The sixth part of my adult sci-fi/western novel WULF (previously called The Wulf and the Tiger). This follows directly on from the last part. The full novel will soon be available as an ebook on Amazon (and about time too!).
Warning: Quite a bit of bad language here. Blame Savvi. That’s just how she is.
‘You took your time,’ Sav said, long fingers with close-cut nails the colour of chocolate curled around a wide mug. She looked amused.
‘You left me! In the middle of nowhere!’
‘Oh, nonsense,’ she said. ‘You got back alright, didn’t you?’
‘I nearly died! Why couldn’t you just have led me back?’
‘Because you know the way. Or should have done.’
‘Well I didn’t. I don’t.’
‘I see,’ she said, in a bored tone. ‘But you still made it.’
‘Only because of the tiger -’
‘A tiger led me back.’
‘Of course it did. I don’t see one with you, though.’
‘It’s sleeping just outside of town. Or at least it was when I left it.’
‘Mhmm. Ah well.’ She took a gulp from her drink.
Jay took a deep breath. ‘I don’t think you realise the situation I’m in.’
‘Oh, boo-hoo. If I knew you were going to be such a little bitch about it I wouldn’t have saved your life this time. What gives?’
‘Look,’ he said, stopped, and then tried to start again. ‘Look.’
‘What am I looking at? If this is another one of your lengthy come-ons . . .’
‘I have no memory of who I am or where I am.’ He had quickly decided this was a better course of explanation than ‘I appear to be in a different body in a potentially alien land.’
‘That’s unfortunate,’ she replied, dryly. ‘You don’t remember me, then?’
‘I remember -’ he paused. ‘I remember scraps, just like half-formed ideas, or dreams. Many things seem faintly familiar. You, for instance. I feel I have this connection to you. That doesn’t quite explain it, and maybe it’s just that you saved my life, even though you didn’t exactly stick it through, but -’
‘That’s sweet honey, but you’re not the first man to tell me you have a connection to me, or whatever. I suppose you’ve also forgotten all the times you’ve tried to get into my pants?’
A blush failed to materialise. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, in what he thought might pass for an abashed tone.
She stared. ‘Who the fuck are you and what have you done with Jay?’
He shrugged. ‘Am I right in thinking I can trust you?’
Sav laughed, the kind of unsubtle laugh that’s done right in someone’s face. That face being his own. ‘Trust me?’ she cried gleefully. ‘Listen my poor bitch, you can’t trust me an inch. And that’s an inch more than you can offer!’
‘But you must like me, surely?’
‘But then why save my life?’
She shrugged. ‘I suppose you amuse me.’ She banged her mug down. ‘Bar keep!’ she yelled. ‘Another!’
The bartender bustled over to her and refilled, smiling lopsidedly at Sav. She glared at Jay, then took the call from a woman chanting for what Jay’s mind translated as “black beer”.
‘You didn’t pay anything.’
‘Course not,’ Sav said, face half-hidden inside her mug. ‘She knows who I am.’
‘And who are you?’
‘Don’t make me repeat myself.’
Jay sighed. The woman was hard work, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. It struck him as funny – odd funny, not ha-ha funny – that he could consider himself a beggar when it came to a lady – a woman, he corrected himself, not a lady – of such looks. Erotic appeal dripped from her, right down to the semi-contemptuous expression she fixed him with.
‘People here are strange,’ he said, looking back to his glass and taking another sip.
‘Speak for yourself, cock-smith.’
‘Can’t you be nice? It’s already a really fucking hard and confusing day, and I’m completely by myself here.’
‘What I meant was that, well, when I came into town everybody looked at me. I mean everybody. Do they not like outsiders in this town?’
‘Honey, they looked at you because they know you. You’ve been in this town for months. That, and you look like shit.’
‘They can’t know me . . . A man with a big moustache pulled me out of the water trough and didn’t know me, he looked fixing to kill me.’
‘That’ll be Remembrance Ed. Edder Van Took. He’s only got the short term memory. And he hates just about everyone, least of all anybody darker or redder than him. Sometimes he remembers people, but only if he really, really hates them.’
‘Oh.’ Jay took another drink. ‘But if they know me, why all the stares? Just for looking a bit rough and thirsty?’
‘No. Because you were hauled outta here your hands behind your back kicking and screaming early this morning.’
‘By who! Oh. Ah.’ He tapped his fingers on his glass. ‘So they’re all dead then?’
‘Well, the three brothers are, yes.’
‘They were brothers? Oh.’
‘So it’s just the dad left.’
