romance, short fiction, women

I Watched You Change – Episode 20 (Wolf Series)

For previous episodes, please start here.

 

‘Kelly, I will pull over and look at it.’ John said.

 

Kelly’s face was taut and pale with concern. They had been out in the woods for days, and she held onto the city girl’s uninformed distaste for the country. She came out in a sweat wandering around Whole Foods and she had managed days sleeping under open skies, covered with dirt and god knows what else.

 

‘I scratched it somewhere. It’s nothing a hot bath and a band aid won’t fix.’ she said.

 

John inhaled through his nose and kept driving.

 

‘We don’t know that.’ he said.

 

She gritted her teeth and looked away.

 

‘Could it be passed on through contact?’ she said.

 

He ran his tongue over his teeth before he shook his head.

 

‘There aren’t any traces of it in bodily fluids. I’ve done the work myself.’ he said.

 

Kelly nodded in agreement and in response, the skin of her lower back prickled and itched with a fierce, sharp heat which made her suck in a sharp breath. John pulled the truck over to the side of the road and undid his seatbelt before he turned to her.

 

‘Kelly, I need to look at your back.’ he said.

 

She undid her seatbelt and turned her upper body away from him as she lifted the hem of the t shirt she was wearing. One of his, but her other clothes were torn and bloodied after the plane crash landed. Kelly closed her eyes as she felt the tips of John’s fingers stroke against her back. Under any other circumstances, she would have welcomed his touch, but this was something else. An unspoken ugliness made manifest in the mark on her back and John’s demeanour becoming something more concerned and clinical than affectionate.

 

Kelly heard him swear under his breath before he tugged her shirt back down. She turned around and looked into his eyes as he furrowed his forehead.

 

‘I was unconscious in the water for some time, so I can’t say with any certainty what it is but we’ll get to my house and look at you there.’ he said.

 

The car stereo switched on.

 

‘I’ve arranged for the jet for you both. Will you require tranquilizers?’ the stereo said.

 

Kelly raised her eyebrows as she stared between the stereo and John as he put his seatbelt back on.

 

‘Are you asking him or me?’ she said.

 

The stereo chuckled in John’s voice but behind the wheel, John’s face was a mask of concentration as he put his foot on the accelerator.

 

‘I take them if I have to fly.’ he said.

 

Having a wolf spaz at thirty thousand feet is not safe for anyone.’ the AI said.

 

Kelly fought the urge to chuckle at the term ‘wolf spaz’ and how it contrasted with John’s sombre expression as he focused on the road.

 

‘How far?’ John said.

 

John’s phone vibrated with a notification and he picked it up and nodded.

 

‘Thank you.’ he said.

 

He turned to Kelly.

 

‘I keep a few things on retainer. John’s confirmed the hire agreement and they’re fuelling up for us.’ he said.

 

Kelly’s mouth hung open and she went to speak before she recoiled against another spasm of itching, painful heat across her lower back and she gasped with discomfort. John put his foot down and took the truck up as far as possible.

 

‘John, you don’t have to go so fast.’ she said.

 

He gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white as he grimaced.

 

‘I do if you’re sick with something, Kelly.’ he said.

 

She tasted the tension between them. She reached out and touched his thigh, pressed her palm against the ridge of muscle beneath his jeans and willed him to feel the reassurance she took from his actions.

 

‘Then I’m with the best person, aren’t I?’ she said.

 

His face softened and he smiled at her, his eyes damp with unspoken emotion.

 

‘I don’t want to think I’ve infected you.’ he said.

 

She shook her head and closed her eyes, struggling to bear the possibility of it with anything close to equanimity.

 

‘John, you understand yourself better than anyone, if you thought it was a possibility, we wouldn’t have -‘

 

Her voice trailed off as she failed to give voice to the fears they both felt.

 

‘The pilot has sent word he’s ready for you. I’ve submitted a flight plan. If you take the medication now, it will be in your system by the time you arrive.’ the AI said.

 

John glanced at Kelly, his mouth set in a line as his jaw trembled with the effort to control his emotions. Kelly kept her hand on his thigh and squeezed again for reassurance.

 

‘You’ve carried too much guilt for too long. You don’t have to carry mine.’ she said.

 

He put his hand over hers and squeezed her fingers before he turned the truck off the main road and down a stretch of road. The airfield was deserted apart from the jet on the runway, lit and prepared for take off. John drove onto the airfield and into an adjoining warehouse as Kelly craned to look at the jet. In her peripheral vision, she saw John open the glove compartment and grab a silver blister pack and pop two of them into his mouth and dry swallow them. He stopped the truck and got out. Kelly joined him as he locked the truck and put the keys in his pocket.

 

She took his hand and he squeezed it again as they walked to the jet.

 

2.

 

Amaro Felipe watched as the medical team prepared Olivia via a live camera feed. He had left the tank and fed, so he was free to sit in the dark and watch the process. Amaro envied her the care and attention she was receiving although it was to his specification. His circumstances had been less fortunate, ignorant of his biology and afraid to lose the station and wealth which had been fought for through his life.

 

He knew what she would undergo, having experienced it himself but he had placed her in the care of professionals who had helped him understand himself. Amaro was unique, but he did not wish to be, and the results had been disappointing. Olivia would not approach him in his capacities, but she would emerge from the procedure something more than human. The medical procedures were there to ensure she would be provided with nutrients and life support whilst her body underwent a series of fundamental changes. An induced coma would support the process as her body rewrote itself according to his design and he had the quiet pleasure of watching the rebirth. Most of the alterations occurred in the brain and nervous system, reverse engineered from the studies Amaro made of himself, and even those had only been in the last forty years. Before this period, he had investigated myths and legends, archaeological expeditions to far corners of the world in search of meaning and all of it giving hints but no solutions. Amaro knew the power of myth, having usurped it to allow him to slip free of his human identity and obligations to continue his existence.

 

The camera zoomed in on her face. Without the coma, Olivia would have suffered violent seizures as her brain altered, focusing on the cerebrum and brain stem but the transformation was not so much scientific as evangelical. In high definition, Amaro watched as her skin grew translucent, darkening over her abdomen as the secondary nervous system spread out and grafted onto her existing physiology. Her jaw jutted forwards and blood dribbled down from the corners of her mouth as the secondary set of teeth grew in, knitting sheaths from the existing gum tissue and connecting to poison sacs which ran down the back of her throat.

 

Her hair fell out of her scalp but Amaro knew it would grow back. The establishment of the primary form was brutal and violent, but she was kept apart from it by the coma.  

 

He had no such courtesies afforded to him. Five hundred years and he remembered what it was to be reborn into something monstrous. It was this knowledge which piqued his interest in the events in the forest. Amaro did not believe there were trained dogs involved, and after being informed about one of them surviving a rifle round, his interest piqued into something more urgent and important.

 

There was also the matter of restitution. The contents of the briefcase had represented the first chance of viable offspring in centuries and they had been cauterized to ashes to protect a competent thief and her protector. Amaro sat back in the chair, looking at the screen but not watching it as he considered his next steps.

