The hooded figure disappeared, but a group of high-pitched voices remained. “Yes. We’re here to teach you what true willpower means. Some people have already gathered near the meteor. Hesitate, now, and all will be lost.”
Ed threw the shovel in the bed of the truck and cranked the engine. He jammed his foot against the gas pedal, sped to the field and slammed on his brakes near the small crater. He jumped out of the truck and heard chatter from a middle-aged married couple in workout clothes at the edge of the crater. “Stop.”
“We weren’t doing anything. We’re waiting for the police,” said the wife as she jogged in place and glanced at her digital watch.
“You’re standing next to radioactive material. Do you want cancer? Get away from this field.”
“How do you know it’s radioactive?”
“I’m with the Astrometry department at the U.S. Naval Observatory. Now go on; this whole area is contaminated.” Ed didn’t understand where he’d thought of this explanation, but it seemed to work.
After the couple disappeared into the fog, Ed used the shovel to scoop a piece of the smoking rock into the back of the truck. He imagined having the tactical skills of the wily Odysseus in Homer’s tale, and he wondered how he would scheme his way out of murder charges.
“Get back in the truck, and drive where we tell you,” said the high-pitched voices. Ed climbed into the cab of the truck and sped past the couple. He drove along the D.C. beltway for almost an hour before reaching a mansion on an isolated dead-end road in McLean, Virginia. “The Senator’s inside, but first you must pass another test.”
Ed parked in front of the house and stepped onto the gravel. He closed the truck’s door and heard a bark before he saw a lone wolf, charging in his direction. The door to the truck wouldn’t open as the foaming jaws approached.
“Master your fears, and hold your ground. Remember you’re a god.”
Ed reached for the shovel as the rabid wolf lunged through the air. He swung, and the metal vibrated as it struck the animal’s skull. He thrust the blade of the shovel down across the wolf’s neck, but the animal seemed invincible.
“It knows you’re afraid and feeds on your weakness. Drop the shovel.” Instead of obeying the irrational command, Ed continued chopping.
His thrusts could not draw blood. The wolf dove and bit Ed’s hand, piercing the flesh of his palm beneath his right thumb. Soon, his entire arm became numb. He wondered if some powerful venom were paralyzing his body. He let the shovel fall and struggled to push the snapping fangs away from his throat. The claws of the animal’s back feet tore the skin of Ed’s thighs, and the wolf seemed to grow heavier.
Ed found himself pinned on his back unable to move his paralyzed muscles. His skin tingled with the numbness. The snarling wolf seemed to be toying with him, diving for the throat then suddenly stopping and pulling away. Ed looked into the eyes of the beast and lost all fear of death.
The beast’s growl almost struck Ed as comical as he consigned himself to the great unknown beyond this life. He concluded life had only given him extreme and inexplicable suffering, pain that no prayer or sermon could justify or alleviate. He welcomed oblivion if it would erase his memory and end his agony.
“Say that you’re the messiah,” said the voices. “Tell it you will rise from the dead and persuade your followers to rebel or perish.”
“I’m the messiah, the new resurrection.” Ed found the power to rise to his feet and seize the shovel. Warm blood splattered against Ed’s face and neck as he chopped down on the beast. He jumped back when he saw Kenny’s bleeding body where the wolf’s had been.
He dropped the shovel and tried to wipe the blood off his face. As Ed’s stomach muscles contracted and stomach acid wrenched up from his gut, he landed on his knees and gazed into the eyes of Kenny’s severed head. Ed’s nausea disappeared as the voices laughed, and he found himself savoring Kenny’s murder. He wondered how long Kenny’s brain had been aware of its fleeting life after its decapitation. “I hope you still hear me. I hope you feel complete terror as your brain starves for oxygen and edges into endless night.”
Ed looked away from the pale white face and sat up as he saw an old man in a bathrobe, walking down the gravel path. Two attractive female nurses in white 1960s-era uniforms followed the man and lifted Ed to his feet.
“I’m glad you arrived safely, son. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Senator Stephen Walker.” The senator pointed to the marble columns on the porch of his mansion. “Welcome to my home. Treat it as your own.”
Ed looked at the blood splattered across most of his body. “How long were you watching?”
“Long enough to watch your attacker get what he deserved. Don’t worry. We’ll handle this mess without involving the authorities. I’m afraid it’s too late to hide Jonathan Miller and his daughter. They were both once close friends of mine, and I was disappointed to hear they treated you so cruelly.”
“Are the cops looking for me?”
Senator Walker patted Ed’s shoulder and chuckled. “You’re safe here.”
Limping, Ed gazed up at the enormous chandelier as he entered the foyer of the mansion and followed the senator up a long staircase. On the second floor, they entered one of the many spacious guest bedrooms with marble floors. “My nurses will do everything to make you comfortable.”
A smile from the short blonde seemed to invite sex. When the senator exited the room, Ed hobbled after him. “Please, wait. What’s going to happen to me? How will I stay out of prison?”
“I’ve taken care of everything. They’ll arrest another man, and he’ll confess.”
Senator Walker crossed his arms, repeating a nervous laugh. “How can you reach your full potential if you’re locked on death row for double murder?”
“What is my so-called full potential?”