We made our way slowly along the highway leading into town, weaving through the unusually large amount of traffic heading in the same direction. It was just nearing the end of the lunch hour and we were hoping to go inside and eat in a restaurant somewhere. There wasn't much of anything left in the fridge and the wolves hadn't had a chance to hunt for a while now so we were all getting hungry.
We were heading into the city of Nazas, Durango. The entire municipality had a population of over 12,000 people, but it seemed like at least that many more people had come from all around to visit the city and more were still heading in off the highway, including us. There were a lot more people on the road than we'd seen before out here and the closer we got to the town, the more people we ran into. There were campers and RVs and tents strewn around in open fields outside the town and as we went in, we saw crowds of people milling around who seemed to be preparing for some sort of event. There must be a major festival happening today. If it seemed like it might be fun we may choose to stay and enjoy it.
Elias, Cole and Grace had been in wolf form for only a very short ten minutes or so this morning just before the sunrise. It had been two weeks since our hunting adventure under the full moon in Nevada and now it was the first of the three night period centered around the new moon, when my three werewolves would be stuck in human form even through the night. Since they wouldn't be changing into wolves at all for the next few nights, it would be safe for us to camp right among all of the other people crowded around the town so we could stay and enjoy the festivities, whatever they were all about.
The trip from Nevada through Arizona and into Mexico had been absolutely fantastic so far, and from a trouble point of view it was blessedly uneventful. We stayed in Nevada a few more days to enjoy the magnificent Spring Mountains range before hitting the road again. We stopped briefly on the outskirts of Las Vegas to refill the propane tank and to flush out the waste of the RV and top up its water tank, and to stock up the fridge again with food. We then hit the highway heading into Arizona. It would normally take us only seven or eight hours of driving to reach Tucson, but we were in no hurry. We'd enjoyed the camping in Nevada so much that we decided to look for camping spots in Arizona to check out along the way. We found a couple and stayed the night, and by the time we reached Tucson we'd blown another few days enjoying our leisurely camping vacation.
When we'd finally arrived in Tucson my first stop was the post office box rental location. I showed the man at the counter the electronic receipt I had for the rental and gave him the pass code and he turned over the key. I nervously opened the box and inside I found a sealed manila envelope stuffed with documents. Our new identities had been delivered on time and were waiting for us as promised. Also as promised, I was not disappointed in any way. Quite the opposite. I was completely thrilled. I had no idea how amazingly advanced these criminals had become and I understood completely now why the cost had been so astronomically high.
Grace and I each had an official driver's license from New Mexico now. There were social security cards and birth certificates. We all had passports that not only didn't look suspiciously new, they looked like we'd had them for years. Inside they even had stamps from various family trips we'd taken up into Canada and down into Mexico. My passport and Grace's also had a couple of extra stamps from when I must have taken the 'wife' on romantic trips to London and Paris. We must have left the brats behind because Elias and Cole's passports didn't have those stamps. It all looked amazingly convincing as though we'd been just a regular American family for many years. The quality of the documentation was absolutely perfect. I briefly wondered how the hell they were able to achieve all of this. Perhaps they somehow resurrected a dead family or something. That way the only real hack they'd need to do is wipe out the 'death', and they could leverage the family's existing birth certificates and social security numbers.
Another surprise was a credit card with my new name on it. There was also a passbook and a debit card from an account at a bank located in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where our family apparently lived. There was a note included that apologized for the delay and explained that an extra bonus had been added by way of a partial refund to make up for it, but that I was still expected to forward the final third of the money I owed them or my new identity might suddenly pop up on the FBI most wanted list. I flipped the envelope over and looked closely at the post mark and saw that it had just been processed the day before yesterday. It had taken them a a few extra days to get it ready, but it was certainly no issue for us since we were late getting here anyhow. The note also had the pin codes so that I could access the accounts online or by telephone. It was all real. I contacted the bank and verified the account and had them change my passcode. They told me my balance was currently one thousand dollars. That must be the partial refund they'd referred to. I also called the 800 number on the credit card to check my balance and there was no money owed and I had a twenty thousand dollar limit on the card.
I was absolutely blown away. The ridiculously high price I'd paid for the service was clearly well worth it. These people were consummate professionals. I wasted no time forwarding the rest of the money I owed for the identification and sent an email to the anonymous person I'd dealt with to let them know I was thrilled with the result and any further business I might need in future would go straight to them.
I was so pleased with the new identification that I decided to put it to the test right away and splurge a bit. We shopped around at a few RV lots and got ourselves a brand new, top of the line, forty-two foot Fleetwood Providence motorhome that ran on an efficient and powerful diesel engine. It was incredibly big and comfortable. Grace tried to convince me that it was way too expensive but I argued that it would likely be our home from now on and it might need to be able to take us all the way up to Alaska and then back down to Mexico again. We needed something really comfortable that would provide us with a movable home that would allow us to relocate anywhere and then set ourselves up in a space big enough that we wouldn't go crazy. Besides, we would be living extremely cheaply from now on with our only real costs being fuel and food, and if I became a werewolf and we hunted for our food as much as possible even the food part of the equation wouldn't amount to much. I had enough money to likely last us decades even if we weren't very careful with it. If we were careful, after the splurge on the RV that is, our costs would be so low that we could likely live off the interest of the remaining money indefinitely, once I get around to reinvesting it all under my new name. I might never even have to take on any coding work or anything if I didn't want to, but it was always an option if money ever became an issue.
