To Open the Door, Part 4
Posted by Rystefn on December 17, 2008
I think this one is a touch longer than previous sections, but it was such a good place to clip it, I couldn’t resist. In this installment, you’ll be introduced to a few more denizens of the secret world in which Eric lives, and catch a glimpse of the larger story that inspired me to extend this beyond the land of short stories.
“You have to promise me you won’t tell Eric we talked about this – it’s very important.”
“Of course I promise, Michelle,” Laura said, “but why can’t I tell him?”
“Because I’m not supposed to talk about it.”
“Did he tell you not to talk about it?”
“Well, yes,” I answered, surprised.
“Then don’t tell me.”
“But you two are so close. You talk about everything. You probably already know.”
“Probably,” she said, “but we don’t talk about everything. If there’s something he doesn’t want me to know, he must have a reason – and if he told you not to tell anyone, you shouldn’t.”
“Maybe you’re right.” I was obviously very disappointed with the direction this conversation was taking – especially since she was right, “I just really need to talk to someone about this… and I know how much Eric trusts you.”
“Then you should talk to him about it.” Damn her logic. “If he says you can tell me, then we’ll talk.”
I love Laura to death, but sometimes she can be so frustrating. Of course, if she wasn’t the sort of person to refuse to have this sort of conversation, he wouldn’t trust her so much, and I wouldn’t have gone to her. Such is life, I suppose.
Eric took me to dinner that night, a little Greek restaurant he had found one day wandering randomly around the city years ago. He made it a point to eat there at least once a week when he was in town and to introduce at least one new person each time he came through.
The owners, Jason and Annah, knew and liked Eric, and it clearly went deeper than just the extra business he brought them – sometimes I wonder if there’s anyone Eric doesn’t know.
“Eric, how long have you known Laura?” I asked after the waiter took our order.
“Long enough that I don’t know the answer to that question, why?”
“Well, you seem to be really close, closer than any of your other friends. Like you have a special relationship.”
“Yes, that’s true, I suppose. We understand one another. I guess it is pretty special.”
“Do you trust her?” I asked.
“Of course I do,” he answered without a blink, “I’d trust her with my life. Why are you asking about all this?” He flashed me the familiar half-smile, “if you’re suggesting a threesome, I don’t think she’ll go for it. She adores you, but I’m just not pretty enough for her.”
“No, I mean… have you told her about… you know..”
“About us? No, but your bedroom shares a wall with hers; I’m pretty sure she’s figured out that I’m not sleeping on your floor by now.”
“Quit goofing around, Eric, you know what I’m talking about. The wolf -”
“At the zoo?” he interrupted, “I was going to take her to see tomorrow. That cub’s almost too cute for words, isn’t he?”
Usually, I don’t mind his little jokes, but they were starting to annoy me at this point. Here I was, trying to have a serious conversation on a subject he had told me was of life-or-death importance to him, and he wouldn’t even let me finish a sentence.
I should have known what he was trying to do. It seems so obvious now, but at the time, I was just too frustrated and annoyed to think about it.
“About you being a werewolf.”
In my defense, I said it quietly, almost under my breath. No one more than a foot or two away from us could possibly have heard me. No human, anyway. My experience with nonhuman listeners up to that point was pretty limited.
“I wish you hadn’t said that,” Eric said, looking around nervously. Suddenly, his blue eyes widened in fear and he jumped to his feet. “They heard you. We have to leave. Now.”
I stood and started to go for the front door. “What? Who heard?”
“Not that way; you’ll never make it.” He grabbed me around the waist and threw me over his shoulder with sudden, frightening strength, as if I didn’t weigh anything.
Shouldering his way through a pair of double doors, he charged through the kitchen. Eric was running so fast that I couldn’t really see anything clearly, but I could hear people shouting and the banging of pots and pans.
Eric kicked open another door and the heat of the kitchens was replaced with the cold and dark of the outdoors. This time the change was so fast I couldn’t tell it was happening – almost as soon as he was in the alley behind the restaurant, I heard the sound of cloth ripping, and he was the wolf-man.
