First of all, yes. That is not 2000 words for today.
But hey, I give you a finished chapter, AND it is Thanksgiving. I think I can be forgiven 200 words, right? I might bang those out later.
But for now, chapter six!
Chapter Six - The Past Catches Up With Us All
It had been almost a week since the hurricane, and Cole's revelation to her new friend. Colin had made an attempt to find out why she was there looking for Merrick, but she had shut down that conversation before it had even begun.
Colin could wager a guess as to why she was looking for him. It wasn't hard to think up reasons why a werewolf might be looking for one person in particular. Colin hoped he was wrong, but knowing his brother, he feared the worst.
The games that the pair had been playing ended after the hurricane. Cole no longer lurked in the shadows. Their meetings were no longer random happenstance. She had even called first on one occasion.
After roadside assistance picked up the stranded car, Colin returned home with the blonde at his side, and they both helped his mother begin to clean their yard.
The hurricane had done little damage, compared to other places in the country, and far less than Irene had done the year before. The populace of Vermont breathed a heavy sigh of relief at that, but there was still cleanup to be done, and power to restore.
The Hemming's yard was hit hard in particular. The power had been taken out, like many areas, and branches littered the yard. But living so close to the forst also caused many branches, from the sizes of twigs and ranging towards miniature trees in their own right, littered the yard like a wooden boneyard.
One of the trees that surrounded the property had even been uprooted and came crashing down to the ground. It was fortunate that it had just missed their home. Some of the branches scraped along the side of the house, the light breeze that remained scraping some of the finger-like branches against a window. If the tree had fallen even the slightest bit in one direction, it would have been a disaster.
For all the trouble she had caused, or the trouble she had made Colin's mother believe she was responsible for, Cole offered to help in the cleanup.
"It's the least I can do, Mrs. Hemming," she said.
The elder Hemming grinned back, eager to have another pair of hands to help clean up the mess. With her leg in the condition it was still in, trudging around the yard to clean it would have been a true challenge.
"Please, call me Christine," she replied. "The help is greatly appreciated, Nadia."
Cole hid her twitching at the name as best she could. It had been a long time since anyone had called her that, and it served as nothing but a reminder of her past. But when Christine had asked what her name was, Cole could not insist she only use her last name.
While the Hemmings started picking up branches, Cole raided the tool shed and came out wielding a chainsaw. The grin on her face made Colin more than a little nervous. She was a little too happy to be using that, he thought.
Cole was more than happy to take some time to cut down the fallen tree. It allowed her a chance to take out some of her bubbling aggression, and fight back the rage issues that had been just below the surface since the fight.
She may have been scared by her returning anger, but starting up that chainsaw, which did not sound unlike her bike in its way, and taking it to the tree let her escape into a world of her own for a brief period.
Cole did not take out the entire tree in one day, but she had cut it back quite a bit by the time they called it quits for the day. Christine made an offer of dinner, but Cole took her leave, saying she had her own place to take care of.
In actuality, it was another full moon that day after the hurricane. Colin knew this, and as much as he wanted the girl to stay, he knew it was best if she was allowed to prepare in peace, this time.
Christine was surprised by Cole's excuse, and gasped. "Oh! Of course! How could I keep you from your own clean up? Go, go! We have this place under control for now!"
"It's no big deal, Mrs. Hemming, I wasn't hit as hard, and I owed you for last night."
Christine was quite literal in waving it off, brushing her hand through the air. "All is forgiven. He got home safe, and that's all that matters. Don't be a stranger, now."
Cole nodded and drove off, leaving the Hemmings alone. The instant the purple bike was gone from view, Colin's mother clasped her hands together and almost squealed in delight.
"Oooh, my son has a girlfriend! Finally!"
"Mom!" shouted Colin in surprise.
She continued, undettered. "And she is so pretty! I don't know how you managed it!"
It went on like that for days. What his mother saw as pride in her son's achievement, he saw as nothing more than embarassment. He was at least relieved that she kept her glee confined to their home. If she ever said anything while they were out shopping, he would have died on the spot.
As it was, he just wished he was dead every time it came up. And his mother found endless ways to bring it up. Colin didn't have the heart to tell his mother that they were not a couple, despite how much he wished that were so, some days.
