I look out of the window of the classroom, watching a bird fly between trees in the schools expansive grounds. The leaves have almost all fallen now, which means that its quite firmly rugby season again. Im not looking forward to Games in sixth period. I hate rugby, and the larger boys know it its why Im always chosen for the scrum. Character building, the sports Master always says.
Abel Vaughan! I can see you daydreaming there, boy! Fail to answer during roll call again, and Ill have you in detention during House Tuck!
My tutor is understandably angry Id be the first to admit that I rarely pay a lot of attention during class. What theyd call an indifferent student, I suppose firmly average marks (that Im assured would be improved if only Id try) and a pathetic performance on the school sports field. Nothing that this school would ever be proud of, my name will never be on the wall of Old Boys, and I dont particularly care. Perhaps if there was ever some colour in this place, but its always so drab and grey (no thats not how it was there were colours and light and happiness Im sure I remember the light) and cold, especially with winter drawing in.
Rugby. I hate rugby.
I trudge back to the boarding house, my sports bag tapping listlessly against my side as I kick at the piles of leaves by the side of the path. This is usually my favourite part of the school grounds I love to look at the woods and imagine them going on forever, running through them and laughing, away from the grey stone of the House and the Roll Calls and the Sixth, away from Games and exams and the unrelenting winter cold that seems to always fill the school (there was warmth always warm I remember the fire in the Hall and the food all the hot food all that I could eat) even in the brightest of summers. Im still imagining running when the woods come for me.
Still shaking from the force of the blow that knocked me down, I look up into the faces of five of the Sixth, grinning down at me. Tompkins, I know him, hes one of the House Prefects, and Im sure Ive seen the others, but my head is still ringing from the impact and my vision is blurry (I remember it so clearly every feature of their faces but not their names why cant I remember their names?) but even so, I see the glint of steel at Tompkins belt as he kicks out at me (there was no pain there was only the grey only ever the grey there were never colours or feelings), catching me in my stomach and making me vomit.
So, little Not-Very-Able is crawling at my feet. Youre a disgrace to your House, Not-Very. You disgust me. I saw you miss that tackle and do you know what I saw? I saw a worm, thats what I saw.
He crouches by me, grinning. Im here to make sure that you dont lose us the rugger match next month. Cant have someone not holding their end up on the team, you know. Its just not right.
His friends are laughing and I recognise the sound Id heard it too many times in the dorm as another younger child is pulled out of his bed (weak they were weak they had nobody to help them). Character building, Tompkins had called it. They were helping us to become better men (I remember praying who did I pray to it wasnt Kali this was before Kali and Shiva who did I pray to? Did they keep me safe I cant remember if they kept me safe).
Arent you going to say anything? he demands, standing back up again. Doesnt the worm have it in him to beg? To promise me that he wont make us lose?
Lying there, I can see something moving in the woods behind him, coming closer (hes coming I remember he was there hes COMING), walking into the clearing. I use my hands and push myself up, dragging myself to my feet (why didnt it hurt?) and standing before them, swaying. Despite the obvious threat, I cant even look at them I cant take my face off (HIM) the wolf that had silently padded into the clearing behind them (him hes HERE hes NOW). Hes staring into my eyes, and Im not scared, at least not of him, although Tompkins still petrifies me. But as the wolf stares at me, I can see what I have to do.
I reach out for Tompkins belt (take his weapon hes used it before I remember Fletcher in the infirmary) and my hand closes around (life death redemption MEANING) the knife tucked in his waistband (cold steel hot blood I can remember the blood the feel of it the taste of it) and suddenly I know how to move, and Im not entirely sure that its me as my foot lifts up and hits him in the stomach (its not me its ME), doubling him over. I dont feel cold or grey any more, not as the knife carves a glittering pattern in the air and takes out the throat of the boy to his left, splashing his life out (blood hot over my hand I remember THIS). The boy on his right is moving towards me, reaching out, grasping, but hes just so slow (easy meat confused take him now) and it seems so easy to reach out and cut his wrist before he can touch me. I push him back with my other hand and he reels away, spattering the fallen leaves scarlet (satisfaction contempt).
