George & The Werewolf, Pt. 3

This is the third installment in a four-part short story which we have been writing on Thousand Mile Walk.  For those of you just joining us, here are Part 1 and Part 2 of “George & The Werewolf.”

Rounding a bend in the steep mountain track, George was temporarily blinded by the rays of morning sun that the shoulder of rock had hidden.  He tipped his hat brim down over his eyes and focused on his feet.  A misstep here would be fatal, for after days of scaling the mesa, he was acutely aware of the peril of the precipice on his right, and there would be no one to catch him if he stumbled.

A loosened pebble skittered off the path and into the expanse beyond, its pattering echo cracking the shell of silence that seemed to encase him and shut him off from the world of the living.  The hollow sound reminded him once more of how alone he was.  Or was he truly alone, George wondered, thinking about the nocturnal howl and the paw prints and boot marks he had noticed yesterday and this morning.  Did someone else know of his contract?

Head still tilted and hat limiting his vision beyond the next few paces, George suddenly saw a moving black shadow slice the path in front of him.  Glancing up in surprise, he was once again blinded, then shielded his eyes with his left hand—the other one sliding to the Wilhelm 56Z in his holster.  A tall figure was outlined at the head of the steep track, hands raised and palms out.

“Who are you?” George shouted, weapon at the ready.  “Why are you here?”

The figure turned and disappeared around a turn in the track.  George yelled and sprinted up the path.

“Stop, or I’ll shoot!”

Reaching the turn in the path where the figure had vanished, George halted abruptly.  The person had disappeared.  Listening, George realized the silence of moments before had resumed.  He heard no running steps or scattering rocks.  The early morning chill had already evaporated, and even this brief exertion had left him sweating and out of breath in the unusually thin air.  For a moment, George felt dizzy.  Had he merely imagined the figure?  Was he hallucinating?  When was the last time he had spoken to another living soul?  He had lost count of the days since he had buried his guide.  Had it been days, or weeks?  George shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts.  Holstering his Wilhelm, he tugged a water canteen from his pack and drank.

Yes, surely he had been hallucinating.  His mind felt much clearer now, and George tried to forget the disturbing occurrence and refocus on the path and his mission.  In all this solitude, he needed to keep his mind active if he wanted to retain his sanity.

George began to sort through possible internal conversation topics.  He pictured a hearty German breakfast, with link sausage, poached eggs, and cider, and quickly regretted the thought, as his stomach began to grumble.  Dry bread, water, jerky, and tinned food was all the fare he had eaten since the journey began, and even once he completed his mission, he would have to subsist on the same until he returned to the seaport to board his ship home.  He would be able to enjoy a good meal soon enough—once he finished Mr. Acton’s contract, that is.

To try to forget about breakfast, George surveyed the barren scene around him.  He thought of the beautiful mountains of Germany that were nothing like this desert of rock and aridity and glaring sun.  Had these mesas ever raised a real tree, not one of these scraggly bushes that barely resembled its German cousins?  George snapped off a dry twig as he passed a “tree” and broke the branch into pieces with his restless fingers, scattering the splinters as he walked.  Dusting his hands off, George refocused on the path and quickened his pace.  He squinted far up the path and realized his destination was in sight.

Distracted by what he saw at the top of the path, George passed the boot prints in the sandy ground without a glance or a moment’s thought.  Neither did he hear the quiet steps behind him which his own scramble up the rocky path had muffled.  For a second, George felt the coolness on the back of his neck of a passing shadow, but as he began to turn to discover the source, a breeze followed, and with it, a hand and the butt of a gun.

Cold, darkness, a pain in his neck and head, biting wind, and a faint tapping sound.  As George pried his stiff eyelids open, at first he thought he was in a dark room.  Or was he blind?  He blinked, and his eyes began to water, then to clear and focus.  Pinpricks of starlight appeared, and he realized it was night and he was on his back.  What had happened?  His blurred thoughts began to clear, then awoke with freezing clarity as he heard a snarl, and then the first low notes of a howl.  A howl that was louder and closer than it had ever been in all his nightmares, and George knew without a doubt that this was no nightmare.  His fingers twitched softly toward his hunting knife; his Wilhelm would be no use from the ground against an opponent that had the close quarters advantages of claws and teeth.  Gripping the knife handle, George slipped it silently from its sheath.  He heard faint panting and a quiet click-click-clicking circling him and coming nearer.

