Chapter Four: The House of Pain and the Princes of the Universe

Morning came too early but Mike plowed through his morning routine and was ready for Church when 7am rolled around. He stifled a yawn as he and the other ushers finished placing hymn books in the pews and then distributed service programs as the congregation entered for 8am service. He helped Sister Emma-Jean to her seat then took his place with his family as the choir processional began. After the first hymn he passed out the collection plate then had to escort Ms Jenkins back to her seat after she caught the Holy Ghost during the second hymn and ran up the isles. After the second collection he took his seat and bowed his head along with everyone else and then Pastor Moody began his sermon.

"Folks Pastor Moody is gonna get deep with it today, so hold on tight. When the Pharisees asked Jesus what was the greatest of the commandments His response was love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love thy neighbor as thy self. We all fall short that first one, but today I'll be preaching on that second one, because too many of our young brothers are killing each other and I'm sick of burying them."

He stopped then looked at Mike's mother while the congregation nodded their heads and mmhmmed.

"Sister Shelia knows all about what I'm talking. Just the other day some fool shoot up 8 mile because he caught his girl with his best friend. Now I've seen my brothers throw their life away over love, money, drugs, jewelry, and yes even over shoes and Pastor Moody is here to tell you it's not worth it."

He paused as a chorus of amen rose from the crowd then continued.

"But why does this happen? I'll tell you why: jealousy. Now not to name names—he paused and shot Ms. Thomas, the organist, a scathing look—but we all know folks who aint happy unless they hating."

Luke jumped into Mike's mind as he nodded his head. James shot him skeptical look then smirked.

"Jealousy is the reason Cain slew Abel and you know what his response was when God asked where Abel was. Am I my brother's keeper? Now let me go deep for a second. In Hebrew the word used here translated as keeper is closer to master or shepherd, but what does a shepherd do? He protects the flock and here is heart of today's sermon. I'm asking all of to be your brother and sister's keeper and stop the violence. For blessed is the peacemaker. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And yes Pastor Moody just quoted the Pulp Fiction—shh let's keep that on the low, low."

A wave of laughter rolled over the congregation, but Mike wasn't among them. As Pastor Moody continued on espousing the virtues of helping those less fortunate and keeping your fellow man on the straight and narrow, he realized he'd failed Jack but more importantly himself. He envied Jack's freedom to be himself and allowed his anger to control him and swore to make things right.

 

"Damn it Pinky answer your phone!"Mike threw his phone on the bed when he was sent to voice mail for the fifth time. He'd been calling Jacked ever since church ended and had enough. He logged on to Face book and saw a message from Jack that read:

"Come find me when you un-break this heart and un-cry these tears. Undue the pain you caused and never hurt me again. So tell me when are you gonna let me in?"

Mike's reply was simple: "I don't know if I can, give me time."

He changed his status to: gone hunting no texts or calls" then called his bosses and got the next two weeks off.

 

James looked over at Mike as he exited off the highway and turned onto a dirt road. They hand been on the road since 4am and the boy hadn't said a word since they left the storage locker 90 minutes ago.

The sun had just risen when they pulled up to the House of Pain. The grey citadel occupied ten thousand square feet and sat in the middle of twenty acres of woods. It was retrofitted with solar panels to stay off the grid and was heated by a combination of geothermal energy and a wood burning furnace. It looked innocuous to the outside until you descended to the four floors below.

James carried in the groceries while Mike hiked the battered rucksack back on his shoulder and then hosted the artillery bags on his other.

James sat down on his overstuffed chair and rested for a spell.

"You sure you don't want me to stay here with you boy?"

Mike turned to his dad and said, "I must do this by myself. With all due respect sir, I'm not a kid."

"OK, but remember you're never alone. The alphas always have your six. And remember to check in on the ham radio so I know you're still alive."

Mike sighed when James finally left and he got to work.

"Pass code accepted, begin voice authentication sequence now."

Mike groaned when he heard Cybil's voice greet him. He should have known James wouldn't have loosened security measures. He rushed through the sequence and gritted his teeth when Cybil responded it was incorrect.

"Seriously, I have to say the whole thing?!"

"Response not accepted, one more try before system lockout."

