tagNonHumanHalloween Scarecrow

Halloween Scarecrow

byThistlethorn©

© Edited by Penn Lady

This is a copyrighted work of fiction. All rights reserved.

This is a submission for the Halloween contest. Please comment and vote. Thank you!

*

"Hey, guess who remembers we still exist?" Violet asked as she entered the pack house library, waving what appeared to be computer print-outs above her head. The lithe young woman strode towards the central table. The mid-afternoon autumn sunlight streamed into the room, highlighting her dark brown hair.

Along the length of the oak table the faces of her pack looked back at the print-outs with varying degrees of annoyance or outright disgust. Only Ballard, from his position of second, looked up at her with quiet expectancy in his amber eyes.

Violet was grateful for his serenity. Even though he was beta wolf, second in command, and a burly wall of a man and wolf, he had a stillness that neither needed to dominate nor would submit to domination. Violet wasn't sure why he wasn't an alpha, but was thankful for his presence.

"The elders, I assume?" he asked with a tilt of his graying blond head.

Next to Ballard, his mate Socorro's hazel eyes narrowed as her expression darkened. Though he towered over her, even seated, the strength of her glower dominated. She was the smallest wolf in the pack, barely over five feet as a human and just a few inches taller as a wolf. But she was fierce, determined, and not shy with her thoughts. Nor did she suffer fools gladly. She shook her head with a snort, her auburn ringlets swaying.

Violet took her seat at the head of the table, next to her mate, Marcus. "Yes," she confirmed, fighting to keep calm. "After a year of silence, they finally acknowledged our existence and deigned to contact us with a hunt."

"Ah, c'mon, it was only a year's temper tantrum," Marcus said with a toss of his head, disheveling his dark hair, and a roll of his blue eyes.

Marcus was massive, both as a biped and a full wolf, and was terrifying to behold. As a human, he had a wiry build but could still intimidate with his size, though his laid back demeanor often mislead people. Even though he was Violet's mate and the alpha male, many outside the pack considered him a weaker wolf than either Violet or her deceased mate Aidan. Unfortunately, there was some truth to the whispered gossip and the pack had been overlooked and ignored.

"So what's the deal?" Marcus asked.

Violet looked over the print-outs, pushing her hair from her blue eyes. "Seems they want us to look into condition of a nearby raven."

"Raven?" Philadelphia asked. A willowy tall woman, she was of Japanese and Slavic descent. She had the poker-straight long black hair of her mother and the striking cobalt blue eyes of her father. A lost wolf, her first change had come in her adulthood and though she had been with her pack for a few years, she was still somewhat unfamiliar with the ways of the Benandanti.

Tobias leaned forward in his seat, his thick blond hair tied back in a pony tail, and directed his attention to her, his green eyes grave. He was the lore-keeper of their pack, and the source for most magical information.

"A raven is a non-shifter who lends magical assistance to a pack, usually a mage or witch of some type," he explained. "They are uncommon now, I think maybe a handful of packs have one. In the past, it was far more common. Then the various purges, inquisitions, hunts, and trials decimated those numbers. A few ravens broke and gave up their packs. When the packs pulled back together afterward, the bad blood mixed with loss of candidates gave rise to the lore-keeper position as they decided to assign the magical position to a wolf."

Philadelphia's expression was shocked. "How could they give up their packs?" she asked.

Tobias shrugged. "They were tortured," he explained as he sat back in his seat. "And they broke. I don't blame them for that." He turned to Violet. "So, what's the deal with this raven?"

"A lot of bad stuff," she said, leafing through the papers in front of her. "He was with a pack that went up against something really bad about ten years ago. Out of a six-member pack, five wolves and the raven, only two wolves and the raven survived, if you want to call it that. One retreated into full wolf form and he still hasn't shifted back. The other is in a semi-catatonic state. She will occasionally talk, but mostly just stares. And when she does speak, she won't talk about what happened. If asked, she'll just scream.

"The raven got out the best, but he was pretty badly damaged too. He couldn't explain what happened or what it was. Just that it was old and dark. He managed to protect the two surviving members of his pack, but the rest destroyed themselves due to this thing's influence. He was pretty sure he banished it, but at the cost of burning himself out. At the end he was as broken in his own way as the other two wolves. Whenever he tried to talk about what happened, he would break down crying. The elders retired the pack."

