Kelly looked at whatever wore her mother’s face and swallowed with distaste.
‘Convince me I’m not hallucinating this whilst I die.’ she said.
Her mother shook her head and laid her palms on the table.
‘I’m working from your memories of her but I am here to pass on a few things.’ she said.
Kelly curled her upper lip and wished it were John in here with her.
‘That can happen.’ he said.
She blinked as he sat there. Kelly put her hand to her mouth and glared at him over her spread fingers.
‘No, because he’s out there, trying to save me and I’m stuck in here, taunting myself.’ she said.
Her mother smiled and leaned forwards.
‘I tried to reach John through his father but the time he spent unconscious meant I could not establish a viable connection before the main work started.’
Kelly knew the answer.
‘So I have what he has. Did he give it?’ she said.
Her mother shook her head.
I chose you, my dear.’ she said.
Kelly’s eyes welled up with tears.
‘He told me he killed people when he was a wolf. Is that your idea of a fucking gift?’ she said.
Kelly had used that tone for the last few days of her mother’s life. Helping her take the pills, washed down with Black Russians and ordering things on the credit card, knowing she would be dead before the bills came in. She had told her mother about growing up with her, the raw, craving need which deadened the nerves of her childhood. Her mother had been insensible, but she had gawked at Kelly, an empty vessel for a lifetime of regret and sadness. It had not been enough.
‘You won’t be the same. Different physiology to work with. A higher sensorial capacity and with what I’ve learned from John, it will be less painful for you.’ she said.
Kelly leaned forwards and reached across the temple. Her mother’s hands were chill, sluggish circulation and they trembled. The fingers beneath captured the memory to perfection and she closed her eyes.
‘What are you, please, he’s torturing himself to find out.’ she said.
Her mother gave a thin smile.
‘My name does not matter. He has to find me to save you both. We’re not angels or demons, Kelly.’
Her mother tilted her head to one side.
‘We’re the things behind them.’ she said. ‘A group of monsters.’
Kelly’s head exploded with a sharp dart of pain as pressure ballooned in her sinuses and her heels beat a tattoo against the floorboards. She watched a sea of numbers above her, upon which floated burning lotuses before she heard her mother’s voice.
‘They’re coming, Kelly. Prepare.’ she said.
The chair fell apart beneath her and the floor slipped away as she tumbled down into the velvet dark. She screamed, but the silence ate her cries and she watched the world above diminish into a wisp of detail and then nothing.
Kelly awoke to the sun in her eyes. There was warm, fresh grass between her fingers and she looked over rolling hills at the warm amber and orange of a sunrise. She used to greet the dawn but the last few years, it had been something she hid from.
She wondered if she was showing herself this or it was another cruel trick to torment her. Kelly got up and saw her subconscious had put her in a dress and she narrowed her eyes before she heard the roar of something behind her.
Kelly looked around and saw the wolf padding towards her. Ropes of saliva dripped from its open maw. She knew it was not John in there and she ran knowing it would find her. Its paws stomped into the earth and its breath was on the back of her neck like a rotten furnace as a hammer of flesh and bone smacked her between her shoulder blades and shot her to the ground. Kelly’s lungs spasmed with the need for air before she realised she wasn’t breathing in here. Kelly’s head cleared and she was on her feet, looking into its eyes and not feeling afraid anymore.
She saw the wolf as a collection of systems. The bone structure, the nerve bundles and the respiratory organs swam in her central vision and she knew where to hit him and how hard. It was the same quiet awareness she had for computers and locks, code and the quiet order of programming but imposed upon something alive and immediate.
A form of diseased displacement, she told herself but the wolf charged and she swung the heel of her left foot up into its nose and it cracked with the impact, bucking to the right as she turned and ran. Her leg ached from the force but she ran without stopping.
The sun rose and she moved towards it but the darkness tore into the sky and swooped in to claim her again.
Her eyes itched as she looked into the LED lighting and there was a crust around her mouth which cracked as she tested the muscles in her jaw. Kelly’s skin felt like a sunburn deep enough to burn out her nerve endings but there was a rapid wave of sensations emerging, sharp and clean as she realised she was alive.
There was a presence pulling at the corner of her vision and in her head, she reached and found herself in possession of John’s knowledge. She did not understand the language, but she could learn. Kelly had a thirst for information and here was a rich vein to drink from. The shape of the thought was chilling and she pulled away.
The tube in her throat was warm and thick as she bucked against it.
He said her name as he removed the tube from her throat and hooked his finger inside her mouth and scooped out a plug of mucus.
‘Kelly pawed with her bandaged fingers at her chest, the carapace of scabbed tissue now hanging from her new skin by threads of sticky tissue which prickled and chilled at the same time.
‘It chose me, John. If it’s a disease, it’s smart.’ she said.
He helped with the bandages but she shook her head.
‘I need a minute. Is there a shower here?’ she said.
Talking hurt her jaw and it was too slow to match pace with her thoughts and feelings. He stepped back and his eyes shone with a quiet hurt but he smiled at her.
‘Whatever you need.’ he said.
He pointed out the chamber at the back of the facility. There were towels and he went back to the house. His relief was clear at her return but her manner concerned him. She waited until he left and got up from the bed. The brittle snap of breaking scabs loosened the bandage and underneath the hot water, she slipped free of it, crying out as the hot water cleansed her skin.
It was soft, free of the blemishes and scars which had been part of her, but there was a softness and strength to her limbs which was beguiling to her. The scabs and bandages became a knot of stained cloth as she washed herself over and over.
She wept over her mother but she felt it pass as she dried herself and put on the robe John had left outside for her.
John’s scent clung to the air and she followed it into the house. A short, squat dog with a blunt muzzle sniffed at her as she opened the door. John got to his feet and stared at her.
‘Wow’ he said.