It hurt to be cold―a painful sort of lethargy. Terence almost wished he was dead. He felt dead. He was numb and stiff, yet he knew he was shivering madly. Where was he? He had enough feeling to detect a weight both above and beneath him. Wherever he was, smelled of abandonment. A lingering must was heavy in the air. Each breath Terence took was a strain on his system. God, he wished he was dead.
“Open your eyes, son.” Terence knew that voice. It belonged to the English trespasser with the mangy hair.
“Get out of my house!” Terence tried to say. He was surprised by how sloppy his speech was. After a few tries, he managed to enunciate the words―though the threatening tone behind them dissolved after the fourth attempt.
“You're in a medical facility of sorts. My name is Archie. If you’ll recall, our initial meeting wasn’t exactly pleasant. Despite your paranoid beliefs, I really am a doctor. I work for Murry, not by choice, I might add. I came to your house that night to warn you of his intentions. He wanted to kill you, Mr. Coon. He wanted to extract your gift for himself. He’s a real greedy bastard.”
Terence opened his eyes. Images bled together like different colours of paint. Though his eyesight askew, Terence knew he was not in the comfort of his own house. There were bars on either side of his bed. A different kind of prison only found in hospitals. His surroundings became more clear as his eyes focused. Terence could see the walls were composed of great shining logs stacked neatly on top of each other. Archie really was a doctor; and his facility―a log cabin.
“I feel like a human lasagna,” Terence uttered. Layers and layers of blankets encased him. Wires weaved like vines to a screen monitoring his heart, while a tube, attached midway up his arm, fed him a clear liquid.
“You’ve got hypothermia,” Archie stated. “The warmth from the blankets and the salt water solution I’m giving you will help raise your body temperature. You’re lucky that friend of yours took lifeguard training. He somehow managed to dive after you and drag you to shore. It was incredible really. Any longer in that freezing water and you’d be dead on a slab.”
Friend? Terence wasn’t familiar with the notion of friendship. His countenance was far too obscure to attract friends. He articulated this fact to the doctor who simply chuckled.
“Try telling that to him!” The doctor gestured toward the doorway where his alleged friend stood in the ugliest sweater Terence had ever seen. Woolen and an atrocious shade of pink, the neckline of the sweater resembled a set of swollen lips.
“Did your mother make that for you?” Terence laughed. The sound was almost foreign to him.
“It’s Rachelle’s actually,” Ash said. His face turned a shade similar to that of the sweater. “I ditched my wet clothes after dragging you to shore.”
Terence suddenly became aware that he too was not wearing his clothes. He decided against inquiring after the whereabouts of them, as he figured they were cut from his naked body and discarded. Terence was repulsed by the thought of another person seeing his sunken chest and bulging ribs. Why would anyone bother to save someone as monstrous as himself?
“You’re an idiot, Wilson,” Terence breathed. His ingratitude angered Ash.
“I saved your ass!” he cried.
“That’s why you’re an idiot. Why would you save me?”
“Because if you died, Jaune would take over as manager.”
Terence snickered at Wilson’s response. If Jaune were in charge, she’d practically crown herself queen of the universe. Everyone under her authoritative powers would become a slave. Perhaps this man was his friend.
“Thank-you,” Terence said.
It was late in the evening. The windows revealed a setting sun, bleeding amongst the fading wisp of cloud. Skunk gazed at the spectacle from inside the cabin. It was a simple lodge with minimal furnishings. Judging by the single bedroom, it was only designed to house one: Archie.
Skunk couldn’t bring himself to look upon the doctor’s patient― the pale life form resting in the room before him. Had the quilts not been moving slightly with the pattern of Terence’s breathing, Skunk wouldn’t have believed the man was alive.
“Don’t blame yourself.” Archie entered the cabin, returning from his evening stroll. A waft of frigid air carrying the scent of pine followed him into the cabin. The doctor had been so shaken up by Murry’s appearance, he required a walk to cool his head.
“Murry is a master manipulator,” he stated. “Terence almost lost his life because of him, not you.” He rubbed the chill from his arms and shuddered before pushing past Skunk to hang up his coat. Murry left shortly after arriving. One would have thought him to be a walking disease the way Archie thrust him from the cabin. What frightened Skunk was not Archie’s display of hatred, but Murry’s indifference. The man was a walking machine. He saw people as pawns in a chess game. Losing a few was inconsequential.
“Any place away from that bastard is a safe haven to me,” Archie went on. His voice traveled from the kitchenette, where Skunk could hear the hiss of a stove light. “Fancy a cup of tea?”
Skunk didn’t answer. He was transfixed beneath the opening of Terence’s room.
“So that’s why you’re here,” Archie sighed. “Murry’s forcing you to―”
“He’s not forcing me!”
