Chapter Two – If Peter was the Wolf...?
Frankie, Mish and Jay sat amicably around the table, eating their various breakfasts when Travis thudded into the room and threw a phone book at Frankie's head.
"Tea," was the only instruction he managed to grunt, falling into the chair by the AGA with a satisfying schlump sound. Frankie looked at where the phone book had bounced off her head and onto the floor with vague, bleary eyed curiosity. She then peered into her half finished, cold mug of tea before passing it to Travis.
Travis took it, sipped it, spat it out and rounded on Frankie with a growl. Frankie simply threw the sugar spoon at him and the room returned to the well manicured silence it had enjoyed moments before Travis' interruption.
The morning meal was not an easy time for anyone concerned. It was the general consensus among all present that morning really shouldn't exist and that it was entirely cruel expecting them to work around it. There was an unspoken agreement that as few words as possible would be uttered before noon in the hopes that ignoring the first few hours of the day would make them go away.
Through a miraculous series of grunts and actions, Travis managed to convey that he'd found a bottle of whiskey in his room the previous night and ended up finishing it.
Thankfully, the post arrived and saved everyone the hassle of reprimanding him for it. Frankie distributed the mail, the majority of letters landing spectacularly in cereal, egg-yoke or coffee. She managed to keep one clean; addressed simply to Pandemonium in an untidy scrawl. Frankie opened it and let out a happy squeal.
"Dear all at Pandemonium," she read, excitedly, "I cordially invite you to come and prance around in big dresses and top-hats at my wedding on the first of January. Please bring all new residents and cake – lots of cake. All my love, Juliana."
Travis looked a little confused but Jay and Mish were whopping happily. Frankie stood, placing the invitation (covered in pictures of strawberries) on the fridge beneath a magnet that proclaimed Save the Earth – it's the only planet with chocolate on it.
"Who's Juliana?" Travis ventured, finally.
"She left just before you arrived, not long after my predecessor, Evans," Jay explained, "She liked opera and sugar…lots of sugar."
"She left 'cause she got a real job – interpreter," Mish contributed.
"And she had seven sugars in her tea," Frankie added.
Everyone fell silent then, musing in little worlds of their own. Travis was thinking how he should have maybe left a little whiskey in the bottle, Frankie was wondering whether she had a dress that would match her top-hat and Mish was pondering whether seven spoonfuls of sugar really would dissolve in just one mug of tea. Jay, as always, was unreadable.
"Frankie? How is it you're so great and I'm such a loser?"
"Well Jay, I couldn't really put my finger on it exactly but I'd say it has a little something to do with the fact that you suck, and I don't."
"I knew you were going to say something like that, Frankie," Said Frankie, who was sitting alone in the car and pretending to talk to Jay.
"Well you bloody would know that, wouldn't you? I mean, who are we to question the almighty Jay who manages to make me feel guilty just because I tell him to stay home and work with the heavily intoxicated Travis to stop him getting hurt." She sighed and pouted as Mish clambered into the car.
"Who've you upset now?" She asked. Frankie started the engine.
"Why do you think I've upset someone?"
"Because you only ever talk to yourself when you're annoyed. Come on, who've you upset?"
"I didn't upset anyone…I just got Jay all pissed off 'cause I told him to stay home with Travis." She didn't pull out of the driveway, instead, she sat fiddling with her antiquated cassette player.
"Is that it? You can apologise when we get back – which we're never going to do if you don't get this pile of shit moving and get us there in the first place. You sure this car is safe for driving on the road?" Mish took the tape off her friend and got it to play instantly.
"Ahem?" Frankie demanded, incredulously.
"I'm sorry, I meant, if you don't get this classic motor vehicle on the road where it so clearly belongs we're never going to make the record time I'm sure it's capable of."
"You mock me."
"I should bloody well think so."
The mood in the car was almost as dark as the sky when they neared the centre of town. Afternoon had long since faded into heady twilight and the only voice that had been heard since the driveway was that of Freddie Mercury. Mish was concentrating on picking up any sign of the hunters and Frankie was brooding over what horrid thing she would make Jay endure for activating her somewhat redundant conscience.
