Jacob and the Wolf

Rina Song

Story image for Jacob and the Wolf by Rina Song

O ne day, Jacob woke to find his face covered in thick gray hair. It hadn’t been there the night before. In the bathroom, he squinted at the mirror.

“Honey,” he said to his wife, Annabel. “Look at this. I seem to have grown a full beard overnight.”

She yawned, half asleep. “That’s strange, dear. Go get the kids dressed for school.”

Jacob obliged. It took a while to corral the children. The twins were arguing over which blouse belonged to whom, and the youngest had squeezed toothpaste into her hair. The homeowner’s association inspection was also due to come that morning, and the neighbor’s dog had done its business out front again. By the time Jacob had pointed out to the twins that the blouses were as identical as they, chopped off the stickiest parts of the toddler’s hair with a pair of kitchen shears, and removed the stinking mounds from the yard, he was late for work.

Jacob’s razor broke halfway through shaving. He used the shears to fix what he could, then pulled his collar over the remaining patches. Finally, he gave Annabel a hurried kiss and sprinted out of the house.

Orbit-sml ><

“T his is unacceptable,” declared Mr. Whitmore, Jacob’s manager. “You’re ten minutes late. How can we maintain our impeccable workplace culture if we aren’t all team players?”

“Sorry, sir,” Jacob stammered. “I had a minor medical situation this morning. Then I needed to get the kids ready for school, and—”

“No excuses!” Whitmore roared. “We are a family here! You wouldn’t let a medical situation stop you from being there for your family, would you?” He paced back and forth in Jacob’s cubicle, which was so small that he could only get two steps in before being forced to switch direction. “The firm is seeing record numbers of clients this quarter, the highest in a decade. These are unprecedented levels of growth! If we are to succeed, we need all hands on deck! Do you not understand?”

“No, sir. Yes, sir.” Jacob adjusted his tie. He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry to bring this up now, but have you had time to look over the personnel request I submitted last month? My responsibilities have increased greatly in the past few years, and as you mentioned, we are seeing growing workloads. I believe some additional headcount—”

“I did,” said Mr. Whitmore gruffly. “Can’t justify it financially at the moment, I’m afraid. Costs are rising all the time, budgets extremely tight. Of course, we appreciate all of your hard work. Don’t think I haven’t noticed. In fact…”

“Yes?” said Jacob hopefully.

“I’ve personally nominated you for employee of the month.”

“Ah.”

“Keep up the good work.” Whitmore slammed a stack of papers down on Jacob’s desk, rattling the windows. “Now finish these reports. You’re behind on this week’s quota. I need them done by the end of the day!”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. Won’t happen again.”

“Good man.” As he turned to leave, Whitmore frowned at his underling. “By the way, you need a good shave. Ought to clip your nails, too. Good hygiene is a key part of our company values.”

A few minutes later, Jacob went to fetch himself coffee. He passed Henrietta, the plump HR representative who occupied the neighboring cubicle and heard everything that happened in the office. She smiled at him over the top of her spectacles.

“You have been contributing quite a bit lately. I can’t think of anyone else more deserving of employee of the month,” she chirped. Then she lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “You know, I heard they’re throwing in a pizza party for the winner this round.”

Henrietta always meant well. Jacob forced a wide grin.

“How exciting,” he said.

Orbit-sml ><

J acob’s condition progressed to an alarming degree. His beard had grown back by the time he went to pick up the kids, and his hands felt stiff, making steering difficult.

After returning home, he picked got on the phone and dialed the family doctor. “Hello, Jacob. What seems to be the problem?”

“I think I’m turning into an animal.” He had to hold the phone with both hands, since it was getting too difficult to grip with just one. “It started this morning. I looked in the mirror and saw fur growing on my face.”

“Hmm,” said the doctor. “Do you have any other symptoms?”

“Yes, I’ve also grown claws and I believe my hands are turning into paws as well. It makes it quite hard to do anything.”

The doctor hemmed and hawed. “What sort of animal do you appear to be transforming into?”

“I don’t know.” Jacob examined his fur and paw-like hands. “Some sort of large dog. A wolf, perhaps?”

“I see.” The doctor coughed. “Well, I don’t have the expertise to treat you myself, but I know a very experienced specialist who works with conditions like yours. Would you like their number?”

The doctor recited the number, and Jacob wrote it down dutifully. Then he called the specialist. “Hello, my name is Jacob Stephens,” he said. “I was referred to you by my doctor. I appear to be transforming into a wolf.”

“Oh yes,” said the specialist. “It sounds like you’ve got a case of spontaneous theriomorphosis. It’s a degenerative disease that presents as a gradual and otherwise unexplained transformation into a wild animal. It’s usually brought on by stress, anxiety, or other mood disorders, but can be managed with therapy and medication.”

“So you can treat it?”

“Of course, Mr. Stephens. Let’s get started right away. Do you have a health insurance provider?”

“No,” Jacob replied. His company had stopped providing insurance the year before, citing shrinking revenues.

