BAGGAGE - WOLF SKIN
This story is rated 4 stars (5 ratings).
It started again tonight.
The howling was far off, up in the hills, but then it came closer into the valley. At first I thought I was dreaming because I do dream such things; that I've just arrived here full of hope, believing the country air will cure me. I've left my car in the pub car park, just met Joe the friendly bar man and I'm walking down the wooded path, breathing in the fresh air... and then the woman begins to shout.
"Georgie come on girl. Georgie".
She never found her dog as far as I could tell. It was months ago and I haven't heard her voice since, well not while I was awake. Still, I dream about my arrival; I have hope.
In my half-sleep I must have moved, lifted a finger, because the burning pain of friction suddenly seized the right side of my body, so my eyes flew open in surprise. I felt the delicate skin of my eyelids tear a little with the action and dare not blink for fear of further damage. The familiar stiffness soon became apparent; the slimy wetness of emollient against the dressings and what was my skin, the rigid pressure of the bandages across my breasts and of course the pain. I was fully awake now. Definitely not dreaming.
But the howling had stopped.
I wondered then if I had imagined the whole thing; every month half asleep, half awake believing there was a dog out there needing rescue.
There was an owl, I heard it hoot. There were moors nearby, farms, woods, so I couldn't tell if it was a short-eared, a tawny or a barn owl. I concentrated on it's melancholy calls in the hope that I'd fall asleep again without noticing as I tried to identify it.
Then there came the pitiful whining. It had found me again, come into my front garden. Over all the valley it had chosen my little holiday cottage. My sanctuary. My prison.
I closed my ears to the sound; tried to focus on the owl.
"It couldn't be a barn owl, because they hunt in late evening and it must be very late night, early morning now".
I shouted the words in my head because it was too painful to move my lips, blocking out the sound of the needy pleas.
The whining turned to a whimper, a yelping. Surely someone heard the thing? Someone fully mobile?
"Short-eared owls hunt the moors, not fertile valleys and they too can hunt in daylight or early evening".
Over the horrible pining sounds I heard the terwit and the replying tewooo of the owls. A tawny pair it had to be. The females twitted and the males wooed; that's how my father taught me to remember it.
Then I realized the dog had stopped crying.
The skin is our protection from the outside, the unknown. A mask that shields our innards from harmful contact, but I have no such shield.
In the middle of nowhere I am fresh meat for a would-be predator, be it man, dog, insect, plant or microbe. I am an open wound; that is what it is to be skinless.
Before the pustules got so bad sunlight was actually recommended, but now it is hard to move and the doctors were insistent on bandages. I get my vitamin D from a supplement.
So though I am surrounded by great beauty here in the valley, I must always see such awe inspiring views from behind the glass of a window pane. Infection is everywhere.
As the District Nurse points out whenever she gets the chance, I shouldn't really be here at all. I should be in hospital.
"At least you'd have people to talk to on a ward and I wouldn't have all the trouble of getting out here" she says, while drinking my tea, eating my sandwiches.
She's from the next village, so she doesn't have to travel far at all.
I watch her chewing and drinking, waiting for her to leave. When she realizes her words have fallen on deaf ears she tries a different tack; the financial.
"Surely it's costing too much to run this little place? I mean getting your food delivered and prepared".
She doesn't know all my history. She doesn't need to, so I remain silent.
Her bulbous, amphibian eyes ringed with blue eye-liner, then begin to search my face as she chews her last mouthful, her lips wet with milky tea. She tries to find the woman beneath the bandages, behind my eyes, the woman I was before my skin disintegrated.
"Is there anyone that could stay with you, keep you company?" she asks.
I shake my head and look straight back at her.
I see her frustration, concentration as she furrows her brow, her anger that she didn't look longer while she was redressing my wounds, while I was vulnerable. She is too stupid to remember to do this and the same pattern repeats whenever she comes. I am the episode of the soap opera she misses every week because her shift goes on too long. I always elude her. It is always the same.
I'm sure I've made the right choice to come here though, despite her intrusion. One nurse is not a city and for most of my days I am thankfully left in peace.
Isolation gives me surety. You will never meet me. You will never see me. I will never see you seeing me.
I will not be the woman with the skin condition, shrouding her deformity in the local supermarket. Nor will you see me on television educating the public about the rare severity of my condition with wounds wide open, while a presenter smiles and simpers pretending to be sympathetic. I am not a pioneer.
