Janet was awakened in the stillness of the night by the sound of Ethan shouting. She looked over at Andrea’s empty bed and was up and stumbling into the hallway as fast as her legs would her. She met Andrea in the hallway walking towards the commotion. They saw Marko standing outside Ethan’s door about to turn the handle.
“I thought you and Ethan were fighting,” blurted Andrea.
“So you guys heard it too. It sounds like someone’s in there with him.”
They paused and again heard Ethan’s frantic voice cut off by the growling, throaty voice of another. Janet and her sister locked eyes, each taking in the other’s shocked expression. Janet’s hands flew up to her mouth. They recognized that voice from the woods. Marko turned the knob and went rushing into the room. The group was surprised to find Ethan alone slumbering fitfully. He didn’t awake when they entered and stood over him in bed. Marko was the first to venture an opinion.
“He’s feverish and delirious.”
“That can’t be. He was fine when we went to bed earlier,” Andrea argued.
“He must have been coming down with something.”
The three of them stood gazing down at Ethan tossing and turning. He was swaddled in sweat soaked sheets. Janet remembered the wound on his leg and spoke up.
“Could this have something to do with him being bitten by one of the wolves that were chasing us? Is he…I mean could he be turning into…”
“If you’re about to ask Marko if Ethan is turning into a werewolf then I’m going back to bed. I’m too old for bedtime stories.”
“You saw the way their eyes glowed in the moonlight. Don’t tell me you think those were ordinary wolves. Given some of the crazy things we’ve seen over the past few days, I say anything is possible.”
“Whatever Janet, leave it to you to come up with some farfetched explanation. If anything, the man has rabies. What do you think Marko?”
“Well, that depends…did they look like regular wolves or did they look like men morphed into wolves?”
The sisters looked quizzically at one another and shrugged.
Marko tried again, “What I’m saying is werewolves look more like the love child of a man and a wolf than like regular wolves. Plus, they are usually so big when they stand on their hind legs that they look more like bears than wolves.”
Janet tapped her chin thoughtfully, “the ones that attacked us looked like regular wolves.”
“Did they have tails?”
Janet laughed, “What a strange question. Of course they had tails.”
“When witches shapeshift into wolves, they normally don’t have tails. It sounds like Ethan got bitten by real wolves that were possessed or under a powerful spell. Let’s have a look at the bite.”
Ethan awoke as Marko began unwinding the sheet wrapped around his legs. He opened bleary eyes and gazed up at them blankly, panic alive in his eyes as he searched their faces. He sat up and weakly resisted Marko’s efforts to pull the sheets free before falling back against damp pillows. Recognition dawned slowly as he came fully awake.
“What’s going on,” he asked looking up at Andrea.
“We need to look at the bite on your leg. It may have gotten infected,” explained Andrea.
“It’s just a little nip. I’m fine, go away and let me sleep. I’m tired.”
Marko continued his efforts and succeeding in freeing the sheets. They turned Ethan on his side, bending down to peer at his wounded leg. The torn and bloodless flesh was starkly contrasted by the network of blackened veins branching out from the ragged wound. The trio tried to keep their expressions neutral in order to mask their shock and dismay from Ethan’s questioning looks. Marko spoke first.
“I’m not a doctor but it’s obvious that he’s too sick to go with us.”
“I hope you are not trying to tell me that we should just leave Ethan all alone and go about our merry way,” said Andrea.
“Well we can’t take him with us.”
“He’s my friend, we look out for one another. He has always had my back. To say we should leave him behind…” began Andrea.
“Look at him Andrea he is not in any condition to go with us,” said Janet.
“Well he sure as hell can’t stay here all alone. So I guess we’re going to have to stay with him and wait until he gets better.”
“I am afraid that’s not an option. Charles is not going to sit back and wait until you’re ready. Now that you are vulnerable, he will charge at you…at us. The best thing we can do is keep moving. I will have someone come watch over Ethan.”
“I don’t know how I feel about some stranger taking care of Ethan.”
“Don’t worry I will call someone I trust.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better? I don’t know how trustworthy you are,” blurted Andrea.
Janet gave her sister an exasperated look, “We don’t have much of a choice. We’re sitting ducks if we stay. He would slow us down too much if we took him with us. He can’t run on that leg. What do you want us to do carry him on our backs? Get real Andrea.”
“No you get real Janet! We just met Marko a few hours ago and you literally want me to put Ethan’s life into his hands. What has he done to warrant so much trust?”
“Well for starters, he’s Ethan’s friend. Secondly, he didn’t stab us in our sleep so we know he’s not a serial killer,” snapped Janet.
“That’s real cute Janet, I am worried about my friend and you’re being sarcastic!”
“I’m trying to show you how ridiculous you’re being. You know Ethan has always been reckless and lived life on the edge. I don’t understand why you are suddenly acting like he’s made of tissue paper.”
“He’s my friend, we look out for one another. I wouldn’t expect you to know anything about that, not with the superficial people you surround yourself with.”
“I am going to let that jab go by because I know street life has distorted your sense of decency. That’s the only rational explanation for an otherwise intelligent woman trusting a snake like Ethan. Have you forgotten about him trying to drug you and do who knows what back at that abandoned house?”
“You can’t hold that against him. Someone else was pulling his strings.”
