A girl-meets-wolf Halloween short story by author Amanda Carney
Sarah Merriman had never considered book blogging to be a dangerous job, yet here she was, crouched behind a scraggly juniper bush in Great Seal State Park, clutching her pepper-spray-on-a-keychain with white knuckles as a werewolf stalked the shadowed, beautifully maintained grounds. She blinked again. Despite her best efforts to convince herself she was hallucinating, it was still there; a dark, shaggy, lumbering beast loping over the grass under the pale moonlight, sniffing for something. Probably her.
Dammit, how had she gotten herself in this situation?
Writing a piece for Blazing Book Babe on K. M. Wise’s newest paranormal romance release Howl Do You Do? was not supposed to have resulted in an actual werewolf encounter. After interviewing K.M. and learning that the book’s setting was partially based on Great Seal, which was coincidentally only a twenty-minute drive from Sarah’s apartment, she’d arranged to meet the mysterious author there for an exclusive live-action interview. But Sarah had sat at one of the faded picnic tables in the otherwise-deserted park for over an hour, rifling idly through her notes and twiddling her poorly manicured thumbs.
But when dusk had crept in, Sarah had given up on what would’ve been an amazing opportunity for her blog. She’d stood in a huff, interview notes dejectedly balled in her hand, only to freeze when a dark shape emerged from behind one of the brown-painted shelter houses at the far end of the park.
A bear, she’d thought. I’m alone in a deserted park with a bear.
She’d dredged up her inner Google and remembered that bears could run up to forty miles per hour. Her greatest athletic accomplishment was a ten-minute brisk walk on the elliptical. She read books. She blogged. She bought embarrassing amounts of chocolate. She didn’t run.
But then the beast had howled.
It was the kind of sound that made your bones lock up and your brain eat all your thoughts in one terrified bite. It was so unnatural, so wild, that for once in your sheltered, suburban life, you knew what it felt like to be prey.
Sarah had gasped, and even from her considerable distance, she saw the beast’s head swivel around in her direction. She’d dropped into a crouch, gripping the picnic table’s seat as if it might protect her. After several long, painful moments, she’d braved a peek over the table’s top. To her undying relief, the beast had turned away and was scaling the shelter house wall, the sound of its claws gouging the wood unnervingly loud.
That was half an hour ago.
For the hundredth time, Sarah peered around the juniper she’d crawled behind and looked longingly at her silver Smart Car sitting in the parking lot about fifty yards away. Her options were limited. In front of her, with nothing but a wide-open space between them, a mythical, bloodthirsty creature waited. To her right, her potential escape. Even if she could get to it, though, the car wasn’t exactly a werewolf deterrent. Hell, she could probably tear it apart with her own fingernails.
She looked back at the beast. It had leaped to the ground, where it had overturned a trashcan and was loudly rummaging through its contents, flinging garbage into the air. It was probably looking for food. Like, say, a juicy, blonde blogger.
As she watched the werewolf sling the trashcan into the air with an unsatisfied roar, she tried to wrap her head around the situation. Between the pages, she’d read about every supernatural being under the sun. Vampires. Ghosts. Witches. Werewolves. But that was fiction. Fiction. This was real. Her bespectacled eyes didn’t lie. The beast was huge, probably eight feet tall, and was covered in dark, shaggy fur. Its ears were tall and pointed, with tufts that might have been cute had they not been on a slavering monster. Even in the dim glow of the lone parking lot light, she could see its long, yellowed fangs as it snarled and paced. Its back was hunched just slightly and its clawed fingers were curled as if itching for something to rip into.
She had to get out of there. Before it found her. Her only saving grace was likely the abundance of human and animal smells saturating the park. Though the longer she crouched there sweating, the sooner she’d be discovered. Maybe if she could distract it, she could make it to her car. But how?
It took a while for her sluggish wheels to turn, and when a weak plan finally formed, she chanced another peek around the bush. Her breath caught, heart tripping over itself. Oh, God. It was closer, walking along the tree line in her direction, its heavy shoulders rolling. It paused every so often to sniff the air before moving on again, the moonlight glinting off its fur. In just a matter of minutes, it would be on her, and she had the feeling that a blast of pepper spray to the eyes wasn’t going to do much to slow it down.
This could not be how it all ended. She wanted to die an old lady, surrounded by her mountains of books and ever-growing cat herd. Not in the bloody jaws of a beast straight out of a Stephen King novel.
Hyperaware of every rustle of fabric, she slipped her phone out of her bag, letting go of the pepper spray so she could shield the bright glow of the screen. Still no service. Not that she’d expected any. Great Seal was on the outskirts of town and was, tragically, a dead zone.
But she didn’t need service for Candy Crush.
Sending up a silent prayer, she tapped on the colorful, addicting app, stood, and threw the phone with all her might. It sailed into the air like a singsong missile, blaring the familiar Candy Crush theme music. Immediately, the werewolf whirled around, its enormous head following the phone’s jolly trajectory. Then, with a vicious snarl, it ran after it.
Sarah ran too. In the opposite direction. In her haste, she left her pepper spray behind, but she clutched her purse, her legs pumping as she tore across the grounds toward her car. She knew when the beast spotted her, because it let out a furious howl. A panicked glance over her shoulder confirmed it, and she whimpered, knowing she’d carry the sight of it—a dark blur in the moon-touched shadows—to her grave. She refocused on her car, thanking every deity imaginable that she’d left her keys in the ignition. Almost there. Twenty feet. Ten. Run, dammit, run!
