This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author’s imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence. This book is rated PG13 for violence.
Note: any reference to works by Buffi BeCraft-Woodall as ‘Blue-Collar Books’ is an appellation given by the author, not a publisher.
Dedication and Forward
This story is dedicated to DeNita.
Thanks for figuratively yelling down into the basement with the reminder that it’s time to come up for air. For all your hard work.
Thanks a million!
Marilyn Curtiz lay on the bare reinforced steel of her cell, stretched out to absorb as much of the chill as possible against the roiling in her body. She contemplated her stupidity while she waited for the round of nausea to pass. If she could smack her head without the skin crawling sensation of something trying to escape her skin, she would. Later, she’d try to decipher the reasoning behind her crazy captors’ strange behavior. For now, it was best to lie still and think about the foolish things she’d done that had brought her here.
One. How could she have ever thought that someone as movie star handsome as Dirk Derrick would be interested in a big, frumpy, nobody like her? Big boned, may be an excuse for many needing to cut back at the drive thru lane, but Marilyn had been known as clown-shoe Curtiz since the girls in high school gym saw her size twelve basket ball shoes. As for her plus jeans, well her stomach was roll free and little oozed over the sides of her waistband. Dirk had called her five-foot eleven and a half Amazonian, pretending an interest in her and she had fallen for it like an anchor.
In retrospect, Dirk Derrick did sound a bit like a porn star. Marilyn snorted a laugh, then winced at the shivery feeling that radiated from her stomach. Cramps, not like one of her rare cycles, or the miscarriages that broke up her marriage. Okay, so the real culprit happened to be low estrogen and minimal levels of other female hormones along with her ex’s loudly ticking biological clock that took care of that. She focused on her inner diatribe.
Two. When your two Labradors, a rescue Chihuahua, a spaniel, a ferret, four cats, and a box turtle try to attack your boyfriend, you should probably think about the reason why. Unless, of course, he happened to carry sausage links in his pockets. Which Dirk didn’t. The birds hadn’t been too happy with him around either. No birdseed in the pockets either. Oscar the emu had been particularly nasty, chasing and pecking at Dirk’s fancy sports car. And there was the present her fowl friend left behind on the hood that Dirk swore would eat the bright red paint down to the frame. At that point, maybe Dirk should have invested a little money sausage and birdseed for animal bribes. It couldn’t have hurt.
Marilyn was good with animals and animals were good at reading a person’s real self. All of which translated to nothing when she tried reading people. Her ex-husband was happily on baby number three with his current wife and Dirk the Deceiver was currently spending his finder’s fee from The Worley Research Center.
And the kicker, number Three. Dirk’s secretive nature. He’d never wanted to meet her friends. True, she had some pretty seedy friends with shady backgrounds, but they were loyal to a fault. She never asked or pried into Jack and Natasha’s comings and goings to the farm so long as they didn’t bring any drugs to her place. Since the couple had never been into that kind of activity, Marilyn didn’t worry or pry. She loved them to distraction, but had to put her foot down when Jack wanted to ‘check out’ Dirk. “Because, I’ve got a bad feelin’ about ‘im luv.” Worry brought out Jack’s fabulous accent.
Face it, she told herself, she had lousy man karma. That naïveté had landed her in a weird cell with God-knows-what drugs pumping through her veins while cold-eyed men in white lab coats penciled in their observations on clipboards. Next door, the pregnant teenager made a small whimper reminiscent of one of Marilyn’s rescue animals.
Are you okay, Melissa? She tried not to throw up at the havoc that sending the whisper of thought to the girl caused. Hanging around in Melissa’s mind was harder than it should have been. Still, Marilyn waited while her fellow captive painstakingly pulled her thoughts together.
Yes. Baby’s coming. Don’t know how much longer I can hide it from them.
Marilyn let go of Melissa’s mind, letting her gaze touch each one of the others in the cage style reinforced jail cells. Of them all, she was the oldest. Old enough that the researchers had scoffed at being handed a large hormonally unbalanced thirty-year old woman with questionable psychic abilities. So, being the oldest, she was obviously going to have to be the one to get them out. Cramps seized her into a fetal position. Marilyn huffed out a breath. Okay. Breathe in. Breathe out.
