Dog bit bat story
|As the abbot approached the window, the monks gave way. As Cagan and Harper caught up to him, the abbot stepped back. His lip curled as he looked across the street. Cagan followed the abbot's gaze and stiffened. Harper paused, trying to catch a glimpse of what might be across the street. He took a place next to Cagan. Nothing caught his eye immediately. Yet something commanded his attention. He felt the hair on the back of his neck rise sharply, and a nausea strong enough that, for a moment, he felt as if he might turn. The skin beneath the rampant hair tingled as if in reflection of a conflagrant presence looming close. Harper felt his initial discomfort swell through his flesh. His eye caught something looming in the shadow of a maple tree across the street. A familiar feeling stirred him, and Harper loathed its presence. The shadow yielded a figure, dark and difficult to define, as much as with his mind as they eye.
"An awful thing," the abbot said.
"Whoever he is, he's not hiding," Cagan growled.
The figure became clear to Harper. Just a man in a neat dark suit, a broad man, short. Harper thought he appeared dark skinned, but not as if pigmentation defined the appearance. The figure seemed to color the shadow, as if to condition its concealment, as if the skin itself drank the shadow and turned the shade into its own being. Impossible. Awful seemed a gentle description.
"We can't let him just stay there," one of the monks said, voice quivering as he completed the sentence. The monk cleared his throat forcefully, but Harper felt a growing concern.
"Do nothing," the abbot said.
He turned to Cagan, saying, "Is this within your experience?"
"No," Cagan said, his voice firm.
Harper turned to Cagan, who appeared uneasy but unafraid. Harper felt wavering confidence firm.
"I suppose this is a challenge," the abbot said evenly.
"Any ideas?" Cagan asked.
"Vague," the abbot said. "Beings. I have studied my books. The presence, this presence, though. In the flesh, I'm not sure what stands before me."
Beneath the maple, lips parted and black teeth emerged, pronounced and defined without light to illuminate them. Harper wondered why each seemed so clearly manifest, so sharp, flat, broad and edged as if finished with a file.
"This is not a challenge we should face alone," Cagan said. "Whatever is going on here, we should call on the aid we can."
"Yes," the abbot said, but with the least sigh emanating as the word departed his lips.
"We're calling the cops on this guy?" Harper asked, although his words were as much an expression of disbelief as conviction.
Cagan chuckled without mirth softening the tone struck.
"Not the cops," he said. "The Catholics."
"Watch him, in turns," the abbot commanded the monks firmly. "One keeping an eye on him. The other keeping an eye on his brother. Don't look at him too long. Just a few minutes and let the other take his turn. Remember you prayers, brothers. Say them in both watches. If one or the other wavers, call down into the courtyard, and you will have assistance. The rest of us will take the time to prepare."
The abbot murmured something incomprehensible, then stepped forward into the window. His face was a vision in calm. He gazed at the figure under the maple tree, regarding in with a gentle expression. Across the street, no motion stirred the shadows. The maw remained unmoved.
The abbot turned sharply on his heals and began back down the hall.
"Come with me," he said, and strode quickly away.
Cagan followed immediately, but Harper paused. Rapt, he felt as if he was looking at the manifest shadow, but more deeply within it. The figure loomed larger. The expression he beheld changed just slightly. The menace became less apparent. Harper felt as if the dark expression welcomed him. The dark eyes seemed to soften, to apologize. A word gathered in his mind, something he had forgotten...
"Come with us," Cagan said, grasping his shoulder.
Harper twisted violently, turning toward Cagan. Harper gasped, as if something he held was ripped away from him. He scowled.
"Come with us," Cagan said, and Harper met his calm, grey eyes.
"I..." Harper said, stepping in the direction Cagan indicated with his hand.
"Yes," Harper said. "Sure."
Harper's eyes locked on the abbot's backed as he rushed away. Harper followed, as a wavering will asserted itself. The hair on his neck seemed to settle in a human subtleness. Harper followed the abbot along the gallery, but he realized after a moment that Cagan had not followed. The abbot held open the door that lead down the stairs to the garden below. Harper turned to see that Cagan had taken the abbots place at the window, his eyes turned back across the street and locked in their expression, which surely regarded the shadowy figure. The monks left to the watch held back. Cagan commanded their attention. He remained impassive but with a firmness that struck Harper as a particular resolve. After a moment, Cagan leaned forward until his head almost touched the glass. Harper couldn't characterized the gesture: was it one of recognition, tolerance, defiance. Cagan turned and approached Harper, firmly wrapping long figures around his arm.
