The Strength of the Pack: Part 3
The Strength of the Pack
Part III: Silent Night
Snow settled in Connor’s hair. Wind whipped at the thin, dirty shirt he was wearing and he lifted his hands automatically to warm them with his breath, even though the cold did not touch him. He was used to the cold and embraced it; numbness kept the wolf at bay. The moon was covered by cloud tonight, but its faint glow could still be seen above the rows of houses decked in Christmas lights that twinkled and flashed in the night. It was not a full moon, not for a few days yet, but he could always feel it and point to its position in the sky even in the brightest day or darkest night when the new moon hid itself in darkness.
A man passed under the broken streetlight under which Connor was standing, his face lined with age and his hair tinged grey. He grumbled half to himself as he went by about the council and their lack of haste in fixing the fault with the streetlight. It would not be fixed now till the New Year, a fact which Connor was well aware of. He had been the one who had broken the light after all. He didn’t want to risk someone from the house opposite glancing out and recognising his face. Not that there was much chance of the; his face had changed a lot since the summer. Persistent stubble clung to his jaw and his cheeks had hollowed from weeks without food. His face had gained lines around the eyes and across the forehead, and four ragged white scars ran from his left temple to the jaw below. He barely recognised his own face in the mirror, though he had started to avoid those as much as he could.
Carol singers struck up a rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” for the elderly couple who lived a few doors down from the house he was watching. Even with that melody nearby he could hear the movement of cars on the main road, the televisions in the houses behind him, the turning of the sheet music the singers carried. Now as each time he saw further than he used to or heard things he wouldn’t have before, he grimaced. They were reminders of the beast that waited beneath the surface. He had tried at first to tune them out, but it was like trying to ignore a headache – the more you tried to ignore it, the worse it became. His skin crawled at the imagined taste of blood on his tongue. It had been months since he had suffered that sensation for real, waking naked and disorientated, visions of the previous night flashing in his mind. Months gone by and yet the guilt remained, gnawing at his heart and telling him that the longer the beast went without blood, the nearer the next incident came.
He pushed the thought aside as lights came on in the house he was watching, but it was only the twinkling of the lights on the Christmas tree. Jenny’s parents had brought it around for her the night before last. She had helped them decorate it, smiled as she had done so, but as soon as they had gone she had moved it upstairs, where she would not have to look at it. She never went into that room; the lights only came on because they were on a timer.
In truth, he had been surprised she had stayed in the house at all, bought for them as an engagement present by their parents so that they could save the money from renting for the wedding. Perhaps it was easier to stay than to sell, whatever memories it might hold. She had moved to the back bedroom, though, and the bedroom they had shared now stood empty and unused, apart from the Christmas tree silently winking its festive cheer to the empty room and those in the street below. Jenny had no use for Christmas cheer, it seemed, and Connor could not blame her for that. She got up, went to work, came home late, sat in front of the TV, and then went to sleep; that was her routine, day in, day out, no matter what if it was a weekend or not. Sometimes her friends came to see or her parents, but she never went out except to go to work. She had isolated herself nearly as much as he had done and it broke his heart to watch her, but the festive season had drawn him back here and watch he did.
Headlights approached down the road, and Connor knew it was Jenny’s car from the way the engine turned over. He grimaced; that was something he shouldn’t be able to hear. He moved back from the street and hid his face until she had pulled the car into the driveway. He fought the urge to rush across the street and take her in his arms when she got out of the car; that was too complicated and too dangerous. She walked wearily to the front door and went inside. After a short time the TV flickered to life in the living room, but no other lights came on. That urge, to hold her once more, made him wary – he knew that the beast wanted Jenny as much as he did himself. He would have to leave and maybe not come back. He crossed the road to gain a glimpse of her in the flickering light of the television; she was crying again.
He pulled himself away from her, mapping the area in his mind for somewhere to sleep where he would not be disturbed and where he would be away from other humans. He didn’t want to take any chances. The carol singers were returning from one of Jenny’s neighbours, and he approached them warily. They had faces red with cold but glowing with contentment, all smiles above scarves and below hats. The older of their number carried lanterns on hooked sticks, candlelight flickering behind the glass.
“Excuse me,” he said, the words sticking in his throat. How long had it been since he had talked aloud to anyone? He did not know. One of their number turned towards him; she was a young woman with glasses and wisps of dyed red hair escaping from under a Santa hat. “Will you knock at number 29 and sing ‘Silent Night’. It’s her favourite and she needs cheering up. Sing it even if she doesn’t answer the door.”
He pushed a crumpled five pound note into her hand, which she thanked him for and assured him that they would do as he asked. The money was the last that he had, but he was used to scrounging from bins or stealing if he had to. Another night would not make a difference and the present was worth every penny. He hoped it would cheer her slightly, though he doubted, even if it did, that it would last very long. Still, it was all the present he could give her. He gave a gruff thank you to the red haired woman and moved away. He couldn’t watch them sing for her, it would be doubly hard not to reveal himself, and the beast would ruin their reunion forever.
He hurried away, putting as many streets between him and Jenny as he could, not really paying attention to where he was going until he was halfway across the town. Late night shoppers weaved across the icy pavements, laden with bags for presents, breath mist blossoming from their mouths. He turned away from them as quickly as possible, heading into alleyways, where there was only the dark to accompany him. Slumping down behind some bins, he shivered and closed his eyes. He never slept for long, but a little now would keep his mind from thoughts of Jenny. He longed to go back to her, longed to take the ring from the long chain around his neck and slide it onto his hand again. But he knew he could not. Not while the beast was inside him threatening to take control. He closed his eyes and sought the refuge of unconsciousness.
Snow settled in Connor’s hair.