“Well?” One skinny excuse for a man duck-walked over to the jerk watching her writhe on the floor of her cell. “Anything?”
“No,” said Jerkoff. “You lose. If she’s going to change into a werewolf, then she’d already have done it. Probably have to clean up the dead body tomorrow.”
“Well damn,” Skinny Duck dug into his pocket for a wadded up bill and handed it over. “Lousy five-buck wager. I was going to grab a pizza with that.” And do what with it, Marilyn wondered. Feed it to his tapeworm? He sounded offended that she dare loose his bet.
“Yeah,” Jerkoff stuffed the bill in his pocket, then dropped the clipboard. “Tell you what. I’ve already sent the report off to Bio-Pet. Nothing’s happening here. Brat isn’t going to drop the werewolf pup tonight and the other four kiddie-supes are too worn out from the water tank and the electro-shock. I’ll grab the pizza and we can play Vampire Marauder IV on my hi-def game system.”
All of the supernaturals, plus Marilyn, watched the researcher-slash-torturers shut out the lights and use the keypad to lock up the steel fire door to the room. Almost together, they let out a collective sigh of relief. Then Marilyn and Melissa groaned in pain.
Even in the darkness, ambient light reflected off the metal, giving Marilyn plenty to see by. Or was her sight getting better? Hanging on to the bars, she hauled herself to her bare feet and ignored the crawly feeling that had invaded her skin once more. “Okay, people,” she rasped. “Look alive. We’ve got one shot at this.”
Everyone got to their feet and moved curiously to the front of their cells. No one except her even touched the bars though. Marilyn let go as the acidic warmth irritated her already uncomfortable skin. ‘You. Cell three,” she pointed.
“I’m Troy,” the youth corrected. He couldn’t have been more than ten.
“Okay, Troy. How’s your catching hand?”
“Better than my pitching, my dad used to say.” There was a hint of tears behind the boy’s voice that told her there might not be a happy reunion in store for Troy and his dad. The boy’s hardened with a thread of steel. “What’r you going to do?”
Try not to heave my guts up. God, she was burning up. Her skin redoubled the itchy-crawly feeling. Marilyn took a steadying breath even as she reached for the power that fueled her hidden ‘talents’. For the first time in her life, she felt her hold on the power begin to slip. Focusing completely on the dog-catcher’s noose propped in the corner she wrapped her power around it like a hand. The noose wobbled, then slipped. Marilyn’s head ached, her lungs burned. If she dropped it, she would never get the power or the momentum up to toss it to Troy. Her head spun crazily as the noose jumped into the air and flew straight at cell number three. Troy flinched but trooper that he was, the boy pressed against the bars and reached out, snatching the noose by the endloop before it clattered to the ground. Marilyn choked back bile and slid to her knees. Her forehead rested against the cool metal bars.
“Got it!” Blearily, she watched Troy maneuver the bar inside his cell. “What you want me to do with it now?”
“Pass it over to the little girl next to you.” She wanted swallow a bottle of pain killer then fall into her down pillow-top mattress and sleep for a month. Troy passed the pole. He looked unsure, seeing as how small and delicate the little one looked in her pink jumper. Marilyn placed her at about five. Her twin blonde pony tails draggled with several days worth of wear. As far as Marilyn knew, the child hadn’t spoken a single word since her arrival. With solemn brown eyes fixed on Marilyn trustingly, she grasped the pole, its length slipping through her fingers. Everyone’s breath caught as the little girl dragged the pole to her chest.
Got it?” Marilyn asked. The girl nodded. “Pass it on to the girl next to you.” The next girl was more Troy’s age and dressed in plain cotton hospital scrubs. She grabbed the pole easily and waited for Marilyn’s order.
“Lady, you shouldn’t lean against the bars like that,” the older girl admonished. “You’re getting welts on your face. And a rash.”
