War of the Were-Mice
by Julie Frost
Illustration by Jesse Gates
My wife’s azure orbs fastened upon me with the intensity of a pregnant facehugger hungry to grasp my head, thrust an ovipositor down my esophagus, and lay her eggs in my intestines. “You have to save the vampire cockroaches, Sean!” she exclaimed excitedly, tugging on my arm nearly hard enough to draw blood with her perfectly-manicured nails.
I balked, feeling what I thought were entirely reasonable qualms. “April. Sweetheart,” I protested. “Their war with the were-mice is none of our business.”
She waved her hand dramatically at the tiny, pathetic mound of ash and antennae on the otherwise-pristine countertop. A toothpick protruded from its center, sticking straight up. “Don’t you get it? The cockroaches only feed on other bugs.” That we knew of, I refrained manfully from pointing out. “They’re not dangerous to humans.” A mouse in the corner glowered at us with malevolent red eyes, bared its saliva-dripping fangs, and vanished into a ragged hole gnawed in the baseboard. April glowered right back at it. “Those things? Would eat us as soon as look at us. I told you there was something creepy about this place, but you insisted on buying it, and now look.”
It’d been as ridiculously cheap as a knockoff Timex, and now we knew why. “The house vermin are at war. If we’re lucky, they’ll exterminate each other and save us the trouble.” Traps had proven an active detriment--the mice strode around wearing them as horrible necklace-bling. They laughed (literally) at poison. The cat we’d imported had gotten one flabbergasted gander at her putative prey and fled, yowling, never to be seen again. The pest control company slammed the phone in my ear. At this point, I was considering calling in a pied piper. “How do you suggest I kill creatures that are nearly indestructible?”
Her patient, loving countenance was negated by the clout she delivered to the back of my head. “Silver bullets, of course. Or maybe silver buckshot. A mouse would be hard to hit with a bullet.”
“April.” I could be patient too. “I am not firing my shotgun in our new house in the middle of town. Besides, where would I even get silver buckshot?”
“Use silver beads. You hand-load anyway, Sean, it’s not like the process is different. I’ve looked into it. I even bought some.”
Of course she had. “No.”
“The full moon is tomorrow. Bad enough that they sit on the table and demand scraps.” Bad enough, too, that we were intimidated into actually tossing them some. Meat, never any kind of vegetable, which the mice treated like a personal insult. She fisted her hands on her hips. “What do you think is going to happen when they change into. . . whatever were-mice change into?”
“I have no idea.” It would be our first full moon in this house. The vermin war had been a nasty surprise, but with the housing market sucking as much as a shop-vac overdosing on methamphetamines, we were stuck like a rock in a hard place. “Fine.” I threw up my hands. “I’ll make some custom loads for the twelve-gauge.”
She grabbed the silver beads from the craft room--she’d bought a lot and must have cleaned out the store, and I cringed, envisioning moths flying out of my sadly-depleted wallet--while I set up the reloading press on the kitchen table and gathered the rest of my supplies. The beady-eyed little bastards watched, chittering to each other, from the countertops and the cabinets. It was almost like they were cognizant of our nefarious plans. With a resigned sigh, I got to work.
April let out a startled-purse-dog yelp. Her leg twitched, and she slapped frantically at her ankle. Her hand came away bloody, and she stared at it wide-eyed, inhaling sharply as I froze in horror. She uttered a single word. “Sean.”
We’d miscalculated the moon. It was that night, rather than the next. As it rose fat in the sky the way a luminous sumo wrestler heaves himself sweating from the mat, April’s body convulsed, and she let out a low, anguished moan that was far more dreadful than the pained scream I expected. Her face lengthened into a snout, budding whiskers and a twitching nose, and her ears grew and rounded. Her body covered itself with harsh fur, but the tail that sprouted from the end of her spine was naked and hideous.
Nothing human gazed from her orbs, which had transformed from beloved sapphire to malicious and bloodshot ruby; I pumped a silver round into the shotgun, backing up shakily until my back hit the wall. “Sweetheart?”
Her fangs clashed, and she made a revolting peeping noise. At her feet, mice gathered, except they weren’t mice, they were something else, something even more monstrous than what we’d been dealing with for the past two weeks.
But at my feet, the floorboards came alive with roaches. Their antennae writhed, and I could swear I heard pedipalps rustling, mandibles clacking, and low, sibilant hissing. The massed armies rushed together, crunching and slurping, and I was on complete autopilot as I jerked my finger on the trigger and sent round after silver round into the horde of mice that charged in my direction like tiny elephants with vast credit limits.
I couldn’t bring myself to fire at April, and that was my undoing. She slapped the gun aside and bore me to the floor, fangs a hairsbreadth from my throat. “You never listen, do you,” she accused. I tried to shove her away, but she was inhumanly strong, her softly-furred palms clasping my wrists in an unbreakable death grip. I couldn’t help but notice that her claws were still perfectly manicured, even as they broke through my skin.
Her yellow fangs descended--and then I startled awake with a mouse sitting on my chest, nonchalantly cleaning its whiskers.
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