Images flipped through Dan’s mind–some of a cabin in snow covered woods, others under rubble in a church. He was transported to whatever was shown, if only for a moment. He heard their sounds, smelled their air, and tasted their blood. Scene after scene the images flashed and flickered faster until they blurred into sanguine wall of viscera.
In the center grew a new void–one that stared back at Dan.
Chapter 25: Sealing the Void
Dan seized the railing of the boat as choppy waves heaved and thrashed him across the Gulf of Alaska. Turret fire rattled along the bow, lighting up the night sky. The coast of Alaska was in sight, but he was entrenched in the militarized borderlands between White Teeth and Black Belly—a contested zone where not even the waters mixed.
Spotlights and response boats blinded Dan as the cold claimed his wits. Machine guns shredded the hull, destroying the meager motor that had been pushed far beyond its purpose.
I have to keep going! thought Dan. He caught bullets in his shoulder. Lead bullets? The wounds repaired themselves much slower than before. He refused to surrender his boat to the onslaught, knowing they intended to damn him to the ocean floor with cheap munitions.
Waves crashed around him–the ocean water filled him through the holes in his neck and stung wounds that took too long to mend. Dan clung to the wheel as the stern began to submerge.
Dan pulled on two life preservers and hurled himself from the destroyed boat. He escaped the lights only to find himself enveloped in gut-wrenching cold. His whole body surrendered to the bitter ocean. His heartbeat stalled as he felt his faculties dull and shut down. The thought of being trapped below the water filled his heart with panic. Adrenaline forced his eyes wide as he gripped the hole in his throat with one hand and paddled forward with the other.
As his head bobbed for air, the sounds of gunfire grew distant before ceasing entirely. The wolf was dead, and the military would return to their posts with the satisfaction of sending an unarmed man to the depths.
Dan swam forward. With no map or compass to aid him, he focused on the single action. His arm felt as if it would dislocate with every paddle while his legs kicked against chunks of ice. In this state, Dan achieved another level of being. His body no longer his, a mind no longer bound to a body. How long he would continue was of no importance.
The bones of his hand splintered against rock. He pulled himself from the abyss and onto a landmass. His muscles seared with frozen blood crunching between sinew and tendons. He kneeled on the altar of land he had found, dripping wet and sucking air through his nostrils and mouth. His hands sunk into the snow as he gazed at the mountain before him. His neck craned back to absorb the cliff’s edge–a wall of glistening, jagged frost.
Dan turned around to discover an endless ocean at his back. No matter how high the cliff, Dan would not take another chance in the water. He scaled the cliffside, digging his fingertips into the rock until his skin peeled back from the bone. Each grasp pulled him closer to Char and his children. Too many had died for this chance. Parents were dead; children were dead, yet he had survived every threat in the pursuit of his family. How wrong it all felt, knowing that he had been granted a gift while so many others would be lost to time.
Handholds gave way and jutted out. Dan realized that he was gripping part of a rib cage. The cliffside had claimed several bodies now molded into its exterior with other refuse–a mosaic of bone and debris. Were these people thrown from the top, thought Dan, or did they crawl up the side like bugs being gassed?
After hours of climbing, Dan reached a cave burrowed deep into the side of the mountain giving way to lit torches secured along the interior. He entered a room with prison bars on both sides. The low light made him squint into the cells. He found only eyes staring back with the flicker of flames dancing within. They looked at him with bewilderment–confused anyone would stand on his side of the bars.
“Is this Leek Denaa?” asked Dan.
The eyes nodded before receding further into the dark.
The jail emptied into a hamlet untouched by the modern conveniences that surrounded the territory. The structures adhered to a Gothic style of the European Middle Ages. This would have been your “Camelot,” thought Dan. Cassie’s warm glowing face gleamed in his mind, but something fought to take her place. A violent flash filled his brain with visions of Leek Denaa. He closed his eyes and held his head to keep it from splitting in half.
