Friday, October 9, 2015

S.G. LEE: Late Bloomer

Late Bloomer

2015 © S.G. Lee

With the razor-sharp eyes of a predator, he spotted his prey under the full moon’s golden halo. The scent of her, sweet, spiked with the tang of fear, made him salivate. He could hear the pitter-patter of her heart fluttering; it was intoxicating. Softer than a whisper, he crept closer. The previous day’s rain softened the ground and muffled his steps as he stalked the trembling little rabbit. Trees, wet and heavy with summer’s leaves, provided cover but the beast within could not be contained.
He sprang from his hiding place and overtook the frightened creature in two long strides. Warm, salty bliss flooded his tongue as his teeth plunged into her tender flank. He tore away a hunk of bloody flesh and swallowed it whole then dove in for another. Three cavernous gashes hemorrhaged enough of her life’s blood to send her delicate body into shock. Rendered helpless, the victim panted her last breath leaving him free to leisurely indulge in her succulent meat. Each choice morsel was a delectable symphony of flavors to his eager palate. In mid-feast, a loud crash startled him.
Hunter’s eyes snapped opened as the dream faded. He jolted upright as a second crash announced the arrival of a blinding light.
“Police! Hands in the air!” an angry voice snarled.
In his semi-conscious state, Hunter sprang to his feet while attempting to shield his eyes from the glaring lights. Peering through thin slits, he could barely make out the shadowy outline of four bodies. He blinked, once, twice, and twice again until the blurry shapes melded into familiar faces. Damn, is that—?
“Um, Sheriff Zettle? Is that you? stammered Hunter. “It’s not what it looks like; I swear. Kyra and I were studying and she was too tired to drive home. Nothing happened! Tell him, Kyr— oh my God!”
For the first time, Hunter turned to face his bed. Kyra’s beautiful face was barely recognizable through the splattering of bloody viscera. Gone was her supple, toned belly and in its place a gaping wound where her intestines spilled out onto the sheets. The carnage was unlike anything he’d ever seen. Horrified, Hunter took a step toward the remains of Kyra’s body.
“Go ahead,” Sheriff Zettle sneered. “Give me a reason.”
Hunter’s head snapped back to face Kyra’s father. The sheriff had his gun aimed right between Hunter’s eyes. Realizing what it must look like, Hunter raised his hands, slowly, above his head. Kyra’s blood; visibly caked on his fingers, palms, went all the way up to his elbows. Kyra’s glowing cell phone showed her father’s number. Hunter’s entire body shuddered. His stomach went into reverse and emptied onto the floor. Still doubled over, a sharp blow to the back of his head sent Hunter face first into his own vomit, unconscious.
“Deputy Kolinsky, cuff that sonofabitch and take him to the station. The rest of you, bag everything,” the sheriff ordered. “This bastard is gonna fry for what he did to my baby girl so do not make a single mistake. Speaking of … Hunter Volkodlak, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say, can and will be used against you— ”
“Um, Sheriff, he’s unconscious.” Deputy Greene interrupted. “He can’t hear you.”
“Maybe not, but you can. I have witnesses that I read him his rights.” Zettle slapped the back of his deputy’s head then finished reading the Miranda.
When Hunter opened his eyes again, the tiny cell spun like a Tilt-a-Whirl. His eyes squeezed shut and he waited for the spinning to stop before trying again. Without thinking, his fingers probed the source of pain on the back of his head only to ignite a searing agony that brought tears to his already bleary eyes.
“Ow! Sonofa—” Hunter growled as he pulled his hand away.
A fresh coat of his blood covered the crusted remains of Kyra’s. Kyra. His heart broke again at the thought of her. What kind of monster would do something like that to her and why didn’t I hear them? His mind reeled with questions to which he had no answer. Though unlikely, Hunter held out hope that the love of his life was still alive. She’s always been a fighter. Maybe
“Well, look-ee who’s finally awake,” Deputy Kolinsky sing-songed. “I’m guessing you want your phone call, huh? Sheriff said we gotta do everything by the book so you can’t get off on some technicality. Nope, you’re gonna fry for what you did.”
“C’mon, I’m no more guilty than you are. I would never, ever, hurt Kyra. I love her.”
“Don’t you dare ever say her name again, you filthy murderer! Her daddy told her to stay away from you. You and your whole family ain’t nothing but trouble. And now she’s dead. You’ll get your phone call then I don’t want to hear another peep outta you, got that?”
