Madeline watched Avery contorting on the couch, mesmerised and appalled by the riot of his anatomy, from wolf to man and all points in between. She only stirred when Harlan touched her shoulder.
‘So, what do you think?’
Madeline had turned pale with shock, and heard him as though he were talking to her underwater.
Harlan forced a smile onto his face, desperate not to lose his shit completely because that would not help Avery or him at all. He breathed in, and asked her, in her professional opinion, what was wrong with Avery.
‘Aside, from he’s a fucking werewolf?’
Harlan rolled his eyes and rubbed his damp palms against his thighs.
‘OK, so let’s put that in the box marked ‘things we already know’ and focus on the problem in front of us. I called you because you know animals, and whatever else Avery is, he’s a y’know?’
Madeline blinked twice and reached for her medical bag.
She went into herself, opening the bag with hands that didn’t feel like hers. She noted how Avery’s jaw made chewing motions and the muscle spasms that explained his partial transformations. When she touched him, he flinched and she had an idea of what to do.
‘It looks like distemper, Harlan.’
Harlan sat down like he had taken a hard punch to the midsection, his head in his hands and peeking through his fingers.
‘Is that bad?’
She winced and looked for the drugs she would need. Anti-seizure medication first, antibiotics to stave off any pneumonia. If she couldn’t stop the seizures, then she had some steroids but all of this was unknown territory. The debate as to what he was could wait until he was able to explain himself.
‘The problem is that it’s a fucker to diagnose, plus the fact that your brother happens to be in a state of flux between the two, and you don’t know what happened to make him that way.’
Harlan raised his head and bit his bottom lip in consternation.
‘He bit someone. As in, y’know to death. He looked like he might have tasted bad.’
Madeline scraped her hair away from her face, and patted Avery on the shoulder.
‘I liked the idea of you straining and half naked on the couch, but this is a bit much.’
She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek as he continued to contort and twist, lost to his agony. She slid the needle into the crook of his right arm and injected the medication. She sat back and waited on her haunches.
‘Is that it?’ Harlan said.
Madeline shook her head.
‘Oh, I think that’s probably enough. We have to stop the seizures first, then we can get him on an IV so he doesn’t lose any fluids. Has he been vomiting, had any diarrhea?’
Harlan would have shown her the back seat of the car, but thought against it. He simply nodded and she went out to the car, to see if she had any saline that would do the job.
Harlan went to the kitchen, ran a washcloth under the cold tap and wrung it out. He could relate to it more than ever. He came back and kneeled at his brother’s side, stroking the cloth over his forehead and smiling at him.
‘Well, as first dates go, you’ve got to get this one written down somewhere.’ he said.
Avery opened his eyes suddenly and his right hand shot out to grip Harlan’s wrist.
‘It’s. Still. Out. There.’
Harlan tried to pull away, considered whether shouting for Madeline would do him any good or not. His brother’s grip bit like a handcuff and his expression was one that Harlan had seldom seen on his brother’s face.
‘Avery, you’re going to break my fucking wrist. Come on.’
Avery grimaced and turned his head to look into his brother’s eyes.
‘I. Trust. You. Can’t. Do. It. Like. This.’
Harlan’s heart thumped against his ribs, as nervous perspiration pooled at the small of his back and underneath his armpits.
‘You’re scaring the shit out of me, right now. You’re stronger than this, you fucker, come on.’
As pep talks went, Harlan knew that he lacked eloquence but his heart was in the right place. He knew that somewhere, beyond the veil of sickness, his brother would approve and show his appreciation in due time. He was happy that Avery was talking.
What surprised him was that Avery sunk his teeth into his brother’s hand. Sharp teeth that sent a vicious spasm of agony down his arm as he flopped and tried to get away. Avery sucked on the would before he let go.
‘You. Have. To. Kill. It.’
Harlan looked at the bite and struggled not to cry as he held the washcloth against it.
‘Avery, you fucking bit me.’
Avery swallowed, and tried to smile but the effect was ruined by the blood on his teeth.
‘Follow. The. Scent. Kill it.’
His eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed back against the couch. Harlan sat there, watched his brother’s chest rise and fall in an easy rhythm. Madeline came back in, and rushed to Harlan but he shook his head.
‘I’m okay. He’s not himself, I get that.’
He got to his feet and limped into the kitchen. He wrapped his hand but did not clean it. He found himself staring at the grain of the wood on the kitchen cupboard door. He sniffed and inhaled an entire banquet of scents, sweet, sour and ugly. He rested against the counter and fought the crude surge of power that ran through him.
He went back to Madeline and said that he had an errand to run. She was busy setting up the IV and looking at Avery with admiration and a little confusion.
‘When you come back, I think the three of us need to talk.’
Harlan grunted, surprised at how deep his voice came out. He had gone through a crystal meth phase once, but that was like baby aspirin compared to this.
‘Look after him, we’re all we’ve got.’
He went outside and started to follow his nose.