Miles inhaled, taking in the various smells normally associated with farms: the grass, the freshly turned dirt out in the fields where the crops were standing strong and tall, the even fresher fertilizer, the sweat from the workers busy at one task or another. Then there were those not so normal smells: the fear reeking from the animals, penned up in the stable in spite of the humid heat forewarning a storm to come, along with that coming off of the workers, and the scent of blood that laced everything.
The vampire exhaled slowly and opened his eyes to look at a pair of workers who smelled the strongest of both the fear and the blood. “You there!”
The men were both dressed in durable clothing that looked like it had been dragged through a pile of dirt. They turned around and stared as Miles, followed by Erin and Kota, approached.
“What do you want?” One of the men looked Miles over suspiciously, and turned the same stare on Kota and Erin until memory kicked in. “Erin! Is that you?”
“Yeah,” Erin replied. “Jeremy, right?”
He nodded and Miles rolled his eyes before saying, “Good, you know each other. Mind telling me where you’ve been digging, Jeremy?”
Jeremy looked down at his now brown pants and shoes and said, “Oh, that? We had to dig a hole for the horse, all the way out in the waste where nothing grows.”
“At least what was left of it,” the other man muttered ominously. “Butcher wouldn’t even take it for dog food.”
Kota, upon a closer look, recognized him as the same man who shot at him the last time he tried to look around the farm. He recognized that grimace and those sharp, bright eyes that thankfully had not helped his aim. When everyone looked at him, Kota realized that he must have made an involuntary sound and turned it into a cough while he tried to remind himself that the man would have a hard time recognizing him as the wolf from the other day.
“What happened to the horse?” Miles asked.
Jeremy looked at Erin.
“What? I want to know too,” Erin said to the unspoken reply and Jeremy shrugged.
“We don’t really know. Probably the same thing that happened to the cows and to those chickens. Something’s attacking the animals, but we can’t find any trace of it.”
“If you don’t count half an animal sprawled over as much field a trace,” the other man said. “At first the only thing left of the chickens was a couple of feathers, and the first cow was nearly gone. Since then, more of the animal’s stayed behind and the results…are messier.”
He said this last part with another look askance at Erin, as if debating with himself over whether to go into more detail.
“Thank you for that,” Miles said. He brushed some hair out of his face and sniffed the air again. “Do you mind if we take a look around?”
“You should probably ask Joe about that,” Jeremy replied. He pointed to a field near the stables and said, “He should be over that way. All of this trouble is making us fall behind with the harvest, so he may not be in much of a mood to talk.”
“Do you know where my mom is?” Erin asked.
Jeremy looked to the other man who jerked a thumb in the direction of the house in the middle of the property and said, “Still in there with Delilah, I would think.”
“Do you two mind if I go talk to her first?” Erin asked. Without waiting for an answer, she started to walk toward the house and called over her shoulder, “Meet you in the stables in a few, okay?”
“In a few what?” Kota asked, but Erin just waved her hand and went inside.
“Well, looks like we get to go talk to the boss man,” Miles said. He started to walk toward the field Jeremy pointed out and Kota reluctantly fell in step with him. After they were out of earshot of the workers, Miles asked Kota, “Did what he say match what you saw the other day?”
Kota shrugged. “By the time I got there the crows had already started picking at it, but over half of the cow was gone. I’m sure some of the bones were also eaten or taken, but other than that it wasn’t any ‘messier’ than anything a normal predator would do. Although it would be a lot of meat for just one animal.”
“And did you smell anything unusual?” Miles asked, his voice dropping lower to avoid being overheard.
Kota shook his head. “Nothing at all. I went over the area, but the smell coming off the cow was distracting. If I could have had more time, maybe I could have found something, but…”
“Yes, yes, it’s hard to concentrate when people are shooting, I know,” Miles said. He leaned on the fence around the field and looked out over the rows of crops at the heads bobbing here and there, occasionally looking up at the sky to check on the rolling clouds. “Which one of these is Farmer?”
Kota scanned the faces and found Joe Farmer in the midst of the tomatoes, a basket at his side as he picked those ready to come off the vine with an experienced hand.
Farmer looked up when Miles and Kota approached and straightened his back with a crack that made Kota wince.
“Can I help you?” he asked. “We’re busy at the moment, you see. Got to get all of this in before the rain comes, if we can.”
“We’re here to look into this creature that’s been attacking your livestock,” Miles said. “With your permission, of course.”
Farmer wiped his brow and looked both of them over, apparently not impressed by what he saw.
“We don’t need someone to ‘look into it,'” Farmer said. “We need someone to kill this monster, before it gets worse.”
“Monster?” Kota asked. “Last I heard you thought it was some kind of wild animal.”
“Ah, that’s what we thought at first,” Farmer said, his frown growing more pronounced.
“And what do you think it is now?” Miles asked.
“We know what it is, we saw it the other day when it came back for the rest of its kill,” Farmer said and Kota knew where this was going before he even said, “A great wolf, skinny as a rack, with a blazing mark on its face that glowed like the sun they said. You can’t tell me that was a normal animal.”
Kota tried to keep his face perfectly blank while Miles nodded and solemnly said, “No, I can’t.”