Society retreats, PETA functions,
and massive amounts of letter writing and picketing. At 6’5
and 215 pounds of muscle, he was the antithesis of the starting
quarterback. He focused on animal rights instead workouts and the
environment instead of keg parties. When his ferret died, he was
in mourning for weeks. When the alligator at the zoo we both called
Hank died, he wrote a 25 page eulogy which contained no less than
three comparisons to Norse Gods. When he saw a dead animal, it was
bad. This was infinitely worse.

The
workout was immediately cancelled and we rode almost silently through
the woods back towards his family’s farmhouse until I finally
spoke.

I asked
him what could kill the biggest predator in the woods. We’d
both lived in the area for our whole lives and never seen anything
like this. Sure, a hunter shot one on occasion and back when I was
five I remembered hearing about a kid in class whose mother was
killed when her car crashed into a brown bear, but this was an absolute
mess. He suggested a mountain lion, or maybe even another bear,
but it was obvious by his tone that he was just as clueless.

The
next day, we spent four hours clearing the area around the bear
and cremated it. Insects had done their work in the fifteen hours
since we’d discovered the beast and had we waited any longer
it’d have been too sickening to continue.

We
vowed to find out what caused the death and camped out about a half
mile from “the scene” with shotguns, food, our trusty
Monopoly game, and the most powerful weapon we could ever want:
Insect Repellent.

After
a few weeks of sporadic camping with no results, we grew weary of
trying, plus it was a week before Scott was to leave for boot camp.
He had vowed to give Cynthia Caswell one last shot for sex, and
decided to drive a rental car to base instead of have his parents
take him. I admired his moxie, but knew she’d sooner let her brother
in her pants than Scott, whom she’d always thought was just
“another dumb jock”. When we said goodbye, I assumed our
mutual hunt for the mysterious bear killer was over, but for some
reason I felt we needed to have closure on it. I knew that when
he opened my letter from boot camp with the results of my search
it’d be a huge weight off his shoulders as his thoughts were
often aimed towards the bear we found, which he had called his “guardian
of the forest”.

So I spent
the two nights after his departure camping, and at about two a.m.
on the second night, I awoke to a bloodcurdling noise that was 2 parts
howl and 1 part human scream.

Had
I been wearing pants, I’d have wet them.

Instead
of grabbing my flashlight and gun like I should have, I shrank into
my sleeping bag as if hiding my head would make it go away. Then,
a series of noises I will never forget happened in a way I can only
compare to Dolby Surround Soundä. From behind me, a twig snapped,
but then to my tent’s immediate right came a low rumbling grunt.
It then seemed to move to directly in front of me where the mesh
front of the tent was closed, but offered a view to whatever was
out there not unlike a shopper looking at the cuts of meat before
them in a butcher shop. I didn’t breathe. I didn’t twitch,
and I think I could pass a lie detector test saying that my heart
actually stopped in an act of self-preservation.

Then
my world was inverted. The entire tent left the ground and was hurled
onto my own dying fire. I scrambled around, absolutely mad with
fear. The gun was gone, as was my trusty mag flashlight. I finally
righted myself and ran in whatever direction that first presented
itself, dragging parts of my destroyed tent behind me. The noises
stopped for a second, then were replaced by a gallop that came up
on my right and seemed to circle me. I kept moving, finally shedding
the last bits of my tent, only stopping when I heard the other thing
stop.

It
was directly in front of me.

I edged
to the left, and sure enough the footsteps ahead of me began again
almost as if partners with me in some arcane dance. I reached a
semi-clearing illuminated by the seemingly HUGE full moon overhead.
The footsteps behind me sped up all of a sudden and I whirled around
to see a huge form seem to shrink back and then grow right at me.

It
had pounced!

I was
on the ground, pinned by a huge solid form. Knowing I was done,
I looked up at it.

It
was a wolf, or at least PART wolf. Being a horror buff I’d
have said it was a werewolf, except I knew those weren’t real.
It was six feet long, easy. 300 pounds of sinew and instinct, all
of which was crushing my lungs. It hadn’t started to claw or
feed on me, or if it had I was in shock and felt no pain.

It
had a wolf’s face, but not as doglike. Also, less hair, and
it had a reddish carpet of matted fur that formed an almost ridge
down its back like a crest. Not exactly beautiful, but very impressive.

