By Domonic Fannuci
“Are we all set?”
“Just saw Billy. We ‘re just waiting for Peter. Said he’d be here any minute.”
“That motherfucker is never on time. We should just leave without him.”
“Or leave him out. ..
The end of a cigarette winked in the dusk. Feet shuffled into their circle of light. It was mostly silent, but you could hear the labored breathing of the older men.
“That you, Billy?”
“Yeah, it’s me. Hey, Frank. Hey Larry.”
“Hey, Billy. Was the drive from Dartmouth cold?
“Colder than a witches titty. Who we waitin’ on?”
“Peter” Who else?
“That motherfucker is always late.
They chuckled silently. Their breath rose as steam in front of them. The men stared around listlessly, some farting into the night. Billy picked his teeth with a matchbook cover.
“Where’s Rory? And Mackie?”
“Said they’d meet us at the Point.
“Oh, okay… He drew out the syllables in a long drawl. It came out oooookaiiii. “So, when Peter gets here, we ‘re gone, right?”
“Right.” The older men smiled at the youngster’s eagerness. They stamped their feet to brave the cold, holding their arms close to their bodies. The older ones felt the cold the hardest.
“Hey, all! “
“Bout time, boy! Where you been?”
“Ah, had to make things right with the missus. Couldn’t be gone all night without makin’ amends.”
“Well, let’s go. We ‘ll chew your ass later.”
The moon rose full and huge, white and powerful. The men moved into the field, dogs barking all around them. They stopped for a brief moment, to let their eyes adjust to the growing darkness.
The game was on.
At the Point, the other two men watched the moon rise as well. They both looked at each other, keeping their thoughts to themselves, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the others. Some did not like this sport. Mackie was sure that he was not the only one that tired of it, that they all put up the pretense of manhood just not to seem like fools in front of the others. After it was all over, they would meet for beers and brags, making unbelievable stories sound authentic. All the braggadocio, all the bluffing, and then by the same time next month, more of the same.
Mackie put his hand to his stomach, which was rolling considerably with hunger. He knew it was time to start, whether the others got there or not. He did not like this sport, or the attitude of the men involved. Everyone acted as if their lives depended on these moonlit pranks, these nighttime games. Maybe they did.
“Ready, Mack?” Rory asked, drool shining in the corners of his mouth. He was excited enough to forget where he was, who he was. He was dangerous to everyone in this state.
“Hang on just a minute, Rory. We ‘ll all get a chance, soon enough. He tried to make his voice smooth and paternal, hoping to diffuse Rory’s nervousness.
“Can’t wait, Mack. I itch. I gotta go!”
“You ‘ll go soon enough. Just hang on!”
From faraway, Mackie could hear the hollering and howling of the Team running through the field, and the thundering of their game through the underbrush. They were all making enough noise to wake Old Jack himself. Mackie looked at Rory, and was sure he saw tears in the youngsters’ eyes. Whether they were from fear or anticipation, he could not tell.
“Let’s go,” Mackie whispered.
Later, in Frank’s garage.
“Whoooeee! Ran like it was on fire! Peter exclaimed, waving his cap. “Did you see how fast it ran?”
“Thought for a minute there it was gonna git away. Good thing you and Rory was right on cue, Mackie. Might of lost her for sure.”
Beers popped opened all around the group of men, hissing in unison. Cigarettes found their way around the table, and someone turned the radio on.
“Did you see Billy bolt after her? That boy ran like smooth water. Cut right through the bushes, branches and all.”
“Yup, that he did. That he did.”
There were some more bragging, good—natured horseplay and ribbing, as Billy and Rory carried in the kill.
They laid it on the table, and in one deft motion, like a trained surgeon, Frank’s hunting knife came down and slit the heavy plastic bag that covered it. The game was still steaming, missing chunks of meat in places, it’ s head lolling at a very strange angle, it’s tongue protruding from its mouth like a worn-out party favor.
