I pulled into the motel parking lot, making sure to park my rig next to the other semi-trucks. Beloit Wisconsin was a truck stop town of fewer than 40,000 people but that number was nearly double from twenty years ago. This town was home to the largest high school in the state; a massive structure housing a pool, football field, and god knows what else in its ever-expanding radius. And on the other side of town, what was once a factory was now Beloit University, a prestigious and expensive private college that specialized in bio-engineering and political science. The question was- why? I know, in my gut, this was somehow connected to my friend Alicia’s Wendigo linage. She was from Beloit and last I saw her, she was visibly pregnant and heading back to marry her sugar daddy, despite the fact he was not the biological father. (The ‘self-sufficient con-artist’ Alicia I knew, seemed relatively proud of that fact.)
The one thing I always loved about truck stops was their wide array of lodging. And the motel I picked seemed as good a place as any to start. I walked in, fishing out my credit card and ID.
“Leonardo Riveria,” said the check-in clerk reading from my documents. The middle-aged Indian man looked way too formal for such a position. “How long will you be needing the room?”
“I’m in town for work, so I’ll prepay for a week and go from there.” My answer was deemed acceptable probably because my credit card was able to be charged for the total amount (just a little under $500.) That was one of the perks of Beloit; cheap hotels but even then they were starting to get “revamped.” Across the street was a brand-new Hilton that was in the $200 a night range, nearly as expensive as the hotels near the university.
I took my key-card and walked to room 130, just down the hall. “Where to start?” with my rig as my only means of transportation I would have to go exploring on foot. Unfortunately, Wisconsin was notorious for being unbearably hot or unbearably cold, with little in-between (for warm blooded-humans like me). Today, according to the local news, was a “lovely, sunny” thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit. Tolerable enough for a walk, but cold enough to freeze my balls off. I went across the street to Walmart for a bite to eat and maybe find a nice sweatshirt.
With my long hair and west coast style, I stuck out like a sore thumb, but not as much as a certain blue-haired technopath. “Hey, Q.”
The teenage girl grabbed my arm, pulling me towards the garden center. “Walk with me.” As expected, every step she took caused lights to flicker and cameras to suddenly short out. “What the hell happened to Alicia?”
“That’s what I came here to find out.” I was a little shocked that Q thought I had more information than she did. Q was the ultimate hacker; she could literally see and hear anything from any piece of technology. “She walked out of the party and I stayed behind for a few more hours before heading south.”
“So, you didn’t go after her?”
“No, I mean, I knew she lived in Southern Wisconsin. And after what I saw, I wanted to make sure she was ok.”
“What did you see?” she pushed me into a corner. “I know what you are, and I know she asked for your help.”
“She asked to join me, as a hunter, to take a vow of heaven and hell. I think she thought it might bring balance to her soul. But instead, I saw her past, her childhood. I think something broke inside her.”
“Well that explains a lot.” Q sighed and stretched her back. “I tracked Alicia down to Clinton where she’s playing Sally-Homemaker-Barbie.”
“Seriously?” The Alicia I knew was a bad-a*s who’d been hooking up with sugar daddies ever since she was old enough to pass as eighteen. “Maybe it’s for the best. She told me that she wanted to rein in her anger.”
“Alicia is a Wendigo; her anger cannot be contained- her anger is who she is.”
I knew what Q meant. Nothing good could come from a ‘spiritually lobotomized’ Wendigo. “Look, I just got into town, I was going to try to search for some intel.”
“I think I know where to start,” Q said confidently. “You want to be my wingman?”
“Sure, why not, where’re your wheels?”
Q had a broken-down red Ford that I was pretty sure ran only for her. “Where did you find that hunk of junk?”
“My hunks find me.”
We drove to a local bar that appeared to be a former townhouse. The plain white building stood in the shadow of a forested area, overlooking a lake. The parking lot was around the corner and already filled with cars, despite the early hour. (It’s five o’clock somewhere, right?) This was clearly where the locals gathered to just be themselves.
