The weather turns overnight. With the fall, the sky grows bluer than the preacher has ever known or can remember. He sits for an hour in the windy sedge with the sun on his back as if he is storing the warmth of it against the coming winter.
The leaves on the hardwood trees on the mountain burst into colorful flames, and then, ultimate nakedness. An early winter falls. An old wind sucks beneath the black and barren branches. The preacher is alone in the empty house and watches the bone-colored moon come crawling over a black ridge. Ink trees are sketched against the paler dark of winter heavens.
The preacher, much to himself, slouches and drinks. A rifle hangs in his hand as if it were a curse he’ll never escape. He grows lean and bitter as the barrel presses against the morphing skin beneath his chin. He angrily gulps the burning brown fluid and tries to force his long-nailed finger to pull the trigger, but a maligned star keeps him from doing so.
He stands and listens to other men’s hounds on the mountain, a figure of wretched arrogance in the lights of the few cars passing. In their coiling dust, he curses or mutters or spits after them. As his skin begins to rip and his senses coalesce with the birth pangs of an alien form. He knows the time has come.
The changed being abandons the fleeting window of opportunity to pull the trigger. Crouched behind a tree, he sees the two men tightly shouldered in the high old sedan with guns and jars of whiskey among them. Daniel and Jim progress towards the field, unaware of the beast lurking in the dark.
In the dark of the skyline, they see him pass. He’s a lean and angular figure laboring among the nightshade of moon-sprayed grass. Daniel and Jim grip each other's arms over the shaded blue of furrowed brick before finally letting go. Their eyes meet one last time, and they nod in agreement. The time has come.
Daniel powers a beam that flashes rays of artificial sun. When the light of the sealed beam cuts over the field, the entity is lying over a hunk of mass with clothes ripped and torn. The gleam sweeps past, then stops and fixes on the being that squats like some grim wraith.
Before them is a stark shadow revealing something inhuman and carnal. A pair of twiggy legs galvanized in the night.
“Throw the light to him.”
“That sure ain’t no preacher.”
It stands, hairy and tall, in the middle of a leaf-littered floor facing them. It blinks with huge black eyes. Blood drips from a loose-jawed mouth, and stained clothing is shredded in sharp teeth.
“We gotcha’, preacher! Don’t move.”
But the thing does. It spits a pair of bloody overall bibs out its mouth and turns to run. It lunges side to side and jumps in a series of erratic and unpredictable leaps. The light jitters and loses track of the beast.
“Can you see him, Jim?”
They continue the pursuit until approaching an open juncture surrounded by tall, lurching trees. The ray of false sunlight scans the outer dark clockwise and back again.
A raspy growl crescendos into a thundering bark from beyond the perimeter
“I see it!
The light captures the target, and the alien wolf-like creature begins to shriek and howl. The light burns its rugged and furry coat. Its skin chars and steams.
“We got you, son of a bitch!”
It has a detached human limb fettered in fists of jagged razor fingernails. Caught in the light for a moment, it blinks one more time, drops the human remains, and scurries out of the light back towards town.
A train roars twice in the darkness, and the pair of hunters rush towards it. “God have mercy. You seeing this thing move?”
“Holy good God Jesus, what is that?”
“Sure as hell ain’t no preacher.”
They begin to fire aimlessly in the dark. Bursting flames spark sporadically in the pitch black as sweltering silver bullets pop and chitter through punctured trunks.
“Oh, God! The train, Jim! It’s gonna beat us.”
“Move, dammit! Move!”
The dark boxes of the train approach rapidly, and through the shadows, it weaves a divide between the midnight forest and the monochrome lights of the city. The bullets tink and ricochet back towards the pursuing hunters and the saplings behind.
The train approaches like a vast rattling worm and its headlights capture the wolf one last time before it leaps from the tracks towards the city.
The hunters retreat from the rattling cars, their smoking guns in hand. The beast looks at a wounded torso like a startled cat on the other side. Blood oozes from the tenderized and puckered human skin that reflects as it pours under the gray moonlight.
Daniel kneels and observes the limping body of a wounded man beneath the wheels of the passing train.
“What you see, Dani boy?”
He flings the gun away from him, and Jim picks it up and stands by.
“You saw it just like I did. I reckon we got it.”
When Jim drops to his knees, he sees nothing.
“Looks to me like we got another sabbath to look forward to.”
“We were that close, Jim! Just that close! Dammit!”
“Dani boy, close don’t count.”
The preacher wakes with the undersides of his eyelids inflamed by the high sun’s hammering. He looks up to a bland and china-blue sky traversed by light wires. A big lemon-colored cat watches him from the top of a wood stove. He turns his head to see it better, and it elongates itself like hot taffy down the side of a furnace and vanishes headfirst in the earth without a sound.
He closes his eyes and moans. A hot breeze comes across the barren waste of burnt weeds and rubble like a whiff of battle smoke. Starlings align on a wire overhead in perfect progression like a piece of knotted string fallen slant-wise. Hooked wings and foul mutes come squealing from under their fanned tails. The injured man sits up slowly and puts a hand over his eyes. He hears the birds fly.
His clothes crack with a thin, dry sound, and shreds of baked vomit fall from him. He struggles to his knees and stares down at the packed black earth between his palms. Sweat rolls down his skull and drips from his jaw.
He lifts his swollen eyes to the desolation in which he knelt. There are iron-colored needles and sedges in the wreaking fields that grow like mock weeds made from wire. He looks down at himself, half-naked and caked in filth. His pockets are turned out. He tries to swallow, but his throat constricts in agony. He totters to his feet and stands reeling in the apocalyptic waste like some biblical relic far removed from the planet he came from.