Chapter 2 - A New Plan
A Second Intro
A second chapter of this story? Indeed! There’s a story plan now, rules for this world that I’ve had rattling around in my head for years, and they’re finally in writing. All it needs now is for me to hold onto the momentum to keep it going. Amoc and Simon’s story is just beginning, and I want to find out how their journey gets to its conclusion.
Speaking of Amoc and Simon, you may note I’ve largely not provided any description of them, or where they are. Some of that was deliberate in the first story, as I hadn’t really nailed those details down. Some of it is also my chosen narrative style, which relies entirely on the perspective of the characters. If they wouldn’t think about something, then I won’t be writing it down. Now that I’ve got more details ironed out, hopefully I can eliminate the deliberate vagueness. The perspective will still be limited to Amoc and Simon.
It will become apparent from this next chapter that the short story took place somewhere in New York City. Nowhere specific, as it’s not material to the events of the story, beyond it taking place in the city.
As for Amoc, he is a Garou, or werewolf in more common terms. He’s in his late 20’s. Like all Garou of this world, he can change between three forms: human, war, and wolf. As a human, Amoc appears largely unremarkable, beyond standing around six feet tall and having an athletic build. Brown hair, gray eyes, and nothing else of any real distinction. The war form massively increases his size and strength, covering him head to toe in dark brown fur, with a wolf’s head, yellow eyes, and digitigrade legs. Standing nine feet tall, the war form is a wall of muscle, with claws several inches in length on hands and feet, and a maw lined with massive teeth. The wolf form… looks like a wolf, if slightly larger than a normal wolf.
Simon would describe himself as a “European mutt”, and is also in his late 20’s. Dirty blonde hair and blue eyes suggests some Germanic or Scandinavian roots, but he wouldn’t be able to tell you much about that. He’s always been relatively lean and wiry, though years of working jobs in manual labor has made him stronger than he looks. He may seem unremarkable next to his newfound Garou companion, and may even think that himself at times, but Simon’s story has only just begun.
I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it. It’s definitely what helps me keep it going.
A New Plan
It had been a week since their escape from the city, Simon realized. The following days had been largely mundane and uneventful, and they had done some scouting further up the Hudson. Amoc went out hunting and had brought back a wild boar, which was the first real meat Simon had eaten in a very long time. Preserving extras was still a work in progress, though a cooler floating in the boat’s live catch tank seemed to be working reasonably well so far. Getting some bulk salt packages was now on the shopping list; the supply Simon had definitely wasn’t enough for preserving meat.
That’s all just for me, though. Amoc’s got no problem eating it raw, though he says he likes it prepared too. Something about living with humans all his life, which he says not all werewolves do. He’s not telling me everything about his kind yet, but I get that. We’ve definitely got a trust going, but it’s kind of like a work relationship still. Plenty of guys I trusted working with, but didn’t open up about their personal life until they were ready. I respect that. A person’s got a right to their privacy.
Even if that person isn’t human. That’s still a weird thing to think about. Amoc came up to me on the second day and told me it’s important to remember he’s not human. He was really serious about it, it was kind of intense. He’s still figuring this all out. We both are. Pretty sure he’s just happy to not be alone anymore, probably even more than I am. Pretty sure it’s the main reason he wants me around, but I’m sure as hell glad to have him around. I’ve seen what he can do to a horde.
“Simon?” Amoc was calling him from the wheelhouse. “It’s getting a little narrow, would feel better with you up here.”
They had been traveling upriver for the last day and a half, with the goal of reaching the first river lock north of Albany. The primary objective being to see if there was any chance in hell of operating it. Before the apocalypse, it had been possible to travel all the way to Chicago by this route, and by extension Canada. It could open up a lot of options. Simon didn’t think there was anything too challenging up to the first lock, but Amoc was still pretty new at piloting a boat.
“Just throttle back, I’ll be up in a sec.” Simon replied.
Simon had been taking advantage of the engines being on and generating power to take care of some tasks. Sharpening blades, cooking food, filtering collected rainwater into the boat’s fresh water tank… it was extremely helpful to have someone else that could pilot the boat so he could get work done on the same amount of fuel. Before having a second pair of hands, it was piloting the boat or doing work, but never both. This was far more efficient, and should let them go for longer between refueling expeditions.
Simon heard Amoc throttle back, and he wasn’t yelling down in a panic yet, so he was probably fine. He finished prepping the pork roast and left it to broil in the oven before heading up the steps to the wheelhouse. Amoc had said the cut wasn’t his best, but Simon only really cared that it was fresh and being cooked for the first real dinner he had prepared… since he couldn’t really remember. It could almost make someone forget the world had ended outside this boat. Almost.
“Smells incredible, that roast” Amoc said as Simon entered the wheelhouse.
There was no hiding anything aromatic from Amoc. Even as a human he could smell things with an accuracy Simon couldn’t begin to match.
“Thanks.” Simon replied. “Figured if we’re going to be using the fuel, might as well treat ourselves.”
