I felt a tug at my ankle. That’s the first thing that I remember.
I was so tired.
SO very tired.
I wouldn’t have even opened my eyes if it wasn’t for the rough yank on my leg.
My body felt numb. My limbs were limp with fatigue. My fingers felt cold, almost to the point of curling over with soreness. My face seemed to be covered with a thin layer of something. Were those leaves? Dried leaves?
As my senses slowly returned to me, I could feel the lumpy roots of a nearby tree underneath my back and shoulders. A frigid breeze blowing more leaves over me as I felt another...stronger...tug at my leg. Where was I? What was going on? Did...did Isaac drag me outside??? I think he, literally, dragged me out of the house while I was unconscious, and just LEFT me here! That stupid son of a bitch! I know that he was scared, but does he have any idea what kind of danger he’s in without me sticking around to protect him? Doesn’t he understand that...
Another harsh pull on my leg...this time, hard enough to rip my pants leg. And this time, as my head began to clear out the fog from its extended nap...I heard it accompanied by a deep, intimidating growl. One that was soon joined by others.
The growls intensified, and I was finally able to lift my head enough to look down at what was happening to me...and I saw wolves with bloodstained fur! My brethren. My pack. How did they find me so fast? HOW???
Now that I was awake, I could feel them biting and scratching me all over, ripping my clothes to get to the juicy and tender meat within. I had already stained the muddy ground beneath me with my blood. Enough to leave me weak and hardly able to focus on anything but a sudden sense of panic.
Attempting to get a burst of energy, I kicked my legs out and tried to crawl back on my elbows to get to my feet. My legs were a tattered mess, wet shreds of torn meat being licked clean from my brethren's hungry teeth. The pain was starting to settle in now, the process of my body going into shock being put on hold as fear and self preservation kicked into high gear. I used my arms to try to get away, but Shank and Razor both took one leg each, and roughly dragged me across the rocks, dirt, and tree roots, of the forest floor. The rugged terrain scratched up my chest and arms as I clawed to keep from being pulled into the middle of their sinister circle...but it was no use. I wasn’t much more than a rag doll to them.
“Now, now, boys...don’t be too savage with our dear Wesley...” Came a voice from in front of me, and I looked up from the dirt to see Cyrus and Sebastian standing before me in human form. Sebastian’s face was nearly expressionless as always, but Cyrus looked down on me with a satisfying grin. “...We don’t want to make this too quick. I want him to suffer.”
I felt claws raking my back, and my body was easily tossed over to the side as the remaining wolves chased their fresh meal, ready to use those razor sharp fangs to tear me apart. I attempted to reach down and hold their heads back, or pry their jaws open. I kicked and screamed and prayed to God up above for help. But, let’s be honest...God had probably abandoned me after the things I’ve done. The powerful jaws jerked me back and forth as they fought over who would get the most tender bite out of me. They began to snap at my fingers, biting down to the bone. But they followed Cyrus’ direct order. They didn’t go for my stomach. They didn’t go for my throat. They were looking to draw out this pain for as long as I could take it. Punishment for breaking Father’s one golden rule.
“Who are you without your brethren?” Cyrus asked, then added, “Without your brethren...you are nothing.”
I screamed out loud as a particularly brutal bite pierced the back of my calf muscle. Tears ran out of my eyes as I struggled to pull myself free, but they had sunken themselves so deep into the meat of it that I was actually causing myself more damage by trying to dislodge myself. And then...they dragged me further and further away from the cabin, which I could now only see in the background. Oh how they scratched and ravaged me, devouring pieces of my defenseless flesh...piece by tiny piece.
I didn’t know what to do! I couldn’t cry out for help this deep in the woods. I couldn’t fight them off. I couldn’t even remember how to change into a werewolf’s form to give me some weapons to protect myself with. Isaac had abandoned me and left me for dead. Hell, for all I know...they might have torn him limb from limb before they even got to me. I was alone. I almost felt like giving up. Just closing my eyes...and waiting for it to all be over.
