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When a routine Night Watch mission ends with Colin rescuing a mysterious girl from a pair of monster hunters, it causes shockwaves that threaten to rock Elkwood to its very foundations. And not only throughout the town; for the first time in Colin’s life, he has girl problems!
In the past year, Colin has faced an evil biology teacher, defeated a power-hungry wizard, and united a group of unlikely creatures and freaks to defend their home. Can he uncover the growing evil, avoid an ancient order of monster hunters, and not screw things up with his girlfriend?
Growing hair in all the wrong places is fast becoming the least of Colin’s problems . . .
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Here, Kitty, Kitty
The dream was always the same.
Colin stood on the steps of Elkwood's Town Hall building, unable to move. He could feel the heat from the flames that consumed the old wood behind him but could do nothing about it. Smoke billowed into the clear, dark night's sky and burned Colin's eyes, but still, he couldn't move. Soon the building would collapse, crushing Colin beneath the old, heavy timber.
The smell of death invaded Colin's senses and stole his hope. He forced himself to look at the street — at the cold, blank, staring faces of the dead bodies that stood as if they were still alive.
Fear and sadness ripped at Colin's heart. He had failed them all. His teachers. His friends. The students. Gareth. Tori. Kevin. Terry. Silas. His grandmother. Every one of them stared back at him with lifeless eyes. Only Jeremy was missing.
Maybe he survived?
But it was the figure standing in the middle of the crowd that hurt the most. Becca's red hair and dark eyes were easily recognizable, and her pale skin almost shone in the light of the full moon. She reached out to Colin as tears of blood poured down her face. Colin's anger and rage rushed through him and he reached for the werewolf inside, but all he felt was a vast emptiness where the creature used to be.
The Town Hall creaked and groaned as the strong wooden beams began to burn and shift. The sound of laughter, dark and cold like an empty cave, echoed around the street and a voice full of hatred said, "You will fail them all. Elkwood belongs to me."
"Who are you?" shouted Colin. His voice was small and weak.
"I am your downfall, Colin Strauss," said the voice in the darkness. "And I am coming for you!"
The Town Hall groaned as the burning embers landed on Colin's neck. He tried to move, tried to run, but he was rooted to the spot, forever attached to Elkwood. With a final heaving sound and a rush of air, the building shifted and collapsed, raining down wood and fire. Colin screamed as the cold voices of the dead chanted, "Colin. Colin. Colin. Colin. Colin ..."
"Colin!" snapped Silas.
The fire was gone. Instead, the clear night sky full of bright stars stared down at him, quickly joined by the concerned, grizzled face of Silas Baxter.
"You were sleeping," said Silas. "You had the dream again."
Colin sat up. "I fell asleep."
"We've been doing this for a week. I'm not surprised you're tired. It's this dream that worries me."
"Where are we?" asked Colin, hoping to change the subject.
"Teenagers," said Silas as he shook his head. "We're still sitting on this stupid, cold rooftop waiting for something that might never happen."
The visions of dead people staring at him and the town of Elkwood burning faded away as Colin rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "Right. Stakeout. I remember."
"Oh good," said Silas. "Here, eat something before you start eyeing my leg like it's a piece of steak." He took a package of beef jerky from his backpack and threw it to Colin, who tore into it.
"Ugh, I'll pass on your leg. Old meat," retorted Colin with a grin.
Silas barked a laugh, ruffled Colin's thick hair playfully, and crawled back toward the edge of the roof.
"Still no hellcat?" asked Colin through a mouthful of beef jerky.
"Still no hellcat," growled Silas.
The air was beginning to cool, and Colin knew what had seemed like an endless summer was finally coming to an end. School would be starting in just a few days, which meant this was the final Night Watch mission for Colin for a while. He was a little sad at the prospect of not venturing out to hunt strange creatures with the Night Watch team, but that same feeling was accompanied by a sense of relief that he'd finally be able to get some rest, go to school, hang out with Becca and Jeremy, and be a normal teenager for a while. Can a teenage werewolf who constantly has to remember not to eat people ever be truly normal? Colin thought probably not, but he'd settle for even close to normal at this point.
