Chapter 10: Peace
Saturday, April 20 (the day after full moon)
Joan left with Daniel in his truck. The meet-up with the Silverwolf had gone as well as it could have, and she was happy about that. Joan looked over at Daniel as the man drove. A contented calm smoothed Daniel's features. Though Joan smiled at that, something bothered her.
"Daniel," she avoided the voice as she addressed her new packmate. "I want you to tell me something."
He nodded as he drove. "What do you want to know, ma'am?"
Joan knew that without her, Ursula would have been forced to end Daniel's life, but she couldn't help feeling as if she held an invisible leash. She chose her words carefully. "Do you truly wish to be a part of my pack? I know you need the voice." She nodded slowly. "If I came to calm the beast, but otherwise let you be, is that what you'd rather happen?"
Daniel frowned. "Have I done something wrong?" He wet his lips. "I know I'm not worthy of your pack, but…"
"No." Joan reached to put a hand on his leg. "No. You've done nothing wrong, and you are worthy." She sighed heavily. "I just wanted you to know that you are free." She spoke in the voice, to be certain that he understood.
Daniel pulled the truck off the street and parked. He looked over at Joan and his eyes glittered with amber flecks as the beast rose. "My wolf has accepted yours as his leader." Daniel ran a hand down Joan's arm and his fingers closed over her hand on his leg. "And I accept you as the woman who finally brought me peace." He smiled. "I feel peace for the first time in decades, and that is because of you."
Joan looked down at their hands. She squeezed his, then leaned back. Her confident nature reasserted itself. "Why have we stopped?" She jerked her chin at the road. "My mother won't wait forever."
Daniel grinned, put the truck into gear, and pulled back onto the road. "Of course, ma'am."
Friday, April 26 (¼ waning moon)
Almost a week passed with a lot of preparation. Wolfgang felt for the reassuring presence of the wooden disc on the leather thong around his neck. Daniel had supplied a pair to him and Jed, along with some for himself, Joan, and the woman, Ursula. The discs bore the protective symbol that the medicine man, Evan, had claimed would protect them from new moon spirit possession.
"Do you think they'll use them?" Wolfgang had a box of gloves on his lap. They too had the symbol on them. They only had a week before the new moon, and all of the lumberjacks were restless.
Jed nodded and turned his truck onto the logging road. "Yes. They'll use them." He motored slowly forward over the rough terrain. "But I doubt any of them will be here during the new moon. I bet most will go into town, or maybe even leave the area, at least until the new moon passes."
"Yeah. That's smart."
The men were quiet for the rest of the trip. Soon they arrived and exited the truck. The camp was much as Wolfgang remembered, though a few more trees were cut down and removed.
It was late in the day, and work was winding down. A few of the lumberjacks nodded to the pair as they moved tools into their supply trailer.
Wolfgang stopped one young man who carried a length of coiled rope over his shoulder. "Hey. Where's Larry?"
The fellow pointed at a trailer. "In there." His nose wrinkled. "He's sick, or somthin'. Barely worked today, and pale as hell."
"Huh. Okay, well, can I give these to you?" Wolfgang opened the box of gloves and the man looked in at them. "They're nice gloves. Danny Caldwell's wife, she bought them for all of her late husband's friends on the job." That was only half a lie. Mrs. Caldwell had supplied the money funding Wolfgang's investigation and he had used that to buy the gloves.
The man's face softened. "Yeah." He nodded. "Yeah, I'll get 'em to the crew. That was really nice of her."
After he removed a pair, Wolfgang handed the gloves over to the fellow. He jerked his head at Jed, and the pair walked up the steps to Larry's trailer.
The knock made Larry jump. He stared at the door, his eyes wide. He lay on his bed in the travel trailer, the covers pulled up to his chin. "Who is it?!"
"Wolfgang and Jed." Shoes scuffed on the metal step outside his door. "We've got something for you. Some gloves."
Larry shook his head. "No. No, just leave them there." A vast, dark presence seemed to have him on its mind. Larry knew there was no escape. He knew - whatever was in the forest would follow him. The closer they got to the new moon, the more intense the feeling became. It was coming for him. He knew it, he could feel it.
"Larry, open the door."
