by Steven J Holetz
CRV’s tires slipped once more, and the vehicle slid several feet to the
tightly gripped the steering wheel as he felt the tires regain their purchase on the icy road. Beside
him, his wife Jodi placed a hand on the dashboard to steady herself.
“Would you slow down please?”
“I am going slowly. It’s just slippery. And your bitching at me is not helping things”.
Scott’s reply was quiet, but
tense, as he tried to avoid waking the kids who were asleep
in the back seat. He glanced over his shoulder at his daughter Alice, her head leaning against
the window in slumber, and caught the gleam of moonlight off her golden hair. Next to her, he
can see nothing of his son Todd but a tuft of sandy brown hair sprouting up from a Spider-man
It was Christmas Eve, and the
family was trekking from
parents in Big Fork,
become heavy as they climbed up the final mountain range in
the Idaho-Montana border. Scott turned down the Christmas music on the car stereo, quieting the
Ramones jolly, chugging riff. The car slid once again, eliciting another response from Jodi.
“You should have put the chains
on BEFORE we went up the mountain.”
“It didn’t seem so bad, and I
didn’t want to stop unless I had too. I’m trying to make good
Mom’s.” Jodi said, white-knuckling the armrest.
started to reply but held on to the retort as he heard Joey Ramone belt
line: “Merry Christmas, I don’t want to fight toniiiiiight”. Ah, Joey, once again you are dead right, he
thought. He allowed his stress to dissipate a little before replying, as he watched the dashboard
clock change over to 9:02, mentally calculating what another stop would add to the remaining 3
hours they would be on the road.
the top of the pass, I will pull over and chain up there, okay?”
Jodi’s expression softened and she reached out her left hand, laying it on Scott’s shoulder.
moving in the opposite direction.
“You know he can’t hear you, right?” asked his partner Carl.
Eve had always been one of his favorite nights to work. It was always an easy shift, quiet, maybe
the occasional stranded motorist, but usually just a nice evening. Already the officer was looking
forward to the great big mug of Hot Buttered Rum he’d be sipping in about 90 minutes. Just then,
the car was filled with the voice of John Fogerty.
I see a Bad Moon Rising. I see trouble on the way…
all, but Tommy’s down here, and he’s had way too many to drive. Any way you could come and give
him a ride home?”
Trooper sighed heavily. His brother Tommy had been having a tough time
Tommy’s wife had left him about a month earlier, and since then Tommy had been self-medicating
with bourbon pretty regularly. Terry had hoped that a Christmas with the family would help his little
brother snap out of his misery. “Yeah, Caroline, we can. Actually, your timing couldn’t be better.
I’m off in about an hour, and we just crossed over the pass. We can be in Silverton in about twenty
Terry keyed off his phone, noticing Carl’s sly grin.
“Really? Bad Moon Rising? You cornering the market on “Suck”?”
“It’s a lot better than that crap you listen to. That’s a great tune right there. A classic.”
“I dunno man, that sucks right there. It
was cool in “American Werewolf in
though.” said Carl, thoughtfully.
“You want a cool
werewolf song? What about “Lycanthropy” by GBH. “Even a man who is pure
at heart and says his prayers at night, can become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the moon is
shining briiiiiiiight!” Carl sang.
“Hahaha. I don’t
know that one, but they stole that line from the old Universal Wolf Man
Lon Chaney Jr. The Frantics used the same line in a tune of theirs as well.” said Terry.
check it out.”
“I will.” Carl said, jotting it
down in his pocket
notebook as they descended upon Silverton.
“Whoa!” said Scott.
presents, coats, toys and empty water bottles back into the car. Scott’s care had delivered them to
the top of
anxious to get the chains on and get moving once more. The CRV was pulled over into the deeper
snow of the shoulder, and Scott hoped he could get the chains on easily, because it was freaking’
cold. He pulled his coat out of the back and shrugged into it, then grabbed the bag of chains and a
tire iron, and gently closed the back door. Scott turned and took two steps to the rear wheel on the
left, kneeling down as he unzipped the chain bag. At that moment, Scott heard it, a wail so primal
and terrifying that it immediately froze Scott in place, chilling him to the bone.
