Interludes Chapter 17

Besides the fact I was going to be the main dish, dinner was smelling wonderful. The thing foraged some wild onions and garlic, which smoldered in a pile next to me. It had bound my arms and legs with some wild grasses and placed me on his makeshift rack.

He brought back another bundle of herbs and tossed them on the fire. The inconsiderate monster left my face right in the path of the smoke. Though it smelled delicious, it was also making it hard to think, and even harder to breathe.

Pete grabbed the back of my neck and started ranting in my ear. “Not such a powerful wizard now, are you? Now just think, had you gone willingly, this probably would have all been over by now.”

“Fuck you,” I muttered through a mouth-full.

“You filthy pig,” Pete said. “You know what wizard! I could probably distract him until administration got here–and really I don’t know what’s taking them so long–but I don’t think I’ll do that. Not after what you did to me.”

I tried cursing him but that only made things worse. Pete was back to old man Pete and he sort of chuckled as I screamed. “Calm down wizard, calm down. All that fussing and fighting isn’t going to help you anyway. You know what though you should hope that he gets to you before they do, violating the Ritual of the Sacred Fire, is a grievous offense. I can only imagine how Administration would handle you.” He let go of my neck and as he turned to walk away his peg leg kicked a pile of hot ash in my face.

“Sir,” Pete called. “Excuse me Sir. Really ah you must speed this up, at once. The Administrators will be here any moment and I would hate to see you run into some trouble with them.” Howl. “Yes, I understand Sir, take as much time as you want, forgive me. I just want this to meet an end favorable to all parties, that’s all.” Howl. “Fine Sir, fine Sir. No reason to get short with me. I tell you Administrators–” There was a loud snapping sound of a large tree being broke at its base. Out of nowhere, the roar of a large engine was heard behind us.

Pete looked around the scene, stupefied. “Please Sir, stop this now. Take this man and run. I am sure you could enjoy him as is, no real need to roast right?”

The Wolf howled in response. “Please Sir,” Pete begged, “they will hurt you Sir. You must run now. I promise I will bring you another in his place!”

A loud air horn filled the woods. “Oh God Sir,” Pete cried. “Please, now, go. They are almost here!”

The wolf continued to sit on the large tree next to his wood pile. He sniffed the air, searching for the approaching men. A long strip of spittle meandered down to the ground.

I started to feel a bit of relief, until the wolf hopped up and came for me.He examined me for a second, and then put me back on the rack belly side up. Not quite done I guess.

The heat exploded on my back, and then went icy cold, as I felt all my skin tightening to the fire. I realized instantly that the wolf must be some sort of Chef, because he allowed the fire to die down enough, that he was going to cook me low and slow. A perfect option for such a gamey animal like a human being.

It wasn’t low enough though and I began screaming out in agony. I stopped screaming when I was blasted by a large spotlight from the hill above where we were standing. I tried to jerk my head this way and that, but with all the binding and the rack, all I could do was make out the shadows of Pete and the Wolf as they scrambled around the campsite.

“Run,” Pete urged. “Please run, dammit friend, they are here. It’s too late. I’m sorry old boy, but I can’t stick around for this.” I heard the rapid, thud, thud, thud, that told me he went running for the forest.

All I could do is close my eyes and listen as the wolf began marching around. There was a pop and a blinding flash, when I opened my eyes again he was gone, and the only thing lightening the space was the dying fire. I tried to wiggle and move, and get out off the restraints but they were on so tight. I even tried to bite with my teeth but it was pointless. I was a roasting duck.

An ear piercing tone filled my head, and a voice rebounded off the trees. “Attention, Creature of the Night, you’re in violation of Administration Code 822. 822 establishes that no magical creature shall exit their designated area. You are also in violation of Code 966. 966 establishes that no magical creature shall have any contact with other extra-dimensional entities. Submit now or face lethal force.”

The wolf let out a hawkish screech as a response. I didn’t need to be some sort wolf whisperer to translate that it meant bring it on. An object went whistling through the air, and made a hard thunk as it sank into a tree. A pin prick of heat exploded on my leg and I look down to see a feathered dart. A warm, pleasurable tingle emanated from the spot and I watched everything that happened through an enveloping narcotic fog.

I realized that the announcement and the flash had obviously been a distraction, because now a thousand laser beams started cross sectioning the world.

I finally found him again, laying against the tree trunk, taking cover. His claws had dug deep into the ground. His muscles rippled across its neck and back. It looked like his whole body was eating the dirt, merging into it. It was clear he was preparing a counter attack for the approaching men.

The smoke in my eyes reminded me that I was dangling over a roasting bed. In the dope haze, I reflected that the drug they hit me with must be quite strong, since I no longer felt any sensation of hot or cold. This was alarming even in my fractured state. I tried to yell again, but choked on all the stuffing.

Everything was in slow motion, like a movie. I watched the wolf’s skin and muscles ripple, covered with dirt, as the soldiers began to surround him. Even in the thick dope fog, I saw it was a horrible idea, and exactly what the wolf wanted. Digging into the ground, made getting a shot of him impossible. I could feel him growling through the ground and up the sticks that I was roasting on.

The armed men looked like any militarized tactical force you may have seen on the news, or maybe even rolling down you’re street. All black clothes and helmets. They were special only in that they wore silver insignias on their chest body-armor, looked like an grey octagon with a chrome snake crawling through it, but it was hard to make out in the dark and in the dope.

They were about twelve feet out on the wolf and they stopped like someone has paused the game. I tried to force myself to think. I really needed to get down from this fire. I could smell myself roasting and I was about to throw up.

Three men broke off of the group and approached the wolf. One of the men put a dot right on the hump of its back, which was the only thing not covered in dirt, looked like a boulder resting against the tree. I could tell they were confused. I tried to yell out to the guys, showing them with my eyes and all that, where is he is at, but they were ignoring me, just looking like assholes, right at the ground.

A giant shadowy tentacle came shooting out of the dirt. It latched on to one of the men’s ankles and pulled him down. One of the other two fired, but it it ricocheted of the tree and went flying back into a section of men encircling the mess, causing them to dive to the ground. Like an octopus the wolf snatched another man and dove back in the dirt. All hell breaks lose. The last guy began firing chaotically screaming for help. Horrible ripping and dying sounds came from the wolf’s hole, and the perimeter of men exploded with confusion.

It was strange watching the men switch from approaching geared up and organized, to trapped and unprepared. Men took off their helmets, screaming at each other directly. Half the group was ordered forward to try to retrieve the wounded men, but then stopped. They all had their hands to their helmets and arguing with whoever was giving them orders. They looked visibly frustrated shaking their heads, raising their hands, pointing at the rippling dirt pile. The muffled tears and screams stopped.

I passed out for a second, into that torturous purgatory of blankness she liked to put me in, way back in my running days. It’s even worse now though, because its empty silence allows my mind to run clear. I know that I am in deep, deep trouble. I’m mad at my wife. I want to yell for her, but of course that is an entirely unattainable goal.

Honestly, in this horrible uncanny situation how can I be pissed at her? There are no excuses though, that’s my issue. How could she have fallen asleep? I was sure that was what happened. She saw the look of fear and dread in my eyes. She had read all this. She had seen the change. She knew.

The sound of some demonic woodchopper being fired up brought me back to LaLa-Land. Still the same slow-motion haze though. All nastiness had exploded. The main fire had been tossed, amber piles of it were scattered everywhere, a body smoldered next to me, another dripped empaled on a large limb.

I realized they’ve made the always important to decision, to switch to real bullets, which are bouncing off of and tearing through the woods around me. The bullets whip by and I have the terrible suspicion I have been shot, and just can’t know for sure because I am half-cooked (in more way than one).

I look around trying to find the monster, but his hulking mass is gone from the ground. It looked like someone has emptied out a truck load of pumpkin guts in its place. The perimeter had been scattered. Six men huddled in a group on the other side of the fire.
I started groaning. They looked at me for a second but went back to their conversation.

“We won’t make it thirty minutes for reinforcements.”

“Boss says wait, we wait.”

“With this fucking thing out here, are you serious?”

“They know what it is. They say wait; we wait.”

“Bullshit.”

“Watch it soldier. You knew what “Goon Squad” was all about before you signed up. You knew the risks.”

“Tell that to those guys,” the man said, gesturing towards the fire and the tree.

I started to jerk around. Not giving a damn if I fell right into the fire. Better that and roll away and die, then jut slow bake my way there like this.

“What should we do about him Sir?” Another man asked.

“Leave him be for all I care.”

“Nah better pull him off there, level three priority.”

“Level 3 priority, bullshit.”

“That’s enough Adams!” A man yelled. “One more word out of you and I will have you removed and stripped. Brown and Mueller get him down now!”

The men used the wild grass binding to pick me up like I was nothing. They set me down on the ground and another man produced a large knife and cut me free.

“Give this guy some fucking pants would ya,” the man said. Then he was in my face, smiling. “Hello Sir. I am Lt. Daniels. You have a bit of explaining to do.”

A man tossed a pair of pants in my face. I tried to grab them, but it was like moving through honey.

“Ah shit,” Daniels said, “we hit him with the sleepy juice. Fucking Christ boys, we sure fucked this one up. Someone help him get his fucking pants on and let’s hit him with the epi-pen before we lose him too.”

The rolled me over jabbed me in the thigh and went back to ignoring me. I laid there eyes closed, trying to catch my breath. They talked like I wasn’t there.

“I don’t think that thing is done,” one man said. “He hunted the men that ran. Alvarez, Johnson, I saw those two booking it like that, goddamn fools!”

Guy beside him chimed in. “Yeah, I saw those two, Stanley and Drop Dick too, but I didn’t know half the guys–”Rowdy Squad” substitutes–”

“That’s fucking right,” Cpt. Daniels said, “knew we were dicked when I saw that. Fucking guys going on sabbatical. I tell you this shit always happens when the Captain calls his down-time.”

“What are we going to do if it comes back?” One of them redirected.

“We’re not going to be here boys,” Daniels said. “Pack all this shit up, we’ll circle the area, try to get eyes on that fucking thing. Wait for reinforcements to get in here and clean this shit up. I’m not dealing with this mess.”

There was a rustle in the bush which set all the men to their weapons. “Grab the level three, now!” Daniels yelled. Two of the large men came and grabbed me by my arms-pits and dragged me to a gurgling Humvee.

Two men clutched their weapons in the back of the vehicle. I was shoved in between them. “Howdy,” one said.

Daniels popped his head in. “Keep on eye on this one boys.”

“Yes Sir,” the men said in unison.

There was round of rifle fire. Daniels ducked his head back out the door and slammed it shut.

One of the guys began bouncing his legs like crazy.

“Calm down Jack,” the other one said. “We’re riding with the Captain himself. Ain’t no way that thing is gonna get the Captain.”

“Fuck that you redneck,” said wild legs. “You see what that fucking thing did to them? Killed half the goddamn squad we need to go, now!” There was more firing, and then a large explosion.

“Fuck this,” wild legs said. “I’m getting us out of here.” He went to open the door.
Howdy cocked his weapon and shoved it in the man’s ribs. “Stay right where you’re at their Jack. Slowly, get your hand off the door there. No big deal right, calm down. No one saw nothing. You know that sort of talk is insubordination. Sector 9’s the last place you’d want to go AWOL anyway right? Look at all those bastards that ran tonight? I bet they all got picked off, one by one.”

There was a howl, and the front doors were ripped open. Captain Daniels dove in the passengers seat. An awful chunk was missing from his forearm, but he showed no signs of awareness of that fact. A young looking soldier fell into the driver’s seat. His faced was caked with blood. Daniels took a canteen from the floor and poured it on his face, with his other dirt and block soaked hand he tried to wipe the driver’s face off and then set him back up. “Drive,” he ordered the man.

The driver tried to wipe the gore from his face with his sleeve, but it was a disgusting mess too. He snatched the bottle from the Captain’s hands and poured it on his face again. This time using a semi-clean thumb to scrape the gunk off with one hand. Then he hit the gas, and the truck went peeling off.

The howl was louder than ever. We had enraged the thing now, I was sure of that. He would love the chase too. I felt like a can of sardines, just waiting to be liberated.

“This shit,” Daniels screamed. “I tell you, not worth the pay boys, not worth the fucking pay. A goddamn werewolf can you believe that?” He whacked the driver with the back of his hands. “What’s you’re name son?”

“Michael,” the driver said.

“Did a damn good job Michael,” Daniels said. “Got us out of there. We were fucked.”

“Yes, sir,” Michael said. You could tell he was barely listening. His eyes kept on a relay from the road to his mirrors. Road to the mirrors.

“Yep, you seen some shit tonight boys,” Daniels said. “I’ve only seen one other wolf, myself, that was right when I started with Goon Squad. Was an abominable snowman type son of a bitch. Found him high in mountains of Sector 10. Fucking no one knew how they got there. That’s the real son of a bitch of this whole situation. Administration doesn’t know shit. Tell you nothing can move between sectors without their gates, but then shit like that happens. Or shit like this asshole back here?”

It took me an extra moment to realize he was referring to me. “No offense,” Daniels said, turning around to face me. “I bet this bastard’s got no clue what’s going on. Look at him boys?”

Howdy and shaky legs began to look at me very closely. “Yep,” Daniels said, “these levels 3s are in a state of shock you see. Being torn between the two worlds. Can you believe this asshole is back laying under his blanky, on his comfy bed, while we’re out here dealing with this shit? Where you from man?”

I tried to talk, but the word weren’t coming out. These new revelations shocked me. I tried to speak, but it just came out as an incoherent mumble. “See that shit,” Daniels said. “Fucker can’t speak.”

With two quick movement, the captain popped the latched of his ceiling and tossed the section off. He went blasting up the new hole and it looked like he was going to fly out to. “Yep, think we ditched her boys. Lucky bastards. I don’t see any sign of that thing–not that it’s the easiest goddamn thing to see.”

He flopped back into his seat. “Keep that thing floored Michael. I tell you went to stop.” Daniels turned back to me. “Now listen here you sorry bastard, don’t you go sneaking off on me now, you understand? Not til backup arrives and you get debriefed. Explain everything that happened out here, you understand? We are going to ride this thing out together, right?”

I had no clue what he was talking about, but I nodded in assent.

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Interludes Chapter 16

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I wake up and the door had been blasted to pieces. Large sections are scattered throughout the cabin. I saw the fire in the distance, and the werewolf standing next to it. It looked nothing like what I thought it would. Not really a wolf or a man to be honest. More like a lithe shadow with claws, and a gigantic, bulbous, cancerous porcupine strapped to its back. Its hands dangled, reaching to the ground.

I realized instantly that my “grab the neck and control the head” was a no go. There was no sign of Pete too. I couldn’t help but wish the wolf got him and maybe it was over.

I found the tablet back on the stand. The screen was shattered but it started up. I crept to a corner with it held to my chest so no one would see the light. I took a couple quick peeks. No picture, no apps, just a symbol. It was a pole with a globe on top made of perfect interlocking spheres. I only looked at it for a second, before the wolf started marching around, and I set it down.

It was all growls and snorts. I knew I needed to do something, but honestly I was too scared to move. Pete’s voice startled me as he spoke right outside the cabin. “Oh yes Sir, he must have escaped, huh? Perhaps you could round the perimeter and try to find him? I know you must be starving at this point?” There was a howl in response.

“He was a powerful wizard, portly too, so he must have been extremely wealthy in his world, some sort of Lord, I imagine.” More growls and grunts. “I hope you realize Sir that I made every attempt to fulfill my end of the bargain. Now, of course, I realize I have failed in delivery, and for that I am prepared to make whatever amends you see fit. I still have a number of good appendages, but I hope and sense that some rapport has developed between us, and I wonder if a new deal couldn’t be made?”

Grunts, snorts, ending upbeat, sort of sounded like an approval. “Well, then my idea is this. Let me met with the Administrators when they arrive. I will explain to them that the man I met was a Technician from Earth, that he went mad and pressed the button, and that you showed up busted down the door and took him away. Now they will be shocked by the violation of protocol and be doubly surprised that everything I had told them about the wolf was true; I would love to see their reactions to that!”

The sneaky little bastard, I wanted to come out of hiding and just pummel him, but my own sense of self preservation wouldn’t allow it. Instead I just listened to him as he went on. “Now Sir once I wrap everything up with Administration, which really could arrive any moment, and then my people, I will come back and met you. We can agree on some sort of signal, I could leave here at this cabin, perhaps a marking on one of these trees? Then I could meet you back here, after procuring a suitable replacement, and I don’t want be to crass here but I think I can guarantee the finest substitute; my people have no idea of this sort of thing; they will be totally unaware.”

In the little weasel’s monologue I spied my small hammer on the other side of the room. I crawled across the floor and grabbed it. It wasn’t much, but it was all I had. Maybe it wouldn’t do anything to the monster, but I bet it could take a chunk out of that little maniac.

“Now Sir,” Pete said, “I have an admission here that I don’t dare hide any longer. I hope this is a sign of how much I respect you. I have now violated the Ritual of The Sacred Fire. I have been interrupted and ruined by this wizard. I have no idea what sort of punishment will be dealt out to me. Complete abandonment would mean death, that is explicit. But seeing as how I am still here, and the fire was obviously broken, by the wizard, then there seems no real way I can be seen at fault, right?”

There were more grunts and some shuffling. I held as fast as I could to the door. The thing’s awful shadow passed across it. I heard the sound of running, and almost wet myself in fear at the thought it was coming back to check the cabin. The steps got quieter and further away. I waited for some time in this skin bubbling quiet. I tried to wake myself up, but there was nothing happening there. That reality was separated by a giant deadly glacier.

My wife feel asleep. I knew that. She could fall asleep so fast. I hadn’t slept good in days, this could be the deep one I knew. Out of nowhere Pete’s airy whistle broke in over my thoughts. It almost sounded like he whistling Yankee-Doodle. That drove me nuts, like he was just waiting on the bus or something. He started walking around as he whistled and I watched as his shadow grabbed another log and tossed it on the fire. He was so calm now. I started to think maybe the wolf had listened to him.

I was just about to jump him and give him a good thrashing, when I heard the sound of its pounding steps coming back. It was hacking and growling like it was really gassed.
“My Lord,” Pete cried. “What have you done? You sentimental beast, dinner? I told you, you really must go. Administration will be here any moment…Really I don’t know what is taking them so long.” There was grunts and whines from the thing.

“Oh dammit, listen let me check the cabin for him, one last time. But if he ins’t there you have to go, do you understand? I couldn’t stand to see what they would do with you.” The unmistakable thud of his marching approached. I had no idea what to do. Honestly, my plan at that moment was just to blast him, and go from there.

I heard his slow climb of the steps to the cabin. He peeked in for a second and I could have whacked him. He stepped back out though. “Listen friend. Keep those spiky ears peeled, all right? First sign of them you got to go, got it?” There was a loud howl in response. “Okay, sheesh, calm down old boy.”

He ducked back in and that;s when I jumped. I guess I’m still a coward cause I couldn’t bring myself to really sucker him with the hammer. So instead I tried to swing him around and smash him into the wall. This was stupid. His strength was incredible for his size and missing leg, he dead-bodied me mid-toss and began screaming. “He’s in here! He’s here! He’s here!”

I yanked on him as hard as I could and blasted him right into the wall. There was a horrible pop in my back when I did this though. I was stuck at forty-five degree angle now. Pete dove to tackle me. No other options, I swung hard from the waist with the hammer. I got him right in the neck and he went diving for the floor. “Help,” he screamed.

I couldn’t hear anything now. The cabin was pulsing with panic. It grabbed me by the leg and pulled me out. I couldn’t open my eyes. I was way too afraid to look at it. Its hand was freakishly cold and clammy. It squeezed on my leg and I knew that in a second it could snap it like a chicken bone.

I kept my eyes closed, forcing them shut with all my will. That was the only real option. I was being twirled around like a dirty towel. Then it was time for a flight. I crashed with a hard whack to the ground. I was sure something was broken, but I was just a brain, my body was done. I watched through half open eyes as the hulking shadow marched back for the cabin.

I could hear Pete moaning inside of it There was growls and even a bark. The thing came back out visibly shaking, Pete’s small body draped over his shoulder. I couldn’t help but look at him now. The wolf was almost cartoonish in its hulking grotesqueness. Its deep black fur made it looked like it was pressed from thick pool of oil. Red orbs rolled in its eye. A thick stream of silvery drool dangled from its mouth.

It set Pete down next to the pile of downed trees and the headless carcass of what looked like a gigantic deer. There were all the furnishing of a well set up camp too, fire, tree fort, a giant pile of sticks and limbs. He made a giant leap back for me and picked me up easily and began to smell me. It didn’t help that all I had on were my boxers, which we ripped from me with one jerk.

I was screaming and crying by this point. The thing just kept rolling me around, smelling me like a cigar. The drool coated me with a thick gel. “Britney!” I screamed. “Wake me up!” The thing tossed me to the ground and went bounding for the forest.

My body was so broken, it was like I didn’t have bones anymore just a skin bag of chunky sludge. I tried to stand up but came crashing back down. Something was seriously wrong. I tried to drag myself across the floor but started to black out. I looked up, and for the briefest second thought I saw her watching from behind a tree, but when I tried to focus she disappeared.

I probably didn’t crawl five feet before he was back. He clenched a giant bundles of weeds and wild grasses, which he promptly began to rub all over me, and shove in some not very nice places. As an I amateur Chef, I soon deduced he was preparing to roast me.

 

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Snippets #52

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Narcissiana: On Collecting-Translation of Fredrick Sjoberg The Fly Trap

Almost any disturbance at all can create a whole new environment, which may sometimes meet the rather intricate demands that some insignificant fly makes on life. It can be quite simple. Let’s say that a young landscape architect falls in love with a girl who says she adores the heavy fragrance of balsam poplar, whereupon he, of course, has an entire forest of balsam poplar planted, perhaps at a university that hires him to design its landscaping just at the time he’s falling in love, and at night these woods come to be used as a meeting place by, say, the semisecret Students for the Liberation of White Russia, who put up completely unreadable posters about their hopeless struggle on the smooth trunks of the fast-growing poplars, using the only tool their organization has a plentiful supply of—namely, White Russian thumbtacks, which contain indeterminable metallic impurities that give rise to a rare form of rot in the tree’s inner bark that some even rarer hoverfly’s sap-eating larvae require in order to survive to adulthood.

Link

http://www.amazon.com/Fly-Trap-Fredrik-Sjöberg/dp/110187015X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1453573365&sr=8-2&keywords=The+Fly+Trap

Interludes Chapter 15

I exploded off the couch like an M-80 was about to go off in my pocket. My son smiled at me. “You’re funny.”

“Nothing funny about this buddy,” I said. I stomped to the kitchen, and poured myself a glass of water. I was mad at myself for falling asleep, but strangely I did feel better. It also confirmed to me that time did slow down when I was over here. Still, I had no idea when that thing was coming back, or why had it ran off like that? It could have been mention of the “Administration,” whatever the fuck that meant. I really didn’t like the sound of that, to be honest. It shattered the vague lie that I had been telling myself that this was all so much craziness, the result of an over active imagination.

I was bothered by nightmares dreams in the past, before any of this started I mean, so when I forced myself to consider the situation I couldn’t help but see that I really had no reason to think there wasn’t another world out there, just beyond my eyelids. A world that might have different extents and limits.

I don’t think people dream anymore. That’s the problem. Imagine if you were getting a good 9-10 hours of sleep a night, exercising regularly and not using caffeine or anything like that. I think it would be very easy under those circumstances to have an extensive experience of dreaming. Maybe if this ability and practice was truly appreciated and say one started a dream journal, and started developing other so-called lucid dreaming techniques, couldn’t we imagine this person having a greater connectedness to this other place, than they felt to the real world?

In my situation, it’s sort of an irrelevant point. I chug coffee by the pot and have little ones, so rarely do I get more than six hours of sleep anyway, and as you can probably guess I have a bit of an excited tendency, which is not conducive to peaceful rest. I get into to this dream world like a shotgun blast, a bucket of ice cold water to the face. It just happens.

These were the type of considerations I was engaged in as I drank my water and tried to figure out what to do. Like over there, how do I defeat a werewolf? I’m a somewhat largish man, but by no means some tough guy, and just a glimpse of the snout told me this thing was huge, so I wasn’t excited about trying to fight. It’s funny you know, the interconnectedness of things. As I paced my kitchen thinking about it, that’s what I kept coming back too. That’s weird, huh? The interconnectedness of things? What the fuck does that even mean? What made me think of the phrase was something that happened when I was seven years old.

There was this Great Dane named Domino, at the neighbor’s house. It was a friendly dog, but the one stipulation was that you shouldn’t run away or the small horse was likely to give chase.

In hindsight, a reasonable adult might ask, well then Domino better be kept on lockdown, but this was pre-helicopter parenting days, wild-west days of the Mid-90’s, not all bubble wrapped and safe like today, I guess. Point is back then I just had to contend with Domino, and remember the simple rule, no running away. So of course, one day, I went running up the block, happy, naive, and I heard this yelling to “stop!” I looked back and all I saw was the top of Domino’s massive head as it reared down on me. Like a bull, he scooped me up, and tossed me into the air.

Now all that is to say, I’m predisposed to thinking about how does one take down a large beast like a rushing dog? Later, misguided and disastrous forays into wrestling, which we will not go into here, provided the clue. The one powerful phrase I retained from my grappling studies was “where the heads goes, the body will follow,” meaning if you can drag something by the head, then you had control of it.

Despite my encounter with Domino, I always have been and will be a lover of animals. I have two great dogs myself, ignoring their inability to protect me from cosmological entities. It is with these dogs, Old Boy Dante and the one with papers Cujo, that I have somewhat tested my theories. These test have been done in play, and this werewolf is clearly no labor-doodle, but my experiments have been positive. A dog, and werewolf I hope, are all about the mouth. They’re like a ragging set of teeth, propelled by a body. Just like the mighty alligator, once head/neck control is established we pray, it will become easier to clamp down on the jaws, which have great biting force, but not great opening force. And let’s just forget about those claws, and jagged edges…

The plan was clear. Get this thing in a headlock, hold its mouth shut, and perhaps bludgeon it with my small hammer? Where was the small hammer, now that I thought of it? I went back to the living room and it was nowhere in sight. Strange? Was it possible I left it over there?

I pried the DS from my son’s hand and put it on the charger. Then we both flopped back on the couch. He could tell I was stressed. I had to lie to him again and told him it was nothing. Really I was freaking out. We both knew that.

I wondered if I could make it through the night without falling asleep? I wondered if that was even the right play? How could I guarantee my safety? I needed some help.

The whole day was this mixture of the mundane, making PB&Js, playing with Play-doh, wiping butts, starting dinner, and then just worry and plotting about what I was going to do with the wolf. By the time bed came I was exhausted. Britney could definitely tell something was up. “You all right babe?” She asked, getting her clothes ready for the next day.

“No,” I said into the pillow. “No, I’m not all right at all. It’s the dreams again. I’m so goddamned tired, but too afraid to go to sleep.

“I thought things were going better,” she said.

How could I explain that the last ten days or so had been the worst ever, and that what she took for doing better was me at my lowest? “It was,” I lied. “But the wolf is finally here.”

“What? You’ve seen the wolf?”

“Just it’s snot and an eyeball.”

“Get out of here?”

“No, serious.”

“That’s fucking freaky.

“I know,” I said. Silence. The usual silence. Like always, I feel mostly bad for my wife talking to her about this stuff. If I have no clue what’s going on, how can I expect her to? I don’t want to tell her about the tablet, but it comes bubbling out. “There’s something else too.”

“What?”

“I touched the tablet.”

“Shut up,” she said, slamming her underwear drawer shut.

“I did and there was this weird picture, bunch of old people dressed up, priests and monks and stuff, and then there was one other app and it didn’t do anything, but dropped all the power.”

“Why in the hell did you do that?”

“I don’t know.”

“This is bad.” For the first time in all this she seemed honestly worried. This made me feel like crap. Why did I touch that freaking thing?

“What are you going to do?” She asked, arms crossed.

“I don’t know. I’m going to try to stay up tonight and tomorrow. Maybe I can nap tomorrow when you get home.”

“No, come on. I don’t want to be mean but you look like a wreck. You need to sleep.

“I can’t sleep.”’

“You have too.”

Marriage is wonderful. One aspect of this is the prevalence and potency of honesty. My damn tiredness betrayed me. “I think it’s gonna bring the ‘Administrators’?”

“Administrators?” She had an insulted look on her face that I couldn’t really explain.

“Yeah, I think I told you about them once. I don’t really get it to be honest. Sounds like their form of government. You know I naturally get the need for–”’

“Wait,” she interrupted. “I’m not following you.”

“What do you mean”

“Well, if it’s a dream world, why is there a government? That sounds stupid.”

Indeed. What could I say to that? We enjoyed a comfortable silence for a moment. I rolled in it like a warm sauna. She didn’t believe me. That’s fine. I didn’t necessarily believe me either. There’s was a sour little ping of moral angst at that. A lil splash of depressive melancholia, which was seeing all this as my fault.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ll try to sleep.”

My wife got the shivers and looked away for a second. “I don’t know what to do, but you have to figure something out with this? We can’t have your lurking around here like a zombie. How about this though. How about you lay down right now, it’s a little after nine, and I’ll crochet next to you for an hour or two and wake you before I sleep. Maybe the little catnap can help you, and if you start acting weird, then I’ll just wake you up?”

“Have you ever seen any Freddy Kruger movies? Because that’s exactly what they do before one of them offs it.”

“Oh my god,” she said. “I’m just trying to help.”

“I know,” I said.

Silence. “Fine,” I said, snuggling up to her with a pillow. “But you promise you’ll wake me up?”

“I promise,” she said.

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Interludes Chapter 14

The screen lit up and the background was a photo of a large group of people, maybe a school. It looked old, from the 1950s, or even earlier. There were some oddly dressed people on it. Men in long robes, turbans, some Buddhist roped looking dude, a couple ancient looking guys in Catholic priest garb. What I assume is a class of kids take up a majority of the bleachers. There’s nothing obviously weird about them. They all look quite put together, well behaved even.

There are only two Apps icons. Oddly enough Google was one and the other was a black square with a white X on it. I decided to show Pete the Google App. I had the peculiar problem of what exactly should I show this other-dimensional creature? What would be of relevance to him? Especially in this moment?

One of my go-to writing motivation songs came to mind, Nina Simone’s version of Sinnerman. I quickly found it in a thumbnail, and clicked it. I tried to hand it back to Pete but his hands were shaking and he backed away. “No stop it. What have you done? What sort of Dark Lord are you?”

“Dammit Pete,” I said. “Calm down. It’s a song.” Nina’s chanting and the fast beat were maybe not the best thing to listen to, but before I could change it the door was almost kicked in half. A wide gap in the door let in a glimmer of star light. A glistening black snot pushed up against it.

It took deep breathes like a pig, leaving a thick snot trail afterwards rolling down our side. It was hard to hear anything clearly, with Nina and the wolf huffing and snorting. The grunts shifted into words. “Goo joop, Pete. Goo joop, Pete.”

“Son of a bitch, Pete,” I yelled. “Glad you to see you two can be so lovey dovey.” I look backed and Pete was white knuckled, eyes peeled with the tablet.

Nina was blasting him in the face and he looked ancient. I picked up my small hammer, and tried to meditate on it, hoping it could pull me back into the real world, but to no avail. I looked back to the door and the wolf’s massive claw was trying to pull it apart. I took two steps to whack it with the hammer, but I stopped, realizing the stupidity in that.

I tried to wrench the tablet from his hands, but his hands were super-glued to it. I had to put my knees on his chest to pry it from him.

“Get it together man,” I yelled, but he was catatonic.  His hands stayed stuck like when they were holding the tablet.

I shut the song off and he snapped out of it. “Oh Sir, I am so sorry. How could I have known that you were so powerful? You are a god aren’t you? Sent here to test me and I have failed. I am so sorry. Please do not play that harpy again or I will die; I am so sorry; I have been betrayed.”

“Oh you’re gonna be sorry,” I yelled. “That thing is munching you man, not me! I’m getting out of this!” I brought up the homepage and tap the X thumbnail without another thought. A new window came up and it was running computer code.

As I looked at it the screen began to twist and flip colors, and the worst sort of stomach pain kicked in. It felt like somebody was doing jumping jacks on my intestines. The screen started flashing different images and clips, with green and blue empty blizzard in between.

The clips were completely out of context historical segments, most from television it seemed, like Martin Luther King giving a speech, that guy stopping a tank in Tiananmen square, a speech by Dwight D. Eisenhower, just random historical stuff. There were also random clips from events and places, I did not recognize.

For instance, one was of some planetary landing not the moon, it was a darker brown planet, and there were four of five large vehicle circled around. The camera zommed in on a guy getting out of one of them. He wore a bright green suit, and a bronze tinted astronaut helmet. But then the screen cut to a a baking show, then a beauty pageant.

Pete was right in my face. “What have you done?”

“Nothing! Dammit. Calm down.”

The screen flashed what looked like a typical alert message for a computer, but everything went out suddenly. The tablet, the lights. Everything went dark. The only light crept in through the crack of the door. I tried to get the tablet started again, but it didn’t work. Frustrated, I launched it against the wall. “No,” Pete screamed. “The Sacred Fire!”

I thought about cracking him one, but another cramp doubled me over. I was blinded by a light, which I realized was coming from the other side. Someone opened the curtains, I guessed. I tried to hold on to it, but everything went black again. The only sound I can hear is Pete’s wooden leg tapping against the floor of the cabin.

I am so afraid, so worked up, I decide I can’t just stand there anymore and wait. I run at where I thought the gap in the door should be and whacked it with the back of the hammer. I totally miscalculated, hitting the door full body. I slide to the ground, crying out in pain.

“Master,” Pete whispered, “are you okay?”

I laid against the bulging door. I ran my hand up it until I came to the gap. I stuck one finger in it stupidly. It felt like my dog’s fur, sort of sharp, but also soft at the same time. “Scraach,” the thing grunted.

Somehow I controlled my terror, the voice had vibrated the door. I was so close to it now. That’s the thing about fear though isn’t it? It can make you do things you never thought possible. I scratched and it hummed in pleasure. “Goo joop, Pete. Goo joop, Pete.”

“Actually not Pete,” I said. “Pete’s friend, Austin, Sir.”

“Dinnah,” the Wolf grumbled.

“Hopefully not, Listen I’m here with Pete though and I think if you listen to his story he will tell you there has been a sort of mix-up here. He’s tricked me.”

“Yes, Sir,” Pete said to the hole. He had snuck up in the dark, and it gave me a jump. “I did not know Austin was such a powerful Technician. I am sure Administration will want to see him. He claims to be from another world. Whatever that means.”

There was a grumble and we could see the fire for a second, before a raging, bloodshot eyeball filled the space. It looked from Pete to me, then howled and ran off.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“I don’t know, Sir.”

