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Vanago

by P L Nunn

 

2

 

The scent was laced with blood and easy to follow. It ended at a row of weathered, rooms for rent off the side of the highway. There were two other cars in the gravel lot, and a sense of isolation about the place, backed by mist-shrouded trees as it was.

She left her newly acquired truck at the edge of the road and prowled the covered walk along the row of doors, until she came to the one that stank of blood and the scent of the Man's brethren. She stood outside it, considering, listening to the sounds of life inside, to the more distant sound of voices from another room down the row. A car passed behind her on the road. She rapped on the door and heard hushed whispers from inside. The panicked movement of a body moving. Then nothing, as they chose to ignore her, going silent behind the fragile shelter of a wooden door.

She canted her head, a faint smile touching her mouth. She didn't knock again. She reached for the knob and twisted and with a protesting whine it snapped off in her hand. The door swung inwards and two started faces stared at her.

The Man's sister lay on one of two beds, half undressed, blood spotted bandages covering hidden wounds, an array of bloodier rags lay on the table next to her, as well as the shafts of several bolts. A younger woman was poised with her hand in a black duffle, at the long dresser facing the beds. She spun, bringing out a gun, and Zlata moved before she could aim it, darting across the room and slamming a palm against her chest, flinging her backwards into the wall at the back of the small room.

The Man's bitch of a sister was reaching desperately for another small gun on the table between the beds. Zlata caught her wrist before she could bring it up to bear, tightening her fist until she felt bones creak and fracture. The woman screamed, the gun tumbling from strengthless fingers.

She stared down at a pale, pain filled face. At blue eyes that could have been the Man's own. She recalled those eyes, through the bars of a cage, staring dispassionately, while the Man entertained himself with the infliction of pain upon her.

"Who - -? What do you want?" The Man's sister had the gall to ask her. But then, the woman had only ever seen her in the form of a beast.

"You don't recognize?" she purred, leaning down, letting the woman look into her eyes. And perhaps something of the beast flickered, because her face drained of blood, eyes widening in horror.

"No - -" she whispered.

Zlata smiled, a slow spread of lips. Then she snatched one of the bloody bolts off the table and drove it down though the top of the woman's skull. It sank through bone like it was butter, until all that was left was the fletching at the end, around which blood began to slowly seep. She released her hold on the wrist and the woman toppled, eyes wide and fixed, mouth still round in horror.

The sound of a body trying to move drew her attention. The girl was moaning faintly, from where she lay. Zlata shut the door, providing a modicum of privacy, even with a shattered lock. She retrieved the guns, having little taste for them, hating the smell of gunpowder and the report of deafening gunshots. She took them in her hands, exerting pressure, twisting the barrel of first one, then the other, before dumping them both in the bin beside the dresser. The mirror atop it startled her with its reflection and she paused, staring back at the wild haired creature in her oversized, man's clothing. She lifted a hand to her hair, running fingers through the tangles. But her skin was smooth and firm, albeit dirty, as if she were only eighteen. As if the curse that had stolen her body and her mind for those long years had in return preserved the state of the youth she'd had when it had taken her. She turned her hand, long fingers and fragile seeming wrist and remembered the claws of the beast and how easily they sank into the tender flesh of prey. Her fingers tingled, and nails grew, knuckles thickening, as claws extended, six inches of black, curved bone. She felt the bones in her arms lengthening, her ribs shifting, her knees twisting, as if her entire body longed to shift back into what it had become accustomed to for so long. She hissed and fought it off, until only the claws remained. The claws were all she needed when all she faced was weak human flesh.

She turned her attention to the girl, who was blinking, still half in a stupor on the floor. She padded over and crouched before her, staring until the girl recovered enough of her wits to realize death was staring her down. She pressed back against the wall then, sobbing, tears that the Man's sister had been too much of a predator herself to shed, running down soft cheeks. A frightened young girl who would tell her things about this new world that she needed to know to survive. Who would tell her what she needed to know to stalk her primary prey.

