A Tale of Marvel's Maniacal Man-Wolf!

 

 

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THE FEASTER FROM BEYOND

 

By

 

Michael D. Winkle

 

 

            Old Harry Van Deusen ambled out of his cabin-office as John pulled up in his rented pickup.  The old man smacked his toothless gums and winced against the sun, twin actions that made him look more than a little like Popeye the Sailor.

            "Johnny Jameson!" he said.  "Been a while."

            "A few years," answered John, brushing back his wind-mussed auburn hair.

            "Here for the rock bass?  They're hitting good out by Waupaseti Point."

            The former astronaut smiled.

            "I'll try for some.  Have to make the best of it.  It'll be my last trip here --"

            The old man raised his wispy eyebrows.

            "As a bachelor."

            Van Deusen mulled over this as if mushing up creamed corn.

            "Gettin' hitched at last, eh?" he asked.  "Never thought I'd see the day.  Thet same girl of your'n?  Cathy?  Kitty?"

            "Kristine," corrected John.  "Yes, I thought I'd lost her, but one day she came looking for me.  I'm not letting go this time."

            "Good for you," said the old man.  "But for now -- the fish are callin', right?"

            "You got it," said John.

            "Your usual?  Cabin 18?" asked Harry.  "Same as your moon flight?"

            "The same."

            The old man ambled back into the office and returned with a key.

#

            Not letting go, thought John as he hauled his big green tackle box out of the pickup shell.

            He remembered saying good-bye to Kristine Saunders while still with the Avengers support team.  His life -- and the prospect of their life -- had proven too much for the blond artist.  She left crying.  He threw himself into his work, sorrow frozen in his breast, often diving gung-ho into dangerous situations as if hoping to get killed.

            Then one day, as he told Harry, Kristine came back.

            At least, he thought it was Kristine.  She had changed.  She had learned judo, aikido, and karate -- as their first few minutes in Goldie's Gym proved.  John landed on his back and stared up dumbfounded at the slim gi-gowned woman.  Then he smiled.

            That she skied difficult slopes in New Hampshire did not surprise him, but he was astounded to learn that she now owned a .45 automatic, and that she practiced weekly at a local shooting range.

            "It was wrong of me to run from our problems, John," Kris told him over pate de foie gras that night, "but it was good for me.  I had to fend for myself for the first time.  I refused to go back to Mom and Dad.  I rented a room the size of an orange crate in Weehawken.  Aunt Irma offered to pay the rent.  It took a lot of willpower to turn her down.  I had to depend on myself."

            Colonel Jameson carried his fiberglass rods, his reels of DuPont line, and his Coleman lantern into Cabin 18.  Even now he could feel her hard, wiry fingers against his broad knuckles.

            "Since we first met," she had said, "I've seen things I pray the Aunt Irmas of the world need never see.  I've come within inches of death more times than I can count."

            John sighed.

            "Because of --"

            He almost snatched his hand away, but Kris gripped like an eagle.

            "The Man-Wolf?" she finished.  "Maybe, but he is no longer a factor.  I worked at data entry, answering phones, sorting mail, just to keep the ol' orange crate.  Monkey work gave me time to think:  Somewhere in this scared little would-be Van Gogh lurked a hard core, a potential person who hung on to life and sanity through the whole Man-Wolf experience.  A little training, and she might be someone worthy of the last man to walk on the Moon."

            "So you joined the Marines," John suggested.

            "Close.  Life in Weehawken at minimum wage plus fifty cents."

            The waiter set the bill on the table in its plastic tray.  John reached for his wallet.

            "Wait!" ordered Kris.  "John, the last time we came to this restaurant, you asked me a question."

            John smiled.

            "I remember.  It was the only experience in my life to eclipse the Moon -- so to speak."

            Kristine's eyes narrowed slyly.

            "Is the offer still open?"

            "I never said there was a time limit.  And you already said yes."

            "Oh?"

            "Five years ago."

            Kris smiled (John couldn't help but think) wolfishly.  She nodded at the check.

            "Now it's time to go."

