Furiously fast-paced and fanged, this post-9/11 apocalyptic action thriller pits werewolves against soldiers stationed in Iraq, with no less than the fate of humanity hanging in the balance
As the war in Iraq gathered momentum in 2003, a separate, secret conflict took shape between humans and lycanthropes, or lycans – biped wolves that consume human flesh. Galvanized by the growing human conflict across the globe and intent on seizing the opportunity, the werewolves launch a full-scale assault on humanity, decimating the population and changing the course of history. Captain Paul Demarti, a U.S. soldier on the front lines in Iraq, is among the survivors of the attack and now leads a small band of determined fighters hoping to preserve the human race. As borders between ally and lycan blur, paranoia and anxiety mount. The group learns they must trust one another and work together in order to survive. Hope dwindles as the conflict continues and the humans must decide what they are willing to sacrifice in order to create a future for their kind. Readers craving a compelling story coursing with humor will relish sinking their teeth into Jason McKinney’s furiously fast-paced and viciously fanged Dog World.
It’s their world now. T.S. Eliot was only partially right in saying that the world would end with a whimper. There was a whimper and there was blood, screaming and searing pain. By 2006, human civilization had all but fallen and been replaced by a lycan one.
Mankind would never have known of it if not for September 11, 2001. It wasn’t a lycan in any public office or in a cave in some God forsaken country that started it all. Lycanthropes, being as clever as their four legged brethren, had only to wait for their prey to make that one careless, bumbling move that would herald the lycan rise and the human fall.
With theUSmilitary invadingIraqtwo short years later, it was only a matter of time before the lycans took advantage of the world chaos and infighting to forward their final solution to the human disease.
A large portion of werewolves had long viewed humans as an over breeding, careless mealtime mess. With the humanity of certain lycans long since discarded, mankind became nothing more than a herd that needed culling as much as it needed order and control.
With the post September 11th’s human mentality of, “You’re either with us or against us”, there raised an opposite yet similar train of thought. A long suppressed lycan thought held another sense of purpose; “You’re either with us or you’re food”.
Most lycan victims were simply a food source with the exception of a few being chosen for membership. Being a biped wolf and a consumer of human flesh came with choices. Who could I turn to be like me? Who would be the tastiest yet could I stop at one bite? What could I do to stop myself? Why was I changed? Questions left newly changed lycans to choose between a life of ceaseless hunger and hatred or to coexist among humans. Those who chose the former rather than the latter became ever watchful for signs of an ancient werewolf Illuminati of sorts, the Aberration.
For too long, the Aberration and their lackeys watched and waited, using the wolf’s natural patience as its greatest asset. Still, the need for new blood to be introduced into the pack would force the sometimes random and sometimes specifically targeted humans into joining. Those that refused perished. With each new acquisition the need to instill selective feeding, hunting and training in concealment became increasingly paramount. To draw attention to the lycan nation would cause humans to discover they existed beyond myth or in dusty drawings on a library shelf, museum or on the silver screen or fictional books. Once the plan was put into motion, the Aberration could act without fear of reprisal.
The lycan contagion that vexed mankind’s dark side for centuries stealthily progressed its endgame to overrun the planet. The lycans against humanity would use war as a means of spreading the contagion. With each bite the virus grew to a battle of brother against sister, sister against mother, mother against father and so on.
With the war inIraqspreading and becoming a long-term problem, the Aberration moved its pieces into position, changing whole villages or even Coalition units into foot soldiers in their grand design for world dominance.
World dominance in general sounded like a plot out of a James Bond film, but for beings regarded as supernatural and unstoppable the plot was a chilling reality. It was a reality they kept hidden for too long.
World War I,World War II,Koreaand evenViet Namdid not offer the stage on which slaughter would go unnoticed. Public opinion on government policies and conspiracy theories were not readily available or accepted in those times so the idea of enacting the goal was not on the proverbial table. The American Civil War was the closest and for a brief moment in time its use was considered before being shelved when the realization hit that it would spread no farther than the North American Continent.Iraqgave the perfect jumping off point for a lycan takeover.
Thankfully the universe has a way of balancing itself out. For every bad compulsion there was good intention, for every act of malice and cruelty there was an act of charity and kindness. This was the way with lycan’s as well.
A counter group to the Aberration existed. It dedicated itself to living off the human radar regardless if it was with humans in their human form or alone in solitary reaches. The group that fought The Aberration in as many clandestine ways as their foe did. Occasional physical contact between the two was made, often fighting to a stalemate. The group simply called itself The Underground.
The Underground strived with some successes in viewing mankind not as meat to be butchered, but as another form of life, a form of life that should be left whole and untouched for the continuation of both races. The Underground was smart enough to know that nothing would be gained by waging a war that would soak the planet to the core in both human and lycanthrope blood.
Lofty goals or not, the age of humanity was to come under inevitable attack. It would be in a swift, bloody move that would be too fast and widespread to head off with great ease.
With soldiers coming home fromIraqin great numbers, before returning to serve additional tours, the Aberration plan was executed to advance the need to thin the herd and grow the ranks, once and for all. A soldier’s goal in battle is to kill, as a wolf’s goal is to hunt and feed.
But what is the goal of the newly turned when coupled with more heightened than normal human cunning, strength and hunger? It was transformed into a goal of capture, animal husbandry for continued existence of the food supply and careful selection of when to lead to slaughter and in what quantity. The questions then turned to where to do it and with what tools?
The world was covered with human population centers and humankind practiced this mentality to near perfection on a daily basis. Whether it was being done in hospitals for births and deaths or farms where plants and animals were being raised, harvested or slaughtered, it had been practiced for millennia with mastered ease. The locations and tools were always there, always being refined and the lycans, like their human prey, had much skill in these matters and more.
The world of man would be under attack and humans would find themselves on the other side of the figurative and literal rolled up newspaper. It would be mankind’s governments that would have its nose shoved in its own shit, forced into smelling it and worse. It would be under the cover of man’s constant need to squabble over land, petty ideals or religions. Mankind’s governments spent more time telling its citizens what it needed instead of keeping its citizens safe and heeding the evidence of true threats.
