wolf bit bat story
|"Wake up," Cagan said. Harper's eyes sprung open.
"I dosed off," Harper said, less to Cagan then himself
"A lucky chance for you," Cagan said softly and trying to grin over his lean, tense jaw.
The monks were chanting from somewhere nearby. Another melody caught Harper's ear. The drone rose far off, but the sound compelled his attention. Harper shook his head as if to rid himself of a ringing in the ear. He felt the hair raising at the nape of his neck and fought an urge to shiver. The eire pitch insisted on Harper's attention even as his mind tried to dismiss it.
"Something is happening," Cagan said. "Someone wants to remind us we are not forgotten. Do you hear that?"
Before Harper could answer, Simeon said, "The charm of music is one of those lost to me."
Simeon had joined them in the monk's office, although he remained in the doorway.
"Have you heard anything like it before?" Cagan asked.
"No," Simeon said. "The sound has a religious quality and an eastern quality. It doesn't follow the western scheme."
"Caterwauling," Harper muttered.
"So it might seem to you," Simeon said. "However, it has a definite structure. I am sympathetic to your point, however. The sound, with its thrum and yowling character clearly is meant to disturb and excite listeners."
"But not you..."Harper said.
"As I remarked, music has little power to move me for good or ill. However, the expression does appeal to my curiosity. I might scout out this remarkable vocalist."
"Do you mind waiting a bit?" Cagan asked.
"You have no reason for concern, and every opportunity to benefit from what I learn," Simeon said, a tremor of annoyance in his voice.
"It's not that," Cagan said through a slight smile. "I'd like to keep our friend singing for awhile. Let's ignore him and see if we can't force his hand."
Simeon stretched a mirthless grin across his narrow face, thin skin betraying pronounced dentation behind fleshy, grayish lips.
"Of course," Simeon said. "Tactics. I understand your request. Although I am not sure that it is wise."
Harper spun to sitting on the couch.
"I guess no one has an MP3 player. Something to drown out the noise," he said
"We should all remain alert," Simeon said.
"Easy for you to say, with the whole music doesn't bother me thing," Harper said.
"Yes," Simeon said, "I don't mean to be insensitive, but we must be alert. The situation may evolve into a crisis."
"Okay," Harper replied, "So let's do something."
"Precipitating a crisis may not favor us," the abbot said.
"Or it may," Simeon said. "We might fair poorly if we await the accomplishment of our songster's plan, don't you see?"
Simeon's pale grin turned on Cagan. Harper watched Cagan steel himself, but he remained still as a rod.
Cagan said calmly: "What you say has merit, but what knowledge you possess doesn't seem adaptable to this particular situation. If we take a chance on gaining an advantage, we might just walk into the trap."
"I am a creature of patience, but action might serve a purpose," Simeon said. "We know almost nothing of our antagonist, and I would ascertain he knows more about us than we him. If we take his measure now, we have resources that might prefer our cause, but they only can be tapped as necessary. The risk is significant. But the price might be worth the chance."
"The price may come in blood, I think, the blood of my monks," the abbot said.
"They have sworn a blood oath. We all are subject to the present dilemma and subject to risk. The price may come in the blood that flows in my veins," Simeon said, rolling his head in a gesture that troubled Harper. "Of that which vitalizes any and all of us. However, in consequence, we might at least be avenged. Take into consideration that this might be a slaughter pen. I have come as an ally, and I will honor the allegiance I serve. That being said, I would prefer to act intelligently. To do so requires, I think, more information than we we now possess."
"Listen," Harper said," we don't know what exactly is out there, but I don't like sitting here. It's waiting and tomorrow night...I don't like the thought of being stuck in a cage not knowing what the hell is going to happen next."
Harper strode up to Cagan and said, "You trust these people, fine. I don't know them. Let's say I trust them, too. But I still don't know what's happening. You say I can leave. Can I come back? What about that. I want to know what I'm up against. Simeon..."
Harper strode past the pale figure and gazed beyond the gallery into the courtyard distinctly illuminated by the moon. The scene seemed to glare in front of him, to0 bright for the incomplete complete lantern bore down from the black sky."
Harper turned back and reached for Simeon's hand.
'You and me..."