#

            John slammed the gate of the pickup.  He winced into the sunset.  Took long enough to get here.  Well, reading a book before a cheery fire usually made him sleepy, then he'd get up at 4:00 and beat the other fishermen to Waupaseti Point.

            Not exactly a stag party, he thought.  Oh, well, he didn't need that sort of excitement in his last week of bachelorhood.  The thought of Kristine was enough.

#

            The flames crackled.  A table lamp provided more light.  John finished a chapter of Arctic Wild and flipped through the photo section.  Tubby cubs and gangly wolf yearlings yawned and howled and romped through the snow.

            Why do I read this stuff? he asked himself.  Farley Mowat, David Mech, Barry Lopez.  Exorcising the memory?  Proving to myself there's nothing to worry about now?

            Any real study of wolves revealed surprisingly intelligent creatures with a society of their own.  They sang and played and cooperated in ways more recognizable to humans than, say, the antics of dolphins.  They did not at all resemble the slavering white lycanthrope he had so often become.

            John set the book aside.  All these writers decried the general human attitude that wolves were bloodthirsty, destructive, man-eating vermin.

            So what was my problem?  Colonel Jameson wondered.  The wanton destruction -- if it was not of the wolf, perhaps it was of the man.  Preconceived ideas?

            John couldn't recall ever giving the subject of wolves much thought -- before.

            He rose and stretched.  Enough brainstorming for tonight.  He stepped into the bedroom and undressed.  He scratched his chest and stomach; suddenly he itched all over.

            He turned abruptly and padded through the cabin.  He unlatched the thick door and stepped onto the porch.  The night poured down on him like a tsunami, a flood of scents and sounds:  the stringent worms and aging bait; the oil and exhaust and heated Naugahyde covers of the pickup seat; the lawn-clipping and rotten-potato scents of the forest floor, the cold algae lake, and the local animals, a collective smell of bacon fat and horse manure and fresh cut copper.

            He sprang onto the grass, his legs bowing as if filled with gelatin.  He waited for the metamorphosis to finish.  The hair bled out with a feeling like steel-toothed brushes raking his body.  His mandibles pushed forward like long spikes driven through the base of his skull coming out his face.  The twistings of his legs and spine were less intense, but his big toes felt stubbed as they shrank into dew claws.

            Finally pain stretched out from where he sat down:  a tail, long and fluffy like a mink stole.

            He straightened, imagining himself without a mirror:  a head higher, thirty kilos heavier, a body still manlike but covered with white fur.  A head like a wolf's but with a larger brain in a somewhat sloped skull, large in the fashion that a Neanderthal's brain was more voluminous than modern man's.  Claws on fingers, paws for feet.

            And that tail, a relatively new adition, which now twitched like an angry cat's.

            Wolf.  Man-Wolf.  The creature that had so recently been Colonel John Jameson checked the urge to howl.  He was too near the other cabins.  He looked back at his own log-and-brick abode and wondered again why daytime John did not remember.

#

            The silver-white man-beast stepped carefully from grassy tuft to grassy tuft.  He would leave no prints.  He had managed, so far, to leave few telltale hairs coming or going -- somehow his system re-absorbed the fur when he changed back.  He dared not reveal himself to "Day-John" yet.

            Man-Wolf sprang over an ancient stone wall, noting the wet cement, lichen, dandelion, and bird-dropping entirety of its smell-existence.  He trotted into the woods, bipedal yet crouched as low as the animal he resembled.  His nostrils flared at the scent of squirrel and rabbit, but his thoughts remained remarkably human.

            Indeed, he suffered no dissociation.  The only difference between John Jameson and the Man-Wolf, mentally, was the fact that Jameson shared none of the lycanthrope's memories.  When he "wolfed out" he remembered Man-Wolf's night life.  The closest mundane experience to this sudden recall was once when Day-John visited an elementary school to give a speech on aeronautics.  After studying the brownstone structure and its outbuildings for a moment, it hit him that he had spent a year here as a kid.  Suddenly memories of fights on the playground and kids shooting marbles and that teacher with the hairy mole on his chin welled over him, forgotten until that second.

