Hadn’t intended to leave the story at a cliff hanger spot…
Fifteen minutes later, Max was safely in the back of the car and Zach was heading down the highway to Dr. Fremont’s. Ronny was going back to get the wolf.
Zach was churning thoughts in his head as fast as he was driving, trying to figure out how to deal with Eric. Dr. Fremont knew Eric was a shifter. Being a family friend, he’d helped them out of a problem or two before. Never had anything this serious though. Nothing like this. He was in town before he had much time to think. Zach maneuvered through the streets on the hill and up to the vet clinic.
Art Fremont was waiting at the back door of the clinic with a rolling cart. He knew how big Max was from previous visits. “What the hell happened?”
“He was in a fight with another shifter. The other one died, and I’m not sure how much of Eric is still in there.” Zach voice was filled with worry as the moved Eric to the clinic treatment room.
“What a mess! I hope that this isn’t all his blood,” Art said, grabbing supplies.
“No, I don’t think so. Should we get him to shift back? Would that help?”
“I… I don’t know. It might. Bigger question. What the hell happened, and will we have to make Eric appear any time soon? Or Max?”
“Umm… We gotta get Eric somewhere where he can be found. Max,” he thought for a moment. “Max could stay here. You’ve got him in quarantine to makes sure he’s okay or something. No visitors.” Zach watched as Art was cleaning Max up a bit.
“We need to get some fluids in Max, or should I say Eric?”
“I don’t think it matters. What are you going to do? I’m not sure an IV would work.” Zach had a year’s training as an EMT, so had some idea of the frustration Art was going through trying to treat Eric.
Art shook his head. He didn’t know enough of Eric’s physical nature to do more than guess. He looked around, grabbed a syringe, needle and bottle of saline. He filled the needle and stood over the table, trying to decide.
“Oh to hell with it. Either way, it’s going to hurt. Either way it will help.” Art grabbed Max’s fur between his shoulders and injected saline. He almost had the syringe and needle clear of the fur when Eric growled and torqued off of the table in reaction to the fluid in his body. Blood, bits of sponge and fur went everywhere. Zach and Art backed up, not knowing if Eric would remember that they were friends and not foes.
“Zach, call to him,” Art suggested in a whisper.
“Eric! It’s me, Zach. We need you to come back to us. You gotta shift.” Zach hoped he could be heard over the growls.
The wolf growled and then looked at the human talking. He’d almost been asleep when the cold fluid entered his body. They’d woke him up. Hurt him. This wasn’t right. He gathered his wobbly hind legs under him and launched himself at the human that was making noises at him.
Zach saw Eric leap at him, and put his hand up in reflex over his face. The impact of the wolf knocked him back against a counter. Objects went scattering across it and onto the floor. He felt the teeth close over his arm and realized that he had only seconds to get through to Eric before he too was injured. He grabbed the ear closest too him, twisted it and shouted.
“Eric! It’s Zach! Stop it!” He shouted as loud as he could. Zach swore he saw the big yellow eyes blink and start to turn brown.
The wolf suddenly remembered who he was. Who the human he was biting was. A shudder ran though him. The pain of the injuries was secondary to the shifting on the fly that he was doing for the second time that day. He dropped the arm in his mouth and tried to get to the floor before he totally lost control. A second shudder ran through his entire body. The world around him swirled, went dark and then there was cold hard floor under his back.
It was hard to tell who was more confused or embarrassed. Art was still backed up against the counter, breathing hard and trying to take in what he had just witnessed. His brain was whirling ninety miles an hour, and the one thought that actually surfaced was that there was no way he could ever explain this to his fellow veterinarians.
Eric was on the floor dealing with the final bits of shifting back into human form. His entire body was bloody, bruised and ached. He was nude on a cold hard floor with no way to move at the moment. His arms and legs were still not his own.
Zach was dealing with the adrenalin rush of having Eric attack him and then watching him shift for the first time. He was cradling his bleeding forearm and was the first to actually move. Grabbing a towel, he wrapped his arm and then bent down to the semi-conscious form on the floor. Pulling off his teeshirt, he dropped it over Eric’s lap.
“Tttthannks…” Eric stuttered. “I thh..in..k.”
“Oh Gods Eric! I’m so sorry,” Zach started.
“Ddddon’t… Jus.. just gggett mee off thisss fflooor. Colddd.” He shivered as he spoke.
Art and Zach suddenly unfroze and started to help Eric up off the floor and back onto the exam table he had so recently fallen off. Art had the presence of mind to throw a towel on top of the table before Eric sat down.
There were bruises everywhere, and a lump of fluid from where Art had injected the saline. Blood splashed his skin. The cuts and scrapes were almost too many to count. Art grabbed a wool blanket from a bedding box and wrapped Eric in it to help him warm up.