"Come with us," Cagan said, guiding Harper down the gallery. Harper wrenched away, wondering why he did so. He turned, and the figure beneath the maple tree met his glance. The eyes no longer were dull and dark. A fire glowed at through them and insisted on Harper's attention. A hand grasped Harper by the shoulder.
"Let's go," Cagan said.
Harper felt a black flare of anger ignite his mind. He turned on Cagan, trying to tear away from the firm hand that gripped him, but, meeting the deep, still grey eyes that confronted him, the flame failed.
"I...Where do we go?" Harper muttered.
"Below," Cagan said. "They await us."
Harper followed Cagan down the stairs. At the bottom, he saw monks rushing through the compound purposefully, many through a set of heavy wooden double in the gallery across the garden. Several monks stood before the abbot's office. To Harper's surprise, they were armed. The held strange assault rifles and had pistol's strapped be belts that gathered the middle of their habits tightly. Harper's body guard was one of the monk's who waited outside the abbot's office. Cagan rushed through the door way, but Harper paused.
"You going to war?" Harper asked, trying to affect a sarcastic tone but hearing his voice fall flat.
Something like a smile tickled what little of the man's mouth visible through his whiskers.
"We'll see," the monk said.
Harper proceeded into the office. The abbot and Cagan stood by the desk. The abbot handed Cagan the hand set of his phone.
"Hello," Cagan said. "Simeon. I'm with abbot Demetrius. Yes, we succeeded. However, we have a new situation at hand, one we're no sure how we should handle. We have a...visitor. More of a stalker, actually. Not of the sort you might expect to find running around Astoria. No. In fact, this is something I haven't seen before, and even the abbot is puzzled. No. This...might seem to have a legendary aspect. Alright. I would appreciate it. But, be discrete. We're not sure what we're dealing with, and I would rather not provoke an unnecessary confrontation. Of course. Please send my regards. Thank you."
Cagan returned the handset to its base.
"He'll be here just after nightfall," Cagan said.
"Alright," the abbot said, although he eyes retained a worried cast.
"Simeon can help," Cagan said.
"I'm not particularly concerned about Simeon," the abbot said. "He is, after all, diplomatic, and discrete. And Nikola will say no more than is necessary. But the monsignor is certain to know about our rescue of Mr. Harper. If he gets wind of our present circumstances, he certainly will...offer his particular offices as assistance."
"Wait, we have some priest coming here?" Harper asked snorting through a tight rigid grin. "I mean, what is he going to do, exercise that guy out here? Or maybe Cagan?"
"Ah," Cagan said, smiling tightly himself, "if things were just that simple. They aren't though. Simeon is no priest. He's an an...ally...at need. I believe you will find him interesting."
"Well, if he's such a pal, why isn't he hustling his way on over here?
"A little early in the day for Simeon," he said. "But I do not doubt but that our friend outside is biding his time. He might be a little disturbing, but he could not succeed in breaching our defenses alone. No power I've ever heard mentioned could..."
"What about a dragon?"
"Dragon's died out millions of years ago," Cagan said. "There was a meteor. It has been on the news."
Harper grunted and slipped beneath the high-set, narrow windows that let light into the room. He stretched to see out. The figure no longer inhabited its shadow.
"He's gone," Harper said.
"No," the abbot said. "I have ordered that I be informed if he disappears. He must have changed position. Seems as if he wants to avoid a confrontation, too."
"What do we do then?" Harper asked.
"We stay on our toes and wait to see what Simeon has to say," Cagan said.
Shadows grew longer in the abbot's office. On occasion, a breeze lifted through the room and Haper's skin crawled beneath it. He glanced at Cagan, still in his chair, and felt alternating moments of relief and mortification. Harper wanted to jump to his feet, pace. He felt perspiration gather along his hairline. He nodded and gathered himself to wipe away the sweat in the hope that the other two men in the room wouldn't notice the intent of the gesture.
