Jonathan W. Thurston Howl is another author from Blood Bound Books‘ latest anthology, Burnt Fur, edited by Ken MacGregor. I learned a lot about this interview, including some interesting facts about HIV, the difference between sexual and erotic, and sex trafficking.
Meghan: Hi, Jonathan. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: 1) I got HIV through a partner who lied about his status. 2) I identify as a furry. 3) I have a very sex-positive household with lots of toys and art everywhere. 4) My fiance and I met through publishing. 5) I have a TED Talk out!
Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?
Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: War & Peace. It’s infamous as such a large book that is incredibly dry, but I actually have loved the book each of the three times I read it. Its social critiques are often still relevant, and I love the characters.
Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: I decided I wanted to write after realizing my writing could make people feel something. It made me feel like a magician, tricking the audience. I first started writing in eighth grade, when I wrote my first novel.
Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Usually just any cafe.
Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: I often write via the Snowflake Method. I write the whole story as one sentence, then one paragraph, then one page, so on and so forth, until it’s done.
Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Descriptive prose. My writing style is very fast and animated. It’s hard to just slow it down to let the setting tell a story by itself.
Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: One of two works. Either my experimental horror book The Devil Has a Black Dog or my nonfiction exposé Blood Criminals.
Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: One that makes its reader feel what the author intended.
Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: It takes quirks and active personality. However, as a horror writer, it means I’ll make my most fleshed out character the one who gets their flesh outed.
Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Probably the protagonist of my award-nominated book Straight Men.
Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Yes, I can’t stand bad covers. I often work as a cover advisor for a few different publishing houses because I’m so nitpicky.
Meghan: What have you learned throughout the process of creating your books?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Formatting experimental fiction sucks.
Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Some of the explicit scenes of Straight Men definitely. Doing bad things to good people is hard.
Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: They take popular narratives and queer them. There’s just not enough solid gay fiction out there, not that isn’t a coming-out story.
Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: I usually choose my titles fairly fast. I think for me they are usually simple but have multiple layers of meaning.
Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Usually a novel. It just takes more time, and you get to hold it in your hands with its own cover.
Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Usually, my target audience is erotic horror readers. I like them to be aroused but then made uncomfortable for their arousal: they feel complicit in the consequences of the intercourse scenes.
Meghan: I am always excited to get my hands on anthologies, especially ones from publishers that I have grown to trust. Tell us about Burnt Fur and your story in it.
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: So, my story in Burnt Fur twists a couple of narratives: Tusk (an old body horror film) and the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s. Furries are all about wish fulfillment. They buy art of their fictional character. They get fursuits of them. They imagine themselves as that character sometimes. So, my story tackles the question of, “What if you got your wish and could be plastic surgeried into being your character?” But as is usual with wish fulfillment horror stories, you really should have been more careful of what you wish for.
Meghan: You wrote a book called Straight Men, published by Black Rose Writing. Explain to us what a gay sexual thriller is.
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: (Content warning: all kinds of sexual abuse) So, first off, there is a difference between sexual and erotic. Erotic implies that the author hopes the reader is aroused. An erotic thriller could involve, for example, a very Stockholm syndrome case of a person falling for their kidnapper and having lots of sex and then later regret when they escape, masturbating to fantasies back in the safety of their home. Sexual thriller takes out the arousal but keeps the sex. Straight Men does not make me aroused. It didn’t at any portion of writing it. Unfortunately, sex is not always beautiful. There is sex trafficking in this country. There is sexual abuse. There is rape. There are bestiality shows in almost every state, and people live their lives as if these things could only happen on the news, not in real life. Straight Men follows a young man who goes on a hookup without telling anyone and is entered into the sex traffic market, drugged, shock collared, and unable to escape for months. It might sound crazy and extreme, but it almost happened to me. I once had a hookup where I was raped and told that if I didn’t do as I was told, the man’s dog was going to rape me, and I wouldn’t be allowed to leave. This novel came from a very real place for me.
Meghan: I’ve never met someone who has done a TED Talk and this has intrigued me. Tell us more about your nonfiction expose called Blood Criminals and that talk.
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Sure! So, I was diagnosed with HIV on January 7, 2015. It was from a partner who had lied to me about their status. And since then, I’ve had some interesting things learned. Did you know, if you have HIV, you take one pill a day, and you both don’t have symptoms and can’t actually spread it to anyone else? You could literally drink my blood, and you wouldn’t catch HIV from me. Because of my meds. The hardest part of HIV is people telling you once a week to go kill yourself. That’s kind of what my TED Talk and book are about. They’re not focused on my experiences. They’re focused on what having HIV in the 21st century is like. It’s not the death threat it used to be in the 80s, but it has wholly new problems that people don’t think about, and it needs to be addressed.
Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Not really. I can’t think of anything notable that was deleted.
Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Well, the third book in the Straight Men series is the next book I will probably write. Also, I have a book coming out this year called Spiders in Our Bed, a collection of a few erotic horror stories centered on the troubles that can happen if a spider interferes with your sex life.
Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Spiders in Our Bed soon! Plus an erotic horror monster anthology I’m writing with my loving fiance, Weasel.
Meghan: Where can we find you?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: My Twitter account (18+ only), and my publisher’s webpage. And if you’ve read this far, you can always feel free to reach me through any of those places or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. I am always willing to answer questions, provide recommendations, give tips, etc.
Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?
Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: If any of this sounds interesting, just hit me up, and I can possibly get you a discount on any of my books. Just mention the interview! I’d love to just have more readers of my work honestly.
About the Book: Sit. Roll over. Who’s a Good Boy?
There are no good boys in in this anthology, only twisted, deviant, and burnt encounters with pets, people in costume, animals who behave like humans, and creatures who blur the line between the three. Violent pigs, killer ducks, horny bees, a naughty rabbit, and many more fill these pages with tale after tail of hair-raising horror.
Don your Fursuit, slip into your Fursona, and ride the dark wave of horror that is Burnt Fur. You may never go back to wearing your normal skin again.
About the Author: Jonathan W. Thurston Howl is a PhD student in English at Michigan State University. Aside from working on their dissertation, they are an editor of two publishing houses and an activist for HIV destigmatization. They are an avid horror writer, particularly when it comes to erotic horror.
A Curse Beyond Comprehension. A Power Beyond Belief. A Girl Far From Home.Katie Liberman is your typical eighteen-year-old college student…or at least that’s what her family thinks. Picking up five years after the events of A Taste of Home, Katie has dropped out of school and embarked upon a dangerous quest to find Kurt Jimmerson, the New York City attorney responsible for her family’s werewolf curse. Unknown to her, the attorney’s grip on the ‘City That Never Sleeps’ is tighter than imagined and she’ll need any and all help available to be victorious. But… where do you find friends when you’re Far From Home?
The bitter cold swirled around the young girl as the reflection of a billion lights glistened on the newly fallen snow. Since her arrival, Katie could only recall a few minutes here and there where there wasn’t some type of frozen precipitation pelting her from all directions. She was slowly getting used to it. Tonight, none of it seemed to matter much. It affected the mission in no way whatsoever. Besides, with her face covered in a light fur, it rarely touched the skin enough to make her aware.
The events of the previous evening had sent her reeling to the point she knew it was time to move on to the next level of the plan. As the day progressed, Katie had gotten little sleep due to the returning blurred memories of a sweaty night involving her new-found friend. Every time she closed her eyes, visions of
the beautiful, odd, young lady beckoned her to hastily conclude. Was this the most disgusting thing that ever happened to her or an experience altering her young life forever? Shaking the haunting visions from her head, along with the accumulated snow on her cheeks, Katie knew now was not the time to think of such things. Revenge and survival were to come first and they were jockeying for position of importance. Regardless of consequence, they were equals.
Her first stop of the evening had unfortunately been the Central Park Zoo. Animalistic hunger finally caused Katie to succumb to the unthinkable. In the early morning hours, subscribers to the local media would be slapped with news regarding the discovery of a slaughtered deer inside of its enclosure. She hated it, but the acts ranking would’ve been nothing compared to that of an uncontrolled transformation and similar treatment of an unsuspecting, innocent human being. It’s not like Manhattan could offer the comforts of home where Katie could just easily walk out the back door and run off into the woods. Necessity was a bitch.
The second stop of the evening had been to Saint Patrick’s Church to speak with Father McCormack again. With all destined to ensue, she wanted to make absolutely sure her soul was clean enough to endure her final moments with confidence and acceptance. Shockingly, he giggled at the misfortunes of the previous night and sent her away with his blessings. As a ghost, it wasn’t the first unexpected lesbian experience confession he’d bore witness to regardless of whether the poor soul offering up the confession knew he was even there and listening. Ultimately, it was the excessive drinking he’d had a problem with and offered up an ‘everything in moderation’ speech which sounded much rehearsed. The priest had become a good ally and an important part of her life. She hoped he’d be a shoe-in reference to the afterlife if things turned increasingly bad.
