City of Roses
Terrence "Terror" Wulfe
The Big Bad Wolf, Predator Red in Tooth and Claw, (variously) Night Society "Cleaner"/Shadow World "Operator"/Hedge Community "Troubleshooter" and "Fixer", Feral Hunter Stalking His Humanity
Not athletic like a man, but powerful, like a predatory animal. Solid. Tense. An aura of deep wariness and haughtily undisguised menace radiating out in all directions, raising hackles. Unafraid, cunning gold-tinged ebony eyes, watching, scanning, watching, scanning. As if considering how each person should be stalked, each obstacle overcome. Long, strangely soft hair and a short beard cut crudely into acceptable shape. The rest: A feral Jesus clothed in surplus store U.S. Marine Corp night-time BDUs and boots, wrapped in a dilapidated black Prussian Junker tank commander’s trenchcoat circa 1917, found rumpled in the bottom of the store’s clearance bin, and heroically ironed into decency.
“NOW this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky,
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack."
— Rudyard Kipling, “The Law for the Wolves”
A DEEPER SHADOW IN THE DARKNESS
I lost my brother today.
* * *
Terry, you shouldn’t talk to strangers!
Arron knew he should say it. He knew he should be able to say it. After all, it was mom’s number one rule. She made little Arron repeat it every morning before school, just after breakfast, as she held his hand and walked him to the bus waiting at the curb in front of their gracefully aged estate house. But Arron’s tongue sat numb. And every alarm slipped from his young mind before he could seize it, no matter how hard he tried. And Arron did try. He tried really hard to focus on the fearful warning he wished with all his adolescent might he could just blurt out. But every time mom’s admonition was on Arron’s tongue, he was distracted, just for an instant. But in that second, the warning vanished from his thoughts, only to be re-discovered in frustrated astonishment a moment later, in an infuriating cycle of deja vu that made Arron want to cry like he used to when he was just a baby and couldn’t make the adults understand.
But it wasn’t just warnings. Arron wasn’t thinking very clearly about anything, actually. Arron observed the terrible events unfolding before his eyes in a strange mute bemusement, as if watching some natural calamity on TV through a neighbor’s window. He was just a disinterested witness, but struck dumb by the terror and awe (and strange euphoria) of watching the catastrophic events playing out before his huge, curiously teary eyes. Terry should know better. He was fourteen already!
But mom and dad had forced Terry to play with (i.e. babysit) his little brother, while the two adults went Halloween candy and costume shopping. The parents were only too happy — and relieved — to have any excuse to keep Terry in the house, and away from bullying the other neighborhood kids. Terry, “Terror” the other children and their parents called him when they thought Terry and (his parents) the Wulfes were out of earshot, was already serving two separate groundings for terrifying the local kids: No dessert or TV (two weeks) AND no weekend trips to the movies (three weeks). A sentence akin to years of hard labor by Terry’s reckoning. In his defense, Terry had reminded his parents that, until recently, he had been the runt of the neighborhood boys, and they had mocked, jeered and pushed him around mercilessly.
It was true that since the Wulfes came back from their trip to the British Isles (the ancestral home in Russia was inevitably too dangerous to visit) last year, Terry had grown (literally and figuratively) into the Terror. And he planned to get even for past insults and tears in full measure tonight. But instead, as All Hallows Eve darkened the neighborhood, Terry was left, all alone, baby-sitting his kid brother. So, of course, Terry “the Terror” had to demonstrate a little teenage independence – defiance even – by taking his brother outside to play, against his parents’ explicit instructions. And if Terry talked to a stranger, it just proved that the “baby rules” no longer applied to him.
“Remember when you wished to be big and strong enough to get revenge, Terror?” The stranger sounded like a winter gale moaning low and bitter through hoary forest. Each utterance started as a gusty vibrato shriek and died a hollow wail, emanating from all directions at once.
“Remember how you promised you would do anything in return?” Nyx, Goddess of Nightmare, Maiden Aspect of Tripartite Hecate Cthonia, Witch-Queen of Night, Mistress of the Old Woods and Keeper of Grim Tales (the “Fairytale Princess” her subjects bitterly called her), was a deeper shadow in the darkness. It hovered menacingly within the pitch-black of a thicket, a Stygian shade, felt more than seen. The thing’s predatory eyes could not be discerned by mortal sight within its sable shroud, but its covetous gaze hit the fourteen year old with a terror so pure, Terry felt like he was pierced through heart and lungs with stalactites of glacial ice.