There was quiet appreciation for the kill, for the formidable game that they struggled to bring down. They sat around the glow of the lantern (Frank had no electricity in the garage, being a notorious cheapskate), their faces illuminated like Halloween decorations. One of the men whistled, low and respectful.
The game was sinewy, muscles surrounding its flanks in healthy ropes. There were no marks, no signs of disease or blight, no deformities. They had killed themselves a good one this time.
They all began to talk at once, all except Mackie. He just looked at the game, and thought of the loss, the inconceivable pain that families feel when a loved one is gone. They had souls still, if not consciences. He turned towards the group of men, their conversation now focused on the thrill of the chase, the victory of the kill. They reminded him of another, older time, when men would come home and regale their families with stories of the hunt, probably imitating the stories of their forefathers right back to the beginning of time, when buffalo and deer were the only game in town. Mackie looked upon the men and thought that they were not far removed from their antediluvian relatives. They were still primitive, still savage.
“Cheer up, Mackie”, Larry said, coming over and handing him a wet piece of meat. “You look like someone shot your dog.” One of the men laughed at the subtlety of Larry s intimate joke. “Eat, and you ‘ll feel better.
He brushed fur from his arm and politely said “No thanks, although his stomach was growling considerably, impatient with him and his propriety. His stomach had no conscience.
“Did you hear all them fuckin’ dawgs?” Frank said, shoving meat into his mouth, “Sounded like everyone in three counties has a fuckin’ dawg now.
“Speakin’ of dawgs, I gotta git home to my wife,” Peter said.
The men laughed as they ate.
Sometime later, Mackie lay awake and got his mind to gnawin’ as his dear departed alcoholic father used to say. He was part of the Team, told himself. He could not go against them. No one has ever gone against them.
The next time they met was in Grover Thurman’s field, on the pretense that they were going coon hunting. Grover was a good friend of Frank’s and offered no objections.
They were all together, all on time, except of course, for Peter. They circled their pickup trucks on the gravel of Grover’ s driveway, and congregated on the highway in front of his house, waiting for Peter. He showed up, took his usual razzing about being so whipped, and the plans were made. Rory, Larry, and Peter would take Highway Five, walk east all the way to Fouke Junction, and if they did not find anything, or hear the others call them, they would turn back.
Mackie, Frank, and Billy would walk west all the way to Jimmy Carlson’s farm, and do the same. A dog barked in the distance, but the men were not worried. Dogs were scarce in this part of the county. Besides, they were all old hands on what to do about dogs.
The game was on.
Later, almost midnight.
It had been hard pickings this night. The game was fast, and tough, and put up one hell of a fight. They all expected that the fear factor would make hunting easier, make the hunted too scared to do anything. Mackie stumbled from the bushes, the game’s blood coating his hands, his face. He stumbled onto the roadway, afraid that someone would see him in this state, afraid of being caught. He cautiously searched the roadway for approaching headlights, but there were none. He was crouched low, painful as it was, his hind legs sore and bruised. He just wanted to lie down, to be rid of these men, of this stupid game, of this nightmare. “Mackie. . . Frank whispered. ”Mackie
“No one on the road, Frank. Come on out.”
Frank came from the bushes, also hurt. His face had a lump that would bruise nicely when he changed. He stood, wincing at the uncomfortableness of it, and picked thorns and burrs from his body.
“It really put up a fight tonight…” Frank sounded as if he didn’t expect it to fight at all. Mackie knew the will to live sometimes trumped your fear card.
“Where’s Billy?” “
“I left him with the game, to watch it until the others…” Frank trailed off, his ears pricking up. He hears something, Mackie thought. Or he senses something. Mackie felt the same. Something was wrong.
“HELP ME, FRANK! IT’S NOT DEAD! MACKIE, HELP! HELP ME KILL IT! IT’S MOVING! ” And then “OHDEARGODITSMOVINGDEARCHRSITNOPLEASESOMEONEPLEASEKILLITKILLITKILLIT!” The litany of screams was so fast and so garbled that it could have been mistaken for an orgasmic yell, or a religious chant.
