Jimmy begins to hear otherworldly voices, and Fen begins to act suspiciously...
Walking Wolf Road by Brandon Herbert
I’d first noticed it a week or so ago; slowly growing worse with time. Noise… That’s the only way I could think of to word it… Just this… noise in my head… Every once in a while, especially when I was trying to fall asleep, it’s like words would start to emerge from the din; or on particularly bad nights; screams, yells, or someone speaking my name, forcing my mind out of it’s proximity to slumber; and inducing a state of lethargic insomnia. My exhaustion had leant me an unfortunate surliness that expressed itself in the most inopportune places.
My dad and I had been fighting all week over my grades, and I had even lashed out at those jocks in P.E. Jack had been boasting that he was the fastest runner in the class; and Malcolm had been arguing, claiming that Bo was the fastest. Jack’s ego had insisted that not only should he race Bo, but every guy in the class just to prove he was the fastest. I had resisted, but Malcolm had insisted I join the line, lest he feel compelled to inflict some punishment upon me in the locker room… So, I lined up with the others, enraged that I was being forced to exhibit myself for nothing more than Jack’s ego-stroke; and before I even realized what I was doing, the race was on I had pushed through into that place where the wind merely melted and flowed around me and I flew along on the barest of touches. Jack and Bo were indeed both fast; but the kid who’d just dropped eighty pounds was faster still. I flew past them and hit the mark with a three foot lead.
Breathing heavily I’d started to walk back toward the rest of the class, but Malcolm and Jack had caught up to me and blocked my path. They demanded to know how I could run that fast all of a sudden; and why I hadn’t tried out for the track team (of which Jack was the captain). My temper was still bitter and I very coldly explained exactly why such a thing would be a waste of my time, when I could be doing something that would actually matter in the grand scheme of things. The girls had giggled at that, sending the two boy’s blood pressure sky high; and when I tried to walk around them Jack made an attempt to push me, to enforce his dominancy over me. I sensed his body language before he even raised his arm, and it was an easy thing to dodge and pull him over my foot with his own momentum. He went sprawling, and when Malcolm swung at me, I tipped backward to dodge, and used my foot to hook behind his knee; unlocking the joint and sending him down on his ass. The instructor had been willing to overlook the race; but fortunately he did not allow such blatant actions right in front of him. Jack, Malcolm, and I were escorted out of the gym and down to the counselor’s office. We each explained what happened from our own points of view; theirs being that they had come to congratulate me and I had attacked them, and mine being the same as the instructor; who watched the whole thing, and said that he had been rather impressed that I had merely defended myself and not let myself be compelled to counterattack. I had returned without them to the class, and the teacher’s assistant led us through the rest of the activities and then released us; I didn’t see Jack or Malcolm return.
Now, as I sat in Mr. Decker’s class, struggling to focus on his lesson over the static in my head; something new was adding to the issues… Hanging through the slatted opening in the back of my chair, I could swear…was a tail… It wasn’t there where my eyes could see it, but I could feel it; almost sense its weight, the sensation of the fur moving against the things around it as it slowly swished back and forth, even a brief spasm of pain when Fen moved his foot and accidentally stepped on the tip. Also… my face felt weird… It was almost as if I were receiving sensory sensation from a much longer face than I possessed, wind currents being picked up by sensitive whiskers, and a barely perceptible push at the roots of my teeth, like they were trying to be longer than they were. Occasionally I would touch my face to make sure it was still flat and hominid.
After school that day; Fen and I went to the art room to continue working on our assignments. It was a blessing, that Mrs. Ashcroft trusted us so much… I told Fen what was going on, hoping maybe he might know what was going on.
“It’s almost like… Like the night after you bit me; I heard whispered voices; and felt strange new sensations…”
Fen sat silent a moment, moving his brush over the paper.
“You can feel the veil thinning, can’t you…?”
“Huh? What ‘veil’?” My forehead scrunched up in confusion. This had to do with that how?
“The veil between the worlds, the…thing that separates the spiritual from the physical.” Fen stood from his drawing and began to pace behind me, “Halloween is the modern celebration of All Hallows Eve, and even farther back, the ancient pagan holiday of ‘Samhain’ and the Autumnal Equinox. One of the times each year when the veil between us the world of the spirits; angels, demons, spirits, elementals; becomes thin enough for them to influence the physical world, and sometimes even manifest in.
“So, why is it I can feel this supposed ‘thinning of the veil’ all of a sudden? Why didn’t I notice these things before?”
Fen heaved a long suffering sigh, and turned to look me in the eyes. “Because you weren’t becoming a wolf before. What we are, what you’re becoming, exists somewhere between worlds. Always straddling two, never belonging to one. Not completely human, yet never fully animal. Deeply embe dded in the world of spirit, but still a being of flesh.” Fen paused for a moment, and then chuckled, “A people magnate, but still out of place in any group.”
