Hello. You’ve reached Eustace and Claire Bully. If you’re calling for Danny, please try his cell phone. If you are from the factory calling for Eustace, please leave your name and number and he’ll get back to you as soon as he is able. Thanks!
I’m calling for Claire. You’re the only one left now, correct? I’ve had the distinct pleasure of meeting your son Daniel. He’s quite the attention grabber–nothing like his father. Unfortunately, our time here must end.
I’m a parent myself, Claire, so I’ll give you fair warning. Come to the Motor City Bedlam Complex in Flint and get your son and husband out of here before the walls bury them. A conservative estimate gives you a week or so.
This has been Howard Fettel. You know the number…
Goodbye, Mrs. Bully.
Also, you have an adorable tabby. I figured you were cat people…for obvious reasons.
Chapter 1: Apogee
“I depend on you for one thing! No matter how bad it got, you promised me our son was safe!! What good are you now!? We had him right here and you let him walk out that door like some stranger!?
How could a father do that to his son!? How can I ever forgive you for that!?
Find him…find him or never come back.”
The words returned to Eustace like morning prayer. The mantra trampled over what was left of his body–powerless, bewildered, and useless.
I should be dead, thought Eustace, unsure if it was a statement of fact or disappointment, but he was certain of the pain. It coursed from his inflamed throat around the breathing tube to his swollen blistered toes. The misery collected at the pit of his stomach. He imagined the shots from the ten-year-old’s gun had left a crater of blackened flesh spreading out from his gut. He wanted to feel it, but his arms were too weak to move.
Maybe I’m better not knowin’. He remembered little of how he arrived at this bed. Memories came slow, and the unfamiliar nurse sitting on the windowsill exacerbated the stall in clarity. At least, Eustace thought it was a nurse. It was a woman dressed in white, that much he could discern. Her thigh extended onto the sill with the rest of the leg dangling above the radiator. Her neck appeared slender as her face turned out towards the pristine morning sky, the sun blurring her silhouette into blackened shapes.
“Ber…nie,” said Eustace negotiating the tube. She had been their guide into the wolf den up until the gunfire. “Where…Kal…vin?”
He answered his question with a turn of his head. Kalvin laid fast asleep in the bed beside him–the wounded leg elevated in a fresh cast.
“I’m not one of your ‘friends’ from the factory, Eustace,” said a voice. It was the mantra, only now she sounded a thousand years older.
Claire turned to him expressionless behind jet black sunglasses–unphased by his pained attempts at speech. She lingered on him a moment before standing. She drew the blinds, leaving only the chirping of birds to remind him there was an outside world. Claire placed a finger by her lips before pointing at Kalvin.
“The nurse said he dragged you here,” said Claire as she folded her sunglasses. She was still beautiful, despite the wrinkles and circles under her eyes that had taken hold in the passing weeks. “Barely alive himself…”
He won’t let me fail, thought Eustace, not after everything we’ve sacrificed. His appreciation subsided to the realization Bernie was missing. Had she been put in another room? The thought seemed too optimistic. The road to Danny had killed Kalvin’s father Tim, who was she to be so invincible?
Claire closed the separation curtain slowly to not disturb Kalvin. She walked to the foot of Eustace’s bed and rested her hands on the railing, her wedding ring knocking against the metal. Her eyes narrowed on him as if waiting for him to speak first.
“Maybe I wanted this to happen to you,” said Claire finally. She looked at Kalvin. “He was just a another victim of being around you. He didn’t deserve a bullet in the leg, or the ambush, or what came after–I’ll let him tell you himself.”
Claire stepped closer and used the wired controller to angle the bed upright. Eustace winced at the gentlest motion.
“But I really stopped returning your calls because I hated the excuses, the babbling–never hearing what I needed to hear.” Claire brushed her fingertip gently against the corners of Eustace’s eyes to clean away the clots of mucus.
“I needed Danny,” said Claire. Without him life is an inescapable chase–refusing to eat or bathe entire days out of fear I was moments away from finding him. Do you know what I do when the idea of sleep becomes laughable? I sit at his desk typing passwords into his computer. Birthdates, pet names, girlfriends… at some point I just type, never coherent, never slow. Just a void–consuming everything I feed it.”
I need him too! thought Eustace. If you answered my calls we could have at least had each other! Tears slid down Eustace’s face.