Janet’s laughter was harsh, “he’s sure got you wrapped around his little finger. I thought you were smarter than that Andrea. Please don’t start making excuses for him. If what you say is true then why didn’t he at least try to warn you? You and I both know what would have happened if you had drank that beer.”
Marko’s cell phone vibrated in his back pocket. He pulled it out and checked his text messages. As they stood toe to toe, glaring at one another, he slipped from the room unobserved and returned with someone. He waited for a lull in the argument and loudly cleared his throat. They turned towards him and noticed his guest. At first glance, she looked to be a middle aged woman. The eyes belied her youthful appearance. There was a maturity and keenness in them that bespoke a much older woman. Pleased that he finally had the sister’s undivided attention, he introduced his guest.
“Ladies, I want you to meet Nadya. She manages the establishment upstairs but she also happens to be a top notch spell caster and medicine woman. If anyone can heal your friend it’s her. Do you mind if she takes a look at Ethan?”
They gestured for the woman to proceed then watched anxiously as Nadya peeled back the sheet and inspected the wound. She looked up at them gravely and Janet retold the story of the wolf attack. Andrea told her about the otherworldly voice that they heard coming from Ethan twice. Janet shot her sister a warning look before asking, “What’s wrong with him?”
“What you have described sounds like demonic possession. I…is that a devil’s mark on his neck,” Nadya asked drawing back from Ethan.
The horrified expression on her face frightened them. They nodded their heads reluctantly. Nadya abruptly swept out of the room, beckoning for them to follow her. She motioned for them to close the door and led the way back to the living room.
“If Marko had told me that your friend had a devil’s mark, I never would have come,” hissed Nadya in a whisper shooting him a dirty look.
Andrea turned to him, “What is she talking about Marko? Why is she making such a big deal about a tattoo?”
Nadya shushed her, “Not so loud child. We don’t want your friend to hear us.”
Andrea glared at her, “The door is closed. Have you seen how thick those things are? He couldn’t hear us if he pressed his ear against it.”
“The average person couldn’t hear us, but we’re talking about your friend who has a devil’s mark. I’ll wager he’s capable of a lot of things the average person couldn’t pull off. That tattoo serves as a vehicle for the invocation of evil spirits.”
Janet’s eyes opened wide, “So you’re saying the silver eyes and the strange voice we keep hearing really was…”
“Someone taking possession of his body. That tattoo serves as a bridge into the supernatural realm.”
Andrea laughed, “Is it me or did it just get a little crazy in here? Don’t tell me you’re taking this crap seriously Janet.”
“Don’t tell me you’re not taking it seriously Andrea. You saw the change that came over him in the woods. If he wasn’t possessed then how do you explain the silver eyes, the strange mannerisms and the voice?”
Ethan’s spoke up from the doorway and startled them all, “She’s right. He entered my dreams just now while I was sleeping. I…couldn’t seem to wake up until you all came into my room. They’re right Andrea. You can’t trust me. Not anymore. Hell, I don’t even trust myself as long as I’ve got this tattoo on my neck. I’m sorry for all of the underhanded things I did. I think I can truthfully say, the devil made me do it.”
Ethan began laughing at his own joke and suddenly broke off as his eyes slid closed. He swayed on his feet and Marko rushed to catch him. Ethan pushed him away and staggered back to the bedroom, using the walls for support.
Andrea shook her head, “Ethan doesn’t know what he’s saying. He’s feverish and you’re confusing him.”
Janet moved to console her sister, “I know this is hard to accept but you’ve got to face the facts. Ethan is very sick and…”
“Yes, he is sick. He was probably delirious in the woods when he was acting strange and talking funny. The eyes, well that was just a trick of the moonlight. You know, the same way some people’s eyes seem to glow red in a camera flash. Now, I’m going to go sit with him and I don’t want to hear any more of this crazy talk about demons and possession.”
Andrea stalked out of the room and Janet let her go. She knew there was no use attempting to reason with her sister once she had made up her mind. Besides, she didn’t trust herself not to wring Andrea’s neck. Her stubborn refusal to acknowledge what was right in front of her face was beginning to grate on Janet’s nerves. She was having enough trouble coming to terms with everything without having to drag her sister along to every startling realization. Janet took a deep breath to calm herself and apologized to Nadya for her sister’s rudeness. Nadya smiled reassuringly.
“Say no more child. This is all a lot for a norm to absorb.”
“What’s a norm?”
“A regular person. Someone who operates only in the natural realm.”
“So what do we do with him,” asked Janet.
“Well, first things first we’ve got break his fever and treat that bite. He’s got to get his strength back if he is to have any chance at being exorcised. You all should leave before he gets back on his feet. Until he is himself again, you’re better off without him.”
Marko washed up and served them a quick meal. They ate in silence, uncomfortable with the notion that an uninvited guest might be listening in through Ethan’s ears. Andrea picked listlessly at her food until Janet reminded her that it might be a while before they got to eat a hot meal again. Nadya looked in on Ethan and urged them to leave while he was asleep. Marko offered to go out the back door and move their car into the alley. Janet braced herself for an argument from her sister. True to form, Andrea reacted with suspicion.
Marko explained patiently, “Charles is proving to be a ruthless adversary. As such, no doubt he has placed a reward of some kind on Janet’s head. However, he only really wants the talisman which means it must be powerful. There are any number of corrupt spell casters who might kidnap Janet and then torture her in order to see if they can harness the power of the talisman for their own greedy ends.”