Cross Country

     Brian strode to the door and whipped it open.  He cocked his head to
one side.  His hearing had not deceived him.  He heard the sound in the
distance, like a heartbeat, but nothing natural.  It was the sound of
helicopter blades slicing through the still afternoon air.
     “Trouble’s coming,” he said turning back to the group.  TJ stared at
him, his face white and sweaty now.
     “What do you mean..?” he mumbled.  This was too too much for TJ.
Jeremy still laid his head on the thing that his mother had turned into.
Bruce, however, now turned to Brian with confusion and anger.
     “Trouble?!  Trouble?!  My mother just died !!!!! And she turned into a
fucking wolf when she did!!!!!!!!! And you think there’s some kind of trouble
out there???!!!!  There’s trouble in here too ‘cause I just went absolutely
fucking insane !!!!!!!!!”
     Brian looked at him calmly.  He closed his eyes for a second, almost as
if gathering his thoughts.
     Then he slapped Bruce so hard that Bruce went flying backwards into
his brother TJ’s arms, and they both fell to the worn linoleum floor.
     “There’s copters’ coming.  It’s a good bet they ain’t coming here to
take in the scenery.  You got followed,” he turned to Sylvanos with an
accusing glare.
     Sylvanos wiped tears from his eyes.  The woman had been more like a
mother to him than anyone else but Maw-Maw.  And now, this asshole was
acting like it was his fault.  He doubled up his fist.
     “I knew what I was doing.  We were sold out!  I went through a
stream on the way here.  It should have washed away any trail.  Maybe
somebody told them where we were…” he hissed.
     Brian’s eyes widened.
     “I hope you’re not accusing anyone here of that…” he sputtered.
     “Look, motherfucker, how do I know you ain’t unseelie…? Yeah, I know
about that dirty little secret you all try to hide so well…”
     They all turned with shocked looks to see Jeremy, fists clenched
tightly in front of him, shaking with rage.
     “Look, Mom always said there were things out there, bad things…” TJ
mumbled, as if in a dream.
     “Mom was crazy,” Bruce said automatically.
     “WILL YOU LOOK AT THIS!!!!!!!!” Jeremy screamed, dragging his
brother’s head to within a foot of their mother’s corpse.
WHICH IS WHAT SHE ALWAYS SAID SHE WAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  And if this
could be true, then anything and everything could be true, so we’d better
get our shit in gear, cause that bunch mom always used to talk about is
probably right outside our door!”
     For a second, no one moved.  The world went silent.  TJ couldn’t
remember ever seeing his brother this angry before.  Then they all
heard the choppers, and the spell seemed to be broken.
     “Aw, shit…” whispered Sylvanos.
     Brian slammed the door of the trailer shut.  He looked desperately
around, then trotted off down the hall to the back door.
     “It’s blocked shut,” TJ called after him.  “Mom did it, a couple months
ago.  When she started having nightmares.”
     “I can force it,” Brian said, and put his shoulder to it.
     TJ knew it was useless; there was a ton of Volkswagen slammed up
against it from the outside
     And why didn’t you ever wonder how she got the VW so tight against
the door when it didn’t run anymore…were you afraid she might be telling
the truth after all….
     But he put his shoulder to it and pushed anyway.

     Sylvanos picked up Boudiccea’s purse, stuffed it into his backpack, and turned to the other boys.
     “You’d better get some heavy clothes, your backpacks and some food.
These woods get cold of a night.”  He went to the kitchen and began
rummaging for crackers.
     Bruce followed him into the small nook.
     From the living room, Jeremy could hear them arguing.  It was what
Bruce did best, when things were out of his control, he argued them
away.  Maybe, if he lived past nightfall, someday he’d make a good lawyer, Jeremy thought.
     “Look, Sylvanos,” Bruce began, “we can’t just go traipsing off into the
woods like we’re playing cowboys and Indians.  I have a job, for
chrissake, and we need to call the police and report her death, and …”
 He stopped when he heard the whistle of the first shell.
     Jeremy knelt next to his mother’s corpse and pulled the blanket over
her muzzle.
     I’m sorry mom that I never believed you and I thought you were just
an old drunk and I’m sorry I never listened better to you and made you
yell and made you cry…I wish this was just a dream but it isn’t, is it?
     As if in response to his thoughts, he heard a whooshing sound outside.
    For a minute he couldn’t place it, except in a movie he’d seen last
     It sounded just like an air to ground missile.
     But of course, it couldn’t be a missile, could it?
     Somewhere far away, he heard Bruce’s voice.
     “Is that a …”
     And then there was the sound of a trailer exploding, and Jeremy
covered his head and screamed, because it was all real, and it would
never be the same again.
    And in the same second Sylvanos grabbed Bruce and pulled him to the
floor, and he could hear the explosion and then the pieces of metal and
wood raining down on the outside of the trailer.
     Bruce very politely turned his head to one side before he vomited and
passed out, all in the same motion.  Sylvanos pushed him over on his side,
listening to Jeremy scream like a banshee, then picked up Bruce by his
belt and motioned for the other brother to come with him.
     With a last look back at the quilt covering their mother’s body, Jeremy followed Sylvanos down the hall to the back door, where Brian had popped the frame and half of the siding from the opening.
     “Last chance,” Sylvanos said, looking around at the boys.  “Anything you need to take with you?”
     TJ held up his knapsack, bulging heavily with clothes and probably a
Nintendo or something, and the Gypsy boy nodded.  Jeremy reached into
his room and grabbed his pack, kept loaded under his bed.
     Their mother had been nothing if not prepared.  But they’d always
thought she'd be going with them.
     Bruce moaned, and Sylvanos shook him upright.
     “Go and get your things.  You have thirty seconds,” he said through the
roar of another explosion.
     He was back in twenty.  In one hand, he clenched a skateboard, in the
other a framed picture of the family, taken in better times.  Sylvanos
grabbed a wrapped bundle from the floor in Boudiccea’s bedroom.  It
hefted easily, giving not a clue to its importance.
     It was her grand klaive, ceremonial weapon of choice for Garou.
     And it would go to one of these three.
     If any survived.
     Sylvanos turned to jump from the open door.  He heard shouts behind
him, felt the trailer begin to shake, and then he was away and free,
running as fast as the wind.
     Two slugs whipped past his cheek, one close enough to welt his skin,
but he kept running, past the stone wall and into the woods themselves.  Then, as he gained the safety of the treelike, he stopped, crouched, and fired off one shot with the small .45 he carried.
     The agent peering around the side of the trailer suddenly fell backwards, blood pouring from the third eye Sylvanos had opened in his forehead.  He saw clearly the man's glasses snap from his face.
    He'd hit him dead center.
    Sylvanos whisked the gun back into his jacket and smiled a thin smile.
    That's one for our side... he thought grimly, then turned back into the forest.

