I made it very clear to my lawyers to only give you this video upon the time of my death. My hope was to not need it, but if you are watching this that means I have failed to tell you what needed to be said.
As a father, I have always strived to foster an environment that would allow you to be yourself–form your own true identity. I’m so proud of the man you’ve become, but you need to know the truth about your mother. She didn’t die in an isolation center…
Chapter 19: The Awful Path to Happiness
This is the ferry of the damned, thought Kalvin as he eyed the sleeping crowds huddled together on the top deck. Their heads were covered by ponchos to repel the rain as they held their children close to stay warm. Kalvin wondered if they were all attempting safe passage into Leek Denaa. What had these people endured to be on this boat? The morning sun peaked across the lake, welcoming them into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Eustace had found a seat at the front of the ferry away from everyone else. Kalvin had kept his distance from Eustace since their return from Bedlam. The shame of drawing a gun on Eustace was still fresh. You almost threw it all away, thought Kalvin. An even more haunting thought was how powerful the gun had made him feel. Is that how Eustace feels all the time?
Eustace appeared out of his element, gripping his seat with both hands as the ferry rocked from side to side. It was unclear if the moisture of his brow was sweat or rain.
Kalvin leaned his stomach against the railing of the ship, facing out at the approaching landmass.
“Tell me again about Gunther Smiles,” said Eustace.
Kalvin was slow to answer. “He goes by ‘G.S.’–an alleged ‘good man’ if Silvio is to be believed.”
“And what else?”
“You know as much as I do now.”
“Will you sit down already? You’re makin’ me nervous.”
“I have sea legs,” said Kalvin. “Reminds me of being on my grandfather’s yacht.”
Kalvin heard the critical tone in Eustace’s voice and regretted his word choice. He was quick to change the subject.
“How did you know she was lying?” said Kalvin, “the girl at the complex?”
Eustace looked about the deck to see if anyone was within earshot. “She mentioned ‘The Dust’–that’s not a name you just pluck out of thin air, especially if you’re a civilian, and the condition of the complex was consistent with the stories I’ve heard. On the other hand, they’re professionals, and they know the difference between an iron fire poker and a silver one. Whoever did that to her had a score to settle–wanted her to suffer. If all that is bull, she still needed to be put down. No one comes out of somethin’ like that the same.”
She reminded Kalvin of the hunter they killed by the pond in Warren. Reanimation takes its toll. “You got all that from a few words?”
“That’s what huntin’ is, Kalvin–learnin’ as much as you can from the little you’re given. In the moment, I won’t be able to breakdown every detail of my thinkin’ process to you. So the next time I tell you to shoot someone you’ll shut the fuck up and shoot them.”
“I don’t function like that, Eustace. Maybe I want to have a discussion before ‘puttin’ someone down.’”
“Horseshit. I see the look in your eye everytime you pick up a gun. It’s somethin’ you’ve been missin’ that you didn’t know was gone.”
“I decide who I am. Not you.”
“You asked me to show you how to shoot,” said Eustace. He paused a moment to stifle vomit. “But you can sit there and pretend every life is precious and that everyone is good on the inside if you give ‘em a chance. Maybe that shit flew in your old life aboard yachts where you never had to put any beliefs into practice, but now that you’ve got a taste of the world’s shit, my way of doin’ things ain’t so bad is it?”
“Maybe I don’t let the actions of a few color my entire perception.”
“So I’m a bigot now?”
“Sure seems that way.”
“But you’ll take the security bigotry provides?”
Kalvin struggled to form a retort. “Shut up, Bully.”
“Listen to me, Kalvin. Despite what you think, I don’t hate infected people–I hate what the infection does to people. Decades before you were born, wolves ravaged this country. People like me and Bernie had decisions to make, and many wolves suffered for it. I’m not sayin’ it was right, but I refuse to let other people judge me for doin’ what was best for my family. If you can’t reconcile that after what we’ve been through, I don’t think you ever will.”
“Let’s just focus on getting to Leek Denaa.”
“I’m…sorry about Bernie.”
How was leaving her body in the sewer ‘best for your family?’ “If it wasn’t for her we’d both be dead.”
“She was lookin’ for her niece. Maybe we’ll check on her after we find Danny.”
As long as it doesn’t put your family in danger. “Whatever you say, Eustace.”
The address Silvio and Rhonda provided brought them to a community college in the outskirts of town. They made their way inside where they were greeted by a young man in a white collared dress shirt with no tie.
“Welcome to continued adult education–where our curriculum revolves around you,” said the administrator. “What course are you here for?”
“We were told to look for G.S.” said Eustace. “Is he here?”
“You’re just in time. His class starts soon in room L204.”
As they walked into the classroom, Kalvin spotted a thin man leaning against the desk at the front of the class with his arms crossed over his chest. The teacher reminded Kalvin of his own journalism professor at Wayne State. The fluorescent lights lit up the lenses of his glasses and made the top of his head shine. What little hair remained had been preserved into a greasy tendril that repelled down his back. The nameplate on the desk read Gunther Smiles.
Gunther nodded his head towards Kalvin and stared at him above the frames of his glasses. “Please sign-in and take a seat.”
Kalvin and Eustace did as they were told. The room had nearly reached full capacity. Many hid their faces with hoodies and sunglasses. Eustace and Kalvin filled the only two open seats up front.
Eustace swung his body awkwardly and lowered himself into his chair with the help of his cane. He placed his cane against the side of his desk only to watch it crack against the linoleum.
Gunther reached for the cane. He appeared to size-up Eustace, squinting at his face and hand.
Don’t pick a fight with him, Gunther. Kalvin was relieved at the sound of the digital bell.
