The fourth part of my adult sci-fi/western novel The Wulf and the Tiger. This follows directly on from the last part. Please bear in mind it’s a first draft work in progress.
The man with the green eyes rose his head. ‘An oversight,’ he repeated simply.
The man with the green eyes stood stiff. ‘We don’t quite understand sir. Not yet. But we’re missing someone. He’s gone completely off the grid.’
The man with the green eyes nodded. ‘It has happened before.’
The man with the green eyes looked a little surprised. ‘It has, sir?’
The man with the green eyes looked at the man with the green eyes. ‘How old are you?’
‘Six hundred, sir.’
‘You are very young.’
‘I know sir. I’m good at what I do, sir.’
‘When you get as old as me, you see a lot of mistakes in the universe. A lot of problems, especially when it comes to Reshuffles.’ He paused, then stroked his smooth head with a forefinger, as though slicking down invisible hair. ‘I don’t think there’s anything in the universe or out of it that can be surprise me. I’ve seen everything.’
‘Find out what happened. If there’s a culprit, find them. And find whoever went missing. Nobody gets to leave the grid. And nobody is untraceable.’
‘He was from Earth-502, sir. His name is -’
The man with the green eyes looked coldly at his inferior. ‘I do not care what his name is. Find him.’
Any fool could tell you not to fall asleep beside a wild tiger, but Jay Wulf had gone and done just that. It wasn’t as though he’d planned to. There had been no point when he’d yawned and settled down, thinking ‘I’ll just close my eyes for a wink, I’m sure I’ll hear if the tiger gets up to maul me.’
It had merely been the case that one moment he was awake and the next, as the lilac sky deepened and the indigo clouds drifted back from the horizon, he was not. There was a sensation in his head of a whirlpool; circling it, and being sucked ever downwards.
His last thoughts were nothing concrete, merely a spiral of tigers of all colours, and the report of guns everywhere, and of alien technology, lasers and leviathan ships. And then just the desert, and the woman Sav coming from out the sand, swaying towards him, and how his insides breathed for her, how he ached.
Eventually the tiger closed its own eyes and began to purr next to him in sleep.
The mind of Jay Wulf was a mess. It stank – sweet smells and sour, all carrying a familiarity that he could not put his finger on. There was clutter everywhere; he moved through a room filled with pelts and ripped silk, with leather half cut into holsters and saddles. There was bloodstains on the floorboards and hung on the half rotting walls were guns and knives and swords. The furniture was a hodgepodge of old and new, and was piled high with trinkets and semi-valuable treasures. There was an old ship’s wheel resting against the wall, almost the size of him. A nearby fire burned low in a grate, casting flickers on the wheel that made it look like it was reliving past battles of sword and flame.
On blankets and fur strewn in the centre were several naked women. They were beautiful in that vague, dream-like way, where no one aspect can be concentrated on enough to provide any real kind of definition to the person, no sense that any part of who they were could survive awakening.
‘Hello, Jay,’ purred one of the women. Just like the tiger.
‘Hello,’ Jay replied. ‘Where am I?’
The women just smiled at him. ‘Come to bed, Jay,’ they said.
‘Who are you? No, for that matter, who am I?’
They giggled. ‘You know who you are,’ said one.
‘Jay Wulf, I suppose,’ he said.
‘The greatest fighter in the world,’ cooed one of them.
‘The greatest lover in the world,’ said another.
‘The greatest man -’
‘With the biggest -’
The final words were gurgled as the room blew away like smoke.
‘Get off her,’ he said.
The man glanced behind him to see a gun pointed at his head. ‘What’s this?’ he growled, after a hesitation.
The man spat, half on the bed, half on the woman. ‘It’s got fuck all to do with you.’
Jay Wulf looked down at her, then back at the man. ‘Lady says no,’ he said simply.
‘Lady,’ the man snorted. ‘When a whore says no she says yes.’
The woman punched him in the side, and he grunted and drew a knife on her. ‘Do that again. Do that again.’
‘Sometimes, sure,’ Jay said. ‘But when this whore says no she means no.’ His gun remained trained on the man, unwavering.
‘And you can tell how?’
‘You can tell by not being a fucking idiot.’
The man moved his knife from the woman’s throat and turned it quickly in his hand, and Jay shot him in the forehead.
He shoved him off the woman and lifted her to her feet.
‘You got blood all over my fucking dress,’ she said.
‘Don’t I get a thank you?’ He holstered his gun.
She looked him up and down. ‘You want a thank you for stopping him raping me? You’re not serious. That’s duty, not heroism.’
‘Not in this place it ain’t. Duties like that, they don’t stay around forever with lack of reward. Aye, well. I suppose.’ He leaned against the wall and spat. ‘You staying here? Want me to take you someplace else?’
‘No,’ she said. ‘What do you want, you want to try your luck too?’
