Yarie had one thing on her mind–revenge on her no-good, murderer of a father.

She pushed away the thought of death and focused on the melody of violin strings playing from behind the curtains at her back. Her feet shuffled across the stage as she swayed her dress from side to side, offering the men at the Sooty Seadog pub a peek at her thighs with each swing of the fabric. No one paid attention, though. They were too busy gulping glassfuls of gin and groping the girls on their laps.

Their greedy hands disgusted Yarie.

She gave a curtsy to the crowd as she hurried off the stage and caught the eye of a young fellow in the far corner. He winked and gave her an open-tooth grin with singular creepiness, before calling for ‘another drink.’ Shivers wormed down her spine.

She strolled out the back of the pub and set a plate with leftovers near an elderly man, who crashed behind the bins. Her shoes clacked against the cobblestones, and her taffeta skirt slid over her legs, doing little to keep out the wind’s chill. She rubbed her arms, folded them over her corset, and strode beneath the moon’s gaze. The gas-lamps along the empty streets gave off a scent of sulphur reminding Yarie of where she wanted to send her father–straight to Hell. The bastard had taken away everything, and then vanished from their farm without a word. She had tracked him to the Bellows district, and while everything she loved might be gone forever, revenge was a certainty.

Ahead, a fog curled around the mud-splattered buildings.

Voices boomed from above, and Yarie froze. She glanced up at the rope bridges connecting the upper levels of the city. Huts balanced on stilts, linked by cable rigs, and two dark figures climbed down the ladder from the nearest tower.

Yarie slipped into a dark alley and crouched behind a crate piled high with rotting garbage. With a hand pressed over my mouth and nose, she peered out and watched the two men who stood in front of the lane. The upper grounds were home to pirates and black marketeers. Not even the guards ventured up there.

“What’s me cut gonna be? I ain’t risked my life for some lousy five or ten percent,” the man with a beak nose said. He reached out for the sack hanging over the other fellow’s shoulder.

The man wearing a red vest jerked back. “You be waiting your turn. Our deal was already made. If you want to change them terms, take it up with the boss.”

“Bloody soul sucker. Since when do you follow rules?”

“Since I don’t want to lose me head.”

Beak nose snorted and threw himself at red vest man, grasping the sack, tugging it.

“Don’t be a fool. Let go.”

“Ain’t no one gonna cheat me out of what’s mine,” beak nose said. With his last words, he gave a sudden tug on the bag and yanked it free from red vest’s arms. He stumbled backward, and a spray of silver and gold trinkets clanked on the cobblestone floor around their feet.

“Damn fool. You’ll have the locals down on us in no time, taking the goods.” Red vest was on his hands and knees sweeping the loot back into his bag. Beak nose scurried about, collecting stray pieces, occasionally tucking a few into his pockets.

The fog spread its fingers across the ground as the men climbed to their feet. They glanced around and took off toward the pier with their sack without another word.

When Yarie could no longer hear their thudding footsteps, she crept out from her hiding spot and onto the main street. Something crunched beneath her shoe. She picked it up. In her hand, lay a crescent-shaped amulet on a chain. Strange inscriptions traced the curves of the gold in a language Yarie did not recognize. Black stains filled the crevices that refused to scrub clean when she ran her fingernails along them. She once read that the moon goddesses guarded females, and decided the pirates loss was her gain. Plus, the jewelry might be worth something. Perhaps enough to buy herself a new home, or so she hoped. She would clean it once she reached home.

The streets were empty with only the wind shrilling. The fear of the pirates returning crossed Yarie’s mind, especially since they traveled the same path she would take home. So, Yarie curved down the side lane, cutting two blocks off her journey and avoiding the main road. She slipped the necklace over her neck, the metal cold against her skin. Her legs hurried along, boots splashing in the drain-waters. Her lip caught between her teeth each time she glimpsed over her shoulder.

Something moved against the shadows alongside her.

She stopped and clutched her bag tighter under her arm.

A broad-shouldered man with a wild hair stepped into the gaslight, his gray coat hanging open under which he wore nothing but his undergarments. He pointed a silver pistol at Yarie, all the while his thumb caressing the leather on the hilt.

Yarie’s legs threatened to give out, and she recoiled, her back hitting the wall. A scream wedged in her chest, but she refused to let it fly. The wicked ruled the night, and unless she wanted the pirates to join the stranger, she had to keep her fear under control.

The man’s cheekbones stuck out like spikes beneath his flesh, and darkness clouded the rest of his face. He chuckled and scratched his nose with the hand holding the gun.

“What do you want?” She wished she didn’t sound so weak.

