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FLIPSIDE
AUTHOR'S NOTE
PROLOGUE
CHAPTER I
CHAPTER II
CHAPTER III
CHAPTER IV
CHAPTER V
CHAPTER VI
CHAPTER VII
CHAPTER VIII
CHAPTER IX
CHAPTER X
CHAPTER XI
CHAPTER XII
CHAPTER XIII
CHAPTER XIV
EPILOGUE

CHAPTER I

He awoke several hours later. The sun, he noticed as his eyes focused, was about to set. "I’ve been out all day!" he exclaimed, wincing as his throat protested, "Why didn’t she come looking?"

He moved slowly, testing first his arms, then his legs. Everything worked, thank God. He was more sore than he had ever been in his life, but he was still alive. No corpse could hurt like this.

"What happened?" he wondered aloud. "A stroke? A stroke could have easily caused a hallucination, but what had just happened was real! If it all had been a hallucination, I wouldn’t be this sore."

His throat ached and worse, his head was pounding. He sat up and immediately felt dizzy. He leaned forward with his head between his knees. That helped, and he stood carefully, a tree helping him to regain his balance.

Looking around made him realize why Deb might not have found him. He was a good 60 yards from the trail and on the other side of a large log that would have blocked him from view. Whatever it was had carried him over here while it was killing him. "It must have been a stroke," he guessed silently, "But I’m young and healthy. I can’t think of anything that would bring one on. Well, I’ll have to let a doctor decide that. Right now I have to get back to Deb’s. She must be worried sick."

He stopped at the stream and drank deeply, moaning gladly as the cold water soothed his throat. Starting up the trail, he realized that he had forgotten his t-shirt. He chose to come back for it. He had to get back and he wanted to be sure that he had the strength to make it. By the time he made it the two or so miles back, it was dark.

The kitchen light was on and cast a glow over the yard. The walk had loosened his muscles and cleared his head. He felt much better as he stepped onto the porch. Opening the screen door, he went in. Deb wasn’t in the kitchen, but he heard the TV playing quietly in the living room. He started to call out to her but he cut off the weak croak that issued forth. He walked to the sink for a glass of water. As he reached for a glass he realized that the kitchen was redecorated. It was the same room, but the glasses weren’t where they were supposed to be. He found one in the next cupboard. They weren’t even the same glasses, and he took a quick glance around as he filled one. It was completely different, almost masculine, like a bachelor’s house. He shook his head slightly and gulped the water. As he entered the short hallway to the living room, he saw a sight that sent his heart into his throat.

Standing at the living room entrance was a werewolf. It’s fur was various shades of gray and black. The thing’s body was muscular, the bulges showing beneath thick fur. It’s mouth was gaping, white fangs poking from within a medium-sized, wide snout. The eyes were green, shining dimly in the poor light.

All this he perceived in an instant, because in the next he was screaming and running for his life. He heard it howl behind him as be body-blocked the screen door open and ran across the porch, onto the yard, and towards the tree line. He crashed through and sprinted down the path for all he was worth.

He was exhausted yet again by the time he reached the stream. He threw himself flat in the water, moving to the edge and peeking out between two rocks. The water was frigid but he stayed low and scanned the trail for any sign of the thing. A horrifying thought struck him.

Oh God, Deb! Please God, let her be sitting in a police station! I couldn’t stand it if she were dead, especially like that; her body ripped...no! Don’t think like that! She’s at the police station, reporting your disappearance.

There was no sign of it on the trail or anywhere within view. Maybe it hadn’t come after him. Maybe he wouldn’t see it anyway in the moonlight. Maybe it was toying with him.

He gathered his courage, deciding that he had to get to Deb. He slipped quietly out of the water and started back along the trail. Keeping as low as he could, he scanned the surrounding forest continuously. A full moon offered the only light. Please God, he prayed fervently as he felt his way along the trail, adding to the scratches that already covered him, let her be safe!

"Looks like another slow Sunday night." said Deputy Matt Handly, leaning back in his chair. The remains of an Italian sub sat on a napkin beside the phone on his desk.

"Don’t say that!" Vance snapped. "You know that as soon as you do the phone’s gonna ring. I was looking forward to a slow night, if you don’t mind." He leaned his elbows on the sheriff’s desk and picked up a french fry. He used it to shove around the remains of his hamburger around before popping it into his mouth. "I guess it’s about time to make the rounds, eh?"

Matt glanced at the clock and sighed. "Looks that way. Don’t forget to take your yuppy serum."

"Yeah, no shit," Vance said with a chuckle, "But at least they’re quiet."

The phone rang, and they stared at each other for two full rings.

"Five bucks."

"Sorry, your turn."

Vance sighed and picked up the receiver, punching the line button. "Police, Officer Vance."

The voice on the other end was frantic. Seeing the look on Vance’s face, Matt gave him a questioning glance and reached for his extension.

