Srujana and Amber are back for yet another Halloween adventure. On their last night at a scientific conference, the situation turns frightful as the pair realize they’re being stalked by a creature of the night. Will they be able to hunt the hunter before they become the midnight snack?
“This was an excellent conference, but man, am I brain dead,” I said as I continued repacking my suitcase. “What time do you want to leave for the airport?” After a few seconds of silence, I looked up to see Srujana furiously scribbling in her notebook. “Srujana, are you alright?” I let another moment pass, then coughed loudly to get her attention. She jumped with a small start and looked at me. “You okay?” She broke into a wide smile. “Oh yes! I’m trying to write down all the ideas I have after listening to these presentations. We have so many cool experiments to do when we get back to work!” I smiled in return. “Yeah, I saw some pretty interesting talks myself. First thing Monday morning we should get the rest of the fermentation group together and do a mental download, while the creative juices are still freshly flowing.” Srujana nodded vigorously in agreement.
“Well, I’m calling it a night. Maybe we can fit in a little sightseeing before we have to leave tomorrow. I think we deserve a little fun since our brains have worked so hard the last three days.” Srujana nodded again, then spoke. “Hey, I just realized that tomorrow is Halloween. Have any plans when we get back?” “No, I figured that since the last two Halloweens have been so... adventurous, I thought it best to spend some time at home, watching the least scary movie I can find.” Her eyes darkened momentarily, most likely from the memories from our previous All Hallow’s Eve. As I turned away, she piped up. “Nothing untoward has happened yet, so maybe this Halloween will be normal. Knock on wood.” I sighed and closed my eyes. “Sadly, knocking on wood has no actual effect on luck.” “Fingers crossed?” I laughed, but didn’t respond. Given my history, I didn’t think the world’s strongest luck charm would spare us.
“Wake up!” Srujana hissed in my ear as she shook me awake. “What’s wrong?” I asked blearily. I struggled to open my eyes to the blanket of darkness that engulfed us. “I heard strange noises outside our door. I’ve been trying to wake you for over five minutes.” “I take a sleeping potion when I travel since hotels are usually haunted. I must have made this one extra potent, sorry.” I sat up but didn’t turn on the light. “What kind of noises did you hear?”
“Whining and something else. Maybe… sniffing? Then a growl.” My skin pulled tight as the goose bumps rose across my flesh. I felt my way over to the window and pulled the curtain aside. A Hunter’s Moon showed brightly in the night. Soft light spilled onto Srujana’s face, giving her a ghostly appearance. “We’re probably dealing with a werecreature, most likely a werewolf, although werebears and werecats aren’t unheard of in the supernatural community.” She didn’t respond, but resolve quickly replaced the fear in her eyes.
Within two minutes we were dressed and standing at the door. We listened for a few seconds, but heard no sounds on the other side. I cautiously opened the door and looked out into the hallway. “Where do you think it went?” Srujana asked. “It wouldn’t be able to take the elevator since it can’t push buttons, you know, since it doesn’t have thumbs.” “But couldn’t it push buttons with its nose?” “Theoretically, but I doubt it. Werecreatures are kind of dumb when they’re in that form. The animal takes over and the human intellect gets pushed aside.” We made our way to the stairs. “You said it was whining outside our door, right?” Srujana nodded. “That makes me think it was looking for something, or someone, specific. Let’s head downstairs.”
We had made it to the third floor when the familiar ding of the elevator chimed behind us. The door had barely slid open before the werewolf charged into the hallway. It was bigger than any normal wolf, approaching the size of a large pony, and its black fur gleamed despite the low quality of the hallway’s fluorescent lights. Burning green eyes narrowed as it locked its gaze upon us. Within a flash the wolf was bounding toward us.
I shoved my hand into my witch’s bag and retrieved the small bomb from one of the side pouches. The wolf was within pouncing distance of us when the glass container broke at its paws. Srujana and I began to cough as the noxious gas enveloped us, while the wolf received the full brunt of the stink bomb I had concocted. It whimpered as it rubbed its snout on the floor, trying desperately to rid itself of the stench. “Hurry, before it recovers!” We fled down the last flight of stairs and into the exhibit hall where the vendors still had their wares displayed.
“I thought you said werecreatures are dumb, and that it was unlikely it would be able to push elevator buttons. Seems like it figured that out just fine.” “What can I say, you learn something everyday,” I retorted as we hid behind a large banner display. “So how do we kill this thing?” Srujana asked. “We don’t. Or at least I won’t. That werewolf is really a person on the inside, and I’m not going to murder it, even if it is trying to rip me from limb to limb. We need to figure out a way to subdue it without permanently harming it.” “What about your sleeping potion? That worked on the necromancer last year.” I shook my head. “I used the last of it a few hours ago.”
Srujana opened her mouth to speak, but her voice was drowned out by a chilling howl. We looked at each other, then toward the entrance to the exhibit hall. “That sounded close.” “And very angry,” I added. “Okay, here’s the plan. I’ll distract it and get it to attack me, and then I want you to hit it over the head with this.” I grabbed a long dissolved oxygen probe from one of the small fermentation vessels sitting on a nearby table. The heavy metal rod was smooth and cold to the touch. “This is literally the worst plan I’ve ever heard,” Srujana commented as I passed her the probe. “Yeah well, we’re not really working with much. The other alternative is to bash its noggin with the 10L glass vessel and this seems easier.” “I’m dubious to the whole “hitting it over the head” part of the plan.”
