Aaron hunkered low outside the Harwood shop. He heard Harwood limp across to the entrance after lighting his lamp, and then came the shouts out front. “All ya’ll pay attention. We’re looking’ for the Raynes boy. I know one of you has seen him, so don’t lie to us.”
Aaron had to get what he came for, and quick, before someone ‘fessed up. In the dead of night, coming from the farmhouse into town was a quick and easy task, his father’d taught him as much back when Ceci’d been sick the last time. Even so, someone might’ve seen him, or even heard him. His breathing was heavy by the time he’d reached town, and Harwood’s shop had a creaky fence that Aaron had to crawl through.
While Edmond Grange’s voice boomed at the front of the shop, calling out Harwood in particular (and poking fun at his limp in a way that made Aaron uncomfortable), Aaron slipped in through the window and searched the shelves. He wished for a candle, or some daylight, but had to be diligent and focused. The darkness was unforgiving, a curse on the night, but nothing was as dangerous as the threat facing his sister at home. His father was right, knowing that Harwood was a naturalist when it came to medicine, as the back wall was lined with bottles full of liquid herbs and tinctures. Aaron believed the tales that Harwood had Native blood in him. His father did, too, which made it just as easy to trust Harwood as it was to remain suspicious of his advice.
As Aaron ran to the back window again, he heard Edmond’s voice, closer. Right in back of the store. “…run through every God Damn store in the town until we find this boy. Let’s bring this to an end. Tonight.” The door SHOOK as Edmond punched it. Aaron ran to the front door and slipped outside.
There was a crowd, and some of them turned to look at Aaron. He stopped in his tracks. None of them looked threatening, or angry. They were all scared. Like he was. Most significantly, no one from Edmond’s posse was there. Harwood caught sight of Aaron, of the bottle in his hand. He let slip a small nod, then gestured, slightly, for Aaron to join him and the crowd.
Aaron was guided with light touches through the crowd. He reached the other end of the street as Harwood coughed out a call to Edmond. “I’ve seen the boy!” Aaron kept running.
Edmond shouted, “Where, old man! You tell me now!”
“He’s at the courthouse.” Bless Harwood. The courthouse was at the other end of town. With any luck, Aaron could be home and his sister healed before Edmond was realizing he was being given a runaround.
Aaron kept running, the town slipping into darkness behind him. He knew the way home by heart, had known since he was only seven. When he reached their ranch, he stopped running to catch his breath.
The scene when he’d left had been hectic, chaotic, and he wanted to present himself at peace to bring calm to his father, who would be most without control. When Ceci had slipped into the coma that morning, their father was in a panic but was going through the motions. This was a normal occurrence for both he and Ceci, while Aaron and his mother were not touched by the curse.
Aaron’s breath finally caught up, and he walked towards the house. But the silence was eerie, and distracting. His mother wasn’t screaming, his father wasn’t crying.
And Ceci wasn’t howling.
Aaron opened the door, and had to look away immediately — there was too much blood. He heard the heavy breathing, but didn’t want to see her again. A whisper, and Aaron uncovered his eyes long enough to see his mother, neck torn, arm missing. She looked up at him, whispered again, “Run…”
Aaron wanted to scream, but trying would do no good. The hulking, furry body of his sister, snout gray and blood-soaked, teeth bared as they tore again into the stomach of their father. His nose was halfway to becoming a snout, so she must’ve attacked him mid-turn.
Outside, there were horses approaching, Edmond’s shouts growing closer. They’d have to deal with the situation on their own, Aaron would be no help.
Aaron looked at the tincture in his hand, threw the bottle at Ceci. Her wolf-form cringed at the shattering glass, then she glared at him and charged.
Aaron ran outside, immediately ducking for cover as a hail of silver bullets tore Ceci apart. When the posse gathered around the body, they held hats in hands. She’d morphed back into a little girl of ten.
It was just before dawn when Edmond found Aaron hiding behind a set of tools, crying. Aaron looked at him, eyes full of tears, wishing he could scream and yell and tell Edmond everything.
But the boy’s own curse held fast, and he had no voice with which to speak, to stop Edmond. To avoid murder by association.