Hunter’s hopes for Kyra vanished, leaving behind a gaping hole where his heart had been. In a few short seconds, he ran a gamut of emotions, from one end of the spectrum to the other. His hope gave way to anger, rage, denial, confusion, fear, and sorrow. It took every ounce of energy to choke back his tears. He’d get no sympathy at the station.
The deputy unlocked the cell, yanked his prisoner upright, and shoved him toward the door. Still shackled, Hunter shuffled to the nearest desk and lifted the receiver. Kolinsky punched in a code then stepped back to allow “the murdering dirt-bag” his one phone call.
Who can I call? Hunter wondered. His head throbbed as he mentally scrolled through his short contact list. Hunter was only nine when his dad disappeared. Mom, still in the hospital after her last dialysis treatment failed, wouldn’t be able to help. His older brother, Lee, skipped town nearly a decade prior, after some legal issues. Last he’d heard; Lee was in another state. At six years Hunter’s senior, the brothers had never really been close.
Hunter had always been a loner, except for Kyra. She befriended him in the third grade and they’d been best friends ever since. In Kyra’s freshman year of college; after too many boyfriends let her down, she asked Hunter on their first official date. Hers was the only voice he wanted to hear. Knowing it was futile, he dialed her cell phone just hear her sweet voice once more. Hunter nearly wept when her outgoing message played. He listened until the beep and hung up.
“Voicemail,” he muttered to the waiting deputy and shrugged. Heartbroken, he made his way back to the cell and flopped down on the smelly, stained cot.
“Just ‘cause you didn’t leave a message doesn’t mean you get another call.” Deputy Kolinsky hollered before locking Hunter’s cell.
Hunter curled into a ball, with his face buried in the pillow, and grieved his beloved Kyra.
Sheriff Zettle pulled a few strings and the next morning Hunter was in front of a judge for his arraignment. Though he entered a plea of, “Not guilty,” the evidence provided warranted moving to a grand jury hearing. When the judge declared the accused “held without bail,” Hunter’s head hung low but he said nothing. The smirk on Zettle’s face only confirmed what everyone suspected; the decision was made long before the boy entered Judge Hadley’s courtroom.
Within the hour, Hunter was shuttled to the county correctional facility and sporting D.O.C orange. Next he was led to a slightly-larger cell than his previous detainment. A mammoth of a man rolled off the top bunk, landing on his size 13 feet with a thud.
“Got a newbie for ya, Duncan. Show him the ropes,” the guard said as he shoved Hunter inside.
“S’up,” Duncan grunted as he thrust his chin up in acknowledgement. “I like being on top. You got a problem with that?
Wide eyed, Hunter shook his head no and hoped Duncan’s preference was meant solely for sleep.
“Whatcha in for, kid?” Duncan eyed his new cellmate. Unlike most of the hardened criminals and repeat offenders he encountered inside the prison walls, the whey-faced boy pressed against the wall appeared out of place.
“I—I didn’t do it. I’m innocent!” Hunter protested.
“Yeah, me too. Brother, we’re all innocent but that’s not what I asked. I said what are you in for?”
“They think I killed my girlfriend,” he answered, “but—”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. You didn’t do it,” Duncan interrupted. “You’re pale as a ghost. You should sit down before you pass out. Do me a favor … let me know if you’re gonna hurl. Can’t stand that shit. Gotta leave or I’ll hurl too. Anyway, what’s your name? Unless you want me to keep calling ya, kid. If you weren’t so tall, I’d swear you’re only twelve.”
Easing his lean frame onto the stool attached to a miniscule shelf meant to be a writing desk, he answered. “My name is Hunter Volkodlak and I happen to be twenty-one.”
Duncan extended his meaty paw in greeting. “That’s quite a mouthful there, Hunter,” he laughed. “I can tell from your face this is your first time in the joint. Don’t worry. I’m not interested in reenacting movie clichés. You’re safe and, no; that doesn’t make you my prison wife. I’ve got a wife and she’s mighty fine. Your scrawny ass ain’t my type.”
Hunter exhaled and, for the first time since Sheriff Zettle stormed into his apartment, a weak smile tugged at his mouth.
  During his first week of incarceration, Hunter’s lawyer, a mealy-mouthed public defender, visited three times. Each meeting was the same. The anemic little man would wring his pasty hands and deliver bad news. The investigators found no signs of forced entry, all doors and windows were locked, and no one else was in the apartment.
“The only prints they found were yours, the victims, and those of a, um, Ms. Sylvia Volkodlak.” Eugene Marvin, Esquire mumbled as he fumbled through his papers. “It says here the apartment is in her name.”
