Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fight Forever

The Steward of Wolves was sentenced to fight forever. Slaying thousands and thousands of his own wolves. They launched toward him, claws out stretched and fangs bared. The Steward swung his sword and swatted the wolves away. He’d been howling in his horror. His wards were slaughtered around him. It hadn’t always been like this, bloody and brutal. He hadn’t always been the Steward of Wolves. Before the wolves found him, he was a man like any other. His former name was Jonathan and he loved a woman name June.

June had died as horrifically as any death Jonathan had ever known. Horrific to him, of course. To the paramedics who cased her body way, her death was common. It was just a common mugging gone wrong. A six inch blade had slid between two of her ribs and the mugger had run off, leaving her purse as a consolation. Jonathan and June had finished a late dinner at a hip, new restaurant which June had been after Jonathan to take her to. They turned a corner leading to parking garage, Jonathan lagging between, when the mugger emerged from a corner. Jonathan was trying to scare up his car keys and hadn’t realized anything was wrong until June gasped in deeply. Jonathan remembered the event being more grand and dramatic than it actually was. In his mind’s eye, the mugger swelled forth from the shadows like a tar bubble from a pit. He remembered the six-inch blade being more of a sword, twice the man’s arm length at least. The mugger had a cruel smile filled with bloody fangs. This, of course, wasn’t true. The mugger was only a man, a terrified drug addict who was a little high and looking to get higher. A drug addict who meant to scare June with a couple thrusts through the air, but actually stabbed her. When he realized what he did, he dropped the knife and ran off.

Jonathan caught her before she hit the ground. Common sense suggested that the red stuff was supposed to stay in, but Jonathan was too terrible to use such knowledge. At first he was just screaming out of horror, but as his wits came back to him, he screamed for help. Help came too late. One of the parking attendants hurried out to the sounds of Jonathan’s screams and phoned in to 911. She took her last breaths as the paramedic pulled in and Jonathan was reluctant to let her go.

Once the terror had subsided, Jonathan had gone numb. Most of what happened after that hadn’t registered to him. Apparently, the police had asked him questions and apparently, he answered them because when he woke up the next morning, the mugger was in police custody. The police had him identify the man in a line-up and he fingered the one who looked the most like fanged monster he’d seen. He thought that might have been wrong, though. The man he saw too skinny to do the damage he’d seen. He shivered too much. His face was etched with too much terror to be the thing that cut into his soon-to-be wife.

He was sure she would have said yes. He wanted to wait until they got home, figuring they could have consummated their impeding nuptials, heavy on the ‘mate.’ He felt sick to his stomach that he had waited. He figured that he’d kill himself. The thought would have waned, had he someone to express it to. He was alone in the big city, except for a body cooling on a shelf in the city morgue. As it was, the thoughts festered in his head like his brain was meat going bad. He had no idea how he’d do such a thing. He had razor blades and a box of rat poison under the radiator. He had a belt and could hang himself in his closet. He could probably get some pills, though he had no interest in interacting with other people. He sat on the floor of his apartment, turning her engagement ring over and over again in his hands when he first heard the padded footfalls of an animal in the other room. At first, he was uninterested in the noise, not even paying it enough attention to question the foreign sound. The sky was blue and animals made noise in the other room. Never mind that he didn’t own any animals.

He only followed the noises when the padded footfalls turned into claws scraping against tiles in the bathroom and yips echoed in that small space. He stood in the doorway of the bathroom, ignoring a snow white wolf the size of bear. He was ignoring the wolf because there was a dead man in his bath tub. The man had unremarkable blue eyes and ash blonde hair like Jonathan had. He was tallish like Jonathan was and had lean muscle like Jonathan had. The only difference between him and the man was that Jonathan wasn’t dead. He didn’t think he was.

In movies, suicide victims hang their arms over the sizes of the tub to show off their self-inflicted wounds. This man’s head lolled back and his hands rested in his lap, underneath a crimson waterline. Jonathan stepped away from the doorway, no able to understand the information he was seeing. The massive wolf followed him into his kitchenette, where he found another man laying on the floor with froth foaming off his lips. His unremarkable blue eyes were glassy and staring out into nothingness. He was utterly still with his head resting on his forearm. He was wearing one of Jonathan’s favorite shirts, one with the iconic Woodstock logo.

Jonathan moved into his bedroom and found yet another doppelganger hanging by the neck in the closet. He was too tall to be completely off the ground. His legs were partially folded underneath him and his face went puffy and purple. He turned away from this sight and saw a fourth twin laying on the bed in a suit. He had little occasion to wear a suit, but he kept one from a wedding he went to a year back. This body was the least vile, but the most disturbing. His skin was pale, but his cheeks were eerily rosy. His lips had some color to them and he had a flower in his breast pocket. His hands rested on his chest and he might have been sleeping, the way he looked.

Jonathan then turned to the wolf, not wanting to see the bodies anymore. The wolf looked deep into his eyes, speaking Jonathan’s life to him without saying anything. Every moment of his life, from the cradle to moment of June’s death, flashed through Jonathan’s mind and soon tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Is this real?” Jonathan asked, expecting the question to be rhetorical. Expecting the answer to be yes. The wolf answered with his stare. The wolf’s eyes were like yellow moons welling with wildness and steely perception, all at the same time. The wolf said no with its impossibly yellow eyes that might have glowed like lanterns if the light were to go out. He would have those eyes once he became the Steward of Wolves. He walked forward to the wolf and the wolf explained everything in the span of seconds. Jonathan fell to one knee like he was swearing allegiance to the wolf. The fall was more out of weakness, but he swore allegiance to the wolves all the same.

The wolves wanted him for no better reason than he was barely clinging to this world. He was a vessel needing to be possessed by something. Why not the wolf? Jonathan still had no interest in living until after it was too late for him. The massive wolf turned into a cloud of white smoke which Jonathan inhaled, coughing and choking on it.

The Steward walked away from where Jonathan had knelt. The Steward felt nothing beyond his duty, but what remained of Jonathan felt blind, screaming terror. Jonathan was scratching at walls that he couldn’t get at. Outside, in the world, the Steward moved through the night bathed streets. Jonathan had been barefooted in his apartment, so the Steward was barefoot as well. The Steward was moving steadily northward, toward the distant smell of Pine trees and open spaces. No mortal man’s nose could possibly smell such things, but the Steward wasn’t a mortal man. He wasn’t ever bother with until he hit the Interstate. A man walking barefoot on an active highway drew attention and soon, swirling blue was at his back.

A police siren whined behind him and the Steward ignored it. Next, a police officer was calling over to him. The man was on foot and gain on the Steward. His hand wrapped around his arm and the Steward employed strength that Jonathan never had. The Steward broke the man’s hand and he screech like some predatory bird or some prey animal. Either noise was fleeting in the wild, but the police officer kept on screaming. The noise got the Steward’s ire up. Noise meant excitement in his world. Noise meant time to kill. He didn’t though. The Steward reasoned that this was about he had to get to his duty. This, of course, wasn’t true. Jonathan had stayed his hand. He understood exactly what the noise meant to the Steward and his overwhelming horror brought sickness to the Steward’s stomach.

What the Steward did do, however, was take the police officer’s car. The Steward had no knowledge of piloting a motor vehicle, but Jonathan did. Jonathan felt snake-like tendrils worm into his mind and his father teaching him how to drive flashed in his mind’s eye. He was happy to give the Steward the information if it might he could just get away from the screams of the injured policeman. The police car arced away from the injured man and rolled off down the highway, moving faster than Jonathan would have ever driven. The Steward hadn’t put on the sirens, though the police men had left on the flashing lights. It occurred to Jonathan that the sirens should be on and wished he could get the Steward to turn them on. If he could do so, everyone, including the Steward himself, might have been safer.

The lights were enough to part the traffic on the interstate and the Steward made his way toward the scent of Pine. What the Steward hadn’t considered was that police officer routinely checked in with their station. Or that police cars were equip with tracking devices. Or that he should have considered one or both of these things. As it was, the sound of whining sirens was a surprise. Three cars followed the Steward’s stolen vehicle at a few car lengths distance. More lights flashed and whirred ahead of him. They were looking to box him in, but he was going forth into it, at speed.

The car ahead moved to block the Steward and the Steward found more horsepower. The car lurched forward and the two cars collided. The intercepting car spun out of the way in a burst of sparks. He kept up at that speed, with some horrific grinding sounding in his ear. Jonathan then understood something that should have been obvious. The Steward knew exactly what was going on in Jonathan’s mind, but Jonathan had no idea what the Steward was up to. The Steward was just keeping him until he wasn’t useful. His life or consciousness was going to be chucked away afterward. A new wave of terror washed over Jonathan, but the Steward kept moving onward.