The difficulty of trying to have a relationship with a werewolf, and if that was indeed something that he wanted was a thought Colin had forever lodged in his mind.
Colin did not know when they would see each other again, but he was quite surprised when he saw her waiting outside the school the very next day.
He and Eric came out of the doors and saw the bike parked in the nearest parking space. Unlike the theatre, this time the bike was still occupied. Cole straddled the bike, one of her feet planted firm on the ground as the bike leaned, and the other resting on a footpeg. Her arms were crossed and resting over the front console. If she had been a little taller, she would have looked over the windscreen with ease, but instead she looked through it, unless she stretched.
The girl smiled at the two boys coming towards her. Cole smiled back, but Eric remained cautious. His lone encounter with Cole had not been the best, and he wanted to protect his friend.
Colin was the first to reach the waiting girl, "What're you doing here?"
"I just thought I'd stop by and see if you needed a ride home," she answered.
Colin seemed to consider the question, but his answer was quick and easy. "Let me see, be stuck on the bus for an hour until I get home, or ride home with you. Gee."
"That's what I figured," she said as she tossed the matching purple helmet at Colin. He caught it in his usual, awkward way of not quite catching it. His eyes were drawn to a mar in its otherwise perfect, glistening surface. It had a crack sweeping down from one side over where an eye would be, and stopping just above the other side, a diagonal silver slash against the surface.
The wound gave Colin pause, and he looked from it, to Cole and back. "Uhh, is this thing even safe to wear anymore?"
"Almost certainly not," replied Cole. "But it's better than nothing. Maybe. Don't have the time or cash to get it replaced right now."
Colin took a deep breath and put the damaged helmet on his head.
"Sorry, Eric. Only got room on the bike for one, and only one helmet. And event hat is suspect. But I feel bad about the first time we met. Why don't the three of us go out to dinner this weekend, and we can get to know each other?"
"Yeah, sure," the other boy said. "That sounds fine." He was still leery of this girl, but for Colin's sake, he would give her the benefit of the doubt. If he only knew what Colin knew, he would have done anything to keep his friend away from her.
As the pair rode off, leaving Eric standing there with his bookbag, he could hear a growing murmur from the gathering throng of students, all amazed and unsure that they had just seen what they thought they saw.
Eric turned around and addressed the crowd, "Now, I am sure we all have questions, but I will only be making a brief statement at this time. Yes, you have just seen Colin Hemming driving off with a girl, and yes, a pretty girl. No, he did not pay her for this act of kindness. No, she is not related to him. No, she has no mental deficiences that we are aware of at this time. Please feel free to spread this gossip to your friends, thank you, and good night!"
While Eric ran for the bus, the pair on the bike drove off to the coffee shop at the other end of town. When Colin took off the helmet, he ran a finger along the crack, feeling the edges of the surface where they had pulled apart. He had caused that, he thought.
They entered the establishment and picked the same seats they had sat in at the counter the first time they had been there at the same time. The place had far more people than that quiet morning. Students out of school like Colin, people getting off work, and others. They ordered the same drinks, and waited.
"All right, I've let this go long enough," Colin started.
Cole turned towards the kid, wondering what he had to say. She spun her fingers in the air, urging him to continue on.
"Let's just say my brother is the person you think you're looking for."
"Oh, he is." She said it in such a way that Colin knew there was no room for argument. Colin wanted to try arguing the point, but moved on.
"Okay, whatever. If he is..." He saw a look flicker in Cole's eyes. "IF he is, what makes you think I'll be of any help? We haven't seen Merrick in something like seven years."
The serving girl behind the counter handed them twin mugs with their beverages in them, and Cole took a sip of hers before starting.
"Colin, I have been trying to find your brother for three years. Almost four, now that I think about it." It was hard for her to not think of the date, her birthday being the same day everything went to hell because of that wolf.
"I have tracked him across the country, trying to find a trace of him, but he is very good at hiding. Did your mom ever try and find him?"
Colin gave a nod, thinking back on those early, better days. "We hired a private detective, and we thought he might find Merrick, but one day he showed up and said it was no good, the trails had all gone cold."
"Exactly the same thing I've been running into. Everywhere I go, every lead I get, things dry up, and I am no closer to finding Merrick."