She stepped closer and took hold of his breathing tube.
Eustace’s hands gripped the sheets as panic seized him. He felt the strands slip from his stomach and throat, gagging as the obstruction was tossed to the floor. His eyes welled as he hacked up fluid.
The clamour woke Kalvin as Eustace continued to cough uncontrollably. His pitiful expression belied his relief for Kalvin’s recovery.
“I’m so sorry, Kal,” said Claire. “We didn’t mean to wake you.”
“I…it’s not a problem.” Kalvin clawed for his wheelchair.
“Let me help you,” said Claire as she steadied it for him. “Dr. Krantz said not to exert yourself–.”
“I just need to get out of this room, you know?” said Kalvin. He rolled his chair to the entrance before stopping. He did not turn to face Eustace. “I’m glad you’re back, Mr. Bully.”
Eustace wanted to thank Kalvin, but his throat only wheezed and clenched at the space left by the tube.
Claire sat on Kalvin’s bed. She stared at Eustace as the sound of Kalvin’s wheelchair faded down the hallway. “Now that we’re alone I need you to talk,” said Claire. “Who is Howard Fettel?”
Did Kalvin tell her? “How do you know that name?”
“He called me on Danny’s phone to taunt me. Now who is he?”
Eustace rubbed his throat and pointed at a glass pitcher of water. Claire poured him a glass and handed it to him. He took a sip. “How long have I been out?” said Eustace.
“You’ve been in the hospital a few days, but you’ve been sedated much longer. Did you see this ‘Fettel?’ Was Danny with him?”
“I never saw Danny, could barely see at all. But I heard people talk about him–how Fettel had taken an interest in him.”
“The Finishers could have stopped him years ago. Why didn’t they?”
“How would you know anything about that?”
“Is it true about what he does to children?”
“Or the people he ransoms? I guess you know all about that now.”
“People get killed over this kind of information. I just can’t tell you every–.”
“I discovered that he was a problem for decades, but you people looked the other way. The whole point of your existence was to kill people like him, and now you’re telling me that our son was not only taken in by him, but that Danny may have even been… what…some kind of protege?”
Eustace said nothing.
“Do you see how everything you touch turns to shit?”
“He’s still out there, Claire. I’m going to bring him home.”
Claire stood up, unmoved by Eustace’s promise. “I’ll call in the doctor to have a look at you. With any luck we can all leave in a few days.”
“You believe me, don’t you? After everything I’ve been through you believe I’ll make this right?”
“I believe evil men get punished,” said Claire.
Eustace regained little strength in the coming days. Most of his time was spent pondering his wife’s cryptic words and examining his hand. Fettel’s men must have sanded the Finisher mark away, nearly down to the bone. Balling his fingers into a fist, he realized how lucky Danny was to be favored by a man like Fettel. Let’s hope he didn’t fill your head with bullshit.
Eustace and Kalvin were released from the hospital in the afternoon and they were loaded gingerly into Claire’s SUV by the nursing staff. Eustace took his place in the passenger seat as Kalvin was laid in the lowered back seats.
The thought of home comforted Eustace, even if the reminders of Danny would be everywhere. Sleeping in his own bed was a luxury he thought would never come back. As the SUV pulled into the driveway of an unfamiliar house a few blocks from the hospital, Eustace’s luxury still proved too expensive.
Claire set the car in park and turned off the engine. “Before you start–this will be home for the duration of your recovery. I brought whatever clothes I could. Sully is inside too. I didn’t trust him to be by himself back home.”
“What is this, Claire?”
“Let me help Kalvin get settled first, then I’ll come back for you.”
Eustace waited in the car watching Claire assist Kalvin with his crutches. The boy had said barely anything to Eustace at the hospital, even after several pleads. Whatever needed to be said would wait until Kalvin was good and ready, thought Eustace.
The house stood two stories, packed tightly between two larger vacant homes. Its rickety balcony overlooked a misshapen and overgrown yard. Stone steps climbed up a grassy ridge to the mailbox. From there wooden stairs led into the front porch. Claire spared Kalvin any stair climbing and walked him up the moderate incline of the driveway into the garage.
Eustace wondered why Claire would rent such a place considering the shape he and Kalvin found themselves. Whatever she paid, it better be cheap. Before the porch lights had been turned on, Eustace assumed it was without electricity.
