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Authors: John Bushore

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Wolfwraith

BOOK: Wolfwraith
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Wolfwraith

By
John Bushore

Damnation Books, LLC.
P.O. Box 3931
Santa Rosa, CA 95402-9998

www.damnationbooks.com

Wolfwraith
by John Bushore

Digital ISBN: 978-1-61572-345-4

Print ISBN: 978-1-61572-346-1

Cover art by: Dawné Dominique
Edited by: Alison O’Byrne

Copyedited by: Barbara Legge

Copyright 2011 John Bushore

Printed in the United States of America
Worldwide Electronic & Digital Rights
1st North American and UK Print Rights

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any form, including digital and electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the Publisher, except for brief quotes for use in reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

To my son, Travis

who shared wilderness camping at False Cape State Park with me.

The Oceanfront Writers Group: Jacqueline Falkenham, Ingrid Parker, John Rosenman, Richard Rowand, and Bob Stein.

Prologue

Nothing but the flimsy walls of a tent stood between Susan and the noises out in the darkness. The glow of a small flashlight kept her from surrendering to terror.

She had been able to hold down her fear when Cynthia had been inside the tent with her, but now she was alone. There was nothing to be afraid of, she told herself for perhaps the hundredth time. The incessant chirping came from frogs and the occasional, mournful, “Hoo-hoo-hoo-hooooo” was only the cry of an owl, no matter how haunting the drawn-out notes.

Susan shivered, even though her legs were inside a sleeping bag. She’d feel warmer if she got all the way inside, but was too scared to lie down. Rummaging through her pack, she found her rain poncho and put it on. It was bright yellow; an exact twin to the one Cynthia had been wearing when she’d left to check the kayaks. Both girls had laughed when they’d first tried on the matching rain garb. The clothing added to the similarities in their appearances that prompted many people to say they looked like sisters. Their height was nearly the same and they both had brown hair, brown eyes and high cheekbones.

Two mornings ago, the girls had launched their kayaks in bright sunshine and paddled along the shore of the bay, through slightly choppy, coffee-with-cream-colored water. Osprey flew above, shrieking as if protesting the delighted chatter of the girls. Some little ducks—Cynthia called them “Blue Petes”—put their heads under the surface of the water as though they were trying to ignore the human intruders. Cynthia and Susan laughed at the sight of the little feathered butts poking out of the water.

Occasionally, solitary white egrets lifted awkwardly into the air as the kayaks approached. Despite the occasional crab-pot float or duck blind they passed, Susan imagined they were the first people ever to explore this part of the world. A spirit of adventure had overtaken her. On arrival at the campground, she was a bit surprised and worried when she saw the other two meadow campsites were empty. It was a bit scary to think of how alone they’d be at night, but she’d tried to put it out of her mind.

Cynthia had first proposed this trip before the Christmas holidays, enthusiastically claiming it would be the last chance for them to get away before graduation. Susan worried about the isolation of the park at first, and staying in a primitive campground with only outhouses for toilets. Cynthia, however, had reassured her.

“It’s a state park, for Christ’s sake, Susan. Okay, it doesn’t have cabins, hot showers or snack bars and we’ll have to carry our own water with us, and use pit toilets; but the whole point of this is to get away for a couple of days. No cars, no roads, and no one to bother us. There
are
rangers in the park, in case of trouble. Besides, why did we take a kayaking course last fall if we’re never going to use what we learned?”

The trouble started the first night, when the noises of the outdoors pierced the fragile fabric of the tent. “Frogs and night birds,” Cynthia told her. “Nothing to worry about.” Susan couldn’t stop thinking about being the only campers in this section of the park, though. She did not sleep at all.

The next morning, Cynthia had convinced her to stay another day, and Susan actually enjoyed it as they spotted deer, wild pigs and several types of birds. They even went on a beach walk and saw schools of dolphin gliding by offshore in a primitive dance of the sea.

The second night was as bad as the first, however, and now she wanted to go somewhere she could sleep in a real bed, with substantial walls protecting her.

When the wind and rain came up in the middle of the night, Cynthia insisted on checking the kayaks, despite the fact she’d have to walk a hundred yards or so through a dark tunnel of overhanging trees. Susan had the difficult task of deciding whether to remain in the tent or walk down the rutted path to the dock, with murky pools of the swamp hemming them in on either side. She’d chosen to stay, and now she regretted it.

