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CONTENT WARNING: guns, gun violence, character death, animal death, blood, and gore. Please read with caution. 

Red Moon Rising 

      "Mary! Come now, Mary, where are you?!" Lawrence shouted, voice clawing at his throat as a sign to stop. But he couldn't stop. He refused to, knowing she was still out there. She was supposed to be at the party with her same flowing white dress and pearls, smiling her same heartwarming smile. The way his stomach dropped when her father asked why she wasn't with him…something was wrong. 

      His ears thrummed with the sound of his own beating heart, alone with only a lantern to guide him— and a half-loaded pistol to save him. The wind rushed through the trees, making their branches groan and creak as they bent, and the stars were scarce that night. The eeriness and cold breeze made his neck prickle, and goosebumps made him shiver. Topping it all off was the full harvest moon that shone overhead. Tonight would be a night of werewolves, and people were going to die. 

      And this was if people had not already been dying in the time leading up to the full moon. Bouts of attacks had started early this year, preying on the people of Lanercost after sunset, making way for the horrified shrieks and wails that would fill the morning air at dawn. Some were even dragged off, with no bodily remains to be seen. The only evidence was the intermittent trails of blood staining the grass. People were growing restless. They stopped leaving their houses after dark, obsessively locking every door and window until satisfied. But not Mary. Lady Mary Harewell was a strawberry blonde with eyes as warm as the sun and green as the sea. No doubt he was enchanted with her beauty, but it was her laugh and sharp wit that Lawrence loved most. Now, Lawrence was afraid he'd never get to hear her laughter again. 

Thunder rumbled overhead as a soft rain started to fall. Anywhere there could be a werewolf hiding, and he would not know by the sounds of it. His heart sank even more when he realized his only source of light was almost completely reduced to a puddle inside the lantern. With his free hand, he'd been clutching a stained white glove he'd found not too far from the esteemed Harewell home several hours ago. Despite being split open into several pieces as though it had burst, he could recognize its delicate pattern at once— it was one of the gloves he had gifted her for her birthday, not ten days before.  

He was running out of time. 

      "Mary, please! Where are you? Say something! Anything, just to know that you are safe! Let me hear your voice once more!" 

      An anguished scream arose from the southwest of him, followed by a chilling howl, low and distorted, almost gurgling as though it were underwater. Thunder crackled once more overhead, drowning out Lawrence's nearly-gone voice as he called out for Mary. His heart pounded as he ran toward the scream. He felt as though his stomach would turn inside out. Memories of her flashed in his mind as he ran, and with every golden smile and every cheeky joke he recalled, the faster he swore he was running. 


      {She unwrapped the gift, her ocean eyes full of crystalline waves fit for voyaging. Her gold and white dress was even more lovely as the sun shone through the window onto her face. Each ray of sunlight made her look more and more like some ethereal being from an old painting. "Oh, Lawrence, these gloves are simply wonderful! I truly shall treasure them always! Thank you. Your eye for gifts is ever sharp."} 


      {"Lawrence, come with me to the lake after tea! We should see who can skip the most stones." Mary says, taking his hand as she laughs, the smell of grass and petrichor flooding his senses as they run back to the Harewell house. The passing storm had just drenched them both, soaking them to the bone, yet she looked as lovely as always. He wanted to tell her right then and there that he loved her, but the words would not come. She was too beautiful.} 


      "Mary, are you there? Is that you?!" Lawrence's chest felt as though it were on fire, and spears were stabbing his sides, but he pressed on. He could see a trail of white beads covering the ground, followed by several bracelets adorned with multicolored jewels, dazzling in the light of the moon. The trail of red beneath his feet had grown in width. The beast was bleeding too. 

       Tears stung his eyes as he gritted his teeth. It better pray to the highest heavens that it dies before I reach the end of this trail, should she be in peril! 

      More memories of her flashed in his mind as water splashed up to his calves and thighs from his sprinting. He never lost sight of the trail, no matter how dim his lantern became. He was going to find her. Lawrence would find her alive and well and take her to the lake for another skip under sunny skies. She would live to marry and bear children of her own with whoever made her happy— whether with him or someone else. But even so, her fate was not to slip from Lawrence's fingers. 