“Cut it with the Sir crap.”

“Yes, Master,” he said.

I took my little hammer and tried to pry at the door, but the door beams were so thick that my hammer was worthless. Doubly it proved the strength of the creature. A new round of stomach cramps sent me to floor.

This time I forced my eyes to stay closed. The bright light hurt so bad and made me feel like throwing up, but I kept them closed and I heard a little sigh, my older son’s sigh. He was growing bored or struggling with some game.

I forced my eyes open and I was back on my couch. The fan was blowing me right in my face. “Good nap?” My son asked.

Interludes Chapter 13

When I wake up Pete was slapping me in the face, screaming. “He’s here. He’s here.” I know I shouldn’t have fallen asleep on the couch like that, but I was so tired. The cabin smell overwhelmed me. I can even smell some remnant of the Green Pine Forgetting Forest on my skin and up my nostrils. Another slap brought me all the way out. Somehow despite still being tied, I’m able to jump up and Pete went flying across the room.

“He’s here!” Pete screamed, as he scrambled up the bench, holding the wall.

He tied me up with his ceremonial robe. My arms were locked against my side. I struggled to get out but he had latched it around my wrists and I could barely move my arms at all. “Let me out now,” I screamed.

“No goddammit man, listen,” Pete yelled. “The beast approaches.”

I kicked at him but he scrambled out of the way. “Let me go now!” I tried to get him again but he easily dove out of the way. That’s when I saw my small hammer from home laying on the ground. It wasn’t much of a weapon, but it was something. I jumped for hit and got it in my right hand. I started awkwardly trying to whack at him with this.

“Stop it,” Pete yelled. “Stop it. It’s over. The beast approaches. He will have you. My debt will be paid; it’s over–” I caught him right there with the hook part of the hammer, on the fleshy part of the back of his arm. He screamed and turned on me and dove right at me like a football player.
He was right up in my face. I could smell his hot, sick breath. “I’m sorry Sir. I am. I hate that it has to be you, but there is no choice now.”

“Get off me!” I screamed.

Pete’s tiny hands cupped my mouth. “Shhhh, listen!” I listened for a second and it sounded like the wind coming on in a storm, but out of that, broke a clear wolf howl that made my blood curdle.

“It’s here,” Pete whispered, “I’m so sorry.” He got off me and moved to the wall. The years seemed to melt off of him, until he was the small boy who I had first meet.

His restraints had slipped off some in the struggle. I tried to wiggle and squirm out, but I couldn’t. “Fine Pete, that’s fine” I yelled. “I will be this thing’s fucking dinner, but at least let me fight and die as a man, not all tied up like a goddamn sausage like this.”

“There will be no fight,” he said. “The restraints aren’t for him. They were to protect me from you.” He look at me with watery kid’s eyes as he rubbed the back of his arm.

“You were going to serve me to the wolf!” I screamed.

“I know,” Pete said. “Still you shouldn’t have hit me though.” He grew younger than I had ever seen him now, maybe four or five.

“Okay Pete,” I said, “I got you, but I promise now, no more hitting. Please let me go and give me a chance, okay? We can work together we can defeat this thing!” I didn’t believe that for a second, but what could I do?

He turned away from me and looked at the wall, and began to cry. “Please Pete,” I pleaded. “I know you’re scared. I got that now.” A loud howl came from right outside the door. “Dammit please son, just untie me, please.”
He turned and looked at me and looked back at the wall. A loud pounding came from the wooden door. The thing knocked so hard the door began to crackle and pop. It would take nothing for it too bring it down. He was playing games. With a final whack and howl the sound stopped and there was silence.

“Please Pete,” I begged, “I got a family, a wife, kids. I don’t want to die. Don’t let me die like this Pete, please?” Again nothing, can you believe that?

I was bawling tears by this point, really freaking out. This thing must have been huge you know, to blast a thick door like that. I had no clue what I thought I could do in way of defense. It was all hopeless. I began to try to pinch myself to wake up. Even slammed the small hammer against the ground, hoping that maybe this might have some sympathetic effect over there. Still nothing.

Out of nowhere we began to hear a chopping sound and then a cracking sound, and then the sound of a large treeing coming down. “What in the hell was that?” I asked.

“He’s starting a pit fire,” Pete mumbled into the wall.

“What for?”

“You.”

“Oh my god!” I I had to wake up. I started banging my head against the floor.

“Stop it,” Pete yelled. “Stop it. Don’t do that. You can’t go again. You have to be here when he’s done, or he might take me. Stop! Stop!”

The world was getting all hazy, but then I felt his light body jump on me and the cabin came back clear. “Fine,” he said, “don’t go and I’ll untie you. Just don’t hurt yourself anymore.”

I was groggy now, but one hand was free. I went back to the pinching and slapping, but it still didn’t work. I ripped the robe off of me. I thought about kicking Pete’s ass some more, but it didn’t seem right now that he was a kid again. I looked at the pedestal and the tablet was gone.

“Where’d it go Pete?” I asked, free from the straps. I paced the room trying to come up with a plan.

“Where’d what go?”

“The computer Pete, the computer.”

“The Sacred Fire, well that is on my person; it is my duty”

“I want it,” I ordered, “now!”

“No impossible,” he said. “Let me remind you, you swore an oath as Assistant to the Fire Tender, an oath which included the most restrictive promise not to harm The Sacred Fire in any way–” I snatched him by his coat collar and pulled the tablet from behind him. “What’s the code?” He ignored me. “Tell me now!” I gave him another little shake. Still nothing.

“If you don’t tell me it, I will throw it against the wall!”

“They’ll kill you if you do,”

“It’s going to kill me now!” I screamed.

All frowns he turned the tablet towards himself and punched in the code…

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Interludes Chapter 12

When I came to on the bench, it was like I had the flu. Throat was all dry and sore. I had no clue what time it was, but day was here. My mind scrambled with a new alertness. That was the best sleep I have had in weeks. All the details of my life came rolling back in. I began to panic.

I jogged back home. The whole time my mind was just running. What if my wife was late for work? Where had that old lady gone, and why did she have so much information about what was happening? What if it was true? Was I safe over there?

Too out of breath to even yell I burst in the front of the house and was greeted by a humid silence? Had everyone left? The awful image of Cassandra sitting at my kitchen table, drinking my coffee stopped me in the basement. Or would she be hiding in the office? Now that I thought about it I had never seen her upstairs. I ran upstairs and heard my wife in the bathroom. She was pulling her hair into a pony tail and looked especially mature and put together in her work clothes. “Good morning,” she greeted me, rested.

It was so casual, so normal. I tried to say something but I couldn’t. There was so much to tell her, so much to explain, but how did I start. Hi honey, spent the early morning running around the neighborhood. May have met an angel. Life may be in jeopardy, wrestling with imaginary monsters. Sort of a big deal.

Instead I smiled and got a glass of water. “Everything all right?” She called from the bathroom.

“Fine,” I said. I took another big drink.

“You were up early huh? You working on some writing?”

My cackling laughter response startled her. “You sure you’re okay?” She poked her head around the corner, drying her hands.

“Yeah, of course,” I lied.

Now the careful, and perhaps the courageous hearted reader, may wonder why I didn’t just lay it all out. As I have mentioned perviously, I have tried and the outcome was negative; the nature of the issue makes it a difficult situation to understand.

Perhaps a little more detail on my wife and family would help you to understand. My wife works as a health counselor for people with diabetes and other illness. I am the stay-at-home Dad of three children. This adds another layer of pressure. I feel silly bringing up my imaginary problems to her, right before she is off to go help people with real, life threatening problems. Calm and patience are required for her to do her job, so I don’t want to unnecessarily worry her, especially when she was right about to head out.

I was so panicked though. Just with her looking at me, my hands began to shake. “You sure?” She asked again. “What were you doing up so early? Writing? Reading?”

I shook my head yes, suppressing the manic laughter, which budged in my throat and chest.

“Okay,” she said, “are you sure though, cause something seems off? Were you outside?”

I couldn’t figure out what to do. What would you have done? I should have told her everything, told her to call the day off too. My fear kept me from that. If I told her the truth. She would have me in bed and sleeping before noon. I needed some time, or something to get a hold of what was going on here. “Fresh air,” I said.

“Fresh air?” She asked. “It’s like ninety degrees out there already?”

“Yep,” I said, turning my back on her. I poured another glass, but my shaky hands betrayed me.

“Austin, come on, you’re all freaked out, what’s going on?”

“It’s her,” I said.

“Her?” There was an edge to her question. “Are you fucking around on me or something?”

I spit my water out. “No. Of course not, I’m talking about the muse-thing.”

“Oh that weird shit, honey I don’t got time for that this morning. I got an early appoint.” That meant she had to be to work at seven. I looked at the clock it was 6:42. “I don’t know what’s going on with you all right. Most stuff you go through, I just got to sort of accept.”

“I know,” I said, “but its getting serious. I think I might be in real trouble?”

