12/15/07

Christmas 26: Anthropomorph

Wolf Man lay on his bed at 11:00 [p.m.], Christmas Eve. What if no one came? He could make a lot of noise and make sure someone came... [don't use ellipses] but by the time he got their attention, it wouldn’t be quiet. It had to be quiet on Christmas Eve, for the change to come.

So he waited, quietly. At last, an orderly poked his head through the doorway. Wolf Man groaned aloud. He could read the kid’s name badge tonight: “Scott.” [wouldn't he recognize him without having to read the name badge?] Scott, with the spindly goatee and the derisive sneer. Scott, the leader of the crowd of techs who liked to taunt the mute dog-man when they thought no one who could understand was listening. Who knew if anyone else would come around before dawn? And it was only 11:30: late enough that the curtains were opening, early enough that he couldn’t do much about it. [awkward]

So he groaned, again. Scott, about to close the door, sighed audibly and edged back in, still holding the doorknob. “What’s wrong, Dogbreath?” Wolf Man’s official records named him John Wilson, a dignified, humanizing name—even though it certainly wasn’t his name. The staff called him Wolf Man when the administrators weren’t around. He had left names behind long ago. [Why do they call him Wolf Man? Does he look like a wolf? Sound like a wolf? Act like a wolf?]

He stalked toward the boy-nurse, who shrank back against the door. He met the kid’s eye. Some staff would have known. Wolf Man made eye contact! Something’s up! [awkward]

But the kid averted his eyes like a pup under the alpha male’s paw. “I’ll check your medication!” he yelped, then slammed and locked the door. Wolf Man was classified non-violent, but he had a room to himself because he made patients nervous. The facility’s policies aimed to keep patients calm.

Midnight. The curtains lifted. The kid came back in, with a small paper cup. He glanced toward Wolf Man. “Brought more medication. The doctor said OK.”

“Put it down,” growled Wolf Man.

Scott started violently, and the pill went skittering across the floor, under the wardrobe. [good]

“Tell them I took it.” Words felt rough and unfamiliar, like they always did on Christmas Eve.

Scott’s eyes were as big as a cornered deer’s. “You—you talked.”

Wolf Man nodded, once. “Yeah. So talk to me.” He had to look on the bright side. At least tonight he could swear at the kid—quietly. It would feel good. Wolf Man sat in the desk chair and rubbed his face with his hairy hands. [what desk chair? we need a description of the room]

The kid gripped the doorknob tighter. “I’ve got to go find someone!”

Wolf Man surged out of the chair and grabbed the kid’s shoulder. “No!” The kid let go of the doorknob instantly, but Wolf Man kept his grip, so his hand wouldn’t shake. “You want to bring down a pack of shrinks on me?”

“W-well, yeah. They’re qualified to—” The kid’s eyes rolled around, looking for crutches. [awkward] “—to help. I’m just a tech, and—”

Wolf Man tossed the kid in the desk chair. “I’ve only got till dawn.”

“Dawn?” echoed the kid, curiosity joining the fear in his face.

“Dawn. And I can only talk to one person.” He reached for words that the shrink pack could understand. “Too stressful with more than one person around.” He jabbed his horn-nailed finger at the kid’s nose. “And you’re it. So talk.”

“The charge nurse is going to wonder where I went. They might be wondering already.” The kid’s eyes flitted to the tiny camera in the corner of the ceiling.

Wolf Man let out his breath in a rush, defeated. “Fine. But come back when you can.” He tried to meet the kid’s terrified eyes.

“Tracy’s on duty. She’d do better...”

“No!” His own vehemence surprised him. Scott and his gang of friends treated Wolf like—well, like a wolf. A wild dog, untamable, but good for baiting from a safe distance. Stacy [huh?] treated him like a pet dog. “You shouldn’t treat him like that! He’s a man with feelings, just like the rest of you!” But her eyes reflected the same fear of his implacable muteness. At least Scott was an honest jerk.

“OK, then. I’ll come back.”

Wolf paced until the door opened again and Scott slid back into the desk chair.

He raised a bushy eyebrow at the kid. “I’ve been talking to myself,” he said. “Dogbreath bet you’d run away.” The kid winced. “Wolf thought you’d come back. Dogbreath owes Wolf five bucks.” [good]

The kid met his eye with an obvious act of will. “I’m on break,” he said, “so we have to talk fast.”

Wolf motioned at the camera. “What about...?”

“Tracy said she’d cover for us as long as she could. She wanted to come in here herself.”

“How’d you keep her out?”

The kid’s ears turned pink. “Told her it might be dangerous, with you unstable like this.”

Wolf nodded. Mostly his mind had taken his reason without giving him a dog’s senses or power. But he knew Tracy smelled like fear.

“So, why’d you choose Christmas Eve?”

Wolf sat on the bed. “I didn’t choose it. It chooses me, every year. It’s like the old story. The animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve. I can talk until dawn—if I’m careful, and quiet.” He pushed his hands slowly toward each other, until they met with a clap. “Then the curtains close again.”

