Her first thought was
to kill the madman.
Adrenaline pumping, she cast about the room for something she could use as a weapon. Her eyes fell on the dresser, and she made a grab for the silver backed hairbrush, knocking last weeks laundry to the floor in the process. She rolled and came up with the brush in front of her.
The 'dancer lifted a twisted eyebrow in an almost sardonic sneer.
"Little lost one, you cannot defeat me. You cannot run from me. Wherever you go, there I will be." He laughed, and smoke began to pour from his mouth and nose. She was dimly aware that Sylvanos had entered her room. She turned toward him, screaming a warning, and immediately realized her mistake. The thing was on her, dragging her down, claws tearing her flesh, snapping her bones. She could taste her own blood, warm and salty.
She beat at the thing, her arms flailing about as if they were stuck in glue.
"Boudiccea!!! Boudiccea!!! For Chrissake, WAKE UP!!!"
The dream dissolved into fragments as she came around, staring into Sylvanos' dark eyes. There was a red mark on his cheek, coupled with a scratch. Her eyes widened, then she quickly looked away in shame.
"You O.K.? " he asked softly. He retreated to the doorway to give her time to pull her robe shut, averting his eyes. She may have been a nice looker, but she was almost twice his age, and his friends' mom, and if that wasn't enough, she was a werewolf. A Black Fury werewolf, no less. Sylvanos hadn't gotten this old without knowing a few things, and one of them was that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should one ever make a play for a Black Fury.
They just didn't see it as a compliment.
But now she straightened her robe and pulled herself to her feet. She had already shifted from Lupine to Glabro, and was beginning the last change into Homid when he heard the boys' door open. T.J. poked his head into the narrow hallway.
"She all right?" he asked, less with concern than with exasperation. In the last seven years, he'd seen his mother all right on maybe six occasions. Nothing was ever normal, so why should this day start out any different?
"I think she had a bad dream," Sylvanos shrugged. He was glad his mother had not been a Black Fury. It was hard on them, but he also could see her side of it. He turned back to Boudiccea, who was now pulling on a pair of black jeans. For a second, he caught sight of her breasts and a lecherous thought passed through his mind, then she turned and he could see the old, healed scars down her back and sides. A burn scar from Chicago, where she'd first met the boys' father; another burn from New Orleans, her first adventure as a full-fledged adult of her pack. Many sets of claw marks, at least twenty by his count, where she'd tangled with this Fenris bastard or that Fianna pig.
Some of her scars were even from the enemy.
Most of the big ones.
T.J. (and never, never call him that in front of his mother) had disappeared into the tiny bathroom by the time Boudiccea stumbled down the hall. She was a large woman, not fat but stout, and having been born lupine had never completely gotten the hang of moving like a human. In her wolf form, she could run like the wind, flowing along with her speed and agility turning her into the sleek predator she was, but in human form, she was never graceful.
Besides which, Sylvanos knew, she was in pain much of the time, which probably explained why the boys thought she was a drunk. Yes, she drank. Frequently, in the evening, she'd get more than a little tipsy, and one of the boys, or Sylvanos, would have to lead her to the little closet sized bedroom at the front of the trailer and flop her down into the soft comforters and pillows piled high on the narrow bed. Usually, it was Sylvanos, and then he would stand back and watch, fascinated as she let the change come over her, flesh disappearing under dark fur, the prominent white stripe spreading down her temple to her back. Then she would be more herself somehow, not wearing a mask, but just being real.
It was a strange life.
She thumped into the tiny kitchen and fumbled with the coffee pot, finally getting the basket slid into the track.
Why the hell they make these things so small it takes a three year old to work 'em? she thought, then stopped and sighed. Nothing would ever be big and bulky enough for her and still fit into the closet sized kitchen. She sighed again, then turned to stare out the window. Frost had come during the night, turning the pane into a shimmering kaleidoscope of white cracks. She went to the door and opened it, breathing deep the first mornings' air. It felt sharp and fresh. An innocuous lawn gnome eternally pushed a wheelbarrow through an inch of fallen leaves. She lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply.
