La Luna de Lobo
The Moon and the Sun and the Heart of the Wolf
“The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window,” Cory said in an ominous tone. He grinned, thoroughly enjoying himself.
Luna rolled her eyes. The camping trip had started badly and was just getting worse. She usually went camping with the Villalobos family at this time of year. It was the first one since she and her twin brother, Elio, left for college. Their parents had gone back to Mexico to spend the time with their family. They had postponed the January gathering in favor of a smaller trip with just the four of them the following month, but Elio promised the two of them would go anyway. He said it made sense because it would get them away from campus. She and Elio always took trips into the wilderness once a month for their sanity. Sometimes it was camping or backpacking. Other times they parked in the middle of nowhere and slept in the car. But it was only in January that they spent the time with their entire family, usually in Mexico. It was a special time of year for them, commemorating when their great-grandparents met so many decades before. Luna was disappointed that their parents hadn't allowed the twins to join them that year.
Elio’s roommate, Cory Calciatore, had overheard them trying to find a suitable place to camp and invited himself to join them. Nothing they said would dissuade him from coming along. It didn't matter when they told him they wanted to get off the beaten path and stay somewhere secluded. He seemed excited when they found some run-down campground where the guy who answered the phone told them they would be the only ones staying there. He informed them that there was no caretaker on site after sundown. That was for the best.
Next, Cory told them that his girlfriend, Camille, would also go. That surprised Luna. The insipid young woman didn't seem like the type to get her hands dirty in the wilderness. Even glamping might be too much nature for her. Especially in January, even if the winter temperatures in Southern California were generally comfortable. Instead of complaining as Luna expected, Camille prattled on about being able to wear a designer sweater and some boots she had recently purchased.
Overall, Cory wasn't bad. Elio got along with him well enough. Then again, Elio was an easy-going person who made friends with everyone. Luna was hot-headed. She had difficulty getting close to people. She wasn't sure how she would have functioned at college if Elio wasn’t there. It's not that she didn't want friends. It's just that everyone was so peoplely.
Camille Bellesa could only be described as perfect. Perfectly blonde, perfectly blue-eyed, perfectly fit. She was the epitome of a Disney Princess except for her villainous streak. In short, Luna couldn’t stand her. Judging by the looks Camille gave her and the snide comments about her natural curves, the dislike went both ways.
Luna knew she tended towards being slightly chubby. She couldn't help it. She liked sweets too much. Mamá always said that there was nothing wrong with her. She was healthy and voluptuous. Elio was thinner but broader and more muscular, but that didn't mean Luna wasn't just as strong in her way. Beneath the extra inches was pure muscle.
Luna thought about how unlike she and Elio were. Her brother was like the light. He had the reddish-light brown hair and blue eyes passed down from some Irish ancestor who had chosen to settle in Mexico a few generations back. Elio had a kind soul. He was the epitome of an extrovert.
In contrast, Luna was like the dark, bearing the nearly black hair and chocolate brown eyes of their Hispanic roots. It wasn't that Luna couldn't be friendly to people, but she was much more introverted. Being around people made her uncomfortable, which often led her to say the wrong thing. She always sat in the back of her classrooms. Luna couldn't handle crowded situations. They brought on panic attacks and a feeling that she couldn't maintain control of herself. Their differences were fitting, seeing as their names meant the sun and the moon.
Despite how different they were, Luna and Elio were close. They protected each other from the vile creatures humans could be.
Of course, they ended up driving with Cory and Camille. Luna sat in the back seat with her arms crossed, staring out the window, trying to ignore the woman’s incessant chatter. All she wanted was some peace and quiet. Was that too much to ask?
When they arrived at the campground, Luna could see why it suffered from a lack of business. Aside from being in the middle of nowhere, it was in a definite state of disrepair. A gawky teenage boy was busy bopping around the dilapidated office, listening to what sounded like a dissonant screeching to Luna’s sensitive ears. After they paid for their space and purchased some firewood, he handed them a worn and stained map of the campground.
They passed a ghostly playground on the way to their campsite. The rusty swings twisted eerily in the wind as if the spirits of children long grown were using them. Or maybe not grown. The place gave off vibes of horrific past crimes - or those waiting to happen. Luna commented that it was just as well no one was there as the equipment would likely give them lead poisoning.
The whole area was in a flood zone, which was not optimal for camping. It was swampy in parts and annoyingly buggy. Luna and Elio would have never chosen to camp there if they hadn't been trying to dissuade Cory and Camille from coming along. Why did Elio have to be so nice? Luna had no problem saying no to people.
As they were leaving the school, Cory told them he had invited a couple of other friends to join them. Those invites spread like wildfire. While they were setting camp, Luna realized that half the school or at least the entire football team and their girlfriends were flooding the campground. She ground her teeth in annoyance. Elio shrugged when she sent him an accusatory glare.
