Days Of Christmas
Noah had gone to live with Grandma Laurie. That was the lie that Alyssa Walker's family had told ten thousand times. It covered up the fact that a wendigo had ripped out his heart and ate it. Dad had always warned that it could happen to one of them but could was a distant neighbor to did.
Even if they wanted to be honest about what happened to their youngest family member, they didn't even have a human corpse to bury at the funeral.
Noah had died on a hunt in wolf form. Admitting Noah was dead without having a body to verify that would only raise more and more questions.
Noah's death passed anonymously, a sad little truth kept secret from the world. They buried his wolf corpse in the backyard like some sort of stray dog who had died on their property. Alyssa still remembered the night when Samantha Hilson and Dad returned home towing Noah's corpse.
Mom wouldn't stop screaming and crying, despite the kind of stress that could be placing on the child growing inside of her. Alyssa just stared blankly at the wall as if she were Kryptonian and, with enough effort, the wall would either burn or she'd see straight through it. Neither happened.
Alyssa didn't even get the catharsis of vengeance that his almost-girlfriend Samantha enjoyed when she shoved an incendiary grenade down the throat of the wendigo senator. Alyssa would have loved to have been there when the bastard had erupted like fireworks on the Fourth of July.
A month had passed since Noah Walker died at the hands of the late Senator Nathaniel Grimm. In that month, Alyssa's life had turned upside-down. She had no one to blame but herself. Juggling so many lies had finally gotten to her. Eventually, one of those lies would have to give.
On the last day of school before winter break, Erica Eastman had gotten around to drilling her about the family lie. There were potholes in their story and Erica wanted them filled in. In a fit of improv, Alyssa Walker lip-locked Erica Eastman into submission, outing herself in that hallway.
To make matter worse (and, yes, that was still possible), Deanna Hilson saw the whole thing. Her first real candidate for a girlfriend saw her French kissing Erica into distraction. Deanna bowed her head disgusted as she walked away. The guys present wolf-whistled at the girl-on-girl action.
As friends and schoolmates Alyssa had known since kindergarten stared at her like they didn't recognize her, she quietly envied Noah's condition. For him, the drama of life had run its course. Alyssa was still suffering, as Shakespeare would say, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
Erica Eastman fled away from Alyssa like she had ran her over with her car during a wild bender. Alyssa, after long years of obsessing, had solved the Erica Problem ala Cinemax After Dark. It would be a long time before Erica came around asking rude questions about Alyssa's private life.
Alyssa awoke Christmas Day to find presents stacked to the ceiling. She knew what her parents were trying to do. She tried to appreciate it for what it was worth. But every extravagant gift or pricey present only brought home the fact that she only wanted one thing for Christmas this year: Noah.
Noah was an obnoxious self-centered little prick who was destined to die a pointless death but he was the one among them who accepted himself, not only for who he was but also what he was. His perception of their family as superheroes fighting evil had kept Alyssa from losing her mind.
Now, the family cheerleader was feeding the worms in the backyard while Alyssa opened a box containing a pink 8GB MP3 player. Mom and Dad affected looks of utter surprise as if Santa Claus had placed that present under the Christmas tree for Alyssa to find. Alyssa smiled weakly.
Noah loved Christmas. Alyssa didn't want to break down into tears each time she remembered something new about their fallen family member. Alyssa wanted to be strong for Mom and Dad. Just like Noah had been trying to be before he died doing the only thing that made sense to him.
Alyssa had tasted bits and pieces of that ecstasy Noah must have felt whenever he drew down against the forces of darkness. It was a quiet yet unbreakable hope that the world somehow made sense and that he was the holy servant of a greater good by throwing down against a greater evil.
Alyssa used to believe the exact opposite of that. That the world was a genuinely meaningless chaotic place where no amount of right action could make things better so one might as well get what they could while the getting was good. Alyssa didn't believe that anymore. As Stacie Orrico would say, there had to be more.
The ennui of gifts so self-consciously chosen to distract her wore her down. She had spent the afternoon in her room. She had locked her door in case she started crying. In spite of the precaution, she never did cry. She gave her blank TV a thousand-yard stare as she sat cross-legged on her bare mattress.