Harper grew impatient, fought with the effort to restrain himself. Finally, he said as calmly as he could manage:
"Are we going to just sit here?"
"We are well protected," the abbot said.
"Are we?" Harper asked, turning toward the abbot abruptly.
"We can't go off half cocked," Cagan said. "We will do best to wait for what assistant we can get."
Hagan stood, paced to the high window.
"So, why don't we just get the hell out of here?"
Cagan shook his head.
"We don't know what's out there."
"We could take a chance moving. Just get clear."
"No," Cagan said. "We can't take the risk."
"What, the risk of not being fish shot in a barrel!"
"No," Cagan said. "The risk of being out there without friends tomorrow night."
"So," Harper muttered, "that's the trap? That we can't become a risk?"
"I'm afraid so," Cagan said.
"Maybe you should have left me where I was."
"I think that would have been unfortunate," the abbot said.
Harper remained still, he felt his legs twitch, as if they meant to run from beneath him.
"Whatever occurs, we have our best chance here," Cagan said.
Harper spun toward him.
"So you say," Harper snapped. "But I'm still trapped, aren't I."
"I'm sorry you feel that way," the abbot said. "I suppose it is inevitable. But what Mr. Cagan said is right. I recognize it is difficult to trust us, but what is your alternative, frankly? Time is running against us all. Please remain. Whatever we can to protect you we will."
"From what?" Harper asked and wrenched himself to his feet. "Should I trust you automatically? Should I trust the chaos I've just seen? What if this is all a set up? Were you working with the people who held me? Held my life in their hands? The people who tortured me? I want out of this."
"You've seen what waits for you outside," Cagan said.
"And how do I know he isn't just one of yours, sent out there to finish the trap?"
Cagan remained silent. The abbot paused and sighed.
"You will have to decide that for yourself," the abbot said.
Harper looked to the window, to high to provide a perspective. He glanced at the door. He settled himself, sat quietly. He tried to think.
Harper hanged his head.
"Well, I'm fucked."
"Thanks," Harper said.
"Now, you appreciate the big picture," Cagan said.
"Well, you know, you have a point," Harper said, grunting. "So, why don't I play along. What the fuck else have I got to do today."
"Please," the abbot said.
"Sorry," Harper said.
"I understand your frustration," the abbot said. "I don't mean that to condescend. I am stuck in the similar circumstances to your own. But if we retain our decorum, we might gain a useful perspective. We can at least contain ourselves."
Cagan interjected, "Better to express a little frustration than have it fester."
"Yes, well..." the abbot said, "perhaps we could have a little more constructive discussion."
"Whatever our ugly pal intends, I'll bet it doesn't happen until tomorrow night," Harpers said.
"What makes you think so?" Cagan asked.
"If he was going to hit us now...well, the element of surprise is gone. Tomorrow night we'll be...preoccupied..."
"Well, that makes a kind of sense, although our preoccupation makes us particularly difficult to handle."
"Maybe that's what's solved. Maybe our buddy, and whoever he's working with, has that figured out."
"I don't think that could be the case," the abbot said. "He would have to overcome our defenses, which are formidable. Then...I can't see it."
"Well, maybe the point is simply to kill us," Harper said.
A silence fell on the room.
"I concede, that might be the case," the abbot said, in a tone that suggested he was talking to himself as much as to his companions. "But any plan suggests our opponents would have to take control of the situation. Tomorrow night, well, doing so would be more complex. Assassinations, I think, would be better accomplished quietly."
"Mr. Harper has a point, however," Cagan acknowledged. "What if, today, was a form of provocation. Designed to force our hand...."
"I'm not certain that you're correct on that point. Whatever provocation we've experienced has caused us to involve reinforcements. To what extent do you trust our, well, as we have employed them, allies."
"The Catholics?" Cagan ventured. "Any breach there would have terrific ramifications. No, I don't believe they would betray us. Besides, I think I would have had some inkling."
"You have more faith in our friends than I do," the abbot said.
"I guess, in my case, I'll have to go on some faith, here," Harper said, "given my circumstances. What about you?"
The abbot shrugged.
"I suppose we must, and I'm hardly the one to denounce faith," he said.
"Right," he said. "So, that being the case, what have we got?"
