The Wolf in Sheep’s Lodging

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A family of wolves had been living in a small den on the outskirts of the town. The den itself was squalid and crumbling, and with every vague movement of a paw or a tail, great clumps of earth would fall from the ceiling, and the roots of the big trees above would have more room to grow and invade what little space there was. The five square feet of dry soil was definitely no place for a large family of fierce predators; the father, mother and their litter of seven tiny blind cubs. As the mother lay on her side to feed them, her gaunt ribs were visible as the thin patchy fur stretched over them.

The city was no place for wolves either; it was prosperous and perfect, made up of buildings of high-rise ornate stonework, and fat, rich herbivores strolled down the unbroken pavement; wads of cash and fresh grass almost spewing out from their pockets. Loud automobiles would putt along down the road, with little woollen heads wearing wide-brimmed hats bobbing up and down behind the steering wheels. Wolves had tried to make it in the city before, only to be sneered out onto the streets, begging out of alleyways with paper-bagged booze in hand and broken top hats on their heads.

The father wolf, Francis, would look at his wife’s bony body, and the clueless, hairless faces of the pups, and sigh. There hadn’t been any decent meat for months, and the woodland that bore deer and pheasants had been encroached upon and strangled to death by the progress of the city, leaving only their den out of place. But my god, did those city sheep look tasty.

A night came where, when his wife and seven pups fell asleep in a curled-together pile, he snuck out of the den and into the darker corners of the city’s edge, where all of the more wretched and more disposable sheep dwelt. A lamb sat on the kerb under the light of a flickering streetlamp, half a bottle of grass-flavoured whisky in hand and singing a butchered rendition of “Old Macdonald”. Before the “Oh” after “E-I-E-I”, a set of sharp-clawed paws reached out from the shadows and grabbed him by the shoulders. Minutes later, after a muffled bout of growling and slashing, a taller sheep emerged from the shadows standing on its forelegs, with a blood-stained grey muzzle emerging from its otherwise clean white fleece. Francis, dressed in his ill-fitting sheepskin, donned his victim’s business hat and set off into town.

Morning came, and Francis awoke from his bed in the local Sheep Youth Hostel as a new man, or wolf, or sheep. The local bank a few blocks down, he had noticed on his stroll, had been advertising a newly opened position as a teller. Apparently the good-for-nothing alcoholic employee had refused to turn up for work that morning, and the boss had angrily sought to replace him.

“What luck!” cried Francis, forgetting to mask his guttural wolfish growl. He knew that here, he’d be able to adapt to life in the modern world, while raising the money to support his family. He attempted to grasp the sign straight from the window on his way in, but he didn’t have thumbs, so it just sort of fell on the floor face down.

“Good enough.” He mumbled.

*

“So, Mr…”

“Notawolf, sir.”

“Mr. Notawolf.” The bank manager, Mr. Lambert, was as fat as any sheep that Francis had ever seen, and he had to force himself from licking his lips. “Your Curriculum Vitae says that you studied Accountancy at Sheepsbourne College. Where is that, exactly?”

“Oh,” Francis felt a bead of sweat trickle down his neck. The extra fleece over his already thick fur almost cooked him alive. “Sheepsbourne College, sir. That’s… on the edge of town, sir. Near where the woodland used to be.”

“Ah. Can’t say I’ve ever heard of it, but it sounds prestigious.” He looked back down at the folder; a fat, meaty double-chin forming over his neck as he did so. Francis had to force his tongue back into his mouth before the manager looked back up at him. “So what could you say you would bring to our team, here at Lambert & Sons’?”

“Well, I can certainly be… ruthless.” He felt himself sweating again. “Yes, I’m definitely ruthless, I don’t stop at anything. And I’m always hungry… to make myself better, and for customer satisfaction.”

Lambert nodded. “So would you say you seize opportunities?”

Francis thought about the sheep who happened to be drunk when he seized his skin. “Oh yes, definitely.”

There was an uncomfortable pause as Mr. Lambert scribbled on his folder, while Francis, with his backwards knee-joints tucked together, watched the grandfather clock ticking away. Finally, the sheep spoke.

“Well, Mr. Notawolf,” He smiled. “You seem like the right sheep I need for the job. With your experience in this field, I’ll just let you get to work right away.”

“T-Thank you sir.” Francis grinned back, revealing all forty-two of his razor teeth as he shuffled backwards out of the big oak door.

Of course, Francis had never worked in a bank before, or even seen one. In fact, he had no idea what banks even specialise in, and had initially thought it had something to do with managing the riverbanks around what was left of the woodlands. Now, in his tight business suit over his tight sheep skin over his fur, he sat awkwardly on a small bench as an elderly ewe pushed a strange pile of coloured paper through the glass screen separating them.

“I’d like to deposit fifty pounds, please.” She repeated angrily for the third time, and Francis looked back awkwardly at her through the horn-rimmed spectacles he’d picked up. Everything looked blurry.

