#Wyl 1 – Peter And The Wolf

wyl 04

Let me tell you about some times I fell down.

The second time I fell down, it was down a ledge, in the snow, onto a stick that punched through my back and up through my chest, pinning me in place. This was not a good thing and my attempts to move to fix it failed – I had to lay there, and I laid there for a long time. Snow sloughed down on top of me from a higher ledge, dislodged by how I’d fallen – and tenuously dropped as falling flakes gave it just the right push. I fell, then what I fell off fell on me. I’d been told you didn’t want to pass out in these cases, that you probably won’t wake up. I was one of the lucky ones that did, a few feet out of the snow with blood on my shoulder, a smeared red line on the snow that went back to the bank I’d been part of. Somewhere above me, whirling helicopter blades hammered the sky and I could feel the trees starting to bend around me under their insistence.

In the cold, a bite doesn’t hurt that much.

I could barely remember getting it, after the fact. There were concerns I’d had some nerve damage, – heck, there were a lot of concerns, between the risk of losing fingers and toes and the whole massive bloodstain, but in the circumstances, lots of things were going wrong all at once. Like, there was talk at points about how the hypothermia got bad enough bits of my digestive tract were shutting down.

It makes for a heck of a story, though. There was this time, last November, where I had a stick inside my chest. Then when they’re staring all wide-eyed like they think I’m joking and I’m not sure I can add and then a wolf tried to eat me.

Thing is, I don’t remember being bitten. I don’t remember what it felt like. Got a hellacious scar though, all these dot-mark white scars in my skin running up around my shoulder. Just one big chompy bite, you can see the shape of it really easily when I take my shirt off, now. It’s only been a few months since the recovery started, but it’s healed over pretty okay. Anyway, thing is, when you look at the scar, it’s easy to look at it and get two things out of it.

First, the wolf that bit me must have been huge.

Second, if it was trying to eat me it took a weird place to go. Like, hunting animals go for the soft bits first. My nose was blue and almost frozen and all but I still had most of my face and soft tissue. If you wanted to really get at my meat parts, especially as big as that wolf was, it’d be easier to go for the neck or the face.

Either way. Thousands of dollars in medical bills and debt later. Heck, you know those fees for an ambulance? Imagine how much it costs to get a helicopter. Spent Christmas on my own in the hospital, which really is just for the best.

When I picked up my stuff from the front desk to check out, I was told I was recovering as best I could be expected to, which at the time I didn’t realise was really well. Doctors were all impressed. Of course, impressed didn’t actually translate to a reduction in fees, which is why when I walked out the door it was with a crutch and a great big hole in my back pocket to go with the patch over the hole in my back.

I’d figured there’d be someone in the news who I could sell my story to, like, behold my amazing tale of having survived freezing my ass off in the Colorado mountains thanks to blind luck getting me found again. That had been my plan throughout that cold Christmas, sitting in a hospital bed with nothing happening. I was thinking about the phrases I’d use to describe to a professional author about my experience, and then hopefully there’d be a contract and my medical bills would be covered and I could, I dunno, go get a job at a 7/11 to exist for the rest of my life. You know, aiming high and all that. That’s what the people without qualifications do, right?

Anyway, turns out nobody wanted the story. Or at least, nobody wanted the story enough to come look for it.

I didn’t own shoes when they discharged me. There’d been a concern for my feet so much when I came in, that they had to cut me out of my sneakers. They loaned me a pair, which was nice of them. They didn’t have to do that, though I guess since it was snowy out, it would kind of just cause the same problem.

So much time spent practicing ideas, phrases. I’d been entertaining this fantasy – Thinking that hey, maybe I’ll co-write it. Maybe that’s the thing I can do with my life, write stuff. Start with the story of my messed up life then move on to write about… I dunno. Superheroes. Superheroes that don’t suck. That’s a solid plan, right? People get paid to write stories all the time, should work just fine.

Yeah, turns out not so much! And when I went to a couple of news magazines, they told me sure, just send in a sample of the narrative and we’ll work with that. Then they politely sent me a note suggesting that I instead do something to ‘get some practice’ in first.

I mean, I can’t fault them.

Hence this. This is the project. I’m going to try and tell stories about my life and the things I deal with. And since nobody’s ever going to believe it, I can put it out there, and you can instead imagine that it’s fiction, right? Works out fine.

So.

That’s our motivation, right? That’s our genesis point for our protagonist, the garden of eden in this case being replaced with time in a snowdrift where a wolf snacked on me. Then I suppose we move on to establishing the where, which is when I point all around me with the words from my pen or stylus. That’s when I look around the room at four bare walls. I look down at the wall-shelf that I’m using as a desk, with the hinged bracket underneath that means I really shouldn’t lean on it, because if it snaps the braces on the side I gotta explain it to the landlord or fix it myself. It’s one of those ‘small urban solutions’ that means I can be elbow to the fire escape window in a one-room apartment, where the ad loftily describes it as having ‘riverfront views’ and a ‘study area.’

