It is the year 2048. Karen, orphaned at 14, leaves the only home she has ever known to make her way into a devastated world that may hold no place for her... By Risa Bear, with illustrations and cover design by Katrin Orav.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

43

Young Neel, almost reluctantly, handed the binoculars back to Ellen. "Those are so nice."
       "They'd be even better with straight prisms." She brought the eyepieces up and scanned Ridge. No flames yet; just the eternal smoke, rising, rising. "These things will become harder and harder to find as time goes by. There were many houses – whole towns – that will have vanished in this fire, and in others like it. Places we at the Creek never had the time to explore and utilize. Any binoculars that remained in those closets and cabinets are gone forever, and who knows when we will make such things again?" She lowered the little device, examined it ruefully, and smiled at Neel. "This is a 'cheap' model, too, a brand I would never have considered owning, once upon a time. Now they're priceless. Never drop them. Come to think of it, never drop anything. It all represents a fading past, but possibly also, a future. Such things, if we can hand them on in some way, could serve as models to guide a people to make new ones. Someday."
       Ellen raised the glasses again and swept Ridge. There! A tongue of flame in the Saddle. Oh-h, not good. She could see that the fire crews were only two-thirds of the way there. If the fire advanced at the east end first, it could race down to the forests beyond Old Ames and flank everyone. There! More! Tall fir trees near the crest of Ridge began weaving back and forth in the winds the flames were creating. One tree burst into a dull orange fireball, showering burning twigs into the dark growth on the near slope.
       She turned and looked around the room. Elberd, undoubtedly very tired, had taken the opportunity to stretch himself out on the stone shelf that had sometimes served as a bunk bed, and, nodding off to the droning of Ellen's climate lecture, had fallen fast asleep. She stepped across and gently shook his shoulder. He sat up, almost bumping his head on the basalt ceiling, and blinked at her sheepishly.
      Ellen drew her Navy revolver – when did it get so heavy? – and held it up, handle forward, by the long barrel. "Young man, would you like to go out and fire this thing three times for me?"
       "Me, ma'am?"
       "You. I'm going to be on the horn to Ridge to shut down their ventilation, if they haven't already. It's getting nasty over there."

:::

Along two miles of valley floor, at the angle of repose between farms and Ridge, men and women waited; when the three shots rang out, they bent to their tasks. Emilio knelt, shielding his work out of habit, though there was little wind as yet. He would prefer to use his hand lens, but thick, gritty brown clouds hung between him and the sun; he extracted a match from a grease-coated packet in his sweaty tunic and struck it on a handy river-rounded stone. It hissed and produced a faint uric-acid whiff. He reached the tiny flame through a gap in the dry, sharp-spined pile of splintered blackberry canes, to hold it beneath an abandoned junco's nest that had been found and placed for tinder, with a ball of dry grass. The tinder barely steamed, but began to produce a hot blue smoke, and the searing heat of an almost invisible flame forced him to retract his hand precipitately, catching himself among the blackberries. The pile seemed to cling to him as it caught alight, and by the time he stood clear, watching the flames shoot up to his own height, he had thoroughly scratched both his arms in his efforts to escape. That was not pretty, he thought. But it is sufficient.
       As his own station was in the angle of the line, he had a commanding view. Emilio stepped back across the fresh track of the fire road, sipped water, and looked to his left and right, to see smokes rising all along the edge of the woods. Some had had trouble getting theirs started, and he could see the torchbearer  racing to their assistance. Before long, all were able to cross the fire trail, take up their tools, and wait.
       The fires licked at the forest edge, tentatively crept about among the dry ferns and nettles, and discovered the drought-wasted blackberry and vinca patches. Here and there a hazel flared like a Roman candle, its browned leaves blackening and detaching themselves from the slender, already-burning suckers to drift, by ones, two, and fives, into the lower branches of the firs. As the firs and maples caught fire, everyone was forced to step back into the fields. The hot wind began, tentatively at first, then increased.
       The young man from Beeman's –what was his name? – came over from Emilio's left. "What now?"
       "It is as Doctor Mary told us. We will each watch for sparks or flaming twigs to cross the line and make trouble. The we beat them out or bury them with our shovels and hoes. If this monster comes between us and the Creek, we may lose everything."

:::

"What have you got?" asked Karen, who was tired and out of breath. Running up and down staircases playing detective did not well suit her new size and shape.
       Billee shook her head. "Everyone seems to have an alibi; at least to the extent that we could find out without being alarming." She rested her hand on  the thick fur of the dog's neck. Krall looked up into her face sympathetically and swept her tail twice.
       Tomma knit his brows, an almost comically unusual expression for him. "Weren't we going to be handing those out to all and sundry, sometime soon? Why would anyone steal one?"
       Karen led the way to the Armory door. Avery sat before it in his chair, looking pensive as he had shifted his weight onto his left hip and rested his chin on his left palm, watching them.
       "No news, I can see," he said. "Wouldn't expect it. This was possibly an opportunistic event, entirely unplanned; but it seems enterprising and goal-oriented. We should – "
       Minnie Min, a long-time Ridge woman, appeared at the stairwell door, and came running toward them. "Beg pardon, sir, call from Ball Butte that they have lit the backfires below and the big fire is on us. I shut off the vents as directed."
       "Well, that was the right thing to do," replied Avery, dropping his hand onto the chair's armrest. "The smoke would be bad for us in here in two ways, one of which is all the radiation it will pick up from the forests. Who was doing this directing, though?"
       "Sergeant Murchison, sir," she grinned.
       "What the hell is she doing up there? Old busy-body. Oh, well. Is anyone at Hall, then?"
       "No, sir, it's abandoned in case the backfire jumps the line. We're all either here, on the line, or at the Butte. Oh, but we did get a call from there, from David Molinero, that I didn't quite understand."
       "Spit."
       "'The Johnny-popper's here and cutting dirt up pretty good.'"
       "Oh, that would be the tractor from Roundhouse. Thanks, Min; is anyone upstairs now?"
       "Umm, no, sir."
       "Tell you what; you've had a long shift. Tomma, I see your partner-in-crime is looking round the infirmary door at us; won't you help him down to the Common Room. Min and I'll join you, to sniff things out among the folks there. We'll all take the elevator. Bee and Karen, take over from Min?"
       "Sure, we'll do that," said Billee. "Tomma, can I borrow your friend?" Krall seemed to know this last was about her, and her tail swept the air again, cheerfully.
       "Traitor. Yeah, do that. Got a worn-out spouse to attend to right now, anyway." Tomma winked.
       "Let's get your stuff," said Karen to Billee. Karen, who wore a key on a thong round her neck, unlocked the Armory, flicked on the light, and reached for the rifle; Billee fetched her fanny pack and bow and quiver. Locking up, they trooped, Krall at their heels, toward the lit stairwell.
       On their arrival in the old DARPA control room, they found a disconsolate Selk, poking about in the guts of a junction box.
       "What's the face?" asked Billee.
       He picked up his glasses and peered at them through the thick lenses. "Hi, Bee. Karen. Mary has me trying to push some two-twenty out to the farms, to pump water next summer."
       "Well, that's what needs doing."
       "Yeah, I get it, but my heart's not in it – I want to be figuring out this stuff over here." He waved his screwdriver at the control console.
       Karen leaned the rifle against the wall and eased her awkward shape into the nearest chair. "You know that satellite's only going to want an encrypted signal, Mr. Selk. What are our chances of producing one, without computers?"
       "The system was computer dependent, yes. But this layout looks like a manual backup. That would have had some kind of predetermined handshake built in – in circuits out of reach of solar flares or electromagnetic attack. I think, though I'm not trained enough in this esoteric stuff to know, that everything we need is already in place in the main panel down at the reactor. A lot of wires run from there to the things in the panel here."
       "Whatever." Billee moved to the one of the thick quartzite windows that faced south. "How come it's so quiet in here? I mean, other than you?"
       "Thanks. Min was in here awhile ago talking about shutting off the air. I guess she's gone and done that."
       Karen put her bare foot over the register under the table. "Mmm-hmm, it's off. Lots of smoke incoming; we don't want Ridge to breathe the stuff."
       "Oh. Is that what that's about?"
       Billee half-turned away from the window. "Yah, come and see."
       Karen and Selk rose and joined her. There was not much visibility. Among the boulders nearby, poison oak bushes, a few feet high, were rattling and twisting in a fierce wind. Beyond them was a wall of brown smog in which dull red sparks rose and vanished, to be replaced by others. One of the bushes caught fire, spectacularly but briefly. And then another. Karen walked round the room. In the west window there was not much to be seen, though the outlines of the north-slope fir woods appeared momentarily. At the north window, however, a drama was unfolding. "Come look."
