's 2017 Horror Write-off:

The Wolf

Submitted by saint salt

I met Constance Clearwater over Skype in the summer of 2012. It was to be our freshman year of art school, attendance at which was an endeavor that had seemed completely impossible to me just a year ago. I came to the big city from a tiny town in rural Missouri to learn painting from the real artists.

My high school had 92 people in it. My college had ten thousand. I was overwhelmed by the scale, the creativity, the sheer potential number of really cool folks with piercings and tattoos and colored hair and better stories to tell than ones about goats and mediocre prom dates. Constance was a good entry point.

We'd been matched up by the housing department, randomly, based on music taste (little bit of everything), interests (space colonization) and messiness (yes), and had picked a time to call and say hello. When she picked up the phone in the middle of blowing bubblegum, greeting me with a wave, a big grin, and a view at the Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys posters in the back of her room, I knew instantly that she was going to be a good time. She was short, stocky, fresh out of Atlanta, tanned, with bright green eyes and a long curtain of honey-brown hair. She had a tattoo of a grim reaper on the right part of her chest, and she sang words she said sometimes without seeming to realize she did it.

"Do you guys, like, even have weed in Missouri?" I told her I'd never smoked.

"Well, you're going to learn. I'm bringing my skull bong and no one can stop me." She gestured at the thing, perched proudly on a shelf in her bright, colorful room. It was half-filled with water and had some frilly peonies poking out of it. This prompted the obvious question of whether her parents knew she had that, to which she replied with another grin and a shrug.

"They don't come in here much," she said. "Did you hear the new Shins album?"

There was a shock of pink dye at the roots of her hair, above her forehead when we called, but it had grown out by the day we moved in. By the time I arrived, kissed my brothers and parents goodbye, and finally poked my head into our room to scope out the scene, she was already set up. She'd taken the left half of the room, and it was decorated much the same as the room I'd seen on Skype. The punk posters were present, joined by merch from 80s disco groups and the Atlanta Falcons. Her bedsheets were a calming shade of lavender, and she'd hung bright yellow drapes on the windows, casting the room in a pale shade the color of daffodils when the sun shone through them. There were shelves stuck to the walls with a wide variety of knicknacks and tchotchkes lovingly distributed among them, chief of which was the gorgeous blown-glass skull bong. She welcomed me in with a big hug and an introduction to her enormous stuffed Pikachu.

That evening she taught me to smoke. She ran my hand over the eye sockets and jawbones of the skull, lit the bowl for me, let me take my first hit, let me feel the smoke choke up my lungs and pass warmly out my mouth. I didn't get too high, just the one puff from the glass head, but I felt it behind my eyes and in the fuzz in my brain. Constance took two hits and then brought me out to dinner down the street. Nothing fancy - it was Applebee's - but she ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, and encouraged me to get appetizers.

"Come on, you'll be fine! Nobody's gonna kill you for ordering an appetizer. Get a Bloomin'Onion!"

I told her that was Outback Steakhouse.

"Whatever! Get a salad or something. I'm dropping the dollars, I insist."

She persisted, so I got a salad. I ate it when it came because I was hungry, but I still didn't want it and was a little bit uncomfortable with the amount of money she was offering to spend. That said - It's not like I had a bad time. We joked for an hour and laughed about things that weren't very funny. She liked my goat stories! And I liked her stories from big-city public school, about nasty teachers and teen drama and cool concerts, and everything else regular teenagers could do unabated by their surroundings. I was a little jealous, yeah, but it was fun to hear about without having to be chased by cops or kicked out of class myself.

When the waitress brought the check, Constance motioned me close to her and whispered.

"I'm about to show you something really, really cool."

I just sort of nodded.

"The sort of cool thing that no one ever gets to see in a lifetime, or even believes is ever real or ever has been real."

I told her that sentence was sort of a wreck.

"Look under the table," she said. I did, nervously.

I saw Constance's hands glowing warmly with a green aura, vibrant and lively. As I watched the light dance comfortably through her fingers, it faded into a pale yellow, then back to green, undulating between the two colors.