“You know what I want.” His voice was hoarse as if he had been drinking for a week straight. “I’ve watched you dance for the last few nights. Swinging those fine hips of yours. Bouncing on the stage like a bunny. You’re the prettiest one there, with your long, blonde curls. Just me type.”

He stepped closer and gave her an open-tooth grin.

Yarie recognized him at once. The man from the pub, always with a full glass, and his eyes sliding over her body. He had grinned at her earlier that night. She skimmed her back along the stone building, suddenly wanting to throw up the morsel of food she had eaten. But it wasn’t the first time a man had followed her home. She would reason with him like she’d done with others who were too blind-sighted by their desires to work out her tricks. She pushed her shoulders back, lifting her chin. “I’m not like that, so you’d better turn around and be off. If I scream, the guards will hear.” Her hands curled into fists.

More laughter rolled from the man’s lips, barking into the air as he inched closer. “There are no guards in this quarter.” He waved the pistol about. “No one will hear your screams.”

Running wasn’t an option. He’d shoot her before she reached the end of the lane. Yarie clutched the pendant around her neck, then turned the opening of her bag toward her, so he wouldn’t see her hand slipping inside for the knife.

He skulked closer with his weapon aimed at her chest. “Jist be a good girl and take your dress off quick.”

The man groped himself through his clothes with his free hand.

Her stomach sank as deep as the smutty sea surrounding the Bellows, and she tightened her grip on the blade’s handle. Her muscles twitched, eager to strike.

The stranger lunged.

Yarie’s hand thrust out.

Then her vision turned black.

She didn’t know how much time passed, but soon a face emerged from the darkness around her.

“Mom?” She reached out, but her hand passed through the vision, dissolving into mist.

Couldn’t be. Her mother was dead. Perhaps she was dreaming? That must be it.

A metallic taste smothered her tongue, gagging her. She pried her eyes open to find a form at her feet. Chunks of meat scattered across the alley, and in front of her lay the torn body of the pervert man with his guts sprawled alongside him. Her eyes clamped shut, and when she looked again, he was still there.

“Oh dear God.” The words mumbled beneath her breath.

Her stomach coiled on itself, everything was hazy, and something wet chilled her arms. Blood. A shriek broke free. She bent over and threw up. Scenarios whirred through her head. Could she have killed the man with her blade? Despite the impossibility, she could not stop the panic rising inside her.

She had butchered him.

The queasiness tumbled inside her stomach.

She reached for the amulet. But it was gone. Her fingers followed the bulge of the sickle-shaped pendant beneath her flesh. Dry. Scaly. Numb. A gasp stumbled past her lips, and the wall caught her limp body. How had the damn thing gotten inside her?

Her world plummeted, and an uncontrollable sobbing seized her. She wanted someone to tell her everything would be all right, that her life would return to some kind of normality. Or that she might awaken from the nightmare.

Morning’s veil started to rise.

Dread gripped Yarie’s heart and squeezed. Returning to her flat was not an option in her soiled state. The neighbors or anyone else might see her covered in blood. Then they would find the body and come hunting for her. She snatched her bag and ran toward the sound of water lapping against the nearby jetty to wash the stains, and put distance between herself and the dead man. Then she would leave the district, go somewhere else, and forget her foolish revenge.

Quickening her pace through the mist at the abandoned port, Yarie dashed along a pier and disappeared into the fog’s embrace, unable to see anything in front.

Her next step took her over the edge, and her momentum threw her into the sea. For an instant, she considered giving herself to the icy deep. She had murdered a man and deserved death.

Salt water gushed into her mouth, and she choked on it. She kicked against the torrent curling around her body, and soon her head broke the surface. She gasped for air. Undulating waves threw themselves at her. She splashed and barely stayed afloat, but amid the fog she caught a glimpse of the dock’s pillar. Another slosh of saline rushed down her throat. It was hopeless. She would never swim against the rip. Coughing and fighting the icy waters, Yarie let the back and forth motions of the current carry her to the beams. After a few waves, she got closer and finally grasped the pier, desperately wrapping her exhausted legs and arms around the wood. Her entire body trembled.

From one post to another, Yarie reached the rocky wall beneath the wharf, and held on for a long moment. Her breaths raced. She madly scrubbed the gore off her face and arms along with the flesh caught under her fingernails.

The blood splatters on her clothes reminded Yarie of her mother pleading and crying on her knees in the kitchen. She shook her head, pushing the thoughts back, but it didn’t work. Her vision vanished, and all she saw was her mother struggling for breath while she stared up at Yarie’s father, who held the pistol against her forehead. Yarie hid behind the door and covered her ears from the hatred spewing from his mouth.

