Double The Alpha Page 1
It was a sunny day in September when the wolf shifters sent a messenger to my group’s encampment, an act that ultimately put the lives of fifty-some people in my hands.
The messenger’s name was Tom, and he first asked for a private meeting with the group’s leaders.
A seventy-two-year-old man named Norm looked at me. “I guess that’s us, right?”
After a moment or two, I gave Norm a little nod, realizing for the first time that I was considered co-group leader alongside him. I’d certainly never been officially called a leader, and nobody had ever called me Cap, short for captain, like they sometimes did with Norm. I supposed that I’d just kind of fallen into my leadership role without really realizing it, just by going about the business of doing what needed to be done.
It probably hadn’t hurt either that I was one of the only fully able-bodied adults in the entire group. Most everyone else was either too old or too young to really be of much help with crop planting or defense. Norm himself was pretty much too old to really be of much help with crop planting or defense, although he was still decent with a shotgun, and he was usually able to weed the community garden for at least an hour before his gnarled, arthritic hands simply refused to work anymore. What he lacked in physical capabilities, though, he more than made up for with wisdom gained from decades in the military, and then decades as a farmer.
Norm and I took Tom the wolf shifter’s messenger into my “apartment,” which had formerly been an athletic trainer’s office inside a high school gymnasium. Although it was dark, cramped, and cheerless, with its painted cinderblock walls, I still felt grateful to have a space of my own with a door that shut. Some families in the group lived and slept out on the basketball court, with “apartments” made up of a few pieces of furniture surrounded by “privacy screens,” which were just sheets hung from wooden frames that Norm had constructed.
When we’d first settled the group into the gymnasium just over a year earlier, we’d done a lottery drawing to determine who would get the “prime real estate,” which included two locker rooms, two offices, and a semi-private hallway near the gymnasium’s entrance. I’d fished a slip of paper that read Office #1 from Norm’s hat and had immediately tried to give it to a family who’d drawn a slip reading Basketball court.
However, the family wouldn’t hear of this, with the grandparents saying that they and their three grandkids wouldn’t all fit in one tiny office anyway. Norm wouldn’t hear of me switching with anyone either, saying that fair was fair and everyone should just stick to the “apartment assignments” they’d drawn. I’d reluctantly agreed, although I still felt a little guilty about it.
Now in the present, I sat Norm and Tom down at a tiny circular table in my tiny apartment, asking if either of them would like anything to eat or drink. Fortunately, they both declined my offer, and I considered this fortunate for two different reasons. For one, as far as food and drink went, I only had a single bottle of water and a single can of sliced peaches in my apartment, and I wasn’t sure how I’d divvy those things up, being that I only owned one cup and one small plate. Obviously, I wasn’t quite accustomed to having guests and entertaining. For another thing, I was just kind of eager to get right down to business with the visiting wolf shifter and find out what he wanted. Currently, I couldn’t even imagine.
As soon as I joined Norm and Tom at the table, Norm addressed Tom, seemingly just as eager to find out the purpose of his visit as I was.
“What brings you our way, Tom? I hope it’s not to borrow a cup of sugar, because believe me, we don’t have any.”
Norm gave Tom a wry little smile, which Tom returned before saying no, he hadn’t come to borrow anything.
“Although, maybe you could say I’m here to barter.”
Looking wary, Norm gave me a quick side glance before speaking to Tom again. “We’ve heard that some of you shifter groups are setting up bartering networks, but as far as our little ragtag group of human survivors here…we certainly don’t have much to barter. In fact, we don’t really have anything. As you’ve probably seen, we’ve planted a community garden out on the football field, and we’ll have a crop of pumpkins and squash ready to harvest in a few weeks…but we need to keep it all. The truth is that when it comes to food, we’re barely hanging on, and with winter coming in just a few months….” Frowning, Norm paused to sigh quietly. “Our group simply isn’t doing as well as some of you shifter groups, from what we’ve been able to gather.”
That was an understatement, not that Norm and I had been able to gather much info about the shifter groups in the area. Still, we knew enough about them to know that none of them seemed to be starving. On the contrary, the three times that Norm had run into different shifter groups while out on supply runs, he’d reported that their people seemed very fit and well-fed. He’d also reported that their clothes were in decent shape and clean, too.
One of the shifter groups was even said to have a fleet of a dozen or so trucks that they used for supply runs, having enough gasoline to drive as far as a hundred miles away. This was in contrast to the single vehicle owned by Tom’s and my group. It was an older SUV with almost two hundred thousand miles on it, and because of frequent breakdowns, Tom didn’t like to drive it further than four or five miles away.
Currently, this vehicle was parked about a quarter-mile from the gymnasium, where Tom had run out of gas returning from his last supply run. The two fourteen-year-olds who’d accompanied him, twins named Blake and Devin, had been unsuccessful in pushing the truck the rest of the way due to there being a hill. Not that this really mattered. By this point, Tom, Blake, and Devin had picked clean every grocery store, gas station, and pharmacy within feasible driving distance, anyway.