More and more the world would slide into despair, almost to the very end fighting amongst itself, ignorant to the reasons of what it was fighting for or why. Near total enslavement by the new dominant species would become a reality for the Aberration population of the planet Earth.
This is no story of a secret war between lycan’s and vampires, man and machines or even a plague driven outbreak of flesh eating undead. This is a story of what happens when that growl in the night, or even the day, is not the neighbor’s dog warning you to stay the hell off its lawn. It is the story about how the drive to do right or commit wrong is all based on the humanity that lives in both mankind and lycans. It is about what you are, deep inside, which determines the path you inevitably follow. This applies even after a particularly nasty bite in your decision to become a villain or a hero. It is the never-ending battle of not only man against the external beast, but also man and the internal one.
So yes, this is how the world ends, this is how the world ends, and this is how the world ends, with a growl and a pained, all too human whimper. This story takes its start at the beginning of the end, in the summer of 2005 outside of Tikrit, Iraq.
Iraq Dog Fight
You know you gotta help me out. Yeeaah. You’re going to bring yourself down. yeeeaaah, you’re going to bring yourself down. Yeeeeaaaah. Don’t you put me on the back burrrrnerrrr; you’re going to bring yourself down. Yeeeaaah. You’re going to bring yourself down. Over and end; last call for sin. Well everyone’s lost, the battle is won with all these things that I’ve done.
The small boom box went unnoticed while it played a CD that one of the radio operators had brought over from the States. “Someone turn that off, please,” said Corporal Emily Morales. “Fox Three say again. Say again all after unidentified contact. Over.” Morales had just relieved another tired soldier on communications that night and wasn’t sure of what she’d heard.
The transmission came from a too excited RTO on a night operation that was tasked with searching for weapons caches in a nearby village. The Specialist on the other end sounded panicky if not downright scared. It was shaping up as an already long night in FOBRooseveltand it was getting even longer as far as she and the other soldiers in the room were concerned.
To Morales it felt like her ten millionth stint in the past seven weeks on fielding radio chatter between infantry units and other patrols. It was when the Specialist said “giant fucking dog” that she became more attuned than she normal. “Say again, Fox Three”. With feverish speed she jotted down what was being said. She had paused but a moment because the statement was nonsensical at best. That moment cost her time in copying the message because the Specialist was transmitting again.
“I say again, we are under attack by unidentified contacts. The El-Tee caught a glimpse of one, the same as me. It was a giant dog. Do you copy, Saber Six? A giant fucking dog! Over!” The transmission was accompanied the staccato chatter of automatic weapons fire along with the radio operator’s message.
“Wait one, Three. Need to relay this to Saber leader.” She wanted to scratch her head as she spun around, ordering a private to fetch the company commander. “Fox Three, be advised that Capt. Demarti is inbound.”
Demarti had been nearby in the coffee break room when the call came. He’d stepped out for a cup of coffee, believing that nothing would happen in the five minutes he was away. When the runner came in wild eyed he knew he’d been incorrect.
“I’m here, Corporal. I got this.” Captain Paul Demarti was an older than he looked twenty-nine year old fromPort St.Lucie,Florida. He had the typical tanned skinned complexion that came from being exposed to the sun most of his life. His head was topped with brown hair cut into a military high and tight. The haircut made him the target of jokes from several of his subordinates and most of his officer friends. “If you wanted to look like a jarhead then you should have joined the Marines” was leveled at him constantly.
Considering his family the joking wasn’t that far off record. His father was a former Marine Drill Instructor that avoided running his house like one. His father, William, never forced his children to do anything they didn’t want to do. The only thing he ever pushed on Paul from the Marines was the Marine Corps high and tight. It was a haircut Paul figured he’d wear till he either died or until his hair fell out. He was a career Army officer and for him, the US Army was a vacation from the world. Like most military men who thought as he did, the civilian world was filled with idiots who didn’t respect others let alone themselves. “Fox Three, Saber Six. What’s your sitrep?”
“Six, Fox Three, we are in heavy contact with unknown targets. Contacts appear to be canine and are extremely hostile! Request immediate reinforcements.” In the background the sound of gunfire and growls were an odd mix. “Stand by for reinforcements. We have your current location. Help will be leaving here and enroute to you shortly.” He turned his attention back to the runner in the room. “QRF One’s probably already heard this on their radio, but see how soon they can roll.”
He looked quizzically at Corporal Morales who had taken position behind him. “Giant dogs?” She shrugged her shoulders in confusion. Demarti turned back to the radio and listened intently to the sounds of gunfire, yelled orders and directions, more growling and to his even greater surprise; an animal whimper. Somebody had left their mike keyed. The sounds were unbelievable.
“I got him, I got him,” somebody yelled over the din.
“Good, now cover right enfilade. They’re trying to break through.” The sound of a squad automatic weapon resounded at the order. “Fuck, fuck, look out. Mackie, look out!”
The entire room listened to the action and the pained screamed coming through the speakers. The runner returned unimpeded from his errand. No one heard him enter, almost no one cared at that moment. “Sir, QRF One is on their way,” he said, announcing his entrance.
“Outstanding,” Demarti said solemnly, not looking over his shoulder. He thought he could hear the roar of vehicle’s rumbling out ofRoosevelt. He knew the quick reaction force could deal with any situation, but he still worried. It would be a long twenty minutes at 40 mph to get to the task force’s location.
“Fox Three, be advised a relief column is inbound to you. Hold your position and prepare to be extracted.” Demarti waited long seconds before a new voice came over the radio; a choking gurgle could be heard in the background.
“Saber Six this is Fox Six. My RTO is down, I have several walking wounded, including myself as well as seven severely wounded. What is the ETA on the column? SHIT…!” A new burst of automatic fire was followed by cries of “I’m out, I’m out!” A voice answered, “I gotcha El-Tee.” The voice that identified itself as Fox Six was SecondLieutenant Darrel Sandsburg, the leader of the patrol. Sandsburg was one of only two mustangs on base, the other being Demarti. Paul Demarti and Darrel Sandsburg had been friends for the past three years. Demarti and Sandsburg were capable officers that had entered the US Army as E1 privates that worked their way up to commissioned officers through hard work, college andOfficerCandidateSchool.
