The Underpass

part of Annabel Lee: Year One

So, you’re wondering. What’s all this?

All this, as you put it, is a short story. It’s related a bigger whole–that is, the novel we’ve been writing, Parker & Winthrop. Since we can’t share a whole novel with you here, though, and since we haven’t quite finished that first draft (we’re very close, though!), we wanted to give you a taste of what we’ve been creating the last few months. This short story is about one of our protagonists, Annabel Lee Winthrop, and was written by Basia. Since today’s her birthday and all (hello, quarter-century!), she wanted to share it with you.

We hope you enjoy it! Let us know what you think, and stay tuned: you’ll be hearing more from us about Parker & Winthrop and more about W(REC)’D soon. 

On her first night in Philadelphia, Annabel Lee Winthrop killed four werewolves.

She found them on the highway near Penn’s Landing. They had cornered a young woman in one of the underpasses below the bridges connecting the waterfront with Old City. There was blood—a lot of blood—but the woman was screaming, and that meant that she was still alive. Annabel Lee had been walking on the bridge parallel to the one under which the small group currently hunkered, and when the screams had alerted her, she had dropped down onto the highway below and begun her stealthy advance. Luckily (and also unluckily), she was downwind from them, so they hadn’t yet scented her. Annabel Lee, on the other hand, took shallow breaths thought her mouth to avoid inhaling their rank smell: one part animal musk, one part raw meat, and one part wet dog.

She stayed low, walking in a half-crouch along the meager shoulder, using the werewolves’ bulk to block her from view. They stood in a circle—or, perhaps more appropriately, a square—around the cornered woman, and from the way they growled and snapped at one another, Annabel Lee surmised that they were having a disagreement. Her eyes flicked over them as she got closer, a cursory inspection, but she could not pick out an alpha among them. All rogues, then. That was good, albeit unusual. Werewolf packs did not suffer rogues, and it was surprising that their former packs had not yet hunted them down. The werewolves in Philadelphia—all of the supernaturals, from what Annabel Lee had heard—maintained a symbiotic relationship with the city: they kept to themselves and did not harm or bother the citizens, and the citizens remained unaware of their existence and did not try to kill or exploit them. They would not be kind to any who disrupted the order of things. It was different from Annabel Lee’s hometown of New York, and it was very different from Europe, where she had been trained.

The woman had stopped screaming when Annabel Lee reached the underpass, but the two werewolves closest to Annabel Lee blocked her from sight; it was impossible to tell if she was still conscious or if she had fainted from blood loss—or if something worse had happened, for that matter. But the werewolves did not disperse, and they preferred fresh meat. They would not have remained if their captive had died. Whatever they had done to her, it was something from which she could potentially recover. But even if the woman hadn’t been injured, Annabel Lee knew that this had to be taken care of quickly. A passing motorist may have already dialed the police. The highway was relatively empty—it was, after all, past two in the morning—but one or two cars had passed while Annabel Lee was making her approach. It was simply good luck that no one had stopped to help, for both Annabel Lee and the potential good Samaritan.

The tenor of the wolves’ argument was becoming more heated—they snarled outright at one another, ears flattened, fangs bared. She had to move. If they began to fight amongst themselves, they could hurt the woman they had trapped. And even if they did not and she could get the woman to safety, they would find another victim. They needed to be put down, and quickly. From the holster on her hip, she withdrew her pistol and thumbed off the safety. The click of it caused one of the wolves’ ears to swivel in her direction, but she was faster. In one fluid movement, she stood, raised her gun, took aim, and fired twice. The gunshots echoed off the concrete walls around them, and the woman on the ground screamed and covered her head with her arms.

Still alive, then.

There was a spray of blood and fur as the bullets struck home, and the werewolves she had hit half-turned, as if in surprise, before crumpling into two large, furry heaps on the sidewalk. The remaining two were moving before Annabel Lee could take aim again, leaping over the bodies of their fallen comrades. She shoved her gun back into its holster and backed up, but she knew there was no escape. Annabel Lee might have been stronger and faster than the average human, but werewolves were stronger and faster than she was. Outrunning them was not an option.

She ducked as a huge, clawed paw swung for her, but the second werewolf barreled right into her, knocking the wind out of her. Her lungs burned, and she lacked the breath to cry out when she slammed back against the wall of the underpass. Despite the pain, she forced herself to go limp. Her jacket scraped against the wall as she dropped to the ground like a ragdoll. The werewolf that had been coming at her ran snout-first into the wall, rather than closing his jaws around her throat. She gasped in a breath and withdrew her boot knife, plunging it into the creature’s calf. It roared, and Annabel Lee rolled away, leaving the knife behind.