At nightfall, Alyssa Walker went into the backyard to visit Noah's grave. The cinderblock served the paradoxical function as an obvious yet discreet grave marker. This way, they would always remember where he was buried while no thinking person would ever mistake a cinderblock for a tombstone.
Alyssa would repeat the details of what she saw next a hundred times over. She was not stricken with grief nor the victim of a schizoid delusion. It all happened like this. The bare earth beneath the lone cinderblock fissured open. The cinderblock retreated into the ground by a couple of feet.
Then, the muffled yet unmistakable braying of a wolf filled the air. The glowing fissures beneath the cinderblock widened, revealing a captive wolf trapped on all sides by irradiant earth. Alyssa, Mom and Dad had been to church that day. The birthday of the world's most famous resurrected person.
The wolf crawled free of his dirt prison and took a moment to regain his bearings. The wound in his chest was healing up, engulfed in the same reddish glow that had cracked opened his resting place. Alyssa just stared on as Noah stared back, his eyes a blank slate as if staring at a stranger.
The noise of neighbors rushing outside to investigate the strange noise perked Noah's ears. In a moment, he jumped the fence into the alley and trotted away like a show pony released from his stable. Mom and Dad lifted Alyssa by the shoulders as she struggled to maintain her bearings.
It was not every day that a sister witnessed her brother raised from the dead. Especially on this day of Christmas. Alyssa silently applauded herself for not fainting at the sight of the miracle. If her senses were feeding her correct information, Noah was alive again yet stuck in wolf mode.
Piotr rocked his Natasha in his arms as she healed rapidly from the puncture wound dug into her throat. Piotr stared at the captured creature as it raged against the barrier of its confines. Nergal smiled imperiously at Victor Chirac. "I gather the irony is not lost on you." He sneered in reply.
Victor Chirac had aged horribly since taking on a demon master. Not physically but mentally. Nergal's mind games never ceased. Though Victor had no clue what this dark-skinned bloodsucker was, Nergal did and used that knowledge to capture one.
"We should kill it." The suggestion came from Piotr as he cooed to his lover and comforted her. "It means to hurt us." Piotr bared his teeth and engulfed his right arm in a shadowy tentacle. "I can cut it half before it blinks." Nergal shrugged. Piotr took that as consent and lashed out at it.
The creature split in half. The bisected being, a horned beast with a charcoal hide evaporated into a fine black smoke and reassembled itself back into one solid piece. Piotr cursed in Russian. "As your hulking friend has demonstrated," Nergal lectured, "nothing can destroy a kallikantzaros."
Nergal circled the fiery barrier which held the kallikantzaros in check. "It only fears two things: fire and direct sunlight. Neither of which can kill it but merely limit its movements. While it craves blood, any kind of blood, as Natasha learned the hard way, it cannot die from starvation."
Victor Chirac asked the obvious question. "What do you do?" Nergal grinned at him like a teacher humoring a student. "You wait them out. Kallikantzaroi can only inhabit the earth during the twelve days leading up to January 6th. Then, they vanish back to the underground for a year."
Nergal examined the kallikantzaros stuck in the circle of fire. "Something must lured them here. Kallikantzaroi are drawn to certain types of power." Victor concluded that the demon's presence would be more than enough power. "No, the sort of power I speak of is far greater than my own."
Nergal circled the black beast stuck in its personal inferno. "Kallikantzaroi once terrorized a part of the world where creatures masquerading as gods once lived. The false gods could bend the laws of nature. But what drew these beings to them was their raising the dead from their graves."
Nergal clicked his fingers and let the fire burn out into nothing. He held the dark creature in place with his mind. "These creatures will seek out someone who has risen from the dead." Nergal released the dark thing from his invisible grip. "When they do, I would like to meet this rare individual."
"No, not again." Nergal had the nerve to look confused. Victor wrapped his shadow-clad right arm around the waist of the kallikantzaros. "Your gambits to recruit an army have seen enough failure for one lifetime. This foul beast will be tried and punished for his crimes against my kin."
Nergal shook his head in disgust. "No, it will not." Nergal lifted Victor with his mind and, in doing so, allowed the kallikantzaros to scurry out the front door. "You have picked a bad time to exert control over me, your true master. Indeed, no such control exist, save in your feeble mind."
