Affliction

My work is about a two mile walk from our house, so most non-rainy days I enjoy a brisk walk back home and ponder on the day’s events.

Some days, like today, we have happy hour at work and I get a bit tipsy. You know how it is: get a couple of sampler-size portions in you, a beer or two – or three high-alcohol stouts – and suddenly I’m very social and happy and smiling and patting every “buddy” on the back.

I’m walking back through the nearly dark streets when my phone rings. It’s Lauren!

“Hi honey!” I answer.

“Ha, you’re drunk!” She laughs into the phone and I can just picture her smile.

“Wellll, not exactly druuunk,” I slur my words intentionally.

“Sounds like you had a wonderful night,” she replies, still laughing. “On your way home?”

“Yup. Just passed Birch.” I pull the phone away and quickly glance at the time. It’s 7:20. Happy hour started at 4. Hmm, how many beers did I really have tonight?

“Nice. I’m gonna head out, meeting Rina.” Lauren’s voice loses whatever spark of delight it had just moments before. Rina is half-way out of a bad marriage and Lauren, the saint, is her unofficial therapist.

“Uh-huh,” I reply, putting on my serious big-boy voice. “How is she?” I don’t ask about Tom, Rina’s husband.

“She found a bra. The bastard is denying everything, trying to blame…” Lauren’s voice is tired already and she just trails off. It’s a familiar-enough story these days.

She catches me up, then we say our goodnights. Lauren is probably going to be out late tonight.

I hang up the phone and continue walking. The streets are deserted and I’m the only person around for blocks. The road alternates between well-lit and pitch black. I try to stay in the light as much as possible.

Over the course of the next block I start to feel pangs of paranoia, fear. Something’s not quite right, but I can’t put my finger on what it is.

I stop under a street light and look around me. There’s a car a few blocks away, heading in my direction, but they turn off onto a different street and once again I’m alone.

The wind rustles the trees, half their leaves already fallen off, others a shade of yellow or red, they don’t have long in this world.

I hear a rustling nearby, behind me, beyond the hedge that lines one side of the sidewalk. There’s a large house beyond it, but all of its lights off. I squint into the darkness, and that’s when it hits me.

Two lines of teeth come out of the darkness and are lit up for a moment by the street lamp. Then the teeth are buried in my jacket, there’s a terrible pain in my arm, and I go down, the weight of the creature pushing me off-balance and into the road.

I trip off the sidewalk and go sprawling in the streets, my hands reaching out to find balance, but find only soppy leaves. I twist away from the attacker. My jacket rips and I feel dozens of sharp points tear at my skin.

A pair of headlights swing over me and for a moment I see the creature: dark gray fur, streaks of white and red, a layer of foamy spittle around the mouth. Then the lights are gone, the car drives by, and the attacker disappears.

The pain of its powerful bite is replaced by the red-hot burning. I lay there for a moment and look around. The car is moving away from me. There’s a vertical rectangle of bright light next to the driver’s head. Cell-phone obsessed bastard probably didn’t even see me.

I curse the world and get up. The dog – or is it a wolf? – is nowhere to be seen. Must have gone back into the hedge. I walk back to the sidewalk and look around. It’s only two blocks to my house, so I walk quickly.

The pain in my arm is mostly a dull ache by the time I make it home.

I go to the bathroom downstairs in the basement, attached to the so-called Game Cave that Lauren encouraged me to build and feel comfortable in. I take off my jacket and examine the damage. Much to my surprise, it’s nothing more than a series of parallel scratches.

I press on the arm around the wound a bit and force up a fresh flow of blood, then wash this away with soap and water, put a large piece of antiseptic bandage on, then wrap my arm in gauze. Boy Scouts pays off once again. It’ll do until I can get to the doctor’s tomorrow. I follow this up with some left-over pain meds – shh! – and a tumbler with a few fingers of scotch in it.