“Yeah, that’s my mom. She’s in the hospital. I told you that already.” Hunter sighed. With this inept clown representing me, I’ll get the death penalty for sure. Sheriff Zettle might get his wish, after all, he thought while his not-so-intrepid defender blathered on without a hint of planning for his defense.
The following two weeks held more of the same. He’d seen Eugene Marvin for the third time on Wednesday so, when they summoned Hunter for a visitor, it came as a shock. Unlike his attorney meetings, the guard escorted him to a different room with a bank of telephones separated by reinforced glass.
“Last one on the end,” the guard barked then slammed the door shut.
Mom shouldn’t have come in her condition; Hunter worried but the buff frame under a shaggy mane of jet-black hair did not belong to mom. Facing the opposite wall, the man’s face was hidden. Pretending he wasn’t alarmed, Hunter straightened his spine and puffed out his chest as he walked to the end booth and took a seat. Slowly, the man across from him, turned. Intense, dark eyes peered from beneath sleek eyebrows knitted together in concern. If Hunter didn’t know better, he could have sworn there were tears in those hard eyes. To his left, a fellow prisoner called out.
“Holy shit! Lelantos Volkodlak … I ain’t seen you in ages. Where you been, Dawg?”
The elder Volkodlak brother tapped on the glass and signaled for Hunter to pick up the phone. The felon next to Hunter grabbed the receiver instead and excitedly repeated his greeting.
“I’ve been telling you since kindergarten; I prefer Lee.” he sighed. “Put my brother on. He and I need to talk.”
Hunter heard his brother’s deep voice so he snatched the receiver from the other man’s hand. With a peculiar expression of awe, the fellow inmate apologized and exclaimed, “You’re Lee’s brother?” Like meercats, heads popped up along the line and stared. Shaking his head, Hunter straddled the stool and steeled his spine before looking up at his brother with hardened eyes.
“How you holding up,” Lee asked. In direct opposition to his brother, Lee’s eyes reflected sorrow and compassion. “I came as soon as I heard. I—I’m sorry, Hunter. I should have been here. When it didn’t hit by your eighteenth birthday, I thought it skipped over you. Mom always said you were a late bloomer but, hell, maybe I just wanted to think it wouldn’t happen to you … that you could have a normal life.” 
Millions of questions churned in Hunter’s brain like an F-4 tornado but he could only manage to squeak out one word. “Huh?”
“You have no idea what you are, do you? We have a lot to talk about, little brother but this isn’t the place for that conversation. Anyway, I’ve hired an attorney for you. She’s going to come see you tomorrow and have you sign the paperwork to get rid of your public defender. Whatever she tells you to do, you do it! Got me? She’s the best there is; do what she says and you’ll be fine.”
Unable to formulate words, Hunter nodded. He’d expected Lee to berate him or call him stupid. Help was the last thing he’d expected from a brother who had always hated him.
“Mom sends her love, by the way. She’s doing better. I was at the hospital earlier and they said she might be able to go home next week. I took some time off from work so I’ll be there to help her … and you. Visitation is almost over but I’ll be back next week, okay? Look, I really am sorry. I thought I was protecting you by leaving.”
Lee raked his hand through his shaggy hair and, again, Hunter thought he saw tears in his brother’s eyes when they said goodbye.
The next day Hunter met his new attorney. From the top of her deep auburn hair to the bottom of her designer, stiletto pumps he could tell she was an indelible force, used to winning and getting her way. With a smile befit a fashion magazine, she bade him to sit down.
“So, you’re the not-so-little, little brother I’ve heard so much about. I can see the resemblance, though your eyes and overall coloring are softer than Lee’s. I daresay your heart and temperament are softer too.” Extending an elegant, perfectly manicured hand, she introduced herself as Larentia Wulfshon. “But, seeing as how we’re going to be family soon, call me Lara.”
Confusion clouded Hunter’s face so she waggled her left hand under his nose. Even under crude, prison-grade fluorescent lights the magnificent diamond adorning her ring finger sparkled, dazzling Hunter’s eyes with miniature spectrums of refracted light. All the while, Lara’s grey eyes pierced through her new client, burning into his soul like a specter.
“Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me … I need to have you acquitted and released before the wedding. It won’t do to have the best man locked up, after all.”
Hunter’s blank face stared at her slack-jawed and befuddled. “Um, I’m sorry. I think you have me confused with someone else. I don’t know anyone getting married and I’m certainly not anyone’s best man.”
With a nod, his new attorney removed some papers from her briefcase and handed them to Hunter. He signed a form permitting the firm of Wulfshon, Rudolph, & Wulfshon full rights to his case, another to dismiss the public defender, Eugene Marvin, and more that blurred together. Back in his cell, he had the vague, dizzy feeling of one recently awoken from hypnosis.
