Blood Moon

Chapter 2: Wake Up Call

As Rick Landon's mind slept, a string of broken memories bubbled up from the peripheries of his mind. All those who had bore the disease before he did passed down their memories, from the time they were infected until when they bit the next person. Most of the time, he could not consciously access them, but he had gained such historical introspection by trial-and-error with drugs and meditation. Raw shock could also squeeze those memories into the forefront of his mind.

Rick's own troubles were trivial compared to the weight of history upon his predecessors. In particular, there were three he recalled. He remembered himself as Romulus Titus, stalwart defender of the doomed Roman Republic, as he forced Mark Antony's sword through the general's own chest. He felt the splatter of warm blood upon his claws as Ulfur Erikson, last of the Norse pagans, ripped Genghis Khan's throat out after an intense and savage battle. He felt Lu Langzai, former Shaolin monk, clear the ramparts of Fort Zeelandia with Koxinga's Ming loyalists behind him. He remembered his own first transformation, of how he ripped apart his own relatives after learning they intended to murder his younger brother and stuff his body in their crawlspace with their other victims. He did not know recalling that last one brought a smile to his otherwise slumbering form.

As shaken as he was by the events of prior notes, Rick Landon could not help but being alarmed when he awoke in a warm bed. As the bed rocked back and forth, he realized he was not on land at all. He lifted the hand-woven quilt that gave him, exposing his bare legs to the cool air blowing in off the river he saw out the window. He momentarily panicked upon finding his clothing had been hung out to try on a clothesline just outside his cabin. Beyond the railing of the boat was a half-sunken wooden pier, with rubber tires hanging along the sides to prevent collisions. He could see no signs of human movement, but that did little to dispel an almost preternatural urge of unseen surveillance.

Fearing he had been exploited by an uncharitable benefactor, he frantically surveyed his surroundings for any traces of abuse. Instead, he looked down at his famished body to see that his loins were covered by his slightly moist boxer shorts. The dampness was present around the entirety of the loins, instead of merely the crotch like he feared. Consigning his dive into the river as the source of the moisture, he looked with a small amount of embarrassment as he saw wet stains on the sheets he had awaken from. The desperate plunge into the drink had not only doused him in cold water, but also made him wet someone else's bed.

The cabin was small, cramped, and had a ceiling barely high enough to stand up in. Rick hoped the captain was no taller than he was, lest the sailor develop back problems or be at risk from constant concussions. He walked outside onto the deck, eager to dress himself before meeting with his rescuer. He walked outside, hopeful that no one on the sure would find the half-naked American worth staring at. He momentarily wondered if the locals were already jaded towards that from the questionable establishments, dive bars, and bordellos in the sleazier tourist hotspots. As he slipped into his clothing, he briefly thought he saw something shift in the murky mirror reflection upon the water's edge.

Rick had finished getting dressed by slipping on his tattered leather vest when the vessel's captain walked out on deck to meet him. He was shorter than Rick by a few centimeters, even counting the steel-toed work boots he wore. He wore faded jeans and a worn red button down shirt that barely clung to his lean frame. His olive-tanned skin and parted jet black hair indicated he was probably a native, but his aquiline nose and features hinted at some Spanish or Mediterranean heritage. He looked young, but Rick could easily imagine him being older than his appearance suggested. He smiled warmly, his teeth white and shiny enough to reflect the rising sun. Despite never seeing him, Rick felt immediately comfortable around him.

"Norteamericano?" he asked.

"Si, Americano," Rick replied, hoping his limited Spanish was correct. "Tu hablas Ingles?"

"Yes, I do speak English," the fisherman said with only a slight accent. "I'm Martin Delgado."

Rick momentarily recalled the tour guide he skimmed over, remembering that Montoya was a British Crown Colony and Commonwealth country, so most of the locals knew both English and Spanish. Like the larger Belize, Montoya had been founded by British privateers seizing Spanish territory, with native Mayans and the descendents of African slaves being the largest minorities. Rick was grateful that his own cursory knowledge had served him well so far.

"So, what happened last night? I'm still a little blurry."

"You tell me," Martin said. "You're just lucky I found you in the river. You were bleeding pretty bad, but it healed up on its own."

"Yeah, amazing what a good night can do for you. Or how much a bad one can do to you."

"What's your name?"

"Rick Landon," he said. "From Ohio."

"Listen, Rick," Martin said as his tone suddenly turned dour and serious. "A lot of foreigners have been arriving here each month, and a lot of them leave with strange cuts and scars. If they leave."

"What kind of scars?"

