Still continuing to write at a snail's pace. Here are Chapters Seven and Six to get caught up. Currently editing my novel Apophenia to prepare for submission. It would be great if I could get Wolf to around sixty-thousand words, but I think it will end itself around forty-thousand and I'll be stuck with another novella that I can't sell.
I wake up naked in the park at dawn, my face covered in the morning's dew, having slept beneath the playground ruins. The grass is matted down and streaked with blood; my jaws hurts, my shoulders ache, my legs feel as though they have been pulled apart with steel chains. I touch my neck and feel an enormous scab. Fleeting images of the past night dance in my mind's eye, horrific scenes of violence. Quickly, I drag myself up off the ground and flee into the woods. This is the fourth time I've awoken here, but this time, I'm prepared—beneath a rotten tree stump I retrieve my backpack and remove clothes and shoes, a bottle of ibuprofen, and a flask of whiskey. I walk home with my hands in my pockets and the taste of iron in my mouth.
Of course I knew something was wrong the first time I awoke out here. I kept seeing a woman's face, her eyes bulging with terror, something huge and formless reflected in her visage, a monster out of fables, something almost tacky in its horror, a malformed creature of B movies and pulp fiction. Initially, I shrugged it off, attributing my circumstances to a bizarre bender, one worthy of my father. But then Debra showed me her face on the internet, and I had to go and sit in the bathroom for a while, struggling with a panic attack. Her name was Linda. What was this new woman's name? I have to stop and lean against a tree, nausea overtaking me, and vomit. All sorts of things come out of my guts: white slivers of bone, pieces of skin, raw, ragged flesh. With Linda, I thought that maybe I suffered a moment of temporary insanity, but that explanation didn't account for her mutilation, for her devoured organs, or for the fact that I had never met the woman, nor knew how I would have encountered her. But I turned to the journal, which I had been reading ever since returning from the trip with Bob, and things started to make sense, which is a poor joke, I know, but I don't know how else to say it.
Hutch experienced what I have, though his thoughts have little coherence to them, his entries resembling surreal prose poetry more than comprehensible sentences. From what I gather, he too ventured into the cave and slit his hand with the tooth. He writes of the cave as though it were alive, a sentient monster, a god-like thing beyond understanding. He viewed his victims as sacrifices, offerings to appease it, to cease the unending flood of visions he experienced. Hutch was trying to barter for his sanity. When I finished the journal, it became clear that he never accomplished his goal.
As I approach my home, I see Ron and Charles the pug standing in their yard, each looking forlorn, their faces rotund, their jowls sagging with the weariness of the fat and the lugubrious, both passengers, I guess, that do not particularly enjoy their ride. They stare at me as though I am a stranger, the hackles rising on Charles back, a dull sheen in Ron's eyes. The pug starts barking. Ron breaks into an uncomfortable smile.
“How you been, stranger?” asks my neighbor. “Did you fall asleep in the park?”
“Morning constitutional,” I explain. “Like to get up early and get some exercise.”
“Last night, Debra came over and asked whether or not I'd seen you,” says Ronald. “Said you've been staying out late and sometimes not coming home.”
“Maybe I have,” I reply. “You going to judge me, Ronald?”
“Certainly not on purpose, neighbor, though we all judge one another, whether we intend to or not. Shut up, Charles,” he says, kicking the dog. “You've always been a good friend. I just wanted you to know that if you need to talk, I'm all ears.”
I stare at Ronald and imagine telling him that I occasionally transform into a bestial monster that eats people. Gravity would take care of his expression, pulling those thick jowls down even further. Would he think I'm insane? Maybe playing a joke on him? Perhaps he would believe me. Maybe he could take me out back and put me down like Old Yeller, a rabid thing finally recognizing its malignant uselessness. Ronald and I could go together, perhaps. Something has got him down. I sit down on his steps, ignoring the snarls of fat Charles, and ask if I could have a beer.
“A morning brew? Why not?” says Ronald, retreating inside. It strikes me suddenly that I haven't seen his family for a long time.
“What's bothering you?” I ask, as he returns with two beers and little saucer. He gives me a beer and places the saucer down, pouring some of his drink into it for fat Charles.
“You tell me, and I'll tell you,” he says, like a school girl. I look at the low hanging sun, its radioactive rays piercing through the thick cloud cover. It might be a good day for breathing without a mask.