“Hey, I’m not complaining at all.” Amoc then indicated with his gaze the more urgent matter on his mind. “So about the river…”
“You’re doing fine.” Simon quickly replied, nonchalant. “The river stays a few hundred feet across all the way to the lock. A greenhorn on his first day could do this. You’re on day seven.”
Amoc had taken to piloting the boat quite well. Simon would of course still take the helm for the approach at the lock, but Amoc was more than competent enough at this point to handle the basics of transiting a wide river up the middle.
“Gee thanks.” Amoc sarcastically replied.
“Seriously, it’s a compliment.” Simon quickly replied again. “This other guy that was trying for apprentice boat pilot at the same time I was… he was still struggling with holding a straight course down the middle of the Hudson after three weeks. You’re doing great for your first week.”
That seemed to assure Amoc somewhat. He focused on piloting the boat while Simon got a better reference for where they were.
“Should be in Albany in a couple hours.” Simon began again. “There’s a point coming up where you’ll want to keep left, the roast probably won’t be done before then, so I can hang out until then. Got anything on your mind?”
Not so subtle pry. And you wonder why you never got any second dates.
Amoc remained quiet for a moment. He was clearly thinking about something. Or just trying to focus on piloting.
“You think this will work?” Amoc asked after a few moments. “That we might be able to make it up to Canada?”
“Maybe.” Simon answered. “I know those locks can work without power, but I have no idea how. It’s just what I heard from a year of working on this river. Going to stop in Albany to stock up, whatever happens. Honestly I’m more worried about what happens after these first two locks. The Mohawk gets pretty rural until Utica and Rome, scavenging might get tight.” Then circling back around to Amoc’s question: “Why Canada?”
“Just… something that’s been rattling around in my head for a few days now.” Amoc absently replied. “I dunno, it’s crazy, I need to think about it some more.”
“Hey, crazy is just another word for normal these days.” Simon reassured Amoc. “When you’re ready, I’m all ears.”
“Thanks.” Amoc replied. “I know I’ve been cagey, it’s just… there’s a lot. A lot of weird shit to my world. I dunno how much is too much to tell you.”
“Weirder than the undead?” Simon retorted.
“Yeah. Some of it is a lot weirder.”
“Well now you’re going to have to tell me.” Simon wasn’t relenting this time.
“Tell you what.” Amoc started. “We sit down for that roast tonight, I’ll let you decide what’s too much. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Got it. I won’t.”
Weird shit indeed. If werewolves were real, what else was real? Vampires? Bigfoot?
“Man, I miss music!” Amoc suddenly exclaimed, startling Simon.
“That’s… very random.” Simon replied.
“You asked what was on my mind. That’s been on it for a while.”
“Fair. What kind of music?”
“I’ve always been a metal head, but honestly anything at this point.” Amoc was almost mournful in his reply. “Everything went to streaming services. What I’d give for a CD player right now… Hey, you don’t think Albany has a music store do you?”
“Metal head… yeah, somehow I’m not surprised.” Simon laughed, not answering Amoc’s question. “Big Taylor Swift fan here.”
The expression on Amoc’s face as he snap-turned to stare at him was priceless. For someone that wanted it made clear he wasn’t human, Amoc could react in some very human ways. It took every bit of willpower Simon could muster to maintain a straight face.
“I’m having second thoughts about this relationship.” Amoc said flatly, after he had regained his composure.
“Yeah, I’m a big pop music guy.” Simon resumed. “I can’t help it. I like catchy beats and lyrics. If it makes you feel better, we’ll put a music store on the high priority list. Might even have vinyl, if you want to go full Albany hipster.”
“I will jump off this boat right now.” Amoc wasn’t serious, Simon was pretty sure.
“Relax, I’m only mostly joking.” Simon said, definitely not serious.
“There’s your keep left, by the way.” Simon pointed to the split in the river that had become visible. “Right is a dead end. Going to finish some things up in the galley, yell if you’re about to run aground, or going overboard.”
“I’ll do that.” Amoc’s tone was surly.
Simon paused for a moment to consider Amoc.
“You’re not actually going to jump overboard are you?” Simon asked.
Amoc again turned to look at Simon, this time with the expression of a disapproving dad. They were both roughly the same age, though Amoc definitely had a lot more world experience, which Simon was a bit jealous of, if he was being honest with himself. Being broke and working all the time limited those options, before everything went to hell. Ironic that he was learning more about the world now, way more than before the dead rose.
“No.” Amoc relented, and softened his tone. “It’s just karmic justice that the human I decide to team up with is a Taylor Swift fan. I deserve it. But…” Amoc paused for dramatic effect. “If I have to listen to Taylor Swift, you’re getting introduced to some Ramstein.”
Simon retreated down to the galley.
Amoc had done pretty well getting close to the river tours dock with Simon’s coaching. He didn’t need to get it perfect since Simon could be there to throw lines to the mooring points and pull them in. The USS Slater was still there, looking exactly as it had before the apocalypse. The whole dock was quiet, with a tour boat still moored, as well as a few personal watercraft. The tour boat would be diesel, and would be a quick and easy way to top up their resources. The immediate area was blissfully free of any evidence that a horde had been through recently.
“There’s always boats.” Amoc observed. “Why didn’t anyone take to the water like you did?”
“I dunno.” Simon had often wondered that himself. “Not enough time? People went with options they knew better? Boating with enough skill to live on the water isn’t super common. Some people might have, but I’ve not found another yet. Just a lot of boats still docked. Good for us, though, that tour boat will have a lot of useful supplies.”
“You want to start there while I have a look around the city?” Amoc asked. “Not a ton of daylight left, I can do it faster, note some targets for tomorrow.”
“Sounds like a plan, sure.” Simon agreed.
“Going to change now.” Amoc announced. “Will be back before sunset.”
Simon took Amoc’s clothes as he began undressing. He wasn’t sure he would ever get used to this part, even though he had seen it happen several times now. It wasn’t anything like the movies had made it out to be. As Amoc went down to his hands and knees, the sound of flesh tearing and bones cracking began, but there was no blood. Things just… changed. Arms became legs, his head elongated, a tail formed as fur emerged from every part of his body. The sound of it made it seem much more violent than it looked, and that discordance between sight and sound was definitely part of what made it so disturbing.
In under ten seconds, Amoc had turned into a large brown wolf. Simon had seen this form before; Amoc used it for scouting due to the wolf’s speed and stamina, as well as the stronger senses of smell and hearing. Amoc said he could still understand him while in this form, but he couldn’t speak. Beyond body language and wolf noises, anyway.
“All good?” Simon asked.
He knew Amoc was fine, but he asked anyway. Mostly for his own sake, really. Amoc fixed his yellow eyes on Simon, snorted once, then stretched.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Simon answered for himself. “See you in a few hours.”
Amoc leapt over the side of the boat, easily clearing the rail and landing on the dock.
“See if you can find that music store.” Simon reminded Amoc as he bounded off.
This is my life now. Living with someone that can transform into a wolf is just normal. What other weird shit is out there if that’s a thing that’s possible? Going to be a very interesting dinner conversation tonight.
Simon put down the gangway and broke out his spelunking gear and machete. Hopefully there weren’t any undead to deal with, but it was always better to be prepared in this world. He made sure he had collected the boat’s operating keys, and started walking over to the tour boat. With the boat’s engines shut down, the only sound was the river. The highways overhead were completely silent. Simon wasn’t sure the utter lack of urban noises would ever normalize for him.
A careful sweep of the tour boat led to no surprises. The fuel tanks were mostly full, typical for a tour boat. The engine room turned up a few useful spare parts. The wheelhouse had a basic emergency medical kit. The real prize, though, was the mid deck’s stereo system. It looked like this boat was often used for river parties. There were wall-mounted speakers, an amp… and a CD deck. The previous operators of Simon’s fishing boat must not have been music lovers: there wasn’t a single audio system anywhere on the boat. This was a find worth celebrating; Amoc was going to be very happy.
Looking it over, it seemed like it had been reasonably well protected from the elements, being hidden away in a cabinet. It probably still worked. The music selection was unfortunately not as great a find. A lot of genre and era party mixes, like those they used to advertise on TV a long time ago. Best of classic rock, that sort of stuff. It was still something, Simon supposed.
Nothing else of note was found on the tour boat, so Simon got down to hauling what they could use over to their own boat, as well as siphoning the fuel out of the tanks. The latter took most of the remaining daylight. The sun was getting quite low by the time Simon was done.
Not the best haul ever, but useful stuff is useful stuff. The fuel pretty much replaces all of what we burned getting here, so that’s awesome. Amoc should be getting back soon and…
“Hello there!” an unknown voice yelled out from the shore.
Simon instinctively put a hand on the grip of his machete, and ducked over to a window to find the source of the voice.
“I was walking in the park, saw a boat I didn’t recognize, figured there had to be some newcomers. Thought I’d stop by and say hello.” the unknown voice continued.
Shit. Where was Amoc? Who the hell is this?
“Name’s Arnold, by the way.” the voice now known as Arnold continued.
Simon risked a quick look out the window, and saw a masculine figure; average build, dirty clothes, no apparent weapons. Looking at the fishing boat, not the tour boat. He hadn’t been spotted.
What the hell is going on? A year of not talking with humans, and now a werewolf and someone else both want to chat me up inside a week? The living aren’t much more friendly than the undead. Well… Amoc at least has been a friend. Humans… less so. Assuming they’re human… can't assume anything anymore.
Simon heard a growl, deep and loud.
“Whoa!” Arnold had been surprised. “I was not expecting that! Uh… easy there big wolf.”
Amoc! Thank fuck! Okay, now that I’ve got some backup, let’s talk.
