In Which Holly Becomes A Spy
Five minutes after my story finished, I was asleep. I slept until quarter ‘till noon the next day, catching up on all the dreaming I had missed over the past week. Not all of the dreaming was pleasant, but nonetheless, when I finally stirred and opened my eyes, I felt better. I was refreshed, stronger, ready.
Before I had even gotten out of bed, I checked my messages. Turning into one of those kids, are you? I thought with some amusement. A few in particular got my attention. It was from an “unknown” number, which it happened that I knew perfectly well. Thalia.
Urgent. Please contact ASAP.
Then, New developments. Need to discuss ops ASAP.
And then simply, Be vigilant.
I messaged her back. Sorry couldn’t contact sooner. Long story. Will discuss ops ASAP. About an hour later, my phone rang -- the same number. I picked up. “Hello?”
“Yes, Ms Cleverly?”
“I assume you got my messages?”
“Um, eventually. As I did point out, it’s a long story. I was a bit...held up for a few days. You may have heard something from within the.” I coughed in an ahem, hint hint manner.
“Oh,” she said, catching my drift. "Right. Now, to business. Do you recall what I told you about the hacks of the Defenders?”
“Yes.” Where is she going with this...?
“Whoever it is,” she said carefully, “has succeeded in leaking a small bit of information to the public.”
I digested this information in parts. The first thing that struck me was that she had said whoever it is, not whoever it was. Could whoever it was have still been afoot? Did Thalia perhaps have a clue to his or her identity? The guarded tone with which she said, “whoever it is,” said yes she did.
Once I had gotten over my initial Sherlocking, the full weight of what she was saying hit me. “Have you seen it yourself?”
“Immediately after it happened.”
“Can you tell me where to find it?”
She gave me a URL, and as soon as she hung up, I was off to the Mountain Home Public Library. It wasn’t much of a library, but it had a couple of computers. I typed in the web address Thalia had given me, and held my breath as the page loaded. This seemed like the kind of crappy quality website that hung out in the peripherals of the Internet, which initially made me doubtful. It was completely anonymous, run by two screennamed people, "EdgyHello," and "TheBitterForest." The gamer-like nicknames also made me doubt the authenticity. The documents I found, however, bore the Defenders' seal -- they were authentic. It would take some time for this to get noticed, but if enough conspiracy theorists, mythology fanatics, the supposed ‘nutters’ who’d had real encounters with lycans -- even lycans themselves -- could generate enough traffic, if ‘believers’ could spread the word far enough.... It could even be enough to push them, and us, out of hiding.
There was a subject report from a few years back, scientific notes, personal logbook-style notes from agents, it was a goldmine. The only thing that I found odd -- and a bit irksome -- was that everything was very vague. Implications were there in several notes, particularly the subject report, but the word werewolves was never used amongst any of the document.
One article was a personal story, a letter claimed to be sent by someone screennamed "PilotPhoenix."
Last summer, I was working as a junior counselor at a weeklong Christian camp. Near the end of the camp, a student in my cabin went off at night, full-on ran away, after screaming at me and his other counselor to leave him alone. I followed him, and what happened still frightens me.
I went off behind the field where we played games and sports, into the trees. It had rained that day, and was muddy, so I could see the prints of running, bare feet going into the trees. I froze when I saw that they ended at the treeline. Or rather, they morphed into something else. Something strange and animalistic. They changed slowly into full-on animal prints, like a dog or a fox. A freaking gigantic fox, I thought, nervously laughing it off. I walked deeper into the forest, and it got dark. My flashlight didn't give much visibility. Many yards in, I started hearing things. Rustling and banging noises, like something moving about.
