Chapter Six: No Such Thing As A Random Wolf
Perkins had Luke snake the old Ford through the heart of Lowell. Looming building with crumbling brick faces and smashed, boarded-up windows glared down at the two of them and Cesar. Litter and wispy weeds fluttered from side to side in the early spring wind. They past by rusted metal skeletons high over head and tall, chain-linked fences. All around, there was the fishy, earthy smell of the flowing river and the fainter smell of pollen. Luke and Perkins moved down streets partially paved by asphalt and by old cobblestones. The road was rocky as Luke guided the Ford down a narrow street before he stopped the truck at the end of a one-way street.
“This it?” Luke asked, looking up at a three-story house made from rain-softened wood. The house sat behind a rusted, sagging chain-link fence. Little, dead weeds snaked up from underneath the bare wood porch. The front door was hung ajar, leading up a dark, carpeted stairwell.
“Yeah.” Perkins said, looking out the window. He formed a grimace on his face and then popped the passenger seat door open. Luke did the same, stepping out and moving to the other side to help Perkins. By the time he got around, Perkins was already out and standing, waving Luke away.
“Get the dog.” Perkins said, limping his way toward the dark wood building. Perkins swung open the front gate, causing it to clatter against the fence. Luke followed, with Cesar in his arms. The dog hadn’t protested as much as he had in Luke’s yard. Luke had a suspicion that the dog could have limped on his own. Perkins had somehow split the pain of a cracked rib with the dog. As ridiculous as it sounded, Luke had to keep an open mind. It was a very weird day. Luke followed Perkins up the carpeted steps, leading up toward a hallway bathed in dusty, cold sunlight. The hallway smelt of spices and festering meat.
The hallway continued up to the third floor, but Perkins stopped at a thin wooden door and knocked three times. A wide-eyed teenaged girl wearing a man’s flannel shirt answered the door and peered at the both of them for a long moment. She had black, feathered hair draping a pair of clear blue eyes. She skirted past Perkins and darted right towards Luke or rather Cesar who was in Luke’s arms. She pressed her face into the dog’s fur as Cesar’s tail wagged. The dog was trying to better greet the girl, but Luke holding him made his attempts more difficult. Luke struggled to keep a hold on the dog and finally conceded, lowering the dog to the ground while the girl cooed and ran her fingers through the dog’s black and tan fur. Cesar must have overestimated the power of his enthusiasm to prop him up because after a few moments of sitting right side up, he elected to collapse on to his side and pepper her face with kisses from the ground.
“Luke. That’s Sadie.” Perkins said, pointing to the girl pampering the dog on the floor.
“What have you been doing? Why is Cesar hurt? Why are you hurt?” Sadie asked, looking up to the Perkins and Luke.
“I’ll tell you if I can get my dog back. Let’s get this out of the damn hallway.” Perkins said, stepping through the door and leaving Luke to gather up the dog from Sadie’s cuddling. Luke took up the dog and took up Cesar and followed Sadie past the threshold. The apartment inside mostly dark with the exception of an open window filtering in indirect sunlight. Immediately across from the door, there was a saggy, tan couch where a young man with short black hair slept. He had lean muscles and a sharp jaw. Sadie came over to the young man and slapped him on the stomach. He jerked awake, but didn’t cry out in surprise or pain.
“Get up. We need to put Cesar down.” Sadie said to the young man. He tilted his head in Luke’s direction.
“That’s Luke. Perkins brought him here.” Sadie said. With that, the young man climbed up off the couch, came over to Luke and scooped Cesar from his arms. He had a mildly miserable look on his face. He gave up his seat to the old dog all the same and elected to remain standing even though there was enough room for him to seat. Sadie had taken up a post at one side of Cesar and there was another clear, vacant spot. Luke turned his head, looking for Perkins. The old man had disappeared into small kitchen illuminated by a flickering bulb. Luke spotted him peering into a room beyond the kitchen and then he turned a corner and was out of sight. Luke had just met him this morning, but Luke felt a hard pang, a need to follow him.
“Come. Sit.” Sadie said to Luke. She had her feet up on the couch underneath Cesar’s resting head. She was playing with his ears. Luke looked to the young man that Sadie had ousted for Cesar. The young man looked back and then moved past Luke, heading into the kitchen and then into the room where Perkins had peered into.
“Come and sit.” Sadie said again. Luke sat on the other side of Cesar and Cesar stretched out his back paws, pressing them up against his outer thigh. Cesar made a happy, little groan and Sadie cooed at the sound.
