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Ode to David Kessler

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Ode to David Kessler

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An American Werewolf in Iraq

 

 

2018
Hannibal had been standing in one of the short isles of the convenience store staring at the array of items on the shelf when BA walked up holding his purchase of three sandwiches and a gallon jug of milk.

“You ready to go, Boss?”

Hannibal blinked out of his reverie. “I’ll just be a minute.”

BA followed Hannibal’s eyes to the shelves and just shook his head. “You getting a box?”

“No,” the boss said as he too lightly shook his head. “Let’s get back on the road.”

Hannibal’s hands were full with the two bags of sandwiches, chips and drinks he bought for himself and Face. BA didn’t see the boss take one more glance at the shelves before turning to follow him out of the store.

 

2009
He heard it again. It was definitely sniffing. Not just sniffing either, there was a bit of snarfing thrown in as well. It came from the outside back wall of his quarters, along the base of his tent and was most definitely an animal of some sort, a rather large animal.

In Iraq on this particular FOB the men and women of the US Army were housed in small studio apartment sized tents. Being a top ranking officer and the head of one of the most elite Ranger Alpha groups, Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith had not only a tent to himself, but what in the army is considered a high end tent. Spacious, air conditioned for a reprieve from desert heat and heated for chilled desert nights, his was even fitted with a small entry complete with locking door. His Lieutenant, Templeton “Faceman” Peck, being an XO extraordinaire had arranged for modern furnishings to dot his Colonel’s abode.

Interestingly, Hannibal had never witnessed the arrival of any of the furnishings with the exception of a floor lamp delivered to him by one PFC Casey Tambor. It was explained the tall, lean box containing the lamp was the last item remaining when a supply truck had completed a delivery. Still wearing a confused look, Tambor noted to the Colonel his name was clearly marked on it.

That night the lamp had been set on low and over Hannibal’s shoulder, previously illuminating the book he held but had abandoned when his attention was first coerced into playing a game of twenty questions with himself over what could be out there as the rummaging about his tent became more persistent. Added to the sniffing and snarfing an occasional brief whine joined in the efforts to... To what? Hannibal asked himself. One particularly sharp whine verging on speech convinced the Colonel to slide on his holster. Checking his handgun clip for rounds he fitted it into the leather pocket along his ribs.

His tent wasn’t exactly in line with the other tents in a row. On an end, his was set slightly apart. It gave him a certain amount of privacy in alignment with his rank and necessitated by his position as a leader and planner of many a covert mission. For a man his size, with more than two hundred pounds dispersed over a 6’ 4’ frame, Hannibal was surprisingly stealthy. Slipping into the night he felt alone in the otherworldly quiet and calm.

One would have thought the base had been abandoned. Of course this was nothing unusual in the vicinity of the tents where soldiers slept at 0200 hrs. The quiet only disturbed by the muffled rumblings of a few someones snoring behind the shield of the modern army tents. Overnight guards only occasionally passed by the area in the night, their attention more pointed at the camp perimeters. At that moment their whereabouts were not readily apparent, but certainly not within earshot.

Moving on cat’s paws to the left side of his tent he distinctly heard movement coming from somewhere around the structure. He froze, listening intently. The sniffing could no longer be heard. He ran it through his processor. Was he not close enough? Had whatever he had heard concluded its... its... its what? What the hell was it and what was it looking for?

Again he heard movement, though he couldn’t ascertain if it was a retreat or an advance. Hell, he wasn’t convinced this break in the silence of the night was either one. In his concentration targeting on the sonance he hadn’t realized he himself was once again advancing until a pebble was sent scurrying like a tiddlywink across the desert floor from under his sole. In the quiet of the night it may as well have been a beat of a bass drum. Although, there was no mistaking it now, there was definitely the sound of a gait, a distinct trot, and it was moving away.

He abandoned his sneak attack to quickly move around to the back of the tent, weapon in both hands at the ready.

Nothing.

Stepping away from the back wall he gave himself a wider view as he hurried around the third corner only to be met with more nothing. A brief scan caught what could have been a shadow flicker on the ground by the next tent over. With the angle of his own tent he wouldn’t have had a clear view had it been daylight much less in the dark. Peering across the expanse he wished the clouds would clear on the full moon night.

He was feeling disjointed. He had it firmly in his head this was an animal he was tracking, and that was uncomfortable for him. He’d had years of training and hands-on experience in tracking, encountering, and if necessary, taking on other men and women, but not wild animals. As the son of a retired army veteran from the Midland area of Michigan who had returned home to help his own father, John’s grandfather, on a dairy farm, Hannibal was more familiar with docile Guernsey cows. Growing up John had little wilderness and wildlife experience outside of deer, opossums, raccoons, and the occasionally surely barn cat.

From time to time a report of a black bear would surface, but they generally kept their distance, not having become habituated to humans in the area. There were no catamounts and the wolf population in the 1950s was zero due to over exuberant hunting which resulted in the decimation of packs in the state. They wouldn’t return for another quarter century, and even then it took the help of their status on endangered lists.

His leeriness wasn’t completely unfounded. Word had reached the ears of the US soldiers of wolf attacks in the area that had dated back close to two years. He understood the wolves had lost their fear of humans and gunfire used to chase them off, instead they challenged and more and more people were shooting the canids in self defense and in defense of their livestock. Rumor had it the nomadic people of the desert believed a werewolf was responsible claiming the attacks only took place at night and in the light of the full moon. What rubbish, crossed the soldier’s mind.

Scanning across the distance between his and the next tent he followed the shadow which when he arrived alongside the next structure had melded into the darkness cast by the quarters itself. Peering along the length to the end of the wall where the charcoal deep shadows suddenly broke down at the overwhelming light shone downward from that moon which had clawed its way past the clouds. If it had been even a bit darker at that moment, he may have dismissed the black brush tail as sleep deprivation and otherwise explainable shadows and gone back to his tent where he would call it a night and head for bed. After all, what kind of creature would, or for that matter, could sneak onto the base?

His lyin’ eyes were telling him it was a wolf.

Hannibal had a clear view to the next tent beyond to see what looked like the tail of a dog slipping behind a building. Though certainly no expert, Hannibal noted the downward angle and diameter of the bit of tail and surmised this “dog” was a monster in size. There were several dogs in camp, sad waifs adopted by kindhearted soldiers who more often than one supposed arranged to have the little curs shipped home to the States. But that was just it, they were little curs, nothing of the size of the animal who had just then slinked around a corner where it would travel between tents and the makeshift alleyway their close proximity created.