“Ah. Well, in that case, let me look up how much an appointment will cost.” The specialist went silent for a few minutes. Then he returned and told Jacob the number.

“I see,” said Jacob. “I don’t think I can afford that. But thank you for your help.” Then he replaced the phone on its hook.

Orbit-sml ><

O n a warm Tuesday evening, Jacob walked to the park. It was his first outing since his symptoms started. Two months had passed; he was completely covered in fur, and his hips ached, making it painful to stay upright. Nevertheless, he was glad to be out. He’d tripped while taking the trash out earlier, spilling garbage all over the driveway. Annabel had been shooting him dirty looks all afternoon.

Finally, he reached the entrance, spotting Phil on a bench inside. Jacob limped over, his spirits lifting. Hopefully, some social time was just what he needed.

“Jacob!” His best friend patted him on the back so hard he almost fell over. “Haven’t seen you in forever. What gives, man?”

“Good to see you too,” said Jacob. He lowered himself onto the bench with a groan. “As I told you last week, I’ve been having health issues.” The noise and chatter of the crowded park grated on his sensitive ears, making his head throb. “I couldn’t really leave the house.”

“Oh, right,” said Phil. “Spontaneous thrombosis or something? You look perfectly fine to me.”

“What do you mean? I’m turning into a wolf, Phil!”

His friend shrugged. “Sure, but it’s not like you’ve broken a bone or caught a fever or anything. Didn’t you say you could manage it at home?”

“No, I don’t have insurance so the doctor said I had to manage it at home. There’s a difference.” Jacob sighed. “My wife hasn’t been taking it well. The other day, we had a fight because I shed fur on the carpet right after she’d vacuumed the house.”

“Sorry to hear that, mate,” said Phil. “I’ve heard a stiff drink always helps with marital problems, at least.”

“I wish,” Jacob said. “I can’t tolerate alcohol the same as I used to.” Nearby, a chihuahua stopped to bark at him. Its owner, a young woman in a dark fur coat, pulled it away and glared.

Phil produced a pack of cigarettes. He lit one and offered another to Jacob. “Looks like you could stand to unwind a bit.”

He recoiled from the odor. “Urgh! No thanks.”

“Suit yourself.” Phil took a pull on his cigarette. “Say, the fishing trip is coming up this weekend. You’re still down to drive me and the rest of the boys, right?”

“I don’t even know if I can go on the trip. How do you possibly expect me to drive or fish with these?” Jacob waved his paws for emphasis.

“But you’re the only one of us with a car,” Phil protested.

Jacob’s phone let out a soft ping. His headache worsened as he lifted it to see an email from his manager. “Look, I’ve got to go home. The boss just emailed me to put some last-minute touches on the quarterly report before tomorrow. Could you and the others maybe postpone the trip?”

“We’ll see,” sighed Phil as he got up to leave. “We’ve had this trip planned for ages, but I suppose we’ll push it back until you’re feeling better.”

“I really, really appreciate it,” said Jacob. Phil ignored him, bent over his phone.

Orbit-sml ><

F our days later, Jacob awoke to the sound of knocking. He gazed blearily at the clock, which read 3:00pm, and groaned. He’d been sleeping in frequently as of late.

The house was empty. Jacob vaguely recalled something about Annabel taking the children to a birthday party. He padded on all fours to the front door, where a sickly sweet smell made him wrinkle his nose. Clumsily, he pawed at the doorknob. The door swung open, revealing a wizened old woman with a face like a moldy potato.

“Mrs. Evans, what a pleasant surprise,” said Jacob, though he was not pleased at all. “What brings you here?”

The president of the neighborhood HOA sneered. “I don’t know, why don’t you tell me?”

Jacob blinked. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.”

Mrs. Evans sighed, pulling a massive notebook from her purse. She flipped it open and dragged a gnarled finger down the page. “Front lawn vegetation growth, two centimeters above the maximum height allowed by policy. Backyard vegetation, four centimeters. Trash bin storage location visible from the street. Mailbox paint color not on the approved list. Eleven percent increase in the amount of dog feces in the front yard—”

“Alright, alright,” Jacob interjected. “I’ve been dealing with severe health issues for the past two months. My wife’s helping to maintain the property as best as she can. Could you be a little more forgiving with the HOA regulations for now?”

“Absolutely not,” snapped Mrs. Evans. “I count eighty-two policy violations just from a cursory glance. I haven’t even gotten to the in-depth inspection yet.” She paused to sniff the air, and her nose wrinkled in disgust. “It smells terrible in there! You ought to be ashamed, letting things deteriorate to this level.”

“You ought to be ashamed for being such a massive stain on polite society,” Jacob muttered.

“Excuse me?” The HOA president’s nostrils flared. She scribbled furiously, then stuck the page on the door. “For gross violation of HOA regulations, you are being fined two hundred dollars. Don’t let me catch the property in such a state again.”

“You won’t,” Jacob growled, and slammed the door in her face.

