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"[Bitten] grabs you from the beginning...Filled with action-packed suspense." ~ Margaret Marr, NightsAndWeekends

werewolf, werewolves, shifters, shifter, horror

 
 
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A Nip Out of

BITTEN

Sequel to Award Winning Full Wolf Moon

Copyright 2007 K.L. Nappier.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Double Dragon eBooks, a division of Double Dragon Publishing Inc., Markham, Ontario Canada. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by anyinformation storage or retrieval system, without the permission in writing from Double Dragon Publishing.

Inside the Flap

In this action packed sequel to award winning "Full Wolf Moon," the boom times of post World War II have arrived ... as the ancient Incarnation of Fear slaughters and feeds with evermore speed. The Second World War may have ended, but the battle against the Beast rages on. Eight years after Maxwell Pierce’s return to humanity, he and David Alma Curar stalk and destroy the pervasive werewolf where ever and whenever they can, a pursuit that takes them over national borders, land and sea.

But nothing they have experienced before can prepare them for where this journey leads them.

Chapter Excerpt

Chapter One

The Swamplands of Central Florida

Early Spring, 1950

First Night. Full Moon.

Max stared down at water so black, it swallowed moonlight as absolutely as the creature he stalked gobbled souls. He and David hadn’t said a word while picking their way between the swampland’s trees and over the cypress knees. They chose every step as if their lives depended on it. Any sound could be the sound that doomed them.

The Beast’s trail had led them to the dark, lapping edges of the swamp’s body. Until now, at least they’d had some semblance of ground under their feet, spongy and wet though it was. Swamp gas reeked in Max’s nose and watered his eyes. He didn’t dare raise his voice above a whisper, even with all the grisly little God-Knows-What trilling and shrieking from God-Knew-Where.

He waited until David had crept up to him, so close the broad rims of their hats brushed. The little wooden balls, dangling from the brims to thwart mosquitoes and gnats, waggled and clacked softly. Max whispered, "I don’t want to go in there."

"Why?"

"Gators."

Max was too fixated on the dark, brackish water licking at his boots to look up. David kept his voice low, but he couldn’t keep amusement out of it. "Alligators are a little low on our list of things to worry about."

Max looked at him. "Do you want to go in there?"

David lost his smirk and gazed down at the blackness. Yeah, Max didn’t think so. But they both knew they had to.

"Shit," Max said. He leaned his shotgun against the nearest cypress and unstrapped the sidearm from his thigh. He looped the gun belt bandelero-style, waited while David did the same with his, then hiked his shotgun tight against his armpit and waded into the murk. "Why the hell did it have to come this way?"

"Enjoys the company of alligators, I suppose," David whispered back, working his way carefully after Max.

Sarcastic old Navajo. "You’re sure it came this way?" Max asked.

David kept wading through. "As sure as you are."

Max wasn’t that sure anymore. Well, actually to be perfectly honest, the truth was that he didn’t want to be sure anymore, now that they were crotch-deep in black water.

The flick of something against the backs of his thighs stopped him cold. He looked down, knowing he couldn’t hope to pierce the water’s black veil. He would never see the six foot snake, or the fifty pound snapping turtle, or the ten foot gator until it had his ass in its jaws.

So quit thinking about it, he told himself, and wade. But when he heard the howl, he stopped. He stared at David. David was staring back.

He leaned close and whispered to Max, "How far, do you think?"

"Hard to say. I’m not even sure which direction it came from."

"We should stop a minute and try to feel it."

"David, it’s really gonna be hard to concentrate while I’m standing in the middle of a gator infested swamp ..."

David didn’t budge. Max heaved a sigh, and then closed his eyes, looking inward for the warning gut-twist. But the only knot in his belly was for the invisible toothies slithering around his legs. This wasn’t the distinctive, rocky clench that warned him of the Beast’s approach. He shifted his shotgun to his left side, removed his right glove and brought his palm close enough to see it in the filtered moonlight of the swamp. He waited.

The pentagram was there. Dim, but fully formed. The Beast wasn’t nearby, but it wasn’t far off either.

Another howl wafted through the swamp gas and cypress. David looked straight ahead. "That way."

* * *

They were back on dry land. Drier, in fact, than where they had entered on the swamp’s other side. In the distance, ahead, was a dim yellow light filtering through the cypress limbs draped with beards of Spanish moss. Difficult to say how far off it was. Max couldn’t believe it was there at all. They stood in silence while the mosquitoes and no-see-ums whined, thwarted and bloodthirsty, just beyond their hat brims.

"Is that lamplight?" Max whispered.

"It has to be."

"Way the hell out here?"

David shrugged. "The moon’s directly above. It can’t be that."

He took off his right glove and looked at his palm. Max did, too. The pentagrams were darkening, easier to see. David removed his other glove and reached into the medicine pouch belted at his hip. The pouch didn’t hold the usual whatsis of a Navajo healer. Instead it was filled with the dried dung of local animals and other pungent dusts.

"We’re sweating like pigs," he whispered, patting his face and neck with the mix. "If we were anywhere but here, the Beast would’ve smelled us coming for miles."

"Who’d have thought swamp gas would be a blessing." Max re-strapped his sidearm to his thigh, and then dipped his ungloved hand into the healer’s pouch. "Pigs don’t sweat, did you know that?"

David gave him a long-suffering, sideways glance as he powdered himself on the chest, hitting his armpits and dusting the sweat stains on his shirt. "No, I didn’t know that." He shook the excess dust from his palms and strapped his own sidearm back in place. With a slight tilt of his head, he looked at Max: ready?

And Max nodded back. Ready.

* * *

It was a shotgun shack, barely livable by the looks of it. In the dappled moonlight of the swamp its clapboard sides were gray and craggy, but Max doubted it’d look any better in broad daylight. How its gabled porch supported even the rickety rocking chair perched there, he couldn’t imagine. But he could imagine his boot going right through the floor boards.

And yet lamplight made the interior of the shack glow golden. The front door was open, but a screen door -blotchy with rust and patched in several places- guarded the inside from whining little bloodsuckers. Max could see straight through to the back door, which was clapped shut with a long board through a couple of supports. In the clearing around the shack were racks loaded with massive alligator skulls and hides, huge turtle shells and a few mammal skins; beautiful, tawny and golden. Puma pelts.

There were no voices coming from inside but Max could hear sizzling and, even through the swamp gas, the smell of searing gator meat was strong.

They crept only as close to the clearing as they needed to get a good look, then receded back into the cover of the cypress. Through the ragged lace of Spanish moss, David kept an eye on the shack while Max looked around them in the dark, speckled here and there with outbreaks of moonlight.

He leaned in close to David’s ear so the healer could hear him above the din of the swamp frogs and insects. "What do you think?" he whispered.

"It’s a long way to come for a kill."

"Must be a hell of a feed."

David shook his head, pursing his lips. "No. Whoever lives here is the next host."

"The Chosen? Nah ... can’t be. It’s too soon."

There had only been two kills. Max grimaced. Hell of a way to think of it: only two. But the hard reality was that the Beast normally hunted for much longer before choosing its next host. Max and David were lucky to have tracked this lineage down as early as they had.

Based on the remoteness of this place, though, there was something to what David said. The Beast had plenty of prey, with a lot less trouble, in the scattered network of small towns; a fertile hunting ground. So why would it choose a new host and move on so soon ... unless ...

"It’s on to us."

David nodded. Max closed his eyes in dread.

"We better not wait any longer," David said. "Let’s flip the vests."

"Yeah," Max replied, resigned.

Over their dark, long-sleeved shirts and pants, they had another piece of protective clothing. But this one was for an adversary more blood-frenzied than the mosquitoes. They wore hunters’ vests dyed dark; handy in themselves for the pockets. But David had customized them with something special.

Taking shifts so one of them was always on guard, they slipped the vests off and turned them inside out. The inner linings were sown with thin plates of unpolished silver, about three inches square, covering the men front to back. They were careful to avoid any patches of moonlight. Close up, the sight of silver might cause the Beast to hesitate just enough to save their lives. But from afar, it would only be a beacon if caught in moonglow.

They fastened the inner buttons to make the vests secure. Nothing to do now but wait. They didn’t dare try to warn the shack’s occupant. Like it or not, whoever was frying that gator meat had to be given up as bait ... much as David had once used Doris Tebbe to distract Max. The only thing they could hope for was that the cook would stay put, making it harder for the Beast -if only a little- to get to him.

