The Monsters are Due at High Noon

Submitted into Contest #204 in response to: Write a story about a stranger coming to town and shaking up the order of things.... view prompt

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Fantasy Western LGBTQ+

A werewolf is a tricky thing to deal with; a violent murder or two once a month really doesn’t affect property values too badly. But on the other hand, once the town of Crimson Oaks fully catches on, I doubt we’d see much more growth. All my efforts to expand this town, to build it from the ground up and turn it into a tourist spot will become undone. All because a mangy mutt can’t control their monthly urges.

At least I know how to temper my hunger.

When I usually take my daily stroll through town, I’m hailed by a ceremony of smiles and waves. “Good morning, Ms. Estelle! Beautiful day, isn’t it?” the old woman at the bakery greets me. I smile and nod behind my sunglasses, usually walking off before her husband chimes in, “It’s not going to rain today, is it?” with his boisterous laughter. He never fails to laugh at my black and red parasol, and I never fail to resist the urge to feast upon him. Instead, I settle for my usual red velvet cupcake, ensuring its quality, hoping it helps draws more commerce.

It’s that level of thought a werewolf lacks. If you want to have your bloody way with townsfolk, you have to put in the effort to keep drawing them in. Otherwise, you face a life of constantly moving, and in this economy, that’s a nightmare.

The highlight of my day is always stopping by the construction sites, seeing my workers shuffle and stand up straighter when they catch a glimpse of my parasol. They always poke and prod and smile coyly at one another, assuming I haven’t realized they’re talking about how badly they want me. I give a naive giggle every now and then, bat my eyes when they do a good job, and let my gaze linger on their muscles just a second long enough for them to notice. But it’s not the validation of being wanted carnally that excites me. Every now and then one comes up to me and makes small talk, eventually revealing that their neck hurts randomly. They turn and show me the back of their neck, small fresh scars growing. I tsk and say, “You poor thing” and run my fingers slowly over the scars, feeling their heartbeat rush as I touch them. They don’t know it, but they don’t just provide for me their services during the day.

It excites me reducing burly grown men down to an ignorant child, waiting for my approval and attention.

But now, even the lowest IQs of Crimson Oaks are catching on to the werewolf. The flirting has been rudely replaced by concerns and gossip. “Stay safe out there, Ms. Estelle,” they warn me, trying to put on a brave face. But discovering the most recent body behind the hotel construction site has shaken them.

Perhaps I can spin the murder into the lore of the hotel we’re building. Give into the gothic horror of the situation, promote it to “true crime” or “supernatural” fans online…

I stared out at the crescent moon from my custom three-story colonial. I turned the proverbial “house upon a hill” into a literal one, observing Crimson Oaks slowly grow around me, overtaking the unruly forest around us. We have a mayor of course, an entire town hall elected into power - influenced by me of course. But I don’t need to be the mayor to advance this town as I see fit.

I like my house to stay empty besides my coven of bats in my attic. Others like me are addicting to converting humans, mind-controlling them into a polygamous charade. I understand these bacchanal living arrangements appeal to some, but I like my space to be all mine.

So, I was annoyed that I now shared my town with a werewolf, and thoughts of them invaded my mind at night. And the night most assuredly belongs to me alone.

Whereas the werewolf made the first mistake in coming here and being noticed, I made the second mistake. I walked by the bakery one morning, ready to chitchat with the old woman, but it was closed. I prodded around and discovered that her husband had been attacked the night before. Wasn’t expected to make it. But it was only a quarter moon…

When the bakery reopened, the old woman did her best to greet me with a smile, handing me my usual with trembling hands. But the red velvet cupcake was missing its usual moist texture. Ruined, that day and subsequent days.

This was inexcusable.

For the days leading up to the next full moon, I flung open my attic windows, sending forth my familiars into the night. Each one assigned to a section of the town, each one monitoring for preternatural movement. No reports the next mornings, at least until the morning of the full moon. That day, one of my bats failed to return. I ventured out in the day to its assigned street and found its body in the bushes, a slashing claw mark across its poor chest…

Werewolves aren’t an exact science. None of us are really. But from what I’ve heard, the physically stronger ones are capable of forcing partial transformations, with their savagery increasing closer to the full moon. I understood that seeking this one out on the full moon itself was dangerous. But this was an invader in my haven. And no matter what phase the damn moon is in, the night still belongs to me.

I was pacing that street for hours, my boots clicking up and down the sidewalk, my fangs yearning to clamp down on flesh. It was tempting to enter into one of the nearby houses and draw strength from one of my residents. But I prefer to be invited into houses - perhaps the common courtesies vampires extend to humans led to all the superstitions as to what we can and cannot do. I shook my head in annoyance, thinking about how this werewolf’s manners were piss-poor to keep a lady waiting this long.

