The babies are coming. They’re coming and Friedrich is not there. After everything they have been through; the heartache, the treatments, he is not going to miss this moment. He puts his foot down on the accelerator. The sigh of warm air from the heater blows against his face. He drives fast through the snow-flecked night.
The road seems endless. A stretch of black tarmac and black ice and black night. Eventually he sees lights. Not the moon, which is full, swollen in the sky, but other lights. City lights. He navigates the icy side-streets as only an expectant father can. Two minutes now and he’ll be home and everything will be all right. He has waited for this day for so long. He has wept at the thought of this day coming, and at the thought of it not coming, when it seemed that way. Her blood, his tears. They said she was barren. But now the day is here. One minute, if that. He brings the car round the corner, faster than he should –
A figure lopes across the road, running towards him, beside him.
There is a dull thud as it hits the driver’s side of the car. He catches it with the front wheels. Then a bump; violent, horrible, to match the feeling in his stomach, as it vanishes beneath the chassis. It might have been a dog. He only half-glimpsed it, before it was drawn under the vehicle, flailing then gone. He knew dogs didn’t flail; that helpless, human gesture, but then he had not seen it properly and a car’s wheels could do terrible things to an animal’s shape. Broken apart by wheels, a dog could flail. A dog could die –
He takes the turn and pulls into his drive. The car grows quiet beneath him. He tumbles out into the cold night, which hits him with a force; stings his face and brings sharp tears to his eyes. He moves towards the house.
It doesn’t strike him as odd that the front door is open. It saves seconds in unlocking it himself. He steps into the hallway with its long, lavender walls and family pictures: their wedding, that holiday in Morocco, Christmas with her parents last year. The hallway is cold. It is filled with night air. Why was the door open? he wonders briefly. He calls out to his wife.
Screams reach his ears. Infantile and distressed, they are the most beautiful things he thinks he’s ever heard. Almost slipping, he follows them to the front room.
His steps falter. He is unsure quite what he’s seeing. Two figures roll on the sheepskin rug. They are baby-sized with four limbs each but malformed mouths, like battered snouts. Their eyes, thin, unseeing slits, are his wife’s pale blue and each is covered in a growths of matted hair, black and slick with birthing fluid. On hearing a presence they scream and mew and roll a little faster on their backs. Short, angular limbs peddle the air.
His stomach heaves and he turns from the things to vomit. His sick splashes the expensive curtains his wife and he bought when moving in together. He is wiping his eyes when he sees the spots of red across the carpet – a heavy flow, petering out as he pursues it through the hallway, a bloody breadcrumb trail leading back into the cold dark of outside. He follows the trail; the movements of his wife, he guesses, as she sought to reach him, to escape the wolfish things that have crawled out of her.
He reaches the street. The night seems vast, as though he could drown in its depths. Struggling for breath, he follows the blood spots to the misshapen figure in the road. He realises that they would always lead here. He studies the shape, which is heaving and moaning. It rolls over, hand-paws slapping the pavement, and he stares into the face of his wife.
Lights flicker on down the street. Figures appear in their doorways, drawn, he supposes, by the sounds. His wife is crying, her jowls quivering, a whimper slipping from her throat. He begins crying too. He kneels beside his lady, taking her matted fur in her hands. He thinks of the first time they met, in a queue at the bank. Their first date on the seafront, the salty breeze in their faces. The first time he cooked for her. He tells her their babies are beautiful, and that their curtains are ruined.
He smells salt now, but it is coppery and rank. A crowd is forming, shapes drawing closer. The vastness of the sky is replaced by a pressing constriction, formed by the figures around them.
He smells other things too. His wife’s blood, the stench of exhaust fumes, the hot wetness of animal breaths. He hears panting and the slop of tongues against teeth. Under the light of the moon he sees his neighbours, his friends, their snouts long, eyes shining in the moonlight.
Kneeling over his wife he takes her in his arms, to cover her, to protect her from the circling beasts, before realising his hands are also paws. His flesh is covered with hair, his teeth long and sharp in his mouth.
He hears a mewling again. His ears twitch, rising to attention. He turns, smelling blood and urine, and finds their neighbour walking towards them. She moves upright as a person and is fully clothed, but sloped eyes bridge her face, her muzzle glistening in the moonlight. In her arms she carries their two children, struggling in that way all new-born babies do, when first faced with the enormity of the world. As she approaches him, one of his neighbours howls. Another joins it, then another, until the city fills with the haunting sounds.
The pups are deposited against his flanks. Beneath him, his wolf-wife turns her face and smiles. Then she shudders and expires. The wolves continue to howl, their cry at once celebratory and mournful. They sing of life and death, blood and heat, the earth and the sky, and the night sings back at them.
~ Thomas James Brown
© Copyright 2012 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved.