It took us a couple of minutes to figure out a safe way to get down from the old man's roof...but Isaac and I were able to figure it out eventually, walking through the front door of his cabin just as he was sweeping up some broken glass and attempting to breathe normally by holding an old bandana up against his face every now and then to filter out some of the eye stinging ammonia that I had dumped out all over the floor.
Grumpy and out of sorts, the old man grunted, "Well, don't just stand there. One of you go grab a mop, and the other can get a bucket and fill it with soap and warm water so we can get rid of this mess. My cabin is a wreck." Isaac and I looked at one another for a moment, and then he spoke up.
"I'm afraid that I can't see anything in here, sir. It's too dark."
The old man, told us, "Just give it a couple more seconds..." And sure enough, with a few flickers and a couple of struggling attempts to get back to full power, the light bulbs in the cabin came back to life, and provided us the light we needed to see one another and take a good look at the chaos we had made in the secluded cabin. "Look at this shit. Awful Just plain awful." He said. "You know...they probably would have left this place alone if it weren't for you two, barging in here unannounced. And look my tool shed! It's been demolished! Bunch of goddamn savages..." He grumbled. Both Isaac and I were pretty much frozen in place, baffled by his reaction to all of this. And once he paid attention to our silence, he stood upright and looked us in the eye. "Let me guess...you two wanted to be a part of their little gang of misfits...until you didn't anymore. Am I right?"
That shocked me. It really did. "You...you know about...them? You know about Cyrus?"
The look on his face changed. "Cyrus, huh?" He paused for a moment, and then turned his back on us to continue cleaning up some of the debris that he saw on the floor. "So...you're one of his, are you?"
"One of his?" I asked. "So...you DO know who they are? What...they are?"
A long hesitation. And then the old man said, "You boys can't stay here. I'll allow you to get some rest, but I want you gone as soon as possible. You're best bet is to wait until morning, follow the path that runs parallel with the river, and you'll find yourselves coming out somewhere in the middle of highway 47. From there, you can hitch a ride back into town...figure out how to get back to your folks. You seem young. I'm sure your parents are out searching for you."
He wouldn't look us in the eye. And the mere mention of Cyrus seemed to create some sort of disturbance in him that made him want to distance himself from the situation entirely. "Sir...please..."
"I'm not a 'sir', kid. never have been, never will be." The old man growled. "The name's Virgil. Virgil Wyatt." He had these piercing, dull blue, eyes...but the weathered and worn out wrinkles around his eyes and mouth appeared to draw a bit of light from their once youthful brilliance. "You got an scratches on you, kid?"
"A few. I think they hurt me pretty bad. I might need some bandages or..."
"Those aren't the scratches I'm talking about." He said. Then he grabbed me by the shoulder to turn me around and lift up the back of my shirt. "Shit. He got to you already. Nothing that I can do about that now."
"Got to me? Wait...I'm so confused." I said. "Can you maybe slow down a little bit and tell me what's going on here."
But the old man was already moving towards Isaac to pull his shirt up to check him for marks as well. He didn't find any. "You're clean." He said. "You...on the other hand...you belong to 'him' now. As long as he's living...you'll never truly be apart from him. You're a permanent member of the pack. And I really don't need you hanging around and being a liability to my personal safety."
"So you know what they are?" I asked. "What...we are?"
"Damn right, I know what you are. Been fighting off this kind of evil for a couple of decades now. Haven't made much of an impact though. At least, not yet." He said, taking a cigarette box out of his back pocket and lighting one up in front of us. "We're working on it, though. Me and a couple of other folks. Believe me." Blowing out a cloud of smoke, Virgil turned to us and said, "The true wickedness of your kind comes from a loss of control, you understand? It's primal. Unpredictable. You remind humanity of what it's like to be truly wild. No consequences. No boundaries. It's your kind that tears down the walls of civilization and reverts us all back to being 'animals' again. Your boy, Cyrus...he revels in the idea that we can all be reduced to violent savages once he's able to plant the right seeds in the right places in our minds. But the true deception is convincing you that your sense of freedom isn't just a manifestation of his control." Looking at me with squinted eyes, he said, "I take it that he got you to drink the Kool-Aid, eh?"