I've been told I am an anomaly, a real life Singing Detective, but Micheal Gambon sore and flaking, contemplating his next novel pales in comparison to the way I look. Dennis Potter could not imagine me.
When I look in the mirror with my bandages off I am both faceless and sexless.
Solitude has done nothing to heal me.
How vulnerable have I made myself? And for what? A view through a window I could just as easily see on the television?
There is no television here, no radio either; just a telephone for emergencies.
Now summer has come around the neighbouring cottages are occupied; Joe rents them out to smiling families with laughing children, young couples wanting to get away from it all. People with mountain bikes and climbing gear constantly pass my garden gate.
It is not always ideal for them. Sometimes I hear them fight, disagreements brought on by boredom with nature, but I know when they recount their holiday to friends and family they will believe they enjoyed their excursion, show photographs of smiling faces. They always leave eventually; the ones with thick, bronzed, healthy skin.
The privacy, that is why I came here. There is no stress here.
But I have my diary and my over-sized pen; I have my thoughts and I can still record them.
Besides the nurse I used to see the local grocer and his son once a week for a delivery of pre-prepared food.
The grocer doesn't say much, rushes through the process in that lumbering way of his and his son looks at me with those intense blue eyes, at the scarf that covers the lower half of my face, at the long white gloves that cover my arms.
"He's a deaf mute" the grocer once said, without looking up from his money pouch, even though I hadn't attempted to speak with either of them. He must have been embarrassed by his son staring, but for once I did not find it intrusive. His son often tries to look me in the eye, but I avoid direct eye contact most of the time and stare instead at his thick, mousy hair or the smooth, olive skin of his forhead.
When our transactions are over the grocer thanks me, says goodbye. He then hobbles away from my door as if there is a fire in his truck, but his son lingers. I nod to the young man and he nods back. I try to believe we have a shared understanding, the grocer's son and I.
Since my mouth has become too sore to speak I've had to just leave the money on the doorstep with a list for the next week's shopping. I believe this will avoid any further social unpleasantness. I hear them arrive, I hear them leave and when it gets dark I retrieve my hamper of frozen sandwiches, salads, soups, vegetables and cheeses to last me until the next week.
If I could still go out, I would go to Il Lupo or the pub and talk to Joe about what he told me, the story that has apparently infected my brain.
My condition is too painful now. The last time he saw me, my face was clear and even if I could go, I wouldn't want to see his reaction to my deterioration.
But there is someone else.
My night time visitor.
One night a month it howls to me through the darkness, comes close to the house like it did last night, begging for admittance. But I cannot let it enter.
It is not what it claims to be.
It is the thing that has plagued my dreams, watched my every move since I arrived here in Tarriford Hills.
I convince myself daily that it is just Georgie the missing dog pining at my door, fantasize about the tearful owner called back to the countryside by Joe, her dog rescued by the strange woman with the skin condition. We always meet in Il Lupo, Joe's restaurant. The owner cries and cuddles Georgie, so thankful for the return of her pet that she does not notice my deformity. Georgie is always a Labrador.
This morning I woke from a beautiful dream. Me, Mum and Dad sat out on the patio of our old house laughing and drinking in the sunshine. There was a husband there too and children playing with a dog on the fresh cut grass, but I could not see their faces.
My fantasies are always like that; a part of my brain just can't let go of the reality of my predicament, so they become too vague and intangible when my wishes might be fulfilled.
When I opened my eyes I was still in my cottage staring at the blank white ceiling. The bubbles of paint were in all the familiar places, the hair-line crack just next to the beam above my bed. Somewhere above this bland tapestry, through joists and roof tiles, mere inches of masonry, there was the blue dawn, an infinity of sky. I could go outside and witness this spectacle, listen to the dawn chorus, look at the flowers in the garden, but I dare not.
I hate to say this, but as I looked around my tiny room I longed for the brief terror of the other night despite the dangers. It is a puzzle, a distraction and it gives me no choice.
If I have a choice I always choose safety. My sofa, my sturdy wooden table, my books, my food wrapped in plastic.
I deliberated very carefully as I lay in bed, whether or not to go out to look for the hound.
Right then it seemed the only way to rid myself of the constant intrusion, to cleanse my subconscious of all things canine. If I could find Georgie or alternatively absolutely nothing, then I would have to accept that the thing I believe I hear is simply a product of my misfortune, an ignis fatuus brought on by isolation, pain killers and sleeping tablets.
