(Currently a raw post of email transcripts. Needs editing.)
The Tin Can Kid kicks himself awake as the train rolls to a stop. The horn, which had served as a comfortable, familiar companion over this long ride was now almost painfully absent. Tinny had been riding this rail long enough to know that this kind of stop either meant a cow on the track, or that railway workers would be checking, decoupling, and rearranging cars. That meant it was probably time to move on.
Tinny looks around at his companions, poking awake any sleepers. “C’mon, time to jump. Up and at ’em.”
He packs his can, fork, and bible in his backpack, and checks the side pocket to assure that his tube sock full of river stones is still there. Ain’t had to use it…yet. He peeks through the slatted doors on the side of his car, making sure the coast is clear. This far back on the train he is probably just fine, and most engineers never do more than yell at the vags anyway, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Once he’s satisfied, he cracks open the car and hops down, one hand on the soft end of ol’ toobie. He looks around to get a grip on the situation.The kid is in yet another small midwestern town, standing behind what appears to be some sort of storefront. Wherever the train has stopped, it isn’t at an actual station. In the distance, he hears sirens, but much closer he smells food. The handful of other hoppers are wandering in the direction of the food smell.
TC gives his 9 and 3 a quick glance to make sure the law ain’t close by. The sirens, and all. He starts shuffling toward the food smell with his companions, hopeful, but wary. Along the way, he picks up whatever scraps of rubbish he happens across. He doesn’t want to get stuck watching everyone else eat and go hungry himself, should the menu not cater to his recent change in tastes —assuming there’s even anything to be had for people like him and his pals when they arrive at the source of the smell.
The small group approaches the back side of a stripmall which looks like it may be three or four stores from behind.
His companions begin to dive a dumpster behind what appears to be a diner. Before TC can join them, he hears a voice call out, “Hey, you hungry?”
A young woman in hippie attire stands holding a trash bag. “You’re close enough to lunch, you might be able to score some leftovers from Pizza Villa.” She gestures over her shoulder to some ambiguous destination on the other side of the strip mall.
Tinny looks her over. It ain’t every day you see a lady in this sorta company. Either she’s new, or she’s easy pickings, or she’s a real scrapper who can defend herself. If that’s the case, maybe she’s more the type concerned with offense rather than defense. A honey pot. Tinny sizes her up, not sure of where she stands along that spectrum. He keeps his grip on ol’ toobie, just in case.
“Thanks for the tip, sweets. Anybody got claim on the pizza joint?”
The young woman looks slightly taken aback.
Claim? Well, I mean, it’s owned. But usually the owners are pretty good about letting the cold stuff go. I’d just go ask if I were you…
She throws the trash bag into a recycling container and then walks through the back door of a store front. The Kid starts to realize that maybe he hasn’t ever seen her before, because maybe she wasn’t with the group. How are these things running together? How are these details slipping?
He mumbles to himself. “Heh. Whoops. Can’t pin ’em all.” He follows up on the idea of pizza scraps. Maybe they have a few old onions or peppers they’re willing to part with. He waves to his fellow travelers “See you on the iron, boys!” TC begins walking toward the smell of pizza.
TC follows his nose just like Toucan Sam to a restaurant bedecked in old stonework with a lighted sign proclaiming it to be the Pizza Villa. Just past the restaurant is a relatively busy street, and across that is a more populated frontage.
As The Kid gets closer to the restaurant, he notices there’s a dumpster and a pizza box sitting on the ground beside it. A man with long gray hair, a scraggly graying beard, and clothing in multiple layers (too many for this weather, really) holds two pizza boxes which he carries towards a small aluminum pull cart. The cart is loaded with an old jansport backpack and stacks of things in milkcrates, all of it strapped to the cart by bungee cords.
“Hey, brother.” Tinny tips an invisible hat toward the man. “Mind if I take a peek in this little honeyhole and see if there’s something a boy can eat?” He is careful not to tread too rough on another man’s territory. The question is really a song and dance for the sake of congeniality. There is likely much more here than this one hobo could ever claim. Many of the hobos he’s met are pretty generous, but there’s always that one who carries a jagged piece of scrap in his back pocket. TC wants to avoid even unlikely confrontations. “maybe a little lunch company, eh, old boy?”
The old bum sets the two pizza boxes down on top of his cart and then draws a baseball bat from it. He drapes the bat over his shoulder and then hauls the cart away, never so much as looking at the Tin Can Kid. While he grumbles as he walks away, none of it is intelligible. As Tinny approaches the remaining box, a police car shoots by on the main road, it’s sirens wailing.
TInny’s eyes follow the police car, out of habit, out of defense, and when they come back to the box, there’s a rat sitting on it, resting on its haunches, paws tucked against its belly, looking at him. Tin mumbles some choice words to himself about asshole American vagabonds and plops down to his hands and knees to rummage through the contents of the cans and bags available. He picks up an old dried out pizza crust, brushes it off on his knee, then pokes it into the corner of his mouth like a cigar. He continues rummaging, keeping an eye out toward the mouth of the alley for the cops.
Tinny tosses the rat a scrap of crust. “A little more for your babies, buddy”
As the crust bounces off of the concrete, the rat deftly catches it with its teeth and returns to its seated position. The rat nimbly removes the crust from its mouth with its paws, and sets it down beside itself. It looks at the Tin Can Kid with fathomless black eyes and says, “You’ve done well.”
Tinny hops up so fast that he accidentally lets out a little fart. “Jesus Christ!” He loses his footing. His arms cartwheel through the air, trying to maintain his balance, but he cannot overcome his inertia. He plops down hard on his ass and scrambles like a crab to the opposite wall. He hits the back of his head on the bricks and stops, panting.
The rat smiles (can rats smile? They don’t have lips, do they?) at Tinny and shakes its rat head from side to side.
“You’ve seen so much, so many hard, hard things. And you have done so well. One of my children is here in this town. He is close. He will take you in and protect you, he will teach you. He will help you use what you have learned. Find him. You will know him when you see him, I will sit on his shoulder.”
The rat scampers around the dumpster.
Tinny takes a moment to let that sink in. “I guess that’s no stranger than a ghost teaching me to eat plastic and cigarette butts, or waking up with a mouthful of — Ugghhh.” He shudders. “Par for the course. What the hell is going on in here?” He taps himself on the temple and returns to eating pizza refuse, bewildered. Once he has had his fill, he pockets some of the drier bits of crust from the bags and stands up to leave. Ain’t eating butts tonight.
From behind he hears the conspicuous silence of something absent, and when he looks back he sees that the train has left. While it’s wholly out of character for him to have missed that, he’s more than willing to blame it on the fact that it’s also out of character to speak with rats. A few more police cars race by on the nearby roadway, their lights on, but sirens off. They are accompanied by ambulances.
Tinny figures that this town likely sees its fair share of trains. Won’t be too long before another one happens by. Besides, the cop cars and ambulances have piqued his interest. He decides to shamble on down toward the hubbub and see for himself what is happening. Whatever it is, the cops will be more focused on the task at hand than they will some scruffy bum gawking from the fringe.
As Tinny follows the commotion, he begins to gear garbled loud speaker voices. Within a block of pizza villa, he finds a good crosswalk to get across Lincoln Highway, and begins to walk opposite of three harried people: a young woman flanked by a mid twenties, well dressed man with god awfully red hair, and an older, scruffier man in a priest’s vestments.
They seem to be rushing away from the commotion.
As The Kid comes even with them in the crosswalk, he sees the little rat perched like a parrot on thee older man’s shoulder. It seems to wink at TC.
Tin Can Kid decides to trail the three people. Whatever the commotion is over there, it is now unimportant. Probably just a fight, anyway. He is trying to fight back the idea that it was some strange working of destiny or fate that was meant to draw him this way toward the rat (not that TC believes in such things, but talking rats and clever dream ghosts have really worked hard to change his world view lately, not to mention his own terrifying abilities). TC makes no effort to shadow these people. He plainly follows them, half convinced that he is meant to do so. In fact, he speeds his step in order to catch up to them. Maybe this is why he ran away in the first place; to find himself here. If nothing else, the rat has answers. He giggles at the insanity of that thought.