“Mid-life crisis,” I say, my eyes darting around. No one's home next door; Debra's gone to work, the kids to school. “Been drinking a lot. Spending time away from home.”
“My wife and I minimize our time together. We've been more or less separated for about a year. She does what she does, and I do nothing. My children don't want to see me. They spend their nights with friends, and when they come home, they lock themselves in their rooms. Play that virtual reality shit. Never could get into that, you know? I'm a simple man with simple tastes. This stuff is pretty good, isn't it, neighbor? Twenty bucks a twelve pack. Not bad, right?”
“I feel like this just happened,” I say. “The dissolution of my family. I'm not sure it was ever mine. Brittany and Chastity are Debra's kids. I'm an interloper. A stranger. A nameless entity.”
“Identity issues, eh?” says Ronald. He looks at fat Charles, who has settled at his feet, a Buddha-like peace having come over him. “You know I was a philosophy major in college? For two semesters, before I switched to economics. Terrible subject, philosophy. There are things you just don't want to think about. Your mortality, for one. Your purpose in life. Whether or not you are a being fully in control of your destiny. Maybe you're not responsible for your actions. Maybe I'm a fat, lonely man without a family, and there was nothing I could do about it. Some comfort in that, right? The whole idea of responsibility is rendered moot. Nobody likes to read the determinist guys, though.”
“Should I feel guilty, Ron?” Fat Charles has hopped up and waddled over to a bush, where he promptly squats and defecates.
“What are morals, friend? They are human inventions. Charles, remorseless glutton that he is, has no pity for small beasts. Little guy eats baby birds, mice, snakes. Remarkable, really, since pugs are not known for their hunting prowess.”
“You didn't even ask what I did,” I say.
“I'm just trying to make you feel better, buddy,” says Ronald. “You want to feel bad, go ahead and feel bad. Nice house you got, though. Nice to have air recyclers on bad days. My kids might not give a damn about me, but I care about them. It's hard to get into an enclave, if you know what I'm saying.”
I excuse myself from Ronald and Charles and head inside. The house is quiet, dark, an unfamiliar odor crawling through the air. There are pictures of girls on the walls, girls I don't know; the living room is unrecognizable, the furniture belonging to someone else. I go to the kitchen, dimly remembering the layout and stare at the refrigerator. It is stainless steel, sleek, shiny, brand new. I open it and examine its contents and find nothing edible but a plastic container of ground beef. A dog comes and sniffs my leg; I smell him before he enters the room. We look at each other, the dog and I. He is a retriever mix, medium-sized, blond. What do you want? I ask. He continues to stare, wagging his tail tentatively. Rufus, that's right. This is my dog. Nobody cares for him but me. Rufus sees my look of recognition and jumps up on me, trying to lick my face. I sit down on the floor with him, petting him slowly, my emotions bubbling up like a dark, acidic brew. You're a good boy, I tell him. I tell him this over and over again.
Someone knocks at the door. Rufus barks, whines, and then runs into another room. Again someone knocks. Underneath the refrigerator I see ants crawling, hundreds of them, big, black things with twitching antennae. Mutants, I think. There's a breach in the system. I hear someone calling for Mr. Deforest. “Goddamn it, go away!” I shout. The person mumbles something unintelligible and recommences knocking. The wound on my neck throbs, and I feel a trickle of blood ooze from my scab and slide down my shirt. “I have an ant problem,” I say to myself, climbing to my feet, my hand clutching the counter. This bastard won't be dissuaded. Might need a good punch to the face.
“What the fuck do you want?” I say, opening the door.
“Morning,” says the man. He's dressed in a simple suit, a plain, average-looking man with a worn face.
“Isn't it obvious that I do not wish to be disturbed?” I say. My fists are balled up, my teeth gritted.
“It's not your fault,” he says.
“I don't know what the hell you're talking about,” I reply, moving to shut the door before I tear the man apart.
“Seeing things?” he asks, sticking his foot in the door. “Experiencing insatiable cravings for human flesh? Are you hornier than a sailor on leave? Do you feel as though you are losing your sense of self?”
A mindless panic rushes into my head, and I kick the man's foot loose and slam the door, locking it.
“I can help,” he says. “There is a cure.”
"I'm calling the police," I tell him.