"Please - -please - -" The girl sobbed. "Please - - let me go."

Zlata canted her head, amused. The stink of fear was intoxicating. She lifted a hand, lightly running the tip of one claw down the side of the girl's jaw. The girl shuddered, the faint stench of urine mixing with the blood smell in the room.

"Perhaps, if you speak true." She could play the game and there were times when hope inspired more truths than stark fear. "Tell me what you know of the wolf."


The first call he got, once his phone had dried out and recharged, proving the thing more durable than he'd thought, was Stiles, bitching at him for keeping him out of the loop on the details of Scott's school attendance record. He was told in no uncertain terms to haul his ass over Stiles house after school the next day or face the dire consequences of Stiles going stir crazy.

So he stopped by Stiles' house before heading to work and shifted uncomfortably when Stiles' gave him the evil eye and whined. "Why didn't you call me yesterday? Why didn't you tell me you were going to school?"

"I didn't know we were dating and I was supposed to check in hourly." Scott countered, earned a narrow eyed look.

"Ha. You're hilarious." Stiles didn't look amused.

Truth be told, Stiles looked a little grouchy, a little bedraggled, in sweatpants and a t-shirt with his hair sort of sticking this way and that. But then Stiles never had taken being stuck inside for sick days well. Stir crazy was too a mild term for the restless energy that Stiles built up during days on end of house confinement. And honestly, Scott was feeling a little guilty, over that. He was feeling all sorts of guilty over Stiles being hurt because of him. The terror he'd felt that night - -one thing piling atop another and another - -cumulating in Stiles taking that hit from the vanago - - was almost surreal in its intensity. So bad, that for a while there, in that hospital room, listening to the sound of Stiles' even breaths as he slept, he'd been numb. Every time a nurse had come in to check on Stiles, to rouse him every few hours that first night, because that's what you did with people with head injury, Scott had started, slouched there in the window seat, hardly able to breath from fear, until Stiles' had made some muttered, sleep hazed response before drifting back out.

"I couldn't call. My phone was out in a field somewhere." Scott shrugged, dropping his backpack and following Stiles through the house to his bedroom. The computer was on, as was the TV. The room wasn't nearly as messy as Scott's tended to perpetually be, but it was a lot more unkempt than Stiles' usual habit. A day and a half and he was literally climbing the walls.

"I thought you weren't supposed to be on the computer?"

"That was yesterday. I stayed off it all afternoon." Stiles' flopped down in his computer chair, so Scott sat on the end of the bed, picking at a few loose strings around a hole starting on the knee of his jeans. It unraveled, growing larger as he worried at it. "What do you mean out in a field?"

Scott shrugged. "Out where you guys found my bike."

Stiles stared at him for a moment, digesting that. "You went back there?"

"Me and Isaac."

"Well, I guess that makes sense. Sooo -- when you actually get around to your monthly check of voice mails - - ignore about the last - - oh - - fifty from me, okay? I was in sort of a mood yesterday. For like the last few days."

Scott looked up, feeling that twang of guilt again. He could deal with a few irate voice mails from Stiles. "Sorry."

"For what?" Stiles waved a hand. "You can't answer a phone if some jackass tossed it in a field."

"No - - I mean - -" Scott made a motion to his own head. "You know, for almost getting you killed."

Stiles canted his head, giving Scott a furrow browed, critical stare. "Dude, you are not guilt tripping on that, are you? I almost got killed because of that dickbag Dupont and his freakin' psychotic monster. You were an innocent bystander, just hanging out when I got there."

Stiles' humor was not as sophisticated at he liked to think it was. Scott let him slide with it this time, rolling his eyes and flopping backwards on the bed to stare up at the ceiling.

"Seriously, Scott, its not your fault. Not even a little."