Dan collapsed on the stone road. The visions revealed him writing on the floor. He opened his eyes to find himself surrounded by young wolves, their fur jet black and their eyes piercing white. They approached with caution as a pack. Dan counted five total.
They were drawn to him, circling his body before nuzzling him with their heads and licking his hand. Dan’s mind opened even further like he was pulling himself out of a well. He could hear them in his head, their speech slow and garbled. Dan smelled Char’s blood on them, and sensed her presence in their eyes.
“I know you,” said Dan. The words barely able to fall out. He covered his mouth with his hand, unable to comprehend what he felt.These wolves belonged to him, despite the moon, and he held them tightly, sobbing into their fur.
Dan’s pack had returned to him. The spirits of Cassie, Wood, Noah, and Erica imbued him and his children with a sense of purpose and courage. They explored the crumbled remains of Leek Denaa, covering as much ground as possible with each wolf acting as a new set of eyes. Dan scoured the commune with scouts in a vain attempt to find Char and Gator. Inhuman roars echoed throughout the dead city. He called his children close and ran his fingers through their pristine fur to comfort them. What could make such an awful cry?
At the center of town laid a ravaged cathedral. It’s front walls had collapsed, revealing the interior pews and chandeliers hanging over two stories high. The pack seemed to pull him closer into the debris. Do they sense something I don’t?
A familiar scent drifted with the breeze. One he had not known since his time with the Bedlam. Dan called his children to his side as they foraged deeper into the debris of the cathedral. The courtyard had been full of people once. His mind raced with the power he felt there. Had they summoned whatever was making that cry? What were these people capable of that made them so valuable to Howard in the first place?
In the distance dangled a sad-statured wraith, his bold suits and suspenders replaced with rags and sores. His arms jutted out above his distended head–slumped to the side like the sinners crucified next to Christ.
“He can’t hurt you,” whispered Dan. He was unsure whether he was speaking to his children or himself.
Howard Fettel’s stumps swung above the ground as if judged by the gallows. His visage was coated in a thin layer of dust and frost. His eyes opened, and his head raised shakily. He looked Dan in the eyes for a moment, followed by uncontrollable laughter.
“Now I know this isn’t real,” said Howard. Fog poured from his mouth as he spoke.
He was interrupted by another ungodly roar in the distance.
“I just need to wake up,” said Howard. “That’s all. I’ll open my eyes to awaken in my suite in The Bedlam Complex…”
“The Bedlam are gone,” said Dan.
“And it speaks, too,” said Howard. “I didn’t expect to be haunted by the thought of you. I’d ruined so many more worthwhile lives, and I never held you in much regard–.”
“I said they’re gone, Fettel. Will you even ask how?”
“My conscience is clear.”
“Then I’m not a ghost,” said Dan. “And this isn’t a dream.”
“You could be any manner of illusion,” said Howard. “The Warg has made worse, I assure you. That two-headed abomination that’s ripping this place to pieces was his doing. Who knows; perhaps you’re a reaction to one of his drug cocktails.”
“Where is Char?”
“In that abomination’s belly,” said Howard, “or under the cathedral’s rubble, or at the bottom of the ocean. The last time I saw her she was jeering me from the balcony behind her royal guards. I suppose if she had escaped, the chief would have given her sanctuary in the mansion northeast of here.”
Dan headed in the the direction of the chief’s mansion.
“We weren’t meant for this world,” said Howard. “It took me decades to realize that, and in true Darwin fashion, we were wiped from it. The Bedlam was a massacre waiting to happen. This place was my last bet, but look at it now. We truly don’t deserve refuge–no matter how far we run.”
“You don’t get to decide that!” said Dan. “They were just trying to live their lives!!”
“The Lek agree with you,” said Howard. “This was my tribunal. The rampaging freak was to be my punishment, but instead it ignored me to devastate this town. By their own fatuous, backward ideas of justice–I am innocent.”
Like Dan, Howard had seemed to circumvent his penance time and time again. Dan had seen too much to allow it once more.
“They wanted the universe to kill you,” said Dan.
