9 June, L A.S. (2015)
(Note: with the way WordPress formats quotations, it may be a bit confusing at times to tell when a line is Malcolm’s internal thoughts. It will be clear in the actual book’s formatting. I hope you can tell from the context here.)
I was walking through the woods to my friend’s house when I heard the first gunshot. It had been a still night in the Pine Barrens, with the Autumn air lying cool and calm. Above my head, millions of stars punctured the canopy of needles, and twinkled gently. My feet stepped quietly, as usual, for I’m quiet even when wearing boots. I kept my flashlight off, hanging gently by its strap around my wrist: it was only for appearances, I need no help in night vision. But, the echoing sound of a shotgun blast interrupted the peace.
My head snapped up to full-attention, and on instinct, I snatched my Glock 43 from the inside pocket of my lucky leather jacket. One of my smaller guns, good to carry for random emergencies like these. I strained my ears, struggling to pinpoint the source of the noise that had already begun to fade away as the pines swallowed it up.
Then I heard to my front, loud and clear, the sound of a woman screaming in abject terror. Another shot roared as if in angry response.
Fear gripped my chest, not so much for myself, as for the people I knew to be in danger. I began to run down the trail, towards whoever or whatever threatened my dear lady friend and her children. No use checking my cell phone for service: I had a cheap phone, and no one got any signal this far out of town. I switched off my weapon’s safety.
The screaming had become a continuous wail mixed with sobbing, which became clearer as I neared the isolated home. Around a bend in the trail, I could see the glow of electric lights, and then moments later through the backyard foliage I could see Elleena’s one-story, mid-century house, squatting alone in the darkness.
I felt my pulse quicken more than I liked. No use running out gun blazing and getting myself killed. I’d be of no help to Elleena or her kids. Other lives were at stake besides my own, it was best to remain in control. I breathed in…then out…and then crouched low to size up the scene.
I had entered Elleena’s property through a shortcut rather than the main road, so from my vantage point, I saw the back of her house, and the front-section of what looked to be a big black van. Engine running, headlights off. I heard banging and crashing from inside the house.
“Please, please take me instead, no, leave them alone!”
Elleena, so small and so sweet, wailed desperately, her words barely discernible.
“I’m not gonna say it again, shut your traitorous whore mouth, infidel!” The harsh voice of a woman barked back at Elleena from inside.
Suddenly, the back door slammed open, and out came a mammoth of a man, carrying Elleena’s twin kids, Kenton and Katherine. The kids, eight years old, were crying, and I got a glimpse of the shininess on their faces. The man wore all-white: a long white coat, white boots, and most strangely of all, a white mask, which covered his whole face and looked to be made of plastic or maybe wood. Some sort of marking was on the forehead, but I was too far away to make it out.
“Forget her, Esther, she isn’t going to trouble us any more,” the man said, his voice deep and resonant in the night. The kids screamed and thrashed, but were as weak and unnoticeable as tiny insects to him as he calmly strode around the house towards the van.
The whole thing ignited my soul, and I felt the tell-tale signs of the Change beginning. Tingles of life-force surged up and down my limbs, and combined in my heart, making the very center of me vibrate with savage power. All the little hairs of my body stood up, and I felt the familiar pin-prick tingles up and down around my shoulder blades, reminding me of how sweet it was to leap and to fly. I gritted my teeth and chambered a round. I was ready to wipe these motherfuckers out, whoever they were. But Elleena’s family’s safety was paramount, yes.
“Control, Malcolm, always in control, never lose that Iron Will!” The words of my foster father echoed in my head. “The Beast is part of you, but it is only a part, you are more than it! It is a tool! Employ it with focus, focus …”
So then I thought up a genius idea. I figured I had other tricks (and monstrous claws and fangs and horns) up my sleeve, so if this first one shit the bed…well, who wanted to lay in a shitty bed?
I abruptly stood up, and simultaneously raised my gun and flashlight (which I flicked on) at the big guy’s back.
“Freeze! Chepston PD! Drop the kids and put your hands where I can see ’em!”
I sounded close-enough to a movie cop, I thought. And I did have an actual gun. But would these assholes buy it? Would they even need to care? I was one guy, and there were at least three, likely more of them.
Big Guy froze mid-stride, then set his foot down slowly.
Kenton yelled out to me like I was a real cop, failing to recognize my voice in this context. “Please, help us, help my mommy!”
Big Guy ignored them. I took a few steps forward, scanning to either side but keeping my flashlight beam and weapon trained. I was a good shot, I could easily hit him in the legs and make him go down without risking the kids. Give them time to get away.
Just put ’em down!
“Put down the children, sir, now!” I repeated, a growl coming into my voice, “Don’t make us open fire!”
Is “open fire” a thing cops say? Yeah, yeah it is today.
