Father Pat Logan, the Compound's spiritual advisor, was tired. He had just come from the home of one of the older members of the community, where he had spent much of the evening and now well into the night sitting by the bed of one of his flock. Counseling to those in life's last moments was not one of his favorite duties, but he did his job because the people here depended on him. He also got immense satisfaction from the thought that he was making their time here more comfortable. Still, there were times when being reminded of your mortality was not welcome.
Ready to get home and to bed, Father Logan was not really watching where he was going. Head down, he padded along the passageway connecting all the huge huts the community lived in, and almost ran into somebody. As it was, a hand pushed him on the chest and he fell flat against the wall, sliding to the floor.
Surprised and half dazed with exhaustion, he looked up to see who had pushed him over, but saw nothing but the back of a naked young man running very fast down the hallway.
Now Father Logan was no stranger to people running around nude here, although when he first came here he had needed time to adjust to his unusual congregation. But at this time of year, it was less likely to find anyone nude in the public areas.
The figure turned a corner and disappeared without looking back, and Father Logan picked himself up, finding his feet again as he rubbed his chest. He was a little angry at what happened, not so much for being pushed over, but because whoever did it had not stopped to apologize. Usually people had more respect for him, even the youngsters.
He looked down the corridor and tried to figure out who it had been. He thought he knew everybody by sight pretty well, dressed or undressed (and how many priests can say that about their parish), but this one puzzled him. He thought of a few people it could have been, but whoever it was wore his hair very short, while the current styles at the Compound tended toward longer hair.
Shaking his head, he decided to just go to bed. No doubt he would see the boy again, and recognize him. A word with their Head of House about respect, and things would be made right.
He struggled with the unfamiliar catch, feeling exposed in this strange environment. Never before had he experienced such a place with its solid ground and no sky. Never before had the stench of man been so strong around him either, but he had to come here, had to see if the stories he had been told were true.
But now he was scared, scared after actually touching one of them in this state. He had gone too far, had lost himself in his curiosity, and now might pay the price.
He got the catch open and lifted the trap door. Even though he had never seen one in his life, his agile mind had grasped how it worked immediately. Dropping down into the darkness below, he closed the trap behind him.
It was very dark, too dark to see. But he made an adjustment and felt better, letting his nose be his guide. It didn't take long to find his spot-the moving air carried his scent markers-and all he needed to do was follow them to their source. Once there, he replaced the rope about his neck, and he settled down to sleep.
As his excitement dimmed and sleep began to overtake him, he thought about the golden one who had been kind to him, and he smiled.
Outside, the watchers paced back and forth nervously. Time was drawing to a close for some of them. If they didn't act now, it would be a long time before they had the opportunity again.
The leader kept one eye on the pack and the other on the community in the valley below them. He knew the importance of time, and made preparations.
The next morning dawned as mornings usually do, and the tempo of the Compound began to rise again. In both residential wings, families began their day. There was the usual bellyaching from the kids about having to get up for school, something universal for all cultures, and the usual high demand for water in the various bathrooms about the community.
Paul Anderson stepped into his daughter's bedroom and shook her shoulder. "Come on, time to get up," he said. "You mother has already left for the kitchen and wants you to join her."
"Daaaad," said the teenager sleepily, digging deeper into her pillow.
Paul chuckled and grabbed her blankets. With a hard pull, he ripped them from her, tossing them in the corner of the room and revealing that she slept in nothing at all.
"Come on, wake up!" he said, asking himself why he had to do this every day. He remembered a time when this little girl would have been the first one up, crawling into bed with him and his wife and bouncing them awake. Now she was a lot older, practically a woman in her own right, and it was he that had to do the bouncing.
As Lilly stirred, Paul found himself appraising her. He was a proud father, thankful that he had raised two children who both had good heads on their shoulders. His eldest, Sol, despite a couple of mistakes, had been a strong boy and Paul had seen a possible future Guardian in him. Paul wondered how his son was doing out in the real world, and silently wished him well. He had thought, when Rhianna and Matthew left, of asking them to look for Sol, but then he figured that it would be an impossible task. So he turned his mind to Lilly; she too was a smart one, although she seemed to him at least to be a little obsessive at times. Lilly had the tendency to find something to be interested in and then involve herself completely in it to its exhaustion. Paul pitied any man who caught her interest; he would be in for the ride of his life, figuratively. Still, he thought, whoever that man might be, he wouldn't complain about her looks! Paul saw in his seventeen-year-old daughter the same body that had attracted him to his wife when they were that age. And even though there were a lot of miles under them now, Paul still found his wife very attractive.