“And that’s the ballgame,” said Gunther as he sauntered to the classroom doorway. He checked both ways before closing the door.
Gunther returned to his desk in the same position as before. He inhaled deeply and released slowly. “I know why you’re all here. No doubt you’ve all heard about what happened at the Bedlam Den. This has led to an influx in class size this semester–that will complicate things.”
Gunther held his hand over his head with three fingers up. “We have three bush planes, Cessnas with seating for six. It is my hope to have two shifts today, but our timetables to fly with little conflict to Alaska are fickle.”
Gunther lowered his hand and began to pace about the room. “I can tell right now that about half of you will stay grounded today. The gymnasium has room to spend the night–that’s all we can offer. One last thing–if you are not infected and you are still planning to fly to Leek Denaa, I strongly urge you to reconsider. You will not be welcomed there, and we cannot guarantee your safety.”
Kalvin looked over at Eustace and watched him mouth the word “bullshit.”
“Report to the cafeteria for now,” said Gunther. “We’ll begin departing flights soon.”
Eustace took a moment to stand from his desk. One by one the “students” climbed down the steps and out he door.
“You’re Eustace, right?” said Gunther.
Here we go, thought Kalvin.
“I am,” said Eustace.
“May I see your palm?”
“What is this about?” said Kalvin.
“It’s fine, Kalvin,” said Eustace. “I’m a Finisher. I was a Finisher. Is that gonna be a problem?”
“Your money is as good as any of theirs,” said Gunther. “I should warn you. You’re not the first hunter I’ve flown to Leek Denaa. None come back. I tried to explain this to your wife on the phone, but maybe you’ll listen now.”
“Put me on the goddamn plane,” said Eustace.
“We’re not looking to hurt anyone,” said Kalvin.
“I’m not saying you are, but our policy is to prioritize infected, especially now that there is no sanctuary for them in the entire continental US. Because of your involvement with a hate group, we will bump you to the bottom of the list.”
“You snivelin’ little shit!” said Eustace. “Do you have any idea–!”
“You’re not the kind of passengers he’s looking for,” said a voice.
All three men turned to find a hooded woman by the exit. She locked the door and turned around slowly. She pulled down her hood and placed her hands in the pockets of her jacket. She had one ear, and long streaks of hair missing from the side of her head.
“Bernie!?” said Kalvin. The shock of seeing her nearly knocked him down. Somehow, after all the atrocities and hardships, his big-titted angel had found her way back to him.
“Fancy seeing you here,” said Bernie while keeping her eyes on Smiles.
“This is a conversation between Mr Bully and myself,” said Gunther. “Please report to the gym.”
“This is how it’ll go down,” said Bernie. “You’re going to walk all of us to your makeshift airport and fly our asses to Leek Denaa.”
“Can’t be done,” said Gunther.
“Then I’ll let those people in the gym know this operation is a fraud. I know where you’re really taking infected–the Black Belly checkpoint at the Alaskan-Canadian border. You trade them for flight access to Leek Denaa for your private clients, like Howard Fettel and his family.”
“You don’t have any proof!”
“Don’t need any. The idea is enough to cause a riot with so many desperate people overcrowding your school. I also have a gun pointed at you inside my jacket if you couldn’t tell already. All we need is a one-way trip and you’ll never see us again.”
“Does Mr. Fettel know about this?”
“He doesn’t have to. Do we have a deal?”
“The last thing I remember was thinking I was going to die,” said Bernie. All three sat at a park bench inside the hanger. Bernie kept her gun drawn on Gunther during her story. “Between the stench of the sewers and the coughing fits I couldn’t breath. My lungs ached and my throat burned with salt.”
Kalvin hung on every word, staring at her lips as she spoke. “Salt?” said Kalvin.
“Its slang for the grainy, fleshy dirt that vomits out before transformation,” said Eustace.
“The hacking is just the beginning,” said Bernie. “The worst part is knowing that the real pain is coming, and I had about five wolves racing towards me just around the bend. I woke up the next morning without an ear and these.” Bernie brushed her hair back to show three deep gashes that wrapped around to the back of her skull.
“You have my deepest thanks for what you did for us,” said Eustace.
“Yeah!” said Kalvin. “For…everything.”
“Well, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I left you boys to rot,” said Bernie. “Eustace, you think you can keep an eye on Gunther while I use the ladies’ room?”
Eustace chuckled, “I think I can manage Mr. Smiles.”
Kalvin watched the sway of Bernie’s hips as she approached the school. “I need to wash up, too.”
“Make it quick,” said Eustace. “We’re not stayin’ long.”
Kalvin waited outside the bathroom stall door for Bernie to come out. She opened the door with a puzzled look on her face.
“Is the men’s room busted?” said Bernie.
“No, I was just…so happy you’re okay,” said Kalvin. “Eustace and I tried searching for you when we got out of the hospital.”
“You’re good guys,” said Bernie as she washed her hands in the sink. “Now we can make sure Danny and Char are safe.” When she turned around to dry them Kalvin reached around to the small of her back and pressed her body against his. He kissed her softly and nibbled her lower lip before feeling her pull away from him.”
“What are you doing?” said Bernie.
“I just thought we could fool around before an eight hour flight to Alaska.”
“Listen, Kal, that time in the sewer was a unique situation for both of us.” Bernie pulled Kalvin’s hands apart and stepped back. “I wouldn’t make a bigger thing out of it if I were you.”
“Is this about the ear?” said Kalvin. “It doesn’t bother me, I mean, maybe comb your hair over it sometimes, but–.”
“No, Kalvin, it’s not the ear.” Bernie shook her hands dry before storming out onto the field. “Definitely NOT the ear!”