Oh my god I’m hiding in the car and I don’t know what to do fuck FUCK I don’t know what to do
Okay, I need to calm down, so from the beginning:
Yesterday morning when we were headed back out to the woods to carry on the search there were three cars parked in a row in that little logging camp. The boys recognized the one in front. Turns out there’s a little symbol, an eye with a tooth for a pupil, that hunters put in their windows to identify each other’s cars.
“Do we know who’s ride this is?” Neal said, peering in the windows.
But Julian didn’t know it either, and there wasn’t good service so it wasn’t like we could call around. I was impatient to get moving, but the boys were both hesitating, which at the time I was annoyed by. I’m too lazy to wait around okay, my motivation has a vanishingly short half-life. Only puppies can really convince me that an endless hike in the woods is a fun idea, and even then it’s like… can we just leave food out for them and wait?
But the boys were anxious, squinting out into the trees, as if hoping answers would come wandering out of them. Eventually Julian blew out his breath. “Well,” he said. “If they’re out here, they’re going to same place we are.”
“Yeah,” Neal replied, but he was obviously discontent. “Let’s get moving.”
It was not as fun as Wednesday. It was not fun at all. We walked really fast, and barely spoke, and then when it started getting dark and I thought we’d be heading back to the car, Julian broke it to me that we weren’t going back to the car.
“We have to find them as fast as possible,” Julian said. “Not all hunters are as invested in getting creatures to the emporium as we are.”
He didn’t say what he meant by that, but I could tell by his tone that it could only mean bad news for the pups. And for puppies, yes, even I will sleep outside on a bed of pine needles with no sleeping bag in the cold, with a near empty stomach.
I woke up on the ground this morning cold and hungry, with breath like a belching geyser. The boys hopped up, dusted themselves off, and were ready to start walking again, and I stumbled after them, barely awake and visually furious — not that they seemed to notice.
But still, puppies, you know? Plus, Julian passed out like 4 whole bites of beef jerky, so I’m living large.
“We’re getting close,” Julian said, bending to examine some poop. “This can’t be more than a few hours old.”
It was a slightly nicer day today, at least. Fresh and cool, with sunshine filtering in between the trees. Eventually I reached pinnacle dissociation and became the empty-headed walking zombie of my dreams. No thoughts. Only crunch crunch of feet on pine needles and the nice warm day orb light on face.
I was truly handing myself over to the clearly superior, blank-brain forest gnome version of myself when we heard gunshots.
Neal and Julian didn’t hesitate, they just took off, and I took off after them.
We were so close. We only ran maybe four minutes, gunshots ripping up the woods, before we stumbled upon them.
There were six men total, all busy. My brain was struggling to understand what they were so busy with. There was a distinct air of jubilance between them, totally at odds with the metallic scent of blood and cigar smoke.
The puppies were dead.
Three were unnaturally arranged next to each other. Two of the men were hauling the fourth from out of the trees. Another of the men was struggling to arrange one in a somewhat upright position with its head on its paws.
One of the men was filming the scene on his cell phone. “Hey move that big one a little to the left,” he said, gesturing. “It’s out of frame.”
I think I made a noise at that point, because the man filming turned and saw us.
“Oh shit,” he said. “Who the fuck’re you?”
There was a moment of confusion as everyone whirled to see us. A couple of the men grabbed their rifles. They were big sleek black guns with fancy scopes that looked like they could tear up a crowd.
“Whoa, whoa, hey, it’s alright,” one of the hunters said, striding forward. He was distinctly different from the other men. Most of them were glossy and well-fed, and dressed like Cabela’s mannequins, but this guy was wiry, his clothes sturdy, and well-worn. His face had that distinct leathery tan of a guy who spends all his time outdoors. “I know these boys.”
“You hunting these mongrels, too?” one of the strangers asked, completely oblivious to the Hawthorne’s mounting rage. He laughed and clapped. “I told you we were in a race! Sorry boys, but we hired the best!”
I was lightheaded.
“Sport hunting?” Neal croaked.
A man with a cigar grinned broadly and clapped the real hunter on the shoulder. “There’s always more exotic game to hunt, if you know who to ask.”
The real hunter, who’s name I still don’t know, but lets call him Evil, had the decency to wince.
“You took civilians,” Neal said, slowly, through clenched teeth, “sport hunting for hailu puppies.”
A second man came forward, clearly another real hunter. He was weathered and missing one of his canines.
“Hi there, Neal,” he said, tone light, expression wary. We’ll call this one Bastard. “Julian. I wondered if we might run into you two out here.”
“Sport hunting?” Neal repeated, ranging dangerously towards shouting.
“These dogs had to go down one way or another,” Evil said, but I could hear in his voice that he was uncomfortable. “You know that.”
“The fuck I do,” Neal spat. “The Emporium —”
Bastard scoffed. “Yeah, we know how you boys feel about hunting,” he said. “But the facts are that if we brought that crazy old kook every fucked up monster we found out here, they’d have eaten him and every one of his bat shit friends —”
And that was where he stopped because I’m going to be honest I’m totally editing what Bastard actually said because what he actually said was vile and toxic, and Neal had strode forward and shoved him hard, which shut him up.
