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The Management Consultants
Roscoe turned his Range Rover onto the gravel road leading to his cabin in the Allegheny Mountains. "This is a record for me. The company terminated you at nine, and you are taking a vacation before noon."
"Not fired, let's say I was simply 'let go,'" Liam bragged like firing was a badge of honor. The company wanted him gone and didn't know how to do it. None of Liam's co-workers liked him or even wanted him around. His insults and arrogance caused at least one lost contract or employee every year. The company president was at his wit's end. He tried to fire Liam, but Liam had retained an ambulance chaser to thwart every attempt. The company hired Roscoe, termination consultant, to do it.
"Seriously, dude, 'let go' is not what you get for calling the boss an ass-kissing weasel at an all-hands-on-deck employee meeting. Fired is the word. Getting your ass-kicked out the door under armed guard is a concept you might consider." Roscoe, having been trained by his father as a race driver, drove like the proverbial bat-out-of-hell. It was his thing - - fast cars, drifted turns, burning rubber. He knew this road from birth. Liam didn't and grabbed the Range Rover's door as Roscoe drifted the car through a turn, throwing rocks and dirt. The car whipped around a second curve too fast for Liam's comfort.
"Hey Speed Racer, slow down. I'll get another programming job in a few days. My work is in demand. Until then, I'm happy to be your drinking buddy. You aren't my confessor or Mario Andretti. I tried to be good. I waited until I finished my work before telling the boss the truth this time."
"Truth? You called out the boss's peccadilloes in front of the entire company and then walked out, sticking your team with a half-ass, snafu-ridden job. The company is struggling to stay afloat."
Neither man had a chance to continue the conversation.
"Deer," Liam screamed. Roscoe's hands blurred over the steering wheel to avoid the animal. The Rover fishtailed and swerved violently. The near crash left Liam braced against the dash, gasping to recover his breath.
"That was close," Liam said.
"Not to worry, the front end is designed for these maneuvers." In a few seconds, he continued his self-congratulatory story.
"Now let me ask you this; do you think that any of those hacks will learn how to program their way out of a paper bag without additional help? I got tired of pretending they really could program. I'll get a new job next week. It will all be fine. I'll be happier after--" the lane turned sharply and the car fishtailed once again. The pitch of Liam's voice rose in fear. "--a few nights under a moonlit sky." He grabbed the door again as the Rover squeezed between two looming trees with only inches to spare. The whiteness of Liam's knuckles gripping the door pleased Roscoe who intentionally sped up and drifted through a one-eighty before turning onto a nothing gravel path. Gravel and dust flew.
"Ever consider a career in formula one?" Liam asked, still clutching the grab bars. Roscoe answered by gunning the engine over the top of a hill. The tires left the ground, and their stomachs gurgled in weightless delight, threatening a diaspora with their last meal. The Rover landed in a clearing. Momentum slid the car sideways. It gracefully drifted in a broad turn, tires screaming, rabbits freaking, deer running. Liam shrieked like a tweenie schoolgirl and closed his eyes as Roscoe smoked the tires and slid to a stop in front of a white-picket gate. Liam jumped out of the BMW.
"Do you drive like that all the time?"
"I just wanted to start your heart, dude. I do it in loving memory of my Dad. He tried hard to make me fudge my boxers when he drove here."
"I don't want to be one of your old age memories of me shitting my pants just because your father taught you to cheat death." Liam flipped Roscoe the bird. Roscoe laughed at the gesture.
"A few nights under a moonlit sky and you'll be good as new," Roscoe said, walking to the cabin. Hedges were sculpted into birds, deer, bears, a panoply of woodsy animals in the front yard of the cabin. A gurgling pond fed by a decorative waterfall sat to the left. A hundred feet away a barn stood next to a vegetable garden.
Liam gave the place a fleeting, mechanical glance.
"Very country," he said, diffidently. He wasn't good at sizes, but he estimated the garden beyond the barn was at least an acre if not two maybe three acres. It looked too big for one man to farm and he was right. In the middle of the garden was a big, broad-shouldered Swede dressed only in coveralls and boots, weeding and digging. He looked like a real farmer. Liam shrugged. He didn't like barns, and he hadn't expected another man.
