Updated: Feb 7
I've just released my werepet short story, Snowflake and I'm making it completely free. Check below for the download site of your choice, download the PDF, or read it at the bottom of this blog. If you use a kindle, you'll need to download the Mobi version through Smashwords. Links below.
Like most eight-year-olds, Haldon’s entire world is video games, playing with friends, and waiting for school to end.
That is, until he meets a rare albino werepet named Snowflake.
The two become fast friends. But Snowflake’s owner, Mr. Martin, isn’t as kind as he pretends to be. And when owning werepets becomes illegal, Haldon finds himself in a race to save his friend from the authorities and from Mr. Martin himself.
From the author of Tamed comes Douglas R. Brown’s first new werepet story in ten years. Get a taste before the October 2023 release of the explosive sequel to Tamed.
And if you just want to read it without downloading, here you go.
Chapter 1- Snowflake
Haldon played his Nintendo Gameboy in the back seat of his parents’ SUV as trees whipped past the windows. The Gameboy was new, a birthday present from when he’d turned eight a couple of weeks earlier, and he couldn’t get enough of it. His dad had turned him on to an old game called Tetris and Haldon had spent the last two weeks trying to beat his high score without success. It turned out his dad was pretty good at games.
Haldon was completely absorbed until he heard a groan from the front seat.
“You talk to him, Elise. He’s not listening to me,” his dad said.
His mom craned her head around. “Did you hear your father?” she asked.
Haldon shook his head.
“He said that whatever it is that the Martins have to show us tonight is Top Secret. We’re not allowed to tell anyone about it. Not even your friends at school. Do you understand?”
Keeping his eyes on the road, his dad asked, “Did you hear your mother?”
Elise put her hand on his arm. “He heard me, Kerry.” Then she reached back and brushed Haldon’s cheek with her knuckle. “I love you, my little squirrel.”
He rolled his eyes. “I know, Mom. You tell me all the time.”
As she turned back to the front, she said, “Put your game away now. We’re almost there.”
Haldon set his Gameboy aside as Kerry drove through the entrance of a swinging wrought-iron gate and continued up a long driveway to a gigantic mansion.
Haldon enjoyed visiting the Martins because they had fun stuff for kids to do, even though they didn’t have any kids of their own. Mr. Martin loved games and his finished basement had a pool table, dart board, and a row of old-fashion arcade games like Pac Man and Galaga. Haldon’s favorite was Dig Dug.
Haldon joined his parents as they headed for the front door. While waiting for the Martins to answer the bell, his mom glanced down at him and snorted. She licked her finger and scrubbed the side of his mouth.
Haldon pulled away. “Stop it.”
“Whatever did you get into?” she asked.
He thought back to the cherry Popsicle he had sneaked before they’d left and tried to look innocent.
She pressed her lips together. “I swear I’m done buying Popsicles if you don’t stay out of them.”
Mr. Martin answered the door. He was a big man with a gentle face. He wore a huge smile, which was nothing new. “Elise. Kerry. So good to see you.” He kissed Elise’s cheek. “Come on in.” Then he stopped and cocked his head at Haldon. “Well now, who’s this young man?”
Haldon giggled. “It’s me, Mr. Martin. Haldon.”
Mr. Martin thrust out his hand. “Well, put ’er there, buddy. You’re growing more and more every time I see you. What are you now? Six-foot-two?”
Haldon snorted as Mr. Martin pumped his hand up and down.
Mrs. Martin was in the kitchen, a plume of steam engulfing her as she dumped a pot of spaghetti into a strainer. She invited them to sit at the table and then asked her husband to put out the silverware.
Mr. Martin gathered place settings and organized them around the table while his wife followed behind him, serving chicken parmesan, spaghetti, and some of the best garlic bread Haldon had ever tasted. Elise had to reel him in after he asked for a third piece.
As the meal wound down, the adults’ small talk made Haldon wish he had brought his Gameboy inside. It wasn’t until the end of the meal that things got interesting.
Kerry put down his napkin and asked what Haldon had been dying to know all evening. “So, Gabe. What’s the big surprise?”
If they were outside, Gabe Martin’s smile could have been seen from the moon. He wiggled his eyebrows and glanced eagerly at Mrs. Martin.
She sighed. “Go ahead. I’ll clean up.”
Gabe bounced from his seat. “Come on,” he said.
Haldon was quick to join him, but Kerry called him back. “Your plate, young man.”
Haldon raced his plate to the sink and then caught up to Gabe as his parents lagged behind. Gabe led them to the basement stairs and flipped on the light. Haldon expected to see a new video game, or maybe the electronic dartboard Gabe had been thinking about buying.
When they reached the bottom, all Haldon saw was the pool table and same old arcade games. There was a new pinball machine in the corner, but he didn’t like pinball. It was the biggest letdown ever.
But Gabe didn’t even glance at the pinball machine. “Wait here,” he said, and went to the door that led to the media room. He opened it and stepped aside.
Haldon strained to see past him.
“Well?” Kerry asked.
Gabe made a kissing sound and said, “Come on, girl.”
Haldon watched intently, ready to meet a new puppy or kitten. That would be far better than an old pinball machine, but still kind of a letdown. A new pet wasn’t exactly Top Secret stuff.
And then something much bigger than a dog or cat moved in the darkness. In fact, it was big enough to be a bear. The creature stepped into the light.
Haldon took a stunned step backward. He couldn’t take his eyes off it. The creature sniffed the air, hesitant to come closer.
“Is that a …?” Kerry asked, eyes also plastered on it.
Gabe nodded. “Um-hm,” he said. “Her name’s Snowflake.”
Snowflake rose to her hind legs. She was taller than Kerry and Gabe and every other man Haldon had seen in person. Her fur was a cloud of white. She had a wolf’s head with a bright pink nose, and at the tips of her fingers she had pale daggers for nails. Her thick chest flowed into a skinny waist and muscular thighs.