"Nothing but babble, Dep. Something about a creature in the house...whoa! Slow down! Take it easy!" he said quickly into the phone. Matt put his phone to his ear.

"Are you calm? Now, just relax and tell me what happened. Give me the address first. yeah...okay...got it. Now please stay calm and tell me."

They both listened while the caller relayed his story. After they hung up, Vance sighed loudly. "What the hell kind of crap is this on a Sunday night? Do you think they’re on crack? And why in the hell didn’t they use 911?"

"No, they seemed to coherent after they calmed down. Could be that some freak was running around in a costume. Either way, we gotta check it out. I’ll take care of that. You go ahead out to South Franklin. Oh, and tell Hawkins to get out here and man the shop until one of us gets back. If he gets anything else, have him call you. I might be a while."

"No sex on duty, Dep." Vance said with a quick grin as he went back to get Hawkins.

"Never." Handly said, walking for the door. "Besides, if this address is ringing the right bell, said occupant is engaged." He hopped into his patrol car and headed out. It took him almost fifteen minutes to get there. Twenty-three hundred was the last house on Forest Road. As he pulled into the driveway, he saw that all the lights were on in the house. He parked behind the little Acura, grabbed his flashlight, and walked up to the front door.

Mike peered out from behind a tree. Every light in the house was on, including the flood lights for the yard and driveway. He breathed a sigh of relief. The lights weren’t on when he had come back the first time, so Deb must be all right. As he worked his way toward the tree line, he saw the headlights as a car pulled into her driveway. That was either her coming back from somewhere or the police, he thought.

He stopped for a few moments to catch his breath. In his condition, the medium grade up to her yard was tiring. He was cold and beat to hell. When he had regained his breath, he moved to the yard.

Right there to his face that caller had stuck to the same story. Matt told him that he would take a look out back; and that was why he was standing at the kitchen door, panning his flashlight along the trees, when it stepped out.

"Holy Mary of Jesus!" he gasped, the misquote unnoticed.

He thought the guy had been crazy, but there it was right in front of him, walking with a slight stoop across the yard. It was a freaking wereman!

It’s skin was light, like the skin under the fur of a natural blonde or the surface of a sandstone statue. It’s face was flat and cruel. Rippled, sinewy muscles bulged from beneath it’s skin. It was almost sensual, just like in the novels.

That’s how they get you. Then they rape you, pummeling your body with those clawless fists. After that, they grind the flesh from your broken bones with powerful jaws and blunt teeth, ripping huge chunks of meat...

He dropped the flashlight and reached for his thirty-eight.

It was Handly’s fear that saved Mike’s life. Two things happened simultaneously: Matt dropped his flashlight, and Mike saw the form silhouetted in the doorway.

He froze about ten feet from the trees, his heart jumping. Instinct took over when the thing opened the screen door. He whirled and ran back into the woods. As he broke through the tree line, he heard a gunshot. A bullet hit the tree next to him, spraying him with bark. He kept running as three more shots rang out and hit the trees around him. He ran out of breath almost immediately.

Stumbling, he left the path and headed for the nearest outcropping of rock. Feeling his way around, he found a tight crevice that opened into a small cul de sac. He scrambled in, thanking God that it wasn’t already occupied. He was fairly sure that he was hidden from outside view. The crevice he had crawled through curved slightly. He curled up in a ball, conserving his warmth, and prayed.

In his panic, it had not occurred to him that a werewolf had shot at him.

Matt backed into the kitchen, holstering his gun with a shaking hand. He couldn’t believe what he had just seen. This was supposed to be the stuff of books and movies, not southern Illinois. No one would believe this back at the station.

He turned to the civilian, who was standing by the table looking scared shitless. "You got anything to drink?" he asked, "Fuck being on duty, I need one."

The civilian replied, the voice a little shaky, "Yeah, I’ve got some, uh, Jack in the cupboard. I think I’ll have a belt myself. And don’t worry, after that I’m not going to say anything."

"Thanks. Look, uh, I think we should keep this quiet until I can talk to the sheriff in the morning. Don’t go spouting what you saw to anyone."

Green eyes widened as he poured two stiff drinks, and he started to retort.

"Listen," Matt said quickly, holding up a hand, "I assure you that we’re going to hunt this thing down, but we can’t go around saying that we saw a monster. Do you understand what that would do? No one would believe it. I’d look like an ass and no one would ever go after it."

"Yeah, I understand." the civilian replied, handing Matt his drink. "What if it comes back?"

They both took a long swallow. "Do you have a gun?" Matt asked, nodding as the man indicated that he did. "Then go get it. That thing ran fast enough when I shot mine. That should be enough to keep it away until we can mount a search tomorrow morning. I imagine that we’ll be looking for an escaped human or some such thing. I’m definitely not telling anyone that I don’t trust real well that I saw a wereman. That is, if I still believe my eyes in the morning. Either way, we’ll be packin’ heavy."

