Sean Kinkade tightened the last screw on the engine cover and leaned back. He felt he had it this time; the snowmobile would definitely start. It had taken a couple of hours work but he had prevailed, he wouldn't have to leave the machine up here.
As his head came up, he discovered he wasn't alone. Two wolves, about twelve feet apart, sat and watched him. He could see their breath steaming in the cold air, their mouths partly open. Their eyes were focused on him, and Sean wondered how long they had been there.
Oddly enough, he wasn't afraid, not very anyway. There was a certain anxiety about the situation he couldn't ignore, but the fact that he had been oblivious to the approach of two wild wolves didn't seem to bother him.
He sat astride the snowmobile for a minute, just digesting the situation. The wolves sat too, never taking their eyes off him.
Sean wondered where his friends were, and then he got an idea.
Carefully, he moved one hand until it rested on the handle bar. The machine had an electric start, the button for it next to the throttle. He pushed it, and the snowmobile thundered into action. He expected it to frighten the wolves off, startling them into running. But they acted as if nothing had happened and continued to stare at him.
Now Sean began to feel nervous. There was something very odd about these animals. He looked around uneasily for his buddies, but they were nowhere in sight. Sean figured that at the moment the only one who could help him was himself.
Cautiously he revved the engine up a few times, hoping the noise would scare the wolves. The sound of the engine echoed around the mountainside, and Sean hoped it would attract the attention of Kale.
Instead, the wolves stood up.
This shocked Sean into action; he dropped the clutch and gunned the engine, making the sled shoot forward. The way he was aimed, he would pass right between the two wolves, and as he took off he figured he was safe. But a moment later, he was hit from the side by a big furry body and propelled from his seat. He landed hard on the snowy ground and watched out of breath as the unpiloted snowmobile ran straight into a tree. The engine cut out, and silence returned to the area.
Frightened, Sean rolled over and found a wolf just inches from his face, the other just a few feet away. Both wolves bared their teeth and growled before the near one backed up.
Sean waited until his breath came back, then slowly got to his feet. He tried to move toward the crashed sled, but one of the wolves quickly got between him and it. Astonished, Sean tried to move toward the other snowmobile and was again blocked.
Then one of the wolves moved closer, growling, and Sean took a step back. The wolf continued to advance, so Sean kept moving. As he walked backwards, he was aware of the other wolf keeping pace ahead of them, and from time to time that wolf would stand its ground, forcing Sean to turn and head in a different direction.
As the snow started to fall and daylight began to fade, Sean Kinkade slowly realized that he was deliberately being herded somewhere.
The humans in the clearing froze at the sight of the wolves. All except two thought their time was up, that this was the end. Of the two that didn't, Carlo was unconscious in the snow, and Lilly was...not sure what she was feeling.
At first, there had been that rush of fear at the sight of so many dangerous animals, but then her fear left her, and she was oddly not that concerned by the wolves. Her concern was more for Carlo, and she wanted to see how he was. She broke free from Andy, who was too stunned to keep hold of her, and waded through the deep snow to her friend.
"Wait!" whispered Kale, afraid her movements would ignite the pack to attack.
The pack did react to Lilly, but not in the way Kale expected. They followed Lilly's movement to the fallen boy but held their ground, swinging their attention back to the town boys.
Lilly knelt in the snow, wishing her hands weren't bound behind her. She blinked her tear filled eyes in an attempt to see if Carlo was alive. She saw he was breathing, although he had a nasty gash on the side of his head, and almost cried with relief. She didn't notice one of the wolves sneak up close behind her, sniff at her for a moment, before turning and looking at the rest of the pack.
Kale, Andy, and Ed were then alarmed to see the pack move as one, advancing on the three boys with teeth bared and snarls in the air.
The boys began to edge away toward the one part of the tree line where no wolves stood, and they didn't realize that they were being herded like Sean had been with his two wolves.
Lilly looked up at the sudden movement, and watched with little fear as the town boys were encouraged to leave. A part of her mind was questioning her lack of fear, but she put it down to her concern for Carlo.
Once the boys reached the tree line, the pack split. Six wolves kept following the boys, while the other six turned their attention toward Lilly.
They advanced slowly, but this time not growling or showing any sign of menace. Lilly thought they all acted just like the wolf they had found earlier, and she looked over to where it had gone over the side, wondering if it was still alive.
The wolves gathered in a circle around the two humans, and Lilly tried to keep track of them all, turning her head this way and that. She was therefore surprised when a human hand reached out to touch Carlo.
She spun, suddenly frightened, to see a man crouched in the snow beside her. He was naked, and well muscled, and seemed impervious to the cold. He also had short black and gray hair in a familiar pattern, and a face that didn't seem quite right. He appeared to be in his fifties.
Lilly wondered where he had come from, and if the wolves were his.
"Don't," she said, as he touched Carlo.
The man looked at her for just a moment, before returning his attention to the downed teenager. He ran a hand along Carlo's skull, and probed the wound slightly, making Carlo groan.
"Please don't, you're hurting him," said Lilly.
The man gathered some snow in one hand, and pressed it to the bloody wound. He then looked at Lilly.
"Untie me, I can help him," she pleaded.
The man looked puzzled, then moved behind her.
Lilly felt clumsy fingers working at the knots in the leather cord that held her hands behind her, but after a short while they gave up. There was a moment of silence, then Lilly felt the soft wet nose of a dog's muzzle at her wrists. Lilly held still, aware that one of the wolves was attempting to bite through her bindings. She held her breath as she felt teeth pulling and tugging at her bonds, a hot breath warming her cold hands and saliva dripping down her fingers. She wanted to look around but didn't dare.
The wolf gave up though, unable to find good purchase on the tightly wrapped cord, and moved away.
Lilly looked around for the man, but he was gone. Instead, the six wolves, now being joined by the other six who had chased the boys away, all advanced.
Two came around and nudged Lilly, forcing her away from Carlo. Lilly tried to stay close, but each of the animals weighed as much as she did, and while she wasn't too afraid of them, she did respect their aggressiveness.
The others crowded around Carlo, and for a second Lilly feared there was going to be a feeding frenzy. But instead the wolves took hold of Carlo's furs and began to drag him through the snow.
Lilly was herded along after, and the group slowly made its way deeper into the forest.
Down in a narrow, but deep crevasse, a consciousness stirred. It took a few seconds deciding what it wanted to be, and the young wolf whined. He felt a sharp pain in his side, one of his front paws was bent at an impossible angle, and he couldn't feel anything below the waist.
He looked up to see how far he had fallen, and almost lost consciousness again due to dizziness. The pain was almost overwhelming, yet he knew he had to concentrate.
Carefully, he 'stretched', and found the precarious hold on the side of the wall of rock he had been wedged in was suddenly gone. More scrapes and bruises were added to his injuries as he slid further down to the snowy bottom.
Catching his breath, he 'stretched' again, howling at the pain but feeling a little better afterward. His paw was now straight again, the pain in his side less piercing, yet there was still no feeling in his rear half.
The wolf lay panting for a moment, then took another breath and 'stretched' again. This time there was a lot of pain, as feeling suddenly flooded in from his legs. He groaned and lay back in the cold snow, hoping to numb some of the pain, but he knew he was far from finished.
With one hand he probed his body as he gathered his strength, noting soft spots and unnatural bends, then he made that extra special 'stretch' again and bit off a howl in mid yelp. There was still a lot of pain, but he scrambled to his feet for a second before collapsing. Twice more he pushed to 'stretch', and each time things felt better. As he lay resting, he reflected on the human belief that his kind could only be killed by silver bullets.
His kind could be killed just as easily as anything else, and he had been shocked that the fall he just took hadn't been his end. But then the humans didn't know how fast they could heal themselves if death didn't claim them. What seemed like a miracle was just biology, but strange biology.
The young wolf struggled to its feet; glad he could stand and move around. Yet he knew there was a price to pay, and its survival instincts could not be denied. Nature didn't give anything for free, and the price for such rapid healing was a terrible hunger. Energy lost to 'stretches' had to reclaimed, and the young wolf knew it had to hunt right then or die from exhaustion. Before the madness took him, he looked up the crevasse to where the golden one was being hurt and wished he could go help her. But he had to feed before he could be of anymore use. So as the snow started to fall once more, he let his canine instincts take over in the search for a tasty snow rabbit.