Simon stepped out of his hiding spot far enough to be heard, but close enough to duck back inside. He hoped Arnold wasn’t dumb enough to be hiding a gun. Gunshots were a sure way to a death sentence these days. Steady sounds like the boat didn’t seem to attract the horde. Sharp, sudden noises… definitely did.
Amoc was slowly approaching Arnold, teeth bared and growling.
“That’s…” Simon started, almost saying Amoc’s name. “... Charlie. He’s my wolf. Charlie, hold!”
Amoc played along. He stopped moving towards Arnold.
“Well that’s something you don’t see every day!” Arnold exclaimed. “A wolf in Albany! Not a lot of people around these days, guess it was bound to happen. Seems he listens to you… would you uh… mind calling him off?”
Arnold was clearly not thrilled with having Amoc looking at him like a threat. He seemed harmless, but there also was something not right about him. Not a violent kind of wrong, just.. off. Also, if Amoc hadn’t spotted anyone else, he was most likely alone.
God, Amoc is going to hate this.
“Charlie, come!” Simon ordered Amoc.
Amoc kept playing along. He ceased snarling at Arnold and came loping down the dock to intercept Simon as he came out of the tour boat. Simon got a better view of Arnold as he did so. He was middle aged, his hair was graying, but he seemed generally healthy. His clothing was well worn and dirty, but not falling apart. He had nothing else on him that Simon could spot. Amoc stopped beside Simon.
“What are you doing out here?” Simon asked Arnold.
“Like I said, just going for a walk in the park.” Arnold replied like it was just another normal day in his life. “Saw your boat, stopped to say hello. Not many people around anymore. You’re the first in quite a while, come to think of it.”
“Well… hello.” Simon didn’t know what else to say to that. “We’re just passing through, won’t be here long.”
“Yeah, I get it.” Arnold’s tone saddened. “Albany’s not what it used to be, it’s a lot harder to attract people here these days.”
Arnold seemed momentarily lost in introspection.
“Well, I won’t keep you.” Arnold resumed after a moment. “Sun’s going down and I need to be getting home. Safe travels to both… say, I didn’t get your name.”
“Simon, I’m Simon.”
“Good to meet you Simon. Safe travels to you and Charlie there!”
And with that, Arnold carried on with his walk in the park, eventually disappearing out of sight.
“What the hell was that?” Simon asked Amoc.
Amoc offered a short growl as a response. Simon was going to have to get better at reading him in wolf form.
“Charlie? Really?” Amoc asked, incredulous.
Amoc was back in human form. The sun had fully gone below the horizon, and they had decided out of an abundance of caution to move the boat away from shore.
“Sorry, I was on the spot.” Simon apologized. “I didn’t want to give him your real name.”
“You gave him yours.”
“I did.” Simon admitted. “I dunno why. Look, it’s been a long time since I’ve actually talked with people.”
They sat in awkward silence in the boat’s galley. The generator was humming away as the roast was warmed back up.
“I get it.” Amoc calmly broke the silence. “I put myself in that role when I started growling at the crazy guy. Doing anything else probably would have shattered what was left of his mind. I just…” Amoc paused. “... I don’t know. It felt… dity. Pretending like that.”
“Is it… like, an alpha thing?” Simon cautiously asked.
“Oh, god no!” Amoc immediately objected. “That shit’s for those angsty teen wolf movies. It’s nothing like that. It was just weird, new, unknown, mixed with being totally unexpected. Then realizing what was happening and that I needed to play along. Felt for a moment like I had willingly put myself in a cage.”
“That I understand.”
Again there was an awkward silence. Simon nervously bounced his knee up and down.
“You know you don’t have to keep doing this, if you’re not happy.” Simon resumed. “I was doing fine before. I can keep doing fine on my own.”
“No.” Amoc’s response was quick. “I won’t do that. That guy? Arnold? He probably told himself he was fine once too. Maybe that’s part of it. Seeing that scared the shit out of me. I felt that state bearing down on me all the time that I was alone. I was seeking Death, but he was more than content to let me go crazy.”
“I wasn’t exactly in a great mental state when you found me either.” Simon admitted.
Amoc laughed. Simon blinked in surprise.
“Yeah, I kind of got that.” Amoc recalled. “All the snarling and yelling. Thought for a moment I had stumbled on another Garou.”
“Really?” Simon wasn’t sure what to think of that.
“Only for a moment. But you were raging like one. It woke me the hell up, that’s for sure.”
“Well you’re welcome, I guess.”
“I made a promise.” Amoc continued. “Which I intend to keep. Partly because you could use the help. Partly because I don’t want you or me to end up like the crazy guy out there. Partly because a lone wolf can’t survive on their own. So you’ve got me for as long as you want, even if your taste in music is questionable.”
The last part genuinely made Simon laugh. It was a good feeling. It felt like that moment the sun rose on the first morning they had met. It felt like some part of his sanity had been knit back together.
“Oh by the way.” Simon remembered the CD deck. “Look what I found on the tour boat.”
