by Kodiak Armstrong
He wakes up, his eyes catching on the ceiling chandelier. He’s slept in his day clothes on the couch. He rubs up and down, scratching his back, and he snorts into the pillow and then he is up, bounding into the kitchen. He is not yet ready to brush his teeth. He needs eggs, chicken, meat. The chickens live in the backyard. He opens the door and grabs the nearest one. He has an inkling that they are evolving through natural selection. The ones who peck furthest from his door are clearly more cunning, watching him, their golden eyes on his golden eyes. He devours his breakfast raw.
Wolves are on the food chain, too. They can be eaten, their energy absorbed. The things farther up the mountain would eat a wolf. He can see their shadowy figures. He thinks of fallen gods, superbeings with capes. They frighten him, and he howls at night, when the moon is out. He howls in false bravado. It’s an impressive sound, pinging and echoing down the canyon. He has to go to work. He bounds down the canyon to watch over the herd of goats. Some sub-creatures have entrusted him with their sources of meat and milk, and since he has excellent self-control and an impeccable record, complete with references. He was hired, in spite of being a raging carnivorous wolf. He watches the goats in his herd as if they are wolf cubs: careful and attentive. He calls them by name. As he arrives, they bleat in greeting. They slide against him like cats. They sniff his muzzle.
“Little babies,” he coos.
He watches them graze with his head resting on his front paws. Of course, he wants to eat them. That is what work is–something that goes against natural, carnal instinct. It makes him feel civilized, for a wolf. But it is the superbeings who live above him that are civilized. He idolizes them, their blurry forms. It is as though he is looking at them through glass smudged with raindrops. At the end of the day, he herds the goats back toward home, the village of huts, water troughs and a clear lake.
Then he pads back up the mountain, on all fours. Inside his home, he tears a chicken apart on his red couch, feathers everywhere. He dozes and then he wakes up, startled by a rattling behind him. He looks up in shock–it is a little girl in a red coat. “Hi,” she says. “Help me,” she says. He barely knows what to do. This girl is a god-creature, he can tell by the way her magical clothes glow, and how her words light up the air like fireflies. Her face is as bright as the moon, his weakness.
“My grandmother,” she whispers, “is missing.”
He is covered in chicken blood and feathers. He cannot think of anything to say.
“Please, doggie,” she says.
He thinks, Doggie? And looks at her differently.
“Leave,” he says. “I have no idea about your grandmother.”
The whore,” he adds, hoping to frighten her.
The girl smiles. “Yes!” she affirms. “The whore. You know her, then.”
The wolf is rarely shocked, and so he isn’t shocked now. He wants something from the girl, however: her moonradiance. Her teeth to make into a grisly necklace. He loves gristle. He has chicken bones hanging from the walls and the ceiling, and a chandelier of real candles and more bones.
The girl looks into his eyes and she wonders. This place is mostly what she had expected from a wolf. She isn’t afraid.
Together, they walk room to room, where the wolf attempts to prove that her grandmother is not there. Every room has a bed and every bed is unkept. It is as though the wolf sleeps in a different bed every night, or has many restless visitors. The house is not as dirty as she had expected, though the bones of the chickens unnerve her. Finally, the last room, his bedroom, an elegant sleigh bed and satin duvet, spitting feathers. In the dead center of the bed, a bloated corpse.
The girl screams, faints; the wolf looks curious. He hadn’t pegged her for a fainter.
He has not seen this body before. Just last night he had been in his room, sifting for cigarettes in the drawer of the bedside table. No corpse, or could there have been, the body concealed by the night, as he could only see things in the lit circumference of his candle?
Burn it, he thought. Make her a raft and burn it, maybe the girl included. But the wolf has an idea about his identity, his character. He would not harm her. He drags the unconscious girl to the couch, which spills stuffing where he has scratched it, and he brings her a mug of water with a sprig of rosemary. He puts his nose on her nose and breathes deep breaths. They trade energy. He achieves a glowy feeling, and he hopes the girl feels strength. The moon moves across the sky as they lie there together, the girl still passed out. He feels changed by the traveling moon.
He gets up, catches a rat and crunches it in his jaws. He curls on the floor next to her until morning. When he wakes, she has slipped silently to the front door. She turns to look at him, and he understands that she is terrified. He has caused this change in her. “Don’t…” he says, right as she sprints away, up the hill. She’s left her red coat.
Oh, this beautiful coat. The wolf tries it on. He looks fantastic, he thinks, modeling in the full-length mirror. His toenails clack on the wooden floor. Look! He thinks. I am walking upright. He feels natural in the coat. If he were a girl, he would simper behind his paw, bat his long lashes. But he is a boy–a man–a wolf man–and he must keep up appearances. He keeps the coat on. He wears it to watch over the goats. He plays with some of them around noon, a fun head-butting game that he eventually needs to quit because they have horns. One brave goat comes over and sleeps next to him, and he licks the goat’s leg, wants to bite it, but does not.