"Prince Michael Jordan Smith, alpha cub 1. Every wolf suffers fleas, tis easy enough to scratch."

Mike tossed his bags on the bed then spent the next hour squaring away his footlocker then changed into khaki fatigues. He queried Cybil and found out there was enough wood to last two months and power to last three weeks, along with a year's worth of MREs .He told her to set an alarm for four hours then removed Carmen, Betty and Veronica from his bag.

He grabbed Carmen and removed the magazine then barrel band as he spoke.

"This is my riffle there are many like but this one is mine. My riffle is my best. It is my life."

He removed the slide guard then the stock as he continued.

"I must master my riffle as I master my life. My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless."

He paused to remove the firing mechanism and set it aside.

". I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will..."

He removed the trigger assembly and recoil spring.

"My rifle and myself know that what counts in this war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, or the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit... "

Mike removed the slide from the rail then removed the action bolt and set it aside.

"My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will... "

As he began to reassemble the M1 Carbine he continued.

"Before God, I swear this creed. My rifle and myself are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.

So be it, until victory is America's and there is no enemy, but peace!"

When Mike was done he closed his eyes and went through the process again, restarting when he made errors, until he was flawless. He put Carmen aside and repeated the ritual with his m14 and m16. When Cybil announced his four hours were up he carried the girls to the firing range, and spent the next several hours refining his marksmanship and running combat drills.

"Greetings Prince Michael it is now 1600 hours, Will you be breaking for lunch?"

"Busy now," Mike said wincing as he took a rubber bullet to his shoulder and tossed a paint ball grenade, "And cut out the prince crap I'm not 7 anymore."

"Affirmative, will alpha cub 1 suffice?"

"Mike will do, now leave me alone so I don't get shot again." A round grazed his ear as he rolled to the side and launched another grenade, disabling the gun turret. He took cover behind a mock wall, got the last turret in his sights and tagged its moisture sensor. He checked his shoulder and saw it the wound was already a deep purple and would leave a scar. He put away the paintball gun and grenades then hit the elevator to grab his canteen and off to the Pitt after gearing up in the armory.

 

Sweat rolled off his forehead into his eyes as he went through each kata, his graceful movements slowed to a leisurely pace. With each strike then tension drained from him, but he still had a ways to go.

Mike withdrew his katana firm its sheath, the blade slicing the air as he pulled out and up then slashed downward. He pivoted to the right and executed a horizontal slash then turned back. He dashed forward, light washing over the blade as he thrust, and then tossed it in the air. He turned his head up; saw the blade headed for his neck and leaned back. he caught the sword by the guard with his right hand and executed a vertical slash left then right. He ran his hand over the flat of the blade then flicked it to clean imaginary blood from it, then replaced it in the sheath and stopped for a water break.

He went through more katas with his Kamas, nunchakus, and tonfas.

When he was done Mike told Sybil to set an alarm for 30 minutes then turn off the Pit.

He closed his eyes and meditated, but he couldn't stop thinking about Pinky. There was always something about him that made Mike drop his guard, but why? Sure he cared about the kid and would take down anyone that tried to hurt him, just like with his Soldier Boys, but there was something different.

Even after Jack blackmailed him into cuddling on the bus rides home he couldn't stay made at the boy, and when they began training Mike didn't go as hard as he knew he should have, because he couldn't stand to see those painful eyes.

When they met again it was like Mike found a piece of himself he didn't know he was missing, but he messed up and didn't know how to fix things. Even as he tried to block Jack out, a part of him ached to see his smile and make the light in those eyes shine again, but why?

No, it didn't matter, because Mike had to harden himself if he hoped to protect Jack and the twins until they were ready to hold their own. He wasn't strong enough to go against the Alphas and win, but he would be. He had to.

 

Jack slumped in his seat at the food court and sipped on his fruit smoothie. He thought a trip to the mall would take his mind off things, but seeing all the couples just reminded him of the gaping wound in his chest. It had been three days since their fight, but he couldn't stop the pain he felt when Mike walked out the door.

Ugh, he wanted to strangle the boy—no smother him in kisses. No, kick his ass. Why couldn't Mike see he was his to hold if only he'd let down his walls. Jack was pulled out of his thoughts when a ridiculously hot boy sat down next to him.