I headed back out onto the highway driving the new RV with Cole in the passenger seat, and Grace and Elias followed me in the old one. We drove until we found a sufficiently remote location to dump it. It was still unregistered and I had no title for it so there was no way to dispose of it properly. I was afraid that even a wrecking yard would need to check the registration and have me turn over the title before destroying the vehicle. We simply drove it far off road into the desert and parked it behind a large rocky crag surrounded by big saguaro cacti and thick shrubs. I covered it in gasoline inside and out and lit it on fire for good measure after removing the stolen plates from it. I laughed as Elias started making fake trumpet sounds through his lips and played 'Taps' while he and Cole solemnly saluted the death of our temporary home, then I hustled them off around the crag back to our new RV so we could get the hell out before the fire reached the propane tank. I disposed of the stolen plates in a dumpster back in the city and then we restocked and headed back out onto the highway to find our next camping location so we could spend a few nights getting used to the new home before we crossed the border into Mexico.
Compared to our crappy old '79 Diplomat we were now living in the lap of luxury. The Fleetwood was so huge there was plenty of room for the wolves to lay around on the floor if they wanted to, but we also had lots of comfortable seating and bed space too, so we'd no longer need to spend the night on the floor. Multiple sections on both sides of the massive vehicle expanded out while parked to create a space the size of a small house, so we would never feel crowded. It had cost as much as a small house, too. I'd converted all the bitcoins I would need to pay for the vehicle into cash in my bank account and then did a wire transfer to the dealer so it was paid in full. I had no problem getting registration or insurance so our documentation passed the test. We were now so far removed from our old identities that there was absolutely no way the spooks would ever be able to track us down again. We were driving in a completely legit vehicle with our completely legit licenses and insurance so we didn't even need to stress about the possibility of being stopped for any reason.
We were now Alexandros and Margo Christopoulos with our two boys Stephanos and Nicholas. Apparently I must have come from Greek ancestry. Cole thought it was a hoot and he kept calling us by our full names every chance he got for the first while. Even while we were simply eating at the table he'd say things like, "Pass the salt, Alexandros Christopoulos" or "Could I get the peas, Stephanos Christopoulos?" We all laughed and indulged him for a while by calling each other by our full names too, but eventually we tired of the game and settled into calling ourselves Alex, Margo, Steve and Nick. It was just easier. Really, for the most part we stuck to our real names when we were not in public. It didn't feel right calling each other anything else and it would only ever really matter if we were talking to an official who was checking our identification.
Our new documentation meant we didn't need to try to sneak across the border or anything. We could just drive on through like anyone else. With our previous few years of stamps in our passports showing prior visits to Mexico, the border official didn't even bat an eye when we said we were taking our annual family vacation. We purchased our tourist cards and passed on through without incident. From that point forward we'd made our way slowly through Mexico, exploring a bit as we went and stopping wherever was convenient for the night to sleep in comfort in our new motorhome.
By now we were not quite half way along our trip through Mexico to reach the Yucatan peninsula, but we were still in no real rush. We'd made our escape cleanly and it would be completely smooth sailing from here on out. We were just a regular American family on vacation and we intended to play the part to the fullest by taking our time and enjoying ourselves along the way.
Grace and the boys would have three full nights through the new moon phase without changing into wolves, so there was no way we could get into any trouble from the change now and we didn't need to hide ourselves away. We could stick around and be among people for a few days without any concern. If the festival continued for a while we might just stick around for all of it.
The streets of the town were quite crowded with foot traffic, so after carefully trying to thread through it all with the massive RV and becoming more and more frustrated, I decided to let the others off and head back out of town to find a place to park it nearby. Grace said she would take the boys to get something to eat and we could meet around the town square later on. I told her I would park the RV, then I'd get my own lunch and maybe do some grocery shopping to reload the motorhome before I made my way back to them. They should have plenty of time to look around and check out the sights of the old town and I'd meet up with them later in the afternoon. They dressed as lightly as they could since they'd be wandering in the heat all day and they got out and headed in towards the center of town while I drove back out to see if there were any spaces still available in the field full of campers we'd passed on the way in.
A local farmer had been renting out space on his land for the influx of people to use. Most of them looked liked they'd camped overnight already and I was the only new arrival pulling in. All the other traffic we'd seen on the way in had been mostly cars, trucks and mini-vans. We must have arrived late for whatever was going on and it must be happening today.
The farmer didn't speak English and I have no real grasp of Spanish and I didn't have anyone around to translate, which was normally Grace's job, but I managed to work out that I could have a spot for the night for three hundred and fifty pesos. The price seemed a bit high for a patch of dirt with no utilities but I wasn't about to try to argue with someone I couldn't communicate with properly. Everyone needs to earn a living and I couldn't begrudge him the chance to make a quick buck off a gringo. It wasn't much more than twenty bucks so it was no big deal. I paid him and parked the RV, and then I got dressed in the lightest shorts and shirt I had along with my comfortable hiking boots and I walked back into town.
I was fairly hungry so the first thing I attended to was eating. I love Mexican food so I'd been quite enjoying any chance we had to stop and eat authentic meals along the way. I found a table outside at a small restaurant and ordered enchiladas and a cerveza. There were patchy clouds in the sky that occasionally blocked the sun so it was not overly hot for a change and I was comfortable on the veranda. I looked around at the crowds of people milling around and over at another small restaurant down the street and an open market on the other side, but I saw no sign of Grace or the boys. They'd probably eaten already and had gone off to check out the rest of the town. It was a fairly large place and extremely crowded right now so I probably wouldn't see them until I located the town square where we'd agreed to meet up later.