I had thought he was running fast before, but now he was almost flying. The world was lost in a blur, the alleys and streetlights rushing by at such an incredible speed that after a few minutes, I was completely lost.
I could, however, clearly see behind us the two werewolves chasing us. Sometimes, when Eric turned a sudden corner or dodged around a car, I would lose sight of them for a moment or two, but they were never far behind, their yellow eyes glowing in the darkness.
I wish I could say that I was reassured by Eric’s presence, by the play of the powerful muscles beneath his fur, or even by the thought that if things went badly at least we’d be together at the end. It would be a lie. I was more scared during that chase than I have ever been, before or since.
One way or the other, I would never speak of Eric’s secret in public again.
“I’m going to have to stand and fight them,” his voice had deepened to a rumbling growl, but it was recognizably Eric. “I’ll try to protect you, but you have to do exactly as I say.”
“I’ll try, Eric.” I tried to control my fears, but I know I couldn’t keep my voice from shaking.
Suddenly, he swerved to the side and burst through a door in the alley he had been running through, and we were inside a warehouse. he put me down in a corner between a stack of crates and the wall.
I couldn’t see much besides Eric’s silhouette, half-crouched defensively a few feet in front of me, but I knew when the other two came in.
“Stay there, Michelle,” Eric called over his shoulder. “As long as I’m still breathing, they won’t get past.”
“You know the rules, Eric,” one of the werewolves I couldn’t see growled. “Your status can’t help her, but if you don’t fight us, it may help you.”
“They’ll probably just let you go with a warning if you come along peacefully,” the other added.
“We’ll make it as painless as we can for her,” the first continued.
“And if someone offered you the same to stand aside so he could kill Annah, painlessly or no, what would you do?”
“I would never have put Annah into such a situation.”
“Even if it meant you had to lie to her for all of your lives?”
“To save her life? Hell yes, I would.”
“I shouldn’t have to make that choice.”
“You’d rather have us all hunted down like animals?”
As they argued, I found myself hoping, wishing desperately that he would be able to convince them. I wanted badly to help in the debate, but I was terrified of calling attention to myself. I couldn’t see either of them, but I could tell by the tone of their voices that they honestly didn’t want to kill Eric. Unfortunately, they felt differently about me.
“She knows, Eric,” the one named Annah was saying, “how can you trust her not to tell anyone when you can’t even trust her not to say anything about it in public? How can you know she hasn’t already told someone?”
I felt my heart breaking as I realized how much worse I would have made things if Laura hadn’t stopped me. As it was, there was every chance we would both die in that warehouse, and I had tried to put a perfectly innocent woman in the same danger.
“It’s time to decide, Eric,” the bigger werewolf was saying, “please don’t make us have to do this…”
“You could walk away,” he answered, “I won’t tell anyone.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“Then I’m afraid there’s nothing else to say.”
They leaped at one another as though the statement were some sort of signal. It was fast and brutal – so fast that I couldn’t follow what was happening. I remember the snarls and growls, the flashing eyes, and the thick, metallic taste when I was splashed in the face with blood. To this day, I still don’t know whose it was.
I don’t know how long it lasted, but I do know that more than once he was hurt because he turned away from one to stop the other from getting to me.
It was all I could do to keep myself from running away from that nightmare, but Eric had told me to stay, and he knew far more about fighting than I ever will.
Then there was a sound of breaking glass and a blur of shadow, and Eric was shouting for me to run. I don’t know how I got past the fighting, or even whether I went through or around, but I’m fairly certain that I couldn’t run so fast again if I had to.
I didn’t know where I was or where to go, but pretty much anywhere else would have been better than that warehouse.
I had sprinted several blocks when I was snatched up and thrown over a furry shoulder – I’m sure I would have screamed if hadn’t already been out of breath from running. Maybe it was adrenaline shock, or maybe I just fainted, but I don’t remember anything else until we were back in my apartment and he was washing the blood off of both of us. I knew that some of the blood that stained what was left of his clothing must have been his, but by then there wasn’t a scratch on him. It’s strange to watch someone clean fur and dried blood from an eighteen-inch gash only to find healthy, unbroken skin underneath without even a scar. It would have been a comfort if I didn’t know that our enemies had the same ability and I didn’t.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “What happened? Why did you tell me to run?”
