I noticed I was at a different angle now. The bed must be on some sort of tilting mechanism because I was looking more forward instead of straight up. Perhaps it was time for them to try to feed me as the doctor had said they would do. I wasn't feeling much of an appetite yet but at least I was no longer feeling the constant waves of nausea. The pain had receded to a somewhat more bearable level.
Now as I moved my eyes to the right I could see an open doorway leading out into the hall. Not far to my left was a wall with heavy curtains covering it. The room was quite small over all, and the bed was roughly centered in it. The low level of light coming from the heavily curtained window suggested it was fairly late in the evening and the sun was low in the sky. They must have let me sleep several more hours.
I heard the familiar squeak of white tennis shoes coming down the hall and I moved my eyes to the right to see the nurse who'd first appeared the last time I'd regained consciousness standing at the doorway and smiling at me. She lifted a finger to signal I should wait a moment and walked off again.
Soon Doctor Castillo appeared in the doorway and entered.
"How do you feel today, seņor? Any improvement over yesterday?"
Yesterday? Had another day passed already?
I carefully gathered my strength to speak, anticipating a wave of pain, but it didn't feel nearly as bad this time when I said, "I only just woke up, so it might take me a moment to make that assessment. It seems to hurt a bit less."
The doctor smiled and nodded and said, "The extra rest has been doing you much good. Much of your pain was coming from the internal swelling. It has mostly gone down now. Your healing is progressing nicely. Within a week or so most of the pain that remains will have reduced to much more manageable levels. We will begin weaning you off the morphine now that the worst of it has subsided."
"What about my family? Have they contacted the hospital yet? Are they on their way?"
He said, "I cannot say for sure if they are on their way, seņor, but they have not contacted the hospital. I did as I said I would and had the other hospitals contacted to inform them that you were being treated here. The word has been out for a day now. I knew you would be concerned about it so I checked at the front desk a moment ago before coming here. So far your family has not reached out to us, but perhaps one of the other hospitals told them where you were and they might be on their way. I do have some good news, though. A man was at the desk inquiring about you. He apparently had been looking for you, too. He is a representative of your government. The nurse will bring him here in a moment so the two of you may speak. He said that he might have news of your family that you would like to hear. Once he is finished with you, the nurse will bring you some food. It is time for you to try to get something solid into you."
While the doctor was speaking, I saw movement by the door and moved my eyes to look. An attractive man with dark brown hair and a few days growth of beard wearing a t-shirt and jeans was walking by, and he glanced into the room as he passed by it. Suddenly, he backed up a few paces to look in the room again as though he was checking me out, then he turned to look back down the hall where he'd come from as if he was going to turn around. Something changed his mind, though, and he quickly turned back and continued on the way he'd been going instead, and he disappeared down the hall. He didn't look like a government representative, more like someone who was lost. He must have got the wrong room.
I then heard the squeaking shoes of the nurse approaching once again coming from the front desk down the hall. She must be showing the government man the way. I wondered what it was he might want. This was somewhat out of left field, but I guess it makes sense. The government might send a representative to check on US citizens to ensure we were being taken care of after the disaster at Nazas. I hoped there wouldn't be a lot of questions or too much scrutiny over my new identity. I wasn't sure how well it would hold up under too powerful a microscope.
"You say this man is a representative of my government. Did he say which department he's with?"
"No, he did not. He had your name and he insisted that he speak with you in private immediately. I've asked him not to disturb you for too long. You need your rest and you must eat to regain some strength."
The nurse appeared in the doorway and cleared her throat. The doctor turned and nodded, and she turned to wave someone into the room, then she walked back down the hall again towards the front desk.
A man appeared in the doorway dressed in a black jacket and black pants and he stepped in, but waited beside the door. He had an official identification of some sort hung on a lanyard around his neck and he held a tablet in his hand.
He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn't place him.
He took a look at me, seeing the contraption surrounding my head and the mass of casts covering my body and he smiled, almost looking like he was enjoying my predicament.
He turned to the doctor and said, "Thank you, doctor. We will be needing some privacy for at least thirty minutes. We have several important things to go over. Please do not allow anyone to disturb us until we're through."
The doctor nodded and left the room and disappeared down the hall. The man came further into the room and turned and closed the door. He looked for a latch to lock it, but there was none. He shrugged and turned back to face me and grinned.
Something about the way he was looking at me was unsettling. It was like he was gloating over my condition.
He walked up to the bed and looked me over more thoroughly and said, "You've certainly seen better days, Mr., uh..." He looked down at a tablet he had in his hand and said, "Christopoulos, is it?"
"Yes, that's right. May I ask why you're here? What part of the government are you with?"
He smiled and said, "That's not important. There isn't enough time to discuss it."
"Then what did you come here for?" I asked, as I saw him reaching into a pocket and pulling out a device that looked sort of like a diabetic's blood sugar tester.
Before I knew what was happening he reached out and grabbed my right hand and I felt a sharp jab in my finger.
"What the hell are you doing? What is that?" I asked, and even as I said it, I heard Grace's voice in my head saying exactly the same thing when we'd been listening in over the phone the night the men had come to her house looking for Cole, and my heart began to beat faster.
"Relax, it's just a little blood test," he said, and he attached the device to the USB port on his tablet and began to tap at it. After a few moments the tablet emitted a solid beep and the man harrumphed.
"Well, well. How interesting." He looked back at me and asked, "Have you ever heard of something called GDF11?"
My heart rate increased more. I had heard of it only once, also when we'd been listening to the man interrogating Grace at her house. He'd said something about the level being normal for someone her age. I'd never thought to try to find out what it was. I'd forgotten about it in all the excitement that had followed that phone call.
"No," I lied, "I can't say I ever have."
He stared at me for a bit, then looked at his watch and said, "It's no matter. We really don't have much time. It's lucky that you sent word out of your location. It made it much easier to find you. I was told to locate you and if you were alive, to bring you in."
"Bring me in where?"
He smiled and shook his head and said, "It doesn't really matter. It's not gonna happen. I'm not bringing you anywhere."
