In Which We're Initiated
“Why do you think Adam didn’t come along?” I asked Lana. “I can call him Adam, can’t I?”
“Oh, sure,” she replied. “He doesn’t care what you call him. And I’m sure he’ll be along eventually. Probably talking to his wife.”
“What, you disappointed?”
“Geez, no!” I laughed. “Just wondering, that’s all.”
Lana nodded. “‘Bout a year and a half ago, he married this human chick from out of town, Samantha. Beautiful girl, a few years younger than him.”
“He married a human?” I asked, surprised. “Does she...does she know?”
“Not that I know of. It doesn’t really matter, though. I’ve never seen the boss happier.” She glanced at me. “Does that surprise you? It isn’t that unusual.”
“No, it doesn’t surprise me,” I said. “That just sounds a lot like my parents. It, um, didn’t work out so good.” I stopped, shrugging with my hands in my pockets. “Anyway, that’s not my business.”
“It probably isn’t.”
“Um, if I might?” Jason said, raising his hand like he was in class. “Where are we going?”
“The railroad tracks.”
“Where are those?” I asked.
“They could be anywhere,” he told me. “My mom used to say you can’t spit in Nashville without hitting a set of railroad tracks.”
Lana and the others had led us far off the main road, onto a back walk that was mostly unlit. Shadows from the few, far-apart streetlights danced around us, casting everyone’s faces in odd glows. “Are these tracks part of the pack’s territory?”
“Maybe,” someone, Clark I think, answered me. I didn’t inquire further.
Finally, right as my legs grew tired, we stopped. The cracked sidewalk we’d taken led to a chain-link fence, rusty and broken in several places. Two dented signs, worn nearly to the point of unreadability, hung from it. NO ESSP SSING one read, and the other simply read DAN -- the other half was covered by a dirt smear. The signs implied private property, but it was clear no one had used the lot beyond in years.
Lana didn’t hesitate for a second. She grabbed the top of the fence, slipped her foot into a chain loop, and vaulted over. Several of the group who’d come along followed her, and one young man glanced back at us? “You comin’?” he asked. “I’d hate for you to miss your own initiation.”
In answer, I climbed onto the fence, jumped over it with ease. On the other side, was an empty, darkened lot, covered in dead grass that crunched under my feet. It was several yards long, ending in a tall hill with a row of suburban houses facing it. Between the fence and the hill was a set of railroad tracks, leading over an empty road to the right, and away into the darkness where I couldn’t see to the left.
Lana turned to face us, throwing open her arms. “Welcome, welcome, welcome!” she shouted. “Are you ready to prove yourselves ready to join us?”
“I sure hope I am,” I said. “How are we going to do that?”
“Have you ever played capture the flag?”
Jason and Thalia were quick to answer yes. I had only played once at school, but I remembered the rules, so I responded yes as well.
“Good. It’s a lot like that,” she told us. “We’re going to send you on a mission.”
Thalia cracked her knuckles. “Bring it on, baby. This’ll be a piece of cake.”
Jason shuddered. “Oh, man. I suck at this game.”
My skin tingled with excitement. Immediately, I changed, going into total combat mode -- shields up, red alert. Yes, the little voice of reason in the back of my head told me the “mission” was fake, a glorified game, but my deep, ingrained instincts overcame that voice. “Let’s do this.”
“We’re the hunters,” Lana said. “We get you, you’re dead. You get us, well, you get the idea. You don’t get a head start. You don’t know where we are. And yes, you are absolutely allowed to fight back.” She raised her hand in the air like a race announcer about to drop a handkerchief. “Three, two, one....” Her hand lingered in the air for several seconds after the countdown. We waited, stiff and on edge, with bated breath.
Her arm dropped. “Go!”
We floored it, sprinting madly down the tracks to the left. I jumped over the rails, throwing out my arms to keep balance. Our pursuers, however, were not so lucky, just as I had hoped. It started with one person tripping over a rail, and after that they went down like dominoes. I jumped from the tracks into a particularly thick patch of shadow, knocking my legs out from under me with the impact. I hit the ground right side first, rolled fluidly into the darkest corner. The sound of heavy breathing came from very close beside me, and I sat up. “We have to move,” I hissed in Jason’s ear.
