Note: Walk is intended for mature audiences only
“Well, it is flu season.” Anthony stated the obvious reason for the local high school closing down to the widespread illness of its students. “Didn’t they get their shots?” He was glad that Jake had switched with him, watching their northern border for any signs of Freedom’s Trident. Roughing it was only fun for so long.
“I’m telling you, it’s those shots that give you the flu.” Troy added.
Val shook her head. “The flu spreads in a pattern. This happened too quick, like everybody got infected at the same time. When I looked into the Shadow, I saw globby black chunks in the air.”
“Globby black chunks?” Anthony didn’t quite understand.
Val pursed her lips, reaching for a better description. Sometimes there was no direct correlation in the physical world to the things one saw in the Shadow. “Kind of like soot, but, you know, gooey.”
“Like black snot.” Anthony countered.
It was Val’s turn to be lost. “Come again.”
“When you work a long time in a dusty warehouse and you’re breathing it in all day, your snot turns an ugly color. You get a case of the black snots.” Anthony felt a little weird explaining it. Hadn’t everyone had a case of the black snots at some point in their life?
“Uh, yeah, black snots then were all over, in the air, gathering in the corners of rooms. Little versions ofEdge of Destiny were skittering around trying to clean up, but they seemed to be falling behind."
“It sounds like something we should look into from the Shadow.” Ken pulled up the trap door to the locus.
The pack heard giggling as they stepped from their home. Drowns-In-Lace was in high spirits, swaying back and forth on a wooden swing by the pond. Her usual dress of rot was rejuvenated into fine crushed velvet. Her shoes gleamed a recently polished black. Her skin was a rosy pink. There was no sign of watery bloat. No creatures wriggled on or underneath her skin. “There is no way this can be good.” Everyone felt it, but Troy felt the need to say it.
The fear spirit jumped off her swing, laughing as a child at play would. “Good evening to you.” She curtsied sweetly. “And such a good night it is.”
Ken wanted to test the idea of why she was so happy. “What put you in such a fine mood?”
A predatory smile crept into the fear spirit’s face. “I took a walk around town. There was such good eating. The humans are so afraid for the health of their offspring. It was so delicious.”
“What did you see in town?”
Drowns-In-Lace twirled, rapt in her own joy, “Oh, no, no, not in town. Those meanies don’t let me come to town. I’m not part of their little clique.” She pouted like a real child might. “They don’t like me much.”
Unknowingly, the entire pack had shied away from the fear spirit. Seeing her as some undead bloated creature was one thing. This pleasant and polite version was more unnerving somehow. “We’ve business in town. Be on guard.” Ken was more certain now that something was wrong in the Shadow. He transformed into his dire wolf form and the others followed suit.
The hospital was just as Val said, perhaps worse. On their last trip to the Shadow’s version of Mount Pleasant was brilliant white in its cleanliness. The walls were a gleaming image of sanitation. It looked as if the walls themselves were infected. However, there was no path to leading from the hospital. “You said everyone hospitalized was from the high school?”
The high school was worse than the hospital. The air was thick with infection, like a fish tank whose filter had been broken for some time. They needed to stop the disease from spreading beyond the school’s boundary.
Outside of the student affairs office Ken peered back into the physical realm. A Mr. Vitalo was sponsoring a trip to an archeological dig outside of town. Any students who were interested in unearthing new discoveries were asked to come see him for details. Ken shared this with the rest of the pack. “Unearthing things is never a good idea. People should let some things stay buried.”
Anthony nudged Troy. “We should go find this guy’s office. See if there’s anything there.” After a good amount of searching, the two were able to find the history teacher’s office. Two things struck Anthony as interesting. First, pinned along the cork board were a series of tombstone rubbings. Looking at the dates, all the markers were for children who died in 1972. A note said that the rubbings had been gathered from the local cemetery of God’s Hallow. Also on the cork board was a petition peppered with darts. A mother of one of the students was looking to petition the city to fill in a place called ‘the Pit.’ She stressed how it was a place where the town’s children were injured, both physically and morally.
As they returned home, the pack split up the clues. Val said that she would do some research on the children’s death’s back in the 70s. Troy and Anthony decided to go to the dig. Ken and Cain decided to look in to ‘the Pit.’