       Billee and Selk walked round as well. The view from this window had changed in the last few days; Dr. Mary had resurrected an ancient electric chainsaw and instructed Armon in its use. He'd become an ardent "faller" as loggers in these parts were once known, dragging a long string of orange drop-cords around from the Ridge entrance and dropping fir trees down the mountain to left and right. The intent was to keep fuel away from the Door and the sally port, more as a precaution than anything, as the doors were thick and remarkably foolproof.
       But now events had brought a halt to this new activity. Flames were rushing up through stands farther down the slope, ground fire and crown fire all at once. As each tree was reached, its foliage seemed to explode, a bloom of fire showering petals of flame in all directions, which were then carried up in the wind to new trees above.
       Even through the stone walls and thick windows, the young Creekers began to feel the heat. They took an involuntary step backward. Would they be driven downstairs, away from the phone link to Hall and Butte? At that thought, Karen went to the phone and lifted the heavy handset from its cradle. She listened to the silence a moment.
       "Does this thing have a 'dial tone'?"
       "What's that?" asked Billee.
       "Never mind. How do we know if it's working?"
        Selk shrugged. "See the doorbell buzzer by the base unit? If you push that, and somebody answers, it's working."
       "Is the line up in the trees?"
       "No, buried in the ground."
       "C'mere, Krall," Billee called to the dog softly. She put her hand on Krall's head. Krall pressed her side against Billee's knees and thumped her tail.
       "Ridge will never be the same after this," said Karen, putting her arm around Billee.
       "Nor the Creek neither. Is it all over?"
       "Not if we can get those pumps going," said Karen looking over her shoulder at Selk.
       Selk turned back to the table. "Yeah, yeah, I hear you. Well, good thing we haven't set up the dish yet, huh?"

:::

Raoul, breathless, came running up to Emilio. "Dad, they said tell you fire's ... jumping the line ... toward Holyroods'."
       "Thank you; stay and watch the backfire here and I will go."
       Emilio ran down the fire line, noting with approval, even as he ran, that most of the backfires had grown together into one wall of flame on the mountain, heading for the Great Fire coming from the other side. To his right, already, there was a blackened wasteland, while to his left, the parched and struggling fields, pastures and hedges remained intact, sloping down to the Creek. Every other fire-setter he rounded up; by the time they reached Holyroods' there were six of them. Here an unmown brown pasture had leaped into flame and was threatening the buildings; rakes, hoes, shovels and wet blankets were flailing. Emilio could hear the sound of the little tractor. "Join the line!" he shouted to the reinforcements. "Fill in between the others so they may spread out farther."
       He made for Bolo. Bolo, seeing him coming, waved a long-handled round-pointed shovel in his large fist as if it were a trowel. "Good to see you, sir."
       "Where's Jorj?"
       "He is cutting road in front of the buildings, by the hedge. The fire moves faster in that direction than along the sides, we think."
       "Anyone watching his back?"
       "Enok, one of our people."
       "Yes, a good man. I worry will that be enough. Is anyone on the other side?"
       "No, we are all here. There is no one to fight fire over there. What will you lose?"
       "What is left of Wilson's. If it crosses the Creek, Old Ames' and Jones', as well."
       "You are sad."
       "Those were the places where I farmed. Ames was my home."
       Bolo clapped a big hand on the smaller man's shoulder. "All things end, friend. We will do what we can to make less ending, for now."
       "Yes. Let us dig."
       They dug. As flames raced toward the firefighters through the tall grass, those with blankets beat at them. When the flames hesitated, seemingly seeking a way round the blackened spots left by the blankets, those with shovels threw dirt at them, while those with adzes and grub hoes continued to create new trail.
       Across the field, the orchards at Wilsons' could be seen flaming. Nearer at hand, the fire was getting around Jorj and the bulldozer. Emilio agonized over this in his heart, yet he knew little, if anything, could be done. The wars and the diseases had taken their toll. There were simply not enough Creekers, even with these additional men from Roundhouse.
       A shout came from those on Emilio's left. Flames had jumped the drought-stricken Creek! Above the steady roar of the burning field, Emilio heard a new sound; the popping and booming sounds a burning building makes. Old Ames for sure; perhaps also Jones. These lands were not currently occupied, but the farms were still in production and the buildings and their contents were irreplaceable.
       Surely, with the prevailing wind toward the Great Fire behind them, the destruction could not go in that direction so quickly? But apparently it could. Would it envelop the entire valley, in spite of all they had done for the last eight days?