“But that’s...” The kid’s voice trailed off.

Wolf leaned back on his pillow. “Ridiculous, yeah. Or magical, or blessed. Probably delusional. It might go away with the right medication.” [good]

Scott leaned forward, some untapped germ of empathy itching at him, Wolf guessed. “Do you remember your name, or where you came from?”

Wolf shook his head. “Sometimes names come to me on Christmas Eve.” He pointed at the desk. “See? I’ve got paper and a pencil all ready.”

“You can write?”

Wolf sighed. This was going to be a long night. “So, talk.”

“Just...talk?”

“Yeah, and I’ll answer, and sometimes you’ll ask questions and I’ll answer, [awkward] and we’ll just sit here and be human together.” [good] Wolf folded his arms and waited.

“OK...” Scott’s gaze landed on the bridge of Wolf’s nose. “How about Christmas?”

Wolf nodded.

“I didn’t want to work tonight, but they pay double time if you work on Christmas. Before I left for work, my little sisters sprinkled oatmeal and glitter on the lawn for the reindeer.”

“Oatmeal? How do you sprinkle that?”

“Dry oatmeal. And we always got Pop-tarts in our stockings. They took up a lot of room, so my mom didn’t have to put a lot of other crap in there...”

By Stacy’s Christmas magic, no one came nosing in to find Scott. So when Scott finished, Wolf picked up. His sentences came out broken, incomplete, like his memories. “A trail in a forest. Or a park, maybe. And a stream—or a spring. Except the spring was in a different place. Rushing past me, too fast to hold. And a girl—a grown-up, beautiful girl. Reaching out to me, but the curtains were closing. ‘I can’t find you,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry.’ And the water again, carrying me away...” Scott somehow knew not to say anything. “Karen.” Scott sat up straight, his hand inching toward the pencil. “Karen...Foresman. Or Fordham...” The swirling black at the edges of his mind threatened to snap closed, but the sky outside was still dark. Wolf willed back the chaos, clenching his whole face with the effort. “Tell me some more about the Pop-tarts.”

So Scott talked about Pop-tarts, and sports cars, and the other techs and aides, and the girl he was dating, and the one he wanted to date. And then it was Wolf’s turn again. “Fordham. Yes. And Springdale.”

Scott frowned. “Springdale? Is that around here?”

Wolf shook his head. “No. But it’s...somewhere.” He could see the silhouette of the tree outside his window. The curtains shuddered, preparing to close. He turned his back to the window and crossed the room to where Scott sat, scribbling the important words. Wolf didn’t know if those names were right—or if they would be of any use if they were right. But now the kid’s eyes—Scott’s eyes—met his, human to human. He knelt down so their eyes were level.

The curtains were closing fast, with the morning light. Scott looked panicked. “What should I tell them? What can I do?”

“That fairytale?” Wolf grunted around his closing throat. “About the talking animals?” Scott nodded. Wolf gripped his right hand. “Some say the animals can talk on Christmas. Others say that people learn how to talk...to...animals...” [use dashes] They were still shaking hands when the words became growls, then a howl of anguish.

Someone squeezed his hand and rustled a piece of paper. Slowly, his eyes focused on the face in front of him—and met other eyes. Eyes that saw him. “I’ve got the names,” Scott said slowly. “I’ll do what I can—everything I can.”

With an effort, Wolf Man held his gaze, and, very slowly, nodded.


Work on punctuation and sentence structure. There are a few unanswered questions: How long has he been in here? If longer than a year, wouldn't the staff know this had happened in previous years and be expecting it?

You've got some typos and you mixed up Tracy/Stacy. I'd suggest dropping her altogether. She's really not needed for the story. Have Scott come in and stay in. It's night, there's not that much activity. Or make him be a janitor—no one would miss him if he was in a patient's room for a few hours. I want more detail to their conversation. And you need a better title.


What I liked best: Your unique
twist on the myth that animals can talk on Christmas Eve. You've got some good phrases.

Magazine ready? Not quite
. But I'd ask you to rewrite and resubmit next year because the concept is very good.

3 comments:

Melanie Goldmund said...

I vote for this one. Excellent use of the old tradition that animals can talk on Christmas Eve! I particularly liked the development of Scott's character, from baiting the Wolf Man from a safe distance, fearful of him up close, to finding empathy and then really seeing him, human to human. I think it doesn't matter if Scott doesn't manage to find this Karen Fordham, because Scott's one of those people who's learned how to talk to animals, or at least to Wolf Man.

Anonymous said...

I vote for this one!

Emily M. said...

This is excellent. It's got tight writing, two nicely developed characters, a Christmas theme that's original and compelling, an ending that's positive but not sappy. My only minor quibble is that Stacy was written as Tracy once, and it threw me off. One for the copyeditors to catch. Other than that, this definitely gets my vote!