“Real trouble? With what? They’re dreams hun; that’s it. You got a powerful imagination; that’s it. Freddy Krueger ain’t real.”

I love my wife. She is the solvent to my acidity, but her refusal to get on board was not helping me. She stared at me as I tried to get a sentence out. My two year old came out of his room, rubbing his eyes. She kneeled down and gave him a hug. “Just make it through the day all right. I’ll try to get you a good break tonight. Maybe give you a good back rub or something to help you get a good night’s rest, all right?”

Somehow I said of course, and she was off. It was Dad time. Breakfast, eggs, toast. Changing diapers, another walk, toy time, lunch, nap time. I collapsed on the couch as my oldest son took a turn on the DS.

Everything was so goddamned suburban. I could barely remember everything that happened the night before. The Cabin. The tablet. Pete. The fight. It all seemed so much made up bullshit. As the fan blew on me, I decided to lay down. I started to doze off, lulled by the sound of buttons being pushed and my son’s focused breathing.

I was almost out and I sat up with a jolt. I was still so tired though, foggy, my mind scrambled for a solution. I had an idea. Sluggishly I reasoned, hold something and then dangle my hand over the couch, and then if I feel asleep I would drop the object and wake up. Maybe this would allow me a little nap-bump too. Get me over my sleepiness and then maybe I wouldn’t fall into a deep sleep that night. What to grab?

Obviously things like knives were out, too much potential injury. Something like a fork worried me because I didn’t think it would make that much noise. I decided on this smallish hammer, which is good for hanging pictures and things.

“What are you doing?” My son asked, as I settled in flat on the couch with my left arm holding the small hammer above my head, hanging off the arm rest.

“Nothing,” I tell him. I realized I shouldn’t even be trying this, but I’m so tired, and the house is so peaceful and calm…

 

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Interludes Chapter 11

*Author’s Note. I apologize for the intrusion on the tale, but I must give some explanation on the time line here. This will violate the drama some, unfortunately. I definitely see that. Imagine the angst, finally a good story to tell and now I have to violate it, by pointing out the fact that I survived whatever adventure I have now gone through (how’s that for an author’s deft touch), but it’s true. These events are taking place approximately two months ago. I am just now, in a good enough place shall we say, to share these writings. Sorry for the intrusion. I hope I haven’t spoiled everything…oh god…

I stumbled into the kitchen and got a glass of water. I looked out the window, the world was still grey with night. There was no way I was going back to sleep. But second I was resolved to it, a hard urge to sleep kicked in. I went to my living room sat down on the couch, but I was so tired. I couldn’t get comfortable, so I laid down, coaxing myself with the same lie that had become routine. I just have a powerful imagination, none of this is really happening. Right as I started to drift off, I felt an iron grip, digging into my leg.

I shot up in the room, looking around for who grabbed my leg. This wasn’t a dream. I had to accept what was going on here. I decided to take a walk. I tiptoed back into my room. My wife rolled over and I stood there stuck on the spot.After a few tense moments, I grabbed a pair of shorts, and a shirt and slide back out.

I carefully shut the door and headed out the back. Mugginess greeted me and almost pushed me back in the house. My fear was too strong for that though. At first I headed in the same direction of the corner gas station and the Dollar General, but my memories of that awful experience pushed me the other way.

The morning dew was on everything. It just looked and felt sticky with humidity, like glue was seeping up from the ground. My sleepiness was a backpack now, and with every block it was like another hunk of stone was being tossed in it. I’m going crazy that is the only reasonable explanation. I probably need to commit myself. That’s what I was thinking, but as the normalcy of the world seeped back in me, that sounded absurd too. Also the idea of being trapped in a room, with boredom and sleepiness guaranteed, sounded like a very dangerous proposition.

I wondered about that too, like what was happening over there with me, now that I was out? That hand on the ankle was so real, and perhaps a clue. I figured he was probably dragging me to a corner and tying me up or something. My experiences over there taught me that time was all janky-wanky, slowed down. I bet that’s why he was squeezing so hard, cause everything was moving so slow. I wondered if I just sort of popped out of existence over there, or over here, back and forth. What if it happened when I was driving?

Sometimes when I’m over there, and my mind starts to wander. I can feel that place swelling underneath me. Like when I close my eyes, I can just feel this sense of hollowness. That none of it is really there and it’s all just a stage thats thrown up, right when I open my eyes. I do this as trick as I am walking. I start thinking about that cabin, recreating it my mind and just like before I start feeling that watering swelling under my feet. I pop my eyes open real fast, trying to catch it, but it’s the same muggy, grey morning, and I just keep walking.

It’s weird being out this early like this. I have never just taken a random walk a little before five am. There’s a lot more activity then I would have expected. I come open this kid, probably sixteen years old, sitting on the porch, all dressed, with his car keys dangling. I give him a little nod you know, good morning I am thinking. His face doesn’t even register me. I hear his truck fire up behind me and it makes me jump as he roars down the street.

I begin to notice all the people look sort of out of it, suspicious even. When you really think about it, what is a person doing about at this time? Didn’t they sleep? It really is a strange to think that while you’re all snug in your bed, the whole hive of humanity is percolating and shaking, just wandering the street around your house, doing lord knows what.

I keep walking though and doing this little game, trying to get back to that cabin, to see what is happening, but it never works. It’s like the further I get away from my house the more angry I become. My anger focuses on one thing, Cassandra.

I start barking at her in my head. Tell me what to do Cassandraaaaa. You like that, Cassandra, I know your name now. You gonna help me out of this? Or you gonna let that psycho kill me? Nothing. Dead air. Not a peep. I know she’s in there, rolling around behind my eye-balls, but she doesn’t say a single word. Oh okay, I think. That’s how you’re gonna play it? Drag me into this shit and not even give me a heads up Pete’s a psycho? Ok. That’s fine.

I’m a hot, grunting mess at this point. I should have brought my water bottle, because I am very thirsty, and my stomach begins to roll, and I realize I haven’t anything to eat since lunch the previous day. I skipped dinner because I was too anxious about bed time.

I have to sit down. I realize I have probably walked two miles. The sun is starting to yellow the ground and melt off the morning stick. Everything is so hazy and it feels like I am drunk. Suddenly I can’t move my head off my chest.

My wrists start to burn and it snaps me out of it and I look over and there’s a woman sitting on the bench. I think it’s Cassandra for a minute in some other skin, and I almost grab her. The woman doesn’t acknowledge me or even look at me. She has a little empty cart with wheels, and I see I’ve taken a seat at a bus stop. It gives me the willies, you know creepers up my spin, that I can’t really tell what’s what, and for the first time I feel truly crazy.

Out of nowhere the small old woman reaches out and grabs my hand. Her hand is so real, warm and bony and comforting. “It’s gonna be okay,” she whispers.

“Thank you,” I say.

“Gotta be strong though,” she says. “Keep your chin up. This generation’s too emotional, too sensitive. They’ll eat you up over there acting like that.” My throat seizes up. I try to pull my hand from hers.

“Calm down son,” she urges. “Think your special or something? I can hear it blasting out of you, like a boom box. You been up to something real stupid, haven’t ya?”

“I don’t know,” I say. I don’t try to fight her now for some reason. Instead I just close my eyes and tilt my head back. I think I could get some peaceful rest, as long as the woman keeps holding my hand. She’s like an anchor. Her words wrap me like a warm blanket. “Now what you got to know is the other world ain’t that far away. You probably know that by now. Of course you do. You know so much, don’t you? Let me tell you something, you definitely don’t know. You die over there son, you die over here. No way to escape that. Because you over here, with all you’re worldly attachments, as they call it nicely, what they really mean is your blood and man juice and all that, while you got all that, you will always be more powerful than them. So don’t be afraid. Be courageous. Watch out for that thing, that woman. She hates mankind; she will not help you.”

Air breaks snap me out of my sleep. The woman is gone. I don’t know if she was even there in the first place. Her last words linger in my ear though. She will not help you. Wasn’t that the truth?

Interludes Chapter 10

 

“That’s it? I asked.

Pete was way relaxed now, and used the end of his burlap robe to pat his head dry, as if he had done quite enough for the evening. “If by it, you meant the holy tending of my village’s eternal flame, than yes, it is over for tonight. But then you see Austin from Iowa, that is stupid and untrue as well, for a number of reasons. First this fire has been tended since time began, and will go on until the end of this great world. Second, the wolf will be here before dawn. I thought he would wait, but now I know he can’t.”

“Wait, that’s it, you opened a tablet and put in the unlock code? My five year old can do that,” I said, wanting to slap myself immediately.

“You allow your babies to tend the fire, my goodness Austin from Iowa, that explains so much of your courage.”

“No, it’s no big deal,” I said, “everybody let’s their kids–”

“Every one tends the eternal flame as a child, in your realm? I don’t believe it.” He nibbled his bread and sat back. I noticed a strange calm resolve about him now, which even in my stupid state didn’t sit well with me. First, he had been freaking out about the wolf, way back when we first talked, and now when it was almost time, suddenly he was a calm kitty, forgetting the Manson-like outburst, of course.

“So what’s the plan?” I asked him, interrupting his amazement at our children’s abilities.

“Plan? Well-like I just said, the ritual fire tending is done tonight. I have to enter the code two more times in the next 72 hours, and then they will ah unlock the doors in three days time, and finish it with a feast, a blessing, and some time in sector 11, at retreat.”

“That sounds nice,” I said.

“It’s not for you though Austin,” he said. “Even if you make it, it is only for Fire Tenders themselves, special honors, you understand.”

“No, I don’t,” I said. “ You didn’t do anything, you just unlocked it. That’s fine, whatever. What are we going to do about this wolf?”

He looked at me liked I was speaking a foreign language. “Listen Pete,” I said, “I helped you in all this, but when it comes to the wolf, that’s gonna be an every man for them self type situation, don’t you think?”

He looked at me again, like he couldn’t believe what I was saying. “Pete please, let’s figure out how we can get the hell out of here. I don’t know what all this is. I don’t know what you think you did with that tablet there, but that is super weird stuff.”

“Austin from Iowa, you are the Assistant to the Fire Tender. You swore a blood oath. You have to do what I say. I’m sorry, but I realize now I have done a very despicable thing. I knew you were simple from the start. You’re slow dialect betrays your pastoral roots and when I saw Cassandra–”

“Cassandra?” I asked, genuinely confused.

“Yes, the woman you kept calling ‘The Muse’. She currently likes to be called Cassandra. You would have known that had you asked. It’s beside the point, Austin from Iowa. I see know I have preyed upon the truly innocent and naive. I am ashamed of that. I will tell you the truth now. When the Beast came upon me, he easily tore though the door, just like this one. I always pointed to that later, to the villagers, but they spun it like everything else. Proof that I had been clumsy and broken the door. Some even dared to question my abilities as Fire Tender, saying I had wanted to abandon my duty. So you see, now you say the eternal fire is tended by all, and I know you are out of your mind.”

“What in the fuck are you talking about?” I screamed.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I have tricked a child, and now I will suffer the disgrace of watching you pay–.”

“I will pay? No way buddy. We are in this together.”

“No, Austin, we’re not.” His hand wiped the hair from his face and tucked it behind his ear. “This is what I am trying to explain to you. The Wolf made it in here that night. I huddled in that very corner over there crying, bawling, pissing and shitting myself. I listened as his nails scrapped across the floor. His heavy breaths vibrated off the walls. I could even hear the splatter as his frothy bile hit the floor. I screamed and it howled and next thing I knew it ripped the boot from my foot and had a nibble.”

He dangled his leg at me in evidence. “I woke up and he was at my knee. Did you know the brain can do that? Stay awake through something like that? Honestly I didn’t feel a thing, only way I could tell anything was happening was by being dragged from one end to the other, while he chewed down. Now I was still crying, don’t make a mistake about that. Awful situation, hope you can understand that, help make sense of why I did what I did to you–”

“Pete,” I interjected, “buddy, listen you haven’t done anything to me yet, I am the Assistant to the Fire Tender; it’s all good”

“Oh you simpleton,” he said. “I’m trying to tell you and you’re are just killing me with your innocence. He must had been full, because he stopped chewing on me. I think he might have even seen me watching him, and it spooked him. Huh? Sort of like this situation is effecting me now. Anyway, the point is while I was laying there bleeding out I began to plead. I told him it was okay, that I wasn’t even mad, that if he just let me go, right then, that it would be over. I told him I understood he was hungry, that sometimes I could act a little crazy if I got hungry too.”

I’m sorry to interrupt the narrative, like this but I must make a note, that at this bit I really started to be afraid, like full-on terrified. I had the odd sense what he was saying was true, which was horrifying enough, but I also was more weirded out by the tablet on the pedestal. This, I don’t know if this is the best word, anachronistic element was really what got me. What the fuck was it doing here, with muses, pine forgetting forests, and werewolves, and then a tablet! It’s didn’t even look like an Ipad, but some other type I have yet to identify. But honestly dear reader, what the hell is the tablet for?

“I began to offer it things,” Pete continued. “My toys, our chickens, finally my Mother and Father. I thought the thing was ignoring me, but it bolted back out the door. I thought about fleeing of course, I know that’s what your childish intuition would have you do, but there was the sacred fire to attend, and I knew that in my current state I couldn’t get very far away.”

“Yeah,” I said, “that’s the thing, Pete. I don’t understand this sacred fire business. Maybe I didn’t explain it the best earlier. But like I don’t know what type you got over here or anything, and generally, I don’t know how much you know about those things, but they’re really no big deal. I mean you can play games on them, read the news, watch videos, you know call people with them, that’s about it. Get them for a couple hundred bucks?”

My words had no effect. He just kept telling his story. “I laid there until the wolf came back. He was wild, and angry, but I noticed that his hair was dripping wet, and my blood had been removed from his face. I had slipped my remaining leg from my pants and used the intact pant leg to wrap around my stump. The blood caked and coagulated in the time he had been gone, but I lost a bucket of blood in the interim. Reality came in chunks. I kept mumbling though, until finally I was just begging, let me bring you someone else, let me bring you someone else, over and over again.”

Silence filled the cabin. I was just about to blast Pete dead center in the nose, when he started again. “A very calloused and hairy hand broke me out of it. It was a very gentle touch actually, though his long pinky was like a razor blade, and left this visible scar.” He pulled his collar aside and turned to show me it. I raised my left fist about to pummel him, but the awful scar, which was still bubbling stopped me. He turned back around looking older and more sheepish than ever. “It is exasperated by demanding moments.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, for some reason feeling guilty.

“No, no,” he said, “all the apologies are mine. So the thing rubbed my head and whispered in my ear. ‘Brave boy. You bring someone else next time’ It was a weird rolling wrestling match of growl and words, throaty and hard to understand. He repeated it several times, as he rubbed my head. Then he howled and ran out the door. I woke up wrapped up and in Sector 11, and that’s it. I couldn’t find anyone in the village to be my fire attender. Strange, isn’t it? None of them believed the story, but then all of them were too cowardly to join me tonight. Tells you something about where belief lies doesn’t it?”

“It sure does,” I said. “Pete that is a crazy story and what’s even crazier is I believe you–” And then right as I said that I threw myself into the hardest punch I have ever thrown in my life. I had been in a couple schools house scuffles, way back in the day, but the honest truth is I had never ever really punched anyone you know, like with real fear and dangerous intent behind it. Even more honest, I wasn’t even planning on punching him you know. Not after that terrible story and everything, but the strangeness and terror sort of overwhelmed me and my fight or flight instinct took control and so I blasted him.

Pete was a tough one, but the punch knocked him out and sent him flying across the floor. I was standing there, breathing heavy, trying to figure out what to do. His moans broke the tense silence. “Ahhhhh. Coward.”

“Coward?” I yelled back. “You were going to feed me to the fucking monster!” He started moving for his pocket and the knife. I gave him a hard kick in the back of the thigh and reached into his pocket. That was a big mistake, I got the knife, but he wrapped me up hard and was screaming in my ear. “I didn’t have a choice! The wolf will have you! There’s no other way!”

I tried to twist and turn out of it, but he was on me like a snake. Now I was worried about not losing the knife. He slipped me and an elbow caught me right in the nose, and my eyes started watering, and the knife was out of my hand. I took a peg leg to the side of the head and everything went black.

I woke up with my face pressed against my bedroom’s hard wood floors. “Austin, are you okay?” My wife called sitting up in bed. The room is still dark. I can still feel his strong hand on my neck. I pick myself off the floor too scared and panicked to speak. My room is really cold. Nothing like the stale wood air of that cabin.

I tell my wife I’m fine, just a bad dream. Sorry I woke her. She rolls over and goes back to sleep. That makes me happy. I go to the bathroom to take a leak, sitting down, super weirded out.

I didn’t go back to sleep last night. I can’t go back to sleep now. The day was hell, too tired and worried about what happens when I fall back asleep. Anyone got any ideas?

Next Chapter

Interludes Chapter 9

There were all sort of rituals, you can probably imagine the stuff. Boring, monotonous songs, lot of sitting down and standing back up, strange prayers and exaltations. They slipped into another language at one point, sounded almost like German, but frankly I wasn’t really in the mood for all that. The ceremony went on for a few nights, with brief interruptions of ranting from her at my side.

It’s a terror on my normal life. How do you relate this shit? That’s why I keep writing here. SOS, I guess. I hope maybe it’s like in the Count of Monte Cristo, and someone will just tunnel to me and get me out. Wait a second, that’s not how it went, anyway…

Pete looks like a guilty tween the whole time. Scared, but also sort of half-smiling. He makes another big speech about me. Really going over the top. He condemns the whole village for what he calls their “disgusting apathy.” They all stare at me, holding back tears themselves, but some of the men look angry and unimpressed. They don’t believe the shit about the wolf, and they don’t like the looks of me.

