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Aug 202013
 

by Christopher Azzolini

fiction.short story

            Louis’ apartment was, as he claimed, average.  A spacious, main room contained a couch, a television, and a poorly maintained kitchen separated only by a counter lined with fake marble.  A front door led to the shared parking lots of the complex, while a smaller back door opened up to the nearby forest and a dismal excuse for a backyard.  A short hallway funneled into the bedroom, where I was currently sitting cross-legged on the bed, my patience growing thin as I stared at a paused Netflix menu and waited for my boyfriend to get out of the bathroom.

So, as any curious guest would, I began rummaging through his stuff.  I started with his closet, then the nightstand drawers.  Disappointed with the blasé results, I stood up and snuck over to his dresser, sifting through his sock drawer.  I wasn’t sure exactly what I was expecting to find drugs, a gun, maybe a picture of another girlfriend tucked away underneath his boxers.

What I wasn’t expecting to find were two sealed, Ziploc bags filled with a yellow, lukewarm liquid.  As my attention was understandably preoccupied, I didn’t notice the sound of a flushing toilet.

“I was thinking we could watch that new documentary on Netflix,” Louis said, fixing the part in his hair as he stepped out of the bathroom.  “You know, the one with—” There he stood, just about halfway through the door, eyes locked on the two bags in my hand.  Our lips pursed in unison; there were few words that could adequately describe the situation.  Instead, I stared at him, silent.  His eyes darted back and forth between my own and the bags.

After nearly a minute, he raised his hands in a meager defense.

“Let me explain.”

“Oh, please do.”

More silence.  His hands balled up into nervous fists before his pointer fingers slowly locked onto the bags.  “That… is my urine.”

In hindsight, dropping the bags probably wasn’t the smartest thing I could have done.  One fell into the sock drawer where I’d found it.  The other hit the floor, bouncing off my foot and rolling with a sickening sloshing sound only a few inches from his leg.

“Wow,” he exhaled an exasperated breath, “Thank goodness it didn’t break open, right?”  He let out a chuckle that slowly died off.  As I was no longer holding pee-filled Ziplocs, my hands were free to fly up into the air.

“What is wrong with you!”

He brought his hands up again, fearing a beating.  “Listen, I can assure you there’s a rational explanation.”

“You have two bags of piss in your sock drawer!”

“You don’t understand!  There’s this wolf—”

“Oh,” I practically screamed, “there’s a wolf.  That explains everything!”

Louis and I had been dating for just over two months, but I’d never been to his apartment before.  It’s not like I’d never asked about it, but his answer was always the same: Average, he’d say, by the forest.  Nothing special, you know.  Then the subject would change.  I was starting to understand why.

“Listen,” he repeated, clearly trying to take command of an otherwise chaotic moment, “wolves are like dogs.  They mark their territory by—well, you know.”  He knelt down and picked up the bag of yellow liquid.  “So I keep these in the apartment.  We can’t smell it, but the wolf knows to stay away if I keep these around.”

“Get rid of them,” I seethed.

“But I’m trying to tell you—”

Now!”

Louis scowled, but he didn’t argue any further.  Reluctantly he stood up, grabbed both bags, and disappeared into the bathroom.  I sat down on the bed; arms crossed, and listened to his quiet grumblings through the door.  The familiar sound of a flushed toilet echoed through the apartment, followed by water running from the sink.  At least he was washing his hands.

* * * *

Two hours and forty minutes of documentary later, I knew more about penguins than I’d ever thought possible.  Despite the previous incident, my head was resting comfortably on Louis’ shoulder, my eyes closed, and one hand around his lower back.  At some point, we’d both made our way under the covers, and I was close enough to hear his slow, steady breathing above the melodic movie credits.  I looked up at him and saw his eyes, unblinking, concentrating on the screen.  I knew he didn’t care about the credits; I certainly didn’t.  It was all too easy to tell when he had something on his mind.

He cleared his throat, initiating the conversation.  “So…”

“Mmhmm?”  Playing dumb was a simple strategy.  It’s not like I didn’t know what he was going to ask.

His head turned and he nestled his chin in my hair.  “I was just thinking.”

