Howls echoed down the corridor, the howls that had once carried doom for the German race.
What was within them could not be destroyed. So they must be contained. That was the story Hawkins told himself every day, so that he could stomach the task of guarding a prison full of American heroes. He walked slowly through the rows, passing two at a time the steel-built, steel-reinforced cell doors.
“Hey! Hey, help!”
The sharp whisper issued from just a few doors down, to his left. Icon’s cell. The most infamous wolf of them all, the soldier who had infiltrated Berchtesgaden, chowed down on Goebbels and three of his lieutenants, and managed to take a bite out of Hitler himself.
And now it looked like a guard had somehow managed to get himself stuck in a wolf’s cell. Not just a wolf, either. The wolf. Christ.
He hurried up to the door and was surprised to see, through the bars, the eyes of a scrawny man barely peeking over the lip of the window.
“Oh, thank God! You have no idea how glad I am to see you.”
“And you have no idea how screwed you’re gonna be once you get out of that cell,” Hawkins shot back. “Who the hell are you and what the hell are you doing in there?”
“Summers, John. Private.” He rattled off a serial number. “I just got assigned to guard duty here a few days ago. Tonight was–” he whimpered– “tonight was my first patrol. Oh God, oh Jesus, please open the door and let me out!”
“Why did you even go in?”
“I don’t know.”
Hawkins raised both eyebrows.
“No, really, I swear to God, I don’t know! You think I’d be so stupid as to come in here and get eaten of my own free will? I was walking outside, then a paw reached out and beckoned me over. So I came. I was standing right where you are now. Then the next thing I know, I’m inside and I have a wolf towering over me. He leered, growled…and I panicked, I guess. But I gassed him.”
Hawkins’ mouth fell open. “You…gassed Icon?”
Summers’ eyes went wide, and he glanced down at the floor where Hawkins couldn’t see. “Wait. You mean this thing is Icon? Oh no. Oh God, Hawkins, let me out! I’ll be kibble the minute he wakes up, you know that!”
“Sure, sure. I just didn’t think Icon would ever be so slow as to get himself gassed.”
Summers must have shrugged. Hawkins could see it in his head movements, even though his shoulders were below the window. “Lucky shot, I guess. C’mon, c’mon!”
But Hawkins was a little more suspicious now. Could this all be a trick? Or a test, to make sure he wouldn’t open the door? “Say, you meet the commander yet? You must have been looking at his belly button, short guy like you.”
Summers’ brow creased. “What are you talking about? The commander’s almost as short as me.” Then his eyes communicated comprehension. “Oh, dammit, I don’t have time for tests!”
Well, right on the commander, Hawkins conceded. But something still didn’t smell right, and he wasn’t talking about wolf fur. “Okay. You convinced me. Pass me your key.”
Summers stood still. “I can’t.”
“What do you mean, you can’t?”
“It’s kind of…under him. And I don’t dare try to move him. He might wake up any minute.”
Hawkins thought. “Okay. So when he wakes up, I’ll pass you my gas grenade, you hit him again, move him quick, hand me the key, and I’ll let you out. I’d be taking too many chances otherwise.”
“And what about me?”
“This place is about way more than you, buddy. This is where we keep the heroes, and they have to stay safe and alive. You and me, we’re expendable.”
“Funny,” Summers growled. “That’s what they told me.”
Hawkins shrank back from the bars as Summers transformed. The mousy head that had barely been able to top the bars now rose into the air on top of a rapidly muscling, furring body until the wolf it belonged to had to crouch to peer through the window.
“Icon,” Hawkins muttered.
“At your service.” The wolf grinned.
“So, the full moon comes whenever you feel like it now.”
“There have been several…changes to some of us, Private. One of them, you just saw. I’ll keep my own counsel on the others. For the moment.”
“You can’t really control minds, can you?”
Icon grinned nastily. “I’ll let you decide on that one.”
Hawkins breathed out, slowly. “Did you seriously think that would work?”
“Are you going to tell me it almost didn’t?”
He had a point, Hawkins had to admit.
“So why stop there?”
“Because you had me,” the wolf said flatly. “Dead to rights, you’ll pardon the phrase. It wasn’t as though I could stand around and wait for myself to wake up. No matter, really. It just means I probably won’t be the first one out.”
“You’re not getting out,” Hawkins said as he edged a bit closer. “We have to keep you in.”
“The Army breeds some of its best soldiers into werewolves to infiltrate the Third Reich and cause chaos from within. No time to test the serum, just shoot it into people and ship out those who still live. We do our job very well…war’s over less than two years after Pearl Harbor. But then you find out we can’t be controlled, can’t be reintegrated, can’t be cured. And can’t be killed, for political reasons. So you lock us up here. Problem: you can’t do it forever.”
“They locked you up,” Hawkins said heavily. “I’m just–”
“A jailer. Oh, yes, you bear no responsibility at all, and we love you. Surely you’ll be spared.” The wolf snorted. “Your inner soul is the same as mine, the same as all men.”
Hawkins had nothing to say to that. Then he felt a tickle in his mind, as if someone were lightly rummaging through its contents.
Icon looked at his shocked face, impassive yet feral. “What is within you cannot be contained. How might you finish that thought, Private?”
A howl echoed down the corridor. Hawkins shivered, sensing within it the future doom of his race.
Let me know what you think of the story. If you like it, please feel free to forward the link to your friends! If it wasn’t to your taste, better luck tomorrow — a new piece of short fiction goes up every day.