After enjoying my meal I walked past the open market until I found a small grocery store and I stocked up on the things we would need to replenish the RV. I ended up with several bags full of food and I regretted not waiting until I had Grace and the boys with me to help carry it all, but I made it back to the motorhome and stowed it all away.
I headed back into town on foot again with the intent of tracking down the family. The sky seemed to be darkening a fair bit and I looked up to see a fair few clouds scudding around. A large one was blocking the sun and it looked fairly dark grey. If the clouds continued to organize it might end up raining on whatever parade was being planned. I realized I still didn't know what festival was being celebrated and thought I'd snoop around in the shops in town and hopefully find someone who could speak English who could tell me about it.
I went into a few shops that sold curios and locally made crafts and such, browsing at what was on hand. In the last shop I entered I noticed a few people purchasing what looked like empty cardboard shoeboxes and then hustling outside. I realized I'd seen a few other people out in the street who'd had something similar. I wondered if it had something to do with the festival. After a moment I realized the shop had nearly cleared out. The proprietor kept looking over at me anxiously almost as if he was hoping I'd be gone soon too. I figured I may as well get going and try to find Grace and the boys.
I glanced out the shop window and saw that the sky was darkening more and more outside and I realized it must be getting ready to unleash a deluge out there. There might be a severe storm brewing and I should probably get to the town square to find the others so we could run back to the RV to get inside before it hits. Nobody seemed to be rushing around or anything and there didn't appear to be a wind building yet so there should still be a bit of time. I was curious to find out what exactly this festival was all about, so before leaving I decided I should at least talk to the shop owner to see if he spoke English.
I walked over to him and he smiled as I approached and I said, "Looks like there's gonna be a real bad storm out there. I hope it doesn't ruin your festival. Was there gonna be a parade or something?"
He suddenly looked a bit puzzled and simply asked, "Qué?"
I realized he must not understand me and I just smiled and said, "Sorry, I was hoping you spoke English."
I turned to leave the shop and he said, "Will you not buy one, señor?"
I turned back to face him and he was holding up one of the cardboard boxes some of the other people had bought.
"I thought you didn't speak English," I said while I walked back to the counter.
"I do, señor, some. There is no festival. El pueblo está aquí..." he shook his head, "The people are here, umm, para verelek lips."
He kept reverting to Spanish and it sounded like he was talking about verelek lips, whatever the hell those were. If it wasn't a festival then why were so many people gathering here? He was still holding up the cardboard box and looking at me expectantly so I asked, "What is that? What's it for?"
"To see safe," he said as he held the box down near his waist and bent over to look into it.
"To see safe? What's in it? What do you see?" I asked, puzzled.
He shook his head, "Not in it, señor. Up there. El sol."
He pointed up at the ceiling and then held the box out in front of himself again, but made a point of angling it up towards the ceiling. He pointed at the end of the box where there was a tiny hole and sort of drew a line up towards the ceiling and then mimed looking into the box again and enjoying whatever he was seeing. I realized he was talking about looking through the box at the sun.
"It will be fantástico, señor, espléndido. You do not want to miss it. It will be over six minutes long! You cannot look safely without this, señor. Only two hundred pesos!"
I suddenly understood what he must be trying to tell me and a bad feeling came over me. Was that why so many people were out and about?
"Are you saying there's going to be an eclipse?" I asked, starting to feel fear rising as I wondered about the implications.
"Si, señor, many come to see the eclipse, ver el eclipse, like I say before. Our town is at the center of it," he continued, "It will be one of the longest in a century and you can only see all of it right here!"
That was why so many people had gathered here! We'd been on the road for so long, we hadn't been paying attention to anything that was going on in the outside world for weeks. I had no idea it was coming. What the fuck would happen to Grace and the boys? Would it affect them? Could it? Maybe it was only a partial eclipse.
"Will it be a partial eclipse or total?"
"Total, señor," the man said excitedly, "Think of it, the sun is high in the sky but suddenly for six minutes there will be nothing in the sky but the moon! It will be as dark as night time in the middle of the day!"
My heart nearly stopped as I thought of what it might mean.
"Please, señor, it is almost time. See how dark it is already? In minutes the sun will disappear completely. I must close the shop so I can see it for myself. It is a once in a lifetime chance and I do not wish to miss it."
He held the box out to me to try to make one last sale of his overpriced cardboard viewer, but I simply turned and ran out onto the street.
As soon as I got outside I looked up at the sky. I'd been wrong, it wasn't getting cloudier at all. The clouds had mostly burned off so the people could finally get a good view of the event. The darkness was simply due to the moon nearing perfect alignment in front of the sun.
Panic rose in me as I saw the throngs of people in front of me, most holding cardboard boxes up and peering into them as they tracked the progress of the moon slowly eating away at the sun. I wasn't completely sure which way the town square was, but it was not going to be easy to muscle my way through this many people. I wasn't sure if Grace and the boys were there, either. I hoped to God they weren't. Hopefully they'd also found out what was about to happen and they'd found a place to hide away from everyone else. I wasn't sure about Grace and Cole, but Elias was sure to realize the possible implications of a total eclipse and would know he needed to get them someplace safe just in case, but only if he knew it was coming. It had been cloudy and people wouldn't have been looking into their boxes yet until the clouds finally parted, so there was a chance they had no clue what was going on yet. Even if they did find out, if they'd done it as late as I did, they might still be trying to force their way through the huge crowds of people who'd gathered in the streets to observe the event.