"Patience," Cagan said. "One advantage of being in a trap is that you know someone is coming to collect it. We ought to at least try and prepare for whatever is waiting."
"Sundown is coming," the abbot said. "We're stronger now than we will be tomorrow. Do we bring circumstances to bear on our opponents?"
"Let's see what our ally has to say," said Cagan.
The afternoon dragged on in the abbot's office with little incidental conversation disturbing the quiet turn toward twilight. Harper felt little desire to speak. He watched the light hanging on to the small windows behind the abbot and his desk slip away with the time. Harper felt himself slipping away with the light. He didn't wish to think. The exercise seemed to make little sense. He felt torn between the world he knew and an awful world opening before him. What plans could he make? What strategies could he explore, knowing almost nothing of his circumstances? Harper considered again that he had left another metal prison for another, except the present confinement was less tangible and more severe. The trap was constructed of uncertainty. The abbot sat rigidly. He seemed as uncertain as Harper felt. Cagan seemed almost relaxed. He made the occasional remark to relieve the pall that gathered in the sun's retreat. He commented on the room. Cagan even made a joke about the decoration, telling the abbot that they all could be mistaken for a museum exhibit. The abbot grinned politely, picked up his phone and asked for a report.
"Everything is quiet," he said, returning the phone to its carriage.
Harper produced his cell phone.
"You want to use this?" he asked the abbot, who produced his own mobile device and shrugged.
"We're better off with land lines," the abbot said, forcing another grin.
Night settled on the room. The abbot leaned forward to turn on a small desk lamp. The room remained quiet, although Harper occasionally heard the scrapping of shoes from behind the door. Harper rubbed his back against the chair. The hair on his back felt like it was growing longer still. The effect of psychology, he assured himself as the door opened.
The great, bearded head slipped past the door again.
"You have a guest," it said evenly.
The door fell back and a figure strode into the room wrapped in a long dark coat and hood. The figure slipped out of the hood with a soft sweep of the head. Harper beheld a tall man with a pale complexion under a shock of black hair.
"Hello, Simeon," Cagan said, "You know the abbot. This is Mr. Harper."
Harper began to rise and extend his hand, his attention gripped by the countenance before him. Not only did the construction of the face hold him, drawn and angular as it was, ancient and aware, but the posture of the body did equally, tight, upright but weary, as if the strength that gathered it was generated by a potent will. Simeon moved forward so lightly that he seemed to float from step to step, A reflex started Harper rising from his seat and extending a hand, but he felt a gentle pressure on his shoulder. Cagan press him down gently, and Harper settled in his seat.
"Good evening," the man said.
"Good evening," Cagan said, his greeting echoed by the abbot. The abbot's voice was hollow, and Harper turned to look at the man, whose face, turned in a slight grin, remained a pleasant mask.
"A group of our kindred has arrived in the city," Simeon said. "They have not presented themselves. Could your apparition be one of ours?"
"No," Cagan said.
"Are you certain? This might be a very old member of our community."
"He was a lot chubbier than you."
Simeon fixed his eyes on Harper, who felt his skin rippled with the chill of then and his blood flush hot. Harper began to speak, but Cagan cut him off.
"No," Cagan said. "Certainly not. I don't know of any association between the kindred you mention and who we observed."
"You have give notice of this one," Simeon said, indicating Harper with a nod. "I understand he has been through an ordeal. I make allowances."
Harper slipped to the front of his seat, ready to respond. He heard a slight hiss behind him and turned. The abbot's deep brown eyes engaged Harper, his head slipped gently forward. Forbear, the gesture requested.
Harper leaned back on the seat and fought back against the tension he felt. The moment was one for courtesy, and Harper relented.
"Not one of yours," Cagan repeated.
"I respect your judgment," Simeon said. "Yours and the abbots."
Harper grimaced, remained silent, but even his slight defiance seemed to make Simeon's pale grey eyes grew colder.
"Friend Cagan," Simeon said, his tone growing more accommodating, "you have all of you had a difficult day. I understand that. I will assist as such I can. We remain comrades in this as we would other difficulties. We all should aid one another."
Simeon looked to Harper. His expression lost all emotion, but he nodded slightly. Harper returned the gesture.