Place is wheelchair accessible, which is cool. It isn’t what I got it for though there was some touch-and-go there at the hospital. I got it because the bond was two weeks’ rent, and I could just manage that. You got that real nice smack to the elevator, too, like it was put in place six months ago when the legislation absolutely had to be obeyed, and the rest of the place is a little yellow like an old phone book left out in the rain. I actually wonder sometimes if the walls are made out of that stuff. Don’t wanna put my hand through it to test, but it’s like, old plasterboard.

The space isn’t so bad. There’s a closet and the kitchenette has room for a microwave and a toaster oven. That’s pretty much everything. There’s a breakfast bar, which I kinda fit at. There’s a bed I can kinda fit on. There’s power points in good locations and that means I can plug in my phone to charge while I’m in bed, rolled over, looking out the window that peers out on the city. Half of the view’s blocked by the neighbouring building – where another golden window shows me the same stuff I’m sure they see when they look back at me, in there.

The city’s okay, I guess. It’s not like I really knew it, before I moved in here. I didn’t have anything to move in – and it was reasonably near work, down at the warehouses and the machine shop. It’s been that kind of month – lots of work lifting and moving things and holding onto them.

I don’t really have a job, but I’ve been told that as a millennial that’s my fault. I’ve also been told that I’m a millennial.

And then there’s the werewolf thing.

Yeah, so, uh! This is where we swerve hard and I can hear your brain putting on the brakes and going wait hang on so this has to be total bullhonkey.

And you know what, sure. Sure! Go for it. I’m not about to give away enough information that you can find me, after all. Bein’ wise with your identity on the internet and all that.

Still, it’s there. Just going to mention it, put it out there, just going to mention. And since I’m doing the stablishing here, let’s stablish the ding-donging heck out of this whole thing. Okay, so it’s a pretty distinct change. I’m – okay, I’m not big but I’m bigger than some. You know, that sorta around-six-foot tall thing, but I’m not your huge flipping wrestler type. But then the wolf comes out, and now we’re talking about seven feet tall, some change. Big broad chest. Head gets bigger, vision clearer, too. And the senses, god, like –

Nah, I’ll spare you. No need for those details now.

Mostly the funny thing is my legs don’t change that much? Like, I always wear baggy pants, now they just become tighter and shorter. I go from wearing pants that reach my ankles to pants that juuust about reach my shins.

It’s a heck of a change.

Lemme tell you, first night of the full moon of January was rough.

*

Third time I fell, I fell into a sewer.

Temperature drops down nice and low in the city. We’re on the river, which I understand changes the weather in the summer time, but during the winter it just means there’s a thing that can ice over and you can get chucked onto if a fight goes badly. Still, it started snowing here sometime in November – while I was freezing my bum off out in Colorado. So you can extrapolate, I guess, that the city’s not in Colorado.

Or is it, dun dun dun, double bluff.

Anyway, it was snowing. It’d been snowing pretty regular, too – some folk were complaining it wasn’t really wintery where they lived, because the snow hadn’t been down over Christmas, but I had to shuffle on a crutch out through slush when I got out of the hospital. The snow’s not on the roads – mostly, but it’s still dense enough that whenever people get out of their cars, if it’s on the street, there’s a kerfuffle.

Long day of work, too. Warehouse work isn’t very regular, and I didn’t have my forklift license, so it was just kinda a day of holding boxes, moving boxes, and setting boxes down. Whole day had been really uncomfortable, too. Like I’d put my shoes on the wrong feet or something, or there was something wet on the back of my neck I didn’t understand. That feeling you get when you get out of the shower and look at your hands and wonder why they’re the size they are, you know?

Anyway.

So I’m laying there, on my bed, looking out the window, holding my breath to keep quiet, and trying to focus on anything but how I’m feeling. There was this skid, and a chunk – you know, the sound of a bumper hitting the kerb a bit hard? – and then the slosh of feet and a bump of hands. Someone opening a sliding door, and voices.

“Woo!”

“Don’t get too f—ing —y, —.”

I suppose I should at this point apologise for the language.

“Are you kidding? That was amazing! That was a proper Miami job!”

“Yeah, yeah, well.”

“Did anyone get hurt?”

“What kind of f—ing question is that?!”

There were four voices. One very enthusiastic voice, slightly high. One raspy voice, sounded like they smoked. One deep voice. And one even voice that sounded very angry.

“I almost broke my f—ing hand!” Angry said, raising their voice.

“Almost, though. That’s not so bad.” Deep said. There was the sound of something being hauled, physical movement. “C’mon. We need to drop this s—.”

“Next time? My advice is we just ditch everything at the scene.” Raspy, next. “Just leave everything in the chaos.”

“Won’t that leave like forensic evidence? They get the blue light?” Enthusiastic said.

“Nah. CSI is all bulls—. Years upon years of bulls—. Cops don’t do s—.” Raspy added. “Trust me on this one. It’s just years of budget bulls—. Even in a city like this.”

