Gary has a slight problem. He transforms into a half man, half sheep at night.
He also has a bigger problem. There’s a giant wolf who wants to eat him.
How will he cope with that while he has a crush on Suzy, his cute neighbour from across the hallway?
‘Ah shi-it..’ Gary said as he found himself at the town’s park on his hands and knees with his mouth full of grass. He sat down and sighed, leaning on his knees and chewing absent-mindedly on the grass while pondering how often he had found himself in the middle of the park at night now, each time transformed into a half man, half sheep.
He was pretty sure that accursed sheep that bit him at the petting zoo was the cause for it. It happened a few months ago when he took his sister’s daughter there to keep her busy for the day while his sister spent a day at a spa. The sheep meandered around innocently and the kids loved it, but when he gave it a pet and was distracted by a kid falling in mud he felt a sudden pain in his hand. Looking down he saw the sheep grinning at him with his hand in its mouth like it was posing for a heavy metal album cover. It definitely was family of the devil, the demonic grin was enough to prove it.
He yelled out clutching his hand and some of the people gazed at him in wonder. He pointed at the sheep, telling them what that spawn from hell did but it just stared blankly at him, batting its eyes innocently. He was sure while the others were sniggering at him as he left the sheep gave him another evil grin.
Gary grabbed his short, curled horns and groaned in frustration. ‘Da-amn shee-eep!’ he shouted with his new thick bleating accent, spitting out bits of grass. Groaning more he got up on his feet, or better said, his hooves, spat out the rest of the grass and wiped the bits out of his wool coat. He looked around to make sure, but as usual there was no one at the park at night. The town was rather quiet and only few people came out of the bar next to the park late at night.
Sticking to the shadows, he made his way back to the small apartment building he lived in. Even though he tried to keep quiet, the clacking of his hooves sounded like thunderclaps to him on the concrete floor of the stairs and hallways. Glad to find his door unlocked he slipped inside and let out a deep sigh, leaning back against it for a while before going back to bed. Staring at his reflection in the mirror was something he no longer cared to do.
‘Good morning, Gary.’ said Suzy when she saw Gary coming out of his door.
Gary smiled at her. ‘Good morning, Suzy.’ he said. ‘Ready for another day at work?’
She nodded with a little smile, combing her curly brown hair back. ‘Misses Valerez can pick up her chihuahua Toby today.’ she said. ‘I’ll miss that cute dog.’
‘Think you’ll take over the clinic when Johan retires?’ Gary asked while they walked down the stairs together. ‘Don’t you have your final exam to become a veterinarian at the end of the year?’
‘Yes.’ she said. ‘And I hope I can because it seems all the animals love me.’
‘Apart from one.’ he said.
Suzy held up her bandaged hand. ‘It was just afraid.’ she said. ‘And it was some sort of wolf breed according to the people who picked him up, so it was no wonder how it reacted when it woke up on the operation table after getting hit by a car.’
He nodded. ‘Did they ever say how it escaped?’
Suzy shook her head. ‘No. They had no idea either.’
‘Well, I’m glad nothing worse came of it.’ Gary said holding open the front door for her.
‘Yeah.’ she said looking up at the cloudy sky, then gave him a smile. ‘Anyway, I’m off. Have a good day at work.’
‘You too.’ Gary said and walked the other way to the office where he worked as graphic designer, happy to once more start the day with seeing his pretty neighbour.
Suzy smiled as she walked to the clinic, her blue eyes twinkling and happy to know he had remembered about the exam she had mentioned a while ago.
“Of course.” Gary thought finding himself once more at the park and spat out grass again. “Tomorrow, I’m going to buy some sturdy locks that can’t be opened with a pair of hooves.” He rubbed his face and screamed. He had forgotten for a moment not only that his face resembled a sheep, but also that he had larger black nails looking like tiny hooves. Those were painful to drag across his face.
He grumbled at himself wiping his face with his open soft palms, then pricked up his ears when he heard rustling nearby. Looking around carefully, he kept as still as possible. There was hardly any wind to make the trees rustle, and it came from somewhere at ground level. There was no movement he could make out but it had made him nervous.
Gary stood up slowly, his eyes going left and right, and walked towards the edge of the park slowly. Another rustle from somewhere left made his heart skip a beat and increase his pace. He thought he heard soft breathing as well and looked at the bushes to his left, spotting the reflection of a pair of eyes in the shadows.
With a sharp bleat he ran for home, hearing something growl and run after him. His heart pounded in his throat as he tried not to slip and trip over his hooves on the sidewalk. He ran straight across the street into an alley that was a shortcut to his home. Using his hands to push against containers and the wall to steady himself he managed to reach the end of the alley and grabbed a drainpipe at the corner to swing quickly to the right. Whatever ran after him had some trouble as he heard it bump into trash cans with scraping sounds like claws on the concrete ground.
He had barely ran halfway to the apartment building when he heard scraping behind him and imagined the thing slipping as it tried to go around the corner. Seeing the front of the building made him push back the pain in his lungs and give his legs an extra boost of energy.
The sound of running came closer behind him and Gary thought he could hear heavy breathing. The front door wasn’t far away now.
He could make it.
He needed to make it and live.
The breathing came closer.
Just a few more metres.
He slid on his hooves like an ice skater to the entrance and let himself crash into the wall to stop him, grabbed at the front door, pulled it open, rushed inside and closed it fast, seeing a dark shadow rush past the entrance, scratching at the pavement and judging from the sound that followed, crashing into the couple of large potted plants in front of the building.
Without waiting for the outcome, Gary rushed upstairs to his apartment, closed the door quickly behind him and caught his breath while his blood pounded in his head. There were no sounds outside his door, giving him relief him for a bit in the knowledge he hadn’t been followed inside.
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 additional 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 grow 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 had already finished eating.’ 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 putting 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 mail 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 him from going out that night.
He found himself later with his arms in the shallow end of the park’s pond lapping up water and cursed.