Halls of darkness were still, with the occasional rat darting along the wall. Catwalks had fallen to make a rusted, dangerous mess on all the factory floors. Long vertical stretches of windows showed signs of vandalism.
The working loudspeakers came to life. Three men, dirty, scared, armed with rifles, froze.
“Mmmmmmmmmmmm,” the growl echoed in the long abandoned factory.
There was the sound of scuffling, and then static.
“He’s at the manager’s office.”
“No shit, Harmon,” the lead man spoke.
He was taller than the other two. Brown hair came out from under a black fisherman’s cap. Scars were on his face, claw marks.
He slung his shotgun over his shoulder, turning back to his men.
“Leo, this one seems off. None of the shapechangers retained any smarts after transforming. This one knows how to use a comm system,” Harmon said.
“Yeah, Leo. I’m with Harmon on this one,” Nate chimed in.
Leo looked at his two compatriots with a scowl.
“Fine. We stick close this time. Cover each other. Don’t give the thing an opening,” Leo pointed at them.
“Understood,” they responded, almost in unison.
The three of them walked in balanced, patient steps with weapons raised. They scanned hallways with their weapon mounted flashlights, patting each other in code.
“All clear”, “Dead end”, “Movement”.
Each touch at a different part of the body. Left shoulder patted twice meaning something entirely different than once.
As the three men stalked the beast, the beast stalked them.
The Wolf sniffed them out, following them down hallways in silence. Ten feet long, with coarse fur, loaded with muscle.
Moist air burst from its nostrils, blowing away the dust on the old floors. Its head raised, looking down another hallway. Although it was in command of its will, perhaps more than other shapechangers, a growl escaped it as they trespassed towards the basement. Its safe place.
The men came to a door. It was padlocked, the padlock was new.
“Alright,” Leo started in a whisper, “This is the beast’s safezone, its home. This is how we’re going to drag it out.”
“I think it’s gone,” Harmon waved, “We scared it off.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Nate snapped, “It’s been stalking us this entire time. That’s what we do. All this walking around. It’s a show. We’ll never find it, so it comes to us.”
Harmon’s confident smile dropped.
“Nate’s been with me for a while. But you’re new. It’s alright,” Leo said.
From his pack, Nate procured a bolt-cutter. With considerable effort, the lock came apart. The old door to the basement was pushed aside with ease.
The three of them entered the wolf’s sacred place. Down the stairs.
Their flashlights caught flashes of the wolf’s daily regimen. Holy statues of the embodiment of the hunt formed an altar in the corner of the large room. The floors were cleaned, a large mess of rags on one side, and a clean mattress on the other.
One side for the refined human form, and another for the animal side.
“A believer,” Leo said.
He spat on the floor.
“Is this normal?” Harmon spoke up.
“No. But I only see two entrances. So we’re fairly safe. We’re not going to check the other one, cause that’s when it’ll strike,” Nate said.
The three of them took up positions where they could see the two ways in, waiting for the beast’s anger to take over and rush them.
“Did you see the bed?” Nate nudged at Leo, “Must be huge.”
“Quit thinking about the paycheck. Keep focused,” Leo scowled.
There was movement at the unopened door. Scratching.
The men went silent. Their weapons went to the bottom of the stairs. No one breathed.
Galloping from above them. It moved from one side to the other.
Their weapons followed the sounds.
A loud crash. Grinding against metal. Hinges popped. A bent hinge-pin rattled to the basement floor, glittering against the artificial light.
“Sir?” Harmon squeaked.
“Hold steady. This one isn’t that different,” Leo said.
A few moments of silence passed. The weapons began shaking in Harmon’s arms.
“What the fuck is…” he began.
There was a rush of sounds from the stairway they came from. The wolf entered the room at running speed on three legs. The great metal door was in one of its claws, with only the claws coming through. It was using it like a shield.
“Shit!” Leo screamed, moving to flank the beast.
It came upon Nate, gunfire hitting the beast’s shield and sides. It let out a frightening combination of a human scream and a wolf’s growl.
It slashed the man’s throat, stepping down onto his firearm, pushing it against his body.
The other two proceeded to keep up the attack, Harmon getting two buckshot blasts off into the beast’s side before it got angry enough to attack.
As it rushed him, Leo took a shot at its back end. Hitting it, the beast stumbled.
In a fit of rage, it ripped the door from its claws and hurled it towards the man.
His eyes widened, and he jumped up to avoid the heavy metal frisbee.
But it was too unexpected, too fast. It caught one of his legs, breaking it. The door fell to the floor behind him, and he yelped in pain. Despite this, he readied his weapon to fire from a prone position.
Harmon was already dead, and the beast raised him like the door. A shield made from a recent kill.
“Son of a bitch,” Leo said through the pain.
He turned over to his back, and readied a grenade. With a finger in the pin, he looked back and the wolf was already to him.
With a swipe of its claws, his hand was disconnected from his arm, and the pin stayed attached to the grenade.
He yelped in pain again, but was cut off by the beast’s teeth on his neck.
After having his fill, the beast wiped its arms of the blood, letting it drip over some of the undamaged statues of the gods it worshiped.
It circled in the mess of rags, lay down with its chin close to the floor. It licked its wounds and fell asleep after the pain subsided.