 

Olivia would be ready to send out in only a week. Her physiological changes would be managed with his instruction and a clear set of directives for Jasper and the others to follow so they would act in a support capacity whilst she led the investigation.

 

She opened her eyes and Amaro smiled at how the irises had disappeared, now black with flecks of emerald. The medical staff increased the dosage, but she screamed as blood spilled down her chin and she revealed multiple sets of needle sharp teeth before she collapsed back down onto the bed, lost to the world again.

 

‘You’ll do just fine, Ms Nixon.’ he said.

 

The spectacle had stoked his appetite and he asked Miller to make the arrangements with a brief phone call before he continued to watch Olivia change.

(Let me know in the comments if you’re enjoying the series, what you’ve enjoyed and what you’re looking forward to. Thank you.)

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love, romance, women

Episode 19 – No Good Deed

Previous episodes can be found here.

They drove in shifts. John insisted on doing most of it. He didn’t need as much sleep as he used to.

 

‘Isn’t that every doctor?’ Kelly said.

 

‘Eighty hours a week and twenty-eight hour shifts. When I went back after the infection, I cruised through the day.’ he said.

 

She shifted in her seat.

 

‘Weren’t you scared about having an episode in the hospital?’ she said.

 

He nodded as he turned onto the interstate.

 

‘Yes but I wanted to study myself. There were a lot of other things which came along with the infection and not all of them were negative.’

 

Kelly liked watching his face as he drove. His beard had hints of gold in it and his hair fell around his ears where he needed to cut it. She liked how big his hands were and how gentle he had been. She recalled the trembling release of his orgasm and felt a hot flush of blood rise to her cheeks.

 

He glanced at her, mouth drawn into a line.

 

‘Are you okay?’

 

She sighed and tilted her head against the seat.

 

‘Yeah, just thinking about what we will do next, you know?’

 

He shrugged his shoulders.

 

‘Someone took the paperwork and they’ll be looking for me. If I’m on home ground, I have a place to work from on finding out who these people are.’

 

‘What was the thing in the briefcase?’

 

John unzipped his jacket and got out his phone. He passed it to her and she switched it on. He leaned to swipe his thumb across the centre and focused on the road.

 

He told her to activate the bluetooth and wait for the app to finish uploading.

 

‘What, you’ve got a version of you on your phone?’ she said.

 

He shook his head.

 

‘No, there’s a version of me in the cloud. It’s modelled on me but he’s developed further than me. No episodes, doesn’t have to eat or use the bathroom.’

 

Kelly shuddered and wrapped her arms around herself.

 

‘Is that something you could do afterwards?’

 

He bit his lower lip and looked out through the windshield.

 

‘I think faster than I used to. I used to read comic books as a kid and all my favourite heroes were the smart ones. Tony Stark. Reed Richards. Bruce Banner.’

 

Kelly frowned and studied him.

 

‘I don’t recognise the last one.’

 

‘The Incredible Hulk. There’s been a few of them but he’s the alpha. So I liked how they could just think through any problem and I always believed it was possible until you realise how long and difficult everything is to do.’

 

He peered through the windshield.

 

‘We need to get gas and I’m hungry. How about you?’

 

She nodded.

 

‘I could use a drink.’ she said.

 

They pulled into the parking lot and John stopped the truck. He sniffed and froze as he clinched the steering wheel. Kelly went to undo her seatbelt and John whispered a single word.

 

‘Don’t.’

 

Kelly grew taut with concern as she stared out through the windshield.

 

‘I can smell blood.’ he said.

 

‘What are we going to do?’ she said.

 

He reversed the truck and Kelly looked at him.

 

‘You’re not just going to drive off,?’ she said.

 

He did not look at her as he drove down the road and pulled over. He undid his seatbelt and opened the door.

 

‘Wait here.’ he said.

 

He took off his jacket and unbuttoned his shirt as he got out

 

‘John, please. Let’s call the cops and go.’ she said.

 

He looked over his shoulder.

 

‘I can’t do that. Kelly. It’s not who I am.’

 

She watched him disappear off the road towards the back of the store.

 

The shadows hid him as she watched him remove his clothing and his shape warped and elongated before he fell onto all fours and the wolf emerged. It stopped and looked at her with his eyes before it ran towards the store.

 

2.

Blood never lies.

 

John filtered it through his senses. The aldehyde triggered his hunger, but he leashed it to his consciousness and used it to focus his attentions as he charged through the trees towards the store. There was a fence and he charged before he transferred his strength to his back legs as he soared over the fence and landed in the delivery area of the store. His paws slapped against the concrete and he slinked into the corner, tasting the air for information. Three concentrations of corynebacterium jeikeium and five overall concentrations of thioalcohol compounds. Three men and two women. One of them was producing bursts of amino acids each time they breathed and John saw he was talkative by the bursts of scent which dominated the olfactory landscape behind the door.

 

There would be guns but he was used to them.

 

He nudged the open rear door aside with his muzzle and slipped through into the storeroom. It was dark, but he had no interest in the light. He raised his muzzle and growled from deep in his chest. It rumbled through the air, a low, cutting thing which would raise atavistic fears, the bowel-loosening threat which you couldn’t see.

 

He stopped and moved behind the door on the side it would open and kept himself low.

 

The debate came to him through the walls and he listened.

 

‘I’m telling you, there’s no dog out there, sir.’

 

‘The fuck you say, I heard something.’

 

‘Let’s go, man, Go.’

 

‘Please, you’re scaring my baby.’

 

‘You. You’re coming with me.’

 

‘No, please she’s just a -‘

 

John breathed in how two scent signatures moved in his direction. One of them reeked of corynebacterium jeikeium and amino acids whilst the other had a more metallic odour and a synthetic bouquet of stale perfume and laundry detergent. He would wait until the second signature came into the room.

 

The door opened and he squinted against the light.

 

‘Get the fuck in there.’

 

John watched her stumble through the door ahead of him but he leapt forwards and turned his head to the side, opening his wide mouth.

 

John clamped down on the denim clad knee and his teeth severed the ligaments and meniscus into shreds before he darted back, spitting the ball of gristle, bone and tissue out as he did. The gun fell from his hand as he fainted away, his face slack from unconsciousness. John moved through the aisle and kept his head low as he hunted for the other one.

 

John considered it fate the man was coming towards him with the gun raised ahead of him to fire. He remained in place, stepping to one side and rearing back, swiping with his forepaws to push the man off balance and knock the gun from his hand. He roared into the man’s face and caught the ammoniac tang of urine flooding the air before he backed off and bolted out the back door.

 

The woman sat in the corner of the storeroom and stared at the man with his leg bit in two at the knee. She screamed as John charged past and outside, leaping the fence as he moved on, looking for a place to shed his skin. He breathed through the pain as he came to a stop beneath a copse of trees, dissolving and reforming beneath the sloughing skin back into his human form.

 

Kelly’s lower back itched as she sat in the truck. She avoided scratching, but it prickled in waves of irritation which made her sweat until she reached and dug her nails into the skin at the small of her back.

 

Her fingers came away wet, shining with her blood. Kelly cried out and wiped her fingers on her thigh as she waited for John.

