Gunnar Viermetz, a hunter for a specialized organization, scanned the side door of his reinforced white van. He looked at his contract for details about the animal his bosses wanted him to hunt. It was large, covered in fur, and was killing people.
“Helpful.” He mumbled, shaking his head and reaching for a high-caliber rifle. Gunnar picked a few electrified traps, including one heavy claw trap and attached them to his hiking bag. He double-checked the van’s back, searching for imperfections in the large metal cage. He hopped out and looked over the map with red ink notations of reported creature attacks. Gunnar dotted the map with sites of animal attacks reported by the townsfolk. Some said bears, others said wolves. A few even thought it might be a tiger or skin-walker. Gunnar chuckled at the last one.
“Wrong country, dude.”
He checked his text messages, glancing at the time. It was 15:00. His guide, Annalena, was supposed to arrive by 14:00. Gunnar shrugged and walked into the woods. Using his map in conjunction with a compass, the old German quickly reached the rough area of animal attacks. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he took a swig of water, washing the taste of bitter whiskey from his mouth. He and a contact shared a bottle before he left, leaving him with a disgusting taste.
Gunnar glanced across the ground and trees. The dense canopy overhead blocked the sunlight and darkened the forest floor. He searched the ground tracks and breaks in the trees, indicating a large animal came through. He checked his map and compass as he traveled.
While searching, he found hoofprints of deer, heard birds and squirrels chirping in the trees, and saw scratch marks of foraging animals. Gunnar found a trail and followed it, hoping to find clues. To his misfortune, he did. Dark, dull red blood lay splattered along the ground, and chunks of ripped flesh hung along the bark of a tree.
With a clear path marked by drops of blood leading into the woods, Gunnar knew the animal might be at the end. With careful, quiet footsteps and weapon at the ready, he stalked along the side of the trail, watching for signs of tracks or indications of the victim.
The blood trail thickened until Gunnar found bits of tissue and a scent worse than his lingering taste of bad medicine. The body of a black-haired woman wearing a uniform, her head and shoulder ripped apart, an arm and half a leg missing, and a nametag lay broken on the ground. Gunnar kept his distance, glancing through the woods in search of the creature. When he was sure the animal was long gone, he approached. Gunnar glanced at the nametag: Annalena Dreifuss.
“That’s where you went,” he breathed, exhaling the scent from his mouth. He scanned the woods and stepped away from the body. Gunnar checked for signs of an animal. He found big wolf-shaped paw prints in the mud. Walking through mud and downed leaves and stepping over branches, the hunter followed the indentations in the ground, noticing a trail leading toward the body.
He listened to the sounds around him, watching with every step until he found a drop of blood on the ground a few more meters. Drop after drop, they all led to a cave. Gunnar noted the entrance’s size, confirming a set of tracks and fur nearby. He placed a couple of traps near and around the front, using dried meat as the bait, and positioned himself a small distance away on a short hill. Gunnar aimed his rifle and watched the cave.
What little light remained over the canopy faded as night set in, leaving him in the dark. He flipped a switch, changing his scope to night vision. After hours of waiting, he spotted movement near the cave. The brush rustled, and Gunar froze, focusing on the cave. A small boar peeked out from the bushes.
“You bitch, don’t you dare,” Gunnar watched the boar step closer to his electrified claw trap. The hunter aimed his weapon at the boar, his finger on the trigger, ready to fire, and hoped it didn’t startle his target away. He saw it. First, a near-unseeable black dot, a canine snout, and finally, the eyes of a wolf glowing in the night vision. Step by step, it crawled out of the mouth of the cave, aiming at the approaching boar.
The wolf stepped further out of the cave, fangs bared but not making a sound. The paw appeared next, except it wasn’t a normal paw. The hunter’s jaw slackened. He’d heard tales of finding a creature like this in his work but getting to see one. Gunnar fell faint when he saw the beast’s outstretched arm. His company sent him to capture a terrifying and deadly monster. Gunnar knew he was looking at a werewolf.
“Oh fuck,” he breathed, his shaky hands throwing off his aim as sudden lightheadedness made him lose focus.
A loud squeal reverberated through the air, followed by a howl of pain as the trap snapped shut over the werewolf’s leg. Gunnar shot the creature’s head, its fur parting as the bullet struck and ricocheted. The creature’s ears swiveled as it searched for the origin of the sound, licking the boar’s blood off its lips. It stopped, the wolf’s ears folding as terror crept over its face. Gunnar could see its legs twitching in pain from the current of electricity flowing into its body, yet the monster still stood.
Feeling woozy and trying to steady his hands, Gunnar fired a second shot, striking the creature in the shoulder. Its ears focused on where Gunnar lay, hidden in the brush. It bent, grabbing the trap and startled as soon as its clawed hand touched the metal. Gunnar fired a third shot, striking it in the chest. The wolf reached and grabbed the trap once more, attempting to pull it open, ignoring the pain.