And so, I made the third mistake, letting my annoyance and hunger dull my senses for a quick moment. From a rooftop above, the beast pounced on me. It took all my strength and reflexes to turn around and hit the ground with my back, my arms and knees fending off the beast’s claws and teeth.

“Leave this town!” I roared, locking eyes with it. But something was wrong. My power of suggestion barely phased it. In fact, it snapped harder at me, like I annoyed it. For the suggestion to work, it has to be something some part of the person wants or would consider, which is why it was always so easy to get the muscle boys who work for me to do what I want.

The beast clamped its jaw around my forearm while I quickly thought of a different phrasing. “Find your food elsewhere!” - that one caused it to let go, shaking its giant wolf head confusedly. But it was still on top of me, claws digging into my legs, drool ruining my black vest and white dress shirt.

The mutt wasn’t wearing clothes, no hint as to what it looked like as a human, but I took another desperate shot at suggesting something to it. “I’m too young to die!” I cried, feigning a little girlish fear in my voice, fully aware I was old enough to remember Marie Antoinette’s final day - what better times those were.

That did it. The werewolf’s ears lowered slightly, guilt escaping from its prison and emanating from its eyes. Its stance on top of me loosened, and I was thankful it showed mercy. Of course, I returned the favor by thrusting my leg into a kick that broke its ribs to get it off. I relished the sound of bones snapping and it yelping as it flew across the street.

I stood up to finish it off, only to find that I was barely able to see straight. Even without a beating heart, I still had blood gushing out of my wounds. I could feel the full moon above me, laughing at my arrogance, slightly burning me like it was scolding a child. I couldn’t risk the fight continuing, so I resorted to what all vampires must never lose - our manners.

“Let’s talk…” I huffed, feeling mortified an animal almost bested me. “But not here! Two weeks from now, at noon, in front of the bakery. Meet me there and we’ll talk. Or else next time I won’t be alone…” I lied. My phone had no allies in it, merely snacks with names.

With that the beast limped away, leaving my fading line of sight. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man on his porch, aghast at what he saw. Before he could yell, I cried out “You’re dreaming! Go back to sleep!” It worked, the man slumping over and walking sluggishly back inside. But he left the door open…

I couldn’t ignore my citizen leaving his door open for the dangers of the night to get in. I followed him inside, helped myself to a meal to heal my wounds, and closed the door on my way out.

Oh, the sacrifices I make for this town.

Even in the heat of the moment, I had calculated the perfect meeting time – both the new moon and the blaring sun should keep the werewolf’s powers at bay, even if they had the mastery over forcible transformations. Though, it did mean I had two weeks to spend mulling over the meeting. My familiars continued to observe Crimson Oaks, reporting nothing more than a couple of drunk men stumbling through the streets, holding each other and singing. Nature was healing.

I made my rounds through town, slowly suggesting to everyone that there was never a killer, only a series of accidents. With two weeks of no violence, people were beginning to believe me, desperate for the nightmare to be over. Though, in my inspections of the town, no one appeared to have broken ribs. I ruminated over whether or not the werewolf had advanced healing powers, debating my chances at winning a fight in broad daylight while I snacked upon the red velvet cupcakes. Still inferior to their original taste. Marie Antoinette would’ve never settled for these…

Soon, it was time for our showdown at high noon. The wolf resisted the suggestion to leave, but it responded to the suggestion to talk. Odds are they’d show up. I hid a silver dagger in my black jacket sleeve, though I remember questioning its use. It’s not that I was above killing if need be, but rather I didn’t know if silver truly worked on the mutts. After all, my favorite meal at the Italian restaurant in town was simply a basket of garlic bread. I wasn’t going to hinge all my plans on human superstition; it would be my powers of persuasion that got me through this ordeal. And with that, I confidently waited outside the bakery, sipping on black tea under my parasol. I had my back turned to the bakery, sitting at its outdoor table, eyeing every person that walked by.

So, imagine my surprise when the doors to the bakery opened behind me at noon.

Out walked a woman around her late twenties, long brown hair frayed around the edges, wearing cargo pants and a tank top revealing her well-defined biceps. She was already glaring at me with dark circles underneath her eyes, her face unafraid to scowl like a predator. She kicked the chair in front of me out so she could immediately crash into it, arms folded as she sat facing me.

“You’re the bat-lover, aren’t you?” – except the savage didn’t say “lover”.

“Oh, it looks like someone taught this dog to speak.”

“Funny. Let me take that umbrella away from you and see how funny you are then.”