Claire made her way back to the car ten minutes later, popping open the passenger door.
“I didn’t think you’d come back for me,” said Eustace.
“Give me your arm,” said Claire without a smile. She draped his arm across her shoulders and they hobbled across the threshold together. The interior of the house was in the middle of being cleaned. Cobwebs hid in the corners and between door hinges, but the smell of hardwood cleaner hung in the air. Claire shooed Sully away with her foot as the cat attempted to greet Eustace.
The house was fully furnished, and Kalvin had been placed on a leather sofa in the living room. The cleaning supplies lay in half-open containers on the coffee table beside him. “We’ll let him rest alone for now,” said Claire as she eased Eustace into a sturdy cushioned chair in the kitchen. She took a moment to catch her breath before taking a seat next to him.
“Kalvin has accepted my offer to stay with us while he recuperates,” said Claire. “I trust you don’t have a problem with this?”
Eustace shook his head slowly while looking down at the table. “He’ll need clothes.”
“I’ll take him back to his parents house to collect his things when he feels up to it. In the meantime I brought some of Danny’s for him to wear.”
“Why are we here, Claire? I need you to tell me what the hell is going on.”
“I wanted you to build your strength before telling you this,” said Claire as she brushed her hair away from her face. “There was an attack at the factory on the night of the full moon a few days ago. There was a skeleton crew of twenty-three people working that night…that’s how many bodies were found in the morning. The news said it looked like a whole pack had struck sometime between 4 and 6 a.m.”
It never ends does it? “Do you have the obituaries?”
Claire slid a newspaper folded to the right section. “No one I recognize. I don’t think anyone was a Finisher.”
Eustace scanned the list. Claire was correct in her assessment, making the news even more tragic. Some of these people had worked at the factory longer than Eustace.
“It wasn’t the only attack…”
“Just tell me.”
“Jake’s home in Bridgeview–he was away at the time, but Nicole and his step daughter Tara are dead.”
Eustace placed his head in his hands and sighed. His stepdaughter was the same age as Samantha, thought Eustace. Another child was dead, joined by a long list of mothers and fathers–all in one night. Whoever is responsible will be torn to pieces.
“Our town will devour itself,” said Eustace.
“Do you even remember the last time there was an attack in our town?” said Claire.
“Seven…maybe eight years ago.”
“And then a whole pack just rips through…”
“What are you gettin’ at?”
“Danny knows about the factory, the Finishers, and Jake. What if he came back to town with some of Fettel’s gang?”
“I think you’re jumpin’ to conclusions. The Finishers made a lot of enemies over the years, especially Jake. It could damn well be anyone.”
“Will you ever stop making excuses?”
“What do you WANT from me!?” said Eustace. “I vowed to get Danny back over a month ago and it brought me to hell on earth. And you’re gonna sit there and tell me about ‘excuses’!?”
“Where’s my son, Eustace!?”
“Why don’t you ask Brigette Lucero? You traded our son for her!”
“What did you say to me!?”
“You helped a suspected wolf in the heart of Finisher country. You didn’t think that’d come back an’ bite us!?”
“Did Kalvin tell you?”
“Tim told me the night he disappeared. What the fuck were you thinkin’?”
“I had to help her! What choice did I have!?”
“You could have come to me!”
Claire laughed. “You? What would you have done–shoot her in the back? All those people you murdered were our neighbors, Eustace! I had to help Brigette , not just for me or Tim or Kalvin, but to offset the atrocities you caused!”
“You didn’t always call them atrocities! We both saw the news. Every month our town got butchered! Entire cities were being overrun, and Danny was due any minute! What was I supposed to do–let you cry on my shoulder for twenty years!? I made myself useful the only way I could and you were behind me! I have regrets too, Claire, but you and I both know I did what was best for our family! I kept us alive, and you squandered it!!”
“She was was going to die without me!!”
“She was already dead!! They all are–every last…one.”
Claire stood and slapped Eustace’s across the face repeatedly. He grabbed at his wife’s frantic hands and held them to his chest. “Claire, look at me!”
Claire took in a deep breath before gazing into his eyes.
“If we’re gonna get our son back, we need to forgive each other and ourselves. I can still feel your weddin’ ring–that’s a start.”