Descending on the tent from the opposite direction from his quarry the Colonel slowly looked around the corner fully expecting to come eye to eye with... but all that was there was more of the frustrating nothing. Stepping into the opening between the tents he noted the light mounted to the back corner. It was overhead and shone a conical beacon illuminating the dust and sand covered ground.

Down the passage he crept, ears fine tuned to pick up minute sounds in the night, relying on his hearing like a blind man. With his P14 drawn as he reached the beam of light he didn’t wait long, there was a sound of crunching in the sand. He quickly checked around the corner ready to aim his firearm, an extension of his arms held at eye level, only to see Face coming his way with his own weapon drawn, looking wary.

Face signaled in Pig Latin-like hand gestures the team had developed into a private language of their own. His fingers forming a V pointed at his own eyes followed by a jerk of a thumb and quick displays of various fingers telling Hannibal he saw an animal over 36” tall go into the next passage that separated the two men.

Each had moved to the edge of their respective tents. Hannibal’s weapon in a double-handed hold, arms straight and pointing to the ground. Face also used a two-handed grip on his Luger, though his elbows were up and to his right with the handgun muzzle pointed skyward.

The Lieutenant whispered across to his Colonel, “I heard something behind the tents. I was trying to head it off, but I can’t find it. It’s always a step ahead.”

Hannibal nodded and tipped his head down the makeshift alley separating them. Face nodded in reply. A split second of silent communication between their eyes and they both stepped into the passage cast into darkness by its own shadows. Together they moved in matched footfalls, a technique used not only to reduce noise produced but also to confuse listening ears into thinking there was only one person on the move.

Just before reaching the end Hannibal bumped his shoulder into Face, signaling him to pause and listen. They both heard it, the muffled crumbling of sand underfoot. With a nod of Hannibal’s head they each outstretched their arms ahead of themselves and stepped into the moonlight, Face scanning right, Hannibal left. They registered the movement between two tents across from them in unison, both swinging their weapons inline with a shared point. A shrouded figure close to the ground stood upward and approached, stepping into soft lumination from the celestial glow from above. Hands were thrust upward upon seeing the two men with their weapons drawn on him.

Quietly trotting forward, Face whispered, “What the hell you doing out here, Murdock?”

He didn’t answer immediately, arms still straight and reaching above his head, eyes fixed on the gun barrels that remain pointed in his direction, unable to relax until the two men realized they still had their weapons trained on a third team member and moved them in other directions.

“I heard noises out here,” the Captain half whined, obviously still rattled from having two weapons pointed his way. “I could have sworn whatever it is moved off that way.” He raised a hand, casting beyond Face’s right shoulder.

“That’s the direction you were coming from,” Hannibal noted to Face.

“But I know it moved behind the tents in your direction,” Face added to the puzzle.

“I think there’s some animal tracks over here. I was trying to get a good look at them, but it’s too dark. It might be a big dog. You don’t think it could be wolves, do you?”

All three dropped their eyes to the ground, searching for a trace.

“Come look over here,” Murdock said as he returned to where they had first seen him.

The ground Murdock pointed out was impossibly dark. Crouching down one could barely make out the shape of an animal track amongst a hodgepodge of other markings in the sand. Hannibal stood looking once more in the direction the Captain had pointed. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Face drop a reassuring hand on their Captain’s shoulder. Murdock tried being brave on the subject, but his confidence typically veered off.

Stepping back out in the open Hannibal’s men followed. Dispensing with the whisper while still keeping his tone low Hannibal addressed both of them, “It’s late. We’re meeting with the other teams at 08:00. We need to get some sleep. We can take another look in the morning. Go back to your quarters.”

Neither man budged.

“Go on.”

Murdock snuck a peak at Face before saying, “The three of us have two tents to get to.”

“Nothing will probably happen, but no one should go it alone,” Face ventured.

“I don’t need an escort back to...”

Face cut him off, “Humor us, Boss.”

Tiredness had suddenly fallen over Hannibal like a cloak taking some of the fight out of him. “Fine, walk me to my tent then you two head back.”

“I don’t think you should be alone,” Murdock chimed in. “In your tent I mean.”

“Okay, that’s enough. I’m tired and we need to be up...” he paused to check his watch, “...in three and half hours.”

“Come on, Boss. It’s only a few tents down.” Both Face and Murdock moved toward the quarters they shared with Bosco, the fourth member of their team. Hannibal dropped his head and followed along.

“Where‘s BA?” the Colonel asked.

“He was sound asleep when I came back from the latrine and saw Facey was gone.”

It really wasn’t much of a walk at all and the three were in front of the shared tent shortly. The sounds of BA’s soft snoring were wafting from behind the entry.

“Good night Murdock,” then to his Lieutenant, “Get some sleep Face. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Face was having none of it. His fingers wrapped around Hannibal’s elbow. “Come on, Boss. Not like we haven’t bunked together before.”

That did it for Hannibal. Not only did he respect his second he was smitten with him. The warmth of Face’s hand penetrating the cloth of his shirt sparked a longing in the Colonel. One that seemed to be finally reciprocated by this blue eyed soldier. That is until the accident that threatened to take both Face and Murdock away from him. Things felt different afterward. Whereas Hannibal and Face seemed to be drawing together prior, after Face had been discharged from the VA hospital back home in Georgia, he seemed to have emotionally drifted away as he and Murdock continued their recuperation under Hannibal a BA’s watchful care.

Inside the tent Hannibal made a quick call notifying nightwatch of the possible presence of an animal on base. Face made a beeline for the sofa, sitting and immediately unlacing his boots. Hannibal noted his Lieutenant’s laces had only caught on a few hooks as though Face had secured the footwear in a hurry.

“Put ‘em on fast?”

Face looked up, confusion apparent.

“Your boots. They’re barely laced,” Hannibal remarked flicking a finger in the direction of Face’s feet.

“Yeah. When I heard whatever that was outside I kinda put them on in a hurry.” Both boots were off and Face scootched around preparing to stretch out.

“You can’t sleep on that,” Hannibal had his own boots off now and was standing to turn down his bed. “Come on. In case you forgot, you ordered me a queen size. Plenty of room for both of us. That’s only comfortable for sitting or a nap.”

Face looked at the truncated sofa. Hadn’t it been called a loveseat when he ordered it? Shorter than a sofa? Hannibal was in his skivvies, tucking his feet under the covers. A smile reached Face’s blue eyes and he stood, making his way to the other side of this bit of luxury in the desert. Stripping down to his own T-shirt and shorts he climbed in as well. It was only a few short minutes before back to back they both slid into welcome sleep.

Face felt he’d only closed his eyes moments before when he was awoken by a fully dressed Hannibal slapping his foot, “Come on Face. Time to get moving.”