Normally Sandsburg was even and cool under any circumstance. This time it sounded like he was chewing wet tobacco. Sandsburg had no bad habits save for his love for Marvel Comics, which was alien to Demarti who was a DC fan. The sound of Sandsburg’s voice was slushy and wet and that concerned Demarti a bit more than normal.
“ETA is eight minutes, Darrel. Hang in there.” Demarti turned his attention to the runner. “PFC Zellar, inform the camp CO we have new players on the field.”
If there was something new that was being initiated by the terrorists then Forward Operating Base Roosevelt’s Commanding Officer Colonel Duncan Michelson would want to know.
“Yes, sir,” said Zellar, running to the commanding officer’s quarters. It was at the center end of camp, making it a small run for her. Even so, it was in those moments that she ran faster than she ever had in her life. Combat was something more than to be expected inIraq, but this felt different.
“Morales,” he said calmly, “inform the aid station that we have multiple wounded and to except some of those to be non-gunshot wounds. I want you to stand by there and assist them however’s needed. Go” He gave his order as if asking for a favor rather than telling someone that they’re stupid without calling them stupid. That was what some officers and NCOs did, but it wasn’t how Paul Demarti operated.
Even then he heard his father’s voice saying, ‘You get your men to respect you with respect; not John Wayne bluster or hitting and screaming. That is how you get young people to do the fighting and dying for you. Understand that they do the majority of that, son. Not us Non-Comm’s. God knows that that nineteen or twenty year old was us once.’
Paul Demarti was two weeks into being a sergeant when his father imparted the bit of wisdom. The truth in the speech hit him so hard that he decided to become an officer that day. A week later he was scheduled for the testing to be accepted toOfficerCandidateSchool.
“Yes, sir.” Morales left the room. She rushed out with the same hurried purpose as Zellar.
The gunfire tapered off and for a brief fearful moment Demarti worried that the men who were inexplicably pinned down were out of ammunition. He breathed a mental sigh of relief when he heard a voice announce that the contacts were withdrawing.
He was about to call for a situation report when his friend’s mushy voice came over the radio.
“Saber Six, Fox Six. Hostiles are withdrawing. We’re continuing to hold position, but just. That column better hurry. We’re low on ammo and I’m not sure how much longer some of my wounded will be able to keep it together.”
“Roger that, Fox Six.” Demarti clicked over to the rescue column. “Force One-Seven, Saber Six, what is your ETA to Fox element’s location?”
“We’re seven minutes out, sir.” The lieutenant in the lead vehicle sounded shaken. The sounds of machine guns chattering in short bursts’ accentuated the trouble the lieutenant had run into.
“Lieutenant, don’t let the hadji’s get to you, all right? You’ve done this before,” said Demarti, trying to bolster the younger officer’s spirits.
Even though that officer, First Lieutenant Raymond Lindley had been out on patrols before, he sounded as if this were his first run. The sheer horror that was intoned within his voice made Demarti nervous and fearful for him and his men.
“Sir, whatever those troops ran into here isn’t normal Mujahedeen activity.”
“Lieutenant, what are -”
“Wait one,” came the answer followed by sustained automatic fire. The young voice came back on a moment later. “Sir, we got… I don’t know what, but we have something that’s not making any sense visually.” The small arms chatter continued in the background. A second later it became mixed with growls and roars that sometimes morphed into sounds of primal animalistic rage.
“Sir, we’ve reached the patrol and are establishing perimeter for extraction. Saber Six, contacts appear to clad in canine disguises. I don’t know what-” The radio went silent with no apparent reason. There was no static or background noise coming through. It was as if the soldiers on the other end blinked out of existence. One of the communication specialists checked the connections and power supplies and found nothing wrong with the communications systems. He shook his head, acknowledging he had no idea what had happened.
“Fox Six, Saber Six do you read, over.” Silence was his reply. “One-Seven do you copy, over.” He waited for an answer. “Respond Force One-Seven. Over.” Further dead still silence echoed throughout the room. Nothing came across for several long minutes when suddenly the radio screamed to life. A shaken but triumphant voice filled the speakers.
“Saber Six, Lindley. We have completed extraction and are in route back to base. It was kinda shaky but we’re here. The patrol’s been cut up pretty good, but we’ve gotten everyone out. Over”
“One-seven,” said Demarti, his voice heavier than before. “What caused the break in communications? We were unable to reach you for several minutes. Report your situation. Were you close to being overrun? Over.”
There was a pause lasting longer than need be. Demarti started getting nervous at what could be any one of dozens of bad reasons why the radio had gone so quiet for so long. Constant communication in combat was a must. Shoot, move and communicate was more than a mantra it was a code to fight and survive by. The quiet that came from Force One-Seven’s silence indicated the possibility that they were overrun.
“Uh, that’s a negative, Six. We were trying to get a handle on the situation when the enemy counterattacked.” The voice was silky calm, sounding as if it had been talking about a normal drive in the country, not a rescue mission through a heavily infested insurgent neighborhood. “We’re good to go now and are currently returning to base. ETA is sixteen minutes.”
“Copy that, Force One-Seven. See you in a few, Saber Six out.” Demarti handed the handset back to the RTO, looking cautiously at the soldiers gathered in the room. One of those who listened to the bizarre firefight was the camp commanding officer, Colonel Michelson. Zellar made no effort to announce the Colonel’s presence as they entered the room neither did he make it a point to call attention.
Col. Duncan Michelson was a middle-aged man from the often-made fun of town ofMuncie, Indiana. He had black hair graying in spots on the top and left side of his head. He was a West Point graduate, had served in the first Gulf War and this was his third tour inIraq. It was his twenty-eighth year in the Army and he looked forward to getting home to retire with his wife to their dream home in the farmlands ofWisconsin.
Unfortunately for him, he was considered a career Army officer by most of his peers and had earned the nickname “Spotty” by a lot of the men and women in his command. As one might have expected, only his friends called him “Spotty” to his face.
It was thanks to his in-your-face attitude and honesty with his troops and superiors that the prospect of rising to brigadier general was a pipe dream. For him it was a matter of not-gonna-happen more than an aspiration. He was a soldier and being a full bird colonel had more than its share politics for him. He let his subordinate officers run their jobs if they were competent and he quickly cut those that weren’t.
