The boy ran through the graveyard, naked skin shining under the half-obscured moon. He dared a look behind him, almost fell, turned back to face front and ran faster. Ducking behind a mausoleum, he leant his back to the stone, gasping for breath. His head darted forward to look around the side of the small building, back the way he had come. Nothing. With a sigh, he heaved himself up, turned to go deeper into the warren of tombs and stopped short. The man stood before him, a small smile on his lips. The boy threw back his head and howled.
“You’re too wild-looking,” the boy said to the Wolf. The Wolf replied with a snort.
“I know, I know,” agreed the Witch, rising from his crouch, brushing the fur on the Wolf’s head one last time. “But I’m not trying to pass for a dog.” It was true, they’d been on the road for many months now, and the boy was almost constantly covered in a thin rime of dust and graveyard dirt. His thick, dark hair was tangled and snarled, and his fingernails were black with grime.
The Wolf’s dusky fur was equally matted, and even though most people assumed he was a dog, they still gave them a wide berth.
The Witch caught a glimmer of mischievous light in the Wolf’s amber-gold eyes before his four-legged friend trotted over to an alleyway across the broken street. The boy sighed and dropped to the curb, resting his arm on his leather rucksack. After a few moments of squinting up at the blue-grey sky, he took out a tobacco pouch and rolled himself a cigarette. Exhaling wisps of silvery smoke, he glanced once more towards the mouth of the alley to see a raven-haired boy striding confidently across the cracked tarmac to stand at rest before him.
From his seat, the Witch’s eyes traced the contours of the newcomer’s very-much-naked body, from strong calves and thighs to torso and arms, finally coming to rest on the boy’s green and gold eyes.
“I could walk around like this,” the Wolf said. “But I’m sure a boy bereft of clothes would be slightly more conspicuous than a travel-worn dog.”
The Witch smiled up at him, still squinting into the sun, which now framed the Wolf’s head like a corona, and took a drag of his cigarette.
“Here,” he said, holding out the rucksack by its straps. “Put some clothes on.”
“This, my love,” the Witch declared, arms stretched as wide as his smile, “is Paris.”
The light in the Wolf’s eyes, the look of wonder on his face and the small, almost embarrassed smile, were all worth the world to the Witch. Everything was covered in a layer of grime, even the trees that lined the streets, traffic laws were virtually non-existent, and there were hundreds of beggars outside the train station, but neither boy cared; it was golden to their eyes.
The Wolf turned to the Witch, a crooked, half-crazed grin on his face. “I love it.” And the Witch knew he also meant, ‘I love you’.
They found some cheap clothes and a cheap hotel, checked in and showered. It had been a while since either of them had felt clean skin against clean skin; they soon found themselves tussling on the clean sheets, nipping at each other playfully, laughing all the while. Bites turned to kisses, kisses became more urgent, until finally they lay in an exhausted languor of spent desire, too tired even to clean the semen off their sweat-soaked bodies. They used one of the damp towels to clean themselves off, and then fell asleep in each other’s arms.
They spent the rest of the day travelling around Paris, taking in the sights; they toured Notre Dame, walked along the Seine, saw the Eiffel Tower and ate ice cream at the Jardin des Plantes. They stopped outside the Louvre, but didn’t go in; neither really wanted to, it was enough to just be there. The tears in the Wolf’s eyes looked like diamonds to the Witch.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, catching a glittering drop on his finger and pressing it to his lips.
“I don’t know,” smiled the Wolf. “It’s just… the history, I suppose. You read about these places, but I’m actually here.” His smile broadened to a grin. “We’re here.” The Witch smiled knowingly, tugged him into a one-armed embrace, and steered him away from fountains and glass pyramids.
“Guess where we’re staying tonight?”
The Wolf turned a raised eyebrow to him. “Somehow I get the feeling you’re not about to say ‘at the hotel’.”
The Witch laughed, blowing silver smoke into the Wolf’s face. “You’re very clever.”
The Witch stopped when a couple asked him to take their picture in front of the pyramids. The Wolf stood to the side with barely-concealed impatience.
“So come on, where are we staying?”
The Witch smiled secretively, drawing out the suspense.
The cemetery stretched into the night, a city of death melding into the still black dark of midnight past, moonlight barely filtering through the shadow-web of trees that guarded the necropolis. High walls encircled the graveyard, acting as a buffer to the outside world; no sound came from the streets outside, and the only sound that came from within was the gentle rustle of leaves in a sporadic breeze.
The Wolf crept between two rows of towering mausoleums towards the guard’s hut, just to the left of the main entrance. The place had been closed for hours now, but the night watchman would still be at large. The Wolf kept his weight on the backs of his pads, making sure his claws didn’t sound against the concrete and give his position away. When he reached the end of the row, two tombs up from the guardhouse, he lifted his muzzle and scented the air. His Wolf mind reeled at the unfamiliar scents, but the human part picked them out and analysed them. Stale deodorant, sweat, cigarette smoke, old coffee. Under that the smell of the grave; must, earth, flowers and decay. He edged farther out, peering around the side of the dark stone grave to where the guard’s station was. It was empty.
