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The Wild Hunt, Part Two
An Idolwood story
Start at the beginning of the Idolwood series
Gamine stabbed at the garage door opener with one thin finger, her lower lip caught between her teeth. She would not cry, she told herself; tasting blood in her mouth. She would never cry for him again. She would never cry for herself. Never cry for her father, or her mothers, or the Family.
Running, though—running she could do. Runing was something she had done all her life.
She could swear she heard his labored breathing over the rumble of the garage door. The door sounded so loud in the pre-dawn silence, shattering the calm of their cul-de-sac, their Idyllwood; a deep-throated moan full of pain and fear.
April would not cry.
She placed her duffel bag in the back seat. She had been careless. She would give him that. She saw that now. Blinded by something too close to love, she had made a target of her one way out. It would only get her to the bus stop now, while the bus would get her to the city, the city to the train and a ticket to ... somewhere else. Some other city. Some other suburb.
Somewhere she could be alone forever, and bleed in silence.
She made a fist and slammed it into the dashboard, twice; then threw the town car into reverse. Its engine roared on her behalf, the tires wailing where she could not, and she flew alone into the winding streets of Idyllwood.
"Left! Edie, here, left!"
Edie's lips tightened as she spun the wheel, eyes set though they flickered from side to side. There were no oncoming lights, no traffic to impede their race to the end. The Jeep tore around the corner, throwing itself through the stop sign.
Grey's hands clenched at the headrests in front of him, heart in his throat. Alex's voice was raw from the effort of fighting back more vomit, fighting back tears.
The smell of fish and bile was toweled thick over the omnipresent scent of the strong man's sweat, his gym bags, and his workout gear. It kept his eyes half-lidded and half-focused, watching the inner landscape of his eyelids, the twists and turns of the events at the end of the cul-de-sac. Watching the path left by the fearful stink of a young and desperate man.
Every jolt of the car pulled him further out. With each turn as he sat motionless the images became less clear, less precise; the sounds which rang through his mind since the second gunshot nothing more than mumbled curses and whimpered threats.
"It's a ranch," Alex said through clenched teeth, "one floor, at the end of a cul-de-sac ... there's no color, it was too dark, one-car garage, town car in it. Car's been beat up. Front and back end. We've got to open garages, maybe. Look at the cars..."
"Breaking and entering," muttered Edie, "this gets better and better."
"Edie!" Grey pulled himself forward like a child thrusting his head between two squabbling parents. "Edie, look out!"
The oncoming car's headlights slashed across the windshield, bright as spears of divine judgment. Edie jerked the wheel to the right and ran one tire up onto the curb as the town car raced past them. Alex's eyes flew open and he seized at the grab handle, the visions lost now but locked in his mind.
Edie shouted in frustration as she wrestled the Jeep back onto the street and into idle. Lights appeared in the windows of the houses along the way, residents woken by the sound of the near miss, wondering what had happened at their doorsteps.
"Edie," Grey shouted again, "Alex, is that the car? Was that it?"
"Her front bumper was crumpled," she spat. "Alex, is there a chance?"
"Yeah." He blinked, unlocked the passenger door. "Yeah, there is, but we're not taking it. Come on."
"Alex, it was her!"
"Grey! Listen, we can't chase them both."
"But you lost the house!" Grey pounded on the headrest in frustration. "You can't see it, can you?"
"No." Alex admitted. "Not yet, I can't. Now follow me and honk if someone's in my way."
He ran into the street, feet on the pavement, and closed his eyes.
It was all up to his body.
Him. It had been him.
It had been both of them!
April set her teeth in a grimace and smashed her fist into the dashboard again, speeding her pace even more as she came toward the feeder of County Line Road.
She'd almost hit them. Even as an accident, it would have been beautiful, crimson and jagged and loud as the western skies. She could have flown through the windshield to meet the Strong Man and the Traitor, seen their heads smash like fruit against the pavement of Idyllwood.
How proud he would have been.
The town car's tires left black serpents on the pavement as she squealed to a stop.
She could go back. She could ram them from behind, get the gun from the duffel bag, and shoot them all. Shoot them in the streets of their safe, quiet little subdivision, screaming against the dawn.
She could go back and kill them all, and nobody would ever know that she had done it for August's sake.
They'd see a triple murder in the quiet streets of Idyllwood, and they'd wonder why.
Senseless, they'd call it. Meaningless. Hopeless.
But she was none of these things any longer.
Her mind was her own. She would run. She'd be alone, she'd die alone; and maybe that, too, would be meaningless.
But at least it would be hers.
She pulled onto County Line Road and turned the car toward Chicago, careful to stay within five miles of the speed limit the entire way.
Alex ran, his eyes closed. It was just like being on the treadmill, seeing your destination only in your mind. He saw the trail left by the town car; saw it as clear as if he was following it himself. The visions were so much better when he pushed himself. When he wasn't simply following orders.
The Jeep was following close behind. "Edie..." whispered Grey, "how fast are we going?"
"How can he move like that?"
"You have to ask?" Edie held up her wrist, the ring which marked their covenant still visible against her skin.
Alex's stomach was quiet now, but his blood was in his ears, a steady song threatening to overcome him. He followed the road left, then right, then straight through the intersection. The lights behind his eyes grew red and orange, flashing lights which trailed ever so much slower than the rhythm of his feet, the sound of his heartbeat.
They were illusions. They were nothing more than pain. Edie would warn him if there were cars coming, if there was any real danger.
