Chapter 48: Meatloaf Mondays
I hate Meatloaf Mondays.
Imagine how bad hospital food is. Imagine how bad Army food is. Put them together, in an Army hospital, and you have Meatloaf Monday.
If it was meat at one point, it is now beyond recognition. The ‘sauce’ they put on it tastes like paste, the meat like cardboard. It’s inedible. I eat the vegetables and potatoes, they aren’t good either but at least I can keep them down. I push the rest of the meal into the tray where things are transferred from inside my isolation cell to outside.
It’s not much of a life I have now. My cell is about ten by twelve feet. A thin mattress, sitting on top of a concrete pad in the front corner, and a steel toilet is in the corner behind it. A sink sticks out from the back wall, dividing the toilet from the shower head and drain in the other corner. In the front, opposite of the bed, is a set of shelves where I keep my books and my extra clothes. The walls, floor and ceiling were solid concrete, a single light in the center and a smaller light over my bed are the only illumination from within.
I hated the cell due to the lack of privacy. The wall facing the hallway had a steel door in the center, and on the bed side was a tray that slide out so they could pass food and books through. The rest of the wall was thick acrylic, allowing anyone in the hallway to see me at any time. What they couldn’t see for themselves, the camera in my cell could capture.
I had gotten used to showering and going to bathroom in front of others by now; there was no choice. Most of the guards were decent enough to look away, but there were a few that liked to watch. I hated them.
The only good part of my life now was that they liked me to stay healthy, so my body could withstand the blood samples and experiments that were my main function. It took a full month of monitoring and testing, much of which I was unconscious or tied down for, before they accepted that I wasn’t going to turn into a werewolf. Then the real fun began.
They had identified the virus that caused the humans to change into werewolves by analyzing the saliva of the dead werewolves. The staff at Ft. Detrick had been ordered to develop a vaccine against it, and I was their best hope it seemed. They couldn’t understand how I was resistant to the virus, and they were desperately seeking the antibodies that would answer their questions.
When the blood work didn’t show the results they wanted, they started injecting me with werewolf saliva. It didn’t do a thing.
It was during my second summer here that they decided on more drastic means. They had captured a young werewolf, stuck in wolf form, rabid and without thought. He was brought in to the cell across from me and dumped on the bed. Muzzled and collared, his neck was chained to the wall when he finally woke up hours later.
Two men wearing protective suits went into his cell as I watched. They carefully attached two long leashes to his collar, then removed his muzzle with their gloved hands protected with steel armor. They pulled him out, holding the straining creature between the two leashes, and then a third man opened my door.
The wolf saw me and lunged forward; they let the leashes slack so he could get to me as I hugged the back of my cell. He leaped for my throat, but I blocked him with my arm. The men pulled him back, fighting and straining against him, as his bloodied jaws let go of my arm. He was hit with a dart and sagged to the floor. When he no longer moved, they dragged him into the cell and left him in the center.
I rinsed my bloody left forearm off in the sink, then used a towel to slow down the bleeding. I was a little frustrated that they would endanger my life like that and not even provide first aid. I laid down on my bed, arm elevated, and waited for it to scab over. I hated that I didn’t have werewolf healing rates any more, this bite would be sore for weeks.
I woke up in the middle of the night; I had no clock, and with no view of the outside the only changes were when the lights dimmed at 10 PM and brightened again at 6 AM. I could hear whining and scratching; the werewolf had woken up. He was pacing his empty cell, his eyes looking for a way out as he growled.
I moved over to one of the holes drilled along the base of the glass, there were two lines of these at the bottom and four at the top. The holes were about an inch in diameter, too small for a hand and the acrylic panel too thick for me to stick a finger through. I pulled my blanket over my body, hiding my head from the camera. I didn’t want them to be able to read my lips, and if I whispered quietly enough, they wouldn’t be able to make out what I whispered into the hole.
The werewolf could hear everything if he settled down.
“You’re not crazy,” I whispered. “Your wolf is a part of you now, you need to learn to share. Each of you helping the other.”
He stopped moving and whined, laying up against the acrylic wall. I could see one ear cocked near a vent hole. He could easily hear me now.
“You aren’t alone, either. There are thousands of people like you. They live their lives, they have families, children. They like all the things you did before. You were bitten, weren’t you?” He whined and set his head on his front paws. “I’m sorry about that. Before the war, it was strictly forbidden to turn someone without their consent. We had all kinds of rules when we dealt with humans, just to avoid what happened to you. Is the war still going on?”
He nodded his head, then let out a low howl.
“Is that how you were bitten?” He nodded. He didn’t look big enough to be a full grown werewolf, if I had to guess he was about ten. Being a kid is probably what saved him from being killed immediately; even after all this time, shooting a kid is not something police and soldiers like to do.
“All right. Do you know how to shift back?” He shook his head no. “Think of your human and your wolf side, side by side in your brain. Close your eyes, imagine it.” He closed his eyes. “Now imagine your human side walking forward, and your wolf side walking back.” He squeezed his eyes, he was trying, but nothing happened. “All right, we’ll try later. For now, I want you to close your eyes and spend time talking with your wolf. He’s part of you, he’s always been part of you. He’s nothing to be afraid of, he won’t hurt you because that would be hurting himself. All right?” He nodded. “Just get some sleep. My name is Ella, I can’t wait to talk to you.”
He put his head on his paws and closed his eyes; I went back to my mattress and went to bed.
When the lights went bright, I woke up as was my habit. I sat up and looked across the hall, shocked to find a boy huddled up on his mattress, the blanket wrapped around him. I went and sat by the holes, and he did the same. “Hi, glad to see you figured it out. You need to whisper loud enough for me to hear, I’m human.”
