Hackles rose on the back of Nat’s neck at every blurred shadow. The wounds in his shoulders ached and throbbed, but the wolf inside supported him through the pain. The city left the group unsettled in the slow onset of twilight. The chill nipped at their heels. The sun was setting in the distance, and they were still in the midst of the town. They kept their eyes open for shelter.
The creature glanced at the small woman cradled in Yeller’s arms. Her breathing had evened out. He glanced to Deck, whose wolf limped strangely. He’d ask the man about that later. For now, an empty doorway into a tiny suburban bungalow looked promising. He motioned the wolves over to it.
At the door, Yeller handed Nat Hana. He tried to jiggle the knob, but it protested, locked tight. He tapped on the rotting wood and listened for motion from within. It was resoundingly empty. “Well, if it’s vacant, then no one’ll mind.” He pressed the door until there was a crunch of wood on the jam breaking. The door swung inwardly to reveal a shabby 1970’s green wallpaper and gold shag-carpeted living room. The furniture was rotting, and moths fluttered about under the disturbance.
“Think it’s a museum?” Sun Hee peeked in around the doorframe.
“People can be super weird. Probably a collector.” Benj stepped over the threshold and walked over to an old record player on top of a tube tv.
“Says the guy who literally wore shirts based on two hundred-year-old patterns, for funzies.” Sun Hee ran a finger along the window sill, knocking off a thick layer of dust.
“You liked the hoodies,” Benj countered.
“I thought your shirts always looked nice.” A blush ran across Zola’s cheeks up to her ears.
“That’s because you look good in boyfriend shirts, Zoe.” Sun Hee ribbed her with an elbow.
“If he’d ever let me have one.” Zola clapped a hand over her mouth, eyes going wide. Benj stalled, fingers deep in the back of a Kit-Cat Klock.
“I’m…just gonna circle the house and let you three figure that one out.” Deck walked through the front living room, past a doorframe and disappeared, leaving the group to stare at each other in silence.
“At least it’s warmer and maybe safer than out there. God, I can’t wait for spring to come again.” Deck’s voice echoed down a hallway.
“Nat, sit. You’re swaying.” Yeller nudged the man toward the one armchair in the room.
The white-haired man nodded quietly and settled in, Hana curled in his arms. “Thanks.”
Yeller leaned over, testing the woman’s forehead with his hand. “Not hot. Not cold. You doing okay holding her like that? Your shoulders doing okay?”
“Been better. Been hella worse. My fingers are prickly, but the creature’s growling about me putting her down.” Nat kept his voice to Yeller and himself.
“Tell me if you need me to take her so you can rest. Even that beast has to understand those wounds aren’t going to heal at this rate.” Yeller squatted down next to the armchair and checked Hana’s pupillary reaction.
Sun Hee and Zola found clothes stuffed into a back closet. Moth holes permeated some of the softer sweaters, but everyone was able to outfit themselves in varying decades of wearables, save for the fact Yeller’s newly acquired pants rode high on his ankles. Benj came out of it dressed in a full three-piece tailed suit. Deck managed a pair of worn jeans and an angel-winged brown button-up. The girls slipped into long jersey dresses and cashmere shawls.
Yeller crashed on the sofa, and the couch subsequently crashed to the floor. “Oops.” He sprawled across the cushions.
“You auf!” Zola jumped onto the sofa, bouncing on what remained of the springs.
Sun Hee and Benj followed her lead, and presently a dog-pile accumulated on the small loveseat. Deck, Nat and Hana were the only ones not to join in. The creature had eased into a small, overstuffed armchair with Hana resting easily in his arms. Her wings covered his legs, a warm blanket of feathers.
The group, over the next few hours, found themselves napping on and off. The house was cold, and a woodstove promised a solution if they could find the will to move, but there weren’t any drafts. It was easy to be lulled into a sense of peaceful safety.
Wolves, a pack of fifteen, trudged through soft tundra. They had their own standings in their pack. An alpha male and female, though they did not act as ordinary wolves in that sense. There were mates within the pack. It was the only way they had been able to keep their numbers constant. In this cold, forbidding place, it had been the only way. A commander, wise in his leadership, headstrong and stubborn in his direction. The alpha female was shy and quiet. The second in command, as uncompromising as the commander, had a mate. They were expecting their third litter. There was the heavy hitter and his little firecracker of a mate. The intelligent, cunning pair that could devise and while away their wits better than any other, almost to the point of wisdom beyond man. There were more of them, but it was these few that Nat focused on. Sven led him around and around these images. He wouldn’t explain; he refused to expand the images; he kept the man pinned to the dream with a definitive fierceness.
