Mason awoke to the sound of the door opening again. He sat up, with his vision still blurry with sleep. The last thing he remembered was lying in bed counting.
William walked in, followed by the same two guards. He ignored them as he rushed to the foot of Abel’s bed.
“How are you feeling?” William said.
Mason was getting sick of the routine, but tried to sound polite as he responded.
“Any nausea, fever?” William said.
It seemed like Mason’s suspicions about being injected with diseased blood was right.
“No,” Mason responded.
“Great. Mind if I just check something?”
“Not at all.”
William moved in closer, and the guards followed suite. He pulled white gloves from his robe and put them on.
“I want to check your glands. Can you please tilt your head back?” William said.
Mason lifted his head slightly, with his line of sight now dominated by the wall above the doorway. He tensed as he felt cold leather on his skin, prodding below his jaw and searching for signs of swelling. William applied light pressure to the two sides of Mason’s neck, before moving his fingers to Mason’s jaw.
William’s face then appeared in front of Mason’s, separated by a few inches. Prisoners didn’t deserve personal space. William’s eyes met Mason’s, apparently scanning them for any irregularities. Mason had all the information he needed.
“You injected me with saracin.” Mason said. It wasn’t a question.
William’s hands left Mason’s face.
He moved back to the doorway and removed his gloves.
“If you really are trying to look out for me there’s no point lying to me now.” Mason said.
“Leave us,” William said, as he turned to the guards.
“Can’t do that sir.” The guard to his left said.
“I wasn’t asking. Either you leave or your wife might find out about the rash you got from someone else.”
The guard on the right laughed, but tried to convert it to a cough midway through. He opened the door and quickly stepped out, holding it slightly open for his partner.
His partner was still rooted to the spot. It was as if William had reached into his soul and stolen his pride and confidence. His chest and shoulders seemed to shrink inside his uniform, retreating away from the fabric to dwell in obscurity.
“You can’t do that…it’s supposed to be between us.” His face reminded Mason of a child that awoke to a wet bed.
“You’re right. Tell the council what I did and I’m sure they’ll relieve me of my duties.” William said.
The guard’s mouth was still ajar as he left the room and closed the door.
“I’m not supposed to tell you. The council didn’t think you’d be smart enough to figure out what was going on, but I give you more credit than they do.” William said. For once, his voice lacked the enthusiasm of a child playing with his favourite toy.
“Like I expected, seems like your body is able to resist diseases. Symptoms normally show by now, but we’ll have to wait for three more days to be sure.”
“What if I end up dying from this? The key to longer life would be gone.” Mason said, his tone made it clear what he thought of the council’s plan. As Mason thought of it, he wasn’t even sure that the council was the one who suggested the idea. Maybe William pushed for it. Mason didn’t want to ask him though. That line of questioning would only make him more defensive, and give Mason fewer answers in the long run.
“I was only willing to test this since you survived that attack. I remember seeing your wounds crusted with soil, probably straight from the wolf’s claws. I tried to remove as much as I could, but between that and the injuries I was sure it was only a matter of time until we had to bury you. The soil and the wolf’s saliva didn’t kill you, so I thought that there must be a good chance you would survive this. I couldn’t be certain but you have to understand that it was a necessary risk. I’m sorry if I come across as cold at times, but I hope you can also appreciate the situation I am in. The council didn’t want you dead, but I don’t like the plans that they have for you. I have to convince them that everything I am doing is for the good of the village and that it has nothing to do with my relationship with you. I am hoping that my tests can steer them in another direction. I know this village hasn’t been good to you, but I need you to trust me.”
It was exactly what Mason wanted to hear, which made him skeptical. William already demonstrated that he was willing to use his knowledge of other people against them. He may have used his knowledge for Mason’s good that time, but it was a weapon that could be used against him too. Mason had confided in William a lot over the past twenty years, in one hospital visit after another. Whether he had been beaten by children from school or by soldiers, he grew to see William as someone he could share anything with. It seemed like William truly was listening all that time, but there was a chance he wasn’t a friend trying to help out. Maybe William was just using his opportunity to put his reservoir of information to use.
“It’s hard for me to really trust anyone right now. I don’t have a choice remember?” Mason said.
“I know, and I’m sorry about that. We have a few weeks until the next full moon and if you can just work with me until then, I think I may be able to work out something that doesn’t lead to life-long imprisonment or death for you. Working with me is truly in your best interest. If you don’t have a choice of trusting me, at least make the decision to work towards your own freedom.”
