The stark white
moonlight filtered through the trees, spilling onto the ground and deepening
the shadows around the granite markers. In the darklight of the nearly
full moon, they shone like ghostly beacons in the cool evening. The
breeze lofted slowly through the small graveyard, fifteen miles from
town. It was a verdant strip of green. None of the usual detruis
of civilization...the beer cans, shotgun shells and empty fast food wrappers...littered
the little park. It was unknown or forgotten by all except those
who's kinfolk were buried here.
A line of headlights came rolling up to the little gate, long black cars turning carefully on roads - paths actually - that had been laid out with horse drawn vehicles in mind. In the evening twilight, mist rose from the small ponds along the main road, mingling with the dust to create strange phantasms in the headlights. At the gate, an older man, dressed in the dark suit considered the uniform of his profession, fumbled for a moment with a ring of old keys, finally locating one that turned the rusty lock. He dropped the chain and returned to the lead car.
First came a long black limo, following the way to the very southwestern corner of the cemetery. Then came three black hearses, followed by one more limo, then several smaller cars and one motorcycle.
The man who alighted from the first limo had the weary look of a broken man. He was tall, slim, and agile. His blond hair hung forward over red, bloodshot eyes. He scanned the cemetery, turning his head like a wolf as he listened. A younger man, shorter and stockier, slid from the other side of the limo and did likewise. He slid his sunglasses down as he did so, revealing eyes shining black in the gloom.
"Nobody here," he said quietly. "I'll keep watch."
With that, he hurried from the side of the car into a copse of nearby trees and disappeared from sight. The blond man nodded slowly and bent back down into the open door of the limo.
The elderly man who grasped his arm for support seemed crushed under the weight of both years and sorrow. His eyes stayed fixed firmly on the ground. The young man helped him to a folding chair set up underneath a green awning. The flounce of the awning with the funeral home's name written in white flapped in the breeze.
A young black woman came up and touched the man's shoulder. He turned to look into her large brown eyes.
"Tommie, I'll sit with him while you.." her words faded away as she glanced toward the hearses, now idling in the road.
"Thanks, Julia," he said quietly, reaching out to pull her close for a moment. His chin brushed the horns on her head, but neither one of them noticed.
She wiped tears from her eyes, carefully blotting them with a handkerchief before sitting down with the old man and putting her small hand over his large, gnarled ones. He glanced at her and closed his eyes. She bit her lip to keep from crying anew.
Tommie walked up a small hillock where his other friends were gathered about the now open rear door of the first hearse. He looked around the half circle of them. No words were passed, and none were necessary.
How did it all come to this? he thought. For a moment, the world spun around him, disorientingly quick, as he tried to think back, to remember.
You're in shock, Tommie-boy, it'll be clearer tomorrow night.
His friends still looked to him, ready to help but so very unsure of their parts in this final drama. He reached deeply into himself and shook his head as if to clear it.
"Well, let's get to it, then," he muttered, and grasped a handle as the undertaker's son pushed the box out from the back of the hearse. Grimm and Pinkerton got on the other side as Ace came up behind him and filled out his side. The four of them easily carried the casket to the frame awaiting it, setting it down gently. Tommie ran his fingers over the metal nameplate screwed to the lid.
Next was Bruce, even lighter than Jeremy. Tommie thought he heard the skateboard he'd set in the coffin bumping the side.
Bruce Kenneth Gunn.
Wolf came up to the hearse as they prepared to get the last one. He stepped up to Tommie.
"I've been all over the countryside. There's nobody out here. Why don't you let me help carry this one?"
Tommie caught his meaning. They were all walking on eggs, immersed in their own sorrow, and in his as well. And this one....
"Thank you, Wolf, but I'll be ok. I have to do this thing. Thank you."
They hefted the last coffin. It was the heaviest of the three, but still not very heavy. The minister was shuffling through his notes at the graveside when they set it down with the other two. Tommie lingered a moment, touching the smooth mahogany of the box, then turned and sat down next to Grandpa and Julia.
Tommie Gunn Jr. - TJ.
Tommie looked from one box to another to another in the still moonlight. The litany of names was too astounding, too crippling...
Tommie Gunn Jr. - TJ.
His sons. Lying in boxes in the cold dark ground.
How can this be....this can't be happening...can't be real...
The preacher began to speak of redemption, of salvation, of glories both real and imagined. Tommie was only half aware of his voice. He was hearing another call, a more fitting tribute to the boys.
He was hearing the howling of wolves.
A low undulating cry started on the wind a million miles away, carried through city and countryside alike by the wild wolves, and by those who were neither quite so wild nor so wolfish. Their mother's people howled to mourn them, to direct their spirits to the wyld, to tell the world of their great deeds and battles. Nighteyes was out there somewhere in the dark, with his pack, singing the praises of the Three, Boudiccea's cubs.
And something else.
Tommie caught it as an undertone, a quiet suggestion that started out small, yet began to grow quickly. It was a warning, a frightening, a prophecy. It was dark, and dangerous. It came in the night, with fang and claw, to take the young, to kill the old, to make the warriors weak and the mothers turn from their cubs. It was death, and it was worse than death. It was extinction somehow, and it was coming.
"Do you understand?" said the voice, so close to his ear he felt the warm breath caress the back of his neck. He began to turn, knowing who stood behind him, knowing he could ask her what had happened, why he could not remember, why he had not fought harder, but he could not turn. He was rooted, as it were, sitting stark still, smelling her musky smell, feeling her long fingers on his shoulder, wanting so badly to turn around and see her...
But he could not.
"Protect our boys, Tommie," she whispered, and then he knew that it was a dream, but not a dream, and that he was no longer in his gun vault, safely sleeping, but in that in between place that she had spoken of, the umbra, where all time is now and anything can happen. "This must not be. The wyrm awakes, and again they will leap into the fray. They can do nothing else. They are warriors. That is why they were born."
He raised one hand, put it over hers resting lightly on his shoulder. She made a small noise in her throat, like a growl.
And far away, born on the breeze, so faint it was like a whispered magic spell, came the sounds of a calliope.
And with that noise echoing in his ears, Tommie came awake like a man breaking the surface of deep, cold water. He was covered in blood sweat, and it took him several minutes to realize he was pushing blood to his heart, making it pound wildly. He checked his watch, then stretched in the big lazyboy recliner he slept in. A few more minutes until sunset. He had woken early...and no wonder. But details had already begun to slip into the fog of sleep, and by the time he had showered and gone out to eat, he had forgotten all but the dimmest of impressions, that he had dreamt, nightmared actually, and something bad had happened to the boys. He had another feeling as well, a warm, half remembered feeling of contentment, but could not place what it might be connected to.
He did drop in on his sons that night though. And made plans with his "bosses" to take the summer off. Maybe a little fishing in Kentucky would be just the thing to put his mind at rest....