After months of recommended torpor, swathed in bandages and shrouded in my cloak, this morning I got myself outside my cottage and up onto the path to the woods. Every fibre of my being screamed for a bath of ice water, begged me to keep still as my feet grappled with the uneven path. I had to hurry, keep going on up the slope into the trees so I could not turn back, could not give up on my quest. I almost took a breath before I was plunged into a sea of olive, emerald and jade.
It was early morning, but the heat of the coming summer sun combined with the dew on foliage and blades of grass to make the space beneath the canopy of leaves unbearably humid. Everything that lived sweated and sagged. I felt the pustules pop on my back, the dry skin peel between my fingers, in my armpits, between my legs. I felt new blisters form where the dry skin had rubbed away revealing the raw, wet layer underneath. I told myself I was protected by the bandages, by my cloak; that there was no risk of infecting new wounds, I just had to cope with the pain, keep moving.
Still I avoided the piles of slushy dead leaves, not wanting their mulch to even touch the sole of my shoe and tried not to inhale their meaty odour of decay.
Through the cloud of gnats that hovered around my head I saw there were no signs of a dog's recent passage; no paw prints, no faeces, not even a human foot print on the broadening limestone path. It had rained the day after my visitor came to me. The water could have washed away all trace of it's presence.
I didn't slow my pace though; I was outside. I had to continue.
Ignoring the chafing, I sweated through the obstacles and finally managed to get to the old railway bridge somehow. The tunnel of trees was gone. I was out.
If I could just keep going a bit further up the wooded pass I could find Joe at the pub on the main road, ask him whether the story was true or not. Maybe he could tell me it was a lie or that his father was a crazy?
But it was very early. It was 6 o'clock in the morning at the most.
I had to turn back.
Turning on my heel towards the trees again I soon abandoned all thoughts of moving on. The resulting blisters from my sudden burst of activity registered their presence with angry tongues of fire. I had never felt friction pain like this. A groan escaped me and I bent forwards.
Now only the milky morning sky hung above my head as I stood looking over the low wall at the river, watching fish nipping at flies on the surface, but still I gasped from the exertion of my up-hill climb, debated whether to dive into the soothing, muddy waters.
I tried to catch my breath through the fibres of the bandages, my mouth wide open sucking at the fabric. I should have removed the ones around my jaw before I came out, replaced them with my white, cotton scarf, but I'd forgotten in my hurry to get outside.
The river trickled along slowly over slimy, green boulders barley disturbing the detritus of it's bed, while my heartbeat boomed in my temples, forcing hot needles into every part of my flesh except the soles of my feet.
The dawn chorus began with a thrush in a willow overhanging the river, then a robin joined in, a group of long-tailed tits chirruped and landed in a nearby tree. They serenaded me with an undulating melody that seemed to intensify the pain.
I could not recover from my hike; I was too exhausted.
A heron waded into the waters of the river then back towards the marshy pools surrounded by reeds on the flood plain at the waters edge.
The whole of the valley seethed like a swamp, only unclean air seemed to reach my heaving lungs. The very worst aspects of fauna and flora, turned tentacles, feelers, stamen and nostrils to the relative cleanliness of the bridge and the limestone path. To me.
I felt the heat of the living around me burning my already tender skin, felt suffocated by the smell of the water, the smell of the earth.
I grabbed at the bandages around my nose and mouth, tried to let in the oxygen. There was some relief, a little fresh air, but the panic became more potent with this action. I had given into the pressure to reveal.
Nature's eye was watching me, waiting for me to fall, every element poised and ready to engulf me, take me back to the earth where I belonged.
The predator in the cloak. The shrouded crow. The bandaged hawk.
She knew I was not what I claimed to be.
Then something happened.
The birds dispersed from the bushes and trees; blue tits and marsh tits chattered alarm calls to one another. I felt the flutter of giant wings above my head and looked up to see the long grey body of the heron as it soured over the bridge. I heard the scuttle of rats in the rushes, unseen amphibians diving into the safety of a pool. I was not welcome here; an intruder. I carried with me an alien smell of coal tar baths and steroid cream; internal youth and outer decay.
There wasn't a breath of wind to renew the stagnant air, the stillness complete.
I'd been abandoned by nature herself and the unwavering silence that followed convinced my addled brain to do what I did next. That peaceful enclave of the valley would no longer be ignorant of my secret agonies.
I threw back the hood of my cloak and tore at the bandages around my face and neck, disturbing the tranquility with a piercing scream that bounced from mountain to mountain. I reached my arms up to the indifferent sky which repaid me with a few drops of rain that quickly turned to drizzle.
