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"Into The Woods"

Michael Mock
November 2007

This story is my cousin's fault. Shortly before it was written, he asked about a werewolf story I'd been writing back in college. This reminded me of Werdeth, the werewolf character, so he was sort of knocking around in the back of my mind. A few weeks after that, I was watching a particularly bad horror movie. The two influences came together in the following short story, which got stuck in my head and would not let go. I wrote it down just to make it go away.

"There's something out there. I can feel it." Martin stood with his back to the fire, trying to look out into the darkness. He was on the tall side of average, with sandy hair and a lean build. "We're being watched."

Werdeth glanced up from where he was rummaging in his pack. "By an owl or two. An insomniac squirrel. Maybe a couple of deer." He was small and wiry, with dark hair and darker eyes. His fingers finally closed around the plastic of his flask, and he pulled it loose.

"We are in the middle of nowhere," Shannon reminded them. She was sitting cross-legged beside the fire, sipping at a bottle of beer. Her hair was blue, at least for the moment, and her eyes matched the color almost perfectly. "There could be a whole tribe of inbred rednecks out there, waiting to chop us up with axes and machetes." She didn't sound terribly concerned by the idea.

"Or an escaped psychopath with a hook for a hand," suggested Werdeth, deadpan.

"Funny," said Martin, moving reluctantly back towards the fire. "If we're all murdered in our sleeping bags, I'm coming back to haunt you." He paused. "...Or haunt your ghosts, anyway."

Shannon considered that. "Deal," she said. "I'll haunt you if you'll haunt me."

"You already haunt me," said Martin, sitting down beside her.

Reaching back, Shannon pulled a beer from the cooler and handed it to him. Werdeth seated himself across from them, and poured a measure from his flask into a metal cup. "Toss me a coke?"

Shannon reached back again, found a can, and tossed it across the fire. Werdeth caught it and cracked it open, pouring quickly as it foamed. Martin chuckled.

In the darkness beyond the fire, something moved.

* * *

Werdeth was the first to retire. His tent was a simple dome, cheap but effective; he dragged his pack inside, then zipped the door shut. He didn't really need the tent, but it offered a semblance of privacy and kept the insects out.
Outside, Martin finished off his second beer and dropped the empty bottle into the trash bag. It was a beautiful night, clean and slightly crisp; the stars were clearly visible overhead. The fire had burned down, and the moon had set; the darkness beneath the trees was absolute.

Shannon leaned over and kissed him just behind his ear. Martin inhaled sharply.

"Maybe we should get ready, too."

Martin nodded and stood, stretching. He stopped to find a bottle of water, and poured it out over the fire. The remaining flames sizzled and died, leaving them in darkness. He blinked, waiting for his eyes to adjust. Shannon touched his leg, using him to balance as she stood up.

When he could see well enough to make out general shapes, Martin started for their tent. Shannon followed, pulling her shirt off as she went. She was reaching for the clasp of her bra when Martin stopped. He was looking around, though all he could see was grey blurs in the darkness and the stars above them.

"I swear we're being watched," he said.

"It's bigfoot," said Shannon, and pushed him gently towards the tent.

Martin considered that. "Well, I hope he doesn't drink all the beer."

Their tent was larger than Werdeth's, with a more angular design; unlike his friend, Martin kept a supply of quality camping gear. Inside, he lay back on the sleeping bag as Shannon dropped her shirt and bra beside her pack.

"Careful," he said as she knelt above him.

She nodded, though he couldn't see it, and leaned down to kiss him. She liked the feel of his body, lean and fit and warm beneath her fingers. He reached up, wrapping his arms around her, and pulled her closer.

* * *

Werdeth emerged from his tent. He hadn't bothered to dress; Shannon and Martin had gone into their tent, and from the sound of things they wouldn't be emerging any time soon. Turning, he headed for the trees: the combination of rum and cola was pleasant, but it did have its consequences.

His eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the campsite, but he moved carefully anyway. The last thing he needed was to step on something sharp. It was darker among the trees, and he slowed even further. He didn't intend to go far, but he would like to be out of earshot before he took care of business. Tents, he had noticed, did very little to muffle sounds.

When he was finished, he turned back to find a woman standing between him and the campsite. She was very beautiful, and very naked. That might have been awkward, except that he was standing there naked as well.

Then he met her eyes. Desire washed over him in a rush, and he felt his body respond. She was moving towards him, gorgeous and graceful and irresistibly attractive. He knew he should be reacting, saying something, but the look in her eye sped his pulse and made rational thought an effort. Then she was kissing him, gentle and teasing, her arms moving up to caress his body. She was a little taller than he was, but it didn't seem to matter.

Something moved in his peripheral vision and he glanced away. When he looked back, her mouth had changed: it was wider and more prominent, with rows of short, sharp teeth. He drew a sharp breath, but her hand closed around his throat. He could feel the claws on her fingertips, pressing against his flesh, not quite digging in. Soft whispering sounds reached his ears, but he couldn't decipher the words.

