“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?