Sarah emerged from the mine and watched the havoc unfold amongst the sheriff and his men. Feeling weary by the magnitude of her actions, she leaned against a wooden beam and waited, eyes sullen and emotionless.
She recounted all she had heard from Ben, about his life and his struggles as a werewolf. Half the night had been spent in strange ponderings about the nature of it all. She never suspected that he would be a creature of old myths and fairy tales. A little insane, perhaps, but never preternatural. HIs eyes could have been that way since he was born, a mutation or defect. His hunger for raw meat could have been some weird craving. Nothing could have prepared her for the truth.
And nothing could have prepared her for his story, so full of death and tragedy. She had been just a baby during the war that tore the nation apart. She knew nothing of such misery as he experienced. To be shunned by your family and lose any chance with having a normal life. Yes, she pitied him and his suffering.
Sheriff Bart charged towards her, his body tense and ready to give her a thrashing. His eyes were even more blazing with a rage that made her shiver. He grabbed her by the arms and gave her a hard shake.
“What have you done?” he growled, baring his teeth like the animal she had just released.
“Ben didn’t deserve to die,” she said calmly, softly. “He’s done nothing wrong.”
“He’s a dangerous beast, don’t you understand? He will kill people if he’s allowed to roam free in this world.”
Sarah grew quiet as she saw something flicker in the sheriff’s eyes. Something like a sparkle of gold. The sunlight caught the flecks just right and they shined brilliantly like the gold nuggets at the bottom of a creek.
“How do you know about werewolves, Sheriff?” she asked, feeling panic rise in her. “How do you know what monsters they can or cannot be.”
Bart released his hold on her and squeezed his hands into fists, but Sarah refused to move or even flinch.
“I have been around them all my life. I’ve seen what destruction they can bring upon human existence. I once thought they could bee reasoned with, rehabilitated to be useful citizens of this world. But I was wrong. Once they have eaten the flesh of a human, they can never go back. They will constantly crave it, seek after it and satisfy their hunger by killing innocent people.”
“And you believe that Ben has eaten human flesh?” She swallowed, the image of Ben hunched over the dead carcass of the buffalo that hot afternoon blaring in her mind’s eye.
“It doesn’t matter what I believe. He’s a rogue wolf, without a pack and without a leader to keep him from committing atrocities.”
Sarah took a challenging step forward. “So, he hasn’t eaten human flesh yet?”
Bart opened his mouth to speak and paused before he could answer. The look of rage began to ebb into contemplation. “From the way he behaved, I can’t say for certain that he has. If what you say is true and he traveled with you for a few days and did you no harm, then I might be inclined to believe that he hasn’t tasted human flesh. Yet.”
“Isn’t there a saying? Innocent until proven guilty? Shouldn’t Ben have had a chance to prove to you that he’s not what you think he is?” Sarah took a breath to calm her agitated nerves. “He is a kind soul. He’s shown me compassion. He’s not a monster.”
Sheriff Bart sighed and rubbed the back of his neck as if he were having to make a painful decision. She could see the fission of his sense of duty and logic within his expression as he looked back to his comrades.
“Don’t pursue him. He can do no harm,” she pleaded.
Bart shook his head. “I’d want to believe you, miss. But I’ve seen far more of the world than you have and your supplications will not change my mind.”
“What could you have possibly seen to make you so unyielding? Surely you’ve seen the goodness of humanity as well as the evil?”
Bart turned to her with a refreshed cold expression, his eyes narrowed and penetrating. “I’ve watched my son commit atrocities you couldn’t even begin to imagine.”
Sarah was momentarily speechless. His son? Who was his son? Was he a werewolf as well? Ben mentioned something about men being born werewolves, but some had to be bitten. She stared at Bart, trying to assess the truth. Ben had said his golden eyes were a rarity amongst his kind. Not every werewolf would have them. But those flecks that Sarah had seen earlier were too obvious to miss.
“You’re a werewolf too,” she whispered, more out of wonder than shock. How could he be a werewolf and want to kill his own kind?
Bart did not answer her, but looked away to watch his men regroup after trying to pursue the swift moving Ben. Their horses couldn’t match his speed, not by a long shot.
If Bart was werewolf, and his son was as well, then was it possible that the sheriff killed his own son for the crimes he committed. It was all too complex and a tangled web of drama that Sarah didn’t want to begin to comprehend. None of it made sense. None of this was supposed to be real. She wanted to regret the day she got involved with Ben in that bar, which seemed like a lifetime ago when all she had to worry about were murderous outlaws and rowdy town drunkards.
“My men will take you back to town, as planned. You and your friend can do as you will from there.”
Sarah wrapped her arms around herself, gripping her shoulders as if an icy wind had gusted between them. “What will you do?” she asked, suspecting that she knew the answer.
“We will go back to Devil’s Rock and pick up Clarence’s trail. Then we resume our hunt.”
Sarah looked to Bart with wide eyes. “Not after Ben?”
He sighed heavily, admitting defeat. “No. Not after Ben,” he said. “After something worse than a rogue. We know what Clarence has done for certain and we will dispense justice.”
A thought occurred to her in what he said. “Is Clarence…”
Bart did not help her finish the sentence and he would not look at her. His silence told her everything she needed to know.