It turned out that Val’s work was much easier than she expected it to be. A quick internet search revealed a series of grisly child murders around the Middlebury Center area, just northerly of Wellsboro. “Middlebury Center, why does that ring a bell?”
Ken looked at Anthony, who nodded. “The shoal where we found the owl. That was Middlebury Center.”
Val continued reading. "It says that the slayings were dubbed the Troll Murders because, " Val needed to steady her stomach, “because partially eaten body parts were found underneath various bridges.”
“Does it say if they ever caught the guy?” Cannibalism was bad enough, something eating children was a nightmare Ken didn’t want to deal with.
“Yeah, this guy,” Val pointed at a picture on her screen, " Trooper Steven Wynne gunned a fucker by the name of John Barry Williams down while trying to make an arrest. This claims that the autopsy found undigested parts of the last victim in his stomach."
“Ain’t that always the case? Never can trust any mother fucker with three first names.” Troy interjected.
The photo of the state trooper looked familiar to Ken, he quickly placed the man, albeit in an older form. " Holy shit. That’s Steve from the Happy Hooker ." Ken had probably spent hours with the man in his shop, talking about local fishing spots and tackle. Never once had he let on that he’d been a state trooper, or that he’d been involved in something like the Troll Murders.
Val switched off her laptop. She had seen enough to want to dig up Williams just so she could tear him apart some more. “Looks like the cemetery’s a bust.”
Separately, both Warden Harbrook and Sheriff Tompson filled their subordinates in about ‘the Pit.’ They had widely differing opinions on the local teen hangout. “It’s a disgrace if you ask me.” Harbrook clenched his fist as he spoke with Ken. He pointed out a space on the map, just at the edge of Colton Point State Park. “The place is a haven for underage drinking. The kids just leave their trash and bottles everywhere.” He traced his finger along the elevation lines on the map, “It’s a natural depression in the land. The local teens go there to ride their dirt bikes and party. I’m surprised that no one’s died there and they haven’t set the whole park ablaze.” Warden Harbrook returned to his desk and pulled out a clipboard full with copies of the petition the pack had come across at the high school. “I get anyone and everyone I can to sign this. Seems to be a damn fine idea this lady’s got.”
Sheriff Tompson told Cain what he thought as well. “Can’t believe the stupidity of some folks. Fill in the Pit, crazy.” He was rectifying his mistake, thinking that he should have taken Cain out to the spot earlier. “First of all, the place has got to be a 50 or 60 foot depression. Any idea how expensive it would be to fill that place in?” Cain shook his head. "Yeah, me neither, but I betChastain wouldn’t cut us any deals. Plus, it isn’t like it’s going to stop the kids from drinking. They’d just find somewhere else." He smiled, “And it’s the Pit for God’s sake. Hell, it was the first place I got drunk. Probably ninety percent or more of folk here could say the same.” They traveled down a thin one lane winding road for a bit. “Here we are.”
Ken had also traveled to the local hangout. He had taken the low road, moving through Leonard Harrison, across Pine Creek, and finally passing through Colton Point. The Warden was right about one thing, the kids here made a mess of the place. There were broken beer bottles and fire pits all around. Right now he wasn’t worried about the local teens conservationism. Ken shifted his gaze into the Shadow with his gift of Two World Eyes. “Jeez,” he whistled to no one. The whole ground seemed to be covered in a low lying fog of putrescence. The whole place smelled of disease. The brownish fog roiled along the ground. He vaguely felt that something was going to reach up and try to drag him under. His other eye, still seeing the physical realm, caught a glimpse of movement on the ridge.
“Hey!” At the same time, Cain had seen movement ahead of him. He almost leapt into his wolf form to chase his prey down, but he realized that he wasn’t alone. Although he could smell the traces of wolfblood in the sheriff, he didn’t know how much Ben knew about werewolves.
The sheriff, meanwhile, forged ahead, “Come on, Cain, what are you waiting for. Running from the cops was half the fun growing up with the Pit.” The sheriff’s mood became serious. He held up a hand, only waving Cain forward after he had unclasped his sidearm.