He looked around briefly and his eyes settled on something in the corner and he moved out of my line of sight. I heard him shuffling things around on a metal tray and he came back into view with a more serious look on his face. His hands suddenly came up and he had bunched up bandages in his right hand and he grabbed my chin with his left hand to pull it down and force my mouth open. My head was held fast by the brace and pain began to grow at the pins in my forehead as the man held my chin down and began to forcefully stuff the bandages into my mouth. I tried to struggle and waves of pain began to shoot out of my body again from the effort. I was locked tightly into place and I couldn't move my head to get it away from him.
I brought up my right arm to try to push him back but he simply used his left hand to grab my wrist and he slammed it down hard on the railing at the side of my bed. I tried to cry out in pain but it was completely muffled by the bandages that were now completely filling my mouth and almost forcing their way down my throat, making me want to gag.
The man quickly pulled his right hand away and I heard a tearing sound and then he was wrapping medical tape around my right wrist to tie it tightly to the railing on the bed. There was absolutely nothing I could do to stop him as I heard more ripping sounds and he brought up some tape to cover my mouth and hold the bandages in to gag me completely.
The more I tried to struggle the more it hurt, and I knew there was nothing I could do, so I tried to calm down and breathe deeply through my nose to try to bring my heart rate back down.
The man sneered at me and said, "You don't recognize me, do you? I guess you didn't get a good look when you greeted me so rudely at your front door."
I suddenly realized why he looked familiar. This was the man Elias had hit with the Taser that night! He was the leader of the three that tried to surround our house and take us! He must be the one that had been driving the SUV later on on the highway. The one who had gone looking for the van where I'd dumped it after he'd dropped off the other two.
He smiled and said, "I can see by the look on your face that you've managed to place me. You and your little family made a fucking fool out of me, leaving me flopping like a fish on your front porch, and I don't really forget things like that. We almost had that little pet of yours in the woods later on, but you managed to get your attack dogs to tear apart my friends. I've been wracked with guilt since then for leaving them alone out there. I should have gone in with them, but I wanted to make sure you wouldn't slip away so I went after the van. Those men had families! What you did to them, and what you did to the others back at the house before that, I don't let shit like that go. I hold grudges, see, and it's time for you to pay for what you did. I don't give a flying fuck if my superiors want you alive. I want you dead."
He looked to my right, near my head, and he reached out and I saw him pulling the IV system closer to him. Shit, he must be planning to up my morphine to overdose levels!
He saw the look in my eyes and said, "No, don't worry. I'm not gonna pump you full of morphine. You don't deserve the quick and pleasant death that would bring. Besides, they lock these things up with individual pin codes so they know who administered what dosage and when, and I couldn't operate it if I wanted to. I can't have them knowing that I'm the one that killed you anyhow, or that your death was in any way intentional, so an overdose would be too suspicious."
He reached into another pocket of his jacket and brought out a small syringe that contained a clear liquid, and he made a point of showing it to me. "This here's what we call a coagulant. It's a heavy duty one. Within a minute or two after I inject it into your IV line your blood will start to clot in several places all over your body. The pain will be intense as the blood supply is cut off to various parts, but it won't last long. Before too long one of the clots will block a major artery in your heart, or stop the flow of blood to your brain. You'll be hit with one hell of a painful and severe heart attack, or maybe a massive stroke. Either way, you'll be seizing in no time and I'll get to enjoy watching you flop like a fish just like I did, but unlike me, you'll die in intense pain. They'll just think a clot from one of your injuries found its way to a vital part. It sometimes happens with major breaks, especially the hip bones. Any autopsy they might do will prove them right."
I tried desperately to work my right arm loose, but I couldn't get it free. I sucked in a deep breath through my nose and then tried to scream loudly enough to get someone's attention but he simply pinched my nose shut to cut off any sound and he grinned at me.
"That's what I like to see," he said, "Fear. You clearly understand the position I've placed you in. You know you're about to die and there's absolutely nothing you can do to stop it. I imagine it's much the same way the men whose deaths you're responsible for must have felt just before your wolves tore them apart. Do you feel your bowels loosening? Are you gonna piss yourself? There's not much you can do in a situation like this except maybe say something appropriate like, 'Oh shit, no!', and then let go of your bodily functions while you simply accept your fate. Of course, I've got you gagged so there's not much you can say, so you can just skip to the rest of it."
He chuckled as he watched my face turning red. My heart was hammering in my chest and I was almost ready to pass out from lack of oxygen when he finally let go of my nose and I pulled in another deep breath.
"There's just one more thing I need you to know before I end you," he said, "Just a little something so you understand fully that everything you've done was for nothing. I know you've got to be curious about some things, so you'll sit quietly and listen to everything I have to say. There's not much else you can do anyhow."
He watched me for a moment to give me time to catch my breath and to ensure he had my complete attention before he continued, "I don't know what sort of moron would actually set fire to the vehicle he'd stolen in order to try to cover his tracks. It was the only thing we needed to find you. If you'd been smart enough to just leave it there, chances are nobody would have found it. Do you realize just how much black smoke comes off a gasoline fire? There was even an explosion for fuck's sake! Some people who'd been out on dirt bikes spotted it and called it in. The authorities get very suspicious when a vehicle is found burning out in the desert. I'm not sure how much you know about vehicles in general, but every single one has a unique vehicle identification number that identifies them. It's stamped right into the metal in different spots. It can't be destroyed by fire, you idiot."
He paused a moment to let what he'd said sink in before he continued, "We knew you'd need a vehicle to get away with the wolves that night, but we had no way of knowing where you'd get one or which way you were headed. Needless to say we watched very closely for days for any reports of stolen vehicles that might seem suitable to transport them. Imagine how happy we were when an RV sales lot a couple of miles from town reported a vehicle missing just a few days after our men were murdered by your wolves. The man even said it was a shitty old motorhome that had been partially gutted and had no tables or furniture inside so he wasn't sure why anyone would steal it. I had a pretty good idea why, though. You needed the open space, didn't you? How many of those fucking things have you been keeping anyhow? The little one we were after couldn't have done the damage I saw in that field. One of those men was ripped to shreds. We know there was at least one more wolf, but even then, one of the men should have been able to get a shot off. How many others were there?"
