Claws clicked against wood. A door creaked open. The hound stared at the still figure on the floor, facing away from the entrance. As still as the night. It nuzzled the figure's ear but the figure made no response. It whined, no reply. It pawed at the figure's side. Then it padded around the side of the figure and lay itself in the cold, limp arms, sighing mournfully. Blood matted its muzzle.
The figure should have been screaming, it should have been hammering against the walls, clawing at the mirror, howling bloody fear in the night. But it just lay on the floor, eyes frozen open as tears slid down its cheeks. This is what it must be like, the figure, the boy thought, this is what it must be like to find out you have cancer, to wake up blind, to be paralyzed. This cage, this inescapable nightmare. It would never happen to me, people thought... As if being the life you lead means you have some special immunity to what you are afraid of. How could someone be so naive? How could he be so naive?
The dread gnawed through him. An infestation of cold maggots in his stomach, a thick, cold, corrosive smog in his head, great leaden chains on his limbs. In circles his mind whirred, how could he let a demon in, how could he go on, how could he live? He wallowed in his self pity, in his fear and regret and hatred. Suddenly, as the boy lay on the cold ground with the hound in his arms and a puddle of tears by his cheek, a funeral shroud of despair was laid over him.
"What have I done?" He asked, through a voice that he had grown up with and now hated.
"We didn't know..." The hound replied. It came out as a rumble from its chest and was translated instinctively in the boy's head as a language he would understand. Since a child and all through learning the Craft he had built up an affinity with animals and yet, he hated the hound. He hated the hound that was his best friend, his brother. The hound he should love, the hound that he should hold tightly for all that it meant to him. But the idea repulsed him like a putrid disease. "You said you had to forgot, you had to get it out... You said you were strong enough that you would be fine." Well, he wasn't.
"You have to kill it." The hound growled with the merciless thirst of a predator. "Bite into its flesh and tear it to pieces." The boy wasn't a predator.
He just lay in the darkness and prayed. He prayed to any power that would help. He prayed for anything that would help him fight. To the God or gods in the sky, in the ground, in himself. He didn't care whether he fought it or let it consume him he just needed something that would allow him to bare the process. He needed Resolve.
The doorbell rang.
The sound drilled through him, an arrow through the very fibre of his being. The hound lifted its head, ears pricked as the boy turned to look out of the bathroom door. Through the living room, up the stairs, down the hall and into the bathroom the bell shrieked again. The sound pronged his body, making every cell cry out slightly, and yet... there was a siren call in it. With each ring he felt a tug at his conscience. A tension built within him, to hear and analyse another ring, and with tepid breathes hound and boy waited.
The boy disentangled himself from the dog and stood up, moving out of the hell that was the bathroom and into the hell that was the corridor, then down the hell that was the stairs, his hesitant steps creaking tiredly. The hound followed.
Tight body, fists clenched, eyes wide, he stopped at the base of the stairs, peering around the wall to the ominous door. He waited there for a while. Nothing moved but the chests of the boy and the hound. A clock ticked. Nothing. The boy let out a sigh and turned back to his misery.
Like the joyful cry of a child the bell clawed at his nerves again. He turned back, the hound growled, the rumble rippling into the boy's hands through the wall to which he now grasped. Once again there was a lapse in noises on the other side of the door.
And then, "Seth?" a voice called. The boy remained but a statue, except his beating heart hammering in his stone chest. "I know you're there, son." He remained unmoving, terrified. "I'm here to help you." And, for a finite moment that felt infinite, he heard true honesty in the deep, masculine voice.
The hound lunged toward the door with deep blood-thirsty hunger escalating in its throat, but before the hound could scare the visitor away the boy leapt forward to the door and opened it. Air rushed into the house. The hound stopped beside the boy. The boy stood on the edge of desperation.
A thick-set man with dark, curly brown hair and a short beard stood before the boy. He was dressed like a father, with a brown and red chequered lumberjack shirt, jeans, heavy shoes. He had the sort of expression that someone could trust, that didn't judge or condemn only supported. He smiled, warmly and truthfully, the tips reaching eyes beneath thick dark eyebrows. The large black wolf with its blood stained maw growled at the man but he stood, confident and casual as if the hound, that could probably rip his face off, was no more than another's beloved pet. Amber eyes with the warmth of a bonfire on a cold night met the boy's tear-stained eyes with the blood still trickling down the side of his brow and sickly pale, hollow skin.
"May I come in?" The paternal voice seemed to warm the very air. The boy held the door open wider, saying nothing. The man hesitated, his eyes tracing the door frame as if something might jump out of the wood but then he sighed and stepped into the cold living room.
To the boy, as the man walked through the colour drained space and sat on a sofa, it seemed that light began to creep back into the room. He sat comfortably on the old sofa yet not impolitely, taking care not to touch anything that didn't belong to him yet allowing himself onto the seat all the same. The boy stood at the opposite end of a coffee table beside the sofa. The hound, head low, a snarl barely hidden from its face, stood guardian beside him.
"Are you alright?" The man asked.
"You don't look it."
"I'm fine." The boy repeated.
"Of course you are. All teenage boys are strong, none of the have any weaknesses, any pain." His tone was gentle, like a father to a child. "Talk to me."
"What do you want?" Cold resentment slithered out of the boy like a strangling snake.
"Are you the police?"
"Something like that..." Modest pride touched the man's tone. Strong hands that looked like they were used for building and creating were clasped in his lap. "I try and help people and stop evil so, yes, I suppose I am the police."
"The Vigilance?" The boy asked, fear straining his voice.
"Ah. Yes, you must be talented to know our name. A true practitioner of the Craft."The boy avoided the gaze of the man's eyes; he stared down at the apples on the coffee table as the man spoke. "Have you heard about the accident along the road into town?" The boy didn't reply. "Terrible thing. Hit and run you know?" The man waited for an answer. The boy just stood, seemingly captivated by the light smudged on the surface of the red apples."I can't stay for long," He continued "but I thought I may come and speak to you. Come and help you. The accident, the one on the road, as I said, it was a hit and run and I'm just trying to find out who it was. The child whose - " There was no form of accusation in the man's voice but the boy bristled. Fire ran through his veins, building an inferno in his head.
"Get out." He said as the hound growled with thunder in its lungs.
"I am here because I know you know something. I know you aren't responsible, son. This accident is serious, what caused it is dangerous..."
A dog in the house next door started barking. He dug his fingernails into his palms. "Me?"
"No, of course not." The boy could feel the man's gaze scrutinising his soul. "You are suffering and I will help ease it. I'll ease the guilt and the remorse and you will help me catch what is responsible." He was calm, honest and as a result a cruel anger built in the boy like a tumour pressing against his brain.
"Get out." He repeated. Why had the boy let him in? No one could help him. No one. Who did this man, who he didn't even know, think he was? Everyone was out to just escalate his suffering, the girl, Mama Twayblade, even the hound who stood stoically beside him. Books, DvDs, photos, paintings in the room suddenly began to shake as if boiling in a pan. The boy's contempt grew.
"All I want to do is talk. I want to help you." Sincerity, like fire, seared at the boy's heart.
"Leave." The boy's rage was a tornado in his body. A whirling tumultuous pressure built around him and as he spoke the single word a chair behind him suddenly flung up, an invisible force pinning it to the ceiling.
"Fine." The man said and with never-ending calmness and patience he stood up and walked to the door. There he stopped, his face concealed from the boy, standing with his hand on the door handle. "Guilt is a parasite. It is a disease." He began, each word pronounced with such devotion that it reverberated painfully inside the boy. "It drives men insane, makes people mutilate themselves, forces us to see truths we'd otherwise hide from like ignorant infants. It is rancid everywhere from the mother holding her new-born babe to the bully beating his peer in the playground. It is hungering and vile and is constantly ravaging. But, but it does serve a purpose in the grand scheme of things. It is there to teach us. To inspire us to be better. The mother that feels guilty for bringing a child into a world that may be undesirable will use her guilt to build a better world for it. The bully that beat the people around him will learn from it, he will learn that the infliction of pain is not the only form of expression. For a while it may eat at them, causing them to feel... tainted, but eventually their mind's will respond to the infection. They will heal." He paused "But only if they fight, if they have the conviction. If they do, then all the pain and remorse and tears will have only made them that much stronger."He paused again. "If not it will kill them in pain and poison and the tears of themselves and those they love." Something stirred behind the dawning eyes of the boy. "Are you going to fight?" Something deep and profound, it carried with it the hope of a new day, the laughter of a loved one, the touch of passion between two lovers. The battle cry of someone fighting for what they believe in. It was faith. The room stopped shaking; the chair fell to the floor. Tears of realisation crept to the boy's eyes.
Where despair is the matter of hell, faith is the substance of heaven. It is this, as life began to find hope and light and love in the sun, in the home, and in each other's company, which first wrought angels into this world. And it was this that began to tingle around the boy. He released the room and let the world slip back around him. The sounds of birds and cars outside, the rhythm of his own breathing, the smell of his home. He looked up at the man standing before the now open door. "Who are you?"
The man turned back to the boy, a heart warming, confident smile on his face. "I... I am Resolve." And then stepped out of the house and disappeared into the dawn.
The boy smiled slightly. Just on the edge of his senses happiness and love danced now, he could almost taste it. He looked at the hound. He sighed through a mouth that could not ever express its remorse and stroked the hounds head, its tail wagged lovingly. He still did not feel connected to his home and his loved ones but he understood now. And something that he had not felt in what felt like moths surged through him now, courage.
As he looked around his home, at his brother and the photos of the rest of his family, conviction ascended within in him. Conviction that grew to the pinnacles of mountains and to the depths of the ocean. This was his body, his mind and his soul. Hope tingled in his heart that now pounded with confidence. His breaths now escaped not in gasps of insecurity and fear but carrying the winds of change that brought warmth and life. It was time he fought back. Resolve.
"Will you help me, Herne?" He knelt before the hound.