The evening slipped bloody shadows through shabby curtains. The sun set behind the skeletal towers of the town, and the little bungalow in their wake dropped in temperature. Hana broke out into a cold sweat, and Deck was sick to his stomach. The woman squirmed in her sleep, waking Nat up from another foreboding dream. She had a grip on his shoulder that could have crushed normal bone. A drop of blood rolled from her lower lip. She had bitten her tongue in her sleep.
“Benj! Benj?” Nat yelled, waking the coal-black dog from a lolling sleep. The woman spasmed and dropped to the floor, almost on top of Yeller.
“Easy. Easy. Give her room, move the coffee table out of the way. Keep her from banging into anything, and the seizure should pass!” Benj yelped as he morphed and tugged on his pants.
Zola and Yeller scrambled for the table, and Nat pulled the armchair out of the way. Sun Hee ran for the kitchen to find cleaning supplies and a large mixing bowl for Deck to keep vomit off the carpet.
“Benj!” the creature growled when the seizure refused to let up.
“I’m thinking, mutt! Just hold on for a second,” Benj bit back. He looked at Deck, who was curled in on himself, sweat coating his body. The group’s leader had turned human about the same time that the spasms had taken Hana’s body. Benj turned to glower at Nat to find his eyes a vacant cast in hard shadowed relief.
Nat wet his bottom lip as his eyes came back into focus. “Deck says everything’s gonna be fine, a few minutes more.”
“Deck didn’t say a damn thing!” Benj yelled over the next spasmodic wave.
Nat tapped on the star on the side of his head. “Yeah, he did.” He brushed sweaty tendrils of hair from Hana’s face.
It took ten minutes before the waves eased and Deck regained consciousness. Hana stared blankly at the ceiling as she sucked down, gulping breath after breath.
“Full bloody grand mal.” Nat took a towel from Sun Hee and wiped Hana’s face off.
Crack! Nat fell back from Hana, landing hard against the armchair. The sound of bone crunching against bone was deafening. Yeller tackled Deck as he towered over Nat, who held his cheek in confusion. “Get off him, Alex. Get off.”
“Nat, I gave you specific orders not to fucking touch her! Don’t do it again! Besides her possibly dying, I don’t know if I’ll die the next time she does that. Got it? She’s off-limits, don’t lay a fuckin’ hand on her. She’s under my protection!” bellowed Deck through Yeller’s headlock. He heaved, puffing, coughing. He crumpled to his knees, his hands spread on the green shag carpet. Yeller let go when Sun Hee tugged at his arm.
Deck balled up his fists. “God, that wasn’t even half of her pain level. Just a touch. Honest to the gods, I thought I was going to die in this miserable shack.” Tears streamed from his eyes.
The creature pulled himself up and back into the armchair, shocked. His cheek throbbed and burned, starting to swell. Nat grappled with the shocked wolf and threw him back to take over.
His defences went up. “I never touched her! It must have been the power surge from the building. She passed out after that. Don’t go blaming me for it!” Nat wiped at blood welling at the split on his cheekbone. His teeth hurt. He didn’t recall anything that could have made her do what she did. An idea hit him harder than Deck’s punch.
“Benj, is this…?” he began.
“A latent reaction that takes time to hibernate, ‘a ticking time bomb’, so to speak?” Benj grumbled. “We were able to make it for a few days before the first time she passed out, at the hot springs. She touched your blood when she helped you get over the fence.”
“You fucking told her too, Alexander, you bastard. Didn’t need to go punching me!” Nat spat. The creature pounced back, pinning Nat to take over again.
“This is all assumptions at the moment, Nat. I don’t know what is going on here, ‘k?” Benj folded himself down into Zola’s outstretched arms.
“Why are we protecting her anyway?” Sun Hee asked. The room went silent at her quiet whimper. “I mean, has she contributed to us in any real way, really? Well, I guess what I’m saying is that her parents are dead, so the research isn’t there anymore. Her brother’s an axe murderer wanting to rip our guts out. Yeah, she showed us power marks, but they aren’t that great. She does this,” she waved her hand at the mute girl lying sprawled on the floor, “every time she comes in contact with Nat. She’s a liability.”
The creature’s jaw dropped. He felt blindsided. He could comprehend what she was saying, but by every nerve, he wanted to deny it.
“I second the motion,” Yeller mumbled quietly.
Sven bit back, silencing Nat before he could question what was happening.