He was the lead dog in the sled, ahead of the pack and ahead of the game. The ragged edges of his breath felt like wings lifting him free of the world and anything he'd cared about before.
He was hunting. He had never felt so free.
He tasted copper as he vaulted over the low fence he had not seen with his eyes.
"That's it!" Grey shouted, "That's got to be..."
"Alex!" Edie's voice was shrill. "Alex!"
Alex didn't know whose blood was in his mouth as he lowered his shoulder and threw himself bodily through the solid door of the Hanged Man's home. It tore from its hinges with a short scream of twisting metal and shattering glass, tore at his skin like a dozen sharp-toothed creatures hungry for his flesh.
"Oh, sweet Jesus!" Edie pulled the Jeep alongside the curb, opening the door as she stopped. "Grey, get after him!"
Grey rushed from the car and through the unlocked gate, thinking of Alex, wishing he owned a gun, a knife, something to face whatever they'd find inside. Alex was bracing himself against the wall, a smear of blood trailing from where he had collapsed against it.
"Downstairs," he said, his voice hoarse. "C'mon."
Grey grabbed the bigger man's bicep and brought him to stand. Edie appeared at his other side, darting around them to jerk open the door to the basement.
The harsh light of naked bulbs shone up, beckoning them forward as Alex moved Grey behind him, taking the lead and coming up sharp halfway down the stairs.
"Paska," he whispered.
The Hanged Man lay on the floor, clad only in a pair of dark blue cut-off sweat shorts, propping himself against the twisted bondage chair he once had called his throne. Two dark trails slowly pumped from his knees into the center drain of the concrete floor, near the slumped and handcuffed figure of Brandon.
More half-dry blood had splashed across the boy's disheveled shocks of hair, along the side of his face, over the metal support beam. Grey's stomach heaved.
"Brandon," he whispered, "Oh my God. Oh, my God."
"Was that his name?" The Hanged Man looked up; eyes dim in the depth of their sockets. He spat on the floor, wheezing. It was a terrible sound, the attempt at laughter by a wounded man. "That poor boy. We—we need an ambulance. Please."
Alex stood still, taking everything in. Grey's fingers pulled at his shirt. "He's dead, isn't he?"
"Yes," the Hanged Man nodded. "Yes, she killed him."
Edie stepped into the room, her face set, and knelt at Brandon's side. She brushed a bit of the hair from his eyes, slipped two fingers against his neck, and nodded. "Yes," she whispered, her voice flat. "He's dead."
"I heard something—something outside." The Hanged Man said, watching Alex, his eyes clearly struggling against the immense pain of his wounds. "It woke me. I came downstairs, looked out the door. There was a woman—a woman with a gun. It frightened me. She had this boy.
"She made me walk down here, made me tie him up. With her gun. Then she shot me." He waved one hand at his ruined legs. "And then she killed... Brandon. In cold blood."
Alex stared, Grey's hand still wrapped in the fabric of his shirt. Edie had closed Brandon's eyelids during the speech, and then moved to put her back against the wall, watching the stairs behind the two men. She nodded to Alex.
"Is he lying?" Her voice was quiet.
Alex remained still. "Edie, this is bad."
"Please," say the Hanged Man. "Call an ambulance, please. My legs. I can't feel them at all."
"He's lying, Alex." Grey let go of the shirt. "He's lying, isn't he?"
Alex closed his eyes.
His meaty hands wrapped around Brandon's throat, there in the basement.
"Now there are no tools, and no quiet, and no time left."
"You can't tell?" Alex took a deep breath, closed his eyes again. "Yes. He's lying."
"I'm not. I didn't," said the Hanged Man. "Please. Call an ambulance."
"Don't even think about it," Grey hissed.
He stepped forward into the room. "This is him? This is the doll maker? The one who's been watching me—watching us? Watching Isaac?"
"Yeah," said Alex, stepping close behind him. "This is him."
Grey's face twisted. "You son of a bitch," he whispered, "you god-damned son of a bitch. Well, I guess it's your turn now."
Alex's hand descended on his shoulder, pulled him back with no effort. "Don't touch him, Grey. It looks pretty bad already."
Edie nodded. "When Alex knocked the door in—someone had to wake up. Some neighbor or other, and they will have called someone."
"I don't think so," said Grey, turning to Alex. His mind was cool now, calm. The hunt was over. It was time for reasonable men to step back into their places.
"Let me tell you what I think. I think the doll maker's got his own way of making sure nobody looks at this house, don't you?"
He pointed to the throne, to the bloody trail on the concrete. "Think about it. Wouldn't the gunshots have woken someone up? Wouldn't someone have heard that, or heard him screaming? Because I just bet you he's a screamer when he's on the wrong side of the pain.
"We're going to find out, too." Grey's eyes were hard.
"And nobody outside this basement is going to hear a thing."
"No, we're not." Edie said, her voice sharp. "None of us are going to touch him. If nobody else has called the police, then we'll be the ones to do it. He's a murderer, Grey. We're not the law."
"Do you see this?" Grey pointed at Brandon's body. "He thought this was Isaac. He thought it was my son he was killing! So if the two of you think you're going to stop me, you'd better have something better than the law in your corner."
The Hanged Man's eyes glinted through the pain.
They were young, untried. They would fight one another, here, in the room he called his own; over a sacrifice he had made. They would fight, and he would win.
He always won.
Story by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2011
Image by Amber Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2011