“Use the pole on the keypad,” she gestured at the wide fingertouch panel beside the door. “Top left button first.” Waiting with baited breath, she watched the girl wave the pole in the general direction of the keypad. The pole knocked the side of the plastic housing, then slid down. The girl’s hold on the handle stayed tight.
“The end is too big. I can’t hit the little square on the panel.”
Marilyn didn’t have anymore ideas. She closed her eyes, not didn’t bother raising her cheek from the irritating sting of the metal bars.
“Wait a minute. I have an idea,” the girl’s hesitant voice barely broke through the pain and nausea. Marilyn realized that she must have drifted for a moment as a loud clack brought her sharply to her senses. “Got it! What was it.”
“All in one security panel for the illegal secret lab on a budget,” Marilyn gave an encouraging smile as she hauled up the information she’d picked from the researcher’s brain. “zero-one, four-two, three-six, nine-nine.” One of the doors unbolted with a loud clank. Little bit, in her pink jumper, pushed her door open with a metal sigh of protest.
“Oh, man,” Troy’s face crunched into aggravation. “You could have at least freed someone old enough to count.” The little girl scowled and walked over to the reaserchers’ desk. Tugging the office chair from its spot, she pushed it to the wall panel then turned and stuck a pink tongue out at Troy before climbing up on the chair.
“Easy,” Marilyn cautioned, seeing the chair wobble. Hanging onto the keypad casing, the little girl waited, one finger in the air. Marilyn gave her the combination slow. She waited until the little girl found and punched the number in before giving her the next one. Troy’s door clicked open and after a reassuring nod from Marilyn, she let the boy take her place.
Freed, they migrated to the one open cage beside Troy’s. The children, including Melissa, grouped together while Marilyn shuffled into the cell. The small huddled figure of the boy lay very still. Thick lashes rested against his little boy plump cheek that when awake, she imagined dimpled with mischief. Gently, Marilyn reached down and brushed his cool cheek. She found no pulse at the carotid artery in his neck. Sorrow and rage bubbled in her gut, inciting the crawly-skin sensation again. “I’m sorry,” she whispered and lurched to her feet. Realizing that her emotions had an effect on what the researchers had done to her, she made the effort to calm down. Taking a steadying breath she left the cage to face her little band of soon-to-be-escapees.
“You don’t look so good,” the older girl told her. The little one simply sidled up to Marilyn and grasped her hand. The little one’s fierce glare made her recant. “Sorry. My name is Alice.” Melissa mumbled her name as she rubbed a hand in circles over the low bulge of her belly. They looked down at the youngest. She squeezed Marilyn’s hand pointed to the door.
“Okay, Precious. We are so out of here.” On any other day, she might have picked the little girl up and carried her. As it was, Troy took lead while Marilyn was good to stumble out the door. Alice hung back, offering a helping hand to Melissa.
“We’re just going to walk out of here?” Alice sounded incredulous.
“Unless you have a better plan.” Marilyn didn’t have a better plan. One foot in front of the other as they trooped down the stairway was as far ahead as she was able to project right now.
At the landing, Troy opened a door and stuck his head inside. “Office,” he reported. “Hey, cool. It’s like the office.” They had no choice but to follow him inside as he scanned the desk and the pile of papers. Touching the mouse, Troy’s face lit with crafty glee. “Oh, God. What doofuses. No password protect and they’re still logged on.”
“Must have wanted that pizza,’ Marilyn murmured. Her hand drifted over the little girl’s ragged ponytails, then feeling something odd, took a brief glance at the very cute but pointed little ear. The little girl just patted her leg at her mild confusion. “What are you doing?” she asked as Troy opened an application.
“Checking his email. Looks like he sent some kind of report on all of us,” leaning forward she scanned the contents. She noted the time.
“Open up the Options on today’s emails and recall them,” Marilyn advised.
“Recall?” Troy’s forehead wrinkled. “What does that do?”
“It erases the message from the other guy’s mailbox,” explained Marilyn. “If the recipient left his office before our guys did, then it’ll disappear before they read it.”
