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  • by Mackenzie O'Rear

Chapter 21 - Of the Pack

Edited by Brien Bigelow

Illustrations by Lucas Marra

The train pulled into a station in Switzerland just as the sun was beginning to rise. Richard, his usual manic self, had not slept a wink, and it was beginning to show. The bags under his eyes had grown large and dark, his skin seemed paler than usual, and every move he made was twitchy and unpredictable.

He was beginning to remind Blake of a starving animal in the way his eyes scanned the room. For danger or for prey, Blake couldn't tell, but it made him uneasy how his companion might see him now. Richard had already done his best to prove himself to be the one in charge, despite relying on Blake’s magic, and in truth, the latter didn’t really care.

He knew of Richard’s background, coming from his own affluent family and making his way in the world through his real estate ventures. It was all quite impressive to Blake, who valued pedigree and success. But in truth, he was glad to have the bloodthirsty man, simply because he would be the best bet against the beast his daughter had made her companion.

His precious daughter. Blake had given her such a marvelous gift, and she ran away from him with not just the important pages of his book, but knowledge that had been meant for him. It was something he had kept hidden from him by his companions and benefactors. Even the sympathetic spirit he had summoned to guide them had no way of knowing the truth.

Sarah was more than just an experiment in resurrection. She was meant to travel through the world beyond and gather knowledge no mortal had seen in a millennium. Then, upon her return to the world of the living, she was supposed to impart the wisdom onto her father. The questions echoed through Blake’s mind daily.

What did she know now? What was she keeping from him? That knowledge of the world beyond was his by right. He had performed the ritual. He had gathered all the ingredients. It shouldn’t have mattered who died; he was the mastermind behind it all. In Blake’s mind, he deserved to know. He had earned it by no other right than being the benefactor, which should have been enough.

But no, she had escaped through some unknown means, which Blake had figured must have been done with the help of the wolf. Her father would have blamed him for Sarah’s betrayal if he hadn't known his daughter so well. Always dreaming, losing herself in her unreachable fantasies. She didn’t know he had been spying on her, paranoid she might ruin his reputation. He knew all her dirty little secrets and her desires for a life beyond what he had given her.

How dare she, he would think. He had given her more than anything she deserved. Better, he had given her a new life with purpose. She should have been at his feet, thanking him for the chance he had given her. Instead, they spent nearly a week trapped in a cramped train compartment, only to now be sitting on bench and waiting for the next one that would take them through Austria and ahead of their quarry.

It was cold, and every moment the train was late, his daughter gained ground on them, towards their mysterious destination. He had been tempted to bring out the map and perform the ritual, had the station not been so crowded. His own anxiousness wasn’t helped by Richard, who kept absentmindedly spinning the chamber of his revolver under his coat. It was distracting, but it at least gave his companion something to do.

Vincent and Corrine had spent all day with the waves in the cave, recovering from their escape from Istanbul. They grew eager as the day went on, playing with the pups and even petting some of the adults of the pack, taking naps, when they became too tired. Sensing their exhaustion, the wolves let them sleep in peace, until the sun gave way to the night.

One wolf had approached Vincent and gently nuzzled him awake, and upon realizing night had fallen, did the same to Corrine. They both stood, as the adults of the pack surrounded them, sniffing them at intervals, and occasionally nuzzling them from various angles.

‘I think they’re inspecting us,’ said Vincent whose hand was being licked by one of the elders.

‘Why, though?’ asked Corrine.

‘To see if we’re ready,’ replied Vincent. ‘Though I still don’t know what for .’ They seemed to pass the inspection, as they were soon heralded out of the cave and into the moonlight. The pack took one last look at the pair before running into the night. Vincent looked at Corrine.

‘Think you can keep up?’ asked Vincent, with a teasing smirk. Corrine playfully punched him in the arm and stretched.

‘I have three hearts,’ Corrine reminded Vincent. ‘The question is, Can you keep up with me?’ They smiled at one another before taking off running after the pack, Vincent using his senses to track them. They soon caught up with them midway and began to keep pace with them.

Corrine laughed as they ran, enjoying pushing her amalgamated body to new heights. She would have run out of breath ages ago if she had been her old self, so she reveled in the new discovery of athleticism as the miles began to melt away. All three hearts beat so normally they barely had to assert any effort whatsoever to keep her going. She could have run all night if she had truly wanted.