He didn't entirely believe that. He could have been smarter, faster, could have withstood the pain a little better and gotten between the vanago and Stiles a little sooner.

"Maybe."

"No maybe. God, what is it about people coming and apologizing to me for shit they didn't do?"

"You had somebody else come apologize?"

"Lydia came over yesterday."

Scott lifted his head to peer at Stiles. "Really?"

Stiles grinned. "Yeah. She was worried about me. Unlike some people."

"I was worried."

"Yeah? You didn't show up on my doorstep yesterday."

Scott sighed, dropping his head back down.

"So how are you?" Stiles ventured after a few moments of silence.

"Fine."

"Yeah, that sounds like the automated answer."

Scott didn't have an easy response to that. He swallowed and admitted. "I almost killed Coach yesterday."

"Really? I can't say I don't constantly expect to read some story about a student snapping and beating him over the head with a lacrosse stick - -"

Scott sighed and held up a blunt nailed hand. "Yeah, I didn't have my stick on me at the time."

"What happened?"

"I dunno. He was bitching at me for missing tryouts - - up in my face - - and I just went sort of blank. Isaac got between me and him - - but God, Stiles, I had claws out in the locker room and I don't even remember losing it enough to pop them."

"Which is why," Stiles said. "You shouldn't have gone to school yesterday."

"So everybody keeps telling me."

"Well, everybody's smarter than you."

"Except for Derek. Who's all, 'get out of the house, it'll be good for you' and he had sort of a point."

"Yeah, and when has Derek ever implemented a stellar plan? When'd you talk to him?"

"He was at my house yesterday when I got back from the hospital. He told me they'd lost the trail. So that thing's still out there."

"Yeah, my dad heard from Argent. He's got a shitty job ahead of him, trying to discourage people from going out in the woods and getting their faces eaten off and their guts ripped out. You'll never guess what the coroner is ruling as cause of death."

"Animal attack?" Scott ventured an educated guess.

"Bingo. So at least they can scare campers from going out there with the excuse that there's a rabid bear on the loose. But there's always some idiot who wants to go tromping through the woods at night just for the thrill of it."

"You mean, like going out looking for dead bodies? Idiots like that?"

Stiles lifted a brow. Then he sighed and slumped back in the chair. "So how pissed off was Coach?"

"Pretty pissed. Tryouts didn't go as well as he was hoping."

"Did he ask about me?"

"Umm. No. But he was distracted."

"Right. Doesn't matter anyway. No contact sports for at least two weeks. So I might as well figure, I'll be relegated to second line again."

"Two weeks isn't so long. The season won't even have started by then. When are you coming back to school?"

"Tomorrow."

"Really?"

"The only reason I stayed out today was because my dad couldn't get past the worst case scenarios on the discharge sheet."

"Is that where you get it from?"

"Shut up. I'm sore as hell, but I can be sore at school just as easy as here, so why not? And somebody needs to be there to keep an eye on you."

"I don't need any eyes on me."

"Sure you don't. Did I show you my bruise? It's seriously awesome."


It was his first day back at work since the 'incident', and Deaton mercifully didn't give him any sympathetic looks or ask meaningless questions. Just once, as they were closing up shop and heading for the parking lot, Deaton stopped and said. "If you need to talk - - about anything - - I'm a good listener."

To which, Scott nodded, not knowing how to respond, thinking that if people would just stop asking him if he were teetering on the edge of something, he could put it behind him and forget about it. He was neither fragile nor emotionally compromised - - if you didn't count the incident in the locker room - - but then Coach could bring out the worst in a Buddhist monk when he was on a tear, so Scott wasn't sure that counted.

Then he got home and saw Allison's car in the drive and thought maybe he was jumping the gun on that last self-assurance. But no. It was not an issue. He'd promised Isaac it wasn't an issue and more importantly he'd promised himself. This was Isaac's home now too and there was no reason for him not to invite Allison over. And good for Allison, being able to actually have a relationship she didn't have to hide. Where she didn't have to sneak around like a thief in the night and her boyfriend didn't have to fear for his life on the off chance of being discovered by her gun-toting father.