They parked the car at a supermarket, somewhere between the suburbs and the centre of town and then Mish led the way to where they'd found the wolf the previous night. The street was respectable and well lit so they tried not to look as if they were loitering, Frankie pretending to speak on her mobile phone and Mish walking repeatedly round a car with a for sale sign in it.
It was a futile attempt to pick up the trail but they had to start somewhere and here was as good a place as any. As night fell and curtains closed, Frankie and Mish began the search more thoroughly, even finding the car in which the wolf had hidden.
"Did you have to tell Jay to stay home? He's really good at picking up trails and he probably thinks that you think he's a weakling."
Frankie prodded a tyre absently and sniffed. Mish just shrugged in reply.
After a few hours of searching they found nothing, not even a footprint. Either the hunters had come this way to cover their trail and the wolf's or the council had sent the street-sweeper round to clear up the last of the autumn leaves. With heavy hearts and empty hands they plodded back to the car park and contemplated the next step.
"You know we're in town and not expected back for hours?" Mish said, smile growing as she paused before entering the car. No one bothered to lock Frankie's car – most would have seen it as a blessing if the thing was stolen.
"What do you say we go watch a film?"
He was dressed like any teenager, all baggy jeans and black hoodie, so loose that among the scores of other juveniles, he looked featureless and androgynous. He was handsome, for a fifteen year old, his face unmarred by the adolescent curse of acne and his height above average. Mish should have recognised him; prominent nose, lithe build of a runner and the quick gaze of prey.
But she didn't.
She and Frankie stood in the foyer, tossing popcorn into the hoods of passers by with remarkable accuracy. They also seemed to have filled their mouths with ice, competing over who could go the longest without spitting any out. Frankie was winning, despite her mouth being somewhat fuller and so Mish resorted to making childish comments about how one of the cashiers looked distinctly like a duck, in hopes of making her friend laugh. Of course, Mish's mouth also being full of ice, her remarks were slurred and rarely sounded like anything even vaguely resembling a language. It was for actions very similar to these that Travis, Jay, Juliana, and Evans had all progressively banned Frankie and Mish from coming to the cinema.
The boy, of course, noticed them. It was hard not to when they were drawing such obvious attention to themselves. He recognised the one with the dark curls from the previous night, but not the one with the ash-brown pleat. He noted that the man had gone too – probably dead. The fact he'd been replaced meant that this group of hunters were as well equipped as the other group. And that meant that he really should get himself as far away from this town as was possible.
Still, he noted, they hadn't seen him yet and they didn't seem to be specifically looking for him. In fact, all they seemed to be doing was trying their best to be thrown out of the building. They didn't even appear to be carrying any equipment, wearing only pairs of tattered jeans and sweatshirts that had seen better days.
He decided to chance his luck and walked past them on the way to the bathrooms. The one with the pleat didn't notice him among the scores of other people but the one with the black curls swatted her friend's arm and hissed something he couldn't quite hear over the cacophony of voices around him.
They set off after him, trying to be sly about it and failing miserably. Eventually they just gave up and hurled themselves down the corridor after him, pushing people out of the way. It was an incredibly futile effort –he was used to running and they were obviously not, stumbling around and tripping over their own feet.
He skidded into the men's bathroom, sure they wouldn't be so foolish as to draw attention to themselves by following him inside – people would notice and people would cause a fuss. Apparently though, they were more stupid than they looked and came thudding into the room after him, panting.
"Look kid," said the one with the pleat, "we just want to talk to you."
"Where are our weapons? Where are our guns and our knives? If we were here to kill you do you honestly think we'd have nothing?" The one with the curls held out her hands so he could see they were empty. The one with the pleat repeated the action.
The boy looked at them, amber eyes assessing the situation. He frowned, said nothing but continued to stare. He seemed panicked, like some cornered animal about to pounce.
And that's when the hunters stalked through the door, grinning wildly. The largest one turned to Frankie and grabbed her hair,
"Thanks for cornering it for us, girl, you've been most helpful," he sneered and slammed her hard against the door. She didn't fall though. Leaning on the wood for support she pushed herself up and moved to Mish's side.