SHAYANNA notices that a young man who smells like he hasn’t bathed in as long as herself has begun to shadow the group.
Grandfather Banion seems to have noticed as well. As the group hits the sidewalk, he stops, apparently deep in thought.
TC tosses another crumb up toward the rat.
“Name’s Tin Can. I’m here to see a man about a rat.” He snickers at his joke/reference. “So, guys…where are we all headed?”
Shay has become accepting of her new group, to the point where she can walk causally with them, already forgetting about the gun in her face. Shay notices Banion has stopped and seeing his expression she nudges him a little.
“What’s up old dude?”
TC tosses another crumb up toward the rat.
“Name’s Tin Can. I’m here to see a man about a rat.” He snickers. “So, guys…where are we all headed?”
Shay looks at the new kid, she eyes him as if to size him up.
“Hell if I know. They just picked me up not to long ago.”
Shay picked a hair band off her wrist, then pulled her wild mess of hair back to a ponytail.
“I’m Shay, what do they call you?”
“Tinny, Tin Can, TC, whatever. My real name is ‘Bert, but I’m kinda taken with Tin Can. Got it on the rails.” He looks up at the father. “Say, you guys got a nice collection of hobo kids goin’ here.”
“As long as they aren’t a part of Social Services, I ain’t got no reason to be afraid of ‘em. "
Shay let her arms swing wildly, she actually started to smile a little bit.
“The rails huh? I was planning on heading west. One too many Chicago winters wear ya thin. California, that’s were I want to go."
“I actually just came from there. Lotta…unique people there.”
When TC tossed the bread, it passed right through (our maybe past, right) the rat, which notably paid it no heed.
The redhead sizes Tinny up, but keeps his mouth closed.
As Shay drops her guard, she feels a sudden pulling sensation on the hairs of her neck as anxiety wells up in her belly. A quiet voice deep in the recesses of her thoughts chatters at a frenzied rate, “Waittheyknowwhoiamandwhatididwhyaretheybeingnicetomeisitatrickit’satrickthey’regoingtohurtmethey’regoingtokillmeTHEY’REGOINGTOMAKEGOBACKANDFACEWHATIDID.”
Banion snaps out of his reverie, smiling like a proud parent.
“Tin Can, eh? Glad you found us. Honestly I didn’t even know we’d be meeting you, but it send that once again Ms. Rat is looking our for her own.”
“We need some privacy. Zylo, could you possibly bankroll us a place out of the weather?”
Zylo looks around, “Town like this? No problem. Give me 5.” And he steps away, producing a swanky iphone.
[Shay gnosis roll, difficulty 8. 488. Two sux.
Tinny gnosis roll, diff 8. 8551. No sux.]
Shay feels a crackle like electricity as Zylo powers on the phone.
Shay is trying very hard to ignore the voice, her head twitches as she finds it hard no ignore it’s logic.
“You’re going to turn me in? You’re going to make me go back? I won’t go to Juvee! You can’t fucking make me!”
Shay is about to make a run for it, but the crackle of electricity stops her.
“Did you feel that?” She does Jekyll and Hyde on the group. “The electricity in the air.”
Banion looks more than a little surprised. Zylo looks up from the phone approvingly, but lets Banion do the talking.
“what the hell, kid? Didn’t I just say let’s stay here for a bit? Didn’t i just ask my friend here to arrange a place for us to stay? And if I really wanted to hurt you our make you go somewhere, don’t you think I both could and woulda done that by now? Our maybe just turned ya over to the baco-bits back there.”
He shakes his head, “be straight with me kid: do we have a, ahem, pharmaceutical issue here? You tripping on something? Or you maybe forget to take something? Cuz we can address either one a those issues if we need ta.”
TC watches this all play out. He begins to pace around, putting a little distance between himself and the others just in case. They can take her by force; she might have done somethingto deserve it. But they wouldn’t take him that way. “Maybe you should relax, Shay. Big man’s right. If he wanted to hurt you, you’d probably be one well hurt girlie by now.” He looks to the father. “Why not explain what you can here to put girlie at ease, eh?”
