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Excerpt from Devil from Decay “A Week of Wolves”

Flint spent four years in the Marine Corps as a Machine Gunner. He got out in 2022 and is now pursuing a degree in literature.

Levi had an unquestionable look of determination and horror on his face as we suited up in old battle armor. The armor was old and bulky and mine could almost fit two of me in it as if I’m a young boy who stole his father’s armor. I asked Levi if I could go without any, but he made it
clear I have no choice. Dangling from my hip as we walk is a sword that has no rust but has so many chips in it from unknown battles. Despite living here in the city my whole life, I’ve only been in the woods surrounding us a handful of times. The risk of venturing out isn’t worth it despite the beauty I see. But then I am pulled back into thinking of the woman crying, tears streaming down her face, as she told us what had happened to her. How she had been violated and how she barely made it out. From the look of her wounds I doubt she’ll even be alive by the time we return. I typically don’t feel much pity for strangers, but her shrieks of pain have stuck with me. Rape is one of the few things that make killing seem more humane. Killing takes the soul outright, but rape slowly eats away at the soul. It’s something pathetic animals who can’t help themselves participate in. Much like animals that have turned on a person should be put down. Despite how horrid the situation is, Levi only got permission to take five of us. Not quite so sure why I was selected, but I guess the risk of losing this dilapidated armor had them squeamish. The centurion in charge doesn’t have many arms or armor to give for something they consider inconsequential. As I look down at the chest plate I inhabit, the left side is caved inward by a dent from some sort of mace I assume. The arms are made of two separate pieces covering the biceps and forearms; they feel constricting and heavy.

We are walking along a small dirt path to the rough area where this assault took place. I can’t help but admire Levi. Despite us not having enough to out number our prey as we should, his confidence is unwavering; the confidence bleeds into the rest of us. I feel ready despite the fact I don’t know my surroundings well. As we come to the small dirt path, we surmise this was the place of the attack from the amount of blood we see, about half a human’s worth of blood. It was fresh enough to match up with the timeline that the woman gave us. As I look at the scene of shuffled dirt and blood, I can’t help but hear the woman’s cries echoing in my head. Not sure if it’s the echoing horror or the heat from walking in armor, but I feel nauseous.

We follow the footprints down the narrow path to a small clearing filled with tall grass that almost comes to my chest. The trees that surround are casting long shadows over the clearing. It is evening and getting darker. The ground feels soft from the mud beneath my feet. The armor is weighing me down as I try to move, causing me to sink to my calves. “Look for any footprints that are not ours and be ready to engage,” Levi says looking back at us. The confidence that we shared quickly leaves my body and from the look on Levi’s face he seems to be experiencing this as well. Levi seems to be thinking frantically about something. Before I have a chance to figure out what that is, he yells out, “Circle up.” Before anyone has a chance to think about it, I see David is collapsing with his throat cleaved open. Levi covers the distance before David’s body touches the ground. But Levi does not catch the body, instead lunges his blade through the chest of a man who I am just now seeing. I feel almost pitiful with my reaction in comparison to Levi. With the blade unsheathed from the man’s chest, he crumples to the mud. Trying to regain my senses, I look around for more assailants, but I’m too slow. Ramsay has his rib cage punctured by another, and by the look on his face, he is just now noticing this as well. In anger I charge at the man, whose face seems to be coated in mud, but my feet keep sinking. I slip back to the earth feeling it give way beneath me. I scramble to my feet as quickly as I can, but mud has my helm covered, obscuring my vision. I rip off my helm only to realize that more men have emerged from the mud and have us encircled. Levi is battle ready and easily the most imposing, but everyone else is dead. Talon’s corpse lies by Levi with a puncture wound in his neck. The men who have us surrounded seem unaffected by the loss of their comrade. There are seven of them and two of us. Levi and I go back to back but they immediately close in just as it happens. I block a glancing blow from the one closest to me, but something hits the back of my head and I begin to lose my consciousness; the last thing I can make out is Levi being encircled.

I wake to the sun beaming into my eyes, by its position it’s afternoon. Shit, have I been out since yesterday? Or has it been longer? I hear voices of people talking and laughing. I’m finding it hard to organize my thoughts; my head is throbbing. I immediately attempt to move, but my hands seem to be bound to some sort of wooden post behind. I start to scan my surroundings right to left. I see several worn down tents made of worn animal pelts and sticks, clearly overused and from many years of braving the environment. They make up a half circle with me adjacent to it. This is set up within a ten meter clearing that hasn’t occurred naturally; these guys have probably been holding this position for a while. As I look to my left I see Levi; he has cuts covering his entire body. The wounds are still bleeding, so they must be from the confrontation; it looks like he put up a fight after I lost consciousness. I feel like a failure staring at him; while I was taken out so swiftly, he remained standing and took many wounds for it. I am a disappointment; he should have brought someone better than me. His head is hanging low, and I try to whisper and grab his attention. After saying his name a few times, he finally strains to bring his head up just enough to look at me. His right eye is swollen and he seems to have trouble seeing me, but he recognizes my voice. “Straif? Are you ok?” Even with what has happened to him, he is still concerned with me, so I feel even worse. “I’m fine for the most part, how long have I been out?” I ask before realizing it really doesn’t matter. “Since last night” his expression changes to that of a grieving man. “Everyone else is dead,” he says as he nods his head to his left side, pointing me in the direction of something I missed before. My friends’ corpses are stripped naked and thrown in a pile. Then a noise starts to burrow its way into my ear, a growling noise. A little farther left of the camp, I see three wolves tied to three separate trees. Old blood is mixed with dirt in the center of the center where the wolves meet.

