Isaac was the first one to ask for the opportunity to take a shower, and he only beat me to it by a few seconds. I was feeling grimey and slimey and covered in dirt and blood. But Virgil was all too eager to provide us both with the opportunity. "Here...take this. And don't let the box touch you anywhere, you hear?" Virgil said.
Isaac gave him a strange look, and opened the small rectangular box to pour some of its content out into the palm of his hand. It was like...this white powder, or something. And we both looked at him like he was crazy.
Virgil told us, "Don't worry. It's soap."
"Looks like laundry detergent for scrubbing clothes..." Isaac said.
"It's not. Just sprinkle it all over you as best as you can once you get in the tub, and then turn the water on and scrub yourself good. Hear me?" He replied. "It doesn't make for the most comfortable bathing experience...but if you two are looking to get out of this place alive, this is your best bet." Virgil could see that Isaac was still hesitating, and figured he'd grumpily clarify. "It's bacterial killing soap. Nothing artificial. No scent. It's pretty abrasive, so be careful with it. And don't forget to use it to wash your hair either. Nobody can smell their own scent because our bodies recognize it as our own. But if Cyrus and his pack decide to hunt you down, they'll detect it with every random breeze that blows through these woods. No matter how far you run or where you try to hide. Now I'm not saying that there's anything out there capable of masking your odor completely, but this should, at least, give you boys a pretty sizable head start before they're able to track you down again. For MOST of the pack, anyway. I can't make you any promises when it comes to John Boy, though."
Virgil nodded, and Isaac nodded back, making sure that he took his instructions to heart before heading off to the bathroom to get started. But when he turned to face me, I was looking Virgil right in the eye...a hint of suspicion washing over me. He looked away at first, and seemed as if he was getting himself ready to go as soon as I had finished taking my shower as well. But still...I had to ask...
"How do you know about John Boy?" He didn't turn around to face me. He just busied himself with the random task of packing a few things to take with us on the trip. "As a matter of fact, how is it that you know much about any of this at all?"
"I've gotta protect myself out here. So I made it my business to know." He grumbled.
"Last night...you just called him the 'blind kid'. But today you called him by name. What aren't you telling me?"
Virgil glared at me for a moment, and as he walked past me, he gave me a shove to sit me down on the couch. "You can take that sensitive little snout of yours and point it in another direction, kid. I don't like being sniffed out." He then crossed the room to sit in an armchair across from me. "But since you feel like talking...let's talk. We can talk."
"How do you know about...werewolves, or whatever? You didn't seem too freaked out by the fact that you were surrounded by them last night..."
"I said we could 'talk', Wes. NOT ask questions." He said.
"What do you want me to talk about??? The weather? Major League Baseball...?"
"If you wanna be a smartass, we don't even have to say that much to one another. I just want you out of my cabin and back to your folks." He said, but as he saw me lean back with a defeated slump in my shoulders...he sighed out loud and decided to cut me a little bit of slack. "Look...I've been bashing heads with the likes of these creatures, probably, for longer than you've been alive. What are you? Twelve?"
"Jesus. I'm fourteen..." I said.
"Wow, congratulations. I'm sure you're so proud." He said with a roll of his eyes. Virgil was keeping a very close eye on me the whole time, and don't think that I didn't notice the fact that he kept his shotgun within reach the entire time. "They've been around for a lot longer than you'd ever want to know. Hunting. Killing. Causing chaos and mayhem wherever they go. And your boy, Cyrus, is a particularly nasty variation of the species. The only thing you can do is lower your head and hope to walk past him without having him notice you." He shifted in his seat a bit and leaned forward. "They don't really die. Not in any way that I've seen. But one thing that I have come to notice about these sons of bitches is that they tend to tuck tail and run once you put enough of a hurt on 'em." He pointed to my midsection, where I had taken the most damage the previous night. "I've got a theory. Can't really say that I've tested it out just yet though."
"A theory?" I asked.
"Well...while you were healing from your wounds...you said it felt like a 'fever', right? Burning hot? The flesh stitching itself back together?" I nodded, and Virgil continued with, "I think I came pretty damn close to taking one of them out a year or two ago. It took a hell of a lot of ammo and a whole lot of damage...but I'm starting to think that their healing properties are working on a constant autopilot. It just kicks in, all by itself. The same way you might heal from a splinter or a paper cut...just a whole lot faster."
Confused, I asked him, "What do you mean? How is that supposed to help? If anything, it sounds like it would make them stronger than ever."
"Maybe..." He said. "...But exactly how much energy does it take them to heal themselves up so damn quick? And what happens...if the fever rages so damned hot that their bodies get overwhelmed by the process? There might be a way to get that process to tire itself out. And that would mean that a significant amount of damage just might burn those fuckers' defenses out completely. Leaving them laying in the mud, no more powerful than you or me." Then he changed it to say, "Well...maybe not you, but me at the very least."