"But why us?" Colin asked.
"I found out he had family awhile back, and thought nothing about it. It was going backwards, he'd left you behind."
Colin looked away. She spoke of his life in such cold, clinical ways, speaking of things he could not help but be hurt by as the memories were dredged up.
"But as every opportunity disappeared, I kept coming back to the Hemmings. Back to where it all began. Maybe there was something back here I could follow. Something he forgot to hide. Something you didn't find yet, or thought was unimportant. It's a long shot, but it was all I had left at this point."
"So you came looking for us."
"Just so, yeah."
Colin sat upright in his chair like something had just bitten him on the neck. "Wait. So you came here looking for us."
"You said that," Cole mused.
"So that means the first time you met me, you weren't looking for a place to eat."
Cole said nothing, sipping her hazelnut coffee as the gears turned inside her companion's head.
"That wasn't a random meeting. You were looking for me. How many of our random encounters weren't all that random?"
Cole did not look up from the swirls atop her drink. "No, it wasn't random. I had originally planned to keep my distance, watch the family, see if maybe he was still keeping secretly in touch with you, something I could exploit."
"But there wasn't anything."
"So you thought you would create an opening to exploit! You thought you'd exploit me!"
Throughout all the accusations, Cole never looked up. It was easier to stare at her reflection in the stillness of her coffee than the growing resentment in Colin's eyes.
"That's right," was all she said.
Colin continued in growing disbelief, "So you thought you could use your pretty face to charm and confuse me, make me do what you want, and give up my own flesh and blood!"
"Keep your voice down, Colin."
He ignored the chastising, and continued. "Well? What was it? How many times did we meet and you had your little plan to keep me wound tight around your finger, doing your bidding? Huh?"
Cole couldn't take it anymore. The anger brought on by the full moons was a distant memory, but now she had her very human anger still with her. That could be just as potent, in the right circumstances.
She gripped her mug tight, trying to stay calm from all the accusations. She knew this conversation was coming, there was no way to avoid it, but she had hoped, maybe it would just go away.
No such luck appeared for Cole though, so she faced her accuser.
"It wasn't like that. I wasn't meeting you to manipulate you. I never even thought of using any...any feminine wiles. I don't even have any of those."
It was true, as far as she knew. Cole had never been that sort of girl, and even less so after she was bitten and left home. Colin snorted anyways at her claim, since he had seen otherwise. She may not have thought she had any special power over men, but Colin was just a boy, and a very easy target.
"I introduced myself because I thought there was a chance you knew something, yes. And maybe that was something I could use to find Merrick, but it quickly became clear you were clueless."
"Hey!" interjected Colin.
Cole ignored his complaint and the girl continued onwards. "At worst, I figured if I was going to be hanging around town, investigating your family, it might be easier if I wasn't this strange person who just kept turning up, and instead..."
"Instead, you ended up becoming this person who kept turning up anyways, but was someone I was familiar with. I don't think you quite pulled things off the way you planned."
"Tell me about it," she muttered as she finished off her coffee.
"You never answered my question."
Cole's shoulders slumped, and she fought to keep her head from hitting the counter. She wanted this conversation over, she wanted this whole day to be over with. If the universe decided to end in that moment, that would have been just great, thanks.
"Which one?" she demanded, exasperation consuming her will to even continue by that point.
Colin leaned closer. It was like he had become a different person. As the pair had grown more comfortable with each other, Cole had seen it happening. No longer was he some shy, stammering young boy. He remained the same quiet Colin, that strange kid who still seemed ill at ease around her, but even that was fading.
Now, Colin had changed. He no longer struggled to find his words, let alone his ability to even speak around Cole. She was beginning to see the real Colin, as he was beginning to see her real self. Warts and all.
With these harsh truths coming to light, she was seeing a side of Colin she had not even guessed existed within his gangly, awkward exterior. She was seeing his own anger. It was a quiet anger that would never bubble over the edge to violence. In a way, it was almost more terrifying.
"How many times did we meet that were all part of your master plan. That question, Cole. How many times? Was it all of them? Is any of our friendship real?"
That accusation hurt the most. Cole had begun to feel the stirrings of genuine friendship with this boy, despite all her efforts to keep him at a distance.