I like this city, though I guess that I’m saying that from a stranger’s position. I had no idea what they were talking about.

“Think about it. Police come out every few months, talk about heightened activity, never ever talk about it going down again, do they?” Deep grunted. “We just ran it through the cycles. Keep things under enough control, but don’t risk any s— for any s—. Just poor people getting hurt usually.”

The voices paused, and an almighty thud which turned into clattering sounds as if a bag of tools tumbled down, then splashed into the water of the sewer below.

“Not in the river?” Enthusiastic asked.

“Hard to get it to the deep parts. We dump it in the shallow, tide goes out, they just sittin’ there in the mud.” Raspy grunted. “Put ‘em here, people will find and take their own before the cops find it.”

Now.

The sound then, of people getting into a van – probably? – and pulling the door closed. A rumbly sound of the engine starting up, then the engine turning over – and they drove off, leaving behind a painted line of acrid smell along the roadway that drifted up by my window.

I’d had my hands clenched through the whole thing – but that’s not surprising, don’t worry about it — and I got up to look out the window, see what had been going on. Then, when I looked down, I had a moment of dizziness.

Hands on the windowframe, braced, deep breath. Just ride out the weird feeling, like a stomach ache or a leg pain or something. No point bothering a doctor again. I looked all the way down at the road, four storeys away. The sewer grills had dragmarks in the snow, but they’d pass soon.

Slipping the window open, I stuck my head out, and felt the hot moonlight beat down on my head as the cold air stung my cheeks. Another moment of dizziness, another moment of uncertain imbalance. I leant back to recover my balance – standing up, and hit my head on the window frame – and fell forward, onto the fire escape.

When I gathered myself, standing up again, I grabbed the fire escape railing, which bent.

That’s when I went over the edge and hit the ground.

That’s not the important fall, though! That’s just, you know, the fall before a fall. And none of my railing fell on me, which means there’s no poetic symmetry there, which is annoying.

I was pretty dizzy when I stood up after that, let me tell you. Fricking hurt to hit the ground face-first like that. Really, I should have thought something weird was going on when I stood up, and I was okay, you know? I’d fallen four stories! But I suppose I would have noticed that I’d also listened into a conversation from four storeys away too.

I think, looking back on it, this was a month where I really had no idea how many things were changing around me.

Still, there was a bloody patch on the ground underneath me – but it wasn’t mine. I could tell, though – well, look, I know now why I didn’t think it was my blood. I’m trying to build some anticipation here, alright? Anyway, there was this smell. Well, two smells. I could tell – one was the scent of their van, which ran down the road, weaving a little, with some other scent mixed in. The other scent was wet, and low, and it kinda… it had a splat. And it smelled like — It was the smell of the blood on the ground, and it slithered past that patch into the sewer.

Sewer grills lifted way more easily than I thought they would. I just stuck my head down – grabbing the edge of the kerb to support myself.

Remember how I said I was noticing smells? Well, turns out sticking your head into a sewer when that’s going on is really not a good idea.

I fell down into the water pretty hard while bits of my stomach tried to evacuate at speed, but I landed on a tarpaulin covering lump, and the lump was all metal clunks and thuds. When I pulled myself to my feet – in the sewer, bare feet and pajama bottoms getting unpleasantly wet – it took a few minutes to open the package and find what they’d dumped. I was kinda figuring a body – you know, all the blood smell?

Turns out… no.

The tarp held a collection of crowbars, chains, a prybar, some bricks, some guns, a couple of knives, and a handful of bloodstained, damaged masks. You know those big, party supply ones, the ones that cover your head entirely, and you only ever see in movies about bank-robbers? Those. A Richard Nixon mask, a duck mask, a cat mask.

All of them had blood on them. Quite a bit! More than I’d expect a person to have in them.

Maybe not more than I’d expect a lot of persons to have in them.

The texture of the smell was weird, too. Like… I’d never really smelled like that before. I could tell the blood was fresh but not too fresh; that it’d been shed in the past hour. I could look at the crowbar with blood dished about on its curvy bit, and know that that was older than the blood on the grip of the gun. And what’s more, I could tell this, even with all the smell of the sewer around me – which was sort of this background, a sort of dull grey-green where the red of the blood stood out.

Then I realised I was staring at my hands again, and I figured I should probably get out of a storm drain.

I went up the fire escape. It was surprisingly easy to catch the ladder with a jump. Then it wasn’t so hard to get all the rest of the way up. Then I showered. A lot. It was partly to get the smell out of my skin but then I kept washing and scrubbing because I still felt so strange.

Then I called 911.

I was told they’d look into it.

The next morning felt really unpleasant, too. I had this dull ache in the back of my head, and the dizziness was getting worse. I figured I had two options: Call in sick from work, or go to work and risk falling over where someone would at least see, and call an emergency ambulance. Not like I could afford more medical debt, but it wasn’t like they’d get anything if I, like, died at home.

So I went to work.

*

The fourth time I fell, it was under a door.