“If nothing else, I think she deserves an explanation for the manhandling she is getting. I’m kinda curious, myself.” He gives Shay a look that says keep your shit together for a second and I’ll get his hands offa you. “Shay ain’t gonna go running off anyway, is she? No, because ain’t nowhere to run these boys can’t find her. Naw, she’s staying put nice-like, and Tinny here will stand right by her while we get things squared up.” He looks to Zylo. Wonder what he’s cooking up with that shiny phone.
“I don’t know, since I was in the library today I’ve been hearing this voice. It says little paranoid things like that you know my secret. Whatever the hell that means. That I am an inhuman monster. All sorts of weird shit. But this voice clearly doesn’t like you guys.”
Shay looked down frowning, the whole situation confusing her.
Zylo slips the phone away and rejoins the group, “Apparently this is a two hotel town, and one of ‘em is back by the civil unrest. The other one’s just down the block. We’ve got a double queen, which you folks will be welcome to divvy up however you see fit. I’m not staying in this rathole.”
Banion nods approvingly and falls in behind Zylo as he sets a somewhat brisk pace. Banion turns and walks backwards, gesturing for the two teens to follow, “Sure, I’ll tell ya what, we can start talking about murder and voices in our heads and me packing a gun without serial numbers right here in the middle of the street with this town crawling with paranoid rent-a-cops, or we can find someplace where nobody’s going to listen and we can talk all you want to about waking up covered in blood and thinking things you’ve never thought before and ghost rats.”
“You can be crazy on the streets, or you can get answers. Your call.”
Tinny smiles at his little victory. Shay is freed, Banion spilled a bit, and everyone is in control of his or her path (or so he thinks, not realizing his path to that little victory is really just him fulfilling his lunar destiny).
“Lead the way, father.”
He grins at Shay. “Come on, kiddo. I think we got learnin to do.”
Shay followed along next to Tin, hands in her pocket making a face.
“Yeah yeah, follow the leader.”
Shay got quiet as she bit her lip out of frustration.
A short walk later and the foursome is checked into a sleazy motel. Banion flops down onto one of the queen sized beds, groaning loudly in relief. Zylo leans against the tv stand, seemingly wary of touching anything in the room for too long. Banion stretches, carving little angels in the blankets with his arms and legs before sitting up.
Banion looks at Zylo, “Okay, so here’s the bet.” He points to Shayanna, “She’s going to take it better than he is.”
Zylo sizes Shay and TC up and down, “Sixer?”
Banion grins, “Done.” He looks at the two teenagers, “The two of you have several things in common. In fact, in a lot of ways, it’s like you’re brother and sister. And that,” he points at Zylo, “That’s your cousin. And me? I’m your Grandfather.”
“My name is Patrick Banion, but you’re going to get used to callin me Grampa, or Pappy, or something like that, because I’m not a roaring twat about familiarities. Shayanna, you’re born into my protectorate. Your momma is like my great grand niece or something. She’s my brother’s daughter’s daughter. And your daddy? Well, I know yer daddy, and we’ll talk more about that in private. That ain’t business for everybody in this room. Point is, you’re my responsibility. You were born in my territory and you were born to my friend and you were born to my kin. We were trying to keep an eye on ya, but then that whole mess in Calumet caught us all offguard, and I was too busy arguin’ with leeches ta come and find ya myself.”
Zylo clears his throat, “Banion, you’re skipping around. Slow down, this is too much, too fast.”
The old man nods, sighs, and starts over, “My name is Grandfather Patrick, Paddy, Tends the Wayward Banion, and I’m a werewolf. And I’m telling you two that, because you’re werewolves too.”
Zylo does a spit take, “Jesus fuckin’ Christ, Banion, are you fuckin’ kidding me!?!” He rushes to the door before either of the teenagers can try the same.
Shay plops down on the floor, sitting indian style. She crosses her arms, deep in through.
“So are you high? Drunk? or both?”
The sarcasm was a knee jerk defense mechanism.
“On top of that you called ME crazy with the voices, now you say we’re all fucking werewolves? Shit. Are you LARPers or some stupid shit like that and you want us to join your group?”
Zylo looks more than a little defensive, maybe not a fan of being mocked, “This from the chick who can’t actually remember for 100% sure if she fuckin’ killed someone in the past month? And by the by, neither of us called you crazy, and neither of us said anything about hearing voices. Methinks you protest too much. Now this si the school part. Enjoy it, because we’re not that far off of the learning part, and that’s going to make this look like a walk in the park.”
Banion raises a hand to Zylo to calm him down.
“I’m not kidding, he’s not kidding, and you know it. For you, for about the past what, month? Month and a half? The world’s felt more vivid, brighter colors, sharper sounds, deeper scents. And then there’s the rage. Oh, I know you weren’t a happy kid. You get that from your daddy. It’s why he beat feet when he found out your momma was carrying ya. It’s just like Calumet. Now I’m not going to air all of your dirty laundry, but we cleaned that mess up. That guy? Gang violence. The police are pretty sure he pissed off some Czech gangsters. They aren’t looking fer ya, they aren’t thinking about ya. You’re lucky these sick fuck immigrants are hauntin’ the windy city, makes this shit a lot easier to paint over. Play up the cops’ racism, their xenophobia, and you make ’em look exactly where you want ’em looking.”
“Now, like I said, I’m not gonna air out all your laundry, and,” He looks at the Kid, “I don’t actually know your whole story. But way I understand it, you did the same thing as Shay. Both of ya had your first change in… less than ideal circumstances, and both of ya because ya got left behind.”
Zylo smirks. Banion shoots an icy glare at him, “Yeah, I know, ours ain’t got fancy little social networking sites ta keep track of each other. And like the Striders, we like ta wander til we find our place.”
Zylo snorts, “Junkyard dogs, right.”
Banion returns the grin, flipping him off playfully. “Yeah, like junkyard dogs.”
“Okay, I’m not telling the full stories, I just tell ya what you need to know. The plan here is that you’re going to agree to come back to Chicago with me. You’re going to stay with me an mine, and the Gibs’ll teach ya what you need to know, in full. You’re werewolves, we’re werewolves. Werewolves, we’re the children of the moon, and she’s got us split in half: human and spirit.”
Zylo chimes in, “We’ve been around since long before humans and recorded history. We were born back when the world was one continent: Pangaea. It was our job to keep Gaea, the Earth, safe and sound. And we dropped that ball. Now the world is being eaten alive, and infighting and wars and politics have driven us all too far apart, have made us hate each other too much, and we’re losing the war. Before you ask, nobody knows about us for two reasons: 1) because there aren’t really that many of us, and 2) because they can’t know about us.”
Banion nods, “Which is why that little girl who saw everything you did, Shayanna, that’s why she didn’t say anything to the cops. Nobody threatened her, nobody bribed her, she took one look at you, and her feeble little mind couldn’t hold it. And that’s the spirit part of you.” He looks to TC, “and it’s why the bums you ride the rails with always sleep on the other side of the car, no matter how cold it is. It’s why they let you take the first scraps, even when you don’t want to. It’s why you haven’t been knifed in your sleep yet.”
Shay grabbed onto her head. She felt like throwing up.
“But it all felt like a dream. Like none of it happened. I thought it was a revenge dream, you know what I wanted to do, not what really happened. I actually did all that Pops?”
Shay looked down at both her hands.
“T-Tell me about the voice I am hearing, am I really inhuman, you know a werewolf? A killer?”
TC looks shaken at all of this news. Disturbed. He knew there was something to this. He knew he wasn’t having delusions, but hearing it out loud like that, plain and simple…the naked truth…it was awful to hear. Tinny knew deep down that he’d have to face this thing at some point, but he could have never envisioned a priest and a punk kid telling him the truth in a hotel room that probably still had the fluids of its previous tenants drying on the sheets. So far from school. So far from home. His stomach lurched and he threw up just like the day after his first change.
Vomit still dripping from his chin, he looked up at the father. “Why me? God, why me? What am I supposed to do? I’m a monster!”
Tinny starts crying into his hands. “I was a boy…”
Zylo snarls like an animal, suddenly looking furious, “STOP SNIVELING! Don’t you get it? Can’t you feel it? You’re strong now! You’re a weapon! You’re a killing machine! Stop being weak! Stop acting like the fucking Silver Fangs expect. Kiddy time is over.”
