Sunday, March 29, 2009

Roads Not Taken: Chapter 2

“You wait here. I’m sure it’s nothing.”

“If it’s nothing, then why am I waiting in the car?”

“Just humor me. This’ll just take a minute.”

“A lot of things can happen in a minute.”

Cole knocked on the door and waited. He glanced around knowing full well the creatures he had faced were gone. He could not help it. He had not counted on ones such as them getting wind of this so soon. It would make things much more difficult.

A woman who looked to be around thirty answered the door. She was petite with short auburn hair. She looked up at Cole and he saw that she was confused. She had a smile on that Cole knew was fake. Cole knew his appearance was a bit intimidating and given the chance he would have gotten himself cleaned up and dressed nicer before approaching the family, but there was no time.

“Missus Bralter?” Cole asked as politely, smiling down at the woman.

“Yes. May I help you?” She kept a grip on the door and seemed ready to close it.

“My name is Cole Buchannon. I’m sorry to show up on your doorstep at dinnertime, but I need to speak with your husband.”

“May I ask what this is…”

“Who is it, honey?” Mister Bralter approached the door while adjusting a Florida State University sweatshirt he had just put on.

“He says he’s here to talk to you.” Missus Bralter replied turning to her husband. The man stood for a moment and looked at Cole, sizing him up. Cole smiled at him and tried his best not to look threatening.

“Cole Buchannon.” Cole extended his hand.

“Michael Bralter.” Bralter slowly accepted Cole’s hand. Both had a firm grip, Cole from years of hard work, Bralter from much practice in negotiations.

“I’m afraid I have to interrupt your family time, Mister Bralter. It’s fairly important. If I could speak with you in private…?”

Bralter’s wife looked back and forth between the two of them. She seemed ready to say something, when her husband looked to her.

“Honey, why don’t you go on ahead and eat. I’ll be in in a minute.”

“OK, but don’t be long. Katie wants to tell you about her day at Pre-school.”

“Sounds good. You two leave some garlic bread for me.” He kissed his wife as she walked to the dining room. Bralter stepped outside and closed the door behind him. He faced Cole on the porch. “Now then, Mister Buchannon, what can I do for you?”

“I’m here about your hunting accident last month.”

“Please tell me someone finally bagged whatever that was that bit me.” Bralter grinned a bit.

“Matter of fact, yeah.”

“Good. I had to get rabies shots because of that. What the hell was it anyways? We didn’t get a good look at it. Pete thought it was a wolf.”

“Pete’s got pretty good eyes. It was a type of wolf, yes.”

“So are you with animal control or something?” Bralter cocked an eyebrow.

“No, I represent a group that deals with these sorts of things. I’m afraid there’s much more to that bite.” Cole took a deep breath. He still could not smell any trace of those he had faced moments ago. He knew they would be back. “When you got bit there was a full moon that night…”

“Wait, hold it.” Bralter waved his hand to silence Cole. “This is a prank Pete and Jason set up. Real funny. I’m going to eat my supper now. Have a good one.” Bralter turned and started to open the door.

“The fettuccini alfredo with chicken that goes along with garlic bread you mentioned.” Cole said it calmly and Bralter stopped. He turned towards Cole and his face was starting to twist in anger.

“Listen asshole, I don’t appreciate you spying…”

“I can smell it. You could too before you walked into your house. Lots of things have been smelling more potent. Bet you’ve been seeing a bit better at night as well. You haven’t really thought about all that, have you?”

“Look man, the joke’s over.”

“Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me that nasty bite you got didn’t heal up pretty damned quick. In fact, don’t bother, because I know you’ll be lying.” Cole held his hand up and felt searing pain tear through it. His skin itched as course brown hair sprouted from it. His hand twisted. His fingernails began to lengthen. Cole tried to hide the pain, but it was written on his face.

Bralter took a step back and nearly stepped off his porch. His eyes were glued to Cole’s transforming hand. His mouth hung open and if he was trying to speak, he was doing a poor job of it. Finally he looked up at Cole’s face.

“I know what you’re thinking.” Cole said calmly. “You’re thinking this is a joke. You’re thinking it’s not possible. You’re thinking all the same things I thought when I discovered all of this.”

“You’re a…”

“Yeah.” Cole’s hand began to change back to normal. “You are too now, and there’s going to be a full moon tomorrow night which means if you’re left alone you are going to change into something horrible and attack people like you got attacked. To make matters worse, there are… things that would like to use people like you.”

“Oh my God.” Bralter leaned against his house. “This isn’t happening.”

“Yeah it is.” Cole sighed heavily. He took no pleasure in this. “Look, Michael, this isn’t your fault. This is something that was done to you. I’m here to help you.”

“You said there were others… that want to use me.”

“I’ll deal with them. But no matter what you don’t invite anyone into your home tonight. I don’t care how long you’ve known them. That’s the best way to protect your family.”

“My God. My Family! What’ll I do? What’ll they do? I can’t hurt them! I have a little girl!” Bralter’s face was pure desperation.

“Look man, I’m not going to lie to you. They’re in danger. The things that are coming for you have no qualms about using them or hurting them. Fortunately, I have no qualms about killing them deader than hell. I’ve got your back.”

“But what about me? If I’m going to turn into some horrible monster what’s going to protect my family from me?” Cole could see tears starting to well up in Michael Bralter’s eyes. Cole took no pleasure in seeing a person’s life changed so dramatically. He hated seeing Bralter’s desperation. However, what came next was something that Cole did enjoy a bit.

“I’m going to hang out here for the night to make sure you don’t get any visitors. Tomorrow, you are going to call into work and take a sick day.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I’m going to teach you how to be more than a monster.”

About this month's artist: You know him, you love him, it's the one and only Chris Johnson. Chris is a busy, busy man working on MERE MORTAL as well as a lot of other really great artwork, but he made the time to turn out some great art for the story. (That and he's been dropping serious hints since i started this project about wanting to play too.)