The Rest of the Prologue is History, Too

As promised, here’s the rest of the Prologue. I was going to divide it into three or more pieces, but then said what the hell. Maybe I’ll turn it into a short.

Frank was too young to have total control over his panther. His rage and terror at being hunted had triggered only a partial change. Frank had no claws to help him climb trees or fangs to slash and tear through exposed flesh. His only advantages lay in his speed and human intelligence, which was why the dogs had repeatedly lost his scent.

God, I wish Park were here!

He might be able to outsmart the dogs, but Frank’s human pursuers had far more experience at hunting than Frank did at being hunted. The men chasing him usually figured out his tactics before he’d fully understood them in his own mind.

He was also getting tired. They’d been tracking him for almost three hours now.

Frank hadn’t gone twenty feet further before he heard the violent whoosh of steel jaws cleaving the night air. He wasn’t fast enough to avoid the bear trap. With a snap, the cruel teeth bit into his leg, ripping through sinew and crushing his fibia into shards.

Howling in pain, he fell to the earth and tried to pull the trap’s jaws apart. When he touched it, fresh agony tore through his hands and burned its way deep into his arms. Frank understood. The thing that had caught him wasn’t a bear trap. It was a were trap, forged from a steel and copper alloy specially designed for snaring werepanthers. Copper to a panther was like silver to a werewolf—a poisonous, lethal metal.

The dogs found him first. They dashed around, baying and nipping at his legs, forearms and shoulders, and tearing at what was left of his clothes.

“Cleo! Herk! Junior! Back off!” a man’s rough voice shouted.

By now Frank was nearly unconscious, unaware of the dogs being pulled away and the coarse hands fondling his furry body. Anonymous voices floated faintly around him.

“Well, well. Looks like we caught us a big ol’ kitty,” a second voice said.

A third voice sniggered. “Looks more like a big pussy to me.”

“What we do now?” the second voice said. “Take ‘im to the Judge?”

“Naw,” the first voice snapped, the one who’d called off the hounds. “Judge ‘ont wanna see dis piece a’ shit.”

“Mebbe, but he’s gonna want proof,” the third voice said.

“I’ll give ‘im proof,” dog-man muttered.

Frank felt himself being lifted from the ground until he was nearly sitting up. A bottle of acrid, foul smelling something was shoved under his nose. It brought him back from wherever he’d been. He fought against it but its pull was inexorable, hauling him to wakefulness like a marlin snagged from the depths of the sea. Someone tipped his head back and poured liquid fire down his throat. Gagging and thrashing, Frank’s pain finished the job started by the moonshine.

“Thassa boy, wake up, now—thassa a good pussy boy. Git the trap off him Jake,” dog-man ordered.

Frank screamed when the steel teeth were pulled apart. Fresh blood pumped from his wounds.

“Shaddup, pussy boy. Cain’t nobody hear you, anyways,” dog-man said. A heavy weight settled across Frank’s thighs. Then a hard slap stung his fur-covered face, followed immediately by a second and then a third. “Look a’ me,” dog-man shouted and grabbed him by the throat.

Frank’s eyes popped open. Staring back at him was the ugliest man he’d ever seen. Starting at his scalp, a whitish, mangled scar ran along the left side of the man’s face, bisecting his eye and ending just below his lip. His grin showed numerous broken teeth, and his breath smelled fouler than the moonshine he’d been forced to drink.

Frank knew the man grinning down at him. Everybody in the county knew Pitt Jackson.

“Wantcha ta see how I’ma git Judge his proof,” Pitt said while reaching behind his back. Frank’s eyes widened when he saw the Bowie knife’s huge, heavy blade glinting wickedly in the moonlight. He struggled to escape, but it was no use. He was too weak.

“Hold still, boy,” Pitt chuckled. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

Frank screamed a second time when he felt the knife slice into his upper chest. No ordinary metal blade, it was made from the same steel and copper alloy as the trap that had snared him.

The skinning seemed to go on forever.

Then he was losing consciousness again. The copper poison was doing its work, relentlessly slowing the young boy’s heart.

“Good job, Pitt,” Frank barely heard the second voice.

“Why thankee, Jake,” he heard Pitt reply. “Judge got his proof, an’ I got me a new rug.”

Three voices sniggered. “What now?” the third man’s voice came faintly to Frank’s ears.

“Dogs’re hungry,” Pitt said.

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