I awoke screaming with flashes of the dream replaying in my head. I wasn’t on the bed anymore, but I was slumped over a large man with my wrists tied together. The man readjusted me on his shoulder.
“Whoa, there boy! Glad you woke. I’m getting tired of carrying you.”
He lowered me to the ground. I was still a little groggy, and I swayed a bit.
“You alright, son?”
I lowered myself into a crouch on the ground, and thought, “This is still a dream. If I just ignore him, he’ll go away.”
“Alright, boy. I need you to use your words. Something in the form of Yes or No. Come on boy, come on.” He used the coaxing voice you would use on a puppy.
I looked up to see a tall and muscular man. He was wearing a plaid, long-sleeved shirt and loose denim jeans. He had a very large, over-stuffed duffle bag on one shoulder. He slid it off and dropped it on the ground in front of me. On his belt he had a very long, silvery, knife that reminded me of a machete. Yet, it’s handle was long like that of a samurai sword, and it was decorated with leather, fur and feathers. His sleeves were rolled up and on one of his arms I could see an elaborate tattoo design that had the words “we live...we bleed..we die..semper fi.” weaved in it.
I started to move again when I felt nausea creeping up on me.
“Yes, I-I think. I feel a little sick.” The giant man stood above me with his hands on his hips. A large grin beamed through his thick black beard. I felt sheepish and uncomfortable under his Paul Bunyan demeanor. He reached into his pocket and produced a handkerchief with what looked like lemon drops inside.
“I brought these incase you wound up being sick. Take one and suck on it. It will help your stomach settle.”
I felt cautious, but I figured I wasn't dead yet. So what the heck? I reached out with my hands when he pulled a knife with his other hand and said, “Sorry, I forgot about those…”
He startled me and I started scooting away. I wasn’t even sure how he produced the knife so quickly.
“Awe, dammit kid! I’m not gonna hurt you. I just want to free your wrist. I promise you'll live to see the sunrise. Of course if you run, I'll leave them tied and I'll just knock you out again. It’s up to you.”
I was cautious, but in truth, I just didn’t have the energy to run. I wasn’t even sure where the hell I was.
I held my arms out, and he cut my wrist free.
“My name is Tim.” He held out his hand again with a cloth of lozenges, and I took one this time. It was very sweet with a spicy kick. I couldn’t place the taste before and then I remembered the ginger snaps my mom used to make.
“This is ginger, isn't it!?”
He looked a little surprised. “Not bad...yes it is. How did ya guess that?”
I felt a heavy sadness come over me. I looked down at where Tim had begun stacking wood for a fire. I was thinking of my bratty sisters and of mom. Even though my dad was an ass I stilled missed him, too. I wondered if anyone was worrying about me. Wondering where I was. Missing me.
I started thinking about my friends. I thought of me and Mark always making jokes to gross out everyone around us, especially at lunch. Doing so would sometimes end up getting us some free food, as well. Then there was Kevin who was like my family. Our parents were friends and we ended up being the best of friends as well. I was really starting to miss them and felt the fear rising up in my gut again. When in a situation where I felt afraid, I often thought of what grandfather would do. I couldn’t think of anything, except I want my own bed and my own room. I began to feel numb. I didn't even taste the lozenge on my tongue anymore. I felt a large and heavy hand rest on my shoulder.
“I'm sorry kid, I was you once. I had family, and I had to leave them.”
He sighed heavily “I guess I wasn’t quite you when I was turned. I did have to leave my wife and kid, though. My son was three, but I didn’t want to turn and find‘em dead the next day. You and I are pretty lucky. We were found and we are wanted. Some tribes won’t take in the turned. A lot would just let them die or kill’em themselves.”
I was curious “Tribe? Is that where we’re going? What do you mean we would die or be killed?”
He chuckled a bit “Yes, the tribe is where we are going. The place though, is called “The Den” among us kindred. As far as dying..well.. You’re not out of the woods, yet.” He gestured emphatically around us. no?
“There are two stages when you turn, then when you are born into it. First you have to survive the bite because, to most people, it is like poison. Some, like you and I who have survived, will have to endure the actual turn. And not many have survived the actual turn. It is going to be painful, and it usually happens on the second full moon after your bite.”
When he said bite I felt a itching sensation on my shoulder. I felt the urge to scratch at the bandages where the bite took place. Tim took notice of my discomfort.
“I’ll need to check the bandages and make sure your wound isn’t infected. Although you should be healing quickly by now.”
I suddenly realized this guy had no concept of personal space because he had already pulled my shirt up and was removing the bandage from my shoulder. I could see a confused look on his face.
“What’s the matter?” I nervously asked. He started jabbing at the wound on my shoulder. “Does that hurt?”
It was my turn to have a confused look.
“What the hell are you doing? Of course it hurts… YOU’RE POKING AT IT! “
“No… I mean does it hurt bad.” He pulled the shirt off the other shoulder looking for something. “ Where is your wound? There isn’t even a scar! What the hell? “He looked down at the old bandage. I myself could see the dried blood soaked into the gauze. I looked at my shoulder, too, and didn’t see any wound. I felt for a scar or something, but it was like it never happened. Except it still itched under the skin. I could hear Tim mumble under his breath as he turned from me. It sound like he was whispering to himself but, really loudly.
