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James Grimm tipped his head back and smelled the wind that flowed through the trees on the full-moon night. The moon tonight was the strongest it had been in many months, and already the unnatural strength it gave him was pouring through his body in great waves. He kept his human form for the moment, though, all the better to help him snare the prey he could smell out there waiting for him on the path.

He loped silently and fluidly through the brush and shadows and emerged on the rutted dirt road that led between the nearby town and the forest. There was a girl there already, one wearing a red coat to keep out the night’s chill. She was tall, slender, and pale, with orange-red hair not covered by her hood. There was a small bag on her arm, and the scent of the food packed within immediately jumped into James’s nostrils.

This would be the one.

“Hello,” he said kindly, sliding out of the darkness to join her. To her credit, she didn’t jump.

“Hello,” the girl replied, meeting him with green eyes that were as wide as the moon. Her skin was as pale as milk, and something, for a moment, didn’t smell right about her, but then a small breeze blew past and James figured it had been something on the wind causing his nose to twitch.

“Where are you going?” If she answered this question, James knew he had her, just like he had had all the others. If she answered, he knew she hadn’t been cautioned to never talk to strangers.

“To my grandma’s house,” the girl replied shyly. “She’s been feeling kind of under the weather lately, and I’m bringing her some bread my mom made.”

“You shouldn’t be going alone,” he chastised her, like he cared, sidling a bit closer to her. The moonlight glimmered down on her pale skin, making her seem like a beam of light herself. Her hair stood out against this like the flame atop a candle, and he decided as he felt the animal blood rushing through his blood and knew the time was soon to ask the next question. “What’s your name?”

“Lisa,” she answered without hesitation. “And yours?”

“James,” he said promptly. She wouldn’t survive to remember it anyway. “You know, it’s a full moon night. There are supposed to be human-wolves out in these forests then.” He mock-growled and made claws with his hands; Lisa didn’t flinch then, either.

“I brought my knife.” She shrugged.

He had been able to smell the silver a mile away, and now that he was close to her he could see the lump under her jacket where she had secured the thing. It didn’t worry him, though, even if silver was one of the few things that could kill him. He would be on her throat before she could even get her jacket zipper down. She didn’t look strong enough to even lift a knife, anyway.

No challenge.

“Perhaps I could walk with you,” James suggested, feeling the deep-seated rumble in his stomach that came just before every meal time. “Keep you safe. A girl like you walking in the woods alone--could be dangerous.”

“So could you,” she pointed out, and he felt a momentary surge of panic--was she perhaps smarter than he had guessed? But then she moved closer to him and said, “But you can walk with me, yes, if you’re going out there anyway.”

So the hunter walked beside his prey, nearly whistling with joy at the the thought of tearing and killing in the moonlight, and the pale girl who walked through the woods at night walked beside him and they spoke of things that didn’t matter, that had never mattered, and would never matter again once she was dead and he had loped back into the forest where he the monster had been birthed.

There were several times he could have killed her on their walk, but he didn’t. He wanted to stalk, even if it wasn’t quite stalking if the girl had given her permission, as they all did; he wanted to chase, even if this wasn’t one of the fastest chases he had ever been on.

He walked to stalk, he wanted to chase, and he wanted to kill.

In time, James, he thought to himself, trying to keep his tail from bursting out of his spine in excitement. Very soon. He had delayed the change for nearly as long as it was possible to, and soon he would not be able to hold back any longer.

The path Lisa led him down meandered through the deepest, darkest part of the forest; long, tangled branches and briars reached for them in the darkness, and occasionally even the moonlight was invisible in the stretching wild.

“Your grandmother lives all the way down here?” James asked, for once confused. Very few animals--except for the savage ones such as he--dwelled this deep in the wilderness; he could not imagine that an old woman would be comfortable or happy living this far from the village and her family. Perhaps she is deformed, he thought, and this settled him, or a witch.

Witches didn’t much frighten James, either. Dead witches cast no spells.

Lisa smiled in her shy way and nodded, tucking back behind her ear a strand of her fire-hair that had come loose. “Yes,” she said. “She doesn’t get lonely, though.”

So the girl was pale and strange. She still wasn’t a threat, though, and to a predator like James that was all that mattered.

“I actually like it down here,” Lisa added, and James pretended that wasn’t a strange thing for a human girl to say at all. “If you keep yourself safe, there’s nothing down here to bother you.”

“All places are like that.” And you failed.

Lisa turned to look at James, almost as if she had heard his unspoken afterthought. She smiled, though, and James knew nobody would smile if they could read a beast’s thoughts. “Are they?” she asked, and giggled like a simpleton. The beast in James growled quietly.

The full moon was at its highest peak when they finally stopped before a ramshackle wooden cabin; its chimney stack was leaning heavily over, about to topple, and the door hung crookedly on its hinges. An owl hooted in the distance and a slow wind chirped through the broken glass on the one window James could see.

James’s senses prickled and a chill ran up and down his spine as he stared in confusion at the cabin. It smelled dead; there were no signs of life, and the only creatures he could smell that had passed by recently were deer and foxes, the occasional night bird--

--and her.

He whirled around and found that she had changed. She was grinning a grin James knew all too well--one he suspected his old victims would, too. Her wide eyes were glowing with her victory and her milk-white skin suddenly had more meaning to it than just fragile beauty. Her canines had slipped down over her full lips.

The strange smell. The skin. The fangs.

The vampire laughed--not high and false, but ringing and strong, like church bells at the end of the world.

“My grandmother died ten thousand years ago,” Lisa said, coming closer to James. “So I wasn’t lying. Dead people don’t get lonely, do they?” She laughed again. “Maybe you can let me know.”

James changed, the wolf-man bursting forth from his skin, but neither his roars nor his dripping fangs seemed to startle the vampire girl. His tail whisked over the ground as he jumped for her, realizing that he had been lured down here just as countless others of his kind had--this place reeked of death, but he had not smelled it until now because of how hungry he had been.

Lisa sidestepped him and laughed. Her knife stayed tucked away in her jacket, because she didn’t need it.

“If you keep yourself safe,” she reminded him, tossing her bag aside, “there’s nothing down here to bother you.”

Lisa lunged, and James’s paws could not move as fast as she sprung. She tackled him to the dirt, and through the trees James could see the fat disk of his last full moon watching without sympathy as the predator sank her fangs into her prey’s throat.





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coffeemilk96 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Sept. 7, 2012 at 1:29 pm
Wow, this was amazing! It hooked me from the first paragraph. I loved the twist at the end. Great job :) 
 
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