The room was dark. The blinds were down, curtains closed. Those windows that lacked curtains he had hung up blankets and towels to block out the light. To block out the reporters who had camped out in the street for the past three days. They were gone at last. Moved on to vulture around another tragedy. To haunt the lives of others all in the name of ratings. Nothing garnered views more than a tragedy. Tragedy porn. Ruined lives nothing more than a spectacle for the masses.
He picked at the paper band around his wrist. His name and vital information printed in tidy letters and sealed behind a layer of clear tape. The hospital had not wanted to release him. He left anyways. He needed to cut he damn thing off. He’d told himself that at least a dozen times since he got home. Maybe he really would do it this time. There were scissors in the kitchen. He just had to get up and do the thing. Instead he paced back and forth in the living room. He flopped on his sofa to stare at the muted TV before nervous energy forced him to his feet again to pace.
What time was it? When was the last time he ate? He lost track. His phone turned off to avoid the calls he’d received. The vultures he could ignore. The ones from people who had called themselves his friends were what hurt. They wanted to know. They wanted information. They wanted to offer their sympathies and condolences. He hated it. Their sympathy didn’t make it any better. It made it worse. The wounds went deep, and words would never heal them.
He snatched the remote up off the floor and hit the guide button. Almost midnight. When was the last time he slept? His nails picked at the scabs on his arms until they bled fresh. The ER doc had given him some pills. Maybe he could take them. Chase them down with that bottle of vodka left over from his birthday party. Never wake up again. The nightmare over. His hands rubbed together as he reminded himself they were not covered in blood.
The heavy boom of a fist on his front door and he dropped the remote. Were the reporters back? He’d told them to fuck off. “Go Away!”
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
Three more loud knocks. Knocks strong enough to rattle the door in its frame.
He surged to his feet and moved to stand behind the door. “I’m Not Answering Any Questions! Go Away!”
Again, the knocks shook the door.
“I’m gonna call the fucking cops. Go Away!”
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
“I’ve got a gun!” He didn’t, but the idiot at the door didn’t know that. “I will shoot you mother fucker!”
A picture on the wall of him, his parents, and younger siblings fell to the floor with a crash of shattered glass when the door shook with another three knocks. His Mom had hung that picture for him when he moved in. He stared at their faces as they stared up at him from the floor. He saw blood run across their faces, or was it the reflected light from the TV?
“God damnit!” He turned the dead bolt but left the chain in place as he pulled the door open a crack. “I said fuck off. I’m not answering any…” His voice trailed off as he got a good look at the guy who knocked at his door. His lizard brain screamed danger as he tried to shut he door again. Too late, the guy already had his foot in the door. With barely any effort it seemed he shoved the door open, the chain ripped from the door frame.
“Sup?” The stranger said as he stepped inside. He was so tall he had to duck his head a little to avoid the frame. He closed the door behind him like he was an invited guest. “Took ya damn long enough.”
No. This was wrong. This was dangerous. This guy was dangerous. He turned to run and yelped when the intruder grabbed him by the back of the neck. The guy was strong. Marched him into the living room and with a shove put him on the sofa. “Stay put.”
Like he owned the place this stranger went into the kitchen, even looked in the fridge. Then he went down the hall and from the sound of things went into the bedrooms, bathrooms, and even checked the closets before he returned to the living room. Fucker even smiled when he found his captive had remained on the sofa, “Good boy.”
He returned to the kitchen and came back out with two cokes and a kitchen chair. The drinks he set on the coffee table then spun the chair around before he straddled it. “Name’s Strife. What’s yers?” He had a deep rumble of a voice with a southern accent so thick one expected to see molasses slowly drip off the words.
“…Dale…” He moved as far away from this Strife person as he could and still be on the sofa. He didn’t like the way the man’s eyes made him feel like prey. “What the fuck kind of name is Strife?”
“My kinda name. It ain’t like ya got room ta talk, what with sharing a name with a chipmunk.” He picked up the can of coke and cracked it open. After he took a sip he set it back down on the table. His arms folded across the back of the chair as he watched Dale with those strange yellow gold eyes. They didn’t look human.
Dale snorted. He’d heard all the jokes when he was a kid. “Yeah. Whatever. Listen man. I don’t know why you’re here, but I ain’t got nothing worth anything to steal. I might have a twenty in my wallet. You can have it if you’ll just fucking leave.”
Strife chuckled in amusement. “I ain’t here fer money boy.” His nose twitched then he pointed, “Lift yer pants leg.”
“What the fuck man? I’m not doing shit for you.” He stood to leave only to find the man moved fast for someone so damn tall. Strife pushed him back down then resumed his seat on the chair.
“I ain’t tha kind of man ta enjoy askin’ more than once.” He said as he took another sip of the coke he took from Dale’s fridge.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” He put his foot up on the coffee table then yanked the leg of his sweats up to his knee to expose his pale hairy leg. “Happy?”