I felt my face scrunch into a grimace as his words sink deeper than I think he knew. At least through all of this change, that would stay the same; always the odd man out…
Fen collected his thoughts for a moment, and then sprung back into his merciless volley of information. “Loki has trouble with voices and visions this time of year. You might go through that as well. When you were first bitten; you started to change faster than any of us could have imagined; plunging you very quickly into the middle ground between planes.”
“But what about the tail and stuff? It’s had nothing to do with the moon; it’s waning, almost new! How is that related?”
“Our wolf energy body exists simultaneously over our human one, different but there. It’s really simple; as the veil thins, it’s easier for our other body to manifest. You’ve experienced phantom limbs before, your ears, fur… This is no different.”
“So… this could go away once the veil returns?”
“Maybe, maybe not; they could be manifesting because of your natural development. Why, do you want them to?”
I thought a second then smiled, a small churning of excitement in my gut, “No… No I don’t want it to go away…” I could feel the tail beginning to wag behind me, hanging off the stool.
“Good, that’s what I was hoping you’d say…” He climbed into the chair across the table from me and crouched on it, thinking. “Hmm, you might just be able to prove a theory of mine.”
An excited light I rarely saw in Fen’s cold hard eyes was blazing away inside. “Assuming that it is true that we are in fact straddling the world of spirit and the world of flesh; would that not make it more visceral for us to encounter spiritual forces? Especially on a day like Halloween when the worlds are close enough for even the supernaturally inept to notice strange phenomena? Ghost hunters have been able to record the voices of dead people on cassettes; it could be possible for us to hear them with our phantom wolf’s senses. That could explain the voices, I suppose… Then again, you could just be mentally disturbed…” Fen smiled and stood up and began pacing again unconsciously; wrapped up in his thought process. I merely sat back and observed, too polite to interrupt his thought process.
“Yes, it might even be easier for us to see spiritual manifestations. Maybe some of the people who commonly experience spirit phenomena have shifter blood in their lineage. It might not be potent enough for them to become shifters like us, but it might be enough for them to experience supernatural phenomenon. For whatever reason, supernatural things and events are drawn to other supernatural things and events. Ghosts, werewolves, and vampires; the monster movie heavy-hitters seem to always be caught in a loop with each other.”
“Okay, werewolves I’m figuring out, we’ve had a brief discussion on vampires, what does it have to do with ghosts?”
“Ghosts are one of two things, either the spirit of someone who died and is unable to rest yet, or an imprint of a certain event in time. In either case, the imprint is in the etheric world, not the physical. There is a very definite boundary between the spirit and the flesh; I call it the veil, Werewolf the Apocalypse calls it the ‘gauntlet’, whatever. The reason ghosts can ‘haunt’ and be perceived in the physical world is because the people or events that are haunting were at one time physical themselves. Out of everything that could be out there, ghosts and demons scare me the most.” Fen seemed to shrink in on himself as he spoke those words. He pulled his legs in closer to himself and hugged them to his chest. It all truth, this was the most vulnerable I’d ever seen him.
I simply could not in good conscience let this moment of weakness pass. “Demons, I can understand; but why, pray tell, is the big bad wolf afraid of ghosts?”
Fen refused to rise to my bait; he continued to stare off with an increasingly haunted look in his eyes. “Because, ghosts can sometimes come to a point of no return. If the dead person’s soul remains trapped here long enough without absolution, it is possible for the consciousness, the soul to slowly diffuse out into oblivion, eventually un-incorporating. The only true death, a final destruction of the undying aspect to us all.” Fen finally met my eyes with tears in his, “Everything you ever were or could be; utterly erased from existence.”
“Holy shit dude, you’re starting to freak me out here. Are you saying that you believe someone could completely…un-become?”
“Yes, that’s it exactly, that single most frightening part of life that has haunted us since our species became philosophical; death. One of the greatest powers religion holds is that it gives its believers an alternative to oblivion. An afterlife, reincarnation, heaven…even hell is preferred to utter annihilation of all that we are.”
“Come on Fen, what are the odds that something like that could really happen?”
“Yeah, I know; but think about it. What if you…or someone you know…ended up trapped here without enough consciousness to free yourself and move on? Or without any idea what they would need to do to escape? What if you were to end up the unlucky millionth of a percent?”
Fen sat silent, obviously disturbed and disheartened by his current train of thought; the light of discovery had flickered out of his eyes. His mood slowly began to imprint on me, but not as fear or sadness, but a true sense of melancholy. Of loss so deep and so frightening that it even depressed his very soul. And beneath it all…guilt… “Who died Fen?”
Fen didn’t even meet my eyes; he continued to stare into space for a minute in silence, before standing and walking out of the classroom.