Vincent was of similar mind, but as he ran he found his conscious thoughts were barely there. It was like a piece of himself was observing the rest, as his instincts took over. For a few moments he was neither animal nor man, yet somehow he was both. The feeling surged through him, as he ran alongside Corrine, and the wolves and something gripped him. Without thinking, the mist began to emanate from him, flowing from him as he ran. Without warning, he soon dropped on all fours, flashing his devilish smile, without a care in the world.

As he did so, Corrine watched with amazement as he pulled ahead, amused at how he now ran. She was soon shocked, as more mists swirled round him, and his shape began to change. Somewhere in that cloud, the man was lost, as something new emerged. As the mist dissipated, it revealed a giant wolf had taken his place. A handsome beast with thick black fur that had matched Vincent’s own scruffy hair. If Corrine had not seen him do something similar to help her escape, she would have screamed. Instead she smiled as the pack came to a halt. They surrounded Vincent, who looked at Corrine, his tongue hanging out as he panted.

‘My my,’ she said. ‘My dear Vincent, I think you’ve gone native.’ She walked over to him and began to scratch him behind the ears which made his tail wag. She could hardly contain her with laughter at the sight of it.

As soon as the wolves gathered round them, they threw their heads into the air and sang their beautiful song into the night. Vincent looked at Corrine with his lupine eyes, confused, until she smiled.

‘Go on, then,’ she said. ‘You know what to do.’ With that, Vincent flung his head back and joined the pack in their symphony. His addition bought new life to the song, filling it with both sadness and hope. As he howled, the mists began to emanate and swirl round him once more, and as the song came to an end, Vincent stood before her once more. He looked at Corrine, sheepishly.

‘Vincent,’ she said. ‘That was beautiful.’

‘Was it?’ he asked. ‘What happened to me?’

‘I think you learned the lesson they were trying to teach you,’ said Corrine. ‘Try again.’ Vincent closed his eyes and concentrated. He focused on how he felt running with the wolves, singing with them, and how it had filled his entire being. It hurt slightly, as he forced the memories to surface, but soon the mists engulfed him again, and the wolf stood before Corrine. Vincent closed his eyes once again, and became the man once more. He smiled at Corrine.

‘I think you’re part of the pack now,’ she said, indicating the wolves who were once again bowing towards him. ‘I don’t think it was an accident we came this way.’

‘I’m starting to believe that as well,’ said Vincent, looking down at his hands. ‘It’s so strange. But I think…I think…’ He trailed away, as he looked towards the forest.

‘What’s wrong?’ asked Corrine. ‘Are you hungry?’

‘No,’ said Vincent. ‘I smell something…I’m not sure…’ He trailed off, as he began to walk in the direction he had indicated. Corrine looked at the wolves, who stared back at her. One came over and licked her hand, before joining the rest, who had disappeared into the forest. It seemed the lesson was taught, and their journey was over, but Corrine had more pressing matters to attend to.

After the incident when the train had stopped and they found evidence someone had been in their compartment, he looked at everyone with a suspicious eye, as if he expected the vampire to simply jump out of nowhere and attack him. Blake found it necessary to be the one to interact with the conductors and purchase tickets for fear Richard would kill someone in his agitated state.

Things did not improve when Richard failed to produce the culprit, turning most of his aggressiveness onto his companion. Matters had not been helped when Blake had offered to use his magic to find the intruder, only to be rejected by Richard. Feelings of inadequacy, Blake had suspected. Seeing as nothing had been stolen, only rearranged, Blake had let the matter drop entirely suspecting some young kids of causing mischief, something that annoyed him more than anything.But from now on, he would need to tread lightly with the psychopath that traveled with him.

Nothing like that could concern him for long, though. He had his eyes on whatever his daughter had learned in her time walking among the land of the dead. Even he did not know what she had gone through, and he simply didn’t care. He was a scholar of the arcane arts, and whatever knowledge she possessed would only bring him closer to power and dominance.

If Marlowe had found out about his secret, he would never get his hands on his daughter. He needed to keep up the charade of helping the others with their own problems, and as soon as his benefactor’s back was turned, he would take his daughter out of London to somewhere secluded, where he could pry the secrets from her. Where he could learn and become more powerful. Then, and only then, would he return to London and show them all why he was the one they should all be following, not the old codger chasing vampires and making monsters. He was an artists who could truly create.