Haldon backed into Kerry’s leg. He lifted wide eyes to his dad.
“Holy shit,” Kerry said. “That’s a real-life …” He trailed off again.
Gabe chuckled. “Heh. Yep. It’s a werepet all right. A rare albino female.”
Elise struggled to find words. “I-I thought werepets were illegal now.”
“It’s illegal to buy them. The government’s still trying to decide how to handle people who already own them. That’s why you can’t tell anyone.”
Kerry’s forehead crinkled. “Do you think it’s a good idea?”
“Sure. Up until last month people were buying them everywhere. Now all of a sudden it’s a bad idea? I don’t see why. It’s just a pet.”
“There must be a reason. People are turning in their werepets left and right.”
Gabe brushed off Kerry’s concern with a wave. “Remember when your insurance company told you that you couldn’t have your Doberman anymore because they’d re-categorized them as dangerous?”
“It’s the same thing. People have been owning these things for years now. They’re safe as long as you keep up on ’em.”
“Where did you get her? I thought that company closed down. What was it called again? The Were-something?”
“The WereHouse. I was in the process of buying one when they closed up shop. I think their director got into some trouble. Probably embezzling or something. Anyways, we were super disappointed. But then, a few weeks later, someone contacted us and said they could still get us one from the black market.”
“I bet she cost a fortune.”
“No kiddin’. Let’s just say, I’m not buying a yacht anytime soon. But she’s worth every penny. She’s been awesome. We love having her.”
While Kerry and Haldon stared in awe, Elise found the courage to creep forward.
The magnificent beast ducked under the doorframe as she stepped into the room. She looked to Gabe for direction.
He nodded. “It’s okay,” he assured her.
She lowered herself back to all fours with her ears tucked tight to her head.
Elise glanced back. “May I …?”
Gabe nodded. “Feel free. She’s completely docile.”
Elise touched Snowflake’s forearm and the creature flinched. “She’s beautiful.”
“She’s the only known albino werg in the world,” Mrs. Martin said as she came down the basement stairs.
Haldon inched forward, fascinated. Snowflake lowered her snout and sniffed the air. Haldon offered her the back of his hand the way his dad had taught him for meeting strange dogs.
“I gotta tell you, Gabe,” Kerry said. “She’s awesome and everything, but it seems like a helluva risk. That senator guy who runs the oversight committee is really cracking down on people who own these.”
Gabe scoffed. “Other than you guys, no one else even knows she’s here. Besides, Senator Wooten’s too busy gearing up for his presidential run. Worst case scenario is he finds out and makes me register her. Maybe they’ll fine me or something. As long as he doesn’t know I bought her after the crackdown, we’ll be fine.” He nudged Kerry with his elbow. “I can get you the guy’s name if you wanna look into getting one.”
Haldon’s ears perked.
Kerry threw a wet blanket on the idea. “Nah. We don’t need one. Besides, you can’t take her outside, can ya?”
“I can’t take her in public. But we go jogging in the woods. I used to carry bear spray on my runs, but now I don’t even think I’d need it.”
“You think she’d fight a bear?”
He shrugged. “Probably. She’s loyal. It’d be a helluva fight, too. They’ve been known to take down bears in the past.”
“What’s she eat?”
“A lot of meat. But I’ve got a guy at the Walmart who gives me the expired stuff for cheap. She only has to eat a few times a week. It’s not that bad. I put the rest in a freezer in the garage.”
“Sounds like a hassle.”
“Well worth it, I assure you. She’s like having a dog, only way cooler.”
As the adults talked, Haldon looked into Snowflake’s dark eyes and noticed a hint of green. Though he didn’t understand why, something about her gaze made him sad.
“Hi, Snowflake,” he whispered. He reached for her hand and carefully traced a nail.
“I’ve got a million more questions,” Kerry said as Elise finished petting the werg and joined him.
Gabe chuckled. “I’m sure you do. Come on upstairs. We’ll have some drinks and I’ll tell you all about her.”
Elise called Haldon over, but he hesitated. “Can I stay down here?” he asked. “Pleeeease?”
Elise gave Gabe an unsure look. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I—”
Gabe interrupted, “You can stay with her while we get dinner cleaned up and set up the card table, and then you can bring her upstairs. She’s a bit of a counter grazer still, so you’ll have to watch her. How would that be, Haldie?”
Haldon agreed enthusiastically, but Elise still looked uncertain. “You mind if I stay down here with them until you’re ready?”
Gabe grinned. “You’re welcome to do whatever you’d like, but I assure you Haldie will be safe alone with her. Right, Julia?”
“Safe as a kid in a car seat,” Mrs. Martin confirmed.
Elise smiled. “Just the same …”
Gabe shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He joined Kerry and Julia as they headed upstairs.
With the others gone, Snowflake seemed to loosen up a pinch and meandered around the basement. Elise sat at a bar table while Haldon followed Snowflake around. Snowflake quickly warmed up to him and practically plastered herself to his side.
Haldon taught her how to play a rudimentary game of hide and seek, though he got tired of it pretty quickly. Her sniffer made him lose every time. They switched to playfully wrestling, which was a lot more fun. Even though she could have tossed him across the room, she was very gentle with him. He was giving her a good scratch when his hand brushed over a rough area on her lower back. Taking a closer look made his face turn sour.
“What is it?” Elise asked.
He shrugged. “Come look.”
She walked over and parted Snowflake’s fur where he pointed.
“What is it, Mom?” he asked.
She studied the rough scar that looked like letters. Then her eyes narrowed. “I think it’s a brand.” She continued examining the scar. “It says ‘PET’.”
Haldon swallowed hard. “What do you mean a brand? Like what they do to cows?”
“I think so.”
“Do you think it hurt?”
She nodded slightly. “Probably, bud.”
Haldon’s face crumpled a little. He hugged Snowflake’s neck.