"Meet Dolph, my partner in the consulting business. We find the cabin peaceful," Roscoe said. Dolph maintained the cabin and consulted by the internet. Liam was amused and treated Dolph like he would have a new coworker.
"Well hush my little puppies, you got a big boy waiting for ya at home. And he does the yard work, too. So groovy! I'm a rich programmer who can buy and sell both of you. So don't suddenly harsh my getting a restful night or two under the light of the silvery moon," Liam said. Dolph's return gaze could have burnt holes in brick walls.
"Don't act like you are the greatest thing since cell phones and Google, a legend in your own mind. Don't come-on to me like you're king turd. I'm not impressed by all that shit. You ain't nuthin' but a fast-talking city boy," Dolph answered. Startled, Liam stepped back, speechless for a few seconds. No one dared dis him like that. He waved his hands back and forth, acting put out and needing attention.
"Don't worry Festus. I only want to lay me down and relax. I'm not taking your living lollipop away with me," he said.
"Take the pissing contest down a notch or two," Roscoe said, waiting a moment for Dolph to turn away and Liam to do whatever Liam did to return to civility. Then he spoke directly to Liam. "I only brought you here so you could relax, a consolation for being fired. Don't insult my partner like that again. Understand?" With that, he paused, waiting for a sign of acceptance. Liam nodded silently, and Roscoe continued: "Dolph and I don't eat store-bought food. We do chores first, then harvest vegetables, and finally slaughter the meat. It's the pick of the chickens for dinner. Vegetables will be your responsibility today." He showed Liam where an extra coveralls hung in the barn.
Reluctant, grumpy and not relaxing, Liam joined Roscoe and Dolph doing chores: gardening, pruning, and stacking hay in the barn, and finally he collected the vegetables for dinner.
At dinner time, Dolph washed first and prepared the food like a line chef. Liam and Roscoe washed second and third. Liam rested while Roscoe set the table and poured the wine. Afterward, they lounged on the porch and watched the sunset.
"Tonight, the moon rises to glorious fullness and becomes the brightest object in the sky. We're going to watch it with a telescope. In front of the barn is the best spot," Roscoe said.
"The barn is for animals. I'd rather not stand around in all that animal stink," Liam laughed at the brilliance of his humor.
"We don't keep livestock in the barn. It's just for hay and equipment." With those words, Roscoe and Dolph left him on the porch. Liam sat alone a few minutes before wandering over to see what they were doing.
A few feet in front of the barn door, Roscoe pointed a telescope to the sky. Dolph oddly had rolled out a rubberized exercise mat in the middle of the barn's floor. Liam put his hands on his hips and gave Dolph a wholly baffled look.
"What is that for?" he asked.
"We're most serious about the moon," Roscoe said, pointing to where the moon's first light would break over the horizon.
"This is the season of the Lupercalia. The month of the wolf that cleanses and purifies the world for true believers," Dolph said, going to the back of the barn.
"What are you in some asinine religious moony-looney cult?" Liam laughed.
"Tonight, you will be our exceptional guest for the very ancient celebration of Lupercalia," Roscoe said. Liam laughed.
"No I won't, and if you think I bargained for this silly quasi-religious horse-shit paganism crapola then you are both mentally deficient or senile fools," he said.
Dolph grabbed Liam's wrist, wrapping a rope from a winch in the loft around it, and yanking Liam onto his tiptoes. "Are you two insane?" Liam yelled. Roscoe and Dolph looked at him, too happy at his distress.
"The moon calls." Roscoe pointed to the disc of the moon rising above the horizon.
"It turns our blood to fire."
"OK, joke's over. Let me down."
"Our bodies become one with the Hirpi Sorani."
"The moon's silver fire burns and brings changes." Dolph unfastened his coveralls, stepped out of them, revealing fur growing on his changing body.
"The moon's fire ends sleep."
"Sleep that nourishes life."
"Balm to sooth the savage soul."
"Sleep that rights wrongs."
"The moon brings justice." Black hair grew on Roscoe's chest, down past his waist, over his legs, up his back. His face quivered, ears lengthened, fur spread over his cheeks.
"The moon renews life," Dolph said as his body thickened, his face bulged out into a snout, ears pointed, claws sprang from fingers, fangs grew, feet and ankles became digitigrade.