She glanced at her watch. Cynthia should have come back long ago.

The rain had stopped and the wind was now only a gentle breeze. The ceaseless sound of thousands of frogs was maddening.

She reached toward the zipper of the tent’s fly, deciding to walk down to the dock, where she could be with Cynthia. Nothing could have happened to her could it? After all, Cynthia was an old hand at camping.

As her fingers touched the cold plastic of the zipper pull, she imagined walking down the path to the kayaks.

With a shudder, she pulled her hand away from the zipper. She didn’t have the courage to leave the psychological safety of her small shelter.

She heard something, barely able to make it out through the chorus of frogs. A swishing noise as though someone walked through the wet, tall grass of the campground—moving toward the tent. Tears of relief came to her eyes.

“Cynthia?” she said softly, surprised by the squeaky voice coming from her throat.

There was no answer. The footsteps reached the side of the tent and stopped.

“Cynthia?” She spoke more loudly this time, as though volume would produce her friend. “I hear you. Are you trying to scare me?”

The sound of walking resumed, but it didn’t move it away. The steps were slow and deliberate—almost like stalking. Was there someone other than Cynthia out there? Someone who could circle the tent and see, silhouetted by the flashlight, one, lone, defenseless girl sitting inside? Her tears grew larger and she stifled a sob.

The sounds made one revolution, passing the tent fly, and stopped along the side again. For long seconds, nearly a minute, she listened. She thought she could make out breathing, but couldn’t be sure.

Panting? Oh, my God, what if it was a bear? A slight whine escaped her lips. She clamped her teeth together. If she could be quiet, it might go away. The inside of the tent seemed like a coffin.

She jumped a bit as an owl suddenly hooted from close by, but fearfully forced herself to be still again. Then, without warning, something slammed into the side of the tent inches from her eyes, causing the fabric to ripple. As she pulled herself back, she saw two yellowish-white, pointed objects had pierced through. There was no mistaking them for anything but the incisors of some large animal. With a loud ripping noise, the fangs pulled down along the tent wall, leaving a rip in their wake.

Susan screamed and scrambled away to the other side of her small shelter, only dimly aware of the wet rush of warmth as her bladder voided. She continued to shriek as the dagger-like teeth continued down to the bottom of the tent, then withdrew.

Two hands—human hands—pulled the cloth apart and a face appeared inside the tent. It wasn’t the face of a man.

Her screams grew even louder as it neared, two glowing, bestial eyes above canine fangs.

Chapter One

Is it something to do with those two girls?

Ranger H. A. “Shadow” Fletcher spotted the corpse lying on the beach as soon as his four-wheel-drive truck crested the dune. Driving down off the sand hill, he parked above the highest reach of the waves and got out. The sea angrily surged far in across the beach, forcing him to wait for a period of lesser surf before going closer. The breeze caressed his face with a cold mist as he took in the scene.

The body rested on its stomach, moving slightly as each wave lifted it and then lowered it. A mound of bubbly sea-foam rippled along its seaward side, whipped up by a stiff breeze coming off the ocean. It hadn’t been here last evening, he knew; he’d driven home this way and it didn’t smell yet, so death had probably occurred recently. Shadow looked up and down the beach since they sometimes washed ashore in groups, but saw no others.

Finding a corpse here seemed apt, since the waters off these shores were often referred to as ‘The Graveyard of the Atlantic,’ although the term usually alluded to the many ships lost in the area. The park, in the southeastern corner of Virginia, straddled a narrow isthmus between the Atlantic Ocean and Back Bay, above the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

A particularly large wave pushed the corpse farther in, and then receded. Shadow walked forward and circled the carcass in the few seconds when his shoes wouldn’t be soaked. He saw no obvious marks of injury or violence. The skin was a dull, lifeless gray and the clouded eyes would never again sparkle with the gleam of intelligence. Without hope, he looked for signs of breathing. No, the blowhole was motionless.

He often watched dozens of dorsal fins surfacing intermittently as pods of the sleek bottlenose dolphins traveled beyond the surf. Every once in a while, like this individual, one would wash up on the park’s beach, as did dead sea turtles, sharks, and, rarely, whales. Shadow had seen dolphins even before starting work at the park; he was once a member of the Marine Guard, stationed aboard a U.S. Navy cruiser and he’d marveled as the aquatic mammals surfed the bow wave.