He didn't dislike being a werewolf, not in the slightest. The complete opposite, actually. He loved it! But every kid needed a bit of downtime.
A voice crackled through Colin's earpiece. "Anything yet?" asked the gruff voice of Mr. Emerson.
Silas touched the device in his own ear. "Silas and Colin checking in; everything's quiet."
"Monty here, clear on the south side," said the smooth voice of the team's only vampire.
"Warzax chiming in to say this is a waste of time." The voice over the microphone was hoarse and raspy.
Warzax was a half dragon who could transform into a human. Like Monty, he had fought alongside Colin during the Battle of Elkwood, when the wizard Damon Talbot had tried to destroy the town. At the time, Warzax was trapped in dragon form and had fled when the battle was over. He returned a month later seeking help, and Colin's grandmother and Alfred Hamjackle, Elkwood's resident wizard, had figured out how to turn the old dragon back into human form. Now he could transform between dragon and human forms at will, but because he'd spent so much time as a fire-breathing, flying lizard, his throat and voice were damaged beyond repair. Even Becca couldn't figure out how to fix him.
"It's not a waste of time," said Mr. Emerson, who Colin knew was sitting in a van a few blocks away. "The information we received was good. The Soothsayer backed it up. The hellcat was sighted in the area seven times last week. It has to be here."
After Colin had rallied the imprisoned freaks of Elkwood and the Night Watch team had almost been wiped out on their mission to Europe, it was decided that Silas would run the team with Colin and they'd pick the members. Humans were too fragile to deal with the dark and scary creatures of the night. Monty had volunteered to join, along with Warzax when he returned.
Mr. Emerson offered to be the eyes on the ground. Colin suspected he didn't fully trust the team, even though Mr. Emerson was the one who had suggested that Night Watch be a team of freaks rather than norms in the first place. Other members of the team included Principal Sampson, a ghost, who had already returned to Elkwood to prepare for the new school year; and Norman the Kraken, who was somewhat limited in joining operations because he functioned better around water.
This particular mission had brought the team to a small town in Northern Alberta, Canada, where a massive, fiery cat-like creature had attacked a forestry team. Charles the Demon, referred to as the Soothsayer due to his ability to see glimpses of possible futures, had determined the creature was a hellcat. Night Watch was dispatched to capture it. That was a week ago.
Colin pressed the button on his own in-ear microphone. "I'm bored."
"You and me both," rasped Warzax.
"We could discuss the team name again," suggested Monty.
"My vote is still for the 'Things That Go Bump in the Night' Squad," said Colin, who truly thought it was a better description of the team than Night Watch.
"My vote is still for Team Wolf," said Silas.
"Oh sure, forget about the dragon and the vampire," said Monty.
"And the ghost, and the witch," added Warzax.
"That's racism," said Monty.
"What if it wasn't a hellcat?" said Colin, changing the subject before it turned into an argument. "This town is no bigger than Elkwood and we've covered the entire place every night and seen, heard, and smelled absolutely nothing."
"Drop the attitude, Strauss," barked Mr. Emerson.
Colin stood up and looked out over the small town. "If there was a giant cat that was on fire running around, don't you think we would have seen it by now?"
"How did we hear about this again?" asked Silas.
There was a momentary pause.
"Anonymous tip," said Mr. Emerson, "followed by eyewitness reports."
"Maybe it wasn't a giant cat," said Colin. "We're in Canada. Maybe it was a moose that was on fire. Maybe it was a hellmoose?"
"Could have been a hell beaver," suggested Warzax with a dry laugh.
"Enough chatter!" Colin could hear the anger edging into Mr. Emerson's voice. He and Colin had never gotten along, right from the word go. It didn't help that Colin was dating Mr. Emerson's daughter. It helped even less that Colin had punched Mr. Emerson upon their first real encounter.
