Wolf Lessons

Charles snuffled the grass at his feet, dragging his snout through the dew and loose ground.  He could easily smell the squirrel.  It was so close he could probably swing his head around and find it staring him in the face.  Squirrels might be quick and all, but they weren’t the smartest.  Slow and deliberate, he stepped backwards, one foot at a time, like he wasn’t really thinking about turning around, just sniffing in reverse.

Mocking chitters rang out behind him.  Whirling on his back legs, Charles reared up and brought his front paws down hard on the empty earth behind him.  Blowing air through his muzzle, he glowered at everything he could see, looking for some sign of where the squirrel was hiding.  It was no good.  Not a blade of grass twitched in the night smeared forest.  He straightened his spine and whined into the darkness.  More chittering spilled down from the branches of the oak beside him.  Wrinkling his nose he looked up, his fangs flashing in the sliver of moonlight that managed to burrow down through the leaves.

“Well, that’s just rude,” he said staring at the tiny black orbs looking down at him.  “How can I ever catch you if you keep running up a tree?”  With a soft, complaining wuff, he dropped his rear end tiredly onto the ground.  “I give up.”

“I would expect you to have learned to look up by now.”  Giving him a scowl that only a squirrel can make, the rodent inched onto an overhanging branch and stretched out, letting its tail hang down.  “Wolves are especially praised for their intelligence.  What happened to you?”

“I’m tired.  We’ve been playing for hours.”  His voice was almost a whine.

Rubbing one foot across its face, the squirrel looked down with an expression of extreme judgement.

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I thought you wanted to learn to hunt.  If you’re too tired, by all means we will stop.”  Thoughtfully, it pulled at the small, branching leaves and let them pinwheel to the ground.

“You don’t need to be a bitch about it.”  Aggravated and not in the mood, he shook his shaggy head back and forth, dislodging the tree litter from his fur.

“Ooo, somebody needs a nap.”  

Another leaf floated down, twirling across his nose as it landed.  He gave the branch, and its occupant a hard look.

“We can start again tomorrow night.  I need to get some real food and try to sleep.”  Pushing against the ground with his front paws, Charles raised himself back to a standing position and tilted his head to stare at the red rat.  “You look like you could use a rest yourself.”

“How considerate of you.  Thinking not only of yourself at a time like this.”  With a sneer, it dropped another leaf.  “You are a prince among wolves.”

“Whatever!”  Charles wanted to rip the bushy tail down from its branch and fling it against the tree trunk.  The whole night had been nothing but chittering and mockery.  He was sick of it.  Maybe he would ask one of the cats to help him.  They at least knew how to hunt.  What did squirrels know about it?  The gathered nuts and stored them in knotholes.

“Fine, go home and take a hot bath like the human that you are.”  The squirrel sat up and began combing through its tail with its paws.  “When you decide you are serious about being a wolf, let me know.”

Lowering his head, Charles let his ears droop and looked stricken.

“You don’t have to be so mean,” he said softly.  “You have been a squirrel for years.  I have only been a wolf for a month.”

Pausing in its grooming, the squirrel twitched its nose and sniffed at him.

“My bad.  Clearly you should be given special consideration because you’re new.  The safety of werefolk everywhere should be disregarded while you grab a sandwich and a soda.”  The sound of the voice rose high in aggravation, morphing into a chitter.

Belatedly Charles realized that he could understand it.  Their conversation had changed from words to growls and squeaks.  Delighted with the novelty of it, he grinned, letting his tongue loll freely out one side of his jaws.

“Pffft!”  The squirrel pointedly turned its back and scratched at the branch with its back legs, sending a shower of bark down on the wolf.

With a tremendous leap, Charles sprang high into the air and closed his jaws tightly onto the bushy, well-groomed tail.  The squirrel shrieked with surprise as it was dragged forcefully to earth.

“Very clever,” it gasped, its whole pinned against the dirt by one massive wolf paw.  “You tricked me.”

“Not really.”  Charles growled through his teeth without letting go of the tail.  “I just got tired of your chatter.”  Lifting his foot, he gave a sharp twist of his head and flung the squirrel against the trunk of the oak.

Lightly he pawed at the body, confirming that the spine had broken.  He snuffled it thoroughly before crunching it between his jaws.  It wasn’t a large meal, not nearly enough to fill his belly, but definitely satisfying.  He had been correct, Squirrels were not the smartest animals in the forest.

Grotesque Conversations

From his lofty perch above the main entrance to Milwaukee’s Mackie Building, Gandar watched with interest as the Shambler pawed slowly, almost languidly through the green trash can below.  Its movements were careless and cautious at the same time, one hand holding up the lid while the other churned the contents carefully, pausing now and then to assess an item.  Looking for food, he thought.  

“It’s the bottom of the ninth and the Shambler is looking for a final score to take him to victory.”

“So you are awake,” Gandar said with a soft chuckle.  “Once a Brewers fan always a Brewers fan, hey Jesticar?”