"Watch this," she said, and I could hear the grin on her lips as she jerked her hands, and a stack of dollar bills materialized in each one with a slight yellowish-green flash.

I looked back up at her in disbelief as she pulled her hands out from under the table. She clutched in each hand a stack of fresh twenties, clean and crisp like they were printed the day before. I pointed at a stack, stunned, and she passed me a bill. I held it up to the light (it had the watermark), passed it between my hands a few times (felt right?), smelled it (smells like cash) and fought everything my brain was telling me had just happened.

I asked her if she could do magic tricks.

"Well, I CAN, but that's not what I just did. Did you see me bring my wallet?" I hadn't. "I don't have one."

I waited and hesitated and fought the question, but I asked if she could create money out of thin air.

Smirking, she said, "Oh, trust me, this is just the beginning."

She paid the tab with two of the twenties and stuck the rest in her purse.

"I'm probably the most powerful being on the planet," said Constance, back in our room.

I asked her if she ha to use the word 'being.'

"I'm not quite sure if I'm human, A," said Constance, with a smile.

I asked her not to call me A. Her smile dropped. "Sorry," said Constance. There was a pause for about a minute before Constance asked me a question.

"Do you want to see what else I can do?"

I don't think I really had another option, did I?

Constance leaned back onto her husband pillow and put her hands out in front of her. Almost immediately, that green-yellow-green glow started up again, flitting between her fingertips like a campfire, exuding energy and potential.

"I can change things," she said, her face bathed in the glow, reflecting off her eyes. "If it exists, I can create it, and if it doesn't, I probably can too." She closed her eyes for a second, and with another quick flash of green, a chocolate bar appeared floating in the air between her hands. Just a Hershey bar, but a Hershey bar as real and solid and neatly wrapped as any Hershey bar you could buy from a convenience store. She moved her arms artfully in my direction, and the chocolate bar moved across the room, from her bed to mine, telekinetically, until it stopped, hovering in front of my nose.

"You look scared," said Constance. "You can have the chocolate," she said. "It's just... chocolate."

I took the chocolate out of the air, and I unwrapped it. It was separated into little rectangles like an ordinary Hershey bar. I broke one off and studied it silently. The break between the piece and the rest of the bar looked how real chocolate would. The piece certainly resembled chocolate, and the longer I held it the more it melted, sticking onto my thumb and forefinger. I passed the rectangle to my other hand and slowly, slowly, pressed my tongue to my thumb.

"It's just chocolate," said Constance again. And it was. I popped the rectangle into my mouth and I chewed it and I swallowed it. It tasted good, sweet, the slightest bit bitter, like good chocolate should.

"Pass me back the wrapper," said Constance. I did. She let the glow into her hands again and floated the wrapper in front of her. She held it there for a few seconds before clapping her hands down onto it with a startling noise and a flurry of bright particles. When she took them away the wrapper was gone without even a suggestion that it had ever been there.

"If it exists, I can make it not." She hesitated, adding, "But I hate doing that." She climbed down off her bed and put her hand on the metal bedframe. It began to melt and smoke and sputter immediately, the steel turning red and dropping puttylike onto the floor. The smoke alarm began to go off, but Constance lifted her hand up in the air and it quieted immediately.

"I have so much power," she said, moving her hands about the molten metal now dissolving through the tiled floor. "I can do anything." The metal collected itself, assembled into a ball, and levitated between her hands. She molded it with her fingers into a metal tube the exact shape of what had been melted from the frame. Constance popped it back into place and snapped her fingers, and it fused back to where it had been just a minute before without any mark or indication that it had ever been liquid.

I was frozen to my bed in fear. The god sat down on the bed next to me. I asked her what was supposed to happen now. She shrugged.

"I've been like this since I was born," said Constance. "I don't have any responsibility or anything, I don't secretly control the world."

I asked her if she could if she wanted to. She grimaced.

"I'm not going to tell you I couldn't."

I turned away from her and leaned on my headboard.

"It's a lot to process," said Constance. "But it's me, and it's how I am. I figured if we're going to live together, you should know." I said something in assent to that. She was quiet for a little bit, and so was I.

