Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Roads Not Taken: Chapter 3

“We’ve got to go!”


“Adrian, I’m sorry! They’re gone!”

“Shut up, Cole!”

The night had been uneventful. Cole had returned to the woods and camped out there. It was chilly that night, but it had been a long time since cold weather had bothered Cole. There was no trace of the three that were stalking Michael Bralter. Cole knew he had not scared them off. They would strike the next night, hoping to recruit Bralter to their group as they had down to others.

As the sun rose, Cole made his way to his motorcycle, which he had concealed on the edge of the woods. He rode the Harley Davidson a few miles to a stretch of farmland that he had passed on the way to Bralter’s neighborhood. He had noticed what looked to be an abandoned barn that was on the verge of utter collapse. The crops had harvested for the season and the area was deserted enough for Cole’s needs.

The barn was entirely unstable. The aluminum roof was rusted in some places and flat out missing in others. Support beams were dry rotted. Old wooden crates sat off to one side, collecting dust. There was an area in the center that would serve for Cole’s needs. He kicked miscellaneous broken planks and debris out of the way as he brought in his supplies.

There wasn’t much that he would need. The bottled water was most important. He also brought some protein bars in case either of them got hungry. The lesson was a difficult one when Cole had learned it. He was wondering how he would do as a teacher.

Bralter arrived about a half hour after Cole did. He was wearing a blue business suit and pulled a duffle bag from his car as he emerged from it. He was nervous, but was trying to hide it.

“Mornin’.” Cole said with a nod.

“Hey. I brought the change of clothes you told me to. Told my wife I was going to gym on my lunch break.”

“Good man. Go ahead and get changed. The sooner we start, the better.” Cole took a seat on one of the crates still solid enough to support him. Bralter began to undress. Cole did not look at him. “You take some Motrin before you came out here?”

“Yeah. Does it really help?”

“Little bit. Don’t get me wrong, it hurts like hell. You get used to it eventually. For now, stuff like Motrin takes a bit of the edge off.”

“You’re sure about this? You’re sure I’m…” Bralter’s voice trailed off. He had a hard time even thinking about what he was saying. It was all still felt surreal.

“Yeah. I can smell it on you.”

“Why didn’t I change right after I got bit?” Bralter asked as he pulled on navy blue sweat pants.

“Takes a while for whatever it is in the saliva to effect the change.”

“It’s in saliva?” Bralter looked panicked. “My God! My wife! I kissed her!”

“Hold on, Mike. It’s OK. From what we know the saliva has to make direct contact with the blood stream and it’s got to be a significant amount. There’ve been times when the person bitten wasn’t even effected. You’re family’s safe. As long as you don’t bite the shit out of them.”

“God, I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be. It’s alright, man.”

“I just…” Bralter stood there wearing his navy blue sweats. He was barefoot on the dirt floor of the barn. He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed heavily. His eyes stayed on the ground in front of him. He had barely looked at Cole since he arrived. “I’m worried about them.”

“Good.” Cole smiled. “Consider it motivation. This is going to be hard, but doing this will keep your family safe.”

“Yeah… OK.” Michael Bralter finally locked eyes with Cole. Cole knew he was ready. “What do I do?”

“Alright, here we go.” Cole kept his tone even and calm. This was going to be a rigorous and possibly a very long day for Michael. Barking orders at him would not help. “During a full moon people experience something on a subconscious level. We call it the Trigger. It makes some people act weird, just ask any cop. What we’re infected with reacts to the Trigger. It’s what makes us transform.”

“So, how do we control it?”

“We identify it. We focus on it. Once you do that, you will transform and it will hurt like you’ve never hurt before. But once you’re conscious of the Trigger, once you know what it feels like, you can control the change.”

“Even on a full moon?”

“People change uncontrollably under a full moon because they don’t know what’s happening. They panic. They black out. They don’t remember what happened because they don’t know how to cope with it.”

“I’ll be in control, even as a… God, I can’t even say it.” Bralter shook his head. He took a deep breath still trying to take it all in.

“Yeah, but you’ve got to own this thing. Close your eyes.” Cole started walking around him in a circle as he closed his eyes. “Think about being out at night. Think about being out under the stars. Imagine the night sky. It’s packed with stars.” Cole watched as Bralter stood there in the middle of the old barn. Bralter breathed deeply and controlled. It would not last. “See the full moon lighting the night sky.” Bralter twitched. “It’s light on your face; the night air on your skin; the feeling of being alive and feeling like you own the night.”

Bralter convulsed and cried out in pain. His legs gave out under him and he fell to the dirt floor. He opened his eyes and saw Cole standing in front of him with a bottle of water.

“Oh God. It felt like an electric shock.” Bralter took the bottle. His hands shook as he opened it.

“Drink it slow.” Cole knelt next to pained student. “Congratulations, you just took a big step forward.”

“Didn’t feel like it.” Bralter muttered as he sipped his water.

“It took me over an hour of meditation to get as far as you just did.”

“No shit?” Bralter raised an eyebrow, looking at the large man smiling at him.

“Well, I never was a very good student.” Cole grinned and ran his hand through his messy brown hair. “Now you’ve got to do it again.”

“Crap.” Bralter handed the bottled water back to his new mentor, and stood up. “I was afraid you’d say that.”

“I can promise you this: you get through the change and you’ll be feeling no pain.” Cole stood as well. And took a step back.

“Actually, I feel kind of good.”

“Endorphins. Body’s natural reaction to pain. Close your eyes.” Cole watched Bralter closely. “Where are you?”

“I’m in a field under a moonlit sky.”

“You feel it?”

“Yuh-yes.” Bralter said with a twitch.

“You feel it, then own it. Your life has changed. This is about accepting that fact.” Cole saw and heard Bralter’s breathing quicken. “This is the new you, Michael. Take control, power through this.” Bralter convulsed again, but this time did not collapse. “The pain will pass! You can do this! Do it for you, for your family!”

The screams of Michael Bralter echoed through the dilapidated old barn. The only witness was Cole Buchannon, who watched coldly as the man before him slowly, painfully became a monster.

This month's artist is: Alexa Riley. Thanks Lex!