Once, this was a nice place, she thought to herself. Yeah, before the mills closed and people had to swallow their pride or lose their children. Sylvanos rolled onto the couch and covered himself with a blanket.
"You trying' to freeze me, or is that just your way of thankin' me for wakin' you up?" he said.
She smiled, forgetting her gloomy thoughts. She flicked the cigarette at the gnome, who continued to push his little wheelbarrow like a concrete Sisyphus. She closed the door and walked over to rustle his hair. Lingering a moment with her fingers in his hair, she thought how much this boy - this gypsy boy - was more alike her than her own sons. Then that thought, too, was gone, replaced by the slamming of the bathroom door as T.J. came out and Jeremy rushed past him. First and second usually got the hot water, and with three of them trying to get ready at the same time, it was always a contest to see who would take the cold shower of the day. T.J. rarely had the pleasure.
Like his father, she thought, and the idea brought all the baggage with it, always alert, always ready at a moments notice. But he'll never grow up to be ... What? An assassin? A kindred? Face it, they have no connection with the land, with Gaia, with me... They hate me because of our life...The only life I can give them....They'd probably do better if I sent them off right now ..back to the hills of Kentucky.
Thinking like this always made her thirsty, so she reached into the shoe box sized refrigerator and pulled out a beer. The pop-hiss of the pull tab made Sylvanos open one eye and regard her with an almost reproachful look.
"I thought we had something to do today," he said.
She waved her hand noncommittally in his direction. One beer wasn't going to...
No, it was never one beer, though, it always turned into ten.
She set the can down on the counter, just as Bruce came into the kitchen. He looked from the can to her face and then back again. She could read what he was thinking in his eyes.
"D'you want some breakfast?" she asked, turning to the stove to get out of his gaze.
"I'll get something on the way to work. Starting a little early, aren't you?" he said sharply.
"Is it any of your business?" she snapped, then instantly regretted it. He grabbed his backpack off the counter, almost sweeping a .45 to the floor. She grabbed it and stuffed it in her belt.
He turned and picked up his skateboard. He was halfway out the door when he heard her call him. He turned slowly back.
"I might not be here when you all get home tonight. I'm leaving some money with your brother to get food. No pizza, no parties, OK?"
He'd heard the "might not be here" speech before. He walked down the front steps while she was still talking. He knew the next time he'd see her would be in a few days, when she'd burst in in the middle of the night and throw some things into a traveling bag, make them do the same, and then load the car and drive like a maniac for days until they'd outdistanced "them". Whoever "they" were. Bruce had come to the conclusion that "they" were nothing more than a paranoid fantasy in his mother's alcohol soaked head.
So as he coasted his board down the cracked tarmac that passed for a main road, he thought,
I could refuse to go this time.
He found the thought a little liberating and more than a little scary. Not that he was scared to disobey his mother, no, she was generally too drunk and too wrapped up with her dope smoking hippie-yippie eco-terrorist friends to much care about whether they listened to her or not. But that leaving would be the end of a chapter of his life that he wasn't sure he wanted to walk out on. He'd been in this movie for 17 years now, and he wanted some closure. He wanted to know how it turned out.
He really wanted to find his father.
Turning his mind inward and letting his instincts tell his body how to guide the board, he tried to remember when exactly his father lived.
He could visualize a large farmhouse, with dark woods all around, and a fishing pond with a stream. A winding dirt driveway led to it, curving off the road at the battered mailbox that said simply GUNN, BoX 6.
But he couldn't remember the name of the town, or even be sure on the state. He knew his father had lived in New York, and maybe Kentucky or West Virginia, but he couldn't place which of these the farmhouse might be in.
His thoughts were interrupted by the board clunking over some rough places in the road, and he welcomed the distraction over his unproductive thoughts.
By the time he got to work at Happy Time Videos he'd almost forgotten the idea of freedom.