 

She watched him run towards the truck and opened the door for him.

 

‘We should go.’ he said.

 

She lifted her blood stained fingers to his eyes as she swallowed her fear and looked at his shocked expression.

 

‘There’s something on my back and it won’t stop itching.’

 

He started the truck and they drove off, hearing the shriek of sirens coming towards them.

 

Blood never lies, he told himself, but the truths were often worse. A small, ugly thought bloomed in his mind as he saw the cars go past. He needed to get her back to the house as he imagined the worst.

 

The phone pinged and John switched the speakers on.

 

‘How are you both?’

 

John and Kelly looked at one another, unsure of what to say.

 

‘We need to get back to the house. Did you run the tests?’

 

John chuckled through the speakers and sighed.

 

‘I did. There were multiple strands of DNA, not all human or even alive -‘

 

John lifted his chin

 

‘That’s great but I will need everything we have on any infection vectors we assessed.’

 

Kelly felt the blood drain from her face as she heard the one word she never considered.

 

Infection.

 

2.

 

Paul looked at Howie, soaked and shivering on the floor as he pointed the gun at him.

 

‘You stupid fuck, we went to school together, man. You come and rob my dad’s store, what were you thinking?’

 

Howie, coming down from the cocktail of amphetamines he needed to think this was a good idea and jabbered a litany of nonsense words as Paul kept the gun on him.

 

Laura came out from the back, soaked in blood with Joel’s shotgun in her arms as she leaned against the wall.

 

‘Something big got him.’  she said.

 

Howie sobbed for himself as Paul and Laura looked at one another, wondering how to explain what had happened.

 

‘Did you see it?’ Paul said.

 

Laura nodded and cocked her thumb over her shoulder.

 

‘The fucker pushed me into the stock room first and it waited for him. Bit his leg off and ran past me into here.’

 

Howie cackled as his sanity struggled to remain in check.

 

‘See, I told you, it weren’t no wolf. It was too fucking big, too fucking big.’ he said

 

Paul turned to Jenny who sat there, arms wrapped around herself as she stared at the floor. She had come in for a lottery ticket and a packet of cigarettes, paid for it in change before the two junkies had come in, hollering and spitting. She had borrowed Paul’s phone to call the police and thanked him when she handed it back to him.

 

Jenny looked up and Paul could not meet her gaze as she gritted her teeth.

 

‘It was a big wolf.’ she said.

 

She stared at Howie where he laid.

 

‘It should have bit your fucking head off.’ she said.

 

Paul saw the lights of the police cars and set the gun down on the counter as he waited for them to come in.

 

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Episode 14 – Liquid Memories

For previous episodes please click below:

https://mbblissett.com/untitled-wolf-series/

They made it back to the cabin just as the sun was setting. John sighed with relief and Kelly slipped the burden of her rucksack off her shoulders. She set out towards it before John swept his forearm in front of her to block her path.

 

‘I need to check.’

 

Kelly looked at him, her eyes widening as a prickling apprehension ran through her like she had been drenched in ice water.

 

‘Can you smell something?’ she said.

 

He narrowed his eyes as he looked at the cabin and wrinkled his nose, tilting his head to the left as he sifted through the cornucopia of signatures and chemicals smeared over his property. Kelly caught the faint traces of the explosion and glanced away as she contemplated her culpability in this. He caught her expression and gave a small smile.

 

‘I can rebuild, Kelly, the main thing I’ve got to hold onto is -‘ he patted his chest for emphasis.

 

Kelly looked up at him. She knew people, even counted herself amongst them, who would have been devastated at being a victim of someone else’s decisions and yet John seemed possessed more by caution and curiosity than anything so mundane as self-pity.

 

He stepped towards the cabin and took a deep inhalation as he crouched and ran his fingers against the ground, then sniffed them before looking over his shoulder at Kelly and walking up to the front door.

 

He sniffed around the frame of the door and opened it with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. Kelly heard him call her name and she followed him into the cabin.

 

They had tossed everything in their examination. Drawers and cupboards were open, their contents heaved and smashed onto the floor. Kelly smelled the dust and flour, fighting the urge to sneeze as she looked everywhere but at John.

 

‘I’m sorry, John.’ she said.

 

He grimaced and walked through to a closet and got out a broom and a dustpan and brush.

 

‘Two hours and I can get all this replaced with one trip to the store.’

 

Kelly smiled as she arched her back and rolled her shoulders.

 

‘Two clicks on the internet, but I’m guessing it’s not your thing?’

 

He nodded.

 

‘It would be easier but I’ve never been one for what’s expedient. Still, we might eat what I can forage or hunt for tonight.’ he said

 

Kelly’s stomach growled with hunger but a lassitude muted her responses and she nodded as she picked up tins and bags from the floor.

 

John sighed as he looked into an open drawer. Kelly asked him what was wrong and he glanced up at her.

 

‘Nothing here is in my name. There’s a company I own, and I lease this property from them. Someone saw past my wild man look and didn’t believe it.’

 

Kelly’s heartbeat quickened as she pressed her hands together.

 

‘And it leads back to you? Jesus, John I’m so sorry.’

 

He shook his head and walked over to her.

 

‘I can’t say anything puts a target sign on me above anything I’ve done to protect you. Still, it’s nothing I can’t fix.’

 

Kelly bit the inside of her lip and shook her head again as she fought to keep the begrudging smile from her face.

 

‘Does anything upset you?’

 

Kelly expected a smile and another shrug but John looked at her as his forehead furrowed with a quiet frustration.

 

‘I’ve killed more people in three days than I have in the last three years. It’s not your fault, but I save my energy for the things which matter.’

 

Kelly’s chest hurt with the implied insult and she turned to hide the tears building in her eyes.

 

‘This is all my fault.’ she said

 

She turned to leave but John strode over and took her left arm by the elbow as he stared at her.

 

‘No, you lived through a plane crash and people coming to kill you. If there’s a debt, you paid it a few times over.’

She went to turn her head, but he held onto her arm as he leaned forward and kissed her on the mouth. Their lips drew blind, powerful comfort from one another and he let go of her arm as he wrapped his arms around her. Kelly went up on her toes to accommodate the height difference between him but he lowered his centre of gravity to give the kiss another minute before she drew back.

 

Kelly’s eyelids fluttered as she took a deep breath and inhaled the scent of him as it made her head swim with a headedness as powerful as the exhaustion.

 

She gestured to the dustpan and brush and he passed it to her. She stared at him and smiled.

 

‘Let’s get things straight then we can talk, ok?’

 

He nodded as he looked down and sighed with a melancholic frustration.

 

‘Assholes.’ he said.

 

He looked down and swept the mess into a pile at his feet. The kiss had expressed feelings he had put aside for fear of having them destabilize his control, but she had been close to him for days and he paid attention to the smallest things about her, finding a quiet pleasure in her despite not knowing too much about her beyond the circumstances under which they met. John had worried about telling her but the honesty was a balm.

