Hana woke in fits and bursts. An hour after settling into the room, the group grew restless with her starts. The woman was jittery, which placed their wolves on edge.
A banging at the door and the wafting odour of hard liquor raised their hackles. Timidly, the black-haired woman opened the door a crack. Nat’s and Deck’s glowing feral eyes followed her movement. She shrunk under the gaze of a massive mountain that stood at her door in a sweat-stained undershirt and grimy blue jeans. They could smell the sickly bitter, acrid stench of fear ooze from the woman under the stare of that man. They watched in uncertainty, wondering if they needed to get involved.
“Haniel, where’s the rent money?” The monster barked. A dagger-shaped birthmark paled between his eyebrows. She handed him one of her bills and replied, “I’m leaving in the morning.” The man glared at the bill, frustration creasing lines around his lips before he turned and lumbered down the stairs.
“Who was that?” Deck whispered to Hana when the man’s footsteps no longer creaked the walls of the apartment.
“The man who leases the building.” She sank back into her corner, easing her shoulders into the crook of the worn corner. The wolf in Nat noted the notches, directing his focus and how her heart rate fell as her frail shoulders fit into the grooves. He wasn’t sure if he was reassured or disturbed that he could now sense these things about the people around him, that the wolf was feeding him information.
“A hundred? For this measly room? That’s bogus,” Benj muttered. He had been lying on the floor, partially asleep, when the man had come. He rolled to a sitting position, his hair tussled and falling into his eyes. He groped around for his glasses. Sun Hee settled them on his nose.
“His wife left him. This isn’t the best place for me to stay, but I needed someplace.” Hana shaded her bottomless black eyes with her eyelashes to avoid meeting Benj’s appraising glance.
“What does that have to do with his wife?” Benj pushed. Her nose wrinkled at the tone. She met his eyes, her lips flattening. Her heart accelerated, and, as Nat noticed, that acid smell was back. He found it to be a strange pheromone, fear. It was pungent, and his wolf didn’t like it when Hana was afraid.
She blinked at Benj before sliding her eyes along Deck and Yeller to settle on Nat. Her facial expression changed into startled fear and a different pheromone, much more basal than fear, suddenly invaded Nat’s senses. The creature pacing beneath his skin prickled, demanding to be let out. Nat shifted farther away from the woman in an attempt to collar his wolf.
“Oh.” Benj got the message. He eased between Zola and Sun Hee, placing himself in a less hostile position. Deck glanced between the two before settling back to his spot. Sun Hee leaned onto his shoulder to make him less intimidating to Hana. “What was that all about?” Sun Hee whispered to Deck.
“Protection from the landlord so that he wouldn’t touch her,” Benj whispered in his sister’s ear.
Nat was keenly aware that it was his wolf that watched the young woman who had curled up in the corner of the room. They had both noticed the hump to her back that she had been careful to draw attention away from in their interactions up to now.
The moon slipped from the windows of the apartment to the skylight. Grey clouds flitted to cast crawling shadows. The wolf traced a beam of moonlight fallen across her face, revealing beautifully sculpted lips and high cheekbones. The quiet of sleep settled over the rest of the group. The monster beneath his skin paced incessantly, and his hand throbbed perpetually. He had taken to trying to count anything he could lay his eyes on if only to draw the creature’s gaze away from its fixation. It brushed under his skin insistently. It clawed at his innards and gnawed at his heart. He couldn’t breathe; it hurt too much. The wolf howled pitifully in his head.
Go to sleep, you perverted mutt! I hurt. Give it a rest. What is with you salivating all of this woman?
A voice, deeper, gruffer, accented, the creature growled, Yeah, but what a woman.
He stiffened, wary now. The wolf hadn’t answered him before this. Who are you? Are you still me? He asked the thing inside of him.
It chuckled, low in his gut. You’ve gotta be kidding me, you? Hah, name’s Sven. That little darling over there is hiding something delicious from you, dječak1. Enjoy. The beastly white wolf, Sven, settled back a step, letting Nat catch a breath before pushing forward once more, encompassing his senses in a heady high of pheromone uptake.
She was small, frail. The woman reminded him of a bird almost. He inhaled, seeing if his new senses could pick up on what Sven knew. Feathers? His heart skipped a beat in confusion. The wolf climbed through him, settling in the recesses of his brain. The hell you doing, mutt? He asked as it shifted and moved, drawing in his fingers, testing its capacity to move his human body.
She’s gorgeous. Sven whispered, focusing all his attention on the woman, shifting Nat closer. Heated anger formed inside the wolf and leaked in him at the thought of the landlord putting his hands on her. Before he knew what the creature was doing, he had gathered the sleeping woman into his arms, holding her to him gently. Her back was different from what he had felt when he had touched Zola or Sun Hee. It flexed and crushed like a bolt of gauze laid over muscle. She smelled heavily of bird.
