Story Preview: High Moon Rising – Wolves Within

Okay, full disclosure, I did have a proper entry planned for today, but I need a bit more time to think it through and the last minute shenanigans for the double launch this weekend has caught up with me, so you get a Preview of the other boom coming out this month instead!


 

Prospect was growing. Until recently, it had been a quiet town, albeit one that was inhabited by werewolves, but ever since Jim Ashwood had become Sheriff the town had begun to expand, imperceptibly at first, but now in leaps and bounds.

The arrival of new townsfolk from the deep south had forced the town to expand. From living in mud huts in the Mississippi, the former Deep Dwellers had rushed to erect houses of wood and brick before winter had arrived.

Their neighbors had pitched in, of course, and the experience had helped them come together as a town. Both groups were wary of strangers – the wolves of prospect had hidden themselves away for hundreds of years, and the Dwellers had religiously murdered outsiders until recently.

And now they stood together, a growing township out in the wilderness, filled with one group of people who turned into wolves every full moon and another who had once worshiped a demon-god that had crashed to earth from the stars. And yet, it seemed to work.

Which wasn’t to say there weren’t occasional teething issues. And in this town, teething issues had extra bite.

As Sheriff Jim Ashwood stepped onto the boardwalk in front of the small house he shared with his wife and child, a steaming cup of coffee in his hand, he groaned inwardly as Joseph Tommen, one of the Dwellers representatives, came strolling up.

Mornin’ Joseph. Coffee?” he asked.

If you’ve got some going spare. It’s colder up here than us folks are used to!”

The Sheriff grinned, and strolled inside the house with the Dweller on his tail.

I can imagine.” He poured a cup of coffee from the pot on the stove, and handed it to Joseph. As they went back into the cool air, he smiled wryly.

I can also guess that this ain’t a social visit. What’s wrong?”

Joseph took a sip of the coffee, grimacing at the bitter taste.

Just folks buttin’ heads again. Compton and Hales.”

Jim groaned.

I thought we’d settled that?”

Well, it seems they unsettled it.”

What is it this time?”

Supposedly, it’s about that boundary fence between their fields. Personally, I reckon it’s the fact that Hales has been making eyes at Compton’s daughter.”

Jim laughed.

Well, she’s a good lookin’ girl, and Hales has been single for about a hundred and fifty years. She could do worse.”

Tell that to Compton,” Joseph grinned. “He’s still a bit set in his ways – he’s a bit nervous of non-dwellers.”

Jim stood thoughtfully for a moment.

You found a job yet, Joseph?”

Not yet. Been too busy gettin’ my house together.”

Well you’ve got one now. You’re joinin’ Tim as one of my deputies.”

Joseph took a moment to let surprise cross his face.

I… thanks, Jim!”

Don’t thank me yet, the job’s a pain in the ass. But we could do with lawmen from both sides of the path.

He started walking towards his office, the chubby dweller following.

“Timothy should be managing the desk. We’ll grab you an iron and a badge, then go sort this nonsense out.”

“Sure thing, boss.”

Jim shot him a grin, and pushed open the door to the jail house. Timothy Elliot looked up from behind the desk and grimaced.

“What now?” he grumbled.

“Trouble out at Compton’s place. And we’ve got a new deputy.”

The younger man breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thank God. I was starting to get swamped under. Who did you con into it this time?”

“Erm, that would be me?” Joseph said

“Good for you. I’m sure you’ll regret it,” Tim grinned.

“Shut up, boy, and go get your co-worker a gun and a badge.”

“You got it boss.”

As Tim headed over to the small gun cabinet, Jim cast his eye over the paperwork on the main desk.

“Anythin’ in particular I should know about?”

“Coupla drunkards, a few saloon fights, nothin’ out of the ordinary. I filled in the book, but I ain’t had time to write up reports yet.”

Jim grunted his acknowledgement. Reports had seemed like a good idea when Parker had suggested them to him. They allowed him and Timothy to keep each other aware of situations while working opposite shifts, but finding the time to read the damn things was a pain in itself. It occurred to Jim that by recruiting Joseph into his tiny department, he’d effectively just doubled the amount of paperwork he’d have to read. He glanced up as Tim handed his new compatriot a Colt .45 and gunbelt, followed by a bronze deputies badge.

“You know how to use that?” he asked.

“You point the hole at whatever you want to die?”

Jim gave him a flat look. Joseph grinned.

“Don’t make me regret this decision.”

“Course not, boss.”

The Sheriff sighed, and got back to his feet.

“Alright, let’s go deal with the latest episode of stupidity.”

***

Compton and Hales were glaring at each other across their fences, shotguns in their hands, when the three lawmen rode up. Barely a mile out of town, the Dwellers and the werewolves lived largely in harmony – neither group could survive on meat alone, and as a whole farmers tended to be a pragmatic group.

Occasionally, though, people liked to butt heads. It bored Jim. Whilst he’d been working for X-division on the side, he’d been facing problems he could solve with the twin revolvers at his waist. Petty politics bothered him.

“Alright, Tim. Let’s do this the hard way. You cuff Hales, Joseph, you go arrest Compton.”

The deputies looked at him in surprise.

“That ain’t exactly subtle, boss.”

“I’m through being subtle with these two. We’ve had to come out here time after time. We’ll put ’em in the cells for a couple of hours, let ’em cool off, then I’ll sit down with ’em and get to the bottom of this crap.”

Joseph grinned.

“I could get used to this.”

Jim grinned at him, then gestured. The two peeled off to their respective arrests as Jim rode along the fence line. Compton and Hales both turned to glare at him, their eyes filled with self-righteous anger.

“Sheriff! I want you to…” Compton began.

“Sheriff, you need to tell…”

“Both of you need to shut the hell up,” Jim said coldly. “This is the fourth time I’ve been out here in a month. You’ve been warned, now you’re both under arrest. Deputies?”

Grinning, Tim and Joseph moved in, relieving the pair of their weapons and cuffing them. They stared at Jim.

“You can’t do this!” Compton yelled.

“Think you’ll find I can. Take ’em away.”

“C’mon Jack. Got a nice quiet cell for you,” Tim said, pulling the apoplectic Hales along to his horse.

He stopped and scented the air for a moment, a frown crossing his face.

“Somethin’ wrong?” Joseph asked.

“Not sure. Let’s just get these two back to town,” he replied quietly.

“This is ridiculous!” Compton snapped.

“Shut up, man,” Jim said absently, his eyes fixed on the hills.

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