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.
Walter’s thoughts were interrupted by a bump that bounced him so high his head grazed the ceiling. The paved road gave way to a dirt road that consisted of two parallel ruts.
Even Nash needed to slow down, and they joggled along at a slow thirty miles per hour. They passed a weathered, dilapidated sign that said “Welc To Ca p Su shin .” A minute later the Jeep stopped in front of three long cabins.
The cabins were in poor shape. There were gaps in the siding and every window was cracked. Nash stopped in front of the only cabin with a light on.
Walter started to open the door, but Nash said, “Just a minute Doc.”
The Jeep was surrounded by wolves. Walter spotted Nip with her distinctive black and white spots, and Panter, who was so large he looked like a small bear. There were others he did not recognize.
Grim growled. “They’re all out there.”
“So much for keeping it quiet,” Nash said.
“I’ll get rid of them,” Grim said.
Grim leapt from the car. His body twisted and changed in the air, and a wolf landed on the ground. Barking and snapping, Grim lunged at Nip, and she went racing away.
Grim charged the others, scattering them. Even Panter was no match for an enraged Grim and the giant wolf raced away whimpering and howling.
“He’s not subtle, but he is effective,” Walter said.
“Come on Doc,” Nash said.
Nash escorted Walter up the stairs and opened the door to the cabin. “He’s inside.”
“You’re not coming?”
Nash shook his head. “No one goes in but you.”
Nash patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry Doc. You’re the safest person in the world with him.”
Walter entered the cabin. It was a large room, having once been the dining hall for the camp.
A single kerosene lamp rested on the floor next to a ragged yellow towel. The towel was spread like a shroud over something small.
An old man paced back and forth, muttering to himself and gesturing wildly as if giving a speech to the air. His shadow flickered and flew across the wall like a wounded vulture.
A pair of suspenders held up the old man’s frayed jeans. He had no shirt or shoes, and a mane of matted, unruly white hair hung in his face. The old man pushed it back, and Walter saw one eye was milky white. Then he noticed the broken nose and the three scars across the old man’s cheek.
Gray sniffed the air. “Who’s there?” His voice was hoarse and strained, like an old dog’s bark.
Walter reminded himself that while it was only two years since their last meeting, those years felt like fourteen to Gray.
“Gray, it’s me, Walter.” He stepped further into the light so Gray could see him better.
“Walt?” Gray’s thick eyebrows came together in confusion, and then rose in relief. “Walt, thank god!”
“Is everything ok Gray? What happened?”
But Gray was distracted. “Walt, are you blue?”
Walter nodded. “It’s a skin condition called Argyria. It’s very rare.”
“The years have not been kind Walt,” Gray tsked. The irony was not lost on Walter.
“Gray, tell me what happened.”
“Oh, it’s terrible Walt. They, they,” he began whining like a frightened puppy and pointed at the towel. “You’ve gotta help him.”
Walter crouched down beside the towel, but didn’t touch it. As a vet he had seen many unpleasant sights, dogs hit by cars, sheep attacked by coyotes, any number of animals caught in traps, and they always seemed to be brought in wrapped in a yellow towel.
Whatever was under the towel was the size of a small, very still, raccoon. Walter didn’t see any blood, which he took as a promising sign. Carefully he pulled back the towel.
TO BE CONTINUED... copyright 2013 John Lance