He stared hard at me as if he was waiting for an answer, but I was obviously in no position to give one. He shook his head and said, "Anyhow, the salesman had the registration and title so we had a VIN we could search the various state authority databases for. It wasn't much to go on, but we got lucky when the burning vehicle in the desert was reported by concerned citizens. It took a while for the local cops to eventually retrieve the vehicle from the desert and it probably sat for a while before a CSI finally got to it and lifted the VIN, and in time they finally got around to entering it into their system. We'd been repeating our search on a daily basis and we eventually found the match. Simple deduction led me to start calling RV lots around Tucson to see if any had been purchased recently. We knew you'd liquidated a great many of your investments so we knew you were flush with cash hidden away somewhere. Since you dumped a vehicle that was working for you, you must have found a better replacement. I was hoping you'd gotten some fake identification and wanted to fully legitimize yourself and would buy a vehicle instead of stealing another and risking getting found out by a routine traffic stop. I was right. Only two new RV sales had happened just before that fire in the desert. One was made to an elderly couple that we were quickly able to rule out, the other was made to an Alexandros Christopoulos."
My heart sank as the magnitude of my stupidity became obvious. That was all they'd needed. From there they could find out about my new bank account and credit and debit cards and they could track any use of the cards to quickly zero in on us. I'd been burning off the rest of the cash we had on hand while we traveled so, other than several purchases we'd made in Tucson with the cards before heading out, I hadn't used them much at all until we were getting close to Nazas and our cash had nearly run out.
The man smiled as he saw the wheels turning and knew I'd realized how dumb I'd been. "It was a simple thing to track parts of your journey from there, but you must have been spending a lot of time off the highways because we were always just a bit behind when your next purchase would pop up somewhere further into Mexico. We were getting close though. We weren't far at all when you made a purchase at a grocery store in Nazas."
My eyes went wide as I finally realized where he was headed with all this.
He nodded his head and said, "Yes, that's right, we have the boy. We had photos of him so we just started working the crowd. It was a cakewalk. We found him all alone. Someone shouted his name as I was dragging him off, but I couldn't tell exactly who it was and we were in a hurry to get him out of there. Needless to say we darted him on the spot. We couldn't risk him turning before we got him caged. Did you not know about the total eclipse that was coming? You really are a moron. We had no idea the level of carnage that was about to happen there, but it didn't much matter. We had what we were after and we high-tailed it out of there just in time it turned out. That fucking army of Samuel's almost managed to get him away from us, but they failed. He was hurt some, but his next change will fix all that. The boy was shipped off to his new home successfully. Nobody will ever see him again. The location is secret and extremely remote. He'll be poked and prodded and they'll be doing all sorts of nasty, painful experiments to see just how much damage his body is capable of repairing during the change. I imagine they'll be cutting parts off and taking out organs day after day to see what happens and which things come back and which ones don't. The rest of his life, and it will be very long if they're more careful this time, will be a misery you can't even imagine. Of course, they'll be using his blood and saliva to convert more 'volunteers' to do more experiments on, so if they lose a few here and there by going too far it won't really be an issue."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I'd led this piece of shit straight to Cole! My rage started building inside me but I was completely impotent to do anything about it. I was shaking and my heart was pounding. My fists clenched and unclenched over and over. My teeth were grinding against each other. My mind raced with thoughts of what I would do to this man if I wasn't locked into the casts and brace. I wanted to see him suffer just as much as he was enjoying watching me suffer right now. Just as much as he'd promised Cole would suffer. If I could, I'd start cutting pieces off this guy and pulling out his organs to see how he likes it. I'd never been filled with so much hate before. It didn't feel good and all I wanted was to vent it by tearing this asshole to pieces.
He grinned at me and said, "Yeah, that's it. You hate me quite a bit now, don't you? Good. Anyhow, I just wanted you to be fully aware of the colossal scale of your fuckup, and I wanted to say thanks for making it so easy for us. The boy will be much appreciated by those who'll be using him from now on."
He looked at his watch and back at the door to ensure it was still shut, then he said, "Now, I've got to do this before it's too late. Goodbye, 'Alexandros'"
He smiled smugly at me one last time as he reached for my IV line and brought it up and held the syringe against the injection port menacingly to give me one last vision of my own impending death.
I was too lost in my sudden misery to care anymore, so his dramatics were totally lost on me. I'd fucked it all up. One simple, stupid fucking mistake. Why did I burn the RV? The bastards had Cole now. The one thing they'd been after all along. I'd nearly handed him right to them. What the hell were they planning to do with him? What sort of life would he have now? At least the man hadn't said anything about Elias or Grace. Maybe Cole still had some slim chance. Maybe they could somehow come to his rescue.
As for me, it was all over. I watched helplessly as he stuck the needle into the line and depressed the plunger to add the chemical into the slow flow of morphine steadily dripping into my system. In seconds it would reach my veins and begin to circulate into my body.
I was completely awash in my own self-pity and misery and my impotent rage at him, so even though I heard the 'snick' sound of the door of the room closing behind the man, it didn't really register at first. I saw him start to turn to look at the source of the sound, and I heard the whoosh of something moving through the air in a hurry just before I heard a loud 'clunk' and the man grunted and fell onto me unconscious with blood suddenly running down the side of his head from a bad laceration of his scalp.
I heard a loud 'clang' as some heavy tool was dropped onto the floor and I felt the IV get yanked hard from my arm and I realized I'd somehow been saved, but by who? I couldn't turn my head to see.
In a moment the unconscious man was pulled off of me and roughly dropped on the floor and then the face of the handsome man I'd seen in the hallway moments earlier came into view. He grinned at me and said in a warm, masculine voice with a heavy Texas drawl, "Howdy, Jake! Geez, you look like shit, cuz! Sorry to interrupt your confab with your friend here, but I'm in a bit of a hurry and I couldn't wait around to let him finish what he was doing. Between you and me, he seemed like an asshole anyhow. I'm not sure why you were wasting your time with him."