The other two are coming for me now, but theyre still too slow, and I dance between them, past the first, catching the arm of the second and pulling him forward onto the knife blade (tooth my fang my life-ender), driving it up into his lungs and ripping it free in a spray of (life) blood. I can see the wolf (HIM) watching (always watching hes always there somewhere) and he seems almost to approve as I turn and push the blade into the fourth boys neck. Suddenly, a wrenching feeling as the blade breaks off (my tooth broken I feel the pain in my soul do I have a soul? Even now do I have a soul?), leaving me clutching a useless handle. But I can still remember how to move, and I toss the broken weapon aside and close in on Tompkins as the third boy finally collapses. Kicking him again, I roll him onto his back, and straddle his prone body. A dozen emotions run through me as I lean down and close my jaws around his throat (hot blood steaming blood in the cold running down my throat down my neck staining my) shirt (fur) shirt. I remember as I sit back and look up, remember that Im human, and I can feel my muscles contract as my body attempts to vomit, but something deep inside me (ME) forces me to swallow the tough flesh. I can see the wolf (HIM hes still here) watching, but now his paws and muzzle are stained with blood, and the last thing I remember as I collapse is the (blood red leaves fallen blood trees birds wolf HIM blood) colour, how bright everything is now.
I open my eyes when I hear birds singing. What Ive just done leaps into my mind (blood on my fangs my claws) and I turn over and vomit, my stomach emptying itself into the grass.
When I finish, I look up... and see an empty clearing. Where were the (prey my prey my kills MINE) bodies?
They are not in this place
The voice makes me scramble away in fear quiet, possessed of a self-confidence so strong that I couldnt even think of questioning it. I reach a tree across the clearing and turn, pressing my back into the hard wood and trembling when I see (HIM) the wolf from my dream.
It was not a dream he tells me, padding across the clearing towards me. You killed those who needed to be killed why would this make you scared?
I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. Wincing, I swallow, and try again. Where am I? I croak.
Is it important? he responds. What does it matter? You are here and this is now.
With this he turns and begins to walk away. Bracing against the tree, I pull myself to my feet and stagger after him.
What seems like hours later, we arrive at a small cave. The leaves and grass near the entrance are laid flat, as though something has been dragged over them, and I can see (smell) blood on the ground. The wolf sits back on his haunches and looks at the cave entrance, saying nothing, but I guess that he wants me to go in.
The inside of the cave is tall enough to stand in, though my head brushes the ceiling, and shallow enough that I can see most of the way into it with just the light from outside certainly far enough that I can see the dead wolf lying on her side, a large wound in her flank. Far enough in that I could hear the whimpering of her cubs as they nuzzled at her body.
I storm out of the cave, towards (him) the first wolf, fury filling me (the cubs without a mother no meat no warmth weak) as I move, swelling in me until I forget the calm power of his voice and the urge to obey. Why did you show me this? I demand of him (fool too strong submit). Why did you bring me here? Where am I? I want to go HOME!
I brought you here to learn. The wolfs softly spoken words cut through my tantrum. There are things in this place that you have to see. Look.
Obey without thinking. But as I begin to scan the area with my eyes, I hear a growling behind me. Turning, I see the wolf leap at me, and I cant even begin to dodge before his weight crashes into me and bears me to the ground. His snarling teeth snap together so close to my throat that, for a moment, I cant even breathe. But a moment later, his face is calm again as he looks into my eyes.
Not like that he says. Why limit yourself to only one sense? Or five? The world is dangerous, and if you limit yourself in any way, if you dont use all of your skills and abilities, it will kill you as surely as it will kill those cubs. Think. Feel. You have more options open to you than a man. Now. The world is made of myriad possibilities, and by observing and acting you narrow it down to one. This does not kill the others they still exist, past the edge of sight. Look without using your eyes, and you will see them.
What choice do I have? Its like hes speaking to something deeper than me (something deeper than ME something deeper than us both), something that goes all the way to my soul, and I can feel something pushing back in response. I reach out for it... and its like a dam has burst. I can feel awareness flooding into me. I can see everything. The bird in the tree above me. I can hear its heartbeat, the rustle of its feathers as it turns its head. I can feel the worms in the ground beneath me. I can sense the cubs in their cave... and I can sense the hunter in the forest, smell the acrid stench of gunpowder, the oiled steel of his knife, the blood.