It was the cutting of the occasional, inept well-connected officer that had sealed his promotional fate. “I’m not here to curry favors or be your friend. I’m here to keep you alive if at all possible and to make you a well-rounded soldier.” He gave that talk to each and every officer that came under his wing, whether it was a second lieutenant or a major. All who wore silver or gold on their collar ended up with the lecture.
He had a calm, contemplative look on his face that didn’t go with the olive drab running shorts, New Balance tennis shoes or the blue Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil t-shirt he wore. It was the middle of the night and he had laid down to sleep moments before. Demarti took notice of the t-shirt, but made no just-in-jest remarks whereas he would have at any other time.
“Good evening, sir,” Demarti said briskly. He could feel the sweat flowing off his face. Stress from thinking of the dozens of scenarios concerning the rescue’s lack of communication caused him to lose his proverbial cool more than the CO’s unannounced entry.
“Evening, Captain,” said Michelson in a low toned voice, waving the stiff greeting aside. “I wanted to hear everything in person before making a decision on how to proceed.” He walked to Demarti, placed his hands on his hips, and stared at the radio. “What’s the deal with One-Seven? No communication at the end certainly signals a breach somewhere. How do you want to handle their arrival?”
It was Demarti’s show as far as Michelson was concerned. He stood ready to take over at a moment’s notice though if it seemed that Demarti would falter or stumble in his actions and reactions.
“We need to have the medical teams at the staging area accompanied by the backup QRF as a ‘just-in-case’.”
Michelson paced a few steps back and forth in front of Demarti as he considered Demarti’s decision. He stopped with his arms folded across his chest, staring at the now dormant radio system. He sighed heavily, picking up the handset in a slow methodical fashion. He keyed in his numbers, identified himself to the other end of the transmission and made a request for Apache gunships to escort the rescue column back to base.
“Yumaseven,Rooseveltone actual. Aerial mission for you, need guns on station ASAP. I authenticate Golf Zulu Eight Mike Romeo Five. Support option Charlie. Escort column back to FOBRoosevelt. Affirmative. That’s affirmative, two Apaches in the air, ASAP. This might be a gun’s only run.” There was silence for a minute as he listened to the other voice. “Roger that. They will be escorting a column of… wait one. Captain, you sent out the usual five Humvee’s, correct?”
“Affirmative, sir,” answered Demarti.
Michelson nodded to him before returning his attention to the handset. “Yumaseven, you will escort five vehicles back. Vehicles may contain hostiles mixed in with friendlies and numerous wounded, but is as of yet unconfirmed.” Michelson was silent as he listened to the soldier on the other end. “Understood. Out here.”
Michelson hung up the handset. “Gunships will be in the air in two minutes and on station in an additional two.” He stared intently at the radio setup again, holding his right thumb up to his bottom lip. He didn’t turn back to Demarti as he spoke. “I apologize for superceding you on this, Captain. While I agree with you on having the secondary QRF out as a precaution I don’t think we should take any added measures out of the equation. I’ve a feeling the added elements will come in handy. Don’t you agree?” He turned looking at Demarti in the now nearly empty room.
The soldiers that had been present earlier had left to gear up. They wanted to stand by with the backup QRF. Michelson was seldom wrong in his feelings. If he said something was possible then it was taken without hesitation.
“I agree whole-heartedly, Colonel.” Demarti stood almost at attention, staring at Michelson. “Unfortunately, air support to shadow the convoy didn’t occur to me, sir.”
“Air support wouldn’t have occurred to most anyone else, Captain. It’s only a precaution.” Michelson turned in cool determination toward the door. He paused only a moment to speak to the three soldiers who remained in the room.
“Paul, I want you ready for action, out in the staging area in three minutes. Anyone here other than the RTO who would like to join us there in likewise fashion has permission to do so. I have to get changed. Carry on.” He vanished from the room as silently as he appeared leaving a definite physical vacuum that surprised everyone. His presence was greater than he gave himself credit for and it was that presence Duncan Michelson tried to deny ever existed.
Demarti turned toward the other three soldiers to give his opinion. “Well, if you want to come along you’d better do it. Zellar,” he said, looking to the female Private First Class that had retrieved Michelson, “You’ll remain here relieving Corporal Morales as radio operator until you are properly relieved. I’ll send you a runner in case something else like this happens elsewhere. Until your relief arrives, stay put. Understood?”
“Yes, sir.” Zellar’s heart sank to her feet. She hadn’t once gotten any trigger time since she’d arrived in country. Her recruiter had assured her that if she signed on as a radio telephone operator she’d have her fair share of action and then some. Turned out the recruiter was giving her a bullshit line to fill a quota.
On a personal level she disliked the no-women-in-front-line-combat rule. She’d been on four vehicle patrols without being shot at once. She dreaded the IED aspect of it all while loving the thrill of adrenaline that came from doing the job. This time was different, she felt action was imminent and she wanted to be a part of it. It was too bad she had to obey a lawful order.
She jealously watched Demarti as he left the room to get his own war gear. Zellar watched for long seconds before turning her jealousy to her friends Privates Gloria Tan and Barry Williams.
Gloria Tan was shorter than most soldiers on post. She was only five foot two and small in frame. She looked petite in the face as well, appearing more twelve than nineteen. Her eyes were the color of dark emeralds with skin as smooth as porcelain. She kept her jet-black hair in a bun that looked at home on more on a Quaker than a soldier. She talked a lot more than others. She’d once boasted that she’d roll home with more kills than anyone.
“That only happens if you leave the radio shack,” Zellar had joked. As little as Zellar had been out, Tan had been out on patrol only once. Her friends called her Dragon Lady as a joke. Most felt the overly played term fit her to a tee. Tan hated it. She was half Chinese and half Caucasian. Tan’s mother would have had any of her platoon mates heads for calling her daughter Dragon Lady.
Her mother was fiercely Chinese in heritage, having grown up inBeijing, but was also just as fierce for her adopted nation.
Tan’s mother hated stereotypes. Growing up she reminded Tan that even though she was one half Chinese she shouldn’t stand for any bullying from other Chinese nationals about her round eyed father. Tan took it to heart, not taking abuse from other traditional Chinese families for her parents as she grew up. For all her boisterousness, she was a soldier, loyal to none but family, close friends and the Army.
