Stanley Ivanov ran as fast as he could, dodging trees and jumping logs. He didn’t know where he was running to, but at the moment, “away” was good enough. He lost Paxton again, but that didn’t bother him at this point. As far as Stanley was concerned, they could just kill Paxton. It’d save him the trouble.
A glimpse of moonlight through the trees gave Stanley a better idea of his surroundings and he changed direction, heading toward a thinning of the woods where the light shone brightest. Stanley heard the movement –a heavy crunch of leaves and the snapping of a good-sized branch- only a second before he was hit from behind.
He pitched forward and rolled, the projectile rolling with him. Stanley came to rest on his belly, his face crammed in the dirt and his Buddy Holly glasses smashed into his face. By some luck, they didn’t break. Paxton Perlman landed on top of him, breathless and laughing like a demented Tigger.
“What are you doing, Stanley?” Paxton asked, panting his words and his giggles. “You’re not supposed to run so fast.”
Stanley bucked his friend off of his back and honked a wad of earth out of his left nostril. His vulture’s nose was surprisingly still intact. Paxton landed on his backside in some undergrowth a few feet away and Stanley hoped it was poison ivy. Shirtless and shoeless, the knees out of his jeans, Paxton looked like the blond beach bum he was, but he grinned like a man who’d lost his mind as soon as it had been handed to him. Stanley got to his feet, dusting off his khaki shorts and brushing leaves from his Hawaiian shirt, orange with giant yellow pineapples, the left shoulder stained black. He pulled a twig from his spiky, black hair and tossed it aside.
“They’ve got to keep you in their sights or they lose the thrill of the chase and give up,” Paxton said, still sitting and still grinning.
Stanley, looking like a questionably dressed, unhappy scarecrow, glared at his friend in the almost dark. Paxton’s grin grew.
“I want them to give up.”
“Oh, come on, man. That’s no fun.”
“I didn’t realize this was supposed to be fun. Because it’s not fun. We’re supposed to be having fun, but this isn’t fun. This is insane. We’re supposed to be relaxing and having fun. We’re supposed to be on vacation.”
“We are! It’s an old fashioned vacation.”
“An old fashioned vacation? That’s what you call this? Being chased through the woods by a bunch of angry Romanian villagers like the opening scene of a 1930’s Universal horror film, most likely a sequel.”
“Of course.” Paxton got to his feet. “Stan the Man, you’re a six hundred year old vampire. You mean to tell me that you were never chased by angry villagers with torches and pitchforks? Not even once?”
“No! That’s why I’m six hundred! I avoided that very thing!” His arms flailed like pale, skinny branches caught in a bad wind.
“Really?” Paxton looked genuinely perplexed and it only irritated Stanley more.
“Yes, really. I learned pretty quickly that it would be to my benefit to blend in. Besides, torches and pitchforks are for Frankenstein’s monster, not vampires.”
“How do you blend in wearing that shirt?”
“Oh, ha ha. Amazingly well compared to a werewolf on the brink of a full moon.” He looked pointedly at Paxton. “Torch and pitchfork wielding mobs are also more appropriate for werewolves. Hint. Hint.”
Paxton laughed and nodded. Stanley huffed, rolled his eyes, and left his friend, striding away as dignified as one could manage while crashing through the underbrush. Paxton bounded ahead of him and stopped him with a soft, but firm hand on his chest.
“Come on, Stanley. I was just having some fun. My dad used to do this sort of thing all the time when I was growing up. What good are those days leading up to a full moon when I can control my change if I don’t use them?” He smiled, canines seemingly illuminated without any help from the slips of moonlight raining through the trees. Stanley felt his fangs throb in response.
“There are so many points I’d like to counter in that sentence that I don’t even know where to begin.”
“Wherever you’d like,” Paxton said with a shrug, shoving his hands in his pockets. “We’ve got time.”
Stanley doubted that (he could hear the mob somewhere far off, but the angry voices were getting closer; trees, branches, and bushes were being bullied out of the way by their approach), but he took the opportunity anyway.
“First of all, it doesn’t surprise me a bit that your dad did this because he never did like being domesticated. He got that resentment from his father, who got it from his father, who was the rebellious runt of his litter. And I mean that in the nicest way possible. Secondly, I don’t think doing a partial werewolf conversion in a tavern full of locals counts as control. And finally,” Stanley pulled up the sleeve of his shirt, revealing an ugly black wound just below his shoulder joint that was already showing signs of healing, “I wouldn’t call getting shot fun. That bullet was meant for you, friend.” He dropped his sleeve and pointed at Paxton. “And I shouldn’t have to tell you that they don’t have to be silver to kill you.”
“Yeah, I know,” Paxton said, going sheepish. “I owe you for that.”
“You owe me for more than that. I saved your life, exposed myself as a member of the Outskirts, which I’m always loathe to do, and ruined my shirt. For YOU.”
“And I will pay you back.”
“You couldn’t live long enough.”
Shots ricocheted off of a tree next to them in an obvious effort by the Universe to help Stanley make his point. Bits of bark and splinters of wood flew through the air like shrapnel. Paxton ducked. Stanley ran.
Paxton easily caught up with him and kept pace as they sprinted through the woods, leaving their pursuers behind.
“Where are we running to?” Paxton asked, speaking in the rhythm of a panting dog.
Stanley jerked his head forward. “Up there. There’s a break in the trees. I need to get my bearings. We need to angle back to the village so we can get the hell out of here.”
Paxton took a deep breath through his nose and slowed down.
“Then we should turn left now.”
Stanley slowed, too, staying even with his friend for the benefit of conversation. “Are you kidding? Do you really think I’m going to take your word for it?” The two of them jumped a log in tandem without breaking their strides. “You’re the one who got us into this with your ‘aw, shucks, let’s go to a country pub’ scam. No way. I’m putting an end to your old fashioned vacation, Paxton.”
“Then you’d better turn left.”
The trees broke, the moonlight nearly blinding after so long in the dark, and the two of them hit the clearing, which turned out to be less of a clearing and more of a short preamble to a sudden cliff. Stanley skidded to a stop and fell on his backside just at the edge as Paxton slid next to him like a baseball player going for home and came to rest with his legs dangling over the drop off. Both of them scrambled to their feet and peered down into the blackness.
“Since when did they start putting these things in the middle of the forest?” Stanley asked, gesturing over the abyss like a man shocked to see a church across the street from a strip club.
“I told you we should have turned left.”
Stanley glared at Paxton. Paxton’s grin turned into a snarl. He growled over his shoulder at the trees.
“They’re coming,” Paxton said, his normally mellow voice now tense and guttural. He sprouted hackles and then raised them. Stanley watched Paxton tremble with anticipation, on the brink of change, caught between two cliffs now, one metaphorical, one physical. It was the metaphorical one that he wanted to jump off. “What do you want to do now, Stanley?”
Stanley heaved a sigh before taking off his glasses and securing them in the top pocket of his shirt.
“Try not to hurt them too badly, Paxton. Let’s not stoop to their level. After all, we are on vacation.”