A second woman was approaching, her face and hands already transformed.

The sounds of rending flesh filled the night air.

* * *

Martin went still. Something was moving around in their campsite; he could hear it. In the darkness above him, Shannon nodded and straightened. She pulled on her shirt as he sat up; it was long enough to cover her. Then she turned and unzipped the tent flap. Her eyes widened.

"We're surrounded by naked women," she said, blinking rapidly.

"That doesn't sound so bad," Martin admitted, buttoning his pants. "Where's Werdeth?"

"...With shark teeth. I forgot to mention the shark teeth." Shannon stepped out of the tent, leaving room for Martin behind her.

"Ah," he said. "That changes things."

The women around them were slim and athletic, with dark hair and pale skin; it was too dark to determine colors. Their faces were identical; any two of them might have been twins, but there were at least a dozen present. They moved with an easy, liquid grace, whispering softly to each other. Try as he might, Martin couldn't make out the words. Their teeth and claws seemed like a clear enough message.

"Now what?" asked Shannon. She wasn't looking at Martin; the question was directed to the women. One of them moved closer, and Shannon glanced at it.

She gasped as their eyes met. Desire washed over her, warm and rich. She didn't fight it. Instead, she let it fill her and drain away. "Nice," she said. Then, glancing back at Martin, "Don't look into their eyes."

Martin nodded. He had kept his gaze deliberately unfocused, knowing that they were surrounded and that survival might depend more on his peripheral vision. It had probably saved his life.

The shark-woman had taken a step towards Shannon; now it hesitated.

She lifted her head and met its eyes again. "If that's all you have," she said evenly, "then I suggest you run." She paused, then called: "Werdeth?"

The shark woman inhaled sharply, almost hissing. The sound was picked up by the others immediately, and then they attacked.

Shannon slipped past the nearest and elbowed it sharply in the spine. She struck another one in the throat and felt its larynx collapse. It stumbled and fell.

Three of them were almost on top of Martin when he stepped out of the tent. The movement took him from kneeling to standing, and revealed the long sword that had been hidden in the sleeping bag. By the time they focused on it, they were too close to dodge; he bisected all three and took a step back, falling automatically into a high guard.

Four more were closing on him when his blade caught fire. They fell back immediately, shielding their eyes against the light. Shannon raised another above her head and slapped it down across her knee, hearing the muted rattle of the spine breaking. Content that she has accomplished her goal with that one, she pushed it away and rose.

The survivors were starting to back away when Martin lowered his blade, pointing it in front of him. The flames around it swirled, then flared; then they leapt forward in a wide fan. Shannon dodged back; though she was well away from the flames, the heat was painful. By the time she reached Martin's side, he was lowering the blade.

The campsite was still and empty. Their attackers lay scattered. Despite occasional movements, they showed no signs of life. Martin turned, surveying the ones Shannon had downed, and went to finish them off. Shannon circled the campsite to look at Werdeth's tent.

It was empty, of course; and despite Martin's restraint, the front of it had melted into a fragile plastic sheet. Werdeth was nowhere to be seen. If he's dead...

"You want this one?" Martin's voice snapped her out of her thoughts.

Shannon turned and nodded, circling around the corpses to the one whose spine she'd broken. Her boyfriend's sword was now a dagger; he'd cleaned the blade on one of the bodies.

The shark-woman lay still, but she was still breathing. Probably paralyzed, Shannon thought as she knelt. That had certainly been her intention.

The soft whispering began again, but even this close it was incomprehensible. Martin stood guard as Shannon bent down. The whispering softened, then died away. Shannon straightened, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, then reached down without looking and closed the shark-woman's eyes.

Then she glanced across the campsite to where Werdeth had emerged from the woods. "What kept you?"

He padded forward, rising up onto his hind legs. His body shifted configuration to accommodate the change in stance. "Distracted. There were a few more in the woods." His voice was rough and bestial, barely understandable -- barely human.

Shannon opened her mouth, then changed her mind and closed it again. Martin just nodded.

"Come on," he said. "Let's find their nest, or whatever they're using, and make sure we're done."

"This way," said Werdeth, dropping back to all fours.

* * *

It was almost dawn by the time they finished. The whispering women had been using a shallow cave for shelter, but there was no indication of what they were or whence they'd come. The two campers who'd gone missing a week earlier were almost certainly dead -- as were the dozen or so others, vanished over the previous year -- but the infestation was eradicated.

"So now what?" asked Martin, as they returned to their camp.

Shannon glanced at Werdeth, who shrugged. "We move on," he said. "Something else will come up eventually, but Spring Break is almost over. It's time to head back."

"Too bad," said Martin. When they glanced at him, he said: "I hoped it was Big Foot."

Shannon patted his shoulder, trying to look sympathetic. "Maybe next time," she said.