Simon got up and pulled the CD deck out of a storage closet, then placed it on the galley table.
“Holy shit!” Amoc exclaimed. “Does it work?”
“Did a quick test while you were out. Speakers are kind of trashy, but the amp and deck both work, yeah. The music they had is pretty ‘meh’ as well.”
“We’ll fix that tomorrow.” Amoc was clearly excited. “I found a music store, looked intact. Some other good scavenging options too. Weirdly quiet out there, though. Can’t even tell the last time a horde went through here. Got pretty far out near the edge of the city, thought maybe I smelled a horde out there, but they’re nowhere close.”
“Huh.” Simon found that odd. “Wonder what’s kept them away?”
“No idea. Never have figured out what motivates a horde to go where they do. Might be why the crazy guy has survived here for so long, though.”
“Yeah, could be.” Simon really didn’t have any more insight on the horde than Amoc. “Just weird. Anyhow, dinner should be done now.”
Simon stood up and moved over to the oven to pull the roast out.
“Finally!” Amoc exclaimed. “Thought it would never be done.”
With the generator shut down and most of the lights on the boat turned off, Simon and Amoc were left with only the sounds of the river, and the darkness of a world without electricity. The air had a bite to it that suggested the approach of a rain storm. A good thing, as the collection barrels were getting a bit low. Temperatures were starting to ease off in the daytime as Fall wasn’t far off. Simon’s first Winter in the apocalypse had been a rough one, but surviving it taught him a lot of things he would take into the next one. Amoc easily tilted the odds even more in his favor.
Amoc was busy with the roast, and had already gotten half way through it. Simon had already eaten all he could manage, and was content to let Amoc have the rest. Changing forms required a lot of energy. Energy that was restored through eating meat. A lot of meat. It wasn’t Simon’s finest culinary effort; he would have liked to have let it broil at a lower temperature for longer, but that would have meant running the generator longer and using more fuel. Amoc certainly didn’t mind, though, and Simon was just happy to have something fresh cooked for the first time in a very long time.
“Good, I take it?” Simon asked Amoc.
“Oh, amazing.” Amoc replied, mouth half-full of roast. “Eating raw meat for all this time…” A pause to swallow. “I forgot how good a cooked meal could be.”
“Yeah. Me too. Well, except for the raw meat part.”
Simon sat back and relaxed on the galley couch as Amoc made more of the roast disappear. He pulled down a book and a pen from a shelf above the couch. It was a journal; Simon had started writing down a chronicle of his time with Amoc. He wasn’t much of a writer, he’d barely passed high school English, but he figured this was important enough to document, so his grammar wouldn’t matter much. Amoc hadn’t been opposed to the idea, so he had been writing every night for the past few days.
After most of the roast had vanished, Amoc put the knife and fork down, and relaxed back on the couch. Simon paused his writing.
“Okay.” Amoc began. “I promised you a talk about my world at dinner. So let’s have that talk. I’ll start here, because I know it’s probably been on your mind. No, I cannot make you a Garou.”
It had been a question high on Simon’s list. He wasn’t sure if that was a relief or disappointing.
“We’re born Garou.” Amoc continued. “Most of us don’t know that at first. Not everyone born from mating with a Garou becomes a Garou. It’s pretty much random. That’s why there have never been a lot of us. There are a few born that don’t know right up until the first change, and those events are… messy. That’s where a lot of the myths come from.”
Amoc now had Simon’s undivided attention. This was more than he had been hoping for, and a sign that Amoc’s trust in him had really grown over the last week. They had been through hell together, and that did tend to have a way of accelerating the earning of trust.
“So… is there like, a Garou society?” Simon asked.
“No, not really.” Amoc answered. “Nothing so formal. Local groups that watch out for each other, certain names everyone knows to go to for certain things, all very tribal and word of mouth. Some of the bigger groups might look to one or two people as kind-of authority figures, but again, it’s nothing formal. Usually just the older Garou that have seen and done all of the stupid shit a young Garou is likely to get up to.”
“The kind of stuff that might get you discovered.” Simon filled in the blank.
“Exactly.” Amoc confirmed. “That was the number one rule. You don’t pierce the veil. Ever. If someone did, or came really close, they’d be dealt with by other Garou. Always.”
“Always? No one ever slipped by?”
“If a Garou had gone rogue, it wasn’t easy to miss. No one ever slipped by. There were definitely those that thought they could take on humanity and win, but they were delusional. Our numbers have never been enough to even think about that, at any point in history. Well… maybe now, but it would be kind of an empty victory.”
The thought chilled Simon. Amoc talked about it so casually. Maybe this was what he was warning him about. This was not a human way of thinking.
“Yeah.” Simon mused. “Like conquering a city that’s already burned to the ground.”
“Pretty much.” Amoc replied, then seemed to realize where he was going with this line exposition. “Not that I was ever one of those Garou. I was spoiled. My parents had money, ran a successful business, I had cars and all kinds of other toys. Human stuff. I lived a human life and enjoyed it. A lot of Garou did. Like I said, we’re born, from humans. We don’t exist without each other.”
“I mean sure, some just shunned humanity entirely and ran with wolves or lived as hermits.” Amoc continued. “But those were just weirdos, not psychopaths. Generally harmless. We coexisted, even though humanity never knew it. You may have met a Garou before me and just never realized.”
This was way more than Simon was expecting. How deep did this rabbit hole go?
“So that’s it? You just lived beside us all this time, occasionally frollicking in the woods when the mood struck you?”
“Hah… yeah, some of us probably did.” Amoc’s tone then became more serious. “But most of us… there’s no way to make this sound good, because it isn’t… most of us saw ourselves as superior to humanity. In the old days, humanity was kind of thought of as cattle. Modern times have changed that thinking a little bit, but… well look, even I’m guilty of this kind of thinking; I’m not going to pretend I’m not.”
Simon didn’t know what to think of the admission. Worse, Simon wasn’t sure he could even say it was wrong. He’d seen what Amoc was capable of.
“When I first saw you on that school bus, my first reaction was anger.” Amoc continued. “Anger that you were there, distracting the horde and taking away from my chances of meeting with Death. Normally a Garou wouldn’t have given a passing thought to what happens to a single human. Mostly because we just didn’t care. I wouldn’t have given you a single thought, if that had been a pack of wild dogs before the apocalypse. We saw ourselves more as watchers, of humanity as a whole. Because if humanity dies, so do we. There was nothing noble about it, it was pure self-interest. It was about making sure the darker things in this world didn’t get any ideas.”
“Things like that undead Garou in war form?” Simon recalled the night they had met, and the thing that nearly undid their escape plan.
“That… I’m still trying to figure that out. I’ve never seen a Garou turn undead. But that… that means it’s possible.”
Amoc paused for a moment, seemingly pondering how far he wanted to go with this talk.
“Most of us are human-born.” Amoc continued. “But there are exceptions. Rare ones. Some are wolf-born. Rarer still are the war-born. These Garou… when we die, or somehow get rendered unconscious, we revert to our natural born state. A war-born that had been killed would have reverted to the war form. And if they turned undead…”
“Undead Garou in war form.” Simon finished.
“Yeah. Fucking terrifying. Fighting another Garou… it’s not something you ever want to do. Ever. And I mean that as a Garou, never mind going up against one of us as a human.”
“I wasn’t planning on it.”
“But that’s new.” Amoc resumed his talk. “What I mostly meant was the old world. The things that have been here as long as we have. Things with… few scruples about how humanity gets along.”
“Vampires?” Simon asked.
“Oh don’t get me started on vampires.” Amoc quickly retorted.
“Okay, we’ll table that for now.” Simon was maybe starting to regret his request to know more. “How do the undead fit into all of this?
“That’s the thing.” Amoc stated. “They don’t. The undead are not part of my world. They never were. I mean, vampires are not entirely living… but it’s not the same thing. Not even close. The undead are new, and I have no idea how they came to be. Maybe that’s something we can figure out.”
“Yeah.” Simon said absently, his thoughts circling back around to Amoc’s earlier admission. “You really would have just let me die on that bus?”
“Yes.” Amoc’s admission was blunt. “Something like that where it would have been clear I couldn’t help without discovery, yeah. I would have left you. Breaking up a fight between two people? Yeah, maybe I’d stop that. Helping an old lady cross the street? Sure. Risking discovery and possibly my life to save a human? No.”
Amoc had been looking down at the table for some of this. It was clearly not a comfortable subject, but he was plowing through it anyway. After a moment he looked up, locking eyes with Simon.
“I warned you about going into my world. There’s a lot of nasty things in it. Not just the other non-humans. Things I’ve done, things I’m not proud of. Things you’re going to see and find out as you keep traveling with me. Things that will make you question what is real and what isn’t. But they’re things you need to know if we’re going to go to Canada.”
Simon wasn’t sure he wanted to ask, but he did anyway.
“What’s in Canada?”
“An answer, maybe.” Amoc cryptically replied. “A lot of the things in my world, they’re a lot harder to kill than most of the living. I’m betting that a lot of them are still out there. Some of them might have a better idea of just what the undead are.”
“You really want to figure this out.” Simon realized.
“Yeah. There’s so much to my world that you don’t know, and we don’t have the time tonight to get into even a quarter of it. But the undead… they’re not part of it. They don’t make any sense, and it’s bugging the hell out of me that I don’t even have the slightest idea of just what they are, or how they happened.”
“Everything I said about the past is true.” Amoc continued. “But that was the past. I’m fighting for the living now. I’m fighting for you. I need to know what the undead are. If we can figure that out… maybe we can do something about them. That would be fucking metal, wouldn’t it?”
Simon was stunned. This was a plan. This was more than just surviving day to day. This was doing something that could actually matter beyond their boat.