Harper touched Simeon's hand as he turned to command the man's attention. The hand was cold as stone never touched by a sun ray. Harper felt a blow strike him across the chest hard as the grill of a speeding car, and he left his feet. The room swam past, and pain shuttered through his back as heard the abbot's desk squeal backwards on its feet. Harper gasped for breath, with the floor just blow his face. A surge of adrenelin pushed is body backward and his head up to confront the attack. Something burst through his veins in a rage, and he felt the abbot's burly arm's wrap around him. Harper seized himself break to what struck him, now, as a feeble restraint.
"No!" the word roared through the room with a resounding power. Harper paused under the influence of the word. His eyes focused on Cagan, interposed between Simeon in himself. Cagan's back arched strangely, he seemed larger, even more sold and imposing than he had been. Simeon's eyes glared red and his open mouth revealed cold, white fangs that had not been eminent before.
"Enough," Cagan said, in a voice like water driving gravel. The word resounded through Harper and quelled the fire rising in him, yet did not diminish its potency. Harper's breath came quickly and the tension in his body quivered in restraint.
Simeon spun with a sweeping motion and returned to his place by the door. Cagan turned to Harper. Cagan seemed to return to his normal proportion, yet without losing the power his body had assumed. His eyes turned to Harpers radiating a blue cold.
"You should not have touched him," Cagan said, with the gravel in his voice touched by a note of patience. "Apologize."
Harper quivered with rage but felt compelled to obey.
"I didn't mean any harm," he said, almost choking on the words.
Cagan turned to Simeon.
"You were ignorant of our custom," Simeon said with cold precision ringing in each word. "My reaction was excessive. For that, I apologize."
Cagan turned back to Harper and said, "Stand up."
Harper rose painfully, but he was stunned that the ache immediately dissipated. He took measure of the room and calculated with a clear mind that he must have flown twenty feet.
"My back should be broken," he muttered.
The abbot, who must have released him, whispered, "Make no remark."
"You can see," Cagan said to Simeon, "alliance or not, we are not prepared for the test that waits for us outside these walls."
"I admit your point," Simeon said. "I should, though, remaining, scout our position."
"As you will," Cagan said.
Simeon disappeared through the door, replaced a moment later by a small bearded monk with a rifle slung over his shoulder who asked, "Abbot, should I follow?"
"No," the abbot said, returning to his seat behind the desk. Harper slipped down and sat with his back to the desk, drained. Cagan slipped down beside him, drawing a hand across his face.
"Ah, no need to worry. Simeon will be back. When he gets back, I'll bet he has something new to worry about. Don't despair. Our chances have improved, if you haven't noticed."
"I hadn't noticed," the abbot said.
"The wheels have all been kicked in the same direction," Cagan said. "Simeon will be back. Whatever is out there waiting for us, we'll take it going headlong."
Harper stood below the abbots window, looking at the dark night sky.
"What do you make of all this?" Cagan asked as approached. Harper shook his head.
Cagan paused. Harper kept his gaze locked on the sky.
After a few moments, Cagan remarked, "No sign of the moon."
"It's back there, behind the clouds," Harper said. "I could point to it, with a degree of certainty. Not something I could do before."
Cagan began to lift his hand, be let it fall beside him.
"Tick, tick, tick..." Harper finally said.
"We won't be helpless," Cagan said.
Harper let out a chuckle that caught in his throat.
"Helpless as an other caged animal."
"We have our friends," Cagan said.
"We have our keepers," Harper replied.
Cagan did not respond.
"Let me guess..." Harper said after a moment.
"Vampire," Cagan said.
"I never heard that. Vampires have a phobia against human contact."
"They don't like humans instigating contact."
Harper turned to Cagan, saying, "Who likes their food to be pushy?"
"You aren't food for Simeon, or any other vampire."
"Not the right species?"
Cagan shook his head.
"That's not it. He....They have a civilization of their own. They will not feed upon what is not offered."
"My ribs should be broken. With that blow. Maybe my back, from the contact after my little flight. But it isn't."
"Even the pain is gone."
"I suppose you already recognized how fast you heal."
"I wish there was a moon I could bay at," Harper said. "Madmen have that prerogative, I understand."