So it wasn't an issue. Definitely not an issue. He took a deep breath and headed inside. The kitchen smelled of Chinese takeout. There were a couple of plates in the sink, a half empty soda bottle on the counter. He could hear the TV from the den. It would be cowardly to retreat up to his room and maybe put on a pair of earphones and turn the volume up to high, without first poking his head in to say hi.

"Hey, guys." He'd made enough noise coming in that Isaac would have heard and hopefully kept him from walking in on anything he really didn't want to see.

They were on the sofa, watching TV. There were a few books on the coffee table, but they were closed up, like they'd given up on whatever they'd been officially doing a while back. They were sitting shoulder to shoulder, Isaac with socked feet on the edge of the table, Allison with hers folded up on the couch. Isaac had an arm across the back of the couch behind her.

"Hey," Isaac nodded.

Allison smiled. "There's Chinese in the refrigerator. Heat some up and come join us. Isaac's making me watch Doctor Who."

"She's never seen it," Isaac said, as if her ignorance of the subject baffled him.

"Ahh - - Stiles tries to make me watch it all the time, too. But I've got homework - - so I'm gonna go upstairs."

He retreated before she could push. Back to the kitchen, because he was hungry, but he just grabbed an anonymous white takeout carton from the fridge and a fork, perfectly fine with consuming it cold.

She caught him before he could get to the stairs, leaning on the jamb of the doorway to the den and staring at him with empathetic brown eyes.

"Its okay that I'm here, right?"

He smiled at her, feeling trapped. Feeling torn. Wanting her happy, wanting her whole again because she hadn't been for a while there, just not wanting to have to sit on the other end a sofa from her being happy and whole with another guy. He was allowed that little bit of selfishness, he thought.

"Of course it is. I'm just - - you know, homework." He held up the backpack. She didn't take the bait and look at it, so he had to break eye contact himself and escape up the stairs. It wasn't even a false ruse. He did have homework. So he jammed ear buds into his ears, hit shuffle on his ipod and settled down to immerse himself in it.

He'd gotten through his English Lit reading, and had pulled out his Algebra 2 worksheet when a niggling little something made the hairs on the back of his arms stand up. He pulled out the ear buds, pausing the ipod and sat there listening. There were dogs barking outside. And not just the neighbor's pair of Spaniels. It sounded like every dog in a four-block radius was adding its voice to the chorus. He took a breath, rising, his own hackles up. The edginess he was feeling was way out of bounds for what might have been just a domino effect of dogs feeding each other's frenzy. It could have started a while back and he'd never heard it with the music drowning out the outside world.

He went to the window and stared out into the darkness. Darker than usual. The streetlamp on the corner was out and only a few porch lights illuminated the night at all. Something crashed outside, a great creaking crash and the house went dark. Everything went dark, the lights across the street, the sound of the TV from downstairs. Total blackout. And it wasn't just dark. Dogs weren't just losing their collective minds. Something was out there. Every instinct he had screamed something was out there.

He pelted down the stairs, knowing the way by instinct alone, heading for the kitchen. Vision adjusting to the pitch slowly. There wasn't even moonlight in the house to see by. Isaac and Allison were already up, fumbling their way towards the kitchen. Isaac turned when Scott came in, eyes glowing faintly. Allison was a dark shape next to him, that he was able to scent better than see.

"What happened?" she asked. "Did a car hit a power pole?"

"I don't know. I think something's out there. Its got the dogs riled."

"Like something what?" Isaac asked nervously.

"I don't know." He felt for the drawer under the microwave for a flashlight and put it in Allison's hand. Out of the three of them, she was the one that needed it most. She switched it on, shielding the light with her hand.

