by Leara Morris-Clark
(inspired by the prompt, but some way beyond the word count)
Being back in the old house had me on edge. Sleeping was impossible. I was suddenly that little boy again. Dreams of the past flooded in threatening to wash away the man I had become. I tossed and turned but couldn’t find comfort in that creaky old bed.
Mom said she never blamed me for Charlie’s disappearance, but I blamed me. My ten-year-old mind even concocted an elaborate story to make sense of it all. I could not for the life of me remember what really happened to my little brother.
I begged mom to get rid of that antique mirror but she didn’t want to part with her deceased grandmother’s belongings just because I had bad dreams.
I would see things in it that weren’t there. After my brother disappeared, I swore I heard his voice every so often at night. I had nightmares where he was attacked by a big black wolf with glowing red eyes and thick shaggy fur. Sometimes I would wake up in the attic and not remember how I got there. They would tell me I was dreaming and sleepwalking. Of course I was. Believing that was the only way I was able to function.
Now that mom had passed I will be selling this place and everything in it, none too soon for my taste.
I heard a noise in the attic and prayed for it to be the wind or the old house settling. It persisted until I was forced to identify it. It sounded as if something were up there walking around.
“Oh god,” I mumbled to my empty room and sat up on the edge of the bed with my head in my hands. I was trying very hard to be an adult.
“Well, Hell!” I said and stood up quickly, grabbing the baseball bat from behind the door and charged up the stairs.
I threw open the attic door and wielded the bat ready for whatever waited.
I was met with glowing red eyes and a snarl making its way from behind gleaming white fangs.
“You!” I screamed at the menacing black wolf from my nightmares. He looked ready to pounce so I began inching backward. Before I could turn to run he launched himself at me and knocked me to the floor.
He stood looming over me and I was suddenly aware of myself trembling and sweating, exhausted. I accepted that I was nothing more than that little boy and always had been. “Fine!” I yelled. I closed my eyes, laid my head back and dropped my arms to my sides. After what felt like an eternity, I was surprised by a cold nose then a warm wet tongue bathing my face in dog slobber.
I slowly opened my eyes. I could have sworn this giant deadly beast was smiling at me. Suddenly I felt angry. I shoved him with both hands and scrambled to my feet.
“What?! After all this time, all the nightmares,” I ranted. “I tried to forget you. I was doing a pretty good job of it too. I have finally lost my mind! I dreamed you took Charlie. You could have killed me and here you are smiling at me?!”
He backed away slowly and then trotted to the corner of the room hidden in the shadows. He returned with something swinging from his mouth. It was Charlie’s favorite red baseball shirt. “Hey! Give me that!” I scolded and moved toward him. He growled a warning and ran toward the creepy old mirror. He dropped the shirt on the floor in front of him and motioned with his broad muzzle. I walked in his direction but before I could reach him he snatched up the shirt again.
He half barked, half howled over the fabric hanging from his mouth, and then whimpered.
I flashed back to when Charlie disappeared. I remembered the long-forgotten night. I remembered the story I told. I remembered the story as it happened and as much as I tried to convince myself over the years that it was a child’s fantasy, I could not. “No, no, no,” I mumbled. It was real. This wolf that haunted my dreams, the wolf that stood in front of me now, was Charlie.
I fell to my knees in front of this huge hulking animal and I looked into his glowing red eyes. I searched for my little brother. He dropped the shirt and licked my head. This time, I was sure it was a smile I saw on his long dog face.
He backed away from me toward the mirror and looked out the window as if directing my attention. I noticed the moon was full and the sky was clear. He shook his mane and leaned down for a brief moment and then continued backing toward the mirror. I looked from him to the moon and back again. Then I realized he was half in the mirror and moving further away from me.
“No! Charlie no, don’t go!” I pleaded.
He shook his head again, pawed at the red shirt, looked up at the moon, then back at me and was suddenly gone from my sight. I jumped at the mirror and slapped both hands against it but it was solid. I lay there near the mirror in the fading moonlight clutching my little brother’s slobbery red baseball shirt. By the morning, I knew I would not be selling the house.