Elise rubbed his back. “She doesn’t seem bothered by it now, buddy. You’re probably more upset about it than she is at this point.”
Julia called down that they were ready for their card game, and Haldon led Snowflake upstairs. While the adults played cards, he requested some treats and used them to teach Snowflake how to play dead. She was a quick learner.
Hours passed. He couldn’t get enough of her.
When Kerry announced it was time to leave, Haldon gave Snowflake the biggest hug possible. He would have moved in with the Martins if he was allowed. He followed his parents to the car, his gaze lingering behind.
Snowflake stood on the porch until Gabe gestured to the car and gave a command. She ran to Haldon’s window.
He lowered the glass and touched the side of her snout. “I’ll come back and play with you again soon. I promise.”
She cocked her head as if she understood.
As Kerry pulled away, Haldon watched through the back window until they reached the gate and he couldn’t see Snowflake anymore. His only thought on the way home was to heck with Bobby Tolliver. He’d just found his new best friend.
Chapter 2- Collar
After meeting Snowflake, Haldon was desperate to get back to the Martins’ house. His next chance came about three weeks later when his parents scheduled another Saturday night of cards.
In the week leading up to the visit, he could barely focus on school, toys, or even his favorite TV show. The hardest part about meeting Snowflake, besides the wait to see her again, had been not telling anyone about her, especially Bobby Tolliver. Bobby would have been so jealous.
When Saturday arrived, Haldon was in the SUV a half-hour before it was time to leave. He didn’t even take his Gameboy along.
“Excited?” Kerry asked with a chuckle when he opened the driver’s door.
Wide-eyed, Haldon bobbed his head.
“You were quite taken by Snowflake, huh?”
Obviously, Kerry hadn’t seen Haldon’s notebook full of werepet sketches.
The long drive over was torturous. At the Martins’ house, Haldon hurried through the pleasantries with his eyes locked on the basement door. Gabe laughed out loud when he asked Haldon how he’d been and, without looking back, Haldon answered, “I’m eight.”
Kerry gave him a light smack on his shoulder to get his attention.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Martin,” Haldon answered. “What’d you say?”
Gabe chuckled. “It’s okay. I completely understand. Will you do me a favor when you go down?”
Haldon would do anything as long as it didn’t take time away from Snowflake. He nodded.
“I didn’t get a chance to take her outside today. You think maybe you could take her out and play? She needs a good run.”
That sounded fantastic. “Yessir.”
“Perfect. She shouldn’t go far, but keep an eye on her. I had to put up an invisible fence and get her a new collar to keep her from wandering off the property. She’s quite curious and has been getting a little loose with her boundaries. She’s already been zapped a couple times and doesn’t like it much. You’ll see the flags. Sound good?”
It sounded perfectly reasonable. That was the same way Kerry had trained their Doberman to stay on their property. It’d be terrible if Snowflake wandered off and got lost. Or hit by a car.
Gabe stopped him before he reached the door. “One more thing,” he said. “Stay away from the forest. I think a bear got into my trash the other day. Snowflake was having a fit downstairs. When I looked outside, I thought I saw one running away.”
Elise looked alarmed. “Maybe he shouldn’t be outside, then.”
Gabe put up a hand. “It’s entirely up to you, but I don’t think there’s any issues. I jog in the woods a lot and haven’t seen any signs of it. It was probably just passing through. I’m more concerned about Snowflake getting overly curious than I am Haldie getting hurt.”
Elise looked to Kerry, who gave her a comforting nod. “It’s the same forest out back of our neighborhood, Elise. He knows to keep close.” Then he turned to Haldon. “Did you hear Mr. Martin, Haldie? Stay away from the woods.”
After being excused, Haldon raced downstairs and opened the door to the media-room-turned-werepet-den.
Snowflake’s eyes brightened when she saw him, and she sniffed the air before coming out. Her new collar had a large, black box nestled in the fur on her throat. A green light flashed intermittently.
Haldon hugged her and scratched the side of her neck. She leaned into his hand. After pulling back, he asked, “You wanna go outside?” Then he opened the sliding door of the walkout basement and stepped onto the brick patio beneath the deck.
She froze at the door.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. Then he tapped his thigh. “Come on, girl.” He backed up to give her room.
She didn’t move, crouching with her ears tucked and her head scrunched below her shoulders. She trembled.
Haldon took her hand and gave a slight tug. “It’s okay,” he encouraged.
She pulled away.
He cocked his head. “What’s wrong?”
She lifted her head and touched the collar with her other hand.
And then it hit him. “Oh,” he said. “You’re afraid of getting shocked.” He guessed Mr. Martin probably didn’t know the proper way to train her and she had no idea why she’d been zapped. He gave her a comforting smile. “I won’t let you get hurt again. I promise. Let me show you.” He took her hand again and gave it another tug. This time she followed.
Once outside, she loosened up and investigated around the deck posts, sniffing one more intently than the others.
He gave her another pull. “Come on. I’ll show you how to not get hurt.”
Together, they walked until they could see the first line of white flags. It was the farthest he’d ever been on the Martins’ property. Though there weren’t any neighboring houses within sight, there was one under construction in the distance. Between the flags and the construction site was the end of the Martins’ property line, marked by their wrought-iron fence. He imagined Snowflake could easily jump it, hence the addition of the invisible fence.
Haldon pointed to the flags. “See those?”
Her eyes followed his finger.
“That’s where the zaps happen. Let me show you.” A few feet beyond was a fresh line of dirt where the fence wires had recently been buried. He knew as long as he didn’t let her get close to that, she’d be okay.
He spent the next half-hour or so teaching her that she couldn’t cross the flags. He brought her close enough to the boundary to make her collar give a warning beep, and then he backed her off.
She caught on pretty quickly, but he wanted to make sure she wouldn’t forget. He kept at it even though she was obviously getting bored. When she’d finally had enough, she gave him an ornery look and moved about fifty yards away. He cocked his head as she dropped to all fours and crouched, ready to spring.