It
looked down at me, and even shadowed and backlit by the moon above
I could see its eyes.

They
were alive.

Almost
as if fueled by a molten core, the pupils nearly glowed in the dark.
I was entranced and almost immediately the prospect of death seemed
almost all right. If this amazing beast were to deliver me, it’d
be an honor. I felt like a snake guided by the flute of a magician
on the streets of Egypt (although I later found out that it was
the movements of the man and not the music that actually captivated
the animal). Funny what you think about when you’re sitting
on the curb outside of death’s door, if not actually knocking
on it.

But
the glow faded, and the beast started to ease off of me. It sniffed
me one more time, nearly nuzzling me and then loped off into the
woods, gone as quickly as it had came into my life.

I lay
there staring up at the moon and stars for hours. The air tasted
twice as fresh as ever to me, and all of my senses seemed to have
heightened. I felt as if I’d cheated death. The environment
seemed to drown me in it, and I had to leave for fear of growing
roots and staying there.

I made
my way back to my desiccated camp, and when I neared it I heard
that amazing and majestic howl in the distance. I felt no fear this
time, and couldn’t help but think I had found my own “guardian
of the forest”, not unlike the dead bear Scott seemed to love
so much.

I gathered
my things, and aside for the flashlight, which sadly was gone for
good I made out all right. I did miss that big metal light, though.
I had won it in a card game with Scott and he seemed to miss it more
than his sister, who had gone off to college four years before. I
made a mental note never to let slip to him that his prized light
had gone bye-bye.

I also
decided that the story I gave Scott in the letter would contrast
greatly from the real events. The last thing I needed him to think
from Fort Jarhead is that his best friend had gone over the deep
end after only a few weeks without his supervision.

He
wasn’t prone to fantasy anyhow. While I loved horror and science
fiction, he was more inclined to watch the football game or the
nature channel. I trimmed the supernatural elements out and sent
him a dramatic “man against nature” story which obviously
made me out to look like a bit more than the cowering bastard I
had actually been. For all he would ever know, there was a nasty
pack of wolves living near his farm and nothing else. I sent the
letter and did my best to think about anything BUT my encounter.

It
took nearly two months for Scott to write back, and when he did,
I was convinced the wait was worth it.

I opened
the box and read the note…

“My
lifelong friend,

Sorry
about the delay in writing back. While I’m extremely pleased
you went back to find out what killed my Guardian of the Forest,
I wish you’d gone into more detail. In fact, I wish you’d
have told the truth.

Enclosed
is a gift that will help shed some light on the subject next time.

-Scott”.

Inside
the box was his “gift”.

It
was my flashlight.

I wouldn’t
have to lie to Scott after all. In fact, he had a hell of a lot
more explaining to do than I did.

I was
speechless for one of the first times in my life.

Millions
of thoughts ran a decathlon through my mind. I waited a long time
before putting pen to paper again. I had no idea what to say to
Scott. Could it have really been…?

When
I did write, it was too late.

I got
a phone call from Scott’s parents two days after I sent the
letter.

Scott
had killed himself right after graduating from boot camp. Apparently
he had gotten into a fight with two other cadets and killed them
in a most gruesome manner in the woods by the barracks. His body,
along with theirs was found in a clearing and the .45 that took
his life lay nearby, along with his dog tags. There was an investigation
underway to determine if foul play was involved.

His
father tried to console me, but broke up and had to hand the phone
off to Scott’s mother. She told me that Scott loved me very
much and that on the day he left (or so they thought, I’d venture
to say he left a few days later, too bad for Cynthia Caswell) he
told his parents to keep an eye on me since he couldn’t. He
had told them I was the brother he never had.

I wanted
to tell her why he was gone, or at least my interpretation, but
what good would it do? Even though it would explain the fiasco at
boot camp it’d raise far more disturbing questions.

I don’t
remember much about the night he died except that it had been a
cool night. Unusual for summer.

Oh,
and the moon was full.



Nick Nunziata is the creator of CHUD.COM and all of its affiliated sites. His work has been read by over 20 million Internet readers through his tenure at his own sites as well as when he was the editor of IGN DVD. He’s been published in Sci-Fi Magazine and is an aspiring screenwriter with 7 projects completed.




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