      {Mary lifted higher and higher with each swing; her curls flew in the wind as they trailed behind her. "Higher! I shall swing even higher until I reach the stars— and I shall fly away as I do unless you catch me!" Lawrence promised to catch her. "But will you always catch me?" He nodded without hesitation. He would always be there to catch her, whether rain or shine, dusk or dawn, under sunlight or moonbeams; he would always be there when she called. Always.} 



      Lawrence stopped dead cold. His lantern shattered on the ground. The hand previously holding the lantern went numb, and his mind was blank. Lightning ripped through the sky, illuminating the scene before him for only a few moments. He could barely make out a fairly large figure lying on the ground covered in crimson, contrasting the lump's hue of a starch white.  

      The same white dress. Lawrence was sure of it. 

      Towering over the white dress was a mass twice Lawrence's size. Its hulking chest breathing ragged as it remained hunched, its back also turned toward him. But all Lawrence could see was red

      "You!" He snarled in fury as he reached for his pistol, loaded with three silver bullets. They'd become standard issues in Lancaster courtesy of the town's blacksmith— Lawrence's father. Each of those three silver bullets would pierce through the innards of the monster that killed Lady Mary Harewell. His Lady Mary. The Mary he loved with all his heart, who showed him how to love in the first place. Liquid white-hot anger surged through him as he cocked the pistol. His finger felt at home on the trigger, as though it had always belonged there. 

      But the beast was quicker than the next flash of lightning, and before Lawrence knew what was happening, it was running his way. Its piercing eyes blazed through the dark like two wisps of green flame. Its fur, already matted, looked more and more disheveled the closer it got to Lawrence. It might as well have been a charging bull— in the nighttime storm, he might not have known any different. He froze, realizing just how enormous the beast was in comparison. 

      He'd aimed dead-on for the beast's forehead in the brief flashes of lightning from above. Just as he went to pull the trigger, it jumped on top of him, and the bullet whizzed straight past the beast's ear, clipping it by a hair— and singeing the monster's skin. Lawrence nearly gagged at the smell of freshly-burning flesh but held steady. The werewolf swiped at his face, leaving five fresh rakes from the top of his forehead to just underneath his bottom lip. Lawrence howled in agony, but his arm was now free. Enraged, he raised his pistol arm at the werewolf to attempt another shot, this time at point-blank range. 

      What happened next he could not have accounted for. The werewolf faltered, looking him in the eyes as it stood still over him. The wrinkles once lining its snarling snout disappeared. Its pupils dilated from mere slits to full circles. Those eyes…beady and full, as though they were searching his soul for something. The eyes only stared at him, and he stared back, but only for a moment. He was not going to let this chance pass out of weakness. Rage and pain filled him as he thought of Mary on that swing, laughing as though she hadn't a care in the world. Her words from that day echoed in his mind as tears started to trickle from his eyes.  

      "You will catch me, won't you?" 

      Never again would he be able to catch her when she fell. Lawrence roared as he pulled the trigger once more.  

      His shot did not miss. 

      With an ear-splitting crack, a bullet went straight into its side, and its limp body fell on top of him. He could feel blood spraying onto his clothes, but it didn't matter. It was finally over. Only then did he notice the storm had stopped. Dawn was finally upon the land, staining the sky a fiery orange mixed with soft purples and pinks like lilies in the spring. Light spilled over the trees. Lawrence let out a weary sigh, closing his eyes. Under other circumstances, he may have laughed. He had won.  

      With a great heave, he shoved the animal away. He promptly ran over to the body of Mary, her dress almost a completely different color from grime and rust-colored blood. As he walked to her, a great emptiness began to fill him, growing heavier upon his shoulders with each step. How would he explain to her father he couldn't make it in time? How could he bear witnessing her mother dropping to her knees as he told both Harewells that their only daughter was dead? Most of all, how would he ever be able to forgive himself for not finding her in time?  

      He began to sob, his legs growing weaker and weaker as he walked toward the dress. Finally, he fell to his knees, crawling as he reached for its hem. He longed to see Mary's face and hold her one last time. 

      Mary was not there. 

      The empty shell of the dress remained, blowing slightly in the calm whispering breeze. He rubbed his eyes with both sleeves to make sure his eyes weren't playing tricks. A few feet away, just ahead of the dress, lay the body of a sheep, thick with wool and eyes glazed with fear. It was dead and covered in blood, the source appearing to be the gaping hole in its stomach. Giant bite marks indented the sheep's throat, clearly crushed and bloodied. Lawrence shuddered as his nose was overwhelmed and his senses assaulted. It looked as though it could not have been dead longer than a few hours, but if he were blindfolded, he might not have been able to tell— the smell alone would have suggested otherwise. He looked at the dress in his hands, standing up as he held it straight. But the dress was in tatters, as though someone had ripped it open with a machete. He almost started to cry again, thinking the demon-beast had sliced her to shreds, when he realized the tatters did not have blood on their edges. It dawned on him that Mary could not have been cut, as blood would have come out from the cuts and stained them— but only dirt remained. How? 

