Sunday, December 22, 2019

"Identity Crisis" by Julie Frost

Editor's Introduction: This week's offering delves into the supernatural in a very mundane, and intriguing way, as a traffic stop in Texas leads to an...

Identity Crisis
by Julie Frost

The red and blue lights of my patrol car reflected off the bright-yellow paint of the mint condition '69 Ford Torino Fastback, as I pulled it over for a burned-out taillight. I walked up to the driver's window and discovered I had a werewolf living under the radar right in my medium-sized Texas town.
My family has hunted werewolves for generations, and they steeped me in the lore and trained me in the skills from the cradle. The sixteenth-birthday blooding ceremony meant I could recognize a werewolf on sight. The downside of that? They also recognized me.
That being said, wolves were so rare that my parents had never seen a live one, and neither had I--
Until now.
Both our eyes widened at the mutual realization of what we were. His hand slapped his seat belt. Adrenaline surging and breathing hard, I took two steps back as my hand delved into my uniform pocket for the wolf gun I always carried. I couldn't miss at this range, and I was gratified to see a bloom of blood on his torso. I expected him to charge me, but he lunged away instead and dove out the passenger side.
"Lady, don't!" he shouted.
Like hell, don't. At least with a silver bullet inside him, he wouldn't be able to shift to wolf. That didn't fool me into thinking he wasn't dangerous. Even in human form, a werewolf was stronger and faster by several orders of magnitude than a garden-variety human. Circumspect, taking a few calming deep breaths, I hunkered next to the driver's door, ready for him if he took it into his head to attack.
"Why not?" I called back.
"Because--" he said, and stopped, like he didn't know the answer himself.
He appeared to be in his late twenties, with brown hair curling around the collar of his plaid shirt, and blue eyes. I wondered how long he'd been a wolf as I moved, still crouched, and stopped by the front tire.
"Because you shouldn't outright murder someone when they haven't done anything actually wrong?" He sounded unsure.
"You're a werewolf." I continued stepping around the hood of the car, gun in a two-handed grip, finger on the trigger, thanks. "A cold-blooded killing machine. The only way to stop you is to put you down."
Roadside gravel crunched under his feet. I tensed, but he was moving away rather than toward me. Weird. Maybe I'd wounded him more than I thought. Werewolves healed fast, but not from silver.
"And you're a cop. Stop and think." His footsteps echoed mine. "Have you had unsolved animal attacks during the moon? I've lived in this town for near twenty years." Twenty years. Older than he looked.
"No, but..." I hesitated. "How, then. How do you stop yourself." It wasn't a question. If I didn't like the answer, I'd blow a silver hole through his head or his heart. Maybe I would anyway.
"I don't want to kill people. I'm a pastor." That was new. Most werewolves didn't go to church, historically, let alone lead one, though we all knew of notable exceptions. We debated plenty about the state of their souls.
My fingers brushed the silver cross pin on my shirt collar, the one I put on as automatically as any other part of my uniform. Still hesitating. My gut screamed at me that hesitation would get me killed, that I needed to put him down before he slaughtered me where I stood. But a still small voice told me to wait. I'd learned, over the years, to listen to that voice. So I continued to hesitate and hoped my gut was wrong.
"I haven't killed anyone since the Civil War." Wow. Much older than he looked, then. "I cage myself the night of the full moon, and drink rowan berry juice. It hurts, but it's worked so far. And I never, ever shift if it's not a moon night."
I huffed out a breath. "My family's been hunters for generations." Three rapid steps around the hood, but when I faced him, my gun pointed at the ground, and my finger was alongside the trigger guard.
He stood by the trunk, slightly bent and bracing his left hand on the fender while his right clutched the wound. "And we're nearly exterminated. One of you murdered my mate about fifty years ago. She'd never hurt a human in her life." His face twisted with grief. "He smiled while he did it. But I was done killing and didn't murder him back, no matter how much I thought he deserved it."
My jaw tightened. Werewolves by definition weren't innocent, exactly, but that still gave me an uncomfortableness. "So you think I should let you go because you're pulling a Hound of God act?"
