Gary woke up at the door from his alarm clock going off in his bedroom. He groaned, feeling stiff all over from having slept on the floor all night. With some effort and groaning he managed to get to his bedroom and kill the alarm, then dragged himself to the shower to freshen up.
During breakfast he kept wondering what had chased him. He hadn’t heard about any wild dogs going around, and he hadn’t seen any before. The local radio station playing on the transistor radio only reported the usual local news, a missing cat from misses Jones, Frank Righter was picked up drunk again and released after several cups of coffee and fried eggs at the police station, Bunker’s store had a discount on diary goods this week, and the state voted to make the Deer Valley bordering the county a nature reserve.
Gary sighed a little in relief, glad to not hear about any strange sightings at night but he would have felt better if there had been mention of some predator in the neighbourhood. He pondered about strapping a tazer to his body to have it handy when he woke up in the park again. He told himself to ask Suzy if she knew something, then jumped up from his chair. ‘Shit!’ he said, looking at the wall clock.
He hurried to grab his bag, put on his shoes and light coat, and went out the door just in time to hear Suzy unlock hers. Taking a quick deep breath calmed him down a bit and he casually closed his door behind him as Suzy came into the hallway. ‘Oh, hey Suzy.’ he said.
‘Hey Gary.’ she said, smiling at him. ‘How are you this morning?’
‘Good.’ he said. ‘Although I feel a little stiff as if I had been running all night.’
Suzy chuckled. ‘I wish I could exercise in my sleep.’ she said. ‘Would save me a lot of time.’
He nodded. ‘Don’t the animals keep you busy enough?’ he asked with a little grin.
She chuckled again. ‘Some do that, yes.’
Gary remembered what he wanted to ask when they stepped outside. ‘Oh, have you heard of a wild dog or something walking around at night?’
Suzy looked at him with wide eyes. ‘Why? What do you know?’
‘Well, nothing actually.’ he said, thinking of an excuse. ‘I just thought I heard one last night.’
Suzy looked at her phone. ‘Oh, I have to go.’ she said. ‘Early appointment.’
‘Ah.’ he said. ‘Okay.’
She gave him a quick wave. ‘I’ll ask around, but you probably just dreamt it.’
‘Yeah, I guess.’ he said and returned the wave, then watched her for a moment as she hurried on her way. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if I had.’ He looked up at the sky. ‘Maybe I have been dreaming this whole thing, and growing more crazy day by day.’ He looked at the potted plants against the wall, one of which, a small fir tree, had an unnatural bend in it. He took a deep breath. ‘At least it’ll boost my creativity.’ he said and went on his way to work.
Gary stopped by the hardware store before going home and bought himself a cypher lock for the door, thinking he wouldn’t be able to turn the dials with his sheep fingers and go outside.
He barely arrived home when Suzy came out of her apartment. ‘Gary?’ she asked.
He turned back to her. ‘Yes?’
She plucked at one sleeve of her shirt. ‘Ehm, could you do me a favour?’ she asked, looking around. ‘I’ve got a problem with my heater and the repairman can only fix it tomorrow, so, I wanted to ask, if I could borrow your shower for a bit maybe?’ She smiled a little at him.
It took a moment for the question to sink in before he felt excited and tried to suppress it to not look like a fool. ‘You mean, like, to take your shower at my place?’ he said, pointing at his door. ‘Now, or?’
‘Well, a little later, after dinner?’ she asked, rocking a little on her feet.
‘Yes.’ he said. ‘Eh, I mean, sure. No problem. I’ll tidy up a bit first.’
‘Great.’ she said and stepped backward, smiling at him. ‘I’ll come knocking later then.’
‘Yeah, okay.’ He said, grateful for a reason to have her come over. ‘I’ll see you later then.’
He watched her go back into her apartment, then fumbled a little to open his door, drop his bag in the living room and quickly inspect his bathroom. After throwing out the empty bottles of shampoo and shower gel with the remnants of soap bars, sorting the pile of dirty laundry into the appropriate hampers and wiping everything clean he felt a little more secure in letting her use it without sinking through the floor in shame.
Gary heard the knock on his door soon after he had his dinner, checked his face in the mirror, then opened it to let Suzy in.
She had brought her own things wrapped in a towel. ‘I hope I didn’t interrupt dinner.’ she said.
‘Ah, no.’ he said, closing the door behind her. ‘I has already finished.’ He led her further into the apartment. ‘Come in. I assume your bathroom is on the same side as mine.’
She nodded. ‘It’s a mirror of yours.’