"I can give you a tattoo, if you want?" That got to me. I gave her a piece of my mind. I told her that she couldn't expect me to watch her nuke a candy wrapper out of existence and melt through a piece of metal with nothing but her hands and then trust her to touch my skin, or even just trust that she wasn't going to unmake me. I was afraid. I told her it was too much power.

"Ainsley, you think I don't know that? You think I'm the right person to trust with all this? I'm irresponsible, I'm a mess, I'm..." She wiped a tear off her cheek with the corner of her shirt. "God, I got you high on our first night as roommates. Does that strike you as the right move? I didn't even think about it. I just did it. This was the first point where I looked back at her.

"Ainsley, I'm scared of my potential too. I'm scared of some things I've done. But I can't undo them, and I can't stop myself from having this power. That's the one thing I can't change; the past." I suddenly remembered what she'd said about her parents not coming to her room very much, and I didn't say anything for what felt like a very long time.

When I finally did say something, I asked Constance if she could give me a tattoo. She sniffed, wiped her nose off a little, and nodded with a limp smile.

I didn't quite know what I wanted.

"It's okay," said Constance. "I can go back and fix it whenever you want. I can even take it away if you need me to." I thought about it, and I asked her if it would hurt. She laughed at that. "Of course not!"  

I got a wolf. A big, picture-perfect, tame-looking wolf, with flowing fur, a wet snout, and sharp claws. I got it all down my left arm, like a sleeve. She did it in a second, by letting the glow envelop my arm, and in a flash of that yellow-green it was there. It didn't feel like anything. It just happened.

I told her she would have to take it away before I went home or whenever my parents came to visit, and she assured me it wasn't a problem.

That night she earned my trust and my friendship. We took classes together as soon as we could, the next semester, and the thing I noticed was that she never used her powers for her art. She was an illustration major, and her sketches were gorgeous. When she crafted a full piece, she would do it in delicate strokes, agonize over every tiny detail and blot of ink. She cared. I never asked her to use her powers to help me with my homework, but I'm sure that if I had she would have said no.

We would go out at night, just to mess around. Constance created us perfect fake IDs so we could get into bars, sure, but sometimes we would just go shopping, for snacks or more trinkets to stock on her shelves. One time we walked right through a wall as if it were nothing to get into a concert. Another time she placed her hand on the doorknob to our closet, threw it open, and there was a balcony there, impossibly, looking down onto the busy streets of Atlanta. We watched the people drive by for a little while, and when she touched the knob again as we reentered our dorm, the city faded behind us in a yellow glow. I opened the door again and it was just the closet.

A few months on, class was rough for both of us. We were both pretty good at actually drawing and texturing things, but when it came to actually composing a picture frame and creating a balanced whole, we were sort of lost. As Constance and I were walking back home from the building, complaining about the professor's lack of help, she absentmindedly ran a hand over her arm. She flinched with a sharp breath as she ran over a spot by her left elbow.

I asked her if she was okay, obviously. She looked at her arm in confusion.

"Huh," she said. "I've got like, a mole or something. It hurt to touch it."

I took a look. It was dark and patchy, a little thing, really.

"I'll have someone look at it, I guess. Hope it's not malignant." I laughed at that.

Constance came back from the walk-in clinic with a diagnosis for an aggressive melanoma with a surprisingly sudden onset. She walked in, tearful again, and collapsed on her bed. I gave her a hug and told her everything would work out, and couldn't she just heal herself? But she couldn't. That was a limit of her powers - she couldn't heal. She couldn't undo what had already been done. In that case, she could pay for treatment easily, right? When I said that she broke down into sobs.

"Ainsley, that's not the point."

I frowned, and I asked her what the point was.

"This mole wasn't malignant. I'm telling you, it wasn't. I'm afraid of it."

I didn't say anything, hoping she would continue. She did, but I can't remember everything she told me. I think she did that too.

What I do remember is horrible. Constance told me she let the joke she'd made into her brain. The idea of malignancy had taken root in her, she said. She said she thought it wasn't malignant until she made the joke. That it hadn't been anything serious until she made it that way. She had the power to make herself chronically ill, she said, and she was afraid she'd used it without meaning to.

