Eustace. I know this call is late, but it’s important. I forgot to give something to Kalvin. It’s a video his mother recorded before she died. She entrusted it to me years ago because she didn’t trust Tim to show it to him. I suppose every couple has their challenges…
I feel awful for not giving it to him when I had the chance. He’s been through so much already. We’ll decide together when the time is right to share it with him. In the meantime, please keep his spirits up. And take care of yourself.
Chapter 12: What Never Stays Dead
Kalvin held the revolver the way Eustace had shown him. The cans were balanced along a rickety fence that had outlasted the house it surrounded. Kalvin took a deep breath and kept his right arm stiff. He estimated the targets at roughly twelve feet away, but the sunless sky had made his eyes untrustworthy.
“This will make a lot of noise,” said Kalvin.
“Then don’t fire it,” said Eustace sitting in the driver’s seat of his car with his legs and cane dangling out of the open door.
Kalvin dragged his thumb back delicately over the hammer. The gun popped, sending gunpowder wafting into Kalvin’s face. The cans still stood. Kalvin squeezed three more rounds, but the cans remained steadfast.
“Maybe take another step closer,” said Eustace. “And close your left eye.”
Kalvin ignored him and fired two more rounds.
“Well, at least you’re gettin’ a feel for the recoil of it,” said Eustace.
I don’t need to be patronized, thought Kalvin. I need to be ready for the Bedlam Complex.
Kalvin walked over to the hood of the car and loaded the chamber with six more bullets.
“I only have sixty rounds left,” said Eustace. “How much practice did you need?”
I don’t have as much practice shooting people to death in their homes as you. “Until I can hit the fucking thing!” said Kalvin. He squeezed the trigger and missed yet again.
“You remind me of Danny when I taught him to shoot. Not as easy as it looks, is it? In all fairness, our targets will be bigger than soup cans. Get one bullet lodged in ‘em just right and it’ll turn ‘em inside out.”
“You ever take Dan on a hunt–shoot some old lady in her bed as she slept?” said Kalvin in a biting tone.
Eustace sat silent for the first time all morning.
“Give me the gun, Kalvin,” said Eustace with an open hand.
Kalvin shoved the gun into Eustace’s palm. Eustace spun the cylinder and fired three shots from the car. All three cans spun in the air and disappeared into the tall grass.
“I kept Danny away from that stuff,” said Eustace. “He never showed an interest, and I wasn’t ‘bout to put him in harm’s way for no reason. I made sure he could defend himself, and he got good at it,’ but it took time, and patience, and tenacity. My boy never gives up.”
“Your boy left us to rot,” said Kalvin as he hobbled over to the fence. “We were in that jail cell for God knows how long. If he was buddy-buddy with Fettel, why didn’t he come get us?”
“Howard Fettel is a manipulator and a shit,” said Eustace. “We don’t have all the facts yet, so don’t you go makin’ up stories in your head.”
Fettel did lie about Danny being dead, thought Kalvin. There’s no way to know what their relationship really was…
“I’m serious about proof,” said Kalvin as he awkwardly lowered himself to reach the cans. “You need to show me he’s worth saving still.”
“I’ll find proof as soon as we’re done dickin’ around here. Not sure we’ll find any trace of Bernie, unfortunately.”
She sacrificed herself to keep us alive. We owe her a proper burial. Kalvin reset the cans along the fence and inched his way back to the car. “Just leave that to me.” He fired six more bullets into oblivion.
Kalvin and Eustace entered the Bedlam Complex, graveyard that it was, with revolver and crowbar in hand. The memories of child soldiers and the blind march to imprisonment were raw in Kalvin. He never realized he could, or would, be able to walk the grounds unabated with only fear and ashes wisping past his shoes in protest.
Few structures stood. The east building had imploded, blackened and wretched with burnt blood. Kalvin considered forcing his way through a door that had welded to its hinges, but the window nearby revealed only piles of melted belongings.
“That building still looks accessible,” said Eustace pointing North. Satchels hung from his belt, bulbous with supplies for excavation and ammunition. His flashlight stayed hidden while they explored outside.
Bernadette was down in the sewer, thought Kalvin. Searching above ground is a waste of time.
“You go on ahead,” said Kalvin. “I’ll search for underground access.”
“That’s not what we agreed,” said Eustace. “We stay together. No tellin’ what’s still around.”
“Then let’s be quick about it.”
They limped across a cratered courtyard to the lobby of the north building. The walls had been reinforced, but the inside had been burglarized. Stolen furniture had left behind clean silhouettes on walls while the hallways echoed their footsteps.
“There’s an elevator.” said Kalvin.
“Stay away from it!”
“I wasn’t going to ride it, Eustace.” Kalvin leaned forward to read the charred elevator button panel—three floors, but no basement levels. “There’s no way underground from here?”
“Stairwell only goes up,” said Eustace.
They followed the stairs and surveyed each level for evidence of what had taken place. Every room had been stripped and cauterised like a wound. On their way back down they uncovered a door that appeared to have been blowtorched open. They stepped inside to find monitors of different sizes filling the wall up to the ceiling. Kalvin counted over a dozen shattered screens.