That evening, as he waited for sleep to take him, he could still feel her eyes on him—burrowing into his core. All weekend he thought about the stunning woman, eager for their next meeting. She had answered many of his questions but raised even more. Hunter’s cellmate, Duncan, caught a glimpse of the copper-haired beauty and he too was mesmerized. It seemed, no matter the topic, their conversations always circled back to the lady lawyer.
For the first time, Hunter awaited visiting hours with eager anticipation. He wondered if Lee would return, as promised. When the guard called out, “Visitor for Volkodlak,” Hunter sprang from his seat. This time, instead of being led to the phones, he was escorted to a large room filled with tables and chairs. Lee huddled in the far corner, away from the other visitors. The brothers shared an awkward half-hug/half-handshake before they took their seats.
“Lara worked her magic and got you into regular visitations. So, what did you think of her?” Lee’s eyes sparkled when he mentioned her name. “She’s great, huh? More importantly, she’s like us. I wanted it to be a surprise but … Lara slipped up. I’d like you to be my best man, Hunter. There’s no one I’d rather have by my side when I make Lara my wife.”
Hunter’s jaw gaped but he couldn’t muster words to pass his lips. Confusion and resentment mingled with pride and admiration as the younger Volkodlak stared blankly at his brother. He’d always believed Lee hated him yet there seemed to be hope of a brotherly bond after all.
“I—I don’t …know what to say,” Hunter stammered as he groped for the right words. “Surely there’s someone else who …”
“I owe you more than just an apology, baby brother. I owe you an explanation. I pulled away from you for a long time because I was trying to protect you. Now that we’re, you know, the same; we can be the kind of brothers I’d always wanted us to be.”
“I don’t understand. What were you protecting me from? Before Lee could answer, Hunter continued. “So, you think since I’m in prison, we’re the same now? I’ve got news for you; I didn’t do it!” Hunter’s face burned with rage. His hands trembled and an overwhelming urge roiled in his gut to knock Lee’s smile from his face.  
“Whoa, that’s not what I meant, at all. Calm down. Hey! Look at me! Take a deep breath.” Lee’s eyes locked onto his brother’s and Hunter swore he heard the low rumbling of a growl. “You okay now? Later today, head to the library and get some books on relaxation breathing techniques. You need it. For now, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Hold it. Think only about absorbing the oxygen into your body. Slowly exhale while counting to ten. Better?”
Smiling, Lee reached out and patted his brother’s shoulder. The rage dissipated and Hunter’s color returned to normal.
“See what I mean? Learning to regulate your breathing is vital. Lara taught me that. Just when I thought I was doomed to be alone for the rest of my life, I ran into Lara. Literally, I nearly bowled her over. I was in a rage but she showed me how to control it. You’ll need to learn too. We’ll both teach you, Hunter, and you’ll see. It isn’t the curse I thought it would be.”
“Look, I’m happy you want me to be part of your new life but I have no clue what you’re talking about. What’s with the curse talk and regulated breathing? You’re not making any sense.”
Lee scanned the room, all five senses engaged. Other visitors chatted with inmates while the guards fought boredom and heavy eyelids. The intensity of Lee’s focus sent shivers up Hunter’s spine. A faint whisper of a dream played on the edge of Hunter’s memory, like déjà vu; it was the predator stalking a helpless bunny.
“Promise you’ll keep an open mind?” Lee whispered. “It’s going to sound crazy but I swear it’s the truth. Dad had it, then me, and now you. We’re …” Again, Lee glanced around the room for busybodies. The single word breathed into Hunter’s ear like a summer breeze, “Werewolves.”
Laughing, Hunter clapped Lee on the shoulder. “You almost had me going there for a second. Werewolves, huh? I guess Lara’s planning an insanity plea? Well, forget it. I didn’t do it! Kyra was the best thing that ever happened to me. I didn’t hurt her and nothing, not even fear of the electric chair, will convince me to say otherwise.”
Before Lee could speak, a fight broke out at a neighboring table, putting an end to visiting hours. Their awkward meeting left much unsaid and Hunter brooded until Lara arrived for her scheduled meeting. By then, he’d whipped himself into a fury, ready to pounce the second the guard closed the door.
“I don’t know what game you and Lee cooked up but I’m not okay with an insanity plea. Get this through your head; I did not kill Kyra! What kind of lawyer are you?”
“Lee mentioned his visit with you didn’t go as smoothly as he’d hoped. Calm down and take a seat. We have a lot to clear up. The plain and simple fact is Lee was telling you the truth. You, Lee, and your father before you … you’re infected with the Lycanthrope virus. Ergo, in layman’s terms, you’re a werewolf.”