“Y-yes, madam, certainly.” He reached through the gap with one long paw and swiped at the paper until it landed on his lap. The paper on top had nearly been torn to shreds by his claws by this point, but the old ewe didn’t seem to notice.

“I assume you’ve got the correct details for my account? It’s Mrs. Ramsbottom. R-A-M-S bottom.”

Francis looked down at the notepad where he had written down the details, which consisted of a rather aggressive scrawl across the page, followed by one or two paw prints.

“Yes.”

She turned up her nose and left, leaving him with the weird paper she had furiously entrusted him with. What did she want him to do with it? The city folk were strange, and did strange things; before the next sheep in line arrived at the screen, Francis turned in his chair and frantically chewed the paper until he’d eaten it all. Problem solved, but it tasted awful. How do sheep eat this sort of thing?

The work day passed slowly and painfully, leaving Francis sweating with nervousness and stifled hunger for all of the delicious looking customers that had come and gone over the past few hours. Now, the other sheep cashiers that had been working alongside him were clearing things from their desks and filing things away in intricate folder-systems, while Francis just sat on his bench looking at the torn up bits of paper scattered across the wooden table damaged by claw marks.

“Did you see that young lamb who came in earlier?” one of them shouted to another from across the room.

“What, the nervous lad who came to deposit his birthday money from his auntie?” the other replied.”

“That’s the one.” Said the first. “Talk about sheepish!”

The quiet, darkening bank erupted into a roar of laughter at the joke. Francis, who didn’t get it, made a forced, hollow chuckle.

“Yes,” he cut in as the cacophony was dying down. “What a sheep!”

The room went dead silent with the judgemental glares of his co-workers piercing the many layers of cloth and fur he hid behind, forcing him down into a shivering, nervous ball atop his bench. They were all talking silently amongst themselves now, giving Francis mean side-glances and snickering in his direction. After the main light over the foyer was switched off, they all left through the back door in a huddle. Francis remained in his bench in the dark, alone and sweaty.

The bed in the hostel seemed harder than it did the night before, and not even the stolen fleece made it comfier. Unable to sleep, Francis simply lay on his back and stared up and the crumbling paint of the ceiling; it reminded him of home, the only comfort he remembered, and the last feeling of safety that he’d ever had. Back at the crumbling den, his family were waiting hungrily for him to return.

“Where’s papa?” he imagined one of the cubs to say.

“He’s gone out hunting, little one.” His imagined-wife replied. “He’ll be back soon. I promise.”

“I’m hungry, mama.”

“I know, little one. We all are.”

*

“Mr. Notawolf,” began Mr. Lambert. “I’ve called to in here today to discuss your performance at work.”

Francis sat opposite, sat tight against the back of the diminutive visitor’s chair that lay in the shadow of Lambert’s. Heavy purple bags sagged down from his once-keen hunter’s eyes; he hadn’t slept for a moment.

“What about it, sir.”

“It’s baaaaaa-ad. I had to get a new filing cabinet to store all of the strongly-written customer complaints concerning your service. Not one customer had their deposits properly stored!” he slammed his hooves downs onto the desk, and one of the many complaint letters drifted off the pile and onto Francis’ lap. He didn’t understand many written words, but “BAD” and “STUPID” stood out to him on the page.

Lambert continued; “Now I can understand why-” he glanced down and Francis’ résumé, “-‘The Rich Bank Of Sheeps’ didn’t allow you to work with them anymore! You’re obviously not cut out for this sort of work. You’re-”

Finally, it clicked in Francis’ tired brain. He wasn’t cut out for this sort of work alright. In fact, the bank wasn’t the place for him. In fact, the entire city wasn’t the place for him. He was a wolf in a city of sheep, and he was just pretending to be someone he was not; a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It was now that the sweat under the fleece wasn’t the only thing that was pouring, but also the saliva from his mouth. He couldn’t take it anymore.

Before Lambert reached “-fired!”, Francis leapt up onto the chair and tore the sheepskin in half to reveal the half-crazed bloodthirsty wolf beneath, erupting in a spine-chilling howl. He leapt straight from the chair and onto the desk on all fours, where he lunged at the fat sheep’s neck and ravaged his flesh. Not so much of a “baa” came out from beneath the weak gurgling of blood, and he turned out to be just as delicious as he looked.

The other sheep in the bank were no match for the wolf either, and as they ran screaming, Francis pounced on them one by one – each suffering the same fate as the bank manager.

“Talk about sheepish,” Francis mumbled atop the mass of his former co-workers, a dismembered leg hanging from his mouth.

*

The she-wolf emerged from the crumbing den in search of her husband, but instead, she found a tower of fresh meat stacked high outside, blotting out the sun. Francis emerged from behind it.

“Francis!” she cried, “Where have you been?”

Seven cubs emerged from the den and swarmed their father. They had learned to walk in his absence.

“I’ve been in the city. It’s been quite an experience, and I met a lot of strange folk.”

“What on earth were you doing there?”

“Trying to be someone I was not.” He replied. “Whatever shape it takes, we have a whole field of game sitting right in front of us, acting like they’re not fresh prey ripe for our picking.”

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