Sofia tried hugging his lifeless body, but it lolled around with his nose as the pivot point, his big head weighing heavy on the end of his rubbery neck. Even with the dead weight as evidence, she kept thinking maybe he was still alive, maybe she’d felt his heart thump under her hand.
A lie, of course. The cloudiness of his eyes told her he was gone; there was no keen vigilance shining from under those shaggy brows. Although she buried her face into his ruff just the same, sobbing his name. Her apologies.
They came out as a smearing litany, her betrayal riding upon strings of snot. She cried for the ugly path of their lives, cursing the people in it, so when Charlie lay his hand upon her shoulder she twisted upright, the .22 somehow finding its home snug against her palm.
She raised it straight at the farmer’s face. “Back off,” she snarled, her molars locked like they’d been when she’d squeezed the trigger the first time.
Charlie’s hands flipped up, palms forward like they were little, bulletproof shields. Sofia paid no attention to the words coming out of his awful mouth, but he was talking like he did when his giant draft horses spooked under harness.
She might have been losing it but her hand was snake steady. Since his horses didn’t carry guns and she did, Charlie grew a sense of self-preservation and did what she said. He left her alone with her dog. Along with everybody else. While she’d been floundering in the sea of tar her life had turned into, the crowd had moved inside.
Once she was alone she crumpled back to the ground with Sol, hauling his heavy chest onto her lap. He was still warm, pliable. Floppy. She stayed with him until the body cooled, until she was sure he was never coming back, that the bullet had found its true arc. She never noticed the curious faces peering out of the farmhouse windows; nor did she wonder how the beat up Ford had gotten so close.
Sofia moved by impulse because there wasn’t anything else in her. No heart, no head, no… nothing. Just the gaping hole expanding around her feet as her frustration swelled because she couldn’t lift her giant pup into the bed of the pick-up by herself.
She didn’t bother to notice, either, who gently lifted the wolf-hound’s lifeless flank and nestled it on the rusting bed. Christ, she could barely step around the spreading hole to find the driver’s side door. She sure as hell couldn’t recall driving to the Pit—the place where all dead animals wound up to decompose or get picked over by the crows and eagles.
The dog’s soul was gone so it didn’t matter if the carcass rotted on the heap. What the dog had
been was long gone. Blown to smithereens by a .22 bullet.
Sofia pulled her friend out, grasping hard to the massive weight as gravity sucked the dog to the ground, as though the earth already claimed what was rightfully its own. She dragged him closer to the pile.
Her eulogy? A stream of vomit splashing on weathered bones.
When her homage to Death finally quit its spasms, she stiffened her shaking legs, wiped her mouth on the back of her forearm, and walked away. From everything. The truck, the farm, the people. Her few possessions.
She did not look back. Because already the crows were squawking Sol’s arrival and she had nothing left to stomach the horror.
Waiting for Sofia to come back with the Ford got old within about two minutes of its departure.
The gnawing in his guts hadn’t stopped churning since he’d played shadow at the back of the farmhouse, and German knew not to ignore it. Example? The fuck-show that had just demolished center stage.
He heeded his instincts and snuck off toward the woods abutting the sprawling hayfield.
The woman wasn’t coming back, which meant she might be salvageable, after all. Damned if he knew how to go about it, though. Sofia had been twitchy before, but now? She was a suspended tornado: which direction was she going to lay to waste? The abyss in her eyes meant she could tip to either side. If he wanted to influence her so she’d survive shifting into wolf, he’d have to handle her like she was nitroglycerin.
Like he wasn’t being careful before?
Shit. He’d been winging it before she’d shot her dog, now he was utterly frigging clueless. The Alphas, when they’d sent him on this mission, hadn’t been any help, either. They were hoping he’d fail.
He wasn’t about to give them that satisfaction.
To save my own ass. Right. And if he kept repeating it to himself, eventually he’d believe the little diddy, maybe even scuff out a little soft shoe. Meanwhile, as he stood there letting his thoughts tap dance over to why he was stuck in the nether regions of Maine to begin with, Sofia was driving a truck farther and farther away from him.
German jutted his nose to the west and snuffled with shallow breaths to catch the taste of decay upon his tongue, the hint of…
He never got used to the smell of automobiles. The shit they exhausted was toxic and the old Ford Sofia was driving coughed like a smokestack on four wheels. Never mind that he’d been the one to round it up for her to help her with the dog.
What mattered was the widening cavern in his guts. He struck off toward the rot wafting on the wind and hoped like hell the rogue had fled on foot, because he’d only be able to chase the truck so far before he’d lose the trail.
He was just a wolf, after all, not a frigging super-hero.
Installment #15 coming soon.