The town of Garrison was a complete tourist trap. It was based around mount Altea and had one of the biggest, fanciest ski resorts this side of the country during ski season. During the off season when most of the snow melted it then became a hot spot for hikers. There were many shops around the resort and everyone loved all the fancy little knick knacks and niche things that were there.
But that was just the businesses close to the resort. There were still lots of families around the town, though they were a little bit away from the resort. Before the resort was built there were several families that lived off the grid. The kind of people that made their own houses out in the woods, hunted their own food, and filtered their own water. Most families modernized themselves when the resort was built and got jobs there, along with some other houses.
However, Keith was not one of those people. Ever since he was born he’d been living off the grid. Hell he wasn’t even born in a hospital. From what he had been told his parents they had been walking to their car to get to the hospital, but Keith wanted out then and there and their the second his mum stepped outside the house. He was born outside at the tail end of fall.
He had grown up around more people that lived off the grid like his parents and considered them his family, though he was pretty sure that he wasn’t related to any of them by blood. Keith didn’t mind though. They were nice and taught him many survival skills.
One of his many uncles, Kolivan, taught him how to skin rabbits when he was ten and gave Keith two dollars for every pelt he could sell to a tanner in town. Kolivan was like the de facto leader or elder of everyone living off the grid in the mountain. If they had trouble they went to Kolivan. If locals got into fights with tourists they would go to Kolivan before calling the Sheriff. Some of the townies joked that he was the unofficial mayor of mount Altea.
Keith could understand that. Kolivan was a giant of a man that just demanded respect when he walked by. He often took care of Keith when his parents needed to go off the mountain in the next town to get some work when Keith was growing up. It happened sometimes, but neither Keith nor Kolivan, or Kolivan’s partner, Antok, seemed to mind.
In fact, most of the people living off the grid didn’t seem to mind looking after Keith from time to time. He ended up going from cabin to cabin when his parents were away. Everyone was always more than happy to feed the younger boy or help him out with his school work when he needed it. He was pretty much the only child among their group so the adults felt a little protective of him.
It made his school life kind of interesting. Keith technically grew up poor. His family pretty much only got money to pay for things like clothes or petrol for their generator, so they went to thrift shops a lot. Keith didn’t mind, but he did end up getting teased a lot because of his clothes and his perceived level of poverty… So Keith ended up beating the shit out of a lot of people and got into a lot of trouble both at school and with Kolivan.
Things had gotten better after Keith graduated high school, his group wouldn’t let him drop it. During hunting seasons he’d sell excess meat to the local butchers and pelts to the tanners. When he couldn’t sell anything he’d do odd jobs for people around town. Usually pest extermination. He had a bit of a reputation for being this scary loner type of guy. Keith didn’t really care what people thought of him as long as they paid him.
The only townie that Keith kind of liked was a man called Shiro. A local dog trainer. He had trained most of the dogs that the local police used for search and rescue. He was a good man and didn’t treat Keith with contempt like most of the other townies. It was early in the day when Keith walked to Shiro’s house, just on the edge of the fancy new houses before the road became dirt, and knocked on the door.
Shiro opened the door and happily let them in. “Hey Keith. Nice day, huh?”
Keith nodded and walked inside. He handed a paper bag to Shiro. “Dog treats.” He muttered. “Made some this morning and thought you would like them.”
Shiro looked into the bag and took out a small shard of dried meat, giving it a little sniff. “What is it?”
“Rabbit and some deer.” Said Keith. “Antok gave me a few slices of deer a few months ago and I turned it into jerky. I know you like using it for your training and stuff so…”
“I appreciate it.” Shiro put it in his kitchen and turned on the kettle. “Coffee or tea?”
“Coffee. Black. Like my soul.”
“I thought you said you wanted coffee, not warm milk?” Keith shot him a glare and Shiro laughed as he continued to make them coffee. When it was made the two of them sat outside on the landing. “So… You got a job today?”
“Yeah. Some old couple thinks a fox or something is getting into their backyard. I’m going to have a look around and see what’s there.” Said Keith. “Any tracks, droppings, stuff like that.”