I began to try to make my way towards what I figured might be the center of town as I thought about it more. With any luck it would all amount to nothing. Even though it was an eclipse, the sun and moon were sort of both still in the sky at the same time. It was still really just a new moon, so they probably wouldn't change. Elias had once told me that the change had nothing to do with actual moonlight. If it did he wouldn't change if he simply stayed indoors with the curtains drawn. Clouds had no effect either. The light wouldn't matter in this case anyhow since moonlight is simply the reflection of the light from the sun coming from the opposite side of the Earth at night. In this case the sun would tuck itself behind the moon so here would be no moonlight whatsoever. In fact, thinking of it that way, there was really no such thing as 'moonlight'. It was simply sunlight that happened to be reflected off the surface of the moon. There had to be something else at play.
I'd never really tried to reason out what the catalyst for the change would be exactly, but I thought hard about it now as I continued to try to pry my way through the crowds of people. It was obvious that the sun and the moon were both actively involved and it seemed as if the sun was the overriding factor. As long as the sun was up, even if the moon was too, like today, there was no change. If the moon was not up and the sun went down, there would be no change. Only if the moon was up and the sun was down would they change into wolves. That meant the moon caused the change, but the sun shut it down. The fact that it depended on the rise and set of both over the horizon meant that the Earth was a factor too. It must somehow block the effects of both the moon and the sun if it came between them and the werewolves. Elias had said he'd even gone deep into a storm sewer one time and yet he'd still changed. He would have been underground then, so the moonlight couldn't possibly reach him. It didn't really make sense to him that he still changed under those conditions.
The only way I could reason it was to imagine some sort of unknown 'field' of force that emanated from both the sun and the moon like negative and positive charges or opposite poles of a magnet. The Earth must act like an insulator to both of them. Maybe going into the sewer did not give sufficient insulation from the moon's field to prevent the change. That's how electric and magnetic fields work, so why not these other fields? Even an effective insulator had to be a certain thickness before it could fully block an electric field. It might take miles of earth to block the moon's field completely. If that was the case, if it was some sort of unknown field, then it followed that when the sun tucked in behind the moon and was obliterated by it, the moon would completely absorb and block the sun's field, but continue to project its own field down to us. The moon would really be the only thing in the sky! They would change into wolves! They might not even know it was about to happen!
Panic began to truly set in and I started to push harder against the mob to try to get through as I hopped up and down to try to see over their heads and desperately began to shout at the top of my lungs, "Grace! Elias! Cole! Run! You're gonna change! You have to get out of town!"
My mind reeled as I thought of what might be about to happen. They could be right in the middle of this huge crowd of people! They would start to change and in just shy of a couple of minutes they would be at the final stage of rage and confusion and they would be surrounded by a throng of strangers crowding in on them. There was no doubt the raging wolves would attack. Christ!
"Grace! Elias! Cole! Can you hear me?! Run! The sun's about to disappear! It will only be the moon!"
The eclipse would last six whole minutes according to the shop keeper. If that was the case, any who were bitten by my family and survived would begin to turn, and in less than a couple of minutes they'd be up and biting others! There were so many people out here! There had to be tens of thousands crowding the streets and all around the town center! The whole cycle could repeat up to three more times at least! I did some quick math and realized if my three wolves bit only one other person each, and each of them bit one other, by the last cycle there would be nearly a hundred people turning and each of them might bite another to create more! There might be hundreds of werewolves produced! Holy Jesus! I had to find them!
I suddenly heard my name somewhere off to my right. "Jake!" It sounded like Elias. He sounded far away but at least I had a bearing to follow now. I turned and began to push harder.
"Jake!" That was Grace. "They have Cole! They're here! They took him! Where are you? Help!"
What the hell? What was she talking about? Who took him? Could it be the spooks? How the hell could they find us?
My heart was hammering against the walls of my chest and just as I was about to shout their names again, the whole crowd around me gasped. The darkness was almost complete but there was a strange flash and I looked up at the sun. It was an inky black circle with a brilliant ring of light surrounding it and there was an intensely bright flash of light at one end. I quickly looked down again to prevent any possible damage to my eyes. I knew what it was I'd seen. It was the diamond ring effect that occurs a second or two before totality. We were out of time.
Suddenly the world was plunged into total darkness. It was pitch black night, though streetlights had already begun to light all around us. There were "oohs" and "aahs" all around me as I desperately tried to force my way through the throng. It was too late though. If anything was going to happen it had already started.
Suddenly I heard the sound of laughter off in the distance in the direction that Grace and Elias's voices had come from. People started cheering and shouting and whistling and hooting. Every once in a while I heard the words "desnudo" and "loco", but I realized what they were laughing about when I heard an English speaking person shout, "Holy shit! They're naked! Check out that woman! Fuckin' hot!"
Shit! I knew what it must mean. They must have been hit by the first spasm from the change and they knew it was too late to get away from the crowd. They were peeling their clothes off to protect themselves!
"Grace, Elias, I'm coming!" I shouted as I began to push at the people in earnest.
What a fucking shit show! Grace and Elias were going to be in a rage in moments in the middle of a crowd of people. Where the hell was Cole? Who had him? I needed to get to them!
I pushed really hard now and knocked a couple of people over in my desperate rush to get to my family. The crowd was becoming angry at me and several began to push back. One irate man punched me in the face and another pushed at my chest hard and I stumbled back and fell on my ass.
As I struggled to get back up I heard a loud scream, then another. Somewhere in the direction the laughter had come from earlier it sounded like there were now a number of people yelling and panicking. They must be trying to push against the crushing crowd to get away from the horrific transformation that was happening right at their feet!
