Hunger - Chapter One
©2015 Christie Goldenwulfe
The motorcycle roared up the interstate in the moonlit darkness, recklessly careening through late-night traffic. The speedometer read 110 miles per hour as the rider sped northward through California’s central valley with the police hot on his tail. Lights flashed through the night and sirens wailed in the darkness right behind him, goading him to go faster.
Kain Ulmer was having the time of his life.
The roar of the machine beneath him and the howl of the sirens faded against the scream of the wind past his ears, plastering his long hair to his skull and whipping it behind him. Thrilled by the chase, he urged the motorcycle to greater speeds and laughed into the wind.
The full moon rode high and pulsed in his veins, calling to the beast inside of him, filling him with exuberant energy. The chase had begun twenty miles back on I-5. He’d been headed northbound and doing ninety-five at the time with not a care in the world. He had stolen the bike earlier that night from a home in Burbank when the opportunity had presented itself. The theft had been discovered and reported quickly. A little too quickly for his liking, but oh well. What was life without a little dangerous fun? He hazarded a quick glance behind him and grinned fiercely. His pursuers were right on his ass.
Kain was no stranger to running. He’d spent most of his life running from one thing or another—usually women, jealous husbands, or the authorities. Running kept him free, and there was little he valued in life more than freedom. Nothing and no one would ever chain him down.
A cruiser sped up, attempting to pass him on the right. Kain leaned into the bike and cut the officer off, sending him sailing into the shoulder. Another officer followed him closely, right on his ass. A bridge came up in the darkness and he leaned in, passing dangerously close to the support pillars, never losing speed for a moment. The cruiser swerved back into the right-hand lane and nearly clipped another vehicle. Kain chuckled to himself. His friends should really be more careful.
Up ahead, two semis were paralleling one another and effectively blocking the two northbound lanes. Kain hit the throttle and shot between the trucks, sure of himself even when one trailer swayed toward the other. Once through, he sped far ahead of the semis while the officers jockeyed to move past the big rigs. Traffic was light at this time of the night, and ahead of the semis, the way was clear. After a moment he braked heavily, and the machine under him protested as the tires squealed on the pavement. Planting one boot, he pivoted the bike around and gunned the throttle with a whoop of laughter. The powerful engine roared and lurched forward, hurtling toward the oncoming semis like a rocket. He blazed past the trucks on the left hand shoulder, popping the bike into a half-wheelie as he passed the cops. The sound of braking tires shrieked behind him.
He stayed to the shoulder and slowed a bit, waiting for his friends to sort themselves out. They might choose to let him go at this point rather than continue such a dangerous chase, but he’d managed to piss them off pretty severely with his antics by now. They’d be determined to stop him. Sure enough, he spotted them in his mirrors, turning and tearing after him. Oncoming vehicles blared their horns at him, but he stayed well out of their way while he rode the shoulder. The officers were trained for this sort of thing and were skilled drivers. He had no problem leading them on a merry chase, but he had little desire for anyone else to get involved in his amusements. No sense in bringing harm to innocent travelers.
It was time to take this show off the road.
He waited for a clear moment in traffic before he cruised across the lanes and skillfully pivoted the bike onto a convenient ranch exit. At the end of the off-ramp, he turned right and throttled the gas, barreling down the dark country road. Clouds scudded across the face of the moon, plunging the area into shadow, but his night vision was superb. There was nothing out here but fields and orchards in the middle central valley. This would be the perfect opportunity to escape, but there was no need to run off just yet. The moon’s energy coursed through his body and he felt far too good to stop now. He wanted to play some more with his newfound friends.
He could see the flashing lights from the cruisers in his mirrors again, so he slowed and banked a hard left onto a dirt road and then a right, cruising into expansive, flowering orchards. He drove until the road came to a T, where he slowed to a stop and looked around. Orchards surrounded him, the neat rows of trees black and indistinct in the darkness. He cut the engine and silence enveloped him, except for the sound of wailing sirens growing closer. He dismounted, shifting the pack on his back as he checked his surroundings. He wouldn’t try to hide the bike. It would be no fun if his friends couldn’t find him, so he left the lights on and gave the machine a last, longing glance before he turned and headed into the darkness.
