By Joseph Alan Gharaheeer
Keep running Ron, I thought to myself as I continued to push my physical boundaries, running down the dimly lit main street in my small town of Deshler, Ohio, doing my best to ignore the vicious crack of the winter wind’s whip against my red, unsheltered face and the glaciating snowflakes that fell upon it, numbing my exposed extremities and allowing me to almost ignore the pain of the impending frostbite, a minute pleasure that may have been the only upside in the otherwise absolute worst and most sickening night I had experienced in the entirety of my short-lived life.
The massive amount of liquor I had ingested earlier in the night dominated my system, allowing me to push through the impossible and idiotic conditions I was trekking through by running in freezing temperatures, which was more than I could say for my poor daughter, Michelle, who clung tightly around my neck, teeth chattering in a never ending shiver and body shaking from the cold her delicate frame was unable to withstand. Her eyes were closed tightly, though her warm tears still managed to dedicate a steady stream towards reaching my face, which was almost a blessing for in the brief moment of impact they at least offered a small pinpoint of warmth, however fleeting that may have been. Frightened, she rubbed her own soft and rosy frostbitten cheek against my rough beard, the prickly feel of which she normally hated, but which seemed to serve as a reminder of something familiar and memorable from before this haunted night in an attempt to lead her to some happy nonexistent place in her mind where she could find a smidgeon of comfort to hold on to as her world came crashing down around her. Her lip quivered in an attempt to make out some phrasing that couldn’t be understood over her sobs and the sound of my heart echoing within my head. With each massive pound against my chest, I expected it to finally make its way out of the cavity it resided in, which would have been a blessing had it gotten me out of dealing with my current situation, but I had to be sure my daughter was safe.
“Everything is going to be fine, honey,” I whispered in a feeble attempt to console her, hoping to quell some of her fear. The smell of freshly ingested Jack Daniels rolled past my chapped lips alongside my words as they left my lying mouth.
Close to my side ran Annabelle, the young babysitter who had been watching Michelle when I returned home from the bar, hammered and in a hurry to protect my daughter from impending doom. She had been following me since, in an attempt to reach safety from the dangers that approached, hoping not to reach the same sad demise as the other townspeople, but she wasn’t my responsibility, nor was she my concern. The odds were already against me getting Michelle to safety, but I was going to do whatever I could to tip them back in my favor.
I wasn’t sure how much longer my feeble body was going to be able to hold out in the conditions that were thrust upon me, as I felt my spaghetti noodle legs begin to give out. I couldn’t allow myself to drop here in the middle of the street, so I looked around the abandoned road for some sign of shelter where I could hide and attempt to protect my child. Going inside a building was a bad idea, for I could still picture what happened to the people trapped inside the bar, with nowhere to run to as the beast ripped them to shreds while I snuck out of the bathroom window. It made such quick work of the dozens of people in there, I could only imagine how easy it would be for it to rip the three of us to shreds. I was frantic and beginning to panic, unable to think straight due to my brain’s inebriated state and I thought I was going to vomit when I finally laid eyes upon my safe haven.
I hurried across a wooden bridge which hung above a ditch that I had once gotten my truck stuck in while driving home intoxicated, hence the reason I didn’t have any vehicular transportation in this awful situation, though if I had I would have been more than likely to crash it before getting out of town anyways. I could see the remote shack in the middle of the field on the other side of the bridge, the purpose of which I had never been entirely certain, but I remembered seeing it in the distance when I crashed my truck years earlier. It was far enough away from any street lights that if I could get us there, we could potentially hide on top for as long as we had to in order to become safe.
I looked back over my shoulder and saw the beast approaching in the distance, still hungry after devouring the rest of my unfortunate community, and ready to finish its meal. I needed a distraction if I was going to get away from it and out of its sight, and I didn’t have to think for very long before realizing what I had to do. I threw all of my weight to the right against Annabelle’s small frame, catching her off guard and managing to knock her over the edge of the small bridge. She screamed out in surprise and when she reached the bottom she landed hard, probably breaking multiple limbs. If my face wasn’t too numb to form an expression at this point, mine would have been apologetic as I looked down at the poor high school girl I left to die. But a moment was all I merited her, and I quickly continued across the field towards the shack.
“Don’t open your eyes, baby,” I whispered to Michelle as I continued my attempt to get her to safety. I looked back to see the beast leap into the ditch with her and shortly after I heard screams of fear quickly turn into screams of anguish. It roared as it ripped into her flesh as if she were just another meal and while these sounds may have sickened anyone else, I gladly accepted them with relief that the beast took the bait.
When I reached the shack, I ran around to the back of it so that the beast wouldn’t see us if it did head in this direction. After a small struggle, I finally managed to pull the sobbing Michelle from gripping me, and I sat her down on a crate. I climbed up to it, and then lifted her high to the safety of the building. Once she was up there, I grabbed onto the roof and pulled myself up alongside her. I looked into the distance and saw the beast retreating, and for the first time in over an hour, I began to feel like I had an actual chance of survival.
“It’s alright now, sweetie. We’re safe here.” I held my daughter close to me as we huddled for warmth under the night sky, heavily littered with stars and plump full moon, as round as I’d ever seen it. For some reason, I suddenly became transfixed on the object. I had never been interested in the moon, and now was certainly not the time for its admiration, however, I couldn’t manage to pull my eyes from it. That’s when I began to feel different. The alcohol and the fear no longer dominated my body, but instead, it was as if instinct took over.
“Daddy, what happened to your leg?” Michelle asked, finally noticing the four gashes I had from when the beast managed to claw me on my way out of the bathroom window. They had been the least of my worries, until now.
My back cracked as it arched straight up and I felt like every bone in my body was breaking. The pain was unbearable, as my shape shifted into something bigger, something stronger. I let out a small cry as fur exploded from my body. My jaw extended into a snout, and my ears sunk into the sides of my head, reshaping themselves towards the top of my skull. I fell forward on hands which had formed themselves into furry paws. I howled once more at my mistress in the sky, ready to serve her.
I no longer felt the pain from the gashes on my leg. I no longer felt the heavy cloud of intoxication weighing upon me. I no longer felt the cold underneath my new coat of fur. I no longer felt the guilt of sacrificing Annabelle. Mostly, I no longer felt the need to protect the child who cowered before me. I had escaped all of these things, and I simply felt the need to feed. With one final howl, I pounced.