"Mind if I sit here, Adam Chase by the way." The brunet extended his hand and flashed Jack his killer smile all the while undressing him with his eyes.

Jack smiled back and shook Adam's hand after introducing himself.

"Awe there ya go, should be a crime to make a cutie like you sad. So tell me what's the matter? Girl trouble...boy trouble?"

Adam gave Jack a knowing look and laughed when Jack nodded his head and flashed his adorable smile again.

"Dude no offense but whoever this guy is he needs his head examined for letting ya go. Nice shirt by the way, where'd you get it?" Adam ran his hand up Jack's sculpted shoulder and punctuated his sentenced with a squeeze of the deltoid.

"Stop it! Are you always this flirty?" Jack shooed Adam's hand away then got his laughter under control. "And I made this myself."

"Sweet man, I love the color scheme and the dragon/phoenix motif rocks. You know my cousin has a T-Shirt business in Dearborn. I can give you his number if you want." Adam fished out his cousin's business card then yanked it out of reach.

"What gives?"

"Not so fast. I'll give up the goods if you promise to hang out with me sometime."

Jack thought it over then said "Deal" and they exchanged numbers. As Adam walked away Jack waved to him and felt like things weren't so bad anymore.

 

Back at the HOP Mike burst forth from the Olympic swimming pool as a coughing fit racked him. He threw off the heavy chains then sat down to catch his breath.

Cybil, what was my time."

"Twelve minutes and forty seconds. The time is now 19:45 and your meeting with the alpha elites is in fifteen minutes."

"Damn it, still a minute under Kyle's record." Mike told Cybil to make a note of his time in his records then picked up Carmen and headed to communications room after a quick shower.

It was utter chaos as all the Soldier Boys tried to talk at once on Skype.

"Ladies settle down. First up let's all give a big hand to Big O for setting up this get together." They hooted and Tony for his part tipped his hat and gave a little bow, blushing all the while.

Kyle was the first to speak up.

"OK so what gives ya cocksucker? Am I imagining this or is that Carmen by your feet?"

"Yeah. In case you cat 9s can't tell I'm at the HOP going through my paces again.

David , the resident otaku and all round geek cut in. "Damn Sir, what you do to deserve that?"

"Nothing man was just a bit soft, and you know if there's one thing we can't have, it's softies." Mike picked up Carmen and fieldstripped it.

They all nodded their heads then Eric, the master of ambush tactics and nonconventional warfare, spoke up.

"With all due respect Sir, if you're not able to maintain leadership, maybe it's best another takes the reins, least for a while. Heavy `tis the head the wears the crown ."

Mike closed his eyes for a moment then said, "I know the rules as well as you do, and don't think you're being slick, but maybe it's time things changed."

A gasp went through the boys, but Kyle was the first to speak up.

"What are you saying man?"

"I'm saying the reason I called this meeting is to discuss not just to catch up, but to discuss our futures. We're a two years from graduation and I don't know about you, but my dad still treats me like a kid and I'm sick of it."

Tony removed his hat then spoke up, surprising the others.

"I feel the same way man. Every dog has his day and
I'm tired of waiting for mine."

"Right, it's our time now and they need to realize that. So a year from I want us to meet up and go Fang against Fang with our dads."

"Whoa Mike are you sure you're ready for that—not that I'm saying you can't do it. Hell if any of us is ready it'd be you, but that's way above my pay grade." Tony sputtered out drawing laughs from David and Eric but they all nodded in agreement. An eye roll from Kyle didn't get past Mike.

"You got something to say baby dick?"

"Just what the hell has got into you, weren't you the one who was saying you loved all the Alpha crap?"

"That was before it interfered in my life one too many times. Seriously, did you know Dad called me in the middle of a blow job and told me to come home because I was late for curfew?"

That brought a chorus of 'damn" from the boys, but for Kyle who grimaced before his stoic mask fell back into place. For the remainder of the meeting they made plans to keep in touch and help each other with school. David was responsible for managing their schedules and coordinating with Tony to find a time for weekly meetings, and help with social science, Kyle was in charge of humanities, while Mike handled math and hard sciences. Once they finalized things they signed off, except for Kyle.