Finally, she’d stopped by her apartment to coax her mother into attending the night’s stake out. Sneaking around the normal people of this world undetected had become sort of a hobby for Katie, but werewolves were different. Only having to deal with one of them in anger before, she wasn’t aware of how easy or difficult this was going to be. For a fact, she knew all too well how easily she picked up on scents. Katie had also never been successful in sneaking up on her father after he had the curse bestowed upon him. This was a saddening part of her life. Gone were the days of creeping up to him in the shower to flush the toilet or cover him with a tall glass of frigid water. Toby’s senses were way more in tune than hers. More than likely due to age, she guessed. Unfortunately, someone had forgotten to include the handbook with the starter package when delivered. Jessica, as a spirit, would have a lot more luck sneaking amongst the unknown. She was a perfect scout for an imperfect situation. Although she’d never tell her, this was one of the main reasons Katie had brought her along to begin with. It was nice to have company from time to time who wasn’t going to wake up naked next to you with fuzzy thoughts about how it happened.
Following a set of familiar tracks around the Central Park lake, she now sat motionless and quiet in the tallest tree she could find a hundred yards from the entrance of Belvedere Castle. In the distance, children’s voices and laughter carried on the wind from the ice skating rink and Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center. Unbeknownst to them all as they played carelessly, monsters of the night once thought to be imaginary figments in the minds of Hollywood writers lurked at the edge of the tree line of the darkened park in hopes they would come join them in eternity. If they only knew of the nightmarish fate awaiting them all upon the misfortunes of a nocturnal visit to Central Park. Other than the criminal element, they’d build a ten-foot-tall fence for their own safety. In the end, it was the criminal element who kept them all at bay and they knew nothing of the bloody myth that lay beyond the mental edge of their reasoning. To be young and uninformed was a luxury which no longer belonged to Katie Liberman. She was one of the monsters.
Jessica had been gone for nearly an hour with no sign of return. With little argument, she’d followed the
trail allowing her daughter to assume a more secluded position within the foliage. Ignoring her father’s teachings he’d passed along via the information from Jimmerson, Katie knew all too well any passing werewolf would be able to spot the ghost from a mile away. Jessica had gone invisible, which meant she could actually be sitting beside Katie on the tree branch at this very second. Katie knew there was no way possible her mother could’ve kept her mouth shut long enough to stay hidden for long. Would a passing pack of those like her just pass Jessica off as a random, wandering spirit? Did her mother even possess the stealth to talk her way out of a jam if she were to be discovered? It was a definite chance Katie was taking for sure! Detecting a cold spot in the weather of the evening was a useless gesture. As a matter of fact, with the time that passed in her absence, the once fresh trail leading to the castle had been long covered up by the celestial snowfall. This was going to make things difficult.
Willow mentioned Kurt Jimmerson was interested in the restoration of Belvedere Castle for quite some time, but Katie’s observation gave no signs anyone was there on this night. Research said nothing other than the fact it had been a museum and a weather station in its prime. Its beauty and grandeur was a heavily visited attraction during the hours of daylight. It was even used as a set piece in a few movies. Katie could guess of Jimerson’s obsession for restoration with this in mind. History and tradition seemed to mean more to those with wealth for some reason plus, being a well-known philanthropist would throw off the dogs or gain him sympathy with the media and public if ever his intentions were to be questioned. She couldn’t wait to meet him. For all Katie knew, she already had. She couldn’t wait to kill him. Sheriff Werewolf back home and his odd daughter would be making a return trip to normalcy when she did.
Seeing all was clear with the passing time, Katie closed her eyes in deep meditation. Her unusual abundance of hair began to retract into her body to reveal the image of a young girl once more. Claws returned to nails as a slight tingle of pain twitched throughout her fingertips and she could feel the itch of retracting skin on her ears as they rounded. She’d eventually grown to ignore the pain that went along with a slow transformation. It was the sudden, emotion fueled ones which were still excruciating. Nothing compared to the searing fire that accompanied the very first one that night in the Myrtle County Fairgrounds. Would she miss it when her power was gone? It wasn’t like it made her feel special or cherished among those around her because, unlike her father, she wasn’t allowed to reveal herself to anyone. Repeated reflection upon his reasoning had told her time and again it was indeed the proper thing to do when it came to the general public. Katie obeyed without interrogation. Sure, it was good for the tiny population of Twin Oaks, who couldn’t keep a secret if their lives depended on it, but in a city the size of New York? Katie could easily become a comic book worthy super hero the likes of which had never been experienced in reality. The fear that usually accompanied the unknown easily squashed the delusion quickly. For now, she was Katie Liberman, abused puppy extraordinaire, and it would have to suffice.
