Chapter 17: Death
Outside the air is cool, and a chilly breeze whips at my face as I run. The air itself smells like it might rain soon. The dull ache at the bottom of my spine has turned into a sharp pain, but I force myself to disregard it as I press on, desperate to find that mysterious man. The red fog hovers at the very edge of my slightly blurry vision, ready to lash out again as soon as someone else gets in my way.
'You should feel guilty about what you did to Capelin,' Voice says, but instead of its usual smugness, I sense fear behind the words.
I don't bother to waste my breath by replying, opting instead to ignore it and push on as the pain in my back crawls slowly up my spine. I barely register the pain, though; it's more like a pinprick at the back of my awareness, something to be dealt with later, after I find what I'm looking for.
I don't know how long I've been running now, nor where I'm at; the surroundings merely blur past me as I continue running, ignoring everything except the face of the man who sold me the potion. I don't even know how I'm supposed to make him fix this. I just know that I have to find him, somehow.
I run until my muscles scream exhaustion and my lungs burn like a raging inferno. Gasping and stumbling, I manage to find a nearby bench to lean against, the edges of my vision now black with the threat of blacking out instead of red with rage. My legs have gone numb from overexertion, and I go crashing to the ground, skinning my bare shins against the rough concrete, but the pain is nothing compared to that in my back. This pain is even worse than it had been at the meeting; it's positively excruciating, like a thousand white-hot needles piercing every inch of spine. If I had any breath left I'd be howling in agony, but instead all I can do is gasp as tears further impede my vision.
"It seems as though you've taken the antidote," drawls a voice somewhere above my head.
I can hardly dare to hope. Can this be the guy I've been looking for? Slowly I manage to raise my head and peer above me at the man standing there, his features unidentifiable in the shadow of twilight.
"It hurts, don't it, honey?" he continues gleefully. Miraculously, it's him; there's no mistaking that tone of voice, or his disgusting use of pet names. This is the guy.
"Fix…me," I rasp, not sounding nearly as intimidating as I'd hoped for, huddled up on the ground, panting from lack of breath and far too much pain.
"Say please, sweet-cheeks."
I manage to spit at his boot-clad feet.
"Now that wasn't very nice," he says disapprovingly, as if talking to a young child that had just done something timeout-worthy. "Is that any way to treat your superior?"
"I hope…you're…not talking…about…yourself!"
"In case you've forgotten, I did fix you! I gave you the antidote, didn't I? You wanted to stop being a monster, and I made that happen. Now you're demanding that I turn you back? Such a hard person to please, aren't you, love?"
His provocations cause my rage to once again push past the pain. "You destroyed me!" I shout, nearly passing out from the effort of it.
"I helped you!" he shouts back, not sounding anything like the cool, laid-back tone he usually had. "I GOT YOU OUT, YOU STUPID LITTLE GIRL! NOW YOU WANT BACK IN?! That's not my problem!"
"Just make it stop hurting!" I gasp, momentarily stunned by his anger, now sounding almost whiny. "Just make it stop…"
"Sorry, but no can do. There are no refunds or exchange programs with this decision of yours, baby girl. Perhaps I should've told you that sooner?" He laughs maliciously. "You made your choice, now you gotta live with it. Or die by it, whichever you'd prefer."
"You sick son of a—"
"Tsk, tsk, there will be no foul language around here, young lady," and he aims a kick at my ribcage that I am far too slow to dodge.
The air is knocked from my lungs and my body contorts with agony, folding in on itself until I'm in the foetal position, almost crying, but I refuse. I will not let this monster—because whatever I have been in my life, a monster is not one of them—get the satisfaction of seeing me cry.
"So now…you're just going to…kick me when I'm down?" I manage to speak between taking gulps of night air into my lungs. "This, this is what you've been…reduced to? Too weak to fight…a girl in prime condition…you have to poison her…just to get her on the ground? You're pathetic!"
This is clearly not the right way to handle the situation, but then again, I've never really been good in these circumstances. He kicks me again, harder this time, and this time, unbidden, I utter a small groan that only adds fuel to his fire. He steps on my left hand, crushing my fingers beneath his heavy steel-toed boots.
"Pathetic, am I? Who's the one on the ground huddled up and crying like a baby?! You stupid girl! You have NO idea who I am! What kind of power I possess! You think you're the only one with superhuman abilities around here? THINK AGAIN, SWEETHEART!"
Very distantly I can hear someone calling my name, but apparently my attacker does not possess as many "superhuman abilities" as he claims because he does not seem to hear it.
Again I feel the tip of his boot digging into my severely abused ribcage and I bite down so hard on the inside of my cheek to avoid making a sound that I taste blood.
"I'm talking to you, honey!"