            But in the morning John forgot again.

            Man-Wolf reached a steep, leaf-carpeted slope and trotted up on all fours.  The hydrocarbons of internal combustion engines hung everywhere these days, but the wind blew fresh off the lake, almost pure.

            He reached the summit and spotted two moons, one above, one below in the lake.  He hunkered down and let loose a wavering howl.

            Whatever he thought of Dr. Ashley Kafka professionally, he -- Man-Wolf -- owed his present existence to her.  She had used hypnotic techniques to draw the story of Stargod and the Other Realm from John Jameson.  Kafka even triggered a brief physical metamorphosis once, which she herself dismissed as an outer manifestation of John's "inner demon."

            Demon, indeed!

            The white wolf-man sprang straight up, arms outstretched as if to seize the moon.  He landed and trotted down the hill, occasionally slapping his palms to the ground to keep from somersaulting forward.  He could not quite run on all fours.

            He smelled a stag and doe off to starboard, a porcupine to port, and (whew!) a spotted skunk in the distance.  Cicadas buzzed and crickets chirped -- anyone could hear that -- but foxes barked, mice squeaked, and -- well -- the muskrats and raccoons and herons talked, soft murmurs back and forth that human ears could not pick up.

            He reached a slab of granite overhanging the lake.  He did not pause but leapt ten meters across the black-glass surface before shattering the moon-image.  Demon?  This was godhood!

            He swam with long overhand strokes.

            No dog-paddling for this wolf.

            He crossed the lake, snapping in air as he might bite at mayflies.  He stepped out onto a shale beach opposite Van Deusen's cabins.  He loosened his steely muscles and shook.  At least he wore no clothes to get soggy.

            An uninhibited werewolf here, he thought.  Not even that stupid radiation suit that seemed as much a part of Wolfie as purple pants on the Hulk.

            He wiped his chest and thighs with his open hands.  Water splashed off as from a squeegee.

            Well, fur is like clothing.

            His tail twitched like an independent life-form.  It was long and fluffy and quite becoming.

            He found another slab of rock that still radiated the heat of the day.  He stretched out on his stomach like a horned toad and moon-bathed.

            The problem, or rather problems, returned.  Not just Day-John, but Kristine.  How could he hide from Kris?  If John Jameson disappeared on nights of the full moon, she of all people would not think he was out with another woman.  She would know the Man-Wolf lived.

            She had undergone a transformation of her own, however.  She was no wispy, oversensitive Greenwich Village artist any more.  Maybe . . .

            He snorted like a bull.

            Maybe she could accept my existence, I was thinking.  Even if she didn't run screaming into the night once she laid eyes on me, that's a long way from acceptance.  I don't see her kissing me good-bye at moonrise and returning to her latest Nora Roberts novel, like I was going bowling.  She'd call Dr. Conners and Colonel Fury and tell them to "cure" me.

            Maybe he should reveal himself to John, after all.  He would break off the engagement somehow, and Man-Wolf's secret would be safe.

            But . . . Kris . . .

            Wolves mated for life, and Kris sure felt like his mate.

#

            The white-furred lycanthrope brooded for a time.  Eventually he heard a scream.  He perked his ears and lifted his head.

            Just teenagers goofing around, he told himself.

            The scream came again, its quavers ordering themselves into a pleading "Help me!"  The cry came from deep in the woods, not from the cabins.  It was the voice of a woman, no older than twenty-two.

            They talk about the smell of fear.

            He heard the fear in that voice, a vibration of larynx and muscle one just could not fake.

            He rose, sniffing the air, ears drawing back like the wings of an F-111 at Mach 2.  The breeze carried a vague odor of decaying timbers, blue steel and humans, surrounded by a smell of old blood.

            Kristine had spoken of making herself worthy of him.  He would not be worthy of her if he did not investigate the source of the screams.  He hopped from the boulder and loped into the trees.

#

            Man-Wolf hooked his claws over the top of a stone wall and hoisted himself over.  He landed easily on matted grass.  Crooked headstones marked ancient graves.  The church beyond was a massive structure of brownstone and brick.  Its windows had been boarded up, bricked up and/or painted, but flickering light escaped from chinks and door seams.