Paul Anderson stood at the north gate, looking up the mountain. His daughter and the Alvaro boy had been gone most of the day, and now light was fading as heavy snow clouds began dropping their loads. Daylight was almost over, and if Lilly didn't show up soon, breaking curfew would be the least of her problems.
He wasn't too worried yet about their safety. He knew his daughter had a good grip on her survival skills, and he also knew that Carlo had top marks from his teachers on the same subject. Both were sure to pass their test in the summer.
Yet Paul was still uneasy. He wondered why they had been gone so long, and couldn't help thinking how a blossoming romance between the two teenagers might be the reason.
Although it seldom happened, they wouldn't be the first couple to go sneaking off for some solitude before marrying, yet he couldn't believe his daughter would do that. Surely he had brought her up better than that? But then she did hang around his sister-in-law a lot. Paul respected Rhianna a lot, and liked her even more, yet he couldn't deny that she came from a different culture, and it disturbed him that Lilly was so drawn to that. The outside world had already taken one of his children, could he stand it taking another?
No, Lilly wouldn't be out with Carlo doing some hanky panky. Yet he had also thought that of his son Sol, who confessed otherwise shortly before leaving the Compound.
There was a noise in the snow behind him, and another big man stood next to the gate.
"Paul," said the man in greeting.
Paul looked over to see whose face was hidden in the hood. "Grady, what are you doing out here?" Paul asked.
Grady shrugged. "Just...out for a stroll."
"It'll be dark soon!"
Grady looked up at the sky. "I expect so, but I'm not going far. I just need the air."
Paul nodded, concerned about the man. "Don't make me come out looking for you! I hate search parties in the snow."
Grady grinned. "Remember that the next time you schedule a drill."
"Yes...well...it might be sooner than you think."
"Why is that?" Grady asked, and Paul told him how he was waiting for Lilly and Carlo.
Grady shrugged. "Kids. If I see them, I'll send them back."
"Do that. Look, I know you've been off on your own a lot lately, and I don't want to intrude, but why don't you come sit at our table tonight for supper. It'll be good to have you."
"Thanks, but that's okay."
"Shawna will be there; she and Elizabeth are working on a new vestment for Father Logan, and they want to chat."
Paul could see Grady's eyes light up a little at the mention of Shawna Michaels. It was no secret to anyone at the Compound that Grady and Shawna were attracted to each other, and many people wondered why they still danced around each other while not admitting it to themselves. Well, more Grady than Shawna, really. Everyone understood that Grady still grieved for the wife he had lost in the spring, but many also thought that it was time for him to embrace this new opportunity for happiness before it too faded away.
A lot of people were pulling for the two of them.
"I'll...try to be back in time," Grady said, and he ambled off toward the tree line.
Paul sighed and resumed his watch.
It did not take long for the boys to get back to town, especially since they were in a hurry. Kale and the others were scared, not just of their own encounter with the wolves, but of what they found when they reclaimed their snowmobiles.
Sean had been missing, and the area covered in wolf tracks. Kale feared the worst, but the worst to him was not that Sean had been taken by the wolves to be eaten, but that he, Kale, would be blamed for it.
As he furiously ran the trails, leaving Andy and Ed to make their own way back on the other sled, Kale thought of all the options open to him. He knew there had to be a way to limit the fallout.
In the end, he decided the only option was to play the dumb kid card. He decided to go see Kinkade.
It was almost dark by the time he pulled up at the Kinkade home. He left the motor running as he leapt off his machine and ran up to the front door. He saw a police cruiser parked outside, so he knew the Sheriff had to be home.
He rapped on the door, and a moment later Kinkade opened it. He was still in uniform and he didn't look happy. His scowl deepened at the sight of the boy.
"Get in here!" he said, stepping to one side. Kale came in out of the cold, and Kinkade looked behind him, expecting his errant son to be following. He was startled to see that Kale was alone.
"Where's Sean?" he asked angrily.