       But, wait! There was more to the shouting. A woman had climbed the lookout at Holyroods', and was pointing toward Beemans' Farm; she was shouting something to Jorj and Enok, who were relaying down the line. Bolo, his face smudged black with soot, stopped shoveling and listened intently; his ears were better than those of any Creeker. He turned to Emilio.
       "Roundhouse has come."
       "Jeeah is good. Another group?"
       "The Lord is good. No, it is everyone. My people have dropped whatever they were carrying and are fighting the fire."
       "Everyone?"
       "Yes. We are all Creekers now."

Mullins watched the horseman picking his way through the destruction the giant bulldozer had been making beyond the bridge. He had learned to trust Lacey as much as he trusted almost anyone; something in the big rider's dignified demeanor demanded it. Yet he kept his grip on the riot gun just the same, one hand on the forearm, his trigger finger indexed but close to the trigger guard. He'd learned, through hard experience, to watch everyone for clues – to his future and theirs.
       Before Lacey came closer, with his armed slave riding behind him and to his right, Mullins hefted the weapon slightly. "Afternoon, Mr. Lacey, and what have we got?"
       The tribal leader reined in and appraised him, standing in the shade by the big LAV. They clearly did not care much for his style, but they had patiently worked with him, and the Volunteers, for weeks. Some of the Volunteers had acted out – yet no Eastsider had risen to the bait; Mullins had been forced to discipline his own troops, whose morale had continued to fade, and Mullins had lost face. These people were something else. He was still not sure what.
       Lacey, silhouetted in brilliant sunshine, shaded his eyes and spoke. "There is an abandoned town. Overgrown, like all others. It is as your slave has described it. We have seen the building of which he speaks."
       "Aww, Mr. Lacey, he ain't no slave; for one thing, he's too tough to eat." The expression of the Eastsider remained unchanged.
       Lockerby, inside the LAV, stood up in the driver's seat and regarded Mullins sourly from across the hull. Even in the shade, heat waves radiated from the whitewashed steel surface. Conditions were not ripe for jibes. "Easy, Mullo."
       Mullins tipped his head in acknowledgment.  "Yeah, sorry; so, what'd ya see over there?"
       "There is a difficulty. The structure is compromised and it is empty."
       "Empty?"
       "You may go and see for yourself." Lacey spread his arms, hands open, as if to say: see, if we'd gotten into your precious firearms, would we not now be carrying them?
       Mullins half turned to Lockerby. Almost in a whisper, he asked a time-honored question. "Dubya-tee-eff?"
       "Dunno, sir. Mr. Lacey, are there signs of forced entry?"
       "Yes."
       "And there's nothing inside? How do you know?"
       "It has been cleaned to the walls."
       Mullins took a step forward.
       "You weren't supposed to go inside. I thought we had an agreement."
       Lacey held up his left hand, still open, and pointed to it with his right. "To handle some things is not our way. That, we have told you, and we say as we do." He pointed to his eyes. "But we see with our eyes so that we may say what is so."
       From within the squad compartment of the LAV, behind Lockerby, a muffled thumping erupted, followed by a shout.
       Lockerby searched the shade. "Kinnet!"
       "Lockie!" The man stood up from among his comrades, crossbow in hand.
       "Come over here and take over this thing; I gotta run round to the back."
       "Lockie."
       "That's Lockerby to you. Kinnet."
       Kinnet came running. 
    Lockerby climbed out, hopped onto the front wheel, the rubber of which, he noted sourly, was now covered with incisions and gouges from the long drive. Will this thing hold up? The MRAPs had all had trouble, breaking down one after the other, and runners had had to go back in a steady stream to Roseburg for parts and even acetylene tanks.
       He jumped down into the soft dirt, spiked with stones, broken roots and branches, that characterized the route of the big Cat, and picked his way round to the back of the armored vehicle. Cautiously, as ever, he turned the handle of the left-hand door and stepped back as he pulled it open. The hammering stopped. "What, Wolfie?"
       But the chained, naked man, glistening with sweat, was grinning. How does he stay in such good shape? With no more than we feed him?
       "Shithead."
      "Oh, C'mon, Wolfie, I do the best I can. Y'know anythin' ya haven't told us?"
       "Nope. Not a bit of it. Came clean to Magee, came clean to y'all. Sounds like we've been pre-empted. Mebbe you'd let me take a look?"
       "Not sure how we'd manage that, guy."