Colin flicked off his microphone. Silas turned to him with a smile etched on his weathered face. "Hellmoose?"
Colin laughed and shrugged. "It'd be way scarier than a hellcat."
"You really like annoying Emerson, don't you?"
"It's not my fault; he's super-easy to annoy. And come on, it's been a week of nothing. What are the chances that there really is a giant, burning cat running around out here?"
Something prickled Colin's senses. "Do you smell that?"
I'd say the chances are getting better and better.
Silas speaking into Colin's mind was a werewolf trick. Since the old werewolf had bitten Colin and joined them as a pack, they could communicate this way if they were close enough. Sometimes it was great. Other times, Colin thought that having a few-hundred-year-old werewolf jabbering in his head all the time was a little annoying.
A blur passed between them and stopped a few feet away. Monty was dressed in his signature dark brown leather jacket. His hair was long and scraggly, and his hands were slender and pale. "I saw it! It's here!" He grinned happily, showing his telltale fangs.
"Where?" growled Silas.
"Two blocks away," said Monty. "It ducked into the library."
Colin could smell it clearly now. It was a strong burning scent with a touch of sulfur. He slung his own backpack over his shoulder and stretched.
Finally, some action.
"Monty, get back there and keep an eye on it," crackled Mr. Emerson's voice in everyone's ear. "We don't want to lose it again."
Monty was gone in a flash.
"I'm heading over there," said Warzax.
"Come on!" said Silas as he leapt off the building. Colin stepped off and fell thirty feet, landing lightly on the sidewalk below. Colin followed Silas, who was already running in the direction of the town's library.
The local church clock let out three rings of its bell, signaling the top of the hour. 3:00 a.m.
At least all the townsfolk are asleep.
Remember what we talked about.
I know; stay alert, mind my surroundings.
We don't want a repeat of Mexico.
I fall down one mineshaft and I never hear the end of it.
A high-pitched growl split the night air. The burning smell got stronger as Silas and Colin stopped in front of the library next to Monty. It was a small, ground-level building. The double glass doors had been smashed in and the glass looked like it had melted in pools on the ground.
There were clear sounds of something thrashing around inside. Colin closed his eyes and cast out his senses. The picture sprung to life in his mind as if he could see inside the library. It was blurred, like a painting that was being washed away by the rain, but he could clearly make out a large cat-like creature. It was pushing over tables and jumping and knocking over bookshelves.
Colin opened his eyes as Warzax, the size of a small horse in his dragon form, landed with a great flap of his purple, leathery wings.
"What's the plan?" asked Monty.
"You cover the back door," said Silas. "Warzax, get in the air and watch the building from above. Colin and I will take the hellcat down."
"The creature has triggered some sort of silent alarm," said Mr. Emerson through the microphones. "Local police are being notified."
"We better make this quick," said Colin.
Warzax shot off into the air and Monty vanished around the back of the building.
Not if we don't have to.
But it's a cat. A big cat. A big cat that's on fire.
Charles the Demon had filled the team in on hellcats. Much like hellhounds, the felines of the species were guardians of the doors of hell, only they were less predictable and more vicious. Hellhounds were obedient to their masters. Hellcats did whatever they wanted. How one had ended up on earth was a mystery, but after Damon Talbot has been discovered using a hellstone, anything was possible.
"We don't want to risk exposing ourselves if we don't have to," said Silas.
"Tell that to the dragon and the vampire."
"Emerson has a forget-me-not spell at the ready in case any norms see something they shouldn't, but we're not going to use it unless absolutely necessary."
The forget-me-not spell was created by Alfred Hamjackle. He was quite good at manipulating minds. After Colin's unfortunate change in the middle of Seattle, Alfred had magicked a block full of people into believing they hadn't seen a thirteen-year-old boy turn into a werewolf. The forget-me-not spell was pre-made magic. A small locked chest that, if opened, would make every human in a mile radius completely forget the last five minutes of their lives.