A knock on the door was produced by BA and Murdock ready to accompany them to their meeting with Colonel Bircham’s men and General Morrison. Hannibal was pouring himself another cup of coffee and Face was back to tying his boots.

“What is this fool talking about?” BA asked in the general direction of the two men. “Been bothering me since we got up this morning about some snipe hunt you was all on last night.”

“I told you BA it wasn’t a snipe hunt. We were tracking big game, weren’t we Boss?” Murdock defended.

“We we tracking something, but I’m not sure what it was.”

“What it look like?”

“Never got a good look at it. Just saw it’s tail and frankly now I wonder if I even saw that. It was dark. It was late.” He turned his attention to Face. “Ready, Kid?”

Face was sipping from a mug with the image of an elephant encircling it. “Need a little coffee, Boss.”

“Bring it with, but don’t lose my cup. Okay guys, let’s move out.”

Three hours later found BA and Hannibal outside the back of the Colonel’s tent looking for prints in the sand that may have escaped the miniature dust devils known to regularly crop up in the area.

“It’s all smoothed out. I don’t see anything.” BA was trying, but nothing was making itself evident for the would be investigation. Besides his mechanical prowess, this man who had been born and bred amidst the concrete of Chicago’s South Side had become quite the tracker, surpassing even Hannibal’s acumen. However, with the random and sudden movement of desert air obliterating what may have been there the night before there was no way to determine what the Colonel had heard in the early morning hours.

“Didn’t you say there was something Crazy had found?” BA asked.

He had almost forgotten Murdock appearing from between two tents down the line, a memory close to lost in the fog of reliving the scattered and tilting narrative of the night’s events. He led the way and they were soon crouched low studying patterns left in the earth.

“Well this is the other extreme,” Hannibal noted before zeroing in on a paw print. Hovering his own enormous hand over the indentations he could only shake his head at the size of the animal that had left it. Looking beyond it he could see a path of tracks rise from the ground. Many of the prints were trodden upon, presumably by Murdock, but could be picked up again farther along their trail.

“Did you see this boss?” BA pointed to three indentations with a solid boot print superimposed over the rest of the print. “Looks like toes, people toes.”

“Has to be something else.”

“Must be. But what?” BA puzzled. His hand moved pointing to something closer to the side of one of the tents that created this alleyway. “See that?”

“What are looking at?”

“That’s been stepped on too, but it looks like the impression of two boots, side by side, right next to each other.”

Sure enough, with it pointed out Hannibal saw it clearly, two boot prints, a left and a right.

BA looked up the side of the tent, “Why would someone be standing there facing the tent? Nothin’ up there. No holes to look in.”

“Maybe no one was standing there. When you stand your feet are usually apart. These are next to each other...”

“Like someone set a pair of empty boots there,” Ba finished the boss’ thought.

Something was rising from the dirt and sand. An image was materializing before him. He opened his mouth to speak but stopped himself. He was about to voice something totally off the wall and caught himself in time to reason he needed some sleep. “Makes no sense,” he mumbled instead.

They stood together taking in the various prints in the sand from the distance of their height. Hannibal fished his phone from his pocket. Face had given it to him the year prior as a birthday gift. Hannibal was grateful and made a fuss over the new fangled piece of technology while Face smiled from ear to ear, but thought to himself the iPhone 3G was a little fancier than he needed. Frankly the flip phone it was replacing had untapped features Hannibal wanted nothing to do with.

With Face’s tutelage he learned to use the built in camera and had to admit it came in handy. Out in the field there were numerous occasions for him to snap a picture which he could send back to base for immediate updates. Okay, Face was the one who did the photo transmissions on the strange little George Jetson communication devise, but that was beside the point. And there he stood snapping pictures of the walkway before it too was sandblasted clean. He would study the pictures a little more closely after he showered and ate a late lunch.

Days later the four were together sitting around the baby pool, eight sets of toes randomly wiggling in quietly rippled water. Murdock was trying to wrap his head around the information Hannibal was laying out. “So Arabian wolves have been losing their fear of man. That’s what happened to me.”

Hannibal had been conducting research. Their unit was in a bit of a holding pattern waiting on two B-Teams to conclude their surveillance before they were joined by not only Hannibal’s team but two others as well. In the meantime he had become immersed in researching the wolves of the area on the internet. He had come to fully understand the nickname “Worldwide Web” as he drifted off on one tangent or another, thinking to himself it must be the way it was inside Murdock’s head, jumping from one subject to the next.

He managed to keep focused for the most part and had learned more on the subject than he’d ever contemplated. Yes the wolves were indeed becoming bolder at the sight of man. Previously giving a relatively wide berth to their two-legged neighbors they were, starting several years prior, encroaching more and more often on farmers’ properties in search of their livestock. Previously the humans’ presence had been enough to keep them at bay, but something had changed. Something had triggered them to overcome their natural fear of men and their guns to challenge them over a new source of prey.

Arabian wolves, the one species of wolf whose range could possibly cross the FOB typically roamed in pairs or in the occasional set of up to four, but the attacks on the farms were waged by proper sized packs. Yet however unsettling these incidents were there was something more ominous afoot. There had also been the occasional story of people outside of base, though not in any of the nearby rural districts, who were victims of savage animal attacks. The word “victim” had stuck in Hannibal’s craw though, knowing most if not all of these “victims” were in fact particularly murderous members of the opposition, savage in their own right, who were killed oftentimes in their camps out in the desolate desert. Also, rather disturbingly, there were those killed in safe-houses and apartments in well populated if not outright urban areas, again mauled in identical animal attacks.

Rousing himself back to Murdock’s note of the desert variety of wolves losing their fear of man, “It’s been amping up over the last couple years,” Hannibal confirmed. They sat silent for a moment before the Colonel in the trusted company of his team inched forward into an uncomfortable area. “The nomadic people of the desert say they are being pushed out by a new predator, one they don’t care to compete with.”

“Like what?” BA queried.

“Like another wolf.”

“So what? One is moving in from another territory?” Murdock was all over this.

“Not exactly...”

“Like a different variety?” Murdock jumped in again.

“Not exactly.” Hannibal braced himself. “The nomads say it’s werewolves.”

“Werewolves?!” BA spat out as only he could, as though utterance of the word had somehow personally insulted Momma B herself. He finished with a scoff and shake of his head.

Murdock on the other hand sat forward, “Oooooo .... werewolves.”

“Werewolf?” Face finally piped in on the conversation.

“There wolf,” Murdock picked up, quoting in an English accent from a favorite movie. “There castle.”

“Why are you talking like that?” Face lobbed.

Back to his best Marty Feldman, Murdock continued, “I thought you wanted to talk like that.”

