This was going to be a shitty day. The wind was filled with ice as it tore against his face, ruffling the fabrics of his knitted scarf. Every part of his body was sore as he walked, ready yet unwilling to meet his fate.
His body trembled slightly from the combination of cold and emotion. A cough rattled his frame. Upon his departure Brandon had realized that he had no one to say good-bye to, no one but his cats. It had been a stark realization, really, that if he dropped off the face of the planet, not a single person would realize he was missing. Except his boss, who would probably spam his voicemail with angry “where the fuck are you” messages.
Black, sunken eyes and a pale complexion resided beneath his layers. Clearly, Brandon Caldwell was not doing well, and for good reason. Every time he closed his eyes those memories came back to haunt him – their faces and their soft, sweet voices.
His sleep was plagued with images of what they had become. Last night blood pooled from their eyes and rested on their cheeks. Maggots tore at their breasts and he could see one woman’s heart resting in its cage, completely still. He had willed it to come alive. To erase his mistake.
Then, when that failed, he willed himself awake. Back to reality. His dreams were merely a source of torment.
Okay, time to think about something else. Maybe he would listen to his favorite podcast on the flight. He might as well, right? His air pods were tucked away in the pocket of his favorite leather jacket, fully charged. Brandon tightened his grip on the green duffel bag around his left shoulder, knuckles whitening beneath the pressure. This was his go-to carrier for long distance travel. Helped him avoid the twenty dollar baggage fee every time. It was one of the many “perks” you got from serving in the military for a little while. The straps of a second duffel hung from his left hand, friction from the fabric burning his hands. He was hardly aware of the pain as he made his way towards the neon United Airlines sign overhead.
It wasn’t too late. He could be a better man.
He could fix this.
There was not a long wait at the baggage turn-in. He’d been assigned to a red-eye flight, for some ungodly reason, and as a result there weren’t a ton of people at the airport. Maybe he shouldn’t expect to receive great consideration from the Wolfe family, considering all they were putting him through… But to be fair, it’s not like they spared any other expense. Maybe they just hated him. At the very least, they wanted something from him – money, more than likely. It wouldn’t surprise him at all if this was some elaborate kidnapping scheme for ransom. Or maybe they were…. Involved in it, somehow.
Clearly they hadn’t done their research. Mommy and daddy weren’t going to bail him out of trouble.
At least the Uber driver had been personable. He seemed to be dedicated to his craft, what with the water cooler and accessible charging cords in the back. He seemed to sense that Brandon wasn’t in the mood to talk and didn’t try to force the issue.
He had spent the past week researching, preparing his mind, training his body. He registered his firearm with the county this past week and kept it in a separate hard case. He made sure to keep working out, just because it kept him sane… though he lacked the energy to run anything over two miles.
The noise of the airline blared harmlessly at the recesses of his mind as he pushed through security and walked towards the gate to his flight. He had no fucking clue what he was doing… what was his game plan? A fresh wave of anxiety tore through him as he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket. Brandon was lost in his thoughts, the crowd bustling around him. It was like he was standing outside of his body, watching the scenes of a movie unfold. Except this time he was in the movie. He was the main character.
He thought about grabbing some food on the way in, but he didn’t want to throw it all up on the plane. The Wolfes had oh-so-generously upgraded him to first class seating. He sipped at the water in his plastic cup and fixed his gaze to the window, staring at whatever was there. Suppressing a yawn, he put his air pods in and drowned out all his thoughts.
Maybe if he was more disciplined he’d crack open the laptop in his backpack and get some work done.
He didn’t need to be told not to trust these people. They had the power to destroy his life, if they wanted to. And they flaunted that fact in his face. He just didn’t understand their motives. After a long and arduous flight, which included one three-hour layover, Brandon took his possessions from the baggage claim area and… where was he supposed to go now? “Mr. Caldwell?”
An older man called for his attention. He was standing outside a large Range Rover, a polite smile on his face. What a creepy guy.
He tried not to make eye contact as he helped load his gear into the vehicle, tucked safely away inside the green duffel. “It will be an hour drive to Flathead Lake. So it’s best you get comfortable. The Wolfe family has been expecting you.”
An hour later he was on a boat, and finally, he reached the residence. “I’m Heather Vandertulip, and welcome to Wolfe Island. Mr. and Mrs. Wolfe are delighted that you could make it.”
He didn’t really have much of a choice, though, right? He was tired from the flight. Maybe he should have bought one of those comfortable-looking neck pillows people get when they travel around a lot.
The building itself was beautiful. Heather’s voice drawled on and on in the background. He had to admit he wasn’t paying too much attention to what she was saying. At this point, he just wanted to find his room and try to get some sleep. Maybe the nightmares wouldn’t follow him here. He certainly wasn’t in the mood to initiate small talk with strangers.
He wondered if the others were being blackmailed as well. Probably. He was very interested in the firearm he’d tucked away in his bag before meeting the butler outside the airport, but he didn’t have time to go back and equip it now. Also… it probably wasn’t a great idea to come off as hostile right off the bat. I mean, it's legal. They didn't say not to bring it.
Brandon entered the great room and realized he was probably one of the last people to arrive. But… holy shit. This place made his house look like a dump. It was beautifully lit with natural lighting, and an elaborately crafted chandelier hung from the ceiling. There was a second floor with a balcony overhead. It kind of reminded him of his childhood summer home.
Everyone was already engaged in conversation – it would be too easy to slip by unnoticed, if he wanted. He smiled briefly and waved vaguely to the group, hoping he passed off as friendly enough. Brandon took one look at the food and felt his stomach turn, but he headed over there anyways. His hands were starting to quiver and he felt himself grow more and more irritated as time passed.
He could really use something to drink right now.