Autumn 2007 Volume One Issue Four
Engendered Species - Greg Story
Sheriff Winslow squatted down in the sand to inspect a piece of the viscera strewn about the otherwise orderly campsite. There were fingers in the fire pit, a red ropy torso sticking out of the ice chest, and, on the table, what looked like a composite head made out of four different faces.
"There are no wolves in California," Sheriff Winslow said.
"Not wolves. Werewolves," Deputy Sanchez replied.
Deputy Dan -- Daniel Cardinallia Sanchez Junior to be exact -- was young and exuberant and seemed to get a kick out of plucking the assortment of limbs off the spines of surrounding Joshua Trees. Appendages seemed to have been stuck up to drip dry blood.
"They sneak in over the border from Baja when the moon's full," Danny continued. "How you gonna stop that, huh?"
"That how your family get here?" Winslow said.
The sheriff stood up and stretched, feeling all of his fifty years. Even with Stetson and shades, he had to squint to search the glaring landscape of stony scrub for tracks and barely bothered listening to his deputy rattle on.
"Hey, I'm Bakersfield born, more American than you, dude. My daddy's side of the family dates back to the Mission Era, and my momma was Pima Indian. They been roaming this desert for a thousand years. She told me all about it."
The deputy was hauling a Hefty Bag of human remains in each hand. A sharp bone shard had pierced the bottom of the one in his left. It dripped a bright trail of blood into the bleached barren soil.
"Jeez, put that inside another bag," Winslow said as the deputy passed by.
"No can do, compadre. We didn't bring enough bags."
"Yeah, well I wasn't expecting this. I don't get many werewolf calls."
The call had come in this morning from a low flying pilot who'd reported seeing something strange near Wolf Canyon, eighty miles east of Barstow on the northern flank of the Providence Mountains. The sheriff felt a headache coming on. He had a sensational massacre on his hands at a site so remote backup wouldn't arrive before nightfall, three hours hence.
"That's the way it is with werewolves," the deputy said, swinging first one then the other bag up into the trunk of the patrol car. "No warning, no motives, no clues."
Sheriff Winslow rummaged around in the back of the Jeep Cherokee the victims had apparently driven up in. An ordinary grouping of table, chairs, and tents stood between the SUV and the gaping maw of Wolf Canyon. Tire tracks of the Jeep were clearly visible in the sandy soil along with those of the patrol car. There were no signs of any other vehicles coming this way lately.
"What do you say we got here, four victims?"
The sheriff made his estimated body count by looking through the luggage. It was too gruesome to try and calculate from the scattered body parts. Some were so small they looked like debris from an explosion, yet the table was still set with cups and dishes.
"I think I collected five left feet," the deputy said. "Hey, you should talk to my great aunt. Maybe she saw something."
The sheriff looked up from the wallet he was perusing. Cash and credit cards were still intact. The driver's license was of a white male from West Hollywood.
"You got relatives out here?" Winslow asked.
He scanned the horizon. The desert floor rolled off emptily into wasteland to the north, and there was nothing behind but the steep granite face of the Providence Mountains.
"Well sometimes she lives out here, and sometimes she lives in LA. Then again, sometimes she's my great aunt, and sometimes she's my cousin, but hey, you gonna need a soul shifter to catch a shape shifter."
"Do me a favor. Stay away from the press the next few days."
Three days later, Sheriff Winslow was battling evening rush hour traffic into LA with Danny. The tabloids and TV had competed for access to his deputy. Danny obliged them all, while Sheriff Winslow had contended with a phalanx of government agents, all the way from the local game warden to some bigwigs with the FBI. The two men were now on their way to see Danny's great aunt/cousin, who lived in a strange little house in the Hollywood Hills.
"It looks like a mushroom," Winslow said, as they pulled into the steep driveway off a narrow twisting street just below the "Hollywood" sign.
In late winter twilight, the gray stucco structure, with a curved overhanging second story above and a shaft like garage/entry base, appeared to sprout from the chaparral covered hillside. Sage scented the air, along with a distant smell of pot that mingled with the faint blare of rock music from somewhere down the canyon.
