Something a bit different than our usual fare. We hope you enjoy this excerpt from John L. French’s When the Moon Shines, which includes a bonus reading by the author at the end.
They had been asleep for several years. Resting, renewing their strength, living off the fat they had stored prior to their slumber. But now it was their time. Their bodies stirred, their hearts beat faster, and their blood warmed. Soon, they began to awaken.
Kona woke first, looking about, smelling the air, listening to the sounds of the woods. She sensed danger, there was always danger, but others could not get close to the place they had chosen for their nest, not like the cave.
The cave. She remembered the sorrow of the cave, and if she could have, she would have wept. But weeping was not in her nature. The past was a painful memory, but the present was all that now mattered.
Kona wanted to cry out, to announce to the forest creatures that their queen had awakened, but it was not yet time. He must awaken, then they must feed to restore their strength.
A low whistle sounded, one heard only by her. Forra was stirring, his blood warming. Soon his eyes would open. He would see her, and the bond between them would be renewed.
Forra’s eyes opened, and he gazed into hers. Both felt the warmth that was not caused by blood. A yearning for each other that could not yet be satisfied as neither had the strength.
He raised his head, looked around at the place they had chosen. It was good. Clear ground, high up, difficult to approach unseen. Not like the cave.
The cave had been well hidden to the eyes of men and common beasts, but not to the hairy ones. They had sniffed and felt them out. When the chicks arrived but before they could fly, when Forra was out hunting, the hairy ones came.
The cave was narrow, and there was no escape from the back. Two by two, they attacked, trying to get past her, trying for the hatchlings. Kona fought. Lacking the room to use her wings or tentacles, she ripped at them with her sharp, shiny beak. She killed some, but others came and kept coming. She fought for their lives, a fight she could not win, not with the numbers against her. Her hatchlings—one like Forra, two like her—would be devoured, as would she.
Knowing that her death would not save her offspring, and with the cold reasoning of her kind, she fought her way through, killing more of the hairy ones but taking injuries from claw and tooth, wounds that would take a long sleep to heal. Once free of the cave, she lifted into the sky to escape the overwhelming pack. As she fled, her children called to her. Their young minds reached out to hers with desperate pleas for help. Their cries pierced her heart, but Kona could not save them. She could only avenge them.
When Forra felt her mind seeking him, when he saw her flying toward him, he knew that the cave and the young had been lost. Kona would not have left them otherwise. Their eyes met as they felt their bond, but this was not a time for the dance and the embrace. Together they flew from the cave, hunting the hairy ones. They caught three in a clearing, old ones that could not keep up with the pack. They would do.
Swooping down, she lifted one in her claws. She did not feed on it, did not pull the blood from its body, for it had fed on her offspring, and she did not want to taste her own.
The others Forra destroyed. One he tore apart with his teeth. The other he carried high as he searched for the pack. Once he found it, he dropped the corpse in their midst.
Their vengeance, such as it was, would not bring their offspring back. But it did show the hairy ones the cost of their attack.
Abandoning the cave, they flew south and, after a search, found the high ground. Landing, they searched by scent, sight, and mind. Not finding any trace of the hairy ones, they hunted and ate until they were more than full. Then it was time for the sleep. Their wings folded, Kona’s tentacles holding Forra close to her, they used their minds to fade away, to become part of the landscape, a part that would be ignored by anyone who came upon them. Only then did they sleep.
The pack was starving. They were too great in number, and there was not enough prey. There were fights, and leadership changed many times.
To survive, they dared to attack the nest of the flying ones. The female fled, leaving her small ones. The three strongest of the pack had feasted on these. The ones that did found their minds strengthened, their senses heightened, their power to freeze and compel prey increased.
They should have fought, should have battled each other until two submitted. But their minds connected, and they joined their thoughts. As one, they directed the pack in the hunt.
No leader could bring food that was not there. In desperation, they led the pack away from the shadows and darkness that was their home and into the open ground to prey upon placid beasts as they grazed and slept. But then came their protectors, men with the power of thunder and pain. The pack was driven away; some were hurt, some left the pack forever. One of the three that lead them surrendered his essence to the earth.