            A passing hunter might not have taken note, but the white werewolf smelled the odors of men, flavored by salts and hormones like some kind of sickness.  He smelled true fear among the clover and wild garlic of the graveyard, and a peculiar blood smell, unclassifiable even by his sensitive nose.

            Man-Wolf crouched by a heel-shaped tombstone.  He crept on hands and knees behind wiry bushes and a pillarlike, lightning-blasted stump.  His snowy pelt could be a giveaway on moonlit nights; perhaps clothes weren't such a bad idea.

            As he approached, he heard -- or felt -- a distant singing.  Vague orange forms denoted two men at the door of the church.  One lit a cigarette, the match burning like a parachute flare to the lycanthrope's night vision.  They wore monklike hoods and carried rifles slung over their shoulders.

            Always a bad sign.

            Man-Wolf withdrew from the front entrance.  The south side of the church rose like the Great Wall of China before him, its narrow windows bricked over.  No one guarded this impregnable face of the building.

            The lycanthrope studied the roof of the crumbling edifice.  Eight meters if it was an inch.  He grinned back to his ears.

            He trotted out, bounced a few paces as if he ran on the Moon again, and sprang.  He caught the eaves in a grapnel-like hold and chinned himself up.

            He spread out flat, excepting his teepees of ears, which listened for any outcry.  The guards said nothing, but a voice rose within the gritty, lead-shingled temple:

            "Tibi, Magnum Innominandum, signa stellarum nigrarum et bufoniformis . . .

            Great.  Another bizarre, evil cult.

            He quelled the Jameson skepticism.  He could not afford to pooh-pooh cults, cult leaders, or wizards.  He had only to recall Dreadmund or the fantastic Other Realm.

            He slipped quietly up the roof.  An acidic distillation of pecans, crumbled leaves, and bird droppings shrouded the church.  A thread of cinnamon-like incense led him to a hole.  He scraped detritus away from a crack under a warped shingle, careful not to dislodge compost on the inner side.  His nose told him of pitch-coated pine torches, ten or twelve men, and candles made of a greasy fat he did not want to dwell on.  He peered through the opening merely to confirm olfactory certainties.

            The torches and candles lit an eerie, smoky scene, disturbing despite its tabloid dressing:  the floor of the church had been cleared, the pews, smashed to kindling, piled by the walls.  Several cultists or worshipers stood in a knot in the middle of the nave, all holding thick, white, lopsided tapers, unmindful of the drippings on their hands.  They faced the pulpit, faces hidden in deep cowls.  They said nothing, but an unholy "preacher" stood at a podium, reading nonsense from a large, moldy book.

            A slab of some sort, as long and wide as a door, lay between the "preacher" and his weird flock.  Man-Wolf did not think it part of the original equipment of the church; the cultists must have wrestled it in, though it surely weighed a ton.

            Tied across the slab, struggling against nylon ropes and making noises through a cloth gag, was an African-American woman barely out of her teens.  Beside her stood another hooded cultist, his muscular physique obvious even through the monkish robe.

            Man-Wolf barely checked a growl.  The bulky cultist held a scimitar.  The sickle curve of its edge reflected a constellation in the lights of the candles.  The cultist lowered it slowly to the young woman's throat then drew it slowly back, like Tiger Woods measuring a putt.

            Damn!  No time for subtlety.

            The werewolf worked his claws quietly between old boards.  Thank God evil cults favored decrepit ruins.  He bunched his muscles, the fur over his biceps fraying, and he tore away boards with both hands.  The jagged hole resulting was wide enough for him to drop through, which he did.

            He landed, padded paws and resilient legs absorbing the impact.  For a second he crouched behind the gathering of worshipers; they turned seemingly in slow motion.  They stood in a triangle exactly like bowling pins.

            He spread his arms and sprang into the crowd, rock-hard muscle against more yielding flesh.  The cultists toppled, candles flying everywhere.

