She gets up late, I rise early.
When I wake up, there is a perfect little toadstool on my bedside table. Exposed to the sunlight pouring through the bedroom window, its luminescence has already begun to fade at the edges of the crown. These sorts only grow deep in the forest and blossom for an hour or two past midnight. Only her eyes could pick them out in the moonlight. I shuffle to the kitchen and put the toadstool in some water.
It won’t last long.
There’s steak in the fridge. I eat it cold with a hot cup of coffee. I wipe the juices out of my beard and in that moment of distraction accidentally look at the calendar tacked to the fridge.
The calendar is one you would find at a grade school book fair: twelve months of puppies. There are golden retriever puppies frolicking in a field of April sunflowers. A dachshund sleeps away the entire month of August. This month is the month of sheep dogs taking a bubble bath. She bought it to count the days; her sense of humor is, at times, dark.
Today, the joke isn’t funny. Because today is circled in angry red marker.
I tear open the paper, but even the newsprint is laughing at me.
Rabid dog shot dead by animal control.
I flip the page.
Wolf population in danger.
Doesn’t anyone get murdered in this town anymore?
After a time, when the coffee has gone cold, I pull out the computer and begin to write. My eyes drift to the calendar every other paragraph. I move to the porch where I chain smoke for a bit, watching the sun pulled inexorably across the sky. But soon I am too jittery to stay outdoors.
What if I fall asleep and the sun goes down?
What if it happens while the moon is in the daytime sky?
I go back inside, lie in bed and stare at the ceiling until the shadows begin to lengthen. As they do, the despair lengthens with them from my toes to my eyes. It is in the witching hour that my thoughts are darkest. But it is also at the witching hour that her first step creaks on the bottom basement stair.
The footsteps are slow. Her sleep is always that of the dead, comatose and complete; upon waking, it takes her a few seconds to remember how to walk.
The door to the basement groans open as night pulls its shroud around the house. I hear her squeak down the hallway.
She is in the room before I even know it, like one of the shadows stretching its way under the door. Her skin is pearl-white, her hair blue-black like raven feathers. There is dirt under her fingernails. She smiles and like a candle to the dark, my despair retreats. She kisses me on the lips and it is like pressing my lips to a frozen light pole.
The cold is welcome as the fever has already begun.
With practiced grace, she goes first to the front door of the house and padlocks it. She wraps the chain thrice around the door handle, locks it with a key on a string which she hangs around her neck. Then she locks the basement door and jams the metal bar through the sliding door to the porch. Finally, she enters the bedroom, closes the door, slides the lock and does up the seven bolts.
I am burning up now. The itching of a million rabid termites chews up every inch of my body. She lies next to me and wraps her arms and legs, vise-like, around my naked, clammy body.
Then the change begins. My toenails go first, split apart by razor sharp keratin of a different sort. I feel them sink into the soft flesh of her feet. She does not cry out. Then come the fingernails, which burst like rot-swollen wood. She hugs me tighter just as my teeth begin to fall out. Bristly hair sprouts over my body. Muscles bulge and bones break and shift and reform. I scream, but in a matter of moments, the man in me is gone, relegated to a little prison inside my own head.
She lies with the wolf now.
The wolf thrashes, caught in her iron grip, snapping its jaws an inch from her throat. She squeezes tighter, an embrace that would crack the ribs of a regular man. It just makes the wolf angry. The headboard cracks as his head slams into it again and again. He bites his own tongue in half just to taste blood.
She takes it all silently, even while he shreds her legs and arms.
There are periods of rest, when the moon goes behind a cloud. But the clouds always move and the moon remains.
To me, imprisoned, there is no such thing as time. There is just waiting. And blood. And panting in the dark.
After an eternity, it ends. Dawn is imminent. It is always like waking from a half-remembered dream. The sheets are torn to ribbons and blood, mine and hers, is everywhere. She rises painfully, mauled almost beyond recognition.
She showers quickly, before the sun rises. Then she pads back into the bedroom. The fever is receding. The hair, the claws, the teeth, the bone, all are back where they should be. The man is left shivering under the covers.
She kisses me on the lips. They are warm with blood.
“I love you,” she whispers. Then she retreats to the basement, away from the light she loathes.
I wake up a day later feeling like lukewarm death. On the bedside table is another little toadstool. I rise and put it in some water next to the first. On the refrigerator, another month has been crossed off the calendar.
I love you too, I think, as she sleeps the day away in her basement coffin.
Michael Batton Kaput is a freelance journalist. He has previously worked as an editor at Egypt Today and Business Today Egypt magazines. He is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction.