By Ian Wilson (Rated PG)
There I sat alone in the dim light from a floor-lamp, my booted feet resting atop my desk, a bottle of Perry Wankle’s moonshine in my hand. I poured myself another glass and downed it in one gulp. This had probably been one of the most trying evenings of the last five years.
The front door opened with a loud creak. “What do they want now?” I thought. My cousin, Katherine, entered my office. Exactly what I needed; an adolescent tongue-lashing.
“Hey,” I mumbled, raising my glass. “Join the pity party.”
She sat down in the small, aluminum chair across the desk from me, leaned back and crossed one denim-clad leg over the other.
“What’s goin’ on?” she asked.
“Every woman in my life is angry at me, except for Lady Moonshine, and I am currently drowning my sorrows. Want some?”
“I ain’t old enough to drink yet, Walter.”
“More for me, then.”
“Ya’ll gonna explain why Aunt Betty is so angry at you or do I have to guess?”
“Well, I suppose there’s not much point in keeping it a secret, now, is there?” I grumbled. I took a deep breath, downed another shot of Perry’s ‘shine, and relayed to her everything that had happened earlier that same day.
The subterranean beast wrapped its long, black tendrils around Deputy Julia’s muscular legs, pulling her toward its hideous, toothy maw. That trooper didn’t let out one peep. She just drew her sidearm and fired some lead into the critter’s face, if you could call it a face. All that did was make it mad. The thing wrapped another tentacle around her neck, choking her.
“Julia, no!” I barked, whipping out my revolver. I wasn’t about to let that thing take her.
Two silver bullets bit into the demon’s black flesh. It howled with rage, squirming on the basement floor. Another silver bullet and it melted back into the primordial darkness that spawned it. Julia lay on the concrete floor, coughing.
“You good?” I inquired.
“I don’t think I’ll sleep for a month,” she wheezed, “but yeah, I’m okay.”
“Y’all alright down there?” asked a voice from the floor above.
“We’re fine, Mrs. Wankle,” I replied.
Reaching down, I helped Julia off the floor. She patted the dust from her Sheriff’s deputy uniform.
“Thanks,” she said, placing her hat atop her long, dark, Shawnee hair.
“You’re welcome,” I replied.
We ascended the steps into the kitchen, where Mathilda Wankle had poured us some sweet tea.
“Thank you both so much,” said the middle-aged woman. “That was so helpful! Perry and I were afraid to go down and get potatoes because of that varmint!”
“My pleasure,” I replied.
“Here, I poured you some sweet tea,” she said, handing us the glasses.
“Much obliged,” I replied, sipping the cold, sweet liquid.
“This ain’t the hard stuff, is it?” asked Julia.
“Naw,” said Mrs. Wankle. “I know you’re on duty.”
Julia then took a drink, thanking Mrs. Wankle for her hospitality.
We stood in the kitchen, chatting about this and that, and the goings on in a small rural town. As exciting and dangerous as my job is, I wouldn’t trade these simple moments for the world. They’re there to remind me what I’m fighting for.
“Well, I better get back on patrol,” said Julia.
“Take care, now!” said Mrs. Wankle, showing us to the door. “I’ll make sure Perry writes your check when he gets back from work, Walter.”
I waved goodbye to Mathilda, and started toward my motorcycle. I paused and looked over at Julia, wondering if this was the right time to ask this question. I figured it was now or never.
“Thanks for all your help today,” I said. “That situation would’ve been a lot worse if I’d done it alone; Conrad being outta town and all.”
“You’re welcome, Walter,” she replied with a smile. She only rarely called me Walter; “Mr. Ulric” was the normal form of address. I have to admit I was nervous; all the monsters and demons I’d faced up to now, and I was scared of a regular woman.
“You wanna grab a burger at Granny’s tonight?”
Julia hesitated. My heart beat a little harder. Sweat formed on my palms.
“Um, sure,” she said at last.
“Okay, when you get off work?”
“So how about seven?
“That… sounds fine to me.”
“Great. See you then.”
Heaving a deep sigh of relief, I placed my motorcycle helmet on my head, started my bike and drove back to the farm.
That evening, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, trimming my short beard; I ain’t a big fan of personal grooming as you’re well aware, but I wanted to look my best.
“What’re you getting all duded up for?” asked Ma, leaning on the doorframe.
“Going to get a burger at Granny’s,” I replied, running a comb through my thick dark hair.
“You ain’t just going to get a burger,” she retorted, raising one eyebrow.
“You ain’t wrong,” I replied.
“Who’re you going with?”
“Deputy Julia,” I mumbled.
“Ooh!” Ma replied excitedly. “Well it’s about time!”
Donning my best leather vest, I then headed for the door, cowboy boots thumping down the stairs.
“Have a good night, honey,” said Ma, kissing me on the cheek.
I strode into Granny’s bar, proud as a peacock, and scanned the room for Julia. It was hard to miss her; her long, black, Shawnee hair divided in two braids that started at the scalp and made their way down her back, interwoven with beadwork. A suede jacket covered a patterned blouse, and a denim skirt and leather boots completed the outfit. She was stunning. I swaggered over to the table and pulled up a chair.
“Howdy,” I greeted her.
“Hey,” she replied.
“You look like a million bucks,” I stated.
“You’re not so bad yourself,” she replied.
I looked at the floor and chuckled a bit, blushing.
After ordering food, we made a little small talk; well, small talk for us anyway, which might include a conversation about hell-hounds, or demonic possession.
“So when you were gone for those four years,” said Julia. “Where were you? What did you do?”
I was kind of afraid she’d ask that question; a lot of the stuff I did when I was riding with the Sons of Fenrir wasn’t exactly legal. But, it was better that she finds that out now.
“The Sons of Fenrir took me all over the country,” I replied, “turning into wolves, getting into fights with other gangs, robbing, and killing livestock.”
She nodded. I tried to read her expression; she’s as inscrutable as a wildcat, but I figured she knew some of this stuff already.
“But that life is behind me, now,” I added, taking a swig of beer.
“Not entirely,” said a familiar voice from behind. I turned my head to see a familiar face. I nearly spit out my beer.
“Eve?!” I exclaimed.
I was a jumble of emotions; shock, anger, confusion.
“Hello handsome!” said Eve, her yellow-brown eyes flashing at me like the coyote spirit she carried within her. Her copper-colored skin glistened in the incandescent lights. Strings of turquoise beads interspersed with animal teeth and claws hung from her neck. A fringed leather vest draped from her shoulders over a flowered crop top. A beaded belt encircled her waist, holding a pair of tight jeans to her hips. She’d changed her hair; last time I’d seen Eve, she hadn’t been sporting a mohawk.
“Walter, who’s this?” asked Julia.
“This um… Evening Raider. I met her in the Sons of Fenrir.”
She laid her slender hand on my shoulder. Fury and regret knotted my guts; this was a part of my previous life that I’d feared the most.
“Yeah, we met alright. My being his wife and all.”
“His what?!” exclaimed Julia.
“She’s not my wife,” I said hastily, my heart racing like a freight train.
“That’s not what you said last year,” Eve shot back.
“There weren’t no church nor preacher; it wasn’t a wedding and you ain’t my wife.”
“How can you say that?” snarled Eve. “Do our traditions mean nothing to you?”
Julia splashed her drink in my face, stood up, and stomped out of the bar.
“Julia, wait!” I shouted, following her out through the saloon doors.
“Walter, I have never been so humiliated in my life!”
“Julia, she ain’t my wife! It wasn’t a wedding, we never… did anything.”
“Oh really?” Julia placed her right hand on her hip. “How am I supposed to believe that, huh? You never even bothered telling me about her before asking me out! How am I supposed to believe anything you say?”
“I didn’t think it was that important.”
I felt the sting of her palm striking my face.
“Don’t ever speak to me again! Don’t even look at me again!”
Julia got into her truck and drove away. I stood in the parking area, stunned; a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. How was I gonna come back from this? I’d just disrespected one of the finest women I’d ever known? Would she ever forgive me? Eventually, I put all these questions aside, got on my bike and rode homeward to another part of this long nightmare.
The kitchen door opened with a loud creaking like it always does. Voices emanated from the sitting room, and I walked in on what might’ve been the second most awkward conversation of my life. There was Ma, Uncle Jimmy, and Aunt Mary talking with Evening Raider.
I gaped at them, dumbfounded.
“Howdy, Walt,” said Uncle Jimmy, a weird grin spreading across his creased face. “Your wife just dropped by.”
“I um-” I began.
“Walter, can I have a word with you?” asked Ma in a tone that was more of a command than a question. We ducked into the next room.
“Walter, why didn’t you ever mention her?” growled Ma.
“I didn’t think it was relevant!”
“Not relevant? That you’re married?”
“Look Ma, there was no church or preacher; it weren’t a wedding! We never even did anything!”
“That’s still not something you hide from your mother!”
“Okay, maybe not the best judgement on my part,” I said, shrugging.
Ma’s eyes blazed like coals of fire. I figured it was a good time to retreat, so I headed out to my office and here we are.
Katherine sat silent for a while. I figured she was about to cuss the paint off the wall.
“Wow,” she said at last. “You really screwed up.”
“Yup!” I said, downing another glass of moonshine. “You’re probably mad at me, too.”
“Kind of,” she shrugged. “But nothing you do really surprises me anymore.”
“You know,” she continued, “getting drunk ain’t gonna help anything. Probably make it a lot worse in the morning.”
“Yeah, well, tomorrow has worries of its own.”
“That ain’t what that verse means.”
“Since when are you a preacher?” I asked, raising one eyebrow. Katherine hadn’t shown much interest in the Scripture before now.
“I’ve been going to Bible study.”
“You? Bible study? How long you been doin’ that?”
“You could say that incident at the diner a few months back got me scared straight.”
She was referencing a harrowing affair this past summer, in which she was nearly abducted to the underworld by a malevolent entity.
“That’d do it,” I said, nodding.
“What are you going to do about your ‘not-wife’?”
“I don’t know, yet. Somehow I gotta get her outta town. I don’t know how, or even if, I’ll ever get back in Julia’s good graces. Figure the answer will probably come by morning.”
“Shouldn’t you be going to bed?” I inquired. “It’s a school night.”
“I graduated, Walter.”
“When did that happen?”
“Oh yeah. I remember now.”
“Oh Walter!” said a sing-song voice from outside. The door swung open and Evening Raider sasheted into the office. I gulped back another mouthful of moonshine straight from the bottle.
“Eve, what the Sam Hill are you doing here?” I growled.
“I’m coming to join my husband! What else?”
I pushed away her attempted embrace.
“You ain’t my wife!”
“You pledged in front of my father, my brothers, and your family that you would be faithful to me until death!”
“Well, things have changed!”
That was when she slapped me.
“Hi, I’m Katherine, Walter’s cousin,” said Katherine, standing up. “If you want me, I’ll be off pretending none of this is happening.”
With that, she left the office.
“Let me speak to Chief Naiche,” I said.
“He’s dead,” replied Eve. “My brother, Ahiga, is chief, now.”
“Crap!” I grunted.
“Thanks to your little adventure, the war between the Coyote clan and the Sons of Fenrir heated up again. We’re back to killing each other. Our marriage is the only thing that’ll save the clans!”
“I’ve put that life behind me.”
“Well, not anymore!”
“I’m not going through with it, Eve. There was no preacher, no church, and no wedding.”
“I can’t believe you!”
“Sometimes, neither can I!”
Eve stomped out of the office, slamming the door behind her. There I sat alone again, just me and the moonshine.
I woke up the next morning with my head feeling like someone had used it for a bowling ball. I extricated myself from my sleeping bag and walked drowsily toward the house, hoping against hope that it was all a dream. Sadly, it wasn’t.
I stumbled into the kitchen and slumped down into my chair. Uncle Jimmy sat across from me, reading the Agricultural Times and gnawing on an English muffin.
“You look like you been rode hard and put away wet,” he said in his Appalachian drawl.
“I feel it,” I replied.
Ma unexpectedly set a platter of sausage and eggs in front of me.
“I thought you were mad,” I mumbled.
“I am,” replied Ma. “I’m also your mother. Now, eat up. You have quite a day ahead of you.”
I did as ordered, chowing down silently. My partner, Conrad LeFontain ambled in, followed by cousin Katherine, having just fed and watered the livestock.
“Mornin’ I said. “Have a good retreat?”
“Satisfactory,” replied Conrad. “Katherine just filled me in on what went down last night.”
“Conrad, did you know about Eve?” asked Ma.
“I thought he’d have had the good sense to tell y’all.”
Ma went silent; it was terrifying when she went silent. I hastily wolfed down my breakfast, grabbed a cup of coffee and headed over to the office. I figured the longer I stayed in the house, the more trouble I was in.
“You can’t just run away from this, bruh,” said Conrad as we crossed the barnyard.
“Watch me,” I grunted.
I entered the little barn that served as an office, flopped down in my chair, and lit a cigarillo.
“Lock the door,” I said to my partner, gruffly.
“Uh, dude,” replied Conrad.
I looked up into the face of a tall, lean, copper-skinned man standing in the doorway. Long black hair cascaded from underneath a wide-brimmed hat, a single eagle’s feather adorning the hatband. At his left side hung a six shooter; at his right, a long bowie knife.
“Ahiga,” I mumbled. “What can I do for you?”
“Hello, Walter,” said the coyote chief. “My sister tells me you refuse to fulfill your obligation.”
“Yup,” I replied, nonchalantly puffing on my cigarillo. Inside, I wasn’t quite so unbothered, but he didn’t need to know that. I had to look like I was in control of the situation.
“That’s gonna be a problem.”
“Only if you make it one.”
“Walter, you swore in front of my whole clan and your pack that you would be her husband; you have to make an honest woman out of her.”
I looked over at my partner. Conrad went to Catholic seminary for a couple of years and I respect his opinions on faith and practice, though we may not always agree.
“Conrad, what constitutes a marriage in your opinion?”
“According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a marriage is a consensual covenant between an adult man and woman, performed in the public liturgy of the church by an ordained minister of the church, either a priest or a deacon. It is a sacred act before God–”
I put my hand up, signalling him to pause his homily.
“No preacher, no church, no liturgy, no marriage.”
Ahiga looked like he was going to kill me then and there.
“You didn’t used to give a crap about this stuff.”
“I changed,” I replied. “People can do that.”
“Walter, we are in the middle of a war with the Sons of Fenrir, and it is YOUR fault!”
I stood up from my chair and looked the skin-walker dead in the eye.
“You listen up, Chief. This ain’t MY fault. Y’all sold your souls a long time ago. I got mine back. I ain’t taking responsibility for your bad choices.”
Ahiga paused, seething with pent up rage.
“I’m giving you until sundown to change your mind.”
“Or face the consequences.”
The skin-walker turned on his heel and stomped out of the office. I slumped back down in my chair again and took a long, slow drag on my cigarillo. Ahiga was a skilled warrior, and I didn’t relish the idea of getting into a scrap with him.
“That was bold,” said Conrad. “I thought I was gonna have to mop up your blood.”
“Yeah, well, it wouldn’t do him much good to kill me.”
I got out of my chair and ambled to the door.
“Where’re you goin’?” asked Conrad.
“A ride,” I replied.
My Harley zoomed through the hollers and mountain passes of West Virginia like a two-wheeled rocket. This was what freedom felt like; the open road with an engine thundering underneath.
It wasn’t too long before I heard a familiar sound; the song of the police siren. I pulled my bike off to the side of the two-lane county road as a sheriff’s vehicle parked behind me. The sound of cowboy boots hitting the pavement approached me, accompanied by the sight of a uniformed female in my rearview mirror.
I removed my goggles and looked into her mirrored, aviator glasses, hoping for something, I didn’t know what. Almost any response was better than cold silence. All I got was a blank stare.
“Good afternoon, deputy,” I said, grinning
“License and registration.”
“Why you gotta be like that?”
“Because you were going 80 in a 50 mile-per-hour zone. License and registration.”
I obliged the deputy.
“I’m sorry,” I said, half under my breath.
“For speeding? I should hope so.”
“I meant about last night.”
She scribbled a speeding ticket and handed it to me without a word.
“That all you got to say?”
“Walter, you humiliated me in public! There’s a whole section of your life I know next to nothing about, and you expect me to just be okay with it!”
“I just want you to let me explain!”
With that, she slammed the door and drove off. I growled, kicking a stone into the woods. I don’t remember the last time I felt that bent outta shape; I guess I didn’t realize a woman could make you feel like this.
I got back on my bike again and drove back to the farm at a sedate speed. I don’t know what I was thinking; breaking the law is probably the worst possible means of getting back in Julia’s good graces, but I didn’t know how else to get her to talk to me.
We sat around the dinner table, silently chewing. Normally Uncle Jimmy at least had something to say; that night he just sat there, chewing his pork chop without a word. Granted, I don’t mind quiet, but this was darn near unbearable.
Finally a knock at the door interrupted the utter silence.
“I’ll get it,” said Katherine, rising from the table and approaching the door.
“Uh, Walter, I think it’s for you.”
Ahiga strode into the kitchen, eyeing me with a predatory gaze.
“Ahiga,” I said in a measured tone.
“Hello there,” said Ma. “You must be a friend of Walter’s.”
“Something like that,” replied the skin-walker.
“Is there something I can help you with?”
“Walter, have you made up your mind?”
“Yup,” I replied. “Go eat some roadkill.”
Ahiga snatched Katherine by the arm and whipped out his pistol quick as greased lightning. Uncle Jimmy and I both let fly a cuss word at the same time. Aunt Mary shrieked.
“Harm a hair on her head and I’ll have your guts for garters!” growled Uncle Jimmy.
“It doesn’t have to be like this, Walt,” said Ahiga.
“This is between you and me, Chief,” I stated. “Leave them outta this!”
“I will, if you come with me.”
I stood up from my chair and approached the skin-walker at a slow, careful pace.
“Walter, no!” said Ma.
“It’s alright, Ma,” I assured. “Everything is gonna be fine.”
Ahiga released my cousin and ushered me out to a waiting station wagon, where two other skin-walkers awaited me.
They drove me down the darkened road into town, turned right on a side-street, and down the gravel drive to St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church. Once they’d parked outside, they dragged me out of the vehicle.
“What’s going on?” I asked. I knew perfectly well what was going on; a shotgun wedding. In my shock, however, I didn’t know what else to say.
“Just get in the church,” growled Ahiga.
One of the skin-walkers opened the door. Ahiga’s hand pressed into my back and shoved me into the sanctuary. The candles on the altar were lit. Next to it stood Father Steve. On the other side stood Evening Raider.
“Whoah, hold up,” I said, “What is this?”
“Here’s a church, here’s a preacher,” growled the skin-walker. “You’re getting married.”
“But… I’m Lutheran,” I protested.
“What difference does that make?” asked Ahiga.
“All the difference,” said Father Steve. “He’s technically excommunicated, she’s… I don’t even know what. None of this is consensual. It won’t work. It’s not a wedding.”
Ahiga pointed his revolver at the priest’s face.
“Like that’s gonna work,” said Father Steve with a sigh. He’d looked death in the eye multiple times, and it had no effect on him.
“Do it!” barked Ahiga.
“I will use it if I have to,” growled the skin-walker.
“Then go ahead,” said Father Steve. “If I die, I die a martyr defending the sanctity of marriage.”
“Steve, don’t do this on my account,” I said, trying to diffuse the situation.
“It ain’t on your account, Walter,” replied Father Steve. “I answer to another Authority.”
Ahiga pulled back the hammer. A resounding boom filled the sanctuary; but it weren’t from no gun. The front doors flew open.
“County sheriff! Show me your hands!”
Despite everything she’d said, Julia had come to the rescue.