"You are not mad," Cagan said.
"But I'm getting there."
"Because I am almost prepared to believe there is such a thing as a vampire."
Cagan drew a breath and said, "If it is impossible to believe in a vampire, given the evidence just presented to you, what do you believe of yourself."
Harper nodded, "Give me a good sharp knife, and I wouldn't have to believe in anything."
"It's been tried," Cagan said. "You'll heal. You won't escape this fate so easily."
"Easy1" Harper barked. "My life is that meaningless!?!"
"That's not what I mean..." Cagan began.
Harper cut him off.
"Misery. Loathing, that's what I feel. Disgust. Easy? I feel like six points of shit in a one pound bag. And what are my choices, beside the knife. To be a cow ready for the slaughter, or a...fucking rapid dog ready to tear the throat out of, what some little girl. Some child..."
"We..." Cagan began softly, his body curling around the word. But he stood straight to continue. "Not all our humanity leaves us. We don't hunt children. We have been known to pass them by..."
"What!?! While we take their mothers? Let them witness how we tear by them to rip the throat out of their mothers!?! Oh, what blessings we bestow on the children..."
"Whatever you have done..."
"Is irelevsnt! Irrelevant! Not that at all! What will I do! What will I do! Oh, I should have remained in that torture chamber. Do you think I'm afraid of what will happen to my in that cell? I don't want to die like a beast, but to live as one! Let them kill me..."
"You don't have to die like that," Cagan said. "And you don't have to kill anyone..."
"You say! You say! But what are my other options..."
"We will protect you," the abbot said, drawing closer.
"And what role do you play in this?" Harper said in challenge. "To remind you of your profound goodness. Take it. Stop getting your satisfaction from tortured creatures..."
"You are as human as I am," the abbot said, "whatever curse visited upon you."
"Perdition," Harper growled. "God has given you your elevated place in this corner of perdition. So be it. Let the animals prowl beneath you. I want nothing to do with it. If your God has any mercy left, but a bullet in my brain and free me."
"It is not that easy," Cagan said.
Harper lept forward, grabbing Cagan by the shoulders and gathering his full fury to throw him out of the way. He gather, he thrust, and he felt himself lurch against what felt like am ancient oak. He stumbled back at Cagan shoved him.
Harper felt the wall meet him again, if not so violently as before.
"I'll treat you like a child if you want," Cagan murmured with strain ringing his voice.
"And tell me tales of vampires!?!" Harper barked.
"When I they appear," Cagan replied, his back arching.
"Gentlemen, please..." the abbot pleaded.
"End it! Alright! Anyone got a silver bullet?" Harper groaned.
"Whatever fate you have suffered," Cagan said, straightening himself, "then it's out there waiting for you, like any other human being. Feeling sorry for yourself? Well, half the people outside these walls are sitting through their own misery. Yours is worse? I know people sitting in front of television sets out there who are miserable and they keep going on. Why? Because they are of some use. And if we aren't any better than bait for whatever is out haunting us, then we serve some purpose! I'm tired of your whining. If you cannot stand for yourself now, let's go to the cell now! Find a corner! Go, cringe in misery and ask, why me? Or stand up and confront misery, terror. You feel knocked down? Get up! You are accursed? Look your accuser in the eye and demonstrate your own worth. But, for God's sake, stop whining...Misery satisfies itself. Make yourself, at least, useful..."
"This is all impossible," Hagan said.
"I am...impossible," Simeon said, returned to the doorway. "I have been impossible for more than 500 years. A man dons a white suit and walks upon the moon. Impossible. When I lived 500 years ago, that was impossible. A man wraps himself in a metal tube and surveys to view what is at the bottom of the sea. Impossible. Not even 500 years ago, the idea that the world was more then a few thousand years old was impossible. What is and is not impossible is largely admitted by what we believe. Science is a fascinating construction because it insists on proof. I approve. So if it is proof you require..."
Simeon drew his head back and opened his mouth. His face grew paler, bloodless. His canine teeth extended. His pupils grew round and large enough to engulf the whites of his eyes. He shook his head and his face returned to its former pale cast, grey but sickly human. Harper shivered.
"Enough," the abbot said. "This boy needs time."