"Hey, I bet we could get some mushrooms in this neighborhood," Danny said, skipping up to a door that looked medieval with rough hewn timbers, arched top, and massive iron bolts and hinges. "Oscina, you home? Oscina."
"Don't tell me she's not here," Sheriff Winslow sighed.
He leaned on the hood of the patrol car, not in his khaki uniform today, but in the baggy blue suit that made him look like a ne'er-do-well businessman. Why look official when this was mainly a wild goose chase to get Danny away from the media? Still, it rankled the sheriff to think they'd come all this way for nothing. Danny had convinced him this woman was worth talking to. Her odd name derived from using fowl for divination. A Pima Indian practice Danny had spent half the trip talking about.
"Why don't this dame have a phone?" Winslow said.
The outline of a monstrous black bird flitted overhead. Wilson jumped forward as it appeared to land on the balcony above. Moments later, the front door opened.
"See? I told you she knows when to be here. How's it goin, cuz?"
Deputy Sanchez was hugging a raven-haired beauty the same height as he, five nine, but slenderly built as opposed to Danny, who was already bulking up and would be fat by forty. She was wearing a flowing black dress that reached to her bare feet.
Oscina waved for the sheriff to come in. Something in the gesture made him picture wings flapping.
"Evening ma'am," Winslow said, following the woman and his deputy up a circular stairway to the second story. "I take it you've heard something about the slaughter at Wolf Canyon?" Every newscast and scandal sheet had taken to calling it; "The Slaughter at Wolf Canyon," like the movie version was already filming.
"Hey did you see me on 'First Edition?' I'm going to be on 'Strange Sightings' tomorrow at ten," Danny said, making for the fridge like he owned the joint.
"Why do you think I came out of the desert?" Oscina asked.
She had a bright, ringing voice the sheriff found attractive.
"Yes, seeing Danny on TV could make anyone want to flee," he quipped. "Danny, kindly let me question the woman now."
His deputy tried to hand him a bottle of beer already opened, while drinking from another. When Winslow demurred, Danny gave the sheriff a shrug that said, "Oh well, I'll just have to drink them both," and plopped down on the couch before a picture window that looked out on the lights of Hollywood, twinkling on in the gathering darkness.
"You're a very droll man, and I expect very smart, but you have no idea the trouble you're in," Oscina said.
Sheriff Winslow felt the kind of trouble a beautiful woman made with sheer presence. Hell, with kids grown and the divorce a decade past, maybe he was looking for something. He took a seat beside Oscina on the swinging bench attached to the balcony.
"My deputy tells me your master's thesis was on Indian folklore of the Mojave Desert. He says you can tell me about similar incidents that have happened there in the past."
"No, nothing like this has ever happened to my knowledge."
The sheriff shot a dirty look back at his deputy who saluted him with the second bottle of beer he was working on. He sure looked boyish in T-shirt and jeans.
"Okay, my deputy also says you know of a cult that makes ritual sacrifices in the Providence Mountains."
"No, nothing like that."
"All right. My deputy also claims you're a soul shifter who's her own grandma, and that you can put me in touch with werewolves. He got that part right. Right?"
"Yes," Oscina said with a laugh.
She drew her legs up under her and leaned towards the sheriff, speaking in a near conspiratorial whisper.
"The Providence Mountains are a magical place. Lots of people use them for ceremonial purposes, but the four victims you've identified were simply used to cover the slaughter of the fifth. He was one of their own."
"That's right. The proof's already stalking you. I suggest you drink a potion to enter their world right now."
"Hey, I told you we'd get some mushrooms here," Danny said.
He'd finished the beer and come out to the balcony to burp.
"Ma'am, I don't even drink coffee after lunch anymore," Winslow protested.
"Suit yourself," Oscina said. "But the man I get my potions from was good friends with two of the victims."
"The Third Eye Occult Supply Shop" was on a seedy section of Santa Monica Boulevard. Oscina had instructed them to go around to the back. Sheriff Winslow was disappointed she'd declined to go with them. Walking down the alleyway abreast of his deputy, he noticed someone slinking in the shadows towards them. The man jumped in front of them into a pool of light beside the back stoop of an X rated bookstore.