“What in the world are you doing?”
Then she exploded into a full sprint heading straight for him. Haldon took a nervous step backward. He knew running away was pointless as she was faster than anything he’d ever seen.
She was closing fast. Haldon cringed and closed his eyes in anticipation of being plowed into the dirt. He barely heard a sound as his hair puffed backward in a rush of air. He opened his eyes. She had barreled past, missing him by inches. He spun to see her as she made a wide turn and charged again.
This time he tried to keep his eyes open, though he still flinched before she veered at the last possible second. Her reflexes were amazing. Then she made another turn and blazed toward him again. It was as if she was playing a game. If he moved an inch, he’d be mush. This time he stood firm. By her fifth pass, he was giggling uncontrollably and she seemed to be having as much fun as he was.
He could have played like that all evening, but she soon tired, panting heavily. He led her back to the house where she went straight for the water dish and drank it dry.
Gabe gave him a five-dollar bill and thanked him for playing with her. If Haldon had brought five dollars of his own, he’d have paid Gabe for the opportunity.
He was already imagining his next play date with Snowflake before he was back in his parents’ SUV.
Chapter 3- Belt
His parents’ occasional card games with the Martins just weren’t enough to give Haldon a proper Snowflake fix, but he was at their mercy and all he could do was wait for the next one. At least their visits started to come more frequently.
Sometimes Haldon and Snowflake would play and run outside, while other times he would just sit and talk to her about eight-year-old life as if she understood. But recently she’d become less playful and didn’t always seem as happy to see him. It had been a month since they’d played the charge and veer game that he loved so much. He wished she could tell him what was bothering her.
Like each visit before, Haldon was the first one to the front door. This time when Gabe answered, he was winded and in a bit of a foul mood. His usual smile was gone.
“Hey, Haldon,” he said brusquely. Gone were the handshakes that exaggerated Haldon’s strength and the “how tall are you getting” jokes.
“Where’s Snowflake?” Haldon asked.
“She’s downstairs,” Gabe replied with a limp wave to the basement door. “She’s been acting a little off lately. Maybe you can figure out what’s gotten into her.”
Haldon crowded past him and raced to the basement. Before he closed the door behind him, he heard Elise ask, “What’s wrong, Gabe?”
Haldon paused to listen.
“Ehhh. Snowflake’s not been obeying very well lately. When I give her a command, sometimes she seems to think about it first instead of just doing it like she’s supposed to. They told me this might happen. They said females are the hardest to keep tame, and she would need to be reeducated on occasion, but the number they gave me to call isn’t working anymore. I guess I should have expected something like this.”
“Oh,” Elise said. “Is it all right for Haldie to be alone with her today?”
Haldon didn’t wait for the answer and rushed downstairs where Snowflake was curled up on an oversized dog bed next to the pool table. Usually when she saw him, she’d stand up tall and give him a playful snarl. But this time she didn’t even get up.
“Snowflake?” he whispered.
She lifted sad and distant eyes to his face.
“What’s wrong?” he asked as he knelt beside her. He petted her back and she flinched away from his touch. “Did that hurt?” he asked.
She looked away.
“What happened?” He inspected her back, gently parting the fur.
She winced again, but since she trusted him, she let him continue. As he carefully examined the skin beneath her fur, he found lines of red welts. He stood up, confused and worried. “Does Mr. Martin know you’re hurt?” he asked. He turned for the stairs. “I’ll get him.”
But Snowflake scrambled to her feet and cut him off. She trembled and refused to look in his eyes.
“Y-You don’t want me to tell him?”
She shook her head so slightly that he wasn’t sure if it was an answer or a coincidence. He cupped her snout in his hands and turned her head toward him. “I don’t understand,” he whispered.
She brushed her snout against his waist, nudging him off balance. He steadied himself and she did it again.
“What?” he asked.
At that moment, his eyes fell on something wadded up in the corner of the room next to the pinball machine. “What’s that?” he asked as he walked over and picked it up. It was a leather strap. It looked like a … His eyes went to his waistband, and then to Snowflake. His stomach turned as the pieces came together.
When he approached her with the strap dangling by his side, she retreated to the back wall, trembling and shielding her face with her arms.
Haldon froze and looked at the belt. “Snowflake? Did Mr. Martin hit you with this?”
She turned away.
Horrified, he threw the belt aside. His knees buckled before he found the strength to run to her. He was crying as he wrapped his arms around her neck.
“Why?” he sobbed. “Why did he do it?”
She gently nudged him with her snout as if he was the one who’d been hurt. The sadness faded from her gaze, replaced by a look of empathy. He plopped beside her with his cheek pressed against her side and struggled to call back the tears. Crying wasn’t helping her. He couldn’t believe Gabe would do such a thing.
Snowflake sat with him while his mind raced. Then he got an idea of how to help her. “Wait here,” he said, and hurried to the basement’s half bath. He wet a towel with cool water and ran back to gently dab at her injuries. She was tense at first, but then melted into his touch. That night they didn’t play games or go outside or do anything they normally did. Instead, he just sat with her and tended to her wounds until Elise called down that it was time to leave.
He didn’t want to go. “I’ll tell my dad what happened,” he whispered. “He’ll help you.”
She stared back, defeated.
He started for the stairs, watching over his shoulder as she crawled to her den and closed the door. He hurried upstairs.
For the first time in his life, he saw Gabe in a sinister light. When he left, he gave Gabe a subtle glare and didn’t say goodbye. He was fully prepared to accept whatever punishment came with his rudeness. His slight went unnoticed.
Haldon was especially quiet on the way home, to a degree that Kerry asked, “What’s up, Haldie? Did you have fun tonight?” He lifted his eyes to the rearview mirror.
Haldon nodded, fighting an internal battle over what he should say and when. Finally, when they turned into his neighborhood, he swallowed hard and blurted, “Mr. Martin is hurting Snowflake.”