"Not all of them, no."
She could see Colin did not believe her, and she'd have to say something more.
"Most of them I planned out. I wanted to keep an eye on you. In the early days, I thought you might sneak off somewhere and lead me right to Merrick, as foolish as that might sound."
"I followed you to the theatre that night."
Colin had asked the questions, he had even suspected the worst of the answer, but he had not expected that. "And you waited all that time to say hello?"
"No," she continued. "That was an accident. I wanted to get some things, run some errands, and keep my distance. I didn't need to put in an appearance. But yes, I did follow you that night. Once I knew you were just there for a movie, I thought I'd be long gone."
"So what happened?"
She shrugged. She couldn't even remember the details of what happened that night. "I got delayed in the store, and there you were. I was running late, and wanted to run. It was a full moon."
Colin's anger faded away as he thought back to that night, memories resurfacing. "And that's why you wanted to take off Eric's head, you were fighting against the wolf."
"Oh no, he was totally touching my bike. That just isn't done."
Colin being caught off guard by the revelation of that night, and then the joke broke the tension threatening to build a wall forever between them. He was still not happy with the situation, but he felt they could rebuild something from the wreckage of lies that might hold more true.
But still, he needed to press onwards. Now was the time for every truth to come out.
"So, that one wasn't exactly planned, but you were still following me."
"Was there ever a time when we crossed paths that was entirely an accident?"
Cole rolled her eyes. That was like trying to ask her how many grains of sand were stuck to the soles of her boots. She didn't keep these things catalogued.
But still, she had an answer, "I think there was two. I remember catching a glimpse of you as I was talking to the police chief."
Colin remembered that day, and he blushed as he remembered how he scrambled away from being seen.
Cole remembered that too, and grinned. "Yes, I saw you that day. Hard not to, really."
"What were you talking to him about?"
"I'll give you three guesses."
Colin gave it some thought, and it seemed like an obvious answer, now that certain things were coming to light. "You were asking him about the animal attacks."
"Mmmhmm. I knew many of them were because of wolves, and not just the normal kind. Too many on the full moons, and only the full moons. But I wasn't just looking to see where Merrick might be attacking, if he was anywhere near. I needed to rule things out first."
Colin didn't understand what she meant, but it dawned on him with a growing realisation. "You needed to be sure it wasn't you killing people."
"Or at least be sure which ones I was responsible for." Cole turned back to her empty mug, trying to take another sip from it, despite nothing but drops remaining.
"You seriously thought..." Colin had just assumed she chained herself up every full moon, and never had she killed anything, let alone a person. That revelation shook him more, and in stranger, more disturbing ways than that learning he had been used.
"I can't control the wolf every full moon, Colin. I can't keep it chained up every month. I try, Lord knows I try. But sometimes I run late and can't get to a safe place. And sometimes it is better to just let it run, let it be free. Keeps the wolf...calm, in its way. It's like an unspoken agreement between us. I let it have its fun, it plays nice most of the time."
She traced a finger around the edge of her mug, wishing there was more inside for her to drown her words away in a sea of bitter darkness. "But it's an imperfect agreement, being an unspoken one. And the wolf being an animal doesn't help any. Calling it an agreement is probably nothing more than a pleasant lie I tell myself."
Colin nodded, still surprised that he was sitting next to an admitted killer. He didn't blame her, he blamed the wolf, but there was still blood on her hands. Even though she wasn't in control when it was put there, she still bore responsibility for it, they both knew that.
He almost didn't want to continue, but there were still questions in the air, and there was no time like the present.
"That's one time," he said, trying to be gentle in his prodding. "And the other?"
He could tell Cole was not quite keen on continuing either, but they both knew they had traveled this far down the path of revelations.
"That was the day of the hurricane. I had no plans on finding you at all. I wanted to get to the cave and hunker down in case things got worse than I feared they would. But no, there you were, completely of your own accord, getting your own supplies. I wouldn't be surprised if I did it subconsciously, thinking you'd show up there, so I went when I thought you might turn up."
Colin just shrugged. The whole town was raiding the grocery stores that day, so it was a fair thing that they'd both end up there.
"What I don't understand, kid, is how the heck you ended up on that back road. Were you following me for a change?"
