Shana peered at her injured arm. It fucking hurt, and blood was dripping freely, soaking her sleeve. She grimaced from the pain and moaned.
She was angry at the wolf, and at herself. Dumb, dumb, dumb! She seriously wanted to hurt something. Jesus!
She always carried a small emergency kit with her; and was glad now she'd stuck to this rule laid down by her father. She delved into a zippered pocket inside her jacket, grateful that the wolf had at least chosen to take a chunk out of her left arm or it would have been twice as hard. She smeared on a generous dollop of antiseptic cream and wound the bandage as tightly as she could manage. Last, she dry swallowed two painkillers and hoped they'd kick in quickly.
She could still follow. The injured wolf had slunk away, but it wasn't healing as fast now, losing its power with the sunrise. It had left behind it blood, smeared by paw-prints here and there. And she could follow that, even when the scent died as it changed.
She picked up the gun, tucked it away and began to walk, cradling her aching arm. Each step she took sent agonizing jolts shooting up from her wrist and she moved as smoothly as she could, gritting her teeth against the pain. Her body was stunned she wanted to carry on; it was sending her signals of dismay, telling her how tired she was, how she needed seriously to just collapse for a few hours, highlighting every scrape and bruise. You're on pure adrenalin now; you'll crash out. Maybe you should leave it, yeah? Think of the bed at the hotel. Soft sheets, lovely pillow. A hot shower, a scalding one. Room service. Oh, room service!
Yes but I can end it, she argued. I can take this fucker out. Do I want to live with it killing someone else because I was tired, because I couldn't do my job? That death will be my fault. Every death after this will be because of me.
The sky was gray now above her, shadows appearing where there'd been only darkness, shapes becoming more distinct, their edges sharper. She shivered, always coldest at dawn, after the long night.
The tattered body of the homeless kid lay in her path. It was so mauled it hardly looked human. She'd seen worse, but it was still difficult to look. Her dad; It's always personal Shana. Never let them become just numbers. You need to care, remember that when it gets hard. You have to care because you need that anger, that drive. You'll care about every last one like they were your blood.
"Oh god Dad," she said aloud. "Just shut up, ok?" An image of him looking affronted popped into her mind and she wondered if she was going slightly crazy from blood-loss and exhaustion. She stepped around the body, avoiding a tangle of viscous, drying intestines, ground into the dirt. The kid's face leered at her, one eyeball lolling from a mess of a socket in which the bone shone whitely in ragged flesh. In death, he looked as sullen and accusing as he had in life. And he was accusing her. "You should have saved me," he seemed to say. "I'm a dumb kid, what do I know? Of course I was going to do something insanely stupid. That was surely predictable."
"Oh shut up," she said tiredly. "Just shut up. It's not my fault."
"Fuck off! I suppose everything is my fault now."
duty duty duty. You have a duty.
Shana's feet felt heavy, dragging, her legs seemed to weigh twice as much as they normally did. She leaned against a wall for a minute and breathed in and out slowly, trying to clear her head. She was losing too much blood. The light was too bright suddenly, spears of sunshine making her wince.
The spots of blood lead her around another corner. A door swung from one hinge, rusty and dented, behind it an abandoned open-plan warehouse. The expanse of floor was bare except for traces of recent and ongoing occupation by homeless people; an ancient mattress, traces of a fire, a few blankets in corners and random empties strewn everywhere. The place stank.
In the darkest corner a shadow moved very slightly.
Shana approached, forcing the cloudiness from her mind, demanding her thoughts be clear and sharp. She brought up all her reserves of anger, and fear played a part too, sure. The blood trail was more of a smear. It had dragged itself along from here, slowly and painfully, the marks of a struggle.
It was day. A naked man lay there, not a wolf. He was so blood-smeared it covered him like clothes, almost every inch of his skin obscured. A lot of it lay in the hair on his head, which was stuck down, plastered to his scalp and over his brow. He was only semi-conscious and was shuddering all over as if he had a fever. His breathing sounded labored, and was punctuated by small, pathetic moans.
Shana reached for her gun and raised it slowly.