This was Charlie’s house.
In the barren world
by Cath Barton
After the woman had gone to prepare for the journey I sat alone in the old chapel, watching the fire flickering. Watching as the heat retreated and the coals glowed, red pinpoints in the enveloping darkness. Watching as they faded. Watching until all colour was extinguished from them and the cold and the dark were the victors once more.
I walked to the western wall and held my ear to the granite. It seemed to hold the crackle of a half-remembered song from the time before. I closed my eyes and remembered laughter and wine, glasses raised to firelight and hope dancing in our hearts. If I had held a glass in my hand now I would have smashed it to the ground. But our drinking days were over, things were already broken and all any of us could do was seek shelter from the storm of the barren world.
The woman and I had thrown our lot in with one another after our dear ones had been taken. Some said by wolves though I thought that fanciful, even in the strangeness of these times. And there was no evidence that wolves had survived. Yet the seas had advanced as had been foretold, there was no denying that.
The chapel stood on a headland, too high for the seas to sweep it away. We had found it, she and I. It was ours alone and each day we tumbled down the grassy cliffs and swam in a blue bay with dolphins, while all we needed was provided for us. Miraculous, yes, but in these times there is but a short space between apocalypse and miracle.
When the dolphins left we knew our idyll to be over. Tonight we will draw warmth from one another. Tomorrow we face the cold again.
Let’s Do It Again
by Jack Koebnig
Each time he stood in front of the picture hanging above the crooked fireplace, he found it impossible to turn away. The bright yellows, the dark reds, the child facing the river dressed in summer clothes, its face lost behind a thick shadow from an overhanging branch, were impossible to ignore.
He would stand and stare until his eyelids would yawn then close and then he would hear her singing and it was as though an invisible hand had reached out grabbed him by the hair and was dragging him through a gauntlet of needles and thorns which ripped at his clothes, tore chunks from his skin, until all that was left when he arrived at his destination was a small heap of splintered bone.
Still warm to the touch.
Unlike the child in the painting, he had lived a charmed life. School had been a breeze, he’d sailed through University and on the day of graduation he’d accepted a well-paid job with practically no responsibility. He never married. Never felt the need. By nature he was a solitary character and on the seldom occasions in which he found himself requiring company, he had enough cash in the bank to satisfy any desire.
He always knew he would get along. And it wasn’t that he thought he had anything as ridiculous as a guardian angel looking out for him. Such ideas were, as far as he was concerned, nothing but dreams created by desperate people living meaningless lives hoping for salvation on the other side.
He had something better.
Something much more powerful.
He was her muse and judging by the song she was singing in the other room, he was about to begin his next big adventure.
by N.J. Campbell
Graffiti covered the walls of the alley. In the dim lamplight between streets, the lettering was tall and sharp and moved from magenta to cayenne to chartreuse. Halfway down the alley, there was an image of a wolf vomiting blood. The door in the middle of the red painted area was closed. It hummed with the sound of the band playing within.
Sophia and Mason stood outside. Sophia stood with her arms crossed. Mason’s hands shook and he held a cigarette in one hand that moved back and forth in a quick, tight motion. A few feet away two drunks stood mumbling at each other.
“I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m not your Mum,” Sophia said.
“I already have a Mum,” Mason said.
“Don’t be cute. You’re never cute like this.”
One of the drunks, the smaller one, yelped.
“Cuter than them,” Mason said and pointed at the two with his shaking cigarette.
Sophia started to smile and then sighed. “Maybe.”
One of the drunks, the bigger one, said, “Never the none… never the none.”
“At least I’m not babbling,” Mason said.
“But you’re shaking.”
The smaller drunk vomited.
“My life is my fucking life, Sophie.”
“Your life is fucking over if you keep this shit up.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? I’ve never felt better.”