“Yeah, I got that,” he hissed back.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up, tingling, electric. Everything was in high alert.
“Where do we go?” Thalia asked.
“I have an idea,” I replied. “It’s risky, though. Awfully risky.”
“Let’s do it.” I glanced over at her, and even in the dark, I could see her smiling.
“Okay, here goes.” The group’s voices were growing closer. I pointed to the fence. “Well, it just seems to me that no one said we had to stay at the railroad tracks.”
“Oh!” Jason gasped. “Hailee, you’re a genius.”
A shout rose above the rest. They were getting dangerously close. “You can compliment my intelligence later.”
“Hailee, they’re coming!” Thalia snapped, shrinking even farther back.
“Up the hill, quick!” I couldn’t even get to my feet before I started moving. I was scrambling, on hands and knees, grabbing handfuls of the dead grass.
“Hey, I think I see them!”
“Run! Run! Run!” The last few feet of the hill was climbed in a motion that was almost, if not exactly, jumping, and then I took off, skirting around the nearest house. Jason passed me, sprinting through the gap between houses. We ducked under the poles of a raised back porch. I skidded, dirt and rocks crumbling away beneath my feet.
“Hey? Who the hell’s out there? Get off my property!”
Thalia swore much louder than advisable, and we took off again. This time, all bets were off: we were going straight for the fence. As I reached the bottom of the hill, light flooded my peripheral vision, and loud clacking noises came from the right. A train.
The group had almost caught up to us now. My adrenaline hurtled me forward, faster and faster. “Run!” I screamed. “Hurry, run!”
Jason shouted back, “Are you insane?” But he ran, quickly passing me, in fact.
I jumped over the tracks, whistles roaring in my ears, reaching behind me to grab Thalia’s hand. The momentum yanked both of us over, knocked me onto my back. She landed on top of me.
“That is probably the craziest thing I’ve ever done,” she gasped.
“Probably not that I’ve done,” I replied as I pushed her off me.
“Please remember that this is just a stupid game,” Jason said. “Being initiated won’t do anyone good if we’re dead.”
“We’re not, though, so that’s what matters.” I pulled myself up. “Come on, let’s go.” The fence was only a few feet away, and with the train still rushing by, we could climb over without being seen.
“Lana might have mentioned these were active train tracks,” Jason huffed.
We jumped back over the fence, onto the street from which we’d just come. The last car of the train passed by, and we quickly ducked out of sight. Lana seemed genuinely confused. “Where did they go?” She scanned the field, back and forth until her eyes settled on a spot on the fence -- a spot several feet away from us, but A for effort. “Shoot, they’re clever. This way, boys.”
Thalia shifted. I held her back. “Stay down.”
Lana fell to the back of the group as they moved slowly away from our hiding spot. “Stay behind me,” I ordered, creeping forward silently. When she finally turned around, it was too late: my hand lashed forward, fingernails drawing harmlessly across her neck. “Dead!”
She raised both eyebrows, surprised, but accordingly said nothing, just gasped and dropped to the ground. She was into this.
The same young man who had told me not to miss my initiation caught us. He lunged at me, I jumped out of the way, he fell forward, and a second later he was “dead” too, at Jason’s hand. I raised my fists. “Come at us!”
“Come at us” they did. No good lycan could resist a fight, even a staged one. We all knew it was hopeless, three against a dozen or more, but no one seemed to care. I don’t know how long we fought for before Lana stood back up and yelled at us to stop. We froze. “I think,” she said, “that you’ve passed this test.”
“Passing tests is always good,” I replied.
That was when Dark finally rejoined us. “What did I miss?” he asked.
“Everything,” I informed him.
“But,” Lana added, “I’m happy to report they are definitely our type.”
“Wonderful!” he exclaimed, shaking my hand firmly. “Welcome to the pack, all of you!”
“Thank you, sir.” I smiled widely. We were in.