Archie was taken aback by Skunk’s sudden outburst. Skunk swiftly apologized for his abruptness. He swallowed hard before asking if he could interrupt Terence’s rest for a few moments. The kettle loosed a deafening squeal and belched steam from its spout. A spice diffused from Archie’s direction and filled Skunk’s nose.
“Here.” The doctor handed Skunk a glass mug of something brown and rich in scent. “Be a doll and give this to Terence. Be wary, though, he’s not the most cooperative of men.”
Skunk eased his way through the door. He immediately noticed a distinct increase in temperature. Space heaters lit up in all corners of the room.
“Please tell me that flea bitten doctor didn’t send you in to give me more of that steaming sludge,” Terence rasped.
Skunk cleared his throat, nervously. A bead of sweat began to take place between his eyebrows. The room was like a sauna. He approached Terence with the cup of ‘steaming sludge’ in hand and set it on his bedside table.
“I came here of my own accord,” Skunk explained. Shadow draped the walls and bathed Terence in a sickly colour.
“Impressive chemical,” Terence said, coughing hoarsely.
There was a tightness in Skunk’s throat. His guilt was like a boa constrictor.
“I’m sorry,” he said. His voice was a strangulated whisper.
“Save the speech,” Terence groaned. His body shuddered as he sat upwards. Clearly embarrassed by his rawboned chest, he pulled a cover toward his neck to conceal himself. “Wilson explained everything to me. Murry tricked you into thinking I kidnapped women. Oddly enough, you’re not the first to attack me under these false assumptions.” He pinched the knot at the bridge of his nose and winced. “Wilson’s ninja girlfriend broke my nose under the same absurd belief.”
Skunk shook his head, “Murry selected me because he knew I would kill you. I murdered my father many years ago, Mr. Coon. I’m a monster.”
Silence followed his declaration. Skunk expected Terence to expel him―to refuse his apology and sentence Skunk to an eternity of damnation. Instead, his slight frame vibrated so forcefully it rocked the bed.
Worried he was having a seizure, Skunk exclaimed, “Are you alright?!”
Terence exploded with laughter. The sound was so full-toned it made the floor boards rumble beneath Skunk’s feet.
“What the hell do you find so funny?!” he exclaimed. Skunk had never heard anyone laugh so robustly in his life.
“You think you’re a monster?!” Terence shrieked. He clutched his stomach and laughed some more. “Try looking like one!”
Skunk felt like a fool. He’d been bullied and treated differently his whole life. Skunk was targeted because of a white stripe. A measly little stripe was nothing compared to the physical abnormalities Terence possessed. The man truly was cursed.
“We all have the capacity to murder,” Terence spoke. His laughter had subsided. “You tried to kill me because you felt I was a threat to your wife’s safety. As for your father’s murder, I can see you carry a tremendous amount of guilt on your shoulders. Monsters kill for fun and feel nothing. By that definition, you are not a monster, Mr. Diggory.”
Terence’s words gave Skunk a feeling of weightlessness. He was relieved.
“Thank-you,” he breathed.
Before excusing himself, Skunk relayed Paul’s situation to Terence, who nodded almost expectant of the news.
“I suspected something was awry with him. Though I figured Jaune was bribing him to discredit me. Of course now that I know the truth, I can’t say that that’s the case. She must be bribing another of my employees…”
“As long as you ensure he doesn’t continue to harass my town, I’m satisfied,” Skunk said.
Terence assured Skunk he’d do everything in his power to get Paul the treatment he needed.
Having made amends with Terence, Skunk traveled home to his wife, who was more than pleased to have him by her side.
“I promise I’ll never do another favour for Murry,” Mink said softly in Skunk’s ear. Glad to be out of his mud stained clothing, Skunk slid his body closer to hers.
“I love you,” he said. She repeated the sentiment and rested her head against his chest. Skunk weaved his fingers through her hair. After everything the two of them had done, it was a miracle they could still voice their affections.
“You may want to give Officer Fanny Duster a call in the morning,” Mink suggested. “When you left for Rachelle’s,everyone followed you accept him. I think he may have gotten lost.”
Skunk chuckled, “I’m sure he was just taking a detour past a doughnut shop.” Mink playfully flicked him in the temple.
“He’s going to need a new team now that Temaru, Ninny, Pollock, and the others have fulfilled Murry’s mission,” she said, yawning. She was right. Skunk owed the officer an explanation. The two of them would have to be able to trust each other if they were to select a new group of guards.
“I wonder where Murry’s going next,” Skunk thought out loud. Mink snored. Her breath was warm on his neck. He smiled. He’d save his morning thoughts for his coffee.
“Good night, Dear,” he said to his wife. He kissed her gently on the cheek and slept soundly for the first time in ages.