"Not a luxury we have availing," Simeon said.
"He has had time, to realize," Cagan said, "but he refuses. Whatever enemy we have outside these walls likely seeks advantage in that."
"I think his periodical transition might be enough to convince him," Simeon said.
"That I'm mad?" Harper said.
"Hide yourself a little longer," Cagan said, "and our enemy might put an end to your misery. Or it may not."
"It can't get any worse than this," Harper grunted.
"Oh, yes," Simeon said, "it may."
Cagan approached Harper, saying, "How do you want this to end? Begging for annihilation, Or opposing that which would annihilate you? You fought in the prison they created for you. Even if this is another reality that appalls you, you can still fight."
Harper shook his head.
"As a beast?" he asked. "What do I fight as a damn ravening beast? And what happens when I'm done? What happens then? Who do I slaughter after my noble fight?"
"Conscience is a burden the accursed must bear," Simeon said. "Even those who live on life. Even those who live the little lives that occupy the space outside these walls. The burden is awful for us, but we are cowards if we refuse it. The accursed bear a heavier burden of conscience, perhaps, and we cannot expect the reward the little people outside our existence enjoy. But we can at least maintain our dignity. If we fight harder to maintain it, so much greater our pride for the struggle."
"Until pride become our failing," Cagan said, turning toward Simeon.
"Pride," Simeon said. "Restraint. Exclusion. Whatever will. We may at least stand on our dignity."
Outside, the chanting sounded again, and Harper felt the hair on the back of his neck prickle once more as it had under the influence.
"Why don't you exclude that, permanently?" Harper challenged.
"I was outside," Simeon said. "Our enemy was in one place and the next and the next. At one time. At the same time. Illusion. Illusions cannot harm us. But when illusions become realities, they may be addressed."
Harper didn't expect the morning when it arrived. I creeped through the room's little window. He tried to sleep on the couch, dozed for moments and looked with some alarm as grey touched the night's darkness. Harper thought he might feel some relief at the day's renewal but he only felt exhaustion.
Simeon had disappeared.
Cagan remained awake in one of the chairs before the abbot's desk.The abbot remained awake as well, but sleep tugged at his eyes. He noticed Harper.
"You might as well rest," the abbot said to Harper.
"Not today," Harper said, sitting up. "We ought to do something."
"Agreed," Cagan said, standing up suddenly. "Let's go see what we can see."
"You aren't worried about our company?"
"Quiet and bright day out there. I don't suppose there is a better time to look around.
The abbot turned, shrugging off the night.
"I'm not sure that you're going outside is a good idea," he said.
A laugh burst through Cagan.
"I'm in the mood to have a quarrel," he said.
The abbot stood, as if alarmed.
"Should go out there...in a mood...?"
Cagan laughed again.
"In a mood...yes, but not a foolish one," he said." We can wonder out, as if we were in search of breakfast. Wander to the bagel shop on Steinway Street. Buy a water. I doubt if our antagonist will trouble us in the morning pedestrian ebb and flow. But we might get some sense of our enemy. We might even confound its expectations. So amusing, or I find it amusing, the sense of peace that descends so close to the crisis."
"And you don't think it's an element of the curse?" the abbot asked flatly.
"I suppose it is," Cagan replied, "but why not use the mood to our advantage."
"Oh, let's get out of here for awhile," Harper said. "What about Simeon?"
"He's...resting," the abbot said.
"Naturally," Harper said.
"Naturally?" Cagan asked, and chuckled.
The abbot sighed.
"I'll send a few of my monks, just in case," he said.
"Won't they be conspicuous?" Harper asked, responding to his own sense of brio.
"They all own trousers," the abbot said. "They wear them under their habits."
"So let's go," Cagan said.
Harper passed the gate and felt the warmth of the sun strike him. He felt a moment of relief, then a sensation of descending warmth that rested more heavily than he expected. The small company proceeded down the street. Harper realized he had felt an oppressive weight of the day before. Why hadn't he remembered? Sunlight felt heavy upon him before the transition. He looked at Cagan, who seemed uncomfortable as well. Cagan only shrugged in response. With a half dozen monks dressed in dark trousers and blue button down shirts, Harper continued on. They might as well wear their habits, he thought. Harper felt his tongue search the warm air and thought nothing of it immediately. A few blocks along he pulled it back into his open mouth and focused on the route ahead. The quiet streets lead to a more active passage.