Yes, Terry did remember. And the thick beads of sweat that suddenly rolled down his back occurred simultaneously with an electric hypothermic shock that convulsed every muscle and nerve in Terry’s rapidly developing body.
He remembered that the trip was almost over. It was finishing in Scotland – at Loch something-or-other. The official tour guides only worked in the cities and around tourist traps. “Not enough quid working the odd few ducks wanting to explore the rural moors and highlands” the guides had muttered, looking a bit nervous. Some of them had tried to convince the Wulfes to abandon their planned visits to the old Celt places. Too cold, said some. Nothing to really see and too far a drive to boot, said others. And a few just muttered “Queer. Damn queer.”
But the Wulfes had almost a week of their trip left, and wanted to see the “strangely compelling and eerie” (according to the older Wulfes) and “creepy” (according to the younger) ancient ruins. So, for several long, bumpy days, the family had driven from Gaelic piles to Celt stone circles to druids’ sacred groves and cairns.
At one hamlet, a local (and self-professed “amateur regional historian”) had offered to take the Wulfes on a walking tour of “close-by notable sites.” The man, getting on in years, was hale enough. And his great bushy beard (iron turning to silvery white) and shoulder-high walking stick made the offer nigh irresistible. It was like getting a tour from a druid (albeit one wearing thick Scottish tweed and wool)—or Merlin himself!
“Remember that night . . . under the full moon? The circle of stones reflected from the loch in the sacred grove. And you swore that you’d pay any price if you could make ‘them’ feel like you did?” Nyx’s silhouette hissed triumphantly, with a terrible undertone of ancient inhuman hungers long denied. A rite had been performed, just as it had from the very first days of men, and a bargain struck. The Other had granted a boon. This mortal’s desires – and its reasons – were as eternal and unchanging as the Other itself. Strength. Power. Revenge.
It had required but a minor exertion of the Will. And a year and a day had passed. And now it had come personally to collect the blood debt, as required by the Old Laws. But in truth, Nyx would have come even if the Old Laws had not required it. It had been long – so very, very long – since a mortal had come to beseech its – her – favor. It was an event too rare for its taste even during the height of the druids’ power, an age ago. Even then, a heart had to be truly desperate or mad to seek Her. The Other smiled. Back then, the mortals had refused to even use “her” name, except in the ritual. But this mortal had come, from distant shores, over vast oceans, to petition for his desire. Why the man-boy had not sought out the Others in his own lands, Nyx did not know – or truly care. Only one matter gave it a little pause. The mortal youth had been led to the portal, the place of power, by a most strange guide . . . someone that Nyx would have to deal with, perhaps even reward, at some future time, no doubt.
Terry remembered who (unwittingly?) caused THIS (whatever this was or is). Lugh (pronounced “Loo”), their erstwhile tour guide, had thought “close-by” was anywhere within a few miles, as the crow flies, of the hamlet’s small bed-and-breakfast. By the time their travails were done, and night had well and truly fallen, the family had walked a half-dozen miles and visited over a score of ancient sites.
One such site had included a rather unsettling story, or warning, depending on how you chose to hear it. Lugh had kept up a drill sergeant’s pace and managed to talk non-stop throughout. The eccentric allowed a bit of exploration at piles and ruins, but generally only slowed to view the various stone rings, cairns and sacred druid groves. But Mrs. Wulfe finally put her foot down and demanded a full rest stop and a detailed tour at a particularly impressive “mini-Stonehenge” (as she put it).
The circle of carved neolithic stone columns and arches, placed on earth so thoroughly tamped flat that the grass still refused to grow millennia after the place’s construction, stood at the head of a mirror-surfaced loch. Nearby, a copse of ancient (even by Gaelic standards) boles grew untouched.