He woke to the sound of birds fluttering in the trees above his hiding place. As his eyes adjusted, he saw a bright shaft of sunlight shining down onto him. That’s probably what kept him from freezing, that and the surrounding rock blocking out any breezes.

Wincing, he stretched his legs as far as he could, trying to work out the cramps. He was sore all over from the events of yesterday. Sleeping fitfully in a small hole hadn’t helped things.

He decided to get out and take a look around. He was so cramped and sore that he couldn’t bear another minute inside. He listened for any unnatural sound, hearing only the birds above. Moving stiffly, he crawled out, watching for any signs of danger. Staying near the crevice, he stretched his shoulders, back, and legs. His stomach growled, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten since Saturday evening. He glanced at his watch. It was ten thirty-two on Monday. He had slept for eight hours or so.

He stood there, scanning the woods and wondering what to do, and how to explain this at work. Eventually, he opted to go back to the house. Maybe in daylight things would be all right. He walked to the stream, splashed some water on his face and chest, and trudged up the trail. God, please let Deb be okay.

Matt sat in the front office, waiting for Sheriff Worthy to get in. As he went over the details of last night, he came to the conclusion that it would be in his best interest not to tell the whole truth.

He had called Jerry Sillet, the civilian who had started this whole thing, at about six and gotten their story straight. They would say that they had seen a human, some ape that probably escaped from somewhere, and go no further. They’ve been known to get away before, and usually turned up in someone’s yard eating shrubbery.

He would say that someone had called and reported an ape in their back yard. He had gone out to investigate. The caller had been right. He had seen it with his own eyes. He had shot at it and scared it off. Right now, it was probably hiding out in the woods behind the house.

He picked up the phone to call the Chicago Zoological Park. That’s what you’re supposed to do when an escaped animal is found, and he wanted to keep his story consistent. Human or wereman, they would find it later this morning. There was only so far it could go without being spotted.

It suddenly occurred to him that, if it was a wereman, they would never find it. By now the beast would have changed back to a man. Maybe they’d find a half-naked man sleeping under a rock somewhere.

A security guard answered the phone and told him that the manager wouldn’t be in until nine. He asked for his home number, got it, and promised to assume the responsibility for waking the guy up.

"Mr. Childs?" he asked when the phone was answered.

"Speaking."

"Mr. Childs, this is Deputy Handly down in Decatur. I’m sorry to wake you, but I have some important questions to ask."

"I was already up. Decatur? What can I do for you?"

"Last night we had a report of a human sighted a little south of here. When I went to check it out, I saw it myself. It got away and is presumably hiding out in the woods there. Do you have any escaped apes?"

"Well, I’ll be damned! We don’t, but the FBI does. One escaped from their wing here about two days ago. They’ve got some of our people out with the feds hunting him down right now. You say that you saw him down there?"

Matt reveled in his good fortune, perking up his ears. Maybe it had been an ape after all. "I’ve got one witness and myself. Happened about two a.m."

"But that’s almost what, one hundred and seventy miles?"

"Well, he was kinda skinny but looked strong enough. Scared me shitless, to be honest." he countered, swiveling his ears.

"Hmm, maybe he hitched a ride somehow, he’s not a typical human. All right, I’ll call off a few of the guys from the search here and send them down. They should be there in about three hours. I’d rather let the feds handle this anyway, so I’ll send them too."

"Thanks for your time, Mr. Childs. We’ll be in touch."

"You’re welcome. Have a nice day."

"I’ll try." Matt said as he hung up.

When Sheriff Worthy got in about three hours later Handly briefed him on the events of last night and his call to Chicago. Worthy had listened with mild interest, habitually grooming his chest, until Matt mentioned the feds.

"Oh shit, Handly. They’re coming here? That’s all I need, a bunch of damned feds running around like they own the place. He walked over to his desk and sat down heavily, scratching behind his now flattened ears. "Now everyone’s gonna want to know why there’s feds romping around our woods. When are they supposed to get here, and why is the FBI chasing an ape?"

"They should be here any time now. As for the human, it’s there’s, supposedly."

The team arrived twenty minutes later, complete with long-barrel dart pistols. Flashing their IDs, they introduced themselves as Agents’ Meuller, Eklund, and Ford.

They all went inside and Worthy filled them in on Handly’s story. Meuller asked to be taken to the woods where he had been seen.

"Why are you guys so interested in this thing, anyway? It’s just an ape, for crying out loud. Can’t the zoological park people handle this?" Worthy asked.

"He doesn’t belong to the park, he belongs to us. He isn’t just a human, either. He’s a very smart human. He speaks sign language and likes Beethoven, if you can believe that. We need to get him back as soon as possible. He’s been expensive. Oh, and by the way, there’s no special danger involved with him, in case you were wondering, just the usual for a domesticated yet wild animal of this type."