Bang.

Her mom flung back, smacking against the linoleum, and blood splashed the counter behind. Yarie swallowed her scream. She shivered and scooted further into the shadows. Her father couldn’t know that she had seen him. He stored the gun in a holster hidden under his jacket and walked out of the kitchen. Yarie buried her face in her knees, weeping. It was her fault. She should have saved her mother. But it was too late. She had tried to forget that incident. Locked it up forever, and now it lay wide open, reminding her how gutless she was.

An icy wind washed over her, and the recollection faded.

The water continued to beat into her. For a while, Yarie stood there, holding onto the rocks, and thinking about how her life always grew worse, no matter what she did. She swam to a fisherman’s ladder nearby, and dragged herself up onto the landing before hurrying toward the abandoned buildings.

Beyond the desperate notion of leaving town, Yarie’s mind refused to work or comprehend anything else. Handing herself in was suicide, and the authorities would hang her like the pirates strung up and left for birdfeed. But she wouldn’t accept such a fate. Not after she had come to Bellows Island to teach her father a lesson. She didn’t deserve any further punishment. He did. Anger rushed to her chest, burning hot, and even the frozen waters couldn’t cool her down. She would not allow anyone to make her the victim ever again.

Yarie inspected her garments. Drenched. Yet blood still clung to the fabric. People would soon fill the area, and Yarie had to make herself disappear. She slipped through an open door in one of the many empty building by the pier. A stale odor of wood shavings, mingled with dust and perspiration hung in the air. Light spilled over the wooden floorboards, and Yarie crept into the darkness beneath the high windows. She slumped with her back to the wall, hugging her knees. Unable to think about anything other than the man she killed, she shut her eyes and waited for the sun to fall.

*****

Yari’s eyes snapped open. Blackness surrounded her. She remembered the man she had killed, the old building she hid inside, and the urgency to leave the Bellows.

Maybe she had hit her head and imagined everything. She’d heard of such things. Black outs. Hallucinations. Unusual behaviors. Perhaps she was so broken that her mind had finally cracked.

Yarie climbed to her feet. Fueled by the terror consuming her courage, she forced one leg in front of the other, hugging herself, and emerged onto the pier. The heavy moon hung over the ocean, and it soon became apparent to Yarie that she had slept the day away.

She dug her fingernails into the skin over the pendant, scratching and tearing, but it didn’t make a difference. The amulet was taking over; she felt it inside, torturing her with horrid thoughts from her past. She should have known something was wrong with the damned thing.

People in the pub had spoken of cursed objects, and legends spoke of a haunted ship possessing people. Or so the story went. But there was no such thing as magic, or enchantments, or… possession?

She couldn’t accept that. It didn’t exist. The only magic she believed in was mechanical and man-made.

But what if?

Yari would cut the metal out of her chest. Yes. If only she had held onto her blade. No matter. She made her way toward the Sooty Seadog pub where she kept a spare blade. Afterward, everything would return to normal.

A shiver encased Yarie’s body as she entered the city streets, brimming with people. She folded her arms, trying to conceal the grime on her corset, praying the late evening hid the bloodstains on her violet garments.

Late night shopping was the latest trend. People wandered along the pebble streets, peering into bakeries, hat shops and antiquity stores. An older gentleman with a top hat strolled by and reminded her of her father. The man who had promised the world and then took everything from her. He did not deserve a decent life, or anything. She shook her head and pushed the pain away.

Right then, she contemplated whether to travel the back roads, which added hours of walking to her trip, or go straight, which meant crossing paths with guards. Her sullied appearance would draw unwanted attention. The body had surely been found, and the authorities would be asking for everyone’s identification. Her handbag lay somewhere on the sea bed. The roads were too dangerous.

Bile laced the back of her throat at her predicament.

She considered entering the upper levels of the city. The trail offered the fastest route with no chance of bumping into guards. Once at the pub, she could collect her extra blade, beg her boss for money, and leave the area for good.

Yarie hurried up the rope ladder of the closest tower, her weight swinging in the wind. At the wooden landing, she inspected the cables around her. A myriad of platforms, each with a tiny hut, were linked by metal rope bridges, threading out in every direction like an entangled vine permitted to grow wild.

Uncertain which overpass to take, Yarie headed straight as she might on the street. She gripped the ropes on either side of her and balanced on the thick cable beneath her feet. Controlling the stability took practice, and soon she made it to the first stage with raw palms. She swiftly raced alongside a shack and onto the next rig.

