The children huddled around me as we walked through the woods. We all held hands. They looked up at me for guidance, but I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. I smiled at them reassuringly and faked my confidence. We walked for a while before I felt like we were being watched. I didn’t see anyone or hear anything.
“I need to speak with Erik,” I called out into the silence. “Please,” I added. The children looked at me confused as I suddenly stopped in the woods and called out to no one.
I waited, but there wasn’t an answer. Juan squeezed my hand. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was leading them into the woods only to get lost. What if the werewolves had completely cut themselves off from us despite the fact that children were with me. I smiled at Juan and started to make our way through the woods once again.
“About what?” Elsie’s voice rang out from somewhere in the trees.
“I know he doesn’t want anymore werewolves to get hurt,” I said, “but you heard what that venefici said. And you already know werewolves can turn into zombies. Staying fenced in isn’t going to help any of you in the long run.” I paused and waited, but Elsie didn’t say anymore. “Was it you howling last night? Was that your way of greeting Alex even though he is exiled from your pack?” There wasn’t a response.
I sighed and looked down at Juan as if the seven year old would magically have an answer for me. He shrugged his shoulders.
“You keep strange company these days,” Elsie’s voice called out.
I wasn’t sure if she meant the kids with me now or maybe Alvina and her vampires or maybe the tricksters or that large group of men, or maybe all of them.
I decided to start with Alvina. “Alvina and her brood have agreed to help us defeat the venefici. We’re starting with the ones that have holed up in the high school.” I paused to allow Elsie a response to that, but she didn’t say anything. “The tricksters have agreed to help too.” I assumed they knew about the tricksters or at least they would know what tricksters were.
“Why do you have a bunch of kids with you?” Elsie asked.
“Alvina made me bring them,” I said. “She said werewolves wouldn’t let children be hurt.”
There was another long pause and then Elsie stepped out from behind the trees in front of me. “He’ll meet with you,” she said. Her eyes softened as they scanned over the children. “Come along.”
She turned and walked in the direction I had originally been heading. I took that to mean I had been miraculously headed in the correct direction.
We walked several minutes in silence before I said, “Are you and Mason alright?”
“Fine,” she said.
“Alex is doing well,” I ventured.
“Hmm,” was all she said.
I didn’t try again as we walked. I didn’t hear or see anyone else, but I knew there were others out there. I could still feel eyes on us. As the iron gate came into view, the other werewolves finally stepped out including Mason. He didn’t acknowledge my presence in any way so I decided to ignore his too, but I assumed it was him and Elsie that had howled last night and that Alex had responded. The three of them had always been together at school. It must have been hard for them to lose each other.
One of the werewolves opened the gate and Elsie led us in. She led us to the same house we had been in before, but this time she took us to a different room. It was a large room. Toys littered the room. There were small tables and chairs that were obviously meant for children. A group of children sat at one of the tables playing with Halloween makeup. My heart lifted slightly at the sight. Finally something I was familiar with.
“Wait here,” Elsie said and then I was left alone with the children. The children around me immediately broke apart to go to the various toys. Marcos went to the table with the Halloween makeup. Juan followed him. I looked around at all the children and then approached the table.
“Me too,” Marcos said to the kids at the table.
“What’s your name?” one of the girls asked him.
“Marcos,” he said.
The girl held up a brush slathered with the white costume makeup and said, “What do you want to look like?”
“Victory when she had the white scales on her face,” Marcos said definitively.
“I don’t know what that means,” the girl said.
“May I?” I asked her and held out a hand for the brush.
She gave it to me and scooted her chair back a little to give me room. I wasn’t sure if Marcos meant Halloween night when I had put makeup on Victory to make her a “lizard girl” or if he meant when she had destroyed those vampires with her lightning and scales had formed on her face. I hadn’t been there for that so I wasn’t sure what that had looked like.
I wiped off a little bit of the white makeup from the brush so it wasn’t just a big glob and then brought the brush to Marcos’s face. I used a little bit of gray to outline the scales. When I was finished, the girl said, “That’s awesome. You did a great job. Do me next.”
“What do you want to be?” I asked as I turned to her.
“Werewolf,” she said and held up her hands like claws and growled.
“Alright,” I said. “What color do you want to be?”
“Red like cinnamon like my mom’s fur when she is in wolf form,” the girl said.
I had no idea who her mom was or what she looked like in wolf form, but I said, “Alright.” And mixed the colors I thought would make the best combination. I used a darker shade of the same color to help distinguish the strands of fur. I used black around her nose and to give her whiskers.