Removing thoughts of attractive bodies and the comparison of his wife and daughter from his mind, Paul left Lilly's room to let her get up. One last thought echoed through his head as he began to concentrate on his day; he might have to deal with Lilly and a possible suitor sooner than later. Paul was no fool, he saw the way his daughter looked at that young man from the Alvaro family, and if he wasn't mistaken the looks went the other way too. With a smile and a note to himself to have a quiet word with the boy, Paul headed out to do his own bathroom routine.
Back in her room, Lilly struggled to get up. She knew she had to; her father coming in to wake her was a last warning of sorts. She had better get moving.
She was just pulling on one of her simple dresses when she remembered the wolf. She wondered if it was okay, and if it was hungry by now. She also wondered if it was still where she left it. She figured that no one must have found it yet; if anyone had, they would have come for her dad, so she felt safe in that regard. But she still felt a little nervous. Keeping a wild animal, however tame it seemed to be, inside the Compound was not normally done.
Lilly finished dressing and headed off to do her bathroom chores, thankful that her parents had left already. She then headed for the Great Hall to see if there was something she could find for the wolf to eat.
Breakfast time in the Great Hall was already in full swing. The hall was half full of people starting their day and visiting with each other. Lilly stepped inside and paused, wondering what she was going to do. If she went into the kitchen area, her mother would see her and she would have to start working. Yet approaching the serving tables with their laid out food displays had its own hazard. She could hardly just go up and fill a plate with meats. Women weren't allowed to eat meat, they got their proteins from dairy products and grains, so unless they were fetching food for someone else.... Lilly narrowed her eyes, a plan in the back of her head. Boldly, as if on an errand for someone, Lilly walked to the serving tables and picked up a plate and a cup. She began putting breakfast foods, heavy on the meat on the plate and filled the cup with water. She kept an eye out for her mother, who was working back in the kitchen area somewhere, and for her dad, who was probably out in the hall eating or soon to arrive.
Other women fetching food said hi, but otherwise didn't notice anything out of the ordinary about what Lilly was doing. It wasn't until Lilly started making her way to one of the doors that she found trouble. Her dad.
He had just come into the room and raised his eyebrows at the contents of the plate Lilly was carrying. As his daughter, Lilly usually only served her own family, and the family table was in the other direction. "Lilly?" Paul asked, gesturing at her plate.
"Hi dad," Lilly said brightly, trying to cover her nervousness. Lying, especially to her father, was hard for the young woman. "I'll be back in a minute, but I got asked to bring this food over to the clinic."
Paul relaxed and nodded. "Well, hurry back; I know your mother is waiting for you."
"Yes, dad," said Lilly, and with her heart pounding, she left the Great Hall.
She hurried to her own home, rather than to the clinic, and looked around to make sure she was alone before entering. She found a bag to dump the meat into to make it easier to carry and poured the water into a leather water satchel. It was only as she was lifting the trap door in her parents' bedroom that she remembered that she had promised not to visit the wolf alone. Lilly hesitated, then shrugged. The wolf was probably hungry and she didn't have the time to hunt Carlo down.
Before closing the trap door, she lit a lamp she had borrowed, then, in the darkness she made her way to where she had hidden the wolf.
It was hot and stuffy under the floors of the Compound, and Lilly twice bumped her head as she made her way along. But presently the headroom increased and she was able to move more easily. As she drew close, she could see the wolf waiting for her, its eyes glowing strangely in the darkness, reflecting the light from her lamp.
"Hey," she said affectionately, moving more carefully now, "I'm back. Did you miss me?"
The wolf got to its feet and began to sniff the air. It eyed the bag of meat.
"That's right, I got you some food!"
Lilly dumped the meat out onto the ground and watched as the wolf began to, well, wolf it down. Lilly reached out and brushed a hand along its flank. Its fur was smoother than she expected, and cleaner too. In fact, the animal looked better than it had the day before, which puzzled Lilly for a moment. But she soon lost the thought as she began to rub the wolf down.
Lilly wasn't afraid of the animal, she was sure it didn't mean her any harm. She thought about Carlo's warning and shrugged. What he didn't know wouldn't hurt him.
After a few minutes, Lilly really began to feel the heat and she stopped to pull off her dress. As she resumed her petting of the wolf in just her loincloth, she wondered how it was coping in here with its thick fur coat.