Hunter cupped his hands over his ears and shook his head. His rage boiled. He wanted to slap her; anything to make her shut up but her eyes penetrated him again. Baffled, he lowered his hands as if something else was controlling them.
“I know you don’t want to believe any of this but look at the evidence, Hunter. You said you love Kyra and you’d never hurt her, correct? Her skin cells and blood were under your fingernails. Your saliva was all over her open wounds. The police stated, on record, that you vomited when you saw her body. Is that true? Well, they ran your vomit through forensics and discovered traces of her flesh and partially chewed organs. The DNA proved it was Kyra Zettle’s.” 
Hunter pushed back from the table, sobbing. “No! That’s not possible!”
“Look at the calendar,” Lara pleaded. “It was a full moon. It wasn’t your fault, Hunter. You didn’t know.”
“NO! You’re just saying that so I’ll think I’m crazy,” he screamed.
“That’s why, when you were younger, Lee kept you at a distance. Before your dad left, he told Lee what he was. As Lee hit puberty, reoccurring nightmares of being a wolf plagued his sleep. It all came to a head when he was seventeen. His then-girlfriend, Vicky, and Lee got into an argument. He tried to send her home; it was the night of the full moon. Vicky got mad and slapped him. Lee transformed and hurt her pretty bad. The hospital called the police but Vicky saw what he became. She promised to drop the charges if he left town and never came back. Lee wanted to protect you and your mom, so he left.”
Hunter slumped into his chair, exhausted and trembling. He refused to believe what Lara said but the part about Lee’s wolf dreams frightened him. He’d had a similar dream the night Kyra died. How could she know that? He wondered. I didn’t tell anyone about the dream.
“Listen to me. You have to protect yourself …and others. The next full moon will be here soon. You need to get yourself into solitary. Pick a fight and make sure you’re in the hole before Thursday night, Hunter.”
“No way! My other lawyer said I need to be a model inmate or it will be a negative reflection when I go to trial. I’m not gonna start any trouble.”
“Someone’s life could depend on it, Hunter,” Lara implored. Her sad eyes pleaded with him but he refused.
Convinced it was part of a conspiracy for an insanity plea, Hunter laid down the law during his next visit with Lee.
“Look, I want to build a relationship with you but if you and Lara keep up this werewolf crap I’m gonna take your name off my visitor list. I don’t want to, okay, but I will if I have to,” said Hunter. “Instead, why don’t you tell me where you’ve been for the past few years? What do you do for a living? For that matter, where do you live?”
Their entire visit consisted of banal chatter, an awkward attempt at getting to know each other and reconnect like brothers. At the end, in the midst of their goodbye hug, Lee whispered to his brother. “You can trust Lara. She gave you good advice; please follow it.”
Despite the ever-growing urge to pick a fight, just to release some steam, Hunter refused to give in to his primal urges. He was convinced his agitation was strictly from the power of suggestion and he wouldn’t be tricked into compliance. Even his dreams increased in intensity. By Thursday morning he was on edge. No one came to see him— not Lara, not Lee. It angered Hunter though he couldn’t explain why. Time ticked slowly and the day passed in a dull fog making him eager for the “Lights Out” announcement. Though his cell had no windows, Hunter pictured a full moon in his mind then raised his hand and extended his middle finger at it. The last thing he remembered was Duncan muttering, “Good night.”
Through the cover of darkness, his steely gaze fixated on the unsuspecting beast. His mouth watered at the thought of tasting such a delectable bounty, more than enough to fill his belly for days. The creature was strong and healthy. It would take stealth and skill to bring it down but the predator knew he was up to the task. Its mammoth size would be its downfall as it slept deeply, inconceivable to it that a smaller animal was about to strike. Lightning fast, he struck and crippled the great beast before it was awake enough to process what was happening. Pained bellows rose up from the wounded mammoth in a cry for help but the predator tore out its throat and dined in silence. The only sound, a gentle pitter-patter as the creature’s blood dripped onto the ground below, replenishing the forest floor and a cry in the distance to “Shut up.” Only when he had his fill did the mighty predator curl up and sleep under the moon’s soft glow.
Hunter woke to shrieks of terror. Stiff and aching he sprang up only to slip and topple over the mangled body of his cellmate, Duncan. The huge man had been ripped open from throat to bellybutton. Half chewed ropes of intestine spilled from Duncan’s body cavity onto the floor like thick snakes coiled in a river of blood. Fatty chunks of chewed gristle had been discarded near the body like wads of old chewing gum. Horrified, the guard reached for his radio. Just then, Hunter caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. His face, masked in dried blood, showed fear. From the neck down, he was caked in rust-colored viscera.
