Warning: This story has some mild adult language and themes.
“I didn’t expect to see you here,” Joey said.
He stared up at his ex-girlfriend, enjoying the view. Long legs encased in tight, faded jeans and a white tank top that barely hid the fact she was wearing a lacy, black bra. He hadn’t seen her in over a year and since then, she had lost thirty pounds and dyed her mousy brown hair a vivid, fire engine red. The music blared in the tiny bar and eruptions of drunken shouts or laughter often wafted over to the other patrons. Avery grinned at Joey and sat down. The petite, overly made-up blonde beside Joey frowned and wrapped an arm around his, laying her head on his shoulder.
“It’s a small world, Joe.” Avery replied, setting her elbow on the table and propping her chin in her cupped palm. She stared at him with smoky, green eyes.
“Is this some sort of revenge, Ave? You look good, and you know you look good.” Joey said with a wide, rueful grin. He took a pull off his beer. She shrugged and smiled.
“If it hurts, then I’m glad, but no, this wasn’t planned. I’m meeting someone here,” Avery replied. She glanced around.
“Don’t matter and no one you know,” she said. Her eyes danced at his tone. Joey nodded, trying to pretend he didn’t care. “I could ditch him, Joe. We could go out to Marlowe Grove, have a little fun, like the old days.” Avery suggested. The blonde sneered at her.
“I thought we were done. If I remember correctly, you said that you would rather sleep with twenty sailors than be with me again.”
“It was thirty crackheads, actually. And you cheated on me. I was angry.”
“Still singing that song?” Joey asked, giving her a crooked grin.
“The only one I know. You’ll learn it real quick, Blondie,” Avery said.
The woman gave a disgusted snort and stood. “Joe, I’ve had enough of this bitch’s talk. Get rid of her or I’ll leave,” she said. She crossed her arms over her chest.
“Go on then, Casey.” Joey said. “At least Ave’s interesting to talk to.”
“You are a bastard, Joseph Mueller. I hope she gives you herpes!” She hissed through clenched teeth. She snatched her purse off the back of the chair and stormed away, weaving through the maze of tables.
Avery gave a whistle and chuckled. “Cute kid, Joe,” she said and snagged Joey’s beer from him. She took a swig and handed it back to him.
“Barely, by the looks and attitude.” Avery sniggered.
“What’s this about?” Joey asked. He studied her, sitting back in his chair.
“Seeing you brings back all the good memories, I guess. I had to stop over and just say hi when I noticed you sitting here. You know, you were something.” Avery grinned. “We were something.”
“Yeah, we sure were.” Joey leered and chuckled at the rush of memories.
“For old time’s sake?” Avery asked.
“Why not? My evening has become free.”
The summer air was heavy and hot. Avery rolled down the pickup’s window to let in the wind, but it did little to cool the air. Even in twilight, the atmosphere was humid and stifling. The world was violet and blue, still kissed with the sun’s heat. Joey turned the radio on, and an old country number played. Avery sighed and began to sing along, her voice blending beautifully in with Patsy Cline’s. He glanced over at her face turned slightly away. Her fiery hair, back in a ponytail, was tugged by the rushing wind, whipping it around her face. Joey felt his chest tighten. Why hadn’t he noticed how pretty she was before? Patsy Cline gave way to Waylon Jennings. The soft, dreamy twilight faded and the sky darkened. Stars began to appear, clear, cold shards of diamonds, as they drove farther from town. Joey turned down an old dirt road, his headlights bouncing with every dip, pothole, and rut they encountered.
“I must have been stupid to leave you.” Joey said, driving into the grassy area before the stretch of woods. He parked the truck, the headlights cutting through the darkness and casting the pines and oaks in brilliant light. He turned to face her and found that she was smiling.
“You were very stupid.” She agreed. “But that’s okay, though because after tonight I think I’ll be able to forgive you.”
Joey scooted across the faded, holey vinyl toward Avery but she opened the passenger door and slipped outside.
“Remember that time we went skinny dipping?” she asked. Joey lunged through the open passenger door and Avery raced toward the trees, her laughter trailing behind her. Joey swore and grabbed the flashlight he kept in the glove compartment. He turned it on and followed Avery into the forest.
“You know, a lot has changed since we broke up.” Avery called from somewhere ahead of him. “I discovered that I love to run, especially at night, in the light of the moon.”
“Wait, Ave!” Joey shouted, panting. Joey tried keeping up but she always remained ahead of him, her voice leading him onward. He heard her laugh echo around him.
‘If you want me, come and get me!” Avery laughed.
Joey halted, trying to discern where her voice was coming from. He spun around slowly, shining his flashlight into the trees. He heard a twig snap from behind him and he turned toward the sound. More laughter echoed from the darkness.
“A year up north really changed me,” Avery said, her voice sounding deeper, followed by a grunt, animalistic and pained that came from his left.