“Who was he?” Luke asked, tilting his head in the direction the young man had went in.
“Drew. He can’t talk. He was born without a voice.” Sadie said, working her thin fingers through Cesar’s fur and Cesar drove his back paws into Luke’s outer thigh.
“Oh.” Luke said.
“Sheila’s going to help you, isn’t she?” Sadie said to Cesar, scratching a spot in between his ears. She kissed him on that spot and he licked her under her chin and on her cheek.
“Is Sheila your mom?” Luke asked and instantly felt stupid. She called Sheila by her first name. Children seldom did that with their parents. Possibly, Sheila was an older sister or just a mother-hen style friend.
“No. Sheila is…” Sadie started. There was nothing stopping her from finishing the sentence except for her inability to define what Sheila was to her. Sadie smiled and then looked away.
“Sheila takes care of things.” Sadie finally said.
“How do you know Perkins?” Luke asked.
“Perkins is…He’s my…He was… my father.” Sadie said. The smile had evaporated from her face. Luke wanted to know why Perkins wasn’t her father anymore, but didn’t think he should ask.
“I should be in school right now.” Luke said because he didn’t know what to say. The smile reappeared on Sadie’s face and she bit her bottom lip.
“You go to school?” She asked.
“You don’t?” Luke asked.
“Home-schooled. Sheila teaches me and the twins.” Sadie said.
“The twin?” Luke asked.
“Coral and Murphy. They’re somewhere around here. Probably feeding the dogs.” Sadie said.
“Cool.” Luke said. The two of them were silent for a long while with Cesar groaning happily as Sadie scratched the flat plain of his head or rubbed the fur on his meaty shoulder. Luke kept thinking that Sadie would end up hurting the dog, but the dog kept on loving it and loving her.
Cesar fell asleep and fell asleep hard, snoring loudly and kicking his back paw against Luke’s outer thigh. He had closed his eyes to better relish Sadie rubbing a spot behind his ear and then suddenly, he was out like a light and had his tongue slightly sticking out from his mouth. A bead of drool escaped his mouth and rolled onto the bare flesh of Sadie’s foot. Somehow, Sadie found it funny and Luke found it funny because Sadie found it funny. The two of them laughed, rocking back and forward and waking the sleeping dog in the process. Cesar gave another groan, sounding more indignant than happy. Sadie found this more funny and laughed harder. Luke’s eyes stole to Sadie’s lips. He realized that he was looking at her lips; thin, glossy, pink curves that parted slightly. Luke thought about her tongue and then looked away.
Sadie massaged behind Cesar’s ear and Cesar seemed to forgive her for waking him. He closed his eyes and fell under again, snoring and kicking like he had before. She kept massaging that spot behind Cesar’s ear and Luke felt the need to say something, but he didn’t.
“ Do you know what’s going on?” Sadie asked.
“With what?” Luke asked.
“With you? With Perkins?” Sadie asked.
“No. Somebody came with a baseball bat. That’s how Perkins and Cesar got hurt. Somebody else might have attempted to kill me last night. Perkins showed up and helped me. I’m really just taking things as they come. It’s the best I can do.”
“Do you know where he’s taking you?” Sadie asked.
“No. I’m guessing not here.” Luke said.
“No. Not here. Think of this as a safe house for a little while. Perkins is taking you back with him to the Exiles. You’re going to be in neutral space.” Sadie said.
“He said that I’d cause more damage if he had let them kill me. He wouldn’t say what that meant.” Luke said.
“That’s Exile business. I wouldn’t know about that.” Sadie said.
“Who are the Exiles?” Luke asked.
“The people who made sure you didn’t die.” Perkins said from over Luke’s shoulder. Luke jumped at Perkins’s dark, harsh voice. Perkins had managed to sour further in the short time since the two of them had parted. His wrinkled, pock-marked face had formed new creases and his eyes had grown dark.
“Bring my dog.” Perkins said. Luke pushed himself up out of the sunken-in couch and lifted the groggy, half-asleep Cesar into his arms. Sadie thinned her lips and frowned. Luke noticed her lips again, but it scared him now that Perkins was so near.