A thought seemed to gnaw at Harper. He paused and felt Cagan beside him.
"Keep up," Cagan said.
The monks had turned toward him to stare, with fixed eyes. Something felt wrong.
"You didn't thing we would have companions out here, did you?" Cagan asked.
To Harper's mind, the abbey began to seem a more attractive atmosphere.
"That thing is our here," Harper muttered.
"We came out to find out," Cagan said softly, a smile turning half his narrow mouth. "Now we know."
The party turned a corner to a busy street. The oppression the descended on Harper dissipated as he confronted the traffic, vehicle and pedestrian. Passersby leaned into their cell phones, texting furiously or talking to some being lost beyond the little devices they carried. The cars followed, breached, honking horns or calling out invectives. The day fell into a pattern that comforted Harper, except for the light's heat and presence that tugged at him, less than before, but still insistent.
"Here we are," Cagan said, opening the door of a shop.
Harper looked up at a sign that read Steinway Bagel.
"This is it?" Harper grunted.
"Well, our hosts have been so kind, we can buy them a few bagels," Cagan said, cheerfully. His voice contrasted with a hard look in eyes that he become bloodshot with strain, not angry and red, but tinged as if they had been subject to strain.
A monk opened the door and the company shuffled in. Harper proceeded, realizing for the first time that the big monk, his companion, held the glass door.The monk nodded slightly, and Harper wondered how he neglected that man's presence among the group.
Cagan was already approaching the counter as Harper entered. A teenage girl, pretty and bathed in mascara hardly noted the company entering, but she emerged erect as she noticed Cagan.
"Hi...oh, hi...hi...uh can I help you?" she blurted.
Her eyes drew wide and her lips yanked back over a little overbite as she smiled broadly at Cagan.
"Let us have three dozen bagels, mix them up, a half dozen kinds of cream cheese, you pick then, and, what, four dozen waters, please," Cagan said, smiling.
The girl only stood looking at Cagan with wide eyes.
"You do have bagels here, don't you?" Cagan asked, his smile broadening.
"Oh...oh," the girl stammered. "I'm sorry. You...you look like this guy I used to go out with..."
"Or his father," Cagan said, chuckling.
The girl laughed loudly, then blushed, as she turned to look over one shoulder then the other.
"You wanted bagels," she said, locking her eyes on Cagan.
Cagan repeated the order. Another girl, chubby and pretty, her amble cheeks as red as her co-workers approached.
"Do you want some bagels?" she asked Cagan.
Once more, he repeated the order.
"I'll get them," the new arrival said.
The girl who commanded the counter insisted, " You get the waters, I'll get the bagels."
The new arrival began to protest, but said, "Oh, alright."
She hurried off.
"Three dozen mixed bagels," the girl at the counter said, unmoving, raising face to stare into Cagan's blue, bloodshot eyes.
"I don't think I've ever seen you before," she said. "But it's like...like I ought to remember you. Like maybe in a dream or something..."
The girl's face blushed brighter and with a gasp, she turned to the baskets filled with bagels and began to selected them with a purpose.
"You've got to be kidding me," Harper muttered into Cagan's ear.
"You've never experienced the effect?" Cagan asked, watching the girls scramble with a delighted grin.
"Okay," Harper said, looking back through his own experiences. "Not only so...horny."
'It is part of the darkness," one of the looming monks remarked. "A manifestation of the curse. A lure for victims..."
"Not if you have learned control," Cagan snapped, turning to the monk, who stiffened at the response. Harper, too, felt taken aback, as if a an unseen blow.
"Allow us a moment's last humanity, such as allowed us," Cagan said. "Besides, you're getting bagels."
The monk nodded.
"We should all consider our humanity," he said.
Cagan's face darkened into a scowl, and the room seemed wrapped in a dark cloud. Cagan sighed, and the cloud departed, although tension remained.
"I suppose entertainment is a luxury, now," he said. "We'll get the order and leave expediently."
"Something's wrong," Harper said.
Cagan regarded him, then deliberately scanned the surrounding. He handed money to the monk besides him.