I paused with this new challenge and in the throws of self-pity I noticed something; a pair of sharp blue eyes watching me from the shelter of a thicket on the hillside, near a bend in the river where the water flowed out of sight.
My skin simply cannot take even the mildest of elements. A slight breeze is almost agony; rain like salt in my wounds. I attempted to gather up my bandages, but my skin had become so rigid I couldn't bend my elbows. I sagged once again against the wall, wincing at the pressure on my side, the spatter of the rain on my open wounds.
Again I looked back across the river to see if the eyes still watched me. There was movement in the bushes, but the eyes had gone.
I sat with baited breath, waiting for something to emerge.
What was it? A dog? A wolf? The thing that plagued my dreams?
I had never considered what I would do if I met such an entity; if somehow it managed to penetrate my inner sanctum and there I was completely vulnerable out in the open where it could get at me easily.
To my surprise a naked man ran out of the bushes and along the wooded path across the river, back towards the holiday cottages. Blur of peach and a shock of brown hair.
The pain took over and I fainted.
When I awoke in the cottage I assumed I'd simply imagined my brief excursion, but then I heard the low hum of conversation coming from the living area.
The telephone receiver clicked into it's cradle, someone put a mug down on my dining table.
I was stiff all over, couldn't turn my head, but the pain wasn't too bad, except for an itch on the tip of my nose. I reached up to scratch it and my fingers were met with wet mulch instead of bandages; my face was a decaying pile of leaves.
"A aah don't scratch you'll infect it" I heard the nurse say as her face loomed over me. I dropped my hand to the sheet.
I don't know if it was the medication or simply the angle, but her body looked far away and her face far too close.
"Doctor Hobbs has given you a pain killer and something to calm you down. You'll feel a bit woozy for a few hours. You're lucky someone from the village called us".
The words slurred from her smudged lips, stretched over teeth too big for her mouth.
I tried to ask who, but my lips were too tight and sore to speak.
I am not an anomaly. I lied. It's easy to do when every strategy fails. The doctors know exactly what is wrong with me; they just don't know how to deal with it.
"Emily, how are you feeling?"
The elusive Doctor Hobbs joined the District Nurse at my bedside; all beard and no face. I hate doctors, so I didn't reply.
"Emily your eczema has become more severe and I must say I am worried about infection. I've removed the bandages from your face to get some air to your rashes, but I've still applied an emollient steroid cream. There's been no change with the psoriasis. If you don't go outside there is no point taking the psoralen, because your skin won't be getting the UV rays it needs"
I didn't like the way he addressed me, using my name as if he owned it. He hadn't done anything special. I could have put the cream on and he knew very well why I don't go outside. The pustular psoriasis isn't as bad as the eczema on the skin, but it makes my joints ache and I feel sick a lot of the time.
"Emily how are you coping with all this? You know the offer is still open for a... hmm... anti-depressant".
They've never believed me about that. When I first had an outbreak last year, it was the anti-depressant that made it worse! Why did he keep saying my name?
"Emily if you don't want to medicate with more drugs then maybe grief counselling? Sleeping tablets are addictive as I said when we first met... Loosing a loved one can be so painful... your whole family... You don't have to cope with this alone".
I turned to face the wall.
I think I've always been skinless.
Psoriasis is caused by the skin reproducing itself too quickly, so the old skin cells haven't shed before new ones are grown. My body was always trying desperately to grow a new skin to protect me from people, to cover my weakness. Even so, I was once Emily Richards, had a degree, a good job, a mother and a father. A dog.
But the car crash took all that away.
I had a mild outbreak as a child. The other children said I had the lurgy, but it was only on my knees and elbows. My mother didn't want a flaky daughter; she wanted me to be popular and strong like she'd been at school, so she dragged me to the dermatologist, the herbalist and even a faith healer once.
The psoriasis got worse, her disgust at my condition aggravated the problem. Finally, my father had the answer; a puppy.
My skin cleared up very quickly despite Mum's worries about allergies and my pet Labrador Jake went everywhere with me. Because I had such a good friend I was happy again and with my skin clearing up, the kids at school were more understanding. I soon made friends, so Mum was placated. I just hoped it would never come back again. As long as my skin didn't betray me everyone would believe I was strong.
I never planned for the worst, so when Jake died when I was in my teens I panicked. Nothing happened. Dad bought me another Labrador puppy, Barnie. My disease was kept at bay.
