September 3rd 2019
Midwest Isolation and Retrieval
175 N Hoff St
Springfield, IL 62709
Dear Chief Hampton:
I am informing you of my resignation from my position as Senior Officer of Midwest Isolation and Retrieval (MIR), effective September 17, 2019.
My tenure within the department has been a transformative one–not just for myself, but for MIR. I am more than grateful for the staff that I have trained and trained alongside.
In transitioning my responsibilities to a successor, I wholeheartedly recommend Officer Harry Montang. He has displayed every quality I strive to instill in my colleagues—integrity, compassion, strength, and humanity. It is my hope that he will lead the agency sooner rather than later.
Officer Judith Abigail Klove
Chapter 22: The Last Thing You Remember
Judith grasped the front of her thick coat. Sweat dripped down from her forehead and created a ring around the collar of her neck. The coat wouldn’t come off. She looked about the house. Her children were there, waiting for her to rescue them from their father.
“All you still with us?” said Ronny.
The walls began to expand and restrict like a pair of lungs. They appeared to mimic her own stifled breath as the word “Judith” boomed around her. It called to her. With every sound, plaster crumbled from the ceiling.
My boys aren’t safe here, thought Judith. But I can’t move–can’t breathe! There are no doors or windows!!
“Mom,” said Luke.
His voice came as softly as a pin drop. The booming voice receded at the whisper billowing from below the floorboards. A chill caressed Judith’s neck and she stopped trying to rip the coat from her body. Her vision blurred, and the house gave way to a comforting and familiar sight.
Her father appeared twelve feet tall. Taking her hand as they trekked along the sand. The squeal of seagulls accompanied the swelling crush of the lake against the beach. She was led back to the cabin where Luke and Gator waited for her.
“It worked,” whispered Gator in disbelief.
Judith felt her body tighten as her vision sharpened. Luke was embracing her–his forehead pressed delicately against hers.
“You don’t have to go back out there,” whispered Luke. “Help is coming.”
Judith brushed his hair back with her ungloved hand. He looked so exhausted–so defeated. How she wished she could be a mother still. “I can’t stay,” said Judith, “but you get this girl out of this place alive. You hear me?”
“What could MIR possibly offer… to get you to go up there?”
“It’s not for them,” said Judith. “It was never for them.”
“Then for who?” said Luke.
Judith knew the answer. The truth had never been more clear, and she knew the words would break her.
“Promise me you’ll get out of here.”
Luke nodded–too pained to speak.
The northern lights trailed through the sky like pen strokes after a signature. The searing green rays shot up into heaven, illuminating the path to Fettel below.
Little time had passed since Judith left Luke behind. His eyes were filled with such pity and despair. Had he known what would become of her? Luke brought her back to reality with an exercise known only to those well-versed in lycantrosis. Surely he knew the burden she would soon become.
“Are you still up for this?” said Gator.
“Leek Denaa is a mile north by foot,” said Judith. “At the base of the crater we’ll find people that can escort us inside. We need to use more tact going forward.”
“Maybe you need to slow down,” said Gator. “Maybe explain what the hell is going on in your head.”
“I can do this, Gator. Just keep up.”
Gator stood in place as Judith continued her approach to the crater. Judith stopped moving as well. The light above made the snow glow green around their boots.
“Are you off meds?” said Gator.
Judith turned around to face him. “There’s no medication for what I have,” said Judith. “It’s a byproduct of my vision–all wargs are visited by The Void sooner or later. I dreamt of it, back before anyone knew what was in store for this country.”
“Like a second sun–burning in the sky with a pale light–consuming everything down to the bone. It took me decades before I realized that it was devouring my memory every time I reached into the mind of a wolf.”
“I…I didn’t know,” said Gator. “I never would have asked you to find Char–.”
Judith waved her hand dismissively. “It wouldn’t have changed anything. I’m too far gone. My thoughts are misfiring like bad engine coils, and my reality will fold in on itself until I forget who I am. So…no, there’s no medication for that.”
“That’s…some heavy shit,” said Gator.
“My son is dead,” said Judith. “He’s dead because of me–because of the choices I’ve made. My career…heh…my legacy–they came at the cost of my sons. The thought of which should kill me, but yet, here I am. I know The Void will destroy these memories too, but with my luck, they’ll be the last things I remember.”
“I can bring you back to Luke,” said Gator. “You need to rest.”
“You need to get into Leek Denaa to save your wife and mother,” said Judith. “You won’t get past the front gate without me. If tonight is my last night on Earth, I want to spend it helping you. I can keep it together for one more night–I swear on Luke’s head.”
Gator nodded–too pained to speak.
A cabin waited for them in front of the crater’s base. They’re in there somewhere, thought Judith. Fettel, Murral, and Reto–and I only need one of you alive.
As they approached the cabin, they spotted an attendant sitting on the front stoop. He was giant, wrapped in dark furs with the hide of a bear draped over his head like a hood. Judith hailed him with a raised hand. When he didn’t respond, Gator waved.
“He doesn’t look happy to see us,” said Gator.
Judith inched closer and discovered the attendant’s eyes had frozen over.
“Something’s wrong,” said Judith as she removed her pistol from her holster.
Gator drew his gun and scanned the area.
Judith took the attendant’s head in her hands. He did not react. His eyes stuck in a perpetual gaze to her right. She brought his head forward gently until she found a gaping hole in the back of his skull. Blood had frozen to the cabin wall and down the back of the giant. Judith turned her head up and followed the stain up to part of the roof that had deformed under a heavy weight.
Someone got the jump on him, thought Judith. “Search the cabin.”
“I’ve had bad luck with these lately,” said Gator as he seized the doorknob. He pushed the door in slowly, revealing a dimly lit station. Judith followed closely behind. They investigated what was left, discovering only a shift schedule and instructions for tending to sled dogs.
Upon leaving the cabin, Judith noticed a vast slope curling up around the outer edge of the crater.
“There’s no elevator,” said Judith. “They must get in and out by hiking the trail along the outside wall.”
“I thought your friend said there were three ways inside?” said Gator.
“He did. One requires a boat and scaling several hundred feet until we reach the inside of the prison. The other is about a four-hour walk northwest from here. The map had a little skull drawn next to that one. Whoever killed the attendant would have come through here.”
They decided to hike up the trail, guided by the soft, hypnotic shimmer of the northern lights. More bodies were found partially buried along the path, their limbs tinted green and blue from the light above. They too had succumbed to deep wounds that burrowed through muscle and bone.
When they reached the pinnacle of the crater’s ridge, they gazed down on the beauty of Leek Denaa. The architecture of the self-sustaining commune appeared almost gothic. The pointed roofs led to the center of town–a great cathedral, radiating a red light.
The shape of the crater echoed the clamor of chatter. The only activity visible came from the cathedral.
“It looks like they’re all at some kind of service,” said Gator as he pointed.
“Not much farther now,” said Judith. “Are you ready?”
Before Gator could answer, they were interrupted by the dissonance of collective horror. Screams rang up from the crater as hundreds of wolves flooded out from the cathedral. The crowds trampled the feeble as hysteria took hold of Leek Denaa’s throat.
What could scare them into such a frenzy!? Thought Judith.
The word “Fettel” slipped from Gator’s mouth with a whisper.