But the other werewolf was waiting for her, and he seized the neck of her jacket and hauled her off the ground. Her legs dangled, and she kicked ineffectually; she may as well have been trying to kick a wall. But the effort seemed to amuse the werewolf; he bared his teeth and let out a raspy noise that Annabel Lee took for a chuckle. Her left hand scrambled for the pocket of her jacket. The werewolf’s smile turned into a snarl, and he flattened his ears. There was a bit of blood and skin trapped at the top of several of them, and she gagged just as her hand finally found her pocket. His breath was hot on her face when she brought up her fist, a set of silver knuckles on her hand, and punched him on the side of the head.

It was a bad hit—her hand ached with it (left was not her dominant hand)—but the silver sizzled the werewolf’s flesh, and he yelped and released her in his surprise. Her boots hit the ground so hard that her knees buckled, but she straightened before she hit the ground and lurched away from the werewolf, who was taking his paw away from the burnt patch the silver knuckles had left on his face. The other werewolf stepped up beside the first, her boot knife still stuck in his calf, and she tensed. If she drew her gun fast enough, she might be able to shoot one of them. But it would only be one of them. And there would still be another angry, rogue werewolf to contend with. He would rip her to shreds even as she pulled the trigger.

Behind her, from her position on the ground, the woman groaned. Annabel Lee was surprised she hadn’t yet run, but she didn’t dare take her eyes off of the two werewolves to look over her shoulder. Although it was excruciating to move so slowly when her blood was thumping in her veins, she inched her right hand toward her hip and her gun. The werewolves’ eyes narrowed, and she stopped. At one point or another, they were going to break this standoff. Annabel Lee wanted to be armed when they did, but she didn’t want to cause them to attack her too soon, before she was ready.

A flash of headlights, the beep of a car horn, and Annabel Lee’s eyes widened.

“No,” she whispered, even as the werewolves turned. Someone on the highway had seen either the standoff or the woman lying on the ground behind Annabel Lee and had pulled over, clearly intending to help. She willed them to drive away, to see the werewolves’ features and become too frightened, but there were people whose stupidity and bravery overcame their sense of unease everywhere. The driver’s side door opened and a man got out.

“Hey,” called a deep voice. “Is everything—” He broke off with a swear. Behind the headlights as he was, Annabel Lee could see nothing of his features. But the werewolves had been thrown into sharp illumination, their fur, their imposing statures, their snarling lupine mouths, and she knew what it was to be confronted with such a sight. After all, she had been new to all of this once.

The werewolves teetered, torn between this interloper and Annabel Lee. Their indecision gave her hope, and she drew her pistol, aimed, and fired. Boot Knife went down as the bullet struck his skull. There was no time to turn her gun on the remaining werewolf. It hit her seconds after she had fired, one huge paw swiping for her right hand. She felt a searing pain in her upper arm, and she fell, her gun flying out of her hand and clattering onto the highway. Dimly, she was aware of the found of a slamming car door and a revving engine as the man fled. She couldn’t say she blamed him.

The werewolf’s toss had thrown Annabel Lee back in the direction from which he had come, and she leaned into the momentum. He had misjudged where his swipe would throw her, and when he lunged, his head cracked into the concrete wall instead of Annabel Lee. Frantically, while he was dazed, she looked around for her gun. It was in the middle of the center lane. She would never make it in time. Something wet dripped down her fingertips, and she looked to see that the sleeve of her jacket and shirt had been torn by the werewolf’s swipe. The clothing, particularly the coat, had saved her from the worst of it, but she still had sustained a nasty gash, and blood ran down her arm and dripped down her hand.

She’d dawdled too long. Something clamped down, hard, on her calf, and she looked over her shoulder to see the werewolf had regained his senses and was dragging her toward him by her leg. She kicked out, but it had the same effect that kicking the concrete wall of the underpass would have. The blow glanced off his jaw, and he did not so much as flinch. He snarled and gave another tug that brought her by the body of the werewolf she had just shot. Her boot knife was still lodged in his leg, and she snatched it back.

She twisted, trying to get a good shot before she threw the knife. It was difficult to do, being dragged along on her stomach as she was, but she took a deep breath and threw. The knife struck a glancing blow across the werewolf’s snout. There was a sizzle, a bloom of blood. He released her leg and swatted at his nose as if putting out a fire.

Annabel Lee scrambled upright, pushing her the folds of her coat aside. She still had two daggers, one strapped to each thigh, and it was for them that she reached. The silver knuckles would be of no use to her now; she let them fall. Her right palm closed over the hilt of the dagger on her right thigh, the grip tenuous in her blood-slicked grasp, and she had just managed to unsheathe it when the werewolf body-slammed her against the wall.

She had thrown up her left arm to ward off the attack, grinding her teeth and wishing that she had not been no precipitous in tossing the knuckles. The arm was pinned against her chest, her hand curled against her collarbone, the chain she wore pressing into the skin of her hand.

The chain.

Her hand closed around the silver cross dangling from it and tugged. There was a stab of pain at the base of her neck, and then the chain snapped and the cross was free in her hand. She slapped it against the werewolf’s chest.

He roared in pain, flinching slightly back, away from the silver, and it was enough. She brought up the dagger and shoved it, hard, up and under his ribs. It was not her preferred method of killing werewolves–bullets were much more efficient–but if it worked for vampires, it stood to reason that it would work here. The werewolf’s eyes widened. His blood ran hot over her hand, her arm, pooling on the ground at her boots. She gave the dagger a sharp twist.

The werewolf opened his jaws as if to growl or snap, but blood burbled up his throat and into his mouth instead of words. Then he fell, the life gone out of his yellow eyes. Annabel Lee watched for a moment longer to ensure that he was dead before she scrambled over his body and ran, her whole body aching in protest, to the woman on the ground.

She was young, no older than mid-twenties, with deep brown skin and braids dyed an emerald green. Blood pooled on the ground under her left hip, and Annabel Lee set her teeth before she lifted the hem of the woman’s shirt to see the wound.

The bite was ugly—she could see the white of bone poking through—but it was the edge of her hip, and there hadn’t been much meat for them to grab. Annabel Lee inhaled sharply, dropping the shirt again. The woman’s purse was on the ground beside her, and, after wiping her bloody hands on her pants, she reached for it, then thought better of it. From the inside pocket of her trench coat, she produced a pair of black leather gloves and slipped them on. Only then did she pick up the purse, rifling through until she found the woman’s wallet and her driver’s license. Her name was Naomi. Annabel Lee took note of her home address, then stowed the wallet back in the bag and put it back on the ground.

Now what?

She got to her feet and, limping, went to retrieve her gun. It didn’t appear to have suffered any damage in the fall, and she kept it held loosely in her right hand. The woman was going to survive, which should have been good news, but the bite that meant she would live also doomed her to a fate that might as well mean death. Her life would never be the same. The werewolf packs in Philadelphia lived in harmony with the city’s residents; they hunted deer and other game in wooded areas and left the citizens alone. But this woman—Naomi—didn’t have a pack. She had been created by rogues, and without any kind of guidance, she could very well become like the monsters Annabel Lee had just killed. Potentially even worse.

Those werewolves had had a pack once. Perhaps they had come from different packs, but they knew the structure of pack order. They had chosen to go against it, but it had made them relatively uncertain around humans, and unprepared to deal with opposition. She ran a hand through her hair.

As she stood there, Naomi’s eyes opened. Already, Annabel Lee could see that her irises were changing color from brown to yellow, lightening at the edges. She would be safe this month. There was not enough time left in the night for her to transform now. It would be safe for her to go to a hospital and have her wounds tended to. The infection was not yet strong enough to grant her a werewolf’s accelerated healing. But next month…

Naomi’s eyes flickered to the gun in Annabel Lee’s hand, and she scrambled into a sitting position. She tried to stand, but she had evidently forgotten about her wound. When she tried to put weight on that leg, the pain hit her, and she sagged back onto the ground with a sharp cry. They eyed one another for a moment, both of them covered in blood. Annabel Lee’s hand tightened on the grip of her gun.

What did she do?

She knew what she’d been told she had to do, of course. Rogues were dangerous, and newly created supernaturals were extremely dangerous. And rules were rules: she didn’t have a pack, even though that was no fault of her own. One of the werewolf packs in the city might accept her, but Annabel Lee had no way to contact them yet. She was new here. And besides, they might also just kill Naomi themselves. Her mind whirled with uncertainty. Her training had covered so many situations, so many possibilities, but now that she was confronted with this one, Annabel Lee was not so sure that pulling the trigger was the correct choice.

They stared at one another, the woman with her bleeding hip, Annabel Lee with her bleeding arm.

Her finger rested on the trigger guard.

Hélène would have shot her.

She flicked on the safety and holstered her gun.

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