The command instantly hooked Larry and made him see the wisdom in letting the men inside. "Okay." He got up and let the pair into his little travel trailer.
Wolfgang shut the door behind them. "Larry, here are some gloves." He frowned at Larry. "Are you all right? One of the guys said you were sick."
"Fine. I'm fine." Larry took the gloves with shaking hands.
The big man, Jed, crossed his arms over his chest. "Tell us what's wrong."
The pack voice made Larry flinch. "Unnnn." He gritted his teeth. "Everything." The word was the barest whisper. "Everything's wrong." His eyes were wide as he looked up at the men. "It's coming for me. It's coming, and there's nowhere I can go to get away."
Wolfgang glanced at Jed, then back to the terrified Larry. "Tell us what happened." The slim man put a hand on Larry's bare shoulder. He shivered when he did. "What… what do you think is coming for you?"
Larry's eyes were wide. "The thing that made me kill Brandon. It's coming for me." He had just confessed to a murder, and he didn't care. Nothing mattered. He was going to die.
"Tell us." Jed stepped close. Larry found his presence oddly soothing, and the wild panic in him calmed a little. "Tell us all of it."
Three Weeks Ago (The New Moon)
Larry lay in his trailer. The work was done for the day and everyone was on edge. It had only been a month earlier that they'd lost another logger - Marcy. She'd been torn apart near their encampment, and a few of his crew quit when the police couldn't find the reason for her grisly death.
The rest stayed only because they didn't have a choice. Work was hard to find, and Larry paid his crew well. Some stayed with family in town while most barricaded themselves in their trailers at night. A few even took to bunking together. Typically that would have caused some ribbing from the rough crew, but these were not typical times.
Larry listened to the faint sounds of the night as he lay there. It's always harder to notice the absence of something, but it was almost as if someone switched off a soundtrack. All the little noises surrounding the trailer cut off, and a heavy, pervasive silence weighed on the area.
He sat up. Larry wasn't about to be a victim, and he pulled the .45 from under his mattress. Grimly, he checked the gun and ensured it was loaded. He swiveled and faced the door, still seated on the bed. He watched, awaiting whatever might enter his little refuge.
It wasn't long before a presence of some sort settled in the room. Larry's eyes flicked around. It felt as if someone, something was there with him.
He wet his lips. "Who's there?" He hated the waver in his voice, but he couldn't help it. "I've got a gun." His hand tightened on the grip of the weapon. "I swear, I'll use…"
A sudden pressure weighed on him. Larry lost consciousness, at the mercy of some invisible entity.
Sometime later he woke. It was nearly pitch black around him, and Larry lay next to a stream, covered in grass, ferns, dirt and, most disturbingly, blood. Sitting up, he noted the coppery taste of blood in his mouth. Larry spat and the pink saliva showed wetly on the stones near the stream.
He stumbled to his feet, stark naked. Larry held his jaw and probed gently with his tongue. A big molar was gone and it throbbed as if it had been ripped out of his mouth. It still bled profusely, and he drooled blood as he tried to get his bearings. He made a horrified sound as he noticed the blood all over his body. Though, other than his tooth, he didn't seem to be injured. Larry got into the stream, heedless of the freezing cold water, and scrubbed himself hard with sand.
Finally clean, he began walking carefully downstream, trying to avoid sharp stones as he did. He stumbled onto a bend in the stream he recognized, and another few minutes found him quietly entering the open door of his trailer. Larry pulled down a bottle of whiskey, and with shaking hands he took four shots of the strong liquor.
He sat on his bed. The sounds of the forest creatures had returned, and everything felt as if it were back to normal. As the alcohol began to hit him, Larry lay down. Within a few minutes, he had passed out.
"I swear, that's what happened." As best as he knew it, Larry had told the entire truth of that night. Wolfgang kept his hand on the man, experiencing all of Larry's emotions and fears right along with him. "Then they found Brandon the next day." Larry shook his head, tears dripping down his nose. "I know it was me. I know. Something… something used me. Something used me to kill him."
There was a remarkable desolation in Larry. Wolfgang pushed back on it, attempting to focus on what he needed to say. "You said it was coming for you." Wolfgang handed the gloves to him. "These will keep it from doing what it did before. It can't possess you if you wear them."
