A message from BadStoriesComeToMe: Hello everyone! In September of 2019 I found this story and read it like many of you, but upon realizing that it had not been completed I found that it was open for adoption. And here we are, months later, with the completed piece; it was a pleasure to work with all the betas who helped, and especially Christian Knight, who gave me so much guidance throughout the novel. I have not only continued his piece but also touched up the grammar, although I kept it basically the same because he did such a wonderful job writing it. I hope you all enjoy what I've done here and so without further ado, Cursed Soldier!
*Also, a side note, updated cover art!
Balto: Cursed Soldier (REMASTERED AND COMPLETED)
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
― Martin Luther King Jr.
The bitter cold nips at Kyle's neck before he brings his collar up higher in an attempt to ward off the evening chill. He was told the train would take him directly to Nome, but they were met with technical difficulties at Chiukak before reaching his destination. With not much cash to spare for a room at the town's inn, Kyle decided to hike it out and try to get to Nome before nightfall. The setting sun has covered the land in an orange hue as he trudges through the snow, before reaching the next summit and he looks upon the settlement before him.
Nome; a small out of the way place, it is well known for its fishing and famous sled dogs. Fewer than a hundred structures crowd the small area close to the sea. Not too far away is a forest that spreads out for what appears to be miles. Small fishing boats bob in the waters and skeletons of old disregarded vessels rest on the beaches and further inland where the tide has long since retreated from. Everything looks perfect for him and his special needs, a forest, a lake, a small town with a small population, and quite possibly a chance of actually being isolated from the world.
A light wind from the north causes the young man to shiver, before deciding he might as well get a move on. Forcing his frozen feet to move, he slowly trudges towards the town. As he moves, the sun finally disappears and the twilight is the only thing illuminating his surroundings, his vision usually improves when it's close to the full moon, but his musk increases as well which in turn rouses suspicion among the local dogs.
It may sound ridiculous, but what had kept him moving for the past few years are the dogs. Everywhere he went, from the USA to Canada, from towns to cities, every canine within a few feet of him goes wild, even in broad daylight, they might not know what he is, but they know he is a predator.
He is thankful that the early twentieth century isn't as religious nor as superstitious as most isolated places are in certain parts of Europe, otherwise, the people would have seen the signs and notice there is something seriously different and dangerous about Kyle. It has been difficult keeping his secret during the full moon, but the dogs made it ten times worse when they chase him and bring people to attention. He decided to move to the edge of civilization to live out the rest of his life as peacefully as possible.
However, man's supposedly best friend keeps routing him out. Hopefully, things here will be different, with them being so close to the forest the dogs wouldn't be as wary of him if he smells of…something else. Or so he hopes.
Finally, he is swallowed within the folds of the town of Nome. There is one main road that is an opening to all side streets and alleys, perfect should he need a quick getaway. Shops are selling various types of wares and services, a telegraph building, a few warehouses, and what smells like a restaurant. He already ate cold rations during his little walk, but he feels tuckered out and decides to find a room soon. Besides, the moon is already rising; it's not full, but it's filling. By this time next week, the curse will be upon him, hopefully, he can find a house close to the woods so he can avoid detection.
For now, though he comes to a halt in front of a small, two-story inn, and judging from the laughter and light aroma of liquor he guesses this must also be the place to get a drink. The sign swings in the cool air, the words are hidden behind a layer of snow, making a squeaking sound that is already tormenting his sensitive ears. With no other place to go, he shoulders his single bag and enters the structure.
The building is lit with lamps, the candles already burning as they cast a warm glow over the room. The interior is all made with lumber, so fine and detailed that it seems like something a pioneering man would have made. Smoke floats to the ceiling as the near dozen men and women drink or smoke their evening fill. Round tables are spread out while a counter towards the back offers a place for people to replenish their drinks and receive other services. A staircase in the corner appears to be the only route that leads to the upper level while a small swinging door behind the counter, probably leading to the kitchen, offers another and only way out of the building.
Seeing a gentleman behind the counter wiping some used glass cups, Kyle figures he's probably the best one for him to talk to about getting a room. He stomps his feet free of snow, closing to the door before walking towards the back. As he moves, he notices how some people go quiet when he passes, Kyle feels the hair on the back of his neck stand high as people watch his back. Soon he hears them whispering to one another, talking about Kyle, the grey service jacket, the sack-like bag he is carrying and how weathered his young face looks. It isn't long before someone offers the only explanation that makes sense; this young fella must have fought in the Great War.
Though Kyle still feels some pride in being a Marine and for performing his patriotic duty for his country, he doesn't prance around the town announcing it to everyone. The war in Europe happened almost seven years ago, but those are years that Kyle shall never forget. The carnage, the hunger, the gas, the death, the terror, and of course the curse is all that he remembers; things that his dreams remind him of. Sometimes he wished he had never gone, other times he would long for the days of old where he had buddies who he could count on, where he felt he was accepted; where it felt that he mattered.