       "Aw, fer cryin' out loud." Wolf pointed to the steel ring round his neck. "Look, is this a good weld or not? Mullins is good with his hands. Just drive me into town, swing the boat around, and lemme see what's up; I might be able to give ya pointers."
       "How many guns were in there when you left it, Wolf?"
       "Already told ya. I'm as good for my word as yer Eastsiders, Lockie. Anybody took all that stuff, woulda had to bring a lot of transport."
       "The hippies?"
       "I kinda doubt it. Yer cowboys have been all over this country, any sign of 'em?"
       "No, actually."
       "Right. They stick close to their hole in th' hills. Lemme see what ya got over there."
       Mullins, still facing forward, glanced back along the four tires. "What's up?"
       Lockerby caressed his three-weeks growth of beard absent-mindedly. "Wolf wants to study the scene of the crime."
       "Scene of his crime, ya think?"
       Wolf put on a wounded expression, but something in it seemed genuine to Lockerby. "Nah, I kinda don't think so. I say let's get everybody across this little river and see what the hell happened over there."
      Lockerby looked over to Mullins, who shrugged.
      "'K, that's a plan. We'll camp there tonight."
       The small caravan fired up its sooty engines and lifted its weary feet and trundled across yet another of the many stout pre-Undoing bridges it had encountered. These had remained mostly intact, though sometimes their approaches had washed away. The weary Volunteers slouched into the nondescript town, the ruins of which mostly fronted on a single street, filled now with trees and brush except where the D-8 had been. Some of the buildings had been made of brick or cinderblock. Though these now had no roofs, let alone window glass, they offered some hint of protection from surprise or night air, and were quickly invested. Lacey, on his Appaloosa, led the LAV to the fresh new clearing which the D-8's operator had made in front of the ancient gunshop. Kinnet, following Mullins' directions, cut the steering wheel sharply to the right, so that the rear doors of the LAV faced the gap in the concrete wall.
       Lockerby, who'd climbed onto the rear of the hull, tapped the surface with a stick. "So, Wolfie, whaddya see?"
       "I see shit, shithead, an' it's gettin' dark."
       Mullins walked around to the back. "Aw, c'mon, Wolf, this right here was your leverage. And now..."
       "...poof. I am well aware of my circumstances, Mullo. I'm lookin.'" Wolf surveyed the scene before him with keen interest. He'd gone to a lot of trouble to lock this place down, less than two years ago. The brush and dirt had been removed in the same place he'd gotten in, and the rubble scattered. Once he'd blown his way in, of course, there had only been so much he could do to secure it, but he'd tried, and tried hard.
      "Dammit. My stuff. Oh, well."
       He gestured toward a night-blooming jasmine in the rubble-heap on the right. "Pull me up that bush over there."
       Mullins' eyebrows shot up. "Huh?"
       "Ya want information or don'tcha?"
       Lacey, who'd dismounted, came over with his man, to whom he gestured. The Bringer of Food grasped the numerous stems of the shrub in a bundle with both hands and leaned back, bending both legs and straightening them so that the roots came away surprisingly easily.
       Wolf peered at the roots, and the stems and leaves as well. "That was on top of the doorway; it's had a year to re-root, meaning there was rain, likely, when it was moved. Any rain got inside?"
      Lacey turned to him, respect in his expression. "We will affirm that it has."
       "You cowpokes had a chance to feel out any trails around here, signs of traffic?"
       "Tracking is not certain in such a drought as this. But we think no one has been going east and west here for some time. North and south present difficulties."
       "Yeah, they do. I got in here from the south myself, with one other guy, and it was hard going. Lemme tell ya. Mullo, I don't think th' farmers did this. The breach is older'n the fight I had with 'em and they ain't armed with anything that coulda come from here."
      Lacey nodded his agreement, then, gesturing to his servant to follow, walked away toward the horses.
       Mullins looked over at Lockerby. "We'd better get a runner off to th' boss early in th' morning. What you want to bet first thing he'll have us heading back the way we came and over to th' second objective double-time?"
      "Nah, Mullo," interposed Wolf affably. "Second thing. Prolly kill me first."
       "Why? Don't you think we need you to guide us onto th' weak points?"
       "What weak points? It's been almost a year. They've had all this time ta think about th' things I tried, and beefed up their defenses. You already know everything I know about 'em, courtesy of your effin' doctor, 'an you've gotta outsmart what I know or you'll lose, same as I did. So I'm just plain not useful ta have around, now you've looked in this here hole in 'th ground. All that's keepin' me alive right now is how far your runner has ta go to get to Magee an' back again."