I could hear Cyrus and Sebastian walking towards me, and the other wolves stopped gnawing at me long enough to roll over on my back and catch my breath, I was bleeding out in the dirt...muscles torn, bones exposed, clothes ripped to ribbons...and he looked down on me and said, “I believed in you, Wesley. I truly thought you were going to be something special. And now? Now...you’re just another piece of meat. So sad.”
I felt a sudden pressure on my chest, and coughed up a small splattering of blood as I looked up to see Dexter sitting on top of me, a maniacal smile spreading across his adorable face as he licked his lips and said, “You have such...pretty...eyes! YUMMY!”
With a loud gasp, I suddenly sat up, twitching and convulsing, my hands feeling my arms and legs all over to see if I was alright after waking up from what might have been the most realistic and terrifying nightmare that I had ever experienced! My chest was heaving with labored breath, my heart beating so hard that I slammed my hand against my chest to keep it from bursting out of my rib cage. And I was soaked with sweat. Actually soaked!
I found myself on the living room couch of the cabin where I had originally fallen asleep. I was relieved when I saw Isaac rush in from the other room to see what all the commotion was about. “What is it? What is happening?” He asked, wide eyed with fear.
I couldn’t even answer at first. I was too busy checking my surroundings for signs of reality before I fully gave myself over to another illusion. Then, still fighting for air, I said, “Nothing. I’m...I’m fine. I’m ok.” I took a moment to look outside the window, and it was completely dark outside with the exception of the spotlight in the front yard and the dim light pouring out of the front windows of our cabin. I could hear crickets chirping outside, but not much else. “What time is it? How long was I asleep?” I asked.
“I can’t tell. The cabin has no clocks. I looked all over, but couldn't find any.” He replied. “If I had to make an assumption, I would say it was well after midnight.”
“After midnight? Jesus!” I sighed, using my shirt to wipe the sweat off of my brow. “Why didn’t you wake me?”
“I tried. You wouldn’t stir. Not at all. But you were breathing, so I figured that you would be ok...” Isaac’s voice trailed off as he looked down at my bare stomach and sides. I was just trying to mop the perspiration off of my face before it began stinging my eyes, but his silence caused me to stop and peek up at him. “...They’re gone.” He whispered.
“Gone? What’s gone? What are you talking about?”
Isaac pointed out a shaky finger, and I looked down to see a majority of the deep gashes and cuts on my torso had been healed. Not completely, but enough to where there were only faded red welts left from the nearly fatal injuries that I had suffered through just hours ago. Or...was it a day? Geez, I didn’t mean to sleep that long.
"I searched through the house, and I think I found spare keys to the truck out front." He said. "I put them down in the kitchen. I don't know how much gas we have to work with, though. The meter is shattered. It might be enough to get us to a nearby town, or at least the highway. Then again, it might be completely empty as well. I suppose we could try, either way."
Still regaining my senses and fending off a minor headache, I happened to glance up at the cabin lights in the ceiling. "Lights? How did you get the electricity to work?"
"There was a shed out back. I figured that anybody who lives this far outside of town must keep a generator around somewhere in case of storms or emergencies. The shed seemed as good a place as any."
Again, Isaac proved to have a pretty good head on his shoulders. I have to admit to being thankful for having him around right now. "I don't suppose there was any food in that old shed, was there?"
"Not there, but there were some survival rations and a couple cans of soup in the cabinet above the fridge. I warmed some up for myself a few hours ago, but there are still a few cans left if you're hungry."
"I am DEFINITELY hungry!" I smirked, feeling a slight twinge of pain as my body continued to burn and knit itself back together.
"Well, please eat. The last thing I want you to be around me is...'hungry'." When I looked him in the eye, a little smirk appeared on his lips, and it put us both at ease for a little while. I guess it has been a crazy day, hasn't it?
How else were we supposed to deal with it?
