Henry knelt down to examine the torn edges of the baby pen. It wasn't carefully cut, but aggressively ripped apart, revealing that this wasn't a premeditated or cautious attempt. The massive gap was also lacking in subtlety, Henry noted.
"Shawn?" he called out, but all he got in return was silence.
Henry abandoned the destroyed baby pen and approached the kitchen, his senses on high alert. A second later, a loud crash shattered against the floor's titles as a pan came tumbling down to the floor - right alongside a small, fuzzy wolf cub.
At the sound of Henry's voice, the cub's yellow eyes shot towards the speaker. He noticed the spots of blood on its pointy teeth and his heart skipped a beat. The wolf cub blinked at him for a moment, frozen.
Suddenly the cub burst into action, barreling into Henry's legs and apparently trying to buckle his knees. Henry was ready for it and he lifted the furball up by its scruff with one swift motion.
"Where do you think you're going?" he growled at the struggling wolf. Yellow eyes blinked back at him, innocent.
"Don't play dumb with me! I KNOW you ate my salmon," Henry yelled. "Dang it Shawn, I was saving that for - Yeah, sure, bite me all you want, tough guy. I'm already turned and your baby bites don't hurt."
Whining, the fuzzy grey head looked up from where he'd been gnawing on Henry's hand -
"Campfire stories are supposed to be scary, Shawn!"
Shawn looked away from the blazing fire, blinking to adjust his eyesight as he stared at his best friend. "I'm sorry, did you not just hear me mention 'teeth' and 'pointy' in the same sentence?"
"You used them in reference to a fuzzy little puppy!"
"Wolf cub!" Shawn whined.
"That's the same thing, Shawn! Wolves are the ancestors of household dogs-"
"And our ancestors chased dinosaurs around with giant clubs for fun. Are you telling me that we're the same as them?"
"Are you telling me that if you saw a dinosaur you wouldn't chase it?"
Shawn hesitated, biting his lip. "You're right, I probably would do that . . ."
Gus was bobbing his head in agreement. "Uh-huh, uh-huh I knew you would!"
Shawn tsked and made a pouty face. "Alright then, Mr.-I'm-A-Black-Stephen-King, why don't you show me how it's done?"
Gus's face lapsed into seriousness as he leaned in closer to Shawn, staring over his shoulder with a faraway look in his eye. Shawn stared back, his eyes flicking around nervously.
"Dude, what is happening righ-"
"It was a dark and stormy night," Gus cut in. "And Bruton Gaster was just getting home from a long day of work . . ."
Sheets of rain bled from the blackened clouds as Bruton Gaster stepped out of his car and made a mad dash to his front door. Darkness crowded around his fingers as he fumbled with his keys, forcing the slick metal into the lock and trying for the handle. The door creaked open and Bruton slipped inside, just one shadow among a thousand others.
He shut the door and suddenly all was silent.
Bruton shook the water off his coat and hat and left them to hang on the rack like an empty man. The sudden silence grew in his ears until it was all that remained. Usually he liked the silence, but today it was like something cold and bitter had crawled into his place of safety and claimed it as its own.
A creak tore through the house and Bruton whipped around to look behind him.
Nothing was there.
Fear slivered up the base of his spine and settled into his bones. He felt like he was being watched, but that was impossible . . . right?
That's when he saw it.
It was sitting on his counter, perfectly sealed, the whiteness of it so pure that it was hard to miss and he wondered how he didn't see it before. In two quick strides, Bruton was across the room and snatching the envelope, flipping it over in his shaking hands. The bad feeling grew stronger the longer he stared at it, until finally he decided to get it over with and rip it open.
He hesitantly peeked at the paper to see what was to be revealed -
"A bill, Gus?" Shawn's incredulous voice broke through the story as he stared at his friend. "Seriously? That's your idea of a horror story?"
"Bills are scary, Shawn! Of course, you wouldn't know because you never pay any."
"I can not believe you right now," Shawn said, huffing. "We're out here in the middle of a dark forest at night staking out some evil trigger-happy camp and the scariest thing you can think of is getting a bill?"
Gus snorted in annoyance. "You don't know how stressful my work life is, Shawn! I have to balance my time between my real job and babysitting you to make sure you don't get yourself shot and kidnapped again. I can't hardly concentrate on my actual job anymore because I'm always worried you'll get yourself killed!"
Shawn blinked, his face suddenly getting serious. "Aww man buddy, I didn't know it was so hard on you. Why didn't you say something? I could've helped!"
"Really?" Gus stared at Shawn, surprised.