It was the
a wolf that had cut the night air, and it sounded incredibly close.
started to hurry now, and used the tire iron to scrape the snow out from beneath the tire, before
quickly laying the chains out flat behind it. Then he heard a second howl. Scott picked up the tire
iron and stood up, scanning the hillside behind the car for the source of the sound. All he saw was
a snowy gentle slope which faded into thick forest, the perfect white of the hillside marred only by
a lookout tower fifty feet from the side of the road. A spartan structure, the tower was designed to
house the DOT traffic cameras which watched the roads day and night. Scott had actually seen the
view from these cameras that very morning on his computer, as he checked the road conditions
prior to their departure for Grandma’s. A square metal box with windows, it sat another 50 feet
into the air on a metal pipe about 18 inches in diameter, with a ladder climbing one side to the
He thought he could
see dark shadows separating themselves from the black of the forest,
and another howl forced him to lunge for the car door. He wrenched it open, jumped in and slammed
it behind him with the tire iron still clenched in his fist.
down the mountain, but I don’t like this at all. I want to get the hell out of here.”
deeper snow of the shoulder out from beneath his tires, they simply spun in place. Scott revved the
engine twice more, but the car barely shifted. He turned off the engine and sighed in defeat.
probably just his nerves getting to him, but he almost thought he could hear them growling.
Tommy sat on a wooden bench in
front of the Silverlode, smoking his last cigarette,
and trying not to aggravate the pounding in his head and the ache in his stomach. At 6’ 3”
and 250 pounds, Tommy had always been an imposing figure, but despite the time he had
spent playing backup fullback and linebacker for the Grizzlies, he still had a reputation for
being soft, especially compared to his older brother Terry. That was something that neither
his computer and internet repair business, nor his acting like a drunken crybaby in public
were going to alleviate anytime soon.
Tommy had been absolutely miserable since
Shawna left, and every
time he went out for a little fun to try to cheer himself up, the black pool of sadness that colored
his days lately seemed to take over everything. And then he would lose it once again, just like
he had tonight. He flicked his ash onto the snow, and heard the door open behind him.
He turned to see Caroline, the bar’s matronly owner, approach with a Styrofoam cup.
“Hey Tommy. Sorry this took so
long, things got busy
there for a minute.” she said,
handing him the cup. “I made some fresh coffee though. And I got a hold of Terry; he should
be here in just a few minutes.”
head up. Things are going to get better.” Ah, the joys of small town life, thought Tommy.
apron, and handed it him. It was a smooth gray river stone, which had the word “Whatever”
carved into its face.
take a look at that and remind myself to keep a little perspective. I know you are hurting now,
but soon time will wear down that pain, just like water on that rock, and it’ll all seem like it was
just a bad dream.” She said, giving him a quick squeeze around the shoulders. “And for what
it’s worth, I never liked Shawna anyway.”
“Thanks Caroline, I appreciate
that”. Tommy smiled, as the two of them were splashed
by the headlights of his brother’s patrol car.
Tommy stood up, a little wobbly,
and started to move to the side of the car. “Thanks
again Caroline. Merry Christmas.”
into the Silverlode.
Carl had gotten out of the car, and opened the back door for Tommy with a flourish.
“Hey Tommy, Merry Christmas. You have the right to remain
Particularly if you
are going to be telling stupid-ass stories like your brother here. And don’t you spill that in my
Tommy smiled in spite of himself, and got in the car.Five
the cavalry arrives!” Scott said to Jodi. This was answered by a
from the family as he watched the dark colored Montana Highway Patrol vehicle pull to a stop
behind their car. And not a moment too soon. They had been waiting for 45 minutes, and it had
gotten cold fast with the engine off. The family was now all bundled in their coats and gloves and
hats. Not only that, but it had been several hours since their previous stop, and Scott knew it was
only a matter of time until one of the kids would need to go to the bathroom. He had no intention of .
letting his kids out of the car with the wolves around, so the sooner they got moving, the better.
He watched in the rear view as the Trooper stepped out of the vehicle, snow falling on his wide-
Scott rolled down his window to speak to
the trooper, and saw the large dark blur slam
into the trooper from behind, knocking him face first into the snow. A huge gray wolf had its jaw
latched on the trooper’s shoulder. Scott saw the steam rising as the Trooper’s blood melted the
snow. Then the wolf’s head snapped back as three shots split the air. The second trooper
stood by the passenger door, both hands keeping the weapon trained on the Wolf.
OK, Terry?” Scott heard the man call, as a second wolf leapt over the
on the right, ripping the man’s throat out in one vicious bite, and sending a fountain of blood
exploding upon the pile of snow. The first trooper was back on his feet now, covered in blood,
sidearm thundering. The wolf took several shots in the torso, and yelped in pain before running
off into the trees.
his place locked in the back of the patrol vehicle, Tommy could do
watch helplessly as the scene unfolded in front of him like a horror movie. The front door opened,
and Terry reached in to unlatch the shotgun from its bracket on the dashboard, his left arm limb at
door unlocked, and he jumped from the car, immediately scanning the hillside. The howling came
from all around them now, issuing from the trees like an alarm. Now holding the shotgun, Terry
handed his sidearm to Tommy.
shotgun’s chamber. His years of training kept his mind sharp despite the pain. “They're still
coming, Tommy. Run and see what's going on with that family, would you?"
ran to the side of the CRV, speaking to Scott through the still open
window. He was
surprised to find that he was suddenly sober. “Are you folks all right?” he asked. “We’re fine,”
Scott answered, “but the car is stuck. We can’t move it.”
