The Chase

The original scene that started Howlers: Lupus Rex is based on a true story, I kid you not. Two of my friends and I found ourselves at the end of a long, dirt road one night outside of Orlando. 1983. Something hunted us, and we barely made it out with our lives.

I’ve twitterized that scene. All sentences (including hashtags) are equal to or less than 140 characters. I posted anywhere from one to three tweets a day for a total of 63 tweets. In my opinion, this made the writing seem choppy. 140 character may be nice for OMG-type messages, but not for telling a story. Perhaps on the next one I’ll split the longer sentences between tweets. Might be a bit annoying though. We’ll see.

You can find the whole story at @TomBont, however, if you want to read it in a normal format, I’ve included it below.

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The dirt road continued north toward an old junkyard chock full of cheap Mustang parts. The sun sank, stretching the shadows out to my right. Rick and Tracy tagged along. The thought of exploring a junkyard sounded more exciting than staying on base.

We never found it. Lost, we made our second U-turn.

“I thought you Louisiana boys knew how to follow back roads,” Rick said.

“We ain’t in Louisiana,” I snapped. “We’re in Florida. Besides, this map is fucked. I think we missed a turn somewhere.”

“No shit!” Tracy held his phone up, trying to get a signal. “I can’t believe you didn’t get an address.”

Rick snatched the map out of my hand and turned it upside down and sideways, trying to decipher it himself. “We need to figure out where we are and head back anyway,” he said. “They’re probably closed for the day.”

I agreed with a nod and found a wide spot in the road to swing Lil’ Red, my dilapidated ‘66 Mustang, around. As I straightened out, the front left tire blew.

We climbed out, peering down the road into nothingness. It vanished into the woods like a train track into a tunnel. Tall trees guarded it on either side, sheltering us from the unknown, leaving a darkening, silvery band of sky above.

I peered over my shoulder. Loneliness gripped me as a slight breeze whooshed through the trees’ leaves and branches. Riding it came the smells of old swamp—damp leaves, mud, the occasional whiff of stale water. It reminded me of home.

Tracy held the flashlight while I pulled the jack out of the trunk and put the wrench to the lug nuts. As I dropped the flat tire to the ground, howls, at least three different ones, wailed from deep within the swamp. Fears stored deep in our genetic memories put our hackles at attention before our conscious minds registered danger. Rick stared wide-eyed at me while Tracy swung the dim flashlight in a wide arc toward the sound.

“You’re the country boy,” Rick spouted. “What the hell was that?”

I opened my mouth to speak. My lips and tongue had dried up like cardboard. I knew wolf and coyote howls from my swamp-slogging days. And I’d heard humans wail in cheap imitation. These were . . . different. “It’s probably just some wild dogs.”

The looks on their faces told me they appreciated that little lie.

I slammed the slightly mushy spare tire onto the hub. My fingers moved like machines spinning the lug nuts. Howls once again shattered the moonlit silence, closer this time, as I spun the lug wrench on the last nut. Those howlers had covered at least half a mile, through the woods, in less time than it took to change the tire. Whatever they were, they were running all out, and towards us. I increased my efforts with the tire.

Rick stood rooted to the ground, staring off into the night, unconsciously kneading his hands and cracking his knuckles.

Tracy painted the trees with the flashlight in a desperate endeavor to ward off the night. “Hurry up, man,” he pleaded. “This shit ain’t funny. It’s time to boogie the hell outta here.”

“I can’t see a fuckin’ thing with you pointing the light at the damned woods,” I shot back.

Tracy shined the light back on the tire. I cranked the jack down.

“Look guys.” I dropped the jack into the trunk. “These things are wild. They’re more afraid of us than we are of them.”

“I doubt that shit,” Rick snorted. “I’m with Trace. Let’s hurry up and get the hell outta here!”

“Maybe it’s coon hunters,” I said as I rolled the flat tire to the rear of the car. “Running dogs or something.” The instant I slammed the trunk closed, howling and growling exploded from the side of the road. A shattered second later, howls erupted from the other direction. The howlers had surrounded us. Unnerved, I sensed a basic intelligence in how one side would growl and the other side would answer back. These weren’t dogs, and there were no coon hunters.

Now, the howlers crashed through the woods, trying to get to the road. I felt like a deer with deer hounds driving me. Instincts honed from a life growing up on the bayous told me I had but seconds to live. A command harkening back to my boot camp days roared from my mouth. “Move it! Get in the car!”

My friends shuddered loose from their shock. Tracy dove into the backseat from the driver’s side.

I leapt behind the steering wheel and twisted the key, praying Lil’ Red wouldn’t demand its union break at that moment. The engine turned over, and the howling and growling pitched up, a pack of rabid hellhounds on cat spoor.

Rick raced around Lil’ Red to the passenger door. He skidded to a halt when the growls grew even more frantic on that side. He backed toward the driver side and shrieked at me, “Get out, so I can get in!”

“Fuck that,” I bellowed. “No time! Crawl your ass through the window.”

With his feet still hanging out, I punched the gas pedal, steering while he scrambled over me to the passenger seat. Lil’ Red’s engine screamed, its tires kicking up dirt and gravel, straining to find purchase on the road.

Tracy, in his fetching rush for the safety inside the car, had dropped the flashlight. Lying on the ground behind us, it produced enough of a glow to reveal what stalked us. Shapes and movements were unmistakable even in the fuzzy shadows. Wolves. Three of them, their backs even to a man’s shoulders. They vaulted from the woods onto the road, ten yards at least, and darted towards us as if one. Their eyes blazed orange.

Lil’ Red finally found traction and kicked up a red fog, taillights in the dust, clouding our view. I kept the gas pedal mashed to the floor until the speedometer grabbed seventy.

Silence ruled the trip home except for tires hitting potholes and rattles from loose exhaust pipes. We buried ourselves in our thoughts. Our logical, modern minds tried to fashion reality out of fantasy. Never again would we stare at nature and think we were apart from it, above it. The master of it. We had touched the primordial. None of us took a deep breath until the lights of Orlando shined through the windshield.

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