Running. The wolves surround me as we weave in and out of trees in the dwindling wilderness. Most of it is new growth but I don’t have time to linger on the Mortals’ sins. I follow the path the wolves have set before me and ask no questions. They will know if my faith wavers. And I have no intention of making them regret their show of forgiveness.
There are new personalities in their family. Voices I do not recognize. But each welcome me and assist my clumsy movements. I am awash in gratitude but I try not to be overcome with disbelief. It is not like them to dwell excessively in submissiveness.
I think of Myrtle. I think of our school. I think of Kevin. I do not know much of Trelaine or what obstacles lay before me. But I have brought with me every advantage I could find.
I am tired, but I keep running.
Hidden by a thicket of trees is the Crimson Tower. It reaches into the darkened sky with a foreboding presence that gives me pause.
My chaperones begin a howl that echoes from each in their own turn.
This is where my son is being held.
I shed my wolf form and don the guise of the woman my wife has shown me.
I do not even know her name. But I will have to improvise.
I am trying to collect myself in this new pair of shoes when the front door opens. Into the cool night air comes a man in a set of scrubs.
I am fortunate to lay eyes upon a nametag as he approaches.
I’M GLAD YOU’RE HERE.
I LOCKED MYSELF OUT.
CAN YOU LET ME BACK IN?
I THOUGHT YOUR SHIFT WAS OVER.
YOU KNOW IT.
YOU’RE ALWAYS PICKING UP AFTER LENARD.
HE’S A BUSY MAN.
I DON’T ENVY HIS SCHEDULE.
HOW’S THE KID?
My supposed friend lights a cigarette. I will have to wait patiently for him to finish.
OBSTINATE LITTLE BRAT THOUGH.
AREN’T THEY ALL.
MINE ARE THE SAME WAY.
He takes a long drag of his cigarette.
IS IT TRUE HE’S THE MISSING LINK?
I DON’T REALLY KNOW.
THE DOCTOR SEEMS TO HAVE TAKEN A SPECIAL INTEREST IN HIM, THOUGH.
I WOULDN’T BE SURPRISED.
I WISH I COULD BE A FLY ON THE WALL.
FOR THE DOCTOR’S MEETINGS?
I’M SURE THEY’RE JUST AS DULL AS WE FEAR.
YOU WANT ANY OF THIS?
He offers his cigarette to me.
OH, NO, THAT’S OKAY.
I’M TRYING TO QUIT.
YOU’RE TRYING TO QUIT?
GOD HELP US ALL.
Yes, God help us all.
My heart flutters a bit as we move toward the entrance to the tower. I could mimic the form of the nurse but I had no faked credentials.
Nathan, on the other hand, thoughtlessly scans his badge to allow us entrance to the building. Through the door is a second stopping point, one beset with a fingerprint reader.
This, I could do.
TRY NOT TO LOCK YOURSELF OUT AGAIN.
YOU WORK YOURSELF TOO HARD.
SAME TO YOU.
He turns away and leaves down a long hallway.
I’m alone. But I still cannot look suspicious. Where are the patient rooms? The nurses’ station? I have no choice but to walk around the hallways looking for a hint.
I quickly find the staff lockers, but of course without knowledge of which locker she owns, let alone a working combination, the find is useless to me. Nurses shuttle past me, engaged in their own tasks. I, too, have my own task.
I find a small bathroom noted for use by the staff. I need privacy if I’m to unleash my secret weapon.
My hands quiver as I place them upon my chest. My special payload. I gather breath in my lungs and pluck the explosives from their hiding place upon my body. For such a foreign object to be able to be masked by my metamorphosis, they had to feel like a personal effect.
I’d needed them.
I depress a few buttons and a timer begins to count down on the digital display. I set the devices in the room, one atop the toilet and the other within the walls of the sink.
HERE YOU ARE, TRELAINE. I WISH YOU THE BREAST.
I am meandering around a hallway when the detonation occurs. Alarms immediately blare and the sound of panic echoes through the facility.
I seize the moment to run toward the nurses’ station. Sitting with a dumbfounded expression on his face is a man watching the security cameras. He looks to me in desperation.
WHAT’S GOING ON?
DO WE EVACUATE?
OF COURSE WE EVACUATE!
OPEN THE DOOR OF PATIENT A!
YES, KEVIN. OF COURSE KEVIN!
DON’T YOU HAVE KEYS TO –
I WAS ABOUT TO LEAVE FOR THE DAY; MY KEYS ARE IN MY LOCKER!
NOW, EMERGENCY OVERRIDE!
The stunned man turns to a control panel. He depresses a sequence of buttons as I speed down the hallway, hopeful my disguise’s limitations are lost in the chaos.
I am thankfully out of sight of the desk when I hear a door whirr open. I jaunt to the side and step into the doorway and what I see nearly causes me to drop the illusion.
It’s Kevin, sitting upon the bed with a desperate expression. The alarms have torn him from rest.
My voice falters as I struggle to speak to him from behind the stranger’s appearance. It is so good to see him. His empty mouth angers me but I cannot yet drop my face.
THERE’S BEEN AN EXPLOSION.
WE DON’T KNOW.
NOW, COME WITH ME.
I’M NOT GOING ANYWHERE.
I’M WAITING FOR MY PARENTS.
YOUR PARENTS AREN’T COMING!
NOW GET OUT OF HERE BEFORE YOU ARE INCINERATED!
He seems to be trying to muster any sort of resistance but as he draws his eyes up to mine, his resolve melts into fear. He looks small, there, and helpless.
Running. More running. The hallways are filled with choking smoke and faceless people fleeing for safety. I keep looking over my shoulder to ensure that my son is still in tow. I half-expect to see him dragging around a stuffed animal. But he is empty-handed; the days of his childhood are far behind us.
Outside are clusters of chattering people. I have no need of them anymore. I have my son.
Their eyes drift toward us but I continue to lead my son into the trees.
He cries out.
WHERE ARE WE GOING?
AWAY FROM THE SMOKE!
He continues in my shadow, working his way messily through the undergrowth.
We go on like that until a wolf blocks my path. Instead of looking into the wolf’s eyes, I turn backward to my son. He, too, has one of my companions in his path.
He looks toward me without changing his fearful posture. I listen. The sound of frightened humans has disappeared into the forest.
But my heart has not yet steadied enough to grant me the bravery to face him. I melt into the form of a dire wolf.
He stands completely still as I approach, his gaze locked on me in disbelief.