"And this is best," Simeon said. "Together, we shall assess whatever it is we face. As we should remain, always, allies. Of course, your tale, as much as we know of it is disturbing. We have had our report, but we might need more information if we do, indeed, face an additional threat. Believe me, from your reports and our own intelligence, we do perceive something unsettling has occurred."
"Well, in the interest of that alliance, let me bring you up to date," Cagan said, providing a recount of the days events, even a mention of shadowy figure Harper had confronted. Harper hid his concern about the detail. How much did these people really know? he wondered.
"The shadow you speak of, and again I must ask, could it be one of our kindred?"
"I'm less certain, but I would say no."
Simeon emitted a hollow note that Harper took for a chuckle.
"Wrong scent," he said.
Harper bristled, but Cagan laughed.
"You might say," he replied.
Simeon grinned, a stark but not unfriendly expression. He swept a mall chair from the corner and sat in front of Cagan and Harper.
"We may engage in this concern together," he said, almost cheerfully. "I have been living amid rumors for some time. I would rather confront them than be mired in speculation."
"You're here to help us, then?" Harper asked, finding himself smiling.
"That is my intention," Simeon said.
The abbot cleared his throat and said, "You mentioned some...delinquents, although I apologize for the term. Have you encountered some difficulty?"
Simeon sighed, with a rattle, and said, "We had word from one of our acolytes. A small party. He identified them as being of our kindred. We dismissed the initial report. He was uncertain. Then more reports arrived. A small party, avoiding places where they might normally enjoy our courtesy. A report as such is not initially disturbing. Visitors sometimes delay a call. Even our kindred get a bit turned around by the city. They can be distracted. But three nights have passed. As such, the have exceeded decent indulgence. Whether we like it or now, our kindred established in New York are accountable for the behavior of our kindred whatever their origin, and three nights is more grace than we permit."
"But you have heard nothing that would raise your level of concern?" Cagan asked.
"No," Simeon said, "but the Monsignor has called upon his resources. We are not, obviously, comfortable with that action. Still, we would like more information. Your recent occupations have cause you some discomfort, in the degree they suggest an unusual unrest in our circle."
"A ruckus is in neither of our interests," Cagan said, with a grunt.
Simeon smiled slightly, saying "A concern that binds us."
"Okay, I'm lost," Harper said. "Are we in even more trouble than I think?"
The abbot hissed again, but Cagan said, "No. Fair question. How do you assess our circumstances, Simeon?"
"I'm uncertain, as are my brethren who have discussed the matter. We have only preliminary assessments to rely on, and they change with the circumstances. We have our own...delinquents to consider, and, Abbott Demetrius, I don't find your term inaccurate. I hope they are all we have to worry about. This individual that you have observed, we do not know if its appearance has anything to do with our kindred, but we have to consider the possibility, hence, my haste."
"Haste?" Harper asked.
Cagan held silent and the abbot sighed.
"No," Simeon said, "I understand. Your companions can assure you, my haste to your side was almost desperate."
Cagan nodded to Harper.
"If that's the case," Harper said, "I'm sorry."
"Your apology is accepted. We respect graciousness."
"And what about your truants?" Cagan asked.
Simeon laughed, and dry as the sound rang, it almost had a lively quality.
"Truants," he said. "Oh, if that is all they are. Janos asked me to locate them. What a mundane task, I thought. Now, I wish it were so. The Monsignor insists on reports, so Janos is infuriated, as you might expect. My agents are combing the city. We even have alerted our acolytes..."
"Acolytes?" Harper whispered to Cagan.
Cagan responded in form: "Friends, let's say, for now."
If Simeon apprehended the aside, he did not acknowledge it, "...but we only have rumors."
"A rare occurrence," the abbot remarked. But Harper cast a glance over his shoulder, and the Demetrius maintained a dubious expression.
"Rarer than you might think," Simeon said.
"So, you have a concern," Cagan interjected.
"They are from the Old World, young, recent, such do not always regard the authority of the New with proper respect," Simeon said. "When that occurs, we introduce them to it."
Harper wished to remark, but he held back, confused by the conversation, agitated about what was not being said. He felt Cagan's hand on his shoulder again, and let it rest there.
"I'd like you to go with us to the place where we observed our observer. I'd like to know if you have any impression of what might be intended?" Cagan asked.