“There must be tapes,” said Eustace as he rummaged through desks and filing cabinets, but he came away with nothing. “This wasn’t done by looters. Someone sent a cleaner, and wanted any evidence of what happened here wiped.”
“We heard explosions and gunfire for hours,” said Kalvin. “Could The Finishers have been involved?”
“This place was a target for years, but we never had the manpower to claim it.”
“That was under old management,” said Kalvin. “Is Jake responsible?”
That bastard murdered my father in cold blood, thought Kalvin. Decimating a wolf den seems plenty likely. “You said no Finishers were killed during the attack at Murrel Finished Metals. So where were they? Did Jake pull everyone in for this job?”
“Even if he had every Finisher in Illinois that wouldn’t be enough to take on The Bedlam.”
“Then he found a way to bolster his numbers–smaller sects, local militias, something.”
“No, not Jake. There’s no way he could have negotiated that kind of support for a job this big bein’ as unpopular as he is.”
“Well, someone came through here and scorched the earth behind them,” said Kalvin. “And we were caught below it the whole time.”
“That’s just it, Kalvin. This is too clean to be a Finisher job. We didn’t find so much as a bullet casing on the floorboards let alone evidence of Danny even being here. The trail’s just…dead. I don’t understand…”
Eustace began to trail off as the desperation set in. He grasped the sides of his head in frustration as if preventing it from cracking open.
This is hard on him, too, thought Kalvin. I forget that sometimes. Kalvin placed his hand on Eustace’s shoulder. “There’s still another building across the courtyard. There has to be something they left behind.”
The south building’s roof had caved in to the third floor, and access to the second had become blocked by fused amalgamations of debris. Like the north building, the ground level had been wiped, but a round protrusion in the floor had caught both men’s attention.
“It looks like a submarine hatch,” said Kalvin.
“Possibly a bomb shelter,” said Eustace. “There’s a keypad lock.” He began to press numbers, each button made a beeping sound followed by an error noise when four digits were entered. “Still works.”
“They couldn’t have got inside. This might be it!” Kalvin kneeled by the keypad and began entering numbers.”
“Are you just gonna brute force it?” said Eustace.
“Not unless you have any other ideas.”
“Stop for a second…listen.”
Kalvin paused with his finger hovering by the next digit. “What?”
“Do you hear it? It’s a thud noise–like the tapping of a pipe.”
Kalvin felt the thud beneath his legs before hearing it. It was coming from the shelter below them.
“Someone’s down there!” said Kalvin as he frantically hit numbers into the pad. “There’s only so many combinations, but–.”
Kalvin hit the numbers and the pad lit up green. “Dan’s birthday!?”
Kalvin gripped the latch wheel and twisted it to the right. When it would no longer budge, he lifted it up with all the strength in his body.
Vile odors escaped, carried by the shrill screams of a woman. Kalvin pulled his shirt over his mouth to keep from retching and climbed into the dark.
“Kalvin, wait!!” said Eustace as he gagged. “You don’t know who’s down there!!”
“Give me the flashlight! I can’t see shit!”
With one hand gripping the ladder and the other pointing the light, Kalvin inspected the godless tomb. Human limbs form mangled thickets across the floor of the shelter. The light traveled across bodies of children before reaching a young woman sobbing. She shielded her eyes from the light with her free arm. The rest of her body had become tangled in dead.
“HELP ME, PLEASE!!!” she cried.
“We’re getting you out! Just hold on!!”
The woman lowered her arm to reveal a fire poker impaled through the front of her forehead.
“Jesus Christ,” whispered Kalvin.
“What do you see!” said Eustace with a handkerchief held to his mouth.
“She’s trapped…with a…thing in her head.”
“What do you mean thing!?”
“A…a poker…like a fire poker for a fireplace.”
Eustace handed down the revolver to Kalvin. “Point it at her,” said Eustace.
“What!?” Kalvin took hold of the gun in shock, and tucked the flashlight under his armpit.
“We need to ask her a few questions first,” said Eustace.
“DON’T SHOOT!!” cried the woman.
“She’s in pain, Eustace!!”
“Just keep a bead on her and I’ll ask the questions.” Eustace manuerved his old bones to kneel by the latch door ladder. “Tell us who you are!”
“I…I’m Mel!! I lived here before the attack!!”
“Who attacked you!?”
“Soldiers came! I can tell you more if you just get me out of here!!”
“You expect us to believe the military sent soldiers to attack a wolf den!?”
“Not military—mercenaries! They called themselves The Dust!”
Kalvin turned to Eustace. “The Dust?”
“It’s been a while since I heard that name. Maybe she ain’t lyin.’” Eustace cleared his throat. “Do you know Daniel Bully!?”
“Yes! Yes, I know Danny!!” said Mel.
“Is his body down there with you!?”
“No! He…he escaped! He left me behind! He left us all behind!”
What have you become, Danny? Thought Kalvin.
“Who did that to your head!?” said Eustace.