Victor bared his fangs. "Oh, I do not need read your mind to know your thoughts. You would tear down this place and allow Old Scratch to take me prisoner again." Victor felt his neck snap. "I can surely foresee two problems with such an experiment on your part. Allow me to enlighten you."
The pain of the neck break surged through Victor's body. "For one thing, I am the key to your revolution. I know its secret ingredient. Without me, you and your meager collection of non-human allies would be washed away in the endless tide of hunters that would answer the call of Armageddon."
Victor's vision crossed from the pain of his neck cracking. "For another, this sanctuary will be obsolete soon. I have set in motions a civil war in Hell that would occupy the old devil and leave me free to walk the earth. When that day comes, you had better have found more ways to be of use to me."
Victor Chirac fell to the floor, a wet wreath of wounds around his neck. Piotr and Natasha stared at the surreal sight of Victor being manhandled with impunity. Victor could not imagine a greater humiliation than what he had endured. A drop of blood fell onto one of Nergal's leather shoes.
Nergal smirked staring at the stain on his otherwise spotless shoe. "You have gotten your blood on my shoes." Nergal leaned down and whispered in his ear. "Lick it off." Victor straightened up at the suggestion. Nergal shrugged. "Or I could set Natasha and Piotr on fire for my amusement."
Raising his hand to inflict the terrible deed, Victor grabbed the arm in protest. "Alright," he said, his voice scarcely louder than the AC. Nergal cupped a hand behind his ear. "You win." He was down on all fours on the floor of J'Adore. "I'll do it." Victor licked Nergal's shoe clean of blood.
Nergal let out a deep breath. "I'm glad you're finally seeing things my way." Nergal kicked him in the teeth with the very shoe had tongue-polished for him. "I was starting to worry." Like that, Nergal left. The look on the faces of his two lieutenants made Victor wish to scoop out his eyeballs.
"I think Noah is alive." Samantha Hilson looked at Alyssa Walker with that piercing gaze like a nun who had heard the Lord's name taken in vain. Alyssa did not have the time to be oblique about this. Sam needed to understand the situation. "I saw him rise from his grave two days ago."
Sam took a moment to deflate any attempt by her eyes to empty her tear ducts. She wanted to be brave or, at the very least, unaffected by Alyssa's words. Regardless, she could still hear her voice cracking as she spoke in reply. "Why are doing this to me?" Sam frowned and bit her lip.
Alyssa placed her hands on her shoulders. She didn't quite shake her but kept the pressure on her shoulders in an effort to keep her attention on her. "I'm not doing this to you." Alyssa searched her thoughts for the proper correction. "I'm doing this for you." Samantha's frown deepened.
In a voice barely above the squeak of a mouse, Sam replied. "For me?" Despite the innocent tone in her voice, Samantha was in full accusation mode. She didn't buy that "for me" crap for a second. Indeed, that wasn't the entire truth but Samantha was listening to good news and taking it badly.
"Don't play dumb." Samantha Hilson's eyes widened. It was Alyssa's turn to take the offensive. "I'm not as stupid as my brother was." Sam looked on at disbelief. Her dismissive tone should have been good evidence that Noah was alive. Alyssa would never speak like this about the dead.
Samantha Hilson regained her composure and defaulted to cynicism. "Let me guess. You saw the way I looked at him and, deep now, you know I cared about him. Right?" Alyssa nodded. Bull's-eye. "Well, news flash, deep now, Noah Walker didn't care about me. I was just a toy to him."
Sam still hadn't gotten over that almost-kiss she had received from him before he got himself killed. When Alyssa heard about it, she was amazed by the sheer audacity of Noah's hypocritical take on sexual politics. He hated being led on but, in his moment of truth, Noah had done it too.
Alyssa sighed. "Believe it or not, my brother Noah doesn't always say what he really means." Alyssa painted herself with an exaggerated look of shock. "Yeah, I know, a man who isn't honest with women." She flailed her hands in false show of panic. "It's the end of the world as we know it."
Sam gritted her teeth. Alyssa knew she was being condescending for the sake of condescension but Samantha needed to hear this. She needed a chance to hear her own unrealistic expectations reflected by her. "Telepathy isn't a power Benandanti possess. Noah couldn't read your mind."