Elise’s head spun around.
Kerry’s eyes lifted to the mirror again. “What do you mean?”
“He’s beating her with a belt.”
Kerry’s face twisted. “What are you talking about?”
“She was afraid of me today.”
“You heard Gabe. He said she hadn’t been acting right lately.”
“She had welts on her back … And … And … There was a belt down there. She was afraid of it.”
They pulled into their driveway, but no one got out. Kerry turned to better see him and gave a half-smile. “Gabe’s not like that, son. I’m sure you’re mistaken.” He sounded like he might be trying to convince himself as much as Haldon.
Haldon shook his head vehemently. “She told me, Dad.”
Kerry scoffed. “Told you? You mean she speaks now?”
“Well … I mean … Not like that. She—”
“Listen, kiddo. She probably hurt herself playing in the woods. You just let your imagination get a little wild today. I assure you Gabe isn’t hurting Snowflake.”
“But she’s not allowed in the woods. And you said he had a bad temper when you were kids. That he fought a lot.”
“Yeah, but that was a long time ago. I haven’t seen that side of him since high school. And I’ve never seen him hurt an animal.”
Haldon continued shaking his head. “But I—”
“Listen, son. I’ll tell you what. I’ll talk to him and get to the bottom of this.”
Haldon panicked. “No, no, no. Please don’t talk to him, Dad. I promised Snowflake I wouldn’t tell him.”
“Then what do you want me to do?”
“Is there someone we can call? That place you call for stray dogs or something?” He felt a rush of anxiety when he considered his dad might talk to Gabe anyway. He never should have told him. “Mom?” he cried.
She reached back and touched his cheek. “It’s okay, buddy. Your dad won’t say anything. We’ll just keep a closer eye on things from now on. You know if your dad saw something that wasn’t right, he’d speak up. Wouldn’t you, Kerry?”
Haldon knew he wasn’t getting anywhere. He felt trapped in a box. Maybe he needed to get his mom alone later and try to convince her that Snowflake was in real trouble.
“You all right, bud?” Kerry asked.
Haldon reluctantly nodded.
“Let’s get inside. It’s getting late.”
Elise held Haldon’s hand as they walked up the sidewalk. He got ready for bed on autopilot, trying to figure out how to convince her. When she tucked him in and started to leave, he took his shot. “Mom?”
She stopped at the light switch.
“I promise Snowflake is being hurt.”
“I know you believe that. We’re gonna look into it. Now get some sleep. We’ll talk more tomorrow.” She flipped off the lights and left.
He stared at the dark ceiling, unable to sleep.
Chapter 4- Influence
Still awake at 11:30, Haldon decided to sneak downstairs for a Popsicle. He peeked into the dark and quiet hallway before tiptoeing to the top of the stairs.
That’s when he heard voices from his parents’ bedroom.
“I don’t know what we should do,” Kerry said.
Haldon crept closer to listen.
“This ain’t right, Kerry,” Elise answered.
“They’re our best friends,” Kerry said.
“It doesn’t make it okay. Maybe Haldie was right. Maybe Gabe isn’t who we think he is. Maybe—”
“Even if he did hit Snowflake, this is an entirely different level of evil. I just can’t believe he would do such a thing.”
“Do you think maybe he doesn’t know? We didn’t.”
“That’s all I can hope for. If he knew and still bought her … I-I don’t even know where to go from here. I can’t believe I’m even saying this. We’ve known the Martins for years. There’s no way Gabe would have bought a werepet if there was any chance he knew she was a …”
A what? Haldon wondered. What is she?
Elise sniffled. “If he didn’t know when he bought her, he surely knows now. Right? It’s all over the news.”
“I don’t know.”
“What should we do?”
“We should talk to them. Gabe’s my closest friend. I owe him that much.”
“Okay. We’ll go see them tomorrow. What should we tell Haldie? He loves her. He’d never understand.”
“What can we tell him? That the creature we’ve been letting him play with is really a person? That someone took her from her family and turned her into a … a … a monster?”
A strangled noise escaped Haldon’s throat.
“Haldie?” Elise called out.
He raced back to his room, climbed under the covers, and pretended to be asleep. He thought he might throw up. It wasn’t possible. His dad must be lying. How could Snowflake be a person? It didn’t make sense.
He needed to see her right away.
Haldon lay awake throughout the night, his mind racing. His parents’ go-to babysitter, Sharron from down the street, was already in the foyer when Haldon rushed downstairs the next morning. Sharron was nineteen, dressed in all black, and wore way too much eyeshadow. She was cool to kids, but shy and quiet around adults.
“Where are you guys going, Mom?” he asked in his best attempt at playing dumb.
“We need to run a few errands this morning. We’ll be back in a little bit. Sharron’s gonna stay with you.”
Sharron gave a cute wave, smiled, and said, “Hey, squirt.”
Haldon thought fast. “Hi, Sharron. Um … I’m … uh … gonna play in my room for a while. I’ll be down in a little bit.” He started up the stairs.
Elise called after him, “Wait. Are you hungry? I made pancakes.”
He shook his head, continued to the top, and hid around the corner. When his parents walked Sharron into the kitchen, he ran back downstairs, snuck through the front door, and hid in the back of the SUV.
A few minutes later, Elise and Kerry climbed into the car and backed out of the garage.
Haldon barely breathed for fear it would be too loud.
“What are you gonna say?” Elise asked.
“I’m gonna flat-out ask him if he knew,” Kerry answered.
“And what if he says yes?”
“I … I just can’t imagine that. If he says yes, I guess I’ll have to call someone. I don’t know.”
“And what about Snowflake? Do we just leave her there?”
Haldon shook his head.
Kerry sighed. “I just don’t know. Let’s see what he says first.”
“I can’t believe this.”
A tense quiet accompanied the rest of the ride.
