Jeremy "Bud" Johnson's Secret Stuff
It takes Bud almost a week to wind down and accept his mundane life again. More than once, he thought the pager had vibrated, but it hadn't. There was a two-day slump that has been lost to time and memory in a haze of beer and whiskey, but Bud finally came out of it none the worse for wear. Of course, Daryl was there. He was a little confused as to the source of the grief, but he didn't ask too many questions of Bud.
That next weekend, Bud and Daryl hit the town, looking for love. They both manage to find someone. Daryl finds a rowdy, feisty woman with long chestnut hair, just the way he likes them. Bud finds a vapid, voluptuous woman that doesn't know when to stop drinking, just the way he likes them.
The next morning, an embarrassed young yuppie girl leaves Bud's small home a little dazed and confused. She'll probably never see Bud again, but he's gotten used to that. Commitment in a relationship with a woman is a dim memory. It was a great night nonetheless, Annette was quite an inspired drunken lover and Bud learned a couple of new tricks.
Bud meets up with Daryl and is introduced to Jess, the woman that Daryl went home with the night before. This was only the third time Daryl stuck with a woman this long, and one of the other two times ended up two miles short of a Vegas wedding "chapel". Bud is initially annoyed that he is alone and Jess is in the way of some crude male bonding, but in spite of himself finds that he likes her by the end of the meal. She likes the things that Bud and Daryl like and she knows what she's talking about. She's a little too much of a tomboy for Bud, but Daryl seems to eat it up.
The trio go out for the weekend to hunt and fish. Jess proves herself to be a competent hunter, even if not as with a gun as Bud is. Her fishing skills are lacking, but she picks things up quickly and accepts criticism and ribbing from Bud and Daryl alike with a good nature. By the weekend's end, her presence seems a lot more natural to Bud and he is almost sad to see her go. Maybe this is the kind of woman Bud needed, someone he could enjoy life with.
Over the next week, Bud sees little of Daryl at their usual haunts. He and Jess begin to share a lot of time together and Bud often finds it difficult to even locate him most of the time. Bud falls back on the usual crowd at Rudy's and catches up on his sports.
Labor Day weekend rolls around and the new couple, Daryl and Jess, disappear into the woods. Bud keeps himself busy sparring and training. He even picks up two fights at the Bashing Pit which he manages to win. Jess and Daryl return late on Labor Day and Daryl keeps Bud up all night with stories of the trip. Bud realizes that Daryl is head over heels and he finds it hard not to be happy for him. He is losing his friend, but Daryl is so happy that it's hard for Bud to be bitter. They are good friends after all and Daryl put up with Bud's disappearance from regular life when Bud first met Lou Ann. Now it was Bud's turn to be the spectator in a growing relationship.
Bud finds it easy to get up early and gets back into the swing of work. The shop mechanics are quite good and the usual complaint is that the work isn't very challenging, but they get paid top dollar to fix SUVs for flustered soccer moms and every now and then they save a high performance car from the disregard of its owner. That Friday, Bud works late for a desperate customer and she takes him out for dinner as thanks. One thing leads to another and Bud finds himself in bed with Margaret. A mixed sensation of primal pride and self-loathing churns within him as Margaret explains some of the intricacies of her failing marriage. Bud parts ways with her and takes a long drive into rural McKinney. He finally stops by the road and hops in the bed of his pickup, staring up at the night sky, waiting for lucidity to fall down upon him like a shower of stars.
The next morning he wakes up with a kink in his neck and cramps in his back where the cold truck bed leeched the heat from his muscles. He sits up in the bed and instinctively yanks his shotgun through the rear opening in his cab window when he sees the reflection of a rider on a horse behind him. He spins to find the smiling face of Luke Barton, the equestrian friend of Frank Masterson, his hands raised and his mouth still obscured by his huge bushy mustache.
"Whoa pardner! Just making sure you were still alive. I saw your truck parked out here while I was on a lone trail ride." He looks at Bud closely. "Hmm, I'm guessing the only person you want to talk to right now is yourself." Luke pulls the reins and guides the horse away from the truck. "You be careful now, I hear tell some strange things have happened in McKinney in the last few months!"