Mackie imagined all the bravado Billy had before the hunt was now spreading in a large warm stain down the front of his legs. You were so eager last time, Mackie thought bitterly.
That night, there was more beer than usual, and less talk.
Mackie decided to ask Larry for help, because he thought that Larry seemed a little more disinterested in the Team than the others. He called him from his hardware store, telling his employees to go home early.
“Well, what is it exactly that you want from the Team, Mackie?” Larry answered on the first ring, sounding eager to talk.
“ I want out, Larry. I don’t want to go on any more hunts.”
“Are you not getting your share of meat, is that it?” Larry sounded concerned, as if being cheated out of flesh was somehow a greater evil than killing itself.
“I don’t want any more meat, Larry…”
“You ‘ll die without it. You know it, and I know it.”
“We don’t even do it for the meat, we do it for the blood.”
Mackie was getting angry, wondering if talking to Larry was such a good idea after all.
“And the sport, Mackie. We do it for the sport as well. We are a team. We operate as a team, we move in synchronicity, in group instinctiveness. We all went to high school together, we all played varsity sports… If we take you out as a player, we ‘re left with an incomplete team. We have to pull someone in from the bench. A second—stringer.”
Mackie’s heart froze in his chest. A second—stringer? Larry took this whole team thing too seriously. The metaphor had become the law.
“I don’t care what you have to do. . .
“Maybe a new recruit, Larry whispered dangerously, seductively. “We ‘re always scouting for new recruits.”
“…I just want out.” Mackie paused a beat, letting Larry’s threat sink in. “What do you mean new recruit?”
“Oh, nothing, Mackie, it’s nothing. Larry voice took on a more cordial tone. “Your son, Jonathan. How old is he now, Mackie? Old enough for blooding?”
“You bastard.” Mackie was breathless, disbelieving. “You fucking, ruthless bastard.”
“He’d make a fine second—stringer, Mackie. Don’t doubt his abilities.”
Mackie just stared at the receiver. He trusted this man to hear him out, to help him find way off the Team. This man, who once was the godfather to his children, who danced at his wedding. . . who was suggesting that his son become one of the Team. “We ‘re holding council in Patterson’s Marsh tomorrow night, Mackie. Be there, and we ‘ll talk.
The dial tone buzzed indifferently as Mackie wiped his tears.
That night he dreamt that he was in Grover’s field again, and that the Team was chasing their game as usual, but they were frantic, angry. They ran across the moonlit field on all fours, as was their custom, saliva and blood flying from their mouths, their howls filling the night air. They could all smell the game running, wanting to have the warm blood that would sustain them, looking at the moon with cursed, fevered eyes. The game ran into a thicket, and they howled triumphantly, knowing that the chase was soon over. they all leapt into the bush, snarling, biting, scratching, their lupine bodies twisting to get the first bite.
Mackie was the first out, carrying a small limb in his teeth, and he dropped it in horror, his jaws spitting the child’s blood out with disgust.
The dream shifted, and now they were in Frank’s garage, and Rory was saying “Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait” over and over again. Billy and Larry brought the game in and laid it upon the table, but it was too small, too meager, and as they opened the bag he screamed, and his screaming was justified as his son Jonathan tumbled out, the light gleaming on his Super Spy ring, the ring he was so excited to find in his cereal box this morning. His body was drained of blood, unnaturally white. Peter cried “Not enough, it’s not enough, as Larry turned to Mackie, his eyes red and glistening, and he said “I guess it’s all yours, Mackie. You killed it; you eat it.”
Just as he was beginning to scream again, the dream shifted, and Mackie was in Patterson’s marsh, leading the chase, running ahead of the pack. He howled at the night air, yelling to the Team to hurry or the game would be lost. The Team soon came, thundering through the marsh, splitting the air with their screams, and Mackie cried out as he reached the end of the marsh and realized that there was no game, he was the game and he could not scream because they were upon him, tearing his throat out, and he heard one of them say, “You ‘re off the Team, now, Mackie.”