Dale stared then slowly switched from right to left leg. He pulled his sweats up slower and soon he exposed the barely healed scar on his calf. “This what you wanted to see?”
“Got that what? A month ago? What bit ya?”
Dale yanked the pants leg back down as he leaned back, arms crossed over his chest in a sulk. “Yeah. Friends and I were hiking the Appalachian trail. Third day in and I was trying to take a shit. Got attacked by a damn bear. Climbed a tree. It bit me. I got it in the face with bear spray and it ran off. They had to send in a chopper to air lift me to the hospital.”
Strife ran his tongue over his teeth. “What state?”
“Why all the fucking questions man? Park rangers said it was just a damn bear, they were gonna try and trap it before it attacked anyone else.” He stared at the intruder and when Strife just stared back he huffed. “Virginia, near Mount Rogers. We were gonna detour to there the next day but all that got fucked.”
“Hmmm…” He seemed lost in thought.
“So, we done? Cause you can leave any time now.” Dale pointed at the door. “And you fucking owe me for the fucking chain.” He scratched at his chest. This guy made all the hairs stand on end.
“Full moon was a week ago.” He drained the last of the coke in the can before he crumpled it in his hand. “You wanna talk ‘bout what happened?”
Dale felt all the blood drain from his face. His fingers picked at the scabs on his arm until another one tore away. He couldn’t meet Strife’s gaze. The man seemed to see right through him. “Man, I don’t know what the fuck you want or why you’re here. But you really need to fuck off and leave.”
Strife sighed in exasperation. “Here’s what I think happened. Ya were sick. Fever. Couldn’t keep shit down. Ya went home ta Mama cause Mama always makes things right eh? Maybe some chicken soup. Yer favorite shows on tha TV. Ya’d be right as rain huh?”
Who was this son of a bitch? His chest felt tight. Like he couldn’t breathe. Skin felt tight. Hot. “I think you need to leave.”
Strife snorted. “Yeah… I nailed that one, didn’t I? But what’s eatin’ at you boy ain’t something that can be fixed with chicken soup. Naw man. What you did was you brought death with you into that safe place. And that’s what happened. Death. But you don’t remember it none cause it wasn’t you in tha pilot seat. But you know. You know it was you that did it.”
Dale surged to his feet again. “You need to get the fuck outta my house.” Who was this man? He was shaking. It felt like something clawed at his chest to get free. “What are you?” He whispered.
Strife just laughed. “Aw you know what I am. Least ways what’s inside ya knows. Cause tha beast always knows its own.”
His nails left angry red trails on his upper arms as he stared at Strife. “…I… I don’t know… don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“That’s cause yer lost. Alone.” He stood slowly and moved the chair out of he way. “Tha beast ya see is primal instinct. All tha beast wants is ta hunt. Ta kill. Ta taste the blood of its prey and feel that hot river run down its throat. And it don’t really care none who or what it hunts. So iffen all that’s available just happens to be yer kin… well it ain’t tha beasts fault. Its just doin’ what it was created ta do.”
Dale stumbled away from Strife as the man advanced. “n-no…NO.”
“So there ya were next morning. Covered in blood. Tha blood of yer folks… yer kid brother and sister. House lookin’ like a wild animal done trashed it. And there you were… But it looked like tha beast had gotten you too, right? Cause when ya reject tha beast so strong… the beast attacks itself.” He pointed at Dale’s chest. “But them wounds you had that morning… they already gone ain’t they? All healed up as if they were never there.”
Dale backed into the kitchen as Strife slowly stalked after him. “It wasn’t me… I didn’t do it.”
“I know that boy. It was tha beast that done it. But tha beast is a part of you now. You rejectin’ it ain’t gonna do you any favors. In fact… it’ll drive ya crazy. Ya will tear yerself in two.” When Dale’s back hit the counter, Strife stepped up to him and put his hands on either side of the shorter man to loom over him. “But it ain’t too late. You can be saved. I can teach ya how ta be one with the beast. How to be in control when tha beast hunts. You just gotta want it.”
Dale’s legs felt like jelly. He could hear, just on the edge of perception a wolf’s howl. No wait, that was coming from inside him. The sensation of something clawing at his chest got stronger by the moment. If he surrendered, if he let go of the thread of his sanity he knew that whatever it was. The beast? It wanted this man’s blood. It wanted his throat in its teeth. “How do you know this?” Dale’s voice was a hoarse whisper as he clung to his humanity.
“Aw you know why. Cause tha beast is there right now.” He tapped a finger on Dale’s sternum. “Its howling fer my blood ain’t it? Cause it knows what I am. I’m a threat. It wants ta be alpha of a pack of one and here I am pissin’ on its territory. But it ain’t too late fer ya Dale. You ain’t broken all tha way. Ya can learn ta live with the beast. Harness its power.”
