The alarm clock dragged Clarence out of bed this time. Not the sound of angry people screaming at his front door, calling for his blood. Calling him a monster. A child murderer.
It was a peace he knew wouldn’t last long.
Coffee. First his coffee. He stumbled out of bed, cracked his back, passed gas, and went to the kitchen.
Turn the coffee pot on. Sit at the table. Pick at his nails.
Clarence yawned and turned on the news, the small TV on the counter flickering on.
“And for the third time in as many months, another boy has gone missing, a six year old named Don Sumner. A source from inside the police department reveals that this does look like the work of the same man who took Jonathon Camp and Lucas Green. A search party is already underway but this does currently look like an abduction. No leads have turned up as of yet but-”
TV. Off. Clarence knew the calm couldn’t last.
Oh great. Clarence sighed, got a second mug out, and went to go answer the door.
A woman with a spotted blue dress smiled. “Clarence!” She had something stuck in her teeth. But a happy face was a welcome face.
Clarence nodded and opened the door more. “Mindy. Come on in. Coffee’s almost on.”
Mindy made herself welcome in his kitchen, pouring sugar and cream into her coffee and sipping it. “I saw the news. Do you think they’ll find a lead to your boy?”
Clarence nearly dropped his mug, unable to look the woman in the eyes. “… Don’t think they’ll find Jace. He’s gone.”
Making a soft ‘ooh’ sound, Mindy reached forward and squeezed Clarence’s knee. “Don’t give up! Jace is still out there. I know he is. He’ll come home to you soon. I don’t care what your ex wife, the media, or the cops say. You’re my friend, Clarence. I know you’re innocent.”
Fools always do. Clarence jerked away and lifted his mug up in the air. “Cheers to that,” He rumbled before taking a long, long sip.
He always spiked his coffee with a lil something extra before Mindy arrived. Couldn’t deal with her sober.
After the woman left, bidding a fond adieu, Clarence took a shower and got dressed.
When he entered the living room, Officer Carson was sitting on the couch already. Clarence said he could always let himself in, by now.
Carson gestured to the lazy boy and Clarence took a seat. “Do you need my alibi?” He asked.
“Eh, you never have one anyone can confirm,” Carson said, crossing his legs. “Did you know the kid?”
“No sir.” That was the truth.
“Where were you, Sunday night?”
“In the woods. Reading. Told Mindy I’d be out.”
Carson sighed and for several moments, everything was quiet.
“You know they’ll find something to connect you one day. Might be a thread, but that’s all they need right now.”
Clarence nodded. “I know.”
“Almost would feel bad for you, if I didn’t know you were guilty.”
Then Clarence chuckled. The first joke he’d heard all day. “You’re a dick.”
“Watch your mouth. Can I have a beer? I have to question some other suspects.”
Beer in hand, Carson headed out. Clarence watched him go before he got ready to head out.
Bag. Food. Extra clothes. A new toy. But most importantly- a gun. His hunting rifle, to be exact.
Clarence walked out and headed into the woods back on his property. The dead leaves crunched under his feet, but that was the only sound to accompany his movements as he retreated deeper and deeper into the woods. Into the public property, and to another private property. It wasn’t his. It was his parents’. But they were too arthritic to make it out this far.
To the second cabin out here.
The sound of children laughing eased his worries, and he opened the door.
The people didn’t even know Jonas was missing. But he was the oldest one, and the least Changed. Jonas smiled, his serrated teeth shining bright. “Clarence! You’re back! Do you have more food?”
“Of course I do. And I have someone new.”
Don was asleep on Clarence’s back, sucking his thumb. He didn’t struggle. He didn’t even cry when Clarence approached him in the park. All Clarence needed to ask was one question. And Don walked off with him.
Jonathon and Lucas were playing Go Fish, and a quick look over confirmed their claws weren’t getting any longer. Lucas’ ears were pointing now too. Clarence set Don down. “Play cards with these two, okay? Deal him in, Jonathon.”
Jonas was heating up the beans on the stove when Clarence sidled up to him. “… How’s Jace?” He asked. Jonas sighed.
“… I’ll show you myself.”
Down into the basement. Down to The Cage.
Clarence felt his heart sink when he heard growls. Jonas spoke quietly.
“Jace? It’s your dad, he’s here.”
The growling came to a stop.
Slowly, the furry creature crawled to the front of the front of the Cage. His shorts had been ripped off, his body was entirely covered with hair. Green eyes stared out, his black furry nose twitching.
Clarence took a deep breath and forced himself to put on a happy face. “Hey, Jace. I’m here. It’s your daddy.”
Paw like hands clung to the bars and Jace whined. Clarence’s eyes watered. “I got something for you. A new toy?” He extended an arm, showing off the toy bear.
Jace snatched the toy and nibbled on its ear before cuddling it while rocking back and forth, crooning to his new toy.
Clarence turned away, wiping his eyes. Jonas rubbed his arm. “He didn’t hurt anyone. He’s getting better, Clarence. And we’re not getting worse. Not… much worse, anyway. Whatever you’re doing, it’s working.”
The raw meat, lot of protein in general. The isolation from humans. Encouraged hunting of small animals. The promise they weren’t monsters. They’d never be monsters.
Clarence restricted Jace. Stopped him from the small animal killing. Kept him indoors. And one day he woke up with a child more animal than human. It was too late to stop it.
But not too late to save the others.
When Clarence left that day, the kids were so sad to see him go. But he had to get back to his house.
Tomorrow he’d have to find more children. This infection was spreading. All he had to do was ask the possibly infected children one question:
“Are you a wolf?”