The first thing I saw when I woke up was, it looked like we were driving to the moon. It was a huge orange ball, almost the color of my new sneakers, sitting on top of the highway in such a way that it appeared to part the trees on each side of the dark road.

I rubbed my eyes, reorienting myself. The hum of our Taurus must've lulled me to sleep in the backseat the moment our trip home began this afternoon. I could tell where we were now. It was the narrow stretch of two-lanes close to our house.

"Well, hello, sleepyhead," Mom said from the front seat. "They must've worn you out these past few weeks at Camp McMillan. Did you have good time?"

"It was okay," I said, with a shrug. Looking out the window, there were no stars out and except for the orange globe, the night looked darker than black. The headlight beams lit the forest in a blur of dark browns and greens. I got dizzy trying to focus on just one tree.

"Buckle back up, Tommy," Dad said.

"But we're almost home." I rolled my eyes, not really seeing the point since I'd been unbuckled while laying down in the seat asleep the entire trip anyway. Dad kept looking at me in the rearview mirror until he heard the click.

"Did you see any of your friends from last year?" Mom smiled at me over her shoulder.

"Some," I said, wishing Barry Barnes had not shown up. It probably, no it definitely, would've been a lot more fun if Barry had stayed home. That, and if I had left my new athletic shoes home like Mom'd told me to. They were for school, she'd said. If only I'd listened.

Barry had wanted to trade me for them the very first day. I'd looked down at my neon orange and green awesome ones, then looked at his scuffed white and blue ones, and said no way.

From then on, Barry had made it his duty to hand out misery, to me personally, on a daily basis. The pranks he thought hilarious was just plain annoying, and the ghost stories he told every night in the cabin were dumb, and kept me awake, tossing and turning the whole week. Stupid Grizzly Werebears. Who'd ever heard of that? I looked at the moon and tried to exorcise Barry Barnes from my mind.

"What time is it?" I asked, yawning.

Dad lifted his left arm off the steering wheel, glancing at his wristwatch. "Ten forty-"

Something ginormous ran out from the thick trees with a deafening roar. It ran straight into the front end of the car on Dad's side. Long yellow claws pierced through the roof, slicing across the metal like butter as the impact spun the car, dragging the thing along on the asphalt. Our screams inside the car blended with screeching burning rubber. Dad jerked the steering wheel, fighting for control. The car, zig-zagged sharply left, then right. We headed for the trees as we skidded off the pavement. The tires hit the packed dirt on the side of the road, causing the car to flip.

We were airborne, weightlessly turning over like a carnival ride, then BAM! The car hit the embankment with a thunderous crash; metal crushed like tin foil, glass shattered. The car kept tumbling over and over before a thick trunk halted the forward motion in a sudden stop.

I moaned, locked tight in my seatbelt, not wanting to open my eyes. We were suspended upside down. I saw glass sticking out of my arms, touched it in my face. I looked at the blood on my hands and arms. My jeans had a rip in one leg and the cut underneath looked as if it should hurt. I looked down at the metal-slashed ceiling below my head. Dad disappeared, surrounded by a white airbag. The flat roof against the seat on Mom's side crushed her head at an odd angle.

"Mom!" I cried. Blood ran from her mouth, eyes staring wide open at nothing. I began shaking all over, breathing fast and whimpering, "No. No. Nooooo..."

Frantically, I tried to unbuckle the seat belt holding me prisoner. I fought, but it wouldn't release. I wiggled desperately.

"Help! Somebody! Help!" I screamed into the night, tears flooding my upper eyelids, travelling over my eyebrows and dripped to the ceiling. All was silent on the deserted highway except for the sound of radiator steam compressing, metal groaning, and tires spinning uselessly in the air. Then -- nothing.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When I regained consciousness, the night air was cooler in its darkness. My head hurt, and blood pounded in my ears as I hung upside down. I tried to focus, to remember what  happened. The impact, the car, the accident...

"Mom. Dad." I tried to shout their names, but it came out wimpy, like a whisper. I fought to get out of the car to help them. I squirmed, renewing my strength to unbuckle. Finally it gave way and I fell with a thud, landing in a puddle of broken glass, coke cups, maps and junk from Mom's purse. A breeze blew through the missing back windshield. I pulled with my forearms and pushed with one leg through the jagged edges. I couldn't get the other leg to work.