…To be continued and concluded by Catdust19.

Frank’s Social Experiment

It had been 11 months, 2 weeks, and 4 days since Frank had had a meaningful interaction with another human being. It wasn’t a Robinson Crusoe situation – isolation enforced by violent shipwreck. No, this was a 21st century isolation, one brought about and enabled by self-checkouts at stores, online bill payments, and (whew!) no medical emergencies to speak of. Frank had been stung by a wasp in his 11 months of isolation – and right on the knuckle of his thumb – but fortunately, despite his thumb swelling up to the size of a marshmallow, a Benedril lozenge had helped alleviate the reaction, and precluded a trip to a doctor.

Frank had received permission to work from home over a year ago, and so had begun his life of seclusion. From then on, his work life consisted of Slack channels and group chats and text messages. But no phone calls – his manager had attempted to call him once, but Frank simply let it ring, waited for a voicemail, and then sent a text in response. Sorry Ms. BlahBlahBlah for missing your call. I can take care of that paperwork this evening. Thanks, Frank.

And for the most part, it was working – work for 8 hours (sometimes 8 hours and 15 minutes if he had a deadline to meet), sign out of his work computer, head to the kitchen for a snack, then to the living room, switch on the TV, lean back on the couch, sink his unclipped toenails down into the fuzzy brown carpet, and begin a new TV show marathon. TV shows were his social life now. When he watched How I Met Your Mother, Frank’s friends for a few short weeks became Ted, Marshall, Lily, and Barney. He started thinking about what the different characters would like, as if they were real people. Barney would approve of the way I wrote this email, Frank would think to himself after authoring a particularly snarky email.

Occasionally, Frank would get unaccountable feelings of…mental hungriness. It was not loneliness, he told himself. When he felt this way, he would go and turn on Parks & Recreation and watch his favorite episodes. It took the edge off, and the feeling would quickly pass. At other times, he thought about how nice it would be to have a girlfriend. Someone like Lily, crossed with Pam from The Office, crossed with some of April Ludgate’s mischievousness.

One day, in a fit of mental hungriness (NOT loneliness), Frank signed up for an online dating profile. Within a couple days, he received a message from a lady named Jill Epwerd. Scrolling through her profile, he discovered she had similar interests to his own. She liked cats, she liked TV shows, she was a software developer and was even a Doctor Who fan! But then Frank reached the bottom of her profile: “…love working out and finding new meals that fit my vegan lifestyle.”

Frank recoiled noticeably from his computer screen. This Jill was no good. She was not the one. Why had he even decided to open the account in the first place? Wasn’t it obvious only extroverts who liked people and exercise would use dating sites? 10 minutes later, Frank had deleted his dating profile and was once again ensconced between cushions on his couch, petting his purring cat Olaf and watching Parks & Recreation (While not pertinent to the story, you will be happy to know that Jill recovered quite admirably from Frank ignoring her message and went on to become quite happily married to a wedding photographer).

But then, one evening, something terrible happened. As Frank was settling down on his couch for a typical evening binge (this time of Persons of Interest), a white streak caught the corner of his eye. Thinking for a moment that his cat Olaf was under him on the couch but unable to keep himself from sitting down at this point, Frank kicked one knee out awkwardly, missed the couch entirely, and landed in a gangly heap on the floor with a CRACK.

“Ow,” said Frank, calmly. A stabbing pain was now shooting through his left leg. “Ow,” he said again. Beginning to move now, leaning on the couch to stand up once again. “OW,” Frank said now, louder and more certainly. He knew that something was badly, badly wrong.

Following the Ruby Red Carpet

Once a year, when I was a young lass, I used to routinely ensconce myself in front of the TV to watch the Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars. While the occasional moments of spectacular pageantry would divert me, mostly, I am beginning to suspect, I was only interested because everyone told me I should be. As an adult, my thrift-induced lack of cable means I don’t really have a way to watch the ceremony live, and, if I’m being honest, I’ve enjoyed saving myself five hours and simply reading up on the highlights the next day. Internet has killed the video star.