            The priest and the executioner turned their cowls toward Man-Wolf.  The priest stopped his chanting and yelled, "Reapers!  Intruder!"

            Reapers?  At least it's different than the usual "Guards!"

            Man-Wolf hopped up, an ear cocked to the front entrance.  He ducked the executioner's slash and closed his clawed hands into fists.  He punched the heavyset man in the gut, then the head.

            Not as messy as tooth and claw.

            Through the confused exclamations, the lycanthrope heard the hinges of the front doors squeal.  He glanced at the spread-eagled sacrifice, thinking of the "Reapers'" rifles.  The woman took in his full shaggy, lupine glory.  At least, she screamed within her gag.

            I'll have to get used to that, thought Man-Wolf.

            He dove for the nearest pile of hymnals and pews as the rifle-toting cultists trotted in.  He winced as the first slugs splintered the shellacked timbers.  He could survive numerous bullet wounds, true, but a good shot could incapacitate him.

            All right, you're the maniacal Man-Wolf, launching his astonishing new career, thought the white-furred beast-man.  How do you beat these goons?

            The congregation, seven or eight hooded cultists, climbed to their feet and pulled daggers from their belts.  They spread around the pile of lumber.  The Reapers ceased fire of necessity.  Man-Wolf grinned.

            Bring it.

            His first knife-wielding opponent tried to plunge his blade down overhand.  Tried.  Man-Wolf caught his wrist easily, twisted it down and around 180 degrees.  The cowled one barely began a yell of pain before the white werewolf released him and kicked him for a field goal.

            He heard rather than saw one behind him.  Sight, sound, and smell fused into one omniscient Sense.  He swept out his long, shaggy leg and cracked ribs with his heel.

            The priest started chanting again. That bothered him.  If the droning Latin syllables were more important than defeating a powerful foe, the cult leader expected his litany to do something.

            The riflemen were the most immediate threat.  They edged around the melee, elbows almost touching.

            Better you should split up, thought the militarily-trained mind of John Jameson.

            He shoved back goons like toddlers.  He hauled up a nearly whole pew, a good ten-foot length of heavy wood.  He pitched it like a medicine ball as the Reapers shouldered their weapons.

            They attempted -- unsuccessfully -- to dodge the crude missile.  Man-Wolf grinned as they, their rifles, their knives, their shoes, and a few teeth spread like dry grain over the floor.

            The lycanthrope ducked another blade and rearranged another face.  He hopped over the mound of shattered furniture and landed beside the rock slab.

            This is too easy.  Note to self:  The executioner is only pretending to be out.

            As Man-Wolf padded near, the burly executioner grabbed his scimitar and lurched to his feet.  The white were-beast banged him on the head as a man might fix a recalcitrant appliance.  The burly cultist collapsed again.

            The woman on the slab watched him, no longer struggling or screaming.  The priest at his pulpit finished his invocation.  He swept the hood back, revealing a bug-eyed face, the scalp above shaved bald.

            "No!" he cried.

            Man-Wolf pulled yellow nylon ropes, snapping one, then another.  He sniffed the air.  Something collected in the dank atmosphere, not a smell or a sound -- something more subtle, like increasing humidity.

            "No!  There must be blood!" continued the priest.

            The werewolf did not like the sound of that.  He scooped up the woman and trotted toward the door.  He ignored the cultists sprawled on the floor or wavering on hands and knees.  Their intended victim, however, squealed through her gag and pointed.

            Man-Wolf turned.  The priest hopped from his raised platform to the floor.  He seized the executioner's scimitar.

            "He must come!  He must feast!"

            The werewolf did not fear the man with the fancy cutlass, but the woman might be in danger.  He knelt to set her down.

            The priest sprang -- but not in Man-Wolf's direction.  He hopped onto the marble slab, raised the scimitar -- and swept it across his own throat.

            The bald man grinned, features obscured by a fan of hot blood.  He dropped flat on the stone.

            Crouched on one knee, still cradling the woman, Man-Wolf gaped.  The woman worked the gag loose.

            "Put me down!"

            He rose, setting the woman upright as he did so.

