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  • by Mackenzie O'Rear

Chapter 22 - The Unknown Within

Edited by Brien Bigelow

Illustrations by Lucas Marra

Hungary had gone by in a blur. Maria held tight to the girl named Sarah on top of the strange wolfman beneath her. It ran on all fours all night so they could maintain their balance, occasionally looking up at Sarah for directions. Communication was nearly impossible as the rode through the long night, wind whipping by them.

Maria could see the determination on her face that had fallen upon her once she had learned of their pursuers. Sarah was steely and unblinking in her gaze, as she navigated through forests and mountains, until the sun began to rise. The wolfman came to a slow, as Sarah cursed silently under her breath. She and Maria got down, as the latter watched on, awestruck, as the wolfman began to change.

He lost his fur and ears, his teeth shrank, and his claws became as normal fingers. Even his tail disappeared within him. Before he finished his transformation, Sarah had pulled a bundle of clothes from the bag and had covered his naked body with a coat as well as she could. It seemed a well-practised routine to Maria, as the former wolfman got dressed quickly under the coat.

‘Finn?’ asked Sarah. ‘Are you decent?’

‘Not according to aunt Mona,’ said the man, emerging from the coat. ‘But it really it my ma that taught me how to curse so…’ He stood and pulled the coat round him, dusting himself off in the process.

‘Finn, this is Maria,’ said Sarah, gesturing to their new companion. ‘She’s important to where we’re going.’ He offered his hand to her, which shook her out of her daze. She took it, as he shook it emphatically with a sly smile.

‘Pleased to meet you,’ said Finn. ‘I thought my back was a bit more sore than usual.’

‘H…How?’asked Maria, who seemed fascinated by the man before her. ‘What are you?’

‘That is a long story,’ replied Finn. Before he could start, Sarah interrupted them.

‘Tell it while we walk,’ she said, beginning to head towards the sunrise. She looked over he shoulder at Finn. ‘They’re coming.’ He nodded, and they all began to walk.

Maria was more fascinated by their stories than afraid, which seemed to surprise Finn.

As they exchanged stories, they asked questions, and Maria told them of Vincent and Corrine, and those who were after them. How the strange man who seemed to be everywhere had helped her find them.

‘That annoying blighter,’ said Finn. ‘I’ve had a few run-ins with him. Had to leave London cause of that madman.’

‘He does seem to show up when things get…interesting,’ she said. ‘It almost seems necessary.’ Maria looked back and forth between them, as if they shared some secret joke she had not been privy to. Finn turned to her and shrugged.

‘Sarah here can kinda feel things,’ said Finn. ‘I don’t really understand it myself.’

‘Don’t really need to,’ said Sarah, pushing past some brush. ‘It’s actually better if you don’t know about fate. I only look at the bare points.’

‘I see,’ said Maria, who had never liked the idea of fate, or how it seemed like just another thing that might be sued to control her. ‘I think I’d rather make my own way.’

‘Far more preferable,’ said Sarah, distracted, as her bandages got caught in an unusually thick shrub. Finn gave a small laugh as he helped her become untangled before moving past her. He seemed to know where to step on instinct. Maria sidled up to Sarah nervously.

‘Are you two,’ started Maria. ‘Together?’ Sarah looked at her confused.

‘You mean romantically?’ asked Sarah, mildly amused. She didn’t really have any interest in that kind of thing and never gave it much thought. ‘Finn is a companion.’

‘I’d say we’re at least friends,’ said Finn over his shoulder. ‘Not like you and this Vincent fellow.’ Maria suddenly turned a bright shade of scarlet, and nearly stumbled over herself.

‘What?’ squeaked a nervous Maria. ‘I…I don’t…’

‘Your heart races when you mention him,’ said Finn. ‘A little intrusive, but at least I know you’re not lying.’ Maria stopped and thought about that. Little tricks like that made her think of Vincent, and if he could hear her heart beat. She wondered if he could recognise hers, if there was anything special about it he could recognise.

‘You’re thinking about him again,’ said Finn, laughing as Maria began to feel hot all over with embarrassment.

‘Stop that,’ said Sarah, playfully smacking Finn on the back of his head. It did little more than glance off, which only made him laugh more. ‘A woman’s thoughts are her own.’

‘Apologies,’ said Finn. ‘Not used to being round people that much. At least…’ He looked away nervously from Sarah.

‘Those that have a heartbeat,’ finished Sarah. ‘It’s alright. I know what I am.’

‘Do you miss them?’ asked Maria. ‘If you don’t mind my asking.’ Sarah pondered this for a moment.

‘I…I don’t really know,’ replied Sarah. ‘Do I even have the capability to miss them? Or simply the memory of missing them?’ Maria put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

‘Perhaps there’s a way to put them back?’ said Maria with a smile. ‘Vincent might know. He’s a bit nervous, but he’s studied more medical books than anyone I know. And Corrine is equally knowledgable, with her ability to memorize just about anything.’

‘There is a way,’ said Sarah, lost in thought. ‘Medical science cannot do it, but there is a way…I’m just not sure if I want them back.’ Maria smiled at her.

‘Why wouldn't you want to feel again?’ asked Maria. ‘To feel human?’

‘She’s afraid,’ said Finn, emotionlessly. ‘It’s hard to go back.’ The conversation seemed to have stirred something deep within him.

‘And what are you afraid of, Mr. Finn?’ asked Maria. He gave her a nervous glance, before continuing on silently.

‘Himself,’ said Sarah. ‘Acceptance is difficult.’

‘I can hear you,’ said Finn.

‘Good,’ said Sarah, nervously. ‘You’ll need to learn. And fast.’ Maria desperately wanted to ask what they meant, and if it had to do with his ability to become that creature, but decided it would best not to say anything.

The world had changed so much for her. A month ago she was ready to be happily married in a world without fear of the dark. Now the shadows contained secrets. Things she might never comprehend. Fairy tales and legends were unfolding before her, but instead of fear, she couldn’t help but feel a rush of excitement. The world she had used to live in would never have allowed her to be the person she so desperately wished to be, but now, here she was, walking alongside another girl from beyond the grave, and a man who could become a wolf.

Finn interrupted her train of thought as he smelled the air. He put his hand up to stop them, and Maria nearly fell over the hem of her dress. Finn caught her, as he looked up at Sarah, who was silently mouthing the words ‘What is it?’ Finn shook his head, unsure.

He looked up at the sky, attempting to discern the position of the sun. Maria had figured out he was hoping it would be close enough to nightfall he could protect them as the wolf. Sensing that, Maria reached for the pistol her father had given her in the bag and cocked the hammer.

Finn motioned for them to follow behind him, as he led them through the underbrush. They moved quietly and quickly, careful to limit their noise. Before long, they had come to a clearing in the woods where they came across a caravan. Wooden wagons lined the entire far side of the woods with a large, unlit bonfire in the middle. People dressed in colorful garb went about their business.

‘Romani,’ said Finn, quietly. ‘Nomads.’

‘Yes, Finn,’ said an old voice with an Irish accent from behind. ‘We’ve been waiting for you.’ They turned to see an old woman had somehow slipped behind them. She wore the same colours as those in the clearing, but there was something about her scent that made Finn both calm and uneasy at the same time. ‘Please join us before we see you on your way.’ She smiled at them as the others looked at one another, confused. Ally or enemy, they would soon know.

Presented by Lake Arrowhead Repertory Theatre Company

Victorian Nightmares 2018

All Rights Reserved

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