Zach in the mean time went out to Anne’s car. He was so glad that they had thrown their bags in the car when the sheriff called. He grabbed out his jeans, a clean shirt, boots and socks. He had a plan forming in his head, and he hoped that Eric would be coherent enough to make it work.
Coming back in, he found a corner to change clothes. Taking off his sweats, he set them aside. Eric would need those, as well as the shoes he was wearing. Zach was really glad that he and Eric wore nearly the same size clothing. After he got dressed, he came over to where Art and Eric were.
“Eric, are you going to be able to hold on for a bit?” Zach asked, breaking into a conversation between Eric and Art.
“Hold on for what?” Eric was still confused and out of sync.
“We have to get you back over towards the house so that you can wander into town and be found. I can’t just take you home. I can’t find you. I need to be with James and the search party, or at least at home with Mom.”
“Oh god! Kate! Is she okay?” Eric said, coming almost up off of the table in panic.
Zach grabbed him by the shoulders which made him wince. “Yes, Mom is okay. I don’t even think she has a scratch. However, we have to get you back with some plausible story.”
Art nodded as he helped Eric sit back down on the table. “It’s true. I can hold ‘Max’ in quarantine for a bit. No one will need to see him. Especially as he was bit by an unknown dog. Oh, plus, he bit you Zach.” Art pointed to Zach’s bleeding forearm.
Eric went red in the face. “Zach, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay. Really. But if I have to get rabies shots because of you, then you’ll have something to apologize for.” Eric was trying to bring a bit of humor to the room.
Eric laughed as best he could with sore ribs, shoulders, everything. “At least I didn’t bite the vet,” he said trying not to laugh too hard. “And, I’m up on my shots!” he reached up and shook the remains of the collar still around his neck.
Art even started to laugh at this point. “Yeah, but you made a mess of the treatment room. No dog biscuit for you.”
Eric stuck his rather swollen bottom lip out as far as he could. “But I like them.”
Art did a double take, then started to laugh. Seeing the faces of the two men, he faltered for a moment. “No, not really?”
“Yeah, we both do Art.” Zach reached into the bowl by the door and grabbing a few. He handed one to Eric and then took a big bite of his.
Art just shook his head. “No one, ab-so-lute-ly no one, is ever going to believe me.”
Eric and Zach just smiled. “We believe you,” they said together.
Zach explained his plan to Art and Eric. Zach used his knife on the sweats to cut them to match were Eric had gouges from the fight. Eric then put them on and dropped the teeshirt into the trash. It was too recognizable as Zach’s for him to wear.
“So, I’ll drop you off on the frontage road as I head back to where James is searching for you. You walk to the big truck stop and fall down, call Mom, whatever. You look like shit as it is, and no one is going to make you talk or anything.
“I think this will work, but what about my feet?” asked Eric as he tightened the drawstring on the sweats. They covered enough of him and yet showed off the marks of the fight.
Zach held up his bloody, scuffed and muddy sneakers. “You’ll wear my shoes. With no socks, you’d have probably gotten as much cactus as you already have in your feet. Plus, they are dirty as all get out. So, who’s going to notice? What they will see is your face and that mess of scratches on your chest.”
“That’s for sure. Oh. You better keep this,” Eric said as he handed the collar to Art. “Dammit, Kate was right about that darn thing. I didn’t want to wear it this morning when everything started happening, but it saved my life in more than one way.”
Art was looking at the state of the collar and Eric’s throat. “Yes, that was a close thing. If it hadn’t been for this, you might be a dead wolf.”
“Or, if I hadn’t known which wolf to hit with the bat, things could have been a lot worse,” Zach said.
“Yeah. Oh yeah. That guy was someone I knew. A real psycho. A killing machine is too nice a title for what he was. He is dead isn’t he?” Eric asked, suddenly doubting his memories.
“Yes. You ripped his throat out. It’s his blood that was all over you.”
“Good. We’d better get going. I’m feeling dizzy again.” Eric swayed slightly.
Art helped Eric get into Anne’s car and said his goodbyes. They’d planned to bring ‘Max’ home in a week or so. In the meantime, they needed to get Eric out of here.
Zach peeled out of the parking lot and then thought better of speeding. He slowed down a bit and then hit the highway north. He kept an eye on Eric who was beginning to fade. Still bleeding from half a dozen cuts and scratches, he looked horrid. Art had bandaged up Zach’s bite. However, they couldn’t even clean Eric up for fear of the paramedics catching something odd about Eric’s appearance. The puncture from the IV looked like just another bite mark.
Zach passed town by sticking to the interstate. At the one exit, there was a tunnel underpass for the frontage road. This is where Zach was headed. This way, he could drop Eric off unseen, and then head down the frontage road to find James.
Zach got his cell phone out and dialed James’ number just as he took the exit.
“Hey James, it’s Zach. Have you found Eric yet? No? Damn. Where are you? Alright. Be there in a few minutes. I’m up on the frontage road. Figured I’d give it a look on the way back from the vet. Yeah, Max will be fine. Just needs to stay in isolation for a while. Routine. Yeah. Uhuh. See you in about ten minutes. Bye,” he finished and clicked off the phone.
Eric rolled his eyes at Zach. “I hope this works.”He got out of the car in the cool of the tunnel. I’ll wait until you are gone a few minutes and then head across the fields.”
“It will. If nothing else, I’ll head them your way.” Zach headed off to meet James.
Eric waited until Zach had been gone nearly ten minutes. There was no traffic noise above and so he headed out of the tunnel. Crossing into the open fields, took more concentration than he thought. He didn’t want to be seen yet. Walking was difficult, but he didn’t dare shift.
He fell into the stock pond. Luckily for him, it was dry. However, the cactus was a bitch. Picking bits out of his hand, he continued walking. The dirt and bits of plant that stuck to him helped the way he looked in ways neither Zach or he had thought about. He really looked as if he’d been running after two fighting dogs as well as fought with them.
Twenty minutes later, he could see the truck stop and hotel complex outside of town. Eric veered towards the truck stop. He’d almost made it into the store when a woman screamed. It startled the hell out of him. Clenching his fist, he willed himself to walk in. Standing at the counter he started to ask for the phone.
“Oh my god mister! Just sit down! What happened?” the counter clerk was asking questions in rapid succession.
“I need to call home,” Eric said through swollen and dry lips.
“I’ve called the police,” another clerk hollered.
The first clerk had come round the counter with a stool and was trying to get Eric to sit down.
“Phone. I want to call Kate,” Eric said again. He and Zach had decided on the least information approach when he was found.
“Here. Call her on my cell phone,” a lady in line said, handing him a slim phone.
Eric nodded and started to dial. He had trouble getting his fingers to work, so it seemed forever before he hit the send button. It rang once and was answered by a male voice.
“Kate? It’s Eric…” was as far as he got before the voice changed. Kate was on the other end, crying and happy all at the same time. “Y…yes. I’m okay,” he said slowly. “I’m at the truck stop. Come take me home,” he said, and then hung up the phone as Kate had answered him and slammed the phone down at the other end.
Out in the fields near the arroyo, two phones rang almost at the same time. James and Zach answered their phones. Both smiled, turned to the other and said, “He’s safe!”. Both men ran towards the vehicles as fast as cactus and barbed wire fences would allow.
Eric returned the phone to the lady with his thanks. A bottle of water was put in his hand next, and he was slowly drinking from it as police cars, an ambulance and a beat up white Subaru pulled into the truck stop with all disregard to speed.
Kate shoved past the cops and people standing around in the store. “Eric!” she hollered, and saw a dirty hand raise up from the people hovering. Pushing through them, she grabbed him and hugged him tight.
“K,..k..kate, not so hard,” he gasped.
“Oh… oh…. I’m so sorry. Just so glad to see you. I though,” she was rambling.
“Shush Sweetie. I’m okay. Just a little sore.” He was holding her as close as he dared.
“Could you people please step aside?” came a voice from the back of the crowd. It was the paramedics. Some people moved. The counter clerks went back to their posts and two paramedics started checking Eric over. Kate was reluctant to let go of him, and held his hand.
James and Zach walked in a few seconds later. They came up and stood behind Kate.
“Mom,” was as far as Zach got before Kate dropped Eric’s hand and turned into Zach’s arms. He hugged her tight, realizing that she was trying very hard not to cry. Her chest was heaving and he could have sworn her heart was fluttering. “Hey Mom, Calm down. He’s going to be fine. Really.” He brought her face up to his and met her eyes. He winked once.
Kate caught the wink. “Really?”
“Yes. And Max is at the vets. Dr. Fremont is taking care of him,”
Kate took this information in and then noticed Zach’s arm. “Oh Zach, what happened?”
“Max bit me when the vet tried to give him a shot. I’ll be alright, but it also means that Max gets to stay at the vet’s a little while longer.” He winked at his mother again.
Kate nodded and then turned back to Eric who was being treated by the paramedic.
“Ma’am, he really aught to go up to the hospital. Says he won’t go without you. Can you help us?”
“Of course.” Turning to Eric, she took his hand again. “Eric, they need to take you up to the emergency room and check you out. I’ll go with you. Okay?”
“Uhuh, just stay with me,” he said softly. She nodded and the paramedics started getting him in the ambulance.