Chapter 1 ♕
I opened the metal gate and reached for the shivering kitten that sat huddled in the corner. “Don’t worry” I said reassuring, while pressing the tiny animal against me.
As soon as I scratched the kitten behind his ear he began to relax. That was exactly the state in which I wanted to return the pet to its owner, I thought as I walked back into the waiting room.
The woman, who was currently waiting for me, let out a relieved sigh and immediately reached out to take the kitten from me. She shivered a little, but that was not surprising given her age. Mrs. Lawson had stopped by the office earlier that week when her kitten ate one of her grandson’s toy soldiers. We had to perform emergency surgery to save the poor creature and then had to keep him here for observation.
As soon as the creature had returned safely to its rightful owner, the old woman looked up at me gratefully. Although that emotion was almost immediately exchanged for bewilderment.
I saw her eyes widen. She tried to hide it. That was normally how I distinguished the friendly people from those who wanted to belittle me for what made me different from them. She hadn’t meant to make me feel embarrassed. So I gave her a reassuring smile, while shaking my head as a sign that I didn’t mind.
For a long time now, I had grown accustomed to the sideways glances people shot me in the street. I had learned to deal with rude questions from people who just didn’t know any better. The only thing I struggled with every now and then was when people were right in front of me and seemed unable to look at anything else. As if my condition was the strangest thing they’d ever seen. But I found that hard to believe, because they were just eyes.
The medical term for my condition was heterochromia iridum. My right eye was deep blue, and my left eye light green. The old lady’s cheeks turned bright red. I didn’t want to embarrass her any further, so I reassured her that it was all good. Then I leaned forward and stroked the animal on it’s head.
“Now then Milo, I hope we learned something from this. The next time you only put in your mouth what your owner puts in your food bowl. Can we agree on that?” I said, supposedly strict. The kitten meowed and I took that as an agreement.
I looked at her as she left the waiting room and then picked up a pile of documents from the desk to check my next patient’s medical records.
When the door opened again and I looked over my shoulder to meet the next one waiting, my attention was distracted by the television on the wall. The program we usually showed was interrupted for a news report. The reporter said that, according to walkers, wolves had been seen in the forest surrounding our town. I frowned. There were no wild wolves living in this area at all. The reporter continued his story, saying that the mayor asked everyone to stay out of the forest and that immediate measures had already been taken. The thought exactly what those measures entailed just crossed my mind when my next patient found his way to the desk and brought my head back to work.***
After an eleven-hour work shift, I was happy when I was finally allowed to close the practice and go home. The place I called home was on the outskirts of town. There I rented a small wooden cabin from a old married couple. It had previously been a shed and was rather run down, but I didn’t care.
Once the door creaked shut behind me, I fell back against it and sighed exhausted. I walked down the narrow hallway to my bedroom, opened my wardrobe and changed into something a little more comfortable. My bedroom was small, and the only other separate room besides the bathroom. It held just enough space for a bed and wardrobe.
After zipping my vest up to the top, I took the elastic out of my hair and let my red locks fall freely over my shoulders. The length came almost to my lower back. I was in a constant battle over whether to cut it or not, but my adoptive mother had always expressed how beautiful she had found my hair, so up to this day I had not managed to get it over my heart to cut it off, even if it would be much more practical with my work.
It had been three years since the day I had to bury my adoptive parents, after they died in a car accident. I had loved them so much, that after the first few weeks of their deaths I couldn’t do anything but cry.
A part om me wanted to be angry for the situation they had left me in. After their death I had had to sell the house I had lived in for as long as I could remember and with the proceeds I paid for their funerals. Afterwards there was nothing left for me. So I had been forced to move here.
I wanted to blame them, but I just couldn’t. Because if it hadn’t been for them, everything would have been different. Because they were the ones who had saved me as a baby.
When I was just a few days old, I had been found by someone in the woods. Wrapped in nothing more than a blanket, I was left there. That person brought me to the orphanage where I spent the first months of my life.
There were countless couples who wanted to adopt me, but from the stories my parents had heard from the caretakers in the orphanage, I had cried uncontrollably each time some of them wanted to take me. Only with them I had been quiet, sleeping peacefully in the arms of my new mother.
I had always wondered how anyone could have thought of leaving me, in the middle of nowhere. There just had to be something wrong with me. I had always blamed my eyes.
After spending the first few months crying, I decided it was time to move on. I took a side job at the local vet and worked as many hours as possible sweeping the floor and cleaning kennels. Eventually I had earned enough money to go to university and learn to be a veterinarian.
I decided to live cheaply. My dream was to open my own practice one day. I was happy with my simple life. Most of the time, at least.
As I walked into my kitchen to prepare my dinner, I thought about what shifts I could take over from my colleagues to get more hours this weekend. Lost in thought, I prepared my dinner on the stove and then sat down at the table. Thoughtlessly I put my fork in the tasteless boiled potatoes and craved a tender piece of meat. I silently ate my dinner.
After I finished my dinner and put the dishes in the sink, I went back to my room. I hadn’t realized it was already that late. In the practice, I was often the one who came first and the last to go home. As a result, I worked ridiculously long days, but some animals just needed more attention than others. Completely exhausted, I fell down on my bed. The mattress was outdated and damaged, so I often slept badly. A yawn escaped from my mouth. I stared absently at the ceiling. Eventually my eyelids became heavy and I was slowly carried away in a deep sleep.
Darkness was everywhere. I felt the panic taking over my body. Yellow eyes stared at me from all sides. I heard creatures growling loudly. A panicked whimper left my throat as I dropped to my knees. I closed my eyes and squatted.
I was all alone. Always alone.
I heard the growling approach. They came for me. I trembled with fear. I didn’t want this. I didn’t want to be alone. As soon as I felt a presence nearby, I made the big mistake of opening my eyes. I stared straight into a pair of yellow eyes and screamed. He wanted to hurt me, I knew that. I retreated and tried to get away, but the eyes followed me.
They would follow me everywhere.
The creature opened its mouth and revealed razor sharp teeth that could easily tear me apart. My body was overcome with fear. I couldn’t move anymore. I looked as my end approached. I just gave up. I even bared my neck for the creature so that at least my death could go quickly and painless...when the creature suddenly disappeared.
I looked stunned at the new creature that had appeared before my eyes. It was nothing like anything I had ever seen before. He towered over me and held the creature that had threatened me in his claw, his nails pierced through the creature’s skin. He looked at me from over his shoulder, his eyes were blood red. I should scream, but I didn’t. I relaxed instead.
Those red eyes were different.
My sleep was disturbed by a deafening bang. In a mixture of waving limbs, I sat up in my bed and looked around me disoriented. I had no idea what time it was or what the hell happened.
I cringed when my hearing was ravaged again with a loud bang, but this time I was able to place the sound. A gunshot. Immediately after the shot was fired, I heard the howling I recognized all too well. An injured animal. It took a while for my head to recall yesterday’s memories.
For a second I sat in my bed like a frozen statue and didn’t know what to do. Until it cut another loud cry through the night, then my body made the decision for me. What kind of vet would I be if I left an animal to suffer. Before I even realized it, I was already standing in front of my wardrobe, busy with the weary process of hoisting jeans over my buttocks. In my kitchen, I pulled out a flashlight from the top drawer and headed for the door.
“I hope I’m not going to regret this,” I thought to myself, before disappearing into the dark night and closing my door with a cracking sound behind me.