Work was a short shift, too, which didn’t suit me. When I was working, dragging things from point A to point B, smashing things to throw them into skips, helping unload the trucks or stacking pallets – that worked really well for me. I could do that, and it distracted me. I didn’t get dizzy when I was doing things. I didn’t feel a nip of cold in my fingertips like I was back in the snowdrift.

I did some overtime – but you know, there’s only so much work available. Eventually, the number of friends I could do favours for, do more work – you know, just giving him a hand – dried up. They wanted to go home, after all, and it was a light day! Foreman wasn’t going to offer me extra work just because I was eager, after all. If there wasn’t work to do, why bother?

“You hard up for money, man?”

I still don’t know how to answer that question. I mean, okay, obviously, yes. I have thousands of dollars of debt because I fell off a mountain and got bitten and a stick got in my lung? But at the same time, people don’t want to hear about that. Instead, I just shrugged and said, “…Sure?”

“Well, I got some work going tonight, if you’re not busy. Nothing hard, you just gotta stand around and look like… well, look like you.” Guy’s name was Clay, fairly broad shouldered.

I must have looked surprised or confused. “Oh, don’t worry, it’s nothing weird. Just like, you know bouncing? Keeping people out of the club, kinda thing?”

I’d tried bouncing, for a little bit. I wasn’t good at it. There’d been problems.

“Got a friend who’s got a meeting, he’s not comfortable in town, he just wants some folk he can rely on to carry some stuff for him. We turn up, stand around for twenty minutes while businessmen discuss DJs, and then we carry some stuff out to his car. Easy work.”

It sounded really good. I wasn’t really sure if it’d work, or if this was a one-off, but it would keep me around people, and odds were good that if something did go wrong, I would just fall over sick on someone, rather than anything really bad happening. You’d be surprised how quickly a big guy barfing and collapsing pathetically can shut down a fight. Most nobody wants to fight then.

”Guess I could do that. Sure I don’t need to do anything special?”

“Nah, man. It’s at a night-club, but trust me, should be fine.”

I nodded. I didn’t do much business at night clubs, but they were just places people went to dance, right? Everything should work out just fine.

Turns out I didn’t know that much about clubs!

Bouncing had been a real mistake for me because one of the things I was told was to keep the ugly girls out and let the pretty girls in. And I didn’t know what that really meant so I just let in all the girls and figured it was better than turning away some of the girls that should get in. Turns out I got in a lot of trouble for that, and then someone got mad at me in the queue outside for letting almost anyone in.

That’d been a real mess.

My main impression of that place, though, was a little narrow doorway behind two businesses which led downstairs into a storage area that’d been converted to a club. I had no idea what went on down there, because I got paid and hired outside, and it wasn’t my job to go inside unless something went wrong that someone downstairs couldn’t handle. That never came up.

This club on the other hand, was all bright lights, neon colours, and a really loud music system, which kinda hurt? I guess my dizziness was part of a headache. Either way, it meant when the music rose and lowered at the same time, and did that sucking-backwards thing that sounds like CHWHCHWCHWCHW, I felt my head pulse.

Still, it wasn’t so bad. Me and Clay – Clay and I – arrived at the club together. I’d caught a bus to Clay’s place, and he drove us the rest of the way. He came dressed in a nice looking white suit, that seemed rather silly, since it’d get a lot of mud or dust on it so easily. I was wearing work clothes – jeans, flat shoes, jacket to deal with the cold. Still felt nippy as haitch when I walked around outside, but we met Clay’s friend outside, then got inside the club fast.

Clay’s friend had this suitcase and smelled like mint. Kinda don’t remember much of the guy now. Guess that’s a shame.

It was so nice and warm in there, once we were past the throbbing room with the bouncing floorboards with the music. We went to a private room, where a big guy in a suit and Clay sat on black sofas. Two other guys, both wearing purple suits – purple! Why would you even? – stood by the big gentleman and looked around a lot. The room had a really stark light in it, too, which meant that all the white in the room was lit up brighter. It kinda stung the eyes a little. I looked around a lot, and tried to ignore that I could hear everything they were saying.

I’m not about to write down what was being said, not properly, since I’m pretty sure now, in hindsight, they were doing a crime. And I mean, if I did write it down it wouldn’t really help anything.

Not anymore.

“Last room.” Raspy said.

Yeah. Raspy. From earlier!

The dizziness hit me around the moment I realised how much I was listening to. The sound of the people next to me in the room. The leather squeaking under the jacket of the suited men, which brushed against the softer undersides of their cheap suits, the vhn-vhn of the gun handle moving across the fabric back and forth. The absence of the sound of people dancing downstairs. The screams and the fleeing people. The gunshots. The sound of bones breaking and blood hitting walls.

It’d been maybe a minute of zoning out like that. It was so fast.

I wish I’d said something like ‘get away from the door.’ Or maybe I’d been cool and said ‘Get Down’ to everyone in the room. Maybe I’d have made some sort of bold statement that made me look competent and braced at the door.