"Get a mix," Cagan said.
Harper approached Cagan.
"I don't know what it is," Harper said.
"I trust you instincts. But I can't see..."
"Across the street, in the shadow of that restaurant awning," Cagan
The monks began to circle Cagan and Harper.
"Relax, my friends," Cagan said. "Buy bagels."
"Are you kidding?" Harper said.
"Intimidation. Petty tactics. Our opponent my not be as powerful as we thought."
"Judge your enemy by his strategy, but regard his tactics. If the tactics don't add up to much, consider if the strategy is weak."
"Okay, that doesn't make me feel better."
"In the depth of the shadow, a deeper shadow."
Harper focused across the street. People passed the restaurant. The street was busy. But something seemed odd. Under the shadow. A shape. Harper looked to Cagan, but his eyes were fixed across the street. Again, Cagan seemed larger, more potent.
"Watch this," Cagan said.
"You think, maybe, whatever that is might be trying to lure you out?" Harper asked.
"Too well hidden."
"No, but you weigh your own tactics based on the opportunities as they arise."
Cagan charged the door.
Harper froze, transfixed. The glass door flew open, and Cagan rushed across the sidewalk. Across the street, the deeper shadow disappeared. Cagan stopped liked a fixed statue at the curb then returned to the shop. The girls behind the counter stood straight in shock.
"Sorry," Cagan said. "I thought I forgot to feed the meter."
The girls sighed in relief. The monks, some smiling, some heads wagging in confusion surrounded Cagan.
"Not our boy," Cagan said. "A phantom. Whatever it's power, the thing was middling here. And if that power is so feeble in the light, not just of day, but in confrontation as well, our opponent may not me as strong as we feared. We ought to be careful,sure but we I don't think we need to panic."
"I'm not sure about all this," Harper said.
"I'm not, either, but I'm starting to get sense of the thing."
"Night is falling," the abbot said.
"And the moon rises in two hours," Cagan said in a low voice.
Harper focused on holding his body still. Chills ran through his skin. His muscles ached, whether because of anticipation or some psychosomatic memory of their past contortions he did not dare think to consider. He stood in the abbot's office wishing to curl into a ball as he had done in the past. He had prayed, although he felt not connection to the God his father worshipped. He had wept in the face of a universe indifferent to his suffering. But he stood erect, focusing on Cagan's calm demeanor.
"My monks have emerged from their prayers and take their appointed positions," the abbot said.
Harper gathered himself to speak and failed. What would he say? Some dismissal of the awful atmosphere that hung over the room? That clung and intruded into his very body? He lacked the strength to do more than stand.
"Thank you," Cagan said. "Now we shall see."
"What will we see?" the abbot asked. "The horror that has haunted our day, or more. If it is allied with that force that captured our friend Harper, do we have the strength to oppose it? Are you prepared for your confinement?"
Cagan shook his head slowly, and Harper noticed constraint in the gesture.
"I don't think that's the question that worries you," Cagan said.
"No," the abbot responded, "I don't suppose it is. I fear they have accounted for what strength we posses."
"Perhaps they have not counted upon your allies," Simeon said. He stood beside Harper as if he had appared from the dust beside him. Harper almost winced put put more effort into restraining himself.
"Perhaps," the abbot muttered, "but I am uncertain."
"No struggle is certain," Cagan said. "But we must trust in out strength and make the most of it. Trust that, if we don't overwhelm our enemy, we might prove more determined and win by not surrendering."
Hagan saw Cagan's features sag, but only for a moment, and he laughed.
"Let's not worry each other," he said.
Cagan swept past Harper to the door. Harper's feet caught on the rug as he stepped aside as he made way, and he stumbled into his guardian monk. Cagan wrenched the door back so that it resounded against the wall.
"Good monks of Astoria," he roared from the doorway. "Be comforted and be of good cheer. The worst moment of every struggle is assuming a position. Each mind asking, where better could I be? You will never be in a better place. Despite doubt and terror, you stand at your appointed place. Man, woman and child, we arrive at those moments when we would rather abandon our duty than perform it. Yet, we perform it still. No matter what occurs tonight, not one of you need ever fear to answer the question: Why didn't you try? Do your best, even if you fail. You already have proven your worth. Stand to it, and you can face eternity knowing you have walked into it immutable face and did all your mortal being could."