“Indeed,” came the response.  “Too bad I haven’t been able to actually see a game in over seventy years.”

“The price of choosing  to be a Grotesque.”

“Mmpf.”

Gandar recognized the vocal shrug of his companion.  Choosing to be stationary for eternity – or what passed for it in Milwaukee – came with a set of rules that most of them had known going in.  Jesticar was the youngest of the group guarding the entrance of the building that was once referred to by the locals as, the Grain Exchange and, occasionally registered dissatisfaction with that fact.  For the gazillionth time he thought the young Grotesque would have been happier at the Bay Shore high school where nearly two hundred Grotesques lived in various states of harmony.  He was certain there were Mysticals over there that had watched the Brewers before they were major league and could empathize with Jesticar.

Returning his attention to the Shambler who was now rubbing softly at its forehead just over its left eye, Gandar tried to distract his companion from his self-induced pity.

“Looks like he’s going to survive long enough to choose.  What do you think he will become?”

Jesticar repeated his noise and rolled his eyes.

“Probably another werewolf or vampire.  It’s what they all choose these days.”

“Yeah…”  Gandar wondered if the appropriate libraries were still functioning.  “It’s as if the other choices have all been erased.”

“Not only that but, once they choose, they all act like they have been that way since the dawn of time.  None of them talk about how they started their mystical existence as a Shambler.”

“Do you remember your time as a filthy, mindless, meat seeker?”

Jesticar cranked his eyes as far toward Gandar as he could and looked shocked.

“Of course I do… kind of…”  He rolled his eyes away.

“Exactly.”  Gandar knew he had started as a Shambler but it was a very vague memory for him.  His memories of being mortal and part of a family were easier to access than the brief window he had spent groping in garbage cans and shuffling around as a zombie.  The memories were part of the choice.  Nothing was erased, it all just faded with time like everything else.

“First human babies then, mystical amoeba.”  He mused aloud.  “The same thing just a different stage in development.”

The Shambler gave up on the trash can and began to shuffle west along the sidewalk.  Gandar watched it vanish into the distance, blending into the deep, night shadows of the downtown streets.  Silently he wished it well.

The Gargoyle Queen – Chaz

Calvin stood in the open doorway rubbing at the back of his neck where the small hairs stood up and made him itch like he had shaved it.  The apartment was wrecked and Rain stood in the middle of it, her arms stretched over her head running a duster across the ceiling while her foot dragged the running, canister vacuum along behind her, it’s cleaning attachments strewn about like they had been vomited up.  She had braided her long, nearly black hair and it lashed the air behind her like a thick tail.  A large, black trash bag, half-filled, lay under the dining room table, its top edges rolled down to hold it open.  He could see last month’s cell phone bill, considerately mailed to him despite his repeated requests for paperless billing, laying on the top of the heap.  

His eyes tracked her movements like an unseen feline tracked a dog.  Should he just back out and close the door?  Come back later?  He still had a few bucks in his wallet.  He could just wander over to the gas station and get one of those overly sweet concoctions they called a cappuccino and wait this out.  His conscious prickled uncomfortably and he looked toward the small hallway, trying to spot his cat.  It wouldn’t be fair to leave Hobbes by himself with Rain right now.  The small, gray tabby was nowhere to be seen which probably meant he was huddled inside the box spring of the bed, thinking hatefully of the vacuum.  Thoughts of the torn fabric under the bed brought to mind the promise he had made to Rain about removing it.  Hobbes had made quite a furry, nest in there.  A smile tugged at his lips as he remembered the look on Rain’s face when he had explained the hole as being the cat’s only real place where he could get naked and be himself.

The vacuum turned off, aided by a swift kick from Rain’s work-booted foot.  Calvin locked his eyes on her face and closed the door carefully behind him.  He had lost his chance.  Keeping his voice carefully neutral he greeted his beloved.

“What’s going on Rain?”

“Your mother called.”  Rainbow rolled her shoulders backward then forward, her long, usually friendly face tightening with pain.  The dust sweeper hung down from her hand, its asbestos-like covering nearly black with dirt and cobwebs and cat hair.

“Huh?”  Calvin felt in his jacket pocket for his cellphone.  It was there.  “How?”  He squinted slightly, suspicion dragging his eyebrows a little downward.  “What do you mean?”

After a final stretch with both arms in front of her Rain poked the duster at the computer in the corner of the living room.  It looked innocent on its chipboard desk.  Calvin stared at the screensaver, a green and black simulation of The Matrix.  He loved it.

“She emailed?”

Rain gave him a withering look and extended the duster to prod the mouse, sending the screensaver away.  A vaguely familiar window was open on the monitor, it’s short list of contacts running downward on the left.  Calvin stared blankly for a second as he processed what he was seeing.

“She Skyped you.”  Stabbing the duster down onto the carpet Rain leaned on it like it was a cane and gouged him with her eyes, her braid rolling ominously over her shoulder.  Calvin blinked.  Did her braid just twitch on its own?  “She fucking Skyped you!”