Shadow Fletcher could be called a fish out of water. Recently discharged after almost fifteen years with the Marine Corps, he had gotten a job at this remote park where he could heal both mentally and physically. He had grown up a bit farther north in Virginia, where he’d regularly hunted and fished with his grandfather. He was glad to be somewhere he could enjoy nature again.

Six feet tall and stocky, Shadow had the proud nose and wide jaw of his American Indian ancestors. He kept his jet-black hair, slightly thinning in front now, cut short but not quite as cropped as in his military days. Shadow’s clear aquamarine-blue eyes, however, seemed out of place in his otherwise Native American features. There was no such thing as a full-blood Virginia Indian after centuries of living surrounded by whites, and Shadow had Scottish ancestry on his grandfather’s side. His eyes were narrow with slightly drooping lids that might have given him an evil cast but smile lines at the edges made it appear he might be considering something privately humorous about the world. One of his former navy buddies once said Shadow’s eyes made him look like the old film star Charles Bronson—except Shadow was nowhere near as good looking.

When Shadow had applied for the ranger position, his job interview didn’t go well at first. The interviewer didn’t think a one-handed man could do the job.

“What are you going to do if you have to get a fallen tree off the road?” he’d asked. “I’m not sure you could handle a chainsaw.”

“This mechanical hand is pretty good.” Shadow held up his left hand— ‘the claw,’ as he thought of it—and flexed it beneath the synthetic skin. “I can use a chainsaw. Anyway, if I couldn’t, I’d use an axe or a hatchet. Or I’d chew the damn thing into toothpicks and spit them out. One way or the other, the tree would move.”

The interviewer laughed. “Somehow, I think it would. And it’s not like you lost your right hand, anyway.”

Shadow hadn’t bothered to correct the interviewer. He’d been left-handed before his injury.

He had gotten the job.

The radio in Shadow’s truck, a crew-cab pickup, crackled into life. “False Cape Six, this is False Cape Base.”

He walked over and reached through the open window for the microphone. “This is Six. Go ahead.”

“What’s your twenty, Shadow?” asked Chief Ranger Alex McGuire, who was also Park Manager since park’s staff was small.

“I’m on the beach, by Wash Woods. There’s a dead bottlenose ashore here. I stopped to check it out.”

Wash Woods was the southernmost of the park’s three ‘landings,’ or docks on the bay side, corresponding to passages through the dunes on the ocean side.

“Could you stop by the meadow at False Cape Landing on your way back?” Alex asked. “We got word from a concerned relative. Two young women, who camped at site eleven last weekend, are a day overdue getting home. Jonesy is checking the parking lot at Little Island to see if their car is still there.”

“Ten-four, I’ll take a look,” Shadow said. “By the way, could you call the stranding unit at the Marine Science Center and tell them about the dolphin? They’ll want to examine it.”

“Sure thing,” Alex replied.

Shadow hung up the mike, and looked both ways along the deserted shoreline, seeing nothing but sand, ocean, and a sky dotted with sea gulls. The park’s beach was closed to non-official vehicular traffic, and it was too far from any paved road to draw casual hikers. Getting back into the truck, he drove north, with nothing but miles of empty coastline before him.

Sipping from a mug of coffee, Shadow thought of how most people would not consider this Wednesday morning drive from his state-provided home in Wash Woods to the park headquarters, as commuting. On his right, the sea was only a shade grayer than the dreary sky. A never-ending procession of large swells rolled in, curled under and broke apart in the shallows. Solitary gulls glided on the air currents, wings outstretched as they scanned the sands and waters for edible scraps. Their cries rent the air like maniacs vying to outdo each other in cackling laughter. Sandpipers and other small shore birds rose in single-minded flocks from their feeding at the edge of their surf when he neared them. They looped out to sea for a few seconds as the truck went by, then returned and resumed their feeding after he passed. A flight of seven brown pelicans soared serenely by, like free-flying kites in formation. Farther to sea, he could see the glistening, sleek backs and dorsal fins of a large school of dolphins rising and falling as they broke the surface to breathe. He smiled as he remembered the traffic gridlock at the nearby Norfolk navy base, where he’d been stationed a couple of times.

BOOK: Wolfwraith
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