Knowing there was only one path to survival, the pack split, some of its members following one leader north, some following the other south, back to where their kind had come, but where they had not been for many seasons.
In the light of the fat Moon, Kona and Forra left their nesting place and soared through the sky. They saw foxes and rabbits and once chased an owl from the sky, from their sky. Later they would share it with other raptors, but that night it was theirs alone.
Foxes and rabbits were too small to feast on that night. So they flew low, sending the prey their thoughts, awakening them, and sending them running in fright. Forra chased a doe out of hiding and into the open. Kona swooped and grabbed it in her talons. She did not take it home. Instead, she flew high and fastened her tentacles around it. In the air, she drained it dry, then let its bloodless body fall to the ground. Forra saw cattle sleeping in their pen. They were restless, nervous, knowing something was not right, but unaware of what it might be. He too swooped. Using both claws, he lifted one of the beasts and flew it back to their high ground where he let his mate drink her fill before his razor-sharp teeth ripped the carcass apart so he could devour its meat.
Having fed well, Forra and Kona launched themselves into the sky as one. Once aloft, they became one in fact, her tentacles wrapping around him, taking pleasure from him and returning it to him. Rejoicing in their awakening, in their meal, and in each other, they cried out their delight, announcing their presence to all.
The pack had been in the woods for a half cycle of the Moon. To the other dwellers of the forest, the ones with instinct but no inherited memory, easy prey upon which the pack would grow fat, they were death on two legs.
More creatures came, creatures that walked like pack but moved like prey. They spoke loudly and made their way without caution so that all knew of their presence. Pack memory called the creatures “Man.” Night after night, the pack watched them from the darkness but took no action. Man knew of the pack but had not seen them for many, many seasons. They were legend and myth, cautionary tales to frighten Man’s young into obedience.
Verr, the pack leader, recalled that Man possessed the power of thunder and pain. They also called light to their command. Light that burned bright and hurt the pack’s eyes. Still, Verr thought, they are in our territory and have marked it, and this cannot be.
We will attack them, kill them, devour them, Verr thought to his pack. When you charge, close your eyes and be guided by their scent. Feast well.
JOHN L. FRENCH is a retired crime scene supervisor with forty years’ experience. He has seen more than his share of murders, shootings, and serious assaults. As a break from the realities of his job, he started writing science fiction, pulp, horror, fantasy, and, of course, crime fiction.
John’s first story “Past Sins” was published in Hardboiled Magazine and was cited as one of the best Hardboiled stories of 1993. More crime fiction followed, appearing in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, the Fading Shadows magazines and in collections by Barnes and Noble. Association with writers like James Chambers and the late, great C.J. Henderson led him to try horror fiction and to a still growing fascination with zombies and other undead things. His first horror story “The Right Solution” appeared in Marietta Publishing’s Lin Carter’s Anton Zarnak. Other horror stories followed in anthologies such as The Dead Walk and Dark Furies, both published by Die Monster Die Books. It was in Dark Furies that his character Bianca Jones made her literary debut in “21 Doors,” a story based on an old Baltimore legend and a creepy game his daughter used to play with her friends.
John’s first book was The Devil of Harbor City, a novel done in the old pulp style. Past Sins and Here There Be Monsters followed. John was also consulting editor for Chelsea House’s Criminal Investigation series. His other books include The Assassins’ Ball (written with Patrick Thomas), Souls on Fire, The Nightmare Strikes, Monsters Among Us, The Last Redhead, the Magic of Simon Tombs, and The Santa Heist (written with Patrick Thomas). John is the editor of To Hell in a Fast Car, Mermaids 13, C. J. Henderson’s Challenge of the Unknown, Camelot 13 (with Patrick Thomas), and (with Greg Schauer) With Great Power …
You can find John on Facebook or you can email him at him at firstname.lastname@example.org.