What big teeth you have, grandma—and your breath! — Little about-to-be-eaten Riding Hood

Keeping Up Appearances
by Shawn Murphy and Tana Lyman ©2011

The room looked much like any other veterinarian's exam room at a major zoo. Two exam tables sat in the center of the room. Cages lined one of the walls. Rolling carts with the usual vet's supplies cluttered the floorspace. The air held the sharp smell of disinfectant. A man sat at a computer, his eyes moving between a clipboard and the screen. A woman leaned over one of two newly acquired wolves with a syringe in her hand.

The large gray wolf with black markings gazed up at her from the exam table. "It's okay, Zorro," the woman murmured as she pushed the needle into his vein. She was an attractive blonde graduate student. Dimples showed on her cheeks when she smiled at her patient. "Just a few cc's of bwood, and the widdle paw will be just fine..." Her blue eyes widened after a moment. "Dr. Stevens! Wolves can't roll their eyes, can they? I could swear..."

"If they can, I don't blame him, Jenny. 'Widdle paw?' I'd wanna bite you for that. Not to mention the Zorro bit." Dr. Stevens chuckled. He was an older man, with a receding hairline and a kindly smile that didn't waver even when the grad student gave him a dirty look.

"Though I guess I can see the name. Those markings really do look like a mask. Don't worry, he's too drugged to really bite you." He gestured with his clipboard at the female, a leaner wolf with a good smattering of red in her coat. "What are you calling this one? I almost hate to ask."

"I'm still working on that," Jenny replied, rolling her eyes. "I guess 'Red' for now until I come up with something better..." She caught the look Dr Stevens gave her and grinned. "Well, we have to call them something, don't we?"

The gray lifted his head and looked at the female wolf on the next table, and let out a low chuffing noise. Her ears twitched, but otherwise she showed no reaction. He laid his head back down with a sigh, permitting the blonde girl with the speech impediment to continue examining him.

"Oh, I suppose so," the older man replied. "These are certainly interesting specimens. They deserve interesting names." He eyed the gray wolf. "If he shows any more activity before we get them back in the cage, give him a few cc's more tranquilizer."

"Yes, doctor," she replied. Zorro heaved a canine sigh and the red-marked female echoed him a few seconds later.

There was more poking and prodding, and a great deal of note-taking. Eventually the wolves were loaded into a cage barely big enough for the both of them. "Poor widdle things," Jenny cooed. "Don't you worry, your exhibit will be ready tomorrow, and you'll have lots of room to run and play!" She patted the cage, then backed away a step at the look the female wolf gave her.

"I swear they don't like me," Jenny muttered, shaking her head.

Dr Stevens replied with an amused snort.

"Seriously," she continued. "Red especially."

"I think you're just tired, Jenny. Let's call it a night." The vet turned his laptop off and stood, stretching his shoulders. "Give you a ride home?"

Jenny smiled, showing her dimples again. "No, Kyle's supposed to pick me up..."

Dr Stevens sighed. "Have things gotten any better?"

The door cut off Jenny's reply as the two zoo employees left the room. As soon as it closed and latched, the female wolf, the one Jenny had called "Red," stood and shook herself thoroughly. The drugged look was beginning to leave her eyes. With a deliberate motion, she turned her back on the male and laid back down, her head on her paws.

The male - Zorro - whimpered slightly, then sat up and sighed. He chuffed a couple of times, then let out a low growl.

Red ignored him completely, her eyes busy scanning the room. They landed on a security camera high on the wall and she growled a little until Zorro followed her gaze. Both wolves continued to study their surroundings until a noise in the hallway reached their ears. They immediately lay down again, half-closing their eyes to appear sedated.

A gray-haired man in brown coveralls opened the lab door and pulled his wheeled bucket through, using the mop handle to steer it to the middle of the floor. He began to whistle tunelessly as he mopped the tiles.

Red eyed the janitor and sneezed, then ignored him.

Zorro, on the other hand, watched the human intently, his eyes following the man around the lab. "Hello, puppy," the man said with a smile. "Bet you're lookin' forward to gettin' out of that little cage, aren't you?" He continued to mop, moving around the small office quickly and efficiently. Once he'd covered the entire floor, he put the mop in the bucket and pushed it toward the door, pausing only to mop up his path behind him. "G'night, fuzzballs," he said with a friendly grin as he turned the lights off and shut the door.

