Summertown, West Virginia, U.S.A., Present Day
A picturesque flight over the Appalachian Mountains to Summertown, West Virginia gave Special Agent Eliana Solomon of the Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate, Anomaly Defense Division time to process the urgent report she’d received by email. Up until this week, the existence of werewolf packs had been concealed from the general population. Now reports of the secretive shape shifters exploded in her inbox. Where had this information been all this time? Had the government monitored them all along? If so, why had her boss, Bert Blackfeather, insisted on her obtaining proof of their existence, along with the jinnis? She’d pry an answer out of that closed mouth man—someday. Right now, she had a more pressing matter at hand.
Five days ago, three nine-year-old werewolf boys and their three eighteen-year-old sisters went on a birthday expedition in the heavily wooded state wildlife area and disappeared. By day, local human authorities, volunteers, and bloodhounds brought in from surrounding jurisdictions combed the forest, the hills, and caves. By night, pack members ran through the forest using their extraordinary senses—olfactory, visual, and auditory—to hunt for their missing kin. Divers also explored the waterways, all to no avail. No clues to the kids’ whereabouts had been found, not even a backpack—until two this morning.
A night security guard discovered the boys in the middle of the Adalwolf Winery parking lot. Slightly bruised and scratched up, but otherwise alive and well, in their human forms, the youngsters had no recollection of anything between arriving at the park and waking up in the parking lot with their back packs under their heads—their five-day-old lunches untouched.
Rushed to the ER and examined thoroughly, the boys displayed no evidence of physical abuse. The blank space in their minds where the memories should have been was inaccessible to parents and psychologists. If it weren’t for the fact that the three older girls were still missing, the local authorities wouldn’t continue to press the boys for information. Over time, their memories could return, but without ransom notes, calls or clues, the clock was running down for a successful search and rescue. The local police, state troopers, sheriff’s office, and the West Virginia Bureau of Investigation feared the operation would soon become a search and recovery.
The plane touched down, bounced along the runway, and Eliana’s cell began to vibrate.
The gruff voice of her boss boomed in her ear. “New development in the case.” Blackfeather paused. “A hiker found one of the missing girls in a culvert near an abandoned mine. Bites, claw marks. Throat ripped open. Damn thing nearly tore her head off.”
She shuddered. “Black bear?”
“Based on the paw prints around the body, the first responders are saying these weren’t bear bites. More like a dog—or wolf.”
“Boss, aside from zoos and wild animal preserves, there are no wolves in the eastern U.S.”
He sighed. “I stand corrected. Werewolf.”
Her stomach lurched, and she gripped the armrest so hard her knuckles turned white. Shit. Shit. Shit. A werewolf attacking one of its own? Why? What the hell was going on?
“West Virginia Division of Homeland Security has a car waiting for you, fully loaded with everything you’ll need for the investigation. Get to that scene.” Her boss clicked off.
Bossy desk jockey.
A flush of shame rushed over her. He’d taken on the orphan Anomaly Defense Division of the Science and Technology Directorate that no one else wanted, along with a mission no one else supported or believed in. As abrupt and abrasive as he could be, the Gulf War veteran deserved credit for giving her the opportunity to pursue what everyone else thought was something out of the tales of The Arabian Nights: jinnis. With the needed proof of werewolves and jinnis from Project Aladdin, support surged into the division. A stable funding source made her jinni hunting work possible So far, it seemed wherever there were werewolves, there was jinni activity.
This case was no different. According to the report, relationships between the local humans and werewolves were more than cordial. They were so intermarried, almost everyone was family. A large non-denominational wedding facility placed Summertown on an international list of destination weddings, like Hawaii and Las Vegas, but specifically for werewolves. A thriving bed and breakfast trade supported the wedding industry, along with other leisure activities, such as biking, hiking, white-water rafting, and winery and sightseeing tours. Murder of a werewolf girl wasn’t just bad for the family, it was bad for the town.
Sharon Buchbinder has been writing fiction since middle school and has the rejection slips to prove it. An RN, she provided health care delivery, became a researcher, association executive, and obtained a PhD in Public Health. When not teaching or writing, she can be found fishing, walking her dogs, or breaking bread and laughing with family and friends in Baltimore, MD and Punta Gorda, FL.
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