“It’s standard equipment…” Drake started up again, but I couldn’t be bothered to listen to his whining and walked away.
Holding my lighter up, I moved across the small, poky lounge we found ourselves in. I hadn’t known what to expect, but it wasn’t what my lighter and the torches were now revealing to me. The outside of the house looked in complete disrepair, but the inside looked surprisingly better kept. Although the place smelled like some maggot-infested shit-hole, the walls were covered in flower-patterned wallpaper. In some places, it hung from the walls in damp strips, revealing black patches of mildew that resembled giant bruises. Thick cobwebs swung from the corners of the room like drapes, and I could hear the distant sound of rats scuttling around beneath the wooden floorboards.
The room had furniture that looked as if it had just been yanked from a dumpster. It was old, dirty, and dusty, but still looked strong enough to support someone’s weight. I could see a small two-seater sofa, two arm chairs, and a small coffee table. This was covered in so much dust that it looked like topsoil. On the table was a book, which had been left open but facedown so the cover was staring up at me. I glanced down and looked at the cover. It read, Dark Enlightenment by Kaycee Smith
“Who does the book belong to?” I asked. Both Madison and Drake shrugged.
Turning away, I waved the lighter in front of me and saw a small, wooden chair sitting in the middle of the room. How had I missed it before? I wondered. As I inspected it, it was way too small to be a chair that an adult would be able to sit comfortably in. It looked like one of those chairs you see in toy stores – the ones that were made to look like a grown-up seat, but were sized especially for kids. Kneeling down, I held the Zippo towards the floor and could see an assortment of kid’s toys. There was a soft bear, a well-loved Barbie doll, whose hair stuck out like springs on either side of her head, a red fire truck, a yo-yo, a Nintendo DS with a cracked screen, and a whole bunch of other kids’ stuff.
“Who do these toys belong to?” I asked, picking up the Barbie doll which had fallen over. I sat it back up against the leg of the tiny chair.
“The children,” Madison whispered from behind me.
“What children?” I asked, standing and turning to face her.
“The children the wolf murdered,” she said, her eyes glowing yellow in the gloom.
“You’re kidding me, right?” I asked in disbelief.
“Do you really think I’d joke about something like that?” she replied, sounding almost out of breath.
“What the fuck are they doing here?” I asked.
Madison looked to Drake as if in search of the answer and he said, “The wolf leaves his victims – the dead children – sitting in that little chair, as if waiting to be found.”
Hearing this, my heart skipped a beat and I took a step away from the chair. The thought of the Lycanthrope doing such a fucked-up thing made me feel angry and sick at the same time. I mean, what sort of animal would do such a thing? But then again, this killer was an animal. I felt angry at Madison and Drake and even more so at that smug son-of-a-bitch, Harker, who had failed to catch this wolf and put a stop to his killing.
“I don’t believe this,” I said looking at them.
“It’s true,” Drake said.
“No, I don’t mean that,” I barked. “I mean you! You have the nerve to stand there and say ‘I thought all cops were issued with a flashlight!’ Fuck the flashlight, Drake. There’s more to policing than the fancy kit you get to carry around! It’s catching the scum that go and do crazy shit like this that matters! Look at you two standing there dressed up like a couple of James Bond wannabes – you’re pathetic. You haven’t got a clue. If this werewolf had been pulling this sort of shit where I come from, Murphy, Luke, and I would’ve ripped his freaking throat out by now!”
“It’s not that easy!” Madison came back at me, her eyes blazing. “Don’t you think we’ve tried, Potter? You’ve got no idea what we’re dealing with here!”
“Well I know exactly what we’re dealing with,” I growled. “Some bastard werewolf that thinks he can get away with killing kids. Well, I’ll tell you something for nothing. I’m glad you shot Murphy, I’m glad that you think you’re gonna frame me and Luke for murder, because it will all be so worth it to catch this animal, and nothing will give me greater satisfaction in showing you how the Vampyrus deal with murdering scum like you two!”
At first, neither of them said anything. Then, as if waiting for me to catch my breath, Drake smiled. “If you’ve finished, I think we’d better show you around the rest of the house. Time is against us.”
Before I’d had the chance to say anything back, Drake marched away towards a set of stairs that led up into the dark. Scowling at his back, I lit a cigarette and followed Drake and Madison up the stairs.
At the top of the staircase there was a small landing. It was narrow and ran the length of the tiny house. Off of it led four doors. Pushing open the first, Drake said, “The bathroom, but if I were you, I’d go against a tree in the woods.”