Gunnar realigned his aim, took a breath, and fired a fourth shot, striking the monster in the head, knocking it off balance. The werewolf rolled in place and frantically wrapped its hands around the trap. With a ferocious roar, it ripped the iron jaws open. Gunnar fired his fifth and last shot in the clip, striking the beast in the head once more, knocking it onto the dirt.
Gunnar looked away to grab another clip and reload. One second and the wolf was gone. Terror rising in his chest, the hunter gazed around with the night vision scope. The dark of the forest was so complete Gunnar couldn’t even see the gun in front of his face. He calmed himself, ignoring the wave of nausea, and continued watching through the scope, spotting the wolf nearby. Its snout moved in erratic patterns as it sniffed the air away from Gunnar, who fired the next shot. The werewolf jumped and ran into the underbrush, ducking and dodging.
The hunter readied his rifle and fired another shot, striking the werewolf in the back. The creature stumbled, correcting its uneven pace. Gunnar fired a third shot, striking the creature’s leg. The werewolf turned as it fell. Its widened eyes stared at Gunnar’s as he fired a fourth shot, striking the beast below the eye and knocking it to the ground. It still moved, struggling to turn around. The wolf turned again, its eyes flicking around the woods, searching, and fixed on something behind Gunnar.
“You’re not going to kill anyone else,” the hunter growled, aiming at the base of the skull. Before Gunnar could fire the fatal shot, he heard a howl, a chilling wave coursing through his back. Its discordant noise sounded almost like an elk’s bugle mixed with a coyote’s call.
The werewolf jumped to its feet, stumbling. It turned and stared at the hunter, its eyes focused on the hunter’s, breathing fast and erratic as its ears swiveled around, searching for the sound. Something howled again, and the werewolf jumped like a startled mouse. Gunnar pushed himself into a crouched position, a chill running through his body as nausea forced him to stop. His head pounded in pain.
He saw the eyes before he saw anything else—two massive pairs of glowing white lights floating in the dark. Gunnar pushed one foot on the ground to stand, balancing himself with his hand, and felt a wave of exhaustion as he stumbled forward, collapsing to the ground. The white lights drifted closer, pale fur reflecting their luminescence.
The hunter looked into his scope, ready to fire. A large animal with white, skull-like facial markings stalked ever closer. Even with night vision, the creature blended with the dark. He could see its nearly unseeable four legs moving in the dark, its pearl-like eyes focused on him. Gunnar fired a shot, striking it in the head. It continued forward, unflinching. His gun clicked when he pulled the trigger.
Gunnar stood to run. Heavy footfalls struck the ground, followed by piercing pain as the creature sprinted forward and clamped on his leg. It lifted him and dragged him back toward the cave with minimal effort. The massive beast dropped him at the cave’s mouth, plopping next to the boar, tearing it in half as the pearly eyes watched Gunnar.
The hunter looked at the beast. He turned and stared at the clearing, weighing his options, feeling like a caged animal staring at the freedom he would never have.
He reloaded his rifle, aiming at the creature’s throat. A shot rang out, but it wasn’t his. The dark monster stood at attention, looking around—another shot, then another. A chorus of explosions reverberated as an untold number of rifles fired their high-caliber bullets into the canine, who reacted with an uneven gait, shaking its head.
Gunnar tried to stand but felt another wave of exhaustion wash over him. A burst startled him from his daze. The hunter watched a net fly through the air and wrapped itself around the monster. Half a dozen men and women entered the cave. He recognized one as the man who gave him the contract.
“I’m sorry.” He looked at Gunnar, who tried to sit up but slid on the loose dirt. His arms felt heavy. “Only a human could survive long enough to deliver the poison.” He nodded to the beast, sparks from the net creating enough light to see its black fur as the canine struggled to stand.
“What?” Gunnar shouted, coughing and nauseous. “What the hell does that mean?” The beast’s howls of pain quieted as the glow in its half-closed eyes faded.
“We’ve been trying to get this thing for months. We tried traps, bait, and poisons of all kinds. But they never worked. Either it figured them out, or our bait died too soon.”
“You used me as bait?” Gunnar tried to stand again, gripping his rifle.
“Give me the fucking antidote already!” Gunnar shouted.
“I can’t. There is no antidote.” The man nodded to the creature, silently struggling under the electrified net.
“We hoped you would survive. Humans metabolized the poison better than most animals, but you’re already at the later stages.” The man poked under his eye. Gunnar replicated the movement and replicated it, feeling a warm, sticky substance. In the flashes of light, he saw it was red.
“What the fuck. When the hell.” Gunnar mumbled, lost for words.
“I poisoned your whiskey. We couldn’t leave this thing unchecked. Someone had to be the bait. I’m sorry it was you.”
“Everyone,” the man shouted to the other hunters. “We’ll bring the beast back once it’s asleep. Gerald, prep the cage at the truck. Make sure it’s reinforced.” He turned to Gunnar. “The poison’s going to kill you. You still have bullets. I suggest you use one before your organs fail.” The man turned and left, taking one last look at the hunter he condemned to death.
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