John was trying to be good but his assertions about being human held a deeper truth than he cared to admit. The act of restoration, seizing order from chaos appealed to him and it would allow him to articulate what resisted his analytical mind.

 

Kelly looked at him, wondered what he was thinking and then considered how not knowing scared her more than knowing before she carried on picking up broken items from the floor.

 

Olivia and Jasper sat in the restaurant before the maitre’d passed them a phone. Jasper put it to his ear as he hid his confusion from Olivia, who glowed with an arrogant acceptance. She frowned as he put the phone in his jacket pocket and pushed his chair back.

 

‘There’s a car waiting.’ he said.

 

She swallowed and raised her eyebrows as she set her glass down on the table.

 

‘Is that normal?’ she said.

 

He shook his head as a fresh crop of sweat beaded along his hairline. His nerves were unusual and she got up without waiting for a reply.

 

A car was waiting, they got in and it drove off.

 

Jasper and Olivia did not talk to one another. They sat there, at war with their own instinct and the mutual, unspoken concern with this turn of events. The car pulled up outside a massive, Spanish styled villa on the beachfront and they got out as the car.

 

‘Are you armed?’ she said.

 

Jasper shook his head and reached for his cigarettes.

 

‘You think this is something we could shoot our way out of, On?’

 

She sighed and looked around, took in a deep lungful of the warm, salty air

 

‘No, I guess not.’ she said

 

The front door opened and a young gentleman in a black t-shirt and trousers came out, asked them to follow him inside. Jasper and Olivia exchanged mutual looks of confusion before they followed him inside.

 

They were led upstairs to a set of double doors before the young man opened them and stepped aside.

 

‘Your privacy is assured. So is your discretion.’

 

Jasper nodded and Olivia repeated the gesture. A blast of damp chill air came from the room and it made Olivia shiver despite her efforts to remain nonchalant. Her curiosity had been directed ahead of her, but she never considered what was looking over her shoulder before now.

 

There was a wet, gurgling sound which made Jasper frown as he stepped inside the room. Olivia slipped in beside him as the doors were closed behind them.

 

The room fell into blackness and the pair moved towards one another, whether for comfort or an opportunity to put the other person in front, neither of them could have answered.

 

There was a crackling sound before a voice echoed around the room.

 

‘Forgive the theatre, but please come further into the room. It’s for medical reasons, but I can see how it looks to the uninformed, can’t you?’

 

Jasper muttered his agreement as he stepped forwards. Olivia looked around her, sniffed the air and wondered if there was a fish tank in the room before the recollection of the phrase ‘medical reasons’ made her regret asking.

 

They walked a few feet before they saw the tank set against the length of the wall. It was impermeable in the dark, but they heard bubbling breaths being taken and transmitted over the tannoy before the voice resumed.

 

‘We have spoken before, Jasper, but never met. I have not had the acquaintance of Ms Nixon either but we’ll remedy that.’

 

Olivia and Jasper as the water in the tank rippled and bursts of photoluminescence lit up the tank from within. A humanoid shape swam towards them before righting itself to stand vertical, treading water as the light resisted defining it.

 

‘I think you’ve found something of great interest to me.’

 

The figure swam forwards, revealing more details and Olivia slapped her hand over her mouth to stifle the cry of alarm.

 

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romance, short fiction, women

Episode 12 – A slight return

They controlled their fear but their bodies betrayed them.

 

Perspiration tainted with the sour tang of adrenaline.

 

Gun oil.

 

Chewing gum.

 

Sebum breaking down into lipids and triglycerides.

 

Enzymes living and dying by the millions.

 

A library of information in each breath.

 

He rose and charged, building momentum as he slid between the trees without losing their location. The momentum took both men by surprise as he leaped forwards, putting his entire body between them as he raked his forepaws across the face of the first man. His mass and angle pushed both of the men to the ground, with one of them holding a hand to his bleeding face as he tried to aim and fire his rifle in John’s direction.

 

The shot went wide as John nipped forwards and took the man’s head between his jaws and bit down hard. John felt the man’s skull break underneath the pressure and he felt a hot rush of blood and brain matter ooze onto his tongue. He spat the mess out and turned to the other man, who reached for a gun on his hip. His face was tight and pale as he stared at John without fear.

 

John leapt and landed on the man, pinned his right arm under his paw as he leaned forward and bit into the man’s throat, crunching the moist mess of tissue and cartilage between his teeth before he spat it out and dashed off into the woods.

 

He heard the whine of shots and raised voices. John breathed in the stink of fear and confusion as he dashed away, used it to fuel his desire to confront the men after Kelly. He did not want to kill them, but they had no qualms about hurting him or Kelly.

 

The distorted shouts of alarm echoed through the trees and John placed them by location. He did not possess echolocation, but his senses could discern and define a sound by its location and distance. With the additional olfactory information, he placed another three people ahead of him.

 

A thin whining sound drifted down and he looked up, saw the drone hovering in front of him and he barked with frustration before he turned and ran into the woods. He heard the drone take off and he dived into the depths of the forest, hoping he might evade further scrutiny..

 

Discretion was the better part of valour, and he ran towards Kelly with every fibre of his being.

 

He found his clothes where he left them. He lowered his muzzle to the ground and closed his eyes, recalling the trigger phrase which began his return to humanity.

 

John bit back his screams as the plates of his skull pulled apart and reformed with a nightmarish elasticity and his jaw compressed back into shape. He felt his bones breaking and knitting as his muscles stretched back whilst his skin grew dead and slack on his frame. He reached up and took a section, pulling it free of his flesh with a wet ripping sound as he tossed it to the ground. When his legs sang with pain, he collapsed onto his stomach and breathed through the process as he tugged at the dead skin of his old form, revealing signs of his original anatomy in the curve of a shoulder or the hair on his chest as he wrenched free of the dying cocoon around him.

 

He staggered to his feet as he pulled the last patches of furred skin off and sucked in deep, healing breaths as he wiped off the smears of blood and tissue which adhered to his skin. He reached for his clothes and dressed with care.

 

2.

 

Kelly got to her feet as John walked through the trees but his mouth was a thin line as he stared at her.

 

‘We need to go.’  he said.

 

Kelly shuddered and asked him what had happened.

 

He closed his eyes and reached for his rucksack, heaving it onto his shoulders.

 

‘I got overconfident and I ran into a few of them.’ he said.

 

Kelly stepped into his space and clutched the sleeve of his coat.

 

‘Are you okay?’ she said.

 

He sighed and nodded.

 

‘I’ll explain on the way but we need to move, Kelly, they were making good time.’

 

Kelly’s mouth went dry as she picked up her rucksack, glancing at the logs she had arranged, now a sign of her passing as she nodded with haste.

 

The small hope of recognition felt small in the face of their situation but it had been something to pass the time until he came back to her.

 

‘Good job I held off on lighting a fire.’ she said.

 

He looked at the logs and smiled.

 

‘It would have been a good one, too. This is on me, Kelly, I should have stayed closer to you.’ he said.

 

She took his hand and squeezed it, hoping he felt the continuing depth of her trust in him.

 

‘Did you get hurt?’ she said.