Chimney smoke, steam-engine car fumes, and cooking smells wafted from the city below. Her stomach growled, but in a sickening way, and that was not the place to stop and throw up. Below her, the roofs were black with soot, and drain water ran down the houses and onto the roads.

She jumped with a thud onto the next tower’s gallery. Drunken laughter flowed out. She considered rushing back along the bridges and scaling down the ladder, but she had come too far. Seen too much, and time was running short. She dashed forward and collided into a man rounding the corner. Something fell out of his hand. Golden coins scattered over the platform, clanking with each bounce, some falling off the stage, making a faint slosh sound as they landed in the drain waters. From the fastened cobalt jacket and eye-mask he wore, along with the way his lip curled back, Yarie recognized what he was. A mercenary.

Her heart ceased. She retreated, clasping her chest. “I’m sorry. I’ll pay you back. Please.”

The man advanced. “You will pay all right.” Before she could pivot, he kicked her in the stomach, hurling her across the porch. She landed with a thud, and her legs dangled off the edge of the platform.

Pain spiked her belly. She curled up on herself. A pair of black boots stepped into her vision. Her hands wrapped over her head, waiting for the inevitable.

Seconds of dead silence passed, interrupted only by the thumping of her pulse. She slipped back to the farm at a time when her dog licked her tiny hands and wagged his tail. Tears gushed down Yarie’s cheeks remembering the way her father had killed him with the axe. Her muscles tensed, and for split moment, she realized it was a memory of her past, a terrible dream, nothing more. Only another fainting spell.

The taste of cigarettes and something metallic smothered her.

She opened her eyes to find herself inside a strange room. Before her lay the mercenary man, torn apart and plastered in blood with the same grisly facade as the man in the alley. She leapt to her feet. Rather than gagging, an insatiable urge to eat the remains pushed forward. She fought against the desire, driving it aside, but it begged her to kneel down and feast upon the flesh while it remained warm.

“No. Get out of my head.” She fisted her temple and gawked at the mesmerizing swing of the bronze chandelier throwing black shapes across the overturned tables and chairs. A screech burst from her quivering lips. She leaned against a nearby cupboard, and dizziness crawled through her head.

It was the cursed pendant. Unless she got rid of the amulet, and soon, she would awaken with the entire Bellows district dying at her feet. She approached the body, feeling his pockets and ankles for a blade. Surely he kept weapons. All she found were gold coins, which she took. After searching the room and not finding a weapon, she rushed into an adjoining room for fresh air.

She knelt near a bucketful of clear water and submerged her face into the coolness, gulping feverishly, cleaning the horrid tang caught in her throat.

Her skin washed with ease, yet her blemished and torn dress dripped scarlet juice onto the timber floor. She stripped and threw her clothes into a corner. The blackouts were getting worse, more savage. She had to get away and fast.

A black trench-coat hung on the back of the door. She wrapped it around her with a belt, hid the gold coins in the pocket and hastened outside, thankful no one was around.

Abandoning her original plan, she decided to leave the city that very second, even if it meant stowing away on a boat. She gazed at the muddy streets beneath her, empty except for a few stragglers. No guards. She scrambled down the ladder at the nearest tower, and her legs carried her with haste.

The ferry dock wasn’t far. Yarie lowered her face each time someone passed by. The grunt of a steam-engine car rushed down the metal rails on the main road, leaving her drenched in a cloud of smoke and her ears buzzing.

She spotted a group of people showing their identification to guards.

Her hands trembled, and she shoved them into her pockets. Just a small detour. Keep calm.

Their voices carried on the wind, and she stood still for a moment, listening.

“They say the Death Stalker’s returned,” a man said. “I heard once the fiend kills three times, it will completely lose control and massacre everyone in the city.”

“Oh dear God.” A woman gasped.

“Don’t go believing all that nonsense. It’s nothing more than pirates causing havoc,” the guard replied.

Yari’s legs weakened. Three separate kills. No. Couldn’t be.

She retreated down a side street, sprinting into the darkness, for once not caring if anyone saw her. She understood the pendant was using her own emotions against her and decided what she should do.

A familiar hunger surged in her stomach, greater than before, and with it came a flash of her father teaching her to ride a horse. “No!” She screamed, and came to a complete stop. Instead of the hurtful recollections, she focused on the rhythmic surge of the sea nearby, the way it hit the shore.

A great blow struck her stomach and had her heaving over, tripping into the water-filled gutter. Something raced within her, trapped like an animal, flinging itself against her ribs as if she were a sack of potatoes, and memory after memory flashed in her head:  Her mother’s and dog’s deaths, and the multitude of times her dad had beat her with his belt. She fought and resisted each pounding, remembering the calmness of the sea. No matter what it took, she would not allow the Death Stalker to claim her.

