The gunshot was like so much blood in shark-haunted waters. More opponents converged, moving through my carefully laid webs of silence. Someone tried to slink into the room, traveling within the wide shadows leaking from the hallway. I closed my hand around his throat, eliciting a wet pop as I hauled him from the floor and stuffed him into a small heating vent. I lifted myself into a nearby hole in the ceiling and crawled under the cracked skin of the structure, looking down into the hallway outside. The ruined hunter I abandoned to the heating vent was slowly expiring to the rasp of his own fading breath, and the wheezing had the pleasant effect of concentrating the attention of the other hunters. They were gathering like shadows at dusk, lurking the hidey holes about the hallway. I sought out the fat knot of electrical organs that supplied the hallway with its grubby effulgence. When the hunters discovered each other and began to emerge from the shadows, my sister severed the lights and I retired from the ceiling to the blacked-out spaces beneath me.
An infant silence was born into the spaces left behind by the din of our violence, revealing a gory chimera, spread wide and red upon the floor, made from the severed forms of a dozen victims. I moved beyond the coagulating hallway, covered in the paints and clay of my craft, hoping to discover even greater bounties of murder and men.
I was additionally excited over the discovery I’d made while piecing together my latest art piece. I realized not a one of them were Wolves. These crazed knife-wielders and gunfighters were something altogether different and equally wonderful—White Wigs (or just Wigs, as I’ve heard them called). They were of course the unfortunate survivors of attempts to recover memories of the Great Darkness using hypnosis. Generally, such persons died during the process, the strain of recalling such unmitigated madness causing their hair to turn winter white and producing a facial expression that outlined a fear incapable of being halted by human heads. Yet there have been cases, however infrequently, of individuals surviving the hypnotical process, if not the general aesthetic changes that are so often associated with it. These persons were invariably raving lunatics, loudly expressing the side effects of senselessness as they ran naked and bleached through the world. To find one such creature is rare, but to find so many as had attacked me is completely unheard of. Yet Willard was likely a Mecca for the mad, so my incredulity quickly faded, leaving behind only the hope of encountering more of the fascinating, whited creatures.
I slowed my pace through the structure, hoping to give time to the renewed darkness to return my spent vigor. My enthusiasm for the coming event was undiminished despite the recent excitement, but my body was weary from its work. When I saw light in a distant hallway, I knew the moment of our meeting was almost upon me. I drew up to the lit spaces, wrapped in a thick plume of shadow and silence, and beheld an amazing gallery of beasts.
These were not the low creatures of the earth, but the great loping princes of the hunt—wolves, cougars, even a lion. (I wondered if I would be dressed in such finery.) They were all in cages lining the walls of what seemed an antechamber to a much larger room. The perfume of death swelled thickly from the spaces beyond the showroom. I entered the final chamber, relishing each moment.
The room contained wonders piled atop wonders—hunters dressed in the skins of predatory beasts, and beasts dressed in the skins of hunters. They were all displayed atop crumbling tables in the middle of the massive room. Each was backlit by rusty spotlights, which threw wicked shadows upon the walls, revealing dream and dreamer connected through an umbilicus of shadow stretching between them, inextricably binding the two beings. (Perhaps even drawing them closer together.) I approached the center of the display, where loomed a great monster dressed in the leathers of several hunters. Curious about the creature that warranted such honor, I reached out to examine it.
I felt pain before I felt stupidity. The monster was none other than Mister Hide, and he greeted me with a long blade to my abdomen. Thankfully I had instinctively turned, denying the blade access to any favored organs, but the impact forced my eager sisters from my grasp. I seized another blade bound for my throat with a naked hand, and the monstrous Wolf lifted me high off the ground by his knives. (I could only imagine the wonderful shadow we cast upon the wall.)
The hunter’s enormous strength rivaled my own, but I was filled with restless dream and would not be dressed in beasts, no matter how high the honor. I forced the blade in my hand into my shoulder and reached back to revive my father. My dark benefactor roared to life, descending deeply into the patchwork hunter’s shoulder. Hide fell to his knees, releasing me from his blades, and I returned to the ground. We drew up in front of each other, two monsters from a glorious nightmare, and for a brief moment the call of a ravening dream remitted its claim upon us. We could barely remember the strange stars that led us to this twisted city of madness, but the hunger beyond the world was soon renewed and the distance between us shrank.
I returned my father to his rest. Not to be outdone by the hunter’s earlier display of strength, I seized my quarry about his neck as we grappled and stole him from the earth. I heaved him into his display of skin-changers, many of whom were modeled with their blades held out in front of their stiffened corpses. The hunter slammed into the waiting wall of knives, his recent victims marshaling one final attack from beyond the grave. The terrible Wolf rose from the pile of monsters, hurling one of the demonic mannequins at me. I easily weathered the half-hearted attack, but Hide was already recovering from my assault.
I charged, driving my shoulder into his stomach. Taking him from his feet, I smashed him through tables, benches, man-monsters, and four-legged beast-men. His back crashed hard against the stone wall, jarring his knives from his hands. Before I could complement my attack, the hunter knotted his fists and rained them down upon my back. Drawing on a dwindling reserve of strength, I brought my own fist swinging upward, cracking Hide’s jaw and throwing his bulk to the side.
We staggered away from each other, smiles on our bloodied faces from such a marvelous battle. Yet before we could renew our enjoyment for the sport of Wolves, sounds of chaos filled the air. In moments, dozens of White Wigs flooded the chamber.
Laughably unbalanced, they proceeded to cartwheel and roll and skip a thick circle around us. Hide and I glanced at each other, each thinking the other responsible for the intrusion. Suddenly, the horde of pale lunatics parted, making way for a creature of markedly higher pedigree. He was stately for a madman, even poetic. There was an almost biblical quality to his presence—authority mixed with fear and wonder, all of it balanced upon the sharpened edge of a single ridiculous idea.
I was immediately glad of the white-haired creature’s arrival, whose otherworldly feel was much compounded by his strange attire. He wore a straightjacket repurposed into a serviceable coat, and in his right hand he held a long butterfly net. All of it he topped off with a tiny tinfoil crown, glittering despite the wayward lighting.
The madman drew himself up and addressed the chamber. “This silly contest of Wolves is hereby disbanded, by decree of the Lord of Lollipops and the divine right of the Talking Vegetables Who Haveth No Names, and by the authority of several other really important folks, all of whom have names that begin with extremely big, blood-dripping capital letters. With this royal broccoli-mation set forth, we will now proceed to the turning inside-out of you two gentlemen until you mostly resemble a fat red wad of half-chewed taffy.” He tapped the butt of his butterfly net on the ground solemnly. “Sound good?”
Hide and I glanced at each other again, this time in amazement. Before either of us could answer, the lunatic began again. “I’m just joshing you, my great big friends. But we do have to take you to see someone really special, someone who will change the world, one person at a time. Will you gentlemen please follow me?”
We were immediately seized upon by the nearby Wigs. Neither of us resisted their efforts, as we were now more curious than alarmed. We allowed the throng to usher us into the darkness, the Lord of Lollipops in the lead. My fellow Wolf smiled—for the moment at least, we were a team.
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