Love, Rehab, and Mutant Turtles (3)
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3. Midnight Runaways
Nick sat, awake, reading one of the library’s many ‘classics’. Upon arrival, he had quickly discovered that it was either books from a hundred years ago, or the self-help section. He had settled upon a particularly dusty tome with a large whale on the cover, hoping for an adventure. Instead, he stared down at a ten page passage about a decrepit inn and what paintings were hung there. He flung the book aside, letting it clatter to the linoleum floor. Laying back in his bed, Nick turned to daydreaming about his former life. Longing welled in his chest as he thought about James and hunting killer creatures for money. It was the only life worth living.
Rehab provided safety, in more ways than one. Given that the clientele were all killers to one degree or another, it was decided the facility was neutral ground. For the first time in his life, Nick didn’t have to look over his shoulder. He still did, but as the days passed, the impulse was fading. Or, he was growing soft. The facility was also surrounded by a thick barrier of chalk, embedded deep in the earth. Not the powdery stuff either. This was solid chalk, molded into a sturdy ring. Additional enchantments, wards, trinkets were scattered throughout the building’s modest grounds as a catch-all to ward off any other unpleasant creatures that might try to sneak through.
In short, rehab was a fortress. Nick felt the tension he had carried in his shoulders for thirty years beginning to ease. He hated it. Softening was not something to be prized. If he was soft when he walked out the other side of the barrier, his life would be a short one. An unfortunate side effect of safety in recovery was that many hunters didn’t last long once they got out. Without addictions and vices, they quit the business, but as with most deals that are too good to be true, the business wouldn’t quit them.
Nick had an image of himself, sitting back in his flat, eating takeout and watching television like the rest of the masses. A werewolf shattered the door into a million pieces with a fury only creatures that literally rip their skin off daily can manage. It was a slow death – as slow as a werewolf can manage – and it ended with Nick in pieces splattered all over the flat in an impressionistic attempt at redecorating. That was what awaited hunters that got soft. Nick had picked the profession, and now it was time for him to live with the consequences.
He was almost at the point of coming to terms with his predetermined mundanity and early death when there was a knock at his door. “Bit early for a contraband check, isn’t it?”
The knock came again.
Nick sighed and put the book down. “Yeah, I’m coming.” There were no locks on the doors, but it was meant to give him a sense of control. Much like vampires, the orderlies always asked to be let in. Nick crossed the short distance across his small room and opened the door.
Standing in the dim night lights of the hallway was Cass. A crazed fire was burning behind her eyes. “May I come in?” she asked, voice clipped, almost anxious.
“Sure.” Nick wanted to say a whole hell of a lot more than sure, but it was what he managed.
Cass crossed the threshold with alacrity and went over to the small window looking out at the grounds immediately. She peered out at the forest that surrounded them.
Nick shut the door and crossed over to look with her. In the dark of night, a spectral glow illuminated the edge of the barrier. Spectral was no exaggeration either. The conglomerate of ghosts, demons and demon-ghosts congregating at the edge of the barrier created enough energy to power a small commune. They were all waiting, watching, hoping someone would be careless and put a toe outside the chalk.
“Kind of peaceful, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Yeah, in a screwed-up kind of way, it is.” Nick had spent his first few nights struggling with detox, staring out the window at the distant faces of the dead and somehow found peace in their vacant expressions.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not here for quick sex.”
Nick tried to hide the fact that the thought had crossed his mind and the disappointment that followed, doing a poor job of both.
Cass looked at him with a gaze that pierced. “Don’t get me wrong, under normal circumstances, sure.” She favored him with a smile.
The primal part of Nick’s brain lit up like a Christmas tree and he felt himself flush.
“But tonight, I’ve got a better idea. You and I are going to get out of this place.”
Nick had never felt his brain switch gears so quickly. The romantic moment of staring out at the floating undead together disappeared, replaced by the addict. Nick looked at the book on his floor, the shitty, white mattress that was somehow more comfortable than most places he slept, and at the door with no lock on it. This place is a prison, he thought. Sean’s disappointed face floated before him. And these people aren’t your friends.
Cass stared through him, searching for a reaction. She licked her lips anxiously.
“You can check out anytime you want,” he said, not liking the hesitancy that came with it. The words were strictly true. Rehab was voluntarily and with a few exceptions, no one was being held against their will.
“But you can never leave.” Cass’s mood never wavered. “We might be able to leave this place on our own volition, but it’s the social contract that keeps us here. There are friends, family, who will never speak to us again if we leave before completing treatment.”
Nick thought of James. The kid would probably take him back, but it would drive them apart eventually. Hell, it already sent Lopsang away. He had given some bullshit reason about the dangers and death of it all being too much, but Nick had known. Entrusting half your life to a drunk was a recipe to make it a short one. Leaving was the smart decision. “So, how does breaking out solve that problem?” Nick didn’t like the way his mind thought when he was sober, it was too logical, too critical. Blind faith and the potential for future sex would have been enough for the old brain.
“We’re coming back.” The idea didn’t seem to hold much appeal for Cass, but the honesty in her discomfort made Nick believe her.
“So, why leave?”
“Think of it like a date.” She winked at him.
The reptile in Nick took the wheel again.
“Or, if it’s more your speed, I’ve got a lead on some mutants in the sewers that have been wreaking havoc in my old neighborhood.”
Nick felt his mouth go dry. “Mutants in the sewer?” He licked his lips. “Don’t tell me they’re—”
“Not technically.” Genuine joy spread across her face. “But if it’s got a massive shell and walks on four legs, I’d call it a turtle, wouldn’t you?”
All caution went out the window. “I would very much like to escape and kill some mutant turtles in the sewer with you.” Nick could already hear himself recounting the tale in The Haven. He would have to make some adjustments – proficiency in martial arts – but two out of four for the real thing wasn’t bad.
“I had a feeling you’d say that.”
There was a low hum followed by a loud snap. The room went pitch black and based on the sudden commotion in the hallway, Nick guessed the power had gone out everywhere. “That our way out?”
“Yes, it is. Perfect timing if I don’t say so myself.”
“Bit cocky assuming I’d come.”
“I never guess.” Cass opened the door and led Nick into a hallway full of chaotic flashlights, orderlies, and patients. “Shall we?”
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