Lugh sighed, like a man about to recite a particularly gruesome and sad story as a warning, probably futile, to a group of unruly children. The old man explained that the place used to be considered extremely sacred and powerful by the Celts and their druid-priesthood because the loch was believed to be a portal to the Other Side – a place which rested on an intersection of dragon (now known more popularly as ley) lines.
Mrs. Wulfe was astonished and inquired why this place was so little-known or noted in the guides, given its importance. Lugh struggled to respond, but finally explained that the site was not given due credit because it had been so rarely used. When the Wulfes showed confusion and puzzlement at the apparent contradiction, Lugh explained further.
“The original Celts were pagans, ‘o-course, an’ the druids were both thar’ holy order an’ wise men. ‘Tis important to understand, these were nay modern pagans nor druids, nor like them supposedly ’historical’ ones shown in movies or the telly, who practice thar’ religion as a sort o’ spiritual environmentalism. Nay, in the Neolithic period o’ the original Celtic pagans, the land – existence itself – was a brutal an’ dangerous thing. The Celts’ way o’ life was one o’ precarious survival, won each day by ceaseless toil an’ hardship an’ ever-present warfare an’ death. Life involved ugly choices not likely imaginable by today’s peoples. So, the Celtic civilization — thar’ culture and religion — mirrored the reality they witnessed all around them. Fer’ the Celts, the spirits and gods were like nature an’ existence itself. Powerful, aye, but also capricious, savage an’ merciless, bestowin’ only a small chance fer survival an’, rarely, a dubious reward.”
Lugh’s powerful gnarled hand pointed at a flat rock, rather like a rough-hewn table, standing waist-high at the center of the stone circle. “In order ta’ beseech any favor, or even jus’ to pray that thar’ spirits ‘n gods stay appeased, somethin’ valuable had ta’ be given ‘n exchange. Somethin’ had ta’ link an’ imbue a prayer with a petitioner’s need, on the one side, so that it cou’ be offer’d in exchange for a divine blessin’, on the other. That ‘something’ was sacrifice. A sacrifice had ta be precious – aye, treasured – ta be o’ any value ta a divine bein’. Rarely, the sacrifice could be a’ item. A cherished relative’s exquisite betrothal gif’. A lock o’ hair removed as a last token from a deceased parent or child. The heart o’ a particularly hated or respected enemy taken in battle. ‘n heirloom passed down through the generations from a venerated ancestor. A revered idol.” Lugh paused a second, as if trying to frame what came next with the most innocuous words possible.
“But almos’ always the sacrifice was blood . . .. Mostly, human.”
Even as the old man’s words hung in the air, they all noticed that the grove‘s “peace” was actually a heavy and oppressive stillness. Silence hung like heavy drapes over the place. Looking around more closely, the Wulfes noticed that the yawning quiet was due to an eerie absence of any animals in this part of the wood. Each of the Wulfes imagined their own version of the blood rites practiced here.
To break the stifling quiet, even if it meant hearing more gruesome regional history, Mrs. Wulfe wanted to know why. Why would anyone allow their brother, mother, uncle, grandfather—or themselves—to be sacrificed?
“This place was considered extremely sacred. An’ very potent. Only the direst need or dread desire would bring a person, or sacrificial party here. It was a place between worlds, known ta’ bring the attention—an’ presence—o’ the greatest of spirits and gods. Power that could grant the greatest needs and desires imaginable.”
After the sacrificial grove, everyone professed weariness, and the tour ended once Lugh had brought them back to the hamlet’s inn. That night the Wulfes were all beyond exhausted. As they parted with Lugh, Mrs. Wulfe asked if he would escort them around tomorrow, since they had one more day before the trip back to Portland. Lugh shook his shaggy head. “Tomorrow’s the night o’ the full moon, an’ I git some things tha’ need attendin’ to” he pronounced cryptically, turning and striding away purposefully, without another word or gesture, not even to request the promised fee.
It was lucky. With everyone so exhausted, no one noticed Terry depart for the woods. And with the full moon, he had no trouble finding the waypoints and markers he had memorized to the stone circle at the loch.
But he felt his blood freeze a few times. Not from the weather, Terry had geared himself well. But he definitely felt watched, and caught strange shadows and some (snuffling and growling?) noises during his hike.