Samantha was clammed up. Alyssa needed a different angle. "Listen," she finally relented to the silence. "I know my brother can be a knob. He doesn't have any experience with girls that isn't humiliating and/or soul-crushing. You're the first crush to ever show him any dignity or respect."
Alyssa let the weight of her words settle in on Samantha. Vulnerability sparkled in her eyes for a moment but only a moment, then it was gone. "Does this have a point?" Despite Alyssa nearly reeling her in, Sam tugged on the line, then broke the lure and swam for freedom.
Alyssa caught her top row of teeth making contact with the bottom row. "Yes, it does," Alyssa insisted, a tension in her voice she couldn't quite remove. "Trying to initiate a relationship with my brother Noah is like teaching a chimpanzee sign language. It can be done but it is not easy."
Samantha Hilson nodded her head, the first sign of participation on her part. Of all the things she said, she hadn't expected the chimpanzee sign language analogy to be the one to win her over. "I think I know what's happening here." Sam indulged in a toothy grin. "This is about Deanna, isn't it?"
Alyssa shook her head in denial, perhaps a little too fast. "My God." Samantha looked Alyssa up and down. "I get it now." Sam circled Alyssa. "She told me about you and Erica." Alyssa tripped over her words to explain why she had kissed her. "She knows why you did it. She's not stupid."
Hiding her surprise behind a wall of cynical apathy, Alyssa allowed the faint curl of a smile on her face. "Does this have a point?" Alyssa arched her eyebrow, broadcasting to Samantha how her own words were getting thrown back in her face. Sam didn't seem to care much for it.
Samantha Hilson returned to her volley of accusations. "You want me to help you because I'm her little sister." Samantha continued with her line of reasoning. "You think if I help you, you'll get a chance to show my big sis your ... gratitude?" Alyssa blushed. "Ah-ha. I knew it."
Alyssa allowed the red to seep out her face. This attempt to elicit help on a rescue mission wasn't going to turn into a lecture about her love life. Not while she had her wits about her. "Alright," Alyssa confessed. "I do have an ulterior motive. So sue me. But Noah is alive and he's stuck."
Alyssa cut her off, predicting her next question. "Stuck as in, he died a wolf and he came back a wolf." A chill fanned down her spine and into her legs. Alyssa could still feel that vacant look Noah had given her. He didn't even recognized her. "I don't think he remembers being human."
Samantha Hilson rolled her eyes. "That's probably because he never was human to begin with."
Alyssa growled. "Can the jilted lover crap, okay?" The force of her words sent a volt through Samantha. "I can jog his memories." Alyssa searched inside Sam's eyes. "But I'm going to need help. He doesn't remember who he is. Soon enough, those memories will just disappear. Get it?"
Sam shook her head in genuine confusion. "Look, he didn't want me. So what makes you think he'll want to remember me?" Sam thought she had a good point. In actuality, it was flimsy faulty logic.
Alyssa went to work correcting her. "Memories aren't about desire." Alyssa tilted Sam's chin up. "Sometimes, it is those very things we want the most to forget that are the easiest to remember."
Alyssa sighed and paused. "Whether he let you know it or not, you were very important to him."
Samantha sighed as well. "Do you really think he'll remember me?"
Alyssa shook her head and smiled. "Like they say, there is only one to find out."
Somewhere deep inside, the wolf knew he was being hunted but to accept that would mean to open himself up to a terrifying possibility. The possibility that he did not spring from the winter soil as a fresh newborn, a lupine child of Mother Earth thrown into this strange and noisy world.
If the wolf was being hunted, it meant that the hunter (or hunters) had a reason to be after him. And while it was possible that their hunt might be a reaction to what he was rather than what he had done, that explanation did not account for the dreams he had or the flashes he experienced.
In a broader sense, the wolf possessed knowledge of things he did not remember learning. He knew he was what others might consider a wolf though he had no recollection of how he came across such trivia. The wolf also knew it was not normal for wolves to be able to think like this.
