Chapter 1- Plough
The gargantuan gates swung open, creaking on their rusted hinges. The gates were a mixture of scrap metal: car doors, chicken wire, sides of container units. It was layer upon layer, guarding against the monsters that roamed outside. People shouted on top of the walls, “Two exiting! Due back before sunset!”
Squeezing through the small gap created between the half opened gates, a man in dark clothes stepped out onto the highway. Like the castles of old, the new city had been built on an interstate junction where the highroads were the new moats. Cars littered the path ahead, useless toys of the old world as they were too risky to use. They were noisy and slow, nothing like the monsters that could chase them. “Hurry up would you, Castiel, I have a date with a pretty little thing called Monique.”
Castiel rolled his eyes and adjusted the strap of his M4 carbine on his shoulder. “Somehow, I can’t find it in myself to care, Ion.” His companion chuckled as he followed on behind him, walking next to the cement wall that protected them from the deadly drop. “Man, you need to get out more, find someone to have fun with. You do know what fun is right?”
Shrugging, Castiel used the barrel of his rifle to gesture to the gray wasteland they were walking into. “I’m out right now.”
Clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth, Ion sighed, “Okay, I give up. Don’t come crying to me when you’re an old gray spinster with no one to hold your hand.”
Castiel chuckled as he leaned down to peer through a car window. These cars had probably been checked a hundred times already seeing as they were so close to the city but it never hurt to look. Inside, he saw a teddy bear next to a baby seat and a large gouge had exposed the fluff and springs in the seat beside it. Standing up straight again, he kept on walking down the abandoned highway. The wind whistled behind them, making the bits of rubbish skitter like giant spiders across the cracking tarmac. But it was the howling of the city behind him that truly made this desert eerie.
The city, like the gate, had been made of salvaged materials. It clung to the top of a highway junction. The wolves couldn’t climb, couldn’t jump very high so they had made strong walls of metal and within those walls was the last human city for hundreds of miles, with hundreds of people crammed into the tiny space. At the centre of it all was the lighthouse, the last beacon of humanity.
Stepping over a fallen streetlight, Castiel saw something in the corner of his eye. Raising his gun, he turned to face it. A raven looked at him from the roof of a rusty car, putting its beady eye on him.
Ion walked past him unperturbed. Following after him, Castiel relaxed again. It was midday, the wolves didn’t like bright light so they should be safe. But people had been wrong before and it had cost them their lives.
Eventually, after three hours of trekking through debris and across the cracked roadways they reached the edge of the known zone. This was their mission: scouting beyond that point. Taking out a map from his satchel, Ion made a note of where they were and began to draw what he saw ahead. They were still on a highway but it had moved down to sea level. To their left were fields and to their right was a forest of silver birch trees.
Castiel kept following the road as Ion busily wrote down landmarks, as well as any houses or buildings that he saw that they could search for salvageable material. Ion stopped and pointed to a barn. “We need a new plough, the blade on the last one broke.” Following the direction to where Ion was pointing, Castiel saw the barn with the red roof. Between them and it were flat fields with tall grass. There could be wolves in there, the smaller but fast kind. Chewing his lip, Castiel walked to the edge of the tarmac. “I’m not sure, Ion, it’s dangerous.”
Ion growled and gestured with his gun at the barn. “So is starving to death. The last time we had a food shortage people stared turning on one another. That plough can till the fields, give us more crops. Isn’t it a risk worth taking?”
Shaking his head, Castiel began to walk again. “Have you even thought about how we would carry it back?”
A hand on his shoulder stopped him and Ion spun him around. “We could carry it back together, we’d be heroes!”
“Keep your voice down.” Castiel hissed as he scanned the forest behind them. “Fine, have it your way. For the record it’s a stupid idea. I’ll take point.”
Ion’s face lit up and leveled his AK47. Castiel held no illusions this wasn’t all about impressing some girl. Still, Ion had a point. They had large fields at the back of the city but it was hard work and it wasn’t made any easier by the sea just beyond it that put salt in the air. Having a plough was essential to make the most of the soil.
Breathing out a heavy exhale, Castiel waded into the tall grass. It tickled his arms as he walked, soaked his trousers with dew but he hardly felt any of that. Instead he scanned his surroundings, waiting for the telltale flash of bright eyes – like neon lights.
Behind him, he could hear Ion walking but he was silent too. Both of them had seen the werewolves before. Some of them were big, some of them were small. Others were quick and others were strong. There were even rumors of some werewolves, who were normally twisted creatures between canine and human, that appeared to be giant wolves that prowled the wasteland, and another rumor that there was an alpha that could control them all. In Castiel’s opinion, it was all just fear mongering, until they got a confirmed sighting of anything unusual.