“Shere happened. No one can fight Shere, not even a werewolf… not even two.” He looked away, “Jason and Annah are probably dead.”
I wanted to say something comforting, to apologize for causing everything that had happened, but I was stunned, shocked, and confused. I simply couldn’t think straight or make sense of what he was saying.
“Cher?” I asked, “like the singer?”
“No,” he shook his head, “not Cher. Shere.” The way he said the word sent a shiver of fear up my spine. “Like the relentless killer.
“Even if we had nothing to fear from anyone else among the masses of humanity, we’d still hide from him. Shere means tiger, you know – in Hindi or something like that. They call him that because of how fiercely he fights. No one knows what his real name is.”
We both turned toward the voice in a near panic to see Laura sitting calmly on my bed. “I don’t think he’d want me to tell you, though.”
I was stunned, but Eric reacted immediately, bombarding her with questions: “What? How long have you been there? How do you know his name? What else do you know? Why didn’t I hear you come in?”
“Easy now, Eric, don’t give yourself a heart attack. I came in here right after you did. You didn’t hear me because I didn’t want you to. Incidentally, you’re wrong about why he’s called Shere. It’s a pet name; it started out whispered in his ear in moments of passion. Somehow it caught on.”
“How can you know that, Laura?” Eric asked, his eyes widening in disbelief.
“Because I gave it to him, silly.” I have often seen the man smilingly deliver a simple statement that stunned everyone around him into silence, but it’s a rare thing to see it done to him.
“Don’t act so surprised, Eric,” she went on, “you didn’t honestly think it was a coincidence, did you?”
“Coincidence?” Eric looked as confused as I was.
“Think about it… You know I’m the first one in my family born in this country…”
“…and his name just happens to be in the language I always forget you speak as fluently as English.”
Eric shook his head in denial, “and you slept with that monster…”
Laura’s eyes narrowed and her smile disappeared, “harsh words coming from a werewolf, Eric.”
“Damned right, harsh!” Eric’s voice began to rise, “that fiend probably just killed two of my friends!”
“So the blood all over your clothes is from the game of checkers he interrupted, is it?” When an angry werewolf can’t look you in the eye, you know you’ve made your point, and Laura wasn’t one to rub it in.
“He is a dangerous man,” she went on, “believe me, I know it better than most, but he’s no monster. No more than I am – or you, for that matter, Eric Allan Paine… and while we’re on the subject, when were you planning to tell me you’re a werewolf? You didn’t honestly think you could walk in here covered in blood, clothes all ripped to shreds, and not have me ask any questions, did you? I’m used to your strangeness by now, but that’s outside the norm, even for you.”
“No harm, no foul, since you seem to know anyway.” He interrupted her response with his own question. “When did you find out? More to the point, how?”
“You’re not as mysterious as you like to think,” she laughed, “the signs are there if you know what to look for.”
“Like what?” I asked, overcome with curiosity.
“Oh, the usual stuff,” she giggled, “digging up the yard, chasing cars, crotch-sniffing, that sort of thing.”
“Seriously, Laura,” Eric broke in, “that’s dangerous knowledge. You must never tell anyone about me. It’s a secret my people will kill to keep.”
“I haven’t told anyone yet, why would I start now? I didn’t even tell you. As to the danger, there are more frightening things in this world than werewolves; I would know – I had sex with one of them.”
I know that everyone has these odd moments of strangeness in their lives from time to time, but it’s times like this, when I’m sitting in my bedroom with my werewolf lover after a fight for our lives in an old warehouse against the owners of a small Greek restaurant and talking to my roommate about who’s had sex with more dangerous people that I realize just how thoroughly I win the weirdness competition…
…and I thought the omelet bit was odd.