Cagan closed the door softly against the cheer that rang through the monastery.
"Good speech," Simeon said, his cool voice conveying something like appreciation.
"I meant it," he said, almost growling.
"And why I approved," Simeon said.
Harper gathered himself against his guardian and noticed the weapon that hung from his shoulder.
"What the fuck is that?" he blurted. "That's a goddamn paintball gun."
The monk nodded.
"Not paint," he said, "a solution of wolfsbane and Holy water, with a few other surprises mixed in," the monk said, chuckling. "It would send you screaming at a shot."
"Are you kidding? That's what you will defend us with?" Hagan gasped.
The monk pulled at a fold in his habit to reveal the grip of a pistol.
"Dumdum bullets, loaded with the same elements," he said. "To use at necessity."
Harper felt his guts seize and he doubled over in pain. He vomited, but nothing emerged. The monk helped straighten him.
Cagan was beside him as well, drawing him up.
"No shame in it," Cagan said. "I've doubled up more times than you can imagine."
"Be of good cheer," Harper grunted.
"As best you can," Cagan said, chuckling. "Why make a dark night the more black?"
"Please, enough," the abbot said. "We ought to complete our preparations."
Cagan proceeded out of the room. Harper hesitated, then followed. He felt the procession of monks around him, but kept his sight locked on his feet. A trap. He felt his wish to flee reemerge. But where would he go?
Harper, his eyes focused on his steps, felt rather than saw his descent below the monetary. Perhaps the journey was appropriate, he mused, trying to separate his mind from the twitching sickliness that possessed his body. He had read accounts of people falling ill with malaria and wondered if the experience was much different from what he was experiencing, had experienced, a sickly descent into darkness. His physical descent below the monastery ground seemed appropriate. Would that he could experience peace in the end. Would he seek it on his own initiative at some point? But not yet, no, no escape in that way either, with the steps of the procession ringing around him. Yet, he would to seek that solace would be cowardly. A fight was coming. He might contribute. Maybe. Or the opposite possibility. Would it be better...to what? No choice. Try. Harper's body trembled. Try. Knock me down with a feather, now. Soon. Soon, what would knock me down short of God's own hammer. If I have to be a monster, dear God I do not know, set me against monsters...
"We're here," the abbot said.
A dozen monks, his guardian among them, surrounded Harper, Cagan and the abbot.
The little group halted. Harper heard the squeal of an opening door.
"I'm sorry," the abbot said.
"For what," Harper answered.
His guardian stepped at the entrance to his cell and gestured for Harper so proceed in. The room was small. He noticed a small door within the larger door. The room was tall, and near its apex was a small, barred window. Hay was strewn across the hall.
"Like a horse stall," Harper said, as he moved threw the door. He paused, regarding the shackles.
"Those are supposed to hold me," he said.
"To keep you busy for awhile," his guardian responded.
"Then will you will do me no harm..as I emerge," the abbot said.
"The shackles slow down the assault on the room, is that it?...The doors?" Harper said.
Harper stopped in the middle of the room. It was almost square, defined by rounded stones, and something...
He plucked it from the wall. It was a human fingernail. He turned to to the abbot.
The abbot shrugged, shaking his head.
"The confined, they try to scale the wall. When they change, they leave some...momentos. Give it to me, to bury with the rest of him."
"Hope you'll remember my fingernails if nothing else survives."
"It's not what you think," the abbot said.
Harper shrugged, saying, "I'm done with thinking."
Harper's guardian emerged in the doorway.
"I have to seal the room," he said.
Harper stepped into the middle. He looked up. He looked at the window, twice his height and bared.
"Go ahead," Harper said. "Why not? One prison for another."
"You'll be free of this one in the morning," the abbot reassured.
"So you say," Harper replied.
Harper regarded the stone around his.
"Where is Cagan?"
"In his own cell," the abbot said.
"Tomb," Harper muttered under his bread.
"Close the door," the abbot said.
The hinges whine and the door creaked shut with a sound that ached in Harper's ears. Silence followed.
"Better this way," Harper continued, under his breadth. "Whatever quiet I can get."
Harper groaned himself awake. He opened his eyes. Light filled the room. Sheets covered him. He swept them aside. He sat up and turned slowly out of bed. His body ached, but he hardly noticed. He was in his cell. He looked at the radio on the bed stand, which played music softly. He was alone, naked. No. Bandages covered his shoulder, his left thigh and his right upper arm. He pulled the bandage on his right arm back. Three long, slender scars turned across his biceps. An odd emotion echoed through him: Elation.
Harper grinned and muttered, "What the fuck?"
A soft knock sounded across of the door.
"Yeah," he said, "I guess."
The door opened partially, and his guardian's large, shaggy head emerged from behind it.
"If you wish to get dressed, there are clothes on the bureau."
Harper looked to see a neatly folded, grey sweat shirt and pants.
"We can bring you breakfast if you are fatigued. Or you can join the abbot and Cagan at breakfast. They've been waiting for you to awake."
"Yeah, let me get dressed. I'll go get breakfast."
The brother shut the door. Harper felt himself smiling again as he rose stiffly to retrieve the clothing.
Harper followed his guardian to the abbot's office. He noticed a slight limp. The brother paused at the door.
"You alright?" Harper asked
The shaggy head nodded and a robbed arm knocked on the door, then pushed it open.
"You look good!" Cagan exclaimed, rising from his place next to the abbot's desk.
"I'm feeling better than I should," Harper said.
The abbot rose as well.
"You must be hungry," the abbot said.
"Famished," Harper said, entering the room. He heard the door pulled shut behind him.
"That's weird," Harper said. "Shouldn't feel so hungry after eating half a pig. When did you shove that in? Wait, I didn't go after the big guy, did I?
"I'm afraid we couldn't offer you your ration," the abbot said.
"What? The hospitably of your hall is somewhat diminished," Harper said, laughing.
"I'm afraid there wasn't time," the abbot said, "or opportunity."
"What? What happened?"
"Eat," Cagain said. "Look at this spread."
Cagan indicated a table next to the wall.
"I had the brothers out half the morning. We have bagels and three kinds of cream cheese. Charizos from the Columbian place on Northern Boulevard. Best in New York. We've go lamb from the Greeks up the street, same place the brothers go. Oh and the lox, I forgot to tell you about that..."
Harper hurried to the table and regarded the spread. He reached out for a long pink strip of flesh.
"I'm usually not partial to lox, but, man, I've got a craving for it now."
Harper leaned his head back and swallowed the salty strip in a gulp.
"Chew your food!" Cagan exclaimed.
Harper gave Cagan a long look. The man's reserve was overwhelmed by something, perhaps akin to the elation Harper felt. The abbot smiled, more relaxed than Harper had seen him, but still tense in his posture.
Cagan shook his head.
"Eat. Enjoy. Right now you are safer than you have been in the last days. The enemy isn't at the gates now. Enjoy."
"What? Harper asked, even as he snatched another salty, pink strip.
"Plenty of time for explanations..." Cagan said.
Harper began to pile food on an adjacent plate. He sat and began to rapid forkfuls. After awhile he paused, nodding to Caga.
"Not hungry?" Harper aked.
"They had to restock, after me," he said.
Harper hauled up again, after more lox and an assault of bacon and sausage.
"Why do I feel so...chipper. You, too."
Cagan nodded and smiled.
"Not everything that happens when we're on the other side is lot to us," Cagan said.
"Yes," the abbot said quietly.
"Of course, he's not happy," Harper said.
The abbot paused, the said, "Some of my brother's are hurt."
Harper regarded the abbot and restrained the grin on his face.
"I hope not badly," he said.
"They did well," Cagan said.
"Is that enough?" the abbot asked, turning away.
"Last night, they were soldiers," Cagan said. "And as soldiers, they served well."
Haper pulled more food on to his plate.
"You've got to tell me about that," he said.
"Soon enough," Cagan said. "For now, eat. Enjoy. A full belly. How rare we get an occasion we have eating breakfast.'
Harper nodedd, saying, "Feels good. Nice to fell normal."
Harper laid in again. He could taste the food. No bloody remnant of chaos running down is chin.