The sound of the cruisers increased as the darkness of the trees surrounded him. The clouds had thickened, shrouding the moon. Shadows lay deep under the trees here, and a low mist curled around the trunks. His senses were preternatural, however, and the night revealed itself to him.
He loped through the orchard, swinging his head this way and that as he caught different scents. The overpowering smell of the flowering trees, grass and other growing things; the old odor of a fox kill; scents of rabbits, mice, and the sharp musk of coyotes, the dusty scent of birds—nothing that shouldn’t be there. The orchard was very large and it would take the officers time to coordinate a search. Likely, a chopper had been called to help with the pursuit, which meant he needed to stay alert. He would have to leave when it arrived, but for now he could still have some fun.
Kain strode to a remote part of the orchard and dropped his pack from his shoulders. He could hear the officers a long way off, though it was clear they were already spreading out to search. He had just a few moments, but it was enough. Besides his other…abilities, Kain had a few tricks up his sleeve. Kneeling, he pulled two items out of his pack—a small vial and a curved, silvery blade—and laid them on the ground in front of him. Then he lifted a necklace out from under his shirt by its woven leather cord, and cupped the fanged talisman in his hand.
The fang was old and big, fossilized and darkened with time, and capped with a carved antler tine. He’d worn the fang for a long time, relying on the talisman for a variety of quick spells such as the one he enacted now. He opened the vial and dabbed a tiny drop of pungent oil on the fang, murmuring guttural words over it. The carvings on the antler tine flared faintly, briefly, and the fossil warmed in his palm. Then he picked up the curved knife, pierced his palm with barely a flinch, and pressed the bleeding wound to the ground. He uttered a few more words and felt the earth take what he offered. Now, when he fled the scene, the earth would swallow his prints, his scent, and his spoor. None would be able to track him.
Chuckling in anticipation, he put the items back in his pack and began pulling off his clothes. Now for the best trick of all. He could hear the officers in the orchard now, searching for him. They would not expect what he was about to do. The misty night air had a chill to it that caressed him as he pulled off his boots and stuffed everything into the pack. Though temperature rarely affected his kind, the chill was welcome after the heat of the chase. The talisman was the only item he kept on. The strong, leather cord was long enough to accommodate his…other form.
Naked now, he stood and strode to a clear area between the trees. He flexed his muscles as he planted his feet and shook out his hip-length hair behind him, preparing himself. He could push this if he wanted, but he loved to savor this moment and he closed his eyes.
His lips parted slightly as he drew in several deep breaths, and he began to let go, opening the doors within him that were never quite shut, inviting the beast that lived within him forward. The beast was a dark well of power, and as it came into him, it filled his body with potent magic, bringing on the change. It started with a pressure within his body, then a crawling, and then a burning fire. He had long ago learned to temper the sensations and merely grunted in response as the first waves came.
His eyes always changed first, and they tingled and burned as they shifted. They would now be a chilling, icy blue ringed in red, terrifying to behold. His teeth lengthened into fangs; his already thick fingernails blackened and began to curve into claws. Fur rippled, then exploded over his skin with an intense itching as his bones lengthened and ground within his body. Muscles and sinews contracted and expanded with a delicious ache to adjust to his new bone structure, and his entire skull shifted with a painful pressure. His jaw lengthened, and his teeth continued to push themselves into huge fangs as he moaned into the night. His claws became talons as sharp and cruelly pointed as knives. He dug them into the earth when he doubled over onto all fours with a groan.
The whole process was accompanied by the sensation of a pleasure so intense it gave him an erection as his pelvis pushed out the bones for a tail, and his body finished its adjustments. He moaned and growled as his head completed the shift with a lingering burning sensation and he was left momentarily drained, panting and lying on the cool earth.
His body was now a hulking mass of muscle, bristling with black fur and a ridge of long, stiff hackles down his spine. His head was large and lupine in shape, but held enormous teeth far bigger than any natural wolf possessed. His limbs were thick with muscle, his body humanoid and bestial at the same time. When he rose and stood on two legs, he resembled nothing the men chasing him would have ever seen before, a creature out of nightmares. He was nearly eight feet tall and easily over four hundred pounds in this form, a monstrous beast made for the kill. Not human, not wolf, nor any other creature, but something…other.
The hidden moon called to him, and the Hunger welled up powerfully in him for a moment. It filled him with a deep desire for flesh and blood until he managed to quell the impulse with a growl. Though he could clearly smell humans in the area, he would not be satiating that need tonight. He had to be careful. The curse of his kind was always there, always ready to urge him to make a very bad decision, one that brought blood and death, and he had to be diligent not to let that happen. He only gave into the Hunger when he had no other choice, and when he did finally go hunting, he always chose fellow predators as prey. Murderers, rapists, thugs…they were all fair game. He never took the innocent.
Not after the last ones…
Shaking off the unpleasant memories, he stretched and flexed his limbs, muscle rippling under his fur as he moved. He twisted his head until there was a deep pop in his neck and then shook himself fully with a groan, his thick, black pelt throwing off stiff hairs and soft down into the air.
He took a moment to check where the humans were, questing with his nose and perking his ears to listen. They were closer now, yet still on the far end of the orchard, though fanning out quickly. He swiped his tongue over his nose and grinned wolfishly in anticipation. Time to play!
Throwing back his head, he opened his throat and let out a howl that thundered through the night, launching sleeping birds into the air with alarmed screeches.
The humans were warned.
He dropped to all fours and walked forward, his body making small adjustments for his his now quadruped stance. Satisfied, he bunched his legs and shot forward into the darkness. Running in this form was sheer bliss. There was nothing like the power and freedom of it, his claws digging into the soil, his powerful legs propelling him forward like pistons. The wolf in him wanted to run and keep running, far away from the humans, to celebrate the moon and make love to the night. But the human in him still wanted to have fun, and so he ran toward the policemen with incredible speed.
Flashlights swept the darkness and the acrid scents of gunpowder, oil, and metal filled the air. They had their guns out. No matter, guns weren’t of any consequence to him…unless they held silver. His kind could survive most anything except that poisonous metal. He had toyed with the officers long enough to make them cautious about capturing him, and probably had them thinking he was a bit crazy and dangerous. He smiled to himself. You could call him that.
He came upon the first group of humans quickly, a pair of officers searching through a section of orchard. His howl must have unnerved them, for they had the scent of apprehension to them. The beams of their flashlights did little to dispel the thick darkness around the trees. Kain ran in low and fast, darting past their lights and eliciting alarmed shouts and even a shot. He could hear the crackle of radios and shouts from others as he sped away and he laughed, thoroughly enjoying himself.
He stopped in a dark spot across the orchard and listened, his ears perked. The officers he had buzzed were flustered, speaking angrily into their radios as they scanned the darkness. Clearly, they were truly frightened now by the huge animal they had seen, and the howl everyone had heard earlier. Kain growled softly in his throat, a wolfish chuckle, and moved off to a different part of the orchard.
Here he found one officer some distance from his partner. Inexperienced or stupid—either way he would soon learn not to stray from his friends. Kain circled around him, out of flashlight range. He was a young cadet only recently out of training, by the looks of him. Kain growled loudly, a sound that reverberated through the air and caused the trees around him to tremble. Nervously, the young officer aimed his gun and flashlight in the direction of the sound, and gasped when he saw Kain’s eyes.
Snarling, Kain charged forward. The officer screamed until Kain reached him and cuffed him on the head. The kid went down like a sack of potatoes, dropping his flashlight and gun. Kain quickly grabbed him up and slung him over his shoulder, heading toward the road. They would find the kid later near his cruiser with one hell of a headache, but otherwise unharmed.
Back in the trees, he circled around again and listened intently, cupping his ears to hear things from far across the orchard. The officers were thoroughly spooked now, having heard the scream. The kid’s partner was especially freaked out; he’d just found the flashlight and fully loaded gun on the ground with his partner nowhere to be seen. Radios crackled everywhere, full of orders and demands for information, mixed with rising fear.
The chaos was exhilarating. Kain took a moment to roll on the ground in satisfaction, rubbing the sweet scent of flowers and decay deep into his fur. Now he really wanted to mess with their heads.
Tongue lolling, he loped toward another group of four tightly knit men who were advancing slowly, deeper into the orchard. He circled around behind them and approached them as silently as possible, stepping lightly, easing his breathing. Carefully, he rose on two legs and spread his ape-like arms wide, huge jaws open and slavering, towering over the four men. Just when Kain sensed that one of the men could feel something horrible behind them, he bolted, the man’s flashlight just brushing his fur.
The man swore loudly and trained his gun, his comrades flailing to follow suit, but Kain was not there. He came around low and fast, brushing past their backsides. They all jumped and turned, pointing their shaking flashlights all around them. Their radios squawked and they answered with obvious fear in their voices. There was something in the trees, and it wasn’t a goddamned coyote.
Kain came in again, streaking past their lights, and someone shot at the night with an oath. Their radios shrieked out the voice of their commanding officer, but none of them paid any heed. Their instincts had kicked in, and though they were highly trained men, they knew they were being hunted—hunted by something they could not fathom. Kain howled again, bellowing into the night, and one of the officers pissed himself; the stink of urine carried on the air.
Kain breathed in their fear as he panted and circled them just outside the range of their lights. Terror permeated the air in a thick blanket radiating from the men.
The scent of prey. Human prey.
Saliva pooled in his jaws and he felt the Hunger take him then, consuming him in an instant. The dark beast inside surged and took over, blocking out his humanity, his reasoning, his compassion. Harmless fun turned now to serious hunting. The beast craved the taste of flesh and blood on his tongue. He growled in his chest, filled with aching desire and a ravenous craving for human meat. These men were now his.
He stalked forward, intent on the small knot of officers who were slowly retreating. He crept as close as he could, his lips rising in a silent snarl. He dove in and snatched the weakest of them—the one that had lost control of his bladder. The man screamed and Kain began running, dragging the man along by his leg. The other officers fired once before racing after them.
A bullet struck Kain’s thigh, but he only grunted and continued to run into the dark of the orchard. The man screamed and squealed, and scrabbled at the earth with his bare hands to little avail. Blood, rich and intoxicating, filled Kain’s mouth, but it wasn’t enough to satiate the Hunger. He needed more.
The man’s friends followed as fast as they could, and officers came quickly from other parts of the orchard, drawn by his screams. Kain was quicker and undeterred. His bestial mind knew only the Hunger, and would not give up its prize.
He finally stopped on the far side of the orchard and flung the man with a wrench of his head. The officer cried out and skidded several feet, thudding up against a tree and sending flower petals raining down over him. Kain was on him in an instant, pinning the man down so he couldn’t move. He took a moment to survey his prize, teeth bared in his hunger while the man cowered under him. He could taste the man’s fear across his tongue, and saliva spun from his lips. He opened his mouth wide, ready to rip out the man’s throat, when his humanity came screaming back to battle at his instincts.
He paused with teeth inches from the man’s up-flung hands and blinked. What the hell was he doing? He’d only meant to have some fun with the cops tonight, not actually hurt anyone, and it was definitely not his intent to give into the Hunger.
He growled and shrank back from the man, retreating to crouch in the shadows. The officer whimpered, cowering on the ground with his arms around this head. When death did not come, he lowered them slowly, staring terrified into the darkness. Kain turned his head in shame. What had he been thinking, testing himself like this? It had been too long since he had given in to the curse and made a kill. The Spring Equinox was only two weeks away and by then he would be forced to kill or face the consequences. With the moon full tonight, the risk of the Hunger taking over had been very high. He should have known that, but he had been too busy entertaining himself.
“Go.” Kain’s voice was more growl than real speech. The officer stared at him through the darkness, his eyes wide and obviously in shock.
Kain snarled and roared at him, “Go now!”
The officer scrambled to his feet, whimpering, and limped off into the orchard.
Kain paced on all fours for a moment, still shaking with the fierce call of the Hunger as he fought for control, cursing himself. Somehow, he always seemed to get into these situations, and someone always wound up hurt. He could never seem to resist that next bit of fun, that chance to test himself. It had gotten him into trouble more than once, and now he’d done it again. He growled softly, but stopped when he caught the faint sound of an approaching helicopter. He turned his head and perked his ears at the distant thrum. He could also hear the men retreating, ordered to evacuate the orchard. The cavalry was here, and that was definitely his cue to leave.
There were more lights now as additional units had arrived and every available light flooded the orchard. There were officers between him and where he had stashed his pack. He would have to be quick.
He started loping and built up speed, and by the time he was running past them, he was nothing but a blur. There were shouts and some shots, but nothing struck its mark and soon they were far behind him. His kind had the power to move incredibly fast, faster than any animal, and he put that speed on now, despite the burning wound in his thigh. He paused only briefly to gather his things, catching the strap of his backpack in his mouth, and he was running again, this time out of the orchards and northward into the fields. No cover there, but he was fast, and the clouds still obscured the moon. The chopper would be scanning the orchard first, anyway, and with the power of the spell he’d cast earlier with his talisman, they would never find him. Still, best to put as much distance as possible between himself and the chaos he had created before changing back to human.
The night opened up again to Kain as he sped through the darkness, but this time he was carried by his powerful body instead of the bike. Soon his regrets for the night were lost in the joy of running and he took delight in his bestial form once more. He never regretted what he was. In fact, he loved being a werewolf, and it suited him well. Except for the Hunger. Killing was never something he took lightly. He did what he had to, what the Hunger demanded of him every few months. It was the price he paid for his power and freedom.
The clouds shifted and the moon showed her face, cold light spilling across the land once more as he ran. He traveled through fields and orchards, past farms and ranches and barking dogs. He avoided towns of any size and slipped under freeways through drainage ditches and tunnels, bolting across smaller roads when he had to. Few people were out at this time of night, and he encountered no one except livestock and dogs.
After a while, he found himself in the middle of a large expanse of open brush and he slowed to a stop. He dropped the pack from his mouth and panted heavily, his breath steaming in the cool night air. After a moment, obeying her silent song, he turned his gaze up to the moon. Her light called to the wolf in him and sent a thrill down his spine, raising his hackles. He closed his eyes and savored her for a moment like a lover. Tonight could have gone badly, but he had prevailed. He was still alive and free, and the knowledge caused him to cavort for a moment before lifting his head to howl triumphantly.
Now he wanted a woman.
Flushed with excitement he sniffed the air until he realized what he was doing. He stopped, snorted, and shook his head. Now was not the time. The type of women he liked were easily found and getting one would be a simple matter. His kind exuded an animal-like sexuality that humans found irresistible, a power he could focus and intensify if he needed to, and his untamed good looks and natural charm made it easy for him to get whomever he wanted. Available or not, they came to him readily. But no, right now he needed to put far more distance between himself and his adventures. He also needed a car.
He picked up his pack again and continued on.
The moon hung low in the sky and dawn was a smudge of pale blue on the eastern horizon when he stopped once more. Daylight would come very soon now, and he could not risk being seen in this form. He had sped north, sticking to the fields and farmlands, and now he was somewhere west of Modesto, he figured, considering the lights of a large town to the east. By now, the sprawling farms and ranches had given way to trailers, smaller homesteads, and outbuildings. He should be able to find what he needed here. He trotted through the pre-dawn darkness with his tail held high, panting around the strap in his mouth as he explored some nearby buildings. Dogs barked until they caught his scent, then quieted and retreated in fear.
