Welcome to the latest instalment of ‘Under Dark Hills’. You can read the story from the beginning here
Paul looked frantically at Mike Doyle, the paladin called in to show him the ropes. He had not expected this. “You go left, I’ll go right. We should be able to trap it.”
“Her!” the old werewolf behind him squealed from behind his face mask. “She’s not an ‘it’, she’s a ‘her’ and she’s frightened.”
Mike nodded, sweat dripping down his face. The chase was taking it out of him. “Hang on – are all the exits blocked?”
Paul nodded, equally exhausted. “That’s why we chased it – her! – here,” he said. No other exits, cupboards and windows are locked. There should be no other way out.”
“We thought that upstairs,” Mike said wearily.
“I didn’t think she could move that quick,” Paul said. “But this should be safe. You go left, I’ll go right and we should be able to grab her behind the sofa.” He looked over his shoulder at the werewolf wringing his hands. “It’s okay, Justin. I think we can catch her now.”
“Be gentle, please!” Justin called. “It’s not her fault.”
Paul exchanged a glance with Mike. Both of them were liberally scratched. “Okay, one, two, three, go!”
The two paladins charged around the sofa and in a whirlwind of arms, claws and hisses, Paul finally grabbed her. “Here she is,” he said, keeping a tight hold on the scruff of the cat’s neck.
Justin stared at the cat. “She has been my only true companion for years,” he said, looking piteously at the growling, hissing maniac that was swearing wildly in cat. “You know, I’m the last werewolf in Halifax, or I was, and I was always so careful. I spent so much time alone and Miss Cleo kept me company. She is such a gentle, loving sweetie. But you can find her a good home, can’t you, where they’ll give me updates?”
Paul nodded, exhausted. “But if she is so dear to you, why are you getting rid of her?”
“It’s that dreadful Covid,” Justin said. “I ordered some special masks at the beginning of the dratted affair, but I was too late. Ever since, I have suffered dreadfully from allergies. And I can’t keep on like this.”
Paul looked closer at Justin. The werewolf was looking pale and strained, and his eyes were rimmed red. “Have you tried antihistamines?”
“They don’t work on werewolves,” Justin said sadly. He pulled aside the face mask to blow his reddened nose. “And there isn’t a werewolf specialist around. Now I can speak to others of my kind, perhaps they can help and I can get my beloved Miss Cleo back.”
Mike looked thoughtfully at Justin and then at the pack of masks on the table, half empty. “These look expensive. May I have a look?”
Justin nodded. “But your colleague should wash his hands before he touches them. My skin is so sensitive these days. I seem to break out at the slightest thing, and I can’t risk touching anything with cat hair.”
Mike picked up the masks and examined the packet carefully. “Werewolves can’t get covid,” he said. “A lot of the packs did double duty in hospitals as porters and stuff at the height of the crisis.” He turned the packet over and over and then pulled out his phone. “I need to check something.”
Justin stared. “But look at me! I’m a wreck.” He sank helplessly into a chair. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve cleaned this house, again and again, and I have air purifiers and even essential oils – and that is not fun for a werewolf.”
Paul kept a hold on the spitting ball of fury called Miss Cleo. “You don’t have any family close?” he asked?”
Justin shook his head. “There was only me left, after, well, some unpleasantness. And I am not as young as I was. I was quite a young pup when I lost my parents, so perhaps this is just me getting older. I’m 74, which I believe is a good age for a werewolf.”
Mike flicked through the internet in search of the brand. “Why did you choose these masks?”
Justin stared at him. “They were marketed as having built in antibacterial properties that couldn’t be washed out. I know that covid isn’t a bacteria, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt.”
Mike frowned as he found the masks’ website. “Did you read the small print?” Mike asked. “Did you read why it is supposedly antibacterial?” Mike took a breath. “It’s because the fabric contains silver nano particles, Justin. You bought silver infused face masks. That’s what’s giving you a reaction. You were a werewolf wearing a mask full of silver.” Mike stopped with an effort. “It isn’t like it’s silver thread, which would have burned your face off. But according to the website, there are enough silver particles to kill bacteria. That would make you a poorly werewolf.”
Paul dropped Miss Cleo and stepped quickly back. “If you dispose of the masks, you should be fine now,” he said.
The cat ran straight to Justin who swung her into his arms. “My sweetheart! I can cuddle you again. I’ll get some tuna for you now.” Justin looked at the paladins. “I cannot tell you how grateful I am – I should pay you your fees, though, even if you don’t need to take away my darling Miss Cleo.” His voice broke.
Paul looked with disbelief as the cat-shaped demon from hell that had led them such a chase transform into a sweetly cute kitty, purring loud enough to rattle the ornaments on the mantlepiece. “There’s no fee,” he said. “But the leader of the local pack will be in touch, just to make sure that you’re alright and that you keep well.”
Justin pulled his face mask off and looked pale. “Is he very fierce?” he asked timidly.
“He’s a good man,” Mike said, “And he’ll keep an eye out for your welfare.” He watched the elderly werewolf fussing over the cat. “We’ll see ourselves out.”
“Before you go, at least take a bottle of my home brew,” Justin said. “It’s mainly blackberries, from an old boggart recipe. It will do you a lot of good.”
Out in the street, the two men took deep breaths. Paul turned to Mike. “I thought paladins battled evil and protected society.”
Mike shrugged. “Some days are busier than others,” he said. “But we did our good deed for the day.” He pulled out the bottle, unscrewed the bottle lid and sniffed. His eyes widened. “I think I know what this is.”
Paul leaned forward and caught the scent. He straightened up quickly. “It smells very…”
“Lethal,” Mike said. “It’s lethal. But it’s exactly what you need when you’ve had to chase a cat over a six bedroom, three story house with extra cellars.” He took another sniff and then reverently screwed the lid back on. “Why don’t we get back to your place and have a very small amount.” He thought for a moment. “While we’re sitting down. I think we’ve earned it.”
Paul looked at the scratches covering his and Mike’s arms. “We absolutely have.”