Barry Williams was a stark contrast to her. He kept his head shorn and his pale face looked like it would forever lose the battle against acne. He was lanky in his appearance and walk, looking like an ostrich when he strode along. Even cut short his red hair had the tendency to look unruly. Williams always meant well, but clumsiness always plagued him. Oft times he acted and felt awkward around Tan, who was his best and only friend. It wasn’t uncommon knowledge that Williams had a thing for Tan. Tan knew it, but tolerated it for the sake of their friendship. She loved him as she would a brother, if she had one.
It was a matter of discussion as to why someone as pretty as Tan would be seen hanging about with someone so nerdy looking as Williams. They’d had rumors spread around about them. Poor Williams was nicknamed Tan’s mercy fuck by the soldiers who knew them. Nothing said could be further from the truth. Tan was a good person at heart and she liked Williams for his awkward, nerdy ways.
Tan and Williams briskly tucked their ACU jackets into their pants, geared up with their vests and helmets, and unsecured their rifles. They took the time to check the bolts, each loading a round into the chamber.
Williams gave an uneasy smile to Zellar before running through the door. He headed toward the staging area while Tan took an extra minute to talk to Zellar.
“Don’t sweat it, Carla. Not going to be anything more than a case of the jitters from the Old Man and Cap’n Demarti. Everyone’s jumping around all skittish like, you know, like when a dog barks, all right? It’s probably nothing so I’ll see you in a few, okay?” Tan gave a friendly bump to the side of Zellar’s chair with the butt of her rifle. She didn’t wait for an answer or look over her shoulder once she turned to leave. Within a scant few seconds Tan caught up with Williams at their final destination.
“Yeah, you go have the fun, Gloria Glory-hound,” mumbled Zellar. She used her personal nickname even as she sulked before realizing that she was alone. She wondered who was going to show up as her relief. She looked around, hoping to find someone for company. There was usually decent activity in the communications room but it was now eerily quiet.
All her time inIraqand she had never had a moments peace or a second to herself. Now she found herself in an empty room in the middle of an empty building. For the first time in country or even in her life, PFC Carla Zellar, Bravo Company, Fourth Special Troops Battalion, Fourth Infantry Division, was afraid. Not merely a little scared, but felt fear approaching dreadful terror. She grabbed her rifle from the wall and checked the chamber. She took care to have the safety ready to be flicked off at a moment’s notice.
She kept her rifle close; her hackles rose within her mind. Being a pretty woman on a combat base surrounded by men sometimes meant keeping her guard up. Rape wasn’t a constant threat on any base, but rotten human tendencies were the same in and out of the service.
She was stunning regardless of what she wore. She was blonde, slender and was personable wherever she went. She was also popular with men, a fact she neither loved nor hated. It was the way things were for her. By her third week inIraq, Zellar had earned a post nickname: Combat Barbie. It was a name she treated like she did male attention, with neither love nor hate.
A sudden scrapping noise, like a slowly opening door behind her, caused her spin around shrieking. She held her rifle at the ready in her shoulder. She almost flipped the safety off to fire a burst but was instead surprised to see her squad leader wild-eyed with shock.
Sergeant Quincy Taylor had been her supervisor for the past two months. She had first met him as her fire team leader when she was placed on permanent duty status with her unit. He was a young twenty-two year old black soldier fromWashingtonStatewho had been looking to make the Army more than a career.
Taylorwas a good guy who tried to be honest with all his people and was working on his first tour inIraqwith Zellar. He’d never seen her jumpy or nervous once in their time together, but he found that moment slightly humorous. The prospect of her shooting him made everything else seem unimportant.
“Goddamn, Zellar. Lower the weapon. Shit, God, what in hell is up with you? Matter of fact what’s up with the whole damn post?”
“It’s some weird shit, Sergeant. The Old Man was here before he took off with Captain Demarti. They were all keyed up for something.” She turned her attention back to the radio for a second to monitor radio chatter that was coming from three other patrols returning from the field. None reported contacts like the other. She grunted, wondering why only one patrol reported trouble while the rest reported all quiet.
“Is it trouble from that patrol everyone’s yakking about?” He grabbed a rolling chair, and sat beside her.
“Something like that. I was going to grab a snack when this transmission came over from Fox Three about insurgent attacks dressed up like big dogs or something.”
“That’s what I heard.” He got up, walking over to the cooler near the far wall. He retrieved two bottles of water. He sat in the chair backwards before opening a bottle of water and handing it to her. She gave her thanks before taking a deep drink from the bottle.
“Now that’s some fucked up stuff if they’ve gone to wearing dog furs. Can you imagine the stink? That’s almost as bad as that time they used those handicapped kids. Remember hearing about that?” He opened his water bottle, taking a drink.
Zellar scoffed, leaning back in her chair. “Yeah, what exactly was that shit all about. I mean, dogs and donkeys are one thing, but come on, retards? Now that shit is just fucking retarded!” She couldn’t help but to laugh at her superbly crafted poor choice of words. It madeTaylorlaugh so hard that water squirted out of his nose.
Taylorchoked a little as he wiped the water from the front of his uniform. He sputtered more as he laughed, setting the water on the table. He rose from his chair moving behind Zellar as he brushed the excess water from his uniform jacket. “You’re not right, Zellar. Where do you come up with this-?”
Taylordidn’t finished his sentence and Zellar never saw the first blow of the attack that turned her world on its ear. Without warning or provocationTaylorlashed out, slamming his fist into the back of Zellar’s head.
Her forehead slammed forward into the edge of the table.Taylorreached down with inhuman malice and strength, grabbing her by the regulation twists she wore her hair in and flung her to the opposite side of the room. Zellar hit the floor with a sickening crunch before skidding into the wall.
Taylorheld a clump of her hair in his hand. A bit of scalp was still attached.Taylorsniffed the bloody ragged hair before tossing it aside.
Zellar feebly pushed herself up with shaking arms. She managed to get to her feet, trying to set her sight onTaylor. She fought to focus her blood drenched, pain filled, and watery eyes on him. She could see out of her left eye but the right was gummy from the oozing blood.