Instead I said something like “Blurgh?” and turned to the door as it was kicked in, so it went slap into my face and I went fump onto the ground like a sack of stupid.

Now, let me tell you, I’ve been thrown to the ground plenty. One of the important things is to make sure you land face up, because at least then you can react. If something’s going to come down on top of you, you can use your hands to resist it, push back, you know?

There I was, flat on my back, door in my face, down on the ground, looking up as feet slammed over it. I braced both hands against the door to lift, and that’s when I heard an almighty crack of metal hitting bone, and someone falling to the side, hitting the wall. There’s a wetness, when meat breaks like that – it’s hard to describe. It feels hot, and when it happens to you, you sometimes think that the sensation is blood all ruptured over you. You can panic, sometimes. It’s easiest to panic if you haven’t felt it before.

You learn about the kind of people who’ve ever been kicked in the face, though. I was still recovering from the impact of the door, and then that noise made me look up, sharp-like.

Head back, I saw Clay hit a wall, his face a mess of red and blood. Then he slumped over the arm of a lounge, falling face-down into the space between it and the table. The men who’d stood behind the guy with the suitcase were reaching into their jackets – and then fell back, with a long loud series of cracks over the door. Then there was another cracking sound.

I didn’t know what gunshots really sounded like, back then.

It was kinda hard to get an idea of what was going on – because I was under a door, and because there was someone up on top of it with most of their weight on. Then the gunshots, and the splash of blood pooled around me, and I was somewhere else.

Blood, really fresh blood, it smells so distinctive. It’s got this cocktail to it. Like you can tell where it came from, you can almost kinda tell why it came from there. There was a smokiness to this blood, and a greasiness – like someone in the room was sick, not that it mattered any more.

I was so – I’d say stunned but that wasn’t quite right. Overwhelmed? It was like sticking my head in the sewer again, but so much more. That was gross feeling, but the grossness was present, but it wasn’t in me.

I couldn’t really describe it. We don’t have words for it, I don’t think – or if we do, I don’t know them. Should I go do some wine-tasting courses, maybe?

Uh, anyway, that’s when they shot me through the door a few times.

Being shot, I have learned really hurts. This was a first time for me, and I thought, when I sat down to write about it, I’d have more to say. Maybe I’d have come up with some sort of lancing thing or a term from my childhood or some other experience that worked. I didn’t – I mean I can’t. Mostly what I know is blunt feelings and knives, and really, it’s not quite like being stabbed. I think the thing with guns is they’re so much younger than people are – and our bodies just don’t know how to explain or rationalise that a tiny bit of metal hit me hard enough to push into my flesh and maybe break some bones and then maybe pop out the other side. It’s really unpleasant. I do not recommend it.

I was so dazed – in part because of the pain and part because of the smell – I didn’t even say anything. I just sorta twitched at the pain – and there was all that weight on my chest, so I just kinda wheezed. That worked out okay for me, then.

“Hey, holy s—, f—‘s got a ton of cash on him!” shouted Angry. I felt blood in my chest bubbling up through the holes put there by the gun and splinters. It hurt a lot, hurt to breathe. She was hunkered over the body of Clay’s friend, holding his suitcase open. “Whoah, hang on, this s— his?” She flipped it over – reaching over to the backpack Clay’d brought in with him, holding it open.

“That is a lot of e.” Murmured Deep, standing on the door. “C’mon. Let’s get out of here.”

Angry stood up, turning around, and that’s when I got a good look at her.

Well, really, it was when I got a good look at what she was wearing.

Dingy green trousers, like, military surplus stuff, which were bound at the ankle, knee, and thigh. Pads – you know, like baseball umpire pads? — wrapped around those tied areas. She was wearing pants, over the top of other things, things that made bulky shapes in her clothes. Then up on her top half she was wearing more padding, another bit of sports armour, and a bright green full-head duck mask.

Really!

She picked up the bag in one hand, and then, she ‘looked’ right at me. I mean I have to guess she did, those masks don’t make it clear what you can see. Or can’t see.

Then she stomped on my face, and the last thing I heard of her – and the others –as they ran out of the building was “He was still f—ing alive, you dips—!”

I lay there for a long while.

Well no not a long while.

Have you ever actually laid down, in pain, with a hole in you, for a long period of time? It’s, it – it takes ages for time to pass. If you’re staring at a strange ceiling with pulsing lights, it’s worse. The person who does the music had been hit already, and that meant instead of music there was just this long dull whine, like the microphone fell over near a speaker.

It probably wasn’t more than three minutes. Then I drew a breath, and felt the strange sensation of not bleeding any more. Like my body was just done with that.

Then when I put my hands on the door to move it, I accidentally too hard and it snapped in half in my hands.

When I hunkered up into sitting, I realised I wasn’t looking at the world right. Everything was lower, or smaller, or weirdly proportioned. And all around me, there were dead people.

*

The next time I fell…

Well.

