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Neal Shusterman

Red Rider's Hood

Dark Fusion book 2

Werewolf legends and werewolf facts, according to grandma

On the power of the moon: 'For three days, the moon is full enough to boil the blood and make a man turn wolf. The sec­ond day the curse is at its strongest, and the higher the moon is in the sky, the more deadly the wolf.'

On werewolf appetites: 'In human form, they can eat any­ thing humans eat, although they're partial to meat. In wolf form, they're driven to eat their weight in meat each night, and it must be the meat of a fresh kill.'

On the mind of the werewolf: 'The mind of a human infected with the werewolf curse doesn't always start off being evil, but the way I see it, a person turns evil real quick.'

On werewolf redemption: 'Ain't no such thing. No antidote, no remedy, no turning back. Only way to save a werewolf's soul is to end its misery, and hope the good Lord truly does have infinite mercy.'

On the chances of surviving a werewolf: 'We all have to die someday. Let's hope we die as humans.'

For Steve Layne

1 

Red as fresh blood

It's a jungle out there. Buildings grow all around you out of the cracking pavement, blocking out the daylight, making you forget the sun's there at all. Those buildings can't block out the moonlight, though. Nothing can block that out. Trust me, I know.

I can't tell you my name, because then you'd be in danger, too. I got enemies, see, and the only reason I'm alive right now is because my Mustang convertible?red as fresh blood, and as powerful as they come?is faster than anyone, or any thing, can run. You can call me Red. Red Rider. It's what they called me back when I had my old Radio Flyer wagon as a kid, and it's what they call me now.

As for the Mustang, I found it in a junkyard when I was thir­teen, and spent three years nursing it back to health. Call it a hobby. By the time I turned sixteen?which was on the last day of the school year?it was ready for me to drive. Little did I know what I'd be driving myself into that hot and horrible summer.

See, when you ride out into these streets, you never know what you're in for. Good or bad; thrilling or dangerous. Some­times it's a little bit of both. It's not that my neighborhood's an awful place, but it's crowded. We got every culture here: His­panic, African-American, white, Vietnamese, Armenian?you name it. We're this big melting pot, but someone turned up the heat too high, and the stew started to burn. Gangs, crime, fights, and fear are now a regular part of our local stew.

It all started the day I had to deliver some 'bread' to my grandma. That's what she calls money, because she's still stuck In the sixties, when money was 'bread,' cops were 'fuzz,' and everything else was 'groovy.' Don't even bother telling her it's a whole other millennium. Going to her house, you'd think the sixties never ended. There are love beads hanging in doorways, Jimi Hendrix playing on an old record player, and a big old Afro on her head. It really ticks people off in movie theaters, because when Grandma sits down, there's nothing but hair for the people behind her, And the funny thing is, she's not even black. She married a black man, though, and their daughter married a Korean, and that's how they got me. I guess I'll marry a Puerto Rican girl or something, and fill out that gene pool swimming inside me.

Anyway, Grandma didn't believe in banks, because her father lost all his money in the crash of 1929. Grandma made our whole family swear by cast-iron safes hidden behind paint­ings. For some reason, our house became the main branch.

'You take this bag to your grandma first thing in the morning, and don't stop for anything on the way,' my mom instructed me. She knew how much I enjoyed running errands in my Mustang. But she also knew I liked to take the long way to get where I was going. Driving was still new enough to me that I enjoyed every second behind the wheel?even in traffic.

'Promise me you'll go straight there.'

'Cross my heart,' I told her.

She wanted me to leave at dawn, before she went off to work. If I had, the whole nasty business might have been avoided, but as it was, I slept late. The sun was already high in the sky by the time I hit the street, where the neighborhood girls had been playing hopscotch, probably since the break of dawn.

'Hey, Red Rider, we like your new wheels,' the girls said as I passed them on the way to where the Mustang was parked. 'Who's gonna get your bicycle now that you got a car?'

'Who says anybody's going to get it?' I told them, 'Some days are bicycle days; some days are Mustang days.'

I hopped into the car and little Tina Soames took a moment away from her hopscotch game to lean in the window.

'Betcha it gets stolen,' she said, and smiled with a broken front tooth that would never be fixed, because her parents didn't care enough. 'Betcha it gets stolen real soon.'

If anybody was going to steal my car, it would be her brother, Cedric. Cedric Soames: a rich name for such a lowlife?and believe me, life didn't get any lower than him. He was a year older than me. He rarely showed at school, but he got good grades anyway, because even the teachers were afraid of him and his gang.

'So, Tina,' I asked, 'is that a warning, or a threat?'

She shrugged. 'A little bit of both, I guess. I know you built the thing up from a pile of junk, so I would hate to see you lose it. But then again, my brother sure does bring home nice things.' Then she skipped away to continue her game of hopscotch.

I started the car, listened to the purr of the engine for a few seconds, then tore out, heading across town toward Forest boulevard, where Grandma lived. I couldn't get the thought of Cedric out of my mind. He wasn't just mean, he was unnatural?definitely one of the burned ingredients in our neighborhood melting pot. And some things are best never scraped from the bottom of the pan.

It was a hot July day. You could see steam from the morning's rain rising from the asphalt. The humidity made you feel like you were breathing bathwater, and my shirt stuck to my skin like it was painted there. I was still thinking about Cedric Soames when I came to the intersection of Andersen and Grimm – one of the busiest corners in my neighborhood, with a traffic light that always took too long to change. I sat at the intersection, waiting for a green light, when some guy dressed in rags put a squeegee to my windshield and started to wipe it clean, even though it was clean to begin with.

'Hey, man,' I said through my open window. 'I don't have change for you, so you might as well forget it.'

'So pay me next time,' he said. 'For now, just consider it a public service.'

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