Hunted

You didn’t think Cale was going to get away with it, did you?  A sequel to my story “Hunter” This was written January 2006.

The collar burned at Cale’s neck as he strapped it on.  God, how he hated the thing!  His contact insisted he wear it when he was in his canine form, a dog held a place in the city where a wolf did not.

Sighing, Cale changed forms.  Two wolves remained in the city.  For weeks now, Cale had been hunting the other wolf, but to no avail.  He seemed to be everywhere, and no where all at once, with a scent so jumbled that all Cale could say for certain was that his prey was male.

A park a few blocks away was where Cale had most recently smelled the wolf—at least, where he thought he had most recently smelled him.  He slunk cautiously towards it, with both loathing for the collar and fear of being spotted by animal control.  A homeless man, collecting cans from a dumpster watched him pass.  “Here pooch,” he called, “come see me!” Cale ignored him.

There were a few people in the park, strolling arm in arm in the early evening twilight.  Cale tried to avoid them, focusing more on the bushes and copse of trees that dotted the park.  Unfortunately, while the wolf’s smell was still fresh—well, recent, it offered up no more clues than it had in the past.

Out of nowhere, a body hit Cale’s, and he tumbled to the ground.   The homeless man, the wolf he had been looking for was on top of him, changed to canine form.  Rips and tears in his layers of clothing indicated that this was not the first time he had changed without removing his clothing.

Cale struggled out from under the other wolf, wounded and bleeding.  He struggled into the safe darkness of the bushes where he changed.  When he looked again, the homeless man, also in human form, seemed to be staring right at him.

“You been looking for me, boy?” he asked in a gravelly voice.  “I smelled you all over the place,” he chuckled.  “But you never smelled old Rollin.”

Cale bared his teeth, but said nothing.  Of course he didn’t smell the man!  Rollin was so wrapped up in the stench of filth and grime had he not seen the man just change, he wouldn’t believe that he was the second wolf.

“I’ve been watching you boy.  You’re a fool, know that?  Just a fool working for another fool.  You never learned how to survive out of the woods.  You broke every law there is in the city.  You shouldn’t have survived.  You shouldn’t…” Old Rollin broke off, looking around wildly.  Cale wondered how sane the other man was.

“Don’t you worry, boy, that fool you work for isn’t coming, yet.  You didn’t know I knew about that, did you?” he laughed maniacally.  “I can just see you there, wearing nothing but a dog collar, naked and bleeding.  You into that stuff, boy?  I know some ladies I could introduce you to.”

Snatching at his neck, Cale fumbled the collar off, and flung it as far as his injured arm would let him.  Old Rollin followed the arc it made with his eyes. “Now that’s the smartest thing I seen you do.” He said.  “Forget that fool you’re working for.  Run back to your pack.”

“I can’t.” Cale growled through clenched teeth.  “He’ll kill me.”

Rollin threw back his head and laughed, loud enough to attract the attention of several late night passersby in the park who quickly looked away.  “He’ll kill you anyway, boy.  He hates wolves. Did you ever think to wonder why?”

“I don’t care.  When I tell him about you, my contract is up.  If he tries to kill me, I’ll defend myself.”

“When you tell him about me.” Rollin chuckled.  “What’ll you tell him?  Boy, I know how to disappear.  Do you think he could kill every tramp in this city without escaping notice?  Maybe he could. God knows no one cares about us.” His grin deepened.  “But what difference would it make? He wouldn’t get me.  I know how to live.”

“Then I’ll take care of you myself.”

“You’ve never killed before, have you boy?” Old Rollin asked softly. “I mean killed for the sake of killing.  It twists the soul, boy, any wolf will recognize it.  Now, I kill you? That’d be self-defense. You walk away from here; I got some maniac on my back.  You kill me though…you don’t have to.  You’d be a marked man.  Any wolf in the country would try to pull you down, even your own Momma.  And she’d be right to do so.  Humans kill each other; wolves take care of their own.  You kill me, and you’d turn into the monster that humans think you are.”

Cale chuckled softly.  “Fifty-eight wolves have died because of me.” He said.  “What difference will one more make?”

“Fifty-eight.” Old Rollin agreed. “But there ain’t no blood on your hands, is there?  For all you know, for all you care, it could be just some massive coincidence.  Oh, the folk who know what to look for—and there are twenty-nine wolves spread all about this great country of ours making sure folk know what to look for—they will see your soul begun to corrode.  You won’t be able to so much as piss in the territories that they’ve crossed without having every wolf around tearing at you like you was some wounded deer.  But you kill me, and what those twenty-nine have to say don’t matter anyway.  You wouldn’t survive to leave the damn state.  Wake up, boy, walk away.  Tell that fool I’m dead, I’ve left, something.  You ain’t gone too far, yet. You can get out.”

“You’re wrong!” Snarling, Cale leaped for the old man, changing in mid-air as he did so.  A look of amusement crossed Rollin’s face as Cale attacked.  The fool didn’t even try to change, to defend himself.

Panting, Cale sprang away from old Rollin’s torn corpse, his wounded shoulder stinging as he splashed through the icy waters of the duck pond.  The more blood washed off his fur now, the less there would be when he changed back.  The more chance he had to escape.

Shaking the water off of his fur, Cale began to run, dodging traffic and the late night pedestrians, ignoring the hollers and screams that followed him.   He had to get to safety!