In truth, he had laughed to himself when he heard of the Baron’s creation. A pale imitation of his own success when he compared the two. Yes, it had been done faster, but as far as Blake could tell, that only meant it was sloppy work. Still, he had to admire the Baron’s adaptability in the face of the unknown. He was even finding himself liking the Russian, once he had shown respect to Blake and had learned his place.

Their train finally pulled up into the station. They both stood and entered it, finding their private compartment, and performing their ritual. Blake cursed aloud when he saw that the latest splotch of wax had fallen just inside the border of Hungary.

‘Patience, Blake,’ said Richard, polishing his revolver. ‘They can’t escape us for long. Only run.’

‘You sound like you’re enjoying this,’ said Blake, watching Richard’s smile widen. It was a hideous thing when matched with his cold eyes.

‘Indeed,’ replied Richard. ‘All this stress requires some form of release. You’re a killer. You understand.’

‘How…I am no such thing,’ protested Blake.

‘Come now,’ said Richard. ‘We can smell our own.’

‘I swear,’ stammered Blake. ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’

‘Makes no difference to me if you admit it or not,’ said Richard, staring into his reflection on the pistol. ‘As long as I catch my prey, I am content.’ The train began to move and pick up speed until it reached a steady pace. ‘The longer the hunt, the more satisfying it will be.’ He took one last look at Blake and flashed his cruel smile, which Blake did his best to return. For the first time, he was starting to wish Marlowe had let the man go with them and fulfill his vendetta against the vampire instead. Blake sent up a silent prayer to the gods for protection on the journey, knowing they would at least be in Hungary in no fewer than two days.

Sarah would be his. The knowledge would be his. And even the killer in front of him would be unable to lift a finger against his might. The thought gave Blake little comfort, as they sped along the countryside, Richard bringing out his collection of blades to clean them.

She followed Vincent as he mindlessly followed his nose through the trees before spotting a clearing up ahead. What Corrine saw there shocked her. They now stood before the remains of a massive battlefield, scorched with cannon fire and littered with dead bodies fresh enough you could still see the look of terror on their faces as they died.

‘Happened recently,’ said Vincent. “Even today” As he took a sniff of the air, he grabbed his nose as if he were in pain.

‘Vincent?’ said Corrine. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘Too much,’ said Vincent, his mouth watering. ‘Too many smells. I can’t…’ He fell to his knees, as they became overwhelmed. Corrine held onto him and tried to pull him back to the forest, but he was too heavy.

‘We need to leave,’ she said. ‘Let’s go.’

‘So many,’ said Vincent in a daze. ‘They shouldn’t be dead. It’s wrong.’

‘War is like that,’ said Corrine. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘It’s all mixed together,’ said Vincent, who began to hyperventilate. He clutched his head in pain. ‘Why are there so many?’

‘Vincent,’ pleaded Corrine. ‘Please.’ He looked up at her, as tears streamed down his face. ‘I know. We can’t beat them. As much as you want to, we can’t. They’re already gone.’

‘You…’ said Vincent. ‘You can smell them?’

‘No,’ said Corrine, kneeling down and holding him close. ‘I can hear them. People like them inside me. All the time. And I can’t help them. So much suffering echoing inside my very being.’ She pulled away from Vincent to show she too was crying now. ‘We cannot help the dead, only the living. It’s a lesson I wished I had learned sooner.’ Vincent threw his arms round her, and they stayed like that for nearly and hour. When Vincent finally regained his senses, they both stood and looked at one another. Corrine pulled out a piece of cloth and dabbed at his eyes.

‘If this proves anything,’ said Corrine. ‘It’s that neither of us is a monster.’

‘Why do you say that?’ asked Vincent, as Corrine began to dab at her own eyes.

‘Because monsters can’t cry,’ she said. ‘At least not for others.’ He gave her a weak smile and nodded. He offered her his hand, and he took it. They supported one another as they began to head north to Romania, and the final leg of their journey, away from the blood and carnage that had all mixed together in Vincent’s mind. He silently promised himself he would never allow what he saw to happen to an innocent person, and for the first time, he had found a small purpose in his cursed strength.

He thought of Corrine and Maria, two people who had cared for him. Two people who themselves carried no smell that would cause him to feed. He thought of all the children of London, and all the poor wretches beneath the asylum, and the smell of blood that had soaked into Richard’s very skin, and he finally knew what real monsters look like.

Presented by Lake Arrowhead Repertory Theatre Company

Victorian Nightmares 2018

All Rights Reserved

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