“Not me,” Face deadpanned as Dr. Fraunkunsteen.

“Suits me. I’m easy,” Murdock finished to the both of them laughing.

“You really believe there’s a werewolf out there, Boss?” Face had his head back and tanning eye goggles perch on the stop of his nose.

“I didn’t say I thought there’s one. I said the nomads did,” Hannibal said in a slightly perturbed tone.

“Don’t pay any attention to him, Boss.” Murdock’s attention returned to the Colonel. “Why they think it’s werewolves?” the pilot asked speaking fast. It should have been Hannibal’s clue.

“They say it’s a different type of wolf. Bigger, heavier. Say they only see it on nights of the full moon.”

This last bit brought Murdock up short and had Hannibal wondering what the hell he had been thinking, or more to the point, not thinking.

“Like that night we went down. There was a big wolf there that night,” the pilot spoke, enthusiasm evaporated in the overly dry climate of this arid land. “Ya know? Bill over in the mess tent said he would put some brownies aside for me. Think I’ll mosey on over there.” He had his feet out of the water and was sliding them in a pair of flip flops.

“Murdock, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking...”

“It’s okay, Colonel. I’ll bring them back here. Alright?”

“Yeah. That ‘a be great, Murdock.”

As soon as he was out of earshot Face chastised, “Nice going, John.”

He deserved that. Sometimes he wondered how he was entrusted with the lives of these very special men when he could be such a dolt. That had been typical Murdock. Skipping right along with the conversation only to have it blow up out of nowhere. Except it wasn’t nowhere. Hannibal could kick himself for not protecting the pilot, but, he rationalized, neither had the others.

The night Murdock was referring to was one he had spent with Face in the desert along with the bodies of two surveyors in the wreckage of the chopper they went down in. Murdock had been charged with flying the men out to take arial photographs and plot base points to later be used for maneuver and patrol maps. Face was along to guard against anyone they may encounter who may take potshots at the bird.

Things were going along smoothly. The photography was completed and a final radius was being recalculated when the bird coughed and began emitting a high pitched whine like a creature mortally wounded. The chopper without warning dropped three, maybe four dozen feet leaving everyone aboard with the exception of Murdock with the deck disappearing from under them. One of the surveyors, Jerry, had flung an arm out only to land on it full force when they caught back up with the chopper’s deck. He yelped in pain when his forearm snapped. Face made his way to the man yelling to the other to hold onto the netting designed to secure cargo.

As he reached the injured Specialist an alarm began to blare screaming of the carnage headed their way and vying in intensity with Murdock’s yells of, “We’re going down!” Face glanced up long enough to see a propeller blade lackadaisically flutter by with no intent of keeping them in the air. Face’s stomach dropped as the bird resumed its plummet from the sky.

 

In the end Face couldn’t have protected the personnel aboard the ill fated flight from its own suicide plunge. Nor was there anything more their top ranked pilot could have done beside dropping the chopper closer to the ground before it fell from the sky. The problem was one familiar to helicopter crash investigators - oil expelled from a cracked gear case immobilizing the main rotor.

When Murdock woke from surgery in his room his restlessness and gibberish alarmed the staff enough they summoned Colonel Smith who was all but glued to Lieutenant Peck’s bedside.

“I’m here, Murdock. Are you in pain?” The boss held the Captain’s hand as he bent over into his line of sight which had been limited by the brace secured around his neck.

“Hannibal?”

“Right here, son.” Hannibal brushed disheveled hair from his forehead with the side of his pinkie.

“Wolves.”

Leaning forward, Hannibal thought he said ‘wolves.’ “Tell me again. I didn’t hear you.”

“Wolves.”

Hannibal straightened enough to look in the green eyes. He wordlessly questioned.

“There were wolves, Colonel.”

Before either could say more a doctor accompanied by a nurse stepped in the room and got right to it. “Colonel? You’re the Captain’s CO?”

“Yes I am.”

“Captain?” Murdock’s eyes turned to the voice. “I’m Colonel Reigert your assigned doctor.” He motioned to the young man who accompanied, “This is Lieutenant Phillips. He’ll be recording and making notations to your file. Your commander is present. Would you prefer a private consultation? Would you like me to ask him to step out?”

Murdock’s grip tightened with Hannibal’s snugging in return. “No,” was the reply. Hannibal noted the doctor’s eyes drop to their hands. He loosened his hold and began to retract it. Murdock was having none of it and markedly yanked their joined hands down to the hospital bed. Hannibal barely shrugged a shoulder when the doctor raised an eyebrow in his direction.

“Okay. Let’s start with the crash itself. I gotta tell you, Captain, people don’t often fall out of the sky and live to tell about it. How far up were you?”

“I..I don’t remember.”

“The final descent was twenty-seven feet,” Hannibal supplied.

“And you know this how?” the doctor asked.

“I was briefed on the investigation so far. The black box flight recorder was retrieved immediately. There was an initial drop of thirty-eight feet, then the...”

“I remember that.” Murdock was staring at the ceiling. “I felt the give in my stick and saw a splash of oil on my windshield. First thing I thought was gear box. If that was it I didn’t have much time to bring her down so I dropped her. Figured if I was lower if it gave out we would have less impact force. I wanted to bring her down soft but she quit on me and we went down.” He paused a moment then asked, “Is Face okay?

“He’s pretty banged up, but he’ll be alright,” Hannibal told him.

“Face?” The doctor asked.

Hannibal clued him in, “Lt. Peck’s nickname is ‘Face.’”

“I see,” then to Murdock, “Your actions saved his life.”

“He saved me. He saved me from the wolves.”

“What wolves, Murdock?”

He was becoming agitated, speaking quickly. “There were wolves. There were wolves everywhere.”

Hannibal could see in Murdock’s eyes he had left the building. He was back in the wreckage of the UH 60 Blackhawk. “Face fought them off. Then one big wolf showed up, a lot bigger than the other ones. I could hear them all fighting. One of them got in the flight deck but it couldn’t get past something that had fallen down next to me. It got down low, got to the floor. It bit me. Then it was grunting and snarling and I saw it being pulled backwards. And I could hear Face swearing at it. Then when I looked out the side there was this big wolf. Didn’t look the same as the others. It ran them off.” He shook his head lightly. “That’s all I remember. They had been all around. I could see them and their shadows. I couldn’t get out. They were...”

“Murdock. Murdock. Come back to me.” It took a moment before Hannibal saw the pilot return. His mind was back with them and there was recognition when he looked at his CO’s face.

“Murdock, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Without argument he released the grip he had on Hannibal’s hand.