Claire’s eyes and nose had begun to water. “It’s…a lot harder to take off than I thought It would be,” said Claire with a subtle grin.
“I’m sorry… I’m sorry for everythin’ I’ve put you and our son through.”
Claire shook her head. “I’m not ready yet, Eustace. Right now, I can’t forgive anyone.” She took her hands back and headed for the stairs.“Get some rest. We’ll go over the plan tomorrow.”
Eustace shuffled into the kitchen during the night after everyone had gone to sleep. He reached his hands out into the dark, feeling for counters and cabinets to guide him to the sink. There were no glasses in the cupboard, so he filled his cupped hands with water.
“Can’t sleep either?” said Kalvin.
Eustace choked on his drink before turning around. Kalvin sat at the kitchen table motionless, his silhouette denoted by his rigid leg extending out his side.
“You scared the shit out of me, Kalvin.”
“Better me than her, right?”
Sounds like he’s learned enough about Claire “She…can be scary,” said Eustace. “What was it like with her while I was out?”
Kalvin took a moment to answer. “Have you ever been on an airplane when it touches down and you feel the force rumble beneath you and you press your feet down on the floor as if it will make a difference? It’s been like that.”
“Yeah…that sounds about right.” Eustace dried his hands on his pajamas. “Did you hear us earlier this afternoon?”
“It was hard not too.”
“Listen…about your mother–.”
“It feels like everything keeps coming back to that. Had my mother not been infected, Mrs. Bully wouldn’t have gotten involved. If she hadn’t died at the MIR sanctuary…Eustace, I told Dan to go to you instead of registering with MIR. I wanted to tell you sooner, but it…it never felt right…this isn’t what I wanted for him.”
Eustace sensed the boy was crying. “You were just trying to help him. Believe it or not, so was I. As for your mom, if there was a better solution for her I would have done everything in my power to find it.”
“After everything that happened at the Bedlam…I don’t know. Sometimes I think my mom was lucky. I couldn’t watch her become one of them. What you do makes a little more sense to me now.”
“Don’t say that Kalvin.”
“It’s true. Jesus Christ, who knows what else I’ll learn from you in the days to come.”
“You never told me what happened back at the Bedlam Complex.”
“Can you promise me what I tell you stays between us?”
“You have my word.”
Kalvin told Eustace about the jailor and the cannibal, the swarm of owls, Fettel’s underground labyrinth, and Bernie’s sacrifice.
“I smelled smoke in the sky as I pulled you out of that sewer. When we cleared the complex I turned around and I just knew nothing had survived.”
“How did you carry me all that way?”
“Bernie had made a sled out of an old tent or something. Her condition made her strong enough to pull us both. I remember hearing her getting ripped to shreds in the echo of the maze. I pulled you into some kind of junk yard they used for vehicle parts. This is the part you can’t tell Mrs. Bully. By the time we got inside your car we were already surrounded by a pack.”
“Do you remember how many?”
“Five or six. They got scared by the horn and took off.They’re the ones that got Bernie.”
“Why don’t you want Claire to know about that?”
“She’d probably connect that pack to the pack that killed all those people in the factory. When she gets an idea in her head it’s hard to tell her otherwise.”
“She’s just graspin’ for somethin’. I won’t fault her for that.”
“Do you think there’s a connection? Like, maybe one of them was Danny?”
“It’s tenuous at best. Anythin’s possible by that stretch of logic.”
“Mrs. Bully found a group of people online while searching for Dan. These people specialize in smuggling infected people out of the US. There might be someplace Dan would go to if he was still alive. I want to help Dan, but after what we went through…I need more proof that Dan is out there. I’m sorry–.”
“You’re not out of line, Kalvin. I feel the same.”
They waited in silence as the faucet drips resound in the kitchen sink.
“What do you want to do, Kalvin?” said Eustace. “Do you really want to throw yourself into another hunt?”
“Mrs. Bully’s plan would take us to a series of checkpoints up through Canada. One of the first checkpoints is twelve miles away from the Bedlam Complex in Flint. I know that pack killed Bernadette. She might still be there. She saved our lives, the least we can do is bury her away from that place.”
What do you want to do, Eustace? Can you survive another round in Bedlam? “Then we go along with Claire’s plan…and make a detour in Flint.