“Looking for something?”
The Wolf jumped, whirled towards the voice teeth bared and fur bristling, a growl trickling from deep in his chest. The Witch just laughed.
“Go on, get changed.” The Witch saw his look. “The guard’s been taken care of. Go.”
The Witch walked slowly up the main cobbled path, listening to the trees talk to each other. A pool of shadows beside the black mausoleum just up ahead moved, and one disentangled itself from the rest.
“How do you do that? I didn’t even smell you.” The Wolf joined the Witch on the off-white paving stones, taking the proffered cigarette.
The Witch shot a small smile at him. “Do you want some clothes?”
The Wolf sighed. “No, thanks.”
“Good,” the Witch replied around a wicked grin. The Wolf sighed again and lit his cigarette, walking ahead. The Witch let him get farther away, admiring the view for a moment.
“Hey,” he called, jogging to catch up. “Look at this.”
An oval-shaped tin with a photograph imposed on the lid had been left on a grey marble sarcophagus. The tin rattled when shook but was sealed shut. The Witch sat studying the picture, trying to make out the faces in the dim light; what looked like an elderly couple in their Sunday best and a middle-aged woman in shorts and tee shirt. The younger woman reminded the Witch of the waitress who served the boys on their first date. A smile warmed his face.
His head shot up suddenly. He put the tin back on the grave, walked the narrow path between hulking tombs and found the Wolf in the doorway of a tomb whose floor had caved in.
“Did you hear that?”
The Wolf cocked his head to the side. “No, don’t hear anything.”
A chill ran down the Witch’s spine, like the fingers of Death herself. “Be careful,” he warned softly. “This place feels… old.” His eyes caught the moonlight for a second, reflecting it back like a cat’s. “Careful where you go sniffing.”
The dark green statue seemed to move, but it was probably just the dappled shadows cast by the swaying branches overhead. A cool breeze shivered along the Wolf’s skin. He suddenly wished he’d worn clothes. The moon was obscured by cloud, and the Wolf contemplated changing form; as a Wolf he’d be warmer, and his senses would be that much keener, but in the end he decided to keep his opposable thumbs. He glanced once more at the statue, a verdigris-covered woman crawling up a thick black cross, and shivered again.
The next tomb was empty except for the cobwebs and half-empty bottle of spiced rum. The Wolf grinned at his fortune, taking a swig from the bottle. As he passed the door of the next tomb, the sound of rust-coated metal screeched through the night. The door to the empty tomb had closed behind him. Goosebumps marched along his flesh, prickling his scalp.
At the other side of the cemetery, the Witch was trying to peer through the dirty glass of a mausoleum door, when he heard whispering again. It started as one indistinguishable voice, but soon others joined it, growing in volume but not clarity, until he thrust his hands to his ears and yelled, “stop!”
The whispering subsided. Movement along the ground caught his eye; black cockerel feathers danced in the breeze. Black cockerel feathers, sacred to Legba, guardian of the grave, god of the crossroads. He’d seen smidgens of tobacco, sweets, bits and pieces left in offering to the god, but hadn’t paid much attention.
Time to find the Wolf.
“Hello?” The Wolf called softly, creeping closer to the door. The rust stains looked like dried blood in the stygian gloom. He scented the air, but all he could smell above the decay was rum and tobacco, and the faintest hint of something sweet. The door creaked again under his palm.
The tomb was darker than when he had entered, as if all the shades of the night had gathered here to witness… what?
A dark face jumped out from the shadows, coming within inches of the Wolf’s nose. With a scream, he threw himself backwards and ran. A cackle chased him on the wind.
The Wolf ran, heart pounding a staccato beat. A black liquid shadow trailed behind, gaining on him. He glanced over his shoulder, stumbled, turned back round and ran faster. Ducking behind a dove-grey sepulchre, he collapsed his back to the stone, panting for breath. His head darted out. Nothing. He turned to head deeper into the warren of tombs, hoping to lose his pursuer but came up short. Before him stood a smiling old man holding a cane in one hand and a smoking-pipe in the other, with dusky skin and eyes, and a straw hat atop his head.
“Nice night.” His voice was like a thousand whispers, with an edge of a death-scream to it.
The Witch searched his memory for everything he knew about Legba. He liked tobacco, sweets, rum, and palm-oil. He was a master linguist, a trickster, and the messenger of destiny. Something about dogs…
The Wolf had collapsed into a ball, covering his head with his arms. Shakes wracked his body. A whisper like a thousand whispers insinuated itself in his ear.
“Li’l dog, li’l dog.”
A hand stroked down his arm and he screamed. He flung his arms to the ground, ready to push himself up and run. The man’s face was centimetres from his own. He scrabbled backward until his back hit something solid.
This is it, he thought. I’m never going to see the Witch again. A tear ran down his cheek and a sliver of sorrow wedged itself between his ribs.