I just stared at him, wide-eyed, as he began to rip the tape off my face and pulled the bandages out of my mouth. Who was this guy? How did he know my real name?
When he finished removing my gag and went to work freeing my arm from the railing I asked, "Who the hell are you?"
He looked at me in mock disappointment and said, "Normally, under these circumstances, the words 'thank you' would be the first ones to come out of yer mouth."
Then he smiled and winked at me and turned to bend over to pick something up off the floor. He turned back to face me and held up the large cast iron pipe wrench that he must have used on the skull of the man who'd been about to finish me off.
"I found this beauty in a maintenance closet down the hall. Ain't she sweet? She was your salvation my friend, and she ain't quite done with you yet."
He brought the wrench high over his head and before I could shout in protest, to my shock, he swung it down hard at my midsection.
I let out a loud 'oof' as the wrench stuck and broke the top part of the thick body cast that covered me from my ribcage all the way down to my feet. The heavy tool smashed right through the plaster and continued on into my stomach.
He looked at me with chagrin and said, "Sorry. I guess I shoulda warned you proper before I did that, it's just we ain't got much time. I gotta get this shit off you so it doesn't kill ya."
He raised the wrench again and took another hard whack further down my right side. Over and over he hammered away at my cast on the side of the bed he was standing on, freeing my injured spine, my broken hip and my right leg. He was using as much force as he could muster and I was sure he was gonna do more damage to me than I'd already sustained.
"What the fuck are you doing?" I shouted.
"Shhh, keep it down ya big doofus!" he hissed, "I'm getting you out of your cocoon, little caterpillar. If I don't, you won't be happy with the complications of your upcoming metamorphosis. It's time for you to become a butterfly, see?" Then he chuckled and added, "If butterflies had no wings, big teeth, were covered in fur, and could bite a man in half, that is. I've just got a few minutes to get this done and then I gotta skedaddle the fuck out of here. By the look of you, you're gonna be one hell of an impressively huge mofo. Biggest I ever seen for sure. How much you weigh anyhow? I'd say close to 260, but you're all meat and bones. No fat. Fat don't count. You're a hell of a tall drink of water, too. Shit, cuz, you are gonna be a force to be reckoned with I'll tell you what! I can't be in the room when it happens or we'll lock horns and there's no chance in hell I'm gonna survive eight seconds in that rodeo."
Was he talking about me changing into a wolf? He was busting up my cast so I wouldn't be trapped inside it when I change? Didn't he realize I wasn't a werewolf? Was he one? I suddenly took more notice of how handsome, muscular and incredibly healthy he looked. His skin was perfect and he looked tight and toned. His teeth were absolutely brilliantly white like they were brand new. He was as much the perfect example of a human male as Grace was a perfect female, now that she'd changed. He was fairly big himself, too. He had to be at least six feet tall. Maybe a bit more. If he was a wolf, he'd be a hell of a lot bigger than Elias even.
He was done pulling the cast off my hip and leg on the right side so he moved around to the other side of the bed and began whacking at my left leg to break up the cast there.
To my surprise, he started to sing between every swing of the wrench as he worked his way up my leg. "Oooooh, the ankle bone's connected to the..." he grunted and whacked at my shin to bust up the cast as he sang, "...shin bone. The shin bone's connected to the..." grunt, whack, "...knee bone. The knee bone's connected to the..." grunt, whack, "...thigh bone..."
Then he paused after shattering the cast at my thigh and took a few breaths to get his wind back from all the effort before he said, "Aw, fuck it. The thigh bone's connect to all that other shit," and then he proceeded to keep raising and lowering the wrench in quick succession, smashing the rest of the cast at my hip and waist on my left side. With several more whacks he had the entire lower body cast broken up in pieces that he brushed off onto the floor.
At this point I was happy that I couldn't feel anything from my waist down or I'd be in a hell of a lot of pain. He didn't seem to care how much damage he did to me as he cheerfully worked me over with the wrench. He was in a hell of a hurry. It was obvious that he was here to help me and he'd even saved my life from the other man, but I had no idea why he did it, or how he knew I needed help in the first place.
His attention went to my groin and he grimaced and said, "I hate to tell you this, Jake, but you got a big fat catheter hose up yer pee hole. That sumbitch will be pushed right up into your bladder. It could cause complications. I think I'd better pull it on out."
He didn't wait for my opinion and simply yanked and I saw a few dribbles of urine go flying, then he tossed it between my legs.
"You ain't got a full bed pan or nothin' under you, do ya?" he asked.
"You tell me. I can't feel anything down there."
"I ain't about to go prospecting if I don't have to," he said, then he shrugged and added, "Well, ain't no thing if there is anyhow. It won't cause problems."
He turned his attention to the cast on my left arm and while he continued to work he said, "Name's Jesse, by the way. Grace sent me. I probably shoulda said that part right up front, or at least before I yanked on yer johnson. Man, what a woman that Grace is! She told me you two weren't a thing. I hope you don't mind me coveting her. She's really somethin' else. I might like to cozy on up to her if it's alright with you. She asked me to get to you and bring you on back to her. I ain't really supposed to be here. Samuel's gonna have my hide for it when he finds out, but there was no way I could say no to her."
"Grace sent you? Where is she? Is Elias with her? What about Cole?"
He cheerfully continued to hammer away at me as he worked his way up my left arm and began to bust up the cast there with the pipe wrench. "She said to tell you Elias is OK. She said you'd ask about Cole, and to tell you that she didn't know nothin' yet."
He suddenly got a bit of a pained and almost guilty look on his face and he paused for a moment between swings of the wrench, and then he looked right in my eyes and said, "Don't worry about it. I'm gonna get you back to Grace. That's why I'm here. Then we'll look after doin' somethin' 'bout Cole. I'll need yer help with that."
He looked me over for a moment and then said, "This one's gonna hurt a bit. Brace yerself and try not to make no noise."
He wound up and it looked like he was about to smash my face in, but the large pipe wrench came down right at my collar bone on the left and shattered the cast there. There was a loud 'crack' as the wrench broke through the thick plaster, and then shattered the clavicle that had likely only just barely started to knit back together.
The removal of my IV drip had saved my life by preventing the coagulant from getting into my system, but it had also abruptly interrupted the slow and steady drip of morphine that had been keeping the edge off the pain. The moment the wrench made contact, my vision immediately shrank down to a point of light in front of me while everything around went black, then the point exploded back outward and with it came the largest wave of pain I'd encountered yet. I did everything in my power not to scream.
He saw me turning beet red and sweating and he paused briefly and said, "Sorry 'bout that. I think I mighta put a bit more oomph into that one than I needed. I'm new at this doctorin' shit. I ain't never removed anyone's cast before. Sort of a fun job to be honest. I don't know why they have to send doctors for years of schoolin' to do this. It's pretty easy, really. You're bein' a real trooper, but it ain't over yet, cuz. Hang on to yer britches..."
He pulled back and I was about to beg him to stop but the wrench came down again, this time on my shoulder. There was another explosion of pain, but not nearly as bad as the collarbone. Then again he brought the wrench up and back down near my underarm at my chest on the left side. There was another loud crack, but this time it wasn't one of my bones, it was the last bit of the cast that had been holding my shoulder stable.
"That's got 'er," he said.
He dropped the wrench on the floor and reached in and started to pull at the large pieces of cast around my shoulder to get the last of it free. He threw it all on the floor and then surveyed his work with a look of satisfaction.
He then looked at my forehead and around my neck and sighed and said, "I ain't got time to take that thing off graceful like. Too many screws. It's cracked here at the bottom so I can pull it apart. This is gonna be the worst yet. Whatever you do, don't move your head once I get that thing off. Keep as still as you can. It won't be much longer."
I brought my right hand up to stop him and said, "Wait! What's the rush? Why can't you just take the screws off? You're wrecking me more than I was! I can't heal all this shit! I'm not a werewolf yet! I got bit by someone who was changing, but the sun was coming back out when it happened!"
"Not a werewolf? You got bit, didn't ya? The folks at the front desk told me you'd been bit and dragged. You even got your kidney torn out. A wolf that finished changin' wouldn'a done nothin' like that, unless he really hated you or somethin'. In fact, if yer sayin' you got bit when the sun was already back out, then I guaran-damn-tee you the job was done. Any wolf hit by the sun is instantly starting to change back, and if they bit ya you'll change too. Of course yer a werewolf. You have been for the past three days!"
"What? I didn't change, or I wouldn't be like this. I'd be healed!"
He shook his head, "No, the sun stopped that. 'Course you didn't change. Don't you get it? You were bit by a changing werewolf. It don't matter that the sun was back out. It don't matter none if he was changing to a wolf, or changing back, just that he was changing. That means he infected you. It's in yer blood! You didn't change at all just because the sun was already out. It's still in ya though. Your first change was just delayed by the new moon is all, but it's comin', and it's comin' fast. We don't have to be at the crazy wolf stage to change someone else. You musta seen the change yerself a mess of times by now. You know that first jerk of the body you always see? That happens the instant the change starts. If you wanted to change on purpose, your gal Grace would only have to spit on an open cut right after that first spasm hits her, and you would change. She doesn't need to be a dangerous raging wolf."
I'd never even thought of that, but it made perfect sense. The change starts at the point they first spasm, then continues until the point that everything is settled and they slide into place in their final form. Their blood or saliva could change someone else at any point along that window. Even if the wolf that bit me in Nazas had completed the change and was stable, the fact that he was suddenly hit by the emerging sun meant his change in the other direction was already underway while he dragged me by the arm and then bit into my kidney, whether he felt it yet or not. In fact, the sun emerging just then was probably the only thing that kept him from killing me. Before he could get any farther mauling me he must have fell to the ground convulsing with the change back to human form.
Jesse looked at his watch and said, "Shit! Just over two minutes 'till sunset. I love talkin' to folks, in case you hadn't noticed yet, but for now I need you to shut up and let me work. This is for your own good."
He reached in under my chin and started to heave a bit with his powerful muscles, then I heard a crack and he almost fell over backwards as something gave way. He must have broken apart the cast that the steel rods were anchored to. He struggled a bit more with them to break them cleanly apart, then he looked up at my forehead.
He shook his head and looked back into my eyes with a bit of sympathy and he said, "Jake, I can already tell I'm gonna like you a whole lot. I hope you won't hate me for what I'm about to do. There's just no time to do it graceful."
He moved out of sight behind me and I saw his hands come forward and grab the steel rods and he lifted them up over my head and down behind. I suddenly felt an intense pain in my skull and I felt my head being pulled upward and my neck stretched out. I clenched my teeth and tried not to scream as the pain ratcheted up and the room started to go dark again while bright bursts of pain pounded at my head. He was tearing the metal band right off of my skull, pins and all. I could hear cracking and scraping as the pins came free and I suddenly felt warm blood pouring down the sides of my face as the brace suddenly came off and I saw it go sailing across the room as he threw it into the corner. My head was suddenly on fire, yet it felt cool and wet at the same time.
He said, "Oh, shit. I scalped you a bit, there. Sorry 'bout that. That nasty flap'll get fixed right up in a couple minutes so no worries. For now just think of it as a really, really bad hair day."
He came around again to where I could see him and he said, "Just over a minute to go. I gotta get out of the hospital. We can't be together. That door will be easy to open when you're a wolf. Straight down the long-ass hall to the left is the front desk and the main entrance. The doors are automatic. Out in the parking lot you'll see your own RV. It's what I came in. She's a real beauty by the way. I'm gonna go and change in there. I'll leave the door unlocked but I don't think you'll be able to work it as a wolf and I won't be able to open it from the inside as a wolf either. You're gonna have to work on that later and fix it up so a wolf can work it. You don't want to be getting stuck in there when you're a wolf. Probably best to stay right here in the room for ten minutes if you can, until you change back. It's the first change of the new cycle so it's gonna be that short. If you do come out, then get the hell outside but find someplace out of sight to change back. Don't worry about bein' seen on the way. After the shitstorm you folks caused at Nazas the whole world knows werewolves exist now. Just make sure you aren't around no people when you change back, but I'm sure I don't have to tell you that. Don't go too far, either. You'll be buck naked when you're human again and it'll be an embarrassing sprint back to the RV if you're the shy type, though you'd be giving the ladies a look at something they'd be fantasizing about while they touch themselves in bed for the rest of their lives I think." He winked and turned to go to the door.
