Danny huddled in the cab and cursed his fate.
Halsted Avenue, dark and wet, flashed past while a brutish addiction gnawed at his soul. He gazed at the tacky rainbow flags lining the street and longed to fit in, but knew he could not. He glanced at the “I heart” above the picture of a rooster on his t-shirt and sighed. It didn’t seem funny anymore.
Overhead, a full moon hid behind low rain clouds. Outside, hookers beckoned and horns blared, but inside his craving blazed. He pulled a crumpled wad of paper from his pocket, and his trembling fingers flattened it on the seat beside him. His breath quickened as he gazed at the prayer and the address scrawled on the ragged note. Just a few more blocks, and he’d be safe.
The silent skies wept, and rain drizzled onto the dismal avenues. He rolled down his window and drew the night into his lungs, longing for the cleansing scent of fresh rain. Instead, a foul stench of garbage and rancid grease defiled the humid air. He wrinkled his nose and ran fingers through his shaggy, brown hair.
Soon, I’ll be with them. They’ll help me. He whimpered and murmured the prayer from his note. The words rebounded in his mind as he fought the ravenous appetites that clawed at him. Give me strength and wisdom. That’s what I need. He longed for serenity.
The cab bounced to a stop at a red light and the driver twisted his head to gaze at him. “You okay, Mac?” Whiskers sprouted from his cheeks like spines from a porcupine.
Danny shrugged and closed his window. “I’m fine.”
“Maybe you’d like some company? I know where all the gay bars is at.”
Temptation tickled his loins before his mouth hardened in resolve. “Just take me where I said.”
“Whatever you say, Mac. You be careful, though. That ain’t the best part of town.” The stoplight flashed green and the cab lurched forward. Country music twanged from the radio, and Amazing Grace promised surcease to the wretched.
The taxi squished to a stop in front of a boarded-up warehouse. “You sure this is the place, Mac?” The cabbie twisted his thick neck and his bloodshot eyes rolled over Danny’s lean form. “Don’t look like nothin’s here.”
“This is the place.” A shudder clutched his body as he shoved a bill toward the driver. He didn’t bother to look at the meter. “Keep the change.”
The cabbie’s eyebrows shot up at the denomination. “You want I should wait, bud? You’ve paid for it.”
“No!” The word barked from Danny’s throat and the bite of its unintended malice made him flinch. He drew a shaky breath to calm his jitters while he jerked the door open. “No, I won’t be needing a ride. Thanks.” Rainwater drooled from the cab onto his tattered, houndstooth jacket.
The cabbie shrugged. “It’s your funeral, Mac.”
He slid from the taxi and slammed the door behind him. The engine raced and the little safe haven sped away in a cloud of foul exhaust. Alone, he turned and splashed through an oily puddle on the cracked sidewalk. The warehouse towered over him, dark and silent.
His hunger haunted him, relentless and unwholesome.
A pack of three young men strutted toward him from down the street. Danny hunched his shoulders and took a dozen steps toward his destination. Please, let them leave me alone. I’m so close now.
Overhead, streetlights glistened in the misty rain while headlights from passing cars glared in his eyes and cast serpentine shadows against the boarded-up storefronts. He shivered and hurried around the side of the building into a dark alley, away from the young toughs. Battered trash cans, broken whiskey bottles, and spent condoms littered his path. A single discouraged light drew him to the end of the lane, a puddle of yellow illumination in the endless gloom. A rusty, battered door stood ajar under the bare bulb, luring him on to the interior.
Shadows from figures on the street fluttered across his path: the gang had followed his trail of fear and longing. He hastened forward and tried to ignore the shuffle of feet behind him. Somewhere in the distance, a dog raised a dirge to the unseen moon.
A voice, husky and filled with bravado, called to him. “Hey dude. Whatcha doin’ here, man? You lost or somethin’?” The young men swaggered closer.
His hunger pulsed and wrenched at him. He paused and let his eyes rove over their bodies. His imagination swelled with the thought of the lithe muscles and hard sinews that hid under their clothes.
A shudder wracked his body, and he jerked his attention back to his destination. Their footfalls sounded closer, but he splashed ahead through the alleyway toward the refuge of the light and the door.
One putrescent puddle hid a deep chuckhole, and his foot caught on the ragged edge. His ankle twisted and panic flashed through him. In an instant, he plummeted into the filth of the alley as pain clenched at his leg.
The three young men crowded about and gazed down upon him.
“Look at the little faggot. Can’t even stand up.”
Their laughter and catcalls bounced against the harsh confines of the alley. Danny’s heart thudded in his ears. He rolled to his back and stared at the faces looming over him. The men all wore black, with knitted caps that clung to their skulls. Their features glowed pasty and white in the darkness, an echo of the scant glow at the rear of the alley.
Panic fought with hunger in Danny’s gut. “Please, just leave me alone.” He loathed the whine in his voice.
One of the men mocked him in a reedy falsetto. “Please leave me alone. Oh please, please.”
Danny rolled to his knees, and a booted foot slashed at him, knocking him back to the ground. He gasped and begged, “Please, you don’t know what you’re doing. I can’t help myself.”
Another man chimed in. “Oh, he can’t help himself. He’s so weak.” Raucous laughter filled the alley. “Maybe we should help him out. What do you think, guys?”
“Maybe we should. We’ll have to charge him, though. You think he’s got any money?” Another kick thudded into Danny’s belly.
“How about it, maggot? You got any money for us?”
Danny’s fingers plucked at his wallet to pay them, but before he could pull it out another kick caught his arm. A sickening snap filled his ears, and a torrent of pain snatched his breath away. His arm flopped as though it had an extra joint between his elbow and wrist. His chest heaved and then, at last, the beast within surged and consumed his will.
Helpless against the power of his compulsion, he rose to his hands and knees and shook himself. His muscles coiled and writhed, while coarse hairs slithered from his skin. Hot rivets of agony drilled into his hands and feet as his fingernails and toenails transformed into claws. A feral mania marauded through his skull and trampled his mind.
His face contorted as a snout erupted from his jaw. He raised his head to the cloud-shrouded moon and howled. The Hunger choked his spirit.
The young men scrambled away, but they were too slow. They shrieked, but he raced from one to the next and his fangs tore at their throats. The first two collapsed to the filth of the alley, and their cries foamed into crimson silence. The last made it halfway to the street before Danny’s incisors tore into this neck. His victim’s arms gave feeble battle before he crumpled under the rage of Danny’s jaws.
Blood sprayed and spouted from mangled flesh, and the hot, coppery taste of human muscle exploded in Danny’s mouth. Ecstasy suffused his soul.
He snarled and gorged himself, but the carnal beast within howled and demanded more. The other two bodies, their eyes still alight, their muscles still quivering, awaited. Soon, flesh and bones from all three lay scattered amidst the beer cans and condoms. He thrashed up and down the alley. His paws scrabbled against the asphalt, amidst blood splatters and entrails. Bones crunched in his jaws and a hoary exultation thrummed through him.
His Hunger sated, he collapsed and rested on his side, panting. His ribs rose and fell with each tortured breath, and his eyes gleamed as intelligence reappeared. Above the door, the golden light still glowed, and overhead the gentle rains still fell.
The violence muzzled his need, at least for now. His body shuddered and new pains wrenched at him. His limbs twisted as his claws dug like needles underneath his fingernails and toenails and disappeared into his flesh. His skin crawled with a thousand worms while coarse hairs burrowed back inside. His jaw clenched and became human once more. A moan oozed from his lips, and he thought that the pain must be worse than the ache of a dozen abscessed teeth . He surveyed what he had wrought, and anguish gripped him.
He clambered to his feet and clutched at the bloodied and tattered remnants of his clothing. He staggered against the warehouse.
The rough bricks tore at his fingers as he careened forward, toward the light and his meeting. The transformation had mended his broken arm, but it still throbbed. The wind shifted, and the stench of the offal that now filled the alley caught in his throat. He grabbed at his middle and stopped to hurl sour vomit onto the detritus of his sins.
Determined, he wobbled into the warehouse. They were waiting for him. He had fallen. He knew it. But they would lift him up. The soft, brown eyes of his Sponsor welcomed him.
“Danny. Come join us.”
He stood before them, ashamed. “My name is Danny, and I’m a werewolf.”
Their voices sang a chorus of greeting, forgiveness, and acceptance. “Hi, Danny!”
He had been lost, but, now he was found.
Whatever the genre, Max’s fiction focuses on characters you care about. Sometimes ordinary, sometimes quirky, sometimes downright evil, the conflict between the characters drives the story.
You can also count on a touch of romance. As in real life, you won’t always find happy-ever-after endings; the characters’ fates turn on the choices they make. Visit him at www.new.maxgriffin.net