Entering the double doors, we were greeted to the sight of a central bar. To the left were pool tables, and to the right were people playing cards. And near the back, there were a few slot machines. I looked to Q for her next move.
“Get us a table.”
“Are you even twenty-one?”
“My ID is, but don’t worry I won’t be drinking. I just need to gather a few ingredients for a sight spell.”
A sight spell? I took a seat and waited for Q. She knew something, or at least I hoped she did.
“Here,” Q said quietly, taking a seat. She handed me an ice-cold bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The beer was a classic staple of the Midwest, but not really my taste. “Don’t swallow it, just let the liquid touch your lips long enough to feel the cold.”
I closed my eyes and did as she instructed, careful to not actually taste the beer. A wave of coldness swept through the room. What were once people were now animals. A giraffe behind the bar, a rabbit shooting pool, a fox ordered a drink, but among all the imagery my eyes were drawn to one large buck. He was sitting at a table, playing cards, with a large glass of scotch.
I could feel Q gripping my hand. “Do you see their king?”
“I see a lot of things, what do you see?”
“I can sense expensive watches, smartphones, digital car keys, etc they’re buzzing around me like a swarm of hornets.” She motioned to the table with the deer. “What do you see at that table?”
“What’s it’s quirk? Too many limbs? Joints that bend backward?”
I took another look, just as the light from the opening door hit the creature’s face. “Gold antlers,” I said in a whisper. “I see golden antlers like something out of the Bible.”
“Now, we wait.” Q confidently stood up, taking my hand. “Don’t let go of me until I say it’s safe.” Her touch sent a shock wave through my body. It wasn’t painful, more like the pins and needles sensation when your foot falls asleep.
“Our molecules are moving at a frequency that they can’t see.”
“So, do they think we just disappeared?”
“If any of them even noticed us…” Q stood up. “All they will see are two shadow-like forms made of pixels.”
I took her word for it. We slipped out back, sitting on the warm concrete of the parking lot. It took about an hour for the deer to leave the bar.
“Let go of my hand and hide in the car,” Q said, her opposite hand was already holding something. “The door should already be open.”
I quickly did as she asked, slipping into the passenger seat just in time to watch her drop a coin-like item on to the back bumper of a silver BMW.
“Let’s roll.” Q got in the driver’s seat next to me and turned on the car using only her touch.
“The deer king isn’t going to notice a tracking device?”
“Their kind knows very little of the ways of the modern world: it’s one of the few advantages we have.”
We followed the car to the hospital of all places. “Beloit Memorial?” I read out loud. I knew for a fact this was the only public hospital for miles but it never seemed to be mentioned in the same breath as the Highschool or the university which always lead me to believe that there were lesser known private hospitals for the wealthier citizens of the county.
The strange, golden, buck, parked and exited his car. At first, I was impressed, if not a little confused about how he managed to enter and exit a car with his massive anthers. My curiosity was placated when he then proceeded to walk through the hospital’s revolving doors, like a ghost.
I exited the car, with Q following close behind but as we passed through the doors (the normal way) there was no trace of the buck. The lobby was run by a small herd of buffalo sitting at computers. I had a feeling that Q saw actual humans, so I kept quiet and looked around. The gift shop was run by an ostrich and a fox. Where there were once bouquets of flowers, there were instead groups of colorful butterflies arranged for sale.
The lobby was decorated in landscape paintings that all seemed to connect into one massive scene. This led me to the elevators and a massive bronze plaque. “I think I found him.”
The plaque had the names and portraits of the affluent donors who made the various wards of the hospital possible. In my vision I saw them as animals; foxes, bears, a few birds, but the top row were all bucks and deer. “Dace Montgomery. His family apparently funded the cardiology, pediatric and hematology departments. And by that, I mean he built this hospital over a hundred years ago.” What did it all mean?
Q placed her hand on my shoulder. “You need to look with more than your eyes.”
I took a step back, looking at the edge of the plaque. It was a different, grayish color. As I touched the metal, a jolt of icy cold shot through my hand. The wall started to crack, forming beautiful diamond-like lines. “Ice?” I took a step back, glancing at Q.