Banion stands, again holding a conciliatory hand out to stifle Zylo.
“Of course it felt like a dream, it’s a surreal experience,” He looks to TC and the puke, “And you’re not a monster. Monsters are aberrations, they’re unnatural, they’re where the world is broken. We’re where the world is right.”
Banion continues, “See, Momma Moon, she ended up getting pissed at us for all of our infighting, our posturing, and she turned our greatest weapon against us. You’ve been feeling it, that Rage that’s pent up inside, trying to tear its way out. But what you’re also feeling, you’re feeling that spirit half she gave us. We’re going to get to your questions, don’t worry, but there’s more you need to hear. Zylo, why don’t you tell ’em a bit, you need to express yourself, calm down a little.”
Zylo nods, cracking his knuckles with his fingers.
“Creation, the big bang, that all happened, but there’s no God.” Banion clears his throat and Zylo looks over at him, “Sorry, no God that we know about. What we do know is that there’s these massive spiritual things. Like radiowaves, they exist all around us. There’s the Earth and the Moon and the Sun. But they were made by even bigger spirits, we call them the triat. And best we can figure,” He looks pointedly at Banion, “they’re God.”
“So the three of them, they work together. The Wyld just makes stuff, just cranks it out. It’s the explosive creative energy that’s the Big Bang itself. Then there’s the Weaver, and the Weaver can’t make, that’s not what it does. See, everything that the Wyld makes, it’s just energy, it’s just motion and momentum and ideas, so since the Weaver can’t create, it takes what the Wyld makes and it makes that stuff permanent. It gives things longevity.”
Zylo is obviously calming down a bit now, “And then there’s the Wyrm. The Wyrm was supposed to keep the Wyld from filling the universe, and keep the Weaver from making everything too permanent, but the Wyrm went insane. It went completely batshit crazy and it’s trying to tear everything apart. It’s been doing it forever. The Wyrm is why there’s seven continents now. The Wyrm is why crack tastes so good that half of East St. Louis can’t stop smoking it. The Wyrm is why the Amazon is going flat and the ozone is burning away. And it’s our job to stop it before it can finish the job. And that means, get used to the feel of killing, because it isn’t going away. All I can promise is that we’ll teach you how to control it, and you can make sure that the next thing you kill has it coming.”
Banion nods knowingly.
“There’s so much more ta this, it’s not the sort of thing that we can just tell you and you’ll learn it. You’re going to feel it. You’re going to run it and live it and that’ll make it make sense. For now, it’s time to play bloody mary.”
Zylo smiles menacingly and begins to strip off his suit, “There’s a good big mirror in there Banion.”
Banion looks towards the suite-like bathroom alcove which does, indeed, have a long mirror in front of it.
“The Wyrm is massive, it’s cosmological, it’s practically just an ideal. Sometimes it’s violence, and sometimes it’s more subtle than that. It works through smaller weaker servants, spirits. Jagglings and gafflings and all manner of things. The ones that serve the goals of the Wyrm, we call them banes. Banes can do a lot of bad stuff. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t do it all. Sometimes a man beats his wife because he doesn’t know how to face himself. But sometimes a man beats his wife because something’s pushing him.” He looks at Shay, “Your momma couldn’t put down the pipe because she was weak and she liked the rock. The Wyrm didn’t have nothing to do with that. But the Wyrm paid attention to what was happening there, and it paid attention to you.”
Zylo is stripped to the waist and is working on his belt as Banion continues unabated, “When you had your little freak out, which, I might add, is perfectly natural, all that violence, it caught something’s attention. An Urge Bane. A little violent thing that’s been riding you like the proverbial monkey on your back. That’s what the voice is, and now, we’re going to prove that this is all real.”
Banion stands up and walks towards the bathroom mirror. “Come and stare in the mirror.”