Tommy yelled Damnit!
Carl was such a great young guy, and a good partner to boot. How could
back to Terry. Terry was kneeling to check Carl's body, the shotgun cradeled across his thighs .
thought for a moment.
this be happening? What insanity had he just stepped into? He wiped his eyes, and awkwardly dug
Carl’s .38 out from the snow one-handed. He holstered it and rose once again with the shotgun, as
the howling continued around them.
Carl was such a great young guy, and a good partner to boot. How could
"Quick, get them in the cruiser! We have
to get out of here!"
Terry held open the rear door as Scott and
Jodi piled the kids into the back seat. He closed
the door behind them and slid back behind the wheel, as Tommy came to a rest in the passenger seat
next to him. Terry turned the ignition, immediately comforted by the roar of the cruiser's powerful engine.
"Hold on, folks," he said as gunned it, pulling around the CRV and accelerating onto the highway.
The wolf leapt up and slammed into
windshield, shattering it into a thousand glittering jewels.
Terry instantly lost his tenuous one-handed control of the steering wheel, and the car spun on the ice,
it's rear circling around to the left towards the roadside divider. The wolf lay pinned on the hood by the
car's momentum car spun, snarling as it lunged at Terry's face. Terry snapped his head back and away
from the threat, as Tommy quickly jammed the barrel of Terry's sidearm into the beast's skull. He pulled
the trigger three times, coating everything in the front seat with blood and brain, the report deafening in the
small space. The wolf disappeared from view. The car then rammed hard, nose-first into the siderail,
it's hood crumping, before it careened away. It continued it's arc, then slammed it's driver side into the
rail a second time, bringing the cruiser to a sudden halt.
Terry turned the keys. A grinding noise
issued from under the hood, but the car would not start.
"The cruiser isn't going anywhere." he said. Faced still smeared, Tommy shook the bloody rubies
of safety glass from his clothing, and tried the radio. It stood silent, the car's battery most likely
crushed in the wreck. Terry pointed up the hill. "We have to get to the Tower. We can hole up there
until backup arrives”.
Jodi led the way with Todd
arms, the Spider-man blanket
dragging though the snow
behind them. Scott held
Tommy followed closely behind. They fought through the knee deep snow as they moved towards
the tower. The wolf song was louder now, and added to their urgency. They heard Terry’s shotgun
thunder twice, three, four more times behind them, but didn’t dare turn to look as they pushed on
as hard as they could. After what seemed like an eternity crossing the open hillside, they finally
made it to the base of the tower. Scott saw several more wolves moving toward them from the
treesin font of them, their eyes blazing in the moonlight.
took the tire iron from Scott’s hand and used it to quickly knock the icicles from the first few rungs,
then handed it back to Scott. “Hold on a sec” he said, and picked up the dragging end of Todd’s
blanket, tucking it firmly around him.
“Go, honey. Hurry!”
shifted Todd around to her back, and with a quick “hold on tight”,
ascent up the slippery ladder. Scott followed immediately, with
neck in silence, just as Terry made it to the base of the tower.
shapes. “You don’t have much time”.
big brother for once and go!”
The first shot caught the middle wolf right in face, disintegrating it’s skull into a fine red mist.
Terry racked the second shot and hit another wolf in the chest as it lunged from his right. He
felt a black ball of panic in the pit of his stomach as he reflexively pulled the trigger and then
heard the dry click. At that moment the last wolf jumped at him from the left, knocking him off
his feet and slamming him hard into the snow, the thing’s teeth latching onto his arm.
Terry heard a crunch and screamed in pain,
frantically feeling the ground for any
of weapon. He grabbed something, and just as the wolf released him to get a better grip, he
pushed the creature back with all the strength left in his arm. The pain the pain THE PAIN! of
his now shattered shoulder and arm overwhelmed him as he rammed the 2-foot long icicle
through the beast’s throat and into its brain before passing out in the bloody slush.
in the lookout, the family heard the scream, followed by what sounded
startled yelp. Scott slammed the trapdoor closed, and jammed the tire iron through the door’s
ring handle, locking it. The inside of the lookout tower was bare, the only features a tightly padlocked
toolbox attached to one wall, and a power box in another corner, with several cables running up
through the roof to the cameras. Each wall had a trap door window, the type which could be propped
up with a metal rod which hung from the each windows edge. Several thick plastic panels were set in
the ceiling, through which they could see the two cameras, one facing east and one west, and the full
moon which illuminated the small room.