I went to uni, graduated and got a job at an advertising agency in another city. I never managed to achieve a relationship with a man except one night stands in late night bars, but I couldn't have dealt with the intimacy of a real relationship. It was hard to be alone. Barnie was getting very old and I hadn't seen him for a while, so to avoid a relapse in my skin condition Dad bought me another puppy, a terrier this time. I named him Scruff and he kept me company when I was homesick in the city or stressed with work at the agency.
It was at work that I had the moment. A moment where, at the time, you don't notice the significance. It gets mixed up in the routine of the day, you don't even dismiss that weird feeling you get because you think it is nothing, nothing at all.
We were designing a website for a National Park. One of our web developers wasn't happy with the main picture. His name was Paul and he was usually laid back about that kind of thing.
"Have you seen this?" he asked, calling me over from my desk.
He was on their homepage, the National Park that is, and he pointed to the back ground photograph; a shot of a family stood in front of a dry stone wall in a field. I knew where he was going with this.
"Do you know if he'd have walked a bit further down the road the views, man, talk about panoramic? But the lazy arse couldn't be bothered could he?"
Paul Googled the location of the shot and continued to slate the photographer.
"We really need a new guy for this. I know he's cheap, but Christ" he said, pointing to the newly opened window on screen "now that's what I call a view".
Immediately I saw what he meant; the new photograph showed sloping hills, a river running through the valley, even an old railway track and bridge. The place reminded me of holidays I'd been on as a child. It reminded me I should call my father because we hadn't spoken in a while. It reminded me how weak I was without the support of my loved ones.
"Where's this then?" I asked.
Unfortunately I made the call just before lunch. Mum and Dad were on their way to the office in the car. They'd even picked Scruff up from the house. It was meant to be a surprise I think. Dad only got to say "Hello sweetheart" before I heard the screech of tyres, the windshield break. A lorry plowed into the side of their car on the by-pass. They were killed instantly.
When I was finally left in peace, I decided to take an oil bath for my eczema since it was my weeping sores that would cause me the most discomfort when the pain killer wore off.
I sank down into the slipper bath letting the soft, warm water flow over my ravaged epidermis and tried to free my mind a little.
The Doctor had taken a long time to leave. He'd stood on the threshold talking about a hospital admission saying I needed to be with people like myself, somewhere where people understood me, where I could relax and the staff could meet my needs. This did not sound like my last hospital stay.
I'd met him once before to register with his practise. He was new to my problem, keen to help. I was hoping that might change.
My silence seemed only to encourage him further. He betrayed himself.
"If things deteriorate any further I will have no other option, but to recommend a stay in hospital for a minimum of two weeks".
I am no fool. He was referring to a section.
"I'll come back and check on you this evening".
I did respond with a turn of the head and watched as the nurse ushered him out. She looked bored with their lack of progress.
That's when I noticed; there were claw marks scratched deep into the wood of my front door outside.
Joe was so kind to me on that first day when I arrived here, I almost forgot about Mum and Dad, about my skin. He didn't seem to notice nor care about my strange outfit; didn't see the rash creeping up my neck towards the precious skin of my face.
I soon found out as I sipped at my drink, that it was he who sold me the cottage, that his father was Italian, had settled here after the war, bought up the cottages, the public house and built the restaurant next door. Unfortunately he had died recently.
"Why is there a picture of a dog on the sign?" I asked, pointing through the window to the restaurant next door. This made Joe grin from ear to ear.
"Dad was an Italian prisoner of war down in Antcombe, you know the next village on. He reckoned a she-wolf used to visit him, hang around outside the cells and keep him company. Watch over him like. That's what it means, 'Il Lupo'. The wolf".
He looked me straight in the eye maintaining an air of seriousness, but I couldn't tell whether there was irony in this look or not. While I finished my wine I tried to think of a way of replying to this piece of information without being rude. I was very aware that the pub was empty now; no hikers, no families, not even the village drunk.
Then he broke the silence with a laugh.
"Dad was always like that. Believing in signs. He thought she was good luck. He said she put off the jailor from bothering him too much. Do you want another glass?"
Something wasn't quite right.
The water had gone cold and the oil had soaked into my skin. There was a breeze which sent chills down my spine, tingles to my finger tips.
I sat up trying to remember when I had fallen asleep, how long had I been out? I'd been dreaming I'd given myself to the river to avoid the psychiatric ward, a burning red Ophelia floating in the murky waters, while those eyes watched from the bushes...
At first I noticecd the bathroom curtains were not drawn, to separate the bathroom from the living room. Then that my front door was wide open too, the rain hammering on my doorstep.
