DOG DAYS: CHAPTER 19

Can you hear me, okay? Let me know when I can start. Now? I can…okay.

My name is Bridgette Lucero. I’m here with my husband Tim and our friend Miranda. So today I made a difficult decision, but I am now fully registered with the MIR center in Springfield. I thought everything went really well during our evaluation. The staff was amazing and answered all of our questions. We went over procedures, lunar check-ins, just all sorts of information.

We learned something a little scary today, and that’s why we’re making this video. I’m nervous about my first transformation. The officer at MIR said that everyone reacts differently during their change. Even though I’ll be surrounded by staff for my first time, there is still a slight possibility that my body won’t be able to handle that much physical trauma at once.

  We’ve been thinking about making a living will for a while, anyway. Kalvin is a grown man now. He’ll be starting college soon. And we figured this would give me some peace of mind before the full moon next week.

Can we stop for a second? No, I still want this done today, but I just need a minute. This is a lot right now, Tim.  I’m asking you to turn off the camera. Thank you.

 

Chapter 19:

Here for the Festival

                The burlap bag over Kalvin’s head made sounds as each breath struggled through its fibers. It whispered to him, for how long he did not know. The whispers took his mind off of the attack, but he still saw the child’s face.  She couldn’t have been older than five, thought Kalvin.  It was his first time witnessing the effects of silver on infected skin, and the long-winded cloth could not make it go away.

A Bedlam member kept Kalvin moving with a rifle in his back. None spoke, not even to guide him down the steps. His only warning came from footsteps clattering on the staircase ahead. It was impossible to discern how many others marched alongside him. He doubted such a convoy was necessary for one hostage. Eustace and Berne have to be alive, thought Kalvin. Please don’t let me be the only one.

He blindly hopped down the steps on his good leg to preserve his cast. With his wrists bound together, Kalvin pressed his shoulder into the wall for stability. He cussed as his stitches popped on an awkward landing, leaving the dressing soggy and putrid. The wound throbbed by the time he completed the first flight. His painkillers rattled in his back pocket, mocking him. I’d down the entire bottle if I could reach it.

The grim thought was interrupted by another hostage trapped in burlap. The muffled growl erupted deep within the stairwell, igniting laughter from the others. It’s Bernie! And she needs help!  Her outburst had provided an unusual sense of relief—she was still close, and she could still yell. They won’t kill her, thought Kalvin. Char won’t let them. They would listen to her, wouldn’t they?

Char kept him and Danny warm with stories of her family’s summer parties when winter had become unbearable. “They have their quirks, like any family,” said Char, “but you’ll never want to leave.” What she had promised was gone now, replaced by a cold more numbing than any Michigan winter. The child’s face came to mind again, her eyes beautiful and soulless just before the gunshot.

They’re ill, Kalvin told himself. That was what his father used to say. Would he still say that if he saw what I’ve seen? Is this what he would have let mom become? I didn’t need you to come along, but you did anyway! Why are you always so fucking stubborn!? Why haven’t you called back!?

                He knew why, and he concentrated even harder on the whispers.

From higher up the stairs, a guard shouted, badgering a hostage to keep pace. Had Eustace survived? His hope wilted as the new hostage began to sob. He would never do that in front of them. He regretted not asking Eustace more questions when he had the chance. He was a murderer and bigot, but those words were only a small portion of the man. Maybe he would have explained himself, and why he thought his son needed to die.

Kalvin wanted to blame the Finisher for everything that had happened, everyone else would, but he knew the truth. We’re here because of me. If Danny hadn’t listened to me and just registered with MIR, he’d live something of a normal life today.

Kalvin’s shoulder slid against the wall as he rounded a corner.  He collapsed onto his back with his wounded leg extended into the air. Too weak to pull himself up, he remained on the floor until he was lifted to his feet as if he weighed nothing. His handler lingered close, snorting about his neck and jersey. Is he… smelling me?

                “Keep them moving!” said a voice. “He’ll have many questions, and his schedule is full enough as it is.”

*****

                Kalvin’s march came to an end with heavy hands on his shoulders. “Down,” said his handler. Kalvin pondered how to maneuver to the ground with the least pain possible before being shoved to the floor. His cast ruptured, and both knees collided with concrete. He cried out as his wound burned with fresh blood.

“It’s going to be okay,” said Bernie. Her words were obscured still, but strong—fearless. He prayed she knew more than she was willing to share. Following her example, he bit his lip to keep quiet. Soon everyone was silent, save for a sharp pecking coming from the floor.

It sounded like a pool cue breaking billiards over and over again. The thud grew louder, tapping, striking, bursting from inside Kalvin’s skull. Why won’t it stop!? He tasted blood on his lip before the beating ceased.

“Hand it over,” said a wheezing voice. “I saw you take it from the fat one.”

“But I’m hungry,” replied a child.

“It’s yours when I say it is!”

Something clapped against the floor, followed by the pitter-patter of footsteps fading up the steps.

“Pick it up, Viejo, and finish searching the body.” A chair screeched along the floor, and the wheezing man fell into his seat. “Remove the bags.”

The coarse fabric scraped against Kalvin’s nose and ears as it was ripped from his head. He wished it had remained, gazing at the misshapen silhouettes before him and a pale light just beyond the doorway. All he could do was listen as his eyes adjusted to the room.

“Should have kept yours on,” said the wheezing voice. “I forgot your sister was the pretty one. I didn’t believe my lookouts when they identified you.”

“Let me speak to Char, Howard,” said Bernie.

“You’ll speak to me.” Howard lit a gas lantern at his table. The glow revealed the ring-leader, a diminutive, poorly-aged goblin in red suspenders. His hickory cane balanced across his lap. “My little girl is under the weather. I’m sure you understand.”

This thing is Char’s father? Thought Kalvin.  

Several guards flooded in from the stairs. They emptied mail bags full of items from the Buick onto folding tables pushed flush against the walls. Bernie’s shotgun had been placed on a table reserved for weaponry, sharing a spot with, fire axes, hammers, screwdrivers, and the like. Bernie kneeled in the center of the room to Kalvin’s right. On the other side of her sat a man cross-legged, most likely the crying hostage, given his swollen, purple face.

The old man continued. “Why did you attack us?”

“None of us attacked!” said Bernie. “We heard gunfire, and then we were fired upon!”

A tall figure emerged from the doorway with a stuffed pillowcase. It bowed down to Howard’s ear and tossed the sack onto the table. “He has silver on him, and he has the mark.”

“Cut off his hand while he can still feel it,” said Howard, “and toss it with the rest.”

“NO!!” said Bernie.

“You should see this,” said the tall man as he handed over a wallet.

Howard opened the bifold and pulled out a card. He leered at it for a moment before his eyes widened. “Care to explain your business with Mr. Bully, Bernadette?”

“Char is traveling with his son. We came to warn them. ”

“Warn them about what?”

“A hunter—a dangerous one.”

“Your ‘warning’ killed one of my girls.”

I told you that wasn’t us! I would never hurt your people, you know that!”

“DO I!? Your man over there played sniper while you distracted the welcome party!!”

“He wasn’t with us! I have no idea who he is!”

“Then let’s find out. You, what’s your name?”

Kalvin almost answered before the other prisoner replied.

“Walter.”

“You killed one of my girls, Walter. Blew her pretty little face clean off.  Doesn’t sound like a warning to me.”

“I was aiming for her neck,” said Walter.

“Come again?”

“I wanted her to die slowly, choking on her own blood before the silver disintegrated what was left.”

Howard picked a ball of lint off his shirt and smoothed its creases with both hands. He looked up to address the guards waiting behind Walter. “Oh, I’m done talking with him, boys.”

A guard lifted a lead pipe from the table and let it sing across the back of Walter’s head. His body crumpled forward, and the guard battered his lifeless body until the tip of the pipe bent back. The guard parted Walter’s hands with his foot to examine his palms. “This one is a Finisher, too.”

Bernie shook her head. “Howard, this isn’t what it looks—“

“Not another word from you.” Howard stood and approached Kalvin with a strange smile across his face. “You’ve been quiet.” He held out his hand. “Howard Fettel.”

What is this? What is he going to do? Kalvin wiggled his wrists to make slack in the bindings and extended his hand into the light. “Kalvin Lucero.”

Howard snatched his hand and twisted it back to reveal the palm. His grip nearly snapped Kalvin’s wrist. “Why are you with them, Kalvin?”

He looked to Bernie for something to say.