‘I hope it only reflects the good things then.’ he said, taking an overlooked pile of magazines from his table and dumping them in the box for recycling.
She chuckled. ‘I cleaned up my place too when the repair man came over.’
He grinned a little. ‘Well, I’ll let you get on with your shower then.’ he said, gesturing at the bathroom. ‘If you need anything, extra towel, soap, I’ll be right here.’ he said, then pointed back at the kitchen. ‘I mean, not right here outside the door. Just here, in the apartment. In the kitchen. Or living room. It would be weird of me to stand right here while you..’
‘I think I’ve got it covered.’ she said with a chuckle and went into the bathroom, saying ‘Thanks.’ before closing the door.
‘Yeah, no problem.’ he said. ‘I’ll just go do my usual things now.’
Gary wanted to slap his forehead for acting like a fool and started a second inspection to see if he had overlooked more junk.
He had barely sat down when the bathroom door opened and Suzy came out with her things. ‘Thanks.’ she said. ‘I don’t like going to bed without having a shower first.’
He stood up, the scent of her body and hair filling his nose and taking his heartbeat up a notch. ‘Yeah, I know the feeling.’ he said, although he often went to sleep without taking one. ‘Ehm.. Can I offer you a drink or something?’ He gestured at the couple of bottles on one of the shelves behind him. ‘Or maybe just coffee? If you have the time?’
She smiled a little. ‘I wouldn’t mind a drink.’
‘Great. Have a seat.’ he said and went over to the shelf. ‘Uzo?’
‘Thanks.’ she said, put her things to the side and sat down on the couch, looking around casually.
Gary handed her her drink and sat down on the other side of the couch. ‘So.. The heater broke down.’
She nodded. ‘Yeah. And they didn’t have the replacement part because they had used their last one before the new ones were delivered.’
‘Okay.’ he said and they drank in silence while he tried to think of another topic to talk about.
‘New door lock?’ she asked, seeing the cypher lock he had placed under the table.
‘Oh, yes.’ he said. ‘I, eh, the current lock is a bit iffy, so I thought I’d get a new, modern one.’
She nodded. ‘Maybe I should get a new one too.’ she said. ‘If it works good for you I could get one of these for my door.’
‘Yeah, I could help install it, if you’d like.’
‘Okay. I’ll remember that.’
They drank once again in silence, looking around.
‘How was your day?’ asked Gary.
‘Good.’ Suzy said. ‘We only had mister Wong’s cat in for a small cut in her ear and mister Goldberg’s retriever for his usual check-up and medication.’
He nodded. ‘Okay.’
‘Yours?’ she asked.
‘Made a new pamphlet for the barbershop, or, hair studio as it’s called now.’ he said, nodding again.
‘Looking forward to see it.’ she said, turning her glass in her hands.
‘Should come with the post in about two weeks.’ he said, racking his brain for something else to say, then remembered he had small party sausages to snack on. ‘Would you like a snack?’ he asked. ‘I’ve got a can of those tiny sausages in the kitchen.’
‘Okay, sounds good.’ she said and he got up to go into the kitchen.
He reached out for the can in the cupboard when he noticed the thicker white hair on his lower arm. ‘Shit.’ he said, watching it grow longer slowly. He looked out of the kitchen window to the sky and saw the sky turn dark at the horizon. ‘Shit, shit.’ he said again and looked around the kitchen as if to find a way to stop his transformation. ‘Ehh.., I might have misplaced the sausages or already eaten them.’ he called out to the living room.
‘That’s okay.’ said Suzy. ‘I, just remembered I, promised to call mom tonight, so I’d better go now.’
He let out a sigh with a mix of disappointment and relief. ‘Okay.’ he said.
Suzy came into the doorway, holding her things in front of her. ‘Thanks for the drink.’ she said, pulling her hair back. ‘Let’s do this again sometime. I’ll let myself out.’
‘Okay.’ he said, draping a dish cloth over his arm. ‘Yes, let’s.’
‘See you later.’ she said and walked out of his apartment quickly.
Gary looked at his front door to make sure it was closed and she was gone, then hurried to find a screwdriver and install the new lock to the door before he turned completely.
He was just in time to set a code and sat down on the floor, glad that Suzy hadn’t seen what was happening to him. He scratched his arms, itchy from the coat growing on it and thought she had looked a little more tanned when she left. Her hair looked fluffier too. Shrugging it off as the effect of the shower on her he watched his vision slowly fade and hoped the new lock would prevent his from going out this night.
He found himself with his arms in the shallow end of the park pond and cursed.