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Dark Moon (Chapter Twenty Two)

As Nic drove back to town, I placed another call to Jessie.

"What?" she snapped. "A little busy here!"

Gunshots punctuated her words.

"If you're that damn busy, why'd you answer the phone?"

"What do you want?"

"Will."

"Can't have him. Mine."

"I need to ask a question. Is he there?"

Her put-upon sigh was followed by Will's voice. "Hey! Do not throw the phone at my head unless you warn me first. Hello?"

I didn't bother with niceties. I figured he had places to go, werewolves to kill – or at least he needed to hold Jessie's ammo while she killed them.

"You know anything about the beaver moon?"

"It's in a few days. Why? Did you talk to Cora?"

"No." I hesitated, not wanting to impart bad news over the phone, but what choice did I have? "Cora's dead, Will."

He sighed. "Damn."

"What?" I heard Jessie ask. Either my hearing was improving or she was shouting – maybe both. "Why the long face?"

"Cora's gone," Will answered.

"Got on her broom and took off at last, huh?"

I guessed the two of them hadn't been pals.

"Cora took Jessie's voice away once," Will explained.

"Took away?"

"Purple powder. Bam. Jessie couldn't talk."

"Really? Can I buy that stuff?"

"Not for sale. I already asked."

"Funny. Har-har," Jessie said loudly. "Old bat."

"Have some respect for the dead, Jess."

"She's dead?"

"What does gone mean to you?"

"Left town. Took a trip. Not dead. Jeez, who taught you how to break bad news?" Her voice softened.

"I'm sorry, Will. I know how much you liked her."

"Yeah. I did. And every time we lose an elder, we lose a lot of knowledge."

"Cora appears to have been teaching Lydia the old ways," I said.

"Who's Lydia?"

Quickly I filled Will in on what had happened at the cottage in the woods.

"No Weendigo this time," Will murmured. "I have to say I am not disappointed – even though we do know how to kill one of those."

"Returning to our present problem," I said. "Beaver moon, disappearing bodies. Ring any bells?"

"Not offhand. I'll check around."

Gunshots broke out on their side of the line.

"Gotta go," Will said. "I'll get back to you."

"Well?" Nic said.

He stopped the car in front of Dr. Watchry's clinic and shut off the engine.

"He'll get back to me."

"Okay. In the meantime" – Nic nodded toward the building in front of us – "shall we?"

Together we got out of the car and headed for the door, but before we reached the clinic a tiny, elderly woman tottered out of Murphy's – the tavern that was always open, or had been before the disappearances. Right now it appeared to be not only open but full.

The woman didn't waste any time with introductions. "What are you doing about our dilemma?" She waved a paper-white, heavily veined hand toward the bar. "We're concerned."

From the smell of her breath, she was drowning her concerns along with the rest of the population.

I peered up and down the street. All the other businesses had closed signs in the windows; the road was deserted except for Nic, me, and the little old lady. Maybe everyone was in the bar.

"People disappearing?" Her voice became more loud and shrill with every word. "Sheriff Stephenson murdered. What kind of person would steal a body?"

Basil had been busy soothing the populace with our lie, or maybe the doctor had, although it didn't appear as if they were very calm.

"Have you seen any strangers in town, ma'am?"

I glanced at Nic. Good idea. He really was very handy to have around.

"Besides the FBI?"

"Yes."

"My eyes ain't what they used to be. There was a man come through." She frowned. "Reminded me of Thor the Thunder God."

Someone broke a glass inside the bar and the woman gasped, then put a palm to her chest. She was spooked. I could hardly blame her.

The town had never seen a murder, now they had several missing citizens, probably dead, and a dead sheriff, now missing.

"What is the FBI going to do about the latest murder?" she demanded.

"All that we can, ma'am." Nic attempted to guide her back into the bar, but she didn't want to go.

"Two in one night. What is the world coming to?"

Nic paused. "Two what?"

"Two murders. Try to keep up, boy."

"Two?" Nic glanced at me and I shrugged. "Sheriff Stephenson and… ?"

"Susie Gerant. The doctor's receptionist."

Nic and I left the elderly lady on the street as we ran for the doctor's office.

"He isn't there," she called.

We stopped, turned.

"He went to examine the body." Her face crinkled in thought. "Not sure where."

"Sheriff Moore?" Nic asked.

"Haven't seen him."

We checked the clinic anyway. Drab waiting room with stained carpet, uncomfortable chairs, out-of-date magazines, banged-up toys piled into a laundry basket in the corner. But no doctor, or anyone else for that matter, so Nic left a note on the desk.

The sheriff's office was just as empty. No sign of Basil, not even a message on the activity board.

Nic cursed. "You'd think he'd call and let us know there was another body."

"Or be kind enough to leave a map."

"Or that." Nic called Basil's cell phone, cursing at the voice mail.

"Sheriff," he said tersely into the phone. "This is Agent Franklin. We need to talk. Call me, or come to the cabin ASAP."

When he had disconnected we stood in the center of the room at a loss. Now what?

"Thor the Thunder God?" Nic murmured. "Who's that? A north woods bogeyman?"