She told me why she couldn't get treatment, too.

"I'm 17," she said. "I skipped a grade."

"I need parental or guardian consent. And I..." she coughed. "I can't get that."

I asked if she could change records.

"I could, but I'd miss something," she said. "Something, somewhere. I just know it. I'd make a mistake, and people would realize what I'd done. I don't want anyone in the government or even a doctor learning what I can do."

I held her tightly to me as she cried, I let her work through it until she fell asleep. I fell asleep too, in Constance's bed and with Constance in my arms, but when I woke up to the sound of smashing glass, she was gone.

It was four in the morning, and Constance was painting. She had just knocked the skull bong off the table. The pipe had snapped off and shattered, but the skull itself had split cleanly down the center at the seam. She looked haggard, somehow, exhausted and drained, but she smiled at me wearily and held up her work.

Her painting was stunning. It was a wolf, the same wolf on my arm, but where mine was soft and domesticated, hers was sharp, hard-edged, and jagged. It had greasy, matted fur, with horrible, sickly yellow highlights where the light struck it. She had done it in alarming shades of pure black and hazy neon purple. Its eyes were a fluorescent pink that seemed to glow with a foul energy, and its teeth were bared in a terrible smile. It was missing a tooth, and the teeth it did have were cracked and stained with tartar. The whole image was bordered by a washed-out yellow-green tint.

It was an incredible work of art, but it was awful to look at. The more i stared at it, the more nauseous I got. I went back to sleep, and when I woke up, I was back in my own bed, and the painting was hanging above Constance's.

She went to the doctor, of course. Anything she could get easily, she took, but the drugs made her weak and and tired. She still went to class to try and distract herself, and she smoked more than ever to try and dull the pain she started feeling all through her left side. We still went places, too. Her powers didn't dull, so we took day trips to New York and Los Angeles and Moscow and Istanbul. We saw the world over the next few weeks, and for what it was worth, despite the constant pressure, we were both happy, I think. School went well, the trips went better, and Constance was able to keep her mind off what was happening in her arm.

But nothing could keep me from thinking about it. One night, I heard her muttering to herself, but it wasn't her voice. I watched her itch her arm, lightly at first, but growing more aggressive as her tone of voice darkened to a scratchy, guttural growl. I couldn't hear what she was saying, but I remembered how just brushing her hand over the tumor earlier had made her seize up. I couldn't go back to sleep that night.

The next week, she came to me frowning. She showed me her arm, and the patch had grown. What's more, there was a single dark black hair poking out of the middle of her forearm. It wasn't the consistency of her hair. It was thin, wiry, and stiff. She flinched when I touched it, but said it wasn't painful, just uncomfortable. There were more the next day, and even more the day after that, clustered in a thick clump poking out of her arm as if they'd always been there.

The happy days of Constance's illness ended there. The hair, the fur, rather, we both knew it was, spread upwards until it coated the top of her forearm. She felt even weaker, but forced herself into her art. She painted more wolves, more of that same oily, disgusting fucking wolf, and she covered her half of the walls in them. I didn't think the paintings were helping her, but I was afraid of them, afraid of what was happening to my friend. I winced when she spoke, her voice was so craggy.

"If I die," she said, and I stopped her there. I wouldn't let her think that way.

We were sitting in silence when she broke it with a simple statement.

"This isn't cancer anymore."

I knew she was right, but what do you say to that?

"I let something into my body, Ainsley. I put it there and now I don't control it anymore. I can't undo it." She was wearing a thick sweater, and I couldn't see the fur, but it was a warm spring day, and it couldn't have been comfortable.

I asked her if it was the wolf.

She said "I think so," and she coughed, and she spoke again, but it wasn't her voice.

"I am the wolf," it said. "But I am so much more." It was a rough, electric cackle, with a cadence like a jester and a pointed way of speaking, like needles in your ears. Constance looked terrified as these words shot out of her without her control.