"Kool-Aid? What the...?"
"He found whatever it was that you felt you were lacking in your life, and promised to fill that void for you. Am I right?" Virgil asked, now lifting his bookshelf up from the floor and putting back up against the wall, placing the books back in order like he had them. "Blah blah blah...just trust in me, and not in your own ability to think for yourself. It's what he does. That's how he's built the effective squad that he's got surrounding him now. He got them all invested...the same way that he got you. But I assume you've been having some doubts."
"Sir..." I said, getting an angry glare from him. "Virgil..." I corrected myself, hoping to get more answers from him. "...What do I do? All I want is to go home and be with my family."
With a heavy sigh, Virgil said, "I wish I could tell you that things would be that easy, kid. I really do. But the truth is...you sold your soul to the Devil...and he ain't too keen on giving refunds. You hear me?" Picking a few more broken pieces of his cabin furniture off of the floor, he turned to us and said, "If you really are one of Cyrus' boys...he's not going to let this go. Not ever. Chances are, he's already picked up on your scent, and he'll follow you to the ends of the Earth if he has to. Him and all of his...'brethren'. You're linked to him now. Bonded. There's no escaping that. The change, once it happens...it's for good. Plain and simple."
"Monsters..." Isaac whispered, more to himself than to rest of us.
"Werewolves..." Virgil told him. Then he straightened up and said, "Listen, if you think I'm going to be able to protect you from the likes of your pack, kid...you'd be sadly mistaken. That's not how this kind of thing works. You're interrupting a seriously delicate 'balance' here between me and those beasts in the shadows right now. My boys and I don't quite know how to handle it yet, and these creatures, Cyrus specifically, don't know how to handle it either. There's more going on than you may realize...but it's going to come to a head someday. And when it does, both sides need to be ready. You know what I mean?"
"No! I DON'T know what that means! What the fuck are you talking about??? None of this is making any kind of sense to me right now!" I cried. "Why cant you just HELP us?!?!? Drive me into town and let me go and see my parents again! My friends! Just..."
"Do you think I haven't seen you, boy?" He said. "Yeah...I saw you at Rainbow's End. I saw you hanging out with the rest of your pack, and I saw you walk in line with them...step for step. I saw you 'transform' and stand as one of those blasphemous 'things' on the roof of my cabin tonight. Plus, I know that Cyrus is constantly biding his time and looking for ways to keep me off of his back, searching for a quiet way to END me that won't expose him and the others to everyone for who they are. Possibly sending someone like YOU to my cabin to rip me to pieces!" He grunted. "Make no mistake, kid...the only reason that I haven't put a BULLET in your heart yet is the fact that you and I seem to share a common enemy in that hell bound son of a bitch, and you've got the scars to prove it. Scars that will probably be all healed up within an hour or two. But don't think that I'm going to be to taking my eyes off of you for more than a few seconds a time while you're staying here in my cabin away from home. A situation that I also hope will be fixed by tomorrow morning."
"I'm not here to hurt you." I said. "I swear."
"Not the kind of epitaph that I prefer to have written on my tombstone. So excuse me if I don't jump at the chance to be gullible enough to believe you." He said, and then handed a broom and dustpan over to Isaac. "Start sweeping. Room and board ain't free around here."
Isaac didn't even question it. He just started sweeping up the dust and debris that came from John Boy's attack and the fallen shelves. Me? I still had more questions.
"How many people know about us?"
Virgil said, "Knowledge and belief are two different things. Unfortunately...belief disguises itself as knowledge, so most people around here would rather call you crazy than accept reality. Even if it they see it with their own eyes. Even when they feel it in their hearts. It's a cult of denial that very few people are smart enough to be able to break away from. They prefer the illusion. They want to feel that their reality operates with a stability that coincides with what the already know about the world." He told me, inhaling deeply to take another drag off of his cigarette and blowing another puff of smoke in the air. "I'm guessing that the existence of werewolves don't quite fit into that stable design, does it?"
"Look...I just want this to stop, ok?" I said. "I don't want any part of this anymore. I just want..."
"Listen to you." He said with a gritty smile. "This ain't about what you want, kid. That time is over with. You took the initiative, you jumped the gun, and you made some adult decisions. Now you've got to deal with adult consequences. Point blank, period. That's it. That's all there is. I can't magically fix it for you now, Do I look like a fairy godmother to you?" He said, and stood up from his seat to stretch for a moment before asking, "Listen, I've got some beer on ice in the truck...you two need a drink?"
Isaac and I were both a little surprised by the casual nature that Virgil was approaching us with, even offering us beer when we were both clearly underage. Still, it didn't stop him from shrugging his shoulders and heading back out to his car anyway to grab a cooler full of ice cold beverages.
"I thought you said everything was a secret?" Isaac whispered to me, still sweeping up the mess on the floor.
"I thought it WAS! It's not like I had ever heard of this kind of thing before."
"But if he knows, then...wait...shhhh!" Isaac said, directing his eyes back down to the cabin floor as he went back to sweeping...seconds before Virgil came back through the door. Cooler in one hand, duffel bag in the other, and a hunter's rifle slung over his shoulder.
He set everything down and opened the cooler. His grisly voice saying, "The price of a cold drink is a name. Nothing more."
Clearing my throat, I timidly said, "Wesley..."
He reached in the cooler and tossed me a can of beer. "Good to meet you, Wesley. At least so far. And what about you?"
"I'm...I am Isaac..."
He threw a can in his direction as well, with him having to drop the broom in order to catch it in time. "Wesley and Isaac. Got it. Sit for a spell. But don't get too comfortable. You still made one hell of a disaster out of my home, and I'm getting a bit too old to cover up for a young boy's deeds." He popped open a can of beer for himself and turned it up...guzzling almost half of it down right away at a speed that I'm sure would have made Kriegar proud if he had been here to see it. Then he rubbed his belly and let out a loud belch as he relaxed back on the living room sofa. "So...life wasn't good enough for you boys as it was. I take it that you had to go searching for something more. Is that right? Cyrus had to draw you in with something."
A bit aggravated by his lack of explanation, I tried to measure my patience as much as possible...hoping to get some answers out of him eventually. "Father embraced me. I guess that's what I was looking for more than anything." I said.
Virgil scoffed gleefully at my comment. "Father, eh?"
I don't think I even realized that I had called him that until he said it out loud. "Cyrus. I meant to say Cyrus."
"Yeah...but you didn't." Virgil grinned. "He's got his claws in you, deep...doesn't he boy?" He sat up and took another few swallows from his beer. "That's what he does to you, Wesley. He gets in your head. The whole 'father' mechanic? It becomes automatic. Second nature. Hearing someone speak ill of your new 'savior' is going to tap into that brainwashed mentality...creating an instantaneous emotional response. One where it becomes more uncomfortable to not defend him that it would be to let it slide." Looking me in the eye...he said, "You feel it. Don't you?"
"I don't feel anything." I said.
"You sure about that? Because Cyrus...? He's weak. Helpless. Impotent in more ways than you can count." He said.
"Look, I just want to find my way home. I made a mistake, ok? And Isaac shouldn't even be a part of this. Can you just help us to get home?" I asked.
"Trying to avoid the subject?" Virgil asked. "Go ahead. You can say it. Cyrus is weak. Completely helpless without his followers. A narcissist with no direction and no ability to self soothe or evolve on his own. Not without his pack, validating his very existence with their blind loyalty ad foolish antics to make him feel strong."
"Listen, if you're not going to help us..."
"SAY it, Wesley." Virgil demanded. And I felt the frustration within me growing rapidly to levels that I couldn't even control. My stomach muscles tightened up. My breath got ragged and short. My forehead wrinkling up as I fought to maintain some sense of self control. "Tell me how weak he is. You must know. That's why you left his ranks, isn't it? To get away from him. To break free from his idiotic enchantments and pursue the truth?"
"Ohhhh...he still has a hold on you, doesn't he? You can't let go." He smiled. "Say it. Humor me. You don't even have to mean it. Just tell me what I want to hear."
"I don't KNOW what you want to hear!" I said through gritted teeth, my fists now balled up to the point where my knuckles turned white.
"I want you to say that your leader is a weak, pathetic, piece of trash...constantly searching for someone else to make him appear to be more worthy than he really is..."
"Stop. Don't say that..."
"I want you to admit that you were tricked by a boy who has nothing unless he STEALS it from the people surrounding him. All because he doesn't have the ability to generate any sense of self love or worth on his own merits."
"You need to stop..."
"A so called 'alpha' that can't gain any love and respect from anyone who isn't a member of his private little club where he's able to call of the shots. A club that you allowed yourself to be a part of." Virgil said, pushing me further as a fury began to rise up within me. "He played you for a sucker, boy. And he made you enjoy every minute of it. He targeted you from afar, and used you to enhance himself through lies and deception. But deep down...you know he's full of shit, don't you? You know...he can't ever be anything more than what you make him out to be..."
"FUCK OFF!!!" I shouted, even surprising myself. "Don't you DARE to talk about Father that way!!! I'll rip you to fucking PIECES if you disrespect him like that!!!"
With a sigh and a satisfied grin, Virgil leaned back against the couch, and I began to realize what I had just shouted at him. I couldn't even believe that the words had left my mouth. Even Isaac gave me a strange look when he heard it. But, for some reason, my adrenaline was surging through my veins and I was soooooo angry that I simply couldn't hold it back anymore.
Had I really been brainwashed by the calling that badly? Cyrus, literally, tried to KILL us tonight...but I couldn't help but to defend him when Virgil called him weak. What am I doing? Who am I? I don't think I even know anymore.
"You see?" Virgil said, softly. "If you think you're ever going to break away from his control...you're lying to yourself. The seeds have been planted. The weeds have grown. Running away from him will only delay the inevitable return to his embrace."
"I can't go back. I won't." I said.
"Yes, you will. I'm sure of it." He told me. "And when Cyrus and I finally face off against one another...and you're there...I'm going to have to put you down, just like all the others. It's only a matter of time."
Virgil finished off his can of beer, crushing it in his hand and grabbing two or three more out of the cooler before standing up to go to bed.
He said, "You boys can stretch out and make yourselves comfortable for the rest of the night. Cyrus and his pack won't be back any time soon. But he's definitely caught on to your scent, and that means that he can track you for miles without even putting any effort into it. The blind kid that he's got with him can probably track you even further than that. So...if you feel like running...I wish you all the best. But, if I was a betting man, I don't see this having a happy ending for either one of ya."
"Does that mean that you'll take us into town tomorrow morning?" I asked.
He groaned a bit, but said, "I suppose I can manage that. You came all this way...I s'pose it would make me a bad host if I didn't." Then he put a hand on my shoulder and said, "Look, I know you've been through a lot. And I'm sorry that you ever felt the need to get mixed up with the lot of them. But all I can do right now is keep you in my prayers, and tell you to stay strong. There's no other way out of this other than finding the courage to think for yourself. Don't let him tell you who you are, kid. You should already know on your own. Ya hear me?"
"I thought I did. He just...he made everything sound...so much better when I trusted him to take the wheel." I sniffled.
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." Virgil said. "Book of Matthew."
And with that, he allowed me and Isaac to lie down and get some rest. He kept his rifle handy, just in case...but something tells me that he trusted us a little bit more than he let on. At least for now.
At least for now.