"Sir," said Kale looking down and trying his best to look upset. "I'm sorry Sir, we were just ditching school. We didn't know there were wolves up there."
"Wolves? Wait a minute. Where's Sean?"
"Up...up on the mountain. We got separated and I think some wolves found him. There were tracks and everything!"
There was an intake of breath from the kitchen door, and Kinkade looked up to see his wife standing in the doorway, visibly upset.
Kinkade grabbed Kale and propelled him outside, out of earshot of his wife. "You left him up there?" Kinkade was pissed and also a little scared.
"We couldn't find him. And it was getting dark and the snow was coming down again!"
Kinkade sighed, getting more worried by the second. "What about blood, did you find any of that?"
Kale paused, wondering which answer would be more advantageous to him. He figured that by telling Kinkade about Sean, everything else would take a back seat. He could also play the grieving friend; after all, who would throw the book at a boy who just lost one of his playmates?
"No," he said, "no blood."
"Then he could have gotten away?"
Kale shrugged. "He could, I guess, but we couldn't find him." In truth, Kale hadn't even bothered to look. He saw the tracks and decided to take off. Andy and Ed followed, although they had wanted to stay.
Kinkade let the boy go and walked away to think. He looked up at the dark sky and at the snow coming down. It was a fairly light snowfall, but he knew that on the mountain it could well be heavier. The thought of Sean being alone up there chilled him, especially if there were wolves.
"Wait here," he told the boy and he went inside.
As he began to put on his coat, his wife came over to him.
"What's going on, where's Sean?" she asked.
"He's on the mountain," Kinkade answered gently, although inside his anger and worry was churning.
"What did that boy say he saw, wolves?"
"He saw tracks, that's all, and he's probably mistaken. There aren't any wolves this far south in the Rockies anymore.
"But if he's telling the truth?"
"Even if he is, wolves run from humans." Kinkade hugged his wife. "I need to go look for him."
"Alright, shall I call Derek?" Derek was one of Kinkade's chief deputies.
"No, I'll take care of it." He kissed her then let her go. Without looking back, he left the house, and his wife sank to the floor. There she sat the rest of the night, praying.
Outside, Kinkade grabbed the boy and walked him to the still running snowmobile. "You're taking me to the Compound; I know you know the way!"
"I'm not going back up there again!" yelled Kale.
"Yes, you are; you're going to show me those tracks!"
"Then why go to the Compound?"
Kinkade didn't answer that one, although he had an answer. He knew it would take time for his own men to get organized and outfitted for a winter search of the mountain, and he felt he didn't have that time. He knew the men of the Compound would be a better option, especially since they knew the ground.
The man and the boy swung astride the sled, and Kinkade hung on as Kale drove them back up into the snowstorm.
Lilly thought she knew the mountain pretty well, having had explored its every inch as a child with her friends. Yet the crack in the cliff side took her totally by surprise. She was fairly sure she had been this way before, although many of the landmarks from summer were now covered in snow, but it had never looked like a place that would go anywhere.
Now it looked like there was a place to go after all, as a trail in the snow led right up to the cliff face.
There was a crack, cunningly hidden by its own topography. Stand ten feet away, and the lines of stone completely masked the fact that an extension of rock hid a way through it.
The crack wasn't large, though, and Lilly wondered if she could get through it. As it was, she knew she would be crawling on her knees, her hands held behind her by the leather cord Carlo had tied her with, and she hoped it opened up further on. She watched as several wolves disappeared into the crack, and she noticed two more wolves sitting high up on either side of the pathway, almost like sentries. The two wolves glared down at her, it seemed, before returning their attention to far down the path.
Lilly watched, concerned, as a couple of wolves dragged the unconscious body of Carlo to the crack. The wolves had done a fair job of transporting the boy this far; the snow and his heavy furs making the job a lot easier than it could have been. But now they had a narrow passage to navigate.
There was not enough room for more than one animal at a time in the crack, so one of the bigger wolves, once they got Carlo into position, grabbed one of the boy's shoulders and dragged him backwards inside.
The rest waited patiently as the boy and wolf slowly vanished.