“You’re lucky you’re not puking like that sad fuck over there,” Sophia pointed to the smaller drunk.
“A bit of fun isn’t that big of a deal,” Mason said and looked at the streetlight at the end of the alley.
The larger drunk fell to his knees and began to cry.
“It is, Mase, when you can’t stop having it.” She bit her lip as it began to quiver. “It is when the words fun and heroin are the same.”
Time to Start a Family
by Daisy Warwick
The full moon sat low in the sky as Louise convulsed on the floor behind a dumpster.
It was her third time changing and she tried not to scream out as her skin stretched and the bones in her legs contorted to their new shape.
Her spine lengthened and her skin itched as thick coarse hair erupted through her dainty, white skin.
The smell of the rotting food in the dumpster assaulted her nostrils with a greater impact than several minutes before.
Her ears shifted forward as she emitted a low growl. The animal instinct in her hungry gut reminding her that it had been a while since she’d shredded any flesh.
Springing forward over the wall and into the field behind the office block where she normally worked, she felt empowered by her wake-up call and howled at the moon.
Within seconds her call was answered by another howl from somewhere in the distance. She knew she wasn’t the only one who’d turned into a predator that night, but she judged that the other was hunting further away.
Following the brook she bounded towards her apartment block.
It was quiet outside as she watched the shadow of her boyfriend moving behind the curtains of their third-floor flat.
Bestial instinct made her saliva drip onto the damp grass as she considered how his blood would taste.
She wasn’t on the kill tonight. Her mission was love.
The last two changes had been met with territorial scrapping. The other wolves were bigger than her.
She’d be better off with company.
She howled at the window, desperate to get his attention.
The curtain twitched and moved aside.
It was time to start her own pack.
Hymn of the Battle Wolves
by Liz Milne
Jacob ran, breathless but panicked. His lungs hurt and he could taste blood and dust. He thought, in a vaguely detached way, as the blood pounded in his ears and his calves and thigh muscles burned, that he should have known better than to go through the forest but he was needed. He could hear them following: they were eerily silent but in such numbers their breathing created a menacing susurrus.
He could not but think they were toying with him – surely such big beasts could have caught and dispatched him within minutes? He did not stop, he did not slow down, and, at last, he had a glimmer of hope – there was a brightness just up ahead that indicated that the forest was coming to an end. He wanted to turn his head and see how close the wolves were, but feared to lose his balance and stumble. So he fixed his eyes on the growing brightness and ran on.
Just feet from salvation he heard a clicking snap just behind his right ankle. A wolf had lunged at him … There was nothing to stop the wolf from trying again.
He accelerated, finding a reserve of energy in extremis.
He burst out of the forest and stopped, confused.
The villagers were there, crowding between him and the cottage he was heading for. Their faces were grim and determined. ‘You’re not going in,’ said one of the men. ‘Why? My parishioner needs last rites, I’m told.’ His words were choppy, coming in great pants.
‘No priest for that monster.’ The words were flat and final and Jacob hesitated to argue further. ‘It’s too late, anyway.’ Satisfaction oozed with his words.
Behind them, a melancholy howl floated out, soon joined by more sorrowing voices. The forest fell silent to listen.
The wolf ate it
by Myrto Zafeiridi
Veghor was king of the wild people of Lohrosh. He was a strong man, a fierce leader, a good drinking companion and a good friend. One thing he was not was a good husband. The problem was neither violence nor impatience, only bad memory.
Once his father-in-law had given him a very expensive bronze plate, which he left in a trunk, forgot all about it and five years later thought it would make a good gift for his wife’s father “who is into this fancy stuff”. Another time he forgot to bar the windows before hitting the hay-mattress and they woke up to find a hungry family of rats in their barley. His best friend Jaghen had nicknamed him “Veghor the Forgetful” and not unduly.
One afternoon his wife asked him to watch their baby girl while she was visiting her sister, who had been ill and needed some help around the house. He did so gladly, but as he was pretending to be a giant for his daughter’s amusement, he accidentally stabbed his wife’s new red dress with his sword. She had made it herself and it had taken a lot of hard work to finish it.
