She cast her mind back to early lessons with her father, hoping something might click in her mind; some clue, some hint as to what was going on. There were only the old stories, and she recalled her father being irritated when she’d repeated them, dismissing them with an impatient frown. He’d been a practical man, logical and focused. He’d never had much time for fairy-tales.
“This is the here and now Shana,” he’d always said. “Don’t let your thoughts go chasing rainbows, you can’t afford to be distracted. This is the difference between living and dying, right here. Fais ce que dois, advienne que pourra.” And she knew that the subject was closed.
He’d been right, in a way. She didn’t have time to sit and wonder. The why’s and how’s were not important if she wanted to stay alive. She needed to be cool, to be clever, not a gibbering wreck crouched scared in the dark.
“Fuck this!” she told herself. “Come on! Pull yourself together. This is not helping. I need to keep moving. I need to keep him away from people; not run and cower behind them. I’m supposed to be the one protecting them for fucksake! When did I become the hunted?”
I’m the goddamn hunter! Me! she thought.
She checked the gun, reloaded it and stood, tucking it back into the holster and adjusting the hang of her jacket so it was hidden. The noise hit her like a wall as she stepped out of the quiet mews in which she’d stopped to catch her breath. She was near Liverpool Street station, not far from the market. Restaurants, late-night café’s and pubs spilled out drunken patrons onto the litter-strewn streets. They hollered and laughed, clutching each other, reeling and narrowly avoiding being run down by the black cabs; gypsy-cab drivers touted for business, stopping parties with their hungry cries.
“Wanna cab?” one asked Shana, a young Asian guy, his eyes dark and bright.
“No thanks,” she said and passed by quickly, making her way down the street, taking to the gutter to avoid a hen-party, seven women walking arm in arm, the bride marked out by L plates, a cheap toy veil and a plastic tiara.
She couldn’t help glance behind her now and then; every flickering shadow caused her to turn, her breath held, but it was always mundane; an awning flapping in the wind, a plastic bag, an empty beer-can rolling.
Again, she left the noise behind her, heading back to that industrial estate via a different route, approaching it from the East. She could smell the old river now, above the rankness of the city. The full, rich scent of silt and clay, and the water itself, brown and thick and slow. Hidden under it, overlapping with it, was the bestial trace of the werewolf.
A wide quiet street, lined with closed up businesses and at the end of it a car park and a high wall. If her geography was right, and her hunter’s senses were to be trusted, the industrial estate lay on the other side of that wall. Shana approached, forcing herself to go on, though her legs were weak and her insides were liquid now with tension.
Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this, said the voice of fear. I should get back to the hotel and make a plan. Shit, am I nuts? Am I going to die?
The thought of death didn’t scare her so much as the idea of facing it alone and in the dark. To lie broken, to be found by strangers and have her corpse poked and prodded and wondered over in a morgue. To never have a chance to say goodbye. She fought against her fears, breathing deeply and drawing herself up, squaring her shoulders. Forced courage into herself. Focus Shana. This is what you do. This is what you are.
She took a step toward the wall, and as if her movement was a signal from behind the wall came a shout of terror, the sound of running feet and a loud and ferocious growling roar.
Shana started to run, using her momentum and speed to give power to her leap. Hitting the wall almost winded her but her hands had found the top and she hung for a moment before her boots found purchase on the bricks. The muscles in her arms groaned and screamed, but pulled her up.
On a long straight road that ran between the units someone was running, and after came the werewolf, huge and fierce and terrifying. While the human figure lumbered and struggled it flew with the easy grace of the predator, a black shadow, flowing and smooth. Shana had the gun in her hand and was aiming before any conscious thought could strike her. She emptied the gun, the echoes deafening, claps of thunder, watching the wolf fall.
It won’t work! It won’t work!
Only seconds before it would be up again. She jumped, bending her knees as she landed but still feeling a twinge in her left ankle. The running figure was no longer running, had turned and stopped, had watched her shooting silently. She could see he was just a boy; a homeless kid from the state of his clothes. And he was just standing there.
“Run!” she shouted as loudly as she could. “Run!”
She passed him as she yelled this and after a moment heard him start to run after her. He’d have to keep up, that’s all. He’d just have to. She stared around her as she ran, looking for somewhere they could go. No time for planning; again she was running for her life.
A line of black underneath a folding door caught her eye and she raced to it, started to wrestle with it in an attempt to drag it up. The kid just watched. Fuck that!
“Help me, you little shit!” she demanded. “You’ll have to help or we’re both dead!” Another growl; the werewolf up and coming after them. The kid didn’t need telling again. He had his hands under the door and pushed with Shana, while she tried to ignore the sour street smell that was ingrained into his clothes and skin and hair. It wouldn’t matter in a minute.
She could feel the wolf, she could feel its teeth, feel its weight leaping on her. Terror and desperation gave her arms extra strength and the door rattled up so suddenly they were both taken by surprise. The kid had pushed at the same moment – he probably had the same images playing in his head as she had.
He rolled underneath and she followed, both panting and sweating they scrambled up on the other side, pulling the gate down right in front of the werewolf, falling backwards as its body hit the metal. The door resounded like a bell, rattling and quaking, but it stayed shut, and did not break. Shana and the kid stood in the darkness, breathing hard, bruised and tired but still alive.
What next? What the hell do I do now? Shana thought. Then; the door isn’t that thick. How long is it going to take to break through?