The semi-truck lurches forward as I switch gears on the desolate, empty back roads of Louisiana. The truck shakes slightly, the cargo in the back shifting as I make a turn. Twin yellow beams shine across the broken white lines of the rarely used road. People tend to stay close to the cities. Regardless of whether they admit it or not, humans like being around others. Some innate part tells them they are safer in a pack.
What a fucking joke.
After a few more minutes and several potholes later, a red and white sign flashes, the dying bulbs alert all lost travelers to the truck stop ahead. Finally. I shift gears, and the truck makes a sound that tells me I am pushing its limits. I turn into the half-lit, worn down rest stop and park. Turning off the engine, I sit back, taking a moment to relax. Driving from Guadalajara to a small rundown town on the outskirts of Lafayette is anything but fun, but business is business. I need an isolated place, where if someone disappears, no one will ask questions.
My stomach lets loose a low growl of its own, reminding me I have not eaten in the last day. I touch the silver chain around my neck, rubbing it between my index finger and thumb. Power ripples beneath my touch, a present from long ago that keeps the scent of who and what I am at bay.
The truck rocks for a moment, reminding me I have work to do. Sighing, I open the door and step out. Gravel and dirt dull the shine of my Italian leather shoes as I roll up the sleeves of my black button-up shirt. I probably shouldn’t have worn one of my favorite suits to this worn-down town, but my attire is limited. I need to fix that, especially if I want to blend in.
Several semi-trucks litter the parking lot, but all is quiet other than the distant sound of traffic. A few guys exit the store, and I watch as they glance in my direction. I can hear the murmur of their voices from here, their whispers carrying on the wind.
“Dresses too nice to drive something like that.”
“Bet he isn’t even from here.”
Humans can be observant at times, which is a good and very bad thing. My eyes stay on them as they separate and jump back into their trucks for the night. The last car leaves the parking lot as I make my way to the back of my trailer. Taking a key from my pocket, I unlock the deadbolt before grabbing the long silver bar. My skin sizzles as it makes contact with the metal. I throw the doors open and step back. Slapping the side of the truck a few times has about a dozen eyes lighting up and looking in my direction. With a low whistle and a nod towards the side, I turn and head into the store.
A single bell rings as I push past the glass door. The scrawny older gentleman behind the register looks up to nod and then does a double-take. I have gotten used to the looks I receive the farther I get from home. It is probably a combination of my 6’2” frame, my size, and my Hispanic features. But then again, the several tattoos that decorate my hands and neck would probably give anyone pause.
I place my hands palm down as I scan the items over his head. He continues to stare before his head jerks towards the commotion outside. Screams echo through the night as snarls and growls grow closer.
“Can I get a pack of the Marlboro reds?”
The cashier’s eyes go wide as he looks from outside to me and back. I follow his gaze as a feral captures a trucker just as he reaches for the door. The large beast jumps on his back, ripping at flesh as the man’s hands let go of the door, and he is dragged off, still screaming.
I turn back around, and the cashier’s face is ghostly white. He reaches below the counter and straightens back, pointing a shotgun at my face. I snort as the weapon quivers in his grip. I learned a long time ago that men carry weapons to feel safe, secure. Weak men who don’t have their own power. The second you take that power away, they are nothing but sniffling fucking babies.
“Who are you, and what did you bring here?” he asks as he lays his finger next to the trigger.
My hands flat on the counter, I push my head forward, pressing the barrel against my skin. I can feel the beast within me stir, clawing for an escape that I can’t give him. The full moon alone is days away, which means even if I want to change and indulge, I can not. The cashier’s eyes widen at my stance, clearly unnerved that anyone would be dumb enough to risk their life. Little does he know he doesn’t scare me. Nothing does. Not anymore. That fear everyone clings to was beaten out of me as a teen and replaced with something far more sinister.
“Do it,” I urge him, my gaze never wavering. “Pull the trigger. Do it.”
The barrel shakes as sweat beads across his forehead. He looks from me to the door and back, gauging if he could make it. I don’t give him a second thought as I snatch the shotgun from him and slam the end of it into his head. He falls backward from the force, knocking a few things off the shelf before falling unconscious on the floor. I break the shotgun over my knee, throwing the broken parts to the side. Shaking my head, I move around the counter, grabbing the pack of cigarettes I wanted and stealing a lighter off the counter. Taking one from the pack, I bring it to my lips before lighting it and inhaling. Smoking is a habit I started when I was young, and the inhalation of flames always sets some part of me at ease. But like all habits, they form an addiction, a basic primal need that, if ignored, can make even the sanest man snap.
The screams stop, replaced by the sounds of crunching and bones breaking. I watch out the window as the creatures feed, shadows bending and moving in the dark. This is just another town, another feast. My thoughts are cut short as twin headlights light up the gravel drive. A blue Porsche enters the rest area, coming to a stop at the door. I take another drag and put the cigarette out on the countertop. I walk down the aisles, searching for something to ease my hunger as the lights of the car cut off. I bend down next to the beef jerky, and the bell rings, signaling someone has entered.
“You’re late,” is all I say as I grab a bag of the overpriced sodium drenched meat.
Heels the same color as the car out front stop by my side. “Yeah, well, I took the right exit. You took the wrong one,” she responds.
I sigh as I stand, turning toward Mia. She is about 5’5”, her brown hair in waves, and wearing an overpriced pants suit. She is a werecoyote with the attitude to match. What she lacks in size, she makes up for in aggression and expertise shooting. She came with me from Mexico when I left, and she is someone I trust completely. I trust all of those that work for me. How could I not? They know the price of betrayal is always paid in blood.
Ripping open the bag of jerky, I tilt it towards her. She turns up her nose at my offer.
“No thanks. Also, you didn’t answer my question. Why stop here? We’re two hours away.”
I shrug as I shovel food into my mouth. “They need to eat.”
She folds her arms as we exit the store. “It’s a mess, Roman, and another blood-filled trail you will have to worry about.”
“It’s a no-name town in a no-name state full of no-named people. It’s fine. Besides, they clean up after themselves.” I smile, which only unnerves her more. Usually, my smiling comes before something not so pleasant.
We push open the door as the cashier groans, waking up from his shotgun forehead nap. I pause for a moment as I hold the door open with my elbow and whistle to my left. A large silver and black wolf, the size of a small bear, trots over with blood and tissue still hanging from its jaws. It tilts its head toward me as I nod toward the cashier struggling to his feet.
It doesn’t waste any time, running into the store and jumping over the counter in a single bound. The cashier’s yells are drowned out as we shut the door behind us and sit on the hood of her Porsche. I shovel more pieces of jerky into my mouth as Mia sighs next to me.
“Marcus found you a place. It’s near Audubon Park. Supposed to be really pretty with enough trees for your nightly…umm strolls.”
“Good,” I reply. “What about Yazmin?”
Mia turns to me, holding her hand out for a piece of jerky at last. I guess the sound of the ferals eating made her change her mind. I hold it open for her as she takes a piece before replying, “She agreed to meet and at the diner you requested.”
“Perfect. What about Dominic?”
She shakes her wrist as she checks on the watch that is more than a watch. She scrolls until she finds the message she is looking for and shows me. Dominic will be there the day after me due to some travel issues. Travel issues. I know what that is code for and smirk.
“Do you think we will find what he is looking for in New Orleans?” Mia asks, her face turning serious.
“Yes. You’ve had the same dreams as I.”
Mia nods as we watch the wolf saunter out of the shop and head back to the truck. We both stand, and Mia moves to the driver’s side of her car. “I feel it. This voice is calling me, but I don’t know if we are leaving one evil and trading it for another, Roman.”
“If you can survive Antonio, you can survive anything.” I shrug my shoulders as I hold the door open for her. “It’s just a place. Besides, if what we are looking for is not there, I still have business to attend to. Both packs owe me, and I intend to collect.”
Mia nods once as she gets in the car. I shut the door as she starts the engine and slowly backs out.
I would be lying if I said I am not a little nervous. I have been having dreams too. A voice, her voice, calling me home as if I truly had one. I see her darkened waves dance as she runs out of my view. Always close enough to touch, but never able to reach her. She beckons me night after night, and it’s only grown louder the closer we get. I just want to get there. Make the dreams stop so I will never have to see her face again. My eyes stay on Mia’s taillights as she drives away. She will get there before me, set everything up and make sure I can sneak in without the other packs knowing.
The sound of paw pads in dirt tells me two of the ferals stopped short next to me. They wait, wanting a command. They are looking for a leader to make them a pack, and I am not that. Sure, I have my father’s eyes. The blood-red gaze of an Alpha, but I never wanted it, never needed it. It was forced onto me, and I’d had no say whatsoever. A king’s crown shoved down my throat. Packs. Rules. Lies. That’s all it was, all it ever was. They preach family and will kill their own for a throne that doesn’t exist.
I drop to a squat, petting a silver-haired beast as it leans its head into my hand. Ferals were beasts that once could change back and forth, yet consumed too much human flesh, making them permanent monsters. The perfect killing machines, and something I intend to use for what is coming. There will be no more packs once I am done. Every person that has their hands involved will learn why the people of Mexico whisper the St. Augustine name like a curse.