"No you're not," he says. "Look, Mr. Deforest, you're in a bad situation. What you did last night, they're not going to let you get away with it. Do you know how many people you killed? Let me tell you: twenty. Twenty people were mauled beyond the point of recognition. The FBI is coming now with reporters hot on their tail. They can't cover this up, is what I'm saying. The big boys are getting involved, and I don't think you've been very careful. You've been hitting the bars like a divorcee looking for gold, with little tact or strategy, and you haven't eaten every woman you've hit on, you know. I'm sure this is all more than a little cloudy to you. Your memory tends to turn to shit. But you need to start thinking of other people. Think of your wife. Your children. Think of the women you've killed. Hell, think of yourself. This is not a dream. I know you want it to be, but these things are really happening. You're not the first, and you won't be the last. Stop letting instinct rule you like an automaton. Take charge. Come with me. We can end this."
I lean against the door, breathing heavily, the stillness of the house sitting on my shoulders like an iron weight. His solution is death, I can tell; he can't mask the fatal undertones. I'm not ready to die. Unfortunately, it's that simple. He asks for me again, polite, his voice nearly a whisper. A car pulls into the driveway, teenage voices trying to tamper down their excitement. "Who's that?" I hear Chastity ask. I peek out the window and watch as the man walks past them, his gaze fixated on a distance point, resolution in his steps. He's going to try to kill you, a voice says. I drag myself to the kitchen table as Chastity opens the door.
"Harry," she says, somewhat surprised. "Why are you home? Did you get fired?"
"Why aren't you in school?" I ask. I had forgotten about my job.
"Uh, it's none of your business," she says, moving toward the stairs. I jump up, closing the distance between us in a half-second, and grab her arm. She smells like marijuana and harsh teenage boy cologne.
"Hey, get off!" she says. "What're you doing?"
"You're mom spends her entire existence worrying about you, and whether or not you're going to turn into a real person someday," I say, a snarl forming on my face. "She trusts you, lets you do what you want, and you throw it back in her face because you're a stupid little girl who doesn't care about anyone besides herself." I let go of her, and she falls to the stairs, her face distorted, her eyes watery.
"Like you can talk. No one knows where you've been the last couple nights. Mom's heard rumors. You're a creep, Harry. I always knew you were."
I grab her by the throat, push her against the wall, part of me watching dispassionately as a look of terror forms on her snotty visage. The proximity of young flesh arouses me, makes my mouth salivate and my dick become hard. I hold my free hand before her face, twisted into a claw, my fury growing, becoming entwined with my lust, conscious thought fleeing into the distance recesses of my brain.
"I'm going to kill him," I say to her, "that boy you're with." Her eyes are swimming, my face just inches from hers, the reek of fear emitting from her pores like an intoxicating perfume. Somebody's hand clamps down on my shoulder, and I release Chastity and turn around, murder in my heart, and a brass knuckled fist hits me hard in the face, knocking me against the wall, blood in my eyes. There is screaming; I try to get up, but I am hit again, my nose shattered, teeth falling from my mouth like broken pieces of porcelain. Through the blood, I see him standing over me, saying nothing, calm, his hand tensed to deliver another punch. He weighs whether or not to kill me, this dispassionate man in cheap suit, this horror spawned from sedans, from office buildings, from suburbs like my own. This is exactly the sort of help he promised, and I will receive it, no matter whether I want it or not. “Sorry,” he says, reaching into his coat and removing an enormous knife, his face bland, a death mask. The knife's blade is covered in runes similar to those contained in Hutch's journal, and he whispers something under his breath, some incantation that paralyzes me and slows my perception. Shapes slide into view, shadows with the skulls of animals, black things of nothingness come to take me into caves, to drag me down into abysses, to annihilate my form and cleanse me of any meaning. He raises the knife, grips it with two hands, preparing to plunge it into my heart, the shadows gathering around him, their arms stretched, their eye sockets empty. I feel nothing but impotent anger. Suddenly a gunshot is heard; the man is hit; his knife falls to the floor. My neighbor shouts at us, his words unintelligible, a pistol in his hands. The man is screaming at him, gibberish, I guess, but Ronald fires again, and I hear his crashing through the house, the shadows following him, fat Charles at my feet, licking my spilled blood. “You beast,” I say to him, before I fall unconscious on my face.