"Yeah, I'm great at forging signatures, I could've handing in a resignation paper to the Pharmaceutical company ages ago . . ." Shawn trailed off with a goofy grin.
"Shawn! I cannot do this with you right now." Gus stood and briskly brushed off his pants, pointedly NOT looking at Shawn while doing so. Shawn's smile dropped as he scooted over on the log they were using as a bench.
"Where are you going?"
"I have to take a leak," Gus snapped as he started walking away.
"Want me to come with you?" Shawn called after him.
"But Gus! What if there's an unpaid bill hiding behind a tree, waiting to pounce on your sweet chocolate head?"
Gus completely ignored him and strode into the bushes behind the treeline, grumbling under his breath. He found a place far enough away from the stakeout place to feel alone - but still close enough to feel safe - and settled in, humming lightly to himself. He was just finishing up when -
Heart quickening, he turned slowly. The dark shapes of trees were backlit by the bright full moon, making it fairly easy to see, even at night. Gus scanned the scenery for anything out of place, anything unfamiliar form hiding among the familiar ones.
Of course it's nothing.
Gus started laughing to himself to push the last of the bad feelings out as he turned to head back to the camp. It'd be pretty stupid to get so freaked out after those campfire stories -
But he didn't get the chance to finish his thought before a hand launched out of the bushes, wrapped around Gus's mouth and dragged him backwards into the darkness.
"Oh, for the love of god, would you stop crying?!"
"Uh-huh," Gus whimpered. "I will, I will, I will-" But his eyes kept brimming over until he could barely see straight.
"Oh my-" The sandy blonde man who’d grabbed him growled and dropped down to Gus's height. "We have guns," he said, shaking his rifle in Gus's face for emphasis, "and we will use them if we have to. Or if we want to. And if you don't stop crying and start acting your age, we will shoot you. Get the picture?"
Gus's face immediately sobered up and he nodded. "Yes sir, you've made the picture very clear sir, couldn't be clearer if it were carved from crystal and reflected in a puddle, si-"
"Also, shut up."
A few painfully silent minutes later, footsteps and heavy breathing thundered from behind, catching up to the group and pulling alongside Gus. "Sir! We searched the whole camp - there wasn't anybody else around. Looks like it was just Bud here, all on his own."
"I'm not Bud!" Gus automatically exclaimed, then clamped his mouth shut with his hand. The other men looked at him curiously but otherwise ignored his outburst.
"Anyway, there wasn't any sign of any others. Found some wolf prints, though. They were pretty big ones too."
Gus's heart lurched in his chest as a mental image of Shawn's mauled body lying somewhere in the woods flashed through his brain. Oh God, please don't let that be how he dies, not after all the ridiculous stuff we've gotten ourselves out of -
"Hey, Bud!" One of the guy jabbed him with the barrel of his gun and Gus tripped, only just managing to save himself from a face-plant. "We're talkin' to you! Were you camping all by yourself or did you have some friends?"
"Uh-" Gus pulled his mind back into the Vault of Secrets. "Uh, oh no, no I was alone. Completely and utterly and entirely alone. I like to be alone, actually, and that's good, because there wasn't anybody with me at all, not even a little perso-"
The group went quiet again. Every slight movement and tiny sound on the edge of his peripherals made Gus jump, half-expecting to see a wolf come slinking out of the shadows. Stupid Shawn with his stupid campfire stories - If he’s still alive I’m gonna kill him-!
One of the men came up behind Gus and pushed his shoulder, jarring Gus out of his thoughts and making heart jump a mile.
"We're here," he smirked.
Gus stumbled through a line of trees that let out into a small clearing covered in tents and people with guns. The group who'd caught him kept herding him around the campsite while the others stared, some with fingers twitching over their guns, most with murderous looks in their eyes and more than a few scars. Gus swallowed and desperately hoped that his skin color would camouflage him in the darkness.
The blonde guy prodded Gus with his gun, forcing him into a tent. The inside was lit with a single candle that was sitting in the center of a small table. Gus took a deep sniff as he moved around to the far side of the table.
"Is that candle scented with lemo-"
"Keep quiet," his captor hissed, tripping Gus into the chair with a thud. "The boss is gonna be here any second, and when he does, you better say what he wants you to say and nothing else. Got it?"
Gus started to nod, but just then a man who looked like he could be a modern-day pirate shouldered his way into the tent. Eyes gleaming, the blonde guy backed up, nodded to the newcomer, and then left the tent.
A really, really long silence.
The man just kept staring at Gus. Gus stared back, licking his lips nervously.
"So, uh, you guys come camping here often?"
The man didn't even blink.