The car gave up just off of the interstate and the Steward left it in the middle of the road with a long line of cars honking their horns behind him. The Steward took off northward on foot again. Trees loomed in the distance, the rising sun spilling a red and purple bruise up into the sky. He broke the tree line as the police crested beyond the line of blocked cars. The Steward moved faster among the trees somehow and the policemen who followed were all but gone shortly. Long after running was necessary, the Steward kept running. Black wolves flanked his left and right, keeping their distance. As they picked up his scent, the black wolves converged on him. The wolves and their Steward blazed through the darkness, ascending up a slope.

They moved higher and higher, the terrain growing more and more rocky and it occurred to Jonathan that they were heading up the side of a mountain. It also occurred to him that there wasn’t a mountainous barrier between New York and Canada where the Steward was heading.

Jonathan begun to accept that the Steward was not of the natural world and, therefore, could do things outside the realm of the natural world. For instance, he could transport himself out of it. The trees stooped low like old men as the Steward climb with his wolves. The wolves had found positions at the Steward’s heels like massive yipping shadows. Also, it occurred to Jonathan that he should have been able to see sunshine in the east, but all Jonathan could see was swirling gray clouds which the Steward had pierced through. Dew and frost clung to his cheek as he moved and the clouds only grew thicker. Soon, neither the Steward nor Jonathan could see anything and then the ground fell out from under their feet. The Steward had sprung up before the fall, suggesting that he had expected it. The black wolves followed, their black fur rippling like some odd deformed, little wings.

They caught the ground hard and unexpectedly. The wind whined weakly through a dense smoke and through a mass of blackened Redwood trees. The ground and the base of the trees were chard black from some wildfire long extinguished. The massive black trees were like towering leviathans turned to stone. There was an expectation of mysticism in the air and Jonathan wouldn’t have been surprised if Medusa slithered her way through the swirling smoke. Medusa didn’t come, but more wolves did. They howled mournful cries through the ashen air and it echoed for forever. The forms appeared from the distance, hundreds of them and with them, stood a man.

The man wore a flowing black cloak made of fur. The cloak rippled as he advanced to the Steward and the Steward tensed. Jonathan feared there would be a fight, but a fight didn’t come. The man’s wolves circled and sniffed at the Steward’s wolves and the two men glared at each other. The man was old and wore. He had matted gray hair and a scruff of dirty gray beard. He had a permanent sneer on his face and his lips arched up, revealing dirty, yellow canine teeth.

“Who are you?” The man asked. The Steward didn’t answer and Jonathan had the notion that the man wasn’t speaking to him anyway.
“Jonathan.” He said and his lips obeyed him.
“Jonathan, would you have taken your life?” Jonathan didn’t answer the question because he truly wasn’t sure. He knew he didn’t want what the Steward was giving him.
“Would you have killed yourself over the girl?” The man asked.
“June.” Jonathan said, his voice shaking weakly.
“Slain by some gutter snipe itching for his poison.” The man said.
“Are you a coward?” Jonathan didn’t answer because he wasn’t sure. He felt more than ever like something disembodied. A pointless wisp of vapor rattling around in another man’s head.
“Would you kill him? This man?” Jonathan didn’t answer. At the time, he believed it to be a hypothetical question like “Would you kill for a million dollars?” But hypothetical question turned out not to be as cries echoed in the distance. They were the throaty cries of a man. There were also guttural growls of predatory dogs. They weren’t killing the man, but they were hurting him.

The old man flung his cloak to one side and revealed a sword hanging in a black leather scabbard. He drew the blade and it was a brutalized, chipped thing meant for hacking. This was no Excaliber, nothing noble about it. It was for killing, not for admiring. The edge could have done with sharpening, but the tip had been sharpened to a pin-point. The old man offered Jonathan the sword, hilt first. The Steward was the one to take it, but that was all he did. The sword hung limp in their hands like its existence was something foul. The man’s cries came closer, echoing through the towering trees. He was crying for mercy from wolves, a ridiculous notion.

His form came into view through the smoke. He was on his back, kicking and struggling against two black wolves. They were muscle-packed and moving the man with ease. The man was crying and bleeding and looking like he pissed himself. The other wolves, old man’s and the Steward’s, converged around the man and made a full circle. The man was released, but he curled into a ball, understanding that he was hopelessly trapped.