Now he doesn't belong anywhere, there is no place in all of America where he found any signs of "others," people like him. He looked in every town, every forest, but the more and more his searches came out fruitless, the more he started to feel that he was alone and may very well be the only person in the world who has such a heavy burden.
He comes to an unexpected halt when someone scoots their chair back and stands in his path.
It's a young boy, possibly eighteen since that's the minimum age of being in this setting. Yet he has a babyish face and his eyes are lit with awe as they gaze into Kyle's no doubt stone-cold orbs. He knew what was coming and wished he could escape, but the boy asks nevertheless.
"Did you fight in the Great War?" he asks in an excited voice.
Kyle wanted to slap him across the chops just for saying those words, what is it that fills people with the idea that there is something glorious about war? However, he smiles and nods, not trusting himself to say anything civil to this boy.
However, the youngster only seems to become more ecstatic as he bounces on his heels and asks, "do you think you can tell us-"
"No," interrupts Kyle, "sorry but no, maybe later," with that he moves around the boy and heads to the innkeeper, but by now the bar is silent as people watch him like he is an interesting insect that has scuttled across their path.
Finally, he makes it to the man and looks up at him and asks, "Room for one please."
The keeper, a man with greying hair and mustache that could have made him anyone's grandfather, smiles at him before setting the glass down and moves along the table with Kyle walking parallel to him. He gets to the very end of the counter where he reaches below and withdraws from an unknown compartment a large book and a pencil which he places on the table and flips it open. He turns through the first few pages before stopping and looking up at Kyle.
"And what shall I put down for your name sir?" he asks in a soft voice.
"Kyle Shames," answers the young man.
The innkeeper begins to fill out the paperwork, it is then that conversation begins to bustle once more, but every so often Kyle would catch the occasional word such as war, battle, young and his name, repeated over and over again like a chant; Kyle, Kyle, Kyle-
"For how long?" interrupts the innkeeper.
Kyle is silent before asking, "Perhaps one night."
The keeper bends down and starts writing again, but Kyle leans on the counter a bit and asks, "I'm hoping of staying here in this fine establishment," the innkeeper pauses and looks up into Kyle's eyes, "so do you know of any houses up for auction."
The innkeeper is still smiling as he shakes his head, "sorry young sir, but there are no houses for sale at the moment, you could build one, but if I were you I would wait for spring."
Kyle can't wait for spring, the winter months have just begun and even if he did get a job he isn't sure if he can keep paying for room and board in the inn without going broke.
"Is there anything that I can use for a house, a room for rent perhaps?" he asks.
The innkeeper frowns a little as he gazes out the window next to them as he stares into the darkness. Finally, he snaps his fingers before looking back to Kyle.
"Robert Richardson" the innkeeper finally says in triumph, "he has a shed for sale, it's quite large enough for a bed and a table, it's not much, but it should get you through until spring."
Now it's Kyle's turn to smile as he nods in appreciation to the man, "alright and where can I find him?"
The innkeeper points over his shoulder, "he lives at the edge of town with his family, two-story house with some wind chimes on the front porch, but I advise you talk to him in the morning seeing how it's dark and all."
"Agreed," Kyle says as he reaches into his pocket and pulls out some dollars, "how much?"
The innkeeper looks down again, "for the room for one night, about two bucks."
"That's a bargain," Kyle says as he hands the man the amount of cash, "do you know if there are any job openings around here?"
The innkeeper talks as he counts the money and writes it down in the large book, "Well I suppose the boys on the docks could always use another helping hand when bringing in or shipping supplies."
"Excellent, thank you," Kyle says gratefully, his smile becomes a little wider as the innkeeper pushes a small key towards him.
"First door on the left on the top floor," he says while beaming himself, he then reaches behind with his arm and pulls out a bottle from a nearby cabinet, "would you like something to drink young sir? A bit of brandy can warm you up."
Kyle shakes his head while eyeing the bottle with a hidden anger. He vowed never to drink alcohol; it destroyed his family, though he was heavily tempted while he was in Europe to the point where he took a few swigs, aside from that he never really had a drink in his life.
"I'm alright, but I think I'll turn in now," he says with a now tired grin.
"Very well young sir," the smiling innkeeper says.
Kyle turns around and hurries to the stairs, determined to get out before another person starts asking him to retell war stories. Maybe he'll give some details, but not now. He is still warming up and he is tired from his frosty journey, he just wants to sleep in a bed before he-
Kyle pauses at the foot of the stairs when he feels a set of eyes on him, one that causes him to tense. It's a new body reaction that he has acquired along with the other unusual changes, one that warns him when a certain creature is watching and the feeling would always make him feel aggressive. He already senses his emotions starting to rise while his hands form into fists, but he takes calming breaths before turning and looking around.