“Don’t look at her. If you do that again I’ll open her skull right here. I’m going to ask you one more time—man to man. Why are you with them?”

Every answer is wrong, but you have to say something. “I…I just wanted to help his son,” said Kalvin. “I wanted to help Danny.”

Kalvin glanced down between his arms at the blood pooling around his knees. It reached Howard’s cane and the tip of his shoes.

“What happened to your leg?” said Howard.

Kalvin looked at Bernie again and quickly returned his gaze to Howard’s bloody shoes. Maybe he didn’t see it.

Howard sighed, and pounded his cane into the blood. “What did I just tell you?”

Kalvin begged him not to hurt her, but his men were swift with their orders. She slumped forward after a single strike. The guards waited for her to move, but she stayed still.

“Hopefully I’ve jogged their memories,” said Howard. “I’ll be back tomorrow night for the truth.” He took Eustace’s bag of possessions, and began to shuffle and thud his way to the door. He placed his hand on the doorframe and turned his shriveled head back towards Kalvin. “And you’re too late to help your friend. Someone ‘warned’ him between the eyes over a week ago.”

*****

                Bernie was the first to be dragged away. Her handlers placed her arms above their shoulders and let her feet dangle. Walter was pulled by his legs, leaving a trail of blood to the holding cells. Kalvin was hoisted up from his puddle and sent to follow the red lines.

They were each patted down and stripped of their personal items. The guard that frisked Kalvin read the label of his medication and smiled before pocketing the vial. In exchange, He cleaned his leg and replaced the cast with rags.

Kalvin felt nothing as they went to work on his leg. It ceased to matter. None of it did. His father, Eustace, and Bernie were as good as dead, all to save a man who died a week earlier. It was a matter of time before Howard would return and execute him as well. I can still kill Howard, thought Kalvin. All I need is something silver and an opportunity. I’ll be torn to pieces afterwards, but it’s better than going on like this. They won’t die in vain.

He turned to see if Bernie had received treatment. She was laid on a gurney with her arms at her sides. Her guards faced away from her, searching cabinets for more bandages. She reminded Kalvin of his mother at the wake, so serene despite everything she had been through. Her eyes opened slowly, and she winked at Kalvin before going back to sleep.

Did I just see that?

Their holding cells were square kennel cages no larger than a washing machine. The ropes around their wrists were removed. Kalvin was led inside his cell as Bernie and Walter were shoved into theirs. He kept his eyes on Bernie, waiting for another wink. The guards locked the door behind them with a click.

Kalvin wrapped his fingers around the fencing. “Bernie? Bernie, can you hear me?”

“I can hear you Danny,” said Bernie. She unraveled the bandage from her head. “They wrapped this way too tight.”

“I watched them crack your skull open.”

“And a hell of a job they did, too. But it’s going to take more than that to stop me. Can’t say the same for old Walt over there.”

“How long have you been a—”

“Keep it down. You’re the only other person that knows. Just play dumb for now. It’s best that Howard not know everything.”

“What should we do now?” said Kalvin.

“You need to rest. I’ll try to think of something for you to tell Howard tomorrow night.” She looked across the room at Walter’s cage. “It would be a lot easier without this fucking idiot. Hopefully he never wakes up.”

“Will Howard kill us if he doesn’t like what we say?”

“I said you need to rest, Kalvin. Let’s worry about getting through the day first.”

Kalvin elevated his leg onto the cage and rested his head near a vent.

“And, Kalvin. I’m sorry about Danny.”

Kalvin was not ready to talk about it, but he thanked her before turning onto his side.

It was finally quiet. No gunfire, no whispers; no questions, no distractions. What was Walter doing here this morning? thought Kalvin. His attention turned to noises coming from the vent. It sounded like Howard’s cane. Voices came shortly after, and Kalvin pressed his ear against the vent to hear the conversation.

“Keep Bully alive. I don’t care what you need. Give a list to the raid party if you have to.”

“You want him alive?”

“No one must know. Lock him in the infirmary if that’s what it takes.”

“What if someone needs treatment?”

“Turn them away. Tell them we’re out of medical supplies. It’ll be true soon enough.”

“And the other prisoners? They have substantial wounds now.”

“No heroic measures. If their treatment in any way hinders Bully’s recovery, make them disappear.”

“What are you planning to do?”

“Not a word to anyone, Viejo. Not one god damn word.”

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