The rage I felt earlier comes rushing back, something inside me roaring in anger (ME I howl I rage to kill the cubs mother unforgivable punish rip tear bleed DIE), and I turn and run back into the forest. It carries me across the treacherous ground, between the trees, through the undergrowth. Towards my prey.
He doesnt even see me as I leap silently towards him (No they will not see us we move now silent hunters the weak will never see us again), and barely notices as my hand closes around the hilt of the knife hanging from his belt. But he notices when the blade of the knife crosses his throat.
The sun is setting as I return to the cave. The body is heavy, and the fury that held me up these past hours fading quickly. But I have a duty now. I killed the hunter and avenged the she-wolf, but there are cubs, and they need to be fed. And so do I anger is a fuel, but not a sufficient one. With meat in my belly, I can go on another day.
It hurts. The pain floods every part of my body, and I can feel my joints creak in protest as they throw me through the door and into the small room again. The padded floor is there to stop me from hurting myself, they told me when they first put me in here (they lied there is still pain even I feel the pain how do you cope weak one how do you cope with the pain?) but theres nothing that could stop them hurting me. They call me an animal as they beat me, and tell me to bark like the dog that I am. And when the large orderly drags me into the storage closet...
I dont want to think about this any more (you dont have to weak one just let me take it away let me out and I will end it for you I will take your pain and give it back to them I will taste their blood) I can feel the urges rising up again, the feelings that led me to kill those other children. I can still remember through the haze of the drugs that they keep giving me, how perfect it felt as I moved amongst them with the knife, and that scares me (why should it scare you?). And whenever they come to take me out of this room and hurt me, I can feel that coming back and the fear of how right it felt stops me from doing anything other than curling into a ball and lying there.
He still watches me, the wolf that I saw in the clearing. The doctor says that hes an external manifestation of my guilt for what Ive done (idiot hes real hes more real than you) and that I should ignore him but how can I ignore this? Hes not always there, but when he is its almost like the whole room is in shadow except for him. I can smell his fur, and while the blood that marked him in the forest is gone, I can smell it still. Once, when he was here, I found a leaf stuck in his fur, and it was still there when hed left I dont know what the doctor thought of that.
No, I cant pretend he doesnt exist. Nothing that doesnt exist could have that much power in its voice he still speaks to me, but most of what he tells me I dont let myself hear. If I did the things that he told me... Id be like I was when I went to the forest.
I dont know how long Ive been here. The drugs they give me make everything... soft? Is that an appropriate word? I can only think this coherently because theyre wearing off now somebody will be coming to give me more soon. They always do I snatch at these moments of lucidity because of how rare they are.
I cautiously extend an arm, hand crawling across the floor. The elbow doesnt move right they must have damaged it earlier. The pain as the joint grinds brings me back into sharp focus though, through the pharmaceutical haze, and as I open the one eye not swollen shut from a fist, I can see the wolf again. He stands up from his corner, and steps softly over towards me, making no sound on the padded floor. Lowering his head, he licks the blood from my face, and whispers to me. You know what you have to do to end this. And you know that you have to do it soon. Your time is running out, you weaken every day.
(Hes right hes always right every day you weaken and I weaken with you soon I will be gone soon I ) the door opens. I know the two men who step in. I know them because they put me in here I must have been lying here longer than I thought. One of them is holding a syringe, the other a straitjacket. They want to take me somewhere, and I dont want to go.
You know what you have to do. Kill him. Hes the one that hurt you, and you know what he does to you when he thinks his drugs have destroyed your memory. Kill him. (thats right you dont have to you just have to let me out the strong protect the weak in the pack and I am strong and you are weak just let me out and I will do it for you I will take your pain away)
Im tired of resisting. Tired of holding this back, and tired of pretending that I dont crave the power and the feeling of life that I felt that day.