“The ghost with the can…the rat. Shit.” He stands up and wipes his mouth. The gears are turning behind his eyes. “But I ain’t a weapon. I don’t want to be a killer. I’ll look in your mirror and I’ll buy your spirit story. Well, part of it. Cause I ain’t got a choice. I eat fuckin plastic because I had a dream. But I ain’t gonna go around killing, even your worms, just because some priest and a punk kid who’s maybe a couple years older than me say so. I came here because I thought I was being led here to find answers, not to be someone’s disposable hero. You’re gonna have to show me something insane to make me like you, or show me the door, cause I got a train to catch.”
Shay stood up, looked over to Banion. After a few of the snapshot memories of Calumet started to surface in her head, she realized that what they were talking about might be true. She never thought of herself as the violent type, to lash out or to be a weapon for anyone. Shay took a huge breath before speaking.
“Well Pops, you say your family and something deep in my gut says it’s true. I’ve had sixteen good years on this planet and honestly I got nothing to lose.”
Shay walked over to the mirror.
“What is mirror, mirror here going to show us Grandpa?”
as tinny and shay join Banion at the mirror, they both notice that while all three of them are casting reflections, Zylo is not. A quick over-the-shoulder glance reveals that zylo is, in fact, gone. His clothes lie neatly folded on the bed, but he is nowhere to be seen.
Banion turns off the grimy overhead light, so that only what streams in through the cheap curtains (that don’t quite meet in the middle of the window) illuminates the room. All three of them look somewhat hazy in the mirror, like smoke or soot it’s coating their eyes.
“Place one hand on my shoulder, both of you.”
Tinny places his hand on the father’s shoulder.
Shay is a little shocked to see Zylo just disappear. A twinge of fear ran down her spine.
“Where did he go?”
She asked as she placed her hand on Benion’s shoulder.
“He went to Oz, Dorothy. Land of talking rats and worm eating werewolves.”
“He’s just making sure our guest is ready for our arrival. Now stare into the mirror. Stare into your own eyes. Can you feel that light wisp on your face? Like spider webs that don’t quite cling? There’s a smell, too. Do you smell the farm, but like the crops have been burnt?”
“Shay, are you seeing anything, cause I don—” A sharp intake of breath. “Oh my God.”
Shay stared intently. She could smell the burning, it made her scared.
“Pops, what’s going on? What is it?”
The more and more she stared the more she felt drawn in, like diving deeper into a pool of water, pushing further down.
Both feel as though someone has jerked then backwards by their collar, as though they’ve fallen very suddenly only a few inches, and them the room is pervaded by twilight.
Through the gap in the windows, the sunlight is simultaneously brighter and duller, as though the source is stronger, but it’s fighting through more to reach them. The room itself is seen as though through a shift blue filter, and its edges are softer, rounder. Only the mirror itself remains wholly unchanged.
Banion seems to be both taller and stronger, though it’s hard to pin this down completely. He turns them both around to look out into the room, where stands a massive, gun metal gray wolf with a strikingly, artificially, vibrant, crimson mane. It clutches something writhing in its jaws.
Banion lowers his face beside Shay’s ear: there’s your rider.
Tin Can looks at Shay to see what Banion is talking about. At first, he tries very hard not to notice that Shay is standing naked before him. Then he realizes that he must also be naked. He would have normally been embarrassed by the situation, but the sight of the bane spirit leeching onto Shay’s naked form overpowers any self-consciousness. “Jesus. Oh, Shay…don’t freak out. Father, what the hell is that thing?”
Shay leans towards the wolf, she can only assume that it’s Zylo.
“Hello friend.” She said to the bane creature with as much strained sarcasm as possible. “What is this thing? Is this the worm?”
Modesty quickly kicked in as she realized that she was utterly naked, she sits and attempts to cover herself completely, her face completely flushed.
Zylo gives the bane a shake, which makes it become slightly more ethereal.
Banion speaks up from behind.
“That is a bane spirit, an Urge. Looks like it’s been feeding on paranoia. Zylo, show them.”
The wolf cracks audibly. First its maw and muzzle shift as though accommodating more our larger teeth, and then the same effect ripples down the wolf’s body, joints and bones stretching and expanding. The changes are most pronounced at its front paws, where dew claws extend and oppose, while toes extend significantly. When the transition is complete, a process that takes mere seconds, the wolf is nearly half again as large as before.