He woke, sweaty and confused. He looked at the clock, his eyes trying to focus on the numbers. It was 5:30 in the morning. He reached over to check on his wife, who was sound asleep. He hoped she would forgive him for destroying her wedding silverware.
On the way downstairs, he checked on Jonathan. He was sleeping like the dead.
About 3:00 a.m., in the Marsh.
They had all met, and they were all aware of Mackie s intention to leave the group. The older ones were inquisitive, the younger ones scornful. They seemed very upset that he wanted out of their unholy alliance, hurt that he did not want of their immortality. They all took turns talking, ridiculing his actions, deriding his decision. No one spoke in his favor.
There was no full moon that night. Mackie figured that in a fair fight, he could whip maybe three of the six men there. But with the moon full, being as powerful as they could be as werewolves — yes, he would have less of a chance to get to his truck, and the gun, because they would attack in a pack. Frank came up to him and whispered into his ear conspiratorially.
“Listen, boy, I know this ain’t the brightest or the loveliest bunch of men on God’s green earth, but we ‘re brothers here. . .
“Brothers,” the group chanted in unison.
“And as your brothers, we feel that if you have problems with the family, you should air them out. But don’t leave this family, this Team, with harsh words and gestures. It only creates bitterness and bad feelings.
“Bad feelings,” they whispered, sounding dead and dangerous.
Larry approached Mackie and said, “No one can just leave the group, Mackie. You have to be voted out, and the only exile is death. Every time the moon rises, you ll feel the pain, the longing for blood. We couldn’t let you live with that kind of pain.”
“Pain,” the group agreed, moving closer, closing the circle.
Mackie figured the distance to the truck at about seventy feet.
“And we would have to replace you, and that could take time. We’d have to go out and interview … applicants.”
Some of them chuckled silently, while the others just kept a wary eye on Mackie’s movements.
“We don’t want to give up our secret just yet, Mackie”. It was Peter that spoke. Quiet, unassuming Peter. Named for Christ’s most trusted apostle. For once he had come on time. “The time is not yet come that the world should view us, and know us. They are dangerously stupid; they are unappreciative of our … talents.”
Mackie looked at Peter, who never spoke with much eloquence.
And he saw, God help him.
They were changing, right before him, without the benefit of a full moon. They must have learned this trick recently, Mackie thought, or kept it from me all along.
He bolted, making a move just behind Frank. Larry had a paw on him for just a minute, but Mackie pushed him backwards as hard as he could, and Larry fell onto an uprooted old branch, piercing his heart. I hope that hurts, you cocksucker, Mackie thought gleefully. He ran, hearing them run, hearing their furry feet pound the ground and search him out. He was close, he could see the outline of his pick—up, looking almost insubstantial in the lingering marsh fog.
He had six bullets in the chamber, ten more in the box. He would have to get them all with one shot, because he knew that they would not give him a chance to reload.
“Going for your gun, Mackie?” Larry asked pleasantly. He was a lot closer than Mackie had though he could possibly be. The hole in his chest was seeping, mud and blood running in steady rivers down his shirt. His face was distorted, beyond recognition by any of his human acquaintances. The others kept a close pace behind him, not running now.
Mackie turned towards his truck and threw the door wide open, scrambling inside and locking it.
His son, Jonathan was sitting on the front seat, smiling at him with ancient eyes. His teeth were too large, too sharp, for his twelve-year-old mouth. He was clutching the gun between his knees, playfully gripping the handle, spinning it in his hands like a real cowboy. The chamber was empty, the shells rolling around on the floor of the truck like forgotten toys, useless to him now. “My what big teeth you have,” Mackie said, tears choking his throat, hysteria rising helplessly in him.
“I made the Team, Daddy,” Jonathan said.
The truck cab was soon stained red.
About the Author
Dominic (Dom) Fannuci (he/him) is an aspiring author who is passionate about writing, and loves a good scary story. This particular story was written over 25 years ago, and was only recently unearthed when cleaning out his father’s coffin. He has published other works under different pen names, but the scary stuff belongs to his alpha personality, Dominic Fannuci . It’s the one that keeps him up at night.