Madeline sat back on the wooden chair, wiped the nervous perspiration from her forehead with a swipe of her arm, looking at Avery on the couch, finally asleep and breathing in soft, deep breaths. The IV was delivering a potent cocktail of antibiotics and anti-seizure medications to offset the worst of whatever had afflicted him so viciously.
The hardest fight of his life, and he hadn’t even been conscious for most of it. It was an irony that he would probably appreciate when he woke up. That thought comforted her as she sat there, that he would wake up.
She had questions. Now that she had the luxury of knowing he wasn’t going to die on her, she allowed herself time to start contemplating what to make of this. She knew Avery, or thought she had, and underneath that taciturn, but gentle manner lay something that frightened her. She had known variations of fear all her adult life, but those were the small, ephemeral concerns – would she end up alone, was she choosing the right major, would she look better with bangs or losing ten pounds, those kinds of fear.
Was the guy she was planning on sleeping with a monster?
No, not in the hitting her like a pinata when his dinner was cold sense of being a monster, the actual tooth and claw, will kill and eat you kind. What disturbed her the most was the faint excitement that even contemplating it gave her. He was a good man, he had resisted the urge to lash out when Sandy struck out at him over Harlan but then she had read about serial killers who were good to their mothers so it balanced out in the end. Her train of thought had a manic, panicked quality to it. She had known disappointment with men in her life before, but this development had a desperate, cosmic quality to it.
She found herself reaching out and touching his forehead. His eyes moved beneath the eyelids and she wondered if he dreamed of being a man or a wolf. Her touch stirred him and his lips parted, revealing human teeth and the tip of his tongue as he licked his lips, dry from the hours of infection, and the efforts of fighting it. She brushed through the stubble atop his head and smiled.
‘Hey, there my furry toy. How you doing?’
His eyes opened and a fearful light illuminated him, like lightning flashes in the distance.
‘What are you doing there?’
She grinned with relief, fighting the tide of emotions that rose up within her at the sight of him. Her exhaustion abated as he looked around him.
‘Saving your life, you ass.’
He sighed, concern pinching his features as he looked around the room.
She told him and he sat up, then was rewarded for his efforts with a sudden burst of dizziness that pushed him down into the couch again. She shushed him but he kept shaking his head.
‘What did I do to him. Jesus, he’s walking into a death trap.’
She frowned and asked him to explain. He grimaced with the effort to explain, and his failure to get up without his body failing him. His body gleamed with perspiration, and the veins on his forearms nearly burst through the skin with the additional effort it took him.
‘Avery, you can’t go after him. You nearly died. Please, listen to me.’
He took a deep breath and swung his legs off the couch. He recalled the terrible radiance, the sour earth and the sickness that festered there. It had frightened him and he had been more skilled at violence than Harlan, who had only ever really hurt himself over anyone else.
‘There’s a footlocker upstairs in the linen closet. Need you to get what’s in there for me and bring it please.’
His tone was guttural and his face had taken on a serious countenance that had her moving up the stairs. She had to remove a pile of bath towels and linens, but it was there, browns and greens that were the colours of a rusted, mechanical autumn. She opened it and shouted down the stairs.
‘You have got to be fucking kidding me?’
He sat up and asked her to bring what was in there.
The shotgun, carried the mineral scent of regular applications of gun oil and was light enough that she could carry it one handed alongside the bandolier of slugs resting in the canvas loops, like death’s children in their nursery. The Glock and empty magazines necessitated a second trip along with the boxes of ammunition that he stored in there. When she returned, he was on his feet, walking on legs stiff with transformation and lack of use, looking for a pair of pants and with an expression of quiet malevolence. He walked to another cupboard in the living room, took out a small box and retrieved small black cylinders that were held in canvas loops on a belt that he slipped onto his shoulder and let the gas mask dangle from his hand.
She leaned against the doorway, exhilarated and terrified in equal measure.
‘So, Avery, does this count as a second date?’
He turned and smiled at her.
‘I’ll need you to drive.’
TO BE CONTINUED.
(Previous entries in the series are here)