Canis Lupus by Phil Richardson
I was stationed in Iraq for two years and, crazy as it sounds, I had a good time. Our unit was close--close as a pack of wolves. Moving together in the dark without stumbling--silently we circled houses and sand dunes and, when necessary, we killed. Mostly the people we killed had guns, but, not always. Unfortunately for us, there were other wolves out there circling, killing. Their pack was bigger than our pack and they knew more about the desert. They were native wolves and we were strangers. We didn't have a chance.
I quit the army. Or the army quit me. They sent me home after the incident. I enjoyed soldiering more than most, and I kind of miss it now. Being back home is not all I expected. Changes are happening. Changes in the world. Changes in me.
I stopped shaving last week. I always hated the routine of shaving and the Army made us shave every day--even in the desert where water was scarce. That’s not why I quit shaving; I quit because it seemed silly to be getting rid of hair when I’m going to be a wolf. Miriam thinks I’m crazy, but she doesn’t understood me--not many people back here do. It’s like we speak a different language.
I have been dreaming I was a wolf since I was ten years old. My mother had trouble getting babysitters because, after they put me to bed, they came back and found me asleep with my eyes open, my gums drawn back from my sharp pointed teeth, and if they touched the bed, I growled. My mother said I was a difficult child to raise, but she loved me anyway. She didn’t hug me and kiss me, but she did pat me on the head a lot.
Anyway, I don’t know what I’m going to do now about my wife. Miriam hasn’t slept in the same bed with me since I came back; my growling keeps her awake. I think she’s a little bit scared of me too. We went to a marriage counselor, but that didn’t last long. Mainly because of the counselor. He was a funny looking guy who didn’t seem like a therapist at all. He never looked at me and his eyes darted left and right as though he were afraid of something. He had yellow eyes and a short beard on his chin. After hearing my story about becoming a wolf, he confided that he believed he was really a goat. People in the States are crazier than I remembered.
So, what happens when I finally become a wolf? I won’t be able to get down on four legs and run around, I’m not built for it, but I could walk through the woods at night and howl at the moon and never go to work again.
Did I mention I had a job as the town dogcatcher and how I rounded up all the dogs, told them to be good and then let them go? I was even given a promotion because of all the dogs I caught (again and again). I see some of those dogs now and then, but they never speak to me, and they act scared.
Miriam and I discussed my decision to quit my job. She wasn’t much for it. “Maybe you could get a job as a park ranger and work nights,” she suggested. “Don’t wolves have good night vision?” I gathered from this that Miriam has begun to believe in my wolf change. Or, she simply wanted to keep me working.
“No,” I said. “Wolves don’t have jobs. I will sleep during the day, walk through the streets at night and try to find a pack to roam with.”
Miriam moved out. She said she could handle most of my changes, but not my bathroom habits. She handed me her key to the house and said she would see me around sometime. She was nice about it though. Before she moved out she bought me a case of Beneful dog food and some Old Roy dog treats (my favorites).
After she left, I began looking for a pack. At night, I ranged through the streets searching dark alleys and parks and deserted buildings. I discovered all manner of groups roaming the streets at night, but none seemed to feel kindly towards wolves. The only howling I did was when I was assaulted by a bunch of teenagers who beat me up and stole my wallet, my watch and my clothes. I didn’t need those things, but I wished they had left me my shoes.
One night, after several weeks of roaming, I thought maybe I had finally met a female wolf lurking in a doorway; she smiled and her smile showed she had very sharp white teeth. When I approached her, she did not seem afraid. When I asked her if she were a wolf too, she replied, “I’m anything you want me to be, honey.” That didn’t turn out well.
I slept during the day because it’s kind of hot in the house after they turned off the electricity. Miriam came by once to get some things. She had moved in with the old goat of a marriage counselor. She wondered what I was eating since without electricity you can’t keep anything in the refrigerator but I decided, for obvious reasons, not to tell her. I ended up sleeping in the streets and alleys after the bank took the house away.
I tried sleeping at the shelter, but there’s some guy in there that thinks he’s a tiger and he scares me.
Being a wolf isn’t all bad. My feet have toughened up so I don’t need those shoes that were stolen from me. My mother brings me a doggy bag once a week and leaves it by my box in the alley and, sometimes, she pats me on the head.
Phil Richardson lives and writes in Athens, Ohio. His work has appeared in several print and online magazines, and in eight anthhologies. Two of his stories were nominated for the Pushcart Prize in Fiction. He is currently finishing a collection of linked short stories.