Boudiccea's middle child, the strange one named Jeremy, strolled into the kitchen and poured a bowl of rice krispies for himself. These he doused in orange juice and cinnamon, then sat down at the counter to happily chew on them and the remains of a candy bar.
"Do you have anywhere to go today?" she asked him. Jeremy worked best if you just got to the point and stayed there. Today was no exception.
"No, not really," he answered between mouthfuls of orange krispies.
"I want you and Thomas to go to the mall. And then maybe a movie, OK?"
Jeremy looked up at her, then over at Sylvanos still curled up under the blanket on the couch, then back at his mom.
"Oh," he said, looking as though he had just thought of E=MC2 himself. "Oh! Oh! Sure, Mom, anything you say...but we'll need, well, some cash. Because the security at the mall, well, they don't take too kindly to loitering, y'know."
She knew fully well that most of the kids hung out at the mall just because they didn't have any money, and if anybody was ever harassed by security, they hadn't told her about it. But she also knew that it would be easier to get them going if they had something green in their pockets. So she handed him a twenty, and gave another one to Thomas when he came out of his room.
They caught a ride with one of the neighbors, a huge kid that had just moved in a couple of months ago. If the boys ever noticed that he usually happened to be going their way, or coincidentally showed up where they were, they never said anything about it. Besides, it was a small town, and there just weren't that many things to do here.
As soon as the boys were gone, Boudiccea flew into action. She, Sylvanos, and several other members of the community she called home were going to sneak up one of the old logging roads today, into the middle of a cut that was going on on an old growth forest strand. The cut was illegal, but the area was so isolated that the owners felt secure in the fact that no one would venture out this far.
Just another Pentex scam, she thought with disgust, as they made their way through the old forest in a couple of Jeeps.
They worked halfway through the morning, taking pictures of the big stumps of trees already cut, all the while hearing the sound of chain saws a mile distant.
By ten thirty, she was feeling restless. Jumpy almost. She ventured up a game trail to find the source of some oil she'd observed floating on the top of a pond. The stream feeding it ran over old, moss covered rocks, washing over them with the rainbow colors of pollution. She squatted down, dipping her fingers into the cold water, her mind going back to another stream, another forest, another time...
A time when two cubs crested a hill, hearing the loud booming voices of men near their den, and crawled through the underlying scrub until they were close enough to see..
Boudiccea shook her head savagely.
Now, she told herself, is not the time for regrets and memories. Many are orphans. Get over yourself.
A dragonfly buzzed in the eerie silence, and then, suddenly, the sound of gunfire exploded on all sides of her.
Lightening fast reflexes were all that saved her. As she spun and fell prone, she heard the crack of a bullet sing off one of the rocks, inches from her head. Sharp fragments stung across her cheek, but she was already beginning to change. Flesh became fur, legs stretching and then bending, hands into claws and woman became wolf.
She stayed low, sensing the close presence of men, and then, faintly on the wind, of something else....
TJ (as he preferred
to be called) fed another dollar into the slot and hunched over the gun
as he prepared to save the world from the Ultimate Evil - or at least the
Ultimate Evil of the week, which was zombies right now. Next week,
it would be aliens, or monsters. But to TJ, the games were always
the same - kill them before they killed you.
Jeremy was standing behind him, holding two stuffed animals from the claw machine. He watched in intent awe as TJ blasted wave after wave of Zombies to hell. TJ was good at these things. Jeremy wondered whether TJ remembered their father taking them shooting in the Kentucky woods. He almost asked him, but TJ seemed lost in the game, and Jeremy didn't want to bother him. And anyway, Brian had stepped up next to him, and was now smiling at the stuffed toys.
"You're pretty good at that machine," he said pleasantly.
It took Jeremy a minute to realize that Brian was talking to him, and not addressing his brother. He tilted his head to one side. People didn't usually compliment him on the things he could do. As a matter of fact, people didn't usually notice him much at all, and then only to shake their heads at him, and call him "weird".
But Brian stood, smiling and pointing at the stuffed toys - a garish orange dog and a dancing raisin - and said "You had about seven of those before you gave them all away, didn't you?"