"It doesn't want to possess me. Not this time." Larry's eyes were haunted. "I'm next. It wants me dead."
Saturday, 04 May, 5:49 a.m. (Day of the New Moon)
'Conduit. It is time.'
The whisper echoed in Evan's mind. He stirred, awakened from his torpor. His eye opened, and it glittered a cool, icy blue.
Evan crawled out of the cave and stood. The painted runes on his skin glowed faintly with the power he had borrowed.
'We may not be able to protect this shell long enough to do what must be done. The spirit is strong.' One of the many entities swirling in Evan spoke into the ether of his soul.
Another added its thoughts. 'We will. We must.'
"What happens if we fail?" Evan asked and climbed onto the shore in the pre-dawn darkness. He headed for the leaves and limbs of the treeline nearby.
'Without a conduit, we can only watch. There hasn't been a conduit born for a generation. If this shell falls then there is no hope. The wounded spirit will continue, and the death will grow.'
Evan frowned, then the entity he thought of as the most powerful rotated to the fore. The spirit spoke words that both surprised and gave him hope.
'No. There is another.'
Saturday, 04 May, 6:28 p.m. (Day of the New Moon)
As the days passed, the men and women at the camp slowly thinned out. All except for Larry had gone by the day of the New Moon. Jed and Wolfgang went there. Thanks to Jed's power, they managed to convince Larry to get into the car with them. They headed toward Daniel's cabin, on ground Jed knew well.
"Yes. You'll be safe there. We'll protect you," Jed said reassuringly as they drove, the beast's voice soothing his target's fears and worries. "If something comes, we'll be ready."
Larry accepted this with a numb nod. Even under the influence of the voice, he still looked like a man who knew that he marched to his death.
"When did it happen? The possession?" Wolfgang turned onto the road that would take them close to the cabin.
Larry shook his head. "Not sure. It was dark. After ten, before midnight."
Jed nodded. "Okay. We've probably got a little time."
The car stopped and the men got out. They walked the short distance to the cabin.
Wolfgang patted his shoulder. "Get inside. Make yourself comfortable. There's food and stuff to drink in the mini-fridge."
As Larry left them, Jed looked at Wolfgang. "You should go." He smiled. "If something really does come, I'd rather you be safe."
Wolfgang shook his head. "No. This is still my case and I need to see it through." He jerked his head toward the cabin. "If things get rough I'll dive in there." He frowned at the treeline about fifty feet away. "Evan said the thing could travel through the trees. We'll see it before it reaches us."
Jed knew Wolfgang wouldn't go anywhere, but he still had to try. He smiled at the stubborn man. "Yeah." He sighed and took a seat on the log bench against the cabin wall. "I guess, now, we wait."
Saturday, 04 May, 10:28 p.m. (Day of the New Moon)
Maurice squinted in the darkness at his offerings. They were pristine. Not even the wine had evaporated, and the white surface of the cake he had left weeks ago was unmarred.
He frowned. Something about the area around the offering made the hair rise on the back of his neck. It was like a slow build-up of static electricity - as if any second a massive shock was coming.
He began to reach for the cake when a strange wind blew past him. Suddenly all of his offerings crumbled to dust. He shot to his feet, his eyes wide.
'I accept your offering.'
Maurice was held in place by some force. Instead of fear, he felt the anger, rage, and pain of the spirit. Maurice mirrored all of those already. He let all of them in, and soon they added to his own.
"Yes. Use me."
The earth around him began to move. Dirt, clay, rock, and wood crawled up his body and began to encase him in heavy, powerful limbs and slabs of stone. The last thing to disappear beneath the shifting earth were his dark, glittering eyes.
Something appeared at the edge of the cleared space around the cabin. Wolfgang stared at the large creature. "It's real." He swallowed. "Good God, Evan was right."
It dripped dirt, moss, and pieces of fern as it strode towards them from the forest. Approximately man-shaped, it stood over nine feet tall. There was a long, wooden stake that made up one arm, while the other was made of clay studded with long, sharp pieces of flint. Its body was composed of vegetable matter, earth, stone, and wood, while a swirling, mutable face of mud, rocks, and twigs made it look as if it cycled through anger, sadness, and determination in a slow-motion study of the emotions.