Luke followed Perkins through the small kitchen and past it. Luke stole a glance through the doorway that Perkins had looked through not long before. The door to the room was only slightly ajar, but Luke could see a man stretched out, sleeping on a twin-sized bed. His bare feet spilled off the end of it and his toenails were sharp, yellowed and ragged. His chest was bare and peppered with curly, black hair. His face was clean, but he had a thick, black beard covering the lower half of his face and long black hair covering the top. Beneath the beard and the hair, the man looked almost exactly the same as Perkins. Luke passed the door and didn’t ask who the man was. Perkins turned a corner and passed another room. This one was empty but for a tall, wooden dresser, a floor scattered with clothing and bunk beds with a red, metal frame.
There was one more room with a closed door before Perkins had stopped. Perkins stood in an open doorway. The room beyond was lit by cool sunlight filtering in from a window. Luke could see a Queen sized bed bathed in purple silk over Perkins’s shoulder. There was a warm smell of lavender wafting past Perkins as he led them inside. Sitting on the bed, there was a mocha skinned woman with long, slender legs. She was swaddled in a thick cloak made from thick, gray and brown fur. She was a bald woman, but the most striking feature was the size of her. She was nearly seven-feet tall and Luke could see that a lot of it was lined with lean muscles.
“Put the dog on the bed.” Perkins said and Luke deposited Cesar down on the purple silk sheets. The woman looked from Cesar to Luke and curved her lips into a cool, narrowed smile. She had big, brown, almond-shaped eyes and Luke realized, too late, that his jaw had gone unhinged. He closed his mouth and his face reddened.
“Hello, Luke. You have encountered the Random.” The woman said. Luke wasn’t sure if what she had said made sense.
“What?” Luke said.
“What?” Perkins said, adopting a slight edge in his voice. Luke was looking to the woman, but Perkins had turned to see Luke.
“Very recently, you have spoken with an agent of the Random. I know their smell. We are not enemies. There’s no such thing as a random wolf, so neither are we friends.” The woman said coolly.
“What did he say to you?” Perkins asked, nearly growling.
“Nothing. He just told me to keep my eyes open. He asked me if I knew what was happening. I don’t, but I think I should.” Luke said, realizing that he was dangerously close to squaring off with Perkins.
“It is unimportant.” The woman said and her voice was clear and piercing.
“To you.” Perkins said, but his voice was calm.
“Need I remind you, you’ve kept your own secrets. My concern lays with you allowing this boy to live. The Exiles have made you soft, Dale.” The woman said. Perkin’s jaw tensed and a frown etched onto his face.
“Luke, as you may have assumed, I am Sheila of The Wolves.” The woman said, nodding her head. She extended her hands off from under her cloak and towards Cesar. Her fingernails were black, sharpened tips and for a moment, Luke thought she might have sliced him open. Instead, she caressed his fur and Cesar stretched out across the purple sheets.
“Who are the Exiles?” Luke asked. Sheila had some sort of authority over Perkins, but she didn’t have that over Luke. What was important to Luke was that he’d been thrown into something and was kept in the dark about it. Sheila flicked an eye over to Luke and he stepped back a step.
“ There is a war and there are those who do not fight. They are the Exiles.”
“Why was I singled out?” Luke asked.
“No one knows why. We hardly know who we’re fighting until we’re killing them.” Sheila said, running her long nailed fingers through Cesar’s fur. She flicked her eyes to Luke and smiled thinly.
“Who tried to kill me?” Luke asked.
“The war is largely between two sides. Neither side works in the light, but we assume that one is less evil because the other actively and recklessly slaughters people such as yourself. There is an invisible war, but their bullets and bombshells are all too real.” Sheila said. Luke looked from the statuesque woman to the sprawled out German Shepherd. They were faint, but Luke could see silvery tendrils like very fine, glowing hairs snaking from Sheila’s fingertips into the dog’s fur.
“What…” Luke began, his voice petered off into nothing. More of those faint, slightly opaque hairs appeared in the air, swaying softly as if pulled by a lackluster wind. They were working through the air from Sheila and towards Perkins. Something in the tendrils clung to something inside Perkins and soon there was a silvery, glowing vine linking Perkins and Sheila. The vine pulsed with a faint golden glow and then it was gone as if it was never there.
“That brings me to the matter of note. You’ve come here for aid. I give it. You may stay under my protection.” Sheila said.
“That’s a comfort. Thank you, Sheila. I’ll make a call out to the Ranch. See if I can’t secure some safe passage.” Perkins said. The iron gray hair on Perkins’s head had darkened a shade and some of them more prominent grooves and wrinkles on his face had faded away.