‘I’d say he’s old and won’t be a bother, but he got their mother pregnant at twelve. That’s him twelve, I should say. She was a lot older and dead now. And he’s still going, leading his boys.’
‘Can I talk to him about it?’
‘He’s a murderous cunt and his three sons have just died. He won’t have heard about it yet, but he will. You had a hand in one, he’s gonna believe you had a hand in all three. What do you think?’
‘I’ve really got enough to be worrying about. What did I do for them to want to kill me? I mean originally?’
‘You fucked their sister.’
‘Is that all? I mean, their sister? Christ, I bet she was a bit of a sight. I hope she didn’t have a beard too.’
‘I doubt it would have stopped you.’
‘You make me sound like an animal. Wait – she did want to be fucked, didn’t she?’
‘You tell me.’
Jay felt his shoulders slump. ‘I really don’t know anything.’
Sav clapped him on the back cheerfully. ‘There you go, you do know something! You have remembered that you know nothing. This makes you as complete as you ever were.’ She drained her cup and got up. ‘For crying out loud, finish your whiskey already, you wet fucking blanket.’
‘I have a feeling -’ he started.
‘Better stop it then,’ she interrupted, picking up the glass and tipping it to his face. Before he knew it the last mouthfuls of whiskey-substitute was speeding towards his mouth. He gulped twice and Sav let go of the glass; it bounced off his knee and hit the floor, smashing.
His throat roared with fire and instant bile that he struggled to push away. The broken glass hadn’t concerned the other patrons, but the bartender was already over, shouldering past Jay with a broom in her hands.
‘I got it Savvi,’ she said with a beaming smile that crinkled the corners of two rather beautiful big eyes.
‘Thanks, Sal,’ Sav replied. ‘Sorry about Jay Wulf.’
‘It’s fine, fine,’ Sal said, not looking at Jay. ‘Up to his old tricks, I assume?’
‘If you mean being a dick, then yes, why stop now?’ Sav put a hand firmly on Jay’s back and pushed him out the bar before he could respond.
‘I’ve seen you drink better men and women under the table,’ Sav muttered as they returned to outside. The lilac sky had deepened and reddened to a rich magenta. The sun was hidden behind the peaked two-floored building signposted REST HOUSE, giving the edges of the dwelling a vibrant purple glow. It was on the other side of the street, and she steered him in its direction.
‘Tell me something, Sav.’ When she didn’t reply, he turned to her. ‘Savvi?’
‘When you see me, what you see?’
‘Is this a test?’
‘I see a cunt.’
‘No, I mean . . . What am I? What . . . race . . . species . . .’
She looked at him askance. ‘You’re a Rathian . . . a human.’
‘A human,’ he repeated. ‘How interesting.’
‘Why is that interesting?’
Jay hesitated, and Sav pushed open the door to the rest house. It swung in with a long, coffin creak. ‘Where I’m from,’ he said under his breath. ‘They call me and people like me human, too.’
‘Have you always been this mad?’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘More so recently. You better get used to it.’
Jay waited as the two of them stood by the door. A small spectacled man behind a desk was filling in some forms, and hadn’t investigated his new customers.
‘Well?’ Sav said. ‘What are you waiting for?’
‘Oh. I thought, I thought -’
‘Are you an invalid? Do it yourself.’
Jay approached the desk, and pulled out the rest of the money from his pockets. ‘Erm, one night, please.’
‘He’ll stay for as long as,’ Sav said. ‘And pay once a week.’
The man peered out at them like a mole. ‘Do I have your word on that, ma’am?’
‘No. If he doesn’t, kick him out. Just don’t come to me asking for money. You won’t get it.’
‘Charming,’ Jay said.
‘First week up front,’ the clerk said stiffly. ‘Ten queens. Plus five queens deposit.’
‘Steep,’ Sav said. ‘What’s this town coming to, that’s what I want to know.’
‘Feel free to take your business elsewhere, ma’am. You know how I feel about this one.’
‘What about me?’ Jay said. ‘Do we know each other?’
‘The gall to ask that,’ the clerk said, his eyes cold. ‘No, you do not know me, Mr Wulf, but I do believe you know my wife.’
‘He’s been saying that quite a lot today,’ chipped in Sav.
‘I’m sorry,’ Jay said. ‘I don’t remember anything. Where is your wife?’
‘Kept away from you.’
Jay took Sav aside. ‘I’m not a very nice person, am I?’
‘I told you you were a cunt.’
‘Do you not think it better to go someone where else? A place perhaps where I haven’t fucked the owner’s wife? Or sister, daughter, mother, horse, or any other relation of.’