The crack of a crashing tree branch under the weight of the accumulating snow startled Katie back into her ‘on guard’ state but it all too soon returned to quiet. Since the werewolf’s hair was no longer a luxury to her body in human form, the cold seemed to sneak up on her suddenly. Pulling the hood from her sweatshirt over her wind-blown hair and giving the drawstrings a hard tug, Katie shut out the intruder swiftly. Sniffing the air around her, she detected no hint of anything unusual anywhere nearby. The constant noise of the city around her masked any hopes of catching approaching foot traffic.
“Damn,” she said aloud as she shuffled her butt along the tree limb for a more comfortable seat “Now I’m just bored!”
This was not the adventure Katie was promised in her mind’s brochure when she agreed to endure the burden of this trip.
“Katie…” came the soft voice attempting to remain stealthy. “Katie…” came the whisper again. “Kathryn Liberman!” came Jessica’s voice booming directly in the young girl’s ear.
Startled awake from sleep brought on by severe discomfort, Katie flailed her arms in an attempt to regain her balance. Nearly falling from her high perch, the young girl glared at her mother disapprovingly with fire in her eyes.
“Damn you, Mom, I told you to keep it down!” she scolded “I’m trying not to give us away!”
“Oh pipe down,” Jessica replied “Nobody but you has been able to hear a word I’ve said in five years! There’s no need to get all snippy!”
Katie grinned slightly with her head bowed in anger. Sometimes, she thought her mother didn’t completely understand the severity of her situation. The slightest miscalculation could end up in tragedy. Why would she? Jessica was already dead and had absolutely nothing to lose.
“You just don’t get it, do you?” Katie continued while brushing the snow from her sweatshirt “The people I’m looking for CAN hear you…maybe. I’m not sure. Anyway, there is a possibility they can hear you and I don’t want to take any risks. From now on, pretend as though they can hear you!”
“Look,” Jessica attempted to retort “You were the one asleep on the job while I’ve been out in the snow looking at footprints for an hour! You’re the one not taking this seriously!”
It was at this point Katie Liberman stopped caring about stealth.
“I’m not taking this seriously?” she stood in anger attempting to keep her balance on the frozen limb “Right now, I have a faceless nemesis who could be ten feet away from me or in the same room at any given time… and I’d never know it! I know he is my nemesis because I never think much about his demise or what he has planned for my ending if he were to ever get the upper hand. I often daydream about the battle, though. If this doesn’t qualify for the title of ‘arch enemy’, I don’t know what does. I’m not taking this seriously? Comic book heroes don’t have shit on me right now, Mom!”
The stinging cold burned her throat as Katie attempted to catch her breath from the argument as the winter steam escaped from flaring nostrils. She’d been trying to keep it together the best she could over the last few days but now it seemed as though the breaking point was in sight. So far, the only two good things that happened to her were soul preparation from a holy apparition and possible soul destruction from a bi-sexual Irish girl who may or may not be the new, proud owner of her virginity. Using those two examples on a sliding scale, the goodness factor was exactly where it started when she first reached New York. She’d gotten nowhere and she was getting desperate.
“Look,” Katie started again to remain calm “I’m not going back empty handed, Mother. I’m either going to be successful in killing this Kurt Jimmerson guy or I’m going to die in the process. I’ve just about blown every bit of money set back for my first year of college to get here, eat, and survive. I’m lying to the people who gave me the money by not telling them where I’m at. I’m too damn old to get grounded but Dad will damn sure try to make life difficult if I have to go back home and live under his roof, especially after he finds out what I’ve done. Most importantly, I refuse to spend the rest of my life cursed as a werewolf. I want to live like a normal girl, work a normal job, marry a normal guy, and have normal
babies. I’m never going to have any of those things if I don’t put a stop to it here and now. If I die trying, so be it. I’m no better off…”
“Oh, listen to yourself,” Jessica came at her “I’m Katie Liberman and I’m a werewolf! I’m Katie Liberman and I’m miserable! I’m Katie Liberman and I’ve got problems!”
Jessica’s mocking was beginning to anger Katie and she could feel the tingle of separating flesh around her fingernails. Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do to shut a ghost up.
Jessica’s rant continued.
