It’s cold outside. The east wind is snuffling around the door. It whines and pants, smelling the warmth within. It lays its bulk against the house; the door creaks, but doesn’t give. The wind moans its disappointment, and scrabbles at the windowpanes.
“It’s just me, and you, and the loup-garou,” she says, and I think to myself what an extraordinarily dangerous place the universe can be. Of course, it’s dangerous by design: “lethal” is the default setting. No do-overs, no mulligans; no-one gets out alive, and all that: but really, sometimes it just seems a bit too much, you know? When you’re parked in a log cabin, a tiny fading ember on the winter’s edge of nowhere, and somewhere out there is a shuddering snarling mass of muscle and claws and ravening toothy appetite … I didn’t volunteer for this, by the way.
I’m sorry: perhaps some introductions are in order. I’m … I don’t know my name; obviously that’s not important right now. We have other, and hairier, concerns, yes? I’m the protagonist. I’ve been summoned up, cast out onto the arctic spaces of this page, to run around for your assumed amusement. Maybe I’ll get through it to the end: who knows? I don’t like that crack about the loup-garou, though – a French werewolf, no less, how very – and all the imagery at the start. I don’t think that bodes well. If I do make it, chances are it won’t be unscathed.
What of my companion? A she, we know: but a she-what? A child? A girl, a woman? Girlfriend, wife, sister, mother, grandmother? A talking fox, the spirit of my people? Hm. Replete with possibility, you’ll agree. We’ll narrow down the options: she throws a log onto the fire, so we know she has hands, and she tugs her parka close around her, so we know she’s not naked or anything. I’ll admit to a little disappointment there, but to be honest the set-up wasn’t heading that way anyway.
There may still be some confusion here. This isn’t normally the way a story goes. I’ll explain. What we have here isn’t just straightforward fiction: no, what we have here is one of your meatfictions. I’m sorry, that should be, “one of your metafictions”. A slip of the tongue there! I think. Hm. Metafiction: “fiction which self-consciously alludes to the artificiality or literariness of a work by parodying or departing from novelistic conventions (especially naturalism) and traditional narrative techniques,” it says here. Our author is playing games, in other words. Sometimes you have to. Staring at all that white emptiness, it can turn you funny.
Still, though, here I am: a nameless protagonist, thrust into an alarming set of circumstances, and what’s worse, in full awareness of my situation. If this were a normal story, maybe I’d have the comfort of knowing that there are no such things as werewolves – at least, until our immanent presence comes barrelling through the window (he’s still out there, by the way; lurking in the as-yet-unrealised parts of the story). Or I could be drawing up plans for survival, building deadfalls or clever traps to catch the beast. But there’s no point. I know I’m in a story. Whatever is for me won’t go by me, so I’ll just have to take whatever comes. If I were a proper character, I’d be just as much a slave to the narrative – but I wouldn’t know it, and I suspect that might make all the difference.
I can’t explain this to my companion, of course. This is a first-person narrative, so she’s essentially just scenery. A voice, a hand, a parka. Raw material. Do we have any food? I’ll have to check. Maybe that’s the story: maybe the terror of the loup-garou keeps us penned in here, and we die of starvation, too afraid to risk escaping through the long, long night. Maybe all that wolf-wind stuff at the start was misdirection, and what we fear is fear itself. To be blunt though I don’t think this author is that subtle. I think we’ve got teeth and hair and claws coming. Not here yet, but in the post; I can smell it.
The wind rises, battering at the cabin walls; it howls across the frozen waste. The fire flickers, dipping and jittering in the grate. Hunchback shadows splash across the wall; heat and light are drained away. It’s cold inside, now, too. Cold inside, cold inside. But I know where there’s warmth. Over by the fire. There’s warmth over there: warmth that’s red, warmth that’s wet and steaming. I know that now. We both know, don’t we?
Don’t look to her. She’s no help to you. Forget her, she’s just a bit part, just bits and parts … I’m inside your head, I was inside all the time: that little voice, all cold inside. This is what you were waiting for. Now things are getting hairy.
Now it’s just me, and you, and the loup-garou.
Duncan Jones writes intermittently and erratically, and has the short publication history to prove it. Previous work has appeared in New Writing Scotland 23.