The sun is setting and our captors have yet to say a word to us; they just keep laughing and drinking. They are men of average height with slim but muscular builds but older than any of us. Yet they aren’t old enough to be of any company that took part in Draven’s fall from power. It’s like rats swarming and building colonies, though the original generation is gone, their “offspring” continue to eat away. The longer we sit in silence, the more nervous I get; what is gonna happen to us? All to think this is just these men’s job during the hot seasons; they come and take, eating away at our trade routes. We lose half of all trade from these to the men that swarm into these woods every hot season. We would be better off if we could keep the trade routes open throughout the winter, but the heavy snow we experience will not allow the trade to happen. Then the second the snow begins to melt, they come back to gnaw.

I look at Levi’s sorry state and try to think of a way to extend his life. But what about my life, what am I doing here? Why did I try so hard to be in this position? Was it to give myself a sense of pride or purpose? Did I actually think I might be something above what I am? I traded in a life of getting spit on for a life of getting spit on by the people in charge of it. I guess there’s no point in questioning it now. I’m here, and I am going to die here. It’s starting to get dark, and I am only starting to be able to see silhouettes. I see the outline of two men making their way to the corpse pile. They grab one of my friends by the arms and legs. Proceeding over to the frenzied snarling of starved animals, they toss him in the middle of the circle. The ravaging can’t be seen but easily heard. The wet sound of muscle being torn through by fangs as they tear meat off of bones. The two men return to the center of camp and begin laughing as one of them makes a joke I can’t quite hear. The face isn’t recognizable, only raw shreds of meat and an eye remain. It’s Ramsey’s dirty blonde hair I see matted with blood. The men who fed my friend to the animals are waking up as the sun begins to shine through the trees of the forest causing little broken up beams of light. I look over at Levi to see the look of defeat staining his once proud face. He probably feels like this is his fault, and in a way it is. But I don’t blame him; he was doing what he thought was right, what I thought was right. As the men stir from their sleep, they begin eating some sort of dried meat and slosh it down with water. The sight of the water leaking from their mouths down their stubbled faces makes my mouth feel even dryer. One makes his way over to me, and asks, “How did you sleep?” he says with a smirk. I try to spit on him, but it’s clumped together and just gets stuck on my chin. He lets out a quiet laugh before he grabs the top of my scalp and yanks my head up. He takes a rusty knife from its sheath and runs it down my face, making a vertical cut beneath my right eye. He then makes a slight groan as he brings himself up from the crouching position he was in.

Night begins to descend on us once again, but the wolves go hungry. I’m almost more uneasy not knowing why they wouldn’t feed them. Levi hasn’t spoken a word since when I first woke up here. I could really use someone to talk to, but I don’t want him to waste his strength speaking. I don’t know how much longer he can last with the wounds he’s sustained and no water. As it gets later and the pigs begin to head to their tents, I wait quietly until I’m sure they are asleep. I don’t want to die here, and Levi certainly doesn’t deserve to either. I don’t have a plan exactly, but there is something I can do while I figure one out. There were some rather large stones near my feet that I took account of during the daylight. I wait a while longer until I’m sure they are asleep, then I use my feet to drag one of these large rocks up to where my hands are behind me. It takes more
flexibility than I thought I had. I try to use the jagged side of the rock to try and cut through the ropes, but I don’t have enough slack between my hands to cut or have the motion. I kick one of the other rocks by my feet hard enough to hit the stones that make the fire pit near the center of the half circle. It makes a noise easy to hear in the quiet of night. The wolves stir a bit, but the animals don’t. Good thing to note. Another day begins to pass, but the dehydration makes it start to feel like a haze. Looking to my left at Levi, I am not actually sure if he is even alive. As the day passes I find myself losing track of time like a hand trying to grasp sand. As night approaches, David’s corpse is thrown into the feeding circle. So that’s it? The man I met who wanted to be the thing his mother was most proud of is tossed like dead livestock. But the smell of rot has already started to engulf the campsite. A thick layer of putrid stench makes me start to dry heave, but Levi is too out of it to notice. I keep thinking what if I could get the rock to cut this rope that binds me to this torture. If I can get the rock to stick into the ground to hold it still, I can grind the rope against it. I try to stick the rock into the ground, but it’s far too difficult. I start to breathe a little more rapidly as I start to realize I might not be leaving this place. Slow steady breaths calm the nerves while I think. But then it hits me – the ground just needs to be made wet to soften. There’s only one thing I have to give, so I put the rock beneath my left hand. I push down on it as hard as I can until I feel the blood begin to leave my palm. Frantically, I start trying to mix it with the ground and dirt. Is it working? Shit, shit, shit, the blood is failing to do anything. I find myself coming to the realization I am going to die here.