Lilly saw the wolf she took to be the leader visit each of the wolves she thought looked like sentries. The leader would nuzzle each wolf for a minute, before moving on to the next.
Looking around, Lilly wondered where the man she had seen had gone. If these were his wolves, he should have been around here somewhere. She lifted her shoulders and shuddered as a cold blast of air swirled against the cliff face, carrying newly fallen snow that threatened to quickly bury the trail they had followed. Lilly hoped that the man, whoever he was, had found some clothes to wear. This was not a place to be naked.
Soon it was her turn, and at the persistent urging of the wolves remaining outside, she dropped down and bent over.
It was a tight fit, tighter than she thought as she struggled to keep moving. Having her hands tied behind her made the journey awkward indeed, and she hoped Carlo would wake up so he could untie her. She had worried about her friend the whole trip up here, and wished she could take him back to the Compound where Dr. Miller could examine him. But for now all she could do was crawl through a very tight fitting tunnel in the rock. Occasionally she bumped her head against the rock walls, and once she had to scoot forward almost on her stomach, her face pressed against the cool dirt floor.
She knew that some wolves liked to dig out underground dens, and if this were the case here, she would really be in trouble. Already she couldn't see anything, and she didn't fancy being blind with these animals. She felt a nose push at her butt, and she tried to go faster. Then she got a nice surprise. There WAS light at the end of this tunnel.
With something to crawl towards, and with an ever-lessening chance of bumping her head, she made it to the other side and gratefully stood up.
It took a moment for her to take in everything she could see.
It was a sink hole of sorts, surrounded by steep rock walls, and covered overhead by overhanging trees. There were enough gaps for the fast setting sun to still show itself, but most of the light here was provided by small camp fires scattered about the place. Lilly expected to see snow on the ground, but there wasn't a scrap to be found and she could see why. Spread around were deep looking pools of water, apparently heated naturally by hot springs. The steaming pools were everywhere, and all that heat had warmed up the rocky floor itself. It was actually warm in here, certainly warm enough for snow not to have a chance, and as it turned out, warm enough for Lilly not to have worried about the naked man she had seen.
He was there ahead of them, along with almost two dozen men and women, who sat or stood or lay around the pools, all naked, and all with the same short hairstyle. Lilly couldn't see any of the wolves that had come in before her, but the people were enough to grab her attention.
The man she had met before stood up and walked to her. He stopped about five feet in front of her and nodded. Extending his hands, he said one word, "Weeelcomme."
The parents were getting worried. Paul Anderson and Miguel Alvaro, Carlo's father, sat conversing together with a few other men in one corner of the Great Hall. Elizabeth sat with Carlo's mother and the other women and children of the Alvaro clan in mutual support. It was now fully dark outside, and the snow was dropping like bricks.
The men were trying to decide if a search party should go out right then, or if they could wait until morning. Miguel was all for a trip outside, but Paul was cautioning restraint. He still believed that Carlo and Lilly would know how to handle themselves in the storm. If they got stopped in the dark before they could get back to the Compound, he knew they would be okay with the emergency sack he knew Carlo would have taken. They would survive a night out alone, but just one. It was important that they were found the next day. Still, he wondered what could possibly have prevented them from getting back, and he hoped that the teenagers weren't doing this on purpose so they could get an uninterrupted night together alone. If that were the case, he knew his daughter would be an old maid before she got the chance to go courting again.
Tired of the talk around him, Paul looked about the Great Hall where many of the community was beginning to assemble, all worried and lending their support as news of Lilly and Carlo filtered through to everybody.
At a table a little ways away, Paul saw his old friend Robert Klink in close conference with many of the community elders, and Klink looked worried indeed. It lightened Paul's load a little to know that his predecessor in his difficult job was as concerned as he was. Paul wondered if he ought to go ask Robert for some advice, but didn't want to interrupt him. He looked deep in conference.
"That is NOT the reason they are still out there!" Robert Klink whispered to the men and women at the table.
"It HAS to be, Robert," said Leann Miller softly, "what else would keep those young people from making it back before curfew?"
"It could be anything; they might have gone off just to be alone. You can't trust the youth of today as much as you used to."