“That would be really fucking metal. I’m in, if you still want me along for this.”
“I can’t do this alone. I know that now. I want you here for this. Just… keep in mind what I’ve said.”
“I will.” Simon was resolute now. “Tomorrow we’re getting through that lock. For tonight… I think that’s enough.”
“William Savage.” Amoc stated, seemingly at random.
“Come again?” Simon was confused.
“That was my name. My human name. Amoc is my true name, the one I took when I first became aware I was a Garou.”
“William.” Simon turned the name over in his head. “Savage is a little on the nose don’t you think?”
“Hah, well… that was the family name, so…” Amoc explained. “You can keep using Amoc of course. My human name isn’t really all that important anymore. Just thought I’d mention it.”
“Amoc of House Savage.” Simon mused. “Last of his kind. Warrior for the Living. Sounds pretty fucking metal.”
“Very fucking metal.” Amoc was amused. “Maybe you’re not such a lost cause after all.”
“Should we try and find him, Arnold?” Simoc asked Amoc.
They had returned to the tour boat dock the following morning. It was just as quiet as the previous day.
“The crazy guy?” Amoc recalled. “I don’t think we’re equipped to help him. Plus if he’s survived this long alone, he’s figured something out. He didn’t even ask us where we were going.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“If we run across him, we can make the offer.” Amoc tried to appease Simon. “I just don’t think he’s going to take it.”
“You were a wolf last time.” Simon reminded Amoc. “He hasn’t met the human you.”
“I was out scouting. Technically true.”
“Hah, right.” Simon accepted the compromise. “We better get going, we’ve got a lot of stops to make.”
Albany remained eerily quiet during their scavenging. Amoc volunteered to pull the wheelbarrow Simon kept for larger trips. Fuel and water had been taken care of the previous day, so this was mostly a household goods shopping trip. Salt proved difficult to find in uncompromised packages, but they did manage to find a few unopened bags from a bulk goods store. No sign was found of Arnold, or any other living things beyond a few wild animals.
By late morning they had checked all the higher priority items off their list, except for one addition Simon had made at the end of the list: music. Amoc had scouted a promising-looking independent shop in an older part of town, which they were now standing in front of. The paint of the exterior facade was peeling and showing a dozen or more layers, though it had probably been peeling since long before the apocalypse.
“These places are always the best.” Amoc said, looking at the building. “Forget the mall shops. They might be bigger, but they just fill it with more junk. Let’s see what they’ve got.”
“After you.” Simon said, motioning to the front door.
Amoc found it unlocked, and went inside with Simon right behind him. It was exactly the kind of place Simon was expecting. Small, dark, and claustrophobic, but with nearly every wall and surface covered with CDs and vinyl records. There was a cat lounging on the counter, the man behind the counter nodded a greeting. A couple other people were browsing. Simon couldn’t place the song that was playing.
“Been here before?” the man asked.
“No, a friend of mine recommended you.” Simon replied. “Said I should broaden my musical horizons.”
“Well your friend’s got taste. Looking for anything specific?
“Ramstein?” Simon asked.
“Rock and Metal, wall over there.” the man pointed to the opposite wall. “Should be the second shelf from the bottom I think.”
“Thanks.” Simon went to look.
It didn’t seem possible, the number of CDs they had managed to pack on to one wall. Simon found the R’s, found Ramstein, and then realized he had no idea what he was looking for. All the album titles and songs were in German.
“Need any help?” the man behind the counter asked.
“Yeah. My friend didn’t really give me any more info on what I should be looking for.”
“Sehnsucht, their second album. Du Hast is what most people know them for.”
Simon managed to identify the album and picked it up.
“What I’m here for.” the man replied, very matter of fact.
Simon found the pop music section and was relieved to find Taylor Swift’s 1989. Fair was fair. They were both going to go outside our comfort zones. Simon took them both up to the counter.
“Interesting pairing here.” the man commented.
“Yeah.” Simon admitted. “Deal was I broaden my horizons, he does the same.”
“Good friend, that is. What’s their name?”
Simon couldn’t remember who had sent him. He looked out the front door desperately trying to remember the name.
Amoc! No, William! He goes by William with humans.
He looked back to the man at the counter, and no one was there. The shop was pitch dark, the counter covered in dust.
“Found it!” Amoc exclaimed from the back of the shop, popping up with a flashlight and holding an album.
Simon just stared at him. He was holding a CD case at the counter looking like he was ready to pay a non-existent clerk.
“What are you doing?” Amoc asked Simon.
“I don’t… know.” Simon paused. “I was… there were people. I was just about to buy a couple CDs. The clerk asked who had told me to come here. I couldn’t remember your name…”
Simon let the sentence end unfinished. Amoc quickly came over to him.
“What’s the last thing you remember saying to me?” Amoc asked.
“I don’t…” Simon couldn’t remember.
Amoc suddenly took both of Simon’s hands and held them.