Tears welled in Dale’s eyes. “It killed my parents. It killed my whole family.”
“It ain’t killed you yet boy. All you gotta do is want ta live. I can show ya how.” He gripped the young man’s jaw to force him to meet Strife’s gaze. “Yer stronger than it is.”
A sad smile touched Dale’s lips and reflected in his eyes. “No… I’m not…” His hazel eyes drained of color only to turn the same golden yellow as Strife’s. His lips peeled back from teeth as the beast fought to break free of weak human skin.
“Gawd damnit.” His hand closed around Dale’s throat as he lifted the young man up only to slam him down on the kitchen table. As the young man thrashed and snarled, his nails lengthened and hardened into claws which he sank into Strife’s forearm. Thick fur began to push through skin as the sharpened canines of a carnivore pushed the blunt teeth of a human out of Dale’s jaw.
Strife cursed up a blue streak as he reached into his jacket to grab the knife he’d carried just for this eventuality. The silver burned his palm, but he’d felt worse pain. Blood ran down his arm where Dale’s claws had pierced his skin, but he was able to keep the boy pinned to the table as he lifted the knife. Strife plunged the silver blade into Dale’s chest and pierced the boy’s heart. He twisted the blade to savage the heart as Dale’s body jerked and thrashed.
“Oh, just fucking die mother fucker.” Bones snapped as he forced his hand into the wound and broke ribs until he could wrap his fingers around the still pulsing heart. With a grunt he pulled Dale’s heart free of his chest, the silver blade fell to the ground as the heart gave a final spasm then went still.
Strife looked at the now peaceful face of the boy Dale. All the lines of worry and insanity smoothed over in death. The presence of the beast retreated to leave only the human behind. With a sigh he let the heart fall from his hand and stepped back from the body. The dozens of self-inflicted wounds on Dale’s body continued to ooze blood. He still wore the same clothes he’d come home from the hospital in. The hospital’s name printed on the legs of the sweats he wore.
“Shit.” He went to the sink to wash his hands. A dead cat stared up at him from the sink. From the litter box he’d found in the bathroom it must have been Dale’s. Suppose it was good that he hadn’t killed a neighbor’s pet to satisfy his growing blood lust. There were a couple of squirrels and even a pigeon on the counter. Their heads ripped off. Their insides pulled out. The whole damn house smelled of death and crazy.
He wiped his hands dry on some paper towels as he checked cabinets until he found some Ziploc baggies. He used the paper towel to pick up the heart and drop it into the baggy before he tucked into his jacket pocket along with the silver blade. Those wounds Dale had given him on his forearms had already healed, the silver burns would take longer but would heal as well. He and the beast were one. The beast’s power kept him strong.
Strife looked down at Dale. “Sorry kid. You didn’t deserve this.” He left the boy on the kitchen table as he went back into the living room. From the look of things and smell, Dale had lived in the room since he got home. There were soda bottles with piss in them. Empty pizza boxes on the floor. He paused to look at the TV. A home movie played on an endless loop. Dale, his parents and siblings in happier days. Strife sighed as he found Dale’s phone on the floor, turned it on, then dialed 911. When the operator answered he gave them the address, then just dropped the phone on the sofa. As he headed for the door he could hear the operator asking questions. Better the cops get in there and clean up quickly. The kid didn’t deserve to just lay around and rot.
He headed down the block to where he parked his truck. Crystal waited in the passenger seat as she listened to music and messed around with her iPod. When Strife got in she pulled out an ear bud, “Well?”
“We were too late. Boy was a few bricks shy of a load. I could smell tha crazy from tha porch.” He pulled the heart out of his pocket, “Put this with the rest.”
Crystal’s nose wrinkled but she accepted the baggy then turned around to grab a small cooler from behind the seat. “Did you at least get any info? This is the third kid turned by the rogue.”
“Virginia, near Mount Rogers. It lines up with tha others. Got a home range of this fucker.” He pulled out a metal case from the glove box and removed one of the joints from within. As Crystal returned the cooler and its load of hearts behind the seat once more he lit up and took a hit. When he expelled the pungent smoke he handed it off to Crystal so she could have a hit. “Gonna take those back to Mama Kee and see if she can do something with ‘em. Lead us to this bastard.”
“Here’s hoping.” She took her hit then handed it back after Strife turned on the truck’s powerful engine. Streets lights reflected off her burnished gold eyes. “I’m tired of seeing lives ruined by this fucker.”
“Me too baby.” He leaned over to claim a kiss then put the truck into gear as they left the street even as the police showed up at the other end of the block. Strife couldn’t abide rogue wolves fucking things over for everyone else. When they hit the highway he put some Metallic on as they sped south where home waited at the end of the long road.