"Do you really think that will be enough? Especially with all of them attacking at once like they usually do?"
"Like I said..." He growled. "...It's a working theory. And not one that I can try out in the field, considering that there's no room for error once they come scratching at my front door."
Thinking for a moment, I asked him, "How do you know Cyrus? Like...him specifically? Have you tried to kill him before?"
Leaning back, I saw Virgil's eyes direct themselves towards the bathroom door. "Your friend is taking forever in that shower. I've only got so much hot water in this place, you know?" Then he focused on me again. "How about you talk about you for a little while, huh? That's the real question. How do YOU know about Cyrus?"
I looked down at my feet for a moment, now feeling slightly ashamed for the things I had done...but thankful for the opportunity to unburden myself. If only for a couple of moments. "I don't know if I have much of a story to tell, honestly. I did a lot of stupid stuff and ended up practically being kidnapped and held hostage by a bunch of teenagers that I didn't even know..."
"That's bullshit and you know it." Virgil said, staring me right in the eye. "Something about them seduced you into joining their pack. Their cult. That's just how these things work, Wesley. They find your triggers, worm their way in, and convince you that your life is lacking something of any importance or significance at all. Something that only the pack can provide. He radicalized you. Made you give your will over to him in ways that would prevent you from ever questioning his leadership or even seeing it for what it was. Brainwashing. And you dove right into it, head first, before even checking to see if the deep end of the pool had any water in it at all." Virgil's voice seemed to soften a bit, almost accepting a fatherly tone. "What was it that he triggered in you boy? What made you wander so far from the path?"
To be totally honest, I could almost feel the deep, dark, confession leaping up into the back of my throat, struggling to scream the words out loud, even if it was to a total stranger...but it was a natural instinct for me to hold it all back. I couldn't help it. At this point in my life, it was pretty much all I knew. So I attempted to back out of the situation by simply telling him, "It's complicated..."
"Is it, though?" He asked. "Where's your family, Wesley?"
"I don't have a family anymore..." I mumbled softly.
"The fact that you used the word, 'anymore', let's me know that the wound is still fresh, kid." He said. "How long has it been since you've seen them?"
Closing my eyes and still trying to keep Virgil out of my head, all while desperately searching for someone to understand. A voice of reason that wouldn't judge me for what I am. "I don't know. I can barely keep up with the time of day anymore. I guess...a week, maybe? Or...a week and a half? It's hard to remember."
"So...how about you tell me what happened, exactly? It's just you and me here. You've got a voice, and I'm lending you an ear. So spill it. What's going on with you?"
I shouldn't have said anything. I really should have kept it all inside and let it rot away in the pit of my stomach until that part of me was too weak and brittle to be a problem anymore. And yet...the invitation to finally talk about it compelled me to keep going. "I ran away, ok? I left home...and I have no plans of going back there. They hate me. My own father hates me. It would be pointless for me to swallow enough of my pride to come crawling back to him now. Sometimes...I swear, I feel like I'm choking on it."
Virgil gave me a concerned look. "So you're at odds with your old man, eh?"
"That would be putting it lightly." I said, and found myself sniffling. Only bringing more shame to my emotional state, as I didn't feel as though my father was worthy of a single one of my genuine tears. "He doesn't love me. He doesn't...believe in me. Like, at all. I tried to please him. God knows, I tried. But sometimes...it's like he doesn't even see me for me. He just built this horrible, fucked up, version of me in his head, and that's all I can ever hope to be in his eyes. Nothing more. Nothing better."
"Fathers and sons..." He said softly. "It can be a difficult balance to maintain sometimes. Especially when it comes to a boy your age. You're not a little kid anymore...but you haven't lost that spark of invincibility in your vibe just yet. You're bound to make mistakes. Some of them minor, and some of them major. But as a parent...it's a father's duty to keep you away from the really bad things, Wesley. The mistakes that you can't apologize for. The things you can't take back. Some fathers fall short, and some overdo it through manipulation and control...but you'll never know how hard it is to love and care for someone so very much...and not have the strength to send them out into a world that doesn't deserve the level of beauty and potential that we see glowing within them, until you've been through it yourself. It makes a man out of you in ways that Cyrus and his selfish antics never could." He told me. "Bottom line...you're never going to stop being your parents' little boy. No matter how hard you try to escape that prison, they will always be there to hold you as close as they possibly can. And for the times that you do manage to run away and fight for the 'freedom' from what you once thought was such tyranny beforehand...they're going to be right there to welcome you with open arms when you come crawling back home." I heard the shower turn off in the background, but Virgil's eyes stayed locked on mine. "It's a good thing, kid. Just imagine all of the other kids out there who don't have the chance to grow up in that same atmosphere."