"Yes? It's not an act, though, and I don't claim to travel to Hell to beat up demons." The general consensus, among hunters and wolves alike, was that Theiss of Kaltenbrun had been at least a half bubble off plumb, but the Hound of God label had stuck.
"Look," he said, "We're two good people who've been put in a catastrophically ticklish situation by what we are, not what we've done." He glanced at me, breathing hard, his hand pressed against the bleeding wound in his side, and lowered his gaze again. "We can salvage this. If we just stop. And think."
"About what? You're a werewolf. I'm a hunter."
"You don't want to kill me." He sounded pretty sure of that for someone facing down a person armed with a weapon that would fry his heart or brain on contact.
Which wasn't to say he wasn't right. "How do you know?"
"Because if you did, you'da done it already." He swallowed. His face was pale, and sweat ran down it in rivulets. "Have you killed anyone? Ever?"
I shook my head minutely. I'd never even fired my gun in anger before now. Most cops didn't, especially in a law-abiding municipality like ours. I'd trained all my life with my family for this moment, but wolves were scarcer'n hen's teeth--we'd honestly thought them extinct. I wondered if he was the last one anywhere.
He stared at the ground. "Don't. It changes you. Even if the 'anyone' is a big bad wolf." He sounded like he knew what he was talking about. Something had made him stop and turn his life around. Maybe the war had been too much killing even for a creature like him.
My lips compressed into a thin line. "You're seriously a pastor?"
"My hand to God. West Valley Community Church. I'm Matt Norbury."
I attended the Southern Baptist church myself. "Heard of it. Good things." Did his flock know what he was? Probably not.
I regarded him steadily while his blood spilled over his hand and dripped on the ground. It was as red as any human's. He was completely at my mercy, and my family's training warred with my faith. If the state of a werewolf's soul was murky and weird, what about the state of mine, if I just butchered him without a thought?
Do unto others.
Werewolves kill, and kill, and kill again. Stop him before he starts.
Thou shalt do no murder.
He's a monster.
I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.
A living instrument of carnage is standing right in front of you. Shoot it.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Twenty years of no deaths spoke well of his self-control. He could cover the ground between us in less than a second and end me before I knew I was dead, and yet his eyes were still blue instead of wolf-amber, looking at the ground. He was turned slightly sideways, too, lupine language for "I'm not challenging you."
Finally, I nodded. "Fine. But if I hear anything about animal attacks..."
Tension bled out of his body, and his knees buckled before he caught himself, bracing up on the trunk. "Give me your contact info." His mouth quirked. "I'll find you and bare my chest for your bullet myself, if I ever slip."
"Darn tootin' you will. And don't think I won't check up on you."
I shoved my gun back in my pocket, but didn't let go at first, gauging his reaction. I'd be helpless without it, and was honestly standing too close to him even with it, but he still made no offer to attack. That still small voice had been right. I was oddly glad about that.
I pulled a card from the pocket and offered it to him. He took it with the hand that hadn't been bled all over, and I eyed the wound with a little frown. "Will that be all right? Do you need an ambulance?"
He snorted. And winced. "I would dearly love to explain to a paramedic how I got this and why I'm healing so fast after they dig a silver round out of my guts. Oh, wait. No, I wouldn't. I’ll deal with it myself. Won’t be the first time."
"All right." A corner of my mouth turned up. It wasn't quite a smile. "I'll let you off with a warning this time. Get that taillight fixed, Mr. Norbury."
END

Author's Bio: Julie Frost utilizes her degree in biology to write werewolf fiction while completely ignoring the physics of a protagonist who triples in mass.  She writes other types of fiction, too, on occasion, from hard science fiction to space opera to secondary-world fantasy to urban fantasy to horror. Sometimes she mixes them.

Her short stories have appeared in too many venues to count, including Writers of the Future 32, Monster Hunter Files, Enter the Aftermath, Stupefying Stories, Planetary Anthologies, StoryHack, and Astounding Frontiers.

Her novel series, "Pack Dynamics," is published by WordFire Press.  She whines about writing, a lot, at http://agilebrit.livejournal.com/,

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