“Indeed they did,” said Howard with a chuckle.
“Hundreds died because of you,” said Dan. “There’ll be no record of them. What teeth they had were ground to dust, their ashes scattered to the wind. Of those hundreds, however, one traveled thousands of miles to find you in a most vulnerable position. The father of your grandchildren no less…would you like to meet them?”
The pack snarled and bared their teeth. Their eyes focused on the flesh prepared for them.
“The universe has finally caught up to you,” said Dan. He took a seat on the cold ground as his children enveloped Howard. Dan listened to screams as he gazed out into the glimmering green ocean and the star-filled sky.
Dan called his children back to his side. Their snouts covered in the blood of their grandfather.
“Look what I made you do,” said Dan. “What have I become?”
Another roar carried in the wind along with gunfire. The sound gave him a perverse sense of hope that the gunfire meant guards–and guards meant Char.
Dan and his pack raced in the direction of the fight, cutting sharpley through alleyways and crumbled passages. As they approached the fray, Dan felt eyes on him. He glanced around to discover Howard Fettel was following him–his mahogany cane thudding against the ground with each step.
That’s impossible! What is this!?
Another Howard Fettel emerged from the darkness, then another. More and more filled the marketplace, each with the same teeth-bearing grin. The rapping of their canes shook the ground and thundered though the dead city.
“Stay near me!” said Dan to his children.
The ground gave way beneath their feet. Stepping out from under the ground emerged a colossal and nightmarish Howard Fettel. His skin had ruptured in trails of coarse black fur and his snout protruded as if he had transformed into a wolf halfway. He towered over his doppelgangers, scooping them up and shoveling them into his razor-toothed maw.
Dan dove into the trenches created by the quakes and led Fettel through a labyrinth of debris. The pack followed close at Dan’s heels. This isn’t real! THIS ISN’T REAL!! Dan burrowed himself deep underground. He watched as Fettel thrashed about in the earth in an attempt to devour the pack. Dan put himself between his children and the monstrosity until Fettel forced himself up to the surface.
As the dust cleared, Dan found the beast had shrunk considerably. It no longer resembled Howard Fettel, nor were the other Fettels seen or heard. The beast clenched its jaws around the throat of another gargantuan two-head wolf.
There was another figure in the darkness. Before the beast could pounce again, Dan sent his pack to kill once more. They made short work of it, and Leek Denaa fell silent..
Dan approached the figure. He was clearly armed, but holstered his weapon at the sight of Dan.
Dan looked into his eyes. They carried with them enervation, heartache and guilt, but an unquestionable love that seemed to hold him on his feet. They were his father’s eyes.
“Daniel?” said Eustace. “Can you ever forgive me?”
Dan was sure this was another hallucination. It looks like him, thought Dan, but it doesn’t sound like him.
“We want you to come home,” said Eustace. “We don’t care what you’ve done…”
Did he really come all this way for me? Does he know how foolish that was!?
“We’ll get through this together,” said Eustace.
Dan pressed his forehead against his father’s, and they stood there, holding up each other’s exhausted bodies. You’re the only one I trust to keep them safe, thought Dan.
The five wolves left Dan’s side and stood beside their grandfather.
“These are your grandchildren,” said Dan.
“I…I don’t know what to say,” said Eustace.
“Give them a place in the world,” said Dan. “A place far from here.”
Dan trudged through the snow alone, still coming to terms with what he had endured. His mind and body seemed to deteriorate the longer he stayed here, and he was not prepared for the cavalcade of emotions and horrors that berated him both inside and out. He had found his children, only to turn them into weapons with his mind.
The Warg seemed curious in the void from my dreams, thought Dan. Did he know this would be the outcome? Dan wondered what these visions meant for him now, and more importantly, was there a way to turn them off?
They’re not safe with me, thought Dan. I’ll return to them when the time is right. Mom and Dad will keep them protected until I figure this out. It had been a long time since Dan had considered his parents protectors.
Dan looked down at a giant corpse strewn across the threshold of the mansion. Dan examined the body and found wounds that tore through to the other side. The edges cauterized by silver.