I yelled my missing student's name over and over. The noises stopped briefly, replaced by a low rumbling growl. When the rustling noises started again, my heart raced. Oh man, I realized, this wasn't him. This was something gigantic. Now, keep in mind, this was in puma country, so of course that was my first thought. I backed up slowly, freezing when my light caught a large shadow only a few paces away. Two glowing yellow orbs stood out: eyes. Definitely a puma, I thought, and I realized I couldn't run. I'd read that if confronted with a puma (or a mountain lion or a cougar or whatever) is to make as much noise as you can and try to scare it off. So that's what I did. I jumped up and down, waved my hands in the air, and made the loudest, most ridiculous noises I could think of. I shone the light directly onto the thing, trying to blind it.
That was when my heart stopped. It wasn't a puma. It was standing on its hind legs, hunched over. "Bear, maybe," ran through my mind, but this thing didn't look right. It was skinny, and had a long, canine face. "Coyote," I thought next (I grew up in the country, so I know about coyotes). But what coyotes stand on their hind legs? At this point, I freaked the heck out and forgot literally everything I'd learned about wilderness survival. I turned, and booked out of the trees. I could hear thumping and crashing as it ran after me, and before I could clear the field, it pounced.
I'll keep this bit short and ungruesome, but I'll just say I got away. My back was scratched up, my face as well at a different point, and the thing also got its teeth into me in places. But, oddly, it stopped running after me once I hit the cabins. I was taken out to the hospital the next day, and I won't tell you what happened after that. Believe me, there is more. That's for an entire other letter.
The last thing I'll say is this: when I saw the student I had looked for the next day, he was torn up and tired. He started to cry when he saw me, and told me how sorry he was. I didn't understand that at the time. Do I now?
Could it be? What was his name.... He was blonde, I think Jason said, and tall, what was his name...Uriah! Uriah, that’s it. Could it be him? Everything about the story seemed to match up.
I scanned the subject report doc, wondering if it was anyone I’d heard of. It wasn’t, and I continued to read.
5/24 - Subject was held in observation upon arrival. It seemed to come naturally to him, increasing our suspicions that he (an older man) has been this way for some time.
5/26 - Subject moved to maximum security. Rages on dangerous level.
5/29 - Subject’s heart and stress rates seem to be functioning on a normal level. The rages stopped after the third round -- it would seem his system is accustoming to the drugs.
6/1 - Currently optimistic, but unsure, of subject’s condition.
6/3 - Subject set to be moved out of max-sec tomorrow. His condition has been stabilizing, and his demeanor improving, at a steady rate since last week. We hope he will be ready to move back into the world within the month -- another success.
6/6 - Physical condition stabilized, mental condition under scrutiny. Potential symptoms of madness setting in. Considering dropping sedation for a time.
6/11 - Subject has been declared dangerously unstable, treatment has been dropped.
I stopped reading. I didn’t want to know what the next act of this story was. I clicked through the folder of documents, settling on one that looked to be something handwritten and photographed, unsealed, the works of a specific agent.
Good God. Never in my life have I seen anything like what I saw tonight. For years I wrote off the existence of such creatures -- fairy tales, I said! The stuff of teenagers’ campfire stories, B-horror movies, folklore of old! Myths, I said! I am a rational, scientific man; the thought that they existed outside of twisted imagination never even crossed my mind before I met the man who recruited me. But what I saw...if I had any lingering doubts even after being recruited to the Division, they’re gone now. This woman was not human. I saw what happened to her when night fell. It wasn’t natural. Maybe it can be explained by science, but this was magic. It’s supernatural. Paranormal. I fear for myself knowing that I will work with people like this.
And right below that was a scrawled last line, a postscript of sorts....
Those eyes. I will never forgot those flaming golden eyes.
Before I left the site, I looked through its pages to see if there was any indication who was running it. There were no names, or anything at all, anywhere. It was totally anonymous. I got the feeling it wouldn’t be long, though, before I found out who was behind these leaks. I shut off the computer and began to walk home.