At the Martins, Kerry entered the gate code and pulled up the driveway. He took a deep breath before getting out. Elise went with him to the front porch. Haldon peeked out the window as Gabe answered the door. He appeared surprised.
Haldon dreaded what he had to do next. But it was for Snowflake. He gathered the courage, flung the door open, and ran to his parents.
They watched him approach with confusion clouding their faces.
“Haldie?” Elise asked. “What are you doing here?”
“Mom, I’m sorry. I wanna see Snowflake.”
Kerry’s eyes narrowed. “You hid in the car?”
“I’m sorry, Dad.” He wilted under his father’s glare.
“You’re in some serious trouble when we get home,” Kerry said. Then he turned to Elise. “You’d better call Sharron and tell her he’s here.”
“What’s going on, guys?” Gabe asked.
“We need to talk. Can we come in?”
“Of course.” Gabe stepped aside.
Julia was in a robe in the kitchen, cooking breakfast. When the surprise of seeing their unexpected guests wore off, she offered them coffee. Kerry accepted a mug while Elise waved it off.
Haldon took his shot. “Mr. Martin, can I play with Snowflake?” he asked.
Gabe’s forehead creased. “I guess. If your parents don’t mind, that is. What’s going on, Kerry?”
Kerry sipped at the hot coffee. “I’d rather not talk about it in front of Haldie.”
Gabe gestured toward the basement door. “You know where she is, kid.”
Haldon pulled the door closed behind him, waited on the stairs, and listened.
After Kerry assumed Haldon was out of earshot, he asked, “Did you see the news?”
“Yeah,” Gabe answered solemnly.
“She’s a person, Gabe.”
“Is that the first you heard such a thing?”
Gabe didn’t answer, but he must have nodded because Kerry said, “You really didn’t know?”
“What kind of person do you think I am?”
“But now that you know, what’re you gonna do?”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s a person. You’ve gotta turn her in.”
“You mean to Senator Wooten and the Werewolf Oversight Committee? That’s crazy. They’ll put me in jail.”
“You said it was just a fine.”
“That was all bullshit. After the WereHouse fiasco, it became a felony to own a werepet in any way. We just didn’t know why until last night.”
Kerry groaned. “Well, you’re just gonna have to suck it up and do what’s right.”
“I can’t do that.”
“What do you mean you can’t? She’s a person, for God’s sake. You have to turn her in and take the consequences.”
“I don’t know, Kerry. Maybe I can just … you know … get rid of her.”
“What?” Elise blurted. “Tell me you didn’t just say that, Gabe.”
“Elise, you don’t understand. If I turn her in, I’ll lose everything.”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” she said.
“That’s not good enough,” Kerry snapped. He had used the same stern, you’re-in-trouble voice that always gave Haldon goosebumps.
“I don’t know what else to do. If she just disappears, everything will go back to normal.”
“I’m not going to jail, Kerry.”
“Let us take her, then,” Kerry said. “We’ll turn her in and say we found her somewhere.”
That sounded like a great idea to Haldon. He didn’t hear Gabe’s answer, but it really upset his dad.
“What do you mean no?” Kerry shouted.
Gabe’s voice lowered and his tone darkened. “Maybe you guys should just leave.”
“What? Wait a minute,” Kerry said.
“You need to worry about your own family, Kerry, and I’ll worry about mine. Go get Haldon and go home. I’ll handle this.”
“Gabe, you can’t. It’s not a wounded deer you’re putting out of its misery. It’s a—”
“I know exactly what it is. No one will miss her.”
That was all Haldon needed to hear. He finally knew what he needed to do. He raced downstairs and ripped open the door to Snowflake’s den.
Surprised, she lifted her head from her dog bed. He hugged her like he always did. Then he whispered, “I know what you are and what they’ve done to you.”
She leaned back and cocked her head.
He led her out, opened the sliding door, and motioned her outside. “You shouldn’t be here,” he said. “You’re not an animal. You’re a person … Like me.”
Her eyes twisted shut for a moment.
He waved her down to his level, unfastened her collar, and threw it into the yard. “You’re free now. You have to run. You don’t have much time.”
But she didn’t move.
He looked inside and then back to her. “We really don’t have time.” He took her hand and pulled her toward the yard. “Come with me.” Knowing she wouldn’t cross the perimeter without him, he led her toward the forest. She hesitated at the flags.
He shook his head. “Snowflake, you don’t have to stop this time. You’re free.” His eyes filled with tears. “If you stay here, I don’t know what they’ll do to you. They … They …” He couldn’t finish, his tears now free-flowing.
She cocked her head.
“I wish I could make you a person again, but I don’t know how. I’m so sorry.” He pointed to the trees. “You have to go,” he cried. “Get outta here.”
When she didn’t listen, he ran past the flags and faced her. “Snowflake. Come on,” he pleaded.
She inched closer, her head tucked beneath her shoulders. Trust was a wonderful thing.
“That’s it,” he cried. “You can do it. Keep coming.”
When she reached the flags and nothing happened, she continued past, her confidence building. She stopped beside him, already beyond the invisible fence.
He pushed her from behind. “Go, Snowflake,” he shouted. “Be free. Don’t ever come back here.”
She stared back at him, vacant-eyed and scared. It wasn’t working.
He knew what he had to do, and he hated himself for doing it. He dragged his fingers through the grass and found a fist-sized rock. With tears streaming down his face, he threw it hard at her feet, careful not to hit her.
He screamed, “Go. Get outta here.” His heart broke as betrayal filled her face, and he wished he could make her understand why he was doing it. He found another rock and threw it closer. It could have just as easily been his heart.
That one got her attention. She took a step backward and snarled. Haldon raised his hands above his head and screamed, “Get outta here. Go. I hate you.” It was the most painful thing he’d ever said.
She rose to her hind legs and sniffed the air.
He picked up another rock and shouted again, “Please, go.”