He was shot point blank from the front, thought Dan. The wounds are fresh, too.
Dan thought of Char and prayed she was alright. Soon his head began to throb and ache as more visions flooded his mind. He was pressed against a hardwood floor, his hands gripping wooden stair balusters. Peering over the edge revealed a pile of shattered bones. Could this be Char?
Dan entered the mansion and discovered that the tremors from earlier had cracked the foundation, sending ruptures along the floor and walls. A whalebone chandelier had smashed into the floor of the center foyer. The scent of the oil filled the musty home.
She’s upstairs! Dan moved silently up the spiral staircase and found Char pinned beneath part of a curved rafter.
“Is that you, Char?” said Dan as he knelt by her side.
“Danny?” said Char. Her voice low and frail. “How could you possibly…?”
“I had to find you. I had to know if you and the children were alive.”
“They…they’re out there…”
“They’re safe. Can you move?”
A smile grew across Char’s face. “You got to see them?”
“They’re beautiful,” said Dan, “perfect, even.”
“Thank you for giving me a chance to be a mommy…”
“I can get you out of here,” said Dan, “but you’ll need to lift when I pull–.”
“What do you mean you can’t?” Dan’s visions returned, and this time they moved fast across the snow with the mansion in sight.
A gunshot rang throughout the foyer. Dan’s knee exploded and he fell on his back. The pain had been numbed by the extreme cold, but his heart raced as he stared at his severed leg on the floor.
“DANNY!” screamed Char.
“That’s enough running, Daniel,” said a voice.
Dan turned to find a soldier sitting on a cushioned chair in the corner of the parlor with his rifle leveled at Dan’s head.
“Who…are you?” said Dan.
The soldier stood up and approached Dan and Char with an confident stride. “My name is Jake Reto. I’m a colleague of your father. I’ve been tracking you for some time.”
“You were at The Bedlam Complex that night,” said Dan.
Jake nodded his head. “I had hoped to meet you then under different circumstances.” He moved in between Char and Dan and took a seat on the floor with them. “Much has changed over the past two months.”
“You killed all those people,” said Dan.
“It’s what I was put on Earth to do,” said Jake. “Life seemed so simple then, but that comes to an end tonight.”
Jake turned towards a window and watched as a helicopter flew past. What remained of the mansion reverberated until it faded into the distance.
“That was the last flight out of Leek Denaa,” said Jake. “When word spreads of what took place here, there will be no refuge for wolves anywhere.” Jake sighed as if he was disappointed. “You and I cannot go back, Daniel.”
“Go back where?”
“Humanity,” said Jake. “We survived where other could not–succeeded where all failed, but I’m afraid that all came at a cost.”
“You helped deliver my children!” said Char.
“I thought you were human,” said Jake. “This facility houses experiments that are a greater affront to mankind than any infected I ever killed. That is why we are here today.” Jake reached into two pouches attached to his waist and pulled out two round objects. “This one will eradicate you in an instant,” said Jake holding a silver grenade in front of Dan. “And this one will cover me and this building in a purifying wave of fire.” Jake faced Char, “I don’t know what you are, but you won’t survive both.”
Jake grabbed his rifle from his side and fired into the walls behind him. “Show yourself!!” said Jake as he got up and investigated the area. “This won’t end well for you!”
Gator burst through the dilapidated wall and tackled Jake to the ground. He wielded a fire axe and brought the blade down on Jake’s head. Jake seized Gator’s hands as the axe slowly bit into his nose.
“JUDITH SENDS HER REGARDS!!” barked Gator through clenched teeth.
Jake slid the axe blade into the wood floor and headbutted Gator in the face. He rolled Gator onto his back and pummeled him until he was unrecognizable. Jake loosened the axe from the floor and planted it deep into Gator’s skull.
Dan and Char stared in horror and disbelief at Gator’s lifeless body.
“The Lord favors the just,” said Jake as he ran his bloodied hand through his hair.