Sav put her finger on her lower lip and pulled it down thoughtfully, showing the bottom array of little white stones. ‘Hmm,’ she said. ‘I’m not sure that gives us many options’.
‘Come on. Can’t I stay with you?’
‘Are you joking?’
‘Fifteen queens,’ repeated the clerk. ‘Please.’
‘Stop faffing, my horny little beast boy.’ Sav pinched his side and he yelped, dropping a coin. ‘All he wants is the money. Pay up and trouble over.’
Jay picked up the coin and laid them all out on the desk. ‘This is what I have.’
‘You have five kings and ten queens,’ the clerk counted. ‘And four jackals,’ he sniffed.
‘Good. That sounds like enough.’
‘Well it isn’t.’
‘Really?’ Jay pawed at the coins. ‘How many queens to a king?’
‘There are five kings to one queen.’
‘Oh. Um. So I have . . . eleven queens. And four jackals. Which makes . . .’
‘Eleven queens and four jackals.’
‘Unfortunate,’ Sav said. ‘Give him your gun.’
‘My gun? Won’t I be needing that?’
‘You’ll just have to take your chances, until you find another.’
‘Whereabouts am I to find another gun, without any money?’
‘Perhaps you can wrestle one off the next person who tries to kill you.’
‘Sounds great,’ Jay said. He pulled out the gun and laid it on the table with the coins. ‘The gun for the deposit. The queens for the week.’
The clerk wrinkled his nose. ‘Not the finest specimen in the world.’
‘Will it do for the deposit?’
‘Of course it fucking will,’ Sav said. ‘It’s still a gun. People usually want their guns back.’
‘I know the feeling,’ Jay said.
The clerk stooped and placed the gun under the counter, inside a box that he locked with a click. Then he swept the coins off the counter and into his hands, before carefully depositing them one by one (counting all the time) into the till.
‘Your room is upstairs, last on the right.’
‘Do I get a key?’
‘No. There are no keys.’
‘How am I supposed to get in?’
‘You could try pushing,’ the man said flatly, in that kind of polite sarcasm aggravated service staff were so adept at the universe over. ‘That usually works. If that fails you could always try giving it a good hard ram. It seems to be your go-to move, don’t you think? It certainly served you well with my wife.’
‘I’ll be off now,’ Jay said. ‘Sorry again.’
‘Stop apologising for things,’ Sav said. ‘It’s getting boring.’
He turned and noticed she wasn’t following him up the staircase.
‘I’m going back to the bar,’ she said, noticing his expression. She was sat up on the desk; the clerk was trying to busy himself with his forms, and not lose himself in the contours of her lower back and sides that beckoned smooth and honeyed in the gaps in her clothing. ‘And no, I am not sharing a room with you. Not now, not ever.’
‘I didn’t mean -’
‘I’m sure you didn’t.’
‘Where will I find you tomorrow?’
‘Alright,’ Jay said. ‘And Sav . . . Thank you.’
‘Pft,’ she said, and she blew him a kiss, smirked, and was gone.
Jay trod with heavy feet up to his room. He still felt awful. He pushed open the door, worried for a second that he would intrude upon some barbaric couple mid-coitus who would nail him to the wall and make him watch.
Don’t be an idiot, he thought. They’d probably just shoot you.
The room was empty, though. He was going to consider that the room really couldn’t be much plainer, but that’s before he noticed the sink. A bed and a sink. That’s enough luxury for today. He rushed to it, turning the single tap on. There was a protesting groan, a rumble, and then to his relief came a trickle of not entirely lukewarm water. He cupped his hands and drank every time they filled up, until he had satiated himself and then some.
He lay on the bed. The door had closed itself. There was a flat white pillow on the bed, and a brown woollen blanket, but no sheets or duvet. He wasn’t about to complain. He got up only to close the curtains, barely registering the now bloody-red sky. What he did see was down on the street; the dog that he had seen from a distance yapping and rushing about was back.
Only it wasn’t a dog. For a start, it had six legs.
Jay shut it out of his sight, and fell back on the bed. The room was starting to lose focus, and he felt a great shuddering yawn run through him, a yawn that never left his mouth.
That creature wasn’t like anything I’ve ever seen before.
Those little black demon spots appeared again. They always danced away from him, seeming to be mocking him.
The sky was purple today.
He felt heavy, like he could sink right through the mattress. The bed propped him up only in the sense a still ocean propped up a floating body.
I’m on another planet.
I’m on another planet, and I’m not even me.
Jay felt the room spin, and his eyes closed, but whether it was by his own volition or not he wasn’t sure.