       "Well, Wolf, let's say you know that, say we know that, why are you whinin' about it then?"
       "Who's whining? Just don't wanna be on, y'know, pretenses, so ta speak. So, y'all gonna feed me an' lock me up, or what? Forty-degree diff'rence between day 'n night by th' river here."
       Lockerby and Mullins, who had been Wolf's friends, were made uncomfortably aware of Wolf's nakedness by this last remark. The lengthening shadows were indeed cool and the steel of the LAV's hull would be sapping heat from his body. Mullins nodded to Lockerby, who stepped forward to within sight of the driver's well. "Kinnet, run back to th' first MRAP and requisition full MREs for yourself and three others."
       Mullins called after him. "Lockie and I'll take ours in here. Kinnet." He pointed to the blown doorway.
       "Mullins, Lockerby." Kinnet climbed down the hull and ran off.
       As they turned to go in, Wolf called to them softly. "Hey guys."
       "Mmh?" Mullins turned back toward him.
       "Y'all ever think about girls?"
       "What?"
       Wolf regarded them with amusement. "C'mon, how deep into your heads has Magee got? Alla your men are gettin' antsy. You too, I'm thinkin'. Look, th' farmers is married. Th' Eastsiders is married. These folks, all around you, some of 'em have kids. Of all th' volunteers, who's married?"
       "Your point?"
       "Magee and his doctor. Married. Kinda. We, all of us, we got a lot of mileage out of his rules; we're, we were an army and we got our kicks from th' Pilgrim women. But we always hadda kill 'em off. His rules. You seen any Pilgrims on this trip?"
       They stood looking at him.
       "Not even in Eugene. Big town, bigger'n Roseburg, nobody home. Nothin' ta play with out here. Guys, I am a dead man talking, but youyou are not going to live forever."
       Lockerby caught the corner of Mullins' eye. "Mullo, let's go in."
       "Wait a minute. Wolfie, what the hell are you talkin' about; there's women right over there about forty klicks; you said so yourself."
       "Yep, and they are th'only ones around. And they are soldiers, just like us. It ain't trained out of 'em."
       "I don't see where you're going with this."
       "Here it is, then. Do what you like with me, then go and do what you like with these farmers. If you can. Without these guns, odds are more even than you're gonna like. But if I might just make a suggestion: talk to 'em. They might make ya a better deal than Magee. In the, y'know, long run."
       Mullins, suddenly and inexplicably afraid somewhere in his depths, lashed out. "I oughta knock yer face in!"
       "Nothin' stoppin ya, is there?"
       Mullins stepped forward, and Lockerby interposed himself. "Careful, Mullo!"
      Mullins looked at Lockerby. "Yeah, y'right. Runner first. By th' book."
       Lockerby gazed at Wolf, over Mullins' shoulder. "Well, that too. C'mon in."
       As they departed, Kinnet arrived and set four MREs on the ground. Two he carried into the shell of the gunshop, then returned. He tore the cover off the third meal, grasped the handle of the right-hand door of the LAV, swung open the door, and, picking up the MRE, dumped its contents on the floor across from the prisoner. He then shut the door, tossed away the empty packet, and, lifting the padlock from the welded-on hasp, prepared to shut the left-hand door and lock Wolf in for the night.
      Wolf extended his foot, which just reached the edge of the outer hull, preventing the door  closing.
       Kinnet frowned. "Chop that off for you if you like."
       "C'mere." Wolf wore a confiding expression Kinnet had not seen from him before, and crooked his finger.
       "Not a chance. They said you'd say that. We're closing up for th' night."
       "Good boy. But, you know you drive like shit?"
       "What?"
       Wolf put his hands up as if guiding a steering wheel. Kinnet's eyes followed the motion, and then that of Wolf's left hand reaching for an imagined shifter. Wolf grinned. He had picked up the long and heavy chain as if it were the shifter. Kinnet vaguely realized the end of the slithering chain was somehow not attached to the wall, but before he could either back away or shout, the heavy links had, like a whip, snaked out into the dim light of evening and wrapped round his throat.
       "Yeah," said Wolf, matter-of-factly. He stepped silently out onto the cooling earth and held the already dying youth by the chain and the back of his belt, tipping him up so that the thrashing feet could not kick the ground, and walked quietly toward the darkening woods. "You drive like shit, kid; and I truly do not appreciate being bounced around thataways."