"I know that I was being...'hostile', or whatever, but...I mean, can you see things from my point of view too?" I asked. "Nobody wants to feel like they're somebody else's property all the time. He doesn't OWN me, and he's in no place to judge me for who I am. Sometimes I make mistakes, I get it. But I'm human. He makes mistakes. Everybody does. I just want him to be the kind of father that helps me deal with them instead of always jumping to the conclusion that everything is my fault and I'm just some sort of irredeemable screw up whose soul can't ever be saved." I said. "Just once...I wish he could look at me and not see some snot nosed punk who's so utterly worthless. Just once...I wish he wasn't such a coward and could admit that he actually gives a shit about me. I think that was the biggest reason that I felt the need to run away. Just to show him. To prove, once and for all, that I could be a decent person and keep my sanity without him constantly tightening the chains he put on me to keep me still all the time."
Sitting back a bit, Virgil said, "And how did that work out for you?" Obviously referring to Cyrus and his pack, and pinching me in the heart with a touch of shame.
"Not every mistake has to be treated like some monumental issue that can't ever be taken back." I mumbled softly, staring down at the floor.
"Says the boy who unwillingly became a werewolf when he least expected it." He said. "Taken back, not taken back...it's hard to tell which is which, until it's too late. Isn't it?"
At that moment, the bathroom door opened up and Isaac walked out with a towel wrapped around his waist. His skin was a dark shade of pink, rubbed raw from the harsh scrubbing he put himself through to make sure that not a single trace of his scent remained. "I don't have any other clothes." He said shyly.
"You'll have to wear some of Wesley's then. I wouldn't put the ones you wore last night back on. Otherwise, that shower you took would pretty much be meaningless, considering their ability to sniff you out at a distance." He said. "Wes...go get yourself a heavy scrub while I try to get these clothes as clean and scent free as possible. You're the one Cyrus will be looking for, but don't think for one minute that they won't use your friend, Isaac, here to force you out of hiding."
"They would do that?" Isaac asked nervously.
"Welcome to the party, kiddo." Virgil answered, and he dismissed me to go off and take the next shower. But not before calling out to me and reciting a few words of wisdom to keep me sane. "The Lord is near to those who are discouraged; he saves those who have lost all hope. Good people suffer many troubles, but the Lord saves them from them all." He said. "That's scripture, boy. Psalms 34, 18 and 19."
With a little smirk, I said, "Sounds like something my dad would say at a time like this." Adding, "I'm guessing you probably worked at one of the Bible camps around here at some point?"
"No. Don't believe in the dogma involved when it comes to indoctrinating children. Don't ever allow yourself to learn a lesson while being discouraged to question the teacher." Virgil said. "I'm just a loyal follower of the faith. Or...at least, I used to be."
"Used to be?" I asked.
"I had the unfortunate exposure to the fact that monsters are real, Wesley. Monsters are very real indeed. It takes a bit of the optimistic wind out of your sails once you know the truth of it." With that, he took Isaac's clothes as well as my own, and started running some hot water in the kitchen sink to clean them up for us, and I retreated to the shower to wash away as much of my awful sins as I possibly could in the amount of time that I was given. I heavily sprinkled the powdered soap all over me, and felt its coarse friction as I got under the shower spray and used a washcloth to get every last inch of me clean. I can't say that it was one of the more comfortable showers that I've ever taken...but I guess comfort wasn't the real goal here, was it?
Once our clothes were cleaned, Virgil told us to get dressed and meet him out by the truck...using a gas can to make sure he had a full tank before we started moving. We were damp, and heavily wrinkled up, still sore from our intense scrub down...but Isaac and I were willing to make the best of it. It was probably the safest we've felt in days.
I climbed into the passenger side with him, and Virgil jumped into the driver's seat, just as the sun was brightening up the morning sky. "So...you have any idea where we're headed, kid?" He asked.
"I'm...not really sure. I barely even know where I am right now, much less where I'm going."
"Well...it's your chariot, Wes. You make the call." He turned his head to look at me, "You want to keep running? Or...do you want to go home?"
I hesitated for a moment, but I already knew the answer. "....I want to go home."
"Point me in a direction."
"You say you don't know any of the Bible camps in this area?"
"Not a one." He said.
"I don't know how to get there on my own, seeing as I can't drive and don't have a real address to look for. But there's one place that I know well enough toget me back where I started." I told him.
"And where is that?"
My stomach began to tremble a bit, but I said, "You told me that you saw us before, right? At Rainbow's End, on the beach?"
"That could be a bad move, Wesley. The only thing sharper than their senses is their memory. They might be expecting you to show up in a place like that." He said.
"I know." I was afraid, but determined. "But if you can get us to Rainbow's End...I know how to get home from there. I'll just have to take my chances."
With a sigh, he turned the key in the ignition to get his truck started up. "Suit yourself. But don't say I didn't warn you."
And with that, the truck moved forward and turned itself around to get back on the road. I didn't have any idea of what was coming next, but for now...I felt like I could rest easy. Right now...I felt like God was watching.
I just hope He was giving me all the strength and courage that I would need to get myself out of this mess. I sure could use the assist right now.
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