He turned back and said, "Come to the motorhome when it's all over and yer human again. See ya in a bit, cuz."
With that he went to the door and quickly stepped out into the hall and closed the door again, and then I heard him pounding down the hall at high speed. There were shouts as he raced out of the hospital. Someone must have found it odd that he was running away from something. There were raised voices for a while, then after a few more moments I heard footsteps running down the hall towards my room.
Suddenly, it was like I was hit with fifty thousand volts of electricity as I felt every single muscle in my body clench hard and I bounced slightly on the bed as pain rocketed through me from all of my injuries that were no longer being held stable by a cast. This had to be the first spasm that I always saw the family get hit with right at the moment the last bit of the sun dipped down below the horizon. It was true! I was about to change!
The door flew open and the nurse and doctor were both there. The nurse gasped when she saw the mess in the room and the unconscious man on the floor and then screamed when she saw the state I was in. I had to look pretty bad, with a large flap of my scalp dangling back behind my head and blood pouring from the raw wound.
The doctor got a surprised look of concern on his face as he shouted, "What has happened?! The man who ran, did he do this? Seņor, do not move!"
He began to come into the room to help me as I felt another wave of electricity begin to build in my body and I shouted, "Get out! Close the door! You're in danger! Do not come in here!"
My body jerked again as another hard convulsion hit, then I started to feel all of the muscles in my body begin to fire at random and it felt like I was caught in a hail of machine gun fire as fireworks of pain burst all over in rapid sequence.
"Seņor, what is happening?"
"Get out or I'll kill you!" I shouted at the top of my lungs.
They both leaped out into the hall and slammed the door shut. I heard their footsteps running down the hall to the front desk, likely to contact the authorities.
The constant firing of my muscles at random became stronger and stronger as my body began to bounce and shake on the bed like I was having a grand mal seizure. My muscles began to ache powerfully. It felt like a bad charlie horse in absolutely every muscle in my body, but this was still the easy part. I suddenly heard crunching and cracking sounds and searing pain began to run through my body like my heart was pumping molten lava through my system. I was on fire. I started to feel like I was in a huge microwave set to high and I was cooking from the inside out. It felt like I was beginning to expand, like I would explode in a minute and splatter myself all over the room.
My broken neck suddenly felt like it was fusing and stretching, my rib cage cracked and heaved inwards at the sides and my hands and feet suddenly felt like they were being crushed repeatedly by every tire of a full convoy of eighteen wheelers rolling over them.
I cried out as the pain ramped up and began to hammer at me relentlessly, harder and harder. It started to feel like icy, jagged edged rods of steel were being used to pry my joints apart, and then plunged into the ends of my bones and pushed up through the marrow, twisting and prying until my bones cracked open while I yelled out in agony.
A massive spasm hit and I bounced hard and rolled onto my side in a fetal position, then another spasm hit and I fell off the bed to the side. Suddenly I found myself lying face down right on top of the unconscious man who'd tried to kill me. My body convulsed hard again and the intense pain began to race through me in repeating waves that escalated as my bones and joints continued to change shape and migrate around inside my body. I cried out and the sound was cut off as I felt my neck begin to expand and my skull and jaw started to change shape.
I was growing in mass quickly now. I could feel myself getting heavier and thicker.
I was blasted again by an explosion of pain and I tried to scream, but I could make no sound anymore. My face began to stretch out before me and it felt like my teeth were turning inside out as they grew out longer and longer. I tried to get up onto my hands and knees. I was no longer thinking clearly. I just wanted to get out of here and escape the pain. Another wave hit and my head went up and back.
I wanted so bad to scream, or did I want to howl? I was starting to become confused. I could feel another presence starting to awaken inside me and it was trying to assert itself. I was thinking less, and feeling a lot more, like my human consciousness was beginning to retreat while the new wolf began to wake up and push forward.
I had made it to my hands and knees and the change was accelerating fast, but the pain was escalating and I could feel myself on the edge of falling into the blacked out state that Elias had talked about when the pain was at its worst.
I suddenly heard a groan and I looked down at the source of it just below me. The man who'd tried to kill me was starting to come around. His eyes opened slowly and he must have quickly realized what was happening as they suddenly flew open wide and a look of panic came over him. I struggled to remember who this person was, then it started to come back to me even as my mind was still slowly slipping away. I started to think of all of the things he'd said to me and what they intended to do to Cole, and how he'd been the one to catch him, and I felt the new presence in my mind paying close attention. My rage at the man began to build again to where it had been the moment before he depressed the plunger that he'd hoped would end my life.
I tried to hang on tight to those thoughts but I felt myself fading away and getting more confused. It was getting harder and harder to think. It was getting easier to feel, though. Right now there was one overriding feeling swelling within me as I looked down at the man who'd caused me so much misery. I was feeling pure, unadulterated hatred. More hate than I'd ever felt in my life before. I could sense the wolf pick up that feeling and run with it. The wolf suddenly locked on to the idea that this thing beneath me was the source of all of the pain it was suddenly awakening to. He was suddenly in a killing mood.
As the pain continued to ramp up and the change continued to accelerate, I felt the world begin to shrink away. All the sounds and sights and smells became so detailed it was like a sensory microscope was kicking in and it turned it's focus sharply onto the man beneath me and it amplified the one overriding feeling. Hate. I suddenly heard the wolf let out a bone-chilling snarl as the world began to turn red and I felt like I was sinking into a pool of bloody rage.