“ That’s weird… Tina said he was different…. Maybe it’s a gift… No, those don’t show up for a while… Of course, it has been a week...”
My eyes went wide. “Why are you talking to yourself?...Wait, what? What do you mean it’s been a week? ”
“Settle down kid. That’s normal, usually you’re out for one to two weeks with the fever. After all, werewolf bites DO have venom. In fact, you’ll seem like you’re dead, you go into a coma. Still, you shouldn’t heal this fast until the second moon. When you’re closer to the turning.”
I asked again. “I've been out for a week?”
He turned around quickly and stared straight in my eyes. At first he looked annoyed, but then his face softened.
“I'm sorry...I'm really sorry, but you can't go back. Right now they are going to find your body. At least they'll think it's you. It'll be mangled and grotesquely unrecognizable. Your family will mourn and they'll even receive money from a long lost relative to give you a funeral and whatever the hell they'll need to get on past you. Sorry kid...You. Can't. Go. Back.”
Sometimes there are moments in my life when I could feel the gravity pulling me into the ground. It’s as if my soul, my blood, my sheer existence is being ripped from the edges of my skin and being pressed into the earth. I felt a numbing in my mind telling my heart not to feel. This was a dream. This was not my life, I just happened to stumble into someone else's body.
Any moment something will become familiar to me and I’ll be alright, because I can follow that familiar to my real life, and then to my home. Of course, nothing ever happens to me like that. I began to notice where I really am. I’m in a forest in an opening among the trees. I look up at the starry night, thinking I’m just looking at dead things. I mumble something under my breath.
“That’s what’s going on… I’m dead.. That wolf is ripping me to shreds while I’m trying to play hero and now…. I’m dying… this is my hallucination while I’m dying.”
Tim shook his head. “No, you’re not dying. This.. is real.”
There was a long pause before he continued. “Besides, there is another, bigger, reason. It’s him and he’s … dangerous. The wolf that bit you. I could smell his scent all over you when we found you. If you go back you’ll die and your family dies. He’s a sick kind of creature. The kind that will kill your sisters first, so your parents can watch and then your parents. But he’ll leave you alive, so you can run because he loves the chase...” He paused for a moment, then his voice softened to a whisper. “He’s a cruel bastard like that and I know it first hand.”
We didn’t talk for awhile after that, and Tim collected wood for the fire. He didn’t ask me to do anything. He just left me to think on my own.
Feeling depressed I curled into a ball, but I kept wondering about the girl. He said he found me, but said nothing about the girl. Did she live? And why was I dreaming of her? Even though I had apparently slept for a week, I still felt exhausted. And a little hungry.
Tim had finished building the fire, and the heat was forcing me back a bit when he sat next to me and handed me a piece of jerky.
“I figured you would be a little hungry by now.”
I took it from him, but only took a little bite at first, to be polite, thinking I really didn’t want it. My stomach began to growl and it tasted really good. Before I realized it, the chunk was already gone and he was handing me another. He handed me a canteen and I quickly downed that as well. It had a citrusy taste to it and it was quite good.
He reached into his duffel bag and pulled out a greenish, wool blanket and a sleeping bag.
“It gets cold in these mountains. So stay close to the fire. I’ll be back in a few hours. There’s wood over there if the fire gets low. So don’t let it get low. “ He stepped closer toward me, and his voice was deeper and more ominous. “DON’T go past the light of the fire. If you’re still tired, DON’T sleep. There is only a few hours of night left.”
I tried to interject, but he would stop me.
“I have one more thing left for you.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out my pocket knife that my grandpa gave me. I had forgotten I dropped it when the beast had attacked me. “I figured you would eventually would want this.” I reached for it, and I noticed his nails looked thick, long and dark. He dropped the knife into my hand and quickly drew away., saying “I have to go.” He stepped back further and out of the light of the fire. I thought I could see his eyes glow. “Remember! Stay close to the fire and in the light. No matter what you hear. I’ll be back by daylight.”
I turned for a second to grab the blanket and as I looked up, he disappeared. I didn’t hear a noise didn’t see the shrubbery move. He just disappeared.
I had so many questions to ask and being alone in the middle of the forest was not making me feel any better. I looked down at my knife that my grandfather gave me before he died. Sometimes it feels light and balanced in my hand, but tonight it felt heavy. I gripped it hard in my hand and thought about him. Maybe he was watching me from somewhere. Maybe he could help me somehow, I thought. “But I know that isn’t true,” I chided myself. At least not anyway that was obvious to me.
At that moment I could hear a howl far in the distance and then another howl on the other side of me. My ears became alert, picking up the faint, background sounds that I hadn’t noticed before. It seemed like suddenly I was surrounded by the howls as I heard more from different directions. My hand began to hurt from how hard I was suddenly gripping the knife. I almost felt a yearning to go to the howls, but instead I forced myself to scoot away from the howls and closer to the safety of the fire. I scooted over to the pile of wood and threw the largest log I could lift onto the fire. It was going to be a long couple of lonely hours until sunrise.