I ran out of the club, but everything was weird and lopsided. I had something in me, some fear, that I shouldn’t be there. That if the police arrived, and found me, alone, alive, with bullets in my chest, under a door, that it’d be all my fault. I wasn’t there, not really, I mean, I wasn’t a club person. I didn’t work there! It was just a single thing, like, one day, and that wasn’t important. And besides, who would believe me that I had nothing to do with all the dead people?

I clipped the doorframe on the way out the door, and felt the wood smash against my shoulder. I know what that feels like. I’m not used to it being so effortless, to feel it just brush away.

I was halfway down the street when I realised two things.

First, I was following that scent, the blood and gunsmoke that followed the wake of the masked people.

Second, I was running with my hands and they were enormous and hairy.

Thinking about it well after the fact, I gotta wonder about how that looked to, well, everyone else. A big wolf-well-sort-of bolting down the streets, shoulders tense and buckling, hurling myself forward with my arms, legs hitting the ground to add propulsion, feeling uncomfortable because of the tail stuffed down the back of my pants. I hope nobody could tell that, but you know how it is when you know something’s gone wrong on the back of your pants. That eerie selfconsciousness.

It didn’t matter to me, then. I was in the moment. They were running, and I was chasing. I’m very glad this was how it happened, the first time –

I had fallen into the hunt.

Round the corner, follow the scent, don’t cut short. A weakness of hunting by scent and instinct. If I was smart – which I’m not really – I’d see the van, ahead of me, turning left around a corner, and I’d cut the corner over a building – gosh did I really think about jumping a building as fast?! – and then I’m over the edge and leaping onto the van but no, instead, I had to go along the path, follow the scent, get closer, closer, until I can reach it.

It’s harder to hear when you’re doing that, too. All the senses kind of narrow. When I got closer, closer, close enough to reach out and grab the van’s bumper —

The back door opened.

It gets a little fuzzy at this point.

Well, I mean, I was a little fuzzy at that point, but I digress.

I had my hand on the door;

It swung open

Angry, with her duck mask, lunged out at me and headbutted me in the snout —

Er, nose. Certainly at this point it was my ‘nose’ in my mind.

And then, a guy in a Richard Nixon mask put a shotgun in my face and pulled the trigger.

Falling off the back of the van, my notes say

Rolling. I rolled with the impact. I – I mean sort of. I really bounced, but I rolled into a snowdrift with my arms curled around. And then I hit the snowdrift, hard and thunk.

Being shot really hurts. I want to underscore this. Do not get shot. It is very not good.

I was on my back for a moment more. Maybe a few seconds. Then the girl against my chest leant back and started punching me in the shotgunned up bit of my face and that really hurt.

“WHAT THE F—F— ARE YOU YOU F— F—!!!” or something like that. It was very colourful.

I think I just said ouch? Or something like it. A grunt. A lot.

“WHY WON’T YOU F— DIE,” she shouted. Then she headbutted me and I think I yelped in pain.

“… Oh J—C—.” She said. And stopped. “What the f—… what the f— are you?” she repeated.

I held up my hand, over my face, feeling blood and bruises. It hurt so much. I tried to speak, and that’s… that’s about when the fall stopped.

I don’t know how to describe it to someone who hasn’t felt this. There’s this point where you’re in the experience, when there’s momentum, and you just move along with it. In the movies I’ve seen, I’ve seen a guy describe dance as ‘moving with the rhythm,’ and that’s kind of like it. It’s like how sometimes you can’t describe the third line of a song, but if you sing the first and second line, it’s just there, no matter how awkward you felt about it. It was that. That which meant I chased. It was that that said lunge and grab even when, thinking about it, I had no idea why I was doing it. You don’t know what’s going on and you don’t think about it, because you don’t have anything in your head to think with. You’re just this big bundle of feelings and there’s no time to be thoughtful and then you’re doing something you probably shouldn’t do, if you had it in you to stop.

I guess it’s what they meant by ‘the fall of man’ or something. The gravity of your own actions. If you’re doing them, you’re falling, and nobody can expect you to stop.

It was a feeling I’d had well before The Wolf.

I had my hands on my face, shielding it from the punches. I had a whine in the back of my throat. I had pain and I had huge furry paws and I had a tail that was really not happy about being stuffed down the back of my pants like that, and, and, the shotgun wound in my face and the bullet wounds in my chest and everything was unpleasant and bad and the duck was sitting on my chest.

At least, she’d stopped punching me.

Muffled voice came through the mask. “The f— kind of f— up costume are you f— wearing?”

I tried to speak, and that’s when I realised of all the things I had, I didn’t have my voice.

Just a growl.

Then I heard the sirens. Head up. Bright lights. Blue and red. Something back behind my brain said to go, chase, pursue, run to the sound, or run away from the sound, just do something. But I didn’t listen. You can’t go listening to the body that says act in the night.

So I rolled onto my hands again, and lunged down the street, away from the path of the kombi van.

I was six blocks towards home when I realised that the duck was riding my back and that I’d chosen a path that took me away from the van.