He walks upright home. He opens the door. He has figured it out. The old woman wandered down the mountain in senility, found his bed and laid herself down to die. There is death in the air of the house. But there is always death in the air of his house. He likes to lounge on the couch and read. It has been months since he entered his room in full daylight.
Later, a group of superhumans arrive in his yard. They have rifles and things that glow and light up their faces when they look down into them.
They’ve come to shoot me, he thinks. He is still wearing the coat, otherwise a primal survival instinct might have taken over. Instead, he turns and leads them to the corpse in his house, where one or two of them fall over, crying, but the wolf is not at all perturbed. He can smell the meat of these humans, and he wants it, but he is still wearing the coat. He has spotted her at the foot of the big bed, stroking her grandmother’s swollen legs. The girl glares at him. The superhumans haul the body out and disappear, leaving their scents all around him. “What a day,” they say.
The wolf man is relieved he wasn’t attacked, held up as an example.
He sleeps in the coat. He wakes up in the morning. His legs itch. They are human legs. He wonders if one of them cast a spell with their devices. He looks into the mirror. He is a human with a wild beard. He thinks maybe he is not seeing correctly. The goats do not recognize him. They run away in fear, stopping to watch, though he doesn’t move. They have lost their trust because his scent has changed.
He walks to the village huts, tries to communicate that the herd needs someone else, but he has no language. Rather, he has language, but not the mechanisms to form the necessary information. He draws a picture in the dirt with a stick. The villagers nod. He leaves, up the mountain to his home. Things have changed. Everything is clean. No more chicken blood, no bones. His refrigerator is stocked with cheese and caviar, and vacuum-sealed packages of meat: Canadian bacon, sliced turkey, smoked salmon, sweet bloody hunks of red beef. He closes the refrigerator and encounters the girl in his living room. She indicates that she wants her jacket back. By this time, the wolf has figured that the red jacket grants power, and he has been enjoying his new status as a being with power. He sees no reason why the girl deserves to have it back. She brought all this chaos to his home. He hadn’t gone looking for trouble. He says no. She motions around with her hands to indicate his clean home, all of her work. He shrugs. She makes tea. He reads on the couch, wearing eyeglasses. She picks up a knife. He catches its gleam and looks up at her, and she slams it back down on the counter. They blow on their tea. He begins to speak, and she teaches him, vowels first, consonants, syllables. It doesn’t take long; the prerequisites for human speech were already in place. She teaches him to curse. He bellows: STUPID BITCH! from the bottom of his lungs. This is what she has taught him. She sees herself as depraved, and he is a wild animal that wants to be a man, and somehow they are perfectly matched. The wolf cannot keep his mind off the beef. She is trying to teach him to live in the present. This is how one becomes an actualized being. He blinks. He wants to understand this. He thinks of tearing the beef apart with his teeth and tasting the blood. At night she runs back up the hill.
The next day, there is another corpse in his bedroom, it is the girl, who is actually a woman. He is so thoroughly shaken that he falls back on all fours. He had not seen this coming, and moreover, feels sadness, something new. The mob comes for him within hours. By this time the girl is stiff, with blue lips. He stares at her, incredulous. They take him, and they take his jacket, and they drag him up the hill to their jail. There is no trial. There is no need. The wolf assumes the girl came to appeal to him in the night, wanting her jacket, and he had torn out her throat. He can imagine it perfectly, but he doesn’t truly remember. The mob comes to him with some papers to sign. He scratches at the paper. They dip his paw in ink and he signs his confession.
Then they put him in a room where he is taught to assemble gadgets. He assembles his gadgets, then he goes back to his cell. He thinks, my life is hell. The pastoral part was hell, he realizes, because it lacked possibility, and this is hell in this jail, for the same reason. But he is wrong. In the night, someone slips the red jacket between the bars of his cage. He thinks a female (he can smell menses). He cannot believe how it is possible. He puts it on. The magic works almost instantly. He unlatches the latch on his cage and walks out. He discovers a fully working gadget in his pocket and uses it to blow a hole in the wall. Then he calls a cab. While he waits, he writes hasta la vista! in his urine on the lawn outside the jail. As a man, in the night, no one notices him or grants him any attention. He feels light. When he gets home he goes to his couch. He can’t imagine what has happened to the girl. Maybe he can reanimate her, with his powers. He has her jacket. But he doesn’t want to return it. He would let her stay dead to stay human. To cease the need to howl. He is drowsy, and soon he falls into a dreamless sleep in the brilliant light of the moon.
About Kodiak Armstrong
Kodiak Armstrong is a writer and editor residing in the Pacific Northwest. She attended the MFA program at the University of Washington. Her work has appeared in Squalorly, Pacifica Literary Review, Hobart and elsewhere. She is working on a novel, and runs a reading series, Lit Show, for Art Walk in Pioneer Square, Seattle. She has a sweet dog and cat.