I dropped the branch and felt Dex scoop up our equipment and grab me by the waist.
“Come on,” he whispered, gently, as if he was afraid I’d pick up that stick and spear it into him.
He led me to the cliff edge and let go. He crawled down and jumped the last few feet and made me do the same. He caught me, awkwardly, for the last part.
We looked down at the ground. Bird was lying on his back. Dex aimed his camera at him, the light still working at least. It caused Bird to blink a few times, enough for us to know he was OK.
We stooped down and brought Bird to his feet and headed off to the Lancaster’s, with him dragging along between us. He was stumbled around for the most part, coming in and out of consciousness. Occasionally he would mumble, “Don’t trust her, don’t trust her” which did nothing to make us feel better. At one point he tried to walk on his own, his hands flying around my waist, as if he was going into my pant pockets. Then he went back to stumbling.
We had rounded the barn and had sight of the house when we saw Will’s truck pull up to it. It stopped and Will and Miguel got out and came running towards us. I noticed, rather absently, that Maximus’s car was not there. That gave me some comfort in thinking that he was still alive somewhere and still heading for us.
Will and Miguel were yelling things left and right. Another car pulled up behind it and a short stocky man in uniform came running out of it, the sheriff, Fred.
I didn’t know what was going on or what was being said, but Will and Miguel took Bird onto both their shoulders and dragged him towards the house. The sheriff ran up to Dex and started yammering in his ear about this and that, pointing around wildly. They too went into the house.
I followed as quickly as I could but for some reason my steps felt slow and sloppy, like I was walking through oatmeal.
I watched them all go inside. I was only a few steps away from the porch. I would be inside soon, in the comfort and safety and warmth.
“Perry,” an unfamiliar voice, metallic and hollow, said from behind me.
I stopped and looked. I’m sorry that I did.
A six-foot tall coyote was standing behind me on two legs. It put its heavy, clawed paw on my shoulder and smiled as a coyote can only smile. Black gums and sharp teeth.
“We need him,” it said without moving a muscle.
And then all the world went black.
My mind eased into a slow consciousness. The heavy cloud that seemed to hang inside my skull didn’t dissipate but I found the strength to think past it. Where was I? There was nothing.
My eyes weren’t open. I had to tell myself to open them. With great pains, my left eye blinked open first, then my right. They focused on nothing, just the same blackness I had behind my eyelids. But as my thoughts became sharper, the blackness became shapes of things. It stung too much to take it all in at once but through brief glimpses I could make out a doorway, some shady things hanging from a wall.
Still, where was I?
Then it all came rushing back to me. Shan. The horse. Bird. Maximus. The fire. The coyote. The end.
Where was I?
My head snapped back and the world spun. I breathed in wildly. It smelled like hay and horses and some musty, herbaceous stuff. I couldn’t move my arms or legs.
The clouds inside my head moved and swirled into a spinning current of air. I fought against it and looked down at myself. I was sitting upright in a chair. My arms and legs were tied to it with leather straps. They didn’t cut into my skin but they were restrictive enough.
Something stirred to my left. I looked over and saw a figure standing in the doorway. There was very little light in the room but my night vision kicked slowly. It was a short figure. It didn’t move much. And near the top of it, yellow orbs glowed. I knew who it was.
And there was nothing I could do about it.
Sensing this, perhaps, she started walking towards me, step by step, her footfalls echoing throughout the room, which I guess was a tack room in one of the barns. I could make out a few western saddles on the walls, and when I thought about it, it felt like I was tied with reins.
“You’re awake,” she said. Her voice shot across the room yet seemed to come from nothing.
I didn’t have any snappy one-liners. I was frozen in fear. I could only process what was happening here and now. If I thought far enough ahead of what could happen….
“It’s good to be in present, Perry,” she said as if she were reading my thoughts. “Too many live in the future. If you keep living in the future, in what may be, then the future gets shorter every minute.”
She inched towards me until she was only a foot away. She leaned over and stared at me.
Though her face was hazy and grainy in the dark, she looked different. Her glasses were gone. And even though her eyes were the luminescent predatory shade of yellow, I could see she had nice, almond shaped eyes.
Wait, did this mean she could always see?
“In a way, I never was blind,” she said. As if things couldn’t get any creepier and disturbing, she was seriously reading my thoughts.
She straightened up and peered down at me. “Losing my sight was the best thing that ever happened to me. It opened my real eyes. The ones I had buried. The ones in your soul.”
She tapped her chest for emphasis.
“You see, I had forgotten the way. And it was almost too late. I lost all my faith in a reckless, false God that had turned its back on me. And why not? I turned my back on him. I lost my sight, but I gained so much more. I gained what I used to have. What I used to share with Shan. Something that, later, I was taught was ‘evil.’ But how could something that could bring my eyes back, be bad? No. It was everyone else who was bad.”