Bud snaps to reality again and shakes off the cloud of inactivity. He hops out of the bed, climbs into the cab and heads home. That night, at Rudy's Jess and Daryl stop by for a few hours and the three of them talk. Jess and Daryl relate a few tales about a trip to the West End Marketplace in downtown Dallas. It sounds like they had fun. Bud listens politely, trying not to be too distracted by his own internal concerns. Bud's unusually contemplative look intrigues Daryl, but when asked Bud dismisses it as a lack of sleep. The couple soon leaves the bar; Bud has little doubt as to what they plan to spend their time doing for the rest of the night. The weekend passes like so many before it and Monday is almost welcome with its promise of something worthwhile to do.
When Bud returns home from work Tuesday, he is surprised to find a voice mail referring to him taking a trip and a web site. The web site speaks about the Himalayas. It looked they were finally going to Tibet. That sounded strangely appealing to Bud. Something about the whole spiritual enlightenment thing seemed more attractive than silly today.
Bud wraps up affairs over the next week and actually goes running a couple of times as if that would suddenly make him fit. He does it anyway and promises himself to do it more often when he returns. He turns off the light in his tiny home and heads to the airport.
Bud tosses his luggage in the passenger seat of his pickup and walks around to the driver side. The wind catches the faint scent of gun oil lingering on him and carries it to his awareness. Bud had lovingly cleaned and stored his guns in his closet. Not having any guns on the trip seemed like an awful big risk to take, but Malcolm promised that they would be able to pick up guns and gear in Tibet as needed.
Bud gets into his truck and finds a clean rag from the garage to wipe his hands more thoroughly, gun oil is great for guns, bad for steering wheels. As he starts his truck, he hears the telltale signature of Daryl's truck. That fifth piston had been acting up for a year now and Daryl never would let Bud fix it, promising to take care of it himself. The timing of Daryl's visit seemed odd somehow, but then there really was no regular schedule. Daryl passes Bud, turns around in the cul de sac, and comes back, his driver side facing Bud's. Bud can see the outline of what Jess long before he sees her face.
Daryl rolls down the window and smiles in a way that Bud has never seen before. Is it contentment or did he just get laid really well? The jury is still out, maybe things will work out with Jess. Jess is smiling too. They seem pretty happy to see Bud. "Hey Bud."
"Hey." Bud smiles back, infected by their happiness.
"Taking that trip?"
"All right then." Bud and Daryl look off ahead off their respective vehicles as if cue cards might be hidden on the road somewhere. "You're gonna be gone for a month, right Bud?"
"All right then." Daryl pauses, chewing on a toothpick. He gets out of his truck and leans into Bud's open window nodding to Jess, who turns up the volume on the stereo. A twinge of concern races through Bud. Was this Daryl? Was he about to get ambushed? Why the hell didn't he have a gun on him?!
Daryl's smile fades slightly, "Don't know how best to say this, so I'll just say it. Your friends been watching me and I know why. I'm not like normal folks, I know that now and I am dealing with it. Jess is helping me. We've been waiting for a chance like this. With you out of town, I can get out of here with a clear conscience that they aren't gonna ask you to track me down. I don't want to gamble that your friends are gonna give me the benefit of the doubt before they shoot me."
Bud listens, nigh paralyzed by the flood of realization as Daryl continues.
"Problem is, when I get a mean on, people are gonna get hurt. Jess can help me control that, so I gotta get outta here. Don't say anything friend, I'll be back 'fore long and we'll have a few beers and discuss the weirdness in the world. Far as I know, you're fighting the good fight, according to Prof. Mallin, so keep it up. I'll see ya when I see ya. By the way, tell your friends they could stand to wear less after shave."
Bud motions to start speaking but fails to say anything as Daryl smoothly gets into his truck and waves to someone that Bud can't see. Jess turns down the volume on the stereo and they drive off. It takes Bud a few moments to collect himself. Daryl was a werewolf, Jess probably was too, and he was about to fly halfway around the world to look for information on a powerful evil amongst little Tibetan monks. It was a strange day to say the least.
