“What do you remember about your father growing up?”
“Not much to tell–strict, intense, distant. I have less a memory of him than a general feeling of dread.”
“Where does that dread come from specifically?”
“When my mom got the job, they would scream at each other for hours. When it got really heated Ron would take me to one of his friend’s houses for the night.”
“Did your father abuse you directly?”
“I guess the fighting led to his boiling point, as it were.”
Chapter 6: Run All You Cowards
Luke sat at the kitchen table–his scrawny eight-year-old legs dangling from the wooden chair. His brother Ron sat to his right with a cereal box blocking his face. His father Jake sat across from him with only a newspaper between them.
Judith moved from room to room gathering things before heading to work. Her uniform required the white gloves today along with her hat and medals. She glanced out the window above the kitchen sink, the glass encrusted with ice.
“You’ll get them to school then?” said Judith.
Jake turned the page of the newspaper. “School should be closed,” said Jake. “There’s half a foot of snow out there.”
Ron leaned past the cereal box to find Luke. He smirked at the thought of a snow day while a drop of milk slid down his chin. Luke had seen the delivery boxes at school yesterday before he left. His order of books from the Rocket Readers catalog was among them, and the thought of waiting another day made him dig his thumbnail into the widening crevice on his side of the table.
“It’s just a delayed opening,” said Judith. “Snow stopped, they just need time to plow.”
“Temperatures are dropping into the negatives,” said Jake.
“Didn’t you JUST buy them new…well, I’m going to work. Unless you want to call off and watch them, the school opens at ten.”
Jake sat in silence still reading the paper. Luke looked to both parents for a concrete answer.
“I’ll take care of it,” said Jake.
“Which means?” said Judith.
“You know, I keep a tray on the table by the front door,” said Jake. “I drop my keys and wallet and whatever else I need in it when I come home so I know where they are the next day.”
Judith looked as if she was about to set the newspaper on fire. “I’m happy for you.”
“Maybe you should consider your actions more carefully…your gloves are on top of the dryer.”
Judith stormed into the laundry room.
Ron sat up higher on his chair before addressing his father. “So what are we doing?” said Ron. “Are you calling off work?”
“We’ll see,” whispered Jake. He went back to his newspaper as Judith returned with her gloves crumpled in her hand.
“I love you boys, stay warm.” she kissed Luke and Ron on the tops of their heads before walking past Jake.
They listened to her car start up in the garage followed by the low rumble of the garage door retracting into the roof.
Jake looked up from his paper, his eyes looking to either side as the car engine faded into the distance. When he was certain she was gone he laid the newspaper on the table and looked at his boys.
“We have work to do this morning,” said Jake. “I don’t know how long it’ll take, but if you do well you don’t have to go to school today.”
“I like school,” said Luke.
Jake folded his arms across his chest and sighed, “then we’ll talk more about getting that puppy. sound good?”
“Sounds great!” said Ron.
“We don’t even know what we’re doing yet,” said Luke.
“Something I should have done a while ago–I’ll explain on the way,” said Jake. “Put on your new coats, we’re going for a ride.”
All three bundled in their winter parkas. Jake had bragged about their quality, how they were the same coats used on oil rigs near the arctic circle. He had bought them in men’s sizes and the fabric hung off Luke and Ron’s hands. They were warm–that’s all that mattered to Luke. He wore the black coat because Ron had claimed the red one–same color as their father’s.
They walked outside to find the pick-up’s truck bed full. A dark green tarp had been fastened over odd shapes. Luke was unsure whether the tarp was meant to secure the mystery cargo or hide it. It smelled like pennies, same as last month.
Luke and Ron piled into the backseat of the truck. Fog billowed from their father’s face as he started the engine. He idled in the driveway waiting for the engine to warm up.
“So what kind of dogs do you like–big ones, little ones?” said Jake.
“Big ones!” said Ron, “with big fangs and a poofy tail!”
“Poofy tail?” said Jake. “Well, Terry’s Jezzabel just had a litter. I’ll keep you updated on tail poofiness.” He backed out of the driveway and headed east. “What about you, Luke?”
“I don’t know. Big dogs are kinda scary.”
“Don’t I know it,” he whispered.
Luke noticed the longer they drove the closer they came to the outskirts of town.
“Do you boys feel safe?” said Jake.
Why is he asking us this? thought Luke. The full moon was last night.
“These coats are so thick,” said Ron. “I don’t think anything can hurt us in these.”
That’s not what he meant, Ronnie.
“I meant when you’re going to class or playing outside with your friends,” said Jake.
“I…I don’t really think about it,” said Ron. “I guess I feel safe if I’m never scared.”
“What are we supposed to be scared of?” said Luke.
Jake chuckled. “Lots of things, I suppose.” He turned onto what used to be a gravel road–the view of homes and fences gave way to a pure white horizon. Luke turned around and watched the town vanish behind them.
“Mom never told you about the people she works with?” said Jake.
“She did,” said Luke.
“And they don’t scare you?”
“No…well, they did, but she let me talk to one. He seemed nice, like one of my teachers.”
Jake nodded. “I’m sure it seemed nice. That’s what it wants you to believe. Even though it looked human on the outside, there’s another on the inside. What do your teachers always say? ‘It’s what’s on the inside that counts.’ It’s what’s inside that will come for you at night.”
Ron smacked Luke’s arm. “I told you they were bad.”
“So if they’re bad, it’s good mom watches them, right?”
“Catch and release only makes men starve,” said Jake as he slowed the truck to a stop. Luke stared out the window and found no one. The desolate and pristine snowfall looked as if they had arrived on another planet.
Jake instructed the boys to leave the truck and follow him the rest of the way. They crunched snow underfoot, fighting winds that bit their faces. Their father marched them nearly a mile in silence.
“Where is he taking us?” said Luke.
Ron looked down at his feet as he answered. “I think I know,” said Ron. “Try not to scream when we get there, okay?”
“Why would I scream?”
“Or make any loud noises. It’ll be fine–just…please stop crying.”
Jake stopped abruptly and turned to the boys. “We’re here.” He brushed the snow off of a tree stump the size of a tractor wheel before taking a seat. He pulled the zipper of his parka down to his neck to make himself sound less muffled.
“To deliver justice, you must learn what’s just,” said Jake. “As you boys slept, I was out here with Terry and the others–in pursuit of that justice. You don’t need to stand that far away. Come closer.”
The boys did as they were told. Luke’s tears had frozen to his face.
“Mark Mulcahy was a werewolf–defended by your mother and other members of MIR, even after allegations of murder. I love your mother very much, but she’s not well. Certainly not in the right mind to determine what’s a danger and what isn’t. She kept him safe, claiming there wasn’t proof to connect him to the murders, but we did our homework and it was decided that he should be held accountable.”
Jake stood up from the stump and began to feel around its edge. “Run your hands along the stump. You should find spots to grip.”
All three took hold and dragged the stump across the snow. Underneath lied a black void. A rotten stench wafted among a low hum.
Jake lowered himself onto one knee. “You have nothing to fear,” he said. “It’s already dead.”
He reached into the darkness until his shoulder was engulfed. He gritted his teeth as he reared back. Soon his other hand plunged into the darkness, and his face shook as he struggled with the weight of his catch.
Jake hoisted a formless black mass that extended from the portal and chucked it into the snow. Luke stepped closer with his brother to get a better look. Jake ran his hand over it, brushing away the thick fur. He left behind the mutilated face of a wolf–it’s head the size of a garbage can. Both eyes had been plucked and an ear was missing. The front teeth had been knocked out–a long black tongue unfurled out of the cavity.
“With the help of very talented hunters, we righted one of your mother’s biggest wrongs. This is Mark Mulcahy, and he’ll never hurt anyone again.”
“What did you do to its face?” said Luke.
“It’s a tradition in the hunt to take a trophy from the kill– a reminder that you survived and they didn’t. We each take a part with us–maybe wear it during the next hunt. It comes as a comfort to hold it close and remember what ears and eyes…what teeth they had, and know you are capable of taking it away.”
