Grim barked gruffly and jogged toward the opposite end of the parking lot. A set of headlights came on.
“Unless you have your own ride,” muttered Walter, following the wolf. .
As they got closer to the dented, rusted Jeep, Grim morphed from a canine walk to a crouched, gorilla-like gait, before eventually striding on two legs. He was the hairiest, nakedest man Walter had ever seen. As a human, Grim’s right ear was little more than a ravaged hole, and his entire body was covered in thick, curly black hair except for his scarred shoulder.
Grim opened the rear door and gestured for Walter to get in.
“Aren’t you chilly?” Walter asked.
Grim’s eyes narrowed. “My patience is wearing thin, doctor.” His voice rasped like a pack-a-day smoker’s.
“Okay, still no sense of humor, just checking,” Walter said. The rear seat was hard and uncomfortable, the padding and springs having surrendered long ago. The whole interior reeked of wet dog.
“Heya Doc,” said the driver. The young man looked back at Walter and smiled. His thick jaw was covered with stubble and his nose was broad with large nostrils. A furry unibrow made the ridge of his brow even more pronounced and Neanderthal like. His flannel shirt was askew, since he missed a button or two, and his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows.
“Hi Nash, you’re looking well. Did the leg heal okay?” Walter replied.
“Yup, good as new, thanks Doc.”
Grim got in the car. Nash looked at him and said, “You know, even the die hard nudists cover up in winter.”
Nash shrugged. “Okay, but if we get pulled over by the cops there’s going to be some explaining to do.”
“Then don’t get pulled over,” Grim grunted.
“Ha, you’re in luck Doc, Grim is in a chatty mood.”
Grim’s glared at Nash and the corner of his eye jumped and twitched.
“Alright, alright, no need to get all spazzy,” Nash replied as he pulled out of the parking lot.
Nash adjusted his rear view mirror. “You okay Doc? You look a little, um, blue.”
“It’s just the cold, Nash,” Walter lied. He didn’t want to get into the details with the werewolf.
“Oh, I’m a numbskull, I forgot you need heat.” Nash turned the Jeep’s heater on full blast, but it just blew cold air.
“Can you tell me what this is all about?” Walter shouted over the Jeep’s rumbling engine.
Nash didn’t have any trouble hearing him. “Don’t really know. He just said to bring you as soon as possible.”
“Do you mind if I call my wife and let her know I’m going to be late? She’ll worry otherwise.”
“Sure,” Nash replied. Grim growled but Nash just shrugged, “What’s the harm?”
Walter took out his smart phone and dialed. “Hi Rose, I’m going to be late, some of the old gang stopped by. Yes, that old gang. Yes, you probably should. I love you too.” He hung up.
Snowflakes drifted into the Jeep’s headlights, glittering like will-o’-the-wisps. Nash pushed the Jeep, hurtling along the winding back roads with such abandon that Walter slid back and forth from one side of the seat to the other.
“Maybe you should slow down?” he yelled to Nash.
“Don’t worry, Doc. I’ve got things under, whoops!” Nash jerked the wheel hard around a particularly tight curve, “control,” he finished.
Walter sighed and tried to relax. The snow began to fall heavier.
It had been a night like this eleven years before that Walter found a wounded wolf in the shelter parking lot. He carried the unconscious animal into the shelter, stitched up the wolf’s wounds, and spent the night sleeping beside him in a cot.
When Walter awoke the next morning and discovered a wounded young man in the crate rather than a wolf, his first instinct was to call the police. Fortunately, his second instinct was to talk to the man, which probably saved Walter’s life.
The man called himself Gray, and he and Walter quickly came to an understanding. Gray’s pack had killed several people over the years, attacks which inevitably led the local police to hunt down and kill the regular wolves in the area, something Walter always protested. Gray pledged to stop the attacks if Walter would serve as the clan’s doctor. Walter agreed.
Later Walter learned Gray was injured fighting the alpha of his pack, a fight that ended with the alpha’s death and Gray assuming the leadership.
Over the years, Walter had been summoned to the werewolves’ camp to patch up injuries suffered during hunts or encounters with other packs, deliver litters of pups, or treat the occasional flue outbreak.
His last visit was two years ago, to help Nash with a severely sprained ankle. That trip left Walter feeling uneasy. Gray was friendly as always, but Grim and others made it clear they did not want Walter, or any human, in the camp. It was the first time he ever felt in danger.
TO BE CONTINUED... copyright 2013 John Lance