By the time Cory insisted on telling scary stories, many of the others were high or drunk, laughing raucously and blasting music from multiple campsites surrounding them. That was great for the campground’s business, but Luna was angry that their behavior was disrupting the natural habitat.
Most of them didn't even have camping gear. The partiers would either pass out on the ground or in their cars. Without food supplies or cooking equipment, they would have to drive several miles to the nearest town to find breakfast in the morning if they survived that long. The monstrously large insects might carry them off, Luna thought as she slapped at a mosquito the size of a housefly. If the mosquitoes were that large, how big would the flies be? At least the smoke from the fire, while unpleasant when it wafted into her face, helped keep the worst of the bugs away.
“Earth to Luna.” She heard Cory say with a laugh.
“What?” She asked, a little confused. She had to admit she hadn't exactly been paying attention to the story he was telling. She had heard something about a mad man living deep in the woods, terrorizing hapless teenagers. The typical theme for supposedly scary campfire stories and B-rated horror movies.
“It's your turn to tell a ghost story,” Cory said. “Unless you don't think you’re up to it.” Camille huddled against him as if he had truly scared her with his story. However, her eyes and slight sneer issued a challenge to outdo her boyfriend in telling a tale of terror.
Luna watched the fire before her thoughtfully. The orange and yellow flames ran blue where they licked at the logs, playfully snapping while sending sparks into the air. Like a witch belly dancing on a pyre, the largest plume twirled and swayed as if taunting those who tried to burn her. “Alright. I think I can manage something.”
Camille gave a tittering laugh that set Luna’s nerves even more on edge. “Let me guess - It was a dark and stormy night.”
“Please. I can do better than that,” Luna replied dismissively. She glanced up at the sky. Clouds obscured the stars and the moon, so it was indeed dark, but no impending storms were evident. “This is a story Abuelo Villalobos told us.”
Elio gave her a toothy smile across the fire as he put his arm around his current lover, who had arrived on his own shortly after sunset. Alarik Dadqalato was a quiet young man who noticed everything. He wasn’t as cold and aloof as Luna would have expected. He had a wicked sense of humor. Luna liked him and hoped that Alarik would be around longer than Elio’s other boyfriends had. He was the first to be invited to go camping with them. That made sense, though. Alarik was more like them than the others had been.
Luna settled back in her camp chair and cleared her throat as Cory playfully tried to eat Camille’s perfectly roasted marshmallow. “This story has passed down from Abuelo’s father’s family. He came from a tiny village in the mountains of Mexico with a dark history. It was called Corazón del Lobo. Heart of the Wolf. Strange things happened there.”
“How is a story about some village in Mexico supposed to scare us?” Camille interrupted. “I mean, I thought the point of campfire stories was to make everyone too scared to sleep.”
“You two challenged her to tell a story,” Elio said. “Let her tell it. I doubt you’ll get much sleep tonight after she finishes.”
“Then again, maybe you’ll sleep like the dead,” Alarik said so quietly only the twins heard him. Elio nudged him to behave even while his face betrayed his humor. Even Luna cracked a smile for the first time since they had left campus earlier that day.
“So, the area around the village was plagued with so many terrible deaths and disappearances that people all over Mexico began to call it El Pueblo de Los Muertos. The Village of the Dead. They said it was full of zombies and witches and other horrible creatures. They began to avoid going anywhere near there. Anyone living in the closer towns made sure to close their shutters tight and lock their doors at night when there was a full moon.” Luna said in a voice full of quiet mystery. “Even so, people still disappeared into the woods with no trace left behind short of a shoe or a hat or blood. There was always lots of blood.”
“There was a caravan of people, mostly from Guatemala, making their way to the American border. While they would typically stay closer to the flatter, coastal areas, a hurricane surging through their usual route forced them to change the direction they were traveling. Unfortunately, their new route took them near Corazón del Lobo.”
Camille shook her head. “Of course, they were coming here.” Cory put a hand on her arm to stall her speech. It didn't surprise Luna that Camille had a problem with immigrants. It was the first time she had voiced her opinions about them in Luna’s presence. That was lucky on her part. Luna would have ripped her a new one. Tonight she took a few deep breaths as she fought to hold her temper. She chose to ignore the woman for the time being.
“Now, there was a little girl named Lupe with the party. Her parents were so desperate to get her to somewhere better than where they lived they paid the travelers to take her along. They promised her that they would follow as soon as they could.” Luna continued.
“Lupe was ten years old and the only child with the party. There she was, trekking across the vast mountainous regions of Southern Mexico with nothing more than a single bag and a stuffed animal to her name. Lupe was worried about finding the distant relatives she had never met once she got to America, even though her mother had sewn their names and address into Lupe’s sweater so the border patrol could contact them. Even though she was scared, she was determined not to let anyone see that. Lupe marched bravely ahead through steep volcanic terrain. She never complained about being tired or the blisters on her feet that left her limping.”
“They were within a couple of miles of Corazón del Lobo when they stopped to make camp. Lupe felt strangely uneasy that night. She slipped further away from the others after the evening meal looking for somewhere to settle for the night that made her feel somewhat safer. Lupe curled up under a tree root and fell asleep longing for her mother and father. She wanted their strong arms wrapped around her to protect her.
“While she slept, the luna de lobo rose, shining brightly down on the land. The wolf moon comes every January. It holds special significance to those from Corazón del Lobo.
“Lupe tossed and turned restlessly as a nightmare tormented her. The cries of her companions echoed in her head. Strange snarls sounded among the trees.” Luna said, barely louder than a whisper.
Cory was listening so intently that he wasn’t paying attention to the marshmallow he was roasting. He jumped when it suddenly burst into flames and cursed loudly as he dropped the stick into the fire.
Luna kept speaking, her voice taking on the intensity of the scene. Like their abuelo, she always had been good at telling stories. “Lupe awoke to the sound of her own scream reverberating off the trees. The silence that followed her cry terrified her as much as her dream. She should be able to hear the murmur of the guards and the snores of people slumbering. Over the sound of her heart thudding in her chest, she could make out a drip, drip, dripping like rain running off the leaves after a shower. A strong coppery smell assaulted her senses. A twig snapped nearby, startling her. Then came a deep growling sound like thunder rolling before a storm.”
Luna paused, letting her words fall around her audience.
“Lupe scrambled as far back under the tree root as she could, to no avail. Sharp claws scratched at her ankle as something grabbed her. It yanked her out into the open. A scream died in her throat as she came face to face with a creature from her worst nightmares — a werewolf. Blood dripped from its muzzle.”
Camille had lost the look of scorn, hands flying to cover her mouth. Her eyes were wide with dread for the poor little girl.
“The werewolf’s eyes bored into hers as he sniffed and snuffled at her. A look of surprise crossed his face. His head tilted like a quizzical dog before he tossed her over his shoulder and stalked back towards Corazón del Lobo. As the werewolf trudged through the trees, Lupe saw the mutilated bodies of those she was traveling with. Other werewolves were moving among them, one still messily devouring one of the men. There was so much blood it was dripping from the leaves above them.” Luna rubbed her arms as the tell-tale itch set in. It was almost time.
There was silence around the fire as Luna stopped speaking. Alarik grinned before licking his lips. Firelight glinted off his dark skin. He stood and stretched, rolling his neck before darting off at impossible speed. Not even Elio could run that fast.
Camille breathed, so focused on Luna that she never noticed Alarik leave. “What happened to Lupe?”
“Oh, she was fine,” Elio said cheerfully. “The werewolf took her home with him. He wasn't that much of a monster as to hurt a child. In fact, he treated Lupe like a queen. He even sent for her parents to join them. I'm not sure if they were prisoners or guests, but they enjoyed a much better life than they had back home. The werewolf turned her, then married her when she came of age. See, Lupe was his chosen mate. His Luna. Eventually, they had a son - our Abuelo Villalobos.”
The clouds parted overhead as his words sunk in. Cory’s eyes darted between them nervously, and he laughed, trying desperately to believe this was some sort of elaborate joke.
The wolf moon shone down on them. Luna raised her head and let loose a howl deep from her soul. Her brother echoed the wolfy wail. Elio had so much more control over his shifts than she did, but this time he chose not to exert it.
A scream sounded as Alarik found his first victim. Luna was a little jealous. His kills were much cleaner than hers, but vampires did have more finesse when draining their prey of blood. Luna was still young and prone to impatience when it came to the hunt.
Luna howled again, closing her eyes against the pain as her skin stretched and her bones popped. Her clothing fell away in shreds, and the camp chair broke beneath her as her body doubled in size, transforming into something both beautiful and deadly.
Like her hair, Luna’s fur was as dark as the night sky. She was more difficult to see in the dark than her brother with his reddish pelt. Tonight the full moon shone off her fur, illuminating her body.
The terror in their companions was palpable and intoxicating. Luna could hear their hearts threatening to beat out of their chests as she slunk toward them. Her eyes locked onto Camille as the woman began sliding back across the dirt like a trapped animal seeking desperately to get away. Cory attempted to make a run for it, only to be slammed to the ground by Elio.
Soon Luna was standing above Camille. Saliva dripped from her muzzle to run down that perfect princess face. Camille’s breaths came in panicked pants. Elio was the better hunter - an alpha in a long line of alphas. Luna still had a tendency to play with her prey. But not this time. Her teeth closed over Camille’s throat, effectively stalling the building scream she had been too frightened to let loose. Warm blood filled Luna’s mouth as the life drained from her adversary's eyes.
Still holding the woman by the throat with her strong jaws, Luna shook her like a ragdoll making sure she was dead. After dropping the corpse next to her deceased boyfriend, Luna followed Elio to continue the hunt.
Alarik eventually joined Luna and Elio as they crept away from the campground. Music still blared from one of the radios, covering the quiet drip, drip, dripping of the blood falling from the leaves.