“You’ve been acting like a moron ever since you laid eyes on her Nat, and she’s poison to you and this group. Think about your friends for a second, bro. You don’t even know if she likes you. We’ve only met her. Maybe a month at the most. And half of that time was spent at Michael’s insane asylum for the feathered beasts of the world. For all we know, she could be a mole, someone to lead him to us.” Deck begged.
“Shut up,” the creature hissed. Deck recoiled at the rebuke. Nat’s mind melted behind the wolf. He could strangle the mutt for putting him in this position. He watched the gears spin in the wolf’s mind and fed into the debts. They made good points, and their judgement could see beyond the creature’s delusions, but still. The animal appealed to Deck, “You said she’s under your protection, right, Deck? Help me out here….”
Deck touched his mind, finding roiling chaos. A deep, Eastern Block accent in Nat’s head that wasn’t his. He had heard touches and tones of it slip from Nat’s lips but hadn’t paid enough attention.
I’m not letting you give up, Nat. I can’t have Sylvi slip through our fingers. Please, don’t take my mate away. The voice begged.
Deck quieted, and stopped his thoughts so as not to be detected.
Just shut up Sven; you’re not helping matters. You’ve taken over too many times in the last two weeks. I’m bleeding out like a gutted pig, and this woman you’re mooning over is dying, you fucking bastard. The group’s right. I haven’t been able to think at all since she came. Where are the rest of your clan when they should be here? You were showing me your family, weren’t you? Those other fifteen. The ones I saw in the mirror in Oregonia. Nat accused.
The wolf’s recoil and deep seething rage flowed over Deck’s consciousness. He turned into himself and reached for his wolf, searching for answers.
Did you really not realise that I was not you? He told you about Sven. You just had to accept the possibility to finally see me, didn’t you? Came back a tenor voice, the voice of his wolf.
You! Who? What are you? You’re the one that comes out at night when I go to sleep. But, I’m still aware of myself when I’m in that form. I still have a will, a conscious thought as to what I am doing. Deck tried to reason with the voice.
Tsk, tsk. I am and am not a part of you. I am the Alpha of this genetic sequence. Each of you has obtained one section of a recombinant genetic code. I concede the fact that I am not necessarily another being altogether anymore, a memory chain at most.
Nat has Sven, my second in command and most trusted comrade. Yeller has Cashia, a heavy hitter in a fight, loyal, faithful, quiet, slow to anger.
Sun Hee has my mate, Sibor. Caught, we were spliced into a gene sequence in a commi’ lab. The wolf growled in the pit of Deck’s stomach. It was so strange, suddenly seeing the secondaries, the wolves, almost like phantoms standing guard at the side of every one of his friends. He glanced to Benj and Zola. Benj, he got my son, Heinrich – excruciatingly smart for his age and a bit of a rebel when it comes to directions. Zola was lucky in getting Heinrich’s mate – Anastasia. I’m amazed that the sequence split so evenly.
Currently, what you are looking at is Sven’s mate trying to combine with an avian genetic code. Sven, well, he’s secretive about things close to him, even when it comes to his host. Sylvi was taken away from him close to her term. She was due with a litter when we were all captured. At the moment, what I’m sensing from Sven through your connection to Nat is…pain. He’s…afraid. The wolf seemed to find this a rather curious occurrence. Deck collapsed on the broken sofa, too stunned to comprehend much more. Yeller glared at him and shifted away.
You’ve gotta be freakin’ kidding me. Deck replied numbly. And what exactly am I supposed to call you?
My name is Dietrich. My clan and I originated in the deep Siberian tundra land. We are old and pure of breed. We were the last of our kind to hold the key that led to the splitting of all canine breeds.
You are still scared of me, of what has happened. I will leave you for now to process everything. Call for me if you have need. Just like that, the wolf ceased its endless pacing and virtually disappeared.
Deck laid his head in his hand and thought for a while, observing the tears in Hana’s onyx eyes.
He glanced over at Sun Hee, and then an idea struck him. A flash of genius. “Sibor, how long will you hide from all of us?” Deck tested Sun Hee. His girlfriend looked at him bewildered for a second before her form shifted into the wolf. It sat before him, expectantly. He reached out cautiously and rubbed behind her ear. Deck bent his head to touch hers. “Dietrich says hello.” Zola’s wolf pushed for attention. Anastasia’s tail wagged a smidge in acknowledgement. “You realise that Heinrich picked Sun Hee’s brother, right?” Deck laughed.
Then Benj looked up. “Heinrich?”
“Dad says hello,” Deck smiled. The coal grey wolf howled in joy, stealing Benj’s morph.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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