That’s right Fido, better not mess with the big bad wolf.
Snorting in good humor, he came around the front of an old, barn-like building off to the side of a large, fenced field. There were a few smaller buildings about, but no sign of a residence nearby. Sniffing around the entrance, he detected the scent of a car inside, though the two large doors were chained and padlocked. He set his pack down and reared up on two legs, took the chain between his hand-paws, and snapped it with a grunt. He swung the doors open and raised his ears at the sight before him. A 1968 Camaro RS SS, primer black, and obviously being refurbished by the owner.
Making a sound of appreciation, he dropped to all fours again and began circling the vehicle in excitement with his tail wagging. He inspected the tires and looked into the windows, checking the vehicle over. The leather upholstery was dusty, but still in good shape, and the instrument panel seemed to be intact. He didn't see any keys—not that it mattered; he could hotwire anything. The important thing was the condition of the engine, but checking that required shifting back to human form.
He sat on his haunches in front of the vehicle and began reforming his human self in his mind’s eye, visualizing his human hands and face, his skin, hair, and body, but the wolf was still powerful from the moon and too excited by the night’s run to give up so easily. Growling softly, he lied down. Putting his head between his forepaws, he forced the wolf to back down. The wildness in him fought for a moment, then reluctantly retreated and he tried the process again.
This time a tingling started, immediately followed by a feeling of energetic release, like hot water draining from a basin. He sighed as his face began to retreat into itself and his fur skittered back into his skin with a tickling sensation. His bones shifted again with a soft pop and grind in places, and his tail retreated back into his coccyx.
Within a couple of minutes, he’d regained his human form and lay naked and somewhat drained on the dusty floor of the barn. The price of ignoring the curse. He propped himself up on his hands and pulled into a sitting position. Had he made a kill tonight, as the Hunger had demanded, his transformation would be easy and effortless. Thankfully, he had not killed, trading remorse for a few moments of vulnerability. He reached for his pack and began wearily pulling on his clothes.
By the time he hauled on his boots, he was feeling more or less normal again. The bullet wound had completely healed without a trace, his body having pushed out the lead sometime during his run. The healing ability of his kind was astonishing, and such superficial wounds healed within hours, sometimes minutes. He finished arranging his pack and rose to his feet, taking a moment to dust himself off.
He tested the Camaro’s door and found it unlocked. With a grin, he tossed his pack onto the seat, then opened the hood so he could take a look at the engine. Everything seemed to be intact, as far as he could tell. He checked all of the fluid levels and made sure everything was tight before closing the hood quietly. He prayed that the engine would actually start as he climbed back inside. There could be any number of things wrong with the car, but he didn’t have time for more than a cursory inspection.
Life was a gamble anyway.
He was feeling for the panel under the steering wheel that would give him access to the wiring when he noticed the key in the ignition. He smiled wryly and sat back in the seat. He couldn't be that lucky. He absently touched his talisman and held his breath as he reached for the key and turned it. The starter grated, and he pumped the gas and muttered encouragement to the vehicle. The engine came to life with a sputter and then a throaty roar. He gave a shout of triumph and patted the dash, praising the car as the engine grumbled to wakefulness.
He let the car idle and climbed out to open the barn doors all the way. Though the sun had not yet risen, the moon perched on the western horizon and the eastern sky was much lighter. Early morning birds sang, and the scent of dawn lightened the air. Time to be gone.
After he got back in and situated himself, Kain put the car in gear and drove to the pavement, assessing the vehicle. The car rumbled in satisfaction, as if happy to be released from the barn. Once the wheels hit pavement he said a small prayer and stomped down on the gas pedal. The Camaro obliged him, jumping forward with a squeal of tires and a puff of blue smoke. Kain gave a whoop of laugher and shifted gears. Someone just lost themselves one hell of a car. He headed west and north, toward the Bay area and the setting moon, feeling immensely satisfied with himself. Now, if he could find a warm female body to claim for an evening or two, life would be utterly perfect.
Big bad wolf indeed.