“Colonel, a word please,” Hannibal signaled out the door. In the hospital corridor Hannibal addressed the doctor. “Murdock has some emotional issues. He’s worked up now and he won’t be able to participate in this consultation. Perhaps you could give him a little time to settle back down. I’m not sure where this wolf thing is going.”

“I can come back. Forty-five minutes? An hour?”

“That would be good.”

“One thing, Colonel,” the doctor noted before retrieving the nurse making rounds with him, “The Captain does in fact have bites wounds on one ankle.”

 

That had been close to two years ago and both his boys were healed and back with him and BA in Iraq. Their little pool party had broken up for the evening. Murdock had returned with a plate of gooey chocolate delectables and Hannibal was back in his own tent, once again researching the wolves indigenous to the area. It appeared Arabian wolves are the smallest of wolves worldwide. As a result, it was supposed, of the baking climate and limited resources available. A smaller body type manages the environment better than a larger one.

There are two unique traits attributed to the variety. First, they don’t howl as other wolves, coyotes and jackals will to communicate with family members. Secondly, the two middle toes of their front paws are fused, a trait seen in African Wild Dogs but not other wolves. Hannibal typed in a search for Arabian wolves paw prints. The images available were of grey wolves, Arctic wolves, Eurasian species, but none were of the Arabian.

He backtracked to African Wild dogs and sure enough there were few photos, but shots of the dog’s paws and tracks were accessible. He studied the pictures noting the middle toes were indeed fused, but only toward the pad not the full length of the toes. The tracks that resulted were unique with what looks like a cloven hoof indentation in the center. He pulled out his phone to compare the photos he had taken. Not even close. His photos better matched a timber wolf. A particularly large one. With that thought in mind he searched again, this time finding the Mackenzie Valley wolf, the largest of all species. Photos of the paw prints with measuring sticks and tapes beside showed Hannibal the paw prints he photographed were easily as large as the Mackenzie Valley variety.

How the hell did this wolf, native to America’s Northwest, get to Iraq? It had to have been introduced. The species was otherwise locked on the Americas.

He turned his attention to the sparse reports from the nomadic people of the desert. There he learned of a single or pairs of Arabian wolves stealing into overnight camps taking a goat or other smaller livestock. But things had changed several years prior. Cattle and camels were becoming the targets of raids; however, the tribesmen insisted these occurrences were only on full moon nights. It was no surprise after several sightings of an enormous wolf the murmurs turned to legendary werewolves on the loose.

Of course these reports were scoffed at. There were those who tried to explain the rumors away. Not following in the footsteps of those who left the desert behind, the desert tribesmen also have little use for calendars or timepieces. How could these supposedly primitive people track that kind of information associated with the sightings? What the questioners had dismissed was they had become so enshrouded in “modern” life it could pass them by all the desert people had to do was look in the sky and ask themselves if the moon was a full circle.

After a flurry of reports of the oversized wolf the fast paced world had moved on to a different topic. The stories of a giant wolf were replaced with stories of the traditionally lone or pairs of Arabian wolves now teaming up into packs and mounting attacks on farms. As he noted previously, one could move off onto another tangent while searching the web. In one file something caught his eye. It was a newspaper article about an animal attack on an encampment not far from where he and his team had been on a search patrol.

He of course had heard of the attack and had it stored in a file in his head set to be deleted, but now reading about it anew it registered differently than it had before. That night came back to him as though only a week prior rather than over a year. It had been a full moon that night, bright and glowing. They had landed just before sundown, unloaded their vehicles and tandemed across twenty miles before camouflaging the electric powered ATVs to continue the trek on foot for the final three miles. Hannibal had given his silent command to split, Face and Murdock northeast, Hannibal and BA northwest. At the predetermined distance Hannibal and BA split again with the knowledge the other two men were doing the same.

The reconnaissance provided no new information on the movements of one Abu Pavel Al Hesp. It seemed he and his band had not moved from the rock outcrop and accompanying cave they had been holed up in for the past two weeks. It took BA no time to tune in the sounds of their conversation with the long-range laser listening device. BA had been sent with the equipment none of the rest could make heads or tails of to the last know location.

They hadn’t expected the band to still be in their covert. It was generally accepted staying in one place wasn’t wise. The team had all agreed it was most likely they had moved in the direction Hannibal was headed. The cave was an ideal stronghold in terms of being situated in the middle of nowhere. Reaching it undetected would prove fruitless considering the vast open area it sat within. It was only with the high tech device could it be determine if anyone was still home without exposing themselves.

BA didn’t linger. He confirmed their location and recorded for five minutes by his watch prior to hurrying through the night to meet with Hannibal who upon finding nothing, reached their rendezvous point just ahead of his Sergeant. In their hackneyed sign language BA briefly described his findings. Hannibal in turn touched his pinkie to his cheek and tapped his index finger to his temple followed by a thumb quickly thrown over a shoulder. He continued on with another pinkie to his cheek, making a fist and pressing his thumb to his ear. This told BA they would meet back up with Face and Murdock, then at a same distance they would have Face listen to the recording BA had made and translate. The two set off in the direction they had come.

Face was waiting at the rendezvous point. Hannibal gave him a quick rundown while they waited on the Captain. All three raised their weapons from the sound of someone approaching from due west. Face and BA rolled their eyes and Hannibal shook his head to Murdock arriving from the wrong direction. When he was close they could all see blood dribbling down the side of his face from an apparent head wound.

Hannibal reached him first forcing him to swivel so their leader could get a good look in the bright moonlight. He had a gash, but damn head wounds, it looked far more dramatic than it was. He slung an arm around Murdock’s shoulder turning him in the direction back to their ATVs. Before making the silent run back to the chopper they paused long enough to pour a bit of bottled water on his wound and close it as best they could with a couple of steri-strips.

Once the bird was in the air and Murdock was piloting them back to base Hannibal sat beside him to ask what happened. Murdock told him he thought he heard movement behind and south of him and went to investigate only to get turned around. He tripped over something in his path and went down grazing a rock. He again thought he’d heard something back in the direction he had just come only to find out it was the rest of the team. He assured the boss he was okay to get them back, but Hannibal sent Face to sit with him when he finished his transcription.

That was the night of the attack on a small camping band of ISIL combatants. Some had excessive bodily damage others powerful bite wounds to the throat. The one thing they all had in common was they were dead. A full investigation wasn’t made. It was determined they had been attacked by the local wolves; however, the wind had blown away any prints to help track down the man-killers. There had been only one print left behind. It was found inside a tent where sand had blown in previously.

Hannibal pulled up the grainy photo of the single print and toggled between it and a photo of the Wild Dog print. The picture taken in the tent was too out of focus to compare the two. He chewed without purpose at his thumbnail, then he saw it. Only half of the object was captured in the frame, but it was visible enough to compare to the size of the print. Using the soft drink can for scale it was easy to see the track was much larger than that of the native species. Looking at his phone once more it was the same size as the one found on base.