 

He denied it, but the imploring expression in her eyes challenged his sense of himself and he told her about being shot which made her step backwards and gaze at him.

 

‘But you’re okay?’ she said.

 

He nodded and shrugged his shoulders.

 

‘It healed up okay, It was a big hole in my back for a little while.’ he said.

 

‘How did you heal up? I mean, you change but nothing transfers over, does it?’ she said.

 

He adjusted the straps on the rucksack and looked at the logs Kelly had gathered.

 

‘Not in theory, but I guess being a hotheaded asshole does. Let’s go.’ he said.

 

Kelly followed him as he led them deep into the forest. She shivered with the cold and walked closer to John, keen for the warmth he exuded with a need which surprised her. Their hopes of respite were gone for now, but they had gotten away. It felt like a small reprieve, but it was still a reprieve.

 

John lost himself in the simple act of motion whilst he thought through his actions, determined not to repeat such a mistake again. Each swallow had the faint taste of cracked cartilage and bone to it, reminding him of his actions as he led them into the darkness.

 

3.

 

Olivia called Jasper. He accepted the news in silence and waited for her to trail off before he spoke.

 

‘You’re a clever girl, Olivia, but it doesn’t help me.’ he said.

 

She flinched at the harshness of his tone but kept it all inward for fear of showing weakness in front of the others.

 

‘No, sir, it doesn’t. I did warn the others -‘

 

‘WHICH MEANS FUCK ALL’ he said.

 

Olivia watched as Gregor and Grant stripped the men’s bodies, decanting ammunition and supplies into their own equipment. They shot looks of contempt at her when they thought she was not looking in their direction.

 

‘I know, but we’re not tracking down a kind ole boy here, Jasper. This guy’s trained an animal to kill on command. Gregor is saying he shot it, but it came back and killed two guys.’ she said.

 

It sounded like mitigation to her own ears, but Olivia was desperate for Jasper to understand, to step in and see how she was his eyes and ears down here.

 

He sighed and she heard the snap of his lighter as he lit a cigarette.

 

‘Pull back.’ he said.

 

Olivia wanted to ask if she had heard him but before she could speak, he exhaled and repeated the two words again.

 

‘Sir, we’ve got footage -‘ she said.

 

‘You didn’t drive here in the fucking Mystery Machine. Pull back and await further instructions. I hate fucking dogs and I not having trained people trudge through a forest like a pack of cunts, ok?’ he said.

 

Olivia choked out a yes and ended the call. She looked at her phone in disbelief before she put it back into her pocket, took a deep breath and pushed out her chest.

 

‘Jasper wants us to pull back. There’s no mileage in following them right now.’ she said.

 

Olivia sought to keep her voice non-committal, almost bored but Gregor looked up and stared at her with a scalding contempt.

 

‘This was a poor use of our time. Let’s go.’ he said.

 

Grant looked at the bodies of the two men. Yates and Gordon were solid operators, capable under fire and the idea of a dog taking them out did not sit well with him at all. He wanted to shoot the fucking thing in front of its owner than him and the girl to keep things neat. Olivia’s pinched face irritated him and he walked away before he did something he might regret.

 

Gregor shook his head.

 

‘I shot the fucking thing, I swear.’ he said.

 

Olivia had seen the blood on the ground and believed Gregor. Unless there was more than one dog bred and trained to the same level, it was the only possible explanation. She had no idea of Jasper’s tolerance for the strange but she decided to keep such things to herself as a precaution.

 

Olivia found a relief in being able to leave the forest under instruction. She insisted on taking the paperwork from the cabin with her as Grant drove and Gregor slept. The second car was left locked up and would be retrieved later, according to the instructions Grant was sent by Jasper.

 

She read through the paperwork, over and over. There was a legal firm mentioned in one of the contractual paragraphs and she resolved to make further enquiries in the morning.

 

Olivia closed her eyes and dreamed of dogs growling for her blood in the darkness.

 

Standard
romance, short fiction, women

What Pain Teaches – Episode 11.

For previous episodes, start here.

John leapt towards the doe as the gunman fired. He felt the pressurised waves of sound pushing the air ahead of the round, gyroscopic patterns of velocity ensuring its journey through the distance. He caught the chemical signatures of the man’s fear, alongside the burst of cordite and the snap of the trigger.

 

The bullet hit him in the left shoulder and continued as John fell forwards onto the doe. He roared as the round exploded out of his upper back in a wet, agonising burst of flesh and bone. The doe broke his fall as he rolled to his right, unable to get back onto all fours as the doe kicked and thrashed underneath him. His pride in the hunt and his hunger fled before the pain as he dug his back legs into the earth and cried out. His heart thumped in his chest as he felt blood staining and sticking his fur to his back as he pushed backwards. Through the haze of pain, he saw the gunman bring the rifle to his shoulder and fire again.

 

The bullet passed John and hit a tree behind him, splinters of bark flying into the air as the sound echoed through the still forest air. Each movement was a sermon in pain, and John felt the hole in his upper back, bleeding with the smallest motion as he shuddered with the pain. The insult tested his control, but he knew the gift of the second round missing was transient and he needed to get away. Through his blurred vision, John saw the gunman shout behind him and realised he was not alone. John distributed his weight between his right fore paw and his back legs, lowered his tail for balance and loped around, heading for the trees as he heard other voices join the chorus of alarm, some faint whilst others sounded closer in the primordial quiet of the forest.

 

John ran, although each movement opened the wound in his upper back, sending a single deep of agony deep into his body with each motion. He let himself sink into the ocean of instincts, churned by pain and circumstance into a storm of perceptual horror as the pressure built up within him.

 

He ran until exhaustion laid a yoke on his shoulders and he stopped, laying down against the soft moss and breathing hard through the waves of pain which washed over him in rhythm with his heartbeat. He could not see the wound in his upper back but its presence was as fundamental as the sun in the sky above and he shuddered with the sudden, debilitating bursts of cold as he lost blood.

 

He had underestimated the competence of their pursuers and the insult hurt as much as the first bullet. He got up onto his paws and moved through the woods, slow and stiff to accommodate the wound. Rifle rounds were large, most of their damage coming from the amount of blood and tissue lost to their passage. The wound in his upper back felt like someone had punched out a divot of tissue and each step lectured him on his arrogance as he limped into the darkness.

 

Black and red dots peppered his vision as he kept moving. He thought of Kelly and it lent impetus to his movement, creating a perpetual struggle between will and agony with each step. He lowered his nose to the ground, inhaled the memories of Kelly’s skin, her breath and kept following it. His world intensified and reduced to finding her, letting go of the pain and the pride, the thwarted appetites and the failure of his will as he moved through the simpler, uglier world his senses created for him.

 

Each step built upon the last as he made his way back, wounded and determined.

 

2.

 

Olivia and Grant ran to Gregor’s location where he had already gathered two of the other men and pointed out the direction the dog had run in. They watched the doe struggling to get to its feet with indifference but Olivia moved past them, the gun in her hand as she moved towards it.

 

Olivia’s interest was in the doe as it looked at her with disbelief and shock. She aimed and fired twice into its midsection as it jumped with the impact before it laid still.