Ahiga spun around on his heels and fired a shot at Julia. She ducked out of the way just in time, returning fire from behind a pew. I stepped into Ahiga, grabbed the gun and wrested it from his hand. The skin-walker gave me a right hook-punch, which would’ve put a normal man out cold. I shook the dizziness from my head, bracing for a fight. Seeing a flash of metal, I leapt out of the path of the slashing bowie knife.
Julia didn’t come alone; Sheriff Donne, Conrad, and Uncle Jimmy came with her, packing heat. A firefight broke out. We all ducked behind pews as bullets cut through the air.
“Come on, guys!” cried Father Steve. “This is a church!”
He then took a large candelabra and rendered one of the coyotes unconscious. Meanwhile, I had ducked between the pews, Ahiga following right behind. I had grabbed a thick missal from the back of the pew (the only thing I could find that was anything like a weapon) and blocked a stabbing blow from his knife. The knife got lodged in the book. I wrenched the weapon out of the skin-walker’s grip and tossed away both missal and knife, striking Ahiga’s face on the way by. Ahiga managed to crawl on top of me, wrapping his calloused hands around my throat. Not being one to give up easily, I threw an elbow-strike to the face and rolled him over on his back, ending the fight with a right cross-punch.
I crawled away from the incapacitated skin-walker, only to come face-to-face with his sister, her red-brown skin replaced by tawny fur. Evening Raider pounced on top of me. I held back the slavering jaws to the best of my ability, but I didn’t know how long I could keep that up. Following a hollow “clang”, the coyote woman went limp. Father Steve, armed with the candelabra, offered me his hand, and helped me off the floor.
“Much obliged,” I grunted.
The battle had concluded. The remaining Coyote Clan members had run off into the night. Sheriff Donne put the cuffs on the unconscious chief, and he and Conrad carried him out of the church. Julia, meanwhile, shoved a muzzle on Evening Raider and followed them outside.
“The parish council ain’t gonna believe this,” sighed Father Steve.
“I’m sorry about all of this, Steve,” I replied, ruefully.
“Not your fault. I would’ve done the same thing. Hopefully the insurance will pay for the damage.”
“If you’ll pardon me, I need to have a word with the deputy.”
“I would imagine you do.”
I ambled out of the church to the gravel drive, where Julia locked Evening Raider into a kennel in the back of a county sheriff truck. This had been one of the longest days of my life, and I was ready for it to end, but I had one last thing to do.
“Hey,” I said. I didn’t have much hope that she’d forgiven me, but maybe she’d understand my position at least. If nothing else, maybe we could just go back to being colleagues.
“Hey,” she replied. Hope grew within me; at the very least, she didn’t sound hostile.
“You kinda saved my life,” I stated.
“Just doing my duty.”
I leaned against the truck.
“Well, thanks anyway. I guess I’ll need to fill out a report.”
Julia leaned back next to me.
“I guess so. You know, you have a pretty good partner.”
“Conrad? Yeah, he’s one of the best.”
“He vouched for you. Explained what happened out west.”
I looked down at the gravel, a little embarrassed.
“I should’ve told you sooner. I admit that.”
“Conrad told me you’re a very private person and you don’t like to talk about your time with the Sons of Fenrir.”
I nodded solemnly. In any case, she’d forgiven me. I couldn’t ask for any more than that.
“You know,” she said, looking up into my eyes, “we never technically finished that date.”
My heart beat a little faster. Maybe she’d forgiven me more than I thought she had.
“Eh?” I replied, furrowing my hairy brows.
“I never got a goodnight kiss.”
I smiled like a bobcat, my heart doing the foxtrot in my chest.
“I guess we’ll have to fix that.”
I drew Julia close to me and pressed my lips to hers. I felt better in that moment than I had in months. All the fear that had prevented me from getting close to her melted away. This is what I’ve been fighting for all this time.
“There,” I said once our kiss had concluded. “Date’s over. Shall we do this again?”
“Less shooting next time.”
“I can’t promise that, but I’ll try.”
“You still have to pay that speeding ticket.”