      What the devil? 

      Lawrence laid the dress on the ground face-up, realigning the cuts and tears. All the bloodstains were on one side, tracing down from the mid-waist to the bottom of the skirt in a large, singular stream. Like she had been shot in her side, the blood went down her leg to stain her dress. Yet there was no hole in the dress and no smell of gunpowder to suggest that was the case. 

      A groan came from behind, pulling Lawrence from his swimming thoughts. Not far from him, a woman was lying face-down, naked, in the very spot the werewolf's body had been. He froze.  

There was no longer any sign of the beast, but his stomach turned to ice.  

      The woman's hair was strawberry blonde. 

      He ran over to her, catching a glimpse of a very defined hole in her side, still gushing blood.             Lawrence dropped to his knees again, turning her over to look at her face. A sob rose in his throat. It was Mary Harewell. 

Lawrence's hands were shaking as he held her face. Blood was dripping from her mouth, and her eyes were only half-open. She was hanging on by a thread.  

      "Mary! Mary, what happened? What—" he stopped, realizing what it all meant. His voice went quiet, and it quivered as he spoke. "Tell me it's not true." 

      She wheezed as she drew in a breath, bringing a cold, weak hand to his face. He took it and held onto it, using every bit of his strength not to begin weeping. 

      "The biting…just— before the party," she rasped, swallowing hard. "Lawrence…you could not…have known." 

      Oh, how could he have been so stupid

      "Mary, please! I…you— I have to get you to a doctor!" He was practically shouting in panic, thinking about the bloodstains on his hands and clothes. Nausea washed over him. "I, I— I shot you!" 

He reached down, hooking an arm under hers and her knees with all the haste he could summon. She shook her pallid head loosely. 

      "It is not…your fault." 

      "Shh, save your strength, Mary.” 

      "Listen to me!" her voice broke out in a sharp exhale. Her hand drifted back down to Lawrence's shirt and balled into a fist, tugging on it weakly as her eyes filled with tears. "I need you to…forgive yourself, Lawrence. Promise me that…you will." 

      But he only kept running, calling for help as he went.  

      "Lawrence…" she begged. Her balled fist went limp on his chest. 

      "Mary! Mary, stay awake! You must!" 

      "So…stubborn…as always." she smiled weakly. Had Lawrence not known any better, he might've guessed she was about to fall asleep in his arms. 

      His voice broke. "What?" 

      "I…hope you forgive yourself…someday." 

      But Lawrence didn't hear the last part. He didn't want to hear it. Not when there was every possibility those could be her last words. But if he didn't hear them, if he failed her…he wouldn't have to remember them. They wouldn't be echoing in his mind. Her quiet voice began to disappear, and she gradually rested her head on his arm. Her eyes threatened to shut. Lawrence recognized the hill he'd come to and started running harder, but the town was still away. He kept pushing and pushing, each muscle screaming for him to stop. That's just what he was good at. Pushing. 

      He was so close when a rock seemed to spring from nowhere, and he tripped, sending Mary from his arms and him to the ground, both tumbling. Mary laid as still as a statue as she came to a stop, Lawrence scrambling to her side. He called for her, but there was no response. Shaking her did nothing. He finally put an ear to her chest.  

      Nothing. There was no sound.  

      Just like that, his Lady Mary was gone in the static and silence.  

      He heard nothing as he released a burning wail of anguish, not even his own voice. He felt nothing. He said nothing. He remained by Mary's side for hours, clutching her to his chest and brushing the hair from her bloody face.  

      Birds fled from the trees. The sun rose higher and higher. It was a new day. A day he had won from the enemy.   

      And his only trophy was the empty heart of a beast. 

Malia Nerl. I'm Malia, and I'm an editor for the East Fork Journal. I like to read and write, as well as draw both digitally and traditionally. I'm a psychology major and I'd like to be an art therapist someday. My favorite genre to read is just about any kind of fiction. Right now, I'm reading House of Hades by Rick Riordan.

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