Every time we passed through a door, Dex paused to lock it again, but neither of us said a word. I didn't even notice as we walked through the morgue a second time, my thoughts were so wrapped up in the little girl I held. If she woke up, would she hate me? If she didn't, how long would I hate myself? When we finally got back to the break room, I felt wretched. I had attacked a defenseless five year old. No matter how much I had tried to convince myself of it over the past six months, there was no way I could deny it now: I was a monster.
“Well, at least we didn't run into any of Hendricks' flunkies," Dex said, switching the lights off, but I barely heard him. I went to the back door, and Dex put his hand on the nob. He gave me a searching look, and when I said nothing he nodded. I took a deep breath, like I was about to go underwater, and he eased the door open.
“Hey, guys! How'd it go?" Ed asked, immediately stepping into the doorway to greet us. I didn't give him a second glace as I shoved him aside, bringing Kimberly out into the parking lot.
“We shouldn't do this here," Dex called after me. “Somebody might see us."
I ignored him. I couldn't bring myself to care if anybody saw us or not. I carried Kimberly to the edge of the parking lot and set her on the grass, just short of where the trees started to grow, and then got up and backed away.
I stood there for what felt like years, watching the little girl lie motionless on the ground. She didn't look any more alive in the moonlight than she had in the dull golden light of Dex's scepter. Dex and Edgar stood a few feet behind me, not saying a word, for which I was thankful. I was in no mood to deal with either of them.
A minute crept by, agonizingly slowly, and she did not move an inch. With a doglike whine, I fell to my knees and buried my face in my hands. Dex had been right. She was dead. I hadn't turned her into a werewolf, but she was still dead. I was a murderer, a monster, a…
My head jerked back up when I heard a gasp come from Kimberly's direction. Her mouth was wide open, and she was sucking in air like she hadn't breathed in a week. Her eyes snapped open, and she sat up.
“Mommy?" she demanded at once, her little eyes wide with fear. Eyes, I saw, that had taken the golden hue of a wolf's. “Daddy?"
“They're not here," I said, my mouth working on its own while my head recovered from its shock. I slowly got to my feet, being careful not to make any sudden movements that might frighten her.
“Who are you?" she asked, her gaze now fixed on me.
“My name's Amber," I answered, taking a hesitant step toward her.
“Where's my mom and dad?"
I bit my lip, and tried not to look back at Dex for help. This was my fault. I had to handle it alone.
“They're not here," I explained. “They… don't know where you are."
Kimberly's eyes widened even more. “Are you a kidnapper?"
I winced. Great. I was off to a spectacular start. Then again, being a kidnapper might be preferable to what I actually was.
“I'm not a kidnapper," I said in what I hoped was a soothing tone.
“What's going on?" she asked in a panic, and began to scoot back across the grass to get away from me.
“Kimberly, I need you to calm down," I said. If this child caused too much of a ruckus, we were sure to be caught- even if she had every right to cause a ruckus.
I took a deep breath, and tried to explain it as quickly as I could. “Do you remember three nights ago?" I asked. “You got hurt."
This gave her pause. “I saw… I saw a great big dog," she admitted. She hesitated, and then added, “It hurt me."
“It hurt you very badly," I agreed. “Everyone…" I stopped myself. How could I possibly explain to her that everybody thought she was dead, much less why she couldn't go tell them she wasn't? I clenched my eyes shut, begging to whoever might be listening that this would end better than I had any right to believe it would.
“Kimberly, that wasn't a dog that attacked you. It was something else."
“What was it?" she asked. That was a question I couldn't answer right now. If I were to tell her that she had been attacked by a werewolf, she would assume I was nuts. I didn't even want to think of what her reaction would be if I told her that I was that werewolf.
“It made you sick," I answered instead. I mean, it wasn't a total lie. “Nobody knows where you are because we had to take you away from them, or else you could make them sick too." Again, not exactly a lie.
Kimberly was frozen in place for a few seconds as she absorbed this knowledge. Her eyes never left mine, and I could see her fear in them.
“I'm sick?" she asked in an almost inaudible whisper. “Am I going to die?"
“No, you're going to be just fine," I answered, pouring all of my sincerity into those words. I had caused this girl enough pain. If it was within my power, I would not let this girl get so much as a scratch on her knee.
Kimberly finally seemed to notice the two men behind me. “Who are they?" she asked, pointing at them.
“They're with me," I reassured her. “They're going to help me take you somewhere safe."
Kimberly began to quiver with fright, and she hugged her knees close to her body. “I don't wanna go!" she protested, tears running down her cheeks. “I want my mommy and daddy!"
Seeing her in this state made me feel like a stake was being driven through my heart. She was crying because of me."
“I'm sorry, sweetie," I said in the most comforting voice I could muster. “You can't. We have to go."
She didn't move, so I took a step closer to her. She didn't try to get away from me, but she looked positively terrified of me. I held out my hand to her.
“Can you be a big girl and come with me?" I asked. “Your mom and dad would be very proud if you did."
Did I say that seeing her cry hurt me? Because it didn't- not compared to how much it hurt to lie to her like this.
Kimberly was sobbing now, her yellow eyes shut tight, but after a minute of crying she finally reached out and took my hand.
“Good girl," I told her encouragingly as I helped her get to her feet. “You are being so brave."
She refused to look at me, but didn't offer any resistance as I led her back to Dex and Edgar. For a moment, I was worried that Edgar would say something stupid to try and make her feel better, or even worse, tell me how amazing my powers of persuasion were. The little twerp actually seemed to understand that this was a serious moment, though, and kept his mouth shut.
“Let's get going," Dex said, taking charge once again. “We have to go back through the door we used to get here." He didn't offer any introduction for himself or Edgar, and frankly I don't think Kimberly cared. I thought about picking her up and carrying her to the door, but decided not to. I had just turned her whole world on its head- she probably didn't want to be any closer to me than she absolutely had to. Instead, I just took her hand to make sure she stayed with us. Dex set off back towards the restaurant with haste, Edgar two steps behind him. I gave Kimberly's hand a reassuring squeeze and set off after them.
I hadn't taken more than two steps, though, before the feeling I'd had earlier returned. The back of my neck prickled, and I got the distinct, unshakable feeling that I was being watched. Kimberly must have felt something too, because she stopped in her tracks. Without thinking, I spun around to face the trees behind the funeral home just as something emerged from them.
“Amber, what's…" Dex began to ask, but stopped short when he saw what I was looking at.
A sleek, shadowy form stalked out onto the parking lot, rippled with muscle and covered with a mixture of storm-gray and midnight-black fur. Its claws clicked over the asphalt as it approached us without a trace of fear, and it bared its gleaming white teeth in a feral snarl. A deep, rumbling growl rose from its throat. Even if I'd only seen one once before, there was no denying what had come to challenge us for its prey.
NEXT TIME: Holy crap, it's another werewolf! There's only one thing to do: GET FUZZY!!!