Just in time. It was midnight when Terry got there. The feel of the place shook him. Terry knew the story had “gotten in his head,” but the unnatural—no, supernatural—feel of this place was beyond palpable. It was squally Scotland, but not a single breeze rippled the _loch_’s absolutely mirror surface nor stirred the grove’s leaves. The full moon in the lake looked bigger, and red-tinged, compared to the one high in the night sky. The stand of trees and the megalithic circle seemed to pool moonlight, so that the area was illuminated as if by a spotlight. And even though Terry was distracted with other tasks and thoughts, he noticed the stars in the lake were in different constellations than those in the sky, even accounting for the mirroring effect of the reflection in the loch.
But starting from the moment Terry got back to his own room at the inn after the exhausting tour, until the very second in which the boy stood before the central slab of the megalithic ring, Terry had focused on his desire and desperation so intensely, and had imagined his actions when he got to the grove so thoroughly, that from the time he saw the wood until he finished his ritual, he was on autopilot. Just as he had wanted.
“I wish that I was big and strong enough to get even with all of them—everyone who picked on me—so that they’ll know what it feels like. Every day they tried to ambush me on the way to school or back, they tried to run me down, to hunt me, so their whoops and howls would scare. And whenever they caught up . . . humiliation and pain. They liked hurting me.”
“I—I want them to be scared every day, knowing that THEY are being stalked and hunted. Like they hunted to scare and hurt me.”
“I want to teach them a lesson, so they’ll all know how I felt. So that they’ll never treat me, or anyone, like that again!”
“I’ll be too big and strong for anyone to scare or hurt me again. In fact, I want to look big enough, strong enough and scary enough that no one, not ever, thinks they can hunt or scare or hurt me again!”
“And in return–-in return, I’d pay any price you (whoever you are) want to take from me. I’d do anything you said . . .. Except, not hurt my folks or brother . . . . or anyone mom makes me pray for. . . stuff like that. I’d do stuff like that—except for the other stuff I said I wouldn’t do.”
“Deal?!?” Terry silently cried out to the universe while grimacing in pain from the small gash he carved into his thumb with the purloined kitchen knife. The blood ran in a tiny, thickly-flowing rivulet onto the central dais of the megalithic circle. The slab had a bowl-shaped depression into which Terry’s blood dripped. The crimson drops mingled with the stagnant pool of rainwater, creating a mixture that looked ebony in the moonlight.
“Anyone? Deal?!?” Terry actually pled in silent pain and desperation, as the pool of bloody stilled water overflowed and snaked its way into the sacred loch.
And now Terry stood, rooted, face to face with a shadow. A shadow he had summoned, come to collect payment on a bargain he had demanded. If only . . ..
The brothers were supposed to stay inside the house, but Terry ruled (as the oldest ADULT present) that playing in the backyard was still—technically—inside their home. Autumn had made the evenings dark, with occasional gusts (sometimes warm and sometimes bitterly chill) appearing from nowhere and disappearing into nothing. Branches lightly rustled in the trees, as if hinting at some presence, and piles of leaves floated upward and then slowly drifted down again, as if stirred by the passage of an invisible rider. A strangely angry moon seemed to cover a third of the sky. It was Halloween.
Terry could not resist. Between his hulking (compared to other young teenage boys) size, the new werewolf mask he had secretly bought and already quite extensively used this last month (thus his groundings) and Terry’s talent at stalking and staying perfectly motionless until he pounced from cover, Terry’s former tormentors were scared witless of him. Even if they saw him coming, Terry was now so much bigger and faster, that there was no escape. The neighborhood kids (and more than a few adults) were too terrified to even go outdoors at night. In fact, during the preceding week, they even refused to answer the door after sun down, since there was a chance Terror would leap out from the shadows and scare them into shitting themselves (literally).
Terry knew that only the lure of Halloween candy and costume parties would bring forth prey that had lately grown cunning and adept at avoiding him. Terry figured that once he and Arron were outside, he could easily find a way to drive Arron into the neighborhood at large—thus providing himself an excuse to follow (“Mom, Arron just ran away and I had to follow to find him!”).