            "He killed himself," the werewolf commented in a gravelly voice.

            "Man, it talks," said the woman, stumbling back.

            The white lycanthrope clacked his jaws shut.

            "I can fetch and play dead, too."

            The woman pulled coils of rope off as if brushing cobwebs.

            "Sorry, man.  You gotta be one of the good guys.  You a mutant or something?"

            Man-Wolf grinned.  The connotations of "mutant" were barely better than those of "werewolf", but people knew of those.

            "Yes. . . I'm, er, the Beast.  One of the X-Men."

            "Oh?  Damn, I've heard of you!"

            The exchange amused the werewolf, but the uncomfortable sense of presence increased.  He sniffed the air instinctively.

            "What?" demanded the black woman.

            "Blood," said Man-Wolf.

            "Blood?"  She glanced toward the priest.

            "Not just him," the werewolf elaborated, glancing toward the rafters.  "Rusty old blood.  Hot new blood.  Salty ocean blood, clammy insect blood . . ."

            "Uh -- I think I'll be going now," saidd the woman.  "Get back to my tent before someone steals it.  Can't trust nobody 'round this lake --"

            Man-Wolf growled.  He turned toward the half-open front doors.  A storm-crackle filled his head like static.  The woman clapped her hands over her ears, so she heard it too.

            "Heard it" isn't right, though -- it's something psychic -- telepathic, like the Stargod's communication.

            The crackle faded, resolved.  Now an evil gibbering filled Man-Wolf's brain, and a horrid, arrogant laughter that made Arisen Tyrk's blasphemies sound like kindergarten potty talk.

            The ten-foot leaves of the double door flew inward and upward like kites.  The werewolf tackled the woman down but turned to cradle her as they hit the floor.  Something writhed and bubbled through the entrance like noodle soup brought to boil.

            "What did that?  What --"

            Man-Wolf did not answer.  He saw only a vague outline of infrared threads -- but an outline of what?

            A gorgon's head of slipping, coiling, stovepipe-thick serpents or tentacles roiled like the proverbial can of worms.  They surrounded a body of some sort, a pulsating mass the size of a Volkswagen.


            The woman and the werewolf lay still like bunnies in the grass as the Thing thunderstormed by.  Bear traps of mouths snapped and slobbered at the ends of the writhing limbs, and a telepathic hiss of thoughts, mad and twisted thoughts, filled the air, as strange as those of a scorpion or centipede granted intelligence.

            The werewolf's animal instincts burst like a fireworks display.  The Thing was not of nature.  Every atom of scent told him this was bad, evil, horrible, worse than a larger predator, worse than men with their gunpowder and internal combustion aura.  He puffed like a cat.  He whined.

            The Thing from Outside hung like an extracted tumor over the slab.  An appendage uncoiled and drew up the dead priest's blood as an elephant's trunk draws up water.  The coursing blood filled in the obscenity's features.  The woman in Man-Wolf's arms screamed.  The Thing laughed its abyssal laugh.

            The burly executioner stirred and crawled away on hands and knees.  A groping limb swung down to him, and a meter-wide leech sucker clamped onto his spine.  The cultist yelled in horror and pain as the Thing hauled him bodily into the air.

            "Lemme the hell go!" yelled the woman.

            Man-Wolf released her.  She ran for the entrance.  The were-beast thought to follow, but --

            The Thing "looked" at him -- at least, it regarded him in some fashion, and the feeling of unnaturalness swept over him again, scrambling his thoughts and even the desire for self-preservation.

            The woman paused at the threshold.

            "What are you waiting for, man?"

            Man-Wolf yipped like a coyote.  Though the Thing horrified her, the woman did not feel the otherness of it.  For the first time Man-Wolf wished for the blindness of human instinct and senses.

            The woman scooped up a chunk of wood from the busted doors.  She threw it, presumably at the hideous Feaster, but it banged on the lycanthrope's broad skull.

            Thanks.  I needed that.

            Man-Wolf trotted forward.  Strands of psychic force shifted like wheat in the winds.  The Outsider followed.