My trigger finger itched. I love the feel of cold, heavy steel in my hands. Guns are beautiful weapons, underrated by nostalgics everywhere. I can appreciate the tradition, romance, and craftsmanship of a knight’s blade as much as the next guy, but the mechanical and chemical precision of a gun, all those centuries of trial-and-error and mechanization to produce a hand-held device that can precisely blow big messy holes in your enemies from hundreds of yards away: there’s a grim predatory beauty in such a weapon. I pity pacifists.
The abominable-coat man slowly lowered his arms and leaned slightly backwards to bring the twins’ feet to the ground. Just as their toes touched the ground, he yelled his comrade’s name again.
The air in a one-foot cone in front of my face opened up as it was momentarily occupied by a burst of hot buckshot which would have blown apart my skull like a ripe pumpkin.
My skin felt the wind before my ears registered the call of .22 gauge boom-stick. I dove diagonally backwards and to the right, hitting the hard-packed ground hard with my shoulder, and rolling inelegantly back into the shrubbery.
Another shotgun blast roared. A sapling behind me splintered, and bits of bark landed on my face. I flicked off my flashlight to hide my position in the dark brush. Then I raised my Glock and fired once, twice, in the general direction of my adversary. Five shots left. Another magazine of six rounds in my pocket if I miraculously got the time to reload. It was hard to aim or see anything from my awkward position.
But I saw her then, the assailant apparently named Esther. She was dressed identically to her comrade, nearly as tall and nearly as broad, with long black hair. She scanned the treeline with her eyes and with the leveled shotgun. Due to the mask it was impossible to tell her expression. I could see now that the symbol on her forehead was a golden cross, with some sort of decorative details.
“Whoever you are,” she yelled, “Don’t interfere with us, don’t follow us. We have sacrifices enough, your own time for martyrdom will come later!”
Who the hell were these guys?!
I thought back to some odd comments Elleena had made here and there over my past six months of knowing her, about “bad people” in her past, bad people that she didn’t know the whereabouts or intentions of anymore. I hadn’t pressed her on it, something about the look of child-like fear and wonder in her eyes always held me back. But I wished I had more information now that religious freaks were running wild and taking people in the forests of New Jersey. I raised my gun-arm and raised myself up on my left elbow, slowly, slowly, wanting a nice clean shot.
The shotgun’s muzzle flashed and sticks a couple feet to the left of me went flying. Esther hissed and methodically marched across the backyard and down the little slope towards my cover, firing again, and again. A couple pieces of buckshot grazed, and one entered, the flesh of my right shoulder.
Red-hot pain and force shot through my body. I felt the Beast inside me clawing to get out. I knew that if I didn’t do something fast, the next shot might open up my chest. The guy carrying Kenton and Katherine must have gotten to the van by now, too; I’d lost sight of him, but at least I could hear the van running still. They must have been waiting for Esther.
Just as I was about to do something bad-ass, I heard the backdoor slam open, and saw the petite, sweet, substitute teacher Elleena run screaming across the yard towards Esther’s back. She wore a baby blue night-gown with nothing on her feet. Her short blonde hair was fluttering behind her, and her face was red with tears and rage. In her hand she held a large kitchen knife.
“Leave him alone!!” she screamed as she lunged towards the taller Esther, leaping with her arm outstretched like the world’s most desperate NBA player going for an impossible dunk.
Esther whirled around as quick as a viper and slammed the stock of the shotgun against Elleena’s hand with a crunch, breaking at least a couple fingers and sending the knife spinning off to stick into the ground. Elleena tried vainly to grab the gun, but Esther was too strong and too fast. With an awful thunk, the butt of the shotgun knocked Elleena squarely in the forehead, sending her to silently stagger backwards and collapse to her knees, and then her side, eyelids fluttering and then closing.
That thunk, and the sight of my lady friend going limp, was enough to bring on the Change.
Enough fucking around!
I stripped off my lucky leather jacket, ignoring the pain in my shoulder. My animalistic and demonic rage boiled up inside me, and life-force surged through my entire body as I rapidly morphed over the course of a couple seconds. I felt the familiar sensation like a fever, and then saw the coarse black hair sprout over my arms and entire body. My face elongated, into a snout, my mouth grew, my canines lengthened, all four of my limbs stretched and writhed and bulked up. My boots were literally forced off of my feet as those feet turned to hard hooves. Long horns sprouted from my skull, and my great, powerful,leathery wings grew and ripped out through my skin and spread behind me. The Autumn air felt wonderful. I was the Devil, I was free.
Esther kicked Elleena’s body, then looked up just in time:
I roared, and the sound resonated with more strength and fury than any shotgun. I hope Esther pissed herself right then, as an eight-foot tall, four hundred and fifty pound piece of American legend flew at her face, claws poised, jaws open. I nearly tore her right arm from its socket, digging my claws deep into the muscle and nerves and pulling.