On the subject of wolves, the wolf knew that, while there were creatures that sprung fully formed from the earth, wolves were not one of them. He could also sense his higher brain functions deteriorating. Perhaps, this ability to think was a curse his wolf body was trying desperately to purge itself of.
Wolf body. The wolf vented hot air through his mouth. Why did I think that? What other body could he possess but that of a wolf? Calling it a wolf body was redundant and yet he often caught himself thinking of this flesh as a temporary domain, something the wolf needed to escape from.
Part of that anomalous knowledge included notions beyond the drama of survival. He had many opportunities to feed on the weak, those most vulnerable to attack. Yet, last night, the wolf had wasted calories breaking into a cold metal room to steal frozen dead meat from off their hooks.
The wolf looked over at the disheveled dirty man sharing the space under the bridge with him. In a strange way, he had forged a special bond with the stranger. Like him, this bridge was the man's only home. The man was too tired and too broken by life to begrudge the wolf's company.
When the silence proved unbearable, the stranger would talk to him about his life from before this bridge had become his home. While the wolf was not able to speak in reply, he understood every word. The man would talk about his family. He would talk about a woman he had loved and lost.
The wolf had been risen from the earth for almost a week when the flashes started. The dreams, while always present, were easy to dispel with the daily concerns of an urban hunter-gatherer. When the man spoke gravely of his lost love, a dark lovely girl with a gun appeared in his mind's eye.
When the man spoke of his family, a trio of faces intruded on his memories. One of them was the girl, the first person he'd ever seen. The other was a man whose soft eyes set upon his wide forehead comforted the wolf. The third was a woman, equal as comforting to him as the man.
Except for the girl who had surely witnessed his birth, none of these faces reminded him of the dozens of faces he had glimpsed from the safety of the shadows in the days he had walked the earth. The wolf howled at the moon, pleading with her to give him some way to discern the truth.
The wolf could not have lived before his birth. That would be impossible. Perhaps, the dirty man had polluted the wolf's thoughts with his sentimentality for lost loved ones. The wolf didn't need anyone else. He was a pack of one, possessed with enough strength to survive almost anything.
So much of his identity existed on the fringe of his awareness, beyond the empty shores of his memories, amidst the ocean of his being. Was he a strange wolf born of the earth and endowed with great wisdom? Or he was something else, a creature with a past hidden even from himself?
These questions and the ambiguities that bred them into being robbed him of his sleep. He rolled around in the dirt, his subconscious mind bleeding into his few dreams. The wolf was in agony.
Then, in the middle of that night, as if the moon had answered his prayer, a dream lapsed into the waking world. The wolf remembered a dark tunnel. At the end of the dark tunnel was the enemy.
He wanted to kill him but he had been held back. The wolf needed to find this tunnel and face the enemy. For now, the enemy had allies, a host of deathless shadows he had learned how to master.
When the wolf remembered what the girl with the gun had done. She had saved his life, putting the enemy into flight but failing to finish him off. The wolf needed to find this mysterious girl. The gun girl would know where to find this tunnel. Perhaps, she would help him kill the enemy.
The dark ponderings of the wolf's identity were replaced with a sense of dire urgency. In all the time he had spent demeaning introspection in favor of survival, he had ignored one possibility. He had ignored the possibility that his survival might depend on finding out who he really was.
Kayin Bamgbala never forgot the day he died. A hunter had broken into his family's home and split his head open with a wooden club. From what his father told him, he made a fine sport of shredding the hunter's entrails into decorative bloodied patterns. Dad had lost his temper to say the least.
Silver or not, such a punishable blow to his head proved mortal since the hunter had been canny enough to catch him in his human form. In minutes, his soul left his body. Father did not give up on him so easily. He contacted his own father, many years departed, and forced him to surrender his knowledge of necromancy.
Though helpful, the spirit of Nwake Bamgbala extracted a high price for his servitude. Kayin's paternal grandfather had been a slave to a powerful hellspawn. The line of shame stretched back into the distant past. In saving Kayin's life, his father had condemned his family to far greater deprivations than those of death.
In truth, Nwake turned out to be an unwilling messenger for the family demon. The beast by the name of Nergal ordered them to flee Nigeria and take up residence as illegal aliens in this foreign land. Kayin's little sister Sade often complained about the move and begged Father for a return home.