Of course, one of those next-day highlights I have consistently, genuinely eaten up is the fashion. Some portion of the day after the Oscars is always devoted to scrolling through a photo gallery of famous and not-so-famous actors and actresses, dressed in (what is purportedly) their finest. And then going and looking at another photo gallery, because some of the angles on that last one were a little awkward. And then looking at those sites that have the dresses arranged by color, because I’m always curious if there’s a majority hue. And then looking at a couple of “Best/Worst Dressed” lists, to see if their choices agreed with mine. And then, of course, discussing said lists with similarly interested friends.

I don’t really have a rational reason for this binge. I’ve no occasion for wearing such finery myself; I wore a Star Wars t-shirt I bought from Target to work today. I’m no fashionista; it means nothing to me when I read a person’s shoe is by Louis Vulture or the bag by Christian Door. Really, what can I say? I like beautiful dresses, and I like critiquing beautiful dresses. Thus, without further ado, I present my 2018 Oscars Awards for Fashion, or the 2018 OAFs.

The Oooh, Shiny! Award

Presented to the individual(s) that most call to mind a quote from How I Met Your Mother: “One of the 24 similarities between girls and fish is that they’re both attracted to shiny objects.”

Gal Gadot, for Sparkly Dress with a Fluttery Skirt & Fantastic Necklace; Jennifer Lawrence, for Rockin’ the Retro Look; Gina Rodriguez, for Sparkling Both Inside & Out; Lupita Nyong’o, for Gold Dress, Albeit with a Slit I Wouldn’t Wear

The Color Envy Award

Presented to the individual(s) who best pull off colors that I cannot myself wear without looking like a corpse

Greta Gerwig, for Bright Yellow SPARKLES; Zendaya, for Successfully Pulling Off Ruffles in Brown; Laurie Metcalf, for Beige Shimmery Classic Number.

The Emperor Palpatine Award

Presented to the individual(s) who most resemble Emperor Palpatine’s guards

Maya Rudolph, for Just Add the Helmet & Honestly I Couldn’t Tell the Difference

The “I’d Wear That if I Were an Evil Queen” Award

Presented to the individual(s) who are wearing something I would totally wear as a Dark Empress

Allison Janney, for Rockin’ Those Red Sleeves, Have You SEEN the Way They Drape?

The Actually Made Me Briefly Care About Men’s Fashion Award

Presented to the rare male individual(s) whose red carpet photo actually causes me to pause and look closer, instead of just scrolling past another man in a black tuxedo

Chadwick Boseman, for Hello There. Don’t You Look Fiiiiiiine. Why, Yes, It Is Rather Chilly, I Would Like to Borrow Your Coat. Thank You. Your Coat is Mine Now. Goodbye.

The “That’s Not How I Would Have Rolled, But Props to You” Award

Presented to the individual(s) wearing something rather outlandish, but still pulling it off

Tiffany Haddish, for The Dress is Quite Something, But I Do Actually Really Like Her Headpiece; Emma Stone, for Rocking a Suit and Somehow Not Being Frumpy

The Living Your Best Life Now Award

Presented to the individual(s) who are rocking a dress they clearly love, whatever the merits of the dress itself

Whoopi Goldberg, for That Large Floral Dress, You Go Girl

The Disney Princess Award

Presented to the individual(s) whose outfits most resemble that of a Disney princess

Salma Hayek, for Shimmery Purple Tiers with Diamonds, I Understand Some People Didn’t Like It, but She Just Got Through Saving the Kingdom from Mother Gothel, So Back Off; Emily Blunt, for Wearing a Gown that Somehow Looks More Like the Original Animated Cinderella’s Dress than the 2015 Remake’s Version

The Bed Sheet Award

Presented to the individual whose outfit most resembles a fitted bed sheet

Andra Day, for I’m Pretty Sure I Made that Outfit While Playing Dress Up When I Was 12