Shiro nodded as Keith talked. “Sounds good… Full moon tonight.”
“Wolves are going to be out.”
“... You going for a run tonight?”
Keith shrugged. “I might. Probably just going to stay home. Last time I went for a run during a full moon I fell down a hill and sprained my wrist. Don’t want to do something stupid like that again.”
“Okay… Just be careful. Okay?”
“I will.” Keith finished his coffee. “Do you know where Smith street is?”
“Is that where your job is today?”
“Go down to the Sheriffs and it’s two streets past the KFC. If you get to that huge redwood of the corner of Warren road, you’ve gone too far.”
“Got it.” Keith passed Shiro the cup and headed out. It would take him about twenty minutes to get from Shiro’s place to the Sheriffs and from there another fifteen to make it to the redwood on Warren road.
He walked through the town, past the rows of shops. Some of the townspeople getting their shops ready for the day. Keith made eye contact with a few people but they quickly went about ignoring him.
When he passed the Sheriff’s office he happened to see Antok talking to Sheriff Iverson. Iverson never really liked him. Well, Iverson was an asshole. So what if Keith used to shoplift when he was younger? He literally stole candy bars and packets of chips when he was just a small brat. He couldn’t always have snacks and he wanted them.
Antok finished talking with Iverson and walked over to Keith. “Hey there pup. Early start for you?”
Keith pouted at being called a pup. “I’m okay. Kolivan gave me a job yesterday.”
“Ah yes. I was there with Kolivan when he was talking to the townie.”
“Yeah. How did he find him anyway?”
Antok shrugged. “Same way Kolivan finds most of us work. He happened to overhear someone talking in a pub and intervened. You’re not interested in the work?”
“No, I want the work.” Reassured Keith. “It’s just weird having him show up while I’m skinning a rabbit and he just tells me I have a job tomorrow for a townie.”
“You’re always skinning animals.”
“... True, anyway, what did the law want?”
“Some of the newer townies haven’t been happy about the wolves in the area. Iverson wants us to try and deter them from coming back.” Said Antok coldly. “This is a mountain town in a forest. What did those stupid townies expect?”
Keith shrugged. “No idea.”
“Yeah. You joining us for tonight’s run?”
Keith shook his head. “I’m going to pass. I don’t want to get caught up in all the crazy. You guys always baby me.”
“That’s because you are a pup.”
Keith rolled his eyes. “Whatever. See you around Antok. Don’t scare any townies on the walk back.” The older man nodded and started to head back to his home. Keith was about to head off when he heard someone quickly walking towards him. Keith quickly looked over his shoulder to see Sheriff Iverson marching towards him.
“Kogane!” He barked.
Keith just sighed and stood still while the older man stormed over to him. Time for the daily verbal shake down. “Yes Sheriff?”
“What exactly are you doing with that?” He was pointing to the knife strapped to Keith’s hip.
“My hunting knife?” Keith always walked around with his knife. He was only in town for a about an hour before heading back home. He never took it out when it town. It was a vital tool he used when he was out in the forest. Saved his life many times.
“Don’t be smart with me!” He snapped. “Where are you going?”
“Kolivan said I had a job in town.” Said Keith calmly. “He gave me an address and told me to go there. From what Kolivan said it might be a fox in their backyard. I’m just going to see what is there and go from there. That is all.”
The man leaned in a little closer to Keith, trying to intimidate him. “Get moving. If one person calls in telling me you’ve caused trouble you’re getting put in the slammer till someone pays your bail.”
“Yes Sheriff. Understood.” Said Keith calmly before he quickly walked away. The man was an asshole and just made life difficult for everyone in his group because they wouldn’t join everyone else and start living on the grid.
Keith eventually made his way to Smith street and found number fifteen. It was a house that had been there for a while, but still new enough that the paint of the fence hadn’t peeled yet. Keith just hoped whoever Kolivan had gotten this job from wasn't going to freak out when he saw him. It had happened before. A housewife hadn’t been told he was coming over and she screamed at him before calling the cops. Keith was almost arrested before the husband and Kolivan interviened.