The boy almost wanted to laugh at the thought of it. He wishes it were that easy to explain.
"I have no idea. I was just driving to drive. The roads were backed up with traffic, so I decided to take a back way. That road leads right back to the street my house is on, after awhile. Probably the same reason you picked it, went looking for connecting roads where you could find some place safe."
Cole nodded, thinking about it. There was a certain hidden logic that became clearer once it was noticed, like seeing a face in the clouds, and then that's all you can see.
"Still, I wish you had stuck to the main roads, and just gone straight home. I could have killed you. I almost did kill you. You are damned lucky to not be puppy chow."
Colin could have just remained where he was, motionless, and maybe he should have. Maybe he should have left it alone, but despite what she had just revealed to him, he still saw this person, this girl who had manipulated him, as a friend. He may not have liked her doing so, but he understood her reasons.
He leaned closer and reached out a hand, grabbing her arm tight. He could feel it shaking within his grip. It was imperceptible to the human eye, but now he knew just how nervous she was. He squeezed again, reassuring her that, somehow, it was all right.
Colin didn't quite believe it himself, but he had to let her know that they would be okay, he forgave her, even if he could not yet say those words. And even if he wasn't quite sure if he believed them himself.
Cole pulled away, despite the boy's grip. He did not try to hold on to her. He could have, he could have helped her tight and never let go, but he wasn't sure if he wanted to, and he did not want to force her to take what she did not want.
Pulling his hand away, filling it with his own mug, almost empty itself, Colin continued on. "I guess the last thing I have to ask is, why are you trying to find Merrick?"
"I think you know the answer to that one, kid."
Colin nodded. "He's the one who bit you, his wolf side."
"Yep. Ever since he bit me, then disappeared, I've been searching all over for him. This may well be the closest I've ever been. Or maybe I'm just wasting my time in Vermont."
"It is our state's official passtime," Colin mused almost to himself.
Cole snorted at that, not sure if this was the time for jokes. But maybe it was the perfect time. It was turning out to be one of those sorts of days.
"So, what? You're trying to find the wolf that bit you, looking for a way to change back, hoping it lifts the curse? The usual thing, right?"
Such thoughts had crossed Cole's mind. She had seen the movies, she had read the lore. All of it different, most of it contradictory.
"Oh no, I'm not interested in a cure." She saw a look flash across Colin's face at that." "Okay, I'm interested. I would give anything to be rid of the wolf. But I know that's a longshot."
"You don't think you can kill him?"
"Kid, I will have no problem killing Merrick, your brother or not. And don't you get in my way. You might be a..." She stumbled trying to find a word, but just for a brief pause. "You might be a friend, but if you try and save your brother, I will mow you down."
"He's no brother of mine. He hasn't been in seven years. I'm not too keen on the whole killing thing, but... Well, I understand."
"I really don't think you do, kid."
"This is all a simple revenge thing, isn't it?"
"Okay, so maybe you do understand, at least a little." Cole sighed. "But you don't know what he's done. All I care about is making the wolf that created me pay. Making him dead. Skinning his pelt and making it into a coat."
The pair of them jumped as Cole slammed her mug down, smashing it and the saucer beneath it into porcelain fragments. All that remaind was the handle, now dangling from Cole's finger, disconnected from everything it once knew.
Cole apologised to the server and gave her money to pay for the broken mug. "I think that's our cue to leave."
The pair went outside, but did not leave. They found a bench and sat, watching the people milling about the few stores that remained in the tiny shopping center. None of them aware of what was watching them, and what danger each and every one would be in a few weeks from now.
"So, is there a cure?" Colin asked after awhile, almost impatient for an answer. If there was a cure, he would help her find it.
The girl shrugged. "You seen all the same things I have, I suppose. I've probably seen even more, read even more. Some sources speak of a cure. We all know talk about killing the wolf that bit you being a cure, but that seems to be a Hollywood invention for happy endings."
Cole sighed. "I don't think I was meant for a happy ending. The only ending in my future involves blood. Mine or Merrick's. Maybe both. Maybe more. But there will be bodies, that much I can guarantee."
It sounded pretty bleak. Colin tried to find the words to comfort her, but nothing came to mind. What can you possibly say to the woman who had captured your heart, but was determined to tear out your brother's?