“What do you see?”
“You can’t see this?”
“All I see is a wall.”
“I see…” The lines started to form an image. “I see an eye.” It looked like a sketch from some high school girl’s drawing book. “I see you? ICU?”
“Worth a shot,” Q muttered. “Hospice ICU? Or pediatric ICU?”
“Hospice, please. Seeing sick and dying kids, in this place- I don’t think I’m ready for that.”
“To the fourth floor, we go.”
The Hospice ICU floor greeted us with a gallery of Christian artwork. Images of Jesus with lambs, chickens, cows, interlaced with the words; Love, hope, faith, and family. At the very end was a table with a single sign. ‘Ring bell for entry.’
The only bell was a doorbell with no intercom, leading to a set of double doors. I pressed it, waited a moment and heard another buzz from the opposite side. The doors opened. The ward was filled with rabbits and foxes running from room to room carrying IV bags filled with colorful liquid. I made sure not to step on anyone, but no one seemed to notice our presence.
Each of the patient rooms had clear walls with no doors, allowing me to see the contents. This made me grateful that I chose to not visit the pediatric ICU; every single patient was a human.
Walking slowly, I studied the first room. An elderly woman was comatose, surrounded by her human family. A warthog and a giant snake were speaking to an elderly man (I assumed her husband or some other relative.) They were speaking English, and I could make out the word, ‘D-N-R.’ A DNR or (do not resuscitate) was a document to end someone’s life. The woman had about five IV bags attached to her, each filled with a black liquid. “Where are the colors?” I asked out loud. I looked around and picked a rabbit to follow. I needed to know where their colorful IV bags were coming from, that was the secret. That was the key.
The further down the hall, deeper into the ward, the fewer animals I saw. This led me to a room at the end of the hall. “Keller, Anthony,” I read from the door. “Why does that name sound familiar?”
Q gasped.“He’s the father of Alicia’s baby. B-But the last time I saw him, he was in rehab.” Q entered the room, rushing to the boy’s side. The patient looked to be in his late teens with long brown hair and tan skin. “His father did this!”
“How do you know?”
“His father is Alicia’s sugar daddy, maybe he got wise to her con and…” Q stopped as the boy’s eyes fluttered open. “Tony?”
Tony had an oxygen mask, but no breathing tube or other speech obstruction. His voice came in a series of soft gasps. “Help, me.”
I walked around his bed, observing his IV lines. “Who put you here?”
“T-The rehab clinic,” Tony said, coughing up wisps of blood. “T-They had me transferred.”
Unlike the elderly woman, his IV’s were clear. At least the ones in his arms. His lower body was covered in a thin, opaque hospital blanket. “Q, check his legs.”
Q was holding his hand. “I’m going to remove the blanket, ok?”
Tony nodded, his body clearly in pain.
Q lowered the blanket revealing his abs, and hips. There were seven tubes draining fluid from his abdomen, in the seven colors of the rainbow. “What the f**k?”
I got on my knees to find where the tubes led. The plastic feeds seemed to attach to the bed itself. “Q, I need you to tell me what you see.”
“I see tubes and scar tissue. It’s like they’re growing out of his body.”
With that knowledge, I knew what had to be done. “Lock the door.”
“What are you going to do?” Q asked as she locked the door and started to barricade it with whatever furniture was in the room.
I needed a holy blade, fast. I punched the mirror with the goal of taking the largest piece of glass and purifying it. But as my fist sank into the glass surface, my hand was enveloped by a dense liquid. I assumed the mirror was trying to pull me in. (Well, two can play at that game.) I opened my hand, grabbing a hold of whatever material I could. And I gave it a hard yank. The subsequent sensation was akin to getting hit with a massive tidal wave.
I know I blacked out but just as quickly, I awoke to the sound of banging at the door.
Hooves, howling, scratching, accompanied by Q’s cries for help. “Leo, do something!”