She touched the wound, feeling a huge gash that ran from her left temple to her left cheek. She moved her hand to back of her head, feeling the torn flesh and bit of now exposed meat of her ruined scalp. Her head pounded where her hair was torn out. The room swayed a little under her. She had never been hit in her life. ‘The first time is always the worst,’ was a thought that had crossed her mind.
“What the fuck?” She forced the strangled query out of her throat. It felt as if blood was pouring down her windpipe in a slow thick torrent. She wasn’t the least bit worried about a possible ruptured or torn artery or any other internal damage. For that matter, she was only worried about whyTaylorhad attacked her.
She wiped her eyes with her left hand as she reached with her right for a sidearm that she had neglected to wear.Taylorlooked enraged and was growling with bestial fury. What caused her alarm was the fact that it looked that he was growing. His entire uniform along with his exposed skin looked as if it were being stretched to it near limits.
His body gave the appearance that his outer flesh could no longer contain the growth. She could see the development of new muscle and bone while his skin kept pace with the horrendous new growth. He was snarling. His mouth grew wider; the nose joined it in extending outward. The teeth were the most frightful to witness. They grew longer, pointier and deadlier by the second.
The top of his dark flesh grew darker, new hair was sprouting all over. Its flesh had the appearance of rapidly flowering, perverse new forestation, growing over barren pain clotted land.
His uniform ripped, and the sound forced Zellar to try to move away. She became tangled in her own wobbly feet, falling to the floor. She desperately scooted away from the terror filled her mind, body and soul. She struggled to get to the door as quickly as she could force her mangled body. Escape and evasion thinking gave way to panic. Her thoughts didn’t extend past getting the fuck out and surviving to the next minute. Retreat was her only plan and she had no idea where safety might be found.
The building was empty. No one showed up around a corner to investigate the commotion. Zellar felt that she was alone in ways she didn’t want. She paused, watching, too terrified to move.Taylorstomped to Zellar and grabbed her by the throat, lifting her off her feet.
She felt his claws growing into her neck. She could feel one touching a throbbing artery. The artery pulsed under the pressure before the growing claw pierced it.
Taylordoubled over, growling in a mix of pain and anger. He threw her again into a wall beside near the door. Her head rung harder, her vision blurred worse than before.
Taylorstumbled around the room. His face twisted into a growing, growling grimace. He slammed his fists onto a desk before forcing himself to walk to where he had thrown Zellar. His pain was searing itself into his brain and what felt like every cell of his body. His rage and loathing increased once he realized she was no longer in the room.
She’d stumbled into the hallway, unsure what her next move should be.
“Fleshy fucking cunt.” His voice sounded like a dog growling a threat to a meal.
Zellar turned to run through any exit her blurred vision could locate. The door at the end of the hall felt hundreds of yards off. In her mind’s eye it was twisting in a nonexistent wind. She had a concussion, she knew that much. ‘Step one,’ she thought, leaning against a wall, ‘to getting help is getting out alive.’
“How could I have ever liked you or any other piece of disgusting pork like you is beyond me!”Taylorspun around, knocking the radio equipment to the floor. He gave involuntary twists as pain racked his body.
The transformation was too far along and he gave up any pretense of controlling the change. He was hopeful that he’d hurt her enough to keep her close by and easy to hunt. It was a long month and he was hungry beyond words. He wanted to partake of her delicious smelling body the moment he entered the room. Zellar looked scrumptious to him and he had such a raging sweet tooth for her.
His pain grew in potency with every passing moment. He fought past it; activating the microwave jamming equipment his “handler” had given him.
The one who turned him had made it clear that he deploy it, not allowing any communications to leave the post once the attack commenced.
“This is one step of many,” the female lycan had said. The way she had said it with such relish and blood lust had disquieted him. It was then that he wondered how long ago she had been turned. Her dark blue eyes reflected an age thatTaylorwas sure belonged in a museum. She scared him enough to insure that he wouldn’t mess things up.
Taylorplanted the jammer in a wall locker earlier that day. No one noticed the flight bag disguised apparatus or questioned why he was in the communications locker room. He belonged there after all. It didn’t matter if anyone questioned him. He was prepared to kill if someone had. It was so easy to accomplish that the deed brought him immense sadistic pleasure. Now the pleasure he had enjoyed had begun to turn into harsh unforgiving pain.
He thrashed around a few moments longer as the pain of his extending extremities shot to his brain. The new body growth always pained him, but it was the growing bones that hurt the most. The stress of his proliferating skull was the worst by far. He felt the agony from the tip of his chin to the knob at the back of his head.
Taylorfelt the bones growing as they moaned in protest to the new additions. A raspy groan echoed painfully from his throat. He desperately fought to not start howling because of the fiery pain criss-crossing his body. He thought of all the werewolf movies he’d seen as a kid. He knew now that they howled not in triumph, but in torment.
Howling was the newly turned’s way of relieving and fighting through the pain but he couldn’t do that, not now. Too much was on the line for something to derail the plans now. It had only been a little less than four weeks since he’d been turned and the feeling of hunger had grown unbearable. Through it all he fumed in outrage that his delicious blonde haired chattel had been allowed to run from his grasp. The rage, the pain overwhelmed his senses.
He was newly turned, but the feelings he felt as he changed were older than civilized man itself.
“Hurry up and goddamn change already,” he growled as he threw himself into more radio equipment. He attacked it with a mix of purpose and unseeing anger. He couldn’t allow any help to come to the human’s aid.
He remembered how he looked at the alpha male and joked that they were trying for that 30 Days of Night strategy. The alpha male found humor in the analogy. He was quick to point out that the plan would work and that this wasn’tHollywood. Only one infected patrol was to return to the FOB. The returning patrols job was to rouse everyone up and out for the subsequent second wave. The second wave would move in after the convoy’s arrival to take care of any dug in resistance.
As good as the plan was he hadn’t given himself enough time to change before attacking Zellar. She was going to be the monkey wrench in the works unless he caught up with her.
He destroyed the remaining communications devices as he came to them. It didn’t take long for him to feel satisfied at his work.Taylorknew the remaining patrols couldn’t call for help any more than the forward operating base. None would be coming for the humans.