I take this over to the couch and put on a TV episode I’d seen a dozen times already, then cover up with a blanket. It’s a bit chilly in the basement tonight. Not my favorite way to start the weekend, but it’ll do.

I wake up around one in the morning. The TV is still on. I try to stand and reach for the remote at the same time, but end up tumbling off the couch entirely.

“Wonderful”, I think, “I’m still drunk. Lauren is going to love this.”

I stumble towards the stairs. Walking is painful and the whole world is spinning. I decide to lie down and slowly edge toward the staircase. The room seems bigger from this perspective, unsurprisingly.

I’m crawling past the bathroom when a sudden thirst hits me. I need to get my lips around a firehose!

I slink toward the bathroom. The toilet is impossibly tall. I also realize that it’s dark, the lights aren’t on, and yet I can see plenty of detail around me.

It’s supposed to be a full moon this weekend, or something like that, and I see a bright beam of light coming into the basement from the outside.

I inch closer to the toilet and raise up my arms for the bowl, trying to grab onto it so I can pull myself up. I freeze as I finally look at hands.

They’re covered in hair. My fingers are much shorter than they should be. The nails are darker than they’ve ever been. I shudder in horror.

“What the fuck?!” I yell. No, yell isn’t the right term. I howl!

I hear the front door open, then close after a moment. Lauren must be home. I can’t let her see me like this!

I pause and take a moment. Pull my extremities closer, underneath me, then push up, and promptly fall over.

“Fuckfuckfuckfuck”, I mutter to myself, quietly.

Lauren’s moving upstairs, somewhere above me, her steps are making the familiar boards creak and moan. She’s heading toward our bedroom. I don’t have long. Once she notices I’m not in bed, she’ll come down to the basement. Fuck.

I try to stand again and this time I’m able to extend my arms and legs – or, what used to be my arms and legs – and for a moment I’m standing up, wobbling from side to side.

This is a new viewpoint for me. The world isn’t bigger, I realize, I’m just that much shorter than I remember being.

Lauren’s muffled voice calls out my name. She’s looking for me.

I slowly back out of the too-big bathroom. The stairway up is right next to me. But there’s another door down here that leads to patio space in the back of the house. If I can get get the door open, I can slip out.

“Am I really thinking of running away?” I pause again and think. “What are my options?! My wife is about to come downstairs in search of her husband. Won’t she be surprised to find a damn wolf down here?! I must keep her safe,” I decide. I need to get out of here as quickly as possible.

I stumble toward the backdoor, in a rush, and promptly fall down and spend perilous seconds picking myself up, then continue on.

The door at the top of the staircase opens, a sharp shaft of yellow light illuminates the room, and I pray that Lauren changes her mind. “Please, honey,” I think to myself, “hear the TV, assume I’m fine, and go to bed. Please please please, for the love of god, don’t come down here.”

The floor-boards creak as Lauren comes down.

“Hon?” she asks, softly. Any other day, odds are good that I’m asleep down here, so Lauren is trying not to wake me up, bless her.

I finally reach the backdoor and realize my mistake. It’s solid, it’s locked, and the keys are in my jacket, on the couch. I turn around and stare in horror as the love of my life enters the room.

For a moment I wonder, what kind of hell am I doomed for? What do you do with a man who turns his wife into a damn werewolf?!

Lauren flips a light switch by the staircase and the Game Cave is instantly flooded with too-bright light. I’m blinded and blink in pain. Tears are streaming down my face. I turn away from Lauren.

There’s a six-foot tall mirror by the backdoor, one of Lauren’s contributions to my Fortress of Solitude. I glance in it and see…

The small feet, the curled tail, the bulging eyes, the sand-colored hide. I look at myself and for a moment I’m lost. The only thing I can think of is-

“How cute!” Lauren calls out from the other end of the room. My eyes track up, just a bit, and I see reflected in the mirror my wife’s face and an enormous smile that’s spreading across it. “Dave! You got us a pug!”

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