Here it is. I hope you enjoy it. If you don’t know what it is, go here.
This is the last time I’m going to write recognitions for folks who’ve helped out directly on a part. I’ll move all of them to the main Rue From Ruin page soon. In the meantime, I need to say this now. It’s important because, without these fine people, you wouldn’t be reading Part 4 today.
So much great help from Meri. She spotted all the really dumb stuff I was doing and she found it while suffering from a horrible cold. What an amazing woman! I’m blessed beyond belief to have her as my wife. My teen sons also took turns reading although their feedback was more along the lines of, “Ooo! Pretty good, Dad!”
Big thank you to the beta readers who provided some wonderful critique and helped me add more story that might have gone missing otherwise. J. Rushing, K. M. Alexander, and Drew Gerken all pitched in. Each of them had a unique perspective and I appreciate them immensely. They don’t even know. Srsly.
Rue From Ruin – Part 4
I’m being marched through the center of a village at gunpoint by a fourteen-year-old girl, I think to myself. I wonder how pathetic it must look. Vanity isn’t a major weakness of mine, but I’m not immune to it either.
A tall young man, several years my junior, lounges against the wall in front of the small building we head toward. Incredibly, the squat stone structure appears to serve as police, fire, and La Poste for the little hamlet. The youth stares at me, but the girl with the shotgun ignores him and his sickly complexion. There is something familiar in his dark hazel eyes; I can’t place it. As we breeze past him, I’m unable to stop staring back.
“Watch where you’re going, scruffy-man,” the tall teen says and nudges my ribs with her 28-gauge. I turn around just in time to stop myself from walking right into the doorjamb of the building we are entering. She says, “I am the gracious host, am I not, señor?”
I nod agreement, not trusting my tongue to be civil.
It won’t do any good to snap at her, I remind myself. However, if I hadn’t taken the tincture in time… I shudder and try not to think about it.
We resume walking through the door of the multi-purpose building. I catch a whiff of something pungent that causes me to stop like a car in one of the crash test commercials. I feel the shotgun barrel dig into my back as the girl presses forward, not anticipating my sudden halt.
I know this scent.
The girl sighs, impatient, and we continue down the narrow stone hallway past the shuttered window where La Poste customers fetch their mail. The odor is so strong it’s becoming overpowering. I can almost see it. After ten meters, the hall opens up into a tiny room with a small rectangular table, covered with a black and white checkered tablecloth. A man in a rumpled uniform sits behind it. The officer barely registers to me because my sinuses are reeling in the overpowering smell of HIM. I swear the odor emanating from the small window on his cell door is practically visible, with sickly green tendrils of smoke-like stench reaching for my nose.
“Hola, papa,” the girl says to the man at the table. “This Americano was trespassing by the old well on the Laurent property.”
I barely notice her speaking, because this is it! At last, the end of my search! I’ve found René Demons. And soon, he will pay so dearly for what he has done.
After I get some answers, I remind myself.
The man in the chair straightens and says something in thickly accented English about, “… night for trespass … go in morning.” He waves a hand toward the open door of the second holding area. It’s barely a closet, and his daughter gives me a nudge toward it. I try to catch a glimpse into the window where the sickly scent-tentacles are reaching out. No luck. I listen for any movement in the cage and hear none.
Of course, Demons probably knows I’m here. I haven’t said anything, but he’s always been very canny at running from me; the monster must know I am near. He can’t be allowed to escape, but I also can’t see a way to get to him now without slaughtering the officer and his daughter. As badly as I want the Professeur, I don’t wish to harm these people.
Deadlocked by indecision, I allow myself to be herded into my tiny prison, hardly noticing as the door grinds shut behind me. Once in the cell, I sink to sit on the cot. It’s barely larger than an oversized camping cooler, and no softer. That doesn’t matter. All I can think of is how I’m going to rend the Professeur’s flesh in the most painful ways.
After sitting for a while, fantasizing, I start to consider the questions I’m going to ask him in the morning. Why turn me into this… thing? Why let me go home to my family as if nothing were wrong?
Why the hell didn’t he just give me some answers that day? I’m clearly delirious. He’s been running from me because he knows I’m going to kill him. How could he have any doubt of my intention?
Exhaustion and the droning on of the father and daughter eventually lull me. A night of rest will ease my fatigue and help me deal with him in the morning, the rationalized thought comes thickly as if bubbling up through molasses. I fall asleep sitting on the cot, back against the wall, chin on chest.
The dream always brings back every painful reminder of what I felt like waking up on the morning when they died. I’ve dreamt it more times than I can count. It goes like this:
I’m looking up at the ceiling and note with morbid fascination that there appears to be something crimson speckling its powdery, popcorn texture. I roll over on the slick, hard surface, nearly naked in my shredded clothing from the night before. I’m covered in sticky red blood and, in fact, am lying in viscera in the middle of our kitchen floor. Their dead and waxen faces are waiting for me as I roll to my knees in the ichor. The bright red lifeblood spattering them is a stark contrast to the porcelain of their features. There is so much of it.
The details of the night before are hazy, but I do remember coming home and feeling terribly sick. I went straight to my bed to lie down and was frustrated and worried that the Prof had gone off his rocker. He had taken a phone call earlier in the day, I think. Shortly after hanging up, he had left for a few minutes and then he came up behind me and injected me with a hypo of what I think was his own blood. I recall his crazed screeching about it being the only chance.
I called security immediately, and the Professeur fled the lab. I tendered my resignation in disgust and left the office to return home after making my report.
No longer able to keep my thoughts to myself, I remember getting up and coming to the kitchen. Always my sounding board, my wife was there sitting at the table with little Kara. I sat with them and ranted on about the incident. Marilyn, ever rational, reminded me that some blood tests were probably in order. Just to be sure I wasn’t infected with something dangerous like HIV. How I wish I would have left the house right then to follow her advice. Instead, I complained and whined and said I would get checked in the morning.
Then the change started coming on. I felt the terrible pain of displaced bone and muscle and ligament for the first time. The dread of a strange, overpowering hunger and the anticipation of sating it.
To my utter dismay, shame, and heartbreak, there are only two human beings I’ve ever killed in the throes of my curse: my wife, Marilyn, and my daughter Kara.
After awakening and sitting up to the scene of their deaths, I collapse back to the floor. Salty tears of despair flow freely, and somehow I can’t seem to breathe. Finally, a cry that sounds like the mating call of a grizzly bear escapes my lips. Once released, the wracking sobs won’t stop for what feels like hours.
When the tears finally run dry, I make a solemn vow to my dead family: I will make vengeance my life’s last goal.
The door swings open, and a man in a fireman’s uniform is speaking to me in French. Still mostly asleep, I don’t understand a word of it. I wipe the wetness of the drool from my chin. But, unfortunately, it has also soaked a portion of the overall I’m still wearing. There is a large salty-edged saliva stain on the front. It must look ridiculous.
The man motions me to leave. Finally! I wipe the sleep from my eyes; stand and follow him out. I’m groggy, but I still notice the open door to the other cell. I sniff the air, and although the scent is still there, it’s somehow weaker, less overpowering. My worst fear of the previous night is realized. They’ve let him out while I slept!
Sniffing the air, I catch a tendril of scent leading out of the building. He is still very near.
I don’t much care what the Frenchman is yelling after me as I sprint out of the building at full tilt.