"Will the medallions keep it away?" Jed never turned his eyes from the newcomer.
"I… I don't know. I don't think so." Wolfgang wet his lips nervously. "They just stop possession!"
Larry opened the door of the cabin. He stood there and appeared to be in some sort of shock.
"Jed." Wolfgang put his arm out, pushing Larry behind him against the cabin. "What do we do?"
The big man looked over his shoulder. As Wolfgang watched, his eyes flooded with silver, and the beast stood melded with Jed. "You, stay." Jed turned. His body filled out, and every muscle looked bigger as his frame swelled with all the power his wolf could give.
The thing pointed past them at Larry. "He dies tonight for what he has wrought on my forest."
"No." In an almost eerie silence, Jed charged.
Wolfgang felt the earth under his feet vibrate as the thing Jed faced leaned forward into its own charge. He stared, wide-eyed, as they met in bone-crunching force. They grappled, and Wolfgang marveled at the strength Jed had to possess, to hold the thing back.
Gaining no ground, the forest monster tried to spear Jed with its arm, and he twisted, clipped but not impaled by the sharp limb. His side ran with blood but Jed didn't seem to register the wound. Instead, he gritted his teeth and grabbed the arm with both hands. An animal sound came from him as he yanked. The limb tore away, and underneath a pale, human arm was uncovered as the vegetation, mud, and wood were hurled aside.
The other arm of the creature blurred into the attack. The sharp flint knives and hardened clay fist slammed into Jed, and a mist of blood blasted out of his mouth, along with all the air in his lungs. The force of the blow sent him flying, and he rolled onto his back, a dozen feet away. He lay unmoving.
"Jed!" Wolfgang took a step toward him, his eyes on the monster between them. It turned and looked at him.
"Move, demon." The multi-tiered voice came from the creature. "I have already had to slay a brother of the forest. I will not hesitate to add you to my…"
Jed sprang up and moved almost faster than Wolfgang could see. He attacked the thing from behind, grabbing it around the waist. Jed pulled hard, strained with a titanic strength, and the monster lifted completely off of the ground. Jed twisted with it and slammed it hard, face-first onto the grass.
The creature flailed and sharp flint, thorns, and branches raked Jed. The wounds caused Jed to bleed more than Wolfgang thought was possible. Somehow, Jed tore the other arm off of the monster, revealing yet another human limb beneath. It managed to get to its feet. "I will destroy you. Flee from here!" From his position on the ground Jed's voice hammered into the spirit. As Jed tried to rise, the creature turned and stumbled to the edge of the clearing. It got to a tree, and it disappeared through the trunk - gone, somewhere deeper into the forest.
Wolfgang felt a powerful relief. Then he saw Jed slump back down onto the ground. Blood pooled under him and he breathed raggedly.
"No." Wolfgang went to him quickly. He rolled Jed onto his back, and his face went pale. Great, ragged wounds crossed Jed's chest. Wolfgang had no idea how he was still alive.
The gray eyes of Jed looked at him, though they had gone glassy. "You, you're okay." He swallowed, then grimaced in pain.
"Yeah. I'm good. We're both good, thanks to you." Wolfgang took Jed's hand, and he immediately felt stunned by the amount of pain Jed experienced. Jed tried to pull away, but he was too weak and Wolfgang stubbornly held on. "Jed, what can I do?"
Jed smiled, blood marring the white of his teeth. "I don't think the wolf is strong…" He gasped and struggled to speak. "Not strong enough, to get me through this one." Jed blinked, and his irises swam with gray and silver, while his eyes moved as if tracking invisible things above him.
"Jed?" Wolfgang could feel his sensation ebbing. The pain in Jed's body began to fade. "Jed, no. There has to be something." Wolfgang teetered on the edge of panic. "Fuck, you can't do this!"
A look of confused wonderment passed on Jed's face, and a breath rattled in his throat.
'Silver.' Wolfgang wasn't sure where the thought came from. It didn't feel like his own. He looked at Jed's eyes. They stared at him, completely silver irises, and Wolfgang knew the beast had spoken to him, though now, the sensation from Jed ebbed to almost nothing. 'Siiilvvveerr…'
Wolfgang stared, wide-eyed. Then he jolted as the realization struck him. He pulled Jed's limp hand into his lap and yanked off the heavy silver ring. He did the same on the other hand. Then he climbed onto Jed's mangled chest. "Pliers!" He looked over his shoulder at the cowering Larry. "I need pliers! Now!"
He came forward. Larry took a multi-tool from one of the many pockets of his pants. "H-here!"
Wolfgang took the Leatherman, opened Jed's mouth and reached inside. He gripped the silvery cap on one of the molars and cranked hard on the metal. It popped loose with a hollow, metallic sound. Then he went back in for the other three. Silver stunted the beast. Jed paid for his control with a weakened wolf, and at the moment that silver was a liability.
Wolfgang soon had all of the metal out of Jed's mouth. "Come on." He put his hands on Jed's face. "Come on!" Wolfgang shook him. There was only the slightest echo left. He was almost gone.
"It's not enough." Wolfgang looked up at a star-sprayed, moon-less sky. The new moon had made his wolf too weak. Jed was going to die.
"He needs the moon." Wolfgang recalled how it felt, connected to Jed and the beast when his body and mind filled with the majesty of the full moon.
He took a deep breath. "Remember, Jed. Remember." Wolfgang closed his eyes, focused all of his will on what was left of the beast in Jed, and he forced the memory into his consciousness. He recalled how the might of the full moon had flooded all of them with strength, life, and power; the memory flowed into Wolfgang. Then, when he had it, crisp, clear and it was all that he could feel, Wolfgang dove deep into the dark of Jed's fading mind. There he wrapped his psyche around what was left of Jed, and the beast.
Wolfgang opened up to both Jed and the wolf so that they could share in his memory, and relive the sensations of the moon. His skin grayed, and he swayed atop Jed's still body. Jed was so close to death, Wolfgang didn't know how long he could stay connected. He didn't know what would happen should Jed die while they communed in this way - it could kill him too.
Wolfgang had to try. The moon hung full, bright and complete in Wolfgang's psyche. He held the moment in his mind, and it shone there, basking him in its glow.
Time passed. How much, Wolfgang didn't know, but it felt like hours. Still, he bound them, all three together in his mental refuge, bathed in moonlight, holding back the black tide of Jed's death.
The faintest growl from the beast echoed as if from down a long, dark hall. Wolfgang felt that old, familiar presence, and he couldn't help but breathe faster. His instinct was panic. The beast was completely unfettered and loose in his mind. Jed was still unconscious, and there was no longer any silver to hinder it. If Wolfgang pulled his mind back now, Jed would die. A sensation, like a great wolf panting against the back of his neck increased until Wolfgang was sure the wounded beast would devour his psyche.
He didn't give himself a choice. Wolfgang gritted his teeth, and he endured. The beast never left, yet it never tried to consume Wolfgang either. Instead, he felt the beast relax its defenses. Before Wolfgang could wonder, the beast spoke to him. 'Trust. Packmate.'
Bound to the beast, the power of the moon in his memory filled them with life. Suddenly, Jed flared back into Wolfgang's awareness.
The oddest sensation hit him. Wolfgang felt as if he were falling. His image he had held in his mind shattered, and he came to his senses as he slid off of Jed's body. Wolfgang lay on his back, blinking up at a moonless, starry sky.
Silverwolf stood over him. Jed and the beast had shifted into the body of the great wolf, and the silvery gray eyes of the huge canine stared down at Wolfgang.
Silverwolf cocked his head and licked Wolfgang's face. In that brief moment of contact, Wolfgang felt a harmony of wildness and clarity of thought. Jed and the beast, they both shared Silverwolf. They weren't taking turns with control, they were truly a single being.
Yet, it was Wolfgang's artificial moon that had brought about the change, and Silverwolf could not exist under a new moon. Silverwolf moved a few feet away, sat on his haunches, and Wolfgang watched as muscle, bone, and fur changed and disappeared. In a few moments, Jed lay naked on the ground, but he now appeared completely uninjured.
Larry gaped in wordless wonder. Wolfgang stood up, glanced at the lumberjack, then stepped over next to Jed. He bent and put a hand on Jed's warm shoulder. Wolfgang felt the way his body seemed so alive and powerful now. It was a rush, almost like a drug. He struggled to speak coherently.
"Are, are you okay, Jed?"
"Yes." His companion looked up at him. "Thanks to you." Wolfgang was surprised, but Jed's eyes were completely gray. With the amount of strength Wolfgang felt, he had expected to see some of the wolf there, but it was all Jed.
The big man blinked. Then he pushed himself to his feet. He looked around, and Wolfgang felt the beast, called to the surface by Jed. Both entities mingled, yet Jed didn't struggle. Instead, he smiled and refocused on Wolfgang.
"We have an understanding." Jed looked at the silver rings and the fillings discarded on the ground. "If I stop using silver, the beast plays nice." His gaze came back to Wolfgang. "Though, it still needs its time to be itself." He stepped close and pulled Wolfgang against his bare skin. "Will you bear the beast, unfettered by silver?"
Wolfgang reeled from the heady mix of power, desire, and sensation. He didn't have to think about his answer.
Jed pulled Wolfgang in, and as Larry continued to gawk at them, he kissed Wolfgang beneath a sky filled with stars.
Evan stood at the oldest tree in the forest, feeling a bit like a gnat next to the giant thing. The new moon spirit was gone, and at first Evan wasn't sure why.
'It seeks vengeance,' the answer came as Evan asked himself the question. 'Though it will not be gone long. We must begin.'
Evan put a hand on the ancient redwood. He was pained by the condition of the tree. Large burls were sheared from the trunk, and it bled sap. That it wasn't killed by the illegal burl harvesting was a miracle in itself, and it was likely thanks to the new moon spirit's efforts. Here was at least one reason for the spirit's anger.
He lowered his head, closed his eye, and the runes on Evan's skin began to glow.
A strange sound, reminiscent of ripping branches echoed through the forest as the new moon spirit stepped out of the redwood tree Evan attempted to heal. "No!" The voice was garbled and a limb flailed at Evan. His most powerful spirit leapt to the fore to defend him, and Evan's other hand snapped up, a cool, green glow around it. With a sound like a clap of thunder, an oversized, rocky fist crashed into Evan's hand. Dust and chips of rock flew. The old man held firm.
Evan's eye slid open.
He stared at the enraged spirit. It was diminished by the fight with Silverwolf, and now it was only a bit larger than a man. The protective covering of natural material moved around on its host's body to reveal the soft flesh of humanity beneath here and there. Cold, dark eyes stared in mania at Evan.
"We heal the tree. Then there will be no reason for this."
"No! They will continue." The spirit's host gritted his teeth, and Evan realized he as much as the new moon spirit was in control. "I need the spirit to end it! I need it!"
The other arm of the monster moved. Evan had no way to block it if he wanted to continue to heal the tree. The newly grown spear entered his body to pin him against the redwood.
The spirits in Evan held him together, but now their power was divided in maintaining his shell and healing the tree.
In a heartbeat, Evan felt time slow.
'The Conduit fails. Heal him.'
'Hold him together. We cannot lose the Conduit.
'We must heal the tree.'
'We cannot do both.'
Evan made a decision. "You don't have to do both." He smiled and released his hold on the stony fist to grip the tree with both hands. Evan poured all he had into healing the terrible wounds of the forest giant.
The spirit drew back it's freed limb to pound the frail body to paste.
Power flared and the ragged wounds on the ancient redwood were gone. With a rush of air that pushed away from the tree, Maurice fell backward away from Evan.
"No! Nooooo!" He screamed as the spirit left his body with a relieved sigh. The material covering him slid off. "No. Don't leave. Don't leave!"
Evan looked down at his ribcage. The spear of wood that had pinned him to the tree remained. He felt no pain, but he knew that his time was limited.
Maurice was barely within reach. Evan smiled sadly at him. There was so much pain and hurt and anger in him - a mind at war with the world and itself.
Evan stretched, and a lost-looking Maurice blinked as Evan's hand rested on his shoulder.
Only a little power remained, and the runes on Evan's body dimly glowed. He gathered all that he could, and his smile changed as he and all of his spirits spoke the last word uttered by his shell.
Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
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