In the darkness, Red raised her head, suddenly alert again. She glanced up at where the camera was mounted and watched for a moment, then nudged the male with her nose. Zorro yawned and stretched, then leaned on the door of the cage, studying the latch intently. He panted a couple of times and pawed at the wire, forcing his paw through a gap. His pads fumbled clumsily with the latch on the cage, then managed to flip it upward, off the curl of wire that held it closed. He pulled his paw back in and studied the latch again, looking at it from the other side. It still barred their escape, but progress had been made.

Red stood, chuffing a little, and nipped at his flanks impatiently. Zorro snapped his jaws at her and growled a little, pointedly turning his back on her to study the latch again. He reached a paw out, touching the latch with his pads, then fumbled and accidentally pushed it back down to its secured position. He growled again and began pawing at it in earnest.

Red rolled her eyes and chuffed again. She eyed Zorro and the latch, and began pacing.

He, for his part, looked everywhere except at her. He pawed the latch again, managing to flip it back up after a couple of attempts. He switched forepaws, pushing the locking bar back out of its hole. There was a metallic click, and the door swung open.

Zorro glanced back at the female, snorted, and hopped down from the cage, landing in a crouch.

Red was right behind him, landing almost silently in the dark. She padded over to the door, toenails clicking on the tiles. She nosed the door, then when it didn't open she stood on her hind legs to press down on the door handle with her front paws. The door swung open and she dropped back down to all fours, peering out cautiously.

Her companion padded up beside her, looking out into the hallway, then taking a few steps out onto the shiny tiles.

The shiny, freshly mopped tiles.

His feet slipped out from under him and his chin hit the floor with a painful eye-watering thump. With an exasperated whimper, he regained his footing, then looked back at the female, his eyes narrowing. He chuffed once, then turned away and carefully made his way toward the door at the end of the corridor. Red rolled her eyes and followed, sure-footed, down the hallway. She paused once in mid-step to listen, but otherwise did not break her stride.

Zorro watched her for a moment, then stood on his hind feet, his forepaws pressed to the door and his nose pressed to the window set into the door's surface. His eyes widened and he dropped down, whimpering urgently and scrabbling across the slick tile surface back toward the lab room.

Red took her cue from him, bolting toward the exam room door and standing up to press the handle again. It didn't budge. She growled, looked around, then shot further down the hall to the very end. A table of some sort stood in the shadows, and she darted underneath it to hide.

With a low growl and the clicking of nails on tile, Zorro joined her as the door they'd been looking through opened. A flashlight beam played along the walls and floor, and the sound of human footsteps echoed lightly as the night watchman made his rounds. The gray-haired man checked each doorknob, while humming to himself.

The male wolf's ears twitched, and he scooted further back into the shadows. Once the watchman was gone, Red crawled out from under the table. She shook herself, then padded back down the hall toward the door, Zorro following closely.

She stood on her hind legs to peer through the window, much as her mate had done, then hit the door handle with her front paws. The door swung open, and she dropped to all fours, trotting through the opening. Her companion made his way through behind her, pausing long enough to catch the door on his hip to keep it from slamming, and let it shut quietly before catching up.

They were in another hall, nearly identical to the one they had just left. To their right was a door with a sign marked "Exit." Red whined eagerly, standing to peer out the glass in the door before opening it and gliding through into the night air. Zorro followed, scampering to keep his tail out of the door, then looked around the parking lot they found themselves in. He spotted the shape of a camera on one of the lightposts, and growled slightly before dashing for the undergrowth at the edge of the asphalt, carefully keeping to the shadows. Red started to follow, then stopped, her ears twitching at the sound of raised voices.

"That's it, Kyle! We're through!" The voice was that of the young grad student, Jenny. "I can't take it anymore! You said you'd stop, you said..." There was an answering male rumble, too low to make out the words, then the sound of flesh striking flesh and a feminine cry of pain.

Red growled, then reversed direction and headed around the side of the building toward the sounds.

Zorro let out a deep growl of his own and followed, his hackles rising. Near a car parked under one of the light posts he could make out two human figures, the smaller and more feminine one sitting on the pavement and holding a hand to her face.

He glanced at Red then left her side, padding around the circle of light to approach from behind the large male human. He watched the woman's face as her eyes picked him out in the dimness, and he stepped into the light. As Jenny showed her surprise, Zorro's mate emerged from the shadows behind her. Both wolves gave low, throaty growls, baring their teeth.