It didn't take long for him to locate what is staring at him. Positioned next to the door is a dog, a blondish husky that is watching him with a detective's eyes. Kyle has seen that expression often, the dog detects danger, but what it doesn't understand is why it's so strong around him, a human.
They hold each other's gaze until the husky lifts its hackles and releases a defensive growl.
Kyle felt it but is unable to stop when he feels his eyes narrow, his own lips curl and a deep rumble fills the room. People twist in their chairs as they search for the source of the sound, but none of them thought to look to Kyle, to look at a fellow human being.
The husky saw though and it backs away from Kyle, giving it a wide and obvious girth. The canine then turns to the closed entrance and starts to whimper as it reaches up and scratches the wood. A man sitting close by grumbles, but he stands and opens the door, to which the dog quickly passes through. Kyle glances out the window and only sees a yellow blur as the husky sprints away.
Odd, Kyle thought, usually they would stay and fight, maybe these frontier dogs are different.
Still, the local pooch population will no doubt hear or rather smell, his usual presence, this will no doubt spell out trouble.
He sighs again, feeling weary for different reasons now as he turns and lumbers up the steps.
Balto slowly exhales as he feels truly at peace despite all the noise.
The warehouse he and the other dogs are in is warmed by a boiler that the humans have left on, whether or not they know that the canines meet there almost every night is still a mystery. Lying on the wooden floor or on some disregarded pillows are nearly two dozen dogs, all gathered to spend time with one another now that their humans are home and getting ready to sleep. The old warehouse that once housed industrial pieces now offers them a place to get together. All around are the usual faces, but occasionally there is someone from a traveling sled dog team visiting as they rest up before traveling again.
Usually, the room would be alive with conversation, as they gather dogs would talk about their humans, the weather, and life in general. But tonight it's different, they have a special guest who they all know but hasn't seen in almost a year; Aleu, daughter of Balto.
The young half breed has been gone for a year and in that time has accumulated stories that can get just about anyone's attention. She tells of surviving harsh winters, hunting caribou, joining the pack in defense against rival wolf raids, and of the howls that are shared between friends and lovers. The tales easily blew away the young pups while capturing the mature audience with details of a life that they knew they couldn't survive.
Truth be told, Balto wasn't so sure if she would make it either. Despite her more wolfish appearance, she grew up around the village of Nome and had mostly survived on whatever leftover food that the humans left out for them. He wasn't even sure if she knew how to fight, but apparently, all the times she has spent stalking and tormenting her polar bear playmates, Muck and Luck, has amounted to her obtaining some, if any, tussling skills.
Still, a year was a long time, and in that span, Aleu had decided to come home. The task of moving within as a pack proved difficult, but after a month of trekking through the early winter season, they had arrived in the forest close to Nome and now the wolves are settling into their new home.
Secretly though, Balto wonders if this is a good idea. The people of the town don't hate Balto anymore and they were more than welcoming towards Aleu and his other pups, but still, he's not sure how they will feel having a wolf pack running around so close to them. He just hopes that the wolves are truly dedicated to Aleu as she claims they are, all that is needed for the humans to bring out their rifles is a rogue wolf.
A light nuzzling on his neck brings him back to reality as he looks on his left flank and sees his mate, Jenna, watching him intently.
"You're still not thinking about the boys are you?" she asks in a playful voice.
Balto answers with a groan to which Jenna sighs.
"Balto, she is growing up, sooner or later she is going to have a family of her own," she says this with the stern look she only gives their children were they ever caught being naughty.
Balto winches in pretend fright of Jenna's expression, but eyes settle back on their daughter.
She is quite attractive he suppose, she inherited his wolf heritage but has attained her mother's charm. Her grey coat matches with the light tan fur on her underbelly and lower paws. Her eyes appear to sparkle as she speaks and she possesses a kind of petite, yet strong voice that matches personality well. Her tail swishes back and forth in an uncontained frenzy as she relives her life with old friends that she knew as a pup.
However, his gaze soon turns to the audience and sure enough, he spots the occasional male dog who is eyeing Aleu quite closely. He has to restrain himself from glaring, but he still can't shake the protective urge he always gets whenever he thinks of his daughter, it must be a father thing that will never go away. Still, it causes him to chuckle as he remembers how Aleu would always react to the ways he would call her his baby or how he treated her like a newborn. He wonders if she will still have the same reactions-
Suddenly Balto, as well as everyone else, jumps when they hear the slightly ajar door crashes open as a bright bolt of light streaks into the building. Standing before them is Taylor, a young husky whose common practice would be to stay at his owner's side to make sure he gets home safely should he drink more than his fill. However, the fact that he is standing before them now and out of breath prompts their curiosity.