After a brief discussion with the team, they split off and head to the temple that seemed to feel unusually comfortable to them while you remain in the Temple of the Healing Moon. You understand the importance of the fishing, but you know that now is not the time for that. You have come to grips with your situation and place in the universe, or at least you are ready for other teachings. You wander about the temple and the other monks walk to and fro, passing you silently. At first you greet them, but soon realize it's not necessary. There is a strange sense of fraternity and companionship with these strange little Asian men that you might have dismissed, ignored, or even ridiculed just a few days ago. Strange times indeed.
Your mind turns to Frank Masterson, or at least what you think is Frank. You remember your time in that little cell of a room only vaguely. Mostly it was like you were trying to wake up from a deep sleep. Whenever you did wake up, something pulled you back into the comforting arms of unconsciousness. There were occasionally flashes of dreams, most involved you with hair and claws, rending the limbs and flesh from opponents armed with weapons that seemed of little use against you. Sometimes you felt remorse, other times you did not. You suspect that in the former cases, the people you were killing were either your friends or those that you meant to protect. What you know for sure is that you had gotten out of control and killed people you should not have.
With nothing specific to do, the notion of stepping out to smoke a cigarette crosses your mind, but the thought of smoking sounds bad, almost nauseating. You never really accepted the notion that it was really bad, but now you somehow fell that it must be. Speaking of vices, a beer sounds good, but you a strong revulsion from the prospect of getting drunk. Hmm, maybe it's the mountain air.
You wander around to the foyer and see the door to the basement room open. Curious about what this basement might hold, you head on down. No one stops you or even takes obvious notice. When you get into the room, it is somewhat barren. There is a stone slab at the far end that is quite large, five feet wide and ten feet long. Spread over it is a thick furry animal hide. It is not like any animal hide you have acquired. It could be the hide of one of the beast men guys like in the cave. There is also a small flat pillow at one end of the slab. Two braziers flank the head and foot of the slab. The bases of the braziers are kneeling beast men, supporting the basins of the braziers on their backs, similar to the image of Atlas supporting the world.
The walls have various pictures of beasts and men, similar to the ones on the ceiling of the main room of the temple. The ceiling of the room is somewhat pristine except for the area over the slab. Above the slab is a very realistic image of a beast man painted onto a bas relief carving, which makes it appear as if it is coming out of the ceiling towards the slab. It's posture is relaxed, it's claws are shiny and clean, and it's eyes are serene and fixed staring ahead, towards the head of the slab. A few minutes of looking at the images on the walls gives you the impression that there is nothing really new there. Also, the messages of the walls seem to be pretty obvious and self-evident to you:
That last point seems important, but right now you feel compelled to lay down on the slab and check out the image on the ceiling. You place fresh bricks of incense on the basins of the braziers and light the coals at the bottom. They light very easily and the red glow of the coals can be seen through holes in the eyes of the beast men supporting the frame, giving them a semblance of supernatural life. You lay down on the hide-covered slab and it seems more comfortable than you expected. You look up at the eyes of the beast man. They are quite serene and you find it progressively harder to avert your gaze. The room seems to melt away and only the beast man is left. He seems to get closer, as if floating down from the ceiling. You a hint of surprise as if it was a distant memory of being surprised, but you feel no fear and you lay there, strangely calm.
Your perceptions fade out and you are crouching behind a line of shrubs. Your white fur blends well into the snowy background. About twenty feet down the slope, you see a dozen men crouched behind a similar line of greenery. The stench wafts up in a nauseating mixture of filth, rice wine, unwashed bodies trapped in filthy clothes, and traces of perfumes and colognes that quixotically attempt to cover the other smells. You want to kill them now, but you remember making that mistake before and the men were not as evil as they smelled. So you wait.
The men below shiver occasionally at the cold. It does not bother you in the slightest. Your body generates plenty of heat and your thick fur does and excellent job of trapping it. Some frost has accumulated near your mouth and nose, but you remain stationary, not wanting to give away your presence. An hour passes before you hear the sounds of wagons. The men below tense up at the approach and ready weapons. You recognize a man in the caravan, one of the monks that you have befriended. He has brought you meat when food was scarce and his incense always smells nice. The wagons comprise a caravan and they are your friends, that makes the men near you bandits. The urge to kill them rises in your throat, but you wait.