"Praise be to the moon." Transforming, the two men turned to the moonrise and knelt and worshiped the silver disc rising in the sky.
"Cut me down, assholes. Release me," Liam yelled. Liam danced on his toes, dangling, naked, watching as his hosts transformed. Roscoe and Dolph turned to face him with beastly eyes. They howled, rattling the walls of the barn.
"Your coworkers grew weary of you. They called you the most pernicious of enemies. They said you bullied them, belittled them, verbally abused them, walked away from assignments. They demanded justice and satisfaction," Roscoe said, moving his teeth close to Liam's chest. His long, rough tongue licked Liam's nipple, making the hanging man shiver in fear.
"You can't-do this," Liam tried to push away from the fangs forming in Roscoe's mouth.
"Tonight, your stain will be purged from the tapestry of the world."
"You will be the cleansing sacrifice," Dolph slurred, his voice rough, slobbery, drooling over fangs sparkling in the flickering moonlight. His sharp claws slashed Liam's chest, leaving bleeding trails. Liam screamed and begged them to stop. At this point, begging was useless. A lupine bloodlust possessed the two.
"We are sons of Great Lupa and Noble Faustulus, ur-mother and ur-father of Rome. Followers of the new Lykaia, high priests of the Lupercal. Oh great and life-giving moon, bless this sacrifice on the first night of the wolf. To the mighty Blood God Ares and his Wolves, to you, we make a sacrifice, to you be the glory."
They howled like blood-thirsty beasts and ravaged Liam's body without pity, without guilt. Their animal-like claws cutting his flesh, probing the soft fleshy layers, tasting bits with sharp fangs. They tormented their victim in vulgar and painful ways.
When the moon fell behind the far horizon, Roscoe closed the barn doors and slept with his fellow man-beast until the dawn. Sunlight brought no relief for Liam. It did not harm or disturb the restless man-beasts. Instead, carnal lust filled the wolf-like creatures. They mated with Liam's body, filling him with their mutant seed, insatiable. Liam begged for death, but his words were ignored.
When the moon rose on the second night, the blood-lust returned. The man-beasts resumed craving Liam's body into pieces despite his moans and whimpers. As the moon rose to its height, the man-beasts completed the transformation into monstrous wolves, snarling and ravenous. Their bodies filled with hunger--hunger for blood, hunger for flesh, hunger for bone, and the ultimate feast, hunger for the brains and the life-force of the sacrifice. Together, they devoured Liam's body, cracking his bones and sucking the marrow from the hollows, gnawing through his limbs, consuming his very existence. Hours later, they lay on the blood-smeared floor, bloated, sated, and fat, they licked Liam's blood from each other's bodies until sleep took them to realms unspoken.
The blood-sacrifice of the Lupercalia was at an end.
It was almost noon before Roscoe and Dolph woke as men. They cleaned the barn, washed, and burnt Liam's clothing, wallet, and ID. His only other possession, a cell phone, was incinerated with last chunks of Liam's bones and the ashes scattered to fertilize the garden.
Sometime in the next year, another corporation would need an employee purged, an employee like Liam--a fool, a waster of time, a procrastinating clown, a critic of coworkers, an egotistical boss, a bully, or an ass-kissing weasel making work miserable for the rest of the employees. After a seminar isolating the employee, Roscoe and Dolph would invite that employee for a night under a moonlit sky at their farm.
Better times for better workers, was their motto.
And once again, Roscoe and Dolph would celebrate the ancient ritual of the Lupercalia - - The Lupercalia, the festival of Ares and his wolves, they preserved it from the time of the Greeks and Romans to the present and each year celebrated it with sacrifices of blood and bone in exchange for eternal life.
All hail the silvery moon.
2400 words more or less
FUTURES YET UNKNOWN
Ten Stories by Dave Fragments
*An Alien serial murderer and a furry detective with fleas.
*Murder on a world with altered humans.
*Disturbing apocalyptic visions *Monstrous dystopian societies.
*A man on trial for betraying the human race to robots.
*Devils, demons and ghosts.
*Survivors of a plague war.
*Cyborgs trying to be human.
*Six friends in a strange sinkhole.
*The truth about a world drowning in rain, without sun, without hope.
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