Chapter 4: Shadow Wolves
It was only April, but it was hot.
Vincent had missed practice on Monday because he didn’t want to deal with Peter while he was there, but he’d given up on Tuesday when Coach nearly skinned him alive that morning. He supposed he should feel lucky that Coach was still letting him run in the Wednesday meet, but sitting under their tent where they’d set it up in the bleachers, he just felt nervous and sweaty.
Ever since he’d nearly been run over on Monday, he’d spent most of his time feeling nervous and sweaty.
He’d told Peter to wait in the car every time he got home from school, and when he was at school he told him to wait at the bus loop. On Monday, after a school day with no ghosts, when he’d come back, Peter had said, “We need to talk about all of this,” and Vincent had shaken his head.
“Fine,” Peter had said, “tomorrow.” But tomorrow had come, and Vincent had practically sprinted to school to keep Peter from keeping up with him. Not that Peter couldn’t keep up if he wanted to. He was a ghost.
“I’ve had quite enough of this,” he said as Vincent closed his eyes and tried not to puke. Waves of nauseating heat kept washing over him. He’d already trekked to the water fountain twice to fill his water bottle and dump it on himself to no avail. And he didn’t want to drink too much water, because he’d already gone to the bathroom three times since arriving, and if he kept up the pace he was going to have to pee during his race, and if he needed to pee during his race he wasn’t going to race very well, because who raced well when they needed to pee??
“I am tired of having to tiptoe around you. I think you’re important—you’re the only one who’s been able to see me, even with all of these people, but I know some of these people are…are from my–”
“Un uh,” Vincent said, shaking his head, eyes still closed.
“Five, ten times I’ve tried to help you understand this! You interrupt me every time. I don’t know how much more I can take!”
“Then leave!” Vincent said, opening his eyes and sitting up. He’d said it louder than he meant to, and some of his teammates were staring.
“You good man?” one named Ryon asked him, leaning towards him over one of the bleachers.
“Yeah, sorry.” He pressed the palms of his hands against his eyes. “I’m just-just hot.”
“Sure, okay.” Ryon turned away, and Vincent fumed. Peter was still standing there, now crossing his arms across his chest. He had such an unthreatening demeanor that Vincent couldn’t take his anger seriously. He just rolled his eyes and looked away, standing.
His race wasn’t for another hour or so, depending on how many heats the next few races had, but maybe warming up early would help him feel better.
“Vincent,” Peter said as he stomped down the bleachers, leaving his water bottle and spikes behind, “Vincent, you can’t just ignore me forever.”
Oh, but I will. If Peter wouldn’t leave, Vincent would just pretend he had. He didn’t—couldn’t deal with all of this; a ghost trying to follow him around, miraculously not getting run over, an out of body experience, being important. It was too much, and too unbelievable. He already had too much going on to worry about this, too.
He jogged out of the gate and went back behind the bleachers, heading to a nearby wood trail they always warmed up and cooled down on when they had meets at this school. Vincent usually ran with some of the varsity boys, so as he started running the trail, the woods felt bigger and quieter than they usually did. There wasn’t anyone in this particular section at the moment.
Thankfully, the woods were cooler than the bleachers—he felt a saintly breeze against the back of his neck and sighed in relief.
Vincent had a brief reprieve alone before Peter popped up beside him. “Good, we’re alone. I’m just going to come out with it.”
Vincent clapped his hands over his ears, slowing down to a fast walk. “LA LA LA LA.”
“Oh dear GOD, Vincent. Don’t be a child!” Vincent was quite discouraged that he could still hear Peter fairly clearly. “I’m not from this world!” Peter yelled. “I’m from a different one! But it’s connected to this one, because when I died, I came here. Everything about it’s the same, except there, people can do things that people here can’t. At least, I haven’t seen anyone else who can until you.”
Vincent lowered his arms from his ears, slowing until he was just standing there on beaten down leaves and pine needles, panting heavily, even though he had barely been running at all.
“And I’m strong!” Peter continued. “That’s what I can do! And when I touched your shoulder on Monday, you were also—” he froze, eyes wide. He turned his head, looking down the trail. “Something’s here.”
“Wha—” Vincent managed, and then something growled behind him.
Vincent didn’t wait to see if it was nothing to worry about—he just ran. He ran fast, frantic, and he heard as something followed behind him. He ran so fast that he slid on pine needles and struggled to keep himself upright. His bangs fell in his eyes and tree branches whipped against his arms as he rounded a corner of the trail.
He chanced a glance over his shoulder, and was rather displeased about what he saw. Vincent had never seen a wolf in his life outside of a zoo. Once he thought he saw one, but his sister had told him it was just a huskie that was a little scraggly and “to stop being an idiot.” He certainly knew that it was impossible for there to be wolves in this tiny little section of woods. But wolves they were—a pack of them, growling as they ran after him, teeth bared and white. They were huge and black, and there wasn’t really fur growing on their skin, but…shadows, rippling and frightening.
That couldn’t be, though—Vincent kept casting glances over his shoulders as he ran. I don’t want to lead them back to the track. He looked behind him again as he rounded a corner in the trail. One of the wolves blurred and vanished into smoke. He stared. I’m insane.
Then he ran into a tree.
He smashed his face against the bark, slamming backwards and hitting the ground hard, knocking all the breath out of his lungs. The wolves surrounded him instantly. He screamed, but the wolves didn’t hurt him. One just took hold of the hem of his t-shirt and started pulling him backwards.
Vincent kicked and twisted, then heard his shirt rip as he broke free of the wolf’s grip.
“Vincent!” Peter appeared in front of him. Before Vincent could say anything else, the man put both of his hands on Vincent’s shoulders.
It was different than when he’d almost been run over by the car, because it was a bit slower. Vincent felt ill, like usual, but he also actually felt what was happening. Energy slowly filled him up, from his shoulders and down his arms, through his chest and stomach and all the way to his toes. It was a creeping sort of feeling, like he was slowly sinking below water.
Then Peter pushed him backwards, and he surged to his feet, jumping a good five feet in the air. He nearly banged his head on a large tree branch, but managed to take hold of it. Instead of being stabilized by it, though, the moment he pulled to try and balance his weight, the branch snapped, and he fell back toward the earth.
He barely managed to land on his feet, his sneakers smashing into the dirt and splattering mud and pine needles everywhere. The wolves jumped at him, and Vincent yelled again, swinging the giant branch that he definitely shouldn’t have been able to carry as easily as he was carrying it.
Except when the branch came in contact with a wolf, it went right through it, like it wasn’t even there. Vincent made a choked sound in his throat, backing up until he was against the tree, trembling.
One of the wolves grabbed his foot, thrashing it, and when Vincent kicked up, he hit it this time. But instead of getting thrown back, the wolf dissolved into shadow, reforming a moment later.
He waved the branch back and forth, but despite the strange strength Peter had given him, the wolves were shadows. They were going to keep coming at him until they grabbed him and took him.
“Peter!” Vincent cried. “Peter!”
“I’ve done all I can to help you! I’m a GHOST!”
“Hello? I heard someone—” Vincent looked up from his pitiful battle to see Eileen Carmastay standing on the trail, clearly also there on her warm-up. The wolves seemed startled by her, like they hadn’t wanted anyone else to see them.
It was too late though, even as they winked out of existence, leaving nothing behind but swirling black loops of shadow that flittered away like smoke: Eileen had seen them. She gaped at Vincent as he dropped his weapon, the branch so heavy that when it thudded to the ground, the world shook around him for a moment.
Vincent fell to his knees, then onto his stomach. He blacked out.
He stood over his body, looking over at Eileen.