by Edison T. Crux
Season 3, Episode 2: Homecoming
It was the last week of February, but in Wisconsin spring came early. The blanket of snow began to thaw, leaving islands of white scattered throughout lush green fields. Some trees even had the audacity to sprout hopeful buds—a bold move with the unpredictable weather of the Midwest.
Will observed the changing weather as he rode a Greyhound bus to Janesville. He was on the last leg of his journey, but the closer he got to Elkhorn the worse his mood became.
The bus stopped at a station in Janesville. Many passengers—Will included—collected their things and disembarked from the Greyhound. The only thing Will brought was a single suitcase of clothes, so he got off the bus with little fuss.
Barbason was waiting at the bus stop.
Will ran to his great-uncle and gave him a hug. “Uncle Barbason!”
Barbason stumbled from the unexpected hug. Once he caught his balance, he patted Will on the back. “Hey kid.”
They walked together across the parking lot to Barbason’s beat up blue pickup truck. Halfway there Barbason broke into a coughing fit. Will didn’t like the sound of it—it lasted too long, and sounded too phlegmy.
“Are you okay, Uncle Barbason?” Will asked.
He waved it off. “Fine,” he said after a final cough to clear his throat. “Ain’t gettin’ any younger, that’s all.”
True, Will thought. But you’ve aged a lot more this year than you should have.
Of course, the same could be said about himself.
The old truck puttered and whined like an ornery old man. After a wheezing protest, it finally conceded and came to life. It clattered and clanked up the highway, taking them the final distance back home. Will remembered the first time he rode like this with his great-uncle. That drive was quiet and uncomfortable—they were practically strangers at the time—but since then they had bonded more than Will would have ever guessed. Any pause in conversation this time was met with relaxed, unassuming silence.
“So, how’s yer magic school?” Barbason asked.
Will thought about his failed initiation. About breaking protocol and putting everyone in danger. About succumbing to fear in the face of Timorix. Failure was the best word to describe his experience at Enoc so far, and he didn’t feel like talking about it. “Fine.”
“Good,” said Barbason. “That guy, he treatin’ ye alright?”
Will nodded. “How have things been here, Uncle Barbason?”
He cleared his throat and stared straight ahead. “Not bad. About the same.”
Will got the feeling there was something Barbason didn’t want to talk about, as well. He was curious, but didn’t press the matter; right now he was content to ride in silence, and try to leave his worries behind him.
After awhile they took their exit off the highway, drove down Bray Road, and reached B.R. Amon. Barbason parked the truck and hobbled down.
Had it really only been a few months?
Will walked through the doorway to B.R. Amon, and was hit by a wave of nostalgia. The worn down old sofa. The mismatched dining set. The ancient box TV. It may not be as luxurious as Garlock Manor, but it didn’t matter—to Will, this was home.
He went to his bedroom. Everything was just as he left it—with the addition of a layer of dust.
“Welcome back, kid,” Barbason said, leaning against the doorframe.
Will managed to smile. “It’s good to be back.”
Barbason returned the smile—which was an expression that always looked out of place on his grizzled face. “Ye know, I bet there be someone next door who’d like to see ye.”
A swarm of butterflies took flight in Will’s stomach. It had only been a few months since he last saw Eliza, but his nerves reacted as if meeting for the first time. What if he forgot how to talk to her? What if he made a fool of himself?
It was stupid. Will knew it was stupid. This was the girl who patiently helped him learn to use a fork left-handed. Eliza wouldn’t care if he tripped over his words.
All the same, Will decided to take a long shower before seeing her. Wash away the stink of travel. And—with any luck—the warm water would calm his nerves.
Freshly-showered and heart pounding, Will rang the doorbell to the Fillmore house.
Will shifted his feet nervously. The moment the door opened, Eliza flung her arms around him in a tight embrace.
Eliza’s face nuzzled into the crook of his neck, and Will was suddenly overwhelmed by the smell of her—so familiar, so intoxicating.
It stirred something in him.