“Cool beans.” Troy said. Several keystrokes later, all of the researchers’ emails sent before they left were recalled.
“We need to hurry.” Melissa warned. Her voice was strained with impatience. “What are you doing now?”
“Just a minute.” It took more than a few minutes. Finally Troy pocketed a small thumb sized USB drive and turned the monitor off. They snuck out. Marilyn had an idea. She wanted to smack herself for her stupidity. Grabbing the phone she dialed the last number she remembered being given and prayed it was correct.
“Hello?” A delightfully British voice answered the line giving Marilyn the urge to break out into God Save the Queen even though she considered herself a patriotic girl.
“Jack! I need a ride.”
“No problem. Where are you?”
“Some place called The Worley Research Center.”
Emotion warmed his voice, making his accent heavier. “God girl. What are you doin’ with those chaps? We’re not far. Get out of there. Go west and meet me at the bar two blocks down. ” Jack cursed unintelligibly in several languages. The no doubt foul mish-mash settled Marilyn like nothing else.
“Um. I’m not alone.”
“Fine. Whatever.” More cursing. “Get out and get to the bar.” Jack hung up.
Marilyn turned and ushered her brood out the office door.
“Uh-oh.” Alice’s quiet exclamation covered it all.
“Uh-oh?” Dirk Derrick laughed, pulling a small automatic handgun from behind his back. His gaze raked over Marilyn and her group. “What the hell is this? Get back up the stairs before I shoot one of you.” His eyes, once she’d thought as open and beautiful as the sky, narrowed into mean blue slits. “Don’t for a minute think I won’t. I’m packing silver bullets, bitch.”
Marilyn remembered the little boy, whose body had just given out from the strain of the torture they’d inflicted. Drowning, shock, and what else horrible things they could think of. The sorrow and fury rumbled in her stomach, racing along her nerves like fire. From beside her Troy growled a warning.
“Awwww. The baby werewolf going to do something about it?” Dirk laughed. “Kind of ironic that they tried to change you into one of them using little fuzz’s saliva. I told those two geeks it wouldn’t work.”
“Why is that?” Marilyn felt her voice deepen. Her focus on Dirk was complete. The shadows in the room receded. She heard the rapid beat of his heart. Smelled the fear he was trying to hide.
“Because women can’t be bitten and turn into werewolves. Even a big ass hairy freak like you.” That just pissed her off. Just because her hormones were out of whack didn’t mean she had to let herself go. Marilyn wasn’t hairy. She tweezed and waxed. A lot. She growled, deeper in tone, feeling something inside her snap. Then the cramps she’d been feeling undulated outward and the world blurred. All Marilyn could think of was, taking out the enemy that threatened her little band. He would not harm what was hers.
Strength and power was hers. Marilyn’s heart embraced what her mind had not yet caught up to. What her body had been fighting. Dark brown spilled in a painfully prickle over her skin. Muscles shifted, flooding with power. Claws erupted from the ends of her fingers. She leaned forward, feeling her face pull. The sharp burst of teeth that filled her mouth were weapons of destruction. Marilyn swiveled her sensitive ears scream of terror. The scent of it kicked in hunting instincts she never knew she had. Hunger gnawed at her.
“Wait.” Growled a voice next to her. Looking down, she saw a smaller version of herself. Further back, a creature covered in blond fur hunched protectively in front of Melissa. Alice’s pink pointed nose and rounded ears quivered with suppressed anger, making her look more rodent than wolf. The tip of her naked tail twitched. “Wait. Don’t.” Troy’s wolf face held a myriad of emotion that he finally shook off like a dog shedding water. “Don’t want to eat that.”
“No?” She was pretty sure Dirk would be a tasty meal. He was breathing hard, dumping the raw scent of fear into the confines of the hallway. All that fear might make him run so she could chase. Her prey’s gun hand wobbled. He screamed again.
“No. Just kill him. We can eat good food later.” Her human conscience surfaced, probably showing in her face or scent. The blast of the gun shattered the remnants of her humanity. Pain blossomed in her side. A burn that raked like fire down her side. Marilyn screamed, or howled, she didn’t know which over the gunfire. She leapt claws reaching for Dirk, instincts demanding that she put a stop to this. Stop the danger. Stop the pain.