The sun comes to wake me into this nightmare. I wish I would just die in my sleep. Levi moves a little, and I have no idea how he is even still alive. It is almost more cruel than him just succumbing to the wounds or dehydration. I would kill him myself if I could. My eyes feel heavy and flicker. They open to see darkness, did I just sleep the whole day? The men are already in their tents. I see the faint outline deer carcass near the edge of camp; the antlers make me sure. Wait, were they gone today? Did I miss a chance to escape? No, not really because I can’t even leave this spot. I find my eyes closing again. It begins with a light dot hitting my face, then it’s followed by a thousand more. I wake to something that I wouldn’t think twice about until now. Rain is coming down, and I open up my mouth taking in as much as I can swallow. It feels as though life has been breathed directly into my lungs. I tell Levi, “Wake up, open your mouth and drink.” It takes him a few moments, and without opening his eyes, he leans his head back and drinks. The water doesn’t seem to have the revitalizing effect it did on me. I sit there enjoying it when I remember, and I begin digging. It only takes a few moments with this heavily saturated ground. It is done, the rock should be deep enough if I take it slow. But now the ground must dry, for I can’t rush this now or it all meant nothing.

It has come to the fifth day of our imprisonment, and my wrists burn from the rope that grasps my wrist like a coiled snake. My head is throbbing from my wound and the dehydration; the rain could only do so much. Levi, despite his superior physique, doesn’t seem to be faring much better than the previous day. We don’t speak, and he doesn’t look up from the ground in front of us. Every night we have watched these monsters disguised as men feed the corpses of our squad to the starving wolves, but we have run out of corpses to give them. As the sun sets, all of the rogues start swarming around us like malicious creatures that feed on our misery, piercing eyes with a distinct lack of empathy behind them. Everything in my body wants to tear them limb from limb, but I am helpless. Levi, who seemed so strong just a week ago, looks hollow and void of life. They grab him and start dragging him by his feet. I see his eyes flicker open, but there is no fight left. A man who felt an urge to be a big brother was put in charge of the disposable soldiers. He spares one last look at me before the rabid dogs start tearing into him. Then begins a series of blood curdling screams that I know I can never forget. It makes my spine feel like it’s made of paper. They feed him feet first so the wolves don’t get his throat, so that his suffering and screams last longer. They don’t say anything, but they wear matching grins that would make you think they just discovered the Garden of Eden.

Night falls and they sleep heavily. I guess being a piece of shit takes a lot of energy. I am still using the rock, behind where I am tied, to eat at the ropes. But much like an elderly man trying to eat long after he lost his teeth, it is painstakingly slow. I started at it again as soon as the last man fell asleep. I can’t help but panic as I frantically try to make the process faster. When I finally get through, I get the urge to run as fast as I can. I start to walk away, doing my best to not wake the wolves, human or animal. I make it about 20 yards outside the camp before my rage reappears as the image of Levi screaming in pain resurfaces. I can not let fear be an excuse to let those men live. I sit there replaying the scene of Levi being torn apart. All fear I have is burned away by the anger. I stop dead in my tracks and turn back. As I get closer I re-enter the bubble of putrid horrors, stinking of left over flesh. I crouch and steadily walk into the tent closest to me; I walk in so steadily I feel as though I’m a ghost that is hovering above the ground. The tent wreaks of filth of human stench and dirt. As I draw closer, I hold back the rage that makes me want to scream and tear them apart; I’d be dead in minutes. I take a jagged blade from the boot of the man. As I lean over him I can see his chest rise and fall, smelling his breath as I get so close I can see each pore on his face. In one fluid motion, I grab his mouth with my left hand and run the blade across his throat with my right. He wakes in panic and tries to resist but life is spilling out of him too fast to change anything. I wait there for several more minutes just to make sure he is truly dead. I repeat the process for the rest of the tents, except for the last one. As I hold the blade over his pelvis, I plunge it with as much force as I can muster. He screams awake as I drag the blade up to his sternum. Seems he can only be composed with other people’s suffering. Trying to crawl away from the man covered in his friend’s blood, he drags out his intestines along the way. After he finishes his desperate crawl, I notice the wolves are growling and barking. I drag each corpse out one by one lining them up. I’m void of any guilt, for I have a cold rage that lingers in my chest. Before I feed their corpses to the wolves, I start cutting off an ear from each of them. I use twine from the tents to make it my necklace. As I slip it over my head, I feel as though I’m being honored by the devil himself. As I look back down at them, they don’t seem as demonic as just a few hours ago. Each corpse is thrown to the wolves and I watch them feast until the sun rises. Hearing the tearing and gnawing for hours. It might as well be music with how much it makes me smile.

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