When I opened my eyes, I was on the floor, holding a massive sword made of some kind of reflective material. This was a start. But was I really planning on fighting my way out of here? We were on the fourth floor, there was no way we would make it to the elevator. “I’m going to break the window.” I took a brief look out the window, as I stood up. We were directly over one of the many parking lots. I could even see some power lines. “Q, can you ask your ‘friends’ to set a trap?”
She looked at the door, then the window. “I can try.”
“That’s all I can ask.” I lifted the sword and with one swipe I cut the rainbow cords. There was colored water or paint all over the floor. Part of me was afraid it was actually blood, and this kid was going to bleed out before we reached safety. That was a risk I was willing to take since there was no way I was leaving him behind.
The halogen lights blew up with a sickening pop. I covered Tony’s body with my own, removing my shirt to cover my face. I knew what was about to happen. Or at least what I hoped would happen.
Thick, black cables crashed through the window, tearing open the wall. They parted like the red sea, creating a slide. I turned my head to see Q with her hands in front of her face, controlling the visible electricity like a shield.
“It’s too much power!” she screamed as she struggled against the transparent wall of cracking energy. “And it won’t go any further into the hospital.”
I knew what she meant; the animal spirits were too powerful to be destroyed by a power surge. “We have to jump!”
Carrying Tony’s limp body in my arms I ran and jumped through the hole in the wall. My only goal was to land in a way that would not leave me crippled. (Because the idea of getting dragged into the hospital for ‘treatment’ was not my idea of a good time.)
My eyes were forced closed by the pressure of the energy ball but I never felt the impact of the ground. We were floating. “Q?”
“Keep still,” she said softly. “I think I can get us out of here.”
My whole body felt warm, but I kept my focus on Tony. His body felt limp, dead, but little by little he started moving. I could feel his hand gripping my arm, his face cuddling close to my chest. It was a comforting sensation that allowed me to fall into a meditative state.
After what felt like hours we landed in a field. Looking up I could see why; Q had been following a series of telephone poles and power lines. It appears she took us as far into the rural country as she could. “Where are we?”
Q dusted her self off and stood up. She pulled her phone from her pocket, it was fried. “Give me a second.” With a few soft squeezes, her phone screen flickered to life. “Iron County, Michigan.”
“Are we safe here?”
“As safe as we can be,” she sighed. “I’m going to try to find shelter. You stay with Tony. If I’m not back in an hour I want you to keep moving. I don’t care what direction you go, we just need to stay one step ahead of the Wendigos.”
“Sure,” I said with a nod as I watched Q leave with her phone. We just needed to stay one step ahead of the mythical creatures who apparently ran all of Wisconsin. But I understood Q’s wishes. Night had fallen and our little trip had knocked out power to the surrounding area. If we didn’t find shelter we would be sitting ducks.
Tony let out a sharp moan. “Ow.”
I could feel him placing pressure on my arm as he was attempting to sit up. “Hey, man, just relax. We’re safe.” It was only then I noticed his legs; everything below his hips was robotic. “Did the hospital do this?”
“No, I was born without legs,” he explained. “My mother designed these. I guess I should be grateful they weren’t stolen off my body.” Tony continued to sit up, his body trembling in pain. “Those monsters, t-they were harvesting.” He removed what remained of the tubes from his abdomen. A few fragments took a bit of effort, causing him to bite his lower lip until it bled. One piece seemed to be firmly stuck higher up in his chest cavity. “Little help? I don’t think my hand can reach that far.”
“Sure.” I carefully pulled out the piece of cord, working slowing. The electric ride we took seemed to dislodge any attachment mechanisms but it felt like the cord had been attached somewhere near his heart. “What happened at the rehab clinic?”
“Money, insurance- you know the drill. The state wouldn’t be willing to pay for my stay so I was going to get kicked out. I met with a social worker to try to arrange for help paying for my medications. I was hopeful then, just hours later,” Tony paused to take a much-needed breath, “I had a seizure. The last thing I remember is someone telling me that I was spiking a fever and would be transferred to the main hospital.”
I helped Tony lay comfortably, using my shirt as a pillow. “Get back to the part about harvesting.”
“When I was checked in to the ICU, the doctors said my organs were failing. I fell asleep again and when I woke up three of the tubes were inside me.”
“Three of the seven?”
“Yeah, I remember I had two IV’s in my arm and three tubes in my chest. The doctors and nurses, they kept telling me they were giving me medicine; blood, immune suppressors, antibiotics- but they wouldn’t explain anything. I asked for my mother but since I’m not a minor they said there was no legal requirement.”
“Is your mother a doctor?” I asked, if only to charge the subject to something less traumatic.
“She’s an engineering professor at the University.”
The University? That brought up a whole new set of questions. His mother had to be someone of importance. “You were being held against your will, unable to make contact with her?”
“Yeah, everyone at that hospital, they just kept taking samples. They needed blood and urine and spinal fluid, and God knows what else. After a while, they took out the IV’s from my arms and put me under local anesthetic to put in the other chest tubes.”
“What do you think they were trying to harvest?”
Tony pursed his lips, his eyes looking innocently at the setting sun. “You’ll think I’m crazy.”
“Trust me I won’t.”
“I think they were harvesting hope.”
“Life energy, will to live,” Tony chuckled and shook his head. “I don’t know what I’m talking about. I know I have a reason to live; I’m going to be a big brother.”
“Did you say you’re going to be a brother?”
“Yeah, um, I know you’re a friend of Q’s but do you know Alicia Keller?”
“I do,” I said, trying to maintain composure. I needed to know more, so I needed Tony to trust me. “She’s that trashy red-head who claims to be a witch.”
Tony laughed. “Yup.”
“But isn’t Keller the name of her sugar daddy?”
“Keith Keller, my dad: she’s having his kid.”
“You think Keith Keller is the father of her baby?”
“That’s why she’s marrying him.” Tony shrugged. “That’s why I have to live, to protect my baby sister.”
Now I was confused. “Alicia’s having a girl? Did she tell you that?”
Tony shook his head. “No, again, you’ll think I’m crazy.”
I laid by Tony’s side, just close enough for my arm to touch his. “You can trust me.” It was only then I realized I’d never told him my name. “I’m Leo, I-”
I was about to say more when Tony turned to look at me, his brown eyes, sparkling with innocence and beauty. “My baby sister talks to me in my dreams.”
“Do you think you’ll meet her someday?”
Tony shrugged. “I-I’m really sick, I know I don’t have much time left. But she’s like my guardian angel.”
Before I could ask anything further, Q reappeared. “I found a place for us to stay, it’s not far. Tony, are you ok to walk?”
Tony nodded. “I think so.”
I watched as he stood up slowly, like a baby bird, before nearly collapsing. “Here, hold my arm. You sure you’re ok? I could probably carry you.”
“Nothing I can’t handle.” Tony still took my arm. As his legs locked in an impressive show of strength, the mechanics of his body become clear; the robotic components were controlled by his actual nerves and muscles. “I mean, I’ve been through worse.”
“How so?” I asked as we followed Q. I wanted to keep him talking, if only to confirm he was conscious.
“My dad, he’s a real b*****d. He married my mother to give her citizenship, but then he just took everything. He would beat her, r**e her, and when I was born….” Tony fell to his knees as the breath left his lungs. He was crying. “He wanted to kill me. I was a mistake, an abomination.”
“You’re in good company,” I said to lighten the mood.
Tony laughed ever so softly. “Well, that’s why I know I need to survive. I’m pissed as Alicia for marrying the b*****d, but I know she’s only doing it for his money. Someone needs to save her, and her baby from a lifetime of abuse.”
Q lead us to what looked like an abandoned house, complete with a wood-burning stove. “It’s not much, but it’s a roof. I figure we can pull in the hay from outside to make a place to sleep.”
On a comfortable area of the dirt floor, I fell asleep with Tony in my arms while Q left to gather supplies. I learned a lot today; Wendigo’s fed on hope, they used the public hospital for their hunting ground, and Tony- he was clearly more powerful than he appeared.
But there were still many questions on my mind, like how the hell I was going get my rig back?
We had to go back to Wisconsin- that was where the final battle awaited. We just needed to be prepared.