Mel became silent for a moment. “The Dust did this to me! They thought I was dead and tossed me in here with the rest!!”
“I’m not going to hurt him! I’m his father! Tell me where he went!”
“PULL ME OUT!!!”
“If you don’t give me a location we’re sealin’ you in forever!!!”
Mel sobbed hard before spouting the answer. “Alaska! He went to Alaska!! That’s all I know now please!!!”
“How far away is she?” whispered Eustace.
“I don’t know–a few yards?” said Kalvin.
“Shoot her in the head and let’s go,” said Eustace.
“She’s lying, now do it.”
“Hand me the crowbar,” said Kalvin. “I’m freeing her.”
“Don’t be an idiot, son.”
Kalvin pointed the revolver up at Eustace, “Give. Me. The crowbar.”
Eustace handed it down slowly. Kalvin tucked the gun down the back of his jeans and wrenched the crowbar from Eustace. “I’m coming down!!” said Kalvin to Mel. His feet parted through the rotted bodies underfoot. He cleared away the limbs that reached around Mel. She thanked him profusely as he took her hand and escorted her back to the surface.
Under light of the new dawn, Kalvin saw that she was naked and drenched in blood. She sat on the floor and begged him to remove the poker from her skull. Kalvin inspected it briefly, relieved that the handle could be screwed off. He removed the handle and slid the poker out the back of her head to the sound of whimpering.
When the deed was done, Kalvin set the poker beside her. “You’re very brave,” said Kalvin.
Mel covered her face with her hands. She ran them up over her mohawk and her wound vanished completely. “Are you the only two here?” said Mel.
Kalvin nodded. “Yeah, we think so.” Kalvin turned to face Eustace. “Right, Eus–?”
Eustace pulled the gun from Kalvin’s jeans and emptied the chamber into Mel’s face. Her body collapsed backwards with the poker gripped firmly in her right hand.
Kalvin seized his ears to make the ringing stop.
I…I didn’t even see her grab it, thought Kalvin.
Eustace belted the handle of the gun across Kalvin’s jaw, knocking him to the floor by Mel’s feet. Kalvin stared up at Eustace’s red, sweating face. His eyes bulged and spit flew from his mouth in furious tirade. Kalvin managed to catch the last portion of the diatribe.
“If you’re capable of learning anything, learn this–never point a gun at me, and shoot who I tell you to fuckin’ shoot!!” said Eustace.
“I’m sorry,” said Kalvin as he spat blood. “How did you know?”
“You don’t need to know how, and I don’t care if you’re sorry! Do what I fuckin’ tell you!” Eustace holstered his gun and took a moment to catch his breath. “There’s a change of clothes in the trunk. Go clean yourself up. We’re leaving.”
“What about Bernie? We didn’t search the sewers.”
“She stays where she is,” said Eustace. “Not another word about it, or I’ll throw you in that goddamn hole myself.”
Kalvin followed close behind Eustace as they crossed the threshold of The Mitten Tip. Someone was washing up after breakfast in the kitchen sink.
“Early morning for you boys?” said Silvio. Eustace cut hard right and up the stairs to his room. Kalvin entered the kitchen to find Silvio alone. Sun streamed onto him from the window above the sink looking out into the backyard.
Birds landed on the feeder outside and chirped as Kalvin approached. “We took a little longer than we thought,” said Kalvin. “Sorry for missing breakfast.”
Kalvin looked in the sink to find Silvio cleaning a bloody wound on his hand. It appeared to be teeth marks.
What the hell? “Where’s Rhonda?” said Kalvin.
“She needed to lie down,” said Silvio making red soap suds bubble in the drain. He dried his hands with a washcloth. “Can you hand me that bandage roll on the table?”
Kalvin handed Silvio the bandage and watched him wrap his hand several times over.
“What happened here?” said Kalvin.
“Don’t ask me about the blood on my hand and I won’t ask you about the blood under your fingernails.”
“Listen, this wasn’t–.”
“I don’t want to know what you and the old hunter were doing out there in the middle of the night, but I’ll give you some advice because I know that one won’t listen. The next checkpoint location is prepped and ready for you, but the guy in charge there is a lot more strict than Ma and me when it comes to guests. Pull a stunt like this again and he’ll put a bullet in both of you. Things get serious beyond this point.”
“That won’t be a problem,” said Kalvin.
“Good. His name is Gunther Smiles–goes by ‘G.S.’ He’s a good man, but maybe he’s been doing this too long. Lord knows I have.”
“So when can we leave?”
“Whenever you’re ready. I’ll give you the directions after you’re all packed up.”
“Okay, thanks.” Kalvin headed for the stairs before Silvio called out to him.
“Hey, Kalvin. One more thing. Don’t let the old man change your mind about Danny. Say your goodbyes, make peace, and walk away. No one has ever left Leek Denaa with their loved ones alive, and you two won’t be the first. You understand me?”
Kalvin stared back at Silvio, finding a smile forming beneath his wild beard.
“I’ll tell Rhonda you two said ‘goodbye,’” said Silvio.