Kayin remembered the warning he had received from an old man in their village. He told them that his death, as horrible as it had been, was the natural course of things and that, by undoing it, he angered the universe and one day its wraith would be visited upon him. Kayin did not listen.
As he launched himself into the dead of night, evading the pursuit of unknown aggressors, Kayin replayed in his mind the words of the old man, straining from some veiled hint behind his words. He must have known what these creatures were and why they had singled him out as their prey.
In a bolt of intuition, Kayin remembered the storm drain where their parents meant to plan their strategy of drawing Nergal's enemies into open ground. When their parents were mercilessly cut down by a shifter named Noah Walker, the storm drain had served as a home for Sade and Kayin.
Kayin Bamgbala had avoided returning to that cursed place because the memory of Sade's death clung to him there like a second skin. As the distant yet maniacal laughter of his pursuers filled his ears, Kayin made his choice. Kayin had no interest in dying a second and possibly final time.
January 6th. Alyssa had mentioned a ticking time bomb in their frantic search for her brother Noah. The off chance that his true identity might fade away the longer he stayed in wolf form. Twelve days had elapsed and God only knew what that had done to the boy trapped in a wolf's body.
Homes with lingering Christmas lights on passed by as Samantha Hilson stared out the passenger side window of Alyssa's Malibu. Their endless search had dragged them across the city in twelve directions. Anywhere Noah had been was a candidate for a place he might visit out of curiosity.
The storm drain of the were-hyenas should have been the obvious first choice. At heart, Noah Walker was a hunter. This was the location of an unfinished hunt. His mind would gravitate here.
Alyssa pocketed a flare gun as Samantha pocketed her palm pistol with the silver bullets. Killing Noah might be an act of mercy once his human side vanished forever into the forest of his wolf instincts. Alyssa and Sam shone their flashlights into the storm drain and revealed an inhabitant.
Rocking back and forth with his arms wrapped around his legs, a black kid only a few years older than Samantha looked up at them. His clothes or what passed for clothes were disgusting collage of rags. His child had come upon hard times. His vacant gaze met the twin paths of halogen light.
"They are coming," the boy said. His English felt strained and his accent barely intelligible but the words were not spoken as a means of communication. His boy was talking to himself, steeling his heart from whatever evil he sensed waiting for him in the darkness. "They are here."
Smoke rushed in from the deeper sewers. Zapped of his stoic resolve, the boy raced towards Sam as the smoke turned into horned hungry beasts suckling away at his veins. "Help me," were the words that crept out of his throat as the largest of the monsters drank from it. "Please, help me."
Alyssa fired the flare gun Sam had lent to her. It scared off the smaller ones but the big one with his lips sealed around the boy's neck would not yield. Samantha gripped her eyes shut and pulled the trigger. A bullet pierced the boy's skull, ending his pain as the beast carried his corpse away.
As the big monster shared his feast with the little ones, Sam and Alyssa gained an unearthly awareness of a low growl emanating from the sewer. It didn't come from the smoke creatures; their gory havoc had an eerie silence to it.
Sam grabbed Alyssa by the arm and dragged her deeper into the sewers. Past two half-eaten stray cats sat Noah Walker in wolf form on a pile of bones. A wounded look irradiated from his brown eyes. His memories were returning.
Samantha Hilson could not explain the feeling. That look told the story without words. Sam's euthanasia of the boy had sparked memories in Noah. His human sensibilities railed against things the wolf had done to survive.
Sam ran up to Noah, heedless to the fact that he could tear out her throat before she could even blink. Noah growled. "Quiet," Sam cooed. "It's over." Noah's eyelids drew a blanket over his eyes. "Please. Let's go home, Noah."
The eyes of Noah Walker opened and dilated. The sound of his human name had opened the floodgates. In moments, Noah Walker resumed his human form. Sam looked away as Noah attempted to cover himself with his hands.
Alyssa handed her naked brother a change of clothes. Noah got dressed as the two of them examined the sewer's architecture. A minute or two elapsed.
The coming of dawn had chased the creatures of darkness away. Just like the old folk tales often said it would. Sam and Alyssa looked back to see Noah Walker fully dressed. "What happened?" Neither one knew where to begin.