"I don't do very well under long silences," Gus stuttered. "Ask my mom, she's been to enough awkward parent-teacher meetings from my childhood to know . . ."
"Wanna hear about all the ingredients in this candle?" Gus squeaked.
"DROP THE ACT!"
"Oh my god!" Gus jumped as the man slammed his fist down on the table hard enough to make the legs crack a bit.
"Tell me, who are you working for?!"
"I don't know what you're talking about!" Gus squealed.
"Stop lying to me!"
"I swear I really don't know!"
“So you’re telling me that you’re just an ordinary guy who happens to be camping ten minutes away from us?”
Silence again. Gus shifted uncomfortably, trying very hard not to look suspicious. He could feel the sweat forming on his brow and his heart sped up a little bit more, praying that the other man wouldn’t notice it . . .
The man started to laugh.
Caught off guard, Gus hesitantly let out a chuckle. When the man laughed harder instead of hurting him, Gus played along until both of them were near hysterical -
“Oh gosh-” Gus froze and the laughter immediately died as the cocked gun aimed for his head.
“I’m not playing around, son,” the man growled. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way.”
“Whichever way’s the way that doesn’t involve me getting shot, I’ll take that,” Gus said quickly.
“Did you know that lobsters can pee out of their antenna?”
It just flew out of his mouth. Gus inwardly groaned. Of all the things to say, why, WHY that -
The man chuckled, then dug the barrel of his gun into Gus’s skull. “All right, have it your way,” he said, and released the safety. Gus closed his eyes and tried not to whimper, accepting the fact that this was the end.
Gus’s eyes snapped open as the pressure from gun’s barrel suddenly disappeared. More cries and gunshots started ringing outside as the guy who had kidnapped Gus earlier ran into the tent, panting with his gun drawn.
“Sir, there’s a wolf out there,” he huffed. “This thing is massive. Half our men are already gone.”
Gus’s speeding heartbeat drowned out the rest of their conversation. He sank lower into his chair, trying not to imagine what “half our men are gone” meant, but it was a bit like having someone tell you “Don’t think about food” while you’re in the middle of a grocery store. Before he knew it, he was alone, and sounds of snorts, growls and gunshots surrounded him on all sides.
I can’t stay here, Gus suddenly realized. He frantically looked around the tent for options - Not out the front, I’d get caught immediately. . . . What would Shawn do?
“Probably suggest setting the back of the tent on fire to burn a hole big enough to run through,” Gus snorted aloud. Then his stomach got all twisty as he remembered what the guys had said about the wolf being at the campsite . . .
Gus shook the thought from his head and moved to the back of the tent. He felt all underneath the fabric, looking for some other alternative . . . Hang on . . . This section isn’t pinned down . . .
He shoved his hand underneath it and wiggled his fingers around. It seemed like it would be just wide enough to get him through. Gus lay down on his stomach and squirmed, struggled and pushed his way through the tiny opening, feeling like a butterfly breaking through its chrysalis. Finally, finally he was out in the open air, covered in mud and -
Facing a furry snout.
Gus screamed, suddenly realized that everybody else had stopped screaming and shooting, and then screamed some more. The wolf stared at him and licked its muzzle, its sharp fangs glinting in the moonlight for a moment. Gus flinched and pleadingly folded his hands.
“Please, please, please don’t eat me, Mr; Wolf,” he begged. “You don’t want me anyway! Chocolate is poisonous to dogs - I mean, wolves - I’ll give you a really bad tummyache, so please just leave me alone-”
The wolf cocked its head and grinned. Something about it seemed oddly familiar . . . and then everything started changing and morphing and shrinking until Shawn Spencer sat crouched in front of Gus, grinning like an idiot and clearly trying very, very hard not to laugh.
“Yeah, so you know that campfire story I told . . .? That may or may not have been based on a true story,” he said.
Gus’s lip started to quiver.
“And don’t worry, I didn’t hurt any of the other guys, I just scared them off,” Shawn said quickly. “You should have seen their faces when I snarled at them!”
“Gus? You okay, buddy?”
Gus finally broke. He launched himself up and started running as fast as he could, screaming and crying at the same time. Shocked, Shawn fell backwards and watched Gus run for a moment, not quite registering what had just happened.
After a second, he stood up, brushed off his jeans and cried into Gus’s general direction, “Gus, don’t be that one donut that looks glazed until you bite it and find out it’s jelly! Just think of me as the dog you never got for Christmas!”
Shawn’s sharp ears barely picked up a responding cry from the wind - “I never asked for a dog for Christmas!”
“Fair point,” Shawn muttered, and then he set off to find his friend.