Orbit-sml ><

A nnabel returned, alone. She stalked past her husband and slumped down on the living room couch.

“Welcome back, honey,” said Jacob. “How was the birthday party?”

She ignored him and turned on the TV.

“Dear?” He looked around. “Where are the kids?”

“It was fine,” Annabel snapped. “They’re having a sleepover.”

Jacob watched her warily. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” she muttered.

“Very well, then.” Jacob’s head hurt. He was still coming down from the encounter with Mrs. Evans. He headed towards the bedroom until Annabel screamed from the couch, “Of course something’s wrong!”

He stifled a sigh and turned back. “I’m sorry, dear. I thought you didn’t want to talk about it.”

“I’m exhausted,” she cried. “I break my back keeping the house together. I do all the cooking, cleaning, shopping. I spend the day running errands, and by the time I finish the kids are back from school and I’ve got to help them with homework. For the past two months I’ve been pulling double duty on dressing them in the morning, doing the yardwork, and cleaning up after you as well! This was the first day I’ve had to myself in a while. Can’t you see I’m running myself ragged?!”

Jacob’s ears drooped. “I know you’ve done a lot lately, and I appreciate it,” he began. “I’m trying my best, I swear. It’s just that with my condition, I can’t do very much—”

“Don’t get me started on your condition,” Annabel snapped. “I’ve had just about enough of it. Tailoring all your clothes so they still fit you. Planning meals around your new diet. You should see the looks I get from the neighbors, the things they whisper when they think I can’t hear. When you’re not at work you’re locked away in the bedroom. I can’t go out with you anywhere. You barely talk to me anymore. Don’t you realize how selfish you’ve been?”

“I’m sorry,” Jacob said again, feeling like a broken record. “I love you, honey.”

“I’m not sleeping here tonight.” Annabel got up, grabbing her purse. “I’ve arranged for the kids and I to stay with a friend. I need time to think about things.”

“Wait!” He leapt in front of the door. “Annabel, please. Can’t we talk about this?”

His wife sighed, fidgeting with the hem of her jacket. “When we got married, I didn’t imagine that it could be such a burden. You were so full of life, then. Every moment spent with you was an adventure.” She gazed out the window, looking ten years older. “I don’t recognize those memories anymore. I feel chained to you, like I relive the same mediocre day over and over. When was the last time you took me somewhere, Jacob? When was the last time you truly felt something for me?”

Jacob scratched at the floor. He realized he didn’t have anything to say. The words had left him long ago.

She pushed past him. “The taxi’s here. I’ll talk to you later.”

He watched the door close behind her. The sound of tires screeching drifted in from the driveway. Soon he was alone in the vast, silent house.

His phone chimed softly, making him jump. He pawed at it until the screen turned on, revealing a notification from a social media app that Annabel had made him download. It was a post from Phil. Distantly, Jacob remembered the fishing trip. There was a picture, showing Phil and the others crowded around a grill in someone’s backyard. From their grinning faces, it seemed that the absence of a driver hadn’t mattered in the least.

A sense of betrayal seeped into his stomach, like rain on a leaking roof. He swallowed the feeling down and swiped the page away in disgust.

Orbit-sml ><

W eeks passed. Jacob sat quietly at his desk. In some respects, it was like nothing had changed.

“Stephens!” He didn’t move as Mr. Whitmore thundered into view. The man threw a packet of papers down on Jacob’s desk, jamming his thumb at the front page. “Explain this!”

Jacob peered at the report. “There appears to be a slight discrepancy between column G and the sum of columns A through D.”

“What do you have to say for yourself?” huffed his manager.

“It’s a minor clerical error, sir.”

“The third such error this week!” Mr. Whitmore shrieked. “Stephens, you are on thin ice! We will be monitoring your tasks very closely from now on. One more slip-up like this and you’re out of here! Do you understand me?”

Jacob stayed quiet. In his mind, he replayed the failures from the previous months. The growing list of work incidents, friends and neighbors he no longer spoke to. The dreadful silence that greeted him in the mornings and at the dinner table. He thought of Annabel, and the empty space in their bed.

“Answer me, Stephens!”

Jacob decided he’d had enough.

Fabric ripped and dripping jaws snarled. Blood, vivid and hot, splattered against the drywall. The office filled, first with the sound of screams and tearing flesh, then with deafening silence.

“That felt pretty good,” said the wolf formerly known as Jacob Stephens.

It licked the remaining viscera from its fur and pushed the office chair back under the desk. It ignored Henrietta, who was still cowering underneath her desk. The wolf cast one last look of disdain at the office. Then it left.

Orbit-lrg

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Rina Song

Author image of Rina Song Rina Song is a writer and alternative rock lover based out of California. When not writing, she has a day job involving computers. She hopes to one day receive her own call to a heroic quest of epic proportions, and perhaps write a novel about it afterwards. Her writing has previously been published in Spank the Carp.

© Rina Song 2022 All Rights Reserved.

The title picture was created using Creative Commons images - many thanks to the following creators: neshom and sandrapetersen.

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