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.”