As the caravan passes the bandits leap out to attack and you follow suit, descending upon them even as they descend upon the caravan, drowning out their cries with your own fierce roar. You tear into two of them, flaying the flesh from their bones in huge sweeping rakes of your claws and killing them before the rest of the men can turn to face you. You see and smell the fear, but the ten of them embolden each other and they attack. You dodge some blows gracefully knock other weapons aside harmlessly, but a few manage to strike home. The wounds are trivial, much less than they should be. You tear the arm of a swordsman that struck you as you bite into the neck of another and nearly decapitate him. The pulsing fonts of blood coming from both portend their imminent death. The remaining eight pause in indecision and you disembowel two of them and then two more before they realize the error of their actions. Two throw their spears at you and turn to run. You knock one away and the other scratches you slightly as you lunge forward and tear a leg from each man's body. This distraction allows the other two to gain distance from you, but there is nothing in this land that can escape you on foot, even the tall, swift four-legged beasts that the round eyed men ride. With little effort, you catch up to them, spinning the head off of one and tearing half of the rib cage from another.
You give in to an urge and devour the thigh of one of the men. Most of the others smell of the taint of disease and waste. You turn to look back at the caravan and the monk is swinging an incense burner and chanting his thanks in a tongue you understand. The chanting calms the fire in your heart and you feel satisfaction. It is time to hunt now.
You encounter similar visions, one after the other. When you awaken, the bricks of incense have burned away completely and the coals have gone cold. You quietly and calmly roll off the slab and walk up the stairs. You half walk, half lope, the memory of you visions as a beast man still sharing your perceptions. As you step out into the pillar into the foyer, one of the monks yells, "Prepare yourself!" and jabs a knife into you. Yo let out a low growl and crouch low, but the blade strikes true. The wound should have been serious, but it is only superficial. You lunge forth clawing at the monk, but two others step up from behind and restrain you. The first monk then steps up to you and says, "You have begun to learn how to channel the strength of your beast. It has chosen to teach you the strength of life first. Learn well, this ability can make lethal blows into irritating scratches. Such power can be fearsome indeed. In time you will learn more, but for now, you have much to learn about yourself and the way of your beast." The monks release you and move back into the main room and kneel to meditate. The one that addressed you gestures to the main room and then heads back towards the quarters and kitchen. You feel some pangs of hunger, but the need to sort out your visions seems to overwhelm them and you move into the room.
You kneel down at the far end of the room, tossing another brick of incense on the brazier and kneel down. The incense fills your senses and the dancing figures almost seem to animate as the light of the candles and braziers dance to and fro upon them. You fade into meditation and ponder the visions you had. Hours pass like minutes.
The meditation ends when the even voice of one of the monks says, "Hold and prepare yourself." You open your eyes and see him standing before you with a fighting stick in each hand. You know that this is some sort of test or lesson. You steel yourself and try to remember the fiery vigor of the beast that protected you from the monk's blade hours before, but it does not come. The stick slams solidly into your flesh bruising and damaging it. "Damn!" you let out. "Focus," the monk says calmly. You begin to complain when he strikes you again. The pain bites into your senses and you feel the beast stirring within. You call it forth and steel yourself once again. The stick strikes you once more, but it bounces, for want of a better word. It is as if someone were tapping your arm vigorously. The monk launches into a series of rapid strikes. It feels like a rough massage. Your resolve starts to wane after about thirty seconds, but he relents in his assault. "Good," he says, not even panting from the effort, "it is not so easy to call the beast at your convenience. You will have to work on that if you are to become." He walks away. You say to his back, "Become what?" There is no reply.
From the lack of light peering out from under the main door, you can tell it is night. You move to the kitchen and eat a simple meal. Later, you engage in exercises of the mind and body with the other monks. A lot of it consists of slow katas and periods of meditation. When you do settle down to sleep, you sleep very deeply. Your dreams are peaceful ones of you running through along the snow-covered mountains under the light of the moon, your only companions your superhuman vigor and the eerie glow of the snow from the moonlight. When you do awaken, you are told that your fellow monk has finished his meditations and you are to join him and your team to discuss the results.