My heart wanted to burst from my chest as I finally managed to get up and I began to try even more desperately to make my way in the direction of the commotion, but now the crowd further in near the transforming werewolves was pushing hard against the rest, and a lot of the people between us were pushing back in anger again like they'd done to me earlier, not understanding that they were keeping those people from escaping the danger.
I wished I could speak Spanish to try to get these people to start running, but there were so many of them, and nobody seemed to realize yet just how much danger they were in. I couldn't fight the crowd so I did the only thing I could, I jumped up and climbed onto the top of them like a mosh pit. There were shouts of anger as my hiking boots came down on people's heads and shoulders as I tried to get further in. Someone grabbed at my ankle to pull me down so I grabbed on to the large branch of a tree just over my head and managed to wrap my arms around it and pull myself up before the people I was using as stepping stones could knock me back to the ground again. From the tree I swung over and put my feet on a low metal railing surrounding an outdoor veranda, and I balanced on it and then grabbed onto an awning that hung over the veranda to stop from falling off the railing. Now I could follow the railing and make my way through the crowd more quickly.
I heard snarls of rage and screams of both pain and abject terror coming from up ahead and then all hell broke loose and I could hear shouts of warning and alarm, and I could see heads popping up out of the crowd ahead as other people tried to do just as I had and climb on top of the crowd that was blocking their way in a desperate attempt to get away from the vicious beasts that were suddenly among them.
My worst fears were being realized. The wolves were near the end of the change and they were in a rage at the crowd of strangers surrounding them. There was truly nothing I could do to stop it now.
The people around me started looking around in confusion and shouting things at each other in Spanish that must amount to "what the hell is going on?"
They still weren't trying to get away, but they needed to start moving, now! I heard more screams of pain and panic and suddenly, far up ahead, I thought I caught a flash of white fur briefly, but then it went around the corner behind a building. If the wolves were in a true rage they wouldn't even think to stick together. They wouldn't think at all. They'd be panicked and fighting their way through to try to get away from the strangers, biting and clawing all the way, off in two different directions, spreading the infection far and wide. Fuck! I suddenly realized my estimate of each wolf infecting one other person was more than a little optimistic. There might be thousands of wolves when this was all over if this crowd didn't disperse in a hurry.
"Run, you idiots! Get out of here!" I shouted down at the throng while waving my arms to try to direct them away from where the wolves were. A few of them must understand English because here and there people looked up at me, tried to look back to where the commotion had been happening, then turned and began to push hard in the direction I'd indicated to try to get to safety. More people started to catch on that something was seriously wrong and there was a more organized effort as the crowd started to move away from the shouting, but still far too slowly.
I tried to walk carefully along the railing while using the awning off to the side to keep myself upright and I managed to get a lot closer to the source of the commotion. It had quieted down considerably, then I heard more shouts from a few different locations further away. The wolves must have made their way further out in the crowd, but they definitely weren't together anymore. How the fuck would I find them when all of this was over?
Suddenly I heard several new screams back near the center where it had all began. Shortly afterward there were more growls and snarls of rage and many more people started yelling. Now there was a concerted push and I could see the crowd of people starting to force their way outward against the bigger crowd at the fringes in an effort to get away from the mayhem. This must be round two! Those who'd been bitten but had survived started to change, and now they'd reached the raging almost-wolf stage. I suddenly realized I was in just as much danger as the rest of these people if I didn't get the hell out. None of these new wolves knew me and they wouldn't hesitate to tear into me if I got in their way.
Finally the crowd this far back began to realize they were truly in danger. There was a constant tumult of screams and snarls and people yelling for help and shouting warnings, all coming from the direction of the center of town. The crowd started to all turn and push to get further away and there was complete and utter panic as a stampede began to build. I saw older people and children begin to fall over from the crush of people pushing to try to run to safety. Others stopped to try to help them and were knocked over themselves and trampled as more and more people began to desperately scramble and fight their way in the same direction, running for their lives.
Suddenly a couple of massive wolves appeared amidst the crush of people, biting and snarling and slashing at anyone in their way as they forced their way into the crowd. I could see them tearing at people and grabbing them and flinging them aside as they fought to get through the mass of people. The crowd screamed as they realized what was happening and that the threat was now right here among them, and they desperately tried to get away from the immediate threat as the wolves continued their rampage into the heart of the throng, and then through it, to disappear into the night.
There were wounded people everywhere and suddenly the stampede began to break down and people slowed to a stop and began milling about as they realized the threat was gone. It was like they thought it was all over, now that the gigantic wolves had passed through. They had survived. They weren't about to keep going in the direction the gigantic beasts had gone, so they didn't seem to know what to do next. Families grabbed each other and held on. People were shouting the names of loved ones they couldn't locate. Many wept while others tried to console them.
My heart sank as I saw dozens of wounded people who'd been bitten by the rampaging wolves begin to squirm and spasm on the ground. Many of the people still down there began to rush towards the wounded people to try to help them. More and more crowded in to see what they could do.
"Get away from them!" I shouted, "Leave them alone! Get out! Run!"
Most of them ignored me as they continued to try to help the injured, who were now beginning to thrash around hard. Others heard my shouts but simply looked around to see if I'd spotted the wolves making a comeback or something, but when they saw no immediate threat they did nothing. Before long several of those crowded around the convulsing people began to gasp and yell out in shock, then they began to back away as they looked on in horror at what was happening to those who were writhing on the ground.