Mike sized Kyle up.

"Spill, you've been acting weird all day, seriously."

"Look man, we've been friends since we were what 4, 5? Like if I told you something you wouldn't blab to the others, right?" Kyle's voice was solemn and his face was set in a grimace.

"I may give ya shit form time to time, but you know I can keep a secret. So what's up, son?"

Mike stopped polishing Carmen then kicked off his combat boots and leaned back in his chair.

Kyle hesitated for a second then said, "Like, how do you feel about gay people?"

"Whoa. Umm, if you like the cock, you like the cock. So why the sudden interest?"

"I... have a friend who's gay, right? And I like don't know how to like deal with it. You got any suggestions man?"

Mike let out a whistle and then chuckled.

"Well you're asking the wrong guy. Kind of the reason I at the HOP is because things are FUBAR with my friend and me. He told me he still loved me and I flipped out."

"That's beyond FUBAR man." Kyle lowered his head and ran his hands over his buzz cut red hair.

"Yeah but you know I'm like a volcano, which is the reason I busted the girls out. But look the best advice I can give you is to treat him the same way you always have."

"Thanks man and Mike—never mind. Yo, is it really true you hooked up with that girl?"

"Yep and plenty of others mind ya. Your boy needs reserved parking for his dick." Mike grabbed his crotch to emphasis his point.

"I mean don't you like ever have a steady girlfriend?"

"Naw son, I tried the relationship thing but things always gets boring after like a month in or she gets too clingy."

"So like you've never been in love then?" Kyle looked up at Mike's image on his screen and cocked his head to the side then stuck out his long tongue.

Mike paused in thought back, but there wasn't anyone he could say he loved. The only thing that came close was his bond with the Soldier Boys—and Jack, the voice in the back of his mind added.

"Nope just haven't found the right girl yet."

"Or guy?" Kyle added with a smirk and arched eyebrow

"That's rich, coming from the virgin." Mike flipped him off then told Kyle to sit and spin.

"Yo man, if you were gay I wouldn't care."

"Seriously son, I'm not. Got something you want to share mien liebschen?"

Kyle blushed then flipped Mike off. "Nein dummkopf, just saying I'd be cool with it is all, yo. And ya know you can like both right?"

"Huh?" Mike fixed Kyle with a bewildered look and began idly disassembling Carmen again.

"Duh you know being bisexual, now who's the cat 9?"

"What, I thought only girls were bi, and when did you become such a sexpert?"

"Dad made me take a sexology course this summer. Speaking of which, you finish your religion course, yo?"

"Nice segue there, but don't think I didn't notice. And yeah just have to interview Pastor Moody and I'm done for the rest of summer."

"Nice man and like I was saying you can like both, so tell me about this civilian friend of yours."

And so Mike told him all about the fight with Jack—leaving out the bit about Jack and the twins knowing about the Soldier Boys—and his plan to get James and the other fathers off their back.

"OK man I get that, but going up against all our dads is like insane, yo."

"I don't expect you to understand my reasoning just know that when the time comes if you test me then I'll have no choice but to crush you and the others."

Kyle paled then nodded his head.

"You do what you have to do, but don't think I'll go easy on you. And quit being such an ass to this Jack kid. He seems like a nice guy and doesn't deserve crap from you. And if you don't apologize ASAP I'll hop in my Cessna and come kick your ass."

"Oh my I'm shaking and when did you care so much?"

`I'm just saying being gay is hard enough without the extra bull, at least that what my friend, Alex, tells me anyways." Kyle stuttered the last bit out and pulled at the collar of his camouflage T-Shirt.

"Point taken, so tell me does your dad still make you do the prince thing with Dorothy?"

"God yes! I swear we were what six when they fed us that cock and bull story about being princes who had to train to defeat the evil alien empire?"

Mike pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Seven actually, and what was your code again? Ah yes: once bitten, twice shy."

"Hey it's better than David's sit boy, or Eric's I see a bad moon arising."

"Right and what was Tony's again?" Mike laughed right along with Kyle.

"Wasn't it something lame like the runt of the pack?"

"No, now I remember. It was Romulus and Remus." Mike slapped his leg and that sent them off on another round of laughter.

