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Off the Leash
Colin was excited. It was impossible not to be.
He could smell the rain falling from the sky and hear every droplet as it bounced off the asphalt. He could feel the pressure shift in the air as the weather system swirled above them and blew through the dark alleyway where Colin crouched next to Silas.
"Are you sure you're ready for this?" said Silas. Concern was painted across the older man's face.
"How many times are you going to ask me that?" said Colin.
"At least three more times."
"I'm fine, Silas. I really am."
And he was. He was more than fine. He was out of Elkwood for the first time in over two years — for the first time since becoming a werewolf. His senses soared and his heart raced.
"You stink with excitement," said Silas.
One of the minor drawbacks of being a werewolf was knowing what other wolves in your pack were feeling, thinking, and doing almost all of the time. That's the kind of relationship Colin shared with Silas ever since the older wolf had bitten Colin, less than six months ago. Ironically, the alley where they now crouched was in Seattle, exactly the place Colin was heading to in his grandmother's stolen car when he hit Silas, which in turn resulted in Colin being bitten and turning into a giant supernatural creature, changing his life forever.
Colin had been heading to Seattle to speak with his parents, whom he barely ever saw and rarely spoke to. They were probably in the city right now, working late, happily ignoring the fact that Colin even existed. But it didn't bother Colin — not anymore. He had his grandmother. True, she was a blind, angry, old, all-powerful witch, but she had come to accept her only grandson and his inner-werewolf. He also had Silas, a several-centuries-old werewolf who, out of sheer panic, had bitten Colin, creating an unbreakable bond. And then there was Becca —
"Get your head in the game, Colin," said Silas.
"Right, sorry. Mind wanders."
"I know. I can hear every thought in your head."
"That works both ways. You sing in your head a lot," said Colin with a smile.
"I do not."
"You do. You've got a real Elvis obsession."
Silas turned and glared at Colin with those dark yellowish eyes and said, "He was the king of rock and roll."
Okay, okay. No one's arguing that with you. I'm sure he was great.
I saw him in concert. He was amazing.
Communicating by thought was another werewolf skill that Colin both loved and hated. It was a great way to talk but it was next to impossible to shut off.
Silas and Colin's in-ear microphones crackled to life and a male voice said, "Beta Seven to Wolfman."
"This is Wolfman," Silas answered, whispering to Colin, "I hate that name."
"Better than Wolfpup," said Colin.
"We've got eyes on the target," said Beta Seven.
"Where is he?" growled Silas.
"He's heading north. Should be passing by you in a few minutes, over."
The rain was getting heavier. Water dripped from Silas's shaggy hair as he shifted to get a better look at the alleyway opening a hundred feet away.
Not long after becoming a werewolf, Colin ate his murderous biology teacher and saved the town of Elkwood thanks, in part, to Silas's guidance. Elkwood's governing body agreed to allow them both to stay as long as they agreed to join a new group that was being formed to help combat rogue supernatural people and creatures. Night Watch was created to track down and neutralize threats and also to bring more special people into the safety of Elkwood.
After many early morning and late-night training sessions, Silas had decided Colin was ready to venture into the field, which was why they were both crouched in a dark alley late at night, waiting for a potentially dangerous man to walk by.
"Do you remember the plan?" said Silas.
"You're going to question him," said Colin.
"And if he attacks?"
"We defend but try not to harm him. Too much."
"This is one of the only leads we've managed to track down that could potentially take us to the group of murderous werewolves we're searching for. They're causing more and more trouble and we're no closer to catching them."
"Didn't you track werewolves for years?"
"Yes," said Silas, "so you can imagine how much it bothers me that I can't even get a whiff of these guys."
Colin knew that part of Silas's reason for signing up for Night Watch was to have access to resources that would help him track the rogue werewolves that stepped out of line and threatened to expose our kind. It's what Silas had been doing for centuries: protecting the bloodlines, keeping us a secret. This particular group was the same group that turned Mr. Winter, but they'd proved to be next-to-impossible to catch and Colin knew, thanks to their psychic link, that it was driving Silas crazy.
"What happens if he runs?" said Silas.
"We let him run and let the Beta Team track him," said Colin, reciting the correct answers. He knew they were correct because they'd been over the rules what felt like a hundred times.
"We do not chase him," said Silas fixing his eyes on Colin.
"We do not chase him," agreed Colin.
"Good. Now let your senses go. Tell me what you feel."
"I feel uncomfortable," said Colin, tugging at the neckline of his tactical uniform. It was all black and reinforced with Kevlar, though they didn't really need the extra protection, and it kept pinching them in awkward places. Apparently it was supposed to expand with their bodies if they changed into werewolves but they hadn't had a chance to test it out yet.
"I'm serious," said Silas in that tone of voice that indicated he was indeed serious.