The wolf finished its food and Lilly gave it some water.
After it drank, it sat and watched her. It gave Lilly the impression that it was appraising her, and for just a moment, Lilly felt a hint of modesty about her body come over her.
She laughed, feeling ridiculous at the thought she just had. Why should she feel modest in front of the wolf? It's not like it's Carlo or anything?
Lilly thought for a moment about being modest in front of her school mate, and wondered about what it meant.
The wolf suddenly turned, facing the way Lilly had come, and it growled. Lilly jumped up, suddenly afraid, but again not of the wolf, but of what it had seen.
She needn't have worried, it was Carlo. He stepped carefully out of the darkness, his eyes mostly on the still growling wolf, although he couldn't help noticing Lilly's present state.
Carlo wasn't happy though. "I thought I told you not to come down here alone," he said to her.
"I needed to feed him, and I didn't know where you were," Lilly answered.
"That's no excuse, Lilly. What if something had happened to you down here? You might trust this animal, but even so, having someone come with you is the sensible thing to do!"
"Sorry," Lilly replied, knowing what he said was true, yet resenting it.
"If you can't do what I ask, what you PROMISED me you would do, then I'll have to tell your dad about the wolf," Carlo said, moving sideways now to circle round to where Lilly was sitting.
"Who are you to tell me what to do?" Lilly heard herself asking.
Carlo turned to her, and Lilly saw he was very serious. Then he looked away. "I just...don't want you hurt, Lilly."
"Okay," she said, wondering again about his feelings for her.
"Can you make him stop growling?" Carlo asked.
Lilly shrugged and moved toward the wolf, who had his teeth bared. Despite the animal's hostile appearance, she still wasn't afraid of it.
"Hey!" Carlo said, not close enough yet to reach out a grab her.
"It's okay," she said and she reached out and began petting the wolf again. The wolf immediately stopped growling and settled down, but it never took its eyes off Carlo.
"There, see? He loves me!" Lilly said triumphantly, although inwardly she was a little awed by what she had just done.
"That animal isn't normal," Carlo said nervously.
"What are you doing down here anyway?" Lilly asked him. The wolf had maneuvered itself between them again, and as Lilly petted him, it pushed itself against her. Its smooth fur felt wonderful against her bare skin, and the way it brushed her nipples brought a flush to her face that she hoped couldn't be seen in the dim lamplight.
Although still a virgin, Lilly was no stranger to personal pleasures, having explored that side of herself in private as most teenagers do. Having the confidence of two close girlfriends had helped, as well as an understanding mother.
Sex education in the Compound was done at home, as a part of the instilling of the strong moral values the community lived under.
But this situation was beginning to become rather uncomfortable. The rubbing of her nipples against the side of the wolf made her more aware than usual of how she was dressed, not to mention the company she was with. Having Carlo with her was not helping her calm the slight sexual feelings the situation was generating. She wished she could reach her dress.
"I came down looking for you," Carlo replied. "Your mom asked me if I knew where you were. I didn't tell her, but I suspected you came down here. She wants you, now!"
"Okay. I guess we can leave then," Lilly said reluctantly. She pushed the wolf away from her and crawled to her dress. Looking up, she saw Carlo watching her and she felt herself blush even more. Why did this guy affect her this way?
"We'll have to come back later, and let him out to do his business. We can't have him pissing down here, the smell would get everywhere," Carlo continued.
"Okay," Lilly replied. She got her dress and quickly slipped it on. "Let's go."
Carlo stared at her for a second, then he began to move away.
"We'll be back soon," Lilly promised the wolf, and she gave it a smile before moving away herself.
As she crawled away, the wolf settled down and watched her go. If wolves could smile, it would have had a big grin on its face.
Other places were also beginning their day.
The nearest town to the Compound, Carson Falls, was located several miles downstream of the river that passed alongside the community. About a mile outside the town was the home of Sheriff Kinkade.
It might have amused the Sheriff, had he known, that at approximately same time that Paul Anderson was rousing his teenage daughter, Kinkade was doing the same thing to his teenage son.
"Sean, get up!" Kinkade yelled up the stairs for the third time in the last twenty minutes. "I'm going to feed your breakfast to the dogs if you don't get your ass down here right now!"
Kinkade walked back into the kitchen, muttering to himself, to the amusement of his wife who sat at the kitchen table. His other son, ten-year-old Simon, was busy devouring a plate full of pancakes and didn't give a hoot what his older brother was doing.
