After

5 - Sam

"Who knew," I coo, admiring the deep, trusting eyes watching mine as I crouch down the scratch the wolf behind his ears, "You were exactly what I needed today?"

"Apparently," Chris hums, stuffing his hands deep in his jean pockets. "They were going to put him down."

I mock gasp as I cup the poor animal's silky, grey jaw between my palms, nuzzling my nose in close. "How could they do that to you, buddy?" Poor animal; just because his owner was held in custody over a pretty serious crime, didn't mean the wolf needed to be punished as well. I feel a stirring resentment at the pit of my stomach towards the vets who so willingly volunteered to put an end to this beautiful animal's life.

My irritation isn't helped by my building exasperation at the day I've been having so far.

"I was hoping," Chris coughs, averting his eyes and I stretch to my feet, the wolf obediently collapsing in a heap by my side, "That you'd be able to take him?" He looks stiff in the hallway of the flat he shares with Ashley. It isn't exactly in the best state with wallpaper peeling crudely off the walls, the unpolished, wooden flooring creaking underneath my feet. If it wasn't for Ashley, I'm sure the rooms would be bare of any kind of of colour at all.

I sigh, reluctant to accept Chris' offer. Of course I'd been half expecting this when Chris phoned me over today, his words rambling about a wolf. I had almost laughed down the receiver, imagining the animal-reluctant Chris trying his best to coax the wolf into following him.

"Chris, I-"

"We can't afford to look after him," Chris protested, his wide and desperate eyes pleading with me. He knew exactly how to pull at my heart strings, almost as much as the wolf did. "I'm getting minimum wage as it is and Ashley's job-"

"Alright," I try a reassuring smile, nodding reluctantly. I know Chris isn't one to be comfortable talking about his financial difficulties. The two of them have been in debt since both of them graduated university, student loans swallowing them whole. The physiological treatment hadn't exactly been cheap either. "But how long for?"

Chris shrugs. "Till Mike gets released?"

"That could be forever!" I stare at him incredulously.

His eyes lock onto me, shocked bewilderment in them. "You don't think he'll win the case?"

I let out an exasperated sigh. "Of course he won't win the case. Do you really think a jury is going to listen to stories about wendigos?" The editor of the New York Times certainly didn't.

Chris opens his mouth to protest but, before any words can be formed, realisation folds over his features. His Adam's apple bobs as he swallows, nodding grudgingly. Had any of us ever expected that such creatures existed in the first place? It was only the power of seeing their skin-peeled, rotten faces that had convinced us. It is only the memories of their mouldy breath crawling along our skin, the sound of their screeching grating inside our ears that reminds us it had ever happened in the first place.

"Besides," I sigh, dropping my gaze to the floor. The wolf looks calmly up at me. If only we all felt exactly like he does. "He did actually pull the trigger."

Chris looks uncomfortable, tugging at the collar of his shirt with his index finger. "Yeah," he drags the word out before biting his lower lip, scratching at the back of his neck.

We all regret it ever happened.

"Chris?"

The familiar voice pulls my gaze away from him to a nearby doorway, Ashley's shadow lingering there.

"Yeah?" He turns to his girlfriend, worry creasing his face. Does this happen often? Her eyes plead, 'I need you.' I don't think anyone has needed Chris as much as she does right now.

He nods as if he knows, promising with his eyes that he'll come to her soon. Thank goodness they have each other at this time. They cling to each other to keep themselves stable. I don't know if I'm jealous of them or relieved I don't have what they need.

"Hey, Ash," I try a smile, lifting my hand to greet her. She braves herself to smile back, her eyes filled with a kind of unbreakable anxiousness. She tries too hard to stay strong.

"When are you going to ask her?" I probe carefully once Ashley has slips back into the room.

Chris shares a sheepish smile with me before shrugging. "I don't really think it's really the right time right now, what with the case and everything-"

I sigh, rolling my eyes and shaking my head playfully. "You never stop putting these things off, do you?"

He grins apologetically as if he knows exactly what I mean. But his eyes flicker back to the doorway Ashley disappeared behind and I can see the worry flickering in his eyes. She is priority right now... he has plenty of time to ask her.

That's what we all thought before our lives were all threatened in front of our eyes.

Chris turns back to me, giving an apologetic smile. "I've got to..." He explains, jabbing his thumb in the direction of the doorway Ashley has disappeared through. "I'll see you tomorrow, Sam?" He offers.

I nod before crouching down and patting the wolf up from where he's reclining on the floor. Chris disappears within the room that holds Ashley as I guide my new friend through the door. And, I don't know if I imagine it, but as I'm leaving, I barely hear Chris and Ashley's distant voices repeating these words over and over; "They're dead. They can't get us here. It's all over."


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