What if a Hale-wolf lives after the fire on the street, perhaps with a human who is homeless. And because of these circumstances he looks more like a sick thin dog than a wolf.
On, anon, why would you do this to either of us?
The wolf is too thin, his belly shrunken and concave, no fat between his thin skin and his brittle bones. He has forgotten how to hunt. He is hunted instead, by the spectre of death. He knows. He doesn’t care. Instead of sticking to the woods where instinct tells the wolf he would be safer—shelter, water, prey—the wolf winds closer and closer into the streets of the human town, and picks through dumpsters and gutters for food.
Here tires screech on asphalt. Cars backfire. The street is hard underneath the pads of the wolf’s paws. Everything is loud and harsh and too, too bright.
The wolf limps down the alleyways, death silently following.
Winter is here. The wolf knows he will not see another one.
The wolf follows his nose. He picks up heady scents above the stink of exhaust fumes and oil and rancid things. The wolf rattles around the trashcans at the back of a cheap diner, and fills his belly with the sick-slickness of greasy burgers. Warmth fills the wolf, and his old friend death steps back for just a moment.
Nose in the air, the wolf continues to explore the alleyway. His claws dig into a pile of damp cardboard as he sidesteps the icy-cold puddle of rain, oil-slicked, in the gutter.
“Hey!” someone says, and the cardboard shifts.
The wolf skitters back, and then remembers that he is a predator. He stops, and turns, and growls.
A boy’s face appears from underneath a layer of the cardboard. It is pale. His eyes are bloodshot and his lips are blue. He has a spray of moles across his face like an unfamiliar constellation. The boy freezes when he sees the wolf. “Holy shit.”
The wolf and death stare back at the boy.
The wolf has forgotten how to mark time.
He has no idea how long it is he stands there.
The boy’s bones are as brittle as the wolf’s, his skin as thin. When he curls his fingers through the wolf’s ruff, they are like icicles. His breath though, is hot. It tickles the wolf’s fur when he buries his face against it. His tears taste like salt.
Death circles them, in the little den the boy has made behind the cardboard in an alleyway in the cold, cold town.
The wolf tugs himself from the boy’s grip, and slinks back down the alley to the trashcans. His boy is too cold, too weak to crawl this far, so the wolf picks up a discarded burger in his jaws and carries it back to him.
The boy eats it, crying.
The wolf curls around him when they sleep.
Death steps closer, its black mouth open in hunger.
The wolf growls at it, the sound rumbling through his thin ribcage.
Maybe not this winter at all.
The wolf has a den now, and a heartbeat to share it with.
When the boy is strong again they will go into the woods and build a shelter there, and the wolf will remember his instincts, and the boy will learn his, and they will be packmates there, where the ground is soft underneath their feet and the stars are visible at night.