"We're not moving."
There were only two hunters, the others unable to fit into the bathroom, but the ones present were big and looked entirely capable of taking on the two, relatively short girls who stood between them and the boy. The one who had thrown Frankie over even dared to laugh at their defiance.
That was until he saw the boy move. One minute, he was a boy, the next, he had teeth and claws and a shimmering grey coat, flecked with auburn so it looked like the colours of dying embers. The wolf growled and the man paled. For all his years hunting he had never seen a wolf change. He had expected the grotesque slow mutation of the Hollywood movies and so the instantaneous alteration in the boy's physique had shocked him.
Mish used the distraction to kick the largest man squarely between the legs. Frankie, head still reeling from where she'd been thrown into the door, slammed the heel of her Doc Marten onto the bridge of the other man's foot.
The wolf tore at the men while they were down, leaving them bleeding but not broken. Frankie, Mish and Wolf jumped over the bodies and out into the foyer again. There were screams from children and adults alike, all terrified of the wild animal that tore out of the toilets with blood fresh on its teeth and hate in its eyes.
They sped towards the exit, people moving out of their way, Wolf keeping his speed low so Frankie and Mish were not left behind. Security was following them now and looked to be gaining. Mish glanced at Wolf.
"Get the hell out of here, boy. The bleeding bodies we can explain but the animal extinct in this country, we might have trouble with."
Wolf did not think twice. He sprinted away from them without a glance over his shoulder and rounded a corner, down an alley way and out of sight. Frankie – whose head now sported a large, egg shaped lump – grabbed Mish's arm and spun her friend around to face what should have been cinema security.
It was dark now and the pallid, grinning faces of the three remaining hunters seemed to float like malevolent, glowing balloons. Frankie couldn't help giggling at the thought but apparently, giggling was a bad idea and the hunters moved forwards.
Frankie and Mish looked at one another and then back at their oncoming assailants. They didn't need to say anything; they just turned on their heels and ran. Both knew that alone they had no hope of taking on all three men and neither wanted to call on the only help they knew would come in time.
In desperation, hunters hot on their heels, they sprinted towards what had been a theatre on the dock side. With the practised ease of many such desperate escapes, Mish broke the lock on the door and they hurtled into the darkness of the abandoned building.
It was quiet, but the darkness and the silence were not oppressive in any way and the sanctuary the building afforded them made it feel somehow like home. They huddled in the first corner they found and waited for half an hour. If the men had seen them enter the building then they had not followed.
"They could still be outside," Mish breathed.
"Could be, but I hear nothing and they're hardly small. Wonder if any lights and stuff here work?"
"Don't want to advertise where we are. Besides, if they're out there we'll have to face them sooner or later. Let's just look for blunt objects we can use to hit them with."
They switched on their torches, an essential item both of them always carried, dealing so much in darkness. Dust pirouetted in the colourless light beams and the friends could see their hurried footprints on the undisturbed floors like the first tracks in snow.
The place had obviously been closed for years, yellowing posters advertising plays starring actors who were dead or dying. The ticket desk had long since closed but a discarded lipstick lay beside the ancient till and a stack of unsold tickets to an opera waited for someone to come and buy them.
"It's so sad…"Mish breathed.
"I know…It's such a warm building – so welcoming and-"
"-Safe." They both finished Frankie's sentence and an idea was set in motion.
They found a broken chair and each took a leg, holding it above their heads as they slipped back out through the door. No one waited to ambush them and they hurried back to the car as fast as possible, still carrying their impromptu clubs.
"You know – I think I should drive home being that you're probably concussed…" Mish dared. Frankie just growled and opened the driver's door, slumping into the chair with a relieved sigh. She started the engine and Mish got in, turning in the passenger seat to dump the chair legs on the back seat.
Two big amber eyes stared back at her.
Frankie spun round to see what exactly Mish was talking to and also came face to face with Wolf. She grinned and turned to face forwards again, setting off. Mish turned on the cassette player and both girls sang loudly along with the Eagles.