"Shit," Marcus breathed.

"And what's the situation now?" Tobias asked.

"Apparently, that's what we're to find out. The elders were kept track of him in his retirement. He ended up on an old farm in Ohio. He would occasionally visit his old pack-mates, and every so often send the elders updates on what he was up to. From what the elders could tell he'd been living a quiet life. The Benandanti gave him a stipend in recompense for what he'd suffered on their behalf and figured he'd just quietly fade away. Then they got an email," she paused, shuffling through her papers until she found the one she wanted. "Here it is. It reads: 'If you received this then something has gone wrong. Send the strongest pack you can as quickly as you can. Beware the darkness.' And that's all it says." She set the paper down.

"Nice of him to give us such succinct and clear instructions," Ballard said.

Violet nodded. "I agree. I don't know what to think and neither do the elders." She picked up another sheet of paper. "From what they wrote, they think either his mind has finally snapped or maybe he started working magic again. Either way, they want us to investigate. If it's the former we're to bring him back for the elders to pick up. If it's the latter, we're to clean up whatever he's done and bring him back for the elders to pick up."

"Well, at least he has choices," Socorro commented, still glowering.

Marcus sighed, running his hand through his hair. "I can kind of see their point, though. Either the guy's gone bonkers banging around some old farm house or he's a half-cracked mage conjuring up Moon knows what. He really shouldn't be left alone."

Tobias snorted. "He never should have been left alone. He was broken doing the Benandanti's work and they just dumped him somewhere. He should have been kept and cared for along with what was left of his pack."

"It's not that clear-cut," Violet explained. "From what I can gather, he wanted to be alone. He would visit his pack-mates, but he really seemed to crave solitude. Since he seemed largely all right, the elders gave him what he wanted. They think he's deteriorated in the intervening years. Maybe they're wrong and he was never all right, but that isn't the concern of the moment. His condition now is the concern we're to deal with."

"Very well," said Ballard. "When are we leaving?"

"Tomorrow, first light," Violet answered.

Ballard licked his lips and took a breath. "Who is coming?" he asked with deliberation. As Violet answered "Everyone," Marcus answered, "Everyone but Wyatt." As they both heard the other's assessment they looked at each other with uncertainty.

Marcus was the first to speak. "Wyatt, could you, ah, give Violet and me a sec, please?"

Wyatt, the youngest wolf in the pack, looked uncertain. He hunched his shoulders and his brown eyes flicked between Marcus and Violet. He had been with the pack for a couple of years, and had trained with them. But he had never been on a hunt. The thought that the alpha male and female of his pack might fight over him made him queasy. Especially as it was Marcus who had brought him to this pack from the abuse he suffered in his previous pack. He slouched down in his chair and whined softly.

Violet smiled, though it seemed strained. "It's OK, Wyatt. Why don't you step out for a moment?"

Ballard rose from his seat. "Come on, Wyatt," he said brightly. "Let's go grab something from the kitchen."

Wyatt rose and followed Ballard from the library, shooting a furtive glance over his shoulder as the door closed.

Violet waited until their scents faded from the area before speaking. "And why not Wyatt? He's nearly nineteen and has been training for some time. He does well on play hunts."

"Yeah but, look, running down deer is different from a true hunt. He's not ready."

"Marcus, no one is ready for their first hunt. It's simply not possible to be."

Marcus sighed. "But can't he train some more before taking him in the field?"

Violet started to respond when Tobias got her attention. "Yes," she said, looking in his direction.

"I agree with Marcus. I don't want Wyatt on this hunt."

Violet's eyebrows drew up in surprise. "Why not?"

"I don't like that it's a mage. That's just too much of a wild card. If I didn't think it would thin the pack too much I would recommend leaving Philly out too since this will only be her second hunt." He looked over to his pack-mate apologetically. "I'm sorry, no offense. You did well on that hunt, but a mage is just so much different."

"But aren't you like the wolf equivalent?" she asked.

Tobias shook his head. "Not even close. I can read areas. I know some magic and can cast with competence. But largely I do spirit work. A casting mage does things much differently."

"What are you expecting to be there?" Socorro asked with some concern.