Most stories I’ve read like to fade at this point. They leave the explanation afterwards out. I can understand. I had a literal human being riding on my back like something a bit like I was a pony and a bit like I was a lion, that whole tiger by the tail problem, right?

There’s only so many blocks you can ride on a stranger’s back before it gets weird for everyone.

I guess I was really hoping that I’d look over my shoulder at one point and she’d have let go and… like… combat rolled into the snow or something.

No such luck.

When I finally reached my block, in the alleyways between buildings, where the cars didn’t go because to heckadang with that parking, I slowed down. Make it easier for her to just … slip off and go.

And she didn’t.

When I finally stopped, under the fire escape, I considered that maybe, just maybe it’d been a bad idea to come back to where I lived with a stranger who had kicked me in the face, and then punched me in a bloody wound. Just as this thought arrived at the station though, another thought jolted into it.

“Oh G—.” She said, slipping off my back, and circling around me.

“This is that alley.” She said, looking down at the ground, where there was still a bloodstain. Again, not mine. “… This is where we ditched …”

It was kinda hard to tell her expressions, her reactions, with that duck mask on. But then she turned to me, and pointed. “What the f— are you doing, huh!? What’s this f— about?!”

What do? I shrugged.

“… You can’t f— talk, huh.”

I shook my head.

“… f— great.”

I reached over to the snow and slopped some of it aside. Putting my finger into the snow, I wrote – as best I could in my little space, a big ?.

“That’s a big help.” She said. Then she looked down at the sewer. “… So this is your point, huh. Back to the scene?”

I drew a ??

“… No? Huh.” She looked at me. “You got a name, big dog?”

I smoothed the snow and scrawled, as best I could, with my big clumsy paws. And then she read it aloud.

“Wyl. Okay then, Wyl.” She said, huffing a sigh, putting her hand to her chest. “And you’re… J— C— you don’t even look hurt. You got shot in the face, and you’re all healed.”

I shrugged. My face didn’t sting in any way that the cold wasn’t doing.

“… So now what?” she asked.

???

“I mean… what’s this meant to prove?”

????

“It was an autoshop run by a bunch of f— scum. They were dealing heroin out the back and putting guns in the hands of kids. I don’t f— regret any of it.”

This was probably the first time I ever tilted my ears quizzically. It’s a really good feeling, too. Like, it feels very expressive.

“So yeah, we hit them, guy was coming at the kombi as we came out. We hit him but he was half-in the van when we pulled out. So we boot partied him in the van and ditched him here. He woulda killed us.”

She stood before me, hands opening and closing at her sides, as she drew a long breath. “This is a bad place, you know. This is a city fulla bad people.”

I did all I could do – I looked at her.

“Yeah, that’s – you know what. This is good. You just listen. This is a bad place, a city full of bad people, and cops don’t do s—. They just f— protect – they’re f— b—. All cops are b—. You hear me? They aren’t going to be here for a woman like me and they’re sure as s— not going to know what to do about you. You’re waiting for a big fuzzy chalk outline when someone sees … like… what are you.” She swallowed.

“If I gotta live in a bad world where violence solves problems, I’m not gunna stay in the corner and wait to become someone’s tragic story. You hear me?”

Then she put her hand on my face – on my muzzle. “So… if I’ve lost my f— mind and I’m hallucinating a f— wolf… f— it. F— it and f— you.” She turned around, stuffing her hands into her pockets. With her back to me, she tugged off the duck mask, and I watched her breath mist over her head. It smelled of cheap candy and salt and vinegar chips, from all that distance. Then that sharpness passed. That breath slowed. “I ain’t gunna stop fighting long as I keep finding monsters.” She turned around again, as if she expected me to not be there any more.

“Oh.” She said, looking down at me.

Reaching over, she poked at my head – then ruffled her hand through what I guess is my hair? But is also my fur. It’s very hard to describe the top of my head right. It’s sort of there. But she put her hand there, with the big thick glove on it, and ruffled. “… So you hear me? You’re on notice, big dog.” Then she huffed, and turned, and walked off.

I saw her face for a few seconds.

She looked so tired.

So very tired, all the time.

When she walked out the alleyway, I leapt up to the fire escape. I clambered in my window with the bad latch – that window barely fitting me, I had to wedge myself in really carefully – and finally fell down on my bed, where I lay, staring at the ceiling for the rest of the night.

It wasn’t until the sun came that I felt any different. I kept lifting my hand up, to my face, throughout the night, hoping I’d see it with less clarity, hoping it’d be… anything but enormous and grey and furred. But slowly, blink after blink, subtle changes grew and piled up and I finally raised my hand and saw a hand. A human’s hand. I felt the puddle of sweat all around me. I breathed out, and then yawned, and it sounded like a human doing it.

That was the first night as a wolf.

Daylight felt keen and bright, but somehow okay. I felt my arms and legs very keenly, and in my little bathroom mirror, I surveyed the bullet wounds from when I’d been shot through a door. When I went out, I went out by the fire escape.