Ken had reached the top of the ridge, signaling to the police officers. He whispered to Cain, “I smell blood, a good amount.” Ken’s nose was right as the trio found a glut of blood on the ground. Some of the liquid was still dripping wetly from the forest ground cover.
“Looks like he threw up a pint of blood,” Ben scanned the area, hand still on his sidearm. The sheriff was surprised at how quickly Ken was able to determine the person’s trail. “Sure do train you boys good.” Little did he know that Ken’s senses weren’t limited to the human range of sight. They were aided by the use of Scent Catcher, a magical fetish to allow him to determine scents as he would if he was in his wolf form.
Despite their caution, Ben and Cain flanking out when they found their suspect, there would be no danger from the suspect. He was no longer alive by the time they found him. After taking several photos of the scene, Ben laid the body on the ground so they could get a better look at him. “Would you look at that?” The sheriff took a picture of the wound in the man’s stomach. “You’d think there’d be more blood with a wound like that.”
Ken realized that there was indeed more blood from the man’s wound. The realization brought to light a dire threat. There was a thick line of blood on the man’s shirt that became paw prints as it traveled down the man’s shirt to his pants. Paw prints of a rat. All the teen partying paid off for something. Without even having to move from his position, Ken could follow the rat’s trail until it disappeared into an outcropping of rock that was slowly being torn apart by a tree above. Rats that clawed their way into and out of a stomach wound. It could only mean that one of the People’s greatest enemies had come to their territory. Looking at Cain, he could see that his fellow packmate had come to the same conclusion. As Sheriff Tompson looked to wave the EMTs over, the pair mouthed an angered ‘Fuck’ to each other. Ken pulled out his phone and dialed Anthony’s cell.
As Cain and Ken were exploring the Pit, Anthony and Troy had made their way to the archeological dig outside of town. Dr. Aster McMunn of Mansfield University’s history department was more than happy to explain to the visitors what she and her students were investigating. “It’s really very interesting. These stones, weathered as they are, still bear visible Chinese etchings.”
“I didn’t realize that there was Asian influences in this area.” Troy engaged the doctor, keeping her from seeing his packmate use his own gift of Two World Eyes to look at the Shadow’s version of the site. “Wellsboro isn’t exactly a big town, and there aren’t any railroads nearby.”
“Yes, that’s part of my fascination with these standing stones.” The doctor began explaining how the stones were found and the work she and her graduate students had accomplished. “It most likely a place of prayer or some other sacred spot. The stones, as you can see are arranged in a circle. The markings have the tonality of a Buddhist script, though I’ve been unable to extract the exact text. So much has been worn away by the elements.”
Anthony, looking into the Shadow, could enlighten the doctor about her work. In the spirit realm, the stones were still fully intact, their inscribed letters glowed a dull golden color. While he couldn’t translate the scripts, he could easily tell what they were for. A barrier, similar to the one surrounding Wellsboro, illuminated the circle of standing stones. Someone had warded this area, though he couldn’t tell for what possible reason. He dropped the sight of his Gift when he heard his phone ringing.
Troy was almost thankful when he heard a student scream amidst the sound of collapsing earth. Listening to the doctor reminded him there was a reason why he couldn’t wait to get out of college. He ran over to the hole that had opened up and called to the student. “Are you injured?”
Anthony put a finger in his one ear. Between the low signal and all the panic from the doctor, he could barely hear Ken. “What, Bechamel? It’s a simple white sauce. Yes, I think we have the ingredients.”
The student called up in a brief moment of calm. “I think I’m,” her sentence broke off with a shriek, “Get me out of here! There’s rats!” Troy dropped himself down into the hole. He could see that it was a man made tunnel, not some natural cave. It looked like a section of a mine, a spur that had collapsed long ago. In the dim light he could see about three feet in either direction until the remaining pocket ended in stone. He also could see the rats the student had shrieked about. Dozens of them clambered into the small gaps in the rock. One looked back at him, eyes glimmering a sickly gold in the low light. He remembered that was something to be worried about, an enemy of the Forsaken.
Above, as Troy dropped into the hole, Anthony had finally figured out what Ken was trying to tell him, Beshilu. They weren’t having a white sauce for dinner. Instead, they would be dealing with the Rat Hosts of the Plague King.