It rises onto its back legs and reaches clawed hands up to the squirming thing in its maw. It grasps small arms and presents the creature, stretching it out for inspection.
The creature is perhaps four feet I’m length, though that’s difficult to judge, as its serpentine tails squirm, occasionally lashing up at Zylo’s face. Its segmented body seems to split into two branches by is terminus, through more in the form of twin tails than legs. It has two arms which amount to jointed scythe-like blades. Its head is topped by a shape somewhere between a duck and an ape, with the mouth of a crab. Its abdomen is swollen and distended. On its back are six insectile wings fluttering at high speeds.
Every time the twin tails lash upwards, Zylo snaps at it, chasing them back down.
Banion looks it over, nodding. “Yes, only a gaffling. And not to experienced.” He walks towards Zylo, every bit as naked as the teenagers, and pokes the gaffling in the stomach. It begins to rattle off a series of noises like glass breaking and grinding down an asphalt road.
“This is not the Wyrm, and not even a fraction of its power. But this is a servant of the Wyrm. It’s basically a baby. Left to its own devices, it may never be anything more than it is. But we’re not going to give it that chance.” He turns to face the teens.
“Look at it. Can’t us just feel how, just, wrong this thing is? Do you feel it? The urge to tear it to pieces?”
Tin looks the wretched thing over. It is nothing like the “ghost” from his dream, nothing like the rat. He sees it true, and finds that he does understand how much of an abomination it is. Everything in this strange unworld has a slightly more pure feeling except this lashing mockery. It is wrong, and TC can tell just by seeing it. It clearly is a part of the realm, but not of THIS part. It belongs somewhere darker, he believes.
“It’s like in The Exorcist. That…gaff whatever was in her. And this place…it trips me out.” His hands move to cover his genitals. “It’s like being asleep. Or daydreaming, or whatever. But it feels more real than real. Like…” he trails off.
Shay stared at the Bane, every bit of her was screaming to kill it, to rip it apart and smash it till it was no longer existent. All she could feel was anger and hatred for it, writhing and twisting in her stomach. She dropped her modesty and stood up.
“My gut wants me to destroy it, rip it to shreds. Can I kill it?”
Shay stopped reorganizing her thoughts.
“Maybe tear it’s wings off, not kill it but hurt it enough to send a message, send it back to where it came.”
“I think he means to have you do just that, Shay,” TC says distractedly. He is clearly in awe over everything he is seeing here. Some gears have begun to turn in his mind.
Banion smiles at the eagerness of the pups.
“What you’re feeling? That’s natural, and that’s good. But you got to reign it in a bit. It always wants to go too far. Torture? That’s too far. There’s nothing for us to gain from torturing this creature, it’s tortured enough. And if take pleasure in pain for the sake of pain, then you’re no better than that little beast. And you are better than that thing. You’ve got to keep that in mind. That thing and what that thing wants and what that things likes, it’s what we’re trying to destroy. You give in to what it wants, and you haven’t really done what ya set out ta do.
“When we get to where we’re going, the Gibs’ll teach you a lot more’n I can about what it means to be one of us. But I’m going to tell you right now: we got Laws. And right now, I’m telling you one of ‘em: Anywhere you find a servant of the Wyrm, you destroy the servant of the Wyrm. But it’s no good to be all balls an no bite. So we ain’t going to just hold it and let you beat on it. You’re gonna kill, but you’re gonna have to hunt it. Let it go Zylo.”
Zylo leans close to the bane and as he begins to speak a rectangular square of fur begins to glow electric blue, little lines running from the square up his neck to the sides of his jaws. Simultaneously, two noises come out of his mouth, one of them is a barking, growling and chuffing sound, the other is the grinding glass noises that the bane made earlier. And despite hearing this cacophony, somewhere in all of it, The Kid and Shay can just about understand what he’s saying. It’s not words, per se, it’s more like pictures or thoughts strung together like Egyptian heiroglyphs but verbal. They don’t quite follow the subtleties, but they get the gist:
“Food. Killing. You.”
And then Zylo lets the bane go.