     Jeremy, last out, felt his ears pop from the pressure change when the trailer blew up.  It pushed him forward into one of the big overhanging
willow trees at the back of the property.  TJ grabbed him as he slumped
backward from the trunk.  Blood was trickling down his nose and chin.
     “C’mon, bro,” TJ shouted over the din of exploding propane cylinders,
“ You ain’t got time to bleed!”
     The din was incredible, from the choppers overhead to half-heard
radios sparking up every few seconds.  Bruce ran zigzags until he was
over the ridge and stumbling down the other side. His side stitched up,
and for a moment, he was afraid he would just fall, right here, and not
get up again.
    Off in the distance, he thought he heard his name called.  He slowed to
a trot.  Then he heard it again. He turned in the direction it had come
from, into a grove of low hanging oak trees.
     Suddenly, his feet came out from under him, and he crashed to the
loam floor of the forest.  The tree above him erupted in a shower of
     I’m had…that was gunfire….
     And then he heard the screams.
     The man – and it was defiantly just a man, even though he had thought
their pursuers might be monsters – was hanging a good six feet off the
ground.  His neck was caught in the crotch of an old tree branch, and, as
Bruce watched frozen with fear, the tree moved, as though it were alive,
and wrenched the man’s head from his shoulders, then dumped the still
twitching body onto the moss at it’s roots.
      Bruce lost what little was left in his stomach then, great wracking
gouts of liquid swirling up from his guts.  He fell to his knees and
continued to cough and heave even when the last of it was out of him.
     Then he looked up at the tree.
     It seemed like an ordinary tree, except for the dead man at its base.
He edged closer; ready to run at a moments notice if the thing moved
     He kicked the corpse, even though the man was quite dead.
     Then he stooped to examine the man’s equipment more closely.
 He was wearing a Kevlar vest, and some other kind of protective suit
that Bruce didn’t recognize at all; it had wires and tubes leading out from it to a pack on his back that seemed to pulse with some kind of rhythm.
Over this he wore a black jacket, strung over his shoulder was a gun and
a belt with ammunition.
     Bruce knew very little about guns, except that they were for killing.
    Suddenly, a memory came swimming up from his subconscious.
 His father – he was sure that it was his father, even thought the man had white hair, it wasn’t grandpa – holding a .22, handing it down to a very
small Bruce.
     “Remember, son, a gun will give you an edge, but don’t count on it
giving you a victory,” his father’s voice rang in his mind.  “It’s a tool; a
damn useful tool, but just a tool nonetheless.  Use your head, and use
your tools with your head.  That’ll help you out every time.”
     And Bruce saw himself, smiling, taking the .22 from dad, holding
himself in the shooters stance, and taking careful aim at a can sitting on a
fence post down the lane at grandpa’s house.
    Yeah, dad, I'll try....
     He snatched the gun from the dead man on the ground, then took the
ammo too.  He rolled the corpse over, looking for any other ammo or
weapons he might have had.
     There was a .45 in a belt holster; he took that too.  And a survival
knife in a sheath on his left side.
     And as Bruce pulled the belt off, a small square of paper fell out of
the man’s pocket and lazily drifted to the ground.  Bruce picked it up and
felt his skin grow cold as he stared at the picture on the other side.
     It was a photo of his mother, and Jeremy was with her in the picture.
She was sitting in her old jeep – the blue one she’d had until two years
ago – and the photo itself seemed to be grainy, as if taken with a
telephoto lens.
     Bruce could just make out his arm, as he sat behind her in the back
seat.  Undoubtedly, TJ had been there too, it was just that someone had
wanted a picture of his mother.
     The boys were just incidental.
     My god, its all true … Bruce thought.
     And then he looked up, directly into his mother’s face, not three feet
away from him.
     But before he could do anything, and he had no idea what he should do
about it, she faded away as if she had been smoke on the wind and
nothing more.  To Bruce, already nearing mental shock, it seemed as if
she had steeped into the tree, and what gone.
     He began to run again, now with the guns and the knife.
     And, tucked deep into his shirt, the picture of his mother, it’s warmth
comforting him in the cold dark woods.
     He ran back the way he’d entered the grove, and toward the valley.
     He was on the next hill before he stopped again.
     He spotted Jeremy easily enough, followed closely by Brian’s hulking
frame, then a minute later TJ and Sylvanos came crashing out of the dark green undergrowth and they all began to run in the same direction.
     They didn’t have any good idea where they were going, but the one
thought on everyone’s mind was to put as much distance between the
copters and them as they could.
     After that, then they’d stop.

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And then what happened...?