My heightened senses immediately picked up the strong and unmistakable odor of urine and feces as the thing beneath me realized its death was at hand and lost all control of its bodily functions. It knew its end had come and it was completely overwhelmed with fear. The last thing I heard before I lost consciousness from my head and brain continuing the process of reorganizing completely into the shape of a giant wolf, was the man's terrified voice saying, "Oh shit, no!"
As my consciousness began to reassert itself I immediately noticed the taste of copper in my mouth.
No, that was my human mind trying to process it in its own ridiculously simplistic way. The wolf pushed me a bit and my mind suddenly expanded and was able to process it in a completely different way. I immediately realized it didn't just taste like a thing, it tasted like ideas and concepts. Like feelings. It tasted like finality. It tasted like victory. Like dominance. It tasted like vengeance or like justice. It tasted right. It felt amazingly good to taste it. Elias had said wolves taste things differently, and I knew now just how right he was. I'd never tasted this before but I knew immediately what it was. It was the previously life giving substance of another. It was muscle and gristle and skin and hair and sweat and blood. Lots of blood. I could taste it all through the multiple myriad layers of complexity of flavors in my mouth. It carried with it volumes of knowledge and emotion and feelings. I could feel it all and it felt incredible.
I looked around the room and immediately realized everything was different. It was as if I had only seen one percent of the room before, but now I was seeing it all. No, seeing was not quite the right word. It was much more than that. It was a bigger picture than I'd ever seen before, even though my eyesight seemed a bit more limited than it had been. I could see more detail, or at least it felt like I could, but the colors seemed off. They seemed muted and simpler. Less complex. Like the colors weren't all there anymore. It didn't matter, though, because I saw how everything smelled now, and through that I could see so much more than ever before.
It was like my sense of smell was so incredibly powerful, it was adding more detail to the things around me than my eyesight could ever have done, even as a human with what was thought to be the richest color vision in the animal kingdom. Smell suddenly towered in precedence over every other sense and it repainted the surroundings for me in a completely different light. I was seeing the world through how it smelled and it enabled me to see far more than I could ever have hoped to see before. I'd had no idea how much information was all around me that I was not privy to before, when I was a simple human relying only on eyesight. It was like seeing nothing and then suddenly removing a blindfold and seeing everything, even things that weren't visible.
The wall wasn't just a plain beige color that told me nothing other than 'beige wall' anymore. It was now the color of all of the life and death that had happened in this room. It was the color of bleaches and cleaners and medicine, and the tears of loved ones who had cried by the bedside of ailing family members. It was the color of everything that had passed through this room going back for an untold number of days. It was obviously a collection of scents, but seemed almost more like a color, or like a complex composite of colors, and I could see them all individually as they formed into the shapes and ideas that they represented. It felt like knowledge. Like facts. Like details. All of that information clung to the beige wall in all of the microscopic pores in the surface of the paint, and the information could never be completely washed away, no matter how hard they scrubbed at it.
I suddenly knew more about this room than any lowly human could ever possibly hope to know, and I knew it all in the space of time it took me to run the air of the room through my nose and across my tongue. I could smell the sickness of many of those who'd passed through here before, including myself. I could smell and taste the foot odor of the nurses and the body odor of the doctors, and their cheap perfumes and colognes and soaps, no matter how faint they might have been. I could smell the bouquets of flowers that must have perched and wilted on bedside stands and the stagnating water from the vases they'd been sitting in. I could smell the lunches and breakfasts and dinners that had been delivered here.
There were molecules that told stories of absolutely everything that had been in the room before me, and I could smell and identify them all individually. It was like the room was a massive archive of absolutely everything that had ever happened in it, and my new brain could suddenly browse through any file to pick out any detail it needed. It was such an incredible influx of information that it bordered on sensory overload and I began to feel overwhelmed by it all, but the wolf pushed me again in a certain way and I suddenly understood how to control it. That is to say, I felt how to control it. I could want to know some specific thing about the room and my senses would suddenly zoom directly in on the pertinent data and temporarily ignore all the rest.
I decided to test it out. I thought of the man that had been beneath me. I wondered what happened to him and suddenly my senses zeroed in on and singled out the sharp odors of his piss and shit, of his blood and guts and sweat and tears. I smelled his fear and his death and tasted it in my mouth, and it tasted good.
There was more, though. As my new thought process dug deeper, it smelled where the man had been and what he'd done. There were layers and layers of scents to pick through. I could smell what he'd eaten for lunch for days back. I could smell the plants and flowers from the various parts of the Mexican countryside he'd passed through to get here. I could smell that he'd lain with a diseased whore not more than two days ago. I could smell something else, something wrong with him. Cancer. He'd been sick and most likely didn't even know about it.
There was an endless flow of information coming from the scents he'd left in the room, but my brain had no problem tossing the irrelevant data aside until it found what it had been looking for. Cole. I smelled him through the contact this man had had with him. I was sure of it. I smelled his love for me. I smelled his fear of this man. I smelled his concern for me and for Grace and Elias. I smelled his confusion at why I wasn't there to help him. All of the emotions he'd felt while in the presence of this man must have bent and twisted the pheromone production in his body to produce a unique and distinct array of scents that explained everything he was feeling, and I could smell each one and understand it.
Cole had been with this man for many hours. At one point it became a mishmash of chaotic smells. Many men. Sweaty, scared, angry. There was the smell of cordite, of gunfire. There had been a battle. I could smell a struggle of some sort. A clash with many others that had been bloody. Was it the army that the man had mentioned? Samuel's army? There was one particular scent that seemed familiar in an immediate sense because it matched another scent that was in the room in a stronger presence. It was Jesse! He'd been in the fight. Had he tried and failed to rescue Cole? Was that the guilt I'd seen on his face earlier?
There were newer scents that indicated the fight had ended and the man still had Cole with him for a time afterward. The scent of him led up to a place that was full of gasoline and diesel fuel. No, jet fuel. An airport or airfield. The scent of Cole ended there. The man must have dropped him off to be flown away to some remote location.
The rage in me began to build again as I looked around the room to process less with my nose, and more with my eyes. Was there anything left of this man that still needed to be dealt with? The wolf had done all the work while I was still unconscious so I had not been completely purged of the need to destroy the man yet. I wanted to hurt him more.
