I stayed as quiet as I could. I knew the Hunters were wolves, and that their senses were enhanced just like Buck’s had been. For the moment they seemed too focused on Buck for anything else to matter, but I knew that could change quickly. I hoped that
the stench of alcohol and grease could at least mask my scent for a little while.
Buck snarled. His body bristled with primal energy.
“You killed Johnny the other day,” one of the Hunters said. “I’m glad you’re here. I can get revenge for him.”
“You can try,” Buck said, and then it happened. He’d finally had enough of fighting in a human form. The air shimmered around him and his face changed. Even as I watched I could barely believe it was happening. Grey fur sprouted from his flesh and the muscles became even more pronounced. His face lengthened into a snout, but the snarl was still there and the aggression was still contained within those beady eyes. He hunched over, his bare teeth ivory sharp, and as he transformed so did the Hunters. Their fur was black and patchy, they were stocky and leaner, looking in worse health. Saliva dripped from Buck’s mouth as he growled and flung himself forward again. This time though, instead of throwing punches, there were snapping jaws nipping in every direction and swiping claws seeking to tear flesh from bones. The tables and chairs were obstacles in the arena that were flung asunder. Buck slammed into one of the Hunters with a raging ferocity and aimed to bite him in the neck, but at the last moment the Hunter adjusted his position and Buck sank his teeth into his shoulder. The Hunter yelped in pain, but it wasn’t as deadly as it could have been.
The other two Hunters nipped at Buck’s body, trying to take advantage of their numerical superiority. I felt helpless cowering behind the bar and knew that I had to do something. Once they got past Buck they would tear this place apart looking for me, and then I would follow. I winced as I heard the sickening sound of flesh being torn apart and the painful yelps. Buck was still managing to hold his own, but there was only so long that he could last. One of the Hunters butted his head into Buck’s chest and sent him staggering back. His arms were askew and his chest was open. One precise attack and his body would have been slashed open. I was about to cry out in the hope that I might be able to distract them, but I was rendered silent by the Hunter’s attack. The wolf with the darkest fur launched itself at Buck and for one terrible moment I thought it was all over. But then Buck shifted his position to the side and brought his paws down, catching the wolf and helping it on its way, straight through the window. It crashed outside and the window shattered in a thousand sprinkling shards of glass. The wolf landed with a thud and a whimper. The Hunters looked shocked and Buck took advantage, charging at one and sinking his paws into it, sending it flying across the bar.
The only problem was, Buck had been so lost in a rage that he wasn’t thinking and the wolf was flung straight towards me. It landed on top of the bar and it scrambled up. I cowered, trying to hide myself, but the bar was my only cover. I hoped that the wolf had been so shaken by its ordeal that it would not notice me, but it was a forlorn hope. As soon as it laid its eyes on me its tongue lolled out of its mouth and it let cry a terrible howl, a howl that told its allies that they had found what they were looking for. The great pride of the Howlers: Me.
It regained its balance and swiped with a deadly paw. I felt the air rush by my face and fear rippled through me at the sight of the blood-stained claws. In a panic I grabbed anything I could find. My fingers curled around the neck of a heavy bottle and I smashed it over the wolf’s head. The bottle smashed and I used the jagged edges to poke at the wolf. I didn’t care where I aimed. I didn’t even know if I had hurt it, but the wolf reared back and slid off the bar. I clutched the bottle close to me, and caught my reflection in the mirror as I stood up. I was as white as a sheet and my body shook violently. The wolf scrambled to its feet and snarled. Its lips trembled and it was about to make another attack when Buck leapt forward and dug his claws into the wolf’s back. The wolf arched back and twisted his neck, trying to snap at Buck, but Buck’s claws were too far away for it to connect. The wolf wriggled and writhed as it tried to get free, but the only way it could escape was to tear itself away, literally, leaving some of its fur and flesh behind on Buck’s claws in a bloody mess. Buck pushed it away and went to pursue, but as he did the other wolf came rushing by in a dark blur. Buck twisted to try and stop it, but his flailing grasp grabbed only air.
There was nothing but the bar standing between the wolf and I.
It leapt and its paws found the surface of the bar, using it as a springboard to leap forward. I waved the bottle above me in a slashing arc, but as I opened my eyes the wolf was behind me. Its paws were on the ground and its eyes were locked onto me with an intense gaze. Every sinew in its body was primed for death. I backed away, throwing bottles at it. They landed on the floor and smashed, making alcohol leak out onto the floor. It dripped off the wolf’s paws as it came towards me. I held the bottle in both hands now, fear making them tremble so much I was afraid that I would drop the only weapon I had.
Then my back hit the bar.
There was nowhere else to go.
I dared not take my eyes off the wolf, but I twisted my head and my gaze flicked away for a moment, just a moment to see if Buck was there to come in to save me. My heart sank as I saw that he was locked in a battle with the other wolf. I could see him struggling to break free. The other wolf wasn’t even trying to kill him, it was just trying to stop Buck from getting to me. Buck tore at the enemy but it was no use, and then looming behind him was the wolf he had thrown outside. It was back with a lust for vengeance in its heart, covered in blood, and the shards of glass that stuck in its fur sparkled as the sunlight caught them. It was almost beautiful, had it not been so horrific.