He nervously knocked on the door and waited. Seconds later an older Latino looking man opened the door. Keith might have seen him a few times around town, but he wasn’t sure. The man gave him a scrutinizing look as Keith awkwardly stood there.
“What is your name?” Asked the man in a thick accent. Definitely from some Spanish speaking country.
“Keith.” Said Keith as he took a piece of paper out of his pocket. “Kolivan said that a…Julio McClain had a pest problem for me?”
The man nodded. “Si, I did talk to Kolivan last night. Just didn’t expect you to be so… young? Anyway if you can solve this problem, I don’t mind. Come in. Come in.”
Keith quietly followed Julio into his house. There were lots of photos of children around. Julio must have had a huge family. Probably all grown up now. The house was much too small to have all those kids living in here. They walked past the kitchen and Julio introduced Keith to his wife Rosa. She smiled at him and also commented that Keith looked really young.
After that Keith talked to them a little about what had been happening. What they had seen, heard, or even smelled. From what they had told him it wasn’t a fox like he thought it might have been. Sounded more like a raccoon or a possum. Especially since they talked about hearing noises in the roof.
Keith ended up climbing into the roof and found a hole in the roof. Big enough for an animal to crawl through. From the stink in the small space Keith felt certain that it was a possum. Possibly a male just trying to find a warm place to sleep. It wasn't the right time for the local possums to start getting knocked up and popping out babies yet.
He told Julio of his findings and recommended that he fix his roof as soon as possible, and if there is any other problems just ask around for Kolivan and Keith will come back and fix it for free.
The couple was thankful for his help. They gave Keith some money and he was about to leave when Rosa sat him down at the table and got him a plate of food. Apparently Rosa wanted to make him something to eat to also thank him for his help. Keith was used to people in his group trading favours for food, but not townies. However he accepted and ate.
“Thank you Mrs McClain.” He said quietly. “This is really nice. Thank you.”
She smiled as she sat across from him and drank a coffee. “Don’t mention it. You did this for less than half of what it would have cost for an exterminator to come out.”
Julio nodded in agreement. “Si. Feeding you is the least we could do.”
Keith nodded and happily munched on some toast. “I appreciate it… So how long have you lived here? Not very long I’m assuming?”
“About a year.” Said Rosa. “One of our sons lives up here and told us how nice it was. We looked into it and decided to move here. It’s a lovely place to live out our retirement.”
“Yeah. It is pretty nice here.” Keith finished his plate. “Thank you again for the food. If you two ever need anything just ask Kolivan or Antok. We’ll usually have someone around to help you in about a day depending on where the person is.”
“Where they are?” Asked Julio.
Keith nodded. “Yeah. My group is pretty spread out across the mountain. Most of us begrudgingly have gotten mobile phones, but reception can be spotty around places.”
The front door suddenly opened up and a young man walked in. “Mama, pop-pop! I’m here!” A young man walked into the room. His was tanned and his eyes were a calming blue. His hair was dark chocolate in colour. He paused when he saw Keith at the table. “You!”
“Me?” Did this person recognize him from somewhere?
“You’re the guy I caught dumpster diving behind the cafe last winter!”
Keith frowned as he tried to remember what he was talking about. Keith didn’t usually dumpster dive unless it was for cardboard. Suddenly he remembered. He pretty much exclusively got his cardboard from the ski resort during Winter since there was always to much of it. “... I was taking cardboard? You guys already cut it up and weren’t going to use it. I needed more dry kindling. Are you one of the jerks that started pouring water on it after you caught me for the rest of winter?”
Julio frowned and said something to his son in Spanish. Rosa joined in too and Keith started to feel awkward. He was asking a genuine question and had apparently gotten this guy in trouble. The young man spoke back in rapid Spanish. Keith couldn’t follow.
Suddenly the rapid Spanish stopped and Rosa sighed. “So sorry about that. This is our youngest. Lance. Lance, this is Keith. He’s been helping us with our animal problem.”
“Oh, thanks man. I was gonna call an exterminator.”