"Put up your hands."
Sheriff Winslow pictured the media having a field day with their robbery at the hands of a pimply-faced speed freak.
"Hey, we're with the San Bernadino County Sheriff's Department," Deputy Sanchez shouted.
Excellent. The department would appreciate how they'd identified themselves.
"Okay, you can have our money and watches," Sheriff Winslow began.
"Hey, I gotta good watch," Danny said.
"I'm reaching into my coat for my wallet," Sheriff Winslow continued.
The assailant followed the motion with his gun.
"My father gave me that watch. That's my dad's watch, man." Danny muttered.
The assailant's eyes widened. A smell of wet fur filled the air as Sheriff Winslow felt someone grab him from behind.
"Just doing your job, copper," a voice growled in his ear.
The breath reeked of blood. Like lightening, the sheriff's coat was yanked up, and his gun pulled out of his shoulder holster. It all seemed like one motion to Winslow; the gun firing, the assailant falling backwards with a neat bullet hole in his forehead, the gun then placed in his hand. He almost fell over trying to pull his coat back down while spinning around.
The alley was empty. The sheriff turned back to his deputy who was even more saucer-eyed than the assailant had been.
"Did you see him?" Winslow asked.
"It was a werewolf, man."
"Danny, don't tell the police that."
Danny told the police, and both men were placed on leave pending the result of the investigation.
This suited the sheriff just fine. He sat around his house in Barstow, catching up on his reading, with the phone off the hook to avoid pesky calls from the press. He was thinking about fixing some dinner when an eighty-year-old version of Oscina knocked on his door.
"You never talked to the guy at "The Third Eye," you lam out of town without talking to me, your phone's off the hook."
"You're not supposed to have a phone."
Winslow felt he scored a badly needed point with that. He'd often replayed their previous conversation, always wishing he'd said something cleverer. Thinking of Oscina made the sheriff realize how lonely and empty his life had become. The woman stood there, with arms akimbo regarding him, an attractive pose even at eighty.
"You damn fool. You don't even know they have Danny."
Sheriff Winslow's Dodge pickup had about as much mileage as Great Aunt Oscina, but she seemed to be weathering the ride over the washboard road better. Their dust trail rose over the tablelands that extended to the Providence Mountains.
"Very strategic coming this way," Winslow shouted over the slam bang of suspension and engine. "The sun setting behind us. They have the high ground in darkness ahead."
Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Oscina pull a flask out of the folds of her dress and take a belt.
"Let me have a swig of that," he said.
He tipped the container up and nearly gagged. The stuff tasted like Pepto-Bismol.
"What is this?" He asked.
"A potion. The base is Pepto-Bismol. It'll keep you from throwing it up."
The road climbed in earnest as they reached the base of the hills. The sun was slipping behind the Providence peaks, a full moon rising over the crest of the New York Mountains on the horizon. Between ranges lay a Joshua Tree forest, a biblical multitude of spectral forms, their thorn coated limbs twisting heavenward in agonized supplication.
"Say, you know it's the vernal equinox?" The sheriff mentioned trying to be conversational.
"They know that, Winslow. You still don't get it. This is a set up."
"You're setting me up?" Winslow asked and then when there was no answer, "Why?"
"I don't question their requests. I want them to see me as an ally not prey. Maybe they'll give you a chance to ask why, but don't count on it. Under a full moon, they'll be ten times as fast as that one in the alleyway. During a vernal equinox, it's a whole different level."
The road topped out on a rise where the campsite had been. Dead ahead, a flat-bottomed cleft cut into the mountain, its inner reaches cloaked in darkness -- Wolf Canyon. Winslow switched on the headlights. Nothing happened.
He slowed the truck to a crawl. The sandy bottom was devoid of vegetation. Smooth walls of polished granite loomed hundreds of feet to either side. The summit glowed blood red from sunset in one direction, bone white with moonlight in the other.
"Just you be ready to jump when I say," Oscina said.
