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Branches pulled and snatched at clothes and skin, twigs snapped and leaves crushed to particles as frantic feet propelled Eric farther down the old game trail. Just ahead, in the growing shadows of darkness a silhouette was the only sign of hope and escape.
“Troy hold up, wait a minute man.”
His legs burned as he ran harder in a desperate attempt to catch up. Rounding the bend in the trail he spotted Troy bent over, hands on his knees. Eric stopped beside his friend.
“Bout damn time. My freaking lungs are bout to explode and you keep on running.”
“I’m waiting now ain’t I? So stop your bitching.”
Eric looked over his shoulder. The silence intensified as the sun sank farther below the horizon, casting long black shadows that threatened to overwhelm him.
“You think it’s him? I thought we finished the last time around,” he whispered.
“I’m not sure, maybe we didn’t but I ain’t waiting around to find out and I sure as hell don’t want it to pick up our scent again.”
A howl tore through the night, shattering the silence and running chills over Eric’s body. His stomach twisted as fear weakened his knees. Limbs snapped and trees swayed as the sounds drew ever closer.
“Get your ass up Eric. It knows where we are and coming fast, we got to get out of here quick.”
Eric hung his head a moment before pushing to his feet and running after Troy. Throat dry, legs aching, head throbbing, fear gripping him tight he fought against the urge to look back, focusing on moving forward. The trail opened to a small clearing, in the center stood an ancient knee high concrete wall that wrapped around headstones and a single small building. Eric rushed toward it and jumped but stumbled to the ground as his toe snagged a jagged gap in the concrete. His face bounced off the hard ground. Pushing to his knees he brushed the leaves and dirt off his clothes before pulling twigs from his hair. Wiping his busted lips he spit the grit out of mouth a looked around.
“Troy? Where are you?”
A calm silence answered him. The hair on the back of his neck stood straight as he strained to hear the chirp of a cricket or the whistle of a bird. Frantic, he shambled forward, gazing and staring at everything and nothing at once. Weaving between the headstones, oblivious to the names forever etched in the stone, he stopped in front of the door to the mausoleum. The lock hung free at the end of the chain. Somebody’s been here. Another howl shattered the night. Eric jumped and pushed on the door. Why won’t you open?
“Troy stop playing its coming we got to hide.”
“Dumbass, you’re suppose to pull the door not push it. Now quick get inside, it’ll be here soon.”
Eric moved with slow, deliberate steps into the waiting darkness, stopping, he felt for the walls. The dark gray beam of light from the doorway shrank as the door closed, shrouding him in total darkness.
“It’s dark as hell in here. I can’t see a thing.”
“Give me a second.”
He listened to the familiar sound of a lighter grating against the flint. A spark of yellow pierced through the dark, small for only a moment before erupting into a larger flame and chasing the darkness to the far corners of the small building.
“Who keeps torches in a place like this?” Eric asked.
Troy looked at him.
“Don’t you remember this place?”
He moved the flame to a nameplate on the wall. Eric leaned close before shuffling back.
“How did we get here? We ran this far?”
Troy nodded his head.
“Yes, it’s been chasing us for a long time. Do you think about Joseph? How long has it been one…two years?”
Eric’s head hung.
“Stop playing Troy. You know today is the one year anniversary and I still say we did the right thing. He had to be…”
A muffled howl outside the door interrupted their conversation.
“Dealt with? Was that what you were going to say Eric? Does it sound like we dealt with it?”
Eric looked at him and the twisted sneer on his face.
“What’s wrong with you?”
Troy stepped to the center of the chamber.
“Do you remember that night?”
“Of course I remember it, I was there.”
A booming sound echoed through the chamber. The walls vibrated and dust fell from the ceiling as the banging continued.
“Shit Troy, it’s here. We’re trapped, what are we going to do?”
Troy eased over to the door and placed one hand against it. Looking back, he smirked.
“What are you doing? You can’t go out there. That thing will tear you to shreds.”
“You’re an idiot Eric. You know, that night was pretty damn exciting. You shooting Joseph and all.”
“Troy stop, you know he was one of those things. He had to be put down. How many people did he murder?”
Troy shrugged his shoulders.
“Why don’t we ask him?”
He pushed open the door. A brisk breeze blew into the chamber, filling the room with fresh crisp air. Eric felt a new wave of sweat trickle down his body. He backed away from the opening until he bumped the wall with his back.
“Shut the door Troy, shut the door.”
“Why? Aren’t you happy to see your best friend Eric?”
He licked his lips as the silhouette of a man was cut out of the shadowy doorway. His back slid against the wall to the far corner. This isn’t possible.
Joseph walked into the room. His shirt was shredded and hung loose from his shoulders. Ripped and tattered pants exposed legs splotched with red stains. Crouching low to the floor he met Eric’s stare with a cold glare.
“Did you miss me?”
“Joseph…how? You should be…we…I don’t understand.”
“I understand your confusion. Allow me to explain. You see, that night was special. It was the last night of the Blood Moon. I just finished a very delightful treat from the college…you know the one. I knew it was only a matter of time before you two caught up to me but…”
He jumped to his feet and stepped closer.
“I never knew you were such a great shot. Bravo but it hurt like hell.”
“How are you here Joseph? I used silver and aimed for your…”
“Heart? Yes you did and you hit it. But a special thing happened that night.”
He stepped over and placed his hand on Troy.
“Where was I? Oh yes, the Blood Moon. You see, my friend, the essence of the beast is strongest during that time of year. In fact, it can survive a great deal.”
“What are you talking about?” Eric asked.
Joseph turned to Troy.
“It’s time to finish your journey.”
Eric stared at Troy as he stepped close and dropped the torch at his feet. Shock and fear gripped him as his friend clutched his midsection and doubled over. Screaming in pain his muscles rippled and contorted, growing large. His fingers curled before stretching and extending. Hair pushed through the pores of his skin, up his arms and over his neck. Long nails scraped the stone floor leaving long gashes behind. Standing, the beast towered over Eric as he stared at rabid yellow eyes. The face of his friend was transformed by a snout, pointed ears, and a mouth full of long curved teeth.
“Troy stop, don’t,” Eric begged.
The beast howled and swiped his massive hand. Blood splattered the wall as an arm fell free from his body. Eric grasped at the ruined stub.
The creature froze. Joseph stood beside it.
“You see, during the Blood Moon an alpha male’s essence is very powerful. Even if you destroy him physically his spirit will hunt for a successor to keep the bloodline alive. It just so happenes, I didn’t have to look very far.”
Joseph patted troy on the chest.
“We’ll done my friend. Finish him and hunt.”
Eric gawked as Joseph vanished into mist a moment before he heard the growl. He screamed one last time as the creature sank his teeth into the sides of his head. Warm blood filled his mouth as a distant howl faded to silence.