About 20 minutes later, I was sitting at the kitchen table with a spoon and a half empty bowl. I swear, chicken noodle soup from a can never tasted so divine. My healing seemed to be gobbling up the nutrients as fast as I could swallow them, but at least it didn't feel as though my stomach was going to collapse anymore. It was at that moment that I realized that Isaac had gotten particularly quiet...his eyes staring down at the table top as though he had something stressful on his mind. "We're gonna get out of this, you know? Somehow." I said, hoping to set his mind at ease.
"No...it's not that." He said, softly. "I was thinking of something else. I have been since you passed out on the couch. Perhaps it's silly, but I can't seem to let it go."
"Well...it's not like we've got a TV or a radio to distract us. Might as well give the ancient art of conversation a try, right?" I told him. "Unless it's something that you don't want to talk about..."
"It's ok. Just...memories, I suppose." He replied. "I thought more about what you said earlier. When I asked you...how you could have fallen in with such an unsavory crowd as you did. To think back, however...I guess it wasn't so fair for me to make such a comment. Certainly not a judgement."
"It's alright. To be honest, I'm still trying to figure it out myself." I ate a bit more soup, savoring the flavor for a few seconds before continuing. "It's...kinda scary, you know?"
"Scary?" He asked.
"Yeah. Despite the dangers and the...well...the total departure from my sanity...I can't say that I didn't enjoy the thrill of it. I know that sounds crazy, but...Cyrus and the others changed something within me. Something deep. Something primal. He connected to a part of myself that I had been keeping locked up for longer than I ever could have realized without his help. He taught me to never be afraid of it...or ashamed of it. He gave me a place where I felt like I belonged. It's addictive...living without restraint. Pushing your own boundaries to see just how far you can go...how great you can be...and having someone to coach you through it with a smile. I'll admit it...I liked it. I felt like I needed it. And because of that, I allowed myself to ignore the other stuff...just so long as he didn't take his love away. I didn't want to go back to hiding from other people. I didn't want to go back to hiding from myself. I don't think I could ever go back to feeling so utterly alone. I still don't." Isaac was paying close attention to every word, and I said, "I guess that really does make me sound like a monster, doesn't it?"
"No..." He said. "I have been a monster myself, from time to time." I found that part hard to believe, but I let him keep going. "I had a very close friend once. Joseph. We were raised, almost like brothers. He was a few years older than I was, but...I knew very young that my heart used to beat for him like no other whenever I got close to him. A school boy crush, I suppose." He seemed to get all dreamy eyed all of a sudden, and it was actually pretty cute. It made me smile. "He was the first boy to ever let me know that I was different, you know?" That's when the light in his eyes dimmed...and he looked back down at the table. "Unfortunately...I was taught that such cravings were not appropriate. I had to keep my feelings hidden. Always."
"Liking somebody doesn't make you a monster, Isaac..."
"It wasn't just that, Wesley. It was more that I did wrong." He said. "When it came time for him to go for Rumspringa...I cried for weeks. I figured he would only be gone for a short while, but I missed him just the same. Months went by. Then a year. Then two years. Then he wrote two letters home. One he sent to his family. The other...he sent to me." His voice began to get shaky as the memory came back into full color for him. "He said that he had found someone special in the outside world. A girl that he loved very much. And it said...that he was not coming back to join the Amish church. He was going to stay." With a sniffle, Isaac told me, "Your friend, Cyrus...he was correct about my people not coming home to join church. You have time during Rumspringa to explore the secular world and all it has to offer...but then you must return home. You must come back to church and leave it all behind. For your family. For God and your eternal soul. If you don't..."
"...If you don't then you'll be shunned. There's no coming back after that, is there?"
Tears began to roll down Isaac's cheeks. "My family, my church, my whole community, says that we must turn him away. That we must not have any further contact, nor can we give him any assistance from that time forward. And I followed them in banishing him from church."
"Wow. I'm sorry, man."
"I did it to him because I was angry. How dare he find someone to love when I loved him first. I wanted to punish him. 'GOOD', I thought. My family and I would go into town and I would pretend not to see him. I would not talk to him. But all the anger inside would not make the hurt go away. It just made me feel more empty inside."
"Well...why didn't you just sneak out and talk to him? Write him a letter, or...?"
"You do not understand, Wesley. This is not possible. Everything I know...it comes from my church and my community. They would have me banished as well if I disobey."
"But that's just crazy!" I said. "No offense, but why would you even tolerate people who would treat you like that? People who would force you to do something so terrible against your better judgement?"
"Why would you?" He asked...suddenly making his point crystal clear. "They are my 'brethren', Wesley. There is little separation between what they believe and who I am. They connected to me too. Maybe not in the same way, but sacrifice is the only way to remain close to them. So...if you are a monster, then so am I. Maybe in different ways and for different reasons...but monsters just the same."
With a sigh, I said, "I guess it's hard to let go of the things that we claim to define us, huh? Even when we know those things aren't all they're cracked up to be in the long run. It's easy to block out the bad stuff when you'r fighting for your own comfort."
"Truth is like arsenic to comfort." Isaac grinned, wiping his teary eyes.
"Amen to that." I grinned back. Then...I had to ask, "So...now that it's your turn, this whole Rumspringa ritual...do you think you'll go back to church when it's all over?"
"I wish I had an answer for that, but I don't." He peeked over at me, and said, "As reckless as it was for me to do so...going home with you was probably the most exciting thing I've ever done with my life. I would hate to not share such experiences for at least a little while longer before I decide." He said. "I would find it difficult to go back to being alone as well."
"I think that, once we both get out of this mess, we'll..." I was suddenly interrupted by a loud noise in the back of the house. It sounded like something had just fallen over at first...but then we heard it again...and suddenly the entire house went black!
Every bit of light was shut off at once. Both inside and outside. Out here in the middle of the woods, we didn't have any kind of illumination whatsoever. "Did we blow a fuse or something?" I asked.
"I don't know. Maybe the generator is out of gas?"
"How much was in there?"
"I don't know. It felt heavy, so I thought it was at least half full when I turned it on." Isaac said.
I reached out into the darkness and felt around the top of the table. "Ummm...do we have any candles or anything in this...in this...place...?" My voice began to trail off. Suddenly, I didn't feel so good. I felt...dizzy. I tried to shake it out of my head, but it seemed to be getting worse. I know that Isaac was talking to me, and he stood up, trying to reach out for a nearby wall to guide him back towards the kitchen...but his voice sounded muffled and distant to me. My breathing increased...and my heart began to beat with a sense of sudden dread.
"Wesley? Are you still there?" Isaac asked, but I was too busy trying to identify what was going on with me at that moment.
I recognized that feeling...
"Shhhhh...." I whispered, my voice shaking with fear. No! Not now! Please, God...not now!
My senses were heightened, my hearing stretched out into the area around us...this was no dream. In fact, I could have sworn that I heard a boyish little giggle in the distance...Scout getting excited over being so close to the origin of my scent.
"What's going on? What is it?" Isaac asked.
"We have to get out of this house." I said urgently. "We have to go NOW! I never thought they'd be able to get this close!"
"Who??? They're HERE? Your brethren?"
"The PACK!" I said. "Where did you put the keys to the truck? We need to go!" Isaac was frantically moving towards the kitchen, running into walls and tripping over his own two feet. "Where are they? Let's GO!!!" I said, feeling the others closing in quickly.
"I don't know!" He whimpered. "I can't find them!"
"Where did you put them???"
"I put them on the counter! But it's so dark in here that I can barely see my own hand in front of my face!" He said.
"Wait...you can't what?"
"I said, I can't even see my own hand in front of my face!"
And that's when an ice cold chill ran through my veins..and I just KNEW what was coming next.