“Regardless of how you may have to live out the rest of your days, at least you’re still alive. That is something I can’t say and will never be able to say again! I miss being able to touch people or speak with random strangers! I miss the taste of food and the smell of flowers! I’d give anything for a freaking cigarette right about now! You’ve got some kind of weird death wish ‘thing’ going on and don’t care if tomorrow ever comes. Baby, you don’t want this. You don’t want to exist this way. At least with the ‘family curse’ as you call it, you have choices in the matter. I have no choices left. My soul is scraping the bottom of the barrel and I’m not even sure how much longer I’ll be attached to this world. One day I’m not going to be able to jump to you when you need me. One day I’ll be gone for good. Your rule book can still be written. You can make yours up as you go. My pen ran out a long time ago.”
Katie couldn’t argue with the points her mother was making. Jessica was right. In the end, it all came down to personal choices on where she wanted her life to go and how she wanted to live it. There were ways around the werewolf issue. It was just going to make things a lot more difficult. She felt sorry for Jessica and everything she’d been through over the years but it was her fault. Most things wrong with Katie and the bad things that happened to the other people she loved were because of Jessica’s actions. With that, Jessica wasn’t going to be able to opt out of the conversation at hand easily. She wasn’t going to be able to play the sympathy card or gain victory in a mother and daughter disagreement. In life or death, Katie had to win. There was no way she was going to give up an ‘I told you so’ in this or reveal the epiphany of a life lesson to her mother’s satisfaction. Something had to be said to stop the direction of the talk. Something had to be said in order to slam dunk the point in a way her mother would treat her like an adult with her own agenda. Something had to be said to shut her up for good.
“Mom,” Katie sang sweetly “I lost my virginity to a lesbian last night!”
The awkward silence was broken by the rush of rapid footsteps in the snow below. Jumping to the ground quickly, Katie inspected them closely to reveal they indeed didn’t belong to humans. The shoe prints were too far apart for a normal stride and the clawed handprint in every other indention was a dead giveaway. This was it! There was no time to finish the conversation.
“Mom, get back to the apartment and wait for me!” Jessica flinched, still in shock from the previous statement. “You had sex with a lesbian?”
Before Katie could even tell her to shut up, the ability to use her human voice disappeared and the painfully quick cracking of her tiny bones echoed through the nearby trees. She pursued the pack of fleeing werewolves with determination.
Dodging in and out of the coming trees, Katie flung fallen snow in all directions beneath her feet. The tracks were becoming much sloppier meaning they were now moving quicker than before. Either the pack knew someone was following them or they were getting in a bigger hurry to reach their destination. From what she could tell, there were four of them. Three sets of tracks were all that could be seen by the untrained eye but the middle set was much larger than the ones on the sides. It had been stepped through by the one following making it only look like three. With one in the lead and three following, it was a definite sign there was a leader present in the group. If it were truly the case, he’d be the worst to deal with and the first one she’d have to take out. Once accomplished, the other three would attack in unison or flee in fear of not having a leader anymore. It was a gamble but a gamble she’d have to take.
Slowing her pace, she noticed the prints had gotten closer together. Now, only shoe prints were visible because they’d returned to their human form and walked upright. Doing the same, Katie stood as tall as she could. She looked in all directions to see any sign of their presence. Slightly ahead of her in the distance, she recognized a large green set of shrubs which had no snow covering them amongst the white background. They’d been cleared. As she guessed, the shoe marks led directly to them. Katie snuck through the bushes quietly as they revealed a hillside clearing. Her targets gathered below.
Standing in a diamond formation around a park bench, four average looking young men surrounded what looked to be a fifth. Whoever this other person was, they showed no signs of fear or even any realization to the presence of the others. Either they were sleeping deeply or Katie had arrived too late. Patiently, she awaited the next clue looking down on the events about to unfold.
The four creatures of the night moved closer while remaining cautious of their surroundings. All of them seemed to be dressed the same with flannel jackets and torn blue jeans as though a clothing purchase hadn’t been part of their recent activities. Their long, straight hair showed darkness against the pure, white surroundings of the fallen snow. This was a pack like she’d imagined. They could’ve easily passed for quadruplets which was what had more than likely brought them together in the first place. They were moving toward the odd person out like a well-rehearsed team. It was as though they’d been through this ritual a million times before. Katie was starting to get nervous.
Just then, the person on the park bench came to their senses and screamed out in sudden terror. It was a woman! A homeless woman who’d been covered against the snow by newspapers and a tattered blanket now clung to the armrest of the park bench for dear life looking on to the approaching reapers in fear. It was a victim no one would miss, more than likely. This was it. This was how the packs in Central Park survived. Katie was sickened instantly at the realization about to take place.