Using a few key words from the previous article Hannibal unearthed more articles of unexplained animal attacks. The strangest were those that took place indoors. There was one in particular that caught his attention. He had been briefed as to the demise of Abu Pavel Al Hesp, the man high up in the ISIL hierarchy and the one he and his team had tracked. An Air Force strike had taken out most of those hidden with the terrorist in the cave. It was only blind luck on his part to have been meeting with new ISIL soldiers in a small town only 17 miles from the FOB. Hannibal’s briefing didn’t include his manner of death.

A vision came to mind of a huge Northwestern wolf slipping from shadow to shadow on darkened streets, making it’s way to the boarding house. He pictured it silently climbing the stairs to the second floor where it dropped its head to catch a scent on the floor. He then imagined the horror and confusion of the terrorist’s bodyguards when they found the savaged body in the morning.

Digging further he came upon other reports of dead insurgents, bodies’ mangled. The reports seemed to coincide with the tribesmen’s insistence the deaths were the work of a werewolf on the loose. Interestingly, at least to Hannibal, it seemed this specter was cleaning up loose ends in the fight against ISIL. The thought triggered the Colonel to look into werewolf legends.

It was after midnight and he forced himself to go to bed. He could pick it up again another time. And he did. Over the next several months he delved deeper and deeper into stories of werewolves worldwide. Warren Zevon played in a continuous loop in the back of his mind when he stumbled over an article of an elderly woman whose head was nearly decapitated by a bite to the neck and who was also missing a limb when found. Hannibal felt uncomfortable in his own skin when his horror at the tortured end of this geriatrician turned to almost a feeling of pride in the devilish doing as he read the old lady was a bomb expert responsible for remote detonations of so called suicide bombers, in reality children strapped with explosives.

“Little old lady got mutilated late last night
Werewolves of London again”

Something of note recurred in these testimonies, seemingly afterthoughts and of little importance. Frequently on the nights of these attacks a howling could be heard. Hannibal backtracked. Sure enough, there it was. He knew he had seen it somewhere along the line, unlike virtually all other canids, the Arabian wolf does not howl. It wasn’t one or more of the local variety.

He became enthralled with the British black dog lore, often appearing as harbingers of disquieting news. He also began tracing a pattern of no or only scarce sightings of a single enormous wolf ramping up to sightings paralleling the attacks accompanied by the howls. He tried to dismiss his findings of the mayhem increasing after the helicopter crash when Murdock had been attacked by a wolf, but not killed.

He needed to get his head out of the clouds. Thoughts of Murdock transforming during the full moon to rain down justice on those who had escaped capture or defeat were ridiculous at best. Insane was more like it. He wasn’t a fool. He knew he needed a break. Fighting this endless war against this endless stream of combatants was taking a toll on him. He gathered his men and announced he had arranged leave for them. They would be visiting the cosmopolitan beaches of Monaco. They would leave in a week’s time with only one mission between his announcement and their departure.

 

The ruins of the ancient fortress provided not only endless possibilities for stealthy tracking, but also coverts from which to ambush, a veritable rat maze of stone and rubble. Hannibal heard pebbles. Not a rush of them, only a pair or four skittering no more than inches. Inside this puzzlement of hallways, verandas and staircases he couldn’t trust his ears to pinpoint the direction from which the disturbance had come. He paused hoping to hear it again.

There it was. It was just beyond the second pillar creating doorways to what had once been a garden. His eyes flashed to the safety on his weapon, a check to insure it was off and to note the firearm was set to automatic. He rolled his back along the pillar to land one foot in the passage swinging his barrel along with. He was met by a native wearing a wide mouthed smile whose own firearm was poised directly at Hannibal. Overly large and especially confident he had just won this game of cat and mouse.

It happened in less than a heartbeat. He saw the man’s muzzle flash upward as he was taken down in a blur of black fur. The assault removed the man from Hannibal’s vision as though a frame had been cut from a film. His mind simply couldn’t catch up with the event. What in reality was only the passing of three seconds, Hannibal lived in minutes, only waking when he registered a growl, followed by a gurgle, followed by a snap.

At the sound of the crack he swept back behind the pillar, listening. There was the sound of an object being dragged. It was enough for him to look around the other side of the pillar. Two spaces down lay the man. He was in motion, but not of his own accord. Hannibal could only see him from the waist up beyond the pillar and even that was disappearing as the body with the overly lax head was tugged behind the stone column by something unseen. His keffiyeh was left behind and his arms were over his head as his body jerked along its path half a foot at a time.

Not until he was alongside that pillar did the boss realize he’d moved. By now the body had been dragged from the open of the garden. Hannibal was unable to stop himself. As though guided by an invisible hand he stepped around the stanchion, this time confronted not only by the body but also by a massive black wolf.

The animal let loose the ankle held in its jaws and considered the Colonel. Quivering them upward the beast raised its lips in warning. Hannibal was frozen. As though the animal understood it popped forward with its front legs causing the shaken man to jerk back a step. This seemed to appease the animal momentarily yet it was only seconds before the lips again raised, this time followed by a deep growl.

It was then Hannibal noted in horror his weapon wasn’t raised. If the animal launched there was no way in hell he could raise the barrel before he was set upon. He watched as a front paw was lifted. A warning Hannibal thought, but unsure. Was it telling him to back away, or was it only drawing out Hannibal’s demise?

Never in his wildest dreams did he consider dying in Iraq as the victim of an animal attack. “Listen to me, Murdock. You need to back off. Nothing will happen to you if you just step back.”

“But if you lean to your right, I have a clean shot, Boss. I’m not leaving you alone here,” was spoken low.

Hannibal’s chest nearly collapsed in on itself from the shock of hearing Murdock’s voice behind and to his right. He spun at the waist expecting to find another wolf there, but it was his Captain, in the flesh, on two feet, weapon raised, eye on the scope.

Looking his Colonel in the eye, Murdock silently willed him to clear his view. Hannibal’s brain for a split second shorted out. Turning back thinking what an idiot move it was to take his eyes off the creature he physically jolted. The wolf was gone.

“Where the fuck did that thing come from?!”

“I don’t know. Move Captain! Move! We need to get out of here.”

Back amongst the various members of the accompanying units Hannibal and Murdock searched for their other two teammates.

“Hannibal! Murdock!”

Hannibal spun to the call. It was Face working his way toward them. “Jeezus, Murdock. Are you okay?!” A hand went to Murdock’s shoulder while the Lieutenant’s eyes went to his CO.