"Of course," Simeon said.
The corner was vacant. A half-broken elm tree that had survived the onslaught of disease hung over the quiet end of a side street that lead into an only slightly busier avenue. As they emerged from the monastery, Harper's impulse to flee returned. The creature that stirred in him fought with the sights of a quiet neighborhood. What must occur under the influence of the moon was an impossibility that manifested itself in each breath of wind that touched his skin and suggested how the flesh on his bones seethed in transformation. Now his personal torment was attracting new misery. How would it end? Would his life only worsen and worsen? To escape. To get away and feel altogether human again. To conceive of a destination. Harper accepted that he couldn't range wild. He sighed and followed the party in its investigation. He was trapped no matter where he went.
"An echo remains," Simeon said, standing in the spot the dark figure had abandoned. Simeon sneered.
"It's like a scar in the air itself," he muttered, turning his eyes one way and another.
"That thing could hide in just about any shadow," Harper said.
"Not from my eyes," Simeon said. "I don't think it could easily hide from your...confederate...either. You may have eyes to see one day."
"All things being equal, I'd rather not see that gentleman again," Harper said.
Simeon emanated a dusty chuckle.
"A reasonable sentiment," he said.
"Do you know what we're facing?" Cagan asked.
"No. Whatever stalks you is not within my experience."
"Something from the East," the abbot said.
"A possibility, he said. "Even a likely possibility. I cannot say, though, what you face. Janos has charged me to stay with you, if I detect a threat. I know not what you face here, but it is a malevolence. I will remain if you will find a place for me."
Simeon looked to the abbot, who nodded.
"I would like to accomplish this quietly." the abbot said.
For the first time, Simeon actually smiled, and his pale lips pulled back on teeth that seemed too large to Harper, to prominent and sharp, as if they were filed to a purpose. The grey lips shut quickly, and Simeon nodded slowly.
"Yes," he said. "I understand. "Our alarm might be unsupported. We have no need to do more than watch and depend upon the resources we have ready."
The abbot's face seemed to flinch for a moment, but his face gathered in a bland smile.
"I think you can depend upon our resources," the abbot said.
"I hope we can," Simeon said. Then he added, "I believe we can."
"If we face an attack, will it be tonight?" Cagan asked.
"I have very little evidence to go on. Yet, your observer meant to raise alarm. An attack now would only fly in the face of alert preparation. I think, or I should say if it was my plan, I would allow the alarm to wear on the nerves of those I meant to attack. If an attack is planned. Don't count out the possibility that a malevolence might just raise alarm for its own sake. Such being might gain something from the act of producing fear. Still, preparation is warranted. But I would not attack tonight, if my plans were for assault. I would wait, and circumstances suggest that tomorrow night, with its various concerns, might constitute a better opportunity. Defenders depleted, exhausted, more vulnerable."
"Brother Demetrius," the abbot said, " I want to divide the brothers into six-hour shifts. When off duty, they are to eat, pray and rest. Our eldest brothers will maintain the hours. God will grant our other duties."
The shaggy head of brother Demetrious nodded, and the man strode off.
"Who is going to look after me now?" Hagan said, smiling narrowly.
"Now, it is time Mr. Cagan looked after you," the abbot said.
Cagan opened an iron door. The room inside was stone, bare. Harper looked inside. A small grate in the ceiling allowed a little light into the room. It was heavily barred. The walls were torn with little tears, crisscrossing each other in a chaos desperate rage. Harper raised his eyes. Even on the stone ceiling.
"So is the place of our confinement," Cagan said.
"It seems so cold," Harper muttered.
"Yes," Cagan said. "If they could...if I could offer some comfort, it might be a blessing. But what comfort can anyone offer. It is an accursed place to confined the cursed."
"What curse? Who deserves this?"
"Who, indeed," Cagan said, with a hallow tone that echoed in the stone.
"If this is my sentence, I want to know who passed it." Harper said, wheeling on Cagan. "Who? You? The abbot? Tell me! Who has the right to condemn me to this horrible little room?"
"You enter yourself," Cagan said. "Here, you can spend your month's day of horror."