Before we could continue our passionate debate of our experimental design, the supernatural shapeshifter was upon us. I pushed Srujana to the side and rolled away as the wolf lunged for me. I came to a crouch next to the same table where I had grabbed the dissolved oxygen probe. My hand cast out for anything to defend myself with and I silently cursed for not carrying any magical items that could be used in such close combat. The werewolf snapped its jaws open and shut, open and shut, as if in exasperation. What in the world are you up to? I wondered to myself as I readied for an attack.
The dark, furry body came hurtling toward me again and bowled my body into the vendor’s table. Glass vessels shattered on the floor, but the wolf took no notice of the puncturing debris as it charged me another time. In my desperation, I shielded my face with my leather witch’s bag and screamed to Srujana to whack the beast with the metal probe. With a shriek I didn’t realize she was capable of, Srujana brought the rod down onto the wolf’s head. I closed my eyes and waited for the collapse as the unconscious body fell on top of me.
Instead of drifting off into trauma induced slumber, the nightmare Canis emitted an unearthly growl, then continued its assault on my bag. “What do we do?” Srujana cried. Think, think! I screamed to my brain. I need silver. “Srujana, are you wearing any silver jewelry?” “Yes, a ring.” “Good, toss it to me!” I really hope this works, otherwise we’re just a few moments from being a werewolf’s chew toy.
The ring landed a little above my head. I knew the next few seconds would be precarious and quite stupid, so I tried to time my manuever to maximize effect. With one hand grasping the ring, I wrapped my legs around the wolf and rolled to the side, forcing the creature onto its back, while still protecting my face with the bag. The inverted point of view was enough to disorient my foe and gave me enough time to drop the ring into its open maw. I threw my legs around its jaws and held on for dear life, hoping the wolf would swallow the ring. The animal began to buck and strain against me, and for a moment I began to lose my grip, but suddenly the werewolf lay still.
I retreated a few feet away, ready to run if it was a ruse. The wolf sat up and began to make coughing noises, then proceeded to vomit onto the exhibit hall carpet. As if exhausted from the ordeal, it lay its head down on the floor. Without warning, the wolf began to shrink in size, fur became hairless skin, and a woman’s body was all that remained of the werebeast. “Holy crap, it’s Anna! She was the postdoc in my lab when I was a graduate student. I had no idea she was a werewolf.” “I don’t imagine she would advertise the fact,” Srujana answered as she came to stand near me. “What did you do to her?” “Silver is pretty effective at killing werewolves, as I’m sure you’ve heard in various stories. I hoped that if I got her to swallow something silver, it would be enough to disrupt the wolf but not kill her outright. By the way, I’m pretty sure she regurgitated your ring. I think it’s laying in that pile of puke over there. You should probably wash it before you wear it again.” Srujana’s face vacillated between horror, revulsion, and anger. I smiled sheepishly.
I walked over to pick up what was left of my bag. The outside had been shredded to ribbons, but the interior was actually quite intact. “When I hit her on the head, I thought for sure she would turn and attack me, but she didn’t. Why?” “It has something to do with my bag. She seemed intent on it. And now that I think about it, she could have seriously hurt or killed us if she tried, but all she destroyed was the bag.” I dumped the contents onto the floor. “How do you even get that bag through security?” Srujana asked as I inventoried the items. “The bag is charmed with an invisibility spell. Well, it’s not actually an invisibility spell, that’s way above my skill level. I made a spell that makes it look like there’s nothing abnormal inside…”
Another chill went up my spine as I saw the black charm that lay on the floor. “This is what she was after.” I pointed to the polished stone. “This is a bad luck charm.” “Bad luck?” Srujana reached down to pick it up, but I grabbed her hand before her fingers could grasp the item. “It may not look like it, but this is wicked, wicked magic. Someone wanted to make sure we didn’t make it back to RTP without some trouble.” I grabbed my canister of salt and encircled the stone charm to nullify the effects of the dark magic contained within.
“So it worked, right? It sent a werewolf after us.” “No, I don’t think so. Even in her were-form, Anna was restrained. Like I said, she could have mutilated us at any moment. Heck, she could have broken down our room door if she really wanted to. Some werewolves throughout history have been known to act as guardians, protecting those who are unable to safeguard themselves. She must have smelled the bad mojo from this charm and was trying to get it away from me, to save us.” I looked at the unconscious woman who lay on the floor a few feet away. “Now I really feel like a jerk. Sorry Anna!” I whispered in her direction.
On the plane ride home, Srujana and I spent the first hour in silence. She finally interrupted my thoughts as I ran my hands absentmindedly over the wooden box that contained the deactivated charm. “Who do you think would have put that in your bag?” I sighed and rested my head against the seat. “I don’t know. It was someone at the conference, I’m sure of that. I checked my bag inside and out before we left, and I know it wasn’t in there. There may be a way for me to figure it out. I’ll have to do some supernatural sleuthing, see if I can determine who would have wanted to harm us.”
As Srujana turned to look out the window, a giggle escaped from my mouth. “What?” she asked turning back to me. “Since it’s officially October 31st, I just thought I’d say ‘Happy Howl-oween!’” “There’s definitely something wrong with you,” she responded, but she smiled as she said it. “When you deal with the things we’ve seen, you have to laugh or you’d go mad with fright.”
I leaned back and closed my eyes, quietly reciting Shakespeare’s famous lines: ‘Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble.’ I’d keep the caldron bubbling, both literally and metaphorically, to figure out the identity of our would-be assailant...