"Well I'm not talking to you, sweetie," I spit venomously, knowing I'll regret the sass but not caring.
The next sounds I hear are the small but distinctive pops of bones breaking, and a spilt second later, my back is arching and the most terrible of screams is issuing from my mouth against my will as he carefully breaks each one of my fingers under his foot. The pain in my hand is so intense it completely overshadows that in my back and actually causes me to blackout for several seconds.
When I come around again, I hear footsteps, and this time I am not the only one. My attacker's foot is poised just above my now mangled left hand and his head is looking in the direction the footsteps appear to be coming from. Just behind the sound of running sneakers my sensitive hearing can still pick up someone or several people calling my name.
My mind wants to recoil from the horrors happening to me, from the agonizing pain pulsing through my body with every beat of my traitorous heart, but apparently my body has other plans. As if they'd gotten into an argument, my mind and body separate. I can feel the bliss of numbness sweeping through my limbs, starting in my broken left hand, and swirling downward in a spiral until I can feel absolutely no pain whatsoever.
Almost on the same page, my mind wipes the slate clean, and my thoughts go almost totally blank. I am still aware of footsteps, close enough now that I gather there are quite a few people, one running in front of the others by several feet. I am also aware that the muscles in my body are tensed, poised as if readying for a fight. Like the way I'd been during my fit of red rage. If my mind would cooperate with my body, I have no doubt that the edges of my vision would pulse with violent red light, like before. I am laying in wait for the perfect moment. My mind is not aware when that moment will be, but I feel that my body is. My muscles are coiled tightly, waiting to spring…
The Footstep Brigade is much closer now. The voices attached to these bodiless figures have stopped, and their feet are slowing down, all except for the one on the front line.
Just a few more steps, whispers a voice silkily, cajolingly, into my ear. This is not Voice. Definitely not. This is something much different, much more…feral. In response to the words, my muscles contract further, until my mind almost protests, but not quite.
Then suddenly, as if a gunshot has been fired into the air signalling the beginning of a marathon, my body explodes upward. As if in slow motion, I feel the movement, but my mind retreats even further now, faster, as if knowing already the horrors my body was about to commit, and refusing to take place. I don't see anything, but I can feel. I can feel my leg swing out in a long arc, hook around something very solid, and take it down. I can feel my spine pop and lengthen, as if going through the werewolf transformation. Perhaps I am. Maybe for the last time, even. I can feel my fingernails grow into vicious claws, ready to rip and tear and shred.
For a few moments my mind completely blocks everything, even feeling my physical body. I don't know how long I lost this awareness, and I'm not even sure how to describe what it is like to have no mind or body, no anything. But eventually, things start coming back. The first to return is my sense of smell, which seems pathetically dull all of a sudden. But even with that highly weakened sense, I know I smell something familiar, and horrible…
And then, all at once, everything is completely, utterly, horrifyingly crystal clear. I am aware of my body, which feels heavy and clumsy and weak. I can see, though my mind is screaming at the sight my eyes are witnessing before me. My chest is heaving with exertion, and then my stomach heaves with a combination of horror, disgust and nausea. I fall to my knees, which sends pain shooting up my thighs and sets of a chain reaction of other pains: my ribs, my spine, my head, my hand…the pain is enough to scramble my stomach again, and my ribs scream in protest as I am violently sick into the grass in front of me.
Also in front of me is the most grisly scene ever imaginable. Two bodies, totally unrecognizable, lay in pieces, scattered all around me. There is blood everywhere, and I am covered in it as well. I am throwing some up, even, which sets me heaving even harder. All around me is deathly still. The storm that had been threatening even seems to have died. There is no wind, no crickets, no night birds or anything. The only sound my also weakened hearing can pick up is coming from me.
I gather the pieces of my mind that are trying to break out of my skull, screaming in terror and the possibility of overwhelming guilt, and try to go backwards, like hitting rewind on a tape. I do not want to see what happened, but I need to know. I have to know. The only detail I could get straight came from the moment the awareness of my body came back. In that same second, my mind was reeling, making its own realizations. The separating of my mind and body had not just been symbolic; it was the separation of human and wolf. In a last attempt to save itself, the wolf seized control over my body using the power of the moon, and attacked the man, but it did not distinguish as well as my human mind would have.
My insides roiled again, but I did not have anything else to throw up. My head swam in a cloud of dizziness, and I could feel myself start to sway from my position on my knees.
I had killed him.
I killed Jon.
Not only that. But I had torn him apart with beastly claws and feral fangs. He didn't even stand a chance against me, even losing strength by the second from the potion as I was. I just committed a double homicide and had absolutely no recollection of the actual event. But how had he found me here?
As I tried desperately to find an answer to this question, I felt my body finally give in and collapse. I should be feeling pain as my head slams into the unforgiving earth, but I don't.