In moments we were into round three. My stomach dropped away as I looked around at how many of them there were. There must be close to twenty going through the change in the streets right near me, and there must be that many more on every side all around the epicenter. Some were wearing clothes that would not split apart easily and I nearly felt sick as I saw their bodies begin to expand inside them. They were changing into gigantic wolves, but the leather boots and heavy chain necklaces and steel-banded watches and thick leather belts were not all giving way, and the results were horrific in some cases. I tried not to look. The problems the unyielding clothes created were at their extremities so they wouldn't die, but the pain would be unbearable when they came back to themselves inside the wolf bodies. Luckily they would only have to endure it until the end of the eclipse, and we had to be no more than a minute or two away by now. They should be completely healed when they changed back to human form when the sun came back out. There might not even be any time for this last batch to become themselves inside the wolves before the sun emerged and triggered the change in the opposite direction, so they would be spared ever being conscious of the pain.
Those who were changing around me were near the final stage and I suddenly realized I was still just standing here, perched on the railing and watching it all. I'd forgotten to run. There were still too many people around and I was afraid of getting caught in another stampede, so I made my way back along the railing and jumped back onto the large tree and climbed as high as I could go to put myself out of sight of the new set of wolves who were just now starting to snap and snarl and chase after the remainder of the crowd that had started screaming in stark terror and was trying to get away.
I just had to wait out the last minute or so of the total eclipse and then I could safely come back down.
Now it was total pandemonium. Massive near-wolves were running this way and that, attacking anything that moved. People were screaming even far away out past the edges of town by the sound of it. My heart was racing and my thoughts turned back to Elias and Grace. Where were they now? Hopefully they hadn't gone far before they stopped to hide. They should have no problem making their way back to town. I should be able to find them no problem once the tumult died down. I just needed to survive the next couple of minutes until the eclipse ended, then I could get back together with them and we could get started trying to figure out where Cole was and how to get him back.
I looked up to try to see the sun. It should be over very soon. I couldn't quite spot it through the trees and as I leaned out to try to get a look at it one of the massive wolves that had leaped at its next victim smashed into the tree and my foot suddenly slipped forward off the branch I was standing on and I found myself falling. I flailed my arms as the branch raked up my back and then struck the back of my head hard. I heard a crunch and felt a blast of pain and my vision began to darken, but I was still going down. I quickly reached out to try to grab onto the awning over the veranda just to my right in order to slow my fall, but all that did was cause me to spin slightly and suddenly I slammed backwards onto the metal railing I'd been standing on earlier. Blinding pain lanced through me, shooting outward from my lower back to every corner of my body as I finally came to an abrupt stop.
I was folded nearly in half, backwards, balanced on top of the metal railing. The crack to my head must have been bad because I could feel myself fading fast. Thankfully, the pain was fading away just as fast as the world was.
The last thing I saw as I hung backwards helplessly on the railing was a massive, slathering, upside down near-wolf coming right at me, then there was a brief flash of sunlight just before the world went black.
When I came around I was in a haze of pain. I was staring up at a plain, off-white ceiling. I tried to sit up, but even just the tiniest bit of effort sent bright lances of pain shooting through my body. As I tried to focus and remember what had happened to me, I was at a loss at first, but as I struggled more I began to remember some of it. I'd fallen. One of the last batch of people who'd been changing was charging me. Did they bite me? They obviously hadn't killed me. I thought harder. No, they couldn't have bitten me or I wouldn't be in all this pain. I would have changed and would be completely healed now that I'm human again. I suddenly remembered the flash of light I saw just before I blacked out. It must have been the sun emerging from behind the moon that had kept the wolf from changing me. It was yet another piece of bad fucking luck.
I groaned from the throbbing pain that was wracking my body, wishing the wolf had succeeded so I could be right as rain instead of feeling like this.
I tried to turn my head to look around to see where I was, but it seemed to be locked in place and any effort to move it simply ramped up the pain in my forehead and neck to unbearable levels, so I stopped trying. I moved my eyes as far as possible to the right and left and saw what looked like steel rods on either side of my head. I suddenly remembered the blow to the back of my head and the cracking sound I'd heard. I must have hurt my neck. I was in a brace of some sort.
I groaned and closed my eyes and went still and waited until the waves of pain began to slow down a bit, then I tried to assess what might actually still be functioning correctly. Every inch of me seemed to throb and pulse with pain. I knew I couldn't sit up and I knew I couldn't turn my head so I wasn't about to try that again. I tried bending my knees and wiggling my feet and toes, but nothing happened. There was no pain at all, but I couldn't feel anything moving down there. Then I suddenly realized I couldn't feel my legs at all. Panic started to set in and I tried to sit up again while reaching down with both hands to grab at my legs. My left arm did not move but my right arm did. Like before though, the pain that suddenly shot through me as I attempted to sit up made me yell and nearly caused me to black out.
I fought a powerful wave of nausea that nearly made me vomit as I gritted my teeth and waited for the pain to begin to go down again. When it finally did I much more cautiously tried to lift my right arm. That was the only thing that seemed to be moving freely right now. My right shoulder ached but it felt like nothing more than a bad bruise. My right arm hurt a bit but it felt like it was more at the surface and not internal. I was able to lift it up into my line of sight and I saw my forearm had been bandaged and my hand looked scraped and bruised, but other than that the arm seemed OK. There was an IV line attached to it. I reached up towards my face and found, as I'd suspected, there was a complex metal brace constructed around my head with a wide band that was pinned to my skull and attached to rods that went down to my shoulders and were anchored there. I must have broken my neck. Thankfully, it hadn't resulted in total paralysis, or I wouldn't be able to move my arm.
