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   Chapter 27 No.27

Bound By Julie Embleton Characters: 7026

Updated: 2018-02-11 12:02

"Day three." Michael firmly scored a line through the date on his hand-written calendar. The single page, showing only two weeks' worth of dates, was set out on the table in front of him, his empty dinner plate having been shoved aside to make space for the scrap paper. Today was always going to have been the hardest day, and while there was another three hours before midnight, the primordial urge to phase into his wolf-form was definitely weaker than it had been the previous night. He placed the pencil back on the table and held out his hands, palms down, before him. A slight tremble was still evident, but nothing as intense as earlier. The ringing in his ears had passed sometime in the early afternoon too - around the same time when his spine had quit twitching to morph. Rounding his hands into loose fists he rested them on the table top and sat back to glance around. His surroundings were cleaner and more habitable than yesterday, and now that he'd a small fire going, warmer too. Staying in human form for the first self-imposed period of two weeks demanded that he live like a human - even if he had to do so in this thin-walled, two-roomed hunting shack. Once two weeks had passed he would allow himself to phase into his wolf for a few hours, but he had to be careful; he had to ensure that he stayed in control and didn't wander far - both mentally and physically.

His empty plate bore no evidence of the rice, beans and tinned tuna meal he'd devoured - a far cry from what he had been dining on for the last few months - but weaning himself off the meat was a vital step in his recovery. Ripping into fresh kill every mealtime had only nudged him closer to surrendering entirely to his animal side and the fact that a human had nearly been one of those meals three days ago had -.

As the horrific memory began to replay Michael swatted it away by jerking up out of his chair and grabbing the empty plate. The water sitting in the plastic basin was icy cold, but he scrubbed the plate clean and did the same for the other few pots and dishes, giving the task his full attention. With the dishes then dried and returned to the tiny cupboard above the fridge he turned to face the room, knowing that he needed to keep himself busy until he was tired enough to sleep. Michael grimaced at the efficiency lying before him. The few pieces of furniture which filled the living space had been straightened and cleaned; the threadbare armchair sitting in front of the wood-burning stove, the veneer-topped kitchen table with its single wooden chair, and finally, a tall gun cabinet, which although empty, had been repositioned in an attempt to make a partition between the poky bed and the rest of the room. Even the wooden floor had been swept clean. There was one job left however; the stove was riddled with rust, and earlier on he had found a stumpy wire brush in the lean-to where his jeep was stored at the side of the shack.

Happy to be close to the warmth Michael dropped to his hunkers before the stove and began scrubbing at the flaky surface. For the first while his mind was occupied with removing the rust from the intricate pattern that ran in a wide band around the stove's width, but as he progressed to the flatter sections, his thoughts began to wander.

He was, he had to admit, quietly pleased with himself. He hadn't really believed he would make it this far without phasing back into his wolf form. Yes, it was only day three, but considering he'd been wolfed out for

the last four months, making it to day three was a big deal. There were stories, urban legends even, of werewolves who had stayed in their wolf form for so long that, eventually, all traces of their humanity had vanished. It was rumoured that once it happened the wolf would become feral and any living thing - human, fellow werewolves, even vampires - wouldn't stand a chance if attacked. There were all sorts of nightmarish tales kids loved to whisper to each other at night; the vicious wolf Hancock who had lost his mate in a pack fight and swore revenge. Hancock had turned wolf to track the killer, vowing that he would not return to human form until her death was avenged. He never found her murderer however, and legend says he still roams the land, slaughtering entire packs in one night, no known man or beast able to stop him. As a kid, Michael often wound up his younger brother at night-time, swearing blind that he could see a huge wolf prowling around the outside of their house, the moon highlighting the streak of grey fur which ran from Hancock's nose to tail. Legends always held a grain of truth he reminded himself, pausing to blow a fine film of red dust away. He may not have turned as wild as Hancock had, but the proof that his humanity had begun to fade had been undeniable when he'd wanted to pounce on that girl. It was the jolt he'd needed to snap himself out of the mental state he'd allowed himself to sink into. Her scream had wrenched him right back to Blackwater Ridge and the horrific acts he'd carried out there. Never again, never, did he want to cause fear like that in any person.

Michael shuffled sideways to work on a new section of the warm cast-iron, taking a moment to lean back and see the difference already made. He wasn't going to dwell on the incident with the girl. He couldn't. He had to look towards the future and try to leave what was in the past behind. Peace would never be made with what he had done; the lives he had taken would never be paid for, even taking his own life - something he had considered for a long time - would not make amends. Guilt owned him now, its clammy presence resided in his bones and had the right to do so until Mother Nature called time on his life, the life he had no idea of how he should live. This was the one thought that had been heavy on his mind. How did he deserve to live now? He needed to find some sort of neutral state, a place where he was neither happy nor remorse-ridden. Happiness he definitely didn't deserve, and remorse, as he'd already learned, allowed him to be swallowed by his animal side, which in time would smother his humanity. If his humanity evaporated he would feel no more guilt. He had to feel guilt. So what would he do?

He scrubbed harder at the metal, a layer of powder spilling onto the floor by his knees. Today had felt right for some reason. His mood had been balanced, despite still having to struggle with his caged wolf. What was it that had made him tolerable to himself? He had done nothing but wake, eat and work. He had just. . . what? Michael stilled as the answer came to him; he had existed. That was it. That was all he had done today - existed. And that was what he would do from now on. He would wake, eat, work and sleep - nothing more. He didn't deserve anything more, or anything less. 'Existing' was the perfect compromise. No comfort, no joy, just basic existence.

"Exist, " he murmured, and with an accepting nod returned to scrubbing at the rusty stove.

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