“I feel like I’ve been fighting for freedom my whole life. This is just more of the same.” Mason’s anger spoke first, but now he needed to temper it with obedience.
“But I do appreciate what you’re doing for me. My mom was right about you. You’re one of the few people I can depend on. Thank you.”
“That means a lot Mason. She was a great woman and I want to do right by her. I’ll check on you tonight.” William’s words exuded nothing but pity, and the same could be said for his smile. That worried Mason more than the imprisonment itself or the tests he had to put up with. If William was confident in his ability to free Mason then he should have sounded more hopeful. William was enjoying the study of Mason, but he was still a soldier fighting a losing battle. His speech to Mason was that of a king trying to comfort his people before their enemy killed them. Mason already hated having his freedom in someone else’s hands. This development just made it clear that he couldn’t bide his time any longer.
By the time the next full moon came the government would have their plans for him solidified and freedom would no longer be an option. Mason tried to remember details of the first attack. Any images he could remember came back to him like paintings from a fevered dream. He could remember running through a field under the moonlight. The flowers arranged neatly along the side made him think that it must be Clark’s Market. Mason knew the market well, and what stood out to him was how fast he moved along its aisles. His peripheral vision was limited and he could remember crossing hundreds of feet in seconds. His vision was a mass of different hues of gray. The field beneath him was supposed to be green, but Mason could only make out green accents among the grey. It was the same for the roses, red accents among a field of gray. His colours were diminished but Mason remembered his other senses being so much stronger.
Mason could make out the scent of different animals scurrying around him. He couldn’t identify what they were by smell alone, but he could trace their movements even though he couldn’t see them. Sound added another layer, giving him the rhythm of the animals’ steps. There were over ten different sets of footprints all around him but Mason was somehow able to pinpoint where each one was coming from. There was an urge to find the animals, consume them. With that urge, the memories came to an end.
Reality returned, and imprisonment returned along with it. The lantern’s dim light, orange brick walls, the cold of his cell, the returning hunger; those were the sensations Mason’s sense could bring him now. If Mason didn’t act this is how he would spend his prolonged life. His power would be in the hands of people who never truly wanted him to be free. After what this village did to his mother, Mason refused to let them succeed in breaking him.
Mason realized he didn’t even know if he needed a full moon to transform again. All the folklore told him that was a condition of the curse, but the folklore never mentioned that the cursed is immune to diseases. The most popular tales came from a time when medicine was far less understood, so maybe that is why it was never accounted for. Either way, the omission was demonstrated that mythology wasn’t a manual for Mason’s life. He tried to transform before, focusing on his memories, but nothing ever resulted form these attempts.
Mason also wondered exactly what the council had planned at this point. They might be looking into a serum they could give to their soldiers, but that was likely a longer-term plan. Mason wasn’t a doctor but he was sure that successfully creating that would take months, if not years. The soldiers would need to be tested and monitored just like Mason was before the council would be willing to give the serum to their entire army.
The council was well aware that a full moon was coming up, so they either had to kill Mason before then or hope they could contain him when he transformed. Mason couldn’t recall how powerful he was in his other form. He heard that he attacked Mr. Faraday’s livestock, which was normally protected by a ten-foot tall steel fence. Apparently, the fence was flattened, compressed into the earth, when Mr. Faraday found it in the morning. Even if that was true, it would be tougher to break down a brick wall. Mason could probably tear the door down, but he likely wouldn’t fit through it. The door could barely accommodate one person with their arms spread open. Mason didn’t trust the hyperbolic accounts of supposed “eyewitnesses” but William said that footprints found at sites of the attack make it clear that the cursed form was much larger than a man. Mason could attest to that at well. He knew he passed in and out of consciousness after his attack. Its paws were bigger than his head, and nearly broke his arms as they pinned him down. Its body blocked out the sky above him, and in his frightened state he could only focus on the head hovering above him. The red eyes stood out the most. They were small in comparison to the head they were housed in, a head that appeared bigger due to the creature’s bared teeth. White daggers, and red orbs, standing out amidst a field of black fur. The eyes almost looked like they glowed in contrast to the darkness all around them.
Their colour indicated something primal, dangerous. Despite that, they held a strange allure. As Mason peered into them, they seemed to shut out everything around them. Mason’s eyes stayed rooted to them. Even as he felt his body being torn apart, even as his blood splashed in front of him and stained the ground all around him. He remembered that he didn’t register any pain until the wolf’s gaze left his.