            I can outrun this whatsit --

            The husk of the executioner dropped on Man-Wolf like a wrecking ball.  He sprawled flat and slid on the cold stone floor.

            Man-Wolf's fur bristled like porcupine quills.  The vampiric blob passed over him and on, despite his momentary helplessness.  The woman screamed.

            Did it prefer human blood?  Did it sense she had been meant for it?

            The werewolf shrugged off the drained corpse.  He rose, facing the Thing's backside, like firehoses whipping around a hot air balloon.  The woman screamed again.

            No you don't!

            He sprang, assuming the woman held the horror's attention.  A foot-thick tentacle snapped out and slapped him away.  He hit a bricked-over window with a belly-buster dive of pain and kept going.  He bounced in high grass with red-black chunks of mortar.

            Damn, he thought dizzily.  It senses in every direction.

            He worked his limbs.  He inhaled the blood smells, like rotten earth and slaughterhouses, with a cold dash of outer space and autopsies.  The thing was a vampire, a hundred times worse than Morbius or Dracula, an utterly pure parasite with no once-human form to impede it, just a circulatory system, heart-body and aorta-arms --

            He snorted and sat up.  Could it be that simple?  Could there be some connection?

            The woman ran into view from the front of the church, her shrieking, arm-waving terror almost comical.  The Feaster from Beyond took a shortcut through the wall with all the finesse of a runaway semi.  Brick and tiles flew everywhere.

            The Thing's stolen blood glowed sickly, like the phosphorescence of some scarlet fungus.  It quivered and pulsed exactly like a heart, its limbs like thick arteries.

            Man-Wolf rose and glanced around.  What killed a vampire?  Sunlight?  Hours away -- and he could just see Day-John waking up to this nightmare long enough to scream and die.

            His gaze fell upon the lightning-blasted tree, bayonet spires jutting from its summit.  He shut down conscious thought, fearing the Thing could read minds as well as project its unearthly cackle.  He touched the feral hate that characterized the old Man-Wolf instead, and he sprang, fangs bared and claws outstretched.

            The Feaster, whether a creature of instinct or intelligence, reacted predictably.  A slimy elephant's trunk uncoiled at him and smacked him away.

            Man-Wolf hit the dead tree ten feet up, spraying bark and termite dust in all directions.  The trunk snapped off flush with the earth.  Werewolf and log toppled.

            Well, that worked, I guess.

            The tentacle-leech-aortas wavered near.  He wanted to vomit, urinate, draw his tail between his legs.  He rolled up instead.  He lifted the fallen tree in his clawed fingers and whipped it around.

            Still hungry?  Eat this!

            He hurled the monstrous javelin with all his might.  It flew with illusionary slowness toward the Thing, like a fighter jet seen in the stratosphere.  It grazed coiling red pythons and hit its target dead center.

            A wretched abattoir stench hurricaned out with a storm surge of liquid putrescence.  Man-Wolf clamped his hands over his ears, his howl of pain the merest echo of the Feaster's telepathic screech.

            Lamprey-necks rolled up and shark teeth clamped onto the wood.  The section of log poking from the heart-body shattered in a hail of splinters, but the main length of the old tree hung within the Feaster.

            Gravity finally claimed the horror.  It dropped to earth like three tons of rotten tomatoes.  The hoselike tentacles raked furrows in the turf and flipped gravestones into the air.  Thick liquids and fetid gas bubbled out around the colossal stake.  Man-Wolf winced and snorted.  He understood a million scents of nature, but these unknown odors and fluids temporarily blew out his olfactory nerves.  He dropped as if blinded by a nuclear blast, and could he think clearly he would have considered the simile appropriate, though applied to a different sense.  The Thing from the Void sank down like a stricken tent.

#

            "Hey!"

            Something prodded Man-Wolf.  He growled.

            "Hey!  Mr. Beast!"

            He snorted and flipped up on his haunches.  The black woman jumped away.

            "Whoa!" she said.  "'S cool!  It's dead."

            "Dead?" grumbled the werewolf.