He knew he was in trouble, so he ran in the back yard, grabbed a chicken, sliced its throat over the dress and let the blood trickle on the fabric. Then he decided to cook dinner too while he was at it.
When his wife returned, she was horrified. Both the house and her dress were a mess. “A wolf came in and started eating your dress. But don’t worry honey, I got him!” This was the first time an animal was used as an excuse, and they are still very popular culprits even today, especially for missing food and forgotten homework.
By Alyson Faye
‘The locals call it Tombland.’
‘What locals? There’s no one around for bloody miles.’
Liz gestures vaguely down the hillside to the village; a seam of cottages and a pub. You pull out your camera gear, the reason for this trip. Up on the moor you could easily imagine Heathcliff wandering around or a Hound of the Baskervilles. There’s even a light mist rolling in.
‘It’s getting a bit Hammer horror up here love.’
Liz ignores me, oblivious. She’s framing a shot. I’m starting to feel creeped out. I extract my pack of fags and shelter by a winged angel to strike a light. In the match’s brief spark I spot a lean shadow slip between the gravestones. Long, low to the ground. I blink and it’s gone. Probably a stray dog. Still…
‘You nearly done yet? That pub might be open.’
A bird nearby squawks. A brutal cry, abruptly silenced. Liz is examining a vault door, all carved iron metalwork.
‘The lock is broken Pete. Look.’
‘Could you be quiet?’ I whisper.
You turn, open-mouthed. I point. Loping down the grassy path towards us, surrounded by cherubs blowing their smothered trumpets, stalks a lean furry shape. Feral featured, whippet thin, with its muzzle smeared red and a broken feathery body hanging from it. Not a dog, but a wolf. I push against the vault gate and it gives. We both squeeze through. The wolf lopes closer, its amber eyes staring at us. We close the grille. Secure it with my belt. Our sanctuary is among the dead. We are locked in with them.
We turn and descend the steps into the vault. Inside coffins decorate the shelves. A stone dais supports a sarcophagus. From behind which a wolf cub tumbles out.
Our Sanctuary is no haven after all.
The She-Wolf Should Not Fight
by Abigail Van Kirk
The ringing in her ears was perpetual. She liked it. Often it condensed to a migraine, and the pain made her irritable yet her composition was snowy white frailty. She discovered with the clench of her teeth, biting her tongue, blood would ooze and no one would perceive it, and the pain was delicious. But her white coat could not be stained; she simply had not reason for it to be dirty, because she should not fight because privilege of this particular she-wolf made dainty details of life flawless. So everyone said.
The sooty wolf had stalked her for quite some time, seemed to be her better half, and despite its smoldering eyes its voice was dripping-syrup-sweet. But it was this way for too long, now.
“You are faint, darling. You are not meant to fight.”
And then those who were around, the ones who had agreed with the sooty wolf, froze in their sinking horror at her jaws around its throat, barely missing its jugular—a warning.
by CR Smith
The coffee mug juddered across the counter top, causing her to open the front door and scan up and down the street. She saw nothing unusual, until something dropped out of the sky and landed in her garden. Not happy with the way it was flattening her tulips, she went over and nudged it with her foot. The shiny red dot was stuck down so tight it wouldn’t budge. More dots followed — ping, ping, ping — until the street was littered with them. She’d never seen, or heard, anything like it.
Mr Jones, who lived opposite, mistook her gesturing for a neighbourly hello and was too busy waving back to notice the projectile heading his way. She watched in horror as a dot pinned him to the ground. Luckily, the dog he’d been walking escaped the same fate. By the time she reached them, Wolf was whining and pawing at the dot’s edges. Screwing up her eyes, she checked the sky — just in case — only to find herself showered with grit that tasted, oddly, like biscuit.