He looked at me, cocking his head a little as he took another sniff. “How? My wolf says you are an Alpha.”
I nodded. “I was once, I used to be a werewolf, but my wolf was killed. I still have a Pack, though. I think. It’s been almost two years I’ve been in here with no news. Since I don’t have a wolf, I can’t feel the mate bond or my Pack bonds.”
“Yes… when a wolf is in a Pack, or mates, a bond forms between their wolf and the other person. Since I’m human, it’s enough to get the attraction with my mate, to feel the responsibility for my Pack. On the werewolf side, it’s much stronger.”
“Strong enough so that you can talk to each other in your minds, you feel what they feel, you are two parts of a whole. It’s a bond so strong that many mates choose to follow their mate into death rather than live without them and their bond. It’s the best feeling, being part of a Pack.”
“Sounds wonderful,” he said. “By the way, I’m Charlie. Charlie Cassidy.”
I waved my hand at him. “Ella Grey.” I looked down the hall. “If you want, you can join my Pack. Talk to your wolf about it.”
He closed his eyes. “He wants to.”
“Fine. Just say to yourself, ‘We accept Ella as our Alpha.’” He did, I couldn’t feel it myself but I could see his wolf straighten up, he seemed calmer, happier. “I’m not sure if you want them to see you like this, it might be easier if you’re in wolf form when they arrive. Do you think you can change back?”
“Same as before, but this time my wolf comes forward?”
“Exactly.” I watched as he shifted into his small grey wolf. He yipped as he ran around his cell. It was only a few minutes later when the guards entered with breakfast. They were shocked to see the wolf, now calm and wagging its tail while looking at them. My eggs and bacon were put through my slot, and they came back with a steak for him.
When they left, I whispered to him again. “It does no good to fight them, they’ll drug you or beat you. Cooperate when you can.”
Things settled down on the wing over the next few weeks. Charlie and I got to know each other pretty well; he was a good kid, from northern Pennsylvania. His parents had seen a werewolf while they were driving, and his father had taken a shot at it with his rifle. The shot missed, and the werewolf attacked and killed them. He changed, frightened, and was running through town when he got hit by a car. He woke up in a truck, locked in a cage in wolf form.
I didn’t have the guts to tell him he would never be free again. They were still experimenting with him, trying to figure out why he could change others and not me. When they knew, he would become a liability to them, and he would be eliminated.
Just like me.
I was deluding myself if I ever thought I was getting out of here. My secret, if they ever found it, was that the antibodies only existed because my wolf had been killed. They had taken gallons of my blood, and did plenty of experiments. They even transfused my blood directly into both werewolves and humans, but it neither killed the wolf nor protected the human. Being bitten was the last test, and she could sense they didn’t know what do next with her.
It was the next Meatloaf Monday when the man arrived. He was wearing an expensive suit and carried himself like he was important. They brought him to me during my exercise hour, an hour a day I could run around an enclosed courtyard. I almost regretted the interruption to my private time.
“Ella, a word please.” The guards locked him in the exercise area with me; he was unarmed, and apparently unconcerned. I walked over to him, my face still sweating from the hard run I was using to keep my body in shape.
“And you are?”
“You may call me Al.”
I looked at him. “Well, you can call me Betty then.” He smiled, he caught the reference. “What do you want?”
“I think I can use someone with your talents, Ella, both what you are now and what you can be. Alpha.”
I raised my eyebrow at him. “And why do I think I would help you?”
He reached inside his jacket, removing a photo and handing it to me. “Because you have people you want protected, and I can help you with that.” I looked at the photo and almost collapsed to the ground. It was a photo, taken with a telephoto lens. Craig was walking barefoot along the beach, board trunks and a T-shirt on, and on each side of him was one of my boys, holding his hand. Craig was smiling and the boys were laughing as they looked up at him.
“What do you need?”
“An agreement. You do what I need, and I make sure they stay safe and out of the war.”
“That’s kind of open ended,” I said. “How do I know what either side of that entails?”
“Let’s talk over lunch.” He knocked on the door and it was opened. He handed me a bag and walked me to the bathroom in the hallway. “Change and come on out. We’re leaving.”
“What? How?” I looked in the bag, inside was a summer dress, underwear and low heels.
“The Company has been given wide latitude in dealing with certain things. You came highly recommended.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I went in the room and changed. The clothes felt almost foreign after being locked up so long. I came out and he gestured to the door. “Wait,” I said. “What about Charlie?”
“He’s a boy, he’s locked up across from me. He was bitten and changed, and I’m afraid they are out of uses for him. He’s Pack now.” I looked up at him, pleading. “He can be my responsibility, or I can find a Pack to take him in. He’s a good kid, he doesn’t deserve what they will do to him.”
He pinched his nose, thinking hard. “All right, we’ll figure it out later. You owe me for this, Ella.” I nodded. He talked to a guard, and a few minutes later Charlie was in my arms, dressed in his orange overalls.
“Come on, we have places to be.” I held Charlie to my side as we walked out of the facility behind Al. I was elated to be freed, yet in the back of my head I kept thinking back to that scene in The Americans, where the Russian jailers make you think you are getting a pardon right before they put a bullet in your head. It wasn’t until we were outside, being tucked into a black Suburban with tinted windows, that I let myself relax. I hopped up into the seat, only to freeze when a voice I didn’t expect caused me to look up.
“We meet again, Ella.” My blood turned cold as I saw who it was.