"Dad." I crawled to his side of the car, his window shattered, too. I struggled, trying to flatten the white balloon away from his face. I found blood smeared in deep red patches all over it. He stared blankly at me, like Mom. The seat belt strap knifed across his throat. I sunk onto the cool dirt crying so hard, it hurt. I hiccuped myself to sleep, not hearing the roar from deep within the woods.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I awoke the next time tasting dirt and blood, the moon still high in the sky. Something pushed at the car from the woods on  Mom's side. The slight rocking movement became more violent and the car teetered dangerously. Something made angry animalistic grunts as it pushed.

My mind's eye saw the sharp claws piercing the roof. Panicking, I looked across the highway to the trees on the other side. I scooted backward dragging one leg, as fast as I could. I was beginning to feel the sting of the embedded glass.

I made it into the dense woods just as our car groaned, rolling over and over down the embankment. It landed right-side up in the ditch with a jerk. The bloodied bodies of Mom and Dad wobbled back and forth in place.

Terrified, I watched the thing move from the shadow of the trees into the moonlight. Some kind of massive animal with long fur stood up on hind legs. Beady eyes glowed bright red in a round hairy face with small ears and snout. Footlong claws emerged from paws the size of my head. It stood roaring, swiping arms in the air. With a wide mouth, long razor-sharp teeth jutted outward from powerful jaws as it roared into the night. It tore open the roof, and ripped Mom from the car. It bit off her limp head.

I looked away in horror, trying to stifle my terrified screams. I vomited.

It raised its head, sniffed the air, and flung the body aside, dropping to all fours. It's coming my way. I crab-walked further into the forest. What do I do? There's no way with this leg I can climb a tree! I scanned the area for a hiding place. I heard claws scraping, clicking, on the asphalt.

I spied a hollow log. I pushed, wedging myself inside the dead tree. If I -- could -- just get in far enough. I realized my useless leg stuck out of the end. I pulled at the denim, forcing the knee to bend, tucking it out of sight. Insects, feathery-light, skittered across my mouth and nose. Shaking my head, I closed my eyes and held my breath. I could hear it. It shoved at the log, rocking me back and forth. Heavy wet breathing came from one open end of the log. Then -- all was quiet. Seconds became minutes, then minutes, hours. With relief, I fell into a deep exhausted sleep.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The sun poked through rotting wood when I awoke with a jerk. I was stiff, cut, and bruised, but alive. I listened, then struggled out of the tree, cuts stinging and muscles aching. I had to get back to the highway. My only hope was for someone to drive by and see me. I managed to stand, balancing on one foot. Hopping, I looking around for the perfect stick to help me walk.

Deeper in the woods, my search turned up more than just a crutch. A body, a boy, lay twenty feet away. At first, I thought he was dead, then he sat up. I was never so glad to see another person in my life. I limped to him, but drew up short when I recognized him.

Barry grinned, and said, "I saw your shoe sticking out of the tree, Tommy-boy. You shoulda traded with me." His smiled vanished and his eyes glowed red.

"Told ya there was such a thing as Werebears. It's priceless, that look on your face right now."

I trembled anew and fell to the ground tugging off my new shoes. "Here, take 'em." I tossed them at him.

"That's not what I want, now." He growled, advancing. I watched his size expand, golden brown hair sprout, and teeth and claws elongate. I screamed at the top of my lungs...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I'm awake. My first thought is I'm still alive! My thoughts are fuzzy, my mouth dry, and I'm stiff, as if I've slept in the same position for months. I get up, stretching, feeling -- great, actually. My leg is healed, cuts and bruises gone. I hear dripping somewhere outside the cave. I walk into the sun's warmth, feel the crisp cold air. I sniff, smelling pines, melting snow, and -- small animals. Man, I'm hungry. My roar echoes in the valley below as I gallop, charging down the mountainside in search of -- food.


Happy Belated Halloween! Has the Witching Hour come and gone? :)

I took a break in my ongoing story _The Amigurumi Menagerie this week in #SaturdayScenes for the opportunity to offer a short story appropriate for Halloween. I am considering #Claws for a middle grade story. Any and all feedback is always appreciated, good or bad. :)

If you read The Amigurumi Menagerie weekly, I promised to resume with Chapter 12, Part 2 next week in full force!

You can follow some amazing writer using the hashtag #SaturdayScenes and for this Halloween weekend, #sshorror .

As always I appreciate your reading, plussing, and commenting. If you'd like to catch up on The Amigurumi Menagerie you can do so on my blog.
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