"Well later, yo. Have to knock out my language training for the day."

"Later son and you know you can tell me anything, right?"

"Yeah man, love ya." Kyle's smile stretched across his freckled cheeks as he saluted Mike.

"Ditto and I'll get right on Pinky when I get back. Seriously, not like that you pervert," he said when Kyle burst into laughter.

"Sorry man, but you walked right in to it."

"Yeah, just like your mom did last night."

Mike cupped his package and

Kyle flipped him off.

"In your dreams fire crotch, but on the real if you were gay I wouldn't care, long as you don't try to surprise butt sex me we're cool."

Kyle blushed then flipped Mike off again. `In your dreams dude."

"Bitch please we both know you'd be the catcher."

Kyle's face flushed red then he told Mike to suck it and they signed off.

Mike knew Kyle wasn't telling him something, but that made two of them. He checked in with James then gathered up his canteen, combat knife and walkie-talkie.

"Cybil: systems lock down in 90 seconds. If I'm not back in a week then contact me via radio on channel 4. If I don't respond begin playing the high frequency alarm until I respond."

"Understood, system lock down commencing in 70, 69..."

Mike looked into the forest and hesitated. He knew this must be done, but would he be able to come back this time. He took out his knife and marked a nearby tree then cupped his hands and howled. Several wolves responded back but he was only concerned with the closest one. He got down on his knees and sniffed the ground until a familiar scent filled his nostrils and he took off into the forest, bounding on all fours. He stumbled until he got the hang of it again then charged forward following the scent of his pup. He still had the presence of mind to stop and mark a few trees along the way. He took a pee break and saturated the ground where he picked up the scent of other wolves then howled again.

Through the shadowy pines his nose picked up the wolf long before he heard the snap of twigs. He turned and was met with the sight of a black and white wolf. It reared up and pounced on top of Mike who rolled him on his back and pinned him down. Mike bared his teeth b as he leaned over the wolf. He folded his paws and licked Mike's chins then nuzzled his neck.

"I missed you too Boy." Mike let Fang up and he presented his butt for the wolf to sniff. After their greeting was over they rolled around exchanging scents, and then Fang bowed and the chase was on. The pair darted around trees and stumps, with Mike gave Fang's tail a nip when he closed in as they ran. They rested at a stream until dinner caught their noses. Fang spotted the doe first but Mike was right behind him, and then pulled ahead. He could already feel his hands and feet callusing as they dug into the soft earth. When he was level with the doe Mike sprung to his feet and jumped on her back. She fell to ground under his weight and he bit a hunk of her neck and relished the salty taste then finished the job with his knife. When Fang had his fill Mike built a small fire and feasted on medium rare venison steaks. Sated they curled up together and rested.

As time went on the days blurred together and Mike no longer remembered where he was or how long it been since he seen another person. The only thing that mattered was the hunt and the kill. He didn't bother to cook the meat anymore but instead gorged himself alongside Fang. Along the way they picked up three more males and a snow white female, and were resting by a small lake just after sun rise. He flicked more fleas off his back then lapped from lake. Mike picked a bit of gristle from his teeth with his curved nail then lay down and rested awhile.

He came to sometime later to a piercing siren ringing in his ears. Fang and the others had backed away and howled in pain. Mike rubbed his eyes then searched for sound until he remembered the walkie-talkie.

"Alright I'm coming,' he said then found his tattered BDU and boots and put them back on. Fang and the others followed him and truthfully he'd rather stay with them, but he had a promise to keep.

When he made it back to the edge of forest he said goodbye with a final howl then packed. He'd be back with his pack soon enough.

 

After a long shower Mike changed his face book status to: I'm back holla at me tomorrow. Then he sent a message to Jack. It said:

I'm coming back a brand new me. I left to conquer my rage. I did it for me, but you helped see me through and don't even realize what you did. I've been through the ringer, so haters can drop dead like bees without stingers if they think they're stopping me. See gay, straight, whatever let's walk this road together. Semper Fi.

Mike dressed and not long after James arrived and let him drive home.

 

Well next chapter Mike returns and finds Jack and Adam have gotten, closer. Send comments to siloentbutcudly.com