As a rule, girls like Janet Dupree never found it difficult to find a ride home.
It was an incredible Saturday night party at The Green Lobster. It was a celebratory party for the impending return of the cannery, fisheries, fishing boats and all the jobs that would come with them. Janet managed to get free drinks the whole night but unfortunately, there were too many younger girls there to go any farther.
She wanted to believe her reputation as a man-eater had come back to haunt her but she was worried it was something worse. She was deathly afraid of gaining weight and losing her looks, so she exercised daily and took incredibly good care of her skin and as a result, she could pass for twenty-five at thirty-six quite easily. Still, it didn’t work that night and it made her deeply uncomfortable.
A nineteen-year-old girl brunette with perky breasts had come in and snatched away the man she was working on and that was a bad sign for her future.
She left The Green Lobster at closing time feeling depressed and unattractive. That particular bar had been in service since 1888 according to the sign, was a kind of fisherman’s joint set right on the boardwalk and was in easy walking distance from her home. She spent the night there clothed in a sexy, tight low-cut purple dress drinking, dancing, having fun, and flirting with handsome men younger than she was, but now she was walking back home alone wearing several layers of boring, heavy, white clothing with a white beanie and a dark, purple jacket and purple gloves.
Despite her bad feelings, it was still a great Saturday night. There was something in the air, something like wild enthusiasm, which she had never experienced in her lifetime. With that evil lawyer mysteriously gone, the biggest worry had left the town. Money had already been exchanged and many of the construction workers in town had full-time work for the first time in decades or more. Fisher St was coming alive, hence the party nature of the bar.
As she walked along the boardwalk, the ocean on the right moving up and down the sand toward the snow, she had second thoughts about her life choices.
Maybe it was time to settle down. Maybe see more of her Billy, her six-year-old son who lived with her mother. Maybe get a real boyfriend, even a husband, and settle down and have a real life before she was too old. She was thirty-six and she worked in a grocery store pretty much at the same level as most eighteen-year-olds. She needed something more in her life, something—
A sound came from under her feet. It was so unexpected on a cloudless, freezing night, that Janet stopped dead where she was.
It was the sound of soft growling like that of a mean dog when one got a little too close to it. She was sure of what she was hearing but it was also somehow more powerful and deeper and something else that she could not identify. Something that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up on end.
She looked back toward The Green Lobster in sudden and serious fear.
The bar was a couple hundred feet back down the boardwalk at least and was covered in as much darkness as a moonlit night would allow. The lights on the boardwalk were off and had been off for years. Bartlett was working on it but it was not finished yet and only the boardwalk’s buildings had reliable lights.
A dog, Janet thought simply. A big dog, sure. What else could it be? A troll from Three Billy Goats Gruff was unlikely, or even a real one that might have kidnapped Tori Randal. Even though a troll wasn’t responsible for Randal’s problem, someone had told her that Ethan Bartlett said a real troll wouldn’t have wandered all the way from the forest to the girl’s house just to eat someone nor kidnap a slender, small girl when men were available. They had no fear of humanity and would choose any bigger, muscular man over a girl, or woman, for the same reason a hunter would go after a larger deer.
Janet hesitated in moving, feeling as if the thing below the boardwalk was waiting for her to do so. Something about this situation had sobered her up in an instant.
“Who's that tripping over my bridge?” her mind recalled from the Three Billy Goats Gruff story. She grabbed her pepper spray and felt like she was arming herself with a letter opener before a sword fight.
Behind her, The Green Lobster’s outside lights and sign turned off. Inside, they were still working, but she knew if she screamed, they would never hear her. Not unless one was outside in the freezing snow, smoking or something, which she doubted.
Janet lifted one foot, moved it forward and then heard the growl come back. It began just as soft but then it started to get louder. It grew like an engine slowly being revved up, rising to a “large” dog’s level but then it continued to get louder. It was canine but it was so loud, so powerful, that it felt more like a bear more than a dog.
Her foot came down gently.
The boards below jerked up so powerfully that cracked as it knocked her up into the air an inch or two. Janet shrieked, lost control, and sprinted forward. The creature howled from below and was rushing after, its feet somehow audible below the boardwalk. Whatever it was, it was very, very large.
Her left turn off the pier was coming less than fifty feet away passed a foreclosed candy shop but under the boardwalk that turn led to a stone wall! She would be clear and then she could sprint the several blocks to her house, get inside and be safe! All she had to do was make that turn!