Trembling, Hunter dropped to the floor and wept. Incoherent ramblings about wolves and full moons baffled doctors in the prison’s medical ward. Words like “psychological break” and “clinical lycanthropy” were bandied amongst professionals until the judge agreed to commit Hunter Volkodlak to Cedar Ridge Psychiatric Hospital for evaluation.
For the first six months of treatment, Hunter remained in a locked, solitary room under heavy sedation. Daily, he met with his therapists but saw no one other than medical personnel. At night, his medications rendered him near-comatose. Slowly, his doctor incorporated group therapy sessions in addition to his private counseling. Seeing that Hunter had responded well to group sessions, the next step was setting up family visitation. Mrs. Sylvia Volkodlak, her son Lee, and his wife, Lara awaited their scheduled day with eager anticipation mingled with a hint of worry.
The nurses spent extra time helping Hunter groom in preparation for his visiting family. If not for the vacant, medicated glaze to his eyes, he would have been dashing. Any pre-arrival jitters were squashed by an increased dosage in his prescriptions. The doctors and therapists had hashed and rehashed what Hunter should do if he felt overwhelmed or experienced violent urges.
“Not that we expect you will, Hunter,” Dr. Redgrave insisted in his mild, reassuring tone. “It’s just important that you understand how to process your feelings and, surely, you’ll experience an array of emotions when reunited with your family. That’s normal.”
With the increase of medications, Hunter felt nothing at all. He wondered if that was normal too but refrained from asking his doctor.
The instant Hunter’s eyes landed on his family, he forced a smile to sweep across his face. People smile at loved ones, he reminded himself. A split-second later, engulfed in the warm embrace of his mother and brother, the smile was no longer forced. Mom dabbed her teary eyes with a tissue then kissed her baby boy’s cheek. Lee playfully mussed Hunter’s hair before draping his arm across his brother’s shoulders. As a young boy, Hunter had longed for a tight-knit family. It seemed a pity that when it finally happened he wasn’t around to reap the benefits. Leaning against the wall, Lara watched and waited for her turn to say hello. Her normally steeled eyes were shrink-wrapped in unshed tears. She took a tentative step closer and Hunter’s outstretched arms welcomed her into an embrace. Lara’s stammered apology was cut off instantly.
“No, please don’t. You have no reason to apologize, Lara.” Hunter insisted. “If I’d listened to you, none of this would have happened. You and Lee tried to help but I—I…”
Hunter’s words faded. He raked a trembling hand through his thick hair.
“I did the same thing when I first changed,” Lara whispered. “My family tried to warn me but I didn’t listen. Thankfully, my father is an exceptional lawyer and, because of him, my records remained sealed. I decided then and there that I would dedicate my life to helping others in the same situation. When I get you out of here, you’ll see; you’re not alone. The prisons are filled with people like us who don’t know or understand what they are.”
The family embraced in one huge group hug; unaware their every move was observed and documented. Huddled behind a large plant, Dr. Redgrave watched his patient’s behavior. He was pleased to see solid family support. Not once did Hunter exhibit any signs of agitation or loss of control. For a solid hour, Dr. Redgrave scribbled notes on the visit and was impressed with Hunter’s progress.
Overall Impression: Excellent improvement. Patient proved successful in utilizing techniques learned in therapy to reduce anxiety and fear. Additionally, he exhibited no signs of hostility, rage, or social deviance. The introduction of outside stressors posed no external signs of inability to maintain rational behavior. Recommend moving forward with integration to group living. Dr. Redgrave closed his tablet and hurried to catch up with the departing members of the Volkodlak family.
“Please, allow me to escort you out,” he said offering his arm to Hunter’s mother. Once out of his patient’s hearing, he resumed conversation. “I’m quite pleased with Hunter’s progress, particularly in the past few weeks. I think he’s soon ready to move ahead to the next phase of treatment.”
“Oh thank heavens,” Sylvia Volkodlak exclaimed. “He’s coming home!”
“No, not quite yet, Mrs. Volkodlak.” The doctor chuckled warmly to cover up his discomfort. “That’s under the discretion of the courts. I understand his attorney is seeking to have him placed in private care but before I can, in good conscience, sign off on the recommendation; he will need to complete the goals of his next treatment plan. I can; however, assure you that today proved he is ready for the next step.”
Lara and Lee simultaneously inquired about Hunter’s future therapy but the doctor held up a finger to silence them. He pulled his cell from his pocket and gave it a quick glance.