Clothes, clothes, that was the important thing right now.  It wouldn’t take long for someone to call animal control, and he would be damned before he spent another night locked in a kennel.  Fortunately, the isolated spot where he had left his clothing so recently had not been disturbed.  Taking minimal care against observers, he changed and dressed.

Gulping air, Cale sat heavily on a rock, trying to catch his breath.  The wounds in his shoulder and arm had re-opened; ether during his flight or when he changed, blood already soaked his tee shirt.  Calm.  Breathe.  He was less than a block away from his apartment, now.  Money, clean clothes, passport.  That what was next.  He could do this. He could.

Pacing himself, fighting the urge to run, Cale made his way to his apartment.  Mrs. Atherton, his landlady emerged from her room when she heard his keys in the lock.  She had probably been waiting for him.

“Is that you, Caleb?” she asked, squinting at him.  “There were some folks come by, earlier, looking for you.  A tall, dark haired man and a pretty Asian girl.  They said you’d know them?”

“Yeah, thanks.” Cale murmured.  A vampire and a kitsune, he could still smell them. Messengers from his contact, then. He pushed his past his into his apartment.

“Caleb, are you okay?” Mrs. Atherton followed him inside.  “You’ve been hurt!  Should I call a doctor?”

“No, Mrs. Atherton, I’m fine.” Cale scrubbed his hands through his hair.  “I just have some things I need to work through right now.”

Mrs. Atherton looked doubtful.  “You’re a nice boy, Caleb Radley.” She said.  “I like you, but if you’re going to cause trouble…”

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Atherton, I won’t bring you any trouble.” He hoped that was true. “Look, I need to clean up. Don’t worry about me.”

Mrs. Atherton looked at him skeptically, but nodded and left.  She would be by in the morning to check on him, he knew.  Well, he wouldn’t be around that much longer.

Tearing off his shirt, Cale examined his wounds for the first time.  They were long, but not particularly deep. He nodded to himself; the wounds were nothing that he hadn’t been expecting.  Still, Cale took the time to shower and clean and dress the wounds.  There was no telling what old Rollin had on his claws.

After dressing, Cale quickly moved around his apartment, packing a small bag.  He didn’t want anything too large to carry in wolf form, or to tie him to his contact.  Frowning at a stack of money, Cale wondered if his contact could trace the serial numbers on the bills.  Probably, but he wasn’t going to get very far without money.

Cale collapsed on the sofa with a sigh.  Mrs. Atherton would be watching his door, and would get upset if he left too early, now.  The last thing he needed was undue attention.  Adrenaline was beginning to wear off, seeping exhaustion into his body.  Before he knew it, Cale fell asleep.

Pale morning light was seeping though the window when Cale woke to his cell phone ringing.  His contact.  He answered groggily—and as he did the telivision flicked on by itself.

“Is this your doing?” His contact growled on the other line.  The local news was on the TV, with reporter standing in the park Cale had left so recently.

“…mauled to death by a dog.” The reporter was saying.  “Animal Control officials are patrolling the area, looking for the animal, but until the find it, keep your children inside and don’t approach any strange animals.”  The TV clicked off.

“What the hell were you thinking?  You were supposed to report him to me.  Do you have any idea how big of a mess you’ve caused?”

“It doesn’t matter, Rollin’s dead.” Cale said.  “I’m leaving town.  You got what you paid for.  I’m sure you can take care of things.”

“It’s a good thing that it was one of my boys who found your damned collar.” Cale’s contact said.  “The last thing I need is for someone investigating why a collar belonging to an animal registered in my name was found at the scene.  I suppose I could spin things so it looks like it was done by a fighting dog who got loose.  There’s a man who owe me big.

“He was right, you know.  That wolf you killed?  You won’t be able to join any pack.  Stick with me, though, I’ll protect you.”

“How did you know?  He said you were coming—Who are you?” Cale’s contact just laughed.  “Look, I don’t want anything to do with you anymore.  I’ll take my chances with the packs.”

Cale’s contact chuckled again.  “No blood on my hands, then.”  With that, the line fell dead.  Time to go.

Mrs. Atherton had apparently fallen asleep; she didn’t appear as Cale left his apartment.  Cautiously, he made his way past her apartment, out the door where he hailed a cab to take him to the train station.

There were no trains leaving in any direction that he wanted to go for several hours.  Cale grimaced as he bought his ticket, then wandered about the station trying to burn off some nervous energy.  Finally, frustrated and terrified, he sat down on a bench, head in his hands.

The TV blaring mindlessly over the terminal was showing the same early morning news show Cale had seen in his apartment.  Again, the story of old Rollin was showing, this time, they had pictures of the body.  Cale felt like he was going to be sick.

“Are you okay?” a soft, female voice asked.  Cale glanced over to where a matronly woman was standing, hand placed lightly on his shoulder.  His eyes flickered to the television set, and hers followed.

“That’s horrible.” She shuddered.  “It’s enough to make me upset, too.  I wish they wouldn’t show that sort of thing.”

“Me too.” Cale muttered.  “I’m fine, just a little dizzy.”

The woman smiled at him before hurrying off.  If only she knew!  Finally, the time came for his train to leave.

The train sped through the night, and Cale relaxed for the first time since meeting old Rollin.  Neither he, nor any of the other passengers were aware of wolves following the train, running across land that hadn’t seen wolves in a hundred years or more.  As they tired, they would fall back, but more would join the chase.  Nothing could stop them. They had the scent of their prey.

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