“At least you’re cute when you think you can be as witty as me,” I smirked, hoping she didn’t notice I tightened my grip on the parasol. I leaned forward against my better judgement – she could’ve had fleas for all I knew. “Listen, little miss pooch-”

“Greta.”

“Now that’s funny – you think I care about your name. Listen… how should I phrase- oh, fine. Ahem. This town isn’t big enough for the both of-”

Greta scoffed and slammed her arm against the table, pointing her sharp nails in my direction. She was quicker on the draw than I was. “Glad we agree! So leave.”

     It was my turn to scoff as I still eyed her hands and her muscles. “Do you even know who you’re talking to?”

        “Estelle Aldea. One of the founders of Crimson Oaks. Ten years ago, you invested tons of money into Crimson Oaks. Since then, you’ve dipped your hands in owning construction companies, being a part of the local Chamber of Commerce, and actively donating large sums to the weakest-willed politicians. All to create a never-ending buffet line of meals that jump at the chance to deliver themselves to you when they move here.”

        “Oh.”  

        That cocky little… she leaned back and smirked. “Go ahead, what do you know about me?”

        I shot daggers at her with my eyes, resisting the urge to thrust the actual dagger in my sleeve at her in broad daylight. I had enough of this back and forth. I lowered my sunglasses and met her eyes, commanding, “Go find a home elsewhere and never-”

        “Don’t wanna.”

        “WHY- why not?” I demanded, holding back my annoyance as best as I could.

        “Gertrude.”

        “Who?”

        “You talk to her every day, and you don’t even know her name.”

         I glanced quickly into the bakery and saw the old woman, still slightly sullen at work. But then she managed to catch my eye and she still gave me the best cheerful wave she could muster.

        “If she really wanted me to know her name, then you’d think she’d invest in nametags.”

        “You’re a literal heartless monster.”

        “Is she your grandmother? Because if so, let’s not gloss over the fact that means you mauled your own grandfather, not even on a full moon either, so you must’ve had more self-control than that.”

        She shot up, knocking the chair over and leaned right up to my face. This time I drew my weapon, placing the tip of the silver dagger against her bottom lip. I slowly moved the dagger down to politely encourage her to take her seat again, and since she complied with no trouble, that proved to me that silver must mean something to these beasts.

        “You have no idea…”

        “Enlighten me.”

        Greta took a deep breath, the mere act of preparing herself to open up causing her pain. But nevertheless, she began. “I’ll admit I moved here because the heat was turning up on me at my last place. People were beginning to suspect something was off with me. And in this economy, I didn’t have it in me to buy someplace on my own.”

        “If only there was someone busy making affordable housing in this area-”

        “You’re not interrupting me again.”

         I didn’t. Still a matter of manners.

        “So… I came here. But then I found out that she was dealing with a ton of health problems. She’s got arthritis you know, yet she still has it in her to make Princess Dracula’s little cupcakes every day. But she loves this business. Constantly tells me about all her customers. That’s how I learned about you. She’s been saving up what she can for treatments…

        “Imagine my reaction when I found out my step-grandfather was pocketing her hard-earned money to go out drinking and gambling. Someone here thought it was a good idea to build a casino before they built any sort of rehab center for addictions.” Oh, she enjoyed throwing that in my face…

        “Since he refused to get help, and he was clearly a toll on my grandma – who could totally do better than him by the way – it was just easier to lose my temper and handle the problem myself.” She paused and waved her hand, allowing me to speak.

        “So, you’re a vigilante, a guardian of the night seeking revenge on evil-doers-”

        “Nah. Most of my victims just annoyed me some way. Like maybe they tried to hit on me with beer-breath, or they double parked, whatever.”

        I sighed and closed my eyes. No wonder the power of suggestion didn’t make her leave. She was beholden to this woman, who honestly had a foot in the grave anyway. But still…

“I’ll pay for all of Gertrude’s treatments if you leave town.” It wasn’t guilt but practicality speaking.

“How about you pay for all of her treatments, and I stay?”

“You stubborn bi-”

“I stay and promise to work on my temper. I don’t actually eat people. You do.”

“Not fully-”

“And if I’m going to work on my temper, then it’d probably help if someone built an anger management resource, maybe a therapist’s office, definitely a rehab center…”

“You think you can make all these demands. Tell me exactly what’s in it for me?”

This time Greta stood up slower and leaned in. She ran her fingers under my chin, catching me off guard. “I’m taking you out to dinner. Show you a night you’ll never forget.”

She stunned me. And before I could speak, she leaned into my ear and whispered, “And wear something else other than a black pantsuit…”

A werewolf is a tricky thing to deal with. Not only do they have their own “power of suggestion”, but this one also made me rethink my wardrobe choices for my first date in over a century…

June 30, 2023 04:34

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