In the grand scheme of things, this had little to do with the mission. She hadn’t come all this way to be the savior of homeless people. Katie came to kill werewolves. The dilemma banged around in her head until she could almost feel soreness against her temples. This wasn’t her normal line of thinking. No, this was the way of her father and his quest to defeat all forces of evil. Those that surrounded their home at any cost to keep his people safe and sound. Why was this happening? Why at this crucial moment of reckoning was Katie pausing in her efforts? Was her mother right? Was the family curse a gift in disguise? What if she did decide to live with this and use it to help others? What if it was fate?
Shaking her head violently, Katie removed the visions from her head and focused again on her prey. If she waited for them to attack, she could surprise them while they were feeding. But…if she could somehow delay their advance and give the outnumbered woman a chance to escape…
What would Toby Liberman do? What would Kurt Jimmerson do? What would Father McCormack do?
Giving into her final question, she exhaled deeply in disappointment.
Being a girl who never really cared much about the masses or how they perceived her, Katie was hesitant. The last few years, when she should’ve been socializing with other’s her age, she’d pretty much spent all her time caught up in her own little secret world held prisoner in her room for fear of how the public would react. Why would now be any different? Why protect those who would fear or harm her if they got the chance?
Walking up slowly behind the closest member of the greasy pack of men, the soon-to-be victim was the first to catch on to her presence. The homeless lady mouthed two tiny words through frozen lips that made Katie’s blood boil. ‘Help me’. Nodding silently in agreement, the would-be hero pulled the hood from her sweatshirt tight over her head to hide her face. It was time for the festivities to get underway once and for all. She cleared her throat aloud causing all four men to look her way in excitement.
“Don’t mind me, boys. I’m just here to watch the show,” she announced sarcastically “Proceed.”
Fanning out in a straight line in front of their victim as though they were protecting a meal from a stray dog, the leader stepped forward to confront the unexpected challenger.
“Leg it, you manky bitch! This doesn’t even concern you!” the leader spoke with a harsh Irish accent.
Giggling at the curse thrown her way, she began to pace back in forth in front of them in a gesture of taunt. Katie showed no fear. Her body was electric.
“Leg it, you manky bitch?” she inquired “I’ve only been in town for a handful of days and, so far, everyone I’ve met has either been Irish or fell asleep watching ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ too many times.”
“Well then feel free to bugger off, young one, before you find out all too fast what thickness will get you in the wee hours here!”
“Hmm,” she mocked, still pacing “Well there lies the dilemma, boys. I’m all kinds of interested in what my thickness will get me in the wee hours in this city while facing down four leftovers from a 1992 Seattle grunge experiment… so I don’t think I’ll be buggering off anytime soon.”
Shocked at her defiance, the three followers looked on at their designated spokesman in confusion as though they’d never encountered anyone with the nerves to stand up to them. To Katie, this was pure gold. It meant they had little fighting experience underneath their belts and were used to overtaking their adversaries without much resistance.
“What?” she continued the taunting “You’re not scared of a little girl in a hoodie are you?”
Again, the other three looked at their leader for the answer he was obviously having trouble formulating. Finally, he managed to open his mouth.
“Not counting this morsel behind us, lass, I would say you were outnumbered four to one in a place where no one is going to come to your rescue. Why don’t you just go about your business before you get a bad dose of what we’re offering? Run off to your mama before you get grounded for being out past your bedtime?”
The four of them simultaneously broke out into hysterical laughter at the joke fired at Katie’s expense. Just for the sake of joining in, Katie began to laugh as well slapping her knee in delight at the fact a fight
was looming on the horizon. Finally, her chuckling ended and she glared at them seriously. Planting both feet firmly on the ground to prepare for a charge in their direction, she readied herself for the confrontation.
“What do you mean ‘the morsel behind you’?” she asked, “That bitch ‘buggered off’ just as soon as all of you started laughing. I guess she wasn’t a fan and didn’t care to hear the rest of your act.”
The four of them suddenly quieted their jesting and looked around at each other in confusion. The young stranger wasn’t lying at all. In the distraction, the unfortunate drifter had taken the first chance and ran for her life in an unknown direction. Katie could almost feel the sudden anger in the air as the four lined up facing her. These were definitely bottom of the barrel henchmen for a much bigger organization because they were far from being the brightest individuals imaginable. If packs were running unnoticed in a city this size, more intelligent people were calling the shots. Stepping forward from his cohorts again, the elected leader glared at her with eyes aflame.
“You stupid-ass hoor!” he cried in disgust “That piece of slime was ours fair and square and now we’re going to have to take down your scrawny bones instead!”