She stopped going to class after that, but we took walks. The fur had grown to cover her whole left arm, and a good portion of her shoulder, eventually to her torso, to her thighs.

But to her credit, Constance Clearwater fought the sickness. I had a dream about her, sleeves choked tight to her shoulders, sweating like a demon, eyes bursting with gold and green fire, throwing blasts of energy at an enormous filthy disease of a wolf that towered over her, the size of a building, of two buildings, three, a hundred. It swiped at her with claws as huge as bulldozers, its knotted fur falling out in clumps to expose obsidian and violet skin underneath, oozing from wounds and lesions that would not heal. Constance grew like a tree to the height of a mountain, and she grasped the wolf in her arms and put a hand on each jaw with the fingers facing in. With a shriek and a sickeningly wet rattle she tore the animal in two, straight down its body. Blackened blood and emerald fire poured out of its two dead halves and consumed the battlefield. I woke up with a sense of sick gratification.

We were walking one night when I first saw it take control. Constance screeched in pain and stumbled as her left arm suddenly jerked out in front of her and radiated green and yellow. A creature appeared in the road, a menacing, giant red beast. It didn't look anything like a wolf, but more like a puffer fish, a fat, round thing with stubby arms and offensively prickled skin. Its lips were huge and fleshy, and there was a sound like a drill coming from within its body. It had no eyes, but a thick, ropelike angler drooped from the space above its mouth, capped by a blindingly bright, sickly yellow light. We didn't have time to do anything but freeze, as about ten seconds after this horrific thing materialized, it was struck by a car and completely pulverized with a horrid squelch. The road and the car were slick with a bright red fluid, but it didn't smell like blood. It smelled like decay.

There was abject terror in Constance's face, but she hopped out into the road. She let the glow run through her right hand, and shot it up into the air. Snapping out of her lethargy, she worked quickly. Two hydraulic road blockers appeared on either side of the stopped car and raised into place with a rusty, clanking sound. She dipped her fingers into the red fluid and it vanished with a flash and a burst of particles. She opened the door of the stopped car, touching the unconscious driver on the forehead, then placed her hand to the dashboard. Standing on the sidewalk still, I could see the car pop back to working order with a metallic thump. She exited the car and came back to where I was, then snapped her fingers. The blockers disappeared and the man woke up with a start. He looked around then drove off as if nothing had happened. She leaned on me, absolutely spent, as we walked back to our dorm. All I could think about was how instantly she'd started the cleanup, how procedural it was. I didn't like the thought that she'd done that before.

The wolf didn't leave us alone. It tried again a few times over the next few days, reducing Constance to a shivering wreck as it created these aberrations using her stolen power. One resembled a walrus with iron tusks and a rocky tail. One looked like a wall made of viscera, with arms made from ears and a bludgeoning sheath of bone at the tip of each one. One was horselike and enormous, towering over us like a house. There was no cleanup required for that one, as Constance simply sprang up and forcefully clapped her arms round its legs. It disappeared in a pale green flash, unnmade. Every time this happened, the fur would spread a little farther.

The hair on the left side of Constance's body started to fall out of her head as the black fur reached it. Some of the fur had taken on the purple sheen of the first painting she had done of it. "To give me form is to give me your strength," that crackling voice had said as she sat down the final time to put its image on canvas. She didn't try and finish the painting, and she didn't do any more art after that.

Constance created a gun one day, a small pistol. I didn't ask what it was for. It was around the same time that I noticed her ear was slowly travelling up the left side of her head. Her left side was overtaken at last in the dead of winter. Her eye was the last to go. She went to bed with it vibrant and green, surrounded by a small holdout of skin. When she got up in the morning, it was a violent shade of neon pink, and there was fur up to her tear ducts. That was the first day Constance couldn't leave her bed. Those days came and went. Sometimes she could move, sometimes she couldn't.

"The fur is inside my mouth," she announced, on one of the few days she was inclined to talk. "It tastes like dirt and blood. I think there are bugs in it." That was all she said.

By the fourth day, her left ear had relocated itself to the top of her head. It was pointy and bristled with black and violet hairs, in every way the same as that of the wolf.