With the powerful transmitting equipment destroyed and the microwave emitter established, the only communication available was the personal radios that every soldier carried. Those were near useless, having a mere two-mile range at the best of times. On a daily basis the oppressive, intense heat blasted the radio systems and their microwave towers. Coupled with sand storms, every time was the worst of times for communication.
With a final muted growl of pain the transformation was complete. Relief from the pain of the change was exhilarating. The only pain that remained now was that of the hunger for meat.
He sniffed the air, searching for Zellar, relishing the sweet smelling tanginess of blood, fear and confusion.Taylorturned around, taking the room in with his newly adapted vision. Colors had new depth and range to him now. His depth perception felt different but he now enjoyed heightened hearing and olfactory senses along with his augmented sight.
His feet felt cramped in his boots. He tried to stretch his toes, getting little added comfort. He was grateful that he requisitioned a new pair that was two sizes bigger than he normally needed. He’d felt like a clown walking around in them before, though at that moment they felt right.
The woman that had turned him warned him about the shoes issue. She suggested that he get bigger undies and boots.
“Your feet will heal quickly from the broken bones you’ll get from wearing those boots when you change.” She had waved her hand to the size tens he wore on an everyday basis. “Even more so you’ll be howling in a high pitched octave if you don’t do something about your…whatever.” She had motioned to his nether regions while she spoke. It didn’t take a detective to know what she meant. She was right when she had given him that piece of overall advice. He was glad that he had heeded it. The transformational pain was bad enough and he didn’t want more. He kept hearing her words over and over again. The last, “It’ll hurt the most that first time”, rang through his head like a shrieking bell. He was happy that this wasn’t the first time, but it still hurt like hell.
Taylorwas five foot nine as a human being. Now he stood two inches shy of seven feet in his slightly stooped posture. His back held the arch of a hunting dog preparing to gorge itself on wounded prey. His arms had split the seams of the ACU jacket at the shoulders and the elbows. His legs had grown so much that they pulled the pants legs out from the boot’s interiors. The top three eyelets of each boot had split as well, leaving the laces dangling in frayed ends.
Dark brown fur covered his body and a sharp pointed muzzle occupied the space where his mouth had been. His brown eyes had turned brownish green, glaring at everything he laid them on. He viewed his surroundings with an enthusiastic avarice that was unknown to him.
His legs ached, but he took to walking on them with their characteristic canine rear legged bend with ease. It felt to him as if he had walked in that fashion his entire life. He took a moment to look down at his boots to wiggle his toes again. The boots were a slight, uncomfortable fit. He had hoped they would have stretched but they didn’t. The tightness fueled his rage that much more.
“Fucking great,” he snarled to himself. “I swear I got some doofy-assed Lon Chaney Wolf Man feet.” He could feel that his feet still held the same shape and function of regular homosapien bipeds albeit with sharper nails and what felt like a mondo callus on the entire sole of his foot. He’d never changed barefooted before. Once everything calmed down, he would have to see what his feet looked like. However, hunting Zellar took priority over whatever podiatry needs he thought were merited.
He walked out the door, lowering his head to clear the doorway. He flexed his fingers with anticipation at his first female kill and the meal it meant for him. Drool slipped across his grinning muzzle while he stalked slowly down the hallway. He smiled down at the body of the young private that was supposed to be Zellar’s runner.
The young GI was eighteen years old and had received a bayonet in his throat the second he encounteredTaylor. The bayonet had been meant for Zellar, but he improvised, using it not only to kill the young soldier, but also as a handle to quietly lower the body to the ground.
It was a quick kill and with the moon out this night he found that even his strength and speed as a human was something to be impressed with. He luxuriated in the memory of quipping over the body, “Guess I’ll never need to worry about PT scores after this.”
He bent over the dead man, sniffing the blood that had collected on the ground. “Smells good but you gotta close your eyes kid.”Taylor’s voice sounded like gravel rattling around the bottom of a bucket. It hurt a bit to talk though he knew his throat would catch up with its new abilities and tones.
He reached toward the dead soldier’s face with his left index and middle fingers. They were tipped with two-inch long claws. He closed his victim’s eyes with no remorse. “Much better.” He sniffed again, savoring the aroma of death, blood and emptied bowels like a fine wine or a well-made soup. “Can’t wait to kill you, Zellar.”
He rose fully, looking around, sniffing for Zellar’s scent. “I joked to a friend that I’d kill to eat you out.” He laughed in spite of himself at his bad pun. “But now I just want to eat you. Oh baby, you are so going to feel it all.” He walked down the hall, sniffing the air. “I was told we don’t have to worry about turning anyone because this is all about feeding and taking over the base. Only a few of you get to be one of us.” He stalked farther down the hall. He sniffed more, trying to shorten his scent cone. “What the fuck”, he thought angrily, still holding his nose up, “I smell her fucking blood everywhere.”
Zellar made it to a meeting room twenty-five feet down the hall. Her blood loss made it hard to concentrate and worst yet, her tampon was full. She held back a laugh of stark raving madness that originated from her gut.
She listened as Taylorthrashed about as he changed into some kind of screwed up canine. She grabbed onto the edge of a dry erase board to pull herself up. Her mind churned, trying to think of any way out of her situation. She thought of the patrol that had come under attack. The two incidents were not coincidental. They’d raised a panic about giant dogs attacking them and then BAM, her squad leader turns into a giant dog. “Un-mother-fucking-believable”, she groaned, undoing her belt. She unbuttoned the waistband, unzipped the fly, and reached into her panties. She spread her legs, reaching to pull out her blood filled tampon. “Going to show you who’s smart.”
People had always made fun of her love of reading. When she wasn’t on watch she could be found reading some of what her friends considered the damnedest things. Of all things she’d learned from reading was how wolves, and canines in general, hunted. The smell of blood from wounded prey made them more determined. It also made them crazy. If the prey was bleeding it was a sure fire way to get found and eaten by a hungry dog. Since childhood and her parent’s death she’d been fascinated by wolves. It was after she was orphaned that her lycan love affair began.
This was the perfect time for her to use the knowledge in a real world situation. This was a week she had blood enough to spare in the loss department. “Bleeding from both ends, what a day.”