"Oh hell." The man paled and looked back and forth, then took a cautious step in the only direction he could. "Damn wolves. I told you this was a dangerous job."

"I don't understand how they got out ... Kyle, don't move." Jenny sat on the pavement, her eyes wide and her body stiff. "If you act like prey, they're gonna chase you." After a moment she added, "Then again, maybe you deserve it. If we get out of this, I never want to see your face again!"

Red moved past the young woman, stalking the man and making sure it was very clear just who was being threatened.

Zorro met Red's eyes, and they began in unison to slowly circle the one Jenny had called "Kyle." On his way past Jenny, he looked her in the eye and winked.

Jenny's eyes widened even further, her jaw dropping. Kyle made a whimpering sound as the wolves rounded on him. He stood stock still for a moment before his nerve broke and he ran, heading for a beat-up Dodge on the other end of the parking lot. He didn't look back or slow down until he was in the car and fumbling with his keys. The car sped out of the parking lot a few seconds later, scraping a speed bump with a shower of sparks on its way.

The reddish wolf chuffed in satisfaction, looked at Jenny for a moment, then wheeled and headed back around the side of the building. Zorro gave a short bark of challenge as Kyle fled, then he turned to face Jenny. He wagged his tail and gently licked her cheek before bounding off after Red.

Jenny sat where she was for several moments before placing a trembling hand to her damp cheek.

Red ran flat-out for the undergrowth. A few scraggly trees provided scant cover, but several feet beyond that the vegetation thickened into a forested area. Zorro was hard on her heels, running after her until the sounds of city streets faded into a dull background hiss. They slowed, finally, and he nudged against her, nuzzling her shoulder.

She shuddered all over, then hunched her back and whimpered slightly. Beneath the fur her muscles writhed and contorted. Bones moved, shifting position, stretching and thickening as their shape changed. The fur receded as claws thinned, paws stretched and widened, and the wolf's muzzle shrank back into her face. When the process had finished, a naked woman crouched on the leaf-strewn soil where Red had been. She had shoulder-length red hair and a runner's build, and for several seconds she sat motionless. Finally, she stood and stretched, her pale skin almost shining in the moonlight.

The gray and black wolf looked up at her, wagging his tail and letting his tongue loll out the side of his mouth as he rubbed against her thigh.

She stopped mid-stretch and looked down at the male. "Oh, stop trying to butter me up and change, already ... Zorro." She rolled her eyes and shook her head. "We're well out of sight. And puppy-dog eyes won't do you any good."

The wolf whimpered a little and sat on his haunches. His own limbs stretched and elongated, muscles moving and contorting under the rapidly receding fur until an athletically built man stood beside the redhead, a slight grin on his face. His eyes moved briefly over her bare body and he winked at her with his cool blue eyes. "You sure it won't work, Alicia?"

She narrowed her brown eyes at him. "Yeah right, Joey. Forget it. You're in the doghouse for a good long time." She tossed her hair and strode away. "Just wait until I tell the pack you got us stuck in a zoo. A zoo!"

"Hey, it could'a happened to anyone ... ouch!" He hopped briefly on one foot as he pulled a thorn out of his other. "Damn, ok, we need clothes..."

"No it could not have happened to anyone. Anyone else would have enough sense to see there was something odd about that rabbit just lying there like that! And watch where you step, for pete's sake."

"Thorn," he muttered, before returning to the original topic. "Cut me some slack, honey, how was I supposed to know there would be some jerk with a tranquilizer gun waiting for us? I just wanted to check the rabbit out..." Joey sighed. "Look, Red, who got us out of that cage, huh? Me. So relax a little!" His eyes began to wander again, tracing the curve of her spine down...

Alicia snorted. "Look all you like. You're sleeping on the couch for the next month. And don't call me 'Red', Zorro." She caught herself looking him over and abruptly turned and began walking again. "This way. I smell humans. We can steal some clothes, find out where we are, and work on getting home. Finally."

He sighed and followed her. "C'mon, I got you out, didn't I? Alicia? Hey, are you even listening? Don't be this way, honey..." His pleas faded away as they disappeared into the night.

x x x

Yes. I hear you. Sold out, you say. Rolled over , you say. Gary’s hopped on the Twilight train. Well, I think this story is better than anything that TV vestibule of teenage angst has to offer. Shawn and Tanya—debut writers both—have teamed to write a werewolf story that I actually like. A lot. So there. Nyahhh, Argue or agree on our BBS. - GM

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