“We ran into a little trouble. Where the hell is BA?”

“I don’t know. We split off. Colonel Lawrence just ordered everyone but his and Malone’s team team back here. They’re doing a line sweep.” His attention went back to Murdock.

Just then Hannibal’s mic buzzed. He listened for a moment before replying, “Yeah. We can do that.” He too turned to Murdock. “You okay there Captain?”

“Yeah. That was just.... unreal.”

“What are two talking about?”

“A wolf,” Hannibal snapped out. Start barking orders, he thought. It’ll get Murdock moving. “Murdock, Colonel Lawrence asked for your bird in the air to conduct an aerial sweep. Let’s go.”

“What about BA?”

“He’s a big boy. He’ll be fine until we get back.”

Murdock couldn’t help but hover over the small group of onlookers who were gathered where he and the Colonel knew were the gruesome remains of one of their targets. Upon landing they saw BA in a group of fellow soldiers nodding away, his standard contribution to most conversations.

“Be right back,” Hannibal tossed over his shoulder as he jumped from the craft. Approaching the group he called to his Sergeant.

“Saw the three of you lift off. Thought I was safe from having to get on that sucker,” the big man said pointing to the chopper with his chin.

“I’d rather you came with us. We’re going directly back. No layover.”

With the exception of one relatively large unit taking three birds the rest of the troops would be returning to the FOB by ground transport with an overnight stop in between.

BA looked longingly at the BTR 4 and heard behind him, “Let’s go BA!”

 

Monaco was a brilliant retreat. Hannibal picked up the extra cost himself for the lovely hotel they stayed in. There was gambling in the evenings, sun filled days on the beaches, unhurried lunches, and sightseeing. One of the days Face talked Hannibal into visiting gentlemen’s shops as an excursion.

The boss waited patiently as Face tried on clothes and fingered ties. He helped carry the bags and humored the young man by being fitted for a charcoal grey, tropical wool suit himself. He nodded and agreed to shirt and tie selections thinking the whole time he would happily spend the rest of his life in the man’s company.

After lunch they took a cab back to the hotel, Hannibal comfortable with Face taking up seat space with packages, forcing them to lean against each other. Face paid the fare while Hannibal gathered shopping bags. On the elevator ride up Hannibal commented he could use a nap before the evening activities. Face concurred.

Face’s room was first along the row of four they had reserved, followed by Hannibal, then Murdock and finally BA. Face didn’t slow his pace as they passed the door to his room. Hannibal glanced down. They did have the packages mixed up, they could sort things out in his room. Yet when they entered, Face dumped his bags next to a chair and went to the sliding doors and balcony beyond. Hannibal watched as the tall, lean man stretched his arms and arched his back, finishing with his hands on the railing as he overlooked the blue sea.

Joining him there he couldn’t help notice the color of the younger man’s eyes were within a hair of the the shade of the water below. He too planted his hands on the railing. Bumping shoulders he asked, “What’s your plan now?”

Face furrowed his brow, confused. “I thought we were going to take a nap.”

Hannibal could only smile.

Face joined their hands to lead them back indoors. Upon reaching the bed he sat and kicked off his shoes. Reclining, he scooted to the center giving Hannibal room to lie beside him. With Hannibal on his back Face situated himself alongside. An arm across the broad chest, a knee hooked over a thigh. Face’s head resting on Hannibal’s shoulder. Hannibal’s hand atop Face’s wrist. Both quietly content in each other’s company.

Hannibal awoke to a rustling on the bed. Face was waking. They had spooned together, Hannibal snugged up behind. His hand rested on Face’s hip gently tightening to hold him secure.

Face’s elbow moving skyward as he reached to remove the hand. Hannibal came fully out of his sleep and instinctively pulled his hand back. Face was having none of that as he in turn eased the hand to his chest. As Hannibal again settled the LT urged his hand to stroke along the planes of his chest and stomach. Assured Hannibal had the right idea he let loose his hold and moved his own hand to the pillow becoming lost in the gentle belly rub.

The next day was a beach day. Hannibal had only poured his first cup of coffee and was sipping it on the balcony when he saw Face and Murdock running for the water. He smiled as the two men dove in, resurfacing farther out from shore. He skimmed the English language paper that had been left outside his door until his carafe of coffee was empty.

By the time he trudged through the sand to where BA sat in a sand chair under a striped market umbrella the sun was well up and the beach was filling in with folks of all kinds sitting in chairs, on blankets and towels, or with feet up on loungers. Some were in full sun. Some, like the Colonel and Sergeant under the shelter of umbrellas and open sided cabanas.

They ordered soft drinks and iced tea from cabana boys doting on all hotel guests with refills. They ordered lunch and halfway through it occurred to Hannibal they hadn’t spoken once of their work. There was none of typical Army buddies camaraderie talk. They seemed to have truly left it behind.

“What are you smiling about, Boss,” Face asked.

“I was just thinking what a peaceful way to spend the day.”

“Well it won’t be for long!” Murdock, in his grass hat straight out of the 1960s was digging through the matching beach bag he’d picked up somewhere along the way. When he sat up again he brought with him a treasure. It was a frisbee.

Hannibal laughed and begged off. He turned to Face whose eyes were as big around as the toy they were fixed on.

“I love frisbee! I haven’t played since I was a kid!” He pushed away the remains of his lunch and was on his feet. “Come on Murdock! Come on. Let’s go play frisbee!”

The two men were black silhouettes against the twinkling diamond surface of the sea. They played on the beached for what seemed hours. Murdock’s throws were each that much higher, that much wider out than the last. Face chased and ran never taking his eyes off the spinning disk. A look of concentration that could be mistaken for hunger behind the panting smile.

Catching each and every throw he would sometimes lob it back to the pilot. Other times he would run it back to his friend only to have Murdock throw it as Face ran back to his side of the impromptu court in the sand. After a break for cool drinks and ice cream cones they were back at it.

Hannibal and BA had watched as Murdock produced half a dozen of the plastic gems from his bag, each a different color. Face’s eyes blew wide in delight. At the shore Murdock would throw one after another, Face dropping them as they were caught to be just in time to catch the next of the Whamo toys.

“Faceman looks like he’s practicing for one of those dog competitions you see on TV. Ya know the ones I mean?” the big guy asked. “Think Purina puts them on.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Hannibal agreed never taking his eyes off their Lieutenant and thinking, Well I’ll be damned.

That evening after dinner and a lazy recline with various libations all four agreed the day in the fresh air had taken it out of them. They settled their bill and each dipped their head to the four ladies who had been flirting from across the room. Much to the women’s surprise the four men actually left the lounge.