Fanning out again in a formation to encircle her, Katie knew she indeed had the upper hand. Not only did they not know what they were about to be dealing with, they were unaware their target was well informed of what they were. She’d been waiting for this moment for as far back as she could remember. It was as though a five-year addiction was about to be fed for the first time in ages. Katie remained calm and studied their movement for the precise moment to reveal all. Slowly, the three underlings sprouted their fangs and began to growl ferociously as they circled. A deep feeling of satisfaction came over her and she grinned in excitement. Katie had found her happy place again.
“Oh please, mister,” she mocked “Please don’t sick your puppy dog men on me! I promise I’ll be a good girl!”
“Keep cracking on, little one,” the man dared as he continued to circle with his minions “You’re only going to make things worse on yourself.”
Lowering her head even more and spreading her legs in a defensive posture, she locked eyes with the leader as his face covered itself in a fine, black fur. It was time to move.
“Oh, you think this situation is bad?” she asked sarcastically “Mister, you haven’t seen anything yet!”
As though a bolt of lightning had struck in the middle of the circle, Katie’s alter ego came to life with a deafening howl. Reacting in both shock and pain from the ear-piercing sound, the four of them focused on the spot it originated. It was already too late. The young wolf attached herself onto the neck of the closest adversary and ripped his flesh in a shower of blood with undiscovered strength. He fell to the snow with a deadly thud, lifeless. Readying herself for the inevitable attack of the other three, she spun around to face them with glowing eyes against the darkness of the night sky.
With their defensive formation broken, the other two followers lunged in unison as the leader watched on curiously. Their attack came suddenly from both sides as they attempted to overpower her. Taking a quick step backwards, Katie gripped their flowing hair with her clawed hands and slammed their faces together in a crimson explosion. Katie slashed their bodies with frantic precision as she spun to her knees. As they fell unconscious to the ground beside her, Katie sprang forward like an armed swordsman tearing their skin from bone to reveal the pink of their internal organs. The young wolf flung her arms in a ready
manner sprinkling the pure, white surroundings with fresh blood. She locked eyes once again on the only target that remained. In a gaze of what could only be interpreted as panic, he fled.
Katie followed, flying quickly on all fours through the trees and brush of the abandoned park. Leaping gracefully into the nearest set of trees, she listened closely for any signs of movement that would give away the presence of the fleeing monster. She concentrated on the various noises surrounding her with eyes closed. The sounds of laughing children and a thousand passing cars engulfed her senses as though she were standing among them. Blocking them out to the best of her ability, she focused on the direction of the castle on the lake near where she’d left her mother’s side. Momentarily, she picked up on the rustle of underbrush heading away from her current location. Katie jumped and judged the closest tree for strength. She landed with ease, sinking her blood-stained claws deep into the bark. Eyeing others in the area, she made another move…and then another as though she was scouring the woods of Twin Oaks again in search of prey. Was this any different? Smiling from pointed ear to pointed ear, she moved on into the night.
The falling snow had stopped long ago. Due to the circumstances, she’d barely noticed the calm which had taken over her surroundings below the glistening moonlight. She descended from her arboreal perch and landed softly on her feet in a mound of deep accumulation. Fresh, sloppy footprints of an individual running for dear life lay before her. Slowly, she hunkered down again to follow the trail and prepared for any type of trap the desperate man may have lying in wait. She was ready.
Staying to the thick foliage that lined the sidewalk of the park, Katie paused to gain clues to her surroundings. He was near. Heightened and uncontrollable breathing could be heard on the wind from the direction of the frozen lake that normally licked the walls of Belvedere Castle. Sneaking to the shore, a dark figure could be seen scooting carefully along the icy surface of the lake to throw off anyone or anything who would prevent his escape. Standing tall amongst the winter dead reeds which lined the banks of the lake, Katie withdrew her disguise.
“Hey!” she shouted “Where in the fuck do you think you’re going? You were going to teach me a lesson, remember?”
Realizing he was no longer alone and in definite peril, the long haired man quickened his pace in panic. He’d changed into human form from no longer being able to concentrate on his transformation. With an echoing smack against the ice, he lost his balance as his feet were taken out from under him. He laid motionless in agonizing pain and glanced at the approaching girl as she drew ever closer. Katie paused. She was going to draw this out as long as she possibly could to build the fear within. It would make for an easier kill.
“Ouch!” Katie exclaimed humorously “I guess it would explain why you have to eat homeless people in the park at night. The tryout for the all Irish hockey team didn’t work out too well for you, huh?”