Not nerves, or the regular human response he expected—this was something deeper. For a few seconds, “Will” vanished. He was replaced by something primal. An animalistic creature that slumbered in his gut and was awakened by her scent. It only lasted a moment, but the experience left Will rattled when he snapped back to himself.
Because, for a short time…
He was the Beast.
It was over as soon as it started. Eliza let go and kissed Will before he could process what just happened. She gazed at him, her eyes sparkling.
“I missed you,” she said with a smile.
Will swallowed. “Yeah,” he said. “I missed you, too.
Eliza took his hand and led him inside, where they sat on the living room couch. “How have you been, Will?” she asked. “How’s Enoc?”
“It’s…” He really didn’t want to talk about it. It was silly, but he still wanted to impress Eliza. Admitting how awful he did at Enoc would be a blow to his ego Will wasn’t prepared for. “It’s interesting,” he said. Hoping to change the subject, he added, “How have you been?”
Eliza went on to tell him all about life in Elkhorn, from school to gossip to what her and her friends were up to. To be honest, Will was barely listening; he was more enthralled by the sound of her voice than the words she said. His eyes couldn’t stop soaking in the sight of her—long, silky red hair, eyes that glistened with liveliness, and a smile that could stop the coldest heart in its tracks.
God, he had missed her.
Will was so captivated by her, he didn’t notice someone enter the room until Eliza said, “Hi, Daddy! Look who’s back!”
Daddy? A knot tightened in Will’s stomach. He instinctively stood up to greet Eliza’s father.
Sheriff Fillmore never truly warmed up to him. He accepted Will, but in the same way you accept your gums will hurt after having a tooth pulled. He never complained about Will dating his daughter (at least, not to his face), but he clearly wasn’t thrilled about it, either. The sheriff was off duty, but was no less imposing for it.
“Sheriff—I mean, Mr. Fillmore—uh, sir,” Will blurted out. “Good to see you, sir.”
Sheriff Fillmore eyed Will up, before giving an awkward left-handed handshake. “Hello Will. How’s your great-uncle?”
“He’s good, sir,” said Will.
Sheriff Fillmore continued to examine Will, long after pleasantries and handshakes were finished. Finally he said, “Where was it you went, again?”
Will gulped. “New York state, sir.” He really hoped he wouldn’t have to dance around the truth of joining an occult secret society. Will tried to explain that to the sheriff before he left—leaving out the more esoteric elements—and it was met with a disapproving glare. As far as Will could tell, Sheriff Fillmore walked the line between belief and skepticism over what happened last year. He knew people who saw the Beast—good, honest people. He wouldn’t accuse them of lying, yet he also couldn’t bring himself to admit such a thing was possible.
“New York, hm?” Sheriff Fillmore crossed his arms. “And you haven’t been back here since Christmas?”
“No sir,” said Will.
“Hm.” The sheriff regarded him for another moment. Then walked towards the kitchen. “You two behave yourselves.”
Eliza gave him an innocent smile. “We will, Daddy.”
Once Sheriff left the room, Will turned to Eliza. “What was that about?” he asked.
“What was what about?” Eliza said—although she didn’t meet his eye when she said it.
“That… interrogation,” said Will. He couldn’t think of a better word for it. “I know your dad doesn’t like me, but that seemed… weird.”
“Yeah…” She shifted in her seat. “It’s nothing. It was probably just, you know… about…”
Will stared at her. He had no idea what she meant.
Eliza reluctantly continued. “A few people—not many, but a few—have claimed to have, well…” She let out a long sigh. “I’m sure it’s nothing. Probably just—”
“Eliza,” Will interrupted. “What have a few people claimed?”
Her eyes darted towards him, then away just as fast. “Some people are still seeing the Beast. Even… after you left town.”
It felt like the floor dropped out from under him. “They… what?” Will couldn’t wrap his mind around it. “W—why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want you to worry,” she said. “Like I said, it’s probably nothing.”
But Will was worried.
He was very worried.
There shouldn’t be a Beast in Elkhorn. Not without Will. He was the Beast. If it was still being sighted, that meant…
There could be another Werewolf in Wisconsin.
And that was very bad news.