Avery was tired through to his bones. Home, to a house empty and quiet aside from the sound of the dogs in their pen. Without hunger to distract him, he had the poisonous gift of his thoughts to chase him throughout the hours. Gloria told him that she would be there at his arraignment in the morning. No information to share, other than her conviction that she would do right by Harlan.
Avery wondered when she would ask about money. Not a problem, but he liked to know what the score was on these things. He had gone a long time without owing anyone anything, he sought to keep it that way. People owed him, but that was something he seldom set his watch by. Avery kept himself to himself, not because he felt any shame about his leg.
Well, the fact that he was missing one.
Avery had served. Infantry at first, taking to everything with a stoicism that anyone who had grown up with him would have recognised. After a night out with a few of the NCOs where he had calmed a feral pitbull, loose from a dog fight held in the back of the bar they had been warned against going into, he had been asked about the 341st. Eleven weeks learning, but most of that was applying what he’d known from childhood into a different context. He had initially refused to go because he objected to the fact that they used to euthanize the ones who couldn’t serve any more. The lieutenant smiled and told him that they stopped doing that in 2000 and that was that.
Punch. His first German Shepherd. Searching for IEDs to keep his brothers safe. Writing to his real brother in letters that read like a telegram and a haiku had a baby. Harlan knowing that what his brother felt was purpose. Every man has his war, and Avery had his. Harlan had fought limited skirmishes, found an arsenal in the books that he read,and from there the courage to write. His letters were sprawling, poetic missives, trying to send the world that Avery was being told that he was defending in cages made of grammar.
Avery would have done a second tour with Punch.
Until the insurgency erupted in a spasm of violent invention. A car bomb that Punch had begun to bark his discovery of. Watched through a Leupold scope and a scarred, disfigured hand pressed buttons on a cheap Nokia held together with tape.
Three weeks later, peppered with scars that looked like lobster tails and his leg blown off, clean at the knee. He asked for a glass of water, then where his boy was. The nurse looked at him in confusion.
Avery cried when he was told the news. Even though it had been instant, his boy was gone.
He rehabbed but inside, he was doing it to make other people happy. Suicide was talked about, even contemplated but Avery had begun to make plans. He got better so that he could die strong, he told himself that.
A few weeks with Harlan, avoiding the earnest calls from a psychiatrist who worked with vets and going through the motions of living like a bored emperor receiving tribute, counting the days until he could explain that he needed to spend some time getting back to nature. Driving out of town and buying the Colt Python in cash.
Hiking through the woods, his stump weeping and sending agony through him with each stride and yet relieved to be in control of his life again. At least, how it would end. He had set up camp for the night, made a small fire and sat in front of it, spooning stew into his mouth but not tasting it.
He knew that dogs had a sense of smell that had been explained to him in terms that he appreciated. If the olfactory senses of a human were a postage stamp, then a canine’s were a sheet of A4.
He heard it breathing in the dark. Wet and dark, on him before he could scream. Time enough to sink needle sharp teeth into his shoulder before he pulled the gun from the holster. It took this pain, the sickening lurch of the teeth punching through the gore-tex of his coat then skin and muscle, to teach him a valuable lesson.
That he wanted to live. His rebuke was to fire six rounds of .357 into the centre mass of whatever was trying to eat him. It howled and shuddered, taking a mouthful of his flesh with it. So, his death plan was derailed by his pain plan and then, staggering out of the forest with his hand pressed against his shoulder.
Bear. Wolf. Wildcat. He could not adequately describe it to the rangers who came to interview him. Another week in hospital. The dreams. Blu ray, quadrophonic, sensurround and intense. Waking up sweating with an erection that could hammer nails. Hungry, so fucking hungry.
He had been home alone, having threatened Harlan with injury if he did not attend the convention, stood in the porch with a cigarette, thinking about getting a dog. The full moon shining, hard and high in the sky. Calling to him. Staring at it, deeper and deeper.
Until his body answered.
When he came to, scraps of something that might have been a deer, naked and without his prosthetic, he wondered if this was his mind paying him back for not giving it the steel jacketed lobotomy he thought he wanted. He hopped home, showered and slept for twelve hours.
What Avery realised, was that the books, the movies were all metaphors. The wild masculine, the wild feminine, the repression of the id, the menstrual/lunar cycle, the skins of wolves and the bodies of murderers. There were no secret societies, no sets of instructions. Lycanthropy For Dummies was not on Amazon and Goodreads kept it’s mouth shut.
He worked it out for himself. Meditation, a calendar marked out with the cycles and sessions where he would go out and will himself to change. Willing himself past the pain until it became good. A hard, fierce trade of skin for fur, teeth and appetite, a lover of the earth and oh how good it felt to move with all his limbs again. An accident so beautiful that it felt like fate.
A purpose. No therapy but the time spent in another’s skin. The more that he aligned his life around it, the happier he became. He dated, finding that his distance and the pheromones that he gave off were quite the aphrodisiac but he never shared the truth of himself. Mostly, he focused on the advantages that came with what was heralded as exceptional discipline and attention to training dogs. Getting truculent four legged performers to do tricks that became viral clips got him noticed and soon enough he had a comfortable living.
Still, the secrecy was necessary. It burned him because when he looked at a woman, as he had with Madeline, his heart would thump in his chest and his palms would grow damp with want. What he was, his purpose, made him wonder if a woman could ever love him as he would wish to be loved.
But as he stood there, leaned against his doorway and sucking deeply on a Camel Light, he wondered whether what he was might help his brother. Again.
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