On the eighth day of this new state, Constance got out of bed, confidently and with purpose.

"Come outside with me," she said, muffled by the hair growing from her tongue. I did. There was nothing else to do.

"I'm going to give you my powers," she said in the parking lot. "That's the only way I can think of to make sure they don't fall into the wolf's hands."

I didn't want them. I told her that.

Constance shook her head. "There's no other option, A."

I didn't tell her not to call me A.

"Either I keep holding out and fighting this thing and in the end it gets my powers, or I give them to you and you... you use them." I understood, and it made me want them even less.

Constance sat down on the curb.

"I was 14," she said, "when I unmade my parents." I seized up. "I was going through a bout of mental something, and they wouldn't believe me that anything was wrong, and in a second they were just gone. Sand between my fingers." I felt like throwing up.

"I don't deserve to be what I am," Constance said. I thought about it for a second.

"No one does," I told her. We sat there for fifteen minutes in silence.

"I'm going to give them to you now," said Constance. I considered protesting, but there wasn't anything else to do.

Constance reached her clean hand into her mouth. It went deeper than it should, until her whole right arm, up to the shoulder, was lost inside of her. When she pulled it out again it had some small red bugs on it, immigrants from the left half of her guts. She held in her hand an orb that was blinding to look at. The green of it was piercing. She passed it to me, and I held it in my hands. It was hot, almost too hot to hold, but though I felt the heat I couldn't feel it burning me. Constance looked up at me and smiled, but when she looked back down at the orb her face fell.

"It's not as bright as it should be." And her pink eye narrowed, and she spoke in the electric voice.

"That's not all of it," it purred. Constance's good eye went wide, and she jerked to her feet involuntarily. The gun popped into her right hand in a flash of bright green. Her purple left hand grabbed her right and discharged the gun six times into the ground with six deafening bangs. I heard sirens in the distance, but the wolf's hand shot into the air, and they silenced. Smoke alarms.

"The orb, Ainsley, put the orb in your m-" The wolf clapped its furred hand over her side of the mouth and bared the cracked, serrated teeth on its side.

I put the orb in my mouth. It tasted like candy at first but it faded to the instantly recognizable wet sting of bile when I swallowed it.

Constance went white and limp. I probably shouted something. The wolf grinned.

I felt a warm energy surge through my body, and I felt something stir. It was a power. I felt capable of anything.

Constance's last words to me were easy.

"Use me well."

As soon as she said that, she gave up the fight, and the wolf cackled in a harsh, electronic way, like television static. Constance's skin appeared to flip over like Othello tiles, white to black, flesh to fur. The wolf stood before me, a greasy, matted, knotted, tangled thing, humanoid without a trace of humanity. Where its fur wasn't jet black or caked purple it was missing in clumps, with gaping, crisscrossing scars protruding in an ugly way from its porcelain skin.

"She didn't give you it all," it said. "She couldn't."

I had Constance's power, but I was paralyzed with fear. I could have killed it or unmade it on the spot but I didn't. I froze. The wolf raised two hands to its mouth and placed them on its jaws, dirty fingers between crooked teeth. I looked away as I heard the cracking, sputtering, choking, rattling noise I'd heard in my dream, and the wolf tore itself in two.

When I looked back, there were simply two wolves. There was a line down the center of each of their bodies, composed of a viscous black fluid that burned with small green flames.

They glowed with a cancerous version of Constance's power. Instead of doing anything, like I could have, like I should have, god, why didn't I, I ran as far as I could, and when I felt a wave of uncomfortable warmth, I looked back. I saw the wolves ducking through a doorway they'd created in the side of a building and into a busy city block. I saw one immediately sink its claws deep, deep into the face of a person on that block, and I heard that person scream before the other wolf slammed the door and it disappeared. I never saw them after that. I'm not sure where it was they went.

I got another tattoo the next day. I wrote "Use me well" between the legs of the creature on my arm. My left arm. The tattoo cost fifty dollars and the woman who gave it to me was big and gruff and grizzled, and it hurt when it went on. I didn't use Constance's power, my power, to do it, because I was afraid.