She lurched to the door, her pants pulled up but still undone, listening close to the sounds from down the hall. She leaned against the doorframe, dizzy from blood loss. The thrashing had slowed down, but hadn’t stopped. Low growling could be heard and it sounded to her likeTaylorwas dying to choke back as much noise as he could.
She moved as quickly as her unsteady legs could carry her, almost collapsing next to the dead soldier that she assumed was meant to be her runner. “I am so sorry, guy.” She paused to kiss his now cold and still head. His eyes stared straight ahead, holding the look of surprise and uncomprehending confusion.
She leaned past his body as best she could to look into the room he lay by. It was another empty conference room. The room contained a couple of tables and three wall lockers at the end of the room. It was used for briefings and the occasional celebration of someone’s birthday. Combat didn’t stop birthdays any more than birthdays stopped combat. The occasional party was another taste of normalcy to help keep folks sane in an insane situation.
Zellar listened as close as she could again. The sounds of thrashing had abated, being replaced with sounds of wanton destruction.
“He’s got to be destroying the comms. So much for calling for help,” she thought while pain filled her mind. She opened a locker and dropped the tampon onto someone’s misplaced flight bag.
Zellar watched it splatter with mild disgust, dipping her finger back into her blood soaked pants. She spread her menstruation on the interior locker walls and door with trembling fingers. “Fucker better be glad that I don’t leave him a damn clot,” she hissed.
She smeared more of her discharge on the bottom of the walls near the floor and doorway. She moved away as fast as she could, pausing only to poke a finger into her wound for more blood. It burned like a hot arrow had been shot into the loose furrow of opened forehead skin. The pain went straight into her skull. She decided not to do that again since it was less painful to use blood from her period than her wound.
She wasted no time stumbling back to the doorway. She peered around the corner before proceeding as best as she could to an exit. She had made it as far along as to another room before collapsing onto the floor. “I just need to rest,” she thought, her eyes drooping closed. The sound of Taylor’s booted feet snapped her back to lucidity.
She crawled to a wall, inching her way up to stand again. Once more the world swam before her eyes, this time a loud, closed in pounding accompanied the swimming vision.
The pounding was a threefold ordeal for Zellar. The initial sound was that ofTaylortearing the blood smeared bait room apart in a vain effort to look for her. The second was the pain in her mangled head. It had kicked in big time, mixing tears with the drying blood. Third and most important was the sound of the arriving Apache escort. The helicopters made for a hellacious noise when they came in low.
“Bought fucking time for yourself with that one,” screamed were-Taylor from the hallway. “Now where are you, you stupid cow?”
Zellar grasped the top of a chair, trying hard not to turn it over. She used it to steady herself. She was about to shout her only challenge to him when the sound of automatic weapons fire erupted outside in the courtyard. The deep thumping from an Apache’s 30mm cannon joined the smaller arms fire moments later. The sound motivated her to do something, anything. At the very least she needed a bit of payback.
The thum-thum-thum echo of the weapons dropped her back to her knees. The vibrations in her head were more than she could take at that moment. The sound was almost deafening to her, but toTaylorit was excruciating. His newly heightened yet not fully controlled sense of hearing couldn’t handle the noise. Outside Zellar’s tiny unfortified sanctuary she heard him thrashing around wildly once more. He was howling at the top of his lungs, crying for the noise to cease.
Were-Taylor fell to the ground, crying in tortured wretchedness over the sound that beat his augmented ears. “God make it stop!” he roared aloud. “Out, I need to get out there and stop this goddamned noise!”
He limped to his feet, tottering as he walked to the building’s exit. He tried desperately to cover his now long and pointy ears. He made it to the door, throwing it open to lay his pulsing eyes on a scene of death and near-butchery.
American soldiers, wounded and unwounded, fired at other changed American soldiers. The human soldiers engaged their now non-human comrades in close combat from protected and unprotected positions. The humans were trying to save themselves and stop their post from being overrun.
The Apaches tried to keep their fire contained to one area. The hope was to keep the were-soldiers localized, but half were too fast and agile. Soon the helicopters would be out of 30-millimeter ammunition and would no other options but to use rockets.
The flight leader had called in for reinforcements for that reason. She felt the start of an anxiety attack, at the thought of leaving the men on the ground without air cover. She had no idea what she was shooting at but she knew the action was bad and then some.
“Kill them, feast on the fuckers,” screamed were-Taylor in boundless rage. He seemingly ignored the noise filling the desperate, surreal scene he witnessing. It was almost like the predawn darkness had swallowed the painful sounds and made it all seem like the normal tone of everyday life. He hoped that meant his consciousness was adjusting to his biological change.
He took a running step forward and a new pain filled his body. The pain seemed to originate in his head of all places.
“What the…” he growled, stumbling forward before falling into the dingy tan of the desert floor. He rose quicker than a human, but he knew it was slower than what he was capable of.
Taylorreached to the back of his head with his furry fingers. He poked through the fur to discover three dime-sized holes closely grouped together. He moved his fingers to the front of his head. He felt no mental relief once he failed to discover a matching set.
His tissue was denser as a werewolf and he knew that the bad news was still rattling around somewhere in his brain. It was difficult to think then, but his instinct told him who, how and what had happened.
“Fuck! I’ve been shot.” It came out as more of a whimper than a canine grunt. He whirled around, coming face to face with an armed Zellar. Another flash of blinding, electrifying pain permeated throughout his head, vision and body. He felt his brain turn to useless grey mush as it exploded from a five round burst of automatic fire. His body collapsed face first, twitching while it reverted back to its human appearance.
Zellar’s heart beat at a thousand miles per second. She stared down at the now dead were-Taylor. She shuffled over to his body, firing the remainder of the rifle’s magazine into the back of his head.Taylor’s skull erupted in a shower of grey glop and blood. There was no entry or exit wounds forTaylor. His head held the appearance of a rotted cantaloupe that had been dropped from dizzying heights.
Zellar looked at it with detached fascination. She turned to walk back to the communications room intent on collapsing in peace. “At least I didn’t have to kill anyone worth a damn. Just like putting a dog down.”
She sat down in her chair and looked around the destroyed room, her blood still mixing with sweat and pain. Without another thought she closed her eyes, falling into a deep traumatized sleep.