Colin took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and let his senses wander, just like Silas had taught him. The city sprang to life around him. He breathed deeply through his nose and let the sounds from all over the surrounding areas flow to him. The alley sprang to life in vivid colors as smells washed around. Colin could see old garbage, motor oil, and a very adventurous rat.
"What can you sense?" said Silas.
"Push farther. Listen harder. Don't inhale so much, you'll give yourself a headache. Just grab the random smells from the air and let your brain piece them together."
"This would be easier in werewolf form." And it was. All of Colin's werewolf abilities were so much stronger when he transformed into the eight-foot hairy beast that was constantly clawing to get out.
"Not here," said Silas. "Too many people."
Colin listened beyond the alley and the city sounds began to get louder. Cars driving through puddles. Footsteps. People talking, tapping out texts on their cell phones. Dinner cooking. There were so many different food smells Colin started to drool a little.
Block out the food. It'll distract you.
No food. Got it.
They'd had a big meal before they left Elkwood. Silas had made Colin eat a couple of extra steaks. The urge to eat was strong for a werewolf and although Colin never felt the compulsion to eat anyone, he certainly felt hungry all the time.
A set of footsteps stood out from the rest of the sounds. They were heavy and they were moving toward the alley. They would hurry and then slow, hurry then slow.
That's our guy.
How do you know?
He's walking fast but keeps slowing down to check behind him.
He smells like raw meat. Why does he smell like that?
He's a Butcher.
Colin understood almost immediately. They were hunting a pack of werewolves. They would need to eat. And while Silas had found stray reports of them killing innocent people, they'd still need to eat more. A lot more. This man was their meat supplier.
The footsteps sped up as the Butcher entered the alley. Colin opened his eyes to see Silas crouching low behind the dumpster.
Stay here. Listen, watch, learn.
Silas leapt over the dumpster in a single bound. The Butcher shrieked as the large man with scraggly hair landed in front of him and stood to his full height. Silas grabbed the terrified man by his jacket and lifted him off the ground.
Colin could see members of their backup squad, Beta Team, on a nearby rooftop. Having a couple of werewolves as living weapons was a good thing for Night Watch but that didn't mean they were allowed off the leash without a few handlers nearby.
"Do you know who I am?" growled Silas.
"I don't know anything. I don't!" shouted the man in panic. "I'm just a wholesale meat vendor. I don't know anything. I really don't know who you are."
He was lying. Colin could hear the subtle changes in the man's heartbeat.
Silas threw the Butcher against a dumpster on the opposite side of the alleyway and then picked him up again.
"Don't make me ask twice," he growled.
"You're the one who hunts. Y-y-you hunt them," stammered the Butcher.
"And you feed them. I need to know where they are." Silas dropped him back on his feet. "And if you do that for me, I'll let you go about your business and forget that you've been feeding a group of murderous creatures."
"They'll kill me," said the Butcher.
"I'll do worse," said Silas.
Colin sniffed the air. There was something off about the whole thing. Something about the man didn't smell right. Colin could smell the man's fear but it had changed slightly. There was something else there, a distinct floral smell. Colin had made a catalogue of what different emotions smelled like, but they were all so subtle it was hard to pinpoint them sometimes. But he knew this one. It was on the tip of his brain ...
Not excitement, not worry, not panic ... Anticipation! Silas, he's going to do something!
The Butcher's hand swept under his rain jacket and Colin caught the glint of light on metal.
Silas moved backwards as the man swung the knife clumsily. It caught Silas's left forearm and Colin could immediately smell the blood. A rage boiled up inside of him. This man attacked his mentor. His pack-mate. The wolf inside growled and Colin could feel his control over the creature slipping. He placed both hands on the dumpster and pushed with all his considerable strength. The large metal cube flew from its spot and caught the man in the shoulder, knocking him to the ground. The knife skittered across the wet asphalt. The Butcher scrambled to his feet and took off down the alley.
"Silas!" shouted Colin.
"That was a silver knife," said Silas, covering the wound with his other hand to slow the bleeding. "He was expecting us."
Colin could hear the radio chatter of the rest of the Night Watch squad but he ignored it. His heart raced and all he could see through a shade of red was the retreating figure of the man who had attacked and hurt Silas.
No, Colin. Don't!
Colin leapt over Silas and took off at a run.
"Colin!" Silas shouted, but the thundering of the Butcher's heart drowned out all else.
It was late so traffic was light as Colin burst out into the city street, but there were still people hanging around the concrete jungle. They gave Colin odd looks, likely wondering why some kid was dressed in tactical gear and running through dark streets in the rain. His bright amber eyes probably didn't help Colin look any more normal.