Joey’s heart pounded against his ribcage and his hands shook as he pointed the beam toward the sounds. A growl erupted from behind him and he nearly tripped as her turned to face the creature hiding in the dark.
“Ave! Where are you, Avery?” Joey shouted, his voice wavering with fear. He heard a sound like a rusty laugh followed by a long, drawn out howl pierced the air. The fine hairs on Joey’s arms and the back of his neck stood on end, and his skin prickled with gooseflesh.
The first thing that materialized from the shadows was a large, gray paw. A twig snapped and Joey jumped, torn between fighting and fleeing. A narrow, canine head followed, the shadows slowly pulling away from its features as it emerged into the beam of the flashlight.
Its muzzle wrinkled in a snarl, the teeth long, sharp, and gleaming with saliva. Predatory eyes glared at him with hatred and triumph. Joey took a step backwards, hoping he could evade the creature. It tossed its head, growling and crept forward.
“Holy shit!” Joey whined. The beam jostled and bounced in his shaking hands. He turned and ran.
The forest was unfathomable in the darkness. He couldn’t tell if he was running toward the safety of his truck or farther away from it. His heartbeat thundered in his ears, making it difficult for him to hear if the beast gave chase behind him. The objects that were illuminated by the beam of his flashlight came into sharp focus before he streaked past them, returning them to deep shadows. The full moon rose up toward her zenith, but her glow barely reached the ground.
He broke from the trees, stumbling into the harsh, bright glow of his truck’s headlights. Joey paused for only a second, dragging in deep, ragged breaths. A howl echoed behind him, and he sped toward the open passenger door. He slid along the seat, reaching across and slammed the door shut just as the animal rushed for him. He rolled up the window, his sweaty hands slipping every other turn of the handle. The beast thudded against the door, rocking the truck. Joey locked the doors and curled up on the driver’s side, rolling up that window as well. The radio played Willie Nelson’s “You’re Were Always on My Mind”. The truck rocked again, the shocks squeaking as the massive wolf rammed into it. Joey whimpered and mumbled a soft prayer. The wolf lunged at the truck several more times before an ominous stillness ensued.
Joey crawled across the seat an inch at a time, his eyes fastened on the trees ahead. The meadow was empty. He pressed his face against the glass, his breath steaming the window. Sweat poured down his face, stinging his eyes. A metallic scraping chirped behind him and he spun around on the seat. The sound stopped. The truck jostled. Joey peered out the back glass, watching the wolf stalk across the truck bed.
It stared at him, tongue lolling in an open mouth. Joey knew that it was toying with him. It gave a low, rusty bark that sounded like laughter to his ears before it leapt onto the roof. Metal groaned under its weight, and Joey slid from the seat to the floor, drawing his knees up to his chest. The roof was little protection against the beast’s assault. Each swipe tore at the metal. Long, jagged holes widened until Joey could see the wolf’s face and the starry sky above. He slowly unlocked the passenger door; his hand hovered over the door handle.
The hole was large enough for the creature to slide through, but only just. Its head entered, and after a little squirming, a leg followed. Joey grabbed the handle and pulled. Cool, night air rushed over him and he started for the road, his feet pounding against the sun hardened earth. He heard the truck’s shocks squeak behind him, heard the fury filled howl but he didn’t look behind him.
Joey was thrown forward, his face hitting the edge of the dirt road. The force knocked the flashlight out of his hands and it rolled along, rocked gently and then stilled a few feet from him. His gasping mouth filled with earth. He felt a pressure followed by searing pain. The creature flayed his back, snapping his spine in half. Joey twitched and gulped, his eyes staring at the road that led into darkness. The wolf sat back, admiring its work, panting. Satisfied, it stood and padded away. It howled once more, returning to the forest.
A pair of men who had entertained the thought of fishing in Marlowe Lake stumbled across Joey’s body the next day. Dave Frens lost his breakfast behind Joey’s truck while his friend, Bill Marx, called the police. His hand shook as he reported the corpse, his eyes pinned to what was left of it. The cops came, the men were questioned and the scene investigated before deciding Joey was the victim of an animal attack. They found Avery Williams in the woods nearby, shaken but unharmed. Avery told them that she and Joey were going for a moonlit dip when they spotted the wolf. She had ran and shimmied up a tree.
”I can still hear his screams. He kept calling for me.” She said, her green eyes large and shimmering with tears.
Dan Bolens, the county’s sheriff, nodded. His was face sympathetic as he took down her statement.
“Wasn’t your fault, Avery. There are no wolves in these woods. Well, there never used to be.” He added, trying to offer her some comfort.
“It is my fault. I led him here,” Avery insisted.
Dan couldn’t think of a reply. He led Avery to his cruiser to drive her home. He peered at her in the rearview mirror, frowning as Avery sat with her face turned to gaze out the window. She hummed a Willie Nelson song, a small smile playing about her lips.