A pair of fire gold eyes watched the interaction from across the room, disappointment flashing across them.
Hana slept comfortably nestled in his arms for several hours. He dozed on and off, but the creature inside of him didn’t stay away. It would randomly come back and gnaw on him. He laid her back down when she became restless, but he stayed near her, still feeling the warmth of her body where it had marked his skin.
Sven didn’t speak to him anymore that night. His emotions settled down as the wolf became quiet. This wasn’t like him. When the wolf slept, he was able to look at Hana and felt nothing. He stared up at the skylight, Polaris shining down on him. He heaved a sigh and stood up.
Energy set his skin on edge. He found the ladder that led out of the skylight. On the roof, he settled himself against a south dormer and looked out on the burned-out city. What the hell was happening to them?
“You all right?” Yeller asked, emerging from the skylight.
“No,” honestly Nat answered his friend.
“Need me to grab some pain meds?” Yeller pointed back down into the room.
Nat waved him off. “That stuff can get addicting quick, ask my mom; I’d rather not.” He blew out a breath that fogged up in the air.
“Mind if I come sit?” Yeller asked. Nat shrugged and scooted over. They listened to the quiet shifting of the city and watched the moon dip farther into the sky as the opposing side glowed a deep purple. “So, Hana?”
Nat sighed. He didn’t know what to tell Yeller. He didn’t know what exactly his emotions were doing. “Has your wolf said anything to you?” His voice was hoarse.
Yeller stared at him, trying to gauge if this was a joke. “No,” he answered, a bit baffled. “Has yours spoken to you?” Yeller hesitated with his question.
“I-I don’t know. It very well might be my imagination. I don’t want to admit that to the rest of the group, though. I don’t want to worry them. If it’s me…” he bit his lip. What if his mind had snapped? “I’m a bit lost here, Ruben.” Nat closed his eyes, his hand throbbing. Yeller’s attention snapped to Nat, his name driving straight through his core. No one called him that. A tear crawled down Nat’s cheek. Yeller sat under the pinking sky, unsure of what to do.
In the morning, the group made a plan to set off into Ioda and trapes through Wyoutea. From there, they would work their way up to Neo York. Setting off as the sun reached up and stretched its neon fingers out over the horizon, they bid farewell to the familiar of the West Coast. It was like looking at a picture; no warmth was gained from it, but it was hauntingly beautiful. It was not long before clouds set in, and the air turned cold again.
The road out of Portland was rough and cracked. The blacktop was shattered into a billion pieces. Burned out car shells littered the highway. Ravens perched precariously on leaning electric poles. What the war had done to such a proud country. No one cared any longer who ran the place because it now belonged to the people, and the people made war amongst themselves more effectively than the bombs. It had become a dismal land, grey, bitter, torn.
“So, where’s your parents?” Zola asked the young woman, trying to be friendly. It had been a quiet, uneventful morning, though the dismal silence was taxing on their shoulders.
“Where we’re heading,” Hana answered stiffly. She glanced at Nat. He was watching her steadily. The wolf inside him was always watching her. The creature kept quiet as the rest of the group took part in the conversation.
“Neo York?” Benj asked, curious.
“They’re the ones who joined up with the creation of the effects lab RanMon to cure people from the early RWE bombs. Robert and Laura Menzer. They were research assistants to a Corbin Zephle and Sophia Lisgon. I stayed home to watch the house for when they were to return. I transferred college credit to a local place here, there, Portland, I guess.” She took a breath to steady her nerves. Benj glanced at her and then up at Nat’s staring, unblinking eyes. Her tone had changed in the last couple of sentences. They could hear the lie.
“Nine months after they left, an RWE bomb hit twelve blocks from my house. I escaped in time. I ran to Portland. Buses were still going, so I caught one with a stash I found in the house. The city had been hit several times by the time I arrived, so I thought that it wouldn’t get hit again, and I took up residence in one of the buildings. I got a job with the doc. I was hoping to help out the people in the city. The doc wasn’t too keen on helping people who couldn’t pay, which I thought was stupid. We don’t get too much business, so I took up a few other jobs to get money.” She trudged along next to them. Part truth, part lie. “I was supposed to start University this spring. Full ride. The school received a direct hit from the RWE bomb.”
They trudged along in silence for a time before she presented them another question. “All right, but are those your real names? I mean, who would name their child Deck or Yeller?” Hana asked, adding quickly, “No offence, you know.”
“My name’s Alexander Deck. Being in enough sports all my life, all the coaches called me by my last name, so everyone else started to call me by my last name too,” Deck answered the woman with a charming smile. She gulped and turned to the tallest of the bunch. “What about you, Yeller?”