There was still a problem hovering over me, I thought as I walked, even after I had recovered from my wound. Two problems, really. One was Gram, of course, but I could put that from my mind. The calls I had received indicated she really believed Lester's story. The other was Mark Prosper. He was most definitely dangerous, unstable. If I couldn’t get him under control -- through one method or another -- he would either end up getting himself killed, or killing someone else. Or both.
Lost in thought, I didn’t notice that the afternoon was getting on. My shadow was growing taller than I was in real life, and a cold breeze had started to nip at my back. I pulled my jacket tighter around my body and walked into the house. Levi was sitting on the couch, reading a book.
I laughed. “It’s about Mark.”
“I don’t know what to do with him. He’s dangerous, extremely dangerous. The kind of dangerous that doesn’t need to Change to rip somebody apart. He needs help, and he needs it soon. Problem is, he won’t accept it. He blames me, perhaps rightfully, for what’s happening to him.”
We discussed the situation at length, before I came up with a plan. I put in a call to Holly. “You still have an interest in playing spy-guy for me?”
“Sure. What’s up?”
So I filled her in. She agreed -- she would spy on Mark Prosper when I couldn’t. To be precise, on the night of the sixth -- the full moon.
Spying on Mark Prosper was initially not as interesting as Holly had predicted. For one thing, it was hard to keep track of him during class, as he was a senior and she was a freshman. For another, in the few classes she did have with him, he didn’t really do much. He slept most of the time.
Also, tailing someone wasn’t all about skulking about in the shadows just behind your target, or peering mysteriously from around walls. Half of tailing was knowing when not to follow. If you spend all day on the trail, she noted, the target will quickly become suspicious. It’s all about knowing what the key moments will be and where to be to observe them. Thankfully, in a place as small as Mountain Home High School, it was easy to conveniently “show up” several times throughout a day and not be noticed. And in school, it wasn’t hard to take notes inconspicuously.
11:57 am, lunch period. Everything seems to be fine, for the moment. Mark was seated in the center of the room, the gathering grounds of the “cool kids.” Becky was with him, as always, like she was superglued to his side. Holly was already becoming bored of watching him.
2:06 pm, gym. Mid-PhysEd, Mark broke out of the group and went to slump against the wall. “I’m not feeling too great,” he muttered. The gym teacher rolled his eyes, clearly not believing him, and inquired what was wrong. “Head hurts, mostly. Feelin’ kinda seasick, too.” The teacher rolled his eyes a second time and told Mark to go to the nurse. “Thank you, sir.” Two minutes later, Holly asked to go to her locker.
2:10 pm, stalking the halls. But Holly didn’t go to her locker. Nor, in fact, did Mark go to the nurse. He went to a dead-end hallway and pulled out his phone. Holly crouched under the corner, straining to listen without Hailee's sensory ability. "I demand to know why you're doing nothing, Lester." So he was talking to Rory Lester. "But...but I....It hurts! You know what, fine! Fine! Do that, then!” he exclaimed, his passion growing with every word. “Lock me in a friggin cage for all the hell I care! Just do something!”
Ironic, Holly thought. Not long ago, he had been cursing Hailee with the fate of being caged. Now he was wishing the very same upon himself. What goes around really does have a way of coming around.
“You can’t just shut me down like that! I....”
“Enough! Enough, enough, enough!” The person on the other end screamed so loudly Holly could just barely hear it.
Mark became very silent all at once.
“And if there’s nothing you can do? But if it does happen? If it does, then...." Pause. "Then I want you to kill me." “I do. I am not the me you knew anymore, Agent." Pause. “Becky? What does she have to do with it? No, no, she’d understand. She’s a good agent. She...she’d understand, I know she would.”
More silence. “Look, you can respect my choice, and honor my request, or you can not. But I am serious. If I get out of control, I want you to put me down. It’s for the greater good, Agent Lester.”
This wasn’t the Markus Prosper that Holly knew, or anyone knew, for that matter. The Mark that the world knew, the boy he used to be, would never have sacrificed himself for the greater good. He wouldn’t even have considered it. His focus was on his own survival, his own betterment. The thought that he was prepared to do anything, even die, for the protection of others...it was baffling. Hailee, you may have changed him more than you know.
Regardless of what he’d said to Lester, Mark didn’t go to a Division center. Good thing for Holly: it would only make him that much easier to track. When night fell, she set off after him -- a crazy, desperate spygirl tracking a werewolf. She shook her head at the thought. I’m not sure whether to smack you or thank you, Hailee. Thanks to you, I can now barely remember what it’s like to have an ordinary, mundane backwater life.
The sun dipped low into the sky and disappeared. The moon slowly rose to take its spot, dethroning the sun as king of the skies, at least for the night. Holly followed at a (hopefully!) safe distance from Mark, head down, slinking as silently as one could slink through the leaf-covered forest floors of the November forest, keeping her recording device going. The young man went a good distance into the woods before stopping. Then, he stripped off his shirt, turned his head to the sky, and....
Holly looked away. Oddly, she had no idea why she was looking away. She had seen this happening in horror movies, and it had never bothered her. She had read Bitten and The Mortal Instruments and Lord Loss, and the transformations never bothered her. But this was different somehow, when it was real. When she could hear Mark’s yells and the sounds of his bones cracking...and finally his -- his? Its? -- melancholy howling, the cry of a fallen, forsaken creature.
When she finally looked at him, the transformation was complete. The animal he had become was bone-chillingly fearsome, at the same time majestic in a way, a twisted, macabre king of the forest. It turned slowly, its claws scraping through the dirt, until it was close enough to look her in the eye....
And then it occurred to Holly that she was probably too close. “Crap!” she exclaimed, the word coming out as a shrill yelp. Instantaneously forgetting everything one was supposed to do when confronted with a large predatory beast, she ran like lightning into the trees. This was no ordinary large predatory beast, after all, and if she stuck around, there was no doubt she was going to be his prey.
Branches flew in her face, and rocks scraped her legs. No matter how hard Holly ran, she never seemed to put any more distance between herself and wolf-Mark. The sound of heavy breathing, paws and feet slamming on the ground, the creature’s snapping and snarling. The gnashing and growling sounded almost taunting, echoing in it’s own animal way Mark’s parking lot bully taunts, his threats, magnified. I’m going to get you, it said. I’m going to tear you up, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Holly quickly grabbed a stick from the ground, ready to beat the creature with all her might if she had to. “Get back!” she shouted. “Get back!” The creature snarled at her, flashing its huge teeth. It seemed to be smiling, almost. The growls had been taunts, but all the snapping and smiling said only one thing -- Yum! Holly suddenly wished she had a gun...but what would that do? Unless she could hit him in the chest or the head -- or somehow procure a silver bullet -- it would likely do little against the beast. Yeah, well, it’d do more damage then a stick, at least!
Wolf-Mark lunged. “Crap!” Holly squeaked. She struck with the stick like she was hitting a baseball with a bat. It hit him in the head, so hard the stick broke, and he fell to the ground, whimpering.
Unlike the movies, Holly didn’t stick around to watch him climb back to his feet. She didn’t even wait until he hit the ground. As soon as she heard the crack! of the stick and the beast’s loud whine, she ran with every ounce of energy she had, not looking behind her. Go, go, go, go, go, GO!
Her sides were beginning to hurt, and she was becoming short of breath. The sounds of snapping teeth and slamming paws were coming closer and closer. There! The big farmhouse was just ahead, right there....
Aargh! The beast pounced. His huge weight crushed her, knocking her to the ground and quickly banishing her breath. She could smell his breath -- yuck! Don’t let it bite you, she thought urgently, whatever you do, don’t let it bite you. Or, you know, eat you. Just avoid the teeth as a general rule. Forcing as much strength as possible into her lower body, she kicked him in the chest with her thick-soled boots, freeing herself for a fraction of a second. The window of time was tiny, and she took it. Something stung her side, but she ignored it.
Holly ran, jumping over the wire fence and slamming the farmhouse door. She bent over, hands on her knees, gasping for air. “Shhhhhh...” Gasp. “iiiiiii...” Gasp. “...t-t-t-t.” She looked down at her side. Wolf-Mark’s claws had caught her as she got out from under him. The black t-shirt she had been wearing was torn, and blood was flowing freely from her stomach. “Oh geez!” Hailee had explained that, unlike bites, claw scratches would not transmit lycanthropy, as the victim had no contact with the attacker’s bodily fluids (which would expose the victim to the attacker’s DNA, causing them to become infected). But it still hurt like the absolute dickens.
Natalie nearly lost it the minute she saw her. “Holly Annabelle Starbuck! What in the world happened? Sweet mercy, you’re bleeding. We need to call 911, or something!”
“No, no,” Holly said hastily, “there’s no need to call 911. I think I’m going to be fine. I just need to --”
Before she could finish the sentence, the conversation was interrupted by an earsplitting howl. Natalie’s eyes widened. “What the crap is that?”
“Um, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” She stepped out onto the porch, picking up a stone. “I’m going to tell you the same thing I tell you every day, Mark!” she shouted, readying her throwing arm. “Sod off!” Then she hurled the stone somewhere in the direction from which the noise had come, and quickly shut the door, remembering as she did to turn off the minirecorder in her pocket. “Well, that was satisfying. Anyway, can I get a little help here?”
But Natalie was still staring wonderingly out the window. “I’ve heard it before,” she said, “the noise.”
“Sure you have,” Holly said dismissively. “This is the country. Out here, you hear everything at least once.”
“I don’t mean that. Whatever this noise is, it’s not an ordinary animal.”
Holly twitched uncomfortably. Natalie was too close to the truth. Far too close. “You think?” she said cautiously.
“Yeah, I know, it’s crazy. But something about it...I don’t know. It sounds almost like it’s trying to talk. It sounds lonely, and scared.”
There was another howl, this time from further away from the house. Hailee. Holly wasn’t sure how she knew. Somehow, she recognized her friend’s voice even when it wasn’t a voice at all. Her stomach knotted with nervousness. I hope she and Mark don’t start fighting again, because if they decide to battle it out in wolf form, everything’s going to hit the fan.
“Now,” Natalie said briskly, “we need to do something about your side. I still say we should get some proper medical attention, but for now we at least need to clean it up a bit.” She led Holly into the bathroom and helped her out of her shredded t-shirt. She then cleaned off the blood and bandaged her wounded midriff. “That should do it,” she said, “although we will have to keep checking in case the cuts become infected. I’m still wondering, though -- how on Earth did that happen? Where did you get cut like that?”
“Um,” Holly said dumbly, trying to come up with a reasonable excuse. I could say I fell off my bike, maybe? That I tore my shirt on a tree branch? No, that wouldn’t work. The marks on her body were clearly not a random happening. Malicious intent or no, these marks had been made by a living being. “Mr Giles’ dogs,” she said finally. She and Natalie both had always been leery of those farm dogs.
Natalie raised an eyebrow. “And what were you doing on Mr Giles’ land?”
Natalie still looked suspicious. “Okay,” she said dubiously. “You know what Aunt June thinks about that, Holly.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I expect now that you won’t do it again.”
“Good.” Then she left the room. “I’m going to bed,” she called. “You should too.”
“I will.” Despite that affirmation, Holly spent the next several minutes sitting on the edge of the bathtub, unmoving, listening to the baying and snarling from just outside. She pictured the gruesome figure she had seen, the mindless and heartless way it went after her, and tried to truly grasp the idea of Hailee running rampant like that. She wondered for the first time if it would, indeed, be wise to fear her friend.