Down on the ground, by the blood patch, someone’d cleared some snow aside, and written some numbers on the ground in chalk. It was fresh. It smelled familiar.

And then I went to work. I’d have to wait till later to call her.

*

The phone call was a weird one.

“What is your name?” she asked, voice deeper than normal.

“I-“

“If you’re the person who should be calling this number, you gave me a name. Say it. Otherwise I’m hanging up and blocking this number and probably throwing this f— phone in the f— river.”

“ Oh. Um. Wyl?” I asked.

“… Hi.”

“Hi.” I paused. “Should I call you Sasha or something?”

“What? No. Not at all—“ she asked, immediately annoyed.

“Really? I figured, what with the animals-“

“What do you mean?”

“The masks. You have a peter, a bird, a cat, and a duck, so I thought it was like, you know. Peter and the Wolf?”

“That’s… you – Richard’s mask isn’t Peter. It’s Richard Nixon.”

“Oh. I thought that was, I thought that was the joke?”

“… Why would you think Richard meant Peter.”

“Because – um. Because Richard and Peter can both mean a thingy, I mean, a you-know—“

“Wait, no, yeah, I’m there. I get it.”

A long, awkward pause.

“… So. What happened last night?”

“Um.” I managed. “I’m not really sure.”

“Look, all I really care about right now is hearing you tell me that there’s some rational reason that I remember talking to a ten foot tall dog-man last night and if you tell me it was just some spectacular drugs, that’s fine.”

“I… uh. No, I think that was me.”

“… Right.” A moment where the phone went muffled, and I could hear her laughing.

“… Hello?”

“Hi, yeah. Back. Okay, so apparently to go with the dealers and the p— and the a— this town has a werewolf. Right? Is that what’s going on?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? You are the werewolf, aren’t you?”

“I… guess…? I mean, I was in the club—”

“We hit everyone in that club. We’re pretty good about that. Even considering.”

“I — do you mean kill?”

“… yeah, I’m just not going to say that word aloud, into a phone quite so obviously. Derhhh.”

“Uhm. Well, I was in the club. I was under the door? You kicked me in the face.”

“Oh yeah, you were twitching.” She didn’t seem bothered by this at all. “Hang on, we put rounds through that door.”

“Into my chest, yes.”

“… and you lived through that, and the shotgun to the face. C—. Anyway. You – hang on, what were you doing in that room? There was a lot of money going on there.”

“I was just doing some work that I picked up on, uhm, contract?”

“… Oh my god. You were a goon.”

“Is that the word?”

“You’re – you were his muscle. That was – you know what that was, right? You just stood by an e deal!”

“What’s E?” I was rapidly getting lost.

“… Boy, I put on a mask and I go hit people with pipes and even I’m more aware of what’s actually going on with me than you sound.” Finally a sigh. An annoyed grunt. “I gotta go work soon. Don’t think the others are going to work without me, but we don’t contact without our masks. So. Okay. Wyl?”

“That’s not- I mean yeah?”

“We’re going to meet up.”

“Okay.”

“Do you like… werewolf mode? Is there a trigger, or like, some sort of thing that happens when you hear a magic word?”

“I don’t know.”

“… well, okay, fine. Whatever does it, don’t do it. I need to talk to someone who can talk back, even if all he can say is ‘I don’t know.’”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know a lot.”

“It’s okay. F— figures.”

Then she hung up.

I sat there, on my bed, for a little bit. I thought about it, as I wrote down notes. There were people wearing costumes, in this city, who were finding – at least according to them — very bad people, and stopping them, just in this very… very brutal way. There was a girl with a duck mask, who was mad at everything all the time, and she knew others. And at some point, I had become a werewolf – while I was still in a massive amount of debt.

The question that sat on my head like an enormous, fat, frog, was just now what?

What do I do now? What did it mean now?

I’d stood in a room full of dead men and my reaction hadn’t been to stand around in shock, but to run, to run after the people who’d done it. But the second I’d thought about it, that I’d listened to the people who’d done it, I stopped.

I could take getting hurt pretty badly, too.

I’ve often thought there were meant to be big moments in stories like these. One of my favourite stories growing up was all about a king making the decision to accept help. One of my other favourites was about the moment when a young man had a chance to kill that king, and chose not to.

I wasn’t standing over the body of my uncle. I wasn’t hearing my real father explain how I had been chosen to save the world. I wasn’t even being told by a kindly professor that I was being given an opportunity to fight for a world that hate and feared me.

But I knew, looking at my little phone and my notepad, that there were a lot of options in front of me. I could throw that number away, and pretend it’d never happened, and hide in my bed all night. It wasn’t something I had to get involved in. The cops hadn’t come to my call about the body in the sewers with all the weapons. I didn’t really have to do anything.

Heck.

I hadn’t even done anything yet. Of course… the police probably would think I had. What with the bullets and the fact that werewolves don’t exist. Don’t worry. You don’t have to believe me. I’d be a pretty crappy person if I tried to make anyone believe anything.

So I guess that’s what I’m going to do.

Write about superheroes.

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