She picked up a mirror I hadn’t realized was on the table and stared at herself. “This is great,” she said. And then I was surrounded by a bunch of kids – both from the werewolves and from the group I had brought – each wanting me to make them into some type of animal.
This was my element. I hadn’t been this relaxed since Halloween before the first green light in the sky. I patiently painted each child’s face as they wanted and forgot about everything else.
Almost all the makeup was gone by the time I finished with the last child. And with the last few children I had to convince them they wanted a different color other than one I had already ran out of, but they all seemed happy when I finished.
When the last child got off the seat in front of me and pranced away to play with the other children, I noticed Erik sitting on the floor with his back up against the wall watching me. I quickly looked around the room for any other adult, but he was the only one there. He motioned for me to go to him.
I got up slowly and crossed the room. I sat in front of him cross legged.
“You’re good at that,” he said.
“Thank you,” I said.
“You can’t take the children from here now that you brought them,” he said.
“But they have mom’s and family out there.” Actually, I hadn’t spoken much with them to know if the women with them were their mom’s. I had just assumed they were.
“Their family can join them here,” he said calmly. “If Alvina will let them. You know it isn’t safe out there for children.”
That was true, but my heart dropped at the possibility of having to go back to Alvina without the children and ask her to let the women go.
“You want me to send my werewolves back out there,” he stated. “To help you defeat the venefici again. You are gathering quite the army.”
I hadn’t looked at it that way before.
“You’ve aligned yourself with evil,” he said.
“Temporarily,” I said, “to defeat the venefici. The venefici have destroyed the world. I’m sure you’ve been told what the venefici have done. What they are doing.”
He leaned forward and said, “You can’t destroy all of them in every part of the world.”
“No,” I said. “But we can start with the ones around us and maybe find out where their main leaders are and take them out. I’m sure we’re not the only ones in the world who have figured it out and are trying to stop the venefici.”
“How can you be sure?” he asked.
“It’s pretty obvious they were up to something with all the RU in? places that suddenly sprang up everywhere. You don’t think we’re the only ones doing something do you?”
“I know you’re not,” he said.
“You can’t hide in here forever,” I said. “Not now that weres can also turn into zombies. If you stay in here, the venefici win and they will eventually come after you. They want to rule everyone. You don’t want them to rule your werewolves do you?”
A low growl escaped him that sent shivers down my arms. All of the kids froze. He took a breath and held up a hand to the children. The ones that I had brought with me didn’t know what that meant, but when they saw the other children go back to playing, they joined them again.
“And what about you?” he asked me calmly.
“What about me?”
“More and more supernatural creatures like me and Alvina are revealing themselves for what they truly are,” he said. “We kept hidden because humans outnumbered us. We are no longer outnumbered. What do you think Alvina is going to do if you defeat the venefici? Do you think she is going to say ‘Great. We won. Now go your own way.’? She isn’t. She is going to want to rule over all of you.”
I opened my mouth to say I could kill her even though I wasn’t sure that was possible, but he didn’t give me time to talk before he went on.
“Even if Alvina is dead,” he said as if reading my thoughts, “the vampires have revealed themselves. They are not going to go back into hiding. I’ve been told they’ve already gathered human ‘pets’. They aren’t going to stop now. Life is never going to be the same even if all the venefici are destroyed. Even if the magic that is causing the zombies is stopped. Even if the electricity comes on and electronics work once again. The supernatural beings are not going to go back into hiding.”
I hadn’t really thought about what came after, but I was afraid he was right. “Could we stay with you?” I asked.
He laughed, but it wasn’t a mean laugh and for the first time I saw why his werewolves might love him so much as a leader. “Yes,” he said. “As long as you follow the rules.”
“What kind of rules?”
“Rules to keep everyone safe,” he said. “Better than being a pet to the vampires or constantly being pranked and eventually abandoned by the tricksters.”
“Are there other supernatural beings nearby other than what I’ve met so far?”
“Yes,” he said. “But I doubt many will make themselves known yet. Especially with Alvina and her brood running around.” He sighed and looked down at the floor. “The more werewolves I send with you, the less I have to defend our homes if something happens.” His eyes looked back at me. “But I do think the venefici need to be stopped. Stay here tonight and tomorrow morning I will send werewolves with you.”
He stood up to leave. “Thank you, Erik,” I said. He simply nodded before he left.