“You have CIVILIANS taking PICTURES —” Neal shouted, and everyone started pushing and trying to intervene.
Everyone except Julian, who should have intervened by now. He had gone rigid. As I watched, huge shudder went through him.
“Neal,” Julian croaked, but Neal was in Bastard’s face shouting, and wasn’t paying attention.
One of the tourists, apparently bored by the fighting, picked up one of the dead pups by the snout and held it up like a trout. He spread its limp arm to show off those beautiful feathers while his friend snapped a picture.
I swear I heard something in Julian’s shoulder pop.
“Neal,” Julian said again, but Neal was nose to nose with Bastard while Evil tried to pry them apart. When Bastard pushed him, I heard Neal laugh mirthlessly, which I knew meant they were about to fuckin FIGHT. Julian doubled over gasping.
“Neal!” I shouted, and he must have heard me panicking because he whirled, watched Julian stumble to his knees, and froze. Literally 100-0 in a split second. It was so startling that everyone backed down.
There was an uncertain quiet for a moment.
“Everyone,” Neal said, suddenly very calm. “Everyone I need you to run.”
No one moved for a moment, and Julian convulsed. I heard a whole symphony of cracking, like a tree falling into other trees.
When he spoke his voice was unrecognizable. “Shiloh,” he growled. “Shiloh, run.”
But I’m an idiot, so despite the fact that something about his tone was enough to send all those hunters running, I stayed put long enough to watch him TRANSFORM.
I don’t even now how to describe what I saw, but Julian, who I love and trust, who has been nothing but kind to me, who is gentle 99% of the time — is also… something else.
He shook himself out, stretched, bellowed towards the sky, and I just stood there, frozen, gaping.
“Julian?” I squeaked, and he turned to look at me, and I swear to god. I can’t even describe I’m gonna have to just draw it.
He bounded towards me in one swift motion, and I swear I would be dead right now if Neal hadn’t shoved me hard out of the way and screamed at me to run.
I didn’t look back, I just ran.
I ran through the woods for literally hours. HOURS, and I must have gotten pretty damn lucky because I eventually ended up on a logging road, and I followed the logging road until I finally got back to the car. Straight up, took me 18 hours to find the car again, and there’s no one else here. I’m alone here in the middle of the woods, no keys, no cell phone service, just me out here, starving curled up in the back seat of the car, in the woods by myself.
They’re back. I was doing my best to cry myself to sleep in the back seat of the car, when I heard voices out in the dark, and sat up to see if it was something coming to kill me, but it was just Julian, my Julian, a person, practically carrying Neal.
“Jude?” I got out of the car, and listen, genuinely, completely and entirely, I was not afraid of him. All I felt was relief.
“You’re here,” Julian sighed. “Oh thank god. Are you hurt?”
Hurt? No. Starving, terrified, exhausted, confused? YEAH, JULIAN. But Neal was literally drooling blood and there wasn’t time for that kind of thinking.
“What happened?” I asked, lurching to help support him.
“I’m okay,” Neal mumbled. “I’m okay, just a little bruised, that’s all.” But that was bullshit, he couldn’t even hold his own head up, and his whole right side was dark and wet with blood.
“Bandages,” Julian said and I grabbed the medical kit from the back of the car, while Julian sat Neal on the hood and went to turn on the headlights.
When I got back Julian had Neal’s shirt off and I could see the jagged tears in the soft flesh of his side, and running up his chest.
Julian plunged into the bag, twisted the top off the hydrogen peroxide and shakily dumped most of it onto the wounds. Neal swerved and I lurched to catch him.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I don’t remember,” Julian said, and though I could tell he was working very hard to control it, he’d totally lost his cool. He was shaking badly as he wrapped bandages all the way around his torso. “Neal? Stay awake, okay. I’m gonna get you in the car, but you have to stay awake.”
But Neal was nodding.
“We have to get him to a hospital,” Julian said. “Help me get him into the car.”
I have been through a lot of terrifying driving in that car, but nothing, nothing, like what Julian put me through that night. It was a half hour drive to the nearest hospital and we made it in 12 minutes flat, swerving through narrow, curving mountain roads, while I did my best to keep Neal awake in the back seat.
We basically carried him into the hospital, shouting for help, and within minutes he’d been whisked away by nurses.
He’s in surgery right now. They said there’s something bleeding inside that they have to find and stop.
Julian told the doctors it was a bear attack, which they accepted without much convincing. He literally looks mauled. A little more difficult to explain was the week old bruising around his eyes.
We’re waiting for him to get out of surgery now. Julian’s a ghost. He’s sitting across from me right now, but he can’t look at me.
They told me that when Julian needs to he transforms into something that can protect him. They told me that.
I keep trying to think of something to say to fix this, but I have no idea where to even start.
Longest night of my life. Neal’s out of surgery, he’s going to be fine. I’m in his room with him now, but Julian needed some air. He’s been gone for like twenty minutes.
I’m gonna get some sleep, but I thought I’d keep you updated. He’s alive! He’s fine. I have no idea where we’re going to go from here, but physically, we’re all okay.