Vic really didn’t want to talk to her father again. In fact, there was nothing she could think of she wanted less. Nevertheless, she somehow found herself sitting on a creaky wooden bench outside the Defenders center -- a nondescript, unlabeled stone building a mile or so outside the city limits, tucked away -- with her hood pulled over her face. She swung her legs back and forth, watching a steady stream of suited men pass by her without a glance as they left work for the day. Finally, she spotted him: Edward Castle, looking exactly as he had eight years ago. “Hey, Dad.”
He jumped, then relaxed and sat down beside her. “Victoria,” he said quietly. “You came back.”
“Yeah, well, don’t think that because I came back, I’ve forgiven you. I haven’t.”
“Yet you forgave him.” There was no need to explain who “him” was.
“Riley didn’t know what he was doing,” she said. “He was sorry. And you know what? He actually cared about me, about what happened to me. He never would have risked my life.”
“Don’t tell me that. I heard them talking. They told you the drugs weren’t safe, they’d mess me up or even kill me. Kill me. And you did nothing to stop them, Dad. Nothing.”
“And I’m sorry, Victoria. I know what I did, and I do regret it.”
“Do you?” she challenged. “Do you, really? Wouldn’t you do it again if you thought it would work?”
“Well...yes, I think I would, if I’m honest.”
Vic shook her head. “And you still can’t see why I hated you.”
“I was trying to save you! Victoria, you are my daughter! I didn’t want to see you becoming...becoming...this.”
“‘This,’ Father?” she replied angrily. “‘This’ is me now. The lycanthropy is in my blood. My eyes, my powers, it’s all part of me. Inextricably, irreversibly part of me. You can lock me up, you can drug me, but all any of that will really do is suppress it. No one can ever truly take it away.”
“Yes, I see that, but --”
“The only way you could ever really reverse it is to kill me. Is that what you want?”
“No!” he exclaimed. “No, of course that isn’t what I want! I love you. You’re my child. All I want is for you to have the best life you can, in this situation.”
“I appreciated that,” Vic said. “But there’s nothing ‘best’ about living an entire life in a cage, or shot up with sedatives. That’s barely a life at all.”
Edward Castle nodded. “Yes, I know,” he answered. “I know, but tell me this: is it any better to live an entire life afraid of yourself? Constantly looking behind you, keeping a distance from everyone, having to lock yourself away twice every month and keep your emotions constantly in check for fear of unleashing destruction?”
“You’re right. That on it’s own is not a life. But there’s so much more to it then that, Dad. I have a family now, and they mean the world to me. I run about under the stars at night, baying at the moon, I feel things in a way I’d never dreamed before, I use my strength to stand up for the people in my life who can’t. That is a life, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.” Vic’s hands were shaking, passion surging through her.
Her father seemed to consider that. He was silent for several minutes -- both of them were. “Are you happy, Victoria?” he finally asked.
She answered wholeheartedly yes. “I’ve never been happier.”
“Well, I’m glad for that, at least. We missed you, Victoria. Your mother spent the last eight years looking for you. In mourning, Vic.”
Her face grew hot, old regrets surfacing in her heart. Yes, she had thought of that. There weren’t many days that went by where she didn’t think of her parents, and hated herself for what she put them through. “For that I’m sorry. I miss her too, all the time, and I’m sorry she got mixed up in this.”
“Well, I am sorry for that too,” he agreed. “This isn’t her fight, and it never has been.”
“I’d like to talk to her sometime. Call her, maybe.”
Edward pulled out a Post-it note, scribbling down a series of numbers. “Do that. Call her. She would love nothing more than to speak to you again.”
“I will,” she said, taking the number, “and Dad, if you ever want to talk to me, maybe we can do that. Things won’t be the same again, you know that. I live a different life now.”
“You certainly do.”
“But a good friend of mine said it best: you can forgive someone without forgetting what they did, or being okay with it, and I think you know that’s how I feel about you. I don’t hate you, not anymore at least. But I can’t be the same Vic you remember, and I can’t come back.” She stood. “I’m sorry, Dad.”
“I’m sorry, too.”
“I know. I forgive you.”