As the arroyo pierced through the far end of the Providence Mountains, the canyon opened onto the desert floor, wan in moonlight. The sheriff watched the landscape expand to limitless horizon then constrict into a narrow beam. A sense of vertigo made his guts heave. He was leaning over the steering wheel to puke, and then staring down a shaft where a squirming fetal form at the bottom called for help in Danny's voice.
"Jump," he heard Oscina shout from a distance.
Sheriff Winslow jumped one hundred sixty seven miles back to Oscina's house in the Hollywood Hills. She was back to being young and beautiful, and lounged fetchingly on the couch. The werewolves were there also. Eschewing the furniture, they sat cross-legged in a circle of six on the floor. Sheriff Winslow found that he was standing before them trying not to stagger.
"Where's Danny?" He managed to croak.
"With you in matter if not spirit," the werewolf nearest him replied.
"You're saving him," said another.
"You're a hero," claimed a third.
"Join us," growled a fourth.
"Why should I?" Winslow asked, recognizing the last voice as the furry form that had grabbed his gun and shot the speed freak.
He could almost accept the half-human half-wolf weirdness of the creatures, but kept noticing absurd details that made the whole scene ridiculous. They all wore Pendelton shirts, Docker jeans and Reebok hightops. They had on Rolexes, the kind Winslow wished he could afford.
"Because you're having a heart attack," Oscina said. "It's a side effect of the potion. A marvelous concoction; the coroner will never trace it."
"But you drank it too."
Oscina shook her head.
"Only pretended to. Don't look so glum, Winslow. They selected you for your integrity, good sense, and wit. It's an honor. You'll be like a god."
"The choice is yours," a werewolf interrupted. "But you'll collapse after untying your deputy and hauling him up from a dry well at the head of Wolf Canyon. The exertion would be too much for a man half your age, and you're doing it right now. You only think you're here. Everything's been a hallucination since you entered Wolf Canyon."
"Your deputy will remember nothing of how he came to be trussed up down there," said another.
"Everyone will think you returned to the crime scene to gather evidence and heard him calling for help," explained a third.
"No matter how hard your deputy tries to get you to a hospital, you won't make it in time, but if you decide to join us, a brother wolf will guide your spirit to us," growled a fourth.
Winslow felt a stake go through his heart.
"That's not how you kill werewolves," he gasped.
"Hang on, hombre," Deputy Sanchez said.
Sheriff Winslow found he was slumped on the passenger side of his truck. His chest was numb with pain, every jolt of the speeding truck adding to his misery. He began talking, but it was newfound knowledge being poured into him that he had to hear himself saying. He was thinking aloud.
"They are an elegant construction that requires a circle of seven to complete the configuration. When one's found unworthy, he's ritualistically torn to pieces. The ceremony calls for much blood and sacrifice because werewolves are more than mere matter but an amplification of spirit."
Once the words had sunk in, the sheriff thought of Oscina and her alliance with the werewolves. His longing to see her again tipped the scales already weighted by loneliness, curiosity, and a desire to be part of something wondrous and strange. Despite Danny's desperate driving over the bumpy road, his pain suddenly ceased, replaced by hunger to enter the night and feast on its possibilities.
Deputy Sanchez reported how Sheriff Winslow howled piercingly and gave him a wink before breathing his last. Internal Affairs took the rest with a grain of salt. Not even the tabloids believed Danny's claim that when the headlights in the truck shorted out, a wolf appeared from out of nowhere and led him back into Barstow before vanishing into thin air with the dawn, but it sure made great copy.
- END -
Born in Hollywood and now living in North Hollywood after a brief period in West Hollywood, Greg Story is a well traveled, well rounded (218 lbs. and rising) writer whose fiction has appeared in such publications as Black October, Twilight Times, Zahir, These Thirteen, Scared Naked, Penumbric, Speculative Fiction, and Hadrosaur Tales as well as numerous e-zines. His stories may also be found in the recent anthologies F/SF and Amazing Heroes II from Cyberpulp as well as an upcoming collection of nautical horror entitled Sand and Sea and in a volume dedicated to the late Warren Zevon. His terrifying tale, "Skull Drudgery," is currently available through Amazon Shorts.