"I trust my niece," said Bill Anderson, patting the head of his dog, who sat between his feet. "Don't you tell ME that she's out doing some hanky panky."
"He's right, Robert," added Leann, "both those children are well trusted. Which only leaves the Loup-garou."
"And you sent them away; refused to help them as we did thirty years ago," said Bill, shaken by the knowlege that the Loup-garou had returned. He was the only one left who had intimate knowlege of them, not even Robert knew what HE knew, yet Bill Anderson never spoke of it. Never.
"Without consulting us first, I might add," finished Leann.
Robert leaned forward even more. "You mean to tell me you would have allowed some of our people to...involve themselves...carnally...with those creatures?"
Leann, Bill, and a few of the others at the table exchanged looks, none of them wanting to be too forward about this matter. It was finally Leann who broke the silence. "We would at least have liked to have talked it over first, Robert, without you going off on your own and summarily making that decision yourself."
"Still," said Bill, "I think you should tell Paul; he has to know about them. Rob, he should have been told when he took your job."
"The Loup-garou are no concern of his," said Robert, "they have been dealt with."
"Have they?" Bill asked, concerned.
Before Robert could answer, there was a commotion at one of the doors. Several people entered the Great Hall at once, including two men in modern clothing. One was in a snowsuit, the other in the winter uniform of the Sheriff's Department.
Paul stood up, recognizing his friend Kinkade right away. The other man--no, not a man, a boy--took him a moment longer. It was the boy who took the photographs; Kale.
They were stamping and brushing snow off themselves, glad to have made it to the Compound through the ever-increasing snowfall. Kinkade nodded a greeting to Paul, while Kale stared wide-eyed about the hall. Kale had expected to encounter wall-to-wall naked people, with maybe a few orgies in plain view. Instead, he saw a room filled with people fully dressed in furs, leather, and cloth. Not really the image of Sodom he had been led to believe.
"What brings you up here, Sheriff?" Paul asked Kinkade.
"A missing person, maybe on the mountain."
Kinkade's answer caused a stir among the audience. He looked about suspiciously. "What's going on?"
"It seems the mountain is claiming more than we thought. We too have missing people," said Paul, and as he said that, it suddenly occurred to him that he hadn't seen Grady since he left either.
"How many?" asked Kinkade.
Paul looked around. "Has anyone seen Grady in the last few minutes?" he asked, raising his voice so all could hear him.
People looked at each other and shook their heads. One woman pushed forward through the group.
"Grady?" she said, "Is he missing too?" It was Shawna, dressed more fully this time in a soft leather dress cut with a low neckline.
Paul sighed. "He might be; I don't know. We should search the Compound to check. If he is gone, then we have three out there somewhere."
"And I have one," said Kinkade, "My son Sean."
Paul frowned. "What was he doing on the mountain?"
"He was with this boy," Kinkade said, gesturing at Kale, "They were...ditching school. This boy talked about wolves maybe taking him, but there aren't any wolves here, right?"
Wolves, that got Paul's attention. He remembered Patch's story about the talking wolf, the one who changed into a man and back again in the blink of an eye. Coincidence?
Paul didn't like coincidences.
"Normally no, but wolves migrate north and south with the seasons, following the Rockies. They do pass through from time to time," he said cautiously, thinking of what Patch had said.
"So you think they're out there?"
Paul didn't want to answer that.
They were interrupted by one of the kitchen staff. This young woman handed Kinkade a mug of coffee, which the shivering Sheriff gladly accepted. She then moved on to Kale, and handed him a mug filled with a hot broth. Coffee was reserved for the adults.
Kale's eyes almost bugged out, for instead of being wrapped up like most of the others in the hall at the moment, this woman was dressed more in keeping with her duties on the other side of the hearths. Below her waist she wore just her loincloth, and above, a vest or waistcoat-like affair that didn't draw close enough to button in the front. It covered her breasts, but left no doubt that she wore nothing underneath it.
She smiled at Kale as she handed him the mug, and the boy, quick to recover, smiled back. Then he began to leer openly at the scantily clad maiden. The girl began to feel uncomfortable. Such open displays of lust were not common here, and she was at a loss to know how to deal with it.