“Forgive me, I have to get back to my patients,” Dr. Redgrave said in a tone contradictory to his plea for forgiveness. “Hopefully we will be able to set up regular visitation days soon. Thank you for coming.”
The doctor spun on his heels and closed the door, leaving the Volkodlak family stunned.
“Did we just get the brush-off,” Lee quipped. “I hate to admit it but I’m worried about the doctor’s secretive treatment plan. He seems arrogant enough to sit in the room with Hunter on a full moon.”
Lara laughed to ease her new mother in law’s worries but there was a certain truth to Lee’s words. Their ride home was quiet until Hunter’s mother broke the silence.
“If only I’d known,” she sobbed. “I never would have saddled either of you with your father’s curse, Lee. I’m so sorry! And poor Hunter, he’s not like you. He was always more … fragile. He may never recover from what happened to Kyra. This is all my fault … and your father’s.”  
Though she tried many times in the following weeks, his mother was unable to reach Hunter after their visit. She wanted to apologize to him, like she had with Lee.
“I think Doctor Redgrave is trying to keep me from speaking with Hunter,” Sylvia complained to her oldest son. “Every time I call, they have an excuse … he’s in group, he’s in therapy, he’s in the dining hall. I called last night at seven and they said he was in group. I called back at eight-fifteen and he was in with the doctor. At eight-forty-five, he was in the commissary and at nine he was asleep. The next full moon is just around the corner and I’m frightened for him.”
Not even Lee and Lara were able to reach Hunter. After countless promises that Dr. Redgrave would call them back, the newlyweds were outraged. They drove to the hospital on the day of the full moon only to be told by an impertinent receptionist that Hunter had been transferred to another hospital. Furious, Lara contacted the judge and the hospital’s administrators to find out where they’d sent Hunter. Everyone she spoke with claimed Hunter, to their knowledge, was still at Cedar Ridge. With no answers and danger looming, Lara and Lee raced home. They’d pulled into their garage as the sun dipped close to the horizon.
“I’m so sorry, Lee.” Lara gave his hand a comforting squeeze.
“You have no reason to apologize, sweetheart. You did everything possible. We just have to pray he makes it through the night safely.”
“Speaking of, we’d better get ourselves into our safe room. We got home awfully late. The sun will set any minute now.”
At 6:08 am, the alarm in Lara and Lee’s safe room signaled; followed by the mechanical whir which retracted their privacy blinds. Lara stretched for a second before grabbing the keys to unlock her restraints. She hated the queasy, hung-over feeling the morning after a full moon but the rich aroma of percolating coffee wafted up through the vents. Her heightened sense of smell would dissipate over the next few days but the scent of coffee always made waking up easier. She slipped her favorite silk robe over her now-smooth skin and padded over to unlock Lee’s restraints. His nose twitched, inhaling the sweet fragrance of Lara’s skin cream mingling with fresh coffee. Still tired, a growl rumbled from his core.
“Quit growling, you animal,” Lara teased as she dropped a kiss on Lee’s cheek. “Hey! There’s three missed messages on your phone. Maybe one of them is Hunter.”
Lee’s eyes snapped open and he grabbed his phone. He didn’t recognize the number on his Caller ID but it hit speakerphone and let the messages play.
“C’mon, c’mon, pick up … Dammit!”
“Shit! Would you pick up?”
“Lee, it’s Hunter. You have to come— oh crap, they found me.”
In the background, Lee could hear people shouting and his brother’s grunts, as if Hunter was in a physical struggle before the line went dead. Worry drained the color from Lee’s face.
“Let’s see whose number this is,” said Lara. She punched the digits into her phone and listened as it went to an automated system. “C’mon, it’s Cedar Ridge. These calls were just before sundown so hopefully he’s still there.”
They sped down the highway and reached the hospital in record time. From a distance, the hospital looked the same as the day they’d visited but their matching predatory senses detected something unusual. Lee grasped his wife’s hand as they walked to the main entrance. Gone was the snooty receptionist from the day before but no one else was in her place. Lara called out; the only answer was her own voice echoing back.
“Something’s not right here,” she whispered.
Lee nodded and stepped behind the desk. Using the sleeve of his shirt, he pressed the buzzer to unlock the main doors to Hunter’s wing. Inside, the once sandy-taupe walls were bathed in blood. Gnawed limbs and severed torsos littered the floor, slick with drained bodily fluids and congealed blood. In the center of the carnage, curled in a ball lay Hunter, sleeping peacefully. His naked body, caked in viscera, was rippled with goose bumps. Lara ducked into a supply closet and retrieved a bed sheet. Lee took the sheet and draped it over his brother before lifting him from the floor.
