Part 1: https://theakhtabweekly.com/?p=191
Part 2: https://theakhtabweekly.com/?p=194
Part 3: https://theakhtabweekly.com/?p=196
Part 4: https://theakhtabweekly.com/?p=198
Part 5: https://theakhtabweekly.com/?p=200 Part 6: https://theakhtabweekly.com/?p=202
“Did Ricky say the same thing when he was in that position?” She asks. “Did he cry for your help the same way you’re crying for mine?”
“What the hell are you talking about?!” Joe says. “Ricky said he was gonna hold off the wolves, that he’d put his life down while I went and got you and me the fuck outta here!”
“You’re lying, Joe,” Cheryl says. “I know what happened.”
Joe forgets about his impending death and looks at her incredulously, “What?”
“I know you pushed Ricky down the stairs and escaped while the wolves tore him apart,” She says, “I know you looked back and watched them do it, and watched the life drain from his eyes as they ripped out his throat.”
“And how the fuck could you possibly know that?” Joe asks.
Cheryl pauses for dramatic effect then answers, “Because you came out completely unscathed.” she adds. “Ricky’s story is true because his right hand was busted when he came out, he tried to save Mike.”
Joe’s expression changes from stark focus to unmistakable recognition. Cheryl had been in a catatonic state when she heard that Mike died, her eyes were far away, on another planet, nothing Joe and Ricky said could get to her. The way she looked, Joe thought, a minor observation such as that should’ve been the furthest thing from her mind; besides, Joe watched her while Ricky recounted what happened and noticed her eyes weren’t even looking at him, they were looking past him, at the tunnel, waiting for Mike to come out and make what Ricky was saying false.
Joe meets her gaze for the first time and sees how she knows what happened, the ghost of Wallace Wolfgang manifests behind her with a hand on her shoulder, his grey hair falling to his shoulders, his grey beard to his chest, and those eyes. Those icy, steel blue eyes. They look at him with an apathy that spells merciless death, a coldness that’d freeze hell over in seconds. It is then the susurrus voices return and resonate throughout the cave.
You killed him. . .
You killed Ricky. . .
The voices say this slowly at first then gradually get faster and faster until they begin to overlap in a terrifying echo. One voice becomes two, then three, then four. Eventually, it’s difficult to even tell what they’re saying, but Joe knows what they’re saying. He knows very well. He tries to cover his ears to no avail, the wolves stop snarling and begin circling him, looking on with cold, snow-white eyes. Joe presses his hands to his ears harder like he’s trying to crush his own skull, but no matter how hard he presses, the voices still echo inside his mind.
You killed him. . .
You killed Ricky. . .
Cheryl watches on as Joe crouches to the ground then to his knees, trying to cover his ears. Eventually, he’s in the fetal position writhing in pain as his conscience tries to fight the voices. He gets up and tries to run toward the tunnel, but the wolves block his way, he looks left, then right, then front, then back, then front again. No way out. He looks at Cheryl and sees only the faintest glimpse of sympathy, nothing more. Wolfgang stands behind her to the right, his hand still on her shoulder. She doesn’t seem to notice. The voices grow louder and louder in Joe’s head, the pain in his brain is becoming too much to bear. His heart beats at his chest like a scared prisoner, his breathing becomes heavy and laborious, his head throbs like a bastard, his insides start to heat up like a boiler room; the voices echo in their horrible harmony inside his head to the point he goes into his pockets, fumbling a bit, and takes a knife out–Ricky’s knife. It still has blood on it from when Ricky slit one of the wolf’s throat. Joe wipes the knife off, takes the last deep breath he’ll ever take and puts the knife to his ear and begins cutting with nearly no hesitation. His screams and cries permeate the cave and Cheryl–who usually would’ve been horrified at such a sight–is as calm and serene as a flowing river on a sunny day. She looks on with indifference tinged with the slightest bit of sadness and pity.
Joe rips off his ear and throws it on the floor then goes to work on the other one in an unusual hurry, almost as if he’s using the pain to drown out the voices. When he gets done with that ear and throws it on the floor, he stands up and screams for a full sixty seconds. The blood runs down his temples like a waterfall and the wolves look on with listless, snow-white eyes, still circling him. The screams block out the voices temporarily, but they come back with fiery wrath once the pain subsides, echoing in his head to the point of making it burst. Joe presses his hands to his ears again when he falls to his knees for the second time. He slams his head on the ground and does it again and again and again and again until his forehead is caked in blood, to no avail.
Cheryl watches the self-destruction with the countenance of a math professor during finals week, never moving from the steps.
Joe slinks himself up and looks at the dark and jagged ceiling with hot tears streaming down his face, he tries to say something but can’t. His hazel eyes matched the emerald green light of the room, glowing like aurora borealis on a clear night. His last words before leaving this earth are simple but sincere.
One of the wolf’s lunges at Joe’s throat and rips it out the same way Ricky’s was. The others pile on him and tear him limb from limb then take their meal into their separate tunnels. The only things left of Joe are his ears, gloves, Ricky’s knife, and blood. So much blood.
Cheryl looks on for a moment longer, Wolfgang’s hand still on her shoulder, and walks down the steps, her eyes never leaving the scene. When she gets to the last tunnel she looks away and stares inside, the darkness becoming a greenish-blue light. Wolfgang disappears and Cheryl walks in, forgetting everything she’s just seen.
The lights lead Cheryl out of the tunnel and into the Minnesota blizzard. There’s an animal-made road in front of her that leads through the tundra, the trees on either side resembling arches. The path has few twists and even fewer turns, the frigid winds bite into her coat and exposed skin, almost cutting into her cheeks. She gets to a crossroad that has four directions–counting the one she just came from. On either side, there’s nothing but a field of dead grass and falling snow with visibility seeming like a fool’s dream. Ahead of her, is a field that leads to the other side of the woods–where the cabin is. From both sides, she sees something approaching in the distance–three figures she recognizes immediately as wolves–like friends or brothers having an interesting conversation about a deep topic. The wolves stop at the end of the path and turn their gazes at Cheryl, they look at each other for a long time. Those cold, listless, indifferent snow-white eyes from before are gone, replaced with icy blue eyes filled with understanding and compassion. Cheryl holds their gaze for a little more then continues straight.
When she gets through the woods and sees the cabin dead ahead, she looks at it as a foreign object. The roof is flooded with snow and the door is piled to the halfway point, she walks toward the tool shed on the side of the cabin then hears footsteps. She turns around and sees the wolves from the crossroads, looking at her with empathetic eyes. Two of the wolves go to the door and start digging it out–finishing in no time. A faint smile appears on her face when she turns from the shed and walks to the door. The wolves walk back to the pack and stand there, she places her hand on the doorknob and hears the wind blow then looks back one last time, the wolves are gone.
She sighs then opens the door and walks into the cabin then cries until nightfall, everything that’s happened flooding her mind with hellish wrath.
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