Behind her, the beast roared again, the thunderous noise like a death knell. It was so close now, she could hear its ragged breathing. Hear the thud of heavy, fast feet on grass. A moment more and it would have her. Unable to hold in a scream, she leaped over the concrete parking barrier and skidded to a stop on the pavement next to her car. With shaking fingers, she clumsily threw open her door and dove inside, slamming it shut behind her. Sucking in a breath, she hit the door lock and fisted the keys, grinding them into the ignition. When the car’s tiny engine purred to life, she grabbed the shifter.
That’s when she realized the beast hadn’t attacked.
With wide, frantic eyes, she looked out the passenger window and saw . . . nothing but empty parking lot. In her rearview mirror, she saw only the faint red glow of her taillights. Turning back to the windshield, she scanned the park grounds. Empty. Just grass and picnic tables casting oblong shadows in her headlight beams. For a stunned moment, she just sat there trembling, gulping in air. Then her brain caught up with her lungs, and she threw the car into reverse, backed up, and squealed tires in her rush to leave. As she sped down the curving road leading out of the park, she gripped the steering wheel with iron fingers, waiting for the beast to leap in front of her.
In fact, by the time she fishtailed out onto the main road, which was dotted with houses whose windows glowed with reassuring light, she was beginning to wonder if she’d imagined the whole thing.
Nevertheless, she burned rubber all the way home. Well, more like warmed rubber considering her vehicle choice, but still. She didn’t take a full breath until she’d parked, clumsily ran up the stairs to her apartment on weak knees, and slammed the door shut behind her. Then, she just stood there with her back against the door, her head spinning as the adrenaline slowly bled out of her. When she’d recovered enough, she tossed her purse and keys on the entryway table and hurried across her carefully vacuumed beige carpeting to grab the landline receiver. She still wasn’t entirely convinced that the vacant-eyed barista at Starbucks earlier hadn’t slipped some LSD into her chai latte, but regardless, she felt obligated to warn someone in case there really was a giant werewolf stalking Great Seal State Park.
In a fog, she dialed the local police station, reported a wild animal attack, left her contact information, and hung up.
Five minutes later, she was sitting at her desk, laptop open, and a glass of Moscato in her hand.
She stared at the empty blog post before her, the cursor blinking expectantly. As the fear faded, her blogger brain unthawed like a Thanksgiving turkey. Perhaps she could bring more away from this than an inevitable string of sleepless nights. She had survived, after all. And there was a story here. Really, how better to begin a post about a werewolf book than with an actual werewolf encounter? And though they’d assume it was a fictional piece to promote K. M.’s new novel, she wanted to share her experience with her paranormal-obsessed followers.
And afterward? She’d send a scathing email to the Miss Wise for standing her up tonight. Even if Sarah hadn’t nearly been eaten alive, it was still bad form.
Just as she set down her glass and put her fingers on the keyboard, however, the phone rang. Probably the police station following up. Sighing, she stood and walked over, answering it.
“Did you get the answers you were looking for?” a slightly amused male voice asked.
Sarah frowned. “Officer Stringer?”
A silence followed. “No.”
Her anger began to rise. She’d gone through too damn much tonight to deal with a prank caller.
“Who is this?” she demanded.
He chuckled. “You can call me Kyle.”
She didn’t know any Kyles. “Kyle who? And what do you want?”
“Kyle Wise,” he said. “And I want to know if you got the answers you were looking for.”
She opened her mouth to fire a barrage of curses at him in preparation of hanging up but paused instead. “Wait—as in K. M. Wise?”
“The one and only,” he replied smoothly.
“I thought you were a woman,” she blurted, struggling to make sense of the bizarre conversation.
He laughed again. “I can assure you I’m not. All male parts are accounted for.”
Though he couldn’t see it, her face reddened. Both from embarrassment and anger. “You stood me up. Do you know how unprofessional that is? I wasted my time.”
She hesitated. No . . . he couldn’t possibly know what’d happened to her in the park tonight. Or maybe he did. What if it had been some kind of elaborate prank? An unconventional marketing ploy? Scare the bejeezus out of the book blogger and draw attention to your book. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” he said, “that you asked for a live-action interview. That’s what you got.”
A hundred words rushed to the tip of her tongue, but all that came out was, “That was you?”
His satisfaction practically radiated through the line. “Indeed.”
“You bastard,” she said before she could stop herself. Marketing ploy or not, she’d truly believed she was in danger. “You can forget about the blog feature. Good luck finding someone else after that stunt.” She’d tell each and every one of her blogging buddies about his incredibly unprofessional behavior.
He seemed indifferent. “What makes you think it was a stunt?”
Fear niggled its way into her outrage. “You expect me to believe you’re a werewolf?”
“I think you know the answer to that question, Sarah.”
The mention of her name prickled her. As did the fact that he apparently knew her number. She’d never given him either. Still, as his words sank in, she couldn’t deny the doubt they raised. The way the beast had moved, the way it had sounded . . . it would be difficult to fake that. “I don’t understand,” she said slowly.
“Come to dinner with me Saturday and you will.”
She let out a half-crazed laugh. “Are you asking me out on a date?”
It was no secret her love life consisted of reading smut—lots of smut—but being asked out by a deranged werewolf moonlighting as a paranormal romance author was a new low.
That amused note tinged his voice again. “Isn’t it obvious?”
She shook her head, flabbergasted. “Why?”
“I follow your blog,” he said as if that explained anything, and then added in a lower voice, “I like the way you run.”
About the author: Amanda Carney grew up barefoot and freckle-faced in the beautiful hills and valleys of rural Ohio. She resides there still with her husband, loyal old dog, and menagerie of beloved cats. When she’s not writing, you can find her with a book in one hand and a crochet hook in the other. Follow her on Twitter or on Facebook for updates on new releases, appearances, contests, and more.