Finally, they emerged out of the grass and stepped onto the baked dirt outside the shed. Castiel pointed to himself, then to the door and then indicated for Ion to open it. Standing in the open doorway, Castiel leveled the muzzle of his gun and rested his finger on the trigger. The door creaked open, a long harsh sound as it moved on its rusty hinges. Castiel grit his jaw. They were making too much noise.
Then, he was looking inside. There was nothing. Blowing out a breath of relief, Castiel walked inside. There was hay rotting and moldy on the loft above him. In front of him was an old rusted tractor and most importantly there was a plough. Ion shook his head, grinning as he went up to him, kneeling in front of it. “Looks like it’s in good condition. It’s gonna be hard as hell to move this thing. It’ll take both of us to shift it. But if we can at least get it out onto the road we can come back with a horse.”
Suddenly, there was a creak above them. Looking up, Castiel saw it. Bright blood red eyes staring down at him from the rafters. It was a long creature, it lay low and flat to the wood with sharp claws that dug into the wood. The werewolf growled, pulling back its lips to show its needle like white teeth. Ion was the first to shoot, a loud burst of noise in Castiel’s ear. There was a howl of pain before the werewolf scurried, angular legs like a spider as it moved along the beam and then lightly jumped down to face them. Castiel stared at it for a moment in horror. He had never seen one like this before.
Ion shot it again but this time, he missed as the werewolf spun to the left and it landed a mere inch in front of Ion.
“Ion!” Squeezing the trigger, Castiel shot, hitting the werewolf in the neck. But it didn’t go down; instead, it turned to face him, an angry growl reverberating in its chest. Over the back of the beast, Castiel saw Ion running from the barn.” Shit,” Castiel spat, now facing the werewolf alone. Judging from its physique, there was no way he was going to outrun it. No, he’d have to kill it.
He shot again as it lunged towards him and the bullet hit, right between the eyes. The werewolf collapsed with a whine, dead on the floor as blood began to seep from the bullet wound. Sighing, Castiel wiped his brow with the black sleeve of his coat. The sound would have drawn others.
Leveling the rifle again, he went outside, walking past the plough. He wondered where Ion was, whether he was waiting for him on the road or if he had run for the safety of the city. Swearing again, Castiel shook his head, moving quickly back outside, through the long grass that tickled along his exposed skin. Emerging up onto the road, he looked around and at the forest on the other side of the road he saw someone. It was a man‒ that much was certain from the broad shoulders and how tall he was. “Ion?” Castiel called. But the man turned away, walking further into the forest. It…wasn’t Ion?
Suddenly, there was a roar, a sound that split his eardrums and he gasped. Turning on his heel he came face to face with a huge werewolf. It stood on two legs and towered over him, blocking the sun from touching him. It growled, thick gelatinous drool dripping from its long yellow fangs. Quickly, Castiel raised the barrel of the gun but it was too little, too late. The werewolf flung out its clawed paw and struck Castiel on the arm, sending the rifle out of his hands and skittering onto the cracked bitumen road.
Its red eyes stared down at him, it parted its maw and Castiel stood there for a moment, paralysed by flight or fight. But as it lunged, teeth snapping, he ducked and rolled out of the way. Gasping, he held his shoulder tight, the impact with the road made him grit his teeth as he stepped back from the werewolf again. The werewolf seemed to smile at him. There was a preternatural intelligence in its crimson gaze that sent shivers running up and down his spine. It leapt at him, suddenly going down onto four legs and it swiped at his leg. Then, Castiel was in the air, dangling from the werewolf’s paw. Blood rushed down to his head, made him feel sick and dizzy but the werewolf just held him, teeth bared as it drew its head back, ready to rip apart his dark clothes and taste his flesh. Just as the werewolf growled, ready to bite, Castiel reached up, fingers scrabbling with the catch of his knife belt and then he suddenly drew out his dagger and forced his hand forward with as much power and strength as he could muster. It sunk deep into the werewolf’s gut and it howled, throwing him.
Closing his eyes, Castiel tucked his chin against his chest but then there was a blinding light, a crack of pain and he was staring up into the sky. Gray clouds moved over him, pregnant with rain.
He heard the creature howl, a rattling guttural sound followed by a thump that shook the ground. Castiel licked his lips, tasted something metallic amidst the fresh rain.
“He made a right mess out of you, now, didn’t he?” Castiel stared up into bottle green eyes, a freckled face but then the man turned away as he spoke to someone else. “I can’t leave him out here can I? They’ll eat him and did you see his moves? He was awesome! No, I’m taking him to the cabin. It’ll be fine. Don’t worry. I’ve got a good feeling about this.”