IN THIS EPISODE: …The werewolf awakes the morning after the disaster…
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CHAPTER 44 – Morning
Paul Shaw Longmire – Olde Kennington Park
Thursday: The Following Morning
Paul awoke lying face down on a patch of dew-covered lawn. A silvery pre-dawn glow surrounded him, and the air and grass felt cool on his bare skin—which, now that he thought of it, seemed to be most of him.
Where am I? he wondered.
Memories of the night before remained dim and confused in his brain. He seemed to remember someone leering down at him… someone else screaming… fighting… And was there a fire…?
I was the wolf!
As always, the realization that it was the morning after a full moon provoked a queasy sensation in his stomach.
He sat up, wiped his hand across his mouth, and looked at his fingers.
Again, the blood! Again, the gut-wrenching knowledge that he might have—probably had—killed someone last night.
But who? Why was it always so hard to remember?
The curse! The God-damned curse!
Only tatters remained of his shirt and almost as little of his pants, and of course he was barefoot. He always awoke barefoot the morning after a transformation; if the beast didn’t like clothes, it liked shoes even less.
Blood stained what was left of his shirt, too. So, he yanked it off and used the rags to wipe the blood from his face and body.
Curiously, when he had finished, he discovered that some of the blood may have belonged to him. His wrists had healed where Vincent had cut them (obviously, a “gift” from the curse), but numerous scratches, like claw marks, covered Paul’s torso, arms, and legs. None seemed too severe, but several proved quite painful. He winced as he mopped them up.
That’s never happened before…
Did that mean the beast had actually been hurt during the fighting he vaguely remembered? What could hurt a werewolf? Had he faced a foe with silver weapons, or…
He remembered more of it now. His would-be lover had turned into some kind of monster… And had there been a mummy? And…
No. That’s absurd!
But was it any more absurd than turning into a wolf when the moon was full?
Paul shook his head, trying to clear away the last of the early morning cobwebs.
A fine mist permeated the air, smelling vaguely of smoke.
Smoke! The fire!
Images of the blaze came rushing back to him, along with earlier memories: being tied to an altar, and someone trying to help him… two people, actually:
Opal and Topaz!
But what had happened to them? Had the beast hurt them? Had they been trapped in the fire? He needed to know.
Almost before he’d even decided to do so, he rose to his feet and began running, following the smell of smoke.
As always during the cycle of the full moon, his human senses remained sharper than normal (though nowhere near as keen as those of the wolf). Trailing the scent of smoke through Olde Kennington Park—for that’s where he now realized he’d awoken—was as easy as following the lines painted down the middle of a street.
He dashed through the woods and across the manicured lawns of the park, knowing that anyone who saw his shirtless visage would think him mad—but he didn’t care.
Opal… I’m sorry…!
As he ran, his mind played gruesome scenarios of the twins’ demise: Opal with her throat torn out, trying to talk through bubbles of blood; Topaz disemboweled, pleading for her life; the monster inside him feasting on the girls’ steaming corpses while the Duprix mansion burned down around them.
Please, God, if ever I was a good man… if ever you existed… Please spare them! Do what you want with me, but let the girls be all right!
The burnt-out husk of the mansion rose before him now, great white clouds of steam and smoke filling the morning sky. Fire trucks, perhaps a half-dozen of them, were parked around the building, their crews still spraying the crumbling hulk with water.
It looked like a scene from which no one—no one save a werewolf—could have escaped alive.
Oh, God… Oh, God… Please…!
And then he spotted them—three figures huddled under blankets at the edge of the park, surrounded by piles of books and strange artifacts: Dr. Cushing and his daughters… both of them.
They’re alive! Oh, thank God, they’re alive!
Paul slowed and took cover behind a large oak tree, where he could watch what was going on but not be easily seen by the fireman working the scene. His wolf-keen ears allowed him to hear the conversations as well.
Both girls seemed to be weeping softly.
“There, there, now,” Dr. Cushing said, sitting between the twins and patting both of them on their shoulders. “Everything will be all right. It’s not the end of the world, you know.”
“But Father,” Topaz said, “all the exhibits… All the work we put in…”
“Never mind that, now,” Dr. Cushing replied. “Exhibits can be rebuilt, you know. And the items that were lost… Well, we can do just as well without them.”
“Can we do without clothing, food, and shelter?” Opal asked bitterly. “Because all of that just went up in smoke, too. We only had a little bit of money in the flat, but we didn’t save even a shilling of it. We were too busy trying to rescue the artifacts.”
Cushing hugged her. “And you made the right choice. Money comes, and money goes, but some of these pieces—like you two, as well—are irreplaceable. Besides, I’ve got a few pounds laid aside for future expeditions and such. We can use that to get what we need.”
“But, where will we stay?” Topaz asked miserably.
“I had an idea about that,” her father replied. “Perhaps we could take our exhibit on the road, travel to where the customers are, as it were. We could fix up this old truck of mine and trek through the countryside—across to Europe, even. I’ve heard that traveling shows can be quite profitable.”
The twins looked skeptical, though Paul could see the light of hope beginning to return to their lovely blue-green eyes.
“What about Paul, though,” Opal said. “He can’t have gone far. We need to find him. We have to help him!”
Maybe she had a premonition or something, because as she spoke, she began to look around, as if sensing that Paul lurked nearby.
He pressed himself behind the tree, so neither she nor anyone else could spot him.
I can’t stay here, he realized. The moon would still be full for two more nights, and when it rose, he would be a danger to everyone he knew and loved, especially Opal and her family.
“If what you’ve told me is true,” Dr. Cushing said, “that young man does indeed need help. But I’m afraid that it is beyond our power to do so.”
“We could research his curse,” Topaz suggested, “find out how to cure it…”
“Indeed, we could, and we shall,” her father replied. “However, right now, there’s nothing we can do—especially if Mr. Shaw, or Longmire, or whatever he calls himself, chooses to remain hidden from us.”
That’s what I have to do, Paul thought. Remain hidden… Hide until I can find the cure!
Just then, as if to punctuate his decision, a police car pulled up to the Cushings, and several grim-looking detectives climbed out.
Cautiously, not making even a sound, Paul crept away from the scene of the fire.
Maybe someday I’ll be able to go back, he told himself. Maybe someday I’ll be able to see them—to see Opal—again.
Tonight, though, the moon would be full once more.
And first, Paul thought desperately, I must find a cure!
TO BE CONTINUED…!
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