The Stricken Moon
A Rick Landon Novel
Summary: When a virulent form of lycanthropy infects a remote Pacific island, werewolf Rick Landon goes to investigate with a pack formed of history's greatest warriors. What they find is a threat to all life on Earth.
"If you live among wolves, you have to act like a wolf." -Nikita Khrushchev
Chapter 1: The Hungry Ocean
Under the ethereal light of a full moon, Rick Landon's slender body underwent a familiar metamorphosis into a hirsute killing machine. His unruly brown hair covered his face, hands, and legs. His muscles knotted and bones cracked as his body twisted against natural physiology. Savage claws and gnarled teeth erupted like an arsenal of unsheathed swords. Golden eyes glowed softly in the reflected light as he scanned for his adversary.
The hull of the ship rocked softly in the waves, creaking as cargo shifted upon the massive deck of the freighter. Rick's ears listened to the groaning of rusty metal, waiting for any sounds of skittering claws across corrugated sheet-metal. Between the aisles of stacked shipping containers, superhuman eyes scanned for signs of motion. A sense unable to put into human words told him of an otherwise imperceptible drop in air pressure. For reasons he could not fully explain, a chill ran down his spine.
The metallic reverberations of half-bounding footfalls upon a shipping container drew Rick's gaze above him. His eyes saw a brief shadow pass beneath the moon as adrenaline raced through his bloodstream. He dug his claws into the side of a shipping crate as he forced himself upwards. Clambering up the side of the stacked containers, he could hear his target reversing and cautiously approaching. He sensed something amiss, as if an unpredictable element had been introduced to the contest between the two.
Like a lurking viper, Rick prepared an ambush. From his vantage point, he beheld the darkened ocean around him like the ever-shifting dunes of a blackened night. He saw a wave crash over the aft deck like the talons of a hungry monster, spraying the deck with water. He saw a silvered-white form narrowly avoid the falling spray, likely preoccupied by some instinctual urge to avoid drowning. The relentless waters kept sprayed over the other side of the vessel, only to drain just as rapidly.
After the wave came a chilly wind across the surface of the Pacific. Rick would have shivered if he had been in human form, but his fur provided plenty of insulation in conjunction with brown leather vest. He bounded into the aisle between two rows of shipping containers, kicking off the opposing wall just before making contact with it. Rebounding back towards the origin point of his jump like a furry pong ball, he grasped the lip of the crate as he waited for the White Wolf to approach.
A primordial and archetypically lupine howl echoed through the air as Rick's quarry approached. As he heard footsteps approach, he catapulted himself upwards with claws extended in anticipation of an easy victory. As he sprung forth from cover, he realized his ambush had been an instant premature. His prey had become a mongoose as the White Wolf delivered a powerful fist into his torso, causing him to reel backwards like a punch-drunk boxer. His adversary howled once more, before unleashing charge that sent Rick sprawling. The albino lycanthrope grabbed at his waist and spun him around like a meteor hammer.
Rick dug his heels into the surface of the shipping crate, causing the White Wolf to snap at his head instead. He tried to shoot at the rival lycanthrope's legs with the agility of a champion wrestler, but the vessel's motions caused his grip to slip. The White Wolf smashed a clawed fist into his head as Rick's world spun momentarily. His senses spun like a ship's capstan, wheeling around as he sought his bearings.
Eager to get back on the offensive, Rick rolled backwards as the ship drive along the crest of a massive swell. Springing back to his feet with a newfound vigor, he vaulted into his enemy with claws raised. He stared into the golden eyes of his albino counterpart, breathing heavily as beads of sweat rolled down his face. He growled as he circled his enemy, vainly looking for an opening. His adversary similarly stared at him, as the conflict lingered at an impasse.
It was a set of footfalls upon the deck below that simultaneously caused Rick and his opponent to stare at the deck directly below them. A man screamed into the cold night as the animus between Rick and his rival vanished immediately. Below them, they saw a lone sailor in a yellow raincoat running towards the port side of the ship. Before they could react, a wave came and swept him over the side.
Without a second of hesitation, Rick leapt into the frigid water after him. He plunged below the icy black wave for a second, and he emerged on the surface soaked in water that leeched his body heat. In the near total darkness, he followed the frantic splashing to find the struggling sailor. The werewolf wrapped his massive arms around the man's torso, trying to restrain him while he thrashed like a shark tangled in a fishnet.
Rick slung the maddened crew member over his shoulder like a sack of meat. He felt the sailor futilely pound on his back as he swam towards the ship, doing his best to keep pace with the moving freighter. He felt resistance slacken as hypothermia caused the sailor to involuntarily shudder. He paddled onwards with a superhuman vigor as the remorseless sea leeched his body heat.
Rick monetarily wondered if his rash rescue attempt would only result in two drowning victims instead of one. He struggled to keep up, but the lights of the vessel passed faster than he thought the would beside him. He wondered if he would die alone in the middle of the ocean, his ironic fate being a land-based apex predator reduced to ignobly nourishing bottom feeders. He ignored such grim thoughts, but such inevitables gnawed at his mind like hungry dogs as the cargo ship steamed past.
Rick did not hear the life preserver whistle through the air, but he did see it land nearby. He paddled over to it and held on with one hand. Behind him, the sailor had lost consciousness completely. Looking over the ship's railing, he saw where his sparring partner had gone: to retrieve rope and life preservers. After securing himself and the sailor, he tugged on the line. Slowly but surely, the White Wolf pulled him in. Given the distance and accuracy involved in such a throw in the poor visibility, he doubted it a human could have done it.
As he held the sailor tightly, Rick thought of all the warm food he'd be eating soon. His own fur was soaked thoroughly, so he reverted to his human form to try to conserve heat. It did not work as well as he hoped, for he still had a layer of water-saturated clothing in urgent need of drying out. He knew he was not the only one in need of warmth.
As Rick reached the railing, he carefully set the sailor over the side. He briefly cursed himself for his stupidity. He had taken life-saving classes before, and he recalled swimming after a drowning person should only be a last resort. If not for the White Wolf, the ocean would have claimed two more victims.
As the White Wolf reverted to his human guise, the disappointed look on his face reinforced Rick's own self-loathing for his impulsive attempt at heroism. Like a defeated wolf, he slunk away to his quarters while medics helped the shocked man. Along the way, he identified a broken latch that had likely given the unlucky sailor unauthorized access to the deck. He made a mental note to inform the next officer he found.
As Rick trudged away, he could not help but stare ruefully into the sky. Away from the polluted luminosity of crowded cities, he could behold the terrifying majesty of the naked night sky. He scanned amongst the sky for familiar constellations and starts, but found few he could identify. Given his nescience of astronomy and maritime navigation, he was surprised he could recognize any.
Chief among the few Rex recognized was a constellation of stars that drowned out the others. He beheld the full majesty of the Southern Cross, a celestial sign that cast an unspoken judgment upon him for his rash actions. As his instincts reminded him, he was no longer in friendly waters. The lightless depths of the sea lapped around the edge of the ship like a lurking pack of wolves, only far more fierce. For a brief instant, even the beast that lurked within him shuddered before the terrifying enormity of the vast and merciless ocean.
A quick glance into the infinite void above Rick reminded him how small the ship, and the world upon which he lived, truly were in the cosmos. He wrestled with the question of how much a single life was truly worth. His recent experience quickly removed the existential questions to the periphery of his mind, only to be replaced the carnal realities of sleep and nourishment. Consciousness left him, while the promise of food the following morning was enough to ensure pleasant dreams.