Startled, Hunter thrashed and leapt out of Lee’s arms only to slip on the gore-drenched floor and land with a thud. Seeing the carnage, Hunter swore.
“I told Doctor Redgrave to lock my door and keep me far away from everyone.” A single tear slid down his cheek but he swiped it away, angrily. “Kyra was an accident. Duncan was my fault but this,” he snarled, waving his arm and pointing to the bodies strewn throughout the wing. “This is Redgrave’s fault. That pompous ass!”
Lara placed a gentle hand on Hunter’s shoulder. “Come on. Let’s get you out of here before the day shift staff arrives. We know people who can get us out of the country, if need be. You’ll never be locked up again.”
“Thanks, Lara.” Hunter replied.
“So now do you believe we’re werewolves?” Lee threw a punch at his brother’s shoulder. “You have a lot to learn, little brother, but we have an entire pack to help teach you. Let’s go.”
Two ecopies each of S.G. Lee’s  Journal of the Undead: Littleville Uprising and Journal of the Undead: New York Outbreak!!!!
To win: go to the Official FB Event Page; find the post announcing  today’s giveaway; and comment, “I WANT TO WIN” in that post and you just might!!! You will automatically be entered in both drawings!!!

S.G. Lee was born in Philadelphia and raised in its suburbs. In anticipation of the inevitable apocalypse, Lee packed up the family and moved to North Central West Virginia but this author’s heart still belongs to the City of Brotherly Love. Though it is rumored that the desire to write about zombies and other monsters was spawned by intense road rage, and a secret longing to club slow drivers with a tire iron, that claim has yet to be substantiated.                                  
S.G. is proud to be a contributing author for all three volumes of the charity horror anthology At Hell’s Gates. The first two novels in Lee's Journal of the Undead series have been released. Journal of the Undead: Littleville Uprising was released in November of 2014. The second book, Journal of the Undead: New York Outbreak, followed in June of 2015. A standalone novella, Ocean, is expected to be released near the end of 2015. Until then, free horror stories and random musings are posted to S.G.’s blog at: Or feel free to connect via social media. Twitter:

Journal of the Undead: Littleville Uprising
The residents of Littleville, Pennsylvania are about to meet their new neighbors…
New to Littleville, the Wexley twins, Matt and Emma assume fitting in at Lincoln High and making new friends will be their biggest worries. They couldn’t be more wrong. Fate would introduce Evan Stone into the neighborhood and all three attempt to navigate the murky labyrinth of eleventh grade but Evan has a secret. His godfather is Dr. G.E. Mitchell, author of Journal of the Undead: A Survivor’s Guide and Evan has been learning about zombies from one of the best.
With an excellent school system, safe streets, and a strong sense of community, the Philadelphia suburb of Littleville has proudly attracted a diverse blend of people but up until now they’d always been living. When Lincoln High School is overrun by flesh-eating corpses, Evan rescues Emma and they battle their way through the zombies to Matt but fleeing the school doesn’t solve their problems. Friends, enemies, and loved ones are lost in the battle against the undead and the entire town is completely overrun. The true terror unfolds, as the survivors must escape and make the dangerous trek from suburban Philadelphia to the highest mountains of West Virginia with the hope of finding a safe haven at the Stone family cabin. If they can reach the secluded refuge, they just might survive the Littleville Uprising.                

Journal of the Undead: New York Outbreak
Struggling actress and full-time waitress, Cassandra Taylor, is having one of the worst days of her life. Rude customers, a cheating boyfriend, and a botched audition are just the tip of the iceberg. Her new neighbor, Ryan McCallistar, has troubles of his own but neither is aware of a growing threat in the underbelly of New York City. Contrary to what the media reports, their so-called flu epidemic is actually a viral plague turning humans into flesh-eating monsters.

Starting on the streets, New York’s homeless are a walking buffet for the reanimated dead. One bite kick-starts a catastrophic outbreak turning the dead into ravenous fiends, bent on devouring flesh from bone. As the infection spreads, people from all walks of life are doomed to a ravenous search for fresh meat. On the same day the governor declares a state of emergency, Cassie learns her grandfather is deathly ill and her family in Ohio begs her to come back home. Ryan vows to help his neighbor find a way to Ohio but to do it, they must escape the watchful eye of every guard employed to patrol the border.

Cassie and Ryan risk life and limb to escape the horrors in The Big Apple but that’s only the beginning of their journey. Can they endure the trek through a zombie-infested wasteland and survive the New York Outbreak?