Paul noticed her discomfort. "Kate, go back to the kitchen," he ordered.
Kate nodded and left the group, glad to do so. Kale watched her ass as she disappeared into the crowd, and grinned. Looking up, he caught the eye of some of the men who had observed his lack of manners. They openly scowled at him, reinforced in their beliefs that the townsfolk were uncivilized despite all their technology. Kale sneered at them and took a swig of his drink. He grimaced and forced it down. He would have spit it out, but he was afraid the Sheriff wouldn't like it. The rest of the people here he didn't care about. He noticed another young woman with a toddler in her arms, and stared at them for a while.
"Maybe we should go out looking tonight after all," said Paul.
"No," Kinkade replied, shaking his head, "not unless you guys have radar. We almost didn't get here, and that was on a well marked trail. Five feet into the trees and you'd be lost, and even if you weren't, you wouldn't be able to see anything. It will have to wait until morning, and we're stuck here until then anyway."
Paul sighed and noticed Vicky, one of Gabe Miller's nurses, standing next to him, trying to get his attention.
"What is it, Vicky?" Paul asked.
"Sir, you're needed at the clinic, Grady just brought someone in from the outside."
"At the clinic? Who did Grady bring in?"
"We don't know; it isn't one of us."
Kinkade moved closer. "It has to be Sean if it isn't one of you."
"Come on then," said Paul.
A parade of people followed the two men out of the Great Hall and along the passages to the community's hospital. Unlike the rest of the Compound, the clinic was equipped with up to date technology. The people of the Compound were very ready to reject Mankind's modern advances in most respects, but they didn't fool around with their health. No philosophy was worth a person's life.
Paul, Kinkade, Kale, Vicky, and Shawna all made it into the clinic before Gabe Miller, their doctor, stopped the flow.
"Enough already," he said. "Wait outside, please!"
Shawna went straight to Grady and the couple stood uncertainly, but obviously glad to see each other. They didn't notice Gabe watching them, his normally happy demeanor turned into a frown. He too was attracted to Shawna, the latest addition to the Compound, and had run a rather unsuccessful campaign to win her affection. It wasn't a complete loss, but being "Almost like a brother" was not what Gabe had planned for him and Shawna. But he still had hope, as long as Grady waffled between what he wanted and what he could accept. Eventually he hoped Shawna would get frustrated enough to end her pursuit of the big blacksmith.
To cover his frustration over his love life, he turned his attention to his patient, and led the group over to his examining room, visible through an arch on the other side of the waiting room.
Inside, Kale found a corner to stand in, and kept his eye on the shapely Vicky, who was busy helping the doctor make the patient comfortable.
The men went straight to the examining table and saw it was occupied by a young man. He looked bruised and battered, with lots of half healed scars and injuries visible on his mostly naked body. Gabe had spread a sheet over him for modesty's sake, but it was pulled back in places to show his wounds. He appeared to be asleep.
"It's not Sean," Kinkade said sadly.
"Then who is he?" Paul asked.
"No one I recognize, he's not from town."
"Then where did he come from?" Paul asked. "Grady, where did you find him?"
The big blacksmith looked up from Shawna whose hand he held. "I found him outside, up the hill a ways. He was stumbling through the snow naked, blood on his face. He looked half dead. I wrapped him up and brought him in before he froze to death."
"This makes no sense to me," said Paul and Kinkade agreed. "How is he?"
Gabe sighed. "There's evidence of exposure, malnutrition, although his muscle tone is very good indeed. It's kind of puzzling really, like he's been on a recent starvation diet. There are also lots of old injuries on the boy, he's been pretty beat up at times. I'd suspect a few recently broken bones, but I'd need to x-ray him, and I don't think that's necessary. On the whole, I think he just needs rest and a good feeding for now, and maybe a tetanus shot for those scratches."
"Thank you, Doctor," said Paul, who turned to converse with his town counterpart.
Behind them, having been let through the line, Robert Klink entered quietly. He took one look at the boy on the table and his blood froze. There was no mistaking that hair, that odd looking face.
It was one of them!
It was a Loup-garou!
Robert Klink started to scream!
End of Part 7