Later Marilyn wouldn’t be able to piece together much of the short battle. She remembered the soft impact. The slight resistance his tissue offered her teeth and claws. The taste of the blood she wanted. Then another creature like herself intruded. She warned him off her kill, not wanting to share with him or the non-wolf predators she scented with her.
“That’s not food.” He told her. Marilyn knew what he said was important to her. She lifted her muzzle and considered giving up her prize. “Remember Melissa’s baby. She got hit by one of the bullets. We have to go.”
Her gaze tracked over to the breeding non-wolf female bent double. Instinct told her Melissa’s time was soon. Very soon. She nodded and stood, leaving the dead man in the stairwell. With a tiny growl to warn Alice to move her giant rat self out of the way, Marilyn picked up Melissa. She cradled the injured girl to her chest. Pulling her mind from the swirling scents of blood and death, Marilyn reminded herself that she was human. A thinking being. She would not act like an animal or a monster.
In the lobby, she was surprised to find that it was nightfall. She didn’t know why. It was close of day. But somehow, escaping had meant coming out of the darkness to her. Instead, they unlocked the door and stole into the shadows.
“West. There’s a bar.” she told Troy and loped after him. Sometime during the mad dash, a homeless person started screaming about monsters. Marilyn didn’t care. She could feel the life ebbing from Melissa. The girl’s heart struggled to keep a rhythm. A new kind of fear filled Marilyn. “Hang on Melissa,” she begged as she set her down to Change back into her human form again.
Watching Troy helped ease the process of letting her fur slide back into her skin. Her muzzle receded with the powerful muscles. Her knees slipped and reformed in the correct direction. Looking down at herself, she was amazed to see her own skin despite the bloody tattered remains of her clothing. Slipping away from Alice, the little girl threw herself at Marilyn’s legs. “Shhh. It’s okay,” she soothed and bent to settle Melissa’s limp form against a fresh stack of cardboard boxes. The red blood spilled over her dress was obscene over baby’s low mound.
“Troy,” the girl moaned as he scrambled to her side.
“Yes, sister?” His voice sounded formal. Marilyn’s inner radar picked up that something was about to happen.
“Thank you for that, wolf,” she rasped. “Two bullets. Silver. Don’t let them kill the baby.” Troy nodded, stroking Melissa’s hair
“We need an ambulance,” Marilyn protested. She had a bad feeling of what Melissa was asking. “Let me call an ambulance.” The words came out desperate.
“No time,” Melissa groaned. Tears streamed down her face. “You don’t understand.
“Shhh. Luv,” Jack’s voice intruded on Marilyn. Relief flooded her. He’d arrived just like he’s said he would. He crouched down, stroking a hand down the injured girl’s hair. “I know. I know.” He glanced around at the motley crew, the crow’s feet fanning from the corners of his eyes weren’t happy. His strong stubble-covered jaw flexed in the act of grinding his teeth together. His eyes finally settled on Marilyn. “They’re Weres,” He told her. “Well, wolven and Weres,” he corrected at Troy’s growl of protest. “Silver is poison to them.” he looked her over again and sighed. “To you too, I would wager as well.” Jack took a breath. His eyes pinned her with agonizing practicality. “We have to take the baby now. Now listen, Mari-dear. Don’t fuss. She is going to die anyhow. The silver will slowly poison the baby to death as well.”
His gaze flicked over the group and settled on Alice. “You and the little one. Go to the back door and ask for Rowe. He’s a big chap with red hair. Tell him Jack needs the medi-kit for supes in the back room.” As soon as Alice disappeared, he pulled up one cuff of the jeans covering his work boots. Inside, Marilyn knew he kept a really big hunting knife. Alice’s rapping was almost enough to wake the dead. Glancing down at Melissa’s finally resting face, Marilyn couldn’t do it. They should take her to the hospital. She laid a hand on his arm. “Mari,” He nodded down at Melissa. “She’s already gone. Do you want to loose the baby too?”
