[cover photo courtesy of @CourtneyShortney82]
nobody knows the trouble i’ve seen
Daryl Dixon was ten years old the first time his life got turned upside-down.
It was a dreary Tuesday night. Raindrops were pelting the roof, making for the only sound inside the small mobile home. He’d fallen asleep in his mother’s lap. But when he woke up in the dead of night, he was lying in his own bed. The door to his tiny bedroom at the end of the hallway was shut tight. The rain had stopped. There was silence.
And then… there wasn’t.
He heard footsteps. They were fast and light, barely creaking the floor. At first, he thought it might’ve been Merle. But he quickly remembered that his big brother had left for bootcamp over a year ago, and he’d only called to let them know he wouldn’t be back anytime soon. Then Daryl figured it must be his dad finally stumbling home after another weekend bender. Even though the footsteps didn’t sound like his at all.
The next thing he knew, his mom was screaming at the top of her lungs. A blood-curdling, ear-shattering scream that he’d never heard before. There was some thudding around, and the breaking of glass.
Without thinking, Daryl jumped out of bed and ran to his bedroom door, ripping it open and tearing down the hall. He rushed through the doorway of his mom’s room, prepared to find his dad laying into her with bare-knuckled fists again. Afraid to find her unconscious, because then he’d have to call 911 again.
But what he saw stopped him dead in his tracks. It wasn’t his dad at all. It wasn’t even… human.
He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the monster looming over his mother’s bed. The creature that was currently ripping into her chest with long, razor-sharp claws. It was taller than any person he’d ever seen before, and covered in fur.
It almost looked like a wolf.
But it couldn’t be. Because it was standing on its hind legs, like a person.
Then it smelled him. And its head whipped around. In the glow of the full moon that poured through the window, Daryl saw it. He met the monster’s bright yellow eyes. He saw the fresh red blood soaking its muzzle and dripping from its pointy teeth. It stopped tearing his mom’s flesh apart just long enough to let out a threatening growl.
He promptly pissed himself.
His mother sputtered out a torturous sound of pain, and Daryl tore his gaze away from the creature just in time to see her reaching out a trembling hand. Her nightgown was torn to shreds. Something shiny and purple was protruding from the gaping wound of her abdomen. Blood was pouring out of her mouth.
He turned and ran.
But the wolf-monster was quick. Much quicker than a scrawny little ten-year-old boy. And Daryl didn’t make it more than a few feet away before he felt the claws in his back. Ripping his shirt from collar to hem. Dragging down his spine and leaving a long trail of torn flesh.
He let out a cry of pain and stumbled, landing face-first on the kitchen floor. The back door was inches away. He didn’t take the time to turn back and look the monster in its eyes. Razor-sharp claws scratched clumsily at his left shoulder blade, but he’d already scrambled to his feet and begun darting off.
Somehow, he made it to the back door. Somehow, he outran the giant wolf creature and leapt off the side of the porch, flying out across the grass with impossible speed. Leaving a trail of blood the whole way. Losing the tattered remnants of his shirt somewhere in the frantic search for safety.
He could barely remember anything that happened after he slipped out of the monster’s grasp, though.
He knew he’d run around for a couple of seconds, unsure of whether he should dart into the woods or take his chances hiding. He couldn’t recall why he’d chosen to crawl under the house, or how exactly he’d gotten there.
The only memory that ever came to mind was hiding underneath the trailer. Watching from the shadows, through the slats of the skirting. A hand over his mouth to muffle his terrified whimpers. Warm blood dripping down his back and soaking the seat of his pajama pants. His own piss cooling and drying down his legs. His entire body trembling uncontrollably.
It was the sight of the wolf-thing that stuck with him. The sensation of forgetting how to breathe as he watched the creature sniffing around for him and growing frustrated when it couldn’t locate him. How he’d kept telling himself, but monsters aren’t real, monsters aren’t supposed to be real.
Then it stopped right in the middle of the yard, and it arched its back and puffed out its barrel chest, tilting its long snout towards the full moon in the sky. And it let out a howl so animalistic that Daryl could feel his bones rattling. The sound seemed to echo off the moon itself.
No—that wasn’t an echo. That was the sound of a hundred creatures howling back from the depths of the woods.
Soon after that, Daryl lost consciousness. And everything just seemed to get worse from there.
The police said it was a freak accident. A wild animal attack. A consequence of living out in the middle of nowhere. Because who knew what all was living out in those woods, and in such a scarcely populated area, there were bound to be some attacks every once in a while. And yeah, sometimes they were fatal. Such was the Circle of Life.
So everyone else blamed it on bad luck. But Will Dixon blamed it on Daryl. He claimed that Daryl had been irresponsible and left the back door open, and he’d probably been feeding those damn stray cats again too, so it was no wonder some feral creature came waltzing in looking for an easy meal.
Daryl didn’t even try to explain what he’d seen. He told them it was a bear. They seemed to accept it as a plausible explanation for the state of his mother’s corpse and the wounds on his back.
Because he already knew his dad would never believe him if he tried to describe the monster he’d seen. And the cops would probably just get suspicious. And Daryl knew better than to get the authorities involved. He was sick of getting a fresh beating every time Social Services made a visit.