I rise from the floor. The pain in my limbs and my ribs is still there, but at the back of my mind it doesnt seem important as I move across the room, as though it had happened to somebody else. Pain isnt the only thing that seems unimportant as I catch hold of the arm holding the syringe as bones crack and pop under my fingers as I twist and pull, he stops being an object of fear and becomes (prey) instead the manifestation of everything thats happened to me since I came through the doors of this place. The rage rises up as I strip the syringe from his suddenly nerveless fingers, and even as hes opening his mouth to scream away the pain of his broken arm, I drive the point into his eye. Given him what he was going to give me. Given him more than he would have given me. Given him rage and pain all the pain he gave me I give to him at once more than any weak shell can bear (Youll never hurt another of your charges again, you bastard.).
See the other prey frozen mouth open frozen like rabbits before the wolf before HIM when he hunted with me. Weapon broken useless but this body does not lack for its own. Prey still stiff with fear as my hands/claws find its throat. Scrabbling, useless prey. Dead prey.
Trapped still. Find sky. Cold white under my feet as I run past more prey. Escape more important so they live yet unless they get in my way.
Pain in shoulder pain through body legs useless rage pain (Its a taser, you idiot. They shot you? us? me? with a taser.) NO must move must run legs MOVE! Prey grabbing at me lifting me up. Stinging in arm sight going blindness darkness..
I open my eyes. My mouth feels dry I dont know what they injected me with, but it stopped me dead. I try to lift my head, but it doesnt move, and as feeling returns to my body I become aware of thick restraints holding me down. I can barely turn my head, but I can see some of the room, and the doctor busying himself as he adjusts a piece of machinery.
Ah! I see my patient is awake now. You slept for a long time, Abel. Do you remember what you did before you went to sleep?
I try to answer him, but my mouth is too dry and the drugs too recent, and my words slur into incomprehensibility. He smiles down at me as he places something against my shaven head, fixing it in place.
You had another breakdown, Abel. And you were doing so well in therapy, too. I think we were close to resolving your problems, but you slid back, so were having to try something a little more drastic. Do you know what electroconvulsive therapy is? We deliver an electric shock to induce a seizure. During this, your brain has time to heal itself. Well, its more complicated than that, but you hardly care, do you?
I strain against the restraints as he forces something into my mouth. I bite down, and taste plastic. I try to spit, but my mouth is still dry and my tongue too heavy and numb to push it out. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see him pushing buttons on his equipment again, and a sudden white-hot agony lashes through me like a coil of liquid fire. My muscles spasm, back arching, forcing me away from the table that Im strapped to. I try not to scream, but the spasm pushes the air out of my lungs anyway.
Its like Im swimming - I feel almost weightless, drifting. My vision is clearing again, and the agony is gone, leaving only a thudding, throbbing ache in my head. The ringing in my ears is starting to subside, but everything seems thick and slow.
(You are too weak to carry this pain. I can carry it for you.) But why should I give my pain to you? You couldnt even get me out of here. (A broken promise. Regret. But I am still stronger than you.) But... I dont want to lose myself in you again. I dont know if I could find my way back. (Better to be lost in me forever than to die here.).
I dont even know who you are. (Why is that important? Thinking too much like a weak one still. Decision now, before prey makes the decision for you. His tools are in his hands again.)
The pain blazes through me again, and as my body twists and bends according to the will of the electrical surge, I can feel my mind straining against the self-imposed restraints that have kept the darker side of my nature under the surface, and one by one they buckle and break.
Not weak any more, prey thing. And one day, I will not be caged any more. Live in fear, prey thing. One day I come for you. One day I repay this.
I dont know how long Ive been in the darkness. He.. sees time differently from how I do Im not even sure hes really aware of it. Its strange I can feel my body prowling around in this tiny cell, I can hear him sniffing as if to try to identify who it is every time there are footsteps outside the door. On the rare occasions that theres light, I can see out through his/my eyes at the walls and at the door, but mostly its pitch black in here. Except for when they come to take me away, to strap me back onto that table and attach the electrodes to my head.
The doctor tells me that Im undergoing what he describes as an extreme therapy course, carefully tailored to allow your mind the maximum time to recover in a period of minimal stimulation between treatments. Its supposed to make me better, but even though the... other me?.. takes over, I can still feel parts of myself breaking away. I woke up after the last treatment and realised that I can no longer remember the smell of cut grass or the colour of my mothers hair.
What scares me more than that is that I know that this should make me sad but I dont think I remember how to be.