As she tried to peel the dot away from her neighbour, the ground began vibrating again. To make matters worse, rain started to fall. A drip ran down her face, revealing it was actually tea. She looked at the form of Mr Jones, encased in red, and ran through recent events. Pinching her arm, she tried to convince herself it was only a dream. A thought reinforced by voices suddenly booming down on them from above.
“The meeting’s in twenty minutes, how many more dots?”
“Only a handful, I’m just having a tea break.”
She continued believing it wasn’t real, right up to the moment she was tipped head over heels, rolled up in the map and pushed into the darkness of a tube.
by Miranda Ray
Some wolves are born to a litter, and some are sired by your impossible son.
Your impossible son is impossible mainly because he isn’t your son—but you are called All-Father, so you have to own him. If your existence played out like a marathon of Maury, you would always be the father. It’s your occupation.
He may not be your son by birth, but he keeps giving you grandchildren. There’s the wolf, the monstrous and unhouse trained fuel of your nightmares. There was the serpent, for a while, until you hurled him bolas-style into the ocean. You like your granddaughter, but you don’t see her often. She’s in Hell.
Your impossible son is also the mother of your horse. You try not to think about it.
Your impossible son sits down the dinner table from you and cracks jokes. Most laugh. You do not. He notices, and resentment builds like snake venom in a clay bowl. That doesn’t stop him from trying again the next meal.
An eight-legged mount walks into a mead hall…
As he speaks, you try not to think about the wolf. You close your good eye and admire the shape of your own name. Thought and memory are your inconstant companions you send them as far away from you as you can, sometimes flapping out of the world, as you try not to think about the wolf.
You admire the shape of your name.
The wolf enters through your name. If only the ring of that first letter wasn’t a portico, and the wolf didn’t slip through its ouroboros every time on paws as powerful and portentous as your true son’s thunderings.
Your impossible son tells the punchline. The pantheon laughs. His feral eyes are trained on you, and they are unsmiling. He is hungry for something, but he won’t be the one to exact it. You both know it. Everyone knows it.
The wolf waits.
by Edward Ahern
A bar at a golf resort. Noontime. Two men huddle over a cocktail table, each perhaps thirty five.
“Did you really, Frank?”
“Right in front of Arelletto.”
“And the back of your undershorts said what?”
“Kiss my ass for a change.”
“You’re so fired.”
Manhattan office. Frank is cleaning out his desk drawers. George comes in.
“Arelletto fired you.”
“Everybody in the industry knows what you did. You’re not going to be able to get a job in our business.”
Frank winced. “I know.”
Cocktail party at an industry convention. Frank and George meet.
“Senior vice president! Frank, how the hell—”
“George, you wouldn’t believe me.”
“The CEO hates Arelletto.”
“Who doesn’t? So What?”
“No, he really hates him. He made me show him the undershorts before he’d hire me.”
by Lee Hamblin
She walks at dawn, the first to scar sand smoothed by the ocean, the first to mark the canvas with scalloped toe prints, the first to see the sky dissolve, and the first to hear the songs of the wind.
She is tired, and so very close now. Her hand smooths over the dome of her unborn’s refuge, whispering to him love in its purest form, from the purest of places. She feels a kick of anger from within, and asks him why.
Come now, she says, stroking her belly again, this world was made for all men, in all of their forms, she tells him. He kicks again, harder this time, and a tiny fracture bejewels her heart.
She lies upon the magic stone, burnished and cooled by the waves of the moon. The cave is dark beyond black, quiet beyond silence.
And here she sleeps, and here she dreams, and here she will wait.
Awakened by the howling of wolves, she knows it is time. Through the portal of the cave’s entrance, she sees the moon; milky and full and bathed in the diaphanous silk of clouds.
The wolves’ cries dance on the wind; the wind dances with the sea. Waves, rising and falling: waves of rage, of calm, of life, and of death.
And so he is born.
He emerges from the cave to take his place in this world, to kick, to fight and to struggle, and to carry with him forever a part of his mother.