The turn seemed to stretch out for eternity but she was getting closer! Fifty feet become thirty, thirty became twenty, twenty became ten, ten became six, six became—
The boardwalk exploded in front of her and a huge, black-furred humanoid with a wolf’s head appeared, holding itself up by grabbing the broken sides with its clawed hands. Janet stumbled into a halt in front of it, eyes full of horror, and then shrieked as she sprayed it in the face.
It cried out in aggravation and Janet stumbled back and turned around in a jerk.
The wolf dropped below as she started to run and something broke violently below. The end near the hole dropped to the sand as it ripped from wood on the right. Janet fell forward, threw her hands out for the top but missed and was suddenly sliding down a makeshift ramp. She looked back, saw the wolf standing at the bottom of the ramp with its hands reaching out and began to shriek in sheer horror at what she saw.
Its wolf face was grinning.
* * *
There was a sound in the air that had not been heard in Bartlett Bay for a long time.
Various individuals had been out on that cloudless, moonlit night to witness the sound themselves and most of them deeply disturbed by it. It was a thing “like” a wolf’s howl although some thought it might be a scream of rage or even a cry of hate. Many had the sense that it was “marking its territory” although few would ever admit to such a weird and out-of-character thought.
Most didn’t understand it at all but there were exceptions.
* * *
Sal Merrick was wandering back from tracking a series of lights that had once again been spotted above his crops and once again led to his crops being cut into odd, circular shapes by creatures believed to be aliens. His stakeout came to nothing that night and he was grumbling to himself as he stomped back to the Merrick homestead when he heard the cry.
He was holding a bottle of Jack Daniels in his left hand and his rifle in the other and frowning at the very familiar sound.
It’s back, he thought and then nodded soberly. He took a very deep swig from his Jack Daniels and listened to the sound dying off. Anyone standing outside the Kurtwood Mental Asylum north past his property would have heard it as well. Just like last time.
It was going to be a hard year.
* * *
Caitlin Christopherson and Mary Merrick were out having a girl’s night with drinks at Colm’s Bar located in the midtown area above Edmonton along the west side of Worthington. Colm’s Bar was owned and operated by Raymond Colm who was retired early from the force after a serious injury from a hobgoblin who got a hold of a rifle back in the 1990s and his bar was a favorite among the middle class and police officers.
“I needed this!” said Caitlin as she hugged her friend and partner, both dressed in normal clothing. “I miss having a life!”
Mary laughed and hugged her back. “Aww, Baltimore girl sad?”
“Soooo sad!” she told her.
“So, Officer Hotness,” said Johnson cheerfully. “Do you have a date with a Bartlett next weekend?”
“Pig,” said Mary but she was grinning.
“Eat me, Johnson,” Caitlin replied.
He laughed, took a swig of Red Bull and Vodka, and went back to talk to the guys. Caitlin and Mary slipped out outside for a moment to have a bit of private time and get some air. Mary looked at her as if she expected Caitlin to ask her about the photos she took but she didn’t.
Mary Merrick had asked Caitlin as a favor to follow her cousin Owen Merrick into New York City and take some photos of where he went. She would say no more and Caitlin didn’t ask. The few times she had seen Owen Merrick and his incredibly out-of-place young and beautiful wife, he gave her a deeply disturbing vibe.
Caitlin didn’t know what reason Mary had for following her own cousin around but knowing her, she suspected it was a good one. Caitlin didn’t really want to get involved but she was her friend and—
They both turned toward the sound of the howl when it began. It stretched onward like a siren announcing the arrival of something.
“What the fuck,” whispered Mary as it drifted off.
“Have you ever heard anything like that?” asked Caitlin softly.
“No,” Mary said softly and then she added, “And that’s no wolf.”
“What else could it be?” asked Caitlin but she decided to double-check the sitter and see if her daughter was okay which was not what someone did when they heard an ordinary wolf howl. “Goddamn this fucking town!” she hissed as she dialed.
Her sitter answered the phone and her daughter was fine and had been put to bed at the appropriate time. Still, Caitlin was hit with a deeply disturbing feeling that would just not go away.
That howl had been that unnerving.
* * *
Unable to sleep, Ethan Bartlett had gone outside of his house, set up a bunch of snowmen, and shot orange lightning bolts into them in hopes of exhausting himself. Orange lightning bolts had almost melted the thirtieth or so snowman when he heard the howl, tilted his head to his left toward the south and listened.
“That is no dog,” said Mickey from the nearby tree, his voice and expression uncharacteristically serious.
“No, it is not,” agreed Ethan.
“What is it?”
“I have no idea,” he replied but that wasn’t true. He had an idea, an idea reinforced by the fullness of the moon, but he really, really, hoped it wasn’t what he thought it was.
* * *
Everyone at the party who was standing outside around the fire stopped talking, turned and looked in the direction of the howl so in sync they almost looked in unison.
Judy turned from the gorgeous young man she had been talking to and listened. It was late and she wanted to go to sleep but she had never been to a party in Edwards Grove before and never any party where she was so valued. Every time she started to leave, the boys literally begged her to stay so she did.
The howl began to die away soon after it began and Judy looked up into the sky and looked up into the full moon alone in the crystal clear sky.
That’s what they heard in 1924, she thought. That’s the howling sound Old Man McCaffrey had mentioned. He heard that on the first night of that long-ago murder spree. The man they called the Full Moon Killer…
Judy looked over at Becky as Becky walked up to her. Without warning, Becky wrapped her arms around her and hugged her very tightly. Judy hugged her back and found the girl was shaking in sudden fear.
Judy looked back up into the moon once more with her arms still around her friend and worried over the future.
* * *
The Huntress heard it too. It was the second time she had heard that sound.
Standing under a street lamp on Edmonton, looking to the south down over the cliff toward the fisheries, she recognized it in an instant just as anyone who had heard it in 1967 would have. It had marked a series of murders back then just as it had in 1924. In Bartlett Bay, there was no Summer of Love and 2013 would be just as bad.
Something about the howl made her think of James Bartlett and what he and his friends had buried some years before. It wasn’t that but it was like that. It was another unique monster, different from a simple troll or hobgoblin, and it was back.
You can never bury the past, James, she thought to herself. If you want it gone you best destroy it and destroy it really damn well.
The creature’s time had come again and, in a great rarity, a third time in the same, small town outside of one France. She was not surprised.
Things like that were inevitable in Bartlett Bay.
* * *
Caitlin Christopher got the call early in the morning and instantly knew it was going to be one of those cases.
She arrived at the scene early, sipping coffee, nursing a hangover and staring down at a cluster fuck of violence below the boardwalk. She didn’t need a degree in criminology or be a forensics expert to know the perpetrator of that crime had been berserk with rage and not a man. Even on PCP, a man could never do a tenth of what she was looking at.
Underneath the boardwalk, a body identified as that of Janet Dupree was splattered in a twenty-foot or so radius from the hole. She had torn to pieces and pieces of her were thrown in every direction as if she was a rag doll and the murderer was ripping her apart and tossing each piece in a random direction.
A troll could do the tearing and it had rage but there was no eating, no dragging back to its lair, and no awkward footprints which would have deep, obvious and probably even broken the boardwalk if the highly unsubtle creature had stepped on it.
Ogres and hobgoblins could be ragers too but they were no stronger than men were, or at least they were nowhere near stronger enough to pull that off, and they tended to use weapons besides. Hobgoblins were fond of blades and firearms typically.
None of the typical monsters, or man for that matter, could have escaped this area without leaving some kind of footprints or something. There were footprints where the crime took place but none leading to or away which brought up the notion that this creature might be capable of flight.
No, the monster was definitely different…
She stared down through her sunglasses as the police were taking pictures officially while the news and civilians tried to take pictures unofficially. Simms was yelling at them to get lost while their little camera phones making clicks and clacks as they proceeded indifferently to his commands.
This fucking town, thought Caitlin.
She took off her sunglasses, looked at the severed head staring back at her in the icy ground and saw, with no real surprise, that the horrific, nightmarish fear of Janet Dupree’s last moments on Earth were so intense that it was still on her face.
As the most experienced detective on the force, there was little doubt this case was going to anyone but her. It was going to be one of those cases that lead toward the supernatural and the very unspecific which were always disasters for detectives. It was going to be one of those nightmare cases no one ever wanted because they always led to an unsolvable crapshoot on what monster, method or magic could have been responsible. If the public and news media demanded answers, it could be the most devastating experience of a police officer’s life and career. Pinkertons sometimes took such cases off their hands but she doubted she would get so lucky.
Janet Dupree’s nightmare was over but Caitlin Christopher saw a long and unpleasant nightmare for herself reflected in Janet’s dead eyes.