“Including your husband?” I said, the words coming out of my mouth like sludge. I wondered if that earthy smell that seemed lodged in my nostrils was peyote, or something else that was used to drug me earlier.
“Yes,” she replied matter-of-factly. “He was bad. He turned his back on the way and he made me do the same.”
You have free will, I thought, testing.
“I know I do,” she said without hesitation. “We all do. But to have someone you love turn…”
“I did. For the better. If Will could just…see. He is the blind one. I can see everything.”
How long did you plan on torturing him this way? I thought.
“Until he gets it. You think this is all because of you? This was happening for years. These things take time.”
I really wanted to say something utterly cliché such as ‘you won’t get away with it’ but my humor wasn’t allowing it at the moment and anyway –
“I won’t be getting away with anything. There is nothing to get, except for Will.”
She started pacing back and forth, her hands behind her back. It almost seemed comical, like she was playing a part.
So many questions flooded through me. Aside from the big questions – as in what was going to happen to me, where was Dex, where was Bird and everyone else – I wanted to know how she thought she was going to resolve her own problem. As ridiculous as it seemed, I needed to know her logic. What did she want to achieve? Bird had said that some people got angry. Could it still be that simple? There was nothing simple about this situation. At all.
I braced in my seat, thinking she was going to answer that herself but she didn’t. She just kept pacing, mumbling to herself now. She was done reading my thoughts for the meantime.
I needed to think of a way out. Or maybe this was a decoy, for her to use my own thoughts against me when I thought she wasn’t listening.
She stopped pacing and faced me.
“Do you know why you are here?” she asked quietly.
I looked her in her animal eyes and shook my head.
“You think it’s because you’re…special’?”
I wanted to shrug but it seemed too insignificant for what was going on.
“You have a way about you. It’s useful. But you think too much. You want too much. Your ability to retract from reality is useful, but…we’d prefer someone who is a bit ‘all there.’”
I wasn’t all there? Maybe not at the moment when my thoughts not only seemed like abstract objects but were being read at the same time.
“He’ll be much easier,” she said. Her tone was tinged with menace.
Without thinking, my arms and legs seized in their holds like I was some crazy attack dog held back by a choke chain.
“Yes,” she said. “We’ve been looking for someone else. Rudy gave Shan everything he needed. And Dex will give the same for me.”
How dare she even say his name? I wildly fought against the straps. What were they planning on doing to him? Was it too late?
The fear and anger that coursed through me was incomparable. If this were a movie, I would have broken through the straps in a Hulk-like manner and laid waste to Sarah. But this wasn’t a movie. No matter how angry I was, how badly I wanted to break free, I was stuck. I tried to move and squirm but the chair held on to me with the entire rein’s might. Sarah didn’t even flinch. She knew how futile it was.
“He won’t feel a thing,” she said, smiling. She kept grinning. Slowly, her teeth started to shift and elongate until they were too large for her mouth. They had become fangs and the rest of her face began to follow suit in a horrific display of shapeshifting.
First her jaw jutted out into a narrow point that strained her skin until it broke into bloody rivets, then her face began to spread wider, the sound of her jaw and cheekbones cracking into place filled the room, contorting and stretching. I could almost feel her skull splitting, the substantial sound of thick bone snapping. This was no scene out of Teen Wolf. This was the real thing. As real as it could be.
I looked down at her arms. I could see ripples of fur beneath her skin, like it was being caressed by underwater reeds. Soon the rippling stopped and the reeds started to poke through the skin; a demonic Chia Pet.
And soon, Sarah was a wolf, standing awkwardly. This was the end of me.
I closed my eyes.
I dared to peek.
It still stood there.
Then the fur began to retreat back into the arms and the canine jaw and head contracted quickly, as if it were sinking in itself.
But as Sarah began to revert back to human form, I realized it wasn’t going to be what I thought. Even from looking at the lower half of the transformation, I noticed she had on the same pants that I was wearing. And then it hit me.
I glanced up at her face. As the wolf disappeared and melded into human flesh, as the fur turned into ivory skin and as the canine eyes moved closer to each other, and the mane of hair was replaced by black, groomed waves, I realized…it was me.
I was staring at myself.
There was nothing else to think. There I was.
‘I’ smiled at myself.
“You’re in love with him,” the skinwalker me said, my voice exactly as it sounded in recordings.
She took a few steps back.
“If you’re lucky, he may get a chance to love you back. Before it’s too late.”
And with that, the skinwalker me waltzed out of the tack room and disappeared.