Gus only got two seconds to be confused. A loud snap ricocheted around the room, causing everybody to jump. Gus the worst of all. The sound was that of his humerus bone snapping back into place. A second pair of sounds quickly followed as the two bones in his forearm found their proper place, but no one could hear it over the sound of Gus screaming.
Fire, fire, his arm was on fire. Nerves were buzzing, harder, faster, they were going to burn out. Flesh tingled and then itched and then sizzled, and there was terrible, peculiar feeling he couldn’t place that made his stomach turn inside out. If he knew it was tendon and joint and muscle replacing themselves and stitching themselves back up, he might have vomited right there. The pain went on and on, never growing, never fading, just a constant and ineffable wall of pressure and electricity.
And then it was over.
Gus gasped and sat up. He felt like he had just sprinted a mile, covered in sweat and breathing in big and deep.
The bones in his arm were unbroken. His skin and muscles were not torn. It came up at the shoulder and went down again. It bent at the elbow and straightened out. His wrist twisted as it should have, and his fingers gripped and wiggled. If it weren’t for the scar tissue scratching out stripes across the bottom of his upper arm and the top of his forearm and the dried blood that was just about everywhere, no one would ever think he had just been attacked by a wild animal.
“Are you okay?” Inez asked.
“I don’t know how, but…yeah. Yeah, I am,” Gus said, still examining his arm.
“Then can I have my hand back?”
Inez’s hand was still in his, and he realized he was still gripping it like a vice. When he let it go she gingerly inspected it.
“What the hell just happened?” Matsui asked. His eyes were wide and unblinking. Behind him, Jesse had backed up slowly until he found the wall behind him. He slid down to the floor and sat with his head in his hands, refusing to look at them.
“Exactly what we said would happen,” Inez said. “Good lord, if that had happened in front of paramedics?”
Adelaide laughed at the thought and Inez shot her a look.
Gus carefully climbed off the pool table. It was matted with blood. More of it pooled on the floor underneath, and a trail of it led to the front door. The right sleeve of the shirt he was wearing was completely torn off, but blood stained the rest of it. Matsui, Jesse, Inez, and Adelaide were all splattered with it.
“Is this…is this all mine?”
“Yes,” Inez said, examining the blood on her.
“You should have regenerated it by now,” Adelaide said. He stared at her. Regenerate? Did that word just get used out loud?
“How do you feel?” Inez asked.
“I feel fine. Is that normal? How can that be normal?”
“Define normal,” Adelaide muttered.
Gus looked between Adelaide and Inez. There was something about them, now. They had changed. Adelaide looked older, and for some terrifying reason looked completely in her element splattered with blood. Inez wasn’t just this beautiful woman who liked to talk to him anymore. It occurred to him that he knew nothing about her past, and what he did know might be a lie.
“Who are you? You’re not photojournalists, are you?”
“No,” Inez said. “I can’t take a picture without cutting everyone’s heads off.”
“Then what? What are you doing in Prairie Fire?”
“Because we found a very distinct pattern, and dealing with those types of patterns is our job. Our real job,” Inez said.
“Let me guess what this pattern was,” Matsui said. He still seemed very calm, as though what just happened had happened a lot. “Animal attacks. At the full moon.”
Inez was nodding. “Always found the morning after.”
“No, no, come on. We’re a small town surrounded by wilderness. It’s going to happen.”
“This year hasn’t been lean,” Adelaide said. “Local animals should have plenty of food to keep them out of the city.”
“Every full moon, Gus,” Inez said. “No other attacks on other days.”
“That’s why you think he was attacked by a werewolf?” Matsui asked.
It was the first time Gus was hearing the word himself, having missed the previous screaming match due to gray zone unconsciousness. He could hear blood rushing in his ears, and there was a sinking feeling in his gut.
“You…you think that was a werewolf?” The word tasted weird on his tongue.
“It was bigger than a wolf should be,” Inez said. “And tonight is the full moon.”
“You said…you said you were going to get pictures tonight of the moon,” Gus said. “But it’s been snowing since noon.”
“We were looking for it,” Adelaide said. “I guess it found us, first.”
“It was just a wolf,” Gus said. He liked the sound of that better.
“What about what just happened to you?” Inez asked.
Gus looked down at his arm. “I don’t know what happened to me. Nothing…nothing happened to me.”
“Are you crazy?” Matsui asked. Jesse looked up from where he still sat on the floor.
“Shit,” Inez muttered.
“No, no way,” Adelaide said, waving her arms. “I’m sorry, Gus, but you don’t have the luxury of pretending that nothing happened.”
“No, Inez. You know how I feel about letting people forget about this stuff, but either he figures it out now, or he figures it out the next time the full moon rolls around.”
“How can you think nothing happened to you?” Matsui asked. “Your bones snapped back into place like Legos. You were bleeding out five minutes ago, and now you have scars like it happened weeks ago.”
“It’s easy for you to believe,” Gus said. “You’re not the one they’re saying is a…a…”
“Werewolf,” Adelaide and Matsui said at the same time.
“No. No, it’s not real,” Gus said, shaking his head.
“Can you prove it?” Jesse asked. He had stood up and stepped towards them without anyone noticing. “It’s a full moon still. Why isn’t he turning into a wolf?”
“Werewolves don’t turn the first night,” Inez said.
“Awfully convenient,” Jesse said.
“Why would we lie?” Inez asked. “What could we possibly be after?”
“You’re not after anything,” Jesse said. “You’re both just crazy.”
“I think you’re the crazy ones,” Matsui said, looking between Jesse and Gus. “You saw what I saw. What’s your explanation?”
“Something rational,” Jesse said.
“That’s not a real answer.”
Something flew across the room towards Gus. Adelaide, unnoticed, had picked up the cue ball still sitting on the blood covered pool table. After taking quick aim, she had lobbed it at Gus’s head. Without ever turning to look at the cue ball, Gus put up a quick hand and caught it inches away from his face. He turned slowly to look at it, as though it was someone else that had stopped the ball. They all turned to look at Adelaide.
“You’re not going to turn tonight,” she said. “But there are a few…extras…during the rest of the month. Like heightened reflexes.”
No one said anything for a few seconds. Gus dropped the ball like it was painful to hold.
“You two need to leave,” Jesse said, his voice dangerously quiet. “Before I call the police.”
“Because I’ve never had the cops called on me before,” Adelaide said. But Inez was looking at Gus. Gus wouldn’t look at her.
“What…what he said.”
Inez pursed her lips. “Fine. Adelaide, let’s go.”
“What? We can’t-”
“We’re going,” Inez said.
Inez started walking for the front door. Adelaide sighed.
“Inez says we’re going, we’re going. You’re going to want to use bleach and cold water and salt to get those blood stains up. Cold water, not hot.”
Inez had the car running before Adelaide got into the passenger seat.
“We can’t really be leaving him,” Adelaide said.
Inez rolled her eyes. “How bad at my job do you think I am?”