"Yeah, right. Okay, the place is about twenty minutes from here. Let me fill a canteen and I’ll take you down. Handly, you comin’ or going to bed?"

"Sure, I’m off tonight. Let me give my better half a call before we go."

Matt made his call while Worthy went to get his canteen. The feds talked amongst themselves, obviously anxious to get moving. He promised to be back for supper and hung up. "You guys sure seem to be enjoying yourselves."

Eklund looked over and smiled, exposing white fangs and perking his ears. "Shoot, I haven’t had this much fun in months."

Matt shuddered as he remembered last night, his fur prickling. "Me neither."

Worthy came back in and they left. Worthy and Matt rode in Worthy’s patrol car, followed by the feds in their pickup. It’s bed was covered with a large steel top, air vents cut into the sides.

They reached the house soon thereafter, and Meuller questioned Jerry. Matt was relieved to hear him stick to their story. It was almost eleven before they started into the woods.

"This is the path you said he ran down?" Ford asked.

"Yeah. As a matter of fact, this is the only trail out here. We were not far from here Sunday looking for a missing person. It makes a big circle for about five miles, ending back here.

"Missing person?" Eklund pondered. "Nah, can’t have anything to do with it; not on Sunday."

"Doubt it." Meuller added.

They stood at the junction, looking around, their ears moving constantly. "Not too many animal trails. I guess we’ll just have to tromp around in the brush. Doesn’t look too bad, though. I hope I don’t have to spend the rest of the day picking briars out of my legs."

"All right," Meuller announced, "Spread out about fifty feet, sweeping just like we did up north. Keep your noses and ears open. Sheriff, Deputy, you might want to stay behind us so we have a clear shot when he shows himself. He knows us, so he might pop up."

"What kind of range do you get with those things?" Vance asked, gesturing to the dart guns.

"We won’t miss within forty yards. I’d like to get as close as possible, though. The juice will knock him out in about fifteen seconds."

They loaded their guns and spread out.

He had barely gotten half way up the trail when he heard voices. Someone was obviously coming. He debated showing himself. If it was the police, he was probably safe. But someone had shot at him last night, and it might be them. He had been pondering that. Maybe it was the cop, thinking he might be some kind of prowler. If that was the case, Deb might just be all right after all.

He chose to play it safe. Making as little noise as possible, he left the trail and hid behind a large boulder. He could see the trail without exposing himself.

The voices stopped, but he could still hear them approaching. He strained to see without sticking his head out too far. His stomach growled loudly, and he cursed his situation.

He heard more footsteps. They were coming from both his right and left. He found that he couldn’t move without exposing himself to one side or the other, but if he didn’t move soon, they would be right on top of him.

He risked a glance up the trail and his blood turned to ice. Coming straight toward him were two of them! In broad daylight! He turned to run, did a double-take, and stopped himself.

They were wearing clothes! Both wore knee-length shorts, one dark blue and the other gray. Each wore matching shirts. As they came closer, he saw the strange cut of the shirts. Instead of buttoning up the front, they were open in a wide vee all the way to where they tucked into the pants, and seemed tailored that way. The one in blue resembled, for all the world, a cop. His large canine ears poked from the sides of a narrow policeman’s cap.

The one in gray carried a gun.

A gun? What in the hell is this? Werewolves with clothes and guns? In daylight? Am I going completely crazy?

"Do you hear breathing?"

"Hey! I’ve got him! Oh holy shit, will you look at that!"

Mike whirled to his left. He had forgotten about the other footsteps. The creature, dressed in gray, stood not fifteen feet away and pointed a gun. It was funny, but it looked scared.

"What? If you got him, juice him!" Meuller yelled.

His mind raced. He turned and ran down the trail as another voice yelled behind him.

"Good God, what is that? Shoot it, shoot it, shoot it!"

Just before he reached a bend in the trail he heard a hollow "pop" from behind. Something stung hard beside his left shoulder blade.

"Good shot!"

He tried to reach it as he ran, but it was just out of reach and he couldn’t risk slowing. He could hear them running behind him. He tried to run faster, but something was wrong. He willed his legs to move, but he was slowing far faster then he should be. He heard bushes rustle to his left.

A fourth one!

He spun to look as he ran passed, seeing it drop to one knee. There was another popping sound and sting, this one on the back of his left thigh. He reached down and plucked something out, still running.

A dart! It had discharged immediately. He quickened his efforts, lungs heaving. A few steps later, he started feeling dizzy. The forest tilted crazily and he stumbled. The voices behind him faded, echoing oddly, and blackness closed in from the corners of his vision.

He was still trying to run when he realized that he had fallen. He crawled, dragging his drugged body along the ground. His own outstretched hand was the last thing he saw before losing consciousness.