"Day! What day! What day passes when I don't feel my bones crack, and my tendons tear and every muscle in my body shriek agony! My flesh mutilated by its own convulsions...Then madness descend upon my like buzzing flies consuming my mind! Every day! Every moment of every day! Waking and sleeping! Dreaming! Every dream! Every dream even beginning on a sunny day descending into agony! Anarchy...You speak so easy of this. Where is your place of confinement! Do your friends, the monks, do they give you pillows and dancing girls!"
Cagan nodded to the next door. Harper rushed to the door and threw it open. He opened his mouth to speak The same.
"This is my place," Cagan said.
Haper pushed the door closed and slumped against it.
"How do I know?" he asked, feeling rage subside and a hallowness replace it.
"You know," Cagan said.
"What do I know? What you tell me? What the abbot, what if I call the abbot? Will he attest? What do I know? That are all of you driving me mad? Why don't I just give in? What if I just give in to madness? It will set in anyway? Madness would be a blessing..."
Harper slipped to the floor and buried his head in in his arm.
"Help me. Help me to be mad and forget what is coming. Lock me in the room until I die. Let blessed madness descend on me forever."
Cagan slipped down beside Harper.
"We're the accursed. No blessings are bestowed on us but death. For us, I'm afraid, even that is hard to come by."
"Death is easy to come by," Harper said. "Ask anyone. Just step in front of a bus."
"And what would become of the driver. Condemn his to a madness of guilt? And what of you. Broken, torn. Alive. Yes, alive."
"Then shoot me. Right? Shoot me with a silver bullet. Doesn't that put an end to us?"
Cagan shook his head.
"Silver is deadly poison to us. But it doesn't end there. Silver. The wolfbane is agony of another kind. It frees us of the body, not the curse. I have seen the dead among us shivering under the light of the full moon, screaming for the end of time to free them, and not knowing if even that will be the fulfillment of their torment..."
"Then," Harper muttered, "I am going to go nuts."
"But you won't, until the moon grows to fill your mind and the horror descends, the horror you must experience in every fiber of your groaning body."
"Why can't I just go crazy and forget what's coming until it does?"
"Because all blessings have forsaken us. Every one. Until we face the monster, and when that test comes, and until we survive it, we can't glimpse salvation."
"No one can face the monster that is trying to posses me," Harper said. "I can't."
"One moon coming, you might," Cagan said. "But it might be the worst moon that ever will burn into your mind. Maybe madness will come then. Maybe that's the only hope we have, a different transformation, one into a madness, a cage without confinement. A being as is always. I remain man and animal. I can only help with what you are now. The moon still travels over me as I am."
Harper breathed to calm himself. He looked into the cells and feel himself at the wall, nails digging stone. Only not nails but claws.
"It's all nonsense, isn't it. Nonsense and superstition," he said.
"Of course, it is," Cagan said. "That's the spirit. Reason. Rationality. It's all superstition and nonsense, until it isn't."
"Right!" Harper exclaimed. "Now let's get out of here and hope that whatever it is out there wants to do us harm, it's just an run-of-the-mill psychopath."
"It would be nice if we could just phone up the police and have them solve our problems for us."
"I thought you were tight with the cops," Harper said. "Least, it looked that way this morning."
"The stories I could tell you...Nothing bugs a cop more than that which makes him nervous but which he can't sap, arrest or shoot. I am not tight with the cops."
The two men mounted that stairs out of the basement.
"I'm starting to get the feeling that all of our friends are of the reluctant sort."
"Right again. You're catching on quickly."
"And liking none of it at all."
Night settled deeper over the monastery. The quiet neighborhood settled into near silence. A car rumbled lowly in the distance, and the occasional bus past with a growl and a grumble, but otherwise, the only noises were from distance airplanes finding their way to LaGuardia airport and a whining whisper representing the traffic crossing the Triborough Bridge.
"Didn't they rename that bridge?" Harper asked the abbott.
"They did. We didn't," the abbott responded.
With Cagan, they remained in the office. No one offered more beer, to Harper's chagrin. His churning stomach might reject food, but Harper felt certain he could hold down a beer or two. Perhaps the beer might lubricate his way to some kind of slumber, a few moments of peace between nightmares. Unrealistic, really, and Harper recognized he would more likely than not wretch back whatever he drank. The idle thought was attractive,though, the cool, bitter wash across his tongue, the rising weariness. Denied him. Harper left his seat. Along the rear wall, an old leather love seat beckoned, and Harper settled on it. Half of him might sprawl off onto the floor, but he still felt better for lying down.
"I could have one of the brothers arrange a litter," the abbott said.
"We're not going to drift off to our rooms at some point?" Harper asked. "Not that anything like sleep seems likely."
"We might be safer here," the abbott said. "If you would prefer privacy, though..."
"I'm not sure what I prefer," Harper said. "Let me rest on it."
The room fell into silence. Harper's mind drifted Some childhood memory lured him. A scene clarified itself. Harper was at the cabin fishing. His father sat in an Adirondack chair reading. The air smelled like early morning. Harper heard his mother's voice in his mind, calling about breakfast. Her words were inconsequential. Probably something invented by his mind. The tone entranced him, deep and cool. Her voice caught the attention of friends and strangers. Everyone turned to her when she spoke. The odd musicality. She is more like your great grandmother than me, his own grandmother said. Grandma Harper. She sounded half like a chipmunk, half like a truck driver. Paramus, New Jersey. Grandma Sonia. Compact and energetic. Always checking on him, while his mother buried herself in old books. The only surviving child. After Grandma Sonia losing one baby before term, one just after, and she was sick so often. Grandma Sonia's mother moved in to take care of her surviving daughter and the child she had brought into the uncertain world. Family photos in old frames. Grandma Sonia, compact and fair. Her mother, taller, slender, olive complexion. Like Harper's own mother. Portuguese. I favor my father's family, Grandma Sonia said. From somewhere north of Porto. Celtic, German. What was the town? Braga. Grandma Sonia's mother was from the Iberian, Moorish south. Harper thought a trace of her mother insisted itself around his grandmother's animated brown eyes. Harper remembered his grandmother talking, buzzing around the living room while his mother sat reading in an old leather chair. Where my mother sat watching the world pass, Grandma Harper told him, watching the neighborhood come and go. The same chair Harper's mother sat later sat reading, watching history pass. Your mother and my mother, Grandma Sonia said. Just so much alike. Always together when your mother was small. I was sick so much, not like I am now. Now, I'm like a buzzing bee, his grandmother said. I hardly want to stay still, but I always was sick in bed when your mother was small. I was so sickly and and tired. Look at me now, she said, kicking a heal up backwards as if she would start to dance. Always cheerful. Oh, get your face out of that book and come help me, Grandma Sonia told her daughter. She put her book aside and followed her mother with long, graceful strides, easily keeping the pace set by her mother's rapid little steps. All his family from that side. Mother and daughter. Everyone else buried. Stories. Your great grandfather worked so had, Grandma Sonia told him frequently. And his wife kept the house in meticulous order, Grandma Sonia related. Her eyes stilled when she talked about her father. Harper could sense the swell of unhappiness in her manner. My father gave me the nickels that came home in his pocket, and my mother made me put them in a little lock box she bought me. Sometimes, my father would sneak me another nickel for candy. That's why I can never stick to a diet, Grandma Sonia said, chuckling. Your grandfather brought me chocolates, that's why my mother never approved of him. He brought me chocolates, and when he laughed, he rattled the rafters, Grandma Sonia said one ear cocked as if to detect the echoes. My mother told him, shush, when he laughed loud. Then he laughed louder. Your grandfather loved to laugh, Grandma Sonia said. Lost at sea when he was out fishing. I wish you could have grown up knowing your grandfather, she told him often, smiling, scattering herself about. Harper had no memory of his grandfather except for an old leather wallet he vaguely remember given to him. He would need a wallet soon enough, when he was out making money. Is that what his grandfather had said, Harper wondered. Harper could remember receiving the walled, but not the man who gave it to him, no face, no expression as the wallet passed hands. The house was always quiet when Harper went to visit his great grandmother. Sit straight, she told told Harper often in the brief time he knew her, and he bundled his energy on her velvet sofa. Harper sat still and bored. At least until his great grandmother swept lout of the room. The house was too tempting, antique as any of his grandmother's possessions. Something must be hidden in the dim rooms and passages. Time to explore Where is that child? mother called to daughter. Grandma Sonia said, Let him be. Let him be a boy.