So he kept his mouth shut. Even when he started to feel sick—terribly sick. Sicker than he’d ever been in his whole life. He was too scared to ask for a doctor or another hospital trip. He’d been punished quite a bit for the cost of being operated on and stitched up after the attack. Will had also assured him that he was gonna have to take the stitches out himself, because he wasn’t paying for even one more doctor’s visit. Which meant Daryl would just have to suffer silently and hope for the best.
But his back had been healing pretty well and he didn’t understand why, nearly a month later, he was suddenly weak and feverish. Why his skin was flaming red and his entire body was itchy. Why his stomach growled and panged with a hunger he’d never experienced before. Why his bones felt like they were slowly crumbling apart.
Luckily, his dad was off on a week-long bender with some waitress when Daryl went through his first Transformation. He was completely alone inside the trailer as he clawed at the floor with bloody fingernails, vomiting blood and chunks of black tar, sobbing and sweating and choking on his own bile. He blacked out and woke up in the yard, under the glow of the full moon.
And thank God they lived miles out of earshot of any neighbors, because after loudly dry-heaving a few more times over the dew-soaked grass, he began screaming. Wailing. At the top of his lungs. Much like his mama had when she was being eaten alive.
He couldn’t stop. The most horrendous pain he’d ever felt was tearing through every nerve in his body, as though all of his bones were being broken at the same time. He sobbed uncontrollably and gasped for breath, certain that he was dying. He eventually lost control of his bowels, all while his heart hammered inside his chest like it was trying to escape. But he could barely comprehend anything. He collapsed to the ground, his vision speckled with red dots. Right before he passed out, he saw fur sprouting up across his arms and down his legs.
When he awoke again—or returned to consciousness from blacking out—he was standing in the middle of the woods. He could see a snout protruding from where his nose should’ve been, and he felt sharp teeth lining the inside of his mouth. His stomach panged with hunger. His face was tilted skywards. Towards the only source of light amongst the deep darkness.
The bright full moon, tinted red.
He was howling. The sound escaping his throat was long and low and sorrowful. It echoed off the trees.
Then the echo faded away. His heart thumped. And he heard the call being returned.
A heat coursed through his veins and he flexed his hands. He could feel his claws retracting at the tips of his fingers. A cold breeze ruffled his fur. His ears perked up.
He let out another howl. Longer. Louder. Desperate.
He couldn’t remember anything after that.
Two days passed. He woke up atop a pile of dead leaves in the middle of the woods. His mouth tasted like copper. The snout and claws and fur were gone. His skin was crusty with dried blood. Though he didn’t think the blood was his own.
It took him another two days to find his way back home—naked and covered in rashes, having been surviving on wild berries and bathing in streams and wiping his ass with poison oak.
But his fever had receded. He no longer felt sick. And the stitches were gone. His back was completely healed, the marks faded to nothing more than bright red scars.
His dad hadn’t even noticed his absence.
So it went for the next three years.
Daryl would be violently ill every month and wander his way back home from the depths of the Georgia wilderness. He would be free of the deep hunger when he returned, but he could never remember what he’d done. His dad would assume he’d either gone hunting or gotten his stupid ass lost, and then get pissed that he hadn’t brought back anything worth cooking and give him a beating. He’d go back to school with no questions asked—because he skipped school a lot anyway, so no one batted an eye when he went missing for nearly a full week every month.
And everything was basically normal. Or as normal as they’d ever been. As they’d ever be again.
About a half-dozen trips to the public library, and several hours of reading through boring books with lots of big words that he didn’t understand, eventually led Daryl to believe that he was cursed. The beast that murdered his mother had infected him with a disease.
And the disease had a name, though there were very few people on earth who believed it was real. That it was anything more than an old fable.
It meant he was a freak. It meant he would never live a normal life, or be anything other than a monster. It meant he was diseased, cursed with a wretched existence. It meant he was incapable of ever associating with good human beings ever again. It meant he was dangerous.
It meant his mama had gotten lucky. And it made him wish he’d never run away from that beast.
In sixth grade, Daryl had a health class that taught him about puberty and his changing body. And for about an hour, he thought that his experiences could’ve been universal. Maybe… somehow…
Then he was snapped back to reality and reminded that the shit going on with his body was the kinda stuff you only saw in movies, or read about in fantasy novels. It wasn’t normal, that was for damn sure. There was a reason he’d kept it a secret. There was a reason he’d lied to the police and begun making more of an effort to keep himself distanced from other kids.
He was a threat to everyone around him. He was a monster.
He should’ve been dead. He had no place in the world. He didn’t want to become something even more treacherous than his father. He didn’t want to become just like the creature that murdered his mother. And he knew that’s what he would become. Clearly he couldn’t control himself. He couldn’t even stop from blacking out every full moon; waking up covered in something or someone’s blood.
Becoming a beast more harmful than Will Dixon? That was a punishment worse than death.
So Daryl started planning out how he would kill himself. He stole away to the library another time or two and looked up all the information he could find on destroying lycanthropes. He went as far as deciding on a specific date—his birthday—and making a final to-do list. Once he’d tracked down the supplies he needed for his own death, of course. The first task on his list was writing a “thanks for nothing, see you in hell” letter to Merle.
And then, a week before Daryl’s fourteenth birthday, his big brother came home.
And his life got turned upside-down for the second time.
to be continued…