“I didn’t know she would do that.”  His voice was soft and apologetic while his heartbeat picked up.  “She never seemed to like the program.”  If The Queen had Skyped Rain then she had seen the apartment.  That explained why Rain was cleaning but, why was she so mad?

“She invited us to dinner.  Sean is coming home.”  Rain’s eyes flashed lightning bolts.

“Sean’s coming home?  When?”  Carelessly Calvin forgot about everything in front of him as excitement over his brother’s homecoming blossomed in his stomach.  “How long?”  A huge smile spread over his face.

Rainbow seemed to relax a little, her anger diffusing just a bit.  She smiled back at him.

“He’ll be here Wednesday and he’s staying for a week.”

“Wednesday is the start of my weekend!”  Calvin smiled even bigger.  He would have two full days to spend with his brother and hear all about the Army’s boot camp.  His mind filled with visions of what Sean might look like now that he was well fed and exercised.  His little brother had always been a bit stringy.  Muscle would probably look good on him.  Calvin tried to picture Sean with a military haircut and fatigues and couldn’t do it.

“Yes.”  Rain nodded.  “And dinner will be at six o’clock sharp.”

Dinner.  Calvin’s smile saggged a bit.  Dinner with The Queen and her golden son.  

“Ugh.”  He stepped fully into the living room and sat down on the orange recliner.  “God, we have to go to her house.”

“Now you’re getting it.”  Rain chuckled.

“Is that why you’re so mad?”  Calvin looked up at her and nodded toward the mess that was Rainbow’s cleaning project.

“Oh that?”  Rain lifted the duster and began twisting the handle between her hands like she was actually wringing out a wet cloth.  She looked a little guilty but still managed to send off a sheet of anger like a solar flare.  “That’s just because of what she said.”

“Huh?  What did she say?”  Calvin tensed.  His mother had a gift for saying exactly the right things to get under someone’s skin.  It was like she had no social-buffer or, deliberately ignored it.

“Just the thing about me having two mothers.”  The duster handle creaked faintly, the plastic straining in her hands.

“What?  Did she say it again?”  Calvin remembered the first time his mother had met Rainbow.  It hadn’t gone well.  Rain was Native American and had grown up on the Rez.  Her parents were Mr and Mrs Starshine.

“No.  I just got to thinking about it after we hung up and got mad all over again.”  She looked around her as if just then noticing the destruction.  Every piece of furniture was a bit off from the indents in the carpet and the drawers of both the computer desk and the endstand were ajar and lacking the normal view of their heaped contents.  Calvin suspected his small collection of Harry Potter trading cards had found a new home in the trash bag.  It probably didn’t matter, he never really did anything with them anyway.  

“I guess I got a little over-zealous.”  Rain laughed and propped the duster against the table before sitting down in the golden overstuffed chair that was normally covered in Hobbes’ hair.

Calvin grinned and thought she looked more beautiful than ever when she was angry.  Her life-force shimmered off her like a heat mirage when her emotions were jacked up.  Was that his t-shirt she was wearing under her button-down?  He thought it might be his favorite blue one.  A warm, happy feeling spread out in his stomach.

“She said that months ago.  I thought you were over it now?”

“Yeah, well… I don’t actually get over things.”  Rain looked at the television, it’s black screen off and not looking back.  “It’s how I am.  Five years from now I’ll be watching something on tv and somebody will say something or do something and it will remind me of what your mother said and – BAM! – I’ll be pissed off all over again and yanking the stove out to clean behind it.”  She grinned back at him, all teeth and honesty.

Calvin felt his heart leap into his throat.

“You plan on still being with me in five years?”  In spite of The Queen?  Was she saying she loved him unconditionally.  He wanted to wriggle like a puppy but forced himself to hold still like an adult, setting for letting his feet arc upwards onto the toes a couple times.

“I don’t have any other plans at the moment.”  Rain pulled her face into an overly serious expression.  “Where have you been anyway?”

“Talking with Chaz.”  Calvin snorted.

“Chaz?  Who’s Chaz?”

“You know, my good buddy, Chaz.  The guy I have been friends with since he was a little girl?  The guy who normally tells me everything?”  Calvin felt a little of his happy feeling going away as he snipped out the words.

“Chaz?”  Rain stared uncomprehendingly, reminding Calvin of himself only a few moments ago.

“Yeah, Chaz.  That’s what he wants to be called now.”

“What?  Why?”  Rain eyed the duster across the room and leaned forward in the chair, shifting her weight toward her knees.  “He hasn’t even spoken to you in a month.  Did he say where he’d been?”

“Well, when you get a new life I guess you get a new name too – and he explained his absence.”  This was going to be the biggest bomb of the day, even bigger than the news about Sean coming home.  Rainbow waited expectantly, looking ready to launch back into a cleaning frenzy.  Calvin felt his neck hairs stand up again as he made his lips form the words.

“Charles is a werewolf.”