Gabe and Nessa Adopt a Pet

Pre-completion Teaser for Ghostwolf

An abridged version of a scene from the first chapter of Ghostwolf.

“Wake! Up!” Vanessa hissed into Gabriel’s ear, each word punctuated with her fingernails jabbing into his chest. Gabriel tried to open his eyes, but sleep still clung to him tightly, gluing one of his eyes partly shut. “What?” he croaked. It was meant to sound irritable, but the firesmoke that gummed his eyes had lined his throat and chest with phlegm. He rubbed the sleep-sewn eye and cleared his throat. He had been in the middle of the weirdest dream he could ever remember having…or would have been, if the memory of the dream had not already faded into an indistinct foreboding.

“Shh!” Vanessa was sitting up on their camping pallet—three blankets, two sleeping bags, and a sheet over an air mattress (“it gets cold out here at night in October…”)—and he could feel the tension in her body. She whispered, “There’s something moving out there.”

Gabriel rose up on one elbow and was about to speak, but his attention was caught by the silhouette of Vanessa’s small, perfect breast against the faint glow of the campfire’s embers. Her erect nipple gave silent witness to the chill outside their blankets. He cleared his throat again—more quietly. “O’ course there’s somethin’ movin’ out there,” he murmured. “We’re in the woods, Ness.”

Vanessa shot Gabriel a withering look, which was completely lost in the dimness. She could tell Gabriel was grinning, because his teeth flashed in the darkness. He put his arm around her and started to kiss her breast.

He stopped short and both of them held their breath as something howled very, very close. Gabriel swore and rolled out of bed, yanking his jeans over his legs while lying on his back. The howl continued, going lower in pitch and turned into a roar at the end.

Gabriel stopped moving again. Wolves don’t howl like that. Do they? He didn’t even know there were any wolves in this park. Vanessa would probably know. He’d ask her later. He felt his way to his backpack. Down at the bottom was a heavy object wrapped in oily cloth. Gabriel pulled it out and unwrapped it.

The sound of the tent’s zipper sounded very loud against the stillness. Wait, stillness? Gabriel was right, we’re in the woods—where are the woods sounds? Vanessa didn’t hear so much as a cricket. Gabriel was silhouetted in the doorway, the outline of a pistol in his right hand.

“Stay here,” he whispered and then was gone. Vanessa frantically started pulling on clothing and boots before the tent flap even stopped moving. Stay here? She almost laughed. Did he really think she was safer inside this flimsy nylon air pocket?

Outside, Gabriel was standing at the edge of their campsite with his snub nose revolver held in both hands and his head cocked to one side listening. He was barefoot and bare-chested and was already starting to shiver in the cold air. She ducked back into the tent and brought out his flannel shirt and boots. “Whatever it was, it’s gone now,” he said and walked over to the woodpile. He set down the gun and grabbed the last few logs.

Gabriel was certainly thin, but he was also in pretty good shape. He ran, hiked, biked, went rock-climbing, played field sports, and even did yoga—Gabriel was the only male Vanessa personally knew who did yoga. As he put the wood on the embers of last night’s fire and started to bring it back to life, she watched the glow play over his bare torso. Muscles she didn’t notice even when he was nude were thrown into sharp relief by the glow from the firepit. Maybe he didn’t need the flannel just yet.

“Oo, thanks, hon,” he smiled and grabbed his shirt from her hands. “It’s mighty chilly out here. Hey! Leggo!” Vanessa just grinned. “A’ight, fine then!” he laughed and used the shirt to yank her into him. “I can think o’ other ways to keep warm.”

Vanessa released the shirt and stood back up as Gabriel donned the flannel and began buttoning it up. He was frowning. “Y’know, it’s awful quiet out here, ‘cept for that thunder over yonder. I should prolly get things battened down and packed up so we can light on out if’n we need ta.” Vanessa looked around and listened. There was the rumbling in the distance, just as Gabriel said, but the only other sound was the crackling of the fire. Even the air was still—no leaves rustled in the darkness. Was it just the calm before a storm?

Gabriel’s trotted to the other side of the firepit where he had laid down the gun. He began to bend over to get it and froze.

Vanessa began, “Wh—?”

Something huge barreled out of the darkness into Gabriel and roared, throwing him into the fire and landing on top of him. Vanessa screamed overtop Gabriel’s yell of pain. It quickly leapt back off of Gabriel—presumably to get out of the fire—but Gabriel didn’t try to get himself out of the fire. He didn’t move at all.

Vanessa screamed again, and then whatever it was settled its malevolent gaze on her.

It was oppressively big, large enough to be a full-grown bear, but it looked like no bear Vanessa had ever seen. Its legs were long in proportion to its body, and thin—more like a wolf’s—and its claws were over four inches long, extending from oddly shaped paws. But all of those caught only a fleeting glimpse—Vanessa’s attention was riveted to the thing’s maw of teeth. They were almost as long as its claws and dripped globs of saliva and blood.

Gabriel leapt out of the fire onto the beast’s back before it had taken more than a couple of steps. He was bleeding from a cut on the side of his head, and his shirt was still on fire. The thing spun around and fell upon Gabriel with supernatural speed, ferociously tearing through him with its claws.

Clenching her teeth around yet another scream, Vanessa tried to pull the thing from Gabriel, but it casually swiped at her, grazing her ribs with its claws and throwing her against a tree. Vanessa was dazed and though she was still conscious, she couldn’t get right back up.

As the creature once again advanced on Vanessa, she jumped up—trying to ignore the spinning in her field of vision—and tried to put the tree between her and the thing. It reached around the tree with unusually long limbs and snatched Vanessa’s wrist—with what looked like clawed fingers and a thumb!

The thing jerked up at the same moment that Vanessa heard the crack of Gabriel’s pistol, and then it immediately spun back around towards Gabriel. Both Gabriel and the pistol were smoking, and he had deep gouges in his face, across his back and chest, and the his right sleeve was already soaked in blood. Gabriel got off two more shots before the thing was on him, and Gabriel put one more bullet directly into its mouth; the beast jerked away tearing the gun from Gabriel’s hand. It raked its claws across Gabriel’s midsection and mauled his head. Gabriel – still conscious and moving! – managed to clutch at the pistol with his left hand before the beast clamped its jaws over Gabriel’s leg – Vanessa’s stomach flipped over at the crackling sounds that came from Gabriel’s leg – and flung him across the campsite and into the bole of a tree.

The red, glowing – wait, glowing? – eyes turned once more towards Vanessa. When did the eyes start glowing? She wanted to scream, to cry, and though tears wet her face, she could not draw a breath.

Yet again, the hair at the back of the thing’s head flared out as Gabriel sent another bullet into the thing.

“Hey, you piece o’ shit. I ain’t done with you, yet.” Gabriel was propped up on his uninjured leg against the tree where the beast had thrown him. He cradled his maimed right hand against his stomach, and blood covered most of his face. Though the hand holding his pistol shook, one clear eye glared out at the monster, fierce and defiant.