Colin hated the idea of messing with people's memories, but he understood that it was sometimes necessary.
I'll lead, you follow.
Aye, aye, captain.
Colin tugged at the neck of his uniform. It was a little snug in the wrong places. But the black outfit was re-enforced with bulletproof material and could expand as his body grew when he changed into a werewolf. Colin thought it looked a little geeky, but at least it saved his regular clothes from being shredded all the time.
Silas stalked toward the entranceway and disappeared.
Everything in the library went silent. The creature stopped moving.
"Here, kitty, kitty," said Colin quietly as he approached the entrance.
His earpiece crackled. "We've got an incoming vehicle," said Mr. Emerson, "and it's moving fast toward your location."
"Police?" asked Monty.
"Definitely not," said Mr. Emerson.
Colin stepped back outside just as the vehicle skidded into view around the corner. It was a reinforced van with metal plates welded onto its sides and windows tinted so dark that even Colin's eyes couldn't see through them. The van accelerated toward the library and skidded around in the middle of the street so that the back of the van was facing Colin and the entrance to the building. Colin caught a waft of sweat and musk, and something else. It was almost floral.
There was a hiss and a crash from inside the library.
"It got by me!" said Silas through the mic. "It's heading for the exit. The stupid thing moves fast. Don't touch it! Its skin burns something terrible!"
Colin's senses rang like an alarm bell and he leapt high into the air as a creature the size of a lion charged through the entrance and skidded to a stop. Colin landed lightly behind the animal.
The hellcat was completely black, its skin the texture of ash. In certain places, where its body looked to be cracked, fire burned through. Other than that very scary and unusual sight, it looked like a regular, albeit extremely large, cat.
It turned on Colin so quickly that he barely saw the movement. Its eyes were two pools of flames. The hellcat opened its jaws and hissed. Colin could feel the intense heat coming out of its mouth.
Monty blurred into view and grabbed the hellcat by the head before staggering back and holding his hands up. "Ahrgh! It burns!"
"Did you not hear me say not to touch it?" shouted Silas, stepping out of the library. His whole right arm was badly burned. He smelled like a burger. The wounds were healing, but Colin knew that Silas didn't heal as fast as he used to. One of the perks of being a young werewolf.
The hellcat pounced at Monty, pinning him to the ground and hissing at his face, which turned red and began to blister. The vampire screamed.
Warzax landed heavily on the ground, his purple body tensed, and blew a stream of dragon fire at the hellcat, forcing it to back off Monty, who scrambled away. Colin lost sight of the hellcat among the flames until Warzax stopped to take a breath. If anything, the hellcat looked more fearsome. Fire burned out of the cracked areas of its skin and the creature's eyes rippled like two small suns. It launched at Warzax, clawing at the dragon's leathery wings.
"We have to do something!" said Silas.
The hellcat backed away from the unconscious Warzax and threw itself at Colin and Silas. Colin spun out of the way, but Silas wasn't quick enough and the creature sliced through his arm.
Silas growled defiantly, and the hellcat swiped again, this time across the old wolf's chest. Silas staggered back and fell over. The gash was deep.
Anger and rage boiled to the surface and the change was upon Colin before he realized it. He marveled at how easily it happened now. He'd been a werewolf for almost a year, and in that short time, his changes had gone from excruciatingly painful, to not very comfortable, to as smooth and easy as slipping on a clean pair of underwear.
His bones changed shape, hair grew from every inch of his skin, his muscles expanded, and his body completely morphed into that of an eight-foot-tall wolf creature.
"Come on!" snarled Colin.
The hellcat turned on him and tensed to leap, but the attack never came.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hair in All the Wrong Places 3"
Copyright © 2018 Andrew Buckley.
Excerpted by permission of Month9Books.
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