This man, of course, was the drug addict who killed June. It didn’t matter how he got from his holding cell where he was awaiting trial to this mystical, chard forest. What mattered was that he had a sword in his hand and an opportunity to kill the man who killed someone he loved. The Steward, nor the old man prompted him to move forward into the circle of wolves, but he did anyway. The drug addict looked up to him, his eyes wide and fearful like he was staring up at a vengeful god. And that might have been what he was. He had the understanding that he was supposed to become something vicious and dangerous. Something that understood that noise meant excitement and noise meant it was time to kill. Jonathan wanted to and he didn’t know if that was his own or the Steward’s influence.

The blade rose, seemingly of its own accord. Jonathan didn’t want it to, but at the same time, he did. The drug addict whimpered and begged, but him begging to Jonathan was as ridiculous as begging the wolves. Jonathan heard the words coming from the man’s mouth and understood that they were words, but he could take meaning from any of them.

The wolves glared and shifted in excitement. Blood was coming. The kill was coming. Meat. Meat. Meat. They yipped and cried for it, jumping over one another and licking their lips.

The drug addict locked eyes with Jonathan, hoping to find his humanity and then he stopped begging. The wolf’s yellow moon eyes burned into the junkie’s decayed mind. Drool rolled from his gaping mouth. He was looking at something that was no more human than the wolves crying for blood.

The kill. The kill. Give them the kill. The words sank into Jonathan’s mind, digging in like talons. There was no reason. There was only the blood to come. The blade dropped and the addict screamed.

The blade slammed into the ashen earth and quivered violently. The wolves went silent and the rest of the world fell silent after them. The Earth might have stop spin for all Jonathan knew. The addict wouldn’t take a breath, though Jonathan had done nothing to take it from him. Jonathan released the blade and backed away a step. The addict stayed below Jonathan, stark still and glaring. When he realized he wasn’t dead and then he thought he might be allowed to escape now. He slowly rose, taking pains to keep his posture as cowering as possible. When the addict was at his feet, Jonathan took him by the collar and began beating the hell out of him, screaming wildly. The wolves roared and howled. Blood and teeth scattered onto the earth below. Jonathan thought he might have broke the man’s jaw and he was glad. The man’s begging had offended him.

As sudden as the beating started, it had stopped. Jonathan had stopped himself in mid-swing like someone had stopped him. He was puffing and his jaw was tensed. The junkie was on his knees, held up only by Jonathan’s hand curled around his shirt front. The addict’s face was a mashed and bloodied version of itself. His eyes were swollen shut and blood streamed from the purple bruise. More blood dribbled from his lips and down his chin. The addict attempted to say something, but it was only nonsensical gurgles that spat blood into the air.

Jonathan released the addict and he clattered to the ground in a heap. He turned around to see the old man, but he was gone. In his place, towered the white wolf. His yellow moon eyes urged for Jonathan to finish the kill. The black wolf swarmed around the white wolf’s legs like ants around their queen. However, the white wolf wasn’t anything as mild as earthly royalty. No. This wolf was a god of some sort. The God Of Savagery. The God of Murder. The God of Blood. Whatever it was, it wanted Jonathan to kill the junkie.

Why? What did it matter if a city boy killed a city junkie to a God? The only logical reason was that it wanted Jonathan in his kingdom and there were certain rites that needed to be paid before that could happen.

Again, the question was asked. Why? Why would it want a suicidal man? He arrived at another answer in the form of another question. Who is the master of wolves? Who is the master of the savage things? All this God had was violence. An entire life of violence. An eternity of violence. Maybe it was like a poison. Maybe not a poison, but something that was fundamentally changed by the addition of some small thing. He would tear himself apart, or this place would tear itself apart like two wolves killing each other over meat.

Jonathan moved out from the circle of wolves, carving through a sea of black, niggling fur. The white wolf glared and Jonathan felt the Steward take hold of him. He had no where to go and expected to die by some horror fashion. The addict made panicked gurgles and Jonathan didn’t need to look to see that the circle was breaking. The meat was defenseless and hurt could be as good as dead. The Steward’s hold weakened as its want to devour slithered into both their minds. The Steward was a wild thing without Jonathan’s will and its subjects were feeding without it. The white wolf moved forward through the swarm of ravenous wolves toward Jonathan. This would be how he died. The white wolf opened its massive maw and a glimmer of light washed across his face. The fangs never pierced his flesh and death did not come.

He sat on his apartment floor, turning June’s engagement ring in his hand. Sorrow still burned in his chest and June was still murdered. Jonathan could still smell smoke and could still feel tendrils of the murderous anger. In the silence of his small apartment, he could hear phantom footfalls of black wolves and the howls of the wild.

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