 

‘At least we won’t go hungry.’ she said.

 

One grimaced and shook his head. He had a yellowing blunt spade of beard which fell from his chin as he shouldered his rifle.

 

‘No one’s eating that. You’ve contaminated the meat when you shot it in the gut. Hope that makes you feel better.’ he said.

 

Olivia felt the heat rising in her face as she holstered her gun and turned her attention to the ground. The others were moving forwards, alert and invested in the hunt for the first time since they started. Gregor came over to her, with his rifle in his hands.

 

‘It was not like a normal dog.’ he said.

 

Olivia studied the ground where the thing had clawed into the ground and tilted her head to one side.

 

‘Yes, very big and not normal. It was attacking the deer when you came across it?’ she said.

 

Gregor nodded and Olivia returned her attention to the ground. She saw the faint spray of blood and the large puddles where it had soaked into the ground.

 

‘Conditioning works up to a point, but you hit this thing and it ran off?’ she said.

 

Gregor nodded but his eyes were damp and unfocused. Olivia had Jasper’s ear and he feared what she might report back to him.

 

‘It wanted the deer which was how I got the shot at all.’ he said.

 

She gave a cold, officious smile and asked him a few more questions. Gregor confirmed it was a huge animal, it was trying to bring the doe down by leaping at it and it ran off, bleeding from where the round had gone straight through. Olivia dismissed him with a nod and he joined the others in following the blood trail.

 

‘The owner is probably close. He’ll have a whistle set to its hearing range or something to reinforce the conditioning. Tell the others to be aware of it over the dog itself, Gregor.’ she said.

 

He did not look back but raised his right fist as an acknowledgement. Olivia returned her attention to the ground, working out the dimensions of the beast as a way to assuage her curiosity.

 

Olivia bloomed when she could work. A lot of her work for Jasper had been reputation management but here she had come across a genuine mystery. Retrieving the package would have been the best possible outcome, but she had done that before.

 

The claw marks in the ground were large and she had to lean across to make a rough estimate of its dimensions. Her stomach was hollow with anticipation and her skin prickled like static as she realised they were hunting a genuine monster.

 

Olivia had not investigated dog fighting and breeding. Even with the federal laws, most of the activity went to state and local law enforcement as there would be narcotics, firearms and gang activity but she consulted on a few larger cases, profiles of the training used for the dogs to add to tactical assessments before any raids took place.

 

This dog, she decided, was special. A lot of breeding, blending traits over generations to produce a particular animal. It took money, and with the lease paperwork she had found, associations lit up her synapses like a fireworks display. She got up and walked after the others, smiling with a nervous anticipation as she slipped her gun back into the holster.

 

‘Here, boy.’ she said.

 

Kelly laid out the logs for the fire but she did not light it. She had remembered John’s method and followed it, which made her keen to wait and see his expression when he came back.

 

She put her coat and gloves back on as the temperature dropped. The surrounding shadows lengthened and thickened, feeding on her heat as she paced back and forth. Kelly reassured herself John would be back soon, and they would eat together and she could fall asleep next to him again. She drank some water, focused on her breathing but the anxieties were alert and keen to cut her off from any illusions of calm.

 

Kelly watched the forest, keen for a sign of his return. Kelly’s intuition about John was solid, but his confession spoke to complexities which were beyond her experience. His damage, his regret and his attempts to control and understand himself were uncommon for being spoken of with humility and honesty. He had been the victim of circumstances beyond his control but he knew the choices he made in the aftermath were better demonstrations of character than anything he might say.

 

Kelly reflected on her own choices, such as they were. Dropping out of school had not been about her mom but a good reason to do it without being questioned about it. The truth was sour in her mouth and she drank a cold mouthful of water, rinsed and spat to rid herself of the taste.

 

She needed to wait this out, she told herself. John isn’t a man out there, which is why he’ll come back to her and they’ll get out of this situation. Kelly picked out a strip of jerky and chewed on it, relishing the texture and salty nourishment as she kept vigil.

 

4.

 

John caught the scents of his pursuers. The tang of adrenaline, the intestinal flora festooned into their breath and the sweat signatures came to him in waves. He got onto all fours and rolled his shoulders without a debilitating blast of pain to punish his efforts. The skin was tingling but he could not feel the wound anymore, only the reluctant tug of knitting flesh as he wondered what had happened.

 

The wound had healed up and with the revelation, John turned back and sniffed the air, testing for their relative proximity. Kelly was close and he was aware of how he had bled during his retreat. Pain was a good teacher, and John wanted to share his lesson with those who had taught it to him in the first place.

 

He tracked two men close to him and lowered his upper body to the ground. John gauged their distance and moved towards them.

 

John’ lips drew back as he wrinkled his muzzle and began to run towards them.

 

Standard
romance, short fiction, women

ON – Episode 10

The second team had to take a detour to meet up with the courier, who handed them the keys to a pair of utility vehicles loaded with equipment, in addition to the small arms and limited surveillance equipment they had taken out to follow the plane from Washington. They drove in a single column at standard operational speed on Jasper’s orders.

 

They were joining a hunt in progress.

 

Olivia Niven had been a former FBI agent before she left for the private sector. She had worked in Behavioural Science and CIRG with distinction before a pending investigation into a previous investigation prompted her to leave. Jasper had found her and kept her on retainer, enjoying the access and skill sets she brought to his operations.

 

She had been awake for 36 hours, sat in the passenger seat of the new vehicle, putting things together based on what she had been told versus what she had found. This was supposed to have been a sweep and clear, but the change in operational tempo had raised questions especially when they had taken on additional equipment and were moving to support the second team.

 

Olivia checked the load on her side arm and opened the window to smoke. Her eyes burned with fatigue but she could not show it amongst these men. Olivia was forever apart, and never more so than when she had to go out into the field. She kept up because it was how she lived her life, and the chaos intrigued her.

 

She almost tasted it.

 

Olivia and the three others – Fleury, Hobbes and Vincent drove to the cabin and met up with Grant and Gregor. Two of the guys had brought it when they triggered a fail safe and cooked what looked like an underground bunker. Olivia left the men to unpack the equipment and looked around.

 

The fire had been brief and intense. She found the telltale patterns of magnesium switches and the stainless steel had warped into shimmering patterns against the concrete, wondered why there had been an airlock installed. Grant told her the briefcase had been in here, open and she whistled under her breath with disbelief before she went to look in the cabin.

 

Little to no personal effects aside from paperwork made out to Walden Inc which she read through and took photographs of on her phone before emailing it to a contact and ringing Jasper from the site.

 

‘There’s money here, Jasper. Nothing with a single name on, but papers saying this place is leased through a private company. I’ll have it checked out.’

 

Jasper gave a dry chuckle which broke up over the connection.

 

‘You’re still going out with the others, love. I need that big beautiful brain of yours on this.’ he said.

 

She disliked the estuary affectations he put on when he spoke to her. Olivia was not intimidated by him, and she saw his nervy bursts of overestimation as signs of weakness. Still, he was the boss and she knew how to play well with others. It never stopped her asking questions though, even if she seldom liked the answers.