The easy-going canine's expression causes them to tense as well. He is wearing a mask of confusion and even fright, something has happened and whatever it was it scared him good.
An age-old hound closes to the door, shivering slightly from the cold air before turning and saying, "What's wrong Taylor; you look like you've seen a ghost."
It is then that Balto realizes that Taylor is shaking slightly. At first, he thought it was due to the frigid winds that had blown in, but now with the door closed, it is quite obvious that he is shaken by something.
"Taylor," asks another husky, "what's wrong."
The young dog gulps once, and then twice, before finally stuttering, "I-I-I…I don't really know."
A Labrador in the back sniffs, "You interrupted a good story because you got scared of nothing?"
"No! No!" Taylor shakes his head, "It's just that I…I don't know what I saw, it was so weird, so strange, I-I still don't know what it was that happened."
Rising from the cushion he and Jenna are resting on, Balto walks over to Taylor and rests a steady paw on the husky's shoulder, quenching his shakes at least for a moment.
"Taylor," Balto says quietly and evenly, "Relax; breathe."
The dog takes a shuddering breath before exhaling, he repeats the action until he no longer has the appearance of a scared rabbit.
"Now," Balto says slowly, "tell us, what you were doing before…whatever it was that scared you happen."
Taylor continues to suck in oxygen, slowly becoming self-conscious as he realizes every canine in town is staring at him before speaking.
"Well, I, you see, my human went to drink again, his arm was hurting again."
Everyone nods in acknowledgment, it is a well-known fact that Taylor's human drinks often due to the loss of his left leg obtained some time ago.
"Well, I was just sitting there, waiting for him to finish, you know my human, sometimes he'll get muddle and will need help getting back home."
Taylor's eyes widen slightly as he stands, "I forgot about him, I should go back and check-"
"Taylor," a small mutt interrupts, "I'm sure he's fine, he usually heads back home well after dark, right?"
Taylor thought for a moment before nodding his head as he sat back down.
"Alright, well, I guess I got bored and must have dozed off, I don't know how long…maybe a good hour or so since the sun was setting, but that's when I saw…saw…"
His form starts to shiver again and Balto does his best to steel him. He has no idea why, but apparently, the appearance and sturdiness provided by a "hero," has a soothing effect on people.
Taylor thinks for a long while before looking up and says, "I saw a man…who smelled like a wolf."
There is a moment of silence before everyone busts out laughing. Some of the dogs have gone into hysterias and began rolling around on their backs, causing the others to laugh even more at their antics. Even Balto cracks a smile and he fights desperately to keep himself from chuckling.
"I'm serious!" Taylor's voice barks out, killing the fun in the atmosphere as everyone hears it; the fear that is laced to his words.
Now Balto frowns as he thinks this through. A human smelling like a wolf? It could be possible if the human has been living with wolves long enough till his scent changes to that of his wilder ancestors, but he never heard of that happening to a man before.
"Are you sure Taylor?" Balto asks.
"Yeah I am!" he shouts, "Why would I lie about this? I got scared, especially when he growled at me."
A husky snickers to himself, "a human growling?"
"Yes! He growled! I swear he did, I never saw that before and his eyes-his eyes," he shivers, "they looked…I don't know, dangerous somehow."
All the humor has by then left the gather canines as they digest this piece of information. All in all, it sounds impossible for a human to have the aroma of a wolf on him, but to also be able to growl? Balto has seen his share of the oddities of the world, but never in his life has he ever heard of a human-like this.
"Where is this human Taylor?" he eventually asks.
Taylor no longer looks hurt, but he appears to frighten now that everyone has taken some interest in his report, "he-he's staying in the tall building where travelers stay."
"Well that's good," voices Jenna, "perhaps he's passing through and he'll leave tomorrow."
"I hope so," mutters Taylor.
Finally the Labrador by the name of "Doc," says, "Well with all that settled, Aleu, perhaps you can continue with your story."
Aleu looks surprised by this invitation and looks to her father in confusion. Balto knows what Doc is doing; he's hoping that Aleu's storytelling will get the dog's mind off this human and probably relaxes Taylor in the process. He nods for Aleu to proceed. She hesitates for a moment before seating herself in the center of the room once again and starts telling of a time when she went fishing for the first time at a river.
Balto stays next to Taylor until the husky's breathing calms significantly and he becomes enraptured in Aleu's story. For once, Balto isn't concerned about this young male's trailing mind, for he knows full well that his brain is still trying to understand what it was he had seen earlier.
Lifting himself up, Balto walks back over to Jenna and lies next to her. The moment he settles down, Jenna leans over and speaks into his ear softly.
"What do you think of this human?"
Balto is silent before whispering, "It's probably nothing," he chances a glimpse at Taylor's shaken form before adding, "but I think this is something worth looking into."