"More like someone she sees after too many cocktails. Probably a Norse myth, since there are a lot of Norwegians around here, or so I hear. We could look it up, but I don't really care."

"Ditto," Nic said. "Maybe we should get some sleep."

"It's eight o'clock in the morning."

"You're not tired?" Nic must have seen the weariness play across my face because he didn't wait for an answer. "We might as well rest until the doctor or Basil gets back."

We crossed the short space between the two buildings, and after a quick, silent meal of eggs and toast, headed for bed.

My face heated as we neared my room. I glanced at Nic and saw only his back disappearing into what had been Jessie and Will's space.

My lips tightened. It wasn't as if I'd expected him to join me, but I still felt as if I'd been slapped.

"Idiot," I muttered, and slammed my door.

The cabin rental must have come with linen service, because my sheets had been changed, the bed made.

Thank God.

I doubt I could have slept on sheets that smelled of him. As it was, I tossed and turned as memories assaulted me. Both present and past. Real and imagined.

I'd known all along Nic wouldn't be able to handle what I was, understand what I'd become. That he'd hate me both for leaving him and the necessity of it. But I hadn't realized how much his rejection would hurt. Never suspected that I'd been harboring the hope, the delusion, that he could love me no matter what.

"Moron." I punched the pillow and tried once more to sleep.

I had a doozy of a dream.

The future was bright and sunny. House in the suburbs, flower beds, picket fence, really nice minivan. I was a doctor who had actual patients that were people. My husband was –

"Nic!"

"Sweetheart," he murmured, as he stepped out of the house, arms wide to welcome me home.

Love washed over me with a suddenness that made my knees weak. Luckily Nic was holding me up, his kiss making promises without saying a word.

He lifted his head. "The baby's teething."

"Huh?"

"I feel so bad for her."

From inside came the wail of a child. I glanced around the yard.

A bicycle, a bat and glove.

"Mommy," a voice squealed, and a blond whirlwind shot out of the house, giving my knees a quick hug before picking up the bat and banging it against the nearest tree.

I kind of liked this dream.

Or I did until the gate opened, and Billy walked into the yard. Why did he appear more frightening wearing clothes in a suburb than he had naked behind glass? Must be the blood all over his face.

"Why aren't you furry?" I asked.

"Don't need to be. Killing people around here is so damn easy."

I glanced up the block. Everything was far too still. A trail of red led down the sidewalk between each house, ending right behind Billy's shoes.

In the way of dreams, I was both experiencing the situation and observing myself from above. I remembered Billy telling me this story before.

He liked to go to nice suburbs in good neighborhoods where he could walk right in, door after door after door. He was so good at killing, most people didn't have a chance to scream. The neighbors never knew he was coming.

I shook my head, tried to clear the dizziness. I knew this was a dream, yet everything seemed so damn real. I could smell the blood, hear my son singing, the baby crying, see Billy right in front of me, so alive.

"You're dead," I said.

He smiled and his teeth were red. "Do I look dead to you?"

"Fuck," I muttered.

"Yeah, I thought we might. But first – "

Billy turned toward my son and I launched myself at him. He smacked me in the chest with one arm, swatting me away as if I were nothing more than an irritating bug. I flew into Nic, who'd been right behind me, and we tumbled to the ground.

I thought of the moon and got nothing, reached for a talisman that didn't exist in this dimension, and realized with dawning horror that in this happy normal world, I wasn't a werewolf.

So I could do nothing but die.

If it meant saving my family, I didn't mind. However, Billy was still insane, even without the fur.

He rounded on me, punching Nic in the face, sending him to the ground unconscious. My son, whatever his name was, continued to play as if nothing were happening. In the house, the baby wailed.

"You aren't normal, Doctor, and you never will be."

"I am. See?" I pointed to the house, the fence.

He laughed, revealing those disgusting teeth again. "I'm your future."

"You're dead," I repeated.

"I'll never really be dead, because I'm all of them. No matter how many you kill, there'll be more."

"What if I find a cure?"

"We don't want to be cured. We like the killing, the fear." He leaned over, nuzzling my neck with his rank mouth. "The blood."

I struggled, but it was no use. He was stronger, crazier, and this was a nightmare. I couldn't win.

Just like life.

Despair rushed through me. He was right; I'd never be normal, even if I found a cure. There'd always be more monsters. They'd always be after me. And I'd always carry the burden of the people I had killed.

Unlike Billy, who'd never given a damn, even before he was a werewolf.

"Well." He lifted his head, shoved me hard enough to send me flying several feet, where I landed in the flower bed. "First things first. Kill the family, eat the baby, then fuck you. Ready?"

His mouth grew fangs, his eyes went wolf as he fell on an unconscious Nic and –

I came awake, heart pounding, all sweaty and alone in the night. For a minute I thought Billy was there, in the room with me, and a sob escaped.

I stifled the sound. Billy would love my tears, had told me on many an occasion how he enjoyed licking them from the cheeks of his victims as they died.

I shivered and pulled the blanket to my chin, eyes searching the room, nose twitching as I tested the air.

Billy wasn't here, of course.

He was dead. I had killed him.

The knowledge wasn't as comforting as it should have been.

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