"Slashed to ribbons, as if by some large animal. Even worse than you were."

Rick gulped, but hoped the local fisherman was just trying to frighten him with a local legend. After seeing the White Wolf last night, he had suspicions over the cause of some of those deaths.

"Only foreigners?"

"Mainly foreigners, because the locals learned to stay out of the jungle at night," Martin explained. "Especially near Upal."

"There's plenty of jaguars, snakes, alligators, crocodiles, warthogs, and feral dogs that could be at fault," Rick said. "Right?"

"Yes, which is why we're allowed to have these," Martin said as he lifted a tarp beside him. A dissembled double-barrel shotgun sat in a niche in the wall, with a revolver cylinder beside it. "The government lets travelers in the backcountry carry shotguns or pistols with no more than six rounds in the wilderness. You have one?"

"I've got no weapons other than the machete in my car," he lied.

"No gun? Sure you're not Canadian?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. I left it, my passport, cash, phone, and things in my car."

"And where's your car?"

"Parked near Upal near the river, assuming no one's stolen it."

"How about I give you a lift there, Rick? I'm going to be fishing near there, and if it's been stolen, I'll take you back to the US consulate in the capital once I'm done for the day."

"Are you sure? I don't want to inconvenience you."

"It's no problem my friend," Martin said. "The Upal River runs from the capital, Montoya City, to the area near the Mayan ruins. Best fishing is up there, too. Every night, I go back to deliver my catch to my regular buyers."

"Thanks. Anything I can do to help?"

"Just listen to what I tell you," Martin said. "The Mayans used the river like a highway through the country, and so will we. I'll give you my official tour, so you'll know where to avoid."

"Sounds great. It's always good to hear about the country from a local."

"Don't trust the tour guides. They'll just rip you off."

"Yeah, I learned that the hard way."

"Okay, if you want to watch from in here. I'll point out interesting things as we pass them," Martin said as he vanished into a door beside him.

Rick followed Martin through the door, and saw where the captain sat. The ship's wheel itself stood upright in the center of the room, with various gages displayed around it vaguely reminiscent of a car. There was a radio, first aid kit, and fire extinguisher on the back wall, and a plastic case that presumably held a flare gun beside it. The tiled floor itself seemed faded and old, but he reminded himself Martin could've bought a used vessel for cheap. Martin walked towards the steering wheel, moved some levers, and then left. He came back in a minute later, took the helm, and the boat began to move.

Rick looked out the front of the window and saw the buildings of the smog-choked Montoya City off in the distance. Few structures rose as high as skyscrapers, but industrial smokestacks from the refinery were visible as they burnt off excess gases like a gigantic Viking funeral. He quickly recalled his brief sojourn through the capital, listening to a radio talk show about a foreign oil company's sudden interest in the country. As he finished his thoughts, Rick thought he saw something rushing in the brush by the shore.

"Montoya City's where the conquistador Francesco Montoya landed," Martin said as pointed to the cityscape. "He came for God and gold, but the British baymen who came after he did just wanted gold. The American filibusters that came after them wanted the same."

Rick said nothing as he continued scanning the brush along the side of the river. A sudden breeze caused the cattails, high grasses. and ferns to undulate for a minute, but revealed nothing of whom, or what, was underneath. The idea of staying in the boat and not returning to shore was starting to seem very appealing to him. He watched intently, as seaside shanties gave way to a pocket of dense jungle, before terminating in a cleared segment of farmland. Despite the poor condition of a nearby farmhouse, he could not help but stare at high-tech attachments to that clung to rust-flecked farm equipment like plastic parasites on diesel dinosaurs.

"What's with that farm?" he asked.

"That's actually part of the University of Montoya's School of Agriculture," Martin explained. "Some technology firm partnered with them to try out robotic farming equipment. Sometimes, you'll see the vehicles driving themselves."

"I know someone who'd be interested in that," Rick said, speaking without forethought. "But seems odd to find that in a country like this."

Instead of being offended like Rick imagined, Martin simply grinned. If he was displeased, he displayed no outward signs of it. "I've heard the University's actually quite famous for some things, such as archeology."

"Yeah, that seems likely. You've got some really cool ruins out here."

Martin did not reply and an awkward silence lingered in the cabin as the boat chugged steadily up the Upal River. Rick's eyes wandered across the razed and cleared farmlands, gazing out at the few islands of shrubbery and jungle between them. He wondered if the White Wolf was lurking in one of them, ready to pounce onto the deck, smash through the window, and rip him limb from limb. Try as he may, he could not forget the urge that a greater predator than him skulked through the countryside.

Breaking the silence, Martin pointed with his right hand to a structure built in the center of a cleared area. Unlike the small farms that dotted the riverside, he could tell that this structure was a strange hybrid of the ancient and new. A Mediterranean-style church with red roof tiles and worn alabaster white walls was surrounded by barbed wire and searchlights. Within the fences, he could see canvas tents and prefabricated structures deployed in an unmistakable military precision. Only a handful of white vehicles were parked within. Flattened brush hinted at the presence of a military-style transport helicopter with a similar paint. Above the mission flew the United Nations flag, with an unfamiliar one beneath it with red and white bars.

"The UN Peacekeepers set up a camp at the old Spanish Mission," Martin explained. "Montoya has no military beyond a few ceremonial and token units, so they help us watch for drug runners. I was in the army, and I can tell you, they'll need all the help they can get."

"What's that flag below the UN one?" Rick asked.

"Singapore, I think. That's where the UN commander's from."

Rick nodded, wondering what would happen if the White Wolf faced whatever firepower was present in the base. Based on Martin's comment, he wondered if there truly was much firepower in the camp. Regardless, the mission-cum-makeshift garrison was unlike anything else he had seen in the sleepy tourist backwater of a country. As it vanished from view, Rick noticed the waters narrowing notably.

The fog-shrouded foothills of the back country arose before Rick, timeless sentinels that stood vigil that started long before the stones of Upal were quarried from their bases. The channel began to tighten, and the banks rose upwards into teeth of jagged boulders. Occasionally, Rick spied the river feed by a small cascade of water gushing from one of stone walls that surrounded them. He allowed himself several minutes to marvel at the natural beauty around him, temporarily forgetting about what had happened the night before.

"Three centuries ago, the Mayan tribes in the hills here would often harbor and assimilate fugitive slaves," Martin explained to an inattentive Rick.

So engulfed was Rick in rumination that he failed to notice the boat slowing down and approaching a small wharf at the river's edge. As the boat came closer to the pier, his heart began racing and he began to sweat. He vaguely recalled the area and he remembered the nearby sign on shore that directed him towards a dirt parking lot. While it was familiar terrain, he started to instinctually identify it as enemy territory. Martin docked the boat and turned to his passenger.

"If you follow the path by the pier, it should take you to the parking lot," Martin said. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I've been here before," Rick said as his body language betraying his true feelings.

"You okay?" Martin repeated his question. "I've got something that can help."

Rick did not respond as Martin momentarily vanished and returned with three objects in hand. He handed the first two to Rick, which he quickly examined. One was a piece of paper marked "Martin's Number" with a string of digits. The second was a plastic bottle of water, cool to the touch. Rick chugged half of it before slipping it into his pocket. The third was a small black plastic box with a carrying handle. He briefly wondered what was inside before Martin sated his curiosity a second later.

Carefully, Martin opened it before Rick. The sunlight reflected on its shiny, metallic body. Rick gasped before picking the object up. It packed more heft than he imagined, but his lycanthropy allowed him to hold it like a toy. It was a sleek automatic pistol that vaguely resembled a sci-fi ray gun, only with a magazine that held six massive rounds almost as big as his finger. The name "AutoMag .44" was etched into the frame just above the grip. A scope on top was merely the icing on the cake. Martin switched the safety on and slipped it into Rick's vest, before putting the magazine into another pocket.

"I don't have much use for it anymore," Martin said. "But I think that should help you feel safer."

"Eh, I don't have much experience with guns," Rick said. "But I'll keep it in case I need it."

"Just don't go swinging that thing around in town. We're not as keen on them down here."

Rick nodded in agreement, but not for the reasons Martin suspected. Reluctantly accepting the weapon, he grabbed the fisherman's hand and shook it. "Thanks for everything. I'll call you once I get back to my car. I'll pay you for the fuel."

"Don't worry about it. Just don't get yourself killed."

"That's the idea, but thanks for saving my life. I owe you one."

"No, you don't. Just let me know you get back to your car safe or if you need a lift back to town. The jungle's dangerous."

Rick hesitantly prepared to disembark the craft. He walked to the end of the pier, the musty boards creaking under his every footfall. He half expected the White Wolf to lunge from behind the nearby rocks and maul him to death, but he turned around anyway. Martin waved as he unmoored the boat and sailed away. Fighting the urge to jump into the water and swim for the boat, he instead turned towards the path in front of him. Taking a deep breath, he stepped off the pier. He checked around for any sign of movement, and took another step. The third was easier, and by the time Rick had reached his car, he had almost forgotten why he was so fearful.