“Didn’t I warn you about that?”
            A sigh escaped him.  “I’m trying to be serious here.”

I lifted my head, eyes on his.  “Sorry.  What is it?”

He sat up a bit, his left hand wringing away at some dry skin on his right.  “I was going to ask if you would want to stay the night.  We could sleep together—” His upper teeth snapped down on his bottom lip.  “I mean, not sleep together, just regular sleep.  But, you know.”  I hadn’t said a word, and his face scrunched slightly as if he were wincing.  The last word came out as a question, his voice higher than usual.  “Together?”

I leaned in, planting a gentle kiss on his cheek.  “Are you going to collect my pee if I stay over?”

One of his eyebrows went up.  “Not unless you’re into that sort of thing.”  I turned my head toward the door, but he didn’t notice.  “I just really like you, that’s all.  I’ve had other relationships in the past, but I feel genuinely comfortable with you.  Does that sound weird?”  He looked over at me, reasonably upset.  “Are you listening?”

I wasn’t.  I’d thought it was my imagination at first, but once the credits ended and Netflix had returned to the main menu, the silence made something else frighteningly noticeable.  An odd scratching sound was starting and stopping from out in the main room.  “Louis, shut up.”

Dejected, he stiffened and went silent.  “Fine, sorry I said anything.”

“No, Louis, I mean shh!”  My fists balled up in the sheets.  “Did you lock the door?”
            Louis was out of the bed in an instant, his body now leaning through the bedroom doorway.  The back door to his apartment wasn’t visible from the bed, but from where he was standing, the entirety of the apartment was more or less in view.  A loud, cracking sound caused us both to jump, and I quickly drove as much of myself under the covers as possible.

Louis went rigid for a moment, then ever so slowly closed the bedroom door, locked it, and leaned back against it.  “I think…  I think the wolf is breaking in.

“I think you’re being robbed, you idiot!”  I whispered, as loud and angry as a whisper could possibly get while still retaining its connotation.

Louis softened for a moment, as if this revelation was somehow a relief.  Once the reality of the situation hit him, his eyes widened and he spread his arms across the closed door.  “I’m being robbed!”

The moment we heard the back door creak open, we both shut our mouths.  From outside, Louis and I could hear things: shuffling, glasses clinking, as if the stranger was sifting through our belongings to find something of value.  I stayed in bed, but Louis hunkered down in front of the door, his ear pressed firmly against the wood.

I waved my hands frantically, doing my best to initiate charades.  Call the police!  I mimed.

He flailed back.  I can’t.  There’s no phone in here and I left my cell in my jacket.

 I threw my hands up in disbelief.  Where is it?

Louis pointed out the door.  It was all I could do not to yell, but I ended up whispering far louder than I’d meant to anyway.  “What kind of idiot leaves the only phone he has outside his room?”

He scowled.  “The kind that doesn’t want to get interrupted when he sleeps with his girlfriend for the first time!”

“Oh,” I hissed, “so you just assumed you’d get lucky, didn’t you?”
            “That’s not what I meant!”

We both glared at each other, not noticing how quiet it had gotten outside the door until nearly a minute had passed.  Our heads turned in the direction of the door just as the stranger outside cleared his throat.

“Is someone in there?”  His voice was rough, the kind of stereotypical smoker’s rasp one would expect a robber to have.

Louis slumped back against the door.  “Maybe he didn’t hear us?”

The voice spoke up again, closer to the door this time.  “I can hear you whisperin’.  Come out.”

“Louis.”  I locked eyes with him, sitting up against the headboard and pulling the blanket as far up as I could.  “What do we do?”

“Nothing,” he said.  “Stay there.  I locked this door; he can’t get in.  We’ll just let him take whatever he wants.  As long as he doesn’t have a gun, we’ll be fine.”

As if on cue, an ominous click echoed through the apartment.  “I’ve got a gun, you know.  C’mon out.”

I shook my head furiously.  Louis caught the signal and stood up, his back still against the door.  “We don’t have anything of value in here,” he yelled.  “Take whatever you want.  We don’t want any trouble.”

Fuck that!”  Something slammed into the door and I shrieked instinctively.  I could hear him laugh in response, the butt of his gun tapping against the door over and over.  “Ah, you got a girly in there, do ya?  See now, that’s valuable.”  I could almost hear him breathing.