She dropped to all fours, head lowered and ears back. Her sad eyes fixated on his as she turned away. Devastated, he did the same. His first step toward the house was the hardest one he’d ever taken. When he finally glanced back halfway across the yard, she was gone. That made him as sad as it did happy. He dragged his sleeve across his raining eyes.
Gabe and Kerry were stepping out onto the patio. Gabe looked agitated, pacing and glaring. “Where is she?” he shouted.
Haldon bowed his head as he walked to them.
“Answer me, Haldon.”
Haldon was too afraid to speak.
Gabe scowled at Kerry. “Get him to tell me where she is.”
Kerry pursed his lips. “You’re on your own on this one, Gabe. We’re not helping you.”
Haldon’s head shot up. He had already mentally conceded his Gameboy to the punishment pile for life, but that wasn’t the vibe he was getting from his dad.
Gabe opened his mouth to say something else when he noticed the collar in the yard. He ran to it and snatched it up. Then he looked to the forest and grabbed his chest. “You don’t know what you just did to us, kid. If someone traces her back to me, I’m in deep shit.” He stormed into the house as Julia and Elise stepped outside.
Haldon’s lower lip quivered. “I-I-I’m sorry, Dad. I had to do it.”
Kerry rested his hand on Haldon’s shoulder. “It’s okay.”
An engine revved from the side of the house, and Gabe shot into the back yard on a quad runner. He had the handle grip in one hand and a rifle cocked against his hip in the other.
Haldon panicked. “Dad?”
“Go with your mom and get in the car.”
A seriousness Haldon had rarely seen crossed Kerry’s face. “I said go with your mom.” His tone left no room to argue.
Elise took his hand. “Come on, buddy.”
She pushed past Julia without so much as an “Excuse me” and escorted Haldon through the house.
Chapter 5- Predators
Inside the SUV, Haldon started crying again as Elise held him close. She said, “I’m very proud of you. This is more than any little guy should have to go through.”
“Am I in trouble?” he asked.
She gave him her special smile that always made things better. “We’ll get through it. Though you’re still in trouble for sneaking around and hiding in the car, your father and I understand why you did it.”
Haldon sniffled. “I’m sorry, Mom. I just wanted her to be okay.”
As she held him and caressed his head, a gunshot from the woods sent a jolt through both of them. Haldon pulled away, terror filling his gut. “Mom?”
She looked just as nervous as him and didn’t know what to say. While she strained to see into the forest through the driver’s window, Haldon flung the passenger door open and jumped out.
“Haldon,” she shouted, making a futile grab for him.
He sprinted around the house toward the forest. She might have chased him, but he didn’t look back to see. He was faster than her anyway. It wasn’t until he reached the forest that he realized he didn’t know where to go next. But since he had gone that far, he figured there was no reason to stop and stormed past the tree line. By nothing short of luck, he stumbled upon Gabe’s abandoned four-wheeler. “Dad?” he shouted. “Gabe?”
Just then someone hissed “Shh” from behind and Haldon spun to find Kerry hiding behind a tree.
Kerry shoved his finger against his lips and frantically waved him over. “Be quiet.” His face was tense and serious. When Haldon was within reach, Kerry grabbed his wrist and yanked him closer.
“What’s wrong, Dad?” Haldon whispered.
“There’s a bear nearby.”
Seeing the naked fear on Kerry’s face told Haldon how dangerous the situation had become.
Kerry’s ringtone of “Another One Bites the Dust” startled them both and Kerry fumbled for his phone.
“What?” he snapped into it.
Elise’s voice was loud enough for Haldon to hear. “Haldon just ran into the woods. I couldn’t catch h—”
“He’s with me,” Kerry interrupted. “We’ll be out in a …” He trailed off and lowered the phone as something caught his eye. He pressed “End” and put it back into his pocket.
“What?” Haldon asked as he followed his gaze.
Kerry gently nudged him behind his leg. “There it is,” he whispered.
“Where?” Haldon leaned around him for a peek. And that’s when he saw a mass of black fur, rippling with each step. The creature’s cold, calculating eyes dragged past them. Blood soaked its left shoulder, reminding Haldon of the gunshot he had heard. The creature paced back and forth, slowly moving closer with each pass, almost like it was trying to creep up on them while pretending not to see them.
“What’s it doing, Dad?”
“You need to get back to the car.”
“What about you?”
“Remember what I taught you. If a bear is brown get down. If a bear is black, attack.”
“I don’t understand what that means.”
“It means I have to scare it away.”
Haldon’s eyes blasted wide.
Kerry stepped from behind the tree and threw his hands high above his head. “Get outta here,” he shouted. Then he added some loud gibberish as he jumped up and down.
The bear side-eyed him as it continued stalking.
It wasn’t working. Haldon felt the blood drain from his face.
The bear paused.
Kerry whispered, “Oh, shit.”
Then it charged, closing the distance in a flash. Instead of Kerry, it aimed for Haldon. Haldon’s legs suddenly wouldn’t work.
Kerry jumped between them and shoved Haldon hard from the bear’s path. From the ground, Haldon looked up in time to see the bear slash Kerry’s chest and then trample him.
“Run, Haldon,” Kerry shouted between grunts.
Haldon scurried to his feet. “Dad,” he cried.
Distracted by Kerry, the bear lunged for his chest. Kerry pushed its snout with both hands, but the bear was too strong. Kerry squirmed as the bear clamped its teeth onto his forearm. Haldon had never heard his dad scream like he did when his bone loudly snapped.
Instead of running, Haldon found a rock and hurled the luckiest throw ever, striking the bear square on its head. It barely acknowledged the impact.
“I told you to run,” Kerry shouted.
In a rage, the bear smothered him again, latching on to his shoulder and violently shaking its head like a dog with a toy. Kerry flailed at it with impotent punches as blood soaked his clothing.
The bear’s growls and snorts were deafening. The sounds of Kerry’s screams were horrific. Haldon realized he was watching his dad die and there was nothing he could do about it.