            He sniffed the air.  A smell of old blood lingered, with an added iodine/wasp-poison background from the church.  The whole side of the decaying structure was gone, its brickwork scattered over the graveyard.  A crater gaped in the earth before Man-Wolf, clear of grass, brush, and headstones.  The splintered log lay in the center, a slimy sheen glinting in the moonlight.

            "It sort of dissolved," explained the intended sacrifice.  "Only some blue snot left."

            "Hmmm . . ."

            Man-Wolf rose, fur still riffling, nostrils still flaring.  Dogs in ghost stories always freaked in the presence of the supernatural.  He could believe it; the wolf in him only wanted to flee.

            He jumped when the woman touched his shaggy forearm.

            "Chill, man!  You won!  It's gone!" she said.

            The lycanthrope grinned sheepishly.

            "Sorry.  It was so strange . . ."

            The woman smiled.  Her apparel, a gray jogging uniform, hung thick with her sweat.  She was younger than he first thought, probably nineteen.

            "Look who's talking.  I seen a lot of things in Jersey, but nothin' like you.  By the way, thanks for the save."

            Man-Wolf nodded.  The girl seemed oblivious now to his appearance and near-seven-foot height.

            "You're welcome, er --"

            "Tomika Komisha Zoe Ngami."

            "Er -- Miss -- Tomika."

            The teen pinched up a tuft of snowy fur.

            "Do you have a name?  A real one?  Or should I just call you Whitey?"

            Man-Wolf tilted an ear back.  Could he ever announce himself to the world?  That was biting off more than even he could chew.  But one person at a time . . .

            "My name is John," he said.  "And I'm not really an X-Man.  I am known as Man-Wolf."

            Tomika drew in her lip.

            "Well, I guess there's a reason for that.  Man-Wolf, Beast, X-Men -- whatever.  It's what's inside that counts, my Aunt Maisie says."

            The werewolf sniffed the air.  Dawn would arrive in about two hours -- and with it John Jameson.

            "Do you know the way back to the camp grounds?" he asked.

            Tomika pointed toward Maine.

            "That way -- I think."

            Man-Wolf sighed.  She was in no condition to walk back through the darkness alone, even if she knew where to go.

            "Let me escort you," said the werewolf, offering his wide paw-hand.

            Tomika accepted it carefully.

            "Okay, but watch those meathooks."

            They started off down a narrow, overgrown road, but after a dozen steps Tomika wavered and fell.  Man-Wolf scooped her up in his steely arms.  After a moment of surprise, Tomika grinned.

            "Ol' Red Ridinghood didn't know what she was missing."

#

            Colonel John Jameson pulled up in front of Harry Van Deusen's cabin-office again.  He stepped from the pickup as the old man tottered out.

            "Do much fishin'?" asked Harry.  He spat on the grass.

            "A little," admitted John.  "Seemed to spend a lot of time napping.  Must have tired blood."

            "Fishin' -- nappin' -- what else is a vacation foor?"

            John nodded.  He dropped the keys to Cabin 18 into Van Deusen's wrinkled palm.  He stared back toward the lake.

            "Sum'thin' wrong?" asked the old man.

            "I got only a few nibbles this week," said John.  "The few I hooked I hauled in.  Yet I keep thinking there was a big one that got away."

            Harry gave a toothless grin.

            "Well, go back to the city and get hitched to this Kitty of yours --"

            "Kristine."

            "-- And bring her here on your honeymoon.  Then you can show me the one that didn't get away."

            John grinned as well.

            "We'll do that," he promised.  "She kind of likes wildlife."

 

 

The End

 


"Feaster" is more or less a prequel to my fan novel "Starwolf", so what the hey: Onward, Realmites, to STARWOLF Part One!

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John Jameson, Man-Wolf and all characters mentioned are copyright © by Marvel Entertainment. Art panel by Jim Starlin and Tom Palmer, from Journey into Mystery no. 3 (February 1973) also copyright Marvel Entertainment. The articles and fiction on these web pages are not for profit and are not meant to infringe on the copyrights of Marvel Entertainment or the Walt Disney Company.