Dan returned to the pale hills of wind and ash. The gray sun beckoned over the horizon in a chord of despair. The void lapped the blood from his fingers. Somehow, Dan knew the blood was not his own. He looked about the air for sounds of life only to find that the wolves had reverted back to their human forms.
There was no one left to scream, just the components on man, swimming through the ether. Strange limbs formed an amalgamation at the center of the void, bending against their natural articulation to create a place of no return. It was the suffocating sound of still death; the opposite of bedlam.
Chapter 9: Make a Fist
The clear streets were a lie, thought Dan as he scanned the remains of downtown Flint. It was not a place for second-guessing. Questions came in the form of silver bullets too precious for warnings. Roy had answered, and his body laid headless near the abandoned clinic.
Dan realized that shooting had taken place over a month ago. Viejo had been leader of The Bedlam then, and Dan had never even ridden a motorcycle. A month before that, Dan was sitting on his parents couch, figuring out his course schedule for the Fall semester. Where will I be in another month’s time?
Dan, Noah, Cassie, Wood, and Erica had stuck to the side streets and alleyways. They carried plastic bags stuffed with convenience store food and supplies, but they would need far more. He turned to his group, taking cover beside the theater in the clothes they had scrounged along the way. while Noah and Cassie stared back at Dan waiting for the next signal while Wood and Erica cupped handfuls of rain water from potholes littering the pavement.
Dan raised his arm for them to hold position. He hunkered down and crouch-walked towards Roy’s corpse, watching the rooftops and fire escapes for snipers. Rain had washed away Roy’s blood, leaving behind a soiled lump plugging a storm drain. Roy’s bulbous size made his clothing the best fit for Wood, who had suffered the trek in a diaper.
Dan barely recognized the biker who had died over a bag of chips. What would Roy have said about sharing his spoils now? Dan rolled Roy onto his back, hearing the faintest jingle of a pin.
OH FUCK!! Dan leapt away before the explosion. He buried his head under his arms before nails launched in all directions, shattering store windows and puncturing brick walls. When the commotion settled, Dan looked up slowly to find Noah standing in front of him with his wiry arms akimbo.
“What are you doing!?” hissed Noah. “We’re here for the bikes, not Roy!”
The others began to creep into view. Cassie stood in front of her little brother in case any hunters had heard the bang. She wore the clerk uniform top with a beach towel skirt. Erica was small enough to fashion the same size towel into a dress. I never gave them the ‘all clear’ signal, thought Dan.
“I know, Noah, but we can use his–.”
“The bikes come first. That’s my decision.”
That’s my decision had become one of Noah’s favorite mantras as of late. “Fine,” said Dan, “One block west.”
Dan watched Noah march west without hesitation. Erica followed soon behind him. It’s like herding lemmings sometimes, thought Dan.
“Go after them and make sure they don’t get killed,” said Cassie. She began to strip the damp clothes off Roy.
Dan found Noah and Erica standing in front of all five motorcycles. The first bike Dan had ever ridden rested prominently in the middle. It was Marcelo’s ride–complete with the story of his people painted across the fuel tank and fenders. The engine glistened from days of rain.
Noah gazed upon his father’s bike in quiet reverence. Its beauty belied reality as the siren called Noah to the rocks.
“Stop, Noah,” said Dan. “It’s a set-up.”
“Roy was the trap,” said Noah.
“Because hunters knew we’d check him, just like we’d check these.”
“What do I do?”
“What would your dad do?”
“I…I don’t know. I can’t leave them here, Danny.”
“Your father did…to save his crew.” Dan heard Cassie and Wood’s footsteps kick up gravel as they approached.
The four watched Noah pace back and forth, gripping fistfulls of his hair. Dan had seen the same look of desperation in Noah’s eyes the night the boy’s father was killed.
“I’m sorry, Noah. We have to go…”
“I just need to think!” said Noah. He turned around sharply with his finger in Dan’s face. “You knew they’d be rigged, didn’t you!!”
Dan placed his hand around his throat as his wound began to burn. “I didn’t think they’d even be here, let alone safe to ride!” said Dan. “Being the boss means making tough decisions, and as you’ve pointed out so frequently, the decision is yours!”
“It’s okay, Noah,” said Erica, “we’ll find other bikes.”
“Not like these,” said Noah fighting back tears. “Not… like these.”
Wood approached Noah dressed in Roy’s old clothes. He reached out and tapped Noah on the shoulder.
“What you want, retard!?” barked Noah.
Wood held out an open palm with no expression on his face.
Cassie turned to Dan. “You said no more secrets, right?” whispered Cassie. “Give him your screwdriver, Noah.”