Without a word, Max and David settled in, sitting back-to-back. Then Max whispered, "I’m going to check my palm."

David kept vigil while Max brought his palm up close enough to see in the gloom. The pentagram was darker still. As many times as he had done this, it was still an effort to keep his breathing and pulse calm.

"It’s getting close, David."

David didn’t reply. There wasn’t much point in it. Max waited to feel his friend’s subtle movements, then swiveled his head in a mirror image of David’s vigil ...

He froze. To his left, in the dark of the cypress cover, something trudged toward them, snuffling as it came. He didn’t have to warn David. Smoothly, silently they lifted their shotguns, sighting in the same direction ... and waited.

Something dark, something big was loping their way, wolf-like in its movements. Max glimpsed it weaving through the cypress. He did his best to keep his breathing calm as he homed in on the creature’s path, hitched up a leg and propped the shotgun on his knee.

Closer. Close enough for shooting now, but the idea was to try first for the pelvic basin. If not that, then to go for the chest or head, even though they hated to do it. But they had to do at least that. Anything less would just piss it off.

Closer ...

Something was wrong. The creature wasn’t big enough. It wasn’t stealthy enough. And as it trotted through patches of moonlight, its pelt wasn’t glowing silver.

And then it was right in front of them. As startled as Max and David, it quick-stepped back a foot and sent up a howl of alarm that dropped into a cacophony of woof-woof! Woof-woof-woof-woof!

A dog! A huge, black, barrel-chested, son-of-a-bitch of a dog, but just a dog all the same. And even though it never made a move toward either of them, they were going to have to shoot it. They had to shut it up before it was too late, shut it up and move fast to a different location.

Max dropped a hand to his side arm, but it was already too late. An alto voice, rough as whiskey and tobacco, warned them from behind:

"You boys don’t really wanna die over a dog, now, do ya?"

They lowered their guns and turned as the dog, growling and hackles raised, circled around to sit at the feet of its approaching mistress. She had a double barrel of her own, its round, steely sockets staring Max and David down from where it rested on an amply padded hipbone, snug in men’s Levis.

"Ma’am --" David began.

"Put the guns down."

"Ma’am, you need to –"

"Put the guns down."

Slowly, Max and David laid the guns at their feet. With her stare still fixed on them, the woman said, "Buttercup ... gun" and to Max’s amazement, the dog plodded over, grabbed the butt of David’s shotgun and dragged it over to its mistress. She didn’t even have to prompt it to fetch Max’s. Apparently, they had things like this down pat.

"Good girl." The woman pushed the shotguns behind her with a foot and a lock of gray-streaked, carrot-red hair slid from her topknot as she moved. She ignored that just like she ignored the mosquitoes.

"Ma’am –" David tried again.

"Now, with just your thumb and pointy finger, toss over those handguns. You first, Tonto. And you, Lone Ranger ... don’t you move one damn muscle ‘til I say so."

When those were at her feet she shifted the butt of her gun between her elbow and ribs, knelt, grabbed the side arms, stuffed them between her shirt and the Levi’s waistband, and then collected the shotguns, tucking them under her free arm. She rose.

"Okay. What you’re gonna do now is scoot along on your asses ‘n’ follow me while I back us outta the trees."

"Ma’am, you really need to go back –"

"You sound pretty stupid givin’ orders right about now, you know that, Tonto? Come along ..."

Could they bolt? Maybe one of them. Maybe both. The way she was forced to hold her gun, the shot might go wild and miss its mark. Shotguns had a nasty kick when the triggers were pulled. But that was two "maybes" and one iffy "might" Then there was Buttercup to consider.

And all this was the least of their worries.

The men scooted along on the damp ground, dividing their attention between the woman, Buttercup and any sign of what was still out there somewhere. Max decided to take up where David had left off, trying to reason with the woman. He’d have to raise his voice to be heard over the swamps incessant trilling and croaking, but it didn’t matter anymore. The woman and her damn dog had already caused too much commotion. The Beast had to know they were here, and it would be heading straight for them.

"Look, lady, we didn’t come here to hurt anybody. For your own protection, you should go back into your ... uh ... cabin."

"Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t come meanin’ harm since you can’t do any, now that I got your guns."

"Those are only for protection," David said.

"Really? So’s mine. Stop right there, that’ll do ... no, no, no. No standin’ up." The woman dipped down just enough to drop the men’s shotguns safely to the ground. "Buttercup ... guns, porch."

By now they had moved out of the shelter of the cypress into the exposed clearing around the shack. The full moon shone down on them all like stage light. Max and David watched Buttercup drag each gun to the porch’s bottom step.

Carefully, Max had been working his right glove nearly off his hand as he had scooted along. Now he brought his palm up and looked at it as he pretended to straighten the glove back into place. The pentagram stood out like a new tattoo. He felt that old, familiar warning as his guts twisted tight. Fresh sweat popped through his scalp. He didn’t have to tell David they had no time left for alibis.

David started talking fast. "Ma’am, please, we’re not hear to cause trouble, we didn’t even know this place existed. We’re tracking something dangerous, very dangerous, and the trail led here. Please. Take Buttercup and go inside."

The woman was perfectly calm and unconvinced. "You could say I’m a tracker myself. Whatcha huntin’?"

"There’s a creature, a beast ... it’s been stalking the towns. It’s already killed twice, it’s here in the swamp now, and it’s close and heading right for us. Listen to me. You do not stand a chance. I am begging you. Give us our guns and go inside."

The woman’s eyes narrowed. "Yeah, I heard about a couple killin’s over the last two months. Somethin’ made a real mess, they say, sure tore the poor bastards to shreds. One in Tavares, the other Mount Dora, as I recall ..."

Max nodded hopefully. "Exactly, you heard right."

But the narrowing of the woman’s eyes just led to a smirk. She snuggled the butt of her shotgun more comfortably against her hip. "I’ll give it to you boys, you’re clever, usin’ a little fact for your fiction. Gotta be the best excuse I heard yet from somebody comin’ to steal my hides. But, really, now, how’d you hear about us? That son of mine’s been talkin’ too much over at Woodrow’s bar-top again, ain’t he?"

"No one’s been talking to anybody," Max said. "Listen, lady, I wish we had time to earn your trust but we don’t. Didn’t you hear the howling earlier?"

Now she was almost smiling. "Yeah ..."

"That’s the beast we’re after," David said. "If we don’t get to it, there’s going to be more killing and it’s going to begin with us. It knows we’re here."

"That howlin’. You’re sayin’ that was your critter ...?"

"Yes," Max replied.

She let out a laugh and a snort. "You two ain’t from around here are ya? Don’t you know there ain’t nothin’ in this swamp that howls but Buttercup? If you’re tellin’ me the truth, then you came all this way out here on your wild goose chase, trackin’ my dog! Ha!"

Max and David shook their heads. "When was the last time you heard your dog howl like that?" David asked.

Her smile faltered a moment, but then it returned with a mix of disdain and amusement. "Shit, boys. The swamp can do funny things to a sound." She relaxed just enough to push that errant lock of hair behind her ear. "Okay, okay. This has all been highly entertainin’, but you made me take my supper off the stove and get cold. So why don’t you make life easier on all of us and just get on out? If you make me shoot ya then I’ll have to be the one to bury ya, ‘cause I can’t be tellin’ the county sheriff ‘bout that, no matter how good a friend he is." She waggled the gun barrels upward as a way of giving Max and David permission to stand. "Slow, now," she warned. "Thanks for the guns. I can always use ‘em. And if you see that loose-lipped son of mine again, tell him the next hide that I’ll be hangin’ on the racks is his."

Max and David slowly rose. And the swamp’s curtain of noise dropped away.

The woman’s face crinkled in bafflement. Trembling, Buttercup jerked to the right with a ragged growl and stared past the clearing.

Max said, "Aw, shit ...!"

The men rushed for their shotguns. The Beast burst out of the tree line, a massive blur of silver, froth and fangs, brilliant and glowing under the full moon. They heard the woman gasp out, "Sweet Jesus in Heaven ...!"

They clawed for their shotguns and rolled between the Beast and the woman. She stumbled backward, letting both barrels loose right over their heads. The Beast’s mass blotted out all light as it leapt over Max and David. They thrust upward and fired.

 

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