Hannibal had his shoes off immediately and was loosening his tie when the knock came from the door separating his and Face’s rooms. Opening it he was met with a rather shy expression. This wasn’t Face come a knockin’. This was Temp. Hannibal wrapped a hand behind his neck and drew him in for a gentle kiss. “Come in.”

Standing at the end of the bed the two men acquainted themselves with each other’s bodies in a way they hadn’t allowed before. Jackets were off, one tie was slumped on the floor, the top buttons of shirts were open, hands explored.

Hannibal ran his fingers through the curls above Face’s ear. Leaning back slightly he studied the lovely face before him. “So beautiful.”

“Make love to me.”

Hannibal turned his head slightly to the right. Looking from the corner of his eye he asked, “So, is there knotting involved?”

“You’ve been reading fanfiction again, haven’t you?”

Hannibal just looked at him, still not sure of the answer.

“Relax. I’m not a Lhasa Apso.” Temp was grinning, hoping his good humor would help ease Hannibal’s nerves. “I do however like a good scratch behind the ear every now and again.”

 

2018
They had pulled into this quick mart for gas and snacks. It had been a long haul, driving from L.A. to Oregon. The job was going to be a profitable one, but the distance still left Hannibal a bit stiff in the shoulders and knees. This was the biggest endeavor they had taken on since the whole debacle with the plates, and that had been eight years ago.

He and Face had spent many an hour working and reworking the plan. They felt as confident with it as they could. They knew and fully understood the capabilities of the other two and had complete trust in them.

BA had filled the tank and was checking out the sandwich case. Murdock had purchased Fritos, gummy bears, ranch flavored chips, an ice-filled fountain drink with a domed lid, a four pack of Slim Jims, Laffy Taffy, and a prize he hadn’t seen in years, a box of Screaming Yellow Zonkers. Face was sleeping in the back of the van. Hannibal knew his young man was overtired and told BA they would stop again when he woke up.

After a warning not to wake Face, Murdock hurried back to the van to dig into his trove. 

Hannibal had been standing in one of the short isles of the convenience store staring at the array of items on the shelf when BA walked up holding his purchase of three sandwiches and a gallon jug of milk.

“You ready to go, Boss?”

Hannibal blinked out of his reverie. “I’ll just be a minute.”

BA followed Hannibal’s eyes to the shelves and just shook his head. “You getting a box?”

“No,” the boss said as he too lightly shook his head. “Let’s get back on the road.”

Hannibal’s hands were full with the two bags of sandwiches, chips and drinks he bought for himself and Face. BA didn’t see the boss take one more glance at the shelves before turning to follow him out of the store. 

When they stopped again Face could pick out his own box of doggy bix.

 

1975
Father Magill was woken late in the night by the persistent pounding. It had been a long weekend. The dinner for the Cardinal Friday evening; Saturday afternoon he’d blessed a marriage and that evening presided over the weekly night of bingo; Sunday for any priest is the big day, but this Sunday had included the First Communion of the second grade class from the attached orphanage. However, whomever that was insistently lifting and dropping the knocker on the rectory door didn’t know these things or perhaps had urgent enough business to ignore them.

Magill slid his feet into the slippers beside his bed and pulled his robe about him as he shuffled through the hallway, down the stairs and to the front door. In his fatigue he relied on his autopilot. He looked through the peephole to find no one in view. Keeping both chains secured on the heavy oaken door he opened it enough the check for a package or letter that may have been left on the front mat. Nothing. Being mostly awake he dared to disengage the chains to open the door further. Still nothing.

Deciding if he should be annoyed over this 2:00 am game of ding-dong-ditch-it he caught movement in the courtyard. He thought to himself maybe it was time to have his vision tested by someone other than the DMV. He could swear what he just saw was the back end and tail of a wolf slinking behind the arborvitae screen. Having grown up in the backwoods of Montana he was positive he recognized the brush familiar to him in his childhood. Yet he was also convinced there were no wolves running around 1970’s Los Angeles knocking on doors in the middle of the night. It was a mystery, but not one he cared to solved until daylight. He was going back to bed.

Turning to go inside he heard a sound also familiar to his ears. It was the sweet, high whine of a puppy’s nervous yawn. Looking in the direction he thought it emanated from he saw a shape outside the scope of the porch light. Taking a step toward the object he could identify it as a basket. With another step he found it was a lidded double round with handle. It wobbled a bit before the sound again reached his ears. A child? swept through his mind as he hurried down the steps plus the several paces down the walk.

There was a chill in the night convincing him to hurry the basket inside the warmth of the rectory before lifting the lid just in case it was indeed a baby. With the door closed behind him, had he bothered to look at the transmission of the security camera as he passed by, he would have seen a feminine face peering around the hedge. A face clearly feminine despite the prominent nose and being fully furred checking to be sure her bundle had been safely taken inside.

Magill placed the basket on the kitchen table and with little trepidation as is common in a man who has faith in his God he opened the lid. The question of course was, who was more surprised, the priest or the puppy looking up at him. “Well I’ll be,” he said low reaching to lift the the little black bundle of fur.

He set the pup on the table intent on giving it a general once over. It appeared healthy and in good weight. It had clean ears and clear eyes. Flipping the little one in his hands answered the question of it being a dog, not a bitch. “Well my little man what do you suppose we’re going to do with you?”

He looked in the puppy’s eyes and noted they were in the process of changing from the grey blue found at birth. Although they didn’t appear to be changing over to the amber tones of other dogs he knew. They were becoming more vibrant, brighter, but still blue. Taking a step back the priest put the little ball of fur in perspective. Besides its eyes Magill thought there was something odd about the pup he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

“Ya hungry little one? Let’s see what we can dig up.” In a cabinet the priest found a tin of Spam left by the previous rectory secretary. He sliced and cut it into tiny puppy size pieces and presented it to his guest. Didn’t have to ask him twice. He chowed it down enthusiastically.

“Ooo-boy. You’re a hungry, hungry little hippo, aren’t you?”

The pup sat looking straight at the priest, it’s head cocked as if in question.

Magill chuckled to himself. It looked for all the world the pup was asking him to repeat himself. Not sure if he was humoring himself or this little creature he began slowly and drawn out, “I said, ...... ‘Ooooooo-boy...’” But he stopped there as the little one’s nose flipped up in the air. With pursed lips it howled in a tiny choirboy’s treble.

The priest blinked, finally putting all the pieces together. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph. You’re no pup at all, are ya? I’ve been mistaken in not addressing ya as a cub, haven’t I?” Magill studied the creature further before saying, “Never know what you’ll find on the night of a full moon. Let’s get some sleep and see what tomorrow brings.”

 

 

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Werewolves of London