Hunter s Moon - By Lori Handeland

Chapter 1
They say the hunter's moon was once called the blood moon, and I know why. A full moon shining through a crisp autumn night turns blood from crimson to black.

I much prefer the shade of blood beneath the moon to its shade beneath the stark electric lights. But I digress.

I am a hunter. A Juger-Sucher to those in the know - of which there are a select few. I hunt monsters, and in case you're thinking that's a euphemism for today's serial killers, it's not. When I say "monster" I mean hell unleashed, tooth and claw, supernatural magic on the loose. The kind of thing that will give you nightmares forever. Just like me.

My specialty is werewolves. I must have killed a thousand and I'm only twenty-four. Sadly, my job security has never been in jeopardy. A fact I learned all too well when my boss, Edward Mandenauer, called me early one October morning.

"Leigh, I need you here."

"Where is here?" I mumbled.

I am not a bright and shiny early person. This might come from living most of my life in the dark.

Werewolves emerge at night, beneath the moon. They're funny that way.

"I am in Crow Valley, Wisconsin."

"Never heard of it."

"Which gives you much in common with the rest of the world."

I sat up, awake, alert, senses humming. That had sounded suspiciously like dry humor. Edward didn't do humor.

"Who is this?" I demanded.

"Leigh." His long-suffering sigh was as much a part of him as his heavy German accent. "What is the matter with you this morning?"

"It's morning. Isn't that enough?"

I did not greet each day with joy. My life was dedicated to one thing - ridding the earth of werewolves.

Only then could I forget what had happened, perhaps forgive myself for living when everyone I'd ever loved had died.

"Liebchen," Mandenauer murmured. "What will I do with you?"

Edward had saved me on that long-ago day filled with blood and death and despair. He had taken me in, taught me things, then set me free to use them. I was his most dedicated agent, and only Edward and I knew why.

"I'm all right," I reassured him.

I wasn't and probably never would be. But I'd accepted that. I'd moved on. Kind of.

"Of course you are," he soothed.

Neither one of us was fooled by my lie or his acceptance of it. Which was how we both kept ourselves focused on what was important. Killing them all.

"The town is in the northern part of the state," he continued. "You will have to fly to Minneapolis, rent a car, go... east, I think."

"I am not coming to Shit Heel, Wisconsin, Edward."

"Crow Valley."

"Whatever. I'm not done here."

I'd been working in Canada at Mandenauer's request. A few months back hell had broken loose in a little burg called Miniwa. Something about a blue moon, a wolf god - I hadn't gotten the details. I didn't care.

All I knew was that there were werewolves running north, plenty of them.

But as much as I might like to, I couldn't just blast every wolf I saw with silver. There were laws about such things, even in Canada.

The Juger-Suchers were a secret branch of the government. We liked to envision ourselves as the Special Forces of monster hunting. Think The X-Files versus Grimm's Fairy Tales on steroids.

At any rate, we were supposed to work on the sly. A pile of dead wolves - threatened at the least, endangered yet in some places - would cause too many questions.

The Juger-Sucher society had enough problems accounting for the disappearances of the people who had once been werewolves. Sad but true - it's easier to explain missing humans than dead animals, but such is the way of the modern world.

My job, should I choose to accept it - and I had, long ago - was to catch the werewolves in the act. Of changing. Then I was well within my rights to put a silver bullet in their brain.

Bureaucracy at its finest.

Catching them wasn't as hard to do as you might think. Most werewolves ran in packs, just like real wolves. When they went to the forest to change, they often had a lair where they left their clothes, purses, car keys. Going from bipedal to quadrupedal had certain disadvantages, namely, no pockets.

Once I found that lair... well, does the phrase "like shooting ducks in a pond" mean anything to you? It's one of my favorites.

"You will never be done there." Edward's voice pulled me from my thoughts. "Right now