And then the bear stopped and lifted its soulless, merciless eyes past Haldon. Red tinted the brown fur of its snout.
Kerry cried weakly, “Please, Haldon. Run.”
Haldon slowly turned his head.
Standing in the brush, not more than twenty feet away, was the most beautiful white werepet in the world.
“Snowflake?” he whispered.
Snowflake grunted and then charged straight for Haldon. He didn’t even flinch or close his eyes as she blew past, missing him by inches. It was the deadliest game of charge and veer they’d ever played.
The bear rose to its hind legs, matching Snowflake’s height. Broken and bleeding, Kerry dragged himself toward Haldon.
Haldon hurried to him and knelt down. His dad was covered in blood and too weak to get up. “I won’t leave you, Dad.”
Snowflake and the bear roared at each other in a primal language that only they understood. They collided in a violent blur of claws and teeth. The fresh blood contrasting so starkly with Snowflake’s brilliant white fur gave the impression she was initially losing, but her unabated ferocity showed she was still in the fight.
The bear lunged at her. She avoided its attack and clamped her teeth onto the side of its thick neck. The bear yowled and shook free, swatting her to the ground in the process. It must have outweighed her by three hundred pounds. That weight advantage seemed insurmountable as the bear easily knocked her off her feet a second time. It clubbed her face with a paw and pinned her down while going for her gut with its teeth.
She drew lines of blood from its side with her deadly nails, but to no avail. The bear was relentless—a professional killer. She wailed helplessly as it ripped at her flesh.
“Snowflake,” Haldon screamed.
Then a sudden and tremendous boom jolted him to his core and popped his eardrums. He spun to find Gabe standing behind him with a rifle held against his shoulder.
The bear yelped, spun toward the newest threat, and then retreated a few steps with a fresh hole pouring blood from its side. It roared.
Snowflake used the distraction to attack again and dug her claws into the blubber of its back. She was caught up in a bloodlust and clamped her teeth onto the back of the bear’s neck. She tore a mouthful of flesh away with a jerk of her head.
The bear bucked and thrashed, throwing her free. Then it dropped to all fours and galloped into the brush.
Snowflake held her head up long enough to watch the bear disappear, and then slumped to the ground.
“Haldie?” Kerry whispered.
“Get my phone.” He groaned and stopped to catch his breath. “Call for help.”
Haldon dug into Kerry’s pocket, found his cell phone, and called 9-1-1. He told them he needed the police and an ambulance. After Kerry fed him Gabe’s address for the dispatcher, he hung up.
His thoughts returned to Snowflake as she lay on the ground. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Gabe lift his rifle toward her and reposition it against his shoulder.
Haldon panicked. “What are you doing?” he cried.
Gabe closed one eye and trained the barrel on her.
She was helpless in his sights. Haldon knew what he needed to do. He took off toward her.
Gabe moved his finger to the trigger. He didn’t see Haldon, his focus locked on his prey.
“Gabe, no,” Kerry shouted.
Haldon closed his eyes and dove between Gabe and Snowflake. The rifle recoiled with another deafening boom that echoed throughout the forest.
Haldon lay motionless against Snowflake, afraid to open his eyes, but more afraid to not. He squinted, wondering when the pain would begin.
Gabe stared back, his face as white as Snowflake’s fur. Kerry lay at his feet, clutching his pantleg. He had thrown off Gabe’s shot at the last possible second.
Gabe’s rifle fell to the ground. “Oh, God,” he cried, and fell to his knees. “I’m so sorry, Haldie. I almost shot you.” He covered his face with his hands and sobbed.
Kerry rolled to his back and sighed.
Haldon turned his attention to Snowflake and caressed her neck as she opened her eyes. “You’ll be okay,” he said as he buried his face in her fur.
She lifted her hand to the back of his head and caressed it like a caring mother might. He pulled back and looked into her eyes. They no longer looked sad, and that made him smile. She had hope for the first time.
Sirens wailed in the distance.
“You have to go now, Snowflake,” he said. “They’re coming.”
This time she understood and struggled to all fours. She pressed her snout to Haldon’s cheek and held it there. Haldon squeezed her tightly before prying himself away. “I love you, Snowflake.”
Snowflake rose to her hind legs, her left arm held tight against her gut wound, and sniffed the air.
Haldon nodded. “That’s it, girl. Be free. Don’t ever let them catch you.”
She turned, paused to look over her shoulder, and then limped away. Haldon watched until he couldn’t see her any longer. Then he ran past Gabe to his dad.
The sirens closed in.
“Show ’em where we are,” Kerry whispered.
Haldon ran to the edge of the woods where he could see Elise, a police officer, and two paramedics crossing the yard with a stretcher.
“This way,” he shouted and waved his arms.
Elise nearly broke his ribs hugging him as the paramedics went to work on Kerry.
After Gabe regained his composure, he approached the police officer.
“What happened here?” the officer asked.
“We were attacked by a bear,” Gabe answered. “Ain’t that right, Haldon?”
As much as Haldon wanted to spill the beans on Gabe, the truth meant the police would send people looking for Snowflake. Her only chance to be free was if no one knew she’d ever been there.
The officer seemed content with the bear story and stepped away to call it in. Haldon went to his dad. The paramedics reported that Kerry had a broken arm and needed a whole lot of stitches, but that he should be okay. They loaded him onto the stretcher.
Kerry held out his hand for Haldon to take. “I’ll be all right, bud,” he said. “You were very brave today.” Then he let go so the medics could carry him to their truck.
Elise and Haldon followed them to the hospital.
For the sake of Snowflake, Kerry, Elise, and Haldon kept Gabe’s dark secret, but they never spoke to the Martins again.
Thanks for giving my werewolf world a try. If you enjoyed this story and want to read more like it, check out Tamed now and subscribe to my newsletter for updates. Subscribe | Epertase Publishing. Sequel to Tamed coming in October, 2023