The Butcher was running down the street, weaving through oncoming traffic. Colin raced after him. The cars kicked up sprays of water, soaking Colin in his pursuit, but he didn't care. He knew how fast he could run, and he'd be on the man in no time.
A taxi swerved to try and beat a stoplight and skidded out of control on the wet pavement. Colin sprang into the air, clearing the taxi and landing on a mini-van. He jumped again, clearing two more vehicles, and slid across the roof of a transport truck and off the edge, and landed in a run. He was ten feet from his victim and he could smell the fear floating off the Butcher.
"No!" screamed the man. "They'll kill me if I tell you anything!"
I'll do worse.
Colin, you have to stop.
I've almost got him.
Let him go!
I'm so close.
We don't know who else might be working with h —
All sound stopped. All smells vanished. Colin stumbled and felt blind for a moment. It was like his senses had been turned off completely. Cars whizzed by and the Butcher disappeared down a side street. Lightning cracked across the sky, throwing long shadows across the rain-soaked street.
The glare of oncoming headlights blinded Colin and for a split second he looked to the sky to shield his eyes. Far above him, floating a hundred feet in the air, was a man. Colin's wolf eyes cut through the darkness and he could clearly make out the figure. He was youngish, late twenties maybe, with long hair, and he was sitting cross-legged, floating in the air. He was dressed in a suit with a black cloak that billowed out behind him. A thick chain hung around his neck, dangling what looked like a bright red rock. The man's eyes glowed an ominous deep red, matching the color of the rock. He was staring directly at Colin.
"Who are you?" Colin shouted, but he couldn't even hear his own voice.
The floating man smiled and then vanished, as if he'd never been there. Colin's heightened senses returned all at once, and it felt as if someone had set him on fire. Everything hit him at the same time and he thought his head would split in half. The sound of car horns, tires screeching, people shouting, TVs blaring, the buzz of the street lights. Smells wafted over him so fast that the world became a wash of colors in Colin's brain that made his head swim. Colin felt the creature inside him stir uncomfortably while his heart tried to beat out of his chest. He'd felt this sensation before. The first time he'd ever experienced a change, it was uncontrollable.
No! Silas! I'm changing!
Colin! What happened? You have to get off the street!
Colin's muscles contorted and stretched. A woman in a nearby car screamed.
I can't stop it!
Concentrate, Colin! Try to stay calm!
It's too late.
The change tore through him like it had so many times before. All of Colin's body expanded at once, his face elongating as sharp teeth began to line his mouth. His ears moved to the top of his head and hair exploded all over him. His hands curled, a razor-sharp claw tipping each large, hairy finger.
Traffic had come to a standstill and camera phones were beginning to pop up. Colin's tactical suit had expanded with his body, so at least he wasn't a naked werewolf standing on a busy Seattle street. However, he was still a giant werewolf, and that kind of thing attracts attention.
Colin crouched and leapt high into the sky and caught a window ledge on the nearest building. He leapt higher and higher up the building, reaching the roof in a few bounds. He peered back over the edge and saw people had gotten out of their cars and were looking up for the creature they'd just encountered.
A small metal device bounced off a few cars and there followed a small flash. The car engines all died at once, and the streetlights went out, along with the power to the surrounding buildings, for a full city block.
That was an EMP. An electromagnetic pulse. We just killed the local power grid. Beta Team will fry all the devices in the area next, cell phones and such. Are you okay?
I'm ... I'm sorry, Silas.
His senses back under control, Colin concentrated on being human again and felt the wolf retreat back inside his body. He shrank down to his normal size, his muscles returned to their usual state, and the hair shed from his body and vanished.
A helicopter swooped overhead and came to rest on the rooftop where Colin crouched, human once again.
The door slid open and Silas, his arm bandaged, waved him over.
The chopper ride back to Elkwood was a quiet one. The members of Beta Team that hadn't stayed behind to clean up Colin's mess smelled angry and frustrated. Silas looked out the window.
"Silas, I'm sorry. I —"
The old wolf held up a hand. "It's okay. I thought you were ready. You're not."
"I almost had him."
"You almost ended up on the eleven o'clock news."
"It wasn't my fault. The floating man shut off my wolf sense and —"
"Give me a break, kid. You and I share thoughts. I don't see a floating man in there. You screwed up, it's okay to admit it."
Colin felt frustration growing. "But I didn't. He was there! The change wasn't my fault!"
Silas placed a hand on Colin's shoulder and he gave a tired smile. "I forget how young you are sometimes. You've come such a long way so fast. But you're still just a puppy. I'm afraid I'm going to have to ground you for a while."
"Oh come on, please!" pleaded Colin.
"Sorry, kid. You're grounded to Elkwood until further notice."
Excerpted from "Hair in all the Wrong Places 2"
Copyright © 2017 Andrew Buckley.
Excerpted by permission of Month9Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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