Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter III - Hide & Seek

Very much aware of the danger, Dee took a lantern up to the roof of the bar to signal to the twins as they approached. With no other lights on in town the glow of one small lonely lantern was easy to spot. They came down from the north east end of town, same as she had so she was sure that they had followed the same trail she had. But they had taken a Hell of a chance travelling at night, relying only on speed and night vision goggles to get safely through. It was foolishness such as this that proved in her mind that she was right to not invite them in the first place.

She got out her own night vision goggles to watch their approach. They were not using headlights as those would only draw further attention. The light source was not powerful enough for long distance in the active mode so she switched to enhanced passive. It gave her a headache if she used them too long, but at the rate they were coming it would not be long.

She watched the two fiery silhouettes wend their way through the streets, the motors of the bikes glowed white under them. A large red blob popped out of an alley just ahead of them and Dee shouldered her rifle but the angle was bad, she could not get a clean shot. It suddenly turned and she could make out its shape better. A thick chest and four spindly legs. She could not see the antlers but knew it was just a deer. It bounded over a derelict Toyota and quickly lost itself in another alley across the street. The twins did not even slow down. She lowered her rifle and began heading down.

She met them in the parking lot behind the bar. The three of them stood facing each other for a few tense moments without saying a word.

"You two dumb shits have no idea what you're getting yourselves into do you?"

"We just came to help! He was our father!" the girl shot back.

"Just cause he wasn't my blood don't mean he was not my father too! Now get those bikes loaded up on the truck."

"Are you taking us back?" the boy asked dejectedly.

"I don't know yet, either way, I want to be on the road before the sun comes up! There's wraiths out there so try to be quiet!" The two of them glanced about nervously before Dee barked an order at them to get moving and went inside. She went upstairs to get her gear and hesitated for a moment at the typewriter before setting down at the little writing desk.

She typed furiously for a while, got up looked out the window to check on the twins progress. She nodded and returned to her typewriter. She typed a couple more lines before taking she sheet out and adding to the notebook with her earlier writing.

She carefully returned the machine to its case and took everything down in to load in the Volvo.

"Get in the back of the truck" she ordered them. To top everything off she had forgotten bring her coffeepot so she was operating at a caffeine deficiency.

A wonderful aroma carried by a brisk morning air was coming from the open driver's side door of the Volvo. She peered inside and saw, sitting on the huge doghouse between the front seats was a small 4 cup coffee maker plugged into the inverter. The coffee was from a vacuum packed "brick" the twins had brought. She had no doubt this was intended as a bribe. Well it wouldn't work she told herself as she poured the steaming rich brown liquid into a stainless steel insulated cup. She would drink it, but she would not go easy on them. Not one damn bit.

"Ok, you can come along, but you do everything I say, don't make me regret letting you tag along, don't give me any shit!"

They grinned and quickly piled into the Volvo. Allison called shotgun and received no argument from James. At fourteen he was already 5 feet 10 inches tall and 115 pounds. He looked somewhat how she had always pictured Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow, and his lanky frame was somewhat crowded in the front seat. The radio gear in the Volvo was installed behind the front passenger seat, meaning it was permanently adjusted as far forward as it would go. The already limited legroom was diminished to the point where he would have been sitting with his knees crammed into the dash or wedged against the doghouse and passenger door. With their additional gear there was now barely enough room for two people to sleep back there. But that was ok with her. She fully intended for one of them to be awake at all times. Either driving or standing watch.

* * *

He had listened to the motorbikes coming into town from the manager's office of the motel he had found on the east end of Manitowoc. He had hoped to meet up with at least a small pod of slaves foraging in the area. He knew by smell there were some in town, perhaps even a nest nearby. But either they were just not aware of his presence yet or their masters were being too lax in discipline. There was also the possibility that they were group of unclaimed beasts, what the human vermin would call wolflings. If that were the case then it would be difficult to get what he wanted from them. But not impossible.

This body was getting too worn out to carry on much further. He was as disgusted by the physical weakness of this host as he was impressed by its strength of will. He knew it possessed the knowledge to get at least one of the many vehicles in the parking lot running, but would not let him at it. When he was not blocking him from it entirely he was leading him around in circles with distracting snippets of memories baiting him with tidbits of knowledge that on the surface seemed related but in actuality lead him down unrelated dead end paths. All of his other hosts had been much younger. Simple minded fools in comparison.

When his previous host had lain dying in that old drug store, the feeble old man had seemed an easy target. He had gone into the drug store looking for something to help preserve the host for just a few days longer. But the host had very little knowledge of pharmaceuticals and was nearly completely illiterate. Even had the host been a fully trained doctor and willing to help, it was too late. He again wished that he was able to take more knowledge from host to host. But really he was lucky to be able take basic language skills.

The old man had approached without apparent consideration for his own safety. He had been entirely too trusting. But the host was young, perhaps the youngest one he had ever been fortunate enough to stumble upon. And the humans were so compassionate about their young. The old man had apparently encountered his kind before and recognized the danger as soon as he got a good look at him. Or more likely it was the smell of the host's deteriorating body that alerted him. But by this time he was too close and too slow to react. The stinger had ripped through the belly and struck the old man just under the chin. In a matter of seconds he was paralyzed and ready for takeover. It was a frightening experience as always. He was so vulnerable at these times and so exposed. Though they had been in a sheltered spot it was still very cold and the frigid air sapped his strength. He almost did not make it in time.

Now in his current state there was no way he could hope to get ahead of them without help. But if he just laid low he could let them just slip past him in their hurry to find him. That would work just as well. He returned to the recliner in the motel office and pulled a blanket up over himself. Several dozen horribly stale candy bars were in a bag on his lap. They were nutritional voids but they would supply the host with simple fuel for energy to carry him a bit longer and that was all that mattered.

A short while later a scratching at the glass door alerted him to their presence. He could see the shadow of it looming just outside the door. He let it in because it was too stupid to figure out how to open it by itself. He groaned as he saw its gravid state. He had maybe three days with it.

There would be no others around, that was just the way it was. Not even the slaves were stupid enough to want to be around when juveniles first emerged to devour everything in sight. But he had learned a few things from the humans that would keep him alive during that initial feeding frenzy. He commanded the slave to stay where it was and searched out a cleaning supply closet and found what he needed there. Then he curled up on the floor with the pregnant wraith and went to sleep. Had someone walked into the motel lobby at that hour they would have been treated to a most disturbing image.

* * *

Dee was already in a foul mood when they left and spending two hours arguing on the radio with her mother did not improve her mood. But after searching the north side of Manitowoc all day with no sign of Mr. Fisher she was becoming more and more frustrated. She knew he could not have gone too far on foot. There had been other wraiths in the area and their scents were confusing the dogs. She decided to wait till after nightfall and do a search with the night vision goggles. She returned again to the bar she had camped in the night before and rest before resuming the search. One of the twins suggested something that she had already been considering. There was not a mechanic on Door island that was better than Mr. Fisher at getting an old rust bucket on the road again. The possibility existed that he was already a hundred miles away. If they hadn't found him by morning she would continue south and hope to pick up the trail again.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride

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