"Lets go see what it is," she suggested. She looked less pale and scared than Isaac did, maybe less freaked out than he was, which stuck Scott as singularly funny in a hysterical, wrapped in a straitjacket, sort of way.

He reached for the door, since Isaac seemed rather reluctant to do it, and damned if he was letting Allison venture out first, no matter how confident she was. Outside, even with cloud cover dulling the light of the stars and the half moon, it was easier to see. He stood for a second in the driveway, just listening and scenting the air. The dogs were still wailing like the dead were rising, but there were no other sounds. No scents that seemed out of place. They followed him out, Allison shining the flashlight beam into the bushes that separated his drive from the yard next door. The two Spaniels were running the length of the fence behind the bushes, yapping their heads off.

They walked down the drive, towards the street, looking for whatever had made that crash. The pole was down at the end of the block, the dark snarl of wires draped across the street and the cars parked along the side of the road.

"Crap. What did that?" Isaac joined him on the street.

Scott shook his head, having no clue. Allison passed them, walking that way, the flashlight a wavering spot of light on the street before her.

"We should maybe not go down there," Isaac said warily, having a healthy fear of electricity. "Live wires and all."

She cast a glance back at them. "Yeah, I'm thinking not so live at the moment. The breaker's tripped."

The dogs were still barking, but the number of canine voices were dwindling. Scott looked into the darkness of yards, the shadows of parked cars, that feeling of tension running the gambit of his nervous system still there. He flexed his hands, curbing the urge to extend his claws.

The downed pole had made a mess of somebody's shiny new pickup. But if it had been a car that had run into it, it wasn't there anymore. Just a pole the thickness of a large man's torso snapped about four foot from the ground. Allison let the flashlight beam travel the length of it, before turning it back on them.

"Whoever hit this and drove away must have been in a tank," Isaac commented.

"Yeah," Scott said softly, still scanning the darkness. It was his neighborhood, he knew this street like the back of his hand, but still, there was something unfamiliar - - unsettling about it in the midst of a blackout.

"You still think something's out here?" Allison asked.

"I don't sense anything," Isaac said.

"I don't know," Scott shook his head, honestly not sure anymore. "Maybe it's just me."

"You're allowed," Allison shifted closer, brushing against him.

There were other people venturing out of houses, identifiable by the glow of flashlights in the dark. Someone must have called 911, because the distant sound of approaching sirens could be heard. Somehow, the influx of simple humanity drove away the tension eating away at his spine. He took a breath, allowing himself to relax.

"So, I guess this nixes the Doctor Who marathon, huh?" Allison's smile was this eerie thing in the glow of her flashlight.

"As good a reason as any," Scott said, staring at the splintered wood.

He got a grin from her at that bit of shared lack of enthusiasm. Isaac didn't seem to mind. Stiles would have been mortally offended.

"Looks like we're going to be in the dark for the rest of the night," Isaac came up on his other side, hands stuffed in his pockets.

"We could go back to my place," Allison suggested. "Make popcorn, have a sleepover. My dad would love it."

Scott wasn't entirely sure if she were kidding. "Right," he said cautiously. "Because he loves it when you bring wolves home for the night."

Isaac shrugged, maybe missing the humor altogether. "I'm game either way."

"You go. My mom's shift is over at two. I don't want her coming home to a dark house."

"So you'd rather sit in the dark for four hours waiting for her? Don't be silly, come over, hang out, then you guys can get back here before she gets home." Her fingers slipped around his arm, urging him back towards the house. He let her lead him, the touch of her fingers on his skin distracting.

It was so not a good idea. But then, sitting in the dark when he was imagining things lurking in it, wasn't such a fantastic plan of action either. He still wasn't entirely convinced there hadn't been something out here, setting the dogs off. But it was gone now. And yeah, maybe sitting in a blacked out house in a blacked out neighborhood really wasn't what he needed to be doing now.

"Yeah. Okay."

 

 

 

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