"That's just it, I don't know. It could be that this guy is just a harmless nutter. Maybe he wants to sell us Amway."

"So you're hoping we're wasting our time?" Socorro asked with a laugh.

"I'm praying to the Moon that this a giant time waster," Tobias responded with no humor in his voice. "I would be the happiest werewolf in the world. I'll even be happy with escorting him if he's gone a little daft living alone. But the thought that this guy might be practicing and has called something up scares me. Very badly."

Violet was silent as she considered what had been said. "Very well, we leave Wyatt behind. Unfortunately, we can't spare anyone to stay with him. We can't spread the pack that thin."

Marcus sighed in relief. "He's a good cub. We can leave him alone for awhile. We can call someone from another pack to head over in the mean time."

Violet looked at Marcus. "This isn't over. You can't keep him from the Moon's work, Marcus. Even if it means putting him in danger."

Violet rose from her chair and left the library, followed by Socorro and Philadelphia. When Marcus and Tobias were the only ones left, Marcus went over to the still seated lore keeper.

"Thank you for backing me there," he said, relief clear in his voice.

Tobias looked up. "Don't thank me yet. Violet is right, you can't keep him out of the serious or dangerous hunts. You can't shield him from what it means to do the Moon's work." Marcus began to protest but Tobias cut him off. "Don't think for a moment that I don't know what this is about. And you can be certain Violet does, as well. Aidan died an ugly death doing the Moon's work. We all lost our Alpha that day. But you can't keep Wyatt from it no matter how much it scares you to lose him. He's now Benandanti. And you can't change what that means."

*************************************

After a long and uncomfortably quiet van ride from the pack house in mid-lower peninsula Michigan the pack arrived at the raven's house in Ohio in the mid-afternoon. It was a secluded house, situated on a single lane road that hadn't seen a regular crew in much to long. It was far away from any other human habitation, and positioned on sprawling land that had once been farmed but had long since gone fallow.

As they stopped in front of the house, Marcus let out a low whistle. "The elders weren't kidding when they said this guy craved solitude. He must have gone weeks without seeing people. I think I can see why he went a little left of center out here alone."

"Just remember," Violet said as they exited the vehicle, "we're treating this as a check up. It's not a hunt unless we determine something is wrong."

A general chorus of agreement echoed back to her as the pack stretched cramped muscles from the car ride. Violet studied papers she took from the van. Ballard removed a satchel from the car and slung it over his shoulder. Only Tobias didn't stretch, didn't agree, didn't do anything but study the three story farm house in front of them. He was surprised how well kept it appeared. The grass was mowed, small neat flower beds held an explosion of bright, cheery mums, and the porch and building were clean and well maintained. The house was positioned near the front of the property, allowing for a sprawling back yard.

"What are you getting?" Violet asked.

Tobias shook his head. "There's a lot of energy here, it's nearly overwhelming. I can't be certain, but it seems pretty active. I think he might be practicing again. But the fact that the house is in good shape would indicate he's still caring for it, he hasn't entirely lost himself."

Violet sighed, tucking the papers under her arm. "Good to know. Keep your eyes open, all the same." She addressed the rest of the pack. "All of you."

"If he is practicing again, he might not take well to us coming in and trying to take him back," Marcus observed.

"Then we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Violet answered. "With chloroform if we have to. But he did ask for our help first. If he's in over his head it should be that much easier to convince him."

The pack, led by Violet and Marcus, approached the house. The closer they got, the more they could smell blood and decay. The pack exchanged looks of concern. When they reached the porch, the stench was disturbingly powerful. Violet reached up and knocked on the door.

"Mr. Campbell, my name is Violet. The elders sent me and my pack-mates to check on you," she said loudly to the door. There was neither reply nor sound of movement from within.

"Mr. Campbell," she said, louder this time as banged harder on the door.

When again there was no response she tried the doorknob. It turned easily under her grip. She looked back at her pack, silently giving the command to be prepared. Then she pushed the door open.

The stench of death washed over them, thick and noxious. Violet stepped in, again calling the raven's name. The others followed closely behind so that it was nearly as a group that they walked into the charnel house that was the living room. Blood, crawling with flies, covered the walls, floor and furniture. The room was thick with the smells of putrefaction, rising from a mangled body in the middle of the floor.