How? HOW? WHY?!
I feel the need to cry, the tightness in my chest that comes from a hardy sob fest, but my body will not cooperate. I cannot even move now, I am so overcome with grief and self-loathing and guilt. I had just mauled, mutilated, murdered. Two very real, very human people were no longer living because of the monster I was. One of them was the boy I could feel myself slowly start falling in love with. I had taken a dangerous potion with unknown risks so I could be with him, only I'd killed him instead.
The only consolation I have now is that I am pathetically human once again. I can feel it. The total lack of strength, my dull senses. It is all human. And being human means being weak, vulnerable. Killable.
A noise somewhere above my head causes my eyes to strain, trying to focus on the blurry outline I see there. There were others? Oh, right. The Footstep Brigade. My heart gives a horrible lurch. It had been Jon in the front, running in front of the others. At last my eyes settle on the face of Capelin, deep worry lines cutting across his forehead, his eyebrows scrunched together with concern.
"Darlin…how are you feeling?"
I merely blink up at him. He must know what a stupid question that is. But whatever he sees in my face, in my eyes, I can see part of him relax a little, and another worry even more. The relaxation must mean he realizes I've come back to my senses and won't attack and maul him, too. However, he makes a signal to the others.
Shame and horror heat my face. I don't want the others to see me! Not after what they just saw me do! I can never see them again! No, no, no, no, no, no…Capelin, why do you torture me so?
Go away! I want to scream. Don't look at me! I'm a monster! But my vocal chords are frozen, and refuse to issue even a squeak of noise. With far greater force than strictly necessary, I twist my body away from them, and from behind my stupid, weak human ears picks up several intakes of breath at the sudden movement, and I can guess that everyone just stopped in their tracks.
They're scared of me! I wait for Voice to make its snarky comment, like, "well of course they are. They just saw you murder two people!" but the inside of my head is silent. Even Voice has forsaken me. Somehow I don't find this a good thing.
"Chloe, please…look at us. Please, darlin. We need to talk about what happened here. Chloe."
There is a sound like someone clearing their throat. "Chloe…just talk to us, please."
This voice is a further stab to my heart. Erik. The other boy I felt I could love, if given a chance. Well, that was before…now I doubt he will ever give me a second glance. I'm just a murdering psychopathic human. Not nearly good enough for Erik Copperton.
Suddenly I feel a gentle pressure on my shoulder, a small nudge, and flinch, but whatever it is, it's persistent. Another nudge. Another. Another. Finally I turn my head to see what it is, and salt is thrown onto the bloody mess of my heart to see Tim in his wolf form, looking more like a frightened puppy. His tail is between his legs, his head held low, staring into my eyes with his sunflower yellow ones. In his eyes I could see complex emotions bubbling just below the surface, much too complex for a mere puppy. Grief. Fear, both of and for me. Worry. But also a fierce loyalty, one that stated very clearly that he was going nowhere. He lowers his head further and prods my good hand with the tip of his muzzle, and makes a low-pitched, throaty grunt.
"Tim," says Capelin in a warning voice, "I don't think it's a good idea to let her see wolf forms right now, not after what she's been through."
Tim turns his head and makes another noise, half defiant growl, half pleading whine. I know what I'm doing, he seems to say.
Turning back to me, he takes several more steps forward, sniffs my face and snuffes around a bit in my hair, and then plops down next to me, again more like an overgrown puppy than werewolf, and sticks his head on my shoulder. I know what he is trying to tell me. Almost like we don't need to be speaking the same language to understand each other, it feels like I can hear what he's thinking to me.
See, Chloe? Not monsters. Loving, caring members of family. We can be here for you if you let us. Please let us. We can and will understand. We will stay with you.
Slowly I readjust my position, so that I am lying against him instead, my head buried somewhere in the furry regions of his stomach and shoulder. He whines a little, then reaches his head to lick my cheek gently. And as if a dam has exploded, so too do my tears. A raspy, low sound issues from deep within my chest, and the floodgates are open. Tears stream down my face as I bury my head further in the fur. My body is racked with gut-wrenching sobs as I alternate between moaning with pity and screaming in horror.
I am a monster. I am a murderer. I am a human. But at last I am accepted.
Me: Okay, well I know none of you probably saw that coming, right? I know! But I've had this ending in mind for a long time. There will be an epilogue, because I can't really just leave it here. Well, I guess I could, but I don't want to, because I've also had the details of the epilogue in my head for ages. That's actually almost done, too. I'll probably post it for a week or two while I edit the rest of the story (goodness knows I've got a LOT to change!) and then I still plan on sending it to a publisher. Wish me luck! =) oh, and please review! Thank you