Kinkade sat down again at his place and stuck his fork into his eggs; they had gotten cold.
"Damn kid," he said.
"Not in front of Simon," his wife answered, her head buried in the financial section of the newspaper.
Sheriff Sydney Kinkade (his family had a long history of giving their sons names beginning with the letter 'S', but no one dared call the Sheriff 'Sydney' to his face except his wife) managed a smile as he looked at his younger son. Simon wasn't much to look at, but he had brains, and Kinkade hoped the kid wouldn't lose them when he hit puberty.
He saw Simon as having a big future ahead of him.
Sean on the other hand...
"I'm going to go get him," he said.
"He's just a boy, Sydney," said his wife. "Boys his age need a little more space."
"I'll give him some space," Kinkade muttered. He loved both his sons dearly, but sometimes his first-born drove him up the wall.
Kinkade mounted the stairs and knocked on the door to Sean's room only once before marching right in. He caught Sean awake and leaning over the side of the bed, doing something on the floor out of his sight. Sean immediately straightened up.
"Gee, Dad, way to knock," he said.
Kinkade regarded his sixteen-year-old with critical eyes. He saw a handsome youth, well built, with the family cleft in his chin. Sean was an up and coming sports star at the high school, but that was all he seemed to have going for him.
"I've been yelling for you to come down for the past half an hour," Kinkade said to him.
"Sorry dad, I'll come down now."
Kinkade waited for him to get out of bed, but the boy refused to get out from under the covers. It dawned on the older man that the teenager might have a reason for not wanting to get out of bed with him there. Having been a teenager himself once, he could guess what it was and why his son might be embarrassed. "Two minutes, then I feed your food to Simon." Kinkade backed out of the room.
Sean waited for the door to close, before reaching under the bed again. The bundle of photographs he had been looking at got another shove, burying it in the debris under the bed.
A minute later he was downstairs.
For some reason that morning, Kinkade was the last one out of the house. His wife had left in her car to take Simon to school, and Sean had left on the snow mobile. Kinkade was almost out the door when he remembered his older son and the position he was in when Kinkade had first seen him. Sean was hiding something.
Kinkade tried to respect his family's privacy, but he was a curious man by nature. Knowing the hormone driven interests of sixteen-year-old boys, he wondered if his eldest had gotten hold of some porn from somewhere. So instead of climbing into his patrol car, he went up to Sean's room.
The place was a mess, clothes everywhere, along with books that Kinkade was convinced Sean needed at school, and items from his son's only parent approved interest outside of football. Photography. Sean had picked up a couple of cameras and the gear needed to develop his own film by working odd jobs with friends around town. Kinkade hadn't seen much fruit from this diversion, but at least the boy was trying something new.
The Sheriff stood for a moment in the doorway, wondering if he should leave well enough alone. But his curiosity got the better of him. Provided the porn wasn't too explicit, he figured he would just take a look and not bother Sean about it. A boy needs healthy outlets for his sexual tensions, and Kinkade knew to be a little forgiving. He had looked at Playboy himself a time or two.
Stepping carefully, Kinkade walked around the bed and dug around underneath it for a moment. His hands found a solid bundle and he pulled it out. It was a bunch of photos bound together with a rubber band.
One look at the top photo made his blood turn cold.
They had never caught all the boys involved in the illegal photographing of the women on the mountain. Kale, and the other boys they did get, remained silent about whom else had been involved. Kinkade knew they had missed a few because the ones they did catch were identified because they showed signs of recently being kicked in the crotch. The ex-FBI agent now living on the mountain who had discovered this little band had reported giving out such injuries, but she had also said she hadn't gotten them all.
Well, it looked like he had found another.
The top picture showed the outside of the Compound in the summer time, when the weather was relatively warm, and the people up there were not so concerned with clothes. In the foreground of the picture were several women washing clothes near the river, most of whom were naked.
Kinkade began flipping through the pictures and discovered close ups from that scene, as well as many other locations on the mountain. All involved adult or teenage women, the FBI agent included, in various states of undress.
Kinkade looked at each picture, hoping NOT to find something, and when he reached the end, he breathed a sigh of relief. When he had gone through the collection of one of the other boys, Kale, he had discovered a large percentage of pictures focused on just the children of the Compound. Sean's pictures also had children, but only if they happened to be with the adult women, and there weren't too many of those. Kinkade was glad at least that his son showed no pedophile tendencies. Still...
Kinkade knew his first duty of the day would not be a happy one.
End of Part 4