“Stay the hell away from me, you gammy bitch!” he screamed as he began to crawl closer to the opposite shore “I’m not slagging!”
The young Texan couldn’t wrap her head around all the slang and wondered how these guys ever made it long in an intelligent conversation. Then again, it would probably explain why they were running in packs and feasting on anyone who didn’t have the good sense to stick to the streets after dark. It was almost as though they were orphans of the darkness with a speech problem. This last one was going to have to be dealt with quickly before he alerted anyone else to his problems or her presence. She was almost certain there were cops in the park at night who would come running to the type of disturbance he was making.
“If you mean ‘joking’ I don’t think there is anything I’ve shown you or your friends tonight that could be confused with anything funny,” Katie informed the frightened thug “I don’t know how long you’ve been involved in the whole lycanthropic lifestyle but you can’t just go around killing people at random to fit your needs!”
“Oh yeah, child?” he called back to her “Then tell me how you stay alive without taking the lives of the scum who litter the streets of this town! Tell me how you stay alive!”
Thinking back to earlier in the evening, Katie recalled the scaling of the Central Park Zoo wall to take down an unsuspecting deer in the safety and quiet of its enclosure. She shuddered slightly as the thought of the animal’s metallic tasting blood flowed down her throat quenching the feelings which had intensified since her arrival.
“That’s none of your damn business,” she told him matter-of-factly “and I would be more worried about my own survival right about now because I’m not really one to leave any loose ends.”
Exhausted and injured from the fall atop the ice, the man halted his journey toward safety and awaited his deserved fate. As Katie reached the edge of the man’s feet, she could tell he knew the end had finally come. She’d witnessed this look once before. This was the silent plea for life Jessie McGee exhibited on the rain-soaked grass of the Myrtle County Fairgrounds on that October night of destiny. She was tired of conversation. It was time to finish the job.
By the light of the moon, she could see the odd twist of the man’s ankle as he stared at her in agony. Breathing as though he were attempting as many as possible, savoring all for fear each one might be his last, he gasped loudly against the quiet of the night. Jerking suddenly as Katie reached toward him, he sighed in relief as he realized she was only going for his wallet chain. He broke his silence and peered at her in disgust… even if it meant his last vocal stand.
“Oh, it’s not bad enough that you’re probably going to off me in a bit but you’ve got to go and swipe my wallet as well?”
Removing the stack of money from its leather shell, she tossed the empty projectile straight back into the man’s face with a pop.
“Hey, gammy bitches have to eat too!” she whispered quietly.
Katie removed the sweatshirt’s hood from around her stringy, sweat soaked hair revealing the remainder of her face to the man in a show of finite. He braced for the worst as he sharply closed his eyes and tightened his body to the point of shivering. Katie finished counting the money and tucked it deep inside her back blue jeans pocket for safekeeping. Three thousand dollars was quite an amount for such a nasty thug and a haul for her. This would keep her afloat a little bit longer in the city and she was sure the remains of the other three creeps had a little bit of money on them as well.
“Wow, money bags!” she spoke surprised “If I knew you guys were rolling in it like this, I would’ve started killing you days ago!”
Her waiting victim found no humor in her discovery.
Without warning, a light came on in the opaque blackness of her head that nearly caused her to laugh
aloud. If she insisted on living every day from here on out as though it could possibly be her last, then she might as well give it a cause. Something to live for, so to speak. Something to strike both curiosity and fear into the hearts of those who were to oppose her. Suddenly, the internal conflict from an hour before faded away. Katie discovered her answer to the questions that clouded her young brain and it contained just enough purpose to keep her motivated to pull it off and keep her enemies guessing. Locking serious eyes with the freezing man one last time, he spoke for the sake of clarity.
“Who are you, girl? Are you the finder of the lost? Are you some kind of wayward hero who just hasn’t been unlucky enough to meet the right villain? Are you the savior of Central Park?”
“Not really,” Katie finally confessed “I’m not even from around here. I’m just a girl who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and I’m here to set things right. I know all too well who the villain is and I hope to meet him soon.”
Chuckling in discomfort, the man plead for one final bit of information before meeting his untimely end.
“I just wanted to know why I was lucky enough to fit into your story, love, and was I just in the wrong place at the wrong time as well? What do you call yourself?”
“No,” she replied “You were exactly where you needed to be when you needed to be there. They call me The Howler. You’re going to be my messenger.”
Slamming him hard across the bridge of his nose with her boot, he lost consciousness almost instantly. The board had now been set with its various pieces and the first chess move had been made. Katie’s pawn would soon be informing the other players of her existence.