 

‘It’s a waste of time unless we’ve got aerial coverage. Did your friend come through?’ she said.

 

Jasper tutted and chuckled.

 

‘Skenny put together a full spectrum package. You’ll have to tag along but it’ll give you god mode reach, yeah?’ he said.

 

Olivia cringed and said she would call him when she got anything to report.

 

Outside they were zipping up goretex clothing, checking the sights on the rifles and opening up the suitcases and unloading the drones for deployment.

 

The sky filled with the hum of spinning propellers as they twisted into the air. They had been fitted with solar panel arrays which increased the available deployment time and with stronger communications so they were able to cover more ground with better accuracy.

 

Olivia looked at the delighted faces of the men and rolled her eyes as she picked up the last jacket and zipped it up. She looked towards the trees and wondered who they were hunting and how long it would take before they brought them down.

 

DB Cooper had moved past forty years but most people were found, even if they took great measures to avoid it.

 

2.

 

She had not seen much in the way of guns at the cabin. It was a fact which stuck in her forebrain like a thorn in a lion’s paw, begging to be pulled out. The lease deal had the stink of a cut out operation to it, but it was, to her mind, too sophisticated to waste on infiltrating a militia so she kept returning to the possibilities the evidence offered. It was better than pretending to be in awe of plants and dirt.

 

The burned out bunker suggested narcotics but it was too small for any decent volume.

 

All these different pieces turning in her head. Her mind was unpleasant but functional and she set it to work as her body followed the hunt as it moved into the woods.

 

She looked over the bones and organs. A section of rib drew her attention and she picked it up, held it to the light and turned it over.

 

It did not look like a bullet groove or even an arrow, it was too deep and there was a jagged quality to the incision which made her smile with surprise.

 

‘Didn’t see any sign of a dog back there, did you?’ she said.

 

No one answered and she picked up the rib.

 

A good shot for a deer is to aim for the lungs. An arrow would require more conscientiousness in terms of placement than a firearm and she had not seen much in the cabin. A big dog, trained to attack from the broadside, she imagined would be feasible but there’d have been hair or a kennel, even dog toys but nothing.

 

‘We need to be aware they might have an animal with them.’ she said.

 

Grant chuckled.

 

‘Scooby Dooby Do’ he said.

 

Olivia sighed and lifted the bone to his eyeline.

 

‘Have you ever been attacked by a dog?’ she said.

 

His jaw tightened as he looked away and gave a short shake of the head.

 

She laughed at him and rolled her eyes with contempt.

 

‘Dogs don’t attack without reason. You can train an animal to attack a human, but mostly they’re responding to a threat to themselves or their territory. They go for what’s on their level. So with kids -‘ she gestured to her neck with the rib and grimaced before she continued.

 

‘Now you, they’d go for the crotch or the stomach. They can knock you over, i mean shit, I read about this one dog, 179 pounds but trained to be gentle and it understood its role in the pack which is all dog behaviour ever is.’ she said.

 

She walked over to Grant.

 

‘Imagine it running at you, leaping up and knocking you on your ass. See, once you’re on the ground, your throat is exposed, or you can train it to go for certain areas.’ she said

 

Grant sighed and adjusted the rifle where it was slung over his shoulder.

 

‘This is where you mention it chewing on my balls again, yeah? It’s a woman thing, I get it.’ he said.

 

Olivia shook her head and pointed the rib at him.

 

‘No, I would train it to go for the inside of the thigh. Some good arteries there, but if you’re on the ground, you’ve got the insides of the forearms or the throat which are good places to bite someone. Simple conditioning and you’ve got something which will die to protect you so long as you show it love and fear, Grant, love and fear.’ she said.

 

He sighed and picked up his radio.

 

‘Be on the lookout for a dog out here. On thinks he might have something trained running with them.’ he said.

 

Olivia tossed the rib bone to the ground and wiped her fingers on the jacket as she raised her eyebrow.

 

‘On?’ she said.

 

Olivia Nixon. O.N.

 

On. She almost liked it but decided to fix him a withering stare and walk into the woods.

 

A dog would smell them before they got close. Better hearing too, which was a smart move to have if you thought someone was coming after you. It was an interesting possibility, especially if it had been trained to attack or incapacitate on command.

 

It was starting to become interesting. She had a nickname and an unusual situation to work with, which raised her mood a small degree as she looked into the forest, wondered who or what was out there and how far they were behind them.

 

2.

 

John followed the doe further than he intended to. Kelly was safe and the prospect of good meat meant it was worth the detour.

 

Plus he wanted to move sometimes and the time he spent transformed allowed him to experience a set of perceptions and attributes which he had come to enjoy now he had some measure of control over himself.

 

John let his enthusiasm fuel his chase and the doe had started to flag, which meant he could charge it, bite into the lungs and let it suffocate without tainting the meat. Dragging it back was a slower affair but he could do it without exhausting himself.

 

It frightened him sometimes, not knowing what his limits were.

 

The doe turned her head and looked at him with a final acceptance. He started to leap, ready to push the doe onto its side and bite down.

 

Which was when he saw the man lifting his rifle as his mouth opened in surprise.

 

Standard
romance, short fiction, Uncategorized, women

Episode 9 – Performance

 

Kelly kept pace with him. He would follow his nose, have them stop before he would nod and continue walking.

 

He undid the lid on his canteen and took a long pull on it before he passed it to her. She took it and drank before she returned it to him.

 

‘Can the drone see us?’ she said.

 

John glanced up and squinted against the light.

 

‘I don’t know the range it has, or what type of surveillance equipment it can look at us with. Money gets you better toys, and we know they’ve got money to throw at this.’ he said.

 

Kelly sighed and dug her hands into the pockets of the coat.

 

‘I thought it was moving to a better class of employer.’ she said.

 

He took a step towards her and smiled at her.

 

‘I wouldn’t presume to judge anyone for anything. We’ve both found ourselves in this, Kelly, and we’ll find a way out.’ he said.

 

Kelly watched how he walked. With a straight back and his head held up, shoulders back as he watched the trees ahead, sniffing the air to keep them on the right path.

 

‘How long do you think we’ll be out here?’ she said.

 

He frowned and screwed the lid back onto the canteen before he tucked it back into his belt.

 

‘We need them to think you’re gone. Without the briefcase, there’s not a lot to gain in finding you other than -‘ he said.

 

Kelly did not need him to finish. She swallowed, tasted a grit at the back of the throat no amount of water could dislodge. Her future was always vague, but so little used to ride on it before. She had done her share of the work and now she was walking through to the woods, with the big bad wolf, she thought.

 

‘Tell me about going back?’ she said

 

He looked upwards before he ran his tongue over his lips and started to talk.

 

2.

I could not rely on disease surveillance data to track what had happened. My money and presence at Harvard helped but most of what I needed to do, had to be done in complete secrecy.

 

I decided to go back to where I encountered the thing which attacked me.

 

Most of the information related to lycanthropy was amusing but useless.

 

A Persian Prince once suffered from a belief he was a cow.

 

King Nebuchadnezzar and Odysseus’ crew suffered from clinical versions of it, the belief they had transformed into animals.

 

I had high definition video of it, how my body forms a carapace of fibrin and inside it, my entire body turns into 200lbs of murder and instinct. The form is disproportionate to the closest physical cousin, canis lupus.

 

It looks like a wolf but it is not.

 

Much like the thing which infected me in the first place.

 

I have to hide behind information because the knowledge serves as evidence we live in a universe which is, at best, indifferent but when I woke up inside a scab made of my own skin, I wondered if it wasn’t malevolent as well.

 

I packed less than before. Most of what I needed was inside me, the capacity and ability to survive is innate to all of us but I had a headful of hunger suited to finding what had attacked me.

 

Or, as I began to think of it, who.

 

It made sense if I treated what happened to me as a disease. It required a vector of infection, but whether there were conditions of infection, I was a sufferer who lived with it every hour of every day.

 

The last time I had looked into its eyes, I had seen only hunger. I wanted to look again and see if I recognised myself there.

 

The most sophisticated item I took was an MP3 player. I had tracked and recorded an induction which triggered a post-hypnotic suggestion to allow me to retain my consciousness during the change. It was not pretty to go into it aware of what was happening but it was necessary.

 

I became a wound and something crawled out of it, with an animal’s capabilities and my thoughts in the driving seat.

 

Its scent was everywhere. A blistering, chemical stink which had thickened in places, where it paced the earth, pissing its authority into the soil. My nose recoiled from the stench, even as it gleaned valuable information.

 

Scent was a somatic language, condensed into signatures which were processed through my language centres, like upgrading your computer equipment to run an old game.

 

So, I processed the scent as being:

 

(danger) (pain) (territory)

 

Which broke down intellectually into different packets of information.

 

(danger) became (violence + sickness + biting + food)

 

(pain) became (biting + violence+stop)

 

And so on.

 

I cocked my leg against the trunk of a tree and sent my own message.

 

Howling would have been grandiose and a failure to understand the nature of conflict on this level. I had, by necessity, become a keen student in my own physiology. Fluency in this language was less of a challenge once I could apply my intelligence and cut through the gordian knot of my condition.

 

(here) (fuck you) (challenge)

 

I lowered my head and ran forwards into the trees, following the trail of scent as an act of provocation.

 

The scent packages came from different parts of the body. The first (danger) had been expressed from its anal gland and the (territory) came from a gland in its front left paw. Another burst of expression wafted over to me, and I turned, squared my shoulders and expressed a cloud of (challenge) against it.

 

I raised my muzzle and caught the scent of estrus which surprised me. My assumption was of a male aggressor and I watched it move between the trees towards me.

 

It snarled and I saw where the missing tooth had begun to grow in, white and soft against the yellowing array of flat heavy teeth next to it.

 

We charged towards one another and whipped around in a circle, snarling and barking at one another, unable to ask or give quarter.

 

(recognition) (difference) came out as my right paw sent up a burst of understanding.

 

(rejection) (dismay) as she beat her tail against the ground and emitted a bouquet of rejection.

 

(question) I rubbed my belly against the ground and dashed backwards.

 

She snarled at me and turned around. I followed her but she knew these woods better than I. When she dashed into the river, I gave up and watched her emerge on the other side. Her scentlessness, like any woman’s silence, communicated volumes.

 

I came back twice that summer, but the scents had fractured and faded to denote her absence.

 

What the encounter gave me were more questions. She had an established vocabulary and had undergone a similar process of education but chose it to reject my overtures.

 

The rejection stung and I retreated into a deep melancholy.

 

An interesting aside with clinical lycanthropy was in the seventeenth century was the belief it was caused by an excess of the humour relating to it, a black bile which left the eyes sunken and tongue dry. When I slipped back into my human form, I felt it for the first time.

 

Separation. My father would have understood it. It was part of his inheritance, along with his nose and the potential for intelligence. I drove back to the house, to the laboratory and wrote about what it felt to be alone.

 

Sometimes it takes another person to do it to you.

 

‘I had boyfriends like that.’ Kelly said.

 

He frowned but the corners of his mouth turned up.

 

‘Men have to deal with the burden of performance all the time. I just have a larger share than some and the consequences of failure are heavy.’ he said.

 

She took his hand.

 

‘You’ve not failed me yet. Even if this counts as kidnapping.’ she said.

He chuckled and shook his head.

 

‘I thought of this as a prolonged stroll through the woods.’ he said.

 

He squeezed her hand and looked down as they continued to walk. He patted his stomach and suggested they find ground for the night. He had cured some of the venison for jerky but he offered to hunt for something fresh. She squeezed his hand, registering the hidden tension which made his forearms a taut bundle and told him she would like that.

 

They found a stretch of level ground, isolated from above and fringed by thick, old trees. Kelly took the tomahawk and gathered wood whilst John walked ahead and she heard the sharp intake of breath before he disappeared from her sight.

 

3.

 

Gregor handed the tablet over to Grant and picked out a protein bar from his jacket. His grey eyes narrowed as he peered through the trees.

 

‘They know this place better than us.’ he said.

 

Grant increased the magnification on the fibre-optic camera. The drone had another forty minutes of power left before it would need a charge and so far, it had given a general sense of their direction. There were signs of camp being made and from there, it made regular patrols and sent images back to the tablet.

 

‘They do, but Jasper is sending out the other team and they’ll bring more equipment.’ he said.

 

Gregor bit into the protein bar with a quiet distaste as he walked up the hill.

 

‘They burned the briefcase, after that it all feels a little too personal. One thief in the wind, what’s that to anyone?’ he said.

 

Grant furrowed his forehead.

 

‘It’s a matter of reputation. Yours and mine, Jasper’s, and who he works for.’ he said.

 

Gregor chewed and nodded as they carried on following the trail, such as it was.

 

‘Trust it she finds a fucking Grizzly Adams out here, though.’  he said

 

Grant sighed and nodded as he watched the drone come back to them. Gregor was unburdened by command, and he had not heard the shrill notes which emerged in Jasper’s voice. There were massive things going on underneath it all, and he had to go and enforce those commands without understanding them. The money was good and it was all Grant concerned himself with. A few days in a forest was better than chronic diarrhea in the desert. It didn’t matter how well a man knew the land around him, they had intention, money and time on their side and it would out in their favour.

 

Gregor stopped and looked through the set of binoculars at the remains stacked by the tree. He made his way towards it as he gripped his rifle for reassurance.

 

‘Who needs that much meat? He said.

 

Grant landed the drone and plugged it into the battery charger as he watched Gregor kick the pile of bones and organs with a strangled cry of disgust.

 

They had found something at last. Grant saw the tight look of concern on Gregor’s face and smiled as his phone hummed with an alert which he took out and read with a surge of triumph.

 

TEAM 2 ENROUTE TO LOCATION. LOGISTICS ADDRESSED.

 

He decided to hold off telling him as he walked towards him and the scattered bones.

 

(The suggestions for a series title are welcome and in return I will name a future character after you, fate to be determined)

 

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