“I need you to trust me right now and do exactly what I say.” Amoc’s tone left no room for dissent. “Close your eyes, focus on my voice, nothing else.”
Simon did as he was instructed.
“We were at the end of our scavenging run, the music shop was last on our list.” Amoc began. “I was telling you how these places were the best. What did you do next?”
“After you, I said.” Simon repeated. “And I followed you in.”
“Good. I said I was going to find the rock and metal section.” Amoc continued.
“And I said I was going to look for the pop section. You sighed… deeply.”
“Hah… also good. Keep going.”
“You said this was the jackpot, these people clearly cared about music. They had some sections labeled as ‘weird vocals’ and other really specific things that you said meant they actually listened to a lot of their stock.”
“Specific details, that’s very good.” Amoc sounded relieved.
Amoc offered no further instructions and let go of Simon’s hands. Simon opened his eyes. The memories came back to him.
“Amoc, what the fuck just happened to me?” Simon felt like some thread of his sanity had come undone again. “I didn’t remember any of that until you made me focus just now. I was somewhere else… before the apocalypse.”
“You went through the veil. Not far, but… enough.” Amoc started. “Some call what you experienced dreamwalking. It usually has to be induced through… well, drugs.”
“What does any of that mean? Dreamwalking? The veil?”
“There’s something off with this town.” Amoc tried to explain. “Felt it since the scouting trip yesterday. Didn’t feel dangerous, but… the walls here are thin.”
“You’re scaring me man. Is this part of that stuff you were talking about, your world?
“Yeah.” Amoc admitted, blunt as ever. “The veil… it’s hard to explain. I’ll try, but not here. We should get back to the boat.”
To his credit, Amoc did try to explain when they got back to the boat. Simon still wasn’t sure he understood it. Best he could tell, what Amoc called ‘the veil’ was a kind of boundary. Though even that word wasn’t quite right. The veil was flexible, malleable, and Amoc had a kind of innate sense for it. A sixth sense, of sorts. Trying to explain it to him was likely a bit like trying to explain color to someone born without sight.
“I was afraid this might start happening, once you learned what I really am.” Amoc explained. “This is part of why it was so drilled into us that we should never reveal ourselves.”
“You didn’t think to warn me of this until now?” Simon was angry. “I felt like I was losing my mind again back there!”
“I was trying to ease you into it.” Amoc’s tone was calm. “Too much at once might have made it even worse. I didn’t think it would happen this quickly. This is all unexplored territory, and I’m trying to navigate it on my own, but I don’t have anywhere near the level of experience with it that some of my people did. This was the price of saving your life. You are a part of my world now whether you want to be or not, and I made that decision for you that night at the school. I couldn’t ask your permission at the time… so now I ask for your forgiveness.”
The rabbit hole went even deeper than Simon thought. Amoc was sincere in his explanation and apology, and Simon was alive because of that fateful decision. Amoc hadn’t given him any reason to doubt him since; he had been a true friend for this past week, keeping him out of danger and providing much needed companionship in this world absent of the living. For that Simon was grateful, and if this was the price of that friendly presence at his side, then so be it.
Simon closed his eyes and calmed his breathing.
“Okay.” Simon said after a time. “I forgive you.”
“Thank you.” Amoc was relieved. “I won’t hold anything back from now on, I promise. To that end, this is also part of why I want to get to Canada. There’s someone I know that lived there… lives there, still, I hope. They’ve had a lot more experience with the veil than I have.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Simon was calm again. “Your price of saving my life is going to be learning the many virtues of Taylor Swift.”
It took Amoc a moment to process the sudden turn in the conversation. He looked aghast. It again took all of Simon’s willpower to keep his face emotionless.
“I suppose I did make that promise.” Amoc finally admitted.
The locks out of Albany turned out to be quite simple to operate without power. The manual controls were clearly labeled, and Simon knew enough about how the locks operated to use them in the correct order. The process was slow and somewhat nerve-wracking, as the boat was completely unable to move for the duration of the transfer of water. If a horde suddenly appeared, they would have few choices other than abandoning the boat and hopefully coming back to it later.
Fortunately, no such events happened. In fact, the last few days had been entirely without any sightings of undead. Combined with Simon’s brush with… whatever that had been back at the music shop, he was really getting a feeling for Amoc’s assertion that something was ‘off’ with Albany. He was quite happy to be leaving it behind and heading west up the Mohawk River now. There were a lot of locks between Albany and Lake Ontario, but the route was well traveled before the apocalypse, and it hadn’t been all that long since the undead took over the world, so everything should still be in decent working order.
Simon’s relationship with Amoc continued to evolve. There were no barriers anymore, but it was clear there was still so much to his world that Simon had only scratched the surface of, and only so much Amoc could put to words in a day. Canada hopefully held Amoc’s answers. It was a plan. A thin one, perhaps, but it was better than aimlessly wandering waiting for the end to come. It was purpose, something that was not at all easy to find anymore. It was a reason to keep moving forward.