Peering over his shoulder, I followed the light from his flashlight as he waved it back and forth. There was a bath that was cracked and home to an infestation of spiders that scuttled in and out of the plug-hole. I could see a hand basin, and one of the taps dripped water, with an annoying plink-plink-plink sound. Above the basin was a mirror that was cracked in one corner. I looked at the toilet and could see what Drake meant when he suggested I take a whiz outside in the woods. The toilet lent to one side, and it was caked in streaks of brown gunge that had spilled out onto the wooden floorboards of the bathroom.
“Nice,” I said, stepping back onto the landing.
Pointing to the three other doors, Madison said, “And these are the bedrooms. Which one do you want?”
“What do you mean which one do I want?” I asked, blowing smoke through my nostrils. “What are you trying to say, that one of them is the penthouse?” Pushing open the first door that I came to, I added, “This will do.”
“Your choice,” Madison said. “Make yourself at home if you can, we have three nights here.”
“Thanks for reminding me,” I grumbled. But she had gone and so had Drake as they disappeared behind the doors of the other two bedrooms on the landing. The door to my room swung closed behind me, and flicking on the Zippo with my thumb, I peered about the room. It was small and the ceiling angled down by the window, mimicking the shape of the dilapidated roof above me. The room was cold, so I pulled my coat about me. Grinding out my cigarette with the heel of my boot against the rough, wooden floorboards, I noticed a bed in the far corner. I say a bed, but it was more like a camp bed – something you would use on a hunting trip. It was one of those aluminium foldaway things and I guessed it had been brought here by one of the Lycanthrope on one of their many failed stakeouts. There was a paper-thin mattress and a sleeping bag and both stank of mildew and damp. It was better than nothing, and after all, I didn’t plan on sleeping much.
There was a small wardrobe, which I opened only to find some old clothes hanging from a small rail. There was an ancient-looking suit jacket that was threadbare around the cuffs and collar. I patted the pockets but they appeared to be empty. There was also a pair of trousers, which didn’t match the jacket. On the floor of the wardrobe sat a pair of scuffed, brown shoes. The clothing and the shoes, like the rest of the house, smelled old and ancient. With clothes that were that old, I doubted even Murphy would have worn them.
Closing the wardrobe, I went to the window and peered out into the night. Wiping away a kaleidoscope of cobwebs, I looked down and could see a clear view of the overgrown path that led from the woods up to the front door. The windows were filthy, so, gritting my teeth, I twisted the rusty catch and opened the window to let in some fresh air.
Leaning against the window ledge, I sucked in mouthfuls of the cold night air. Then, looking down at the overgrown front garden, I blew out that lungful of fresh air and said, “What in the name of God is going on here?”
Standing amongst the brambles and weeds was the little chair I had seen in the room downstairs. And propped against it was that tatty-looking Barbie doll.
I raced from my room, clambered downstairs and out into the front garden. With plumes of breath escaping from my open mouth, disappearing up into the night, I looked at the chair. It looked eerily out of place alone amongst the overgrown grass. The thought of what had previously been left sitting in that chair caused me to shiver. But there was something else. The long grass surrounding it had been bent over, as if it had been trampled on. Of course it would have been. Whoever had taken the chair from the house and placed it here would have left footprints.
I crouched down with my heart thumping excitedly in my chest and looked for my first clue. Brushing my large hands over the bent plaids of grass and broken thorns, I could clearly see track marks. But they were too big to be footprints; they were huge and pointed. They were giant paw marks. The wolf had been here, but how? Had it crept into the house and taken the chair during the short time we had all been upstairs?
I could see the huge paw prints led away from the tiny chair and into the woods. Then, just as I was about to turn away and go back into the house to get Drake and Madison, I saw movement in the trees at the edge of the tree line. Without hesitating, I began to loosen my coat as my back began to twitch beneath it, my wings instinctively wanting to be free. Flexing my fingers, they stretched and lengthened until the long, black fingernails brushed against my knees. That taste of copper, which I always got when my fangs came through, flooded my mouth and I swallowed it.
Speeding forward, I stared into the darkness between the trees, and shouted, “Who’s there?”
My question was answered with a rustling of leaves and undergrowth ahead. Raising my claws and brandishing my fangs, I shot forward, every one of my instincts alive and on fire. Reaching the tree line, the movement came again – but this time towards me. Crouching with one of my claws in the ground and the other high above my head, I waited to attack.