Not even a flutter of Melissa’s heartbeat could be heard. She hesitated just a moment before letting up. Her stomach lurched as she backed away and spun around. God, she couldn’t watch. Wrapping her arms around her waist and the ravages of her shirt Marilyn hunched in on herself, denying the tears and pain. Swiftly, she covered her ears against the sound of Rowe bringing the kit. The soft whisper as the knife pulled from its sheath. Her stomach lurched again at the fleshy wetness of the baby being removed from its safe haven. How could they have gotten out only to lose Melissa at freedom’s gate?
Marilyn turned at the tiny whimper and looked up at Jack. Her friend. The smell of blood and death repulsed her, but with her new senses, she smelled the underlying clean scent of man. She trusted Jack. He held out the wriggling bundle to her. Accepting with numb grace, she figured that the shiny blanket had come from the open case. A twin blanket covered Melissa from top to knee. Very gently she cradled the precious bundle to her chest.
“Come on, now.” Jack eased her away from the body. “Rowe will clean up the mess while I get you tucked somewhere safe.” In a mild state of shock, she allowed him to usher her into a van. Troy and Alice piled into the very back seat while Marilyn and the silent little girl took the middle. She went through the motions of a shower at a motel, grateful for the clean clothes that appeared on the counter while she washed her hair.
Marilyn woke, wrapped protectively around a squirming bundle of warmth. Sitting up found herself on the edge of a very comfortable king sized bed in an upscale apartment. The open-air master bedroom turned out to be a loft, where muted sounds of laughter and manic video game music drifted up to her. Beside her, an active newborn peered up at her with disconcerting clarity. She smiled, just a bit teary and gathered the baby up, hoping that the information Troy was able to copy from the machine would help in getting the children back to their homes.
“Jack?” She leaned over the rail for a quick peek. Nice if you were staying by yourself, she mused. Bad if you had children on vacation. She shook the thought away and descended. Sure enough, the rest of her crew playing a video game with her rescuer. “Hey,” she greeted.
“Hey yourself.” Jack handed his video game controller to the five year old, now dressed in a small pink camouflaged outfit and ignored the groans from the other two. “You take over, short-stuff.”
“Where’s Natasha?” Where there was Jack, Natasha was never far away. He smiled, creasing his jaw with amusement.
“Cleaning up the rest of your mess at Worley Research.” He reached a finger to touch the sleeping newborn under it’s drooly chin. She remembered finding out the baby was a he at some point. “Nat’s not big on rugrats. But she is top-notch at cleaning up messes on a supernatural scale, if you know what I mean. She gave me nanny-duty and split.”
“Oh.” Now that was a little disappointing. Marilyn never thought Natasha for a baby-phobe. They had always seemed so perfect together that Marilyn had expected for Jack and Natasha to have babies and drop them off for her to watch. Since the couple was the closest thing she’d had to family in forever, she’d been dropping broad hints at them for years. From the apparent state of cleanliness and comfort of the children, Marilyn knew he’d make a great parent. She’d obviously been out of it for hours.
“So, what is your plan for your little pack o’ Weres?” he glanced over his shoulder. “And one fairy,” he amended.
“Fairy?” Pack o’ Weres? Three pairs of eyes peered over the back of the couch. The baby gave a contented sigh in her arms. “Well, unless they have homes to go back to, I suppose I’ll keep them. There’s plenty of room at the farm.”
“A farm?” Troy’s eyes widened, chasing away the shadows. “Like cows and horses?”
“No,” Laughed Marilyn. “More like ostriches, werecritters, and fairys,”
“Oh, my.” Alice grinned. “Sounds like a real wonderland.”
The end…for now.
Buffi BeCraft-Woodall lives close to the East Texas woods that her werewolves roam. Still, she admits to being much more the hotel staying kind of girl, rather than the camping in a tent sort. Juggling a pack of her own filled with family, friends, and an ever-changing menagerie of pets, Buffi is working on another book.
‘The Blue-Collar Books’
*Creature Comforts- coming soon