One night, I force myself off the polished bench, we seem to be wrapping things up. There is a prayer circle going on with Pete in the center. I sneak to the back were a number of breads and fruit are set up. There is a red wine bunch, filled with oranges and cherries, and I can smell it from across the room. It must be booze or something, because everyone is sort of staggering around by this time. I can feel Pete’s eyes on me as I walk to the back; he’s paranoid I am going to split.

I would split, but the Muse tells me there’s nowhere to go. “That thing is probably getting close by now too,” she taunted.

I skipped the punch, but do smash some bread, which ends up being like a pumpkin bread. I don’t know if this is a coincidence or not, but it’s also my first night of good sleep in months. I woke up super refreshed the next day, with a lingering flavor of pumpkinspice on my breath.

All that day I thought about my predicament. I felt like a little kid waiting to get beat up after school. My mind wandered, thinking of all the people I knew, desperately searching for some authority who could deal with these issue for me. The more I thought about it, the more paranoid I got, all of them had such flaws. My wife thought I was just too deep into my work (as if any real work has been going on), my parents wouldn’t understand or relate, friends would think I was being obnoxiously eccentric, and probably be quickly annoyed.

A therapist, a psychiatrist, the reader may be urging, but again there are obvious problems. For all intent and purposes I appear perfectly normal each day. I get just enough sleep that I’m not randomly passing out, and in all outward appearances I’m all there. So it would be like hello doctor, I am traumatized by an overactive imagination, please help. Now of course I am well aware the current doctors script pad runs pretty thick, so they would probably have something for me anyway, but the real issues here are the Muse and the Forgetting Forrest. Those are honestly the things that keep me in this awful loop.

Why the fixation on the Muse? I’m not sure. She definitely doesn’t like me. I think she would love to see me all doped up and out of mind. She can’t wait to watch me eat it. Things are definitely getting weird between us. I can tell she’s nervous in all this, keeps saying it isn’t her sort of thing. I like seeing her pausing a bit, but then I realized that if she is scared, I probably should be too; I don’t know why I wasn’t; I am now.

I came to last night and we were shuffling along the path. She was right in my ear from the start. “Goddammit man, look at this shit. Gives me the creeps. You ready for what happens next?”

I ignored her for a second to look around. We are deep in the woods. The path was covered by a strange white rock, that gave off a yellow glow. Pete walked in front of the pack by himself. He was carrying a large stick, with a lantern dangling from it. I imagine this is part of the ritual.

I am at the end of the line with her, and she started right in again, losing her mind. “Goddammit! You son of a bitch. Its just like the fucking Dollar General. You’re not prepared for shit. What are you gonna do when this fucking thing shows up, huh? Tears you to fucking pieces, mince meat, dick head. What are you going to do then!”

I ignored her, looking for a way I can just run off. Before I know it though hands are pushing me up the path, and every is moving to the side and then I am next to Pete. “Are you ready Austin from Iowa?” Like we are just headed to the store or something.

“Not really,” I said.

“Don’t be worried,” Pete he, “it won’t be long.”

“I can’t go through with this Pete,” I said, but Pete is cut off by the loud blowing of a trumpet.

An old woman stepped forward. She was wearing a brown potato sack-looking dress, like everyone else now, but I saw she had a sheer, black gown type thing underneath, and a fat pink-pearl necklace on her neck. That tipped me off and I noticed that everyone had evening wear under their clothes, and I wondered when they all had time for a custom change, and then of course I wondered why no one helped me out with an outfit since I am standing there, now rather embarrassed, in my briefs.

They don’t notice at all, instead the necklace lady started making a final speech. “Peter Crimore the III, Fire Attender of Berryfull Village, we salute you.” I looked around trying to find a way to escape. One way was cut off by the crowd, the other the river, back the way we came was being watched by people as too. They all made a showy and snappy salute, which brought me back to the speech. “Our world depends on the valiant selflessness of the Fire Attender. The safety and felicity of our dear village depends on their collective courage.”

I spied the Muse on the fringe of the forest watching it all, but when I looked again, she was gone. Asshole. The woman’s voice got even louder, and more severe.“Pete Crimore, do you accept your duties with full respect and intent to accomplish them with dignity and honor?”

“Yes, Head Fire Mistress,” he answered.

“Do you swear, upon the penalty of death, to watch the ceremonial fire for no-more than 72 hours, and until the time a representative of Berryful Village is able to release you?”

“Yes, Head Fire Mistress,” he said. There was little whimper from Pete’s Father in the crowd. I felt like joining him in crying because this all felt so morose, but I was too pissed off to really feel anything.

“Finally, Pete Crimore, do you promise, on your life and honor, to not violate or defile the Holy Fire?”

“Yes, on my life and honor, Head Fire Mistress.”

“With those three pledges, we salute Pete Crimore.” There was a collective salute and cheer. The Head Fire Mistress continued. “If the Master of Key would come forward.” A tall man came from the back of the crowd. I’ve never seen such a key ring in my whole life. They covered the man’s whole hand, and in the starry night it was like a disco ball, the way the light reflected off all the trees.

I thought it would take the man forever to find the right one, but a second later the door to cabin was open and Pete and I were being pushed in. The door slammed shut, and everything was quiet and awkward. The crowd began to sing, and Pete began to sniffle and cry a little. It was in that weird language so I couldn’t make sense of any of it.

There was a brushing sound against the outside of the building. The whole crowd was walking around the cabin, pressing their hands against it. There were no windows or anything, but you could feel the vibration of all the people singing and brushing against it outside.

It was a simple cabin, probably 20ft x 20ft. There were benches along three of the walls, and a little pedestal in the middle. I didn’t see anything on it at first, the only light was a small amber strip against the back wall, that gave everything an orangey tint. I was about to ask where in the hell was the fire, but then Pete awkwardly got done on the ground and began chanting in front of the pedestal. Mid-chant he yelled, “Get down on your knees Austin from Iowa, the ceremonies begun!”

“Listen Pete,” I said, “you can stop this bossing business right now. That shit worked with them, but it’s not gonna work with–”

Pete was at my neck in a flash. He produced a large buck knife, which he held to my throat. In the weird light of the room, Pete seemed to age forty years. As he spoke in a harsh whisper in my face, I could smell that fruity bunch wafting off him. “You are my Fire Attender now boy! You will obey my every command, or you will pay the price, you understand Austin from Iowa?”

I told him I did. What else can you do with a knife to your throat. “Fine,” Pete said, hiding the knife. “Now get on the ground and let me get this going.” I still had no idea what he was talking about, but I did what he said and kneeled down in the room.

He did a bunch of chanting, prayers and stuff, right in front of the pedestal. I listened and watched him, wondering the whole time whether I could jump on him fast enough, to knock him out and get the knife away. I would have told you, before he got on me like that, that I could have taken him easy, but he’d been so strong, hand really wrenched on to me you know, that now I was doubting myself.

“Are you prepared to assist me Fire Tender?” Pete asked.

“Sure,” I said, into the ground.

“Excellent, please remove the sacred veil of concealment.”

I sat up and looked around the room and there was still nothing. “Please Austin, remove the veil,” he urged again, pointing to the pedestal.

I stood up and stepped closer and I finally noticed a thin tablet was sitting on the pedestal. It had a black leather case on it. Instinctively and nonchalantly, I picked it up and folded back the cover. Pete was all excited at this. I could hear him breathing hard, and the whole time there was just a mumble of prayers and nonsense falling from his mouth.

“Please Austin from Iowa,” he said, “set it back down gently, with the veil of concealment, pulled back, into the position of execution.” I set it down standing up.

“Perfect,” he whispered. “You’re gifted a Fire Assistant. Please step back now and sit down.”

I did what he said, and with shaky hands he picked it up, entered a code and set it back down. He instantly started to calm down after that, took off his brown cloak and pulled a piece of bread from his pocket. “I would offer you some, but this was all I was able to grab as we walked by on the way out.”

“No problem,” I told him.

He seemed weak again, but still old. “‘I’m sorry about the rough stuff. I just had to get the ceremony done; I promise I won’t touch you again; we need to stay together in this; not be at each other’s necks, you know?”

What was I to do? What would you do? Trapped in the middle of nowhere, with a peg-legged man, who until five minute ago had the appearance of a fourteen year old boy. The strange aging effect continued. He was now a man at least forty years old. His clothes looked older too, dusty, worn at the knees and elbows, but maybe I just hadn’t noticed before. Was that possible? 

All the nights went through my mind, all the conversations I had with him early on. In an honest effort to rid myself of her control, I remind you. How naive and forthcoming I was, when I should have been on my toes.

Her beautiful, smiling face popped in my head. She was laughing out there. She said I looked like I was a screamer…

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