But, in truth, this Halloween was to be the last bullying hurrah of “The Terror.” The vendetta was getting old and boring and the amount of effort to keep it going was just too much. And Terry was growing up. He was over his fetish for horror movies and gory comic books and was moving on to something else. Now shadows and darkness, the forbidden and occult, the sinister and baroque, gave Terry a delicious thrill. Terry, or “Sammael” as Terry increasingly insisted was his real name, was turning goth. He had even secretly sneaked into a few occult stores and purchased a “grimoire.” For whatever reason, “Magick” was calling to Terry. Despite his best conspiratorial efforts, his parents must have suspected, because they wanted to have a “talk” with Terry about “his magic” tomorrow night.
But all of those thoughts grew distant because much like Arron, Terry started feeling a strange mixture of bemusement, awe, terror, euphoria and detachment. He noticed that the wraith in the thicket seemed to be holding something. Without knowing why, or even any volition on his part, Terry asked, “What’s that?” Terry pointed at the shadow’s possession with a combination of chin and eyes.
“A gift. For you.”
Despite everything—indeed, with klaxons of foreboding screaming – Terry felt compelled to say “Really? What is it?”
“Here, look,” commanded the deeper darkness. And, it was AMAZING. Terry had spent three months of his allowance, plus chores’ money, to buy a high-end, movie special effects-quality werewolf mask. But the shadow’s wolf mask made Terry’s look like a cheap drugstore clearance sale model. The shadow’s mask was PERFECT. So realistic, in fact, the mask looked like it was still alive and could howl and snap at you unexpectedly.
“Is it real?” Terry thought that the mask may actually have been made from a wolf’s head.
The reply was cryptic and illogical, and yet Terry barely considered that as he reached into the darkness for his gift . . .
* * * * *
Arron could never tell anyone what happened. He could never explain what he saw. Could never describe what had transpired. But Arron knew. And it haunted him. All of it. But most of all, the fact that Arron had not done anything. Had not said anything. A simple warning. A shout. Even crying, might have changed his brother’s fate. All of it, Arron’s guilt, the insane events, the complete lack of evidence left for the police, put a secret zealot’s drive into Arron’s gut to find out what actually had happened that night. And fix it. Get Terry back. No matter what. Or from whom.
Arron searched Terry’s room and found notes, doodles, even a few scared confessions. One of them described Terry’s ritual at the loch. Arron read everything in Terry’s room. Including a “grimoire.” The thing was phony and laughable—mostly. But a few things made sense to Arron. Arron snuck away and visited the occult shops Terry had frequented. Arron started talking to people in those places. Years passed. Those people sent him to other “more serious” occult places and people. More years passed. Arron studied, and talked to people, always revealing little or nothing, but gaining some iota of information instead. Arron started being able to do “things.” He never told anyone. But sometimes people he met already knew. They sent Arron to even “more serious” places and people. Arron started finding places that had no official business names and addresses, but were just through doors to subbasements in blind alleys or abandoned buildings. The people there had no names, said little, but there were books and things. And sometimes Arron had short, cryptic conversations with the nameless denizens of these nonexistent places. Arron’s abilities grew. He could do more “things.” The places he found became even more removed. The people more eccentric and anonymous. The conversations MORE cryptic, but yet better understood.
Eventually, decades passed. Arron graduated college. But much of his learning occurred on his own and had no associated majors, certificates or degrees. Arron reached some invisible inflection point in his studies and abilities. He started receiving hints from people he had known for years, but whose names he did not know. He started investigating possible leads as to what happened to Terry. He discovered . . . “things.” Most had nothing to do with Terry.
More years. Arron could do even more “things.” Now, sometimes, he initiated the short cryptic conversations. He knew where most “serious places” in Portland were now. And he knew more than a few “serious people” as well. People that were often in different societies and did not know each other. He had a reputation for knowing things—and people. An acquaintance he had known for years came to see him. After the sex, while they were still in his bed, she gave him another possible lead on Terry. He thanked her, without using her name, since he did not know it.
He began to check it out. It was an entirely new “scene” with a previously unknown society and people. They were not like him in what they could do, but they could do things as well, in their own way. He could use his abilities to “blend in” with these people, as he had before with many other groups in Portland . . . .
* * * *
I think I found my lost brother today.