Jeremy shrugged slightly and grinned.
"Well, some people can't work the claw as well as I can...and they wanted them," he said by way of explanation. "And I don't really have any room for them, they'd just get lost. So I gave them to some girls I went to school with last year."
"That's what I like about you, Jeremy," Brian said, "You're weird, but you're nice weird."
TJ spun around when Jeremy spoke, and almost missed his shot.
"I didn't hear you come up, Brian," he said warily. "You're pretty sneaky."
Brian shrugged his big shoulders in a non committal way, and TJ went back to playing the game, well on the way to saving the world yet again....
And so the day ticked slowly away, with everyone trying to save the world.
Unfortunately, the battle to save the world was not going so well in the woods as it was in the arcade. Boudiccea crouched behind a tree, holding the stitch in her side and trying to catch her breath.
From down the trail, she could hear gunfire, and the sound of jeeps driving away. Fast.
Damn apes, she thought bitterly, they run from the good fight...so much for eco-terrorism...
She shook her head slowly, dimly aware that perhaps it was a good thing to run from a fight which you could not win, but angry nonetheless.
This is for them, more than us, anyway, what do they think will happen if the Wyrm wins and kills all the green places? Where will the air come from? And the clean water? We can always run to the umbra...
But she knew she could not, would not, run from this. Even if she could escape to the umbra - and it had been long and long since she had made the step sideways - this was her fight, first and foremost.
In her hand was a gun. A nasty looking gun, a 30-30 to be exact, although she was too far into wolf to care about it's numbers. She just knew it was a gun, and it had not helped the man carrying it a moment ago, whose blood now stained her feet.
She stooped to sniff him, and recoiled at the wyrmstench coming from him in waves.
She noticed he had a badge of some sort hanging from a chain around what was left of his neck, but she couldn't read it. It meant nothing to her anyway, the meaningless tangle of lines and curves that humans called alphabet.
There were more, and she would take them, as she had taken this one, and the two near that little stream before him. Once the water had been dirty with oil. Now it was cleansed in blood.
A stream of blood welled down her calf, and pooled on the ground. A sudden cramp overtook her leg, and she stumbled.
What are you doing here anyway, cub? a voice asked in her head. Why don't you just give it up...there are better ways to deal with this than violence. That rich hoodlum you took up with, why, he could BUY all this land, make it some kind of national forest. Protect it that way then. Run now, and come back with permits and papers and...
And what? She thought bitterly, and what would he do to help me? And why?
And she knew whatever she did, would be done here and now, and alone. Because in her heart, she knew she did this to defend that which she thought worthy to be passed on to her boys.
"Weaver and web, weaver and web...." she prayed under her breath.
And so, thinking of her fight, and her world, and her boys, she stood up and stepped out from behind the tree...
And stepped straight into hell on earth.
Sylvanos stood, knives in hand, beginning his strange kata, blades flashing in the afternoon light. He faced a creature of uncertain size and shape. It rolled and surged in the clearing, slopping toward him like a high tide of toxic waste.
Still in her crinos form, she shouted his name.
"Sylvanos! Get away from it! Save yourself!"
She knew the boy's skill was nothing to a creature of this kind...it was a bane, and a powerful one at that. The knife hanging at her hip, her klaive, was one of the few weapons that could hurt it.
Sylvanos did not turn to look at her.
But it did.
And in that instant, she knew what fear was. It washed over her, and through her, and it was the ground she stood on, and the sky over her head, and the air she was breathing. It was a tangible thing, and it was large, and hungry....
So very hungry.
And Boudiccea, child of Diana, daughter of Yellow-eyes-in-the-darkness, granddaughter of Old-one-who-teases-the-bear, great granddaughter of Muzzle-red-as-blood, began to walk toward the thing that now turned away from the gypsy boy and cast it's hungry eyes upon her.
Sylvanos heard the keening coming from her...stood still for a moment and reveled in it's beauty. Then he realized Boudiccea had begun to sing her death dirge.