"But there is talk of a cure, sure. Some things definitely mention one. So who knows? But I don't care. I just want Merrick to pay for ruining my life. If I achieve that and end up not having three nights of pain and murder? Hey, bonus."
She took a deep breath. The cold autumn air filled her lungs and made her cough before she continued. "But if it is my fate to pay for taking a man's life in cold blood? So be it. He deserves it."
Colin wanted to back away from her at that. Part of him screamed to run, but he tried to see things from her perspective, as best he could. And that was no easy task, since it involed having to picture oneself as a wolf.
After awhile of saying nothing, Cole stood up and stretched. "Well, today has been...painful. And informative for you. And maybe a bit cathartic." She fingered the pocket in her jacket where her wallet rested. "And a little bit more expesnvie than I had planned. I think it's time to get you back home."
Colin had to agree. This was a lot to process. He hopped onto the bike behind Cole and they rode back to his place in silence.
He watched as she left him behind, and stayed out on the porch a little longer, just thinking of everything he had learned. He was no more than nine when Merrick had left. His memories of his brother were faded, and tinted with the nostalgic memories of a child.
In truth, he did not know Merrick as well as he thought he did. It was plain to see that he had been keeping secrets even before he disappeared, least of which being a wolf. Just how well did he know Merrick then, let alone now?
But did that justify letting his brother die? He did not think he could help Cole kill Merrick, but if he stood aside and did nothing, was that something he could do, now knowing Cole's intent?
The thing of it was, he may never have to find out. Merrick wasn't here, he was nowhere to be found. Cole would someday get bored of trying to find him in Kraftsbury and move on. But what if he did show up? What would Colin do then?
Colin decided it was a decision better left for another day. A day that may never come. A day he hoped would never come.
Going inside, his mother directed him to his room where she left some mail that came for him. Colin headed down the small hallway and fell back onto his bed with a bounce. He picked up the small pile of mail, flicking through it with disinterest, flicking past the promotions, tossing the magazine someone subscribed him to for Christmas aside, but then there was a plain brown, oversized envelope.
It was the same size as the magazine, but it had no return address on it. There did not seem to be much inside of it.
Colin sat up, turning the envelope over and over in his hands before grabbing a pair of scissors and slicing into the top of it.
Inside, he found a piece of paper with handwriting on it, and several photographs.
He looked at the photographs with just a passing glance, a pair of headshots, and tossed them aside, almost forgotten. He didn't recognise either of the people, so they were of no consequence to him.
Colin looked at the note, and even after all these years, he recognised the handwriting. It was Merrick's, he was almost positive.
"Dear brother, I hope things find you well. Or as well as can be expected since you have met my friend, Nadia. Do say hello to her for me the next time you see her. I so long to see her once more. She has been most dogged in her pursuit of me. Ha ha, get it?"
Colin would have tossed the letter away at that, if it wasn't so important. He was now sure it was from his brother. He did love his bad puns.
He continued to read, "I have tried to avoid her for awhile now, but seeing as how she has found my family, I guess a confrontation was inevitable. Do be sure to show her the photographs and remind her what I did to her family. The game is afoot, dear brother."
Colin looked back at the photographs, the letter forgotten for the time being. Upon a closer look, he saw that they were not headshots, not quite. They were heads.
Severed heads, long drained of blood, and somehow preserved at least well enough to still look human. Colin could see a passing resemblence with the faces, despite the skin being pale and gaunt, stretched tight against the skulls. They were related to Cole, and Colin would not be surprised to learn they were her parents' heads.
Colin wanted to be sick when he realised just what he was looking at, what his brother was capable of.
No, what Merrick was capable of. With those pictures, Colin knew his brother, the man he knew, was long gone. He could not abide what he saw before him, no matter the excuse. He may not help Cole stop him - Colin was still unable to bring himself to think about killing Merrick no matter the pictures in his hands - but he would not stand in her way.
Once he got past his initial disgust, and tossed th photos away before he threw up on his bed, he looked back at the letter. All that was left unread was a small post-script at the end.
"P.S., Colin, I suggest not telling mom you heard from me. I don't think she would understand. And you know what I'm capable of now."