She rose and rushed toward the sound of the ocean.

Two figures strode in her direction. The luminosity of the autumn moon revealed a petite female, wearing a simple blue corset and a matching skirt. Curls bounced off her shoulders with each step, and she clung onto the man’s arm. He towered over the woman, garbed in a doublet and breeches with a feather sticking out of his hat.

Yarie recognized him at once. The grin and white beard belonged only to one man:  her father the murderer. He stood in front of her with another woman on his arm, like her hadn’t killed her mother.

Yarie froze. The words she had wanted to tell him stuck to her throat.

They passed her, probably thinking her a beggar, but she slipped into their path.

“You once told mom you loved her.” Yarie folded her arms.

Her father shrugged, and he clutched the girl closer to him. “Be off you, I have no money for beggars.”

A deep chuckle echoed inside her head.

It seemed the opportunity presented itself nicely. Her father was vulnerable, ready for the taking and deserving of punishment. She had dreamed of the prefect revenge for years, and how she would rip his life apart, taking away everything he had, making him suffer the way she he had made her suffer.

But standing there, knowing too well that yielding to the pendant meant everyone’s death, tore her thoughts in half. Should she deliver judgment or keep the Death Stalker at bay?

Yarie leapt in the couple’s way when they tried to step around her. She paced back and forth in front of them, fighting the surge of the pendant pulsing through her. If she let the full force of the Death Stalker upon on her father, was she any better than him. She tensed her muscles, held her breath and concentrated on the lapping water in the distance. No. Killing him was not the solution to any of her problems. She stepped back, and something knotted insider her, twisting and tightening. A whimper spilled from Yarie’s lips as she pressed open palms over her chest, struggling to take another breath.

The girl pressed into his side, her enormous eyes terrified.

“Please don’t make a scene and embarrass yourself any further,” her father barked.

The Death Stalker clawed her organs. Hurtful memories of her past sliced her thoughts. The monster burnt for freedom.

She lunged at her father.

His eyes widened, and he shouted when she dug her nails into his arm.

Flashes of her father whipping her thrust forward.

“No!” She focused on the sound of the sea. Calmness. Sandy shores. Blue sky.

Revenge.

Her eyes started to roll upward.

“Get away from me.” Her father shoved her away.

The world spun around her, and the road smacked into the side of her face. She twitched until blackness took her.

******

The gentle kiss of rain brushed Yarie’s face, and only the wind sung in her ears. Slowly her thoughts returned. Then they gushed forward like an angry sea. Death was in every corner of her mind. Her father. Had she killed him? The idea of doing so pained her more than she had expected.

Yarie pushed herself up. The morning sun gleamed down, and she glanced at the lonely street crammed with houses. No bodies. No blood. No stains on her. She hadn’t killed anyone.

Thank goodness.

She raised her hand to her chest, hoping that somehow she would feel smooth, soft skin below her throat.

Her eyes swelled with tears the moment her fingers traced the flesh-covered pendant still in place. The Death Stalker rose inside her once again.

Yet for once, she had some control over the Death Stalker. She would still leave the city, but at least, now she could fight the beast, even if it was for the rest of her life. She was strong enough and lifted her chin. Because in a strange way, saving the world from the monster contained insider her gave her life a new purpose.

Tania F. Walsh trăieşte împreună cu soţul ei în Sydney, Australia şi este fiica scriitorului, jurnalistului şi promotorului român Ioan Miclău (fondator al Bibliotecii “Mihai Eminescu” din Australia, distins de către ARP cu Premiul de Excelenţă al Patrimoniului Românesc 2006). Specialistă în marketing şi contabilitate, scrie poezie, povestiri şi romane în diverse genuri, dar în mod special dark fantasy şi horror (GRR Martin este printre autorii ei preferaţi). Nu bea şi nu fumează, iubeşte tot ce ţine de horror, inclusiv parodiile horror inteligente. Are mai multe povestiri publicate în e-zine, cum ar fi Fair Game în Suspense Magazine şi neobişnuita, impresionanta abordare a genului “zombie” din Tales Of The Zombie War –Of Flesh And Tranquilizers, a cărei versiune românească o puteţi citi în premieră în Gazeta SF. În 2007, a publicat la Amira Press nuvela Little Kunoichi, iar în 2009, Mystic Moon Press îi publică Ominous NightÎn momentul de faţă, se pregăteşte să publice un roman urban fantasy intitulat Cloaked In Fur, pe care îl consideră a fi deosebit de interesant prin modalitatea cu totul nouă de prezentare a mitului vârcolacilor.