Louis didn’t budge.  He stood up a little straighter and nodded to me.  “You climb out the bathroom window,” he whispered, “I’ll keep him distracted.”

What little blood was left in my face drained away.  “Are you insane?  He’ll kill you!”

Something hard banged against the bedroom door again.  I couldn’t help but let out another short scream, my head now completely under the covers as if they offered even a semblance of protection.  The man laughed again, louder this time.  “C’mon out now, you and the girly.  I don’t wanna have’ta put any holes through this pretty door’a yours.  I’m’a give you to the count of five before I start…”

Louis and I both waited for him to finish, but his voice trailed off.  I pulled my head out from under the covers and saw Louis, his back to the door and his eyes shut tight.  After a few seconds, he opened one eye, then the other.  He stepped away from the door just as the man outside began speaking again.

“Woah, woah now,” he said, but his voice seemed quieter, like he was facing away from the door.  “Nice, c’mon, be nice now, that’s it…”  Another heavy blow to the door rocked the apartment, this time so strong a long, jagged crack ripped its way from the bottom of the door to only a few inches from the top.  I didn’t make a sound; neither did Louis.  I pressed myself back against the headboard until I was practically a part of it, my hands clasped around my mouth.  If I was breathing, I couldn’t hear it.

Silence.  Louis backed up toward me, then turned and placed a hand on my shoulder.  “Are you ok?”  He looked me directly in the eyes and I nodded.  I was clearly lying.  He gently patted my shoulder and slid toward the door.  I shook my head again, refusing to make a sound but desperate to keep him close.  I watched as his arm lifted, his hand meticulously turning the now-crooked knob and pushing it, slowly, open and out into the main room.  There was no one in sight.  He walked out, rubbing the back of his neck, until he made his way past the wall blocking the kitchen from view.  Louis’ arm fell to his side and his face contorted in an instant.  “Shit.

I ran to him.  I don’t know why I ran, but I couldn’t stay in the room any longer huddling in fear.  I was so tense from before that my legs barely moved, but they still carried me to his side before I knew what was really happening.  I put a hand on his arm and he grabbed mine in response, pulling me back slightly.  “What?”  I said.  Or, tried to say.  It didn’t quite come out when I saw what he was looking at.

If I wasn’t so frightened, so bafflingly confused, and shocked and amazed at the same time, I probably would have thought it was beautiful.  The wolf was roughly the size of a St. Bernard, its long, bristly fur flowing down its back in a perfect coat that burst from a gorgeous cloudy grey to pitch-black about halfway up its body.  The dark fur looped up and over its right ear, dipping down to cover only one eye.  And the eyes—they glowed in the poorly funded fluorescent lights littering the ceiling, a glorious golden yellow that seemed so endless and so piercing all at the same time.  Something about the way it stood there, poised, staring directly at us, was more primal and majestic than anything I had ever seen in my entire life.

The bleeding man in its jaws was less majestic.  He petered out somewhere between sickening and morbid.

The thief was still groaning, his eyes shut tight, a swelling bump on his head from where the beast must have unexpectedly body-slammed him into the bedroom door.  They were halfway out the back door, the blackness of the woods behind them painting a grim scene in front of us.  Louis and I said nothing.  The wolf, still frozen in the same position as if it were taxidermy, eventually tilted its head down, then back at us.  Louis stepped in front of me, and I gladly took a position behind his left shoulder.  But the wolf didn’t move; instead, it repeated the action.  Louis and I looked at each other for a moment, both thinking the same thing but not quite believing it.  Permission.  It’s asking for permission.

We both looked at the wolf and nodded in unison.  In an utterly surreal moment of understanding, the wolf quietly dragged the man away by his shoulder, his groans sounding off down the path until the two disappeared into the forest beyond the property.  

Stunned beyond reason, my body refused to move an inch.  Louis took the opportunity to move forward, stepping around the small pool of blood spreading through the beige carpet quietly closeing and—for what it was worth—locking the door.  He turned to me after a few minutes of silence, rattled, yet still somehow capable of putting on a smile.

“So,” he said, “Your place from now on?”