As I looked around I saw blood and guts and shredded clothing strewn everywhere. The floor and the walls and the ceiling were covered with sprays of his blood. The room was an absolute mess as though there had been a bomb planted inside the man's body that had been set off. There were severed parts of him all over the place. The wolf had been in a blind rage when left all to itself to do what it wanted to do, and it had been thorough. One of the man's arms was over there. There was a leg. There was the other over by the door but it was missing the foot, which was in a different location. His entrails had been pulled out and stretched and were scattered about the room.
I spotted his torso, or what was left of it. It had only one arm and the head was still attached, frozen in a scream of stark terror and intense pain. The torso ended at the ribcage, which had been mostly destroyed. Below was simply part of his lower spine dangling down onto the floor. The hips sat separately on a different part of the floor. His organs were half eaten and thrown all around the room in pieces. There were lungs and liver, heart and kidneys and spleen. There were many, many long coils and ropes of intestines strewn about at random. To my disgust I saw that his genitalia had been bitten off and spat out on the floor in one piece, likely while he was still alive.
The wolf had not been merciful. Clearly, it must have remembered the thoughts I'd had while it was awakening, about what this man said they would do to Cole, about them cutting off parts and taking out organs, and it had decided to give the man a taste of that very same treatment as his final punishment. It had picked the man apart like a psychotic child pulling the wings and limbs off a bug to make it suffer as much as possible before it died.
I realized at once that I had subconsciously sent that message to the wolf just before I'd blacked out. In my own rage I'd conveyed my wish to the feral animal that was going to be running my body while I was briefly out during the last part of the change. The command was so straightforward it didn't require words, just a simple desire. Kill this thing, and make it suffer.
Now that my human intelligence was fully back in command again and I was able to think clearly, I realized my mistake. I knew I couldn't really have stopped the wolf from doing what it did, but I should have at least tried. In its lust to exact the justice I'd been too impotent to dispense in my damaged human form, the wolf had killed the one and only person who could have told me where Cole was being held. I had destroyed my best chance to get to him and bring him to safety.
Disappointment and despair began to rise inside me, but the wolf nudged me once again and it all stopped. I realized the emotions were important, but nothing would be gained by dwelling on them. I must live in the now, like wolves do, or become as crippled by my emotions as a human would be. What was done was done. I must file the lesson away and move forward.
I took a moment to look over my new shape. I looked down at my massive paws and saw that they were jet black. I turned my head to look back at my body and saw that it was all black, all the way back to the end of my bushy tail, which I briefly wagged to test it out. I couldn't resist lifting my hind leg and looking underneath. My balls were huge and I had a thick, heavy, furry sheath.
I felt absolutely massive and heavy and powerful. I must weigh more than twice what I did before, and I felt far more than twice as alive. All of that mass was stretched out to gigantic proportions across my lean, lanky, dense, efficient body.
I tried to judge just how big I was but it was hard to get a true idea of my size while looking out from inside myself.
I moved around the room to try to compare myself to things I understood. I walked up to the side of the bed and realized I was so large I could simply step right over it with my front legs on one side of it and back legs on the other and it wouldn't even brush against my underside.
The room seemed tiny and cramped compared to when I'd been human. I felt like my head would be just about at the level my shoulders had been when I was human, yet I was still down on all fours.
My body felt solid and powerful, but there was really no way to test it out fully in this small space.
I looked over at the remains of the man's head and upper torso lying on the floor. I moved over to it out of curiosity, to use it as a gauge. I put my huge front paw on the man's face and I saw that it more than completely covered it easily. My paw had to be at least eight inches wide, if not more. Again, out of curiosity, I moved my head down and opened my jaws to take the man's head in my mouth. It fit almost in its entirety.
I couldn't resist testing how easily I might be able to kill a man if I needed to, so I put my front paw on what remained of his chest and pressed down to bring what must be over five hundred pounds of my weight to bear, then I pulled back hard with the powerful muscles in my neck and shoulders with the man's head still in my jaws. Almost effortlessly his head came apart from the torso to the sound of his neck breaking and separating, and his skin and flesh tearing and ripping. I turned my head and spat, and the man's head rolled across the floor.
I fully understood now the fear the other man had had back at Grace's house when he'd said what a monster I would be. I would be instant death to anyone I got near if I felt they deserved it.
I became conscious of the passing time and realized I wouldn't be a wolf much longer. I'd change from this incredible, unstoppable force of nature to a relatively vulnerable human again in no time. The doctor and nurse had run off to call for help. I didn't want to be trapped in this room if it arrived before I could get away. It was time to move.
I advanced toward the door, but as I passed the man's head lying on the floor, facing up with the frozen scream on it, the wolf nudged me once more and I was overcome with an urge that I couldn't resist. I lifted my leg and began to urinate on his face. I kept going until my bladder was empty and his mouth was full and his face was covered and his hair was drenched with it.
The thorough marking demonstrated without doubt who had been the dominant one here to anyone who might question it. It showed the world that this man had been nothing compared to the wolf. That he'd tried to impose his will on someone who towered above him in power and presence, and he had paid the price. It warned anyone else who might try to get in the way of the wolf, that they would do best to roll over on their backs to bare their bellies and submit without hesitation, or they would be dealt with without mercy.
I turned back to the door and put my massive paw over the now tiny lever that was its handle, and I pressed down to open it.
Somewhere out there in the world was Cole, alone and afraid and being held by other people who were just like the one in pieces on the floor around me. They were nothing, and they would all pay the price for their transgressions just as he'd done.
could sense the wolf smiling as he watched my thoughts and I could feel
his approval. It seemed we understood each other perfectly and we
would get along just fine.
I didn't know where Cole was and I didn't know how I would find him, but I knew that I would. I had an eternity now to work at it. Anything and anyone who tried to get in my way would be torn asunder. I would not hesitate to end them. I would do whatever it took to reach him.
The people who had Cole were now my prey, and it was time to begin the hunt.***
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