Although sheltered, the interior of the
cube was as cold as a meat
locker, and they could all
see their breath rising ghostlike in the moonlight. The family leaned against one wall, while Tommy
leaned against the opposite, gun still in hand, staring into space. The tightness in his chest at the
thought of Terry's last scream made seem his feelings for Shawna seen almost petty. He couldn't
believe his brother was gone, but he had seen the wolves circling. After a few moments, he noticed
the family watching him, and put the gun in his jacket pocket. As he did, he felt it click against
something. He pulled it out, his “Whatever” rock. He had a little perspective now, all right.
He held it tightly in his fist and returned it to the pocket, then looked up at the family.
“Hey. I’m Tommy.”
“I’m Scott. This is Jodi, Alice, and Todd.”
“How you guys doing? Merry Christmas.”
be better. But Merry Christmas to you too.” Scott extended a hand and
Tommy. Then he took a cell phone out of his jacket pocket, and powered it up.
tonight. It might be a while until help comes.”
“Terry? So you knew the Trooper?”
“Yeah, he’s my brother. He was my brother. He was giving me a ride home.”
could turn them to face the empty patrol car, someone would see it and help might get here sooner.
and two small monitors, each showing the view from one of the cameras. There were also two
remote controls. Tommy moved the control touchpad back and forth, and heard a whine from
above, but neither picture changed. Scott stood to join Tommy, as Jodi and the kids huddled
tightly under their blanket.
like they’re frozen.” said Tommy. If we are going to aim them at the
it will have to be done manually.”
“All right, it’s worth a try. I’m game.” said Scott.
replied. He opened one of the windows, and propped it up. “I figure if I stand on the sills in the
corner of two windows I can reach around far enough to move one of them, anyway.
moved them out of the way. ”Be careful” she said. “If I had a nickel…” Scott answered, smiling at her.
opened the second window, wiped the snow off the 4-inch sill, and
up onto it, wrapping an arm around the corner between the two windows for support. “Here goes
nothing,” he said as he slowly stood up. Scott got a good grip on the front of Tommy’s coat, holding
his stance, putting all of his weight on his right leg, as he reached up with his right arm stretching
to grip the camera. He had just turned it toward the road when he felt his right foot slide off the sill
into open air. Trying to stop himself, he frantically grabbed at the camera, his weight breaking it
off its mounting as he fell backward, which sent the camera flying over his shoulder into the darkness.
This is it, he thought, when suddenly he stopped, his fall arrested by Scott’s tight grip on the front of
his coat. He swung his leg over the sill and sat on it, heart hammering in his chest.
iron from the trap door. As he did it burst open, and Terry lunged through it, but Terry was no
longer himself. In that instant Tommy saw the changes in his brother, but was unable to register
them as they made no sense. The face, once broad and warm, was now covered with fine hair.
The big ears that their dad always used to tease Terry about, now swept back to a point. The mouth,
which was always quick to laugh, now the jaw and nose extended alarmingly, a good four inches
from the stretched skull, revealing a mouth full of sharp teeth that were snapping at Tommy’s
throat with startling speed.
No! No!” Tommy screamed, as he tried to force the trapdoor closed, but
was no match for Terry’s. Terry grabbed Tommy in a vice-like grip with hairy clawed hands and
wrenched him towards those dripping, deadly jaws. Unable to pull away, Tommy reached into the
coat pocket and gripped Terry’s handgun. Tommy sobbed, “I’m sorry I’m sorry Oh God I’m sorry!”
as he pulled the trigger six times into Terry’s chest. Terry fell backward but never released his hold
on Tommy, pulling him out through the trapdoor with him as he fell. A stone fell from Tommy’s pocket, a
s he dropped into the blackness, skittering to a stop against the wall next to Scott.
unreality of reading the word “whatever” inscribed in a rock snapped
of his paralysis, and he dove for the hatch. He saw the bodies of Terry, Tommy and the
wolves lying in the snow for a split second before he slammed the door shut and wedged
it once more with the tire iron. Quickly he closed and latched the two open windows as well.
Then he returned to his crying, frightened family, who huddled shivering under their blanket,
and they all tried to ignore the howling symphony outside.
His watch read 6 am. We are officially late to Grandma’s, he thought. He climbed out from
beneath the Spidey blanket and opened the floor hatch. He noticed that the bodies of both
wolf and man were missing from where they had lain only a few hours earlier. Scott thought
of Terry and Tommy Howard and felt a wave of sadness engulf him. He had just met these two
good men, and both were senselessly taken from the world right before his eyes. Yet all sign that
they ever existed had been wiped away, as all of the blood and carnage had been completely
covered by a fresh blanket of snow. Two new patrol cars and an ambulance had just pulled up
beside the CRV and Terry’s car, as a red morning sun colored the snow pink. Jodi joined him
at the door, and he wrapped his arm around her.
Christmas,” he said.