Jake reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a pair of shears. “We have a responsibility to remove these monsters from existence and keep our family safe. Neither of you is physically ready to hunt, but maybe this will get you a step closer mentally.” He pointed them at Luke.
Luke stared at them gleaming in the morning sunlight. This is wrong, thought Luke.
Before he could move, Ron stepped forward and accepted the shears. Luke watched as his brother kneeled before the beast. His hand hovered over the neck and head before he made his decision. His hand clenched the tongue and pulled it out as far as it would go. When he was done, Ron tucked the tongue into his coat pocket.
Ron extended the shears to his father.
“Give it to Luke,” said Jake.
“There’s nothing left to take,” said Luke.
“The right incisor is still intact,” said Jake pointing at it with the shears. “That’s the longest tooth up by its snout.”
Luke crawled to the beast’s mouth and gripped the tooth with both hands. He winced as the tooth became loose and slid an inch down. Luke stopped short of freeing it and let his hands fall to his sides.
“I can’t,” whispered Luke. “It hurts too much. I know it’s dead, but I think it’s still in pain.”
“I’ll help you,” said Ron.
“No!” yelled Jake. He seized the nape of the beast’s neck with both fists and hurled it back into the void with a grunt. The boys ran to help their father seal away the darkness.
Jake walked the boys back to the truck with his hands cradling their heads against his coat. “Tell me more about our new puppy,” he said.
That was over twenty years ago, thought Luke. How can I still remember it so clearly? He turned the car towards the bridge as Jessup had directed. A late night storm had followed them much of the evening. Had it rained any harder, the bridge might have been closed.
Ron sat in the passenger seat while Jessup sat in the middle of the backseat. His arms outstretched over the headrests on either side. His massive foot shook excitedly against the floor of the vehicle, making all the seats quiver.
They had found him clothes at his house in Orland Park. He had requested a “suit in which to do business.” They procured a gray suit with a violet dress shirt. He refused the tie, and carried the sportcoat over his shoulder instead of wearing it.
“Keep on this road for another six miles,” said Jessup. “Are you excited about tonight?”
“I just want want this day to be over,” said Luke.
“You know, your dad always talked about Ronald. He never said a word about you. Why is that?”
“Can I just drive, please?” Judging from Jessup’s silence, Luke realized he may have angered him.
“Luke never took an interest in what we do,” said Ron. “I don’t think he’s really cut out for this.”
“Are you losin’ patience with me, Luke?” said Jessup.
“I’m not,” said Luke. “I just–.”
“This little detour is mostly for your benefit,” interrupted Jessup.
“And I appreciate it, I really do. You believe Wolfsbane set the store on fire?”
“And you have… evidence?”
“Absolutely, what kind of man do you take me for?”
“Well, if we have proof we can go to the police.”
“The Furies do not go to the police,” said Jessup. “That is a staple of our proud tradition.”
The tradition you started this morning? “Where is he taking us?” whispered Luke to Ron.
Ron looked ahead at the torrential rain smattering the windshield. “I think I know,” said Ron. “Try not to scream when we get there, okay?”
Ron turned around in his seat. “When we get there, you want me to go in with you?” said Ron.
“You’re both comin’ with me,” said Jessup.
“But… we don’t have any ammunition left,” said Ron.
“They don’t know that. Just follow my lead. I’ve run this scenario a thousand time in my brain. Lord knows I had nothin’ but time in that cell.”
“That order came from our dad,” said Ron. “If I could change things I would have.”
“You’ve done your part, Ronald. Now I must do mine. If you think it would calm your nerves I can lead us in meditation beforehand.”
Luke exchanged glances with his brother. What the fuck did you get me in!?
“Turn right up here,” said Jessup.
Luke pulled into an empty parking lot in what appeared to be an abandoned factory. The closer he came, the louder music played. Luke was ordered to kill the engine and the headlights before they proceeded on foot. The door was equipped with a number padlock next to the door handle. It’s red light matched with that of the security camera mounted above it.
“Wave at the camera, boys,” said Jessup. Luke felt like he would vomit if he moved too quickly.
The door light turned green, and Jessup entered first. The full blast of the music hit them as the door opened. The celebratory death metal was muted after a few steps inside. The factory had been so thoroughly gutted that Luke could not tell what it’s original function had been. Workbenches and old machinery formed rows on both sides. Luke counted ten men on his left, including people peering over the second level walkway.
Luke tried not to let the gun in his hand tremble. He glanced at his brother to find him holding his rifle like a toy soldier. Jessup approached a man who stood near the center of it all. His wolf mask had been pulled up to reveal his face, but it lingered on his head like a Daniel Boone cap.
That’s the guy that attacked me outside my store! thought Luke.
“Well, if this isn’t some spooky shit,” said the ringleader. “Word on the street was that you were dead.”
“I was on a journey of self-discovery and penance.” said Jessup.
“Discover the exit. We have no business with Finishers tonight.”
“I am no longer with the Finishers, Robert.”
“Is this some kind of prank? If you’re not with them, then who are these two? Is that…Reto? Ron Reto?”
“We’ve formed our own group,” said Jessup.
“And this group fleeces guys from other groups? You need to try harder than that. Shit-for-brains over there ain’t his daddy.”
“Few men are,” said Jessup. “Speakin’ of shit-for-brains, you want to tell me what happened with that mall fire?”
Robert whistled nervously. “What’s the deal? That girl someone’s daughter or niece?”
“I just need to know if the order came from you or if someone in your crew went rogue.”
“I’m not just gonna offer up that info. Did you snap or something?”
“The more I engage with you the more I’m reminded why The Finishers have rules in the first place. Like…no cullin’. More often than not innocent people get killed when you do that. We also have a rule about keepin’ at least one squad at HQ durin’ hunts to make sure no one sneaks in when everyone is out and steals all our silver.”
“I figured you people had something to do with it! You stole over four-hundred pounds of silver ammunition from our safe!”
“Ronald here remembered the code you used. He’s like a savant of some kind.”
“That don’t sit well with me, Murral!”
“You can have it all back right now if you tell me who gave the order to set the store on fire.”
“We NEED that shit to function out there!”
“It’s a big factory, Robert. Are you sayin’ you have absolutely no silver right now? Not even a backup reserve?”
“That was the backup! Come on, Murral! You know how expensive that shit is!”
“Then tell me what I want to know.”
“We got rules here too,” said Robert as two of his men approached Jessup on each side. “This is what happens when you break them.”
Jessup grabbed both men by the front of their shirts. He began to scream until the veins in his neck bulged. He lifted both men into the air and slammed their heads together. Fragments of their skulls and brain matter rained down on Jessup before he flung them to the floor.
“He fucking turned!! OPEN FIRE!!!”
Luke and Ron dove behind workbenches for cover as every member of Wolfsbane showered Jessup with bullets. Without their silver, Jessup tore through the cavalcade of vigilantes.
“There’s a fire escape in the back!” said Ron “Stay low and follow me!”
Luke crawled along the floor as rifle fire rang out in semi-automatic spurts. Men wailed as Jessup snapped them in two against metal pillars. Luke began to slide from cover to cover with the aid of machine oil and blood.
“I think this is it!!” said Ron. He stood up and kicked open the fire exit door. Luke followed close behind. When he reached the door he turned around to find men retreating upstairs. No matter where they fled. Jessup was already there.
Is this what Dad was trying to tell us about?
“We need to get out of here, Luke!!” The brothers raced across the flooded parking lot.
“You knew this shit would happen!!” said Luke.
“Not like this! He didn’t say anything about this!!”
“We need to escape while we can!” said Luke as he fumbled with his car keys. As he opened the door the car light turned on to reveal Jessup sitting in the backseat with his arms spread out over the headrests. He was drenched in blood with bullet holes across his neck and torso. Sections of his body were held together with nothing other than tendons and shirt cloth.
“Justice is served,” said Jessup with blood gurgling in the back of his throat. He brushed away clumps of matted red hair from his eyes. “I think we earned ourselves a vacation. Alaska seems nice this time of year.”