Keith frowned when he said that. “Don’t do that. The local exterminator isn’t humane. If you have animal troubles I’ll do it cheaper and won’t poison the local wildlife.”
“We’ll keep that in mind.” Said Rosa. “Do you need a lift anywhere?”
Keith shook his head. “No thanks. I have a few errands I need to run. Thank you again for the food.”
He said goodbye to the McClain’s and quickly left their house. When he next spoke to Kolivan he’d let them know that the McClain’s were good people and they should accept more work from them if they asked… Even if their son was one of the townies that worked at the resort. The people that worked there were generally assholes to him and everyone else that lived off the grid.
The rest of the day was pretty calm for Keith. He went home, grabbed some more rabbit jerky and dropped off a bag of it at the Holt’s vet clinic. The receptionist, the youngest Holt, Pidge happily took the rabbit jerky from him, claimed a few pieces for herself, and dumped the rest into a jar labeled dog treats.
The jerky wasn’t strictly dog food, but he found that dogs liked it more than people. He was happy that at least some people liked what he was doing with his time. He got paid for the bag and headed back home.
He walked down the dirt road and down the dirt path back down to his cabin. For the rest of the day he went about preparing some more animals he had left in his meat locker. As he worked a few people from his group walked by and asked him if he had heard about what Iverson said about wolves in the area. They also asked him if he was going to go for a run with them. Keith kept declining. He didn’t want to go for a run.
By the time dusk settled in Keith was starting to settle in for the night. He had his radio playing in the background. Some local rock station. Something he liked to listen to it when he went about his night. It was kind of comforting. His dad used to play the radio all the time when he was home. Sometimes a little louder on nights when they would go for a run.
Keith was about to settle down in bed for the night when he heard a knock at his door. He had a good idea of who it was and went to answer it. It was Kolivan. “Hey Kolivan.”
“Hello Keith. I heard you aren’t going for a run tonight? This makes three runs in a row. Why?”
Keith shrugged. “I just can’t keep up with you guys. You’re faster than me and I’d just… I’d rather not.”
Kolivan frowned. He didn’t look very pleased by this. “No. Not acceptable. Tomorrow you’re joining us on a run. No exceptions.”
“... Yes Kolivan.” He couldn’t say no to Kolivan if he said it like that. “I’ll be outside and waiting tomorrow night.”
“Yeah… Oh, by the way, the McClain’s are good people.” Said Keith. “If they need our help we should do what we can.”
Kolivan nodded as Keith spoke. “Good. I’ll let the others know. Have a good night Keith.”
“You too Kolivan.” He watched the older man walk off and he quickly closed the door. When he was gone Keith went to his bedroom and laid down on his bed. He was starting to feel a dull aching in his bones. Any second now it would start. Dusk was practically over. Now it was the night.
His window was cracked open just a little and he heard the sound of nature. Then he heard the first howl. It was quickly followed by a second and a third and a fourth. More and more howls traveling on the wind and ringing in his ears.
Keith’s heart started to race and the dull ache in his bones started to become more and more painful. His skin started to itch and his gums started burning. He started to writhe on his mattress and ended up rolling off his bed. Keith ended up panting heavily as he laid on the ground. He felt sick, but he knew it would pass it always did.
The truth was Keith had a secret. Him and the rest of his group weren’t human. They hadn’t been human for a long, long time. They were part of the Lupine branch. Most commonly known as werewolves. A proud branch of creatures that were forced to change by the will of the moon. It rendered them into monstrous creatures that were more dog than man but more man than dog. The stuff of nightmares...
Then there was Keith. He was… Special. While his mother might have been a pure werewolf, his father was not… Which had a strange affect on Keith’s transformation. He wasn’t as tall or as muscular as the other werewolves in his group, but he felt what he lacked in size, he made up for in attitude.
With a small huff Keith wiggled out of his clothes and kicked them aside. He stretched out and climbed up onto his bed to look at himself in the mirror. Because of his father’s human heritage Keith didn’t look much like a wolf or even remotely close to those in his pack. He was small, fluffy and black. Domesticated. He was Keith Kogane. The were-pomeranian.