She gasped but didn’t scream. Her eyes glared beneath the symbol of a golden cross with rays of light, leaves and branches protruding. I saw a flash of movement out the corner of my left eye.
A horrible burning sensation stabbed into my left side. She’d stuck me with some sort of knife from her left hand. I roared again and raked my claws across her chest, sending blood spraying across both our bodies.
She screamed then, but not out of terror or pain. It was too her comrades, perhaps their leader.
“Jared, it’s him, he’s here!!”
In my Devil form, I could still had the clarity to remember Esther’s companions. She was bleeding out, disabled, surely couldn’t live long. But her allies were getting away with Kenton and Katherine! I ignored the searing pain in my side where the knife was stuck up to the hilt, and took to the air again, flying up over the house to dive down on black van before it could pull away.
It’s headlights were on. The engine rumbled, and the van began to move. The back-hatch was open, and another uniformed cultist (smaller than the first two, and with a ridiculous fedora on his head over the mask,) was kneeling in the back with a pistol. The muzzle flashed and shots rang out four times in quick succession, all missing.
Wind blew through my fur. I landed on the back bumper of the van, ready to tear this man apart.
He scrambled backwards between the seats, and grabbed Katherine, whose hands and feet were bound, and pulled her in front of him to use as a human shield. Katherine screamed, I saw Kenton being held by the big guy further inside.
The fedora idiot yelled. “Back with you, devil! We only need one of the children, I’ll kill her right now!!”
He pressed the gun against Katherine’s head.
I hesitated, animal-mind flailing, coursing through all the options a thousand times a second–
The van’s tires squealed as the vehicle took a sharp turn.
I was flung off into the dark and hit the gravel road hard. I smelled dust, pebbles, blood, and diesel as the van roared off out of sight. I noticed for the first time how much that fucking knife was weakening me, gnawing at my flesh. I stood and ripped it out of my body, hoping it hadn’t punctured a vital organ. It was a six-inch blade, steel, white. The hole it had made gaped, with golden-yellow puss mixed with the blood all around it. I felt like the flesh there was dripping and burning as if touched by acid.
Is it magic?
I ignored the pain and increasing dizziness, trying to keep lucid, lucid. I needed to get to the van, save Kenton and Katherine. But where were they going? I was feeling too weak to fly, at least far. And I couldn’t risk Elleena’s kids.
I galloped back to the house, hoping Elleena was still alive. I would kill Esther either way, make her suffer first. Get information from her first. Avenge Elleena’s family.
My friend still lay motionless, on the grass, in the porch-light, blood trickling from her ear. Esther’s front was all red, but she turned her head to look at me as I approached.
“You’re too late, Devil!” Then she chuckled, gagged, spat up blood.
I pinned down her shoulders and loomed over her. I talked to her directly, mind to mind.
“Where are your friends taking the kids?!”
“Ha, and wouldn’t you love to follow them, Dark One, to your doom?!”
I tore off her mask and roared.
Esther’s face was hard but pretty, in a stoic kind of way. Her skin was pale and sweaty, she wouldn’t last much longer.
“Who are you?! Give me what I want and your death will be swift!”
Esther grinned maniacally and made an awful sound that was more gagging than laughing. “Too late, Devil, too late for you, for all but the pure …”
My ears pivoted down and noticed something I’d missed before: a harsh beeping, coming from Esther’s chest, growing faster by the second. I looked down and saw a blinking red light, red wires, black bundles of cylinders. It had all been packed under her coat.
“God bless Doctor Benedict Holt! Let his Divine Medicine cleanse this putrid world!!”
I rolled off her, grabbed Elleena, clutched her in front of me, and leaped.
There was a long beep like a heart monitor and then the bomb exploded. Some sort of shrapnel peppered my wings with jabs of hot pain. My ears rang. I landed far enough away to get only a small taste of the blast rather than a full helping, but the concussion still knocked me to my knees, and I narrowly avoided falling on top of Elleena. I got up and turned around.
There was nothing but scorch marks and gory fragments where Esther’s body had been. A couple windows on the house were shattered. Police sirens sounded somewhere in the distance, coming closer.
Of course now they come.
I knew there was nothing more to do here. Kenton and Katherine were gone, Elleena could be dead or permanently comatose. I was shot and stabbed and blasted all to hell. It was time to go. I hobbled over to my lucky leather jacket (not so lucky tonight) and awkwardly stuffed the gun into its pocket one-handed. I carried the boots in one hand, Elleena with my other arm, and the leather jacket in my jaws. Long before the police arrived, I was gone, disappeared into the sweet, cool darkness of the pines, to fight another day.
On that day, I vowed, I would win.