‘Maybe I do,’ he replied. ‘But not tonight, I think. Tomorrow, perhaps. But it’ll be all luck and trying, and nought else.’
He yawned as she scowled. ‘But another whore will do,’ he said. ‘Willing and paid in more than good coin, have no fear. Fact, I think I’ll go for it now, taking your leave miss. Shooting that fella off you and meeting your fine self got my blood up and my dick hard.’
She stared at him in disbelief and anger. ‘You’re aroused from preventing a rape by way of murder?’
Jay laughed huskily. ‘Sounds a lot worse the way you put it. I wouldn’t put too much by it, though. My dick is always hard. It gets hard at someone opening a door, gets hard at another closing it.’
She looked down and said in a scathing tone, ‘it don’t look hard.’
Jay laughed. ‘Aye, down for one minute, out of respect.’ He nodded at her and stood up off the wall. ‘I’ll be going now. Don’t mind him no more’ – he kicked the dead body – ‘I’m sure you can sleep around him. Get some rest. Whores need their rest.’
‘Whores need a day where they aren’t whores.’
‘That too.’ He touched his brow and left, leaving bloody footprints on the wood that got fainter and fainter with every step.
He woke up to the tiger once again a few inches from his face, upside down and glaring, with an insistent rumbling kind of purr that was closer to growl. Jay yelled and sprang up, and the tiger watched him disdainfully as he scrambled to get to the uncovered gun.
Jay picked it up and – under the tiger’s watch – slowly put it in his holster. Finding out that he hadn’t been ripped apart after he’d passed out had given him enough reason to believe that his life wasn’t in danger any more. Well, not from the tiger at least. No doubt the rest of this land (wherever the Hell it was) wanted to kill him.
‘Let’s get this straight,’ he said.
The tiger yawned at him. A long yawn, too long by Jay’s count.
‘Are you done? Neither of us, I think, wants to hurt each other. But I mean, well, am I crazy here? You’re a smart cat, aren’t you?’
The tiger licked his lips.
Jay sighed. ‘Be that way. I’m going on. I may be in a new body in quite possibly a new world, but I sure know what hunger and thirst feel like. I feel . . . not good, and I need saving. I need to get to the nearest town, and the sooner the better or I’m gonna die out here.’
The tiger watched Jay stand up wearily and turn away.
‘Leaving me to it?’ Jay said, then shrugged his shoulders and continued on.
Jay was about to pass between two shelves of rock when he felt teeth on his leg. He yelled out and kicked away, and the tiger backed off, snarling.
‘Listen, fuck off!’ Jay said, removing the gun from his holster and waving it ineffectually once more. He replaced it back in its holster and made to move on.
The tiger darted in and bit at his leg again, but this time it just caught the light cloth of his pants. They didn’t rip, but the tiger was dragging him, and Jay staggered, trying to keep his balance.
‘What is it!’ More like a dog than a cat, he thought. The kind of dog move that means something . . . ‘What’s that boy?’ he said, leaning down. ‘Timmy fallen down the well? Ouch!’ He lifted his leg and rubbed it where the tiger had bit him, harder than before. ‘Alright alright! What do you want?’
The tiger padded away a few steps, then looked meaningfully back at him.
‘You want me to go that way? That’s the way I came from!’
The tiger said nothing, but waited impatiently.
‘Let me think for a second.’ The tiger flopped to the ground. ‘Well,’ Jay pondered out loud, ‘if I follow you, you might just lead me back to my starting position, you might lure me into an ambush and eat me . . . although I suppose you could have killed me at any point . . . But you could just be taking me back to your lair, which wouldn’t exactly do me much good, unless . . . unless you know where water is? I’m not going to feast on any raw critter you have waiting for me, I’ll have you know. Then there’s the other hand, I suppose if I ignore you you’ll just keep biting and dragging me, won’t you?’
The tiger nodded.
‘Do you understand what I’m saying! I know you do! Hello!’ Jay waved his hand in the tiger’s face.
The tiger looked at him balefully, then stood up and walked off.
‘Alright, I’m coming. All I’m saying, is if you lead me into a trap, or worse, to nowhere at all, and I die because of you, I’m going to be pretty mad. I’m just saying.’
Jay picked his way back among the rocks, his throat aching. I need drink soon. The tiger has to keep hydrated too. I just wish that Sav woman hadn’t fucked off . . . no doubt a tendency to quickly fuck off has served her well in the past.
She saved me, though. So that must mean at least one person is on my side. Somewhat.
Unless she just wants to kill me herself at a later date.
He remembered the dream. Walking slowly amongst the room of junk and treasure, guns and blades and blood, the room of animal furs and naked, flattering ladies.
Then he remembered what came after, and he knew it hadn’t been a dream, not really.
It had been a memory.