I felt around a bit more with my right hand and I realized I had a large cast that seemed to go around my neck and completely covered my left shoulder, extending down over my left arm and covering it all the way to the wrist. That was why I couldn't move it. I must have broken the clavicle on my left side and probably a bone or two in my left arm also, judging by the amount of pain emanating from there. I carefully wiggled my fingers on my left hand and I could feel them moving around freely.
I kept exploring some more with my right hand and I found a very heavy cast that started at my rib cage and went down to completely cover my hips and continued on down my legs for as far as I could reach. Had I broken my back? Was that why I couldn't feel my legs? I remembered the final position I'd been in, hung backwards over the railing, and my heart sank. That had to be it.
Then I remembered my family and panic set in as the entire events of the eclipse replayed in my head in fast motion. Where did I end up? Where were Grace and Elias? Where was Cole? They'd shouted something about him being taken!
"Grace? Are you there? Elias? Anyone? Help!" I shouted. The effort of shouting simply brought a fresh blast of pain that ricocheted around to every corner of my body. I felt bruised all over and my back was on fire. My skull hurt from the pins of the neck brace, and my midsection felt like I'd been stabbed in the gut several times.
There was movement to my right and someone said, "Please, señor, cálmate. Calm down. You are badly hurt."
A dark haired, concerned-looking woman moved into my sight. She was wearing a white nurse's blouse and she began to fuss at the blankets on the bed around me and then checked to ensure I hadn't knocked out the IV line.
"You must keep still, señor. Do not move. I will get el médico. The doctor. Please wait."
She vanished and I heard the rapidly repeating squeaks of her shoes on the floor begin to fade as she rushed off out of the room and down the hall.
I waited as my head began to clear a bit more and the pain started to increase. Whatever drugs they'd been giving me for the pain must be wearing off. I hoped they'd have another dose ready soon. It was all I could do to keep from throwing up the pain was so bad.
Within a few minutes I heard the sound of several feet coming down the hall towards the room and shortly a dark haired man with a neatly trimmed goatee and a friendly looking face came into view.
"I am doctor Castillo. How do you feel, señor?"
I cleared my throat and spoke quietly this time, "You tell me. I can only feel about half of me, and that half feels like shit run through a shit grinder, with more shit spread onto it, and the whole thing thrown at a shit-covered wall."
The man chuckled but the laugh did not extend into his eyes. He seemed concerned and serious.
"Please, tell me how bad it is," I said, wincing from the pain of speaking.
"It is not good, señor. You live, that is the important thing, and you are strong. Many did not survive the horror at Nazas. There are hundreds of injured at hospitals all over Durango, but many did not make it. As for you, your left arm is broken in several places. It looks as though one of those things had you by the arm and dragged you, perhaps threw you. Your left shoulder was dislocated from the dragging and your clavicle bone on the left side was fractured. You suffered a cervical fracture too, but it did not sever the spinal cord in your neck, thank God, or you would be paralyzed from the neck down."
"I can't feel my legs," I said.
The doctor looked more serious and he nodded and said, "Yes, I'm afraid you also suffered an injury to your lower back. It looks as though you fell from a high place and landed on your back and there was a shearing force just above the L4 vertebra in your spine. You must have hit at a slight angle as your right hip was also broken. I'm afraid the injury to your spine was very severe. The cord was not completely severed but it was badly lacerated and partially crushed. The damage is enough that I'm afraid you may never walk again. There is a chance that it might heal sufficiently enough that you might regain some feeling again, but I would say the chances are very slim. There is a great deal of swelling in the spinal column and we will have to wait until it reduces somewhat before we can begin to determine if necrosis has set in from the lack of sufficient blood flow to the nerve bundles. You went into surgery as quickly as you could be transported to this hospital. We were the nearest with the necessary specialist, but the surgeon did not like what he saw. He did his best, but he told me to warn you that you must brace yourself for the likelihood that your legs will never work again."
I groaned as the full impact of how badly I'd been hurt began to set in.
The doctor continued, "You suffered a ruptured spleen and there was a large bite on your left side that punctured your skin and muscle at the back and did tremendous damage to your left kidney. We had to remove it, but the one on the right is undamaged and functioning normally and one is all you really need. You also suffered other internal injuries, but mostly blunt force so there is swelling and bruising, but no permanent damage. You have a neck brace designed to keep your head completely immobilized. The injury should not take more than six weeks to heal and we can then remove the brace. It will take more time to heal the broken clavicle. Twelve weeks at least. We will be leaving the full lower body cast on for at least that long as well. You should get used to this bed, señor. You will be in it for quite some time."
"I have a family," I said, gasping for breath between fresh waves of pain, "How can I find them? Has anyone come to see me? How long have I been out?"
"It's been two days, señor. Nobody has come looking for you yet, but I'm sure they will in time. No one was with you when you were found so it was assumed you were alone, or they were injured or killed. It was chaos for some time after the event and it took some time for our government to organize. You had identification on you. Your name has been checked against the names of all of the other injured who have been treated at various hospitals around the state, but no match was found. Happily, I can also say no match was found to any of those who were dead that have been identified. Only a few were not identified yet, but they are all Mexicans as far as I know."
I hadn't really expected Elias and Grace to be injured. They had likely managed to get out through the crowd and out of the town before the first wave of the ones they'd changed in their rage progressed through their change enough to start doing damage. Even if they had been injured, it would have healed completely as soon as the sun emerged and they changed back to human form. They must be looking for me. The doctor indicated that the injured were distributed to multiple hospitals throughout the state of Durango, probably to spread out the load. It might take them some time to find me, but they would eventually show up.
"Where am I?"
"You are in Hospital Mexico Americano, señor, in Guadalajara."
"What? You mean I'm not even in Durango anymore?"
He shook his head and said, "You are in the state of Jalisco. We were the best hospital available to deal with the severity of your injuries, señor. You were transported here by helicopter."
I sighed. There would be no reason for Grace and Elias to check hospitals in Jalisco. I suppose once they'd checked all of the ones in Durango and I failed to turn up they'd start to check elsewhere, but there were many states in Mexico and it would take time for them to track me down. Even once they found me they would have to drive here to get me and that would take more time. I might be suffering alone for quite a while yet.
"Please, do not worry, your family will find you. I will ensure that your name is sent to all of the hospitals in Durango so if anyone asks for you, they will know you are here. You will see them soon, señor, I promise."
"Thank you, doctor," I said hoarsely, "I appreciate all you're doing for me."
A fresh wave of pain came over me and I winced and groaned.
"You have been kept heavily sedated. We reduced it so you could regain consciousness. We did not wish to keep you out too long. Soon you will need to try to eat, but for now you need rest. I will increase the morphine drip just a bit to ease your pain and help you to sleep. You must rest some more. It is all that is important for now. Give your body time to heal."
Time to heal. If Elias and Grace would hurry up and get here it would take all of two minutes to heal every bit of the damage to my body. I would only have to hold out until the next change happened and Elias could finally turn me. If it had been two days since the event, then tonight would be the last night without a change. Tomorrow night the werewolves would change for ten minutes or so right at sunset and the next cycle would begin with the changes lasting longer and longer again until the next full moon. With any luck Grace and Elias would get here before tomorrow night and my hospital stay would be over.
I didn't even know for sure that they were actually looking for me right now. Grace had shouted that Cole had been taken. What if the spooks had caught up to them, too? Maybe Grace and Elias had gone after Cole. I half hoped that was the case even if it would mean I wouldn't see them for a while. If there was any chance to get him back, it would likely have to happen right away before he could be taken far. Maybe they'd gone after him. I could only pray that they'd succeed and that they wouldn't get hurt in the process. I wish there was some way I could help.
What a mess we'd made. So many people were bitten. What happened to all of the other werewolves that were produced during the eclipse? It suddenly occurred to me that they might not even know that their nightmare was not yet over. They would have been wolves so briefly that many wouldn't even remember what had happened to them when they suddenly regained consciousness out there somewhere in a field, naked, feeling better than they'd ever felt in their lives. They would have still been in the process of changing when the sun came out from behind the moon forcing them to suddenly change right back to humans so they'd have no clue what had happened. Since it was a new moon they would have been fine for the last couple of days and they wouldn't change again until tomorrow night.
Oh my God. What if there are dozens of people at home with their families now, happy that they had survived the ordeal of the eclipse, thinking it was all over? They would have no idea while they're sitting among friends or family, or in a restaurant or a movie theater, that they're ticking time bombs that would explode into a murderous rage the next time the sun goes down and the moon comes up. They won't be ready for what's going to happen to them tomorrow night.
I sighed heavily. There was no point dwelling on it. There was nothing I could do. There was really nothing I could have done then, either. We had no way of knowing the mess we would create. We didn't know about the eclipse at all. We didn't know to watch out for that sort of problem.
I felt guilty for what we'd caused. So many people hurt. Many even died. It wasn't even over yet. How many dozens, or even hundreds of werewolves might there be out there who don't yet fully understand what's happened to them? It's been days and most of them would have traveled into Nazas from all over, and by now would have headed back home. Tomorrow night when the next change hits there could be raging wolves attacking everyone around them in multiple locations far and wide. Possibly even in different countries. There's no telling how far some might be willing to travel for the once in a lifetime chance to view a total eclipse. They would have all caught their flights home by now. The nightmare we'd precipitated could go on for quite some time yet.
I couldn't really blame myself or my family though. We just didn't know. It was an accident. Still, we would have to live with the knowledge of the grief we caused forever.
I felt helpless lying in this bed not able to do anything and not knowing the state of my family. Now I truly regretted not becoming a werewolf sooner. I'd been holding off so that I could better handle any sort of contingency that might come up that would need a human touch, but it hadn't occurred to me that there might be complications that would require the ability to self regenerate. There was something to be said for going through a complete regrowth twice a day for most days of the month. Once I was a werewolf all of this pain would be over.
I needed to get better fast so we could get started trying to track down Cole. There had to be some way we could find him. That was my biggest concern right now. If I ever got my hands on whoever was responsible for my losing him, they would deeply regret it. That goes double if I'm in wolf form when it happens.
The doctor had moved out of my vision to my right and I heard some beeping as he adjusted the automated drip, and then suddenly the pain seemed to rush away from me backwards along with all of my worries, while a warm and wonderful wave of ecstasy swept in to replace it. I moaned with pleasure and the doctor came back into view, smiling.
"Try not to get used to that feeling, señor. Morphine is powerful stuff. Rest. I will return to check on you later."
I simply moaned again in response as I rode the wonderful cloud I was suddenly floating on. The lights in the room began to take on a kaleidescope pattern of amazing colors and shapes that were spinning around me. I began to rotate with the shapes as I smiled and closed my eyes and let them carry me away.
Within moments I was once again completely oblivious to all my pain and troubles.***
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