Then I saw it; the entity. The wolf.
There haven't been wolves living in the wild in England since the middle ages, so I understandably did not believe my senses. This animal was large; nothing like the wolves I'd seen in zoos, on the television. Joe had been telling the truth about his father.
It stood in the centre of the living room, those steely blue eyes focused on mine. Water dripped from the matted grey, hair that hung from it's hulking shoulders into a small pool that gathered at it's paws. Thin strings of grass and mud clung to the spaces between it's enormous claws.
I froze as it stepped forward through the open curtains that separated the bathroom from the rest of the house, still with that unwavering stare. Still so confident with a strange human. If this was to be how I died, so be it. I closed my eyes.
Nothing happened, so I opened my eyelids again and they ached with the effort
The wolf had stopped with it's snout centimetres from my hand. I could feel the warmth of it's breath on my hand, see the steam come from its nostrils against the cold air surrounding us. My finger tips curled over the porcelain and I gripped the rim of the bath hard as it's mouth opened and it's tongue licked the oily residue from my little finger.
I expected pain, because there were small specks of blood in it's whiskers; my blood I assumed. But no pain came, just the feel of warm wet saliva.
The wolf paused and appraised my reaction.
"Who...are...you?" I stammered.
It answered by continuing to lick my hand, letting it's tongue slowly travel all the way up my arm to my shoulders. It was so gentle, so tender, so human.
When it came to my face and neck it paused, looking deep into my eyes.
Only a human would hesitate at such an invasion. I've had three dogs and not one of them would have thought twice about licking me on the neck.
I was back to where I started. This was an entity, not a wolf. And for reasons I cannot explain I felt it was not a she-wolf, but a male.
This male entity knew I was not what I claimed to be and in return I knew it too covered it's identity.
In the morning I was confused, stunned by my experience. I considered the possibility that Doctor Hobbs was right; that I was indeed quite mad. Loneliness had forced me to hallucinate a companion in the only form acceptable to me. Canine.
The pattern was changing though. I'd been instructed not to cover my face, to reveal my inner most fears, anxieties. The wolf entity came when it pleased rather than the appointed time. Once a month. It was supposed to visit once a month!
I could have dreamt the encounter. There was always that. The last thing I remembered was falling asleep in bed while the wolf watched over me. Maybe I'd never had the bath?
I was thankful Doctor Hobbs didn't make his expected visit the evening before, so he had not caught me in my hallucination. Maybe this was my way of coping with my new exposure, with his interference?
I told myself this as I went to look in the mirror at my forcibly revealed face. If I could look at myself, accept who I was...
To my surprise the right side of my face was clear of sores and redness. So was my neck and what I could see of my shoulder.
I unwrapped some of the bandages on my left arm and they revealed the same thing. Where ever the wolf had licked me was clear of sores. I was half Emily again.
They couldn't section me now; I was healing, getting better.
Being half Emily and half me would bring responsibilities though. I would have to be average again, talk to people, go to work. Could I do that alone? Pretend I was something I was not?
If the entity visited again I could be completely healed in a matter of hours though.
But who did I have to thank? The person behind the lycanthrope; that gentle, caring soul who had loved me despite my deformity.
Immediately I thought of Joe. He was the one who told me his father's tale, had been so kind to me. But his eyes were dark brown, not icy blue. He was confident too and the entity was hesitant, even in wolf form. There was only one other person with eyes that blue.
I threw on my cloak and rushed to the front door. It was unlocked and ajar.
With tentative steps I went into the sunshine and shaded my eyes against the glare. In the bushes by the door I saw a black leather hold-all with a gash across it's smooth, black surface. Claw marks. A few drops of blood soiled the edge of the cobles that bordered the path up to the front door. How had my knew found friend known the threat the doctor posed to me? Had he read my mind as he cured me of my malady? I thought of the poor, helpful doctor only briefly, not stopping to think where his final resting place might be, because at the bottom of my garden the grocer's son lent against his spade and mopped his brow. He'd been turning a large pile of earth near the rose bushes by the garden gate. His muscular back was slick with sweat, the seat of his jeans stained green where he'd sat on the wet grass.
"You are too beautiful for me" I whispered.
Immediately, he turned to face me, just as if he heard my words and smiled holding my gaze. There was a flicker.
I saw the fur coat on his back, the snout, his hands as forepaws.
Then he was human again, smiling with his mouth as well as his eyes.
Without moving his lips he said:
"I love you. I will watch over you. I am your wolf-skin".
© Baggage 2011