Noah rolled his eyes before doing as she asked. Wood held the screwdriver in the air, getting a feel for its heft and weight. He wrapped each finger slowly around the handle and nodded. Soon he waddled towards the back of the bikes, eyeing them as if judging a pageant. He ran his free hand over their seats and fenders.
Wood plucked a small device from under Roy’s motorcycle and tossed it into the tall grass. He used the screwdriver to scoop wires from beneath the ignition. His hands worked the bundle until the engine squealed to life. Wood walked the bike over to Erica and tapped the seat.
Next he examined Andora’s bike. It looked to have the most mileage, but it was painted a striking cherry red. Wood repeated his process before walking the bike to his sister.
“My favorite color,” said Cassie with a grin.
Wood assigned each bike a rider until Marcelo’s was left last. He knocked gently on the gas tank. Wood crouched down and began to disassemble something attached to the engine much larger than the other traps.
“Maybe we should back up a little bit,” said Dan. No one moved–enthralled by Wood’s dexterity. He twisted with almost machine-like precision without so much as a bead of sweat scrolling along his brow.
The metal tumor dislodged into his hands, and he laid is gently in the grass where the smaller traps had been thrown. He walked the final bike to Noah and held out the screwdriver.
Noah shook his head and chuckled. “You keep it,” said Noah, “and any other tool we find.” Noah swung his arms around Wood’s shoulders in an embrace. “You saved him,” he whispered as he began to sob. “Thank you.”
One by one they revved their engines. They said goodbye to the cursed city, leaving its malice in the weeds.
They cruised across Michigan, the expressways almost entirely to themselves. Hours passed, and the young Sangradores found themselves making camp in a forest alcove far from the roads. They started a campfire using lighters and matches they stole from the convenience store. Soon the world gave way to darkness, and all that remained were faces aglow against the flame.
Noah and Erica spoke to one another at one end of the fire, while Cassie and Wood laid at the other. Wood slept with his head cradled in Cassie’s lap. Dan watched her a moment in silence. Her fingernails combed through her brother’s short-trimmed hair the way Char had done for Dan.
He took a seat on a log next to them. “He saved the day, didn’t he?” whispered Dan. He found that he could speak with less pain the lower he kept his voice.
Cassie kept her eyes on Wood. “Yes he did,” she said proudly. “Daddy taught us everything he knew. Well, he tried to. I can hotwire and engine in a pinch, but Wood soaked up every last word.”
“You two work well together. Is he…”
“A half-blood?” said Cassie. She sighed deeply in the night air.
“I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
“No, you shouldn’t have. Look, just because you didn’t know doesn’t mean it was some secret plot. Do you know what Fettel did to girls my age?”
Dan knew better than to answer.
“Wood was born challenged,” said Cassie. “It was hard on us, but it let my parents pass us off as full- blooded. Fuck you for making me feel ashamed for protecting myself and my brother.”
“I never meant to shame you. We all had our own ways of surviving Fettel. After what happened with Mel, I just…I couldn’t let that happen again.”
“What happened back there, the movie night, that’s not on you. She got all of us. Would have wiped us out completely if it wasn’t for you.”
Noah and Erica laughed in the distance.
“I think it’s sweet what you’re doing for Noah, letting him be our leader.”
“We all need something to keep us going.”
“I got mine,” said Cassie as she looked down at Wood. “What keeps you going?”
“Seeing Char and our children one day. Once we get fully prepared, I want to go up to Leek Denaa.”
“The Fettels died on their way to Alaska. You told us. You told–.”
No more secrets, right? “They’re alive, Cassie. They fled during the night in secret. Fettel warned us to evacuate the den, but Viejo and I thought we could rebuild without him. He must have known an attack was coming.”
Cassie’s hand stopped moving across Wood’s head. She was quiet a moment before leaning in to Dan. “First thing tomorrow morning, you’re telling everyone what you just told me,” said Cassie. “I don’t want to wake him up, so I’ll ask you to get up and get as fucking far away from me as possible.”
Cassie had confirmed Dan’s greatest fear. It was all on him, and in trying to my The Complex more livable, did away with life altogether.
“I’m sorry, Cassie.”
She said nothing back.
Dan moved away from the camp, thinking how he would let the others know the truth about Fettel. His thoughts were interrupted by the rustling of branches. Erica emerged, whispering in a tiny sweet voice.
“Do you need any news on Noah?” said Erica.
“No, Erica. You don’t need to do that anymore. On second thought, why don’t you give me news about you? Did you see your parents the night we left the den?”
“No. My parents weren’t there.”
“No? Where were they?”
“Momma was in Heaven; Daddy left with Mr. Fettel and Char.”
But that would mean…it can’t be! “Erica…who’s your father?”
“I can’t say it right–he never taught me how. We just call him The Warg.”