The body was splayed out, limbs twisted at unnatural angles, the flesh torn and the face contorted in horror. The eyes stared sightlessly. The pack stood motionless, observing the scene. Then Philadelphia crossed herself and bowed her head, saying a brief and silent prayer for the deceased. Tobias went over and crouched by the body, closing the eyes as he studied the corpse and room containing it.

"That's him, isn't it? That's the raven?" Marcus asked.

Violet nodded. "This is now a hunt," she said. "Tobias, what are you getting?"

He looked over to her and shook his head, frustration etched on his features. "Too much, right now. There is energy all over this place, and it's going to take some time for me to try and sort it out." He looked back down to the body. "And I've got to wonder why, when the rest of the body is so mangled, the eyes are still whole."

She nodded. "Possibly related to whatever he was doing here. We're going to have to do a grid search." She pulled out the papers she carried. "I don't have a map of the house, only the grounds." She passed them among the others. "We're going to do a floor by floor search of the house first, as humans. The grounds we take as wolves. Any questions?"

There weren't. Ballard passed out flashlights. The pack arrayed themselves in a lose group, Violet in the lead with Marcus, a muscular shadow, at her back. Tobias kept to the center, flanked by Socorro and Philadelphia. Ballard, large and burly, towered at the back. They kept this formation through the house, sometimes ranks closed tightly through smaller areas, sometimes fanned out in more open spaces. The search of the house revealed nothing out of the ordinary, save the corpse in the living room. When the search was complete, the pack stood again in the living room.

"Any idea where this guy may have been practicing?" Violet asked Tobias.

"I'm sorry, not yet."

"OK, keep trying. Everyone outside."

The pack reassembled outside. The grounds in back were more overgrown than the front, with scrub bushes and weeds closer to the house and trees further back. They stripped and shifted. Violet stood upright, her wiry body assuming the bipedal stance. The form combined the best of wolf and human. A thickly muscled and furred body, a wolf's head with massive jaws and vicious teeth, but the ability to speak. Massive arms with thick, strong hands and claws, but with a thumb and some dexterity.

The full wolf was somewhat better for typical hunting, but the bipedal worked much better for a fight. After a year of shifting only for runs or practice hunts, there was a somberness to assuming the wolf form. The rest of the pack followed suit. There was no joking, no play wrestling, no joy to the shift. Only the dangerous work of the true hunt.

The pack stood huddled around Violet as the map was studied and areas assigned. No one was to search without a partner, and each group was to remain at minimum within scent and ear shot, preferably in sight range, of the others. Marcus paired with Philadelphia, Violet with Ballard, and Socorro with Tobias.

As Marcus and Philadelphia searched through brambles consisting of berry bushes and wild roses, Marcus lost sight of Philadelphia. He back tracked following her scent and found her crouched over a figure of some form.

"Tell me when you're going to veer off," he said, his voice guttural in wolf form.

Philly glanced back over her shoulder. "Sorry, I thought I saw something."

Marcus pushed closer. "What did you find?"

She pushed away some covering weeds, exposing a thin figure with stick arms and thick tree limb legs, a carved pumpkin head and dressed in what appeared to be newer clothing. "This."

Marcus nodded. "Oh, just a scarecrow." He began to move away from the area to continue his search. However, he quickly realized Philadelphia was not with him. He went back to find her still crouching, studying the bedraggled scarecrow.

"Ah, Phil, we're on a hunt. We're not here to critique the guy's Halloween decorations."

Philadelphia nodded. "I know," she said, her voice distant. "He just seems so sad."

Marcus regarded Philadelphia for a moment before howling for Tobias. Tobias and Socorro met up with Violet and Ballard, Socorro staying with them as Tobias headed over.

"Yeah, what you got?"

Marcus pointed down to where Philadelphia was still studying the scarecrow.

"What do you get off of that?" he asked.

Tobias studied it for a moment. "Sadly, same as everything else around here. The magic equivalent of the wall of noise. Everything here is ratcheted up so high that it's overwhelming my senses. Why?"

"Philly seems pretty interested in it. She said he seems sad. I remember the lore-keeper of my parents' pack used to say if somebody shows an out-of-the-ordinary interest in something, it could be a warning flag."

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