I turned back, my head moving slowly as the wolf’s teeth dripped with death. I could almost feel them sinking into my flesh, releasing my soul from this mortal prison. I had wanted more time with my parents, but not like this. Never like this…
Breath choked out of me, helpless prayers to a god I didn’t believe in, that I might be saved from this gruesome and grisly fate. The wolf was undeterred by anything I could throw at it. It might have flinched, its approach may have been delayed for a brief moment, but its path was as inexorable as destiny. Behind me I could hear Buck howling in anguish. I hoped for anything. I hoped for a miracle. I could feel the stale breath of the wolf drifting towards me, warm and fetid, hungry for my flesh. The sharp edges of the bottle didn’t seem enough. It was wary, its eyes followed the path of the bottle, waiting for the opportunity to strike. I didn’t know if I could move swiftly enough to defend myself, or even hurt it enough to dissuade it from attacking. Even if I struck it, it was likely going to do damage to me, more damage than I could do to it.
But then my miracle came.
Crashing through the doors came Matt. He was already in the form of a wolf and his tawny brown fur was a welcome sight. He was not the biggest wolf, but he was ferocious, especially when defending something he cared about. He leapt behind the wolf that was attacking me and sank his teeth into its back, subduing it. The wolf was in such close quarters that it could not maneuver properly and its slashes were aimless and helpless. Matt dug his teeth in relentlessly and used his claws to tear open the side of the wolf. Crimson gushed out and I almost gagged. It mixed with the alcohol in a grim pool.
Once Matt was done with that wolf he leapt past me and went to help Buck. I turned to see that Buck was still struggling with the two wolves, although he had endured for far longer than I had expected. The remaining two Hunters were snapping their jaws and slashing their claws at him. Buck’s grey fur was stained with blood and patchy where they had attacked him. He looked groggy and his thrusting limbs weren’t moving as freely as before, and I had a feeling that it was only due to the other wolves that he was still standing.
Matt streaked in with a howl and bit one of the Hunter’s legs. He staggered and crumpled to the floor. It was the one who had already been tossed through the window and it seemed as though his body had suffered all the pain it could handle. The limbs twitched as he struggled to rise again, but neither his body nor soul was strong enough to hang on, and his head lolled to the side.
Without him attacking, Buck teetered on his feet and crashed, slamming against a table, breaking it in two. The last Hunter had lunged forward to attack Buck, but now that Buck was no longer there the Hunter was off balance. Matt took full advantage of this. He may not have been the strongest wolf, but he was wiry and wily, and his intelligence was just as much an asset as brute strength. He threw all his weight into his attack, sending the Hunter crashing to the floor, sprawled on its back with its limbs splayed out and its belly exposed. Matt brought both paws up and bared his claws, and then brought them down with the full force of his weight behind the blow. There was a sickening squelching as Matt fell upon the last Hunter, and then there was peace.
I sank to the ground, my watery knees finally giving way beneath me. When I realized that I was still clutching the broken bottle, I threw it down. I gazed up and saw the wolf’s lifeless eyes staring at me. Its flesh had been torn and the blood was slowly creeping towards me. I shuddered and yelped as I pushed myself away just before it could reach my toes and ran back out in front of the bar, where I saw that Matt and Buck had returned to their human forms.
Matt was hunched over Buck.
“No…no,” he gasped. I was filled with sorrow as well. Buck had done all he could to defend me. I owed him my life and whatever dislike of him I’d had before had completely disappeared. Sometimes you couldn’t judge people on what they said or thought, only on what they did, and when it mattered, Buck had protected me. I rushed towards Matt’s side and tears welled up in my eyes. Buck looked so weak. Now in his human form, it was easier to see the cuts and the slashes. Now that I could see the wounds properly I was even more amazed that he had managed to withstand the brutal attack of three Hunters. Blood trickled down the side of his mouth and gave his lips a scarlet glow, as though he had been wearing lipstick. His eyes fluttered, but there was no coherent thought behind it.
“I’m so sorry Matt,” I groaned.
“Go out into the corridor. I have my satchel there. Grab it for me,” he said, his words imbued with intensity. He didn’t take his eyes or his hand off Buck, whose head he cradled. I nodded and rushed out, wiping the tears from my eyes as my vision was a blur. His satchel had been left by the doors and I hooked my arm around the strap, returning quickly through the double doors and handed it to Matt. He opened the pouch and rummaged through it, bringing out a few different kinds of flowers and herbs. The fragrant aroma was a welcome change from the sme
ll of death and blood that rose all around us, but it was only a vivid burst.
“Go behind the bar and grab me some rum,” Matt said. It was the most assertive he had ever been, and I have to admit I liked it. I went behind the bar again and tried to ignore the wolf that lay there. Irrational fear gripped my mind; I was so afraid to turn away in case it came to life again, but despite having been exposed to so many impossible things I knew that some things were just beyond any kind of reality.
I had to focus on the task at hand anyway, for Buck’s sake. I couldn’t let my swirling thoughts distract me from potentially saving him. To my horror though, I realized that most of the bottles I had thrown at the wolf had been rum.
“What if there is no rum?” I asked, my voice trembling.