“When I was younger, as my parents told me, I constantly screamed and yelled, and no one could figure out why. Colic. Acid reflux as a baby or something like that.
“My folks let me play with some pots and pans one day, and they realized, for their own sanity, that I should probably be enrolled in music lessons. I also quit screaming so much. I leave that for the band. My name is Ruben Goswearth, but no one has called me that since first grade, except for the teachers,” Yeller added, embarrassed. “Yeller’s my stage name for Erosion…was my stage name.” He ducked his head.
“You’re a drummer?” Hana asked him, a smile pulling at her pouting lips.
“I was. Wrote most of the ballads for our demo. Also played guitar, though I wasn’t as good as Spence. He was lead.” He shrugged his shoulder, watching the pigeons taking flight in flocks along the road.
“What did Erosion play, metal?” She kicked at a scrap can.
“Punk alt-rock.” He kicked the can she had sent his way over to Benj.
“What did you listen to? Pop, I guess,” Benj assumed with a prissy teasing voice, tapping the can towards Nat.
“No, can’t stand it that much. I’m into alternative and grunge. Sometimes I used to listen to country, but now it’s hard to hear the music because all the electricity and radio stations are out,” Hana shrugged, amused with the group passing the can to each other until Zola sent it off the road by accident.
“Yeah, that does make it a little difficult to listen to, huh?” Sun Hee laughed.
The white wolf paced in his head, begging for attention. Nat rolled, opening his eyes to the field they had set up in. The sound of the tent zipper had woken him., The women had taken the tent at his insistence. With work, and more than one instance of his wolf taking over his mind entirely, they dug a series of sleeping pits around the tent.
Hana emerged, tripping over Zola. She launched toward Benj’s hole, almost tumbling onto the sinewy black wolf. The hump on her back shifted oddly as she lay on the ground, her face close to Benj’s muzzle.
Hold off, dječak. She hasn’t seen us as we are yet. Let’s see what she does. Sven leaned into him.
Shut up, mutt. Let me have my body back. Nat growled.
Make me. Now, why don’t you sit back and watch. I’m gonna have a bit of fun for once.
The hell you are! Nat fought back at the intrusion in his limbs to be thrown back into the darkness.
Hana kept her head on the ground and watched the wolves. Glowing green eyes focused on her as the creature stretched and shook the snow off of his coat. He sniffed at his clothes before sitting down to watch her. The brindled one was next to wake up. After his morning stretch, he sniffed at the white one before noticing Hana. The brindled one circled the white. He was a massive monster of a wolf. The white one butted his head against the brindle’s shoulder. They could hear her heart beating too fast. Eventually, the brindled one went to the gold and nuzzled him until he rolled over and woke up. He stretched, like the others, before shaking off the snow from the previous night. Hana sat dumbfounded, stunned at the sheer size of the creatures. She had thought the brindle was massive. The golden one was downright huge. She hadn’t been aware of how large wolves could get. The coal grey one she had almost squashed on her way out of the tent was watching her now too.
“They’re waiting for you to go away.” Sun Hee popped her head out of the tent. Hana jumped, tumbling over the coal-black wolf, surprised at the sudden appearance of the woman. The wolf yipped and moved away to circle behind the brindle.
“Did I do something wrong?” she asked Sun Hee. The woman pulled a t-shirt over her head. “Nope, you’re fine if you wanna see a couple a’ naked guys,” she offered, waving at the guys. The gold wolf snorted. Hana’s cheeks went red.
“Close the flap; it’s cold!” Zola hissed. Sun Hee popped her head back in the tent, and the zipper announced to the group that the women weren’t ready to emerge into the bitter cold yet.
“Not like I care if she sees me or not,” Yeller grumbled, having transformed while Hana was occupied with Sun Hee.
“Oh?” Zola cooed from inside the tent.
“She’ll see us eventually, and probably at a less opportune time, so she might as well get used to it now,” Deck bristled. Benj morphed over from his coal grey wolf to his human self, finally indifferent.
Heat coloured Hana’s ears. “What’s the point of the tent then?”
Sun Hee unzipped the tent and tossed out Deck’s pack. Benj, Yeller, and Deck pulled out their clothing. Hana tried to settle her eyes anywhere but on the movement in front of her. Her glance settled on the white wolf, the only one of the group that hadn’t shifted. The guys, dressed, realised that the last of their group hadn’t shifted yet. He held her gaze as he slowly, meticulously turned from wolf to man. That pheromone again, the most basal of them, permeated the clearing. She couldn’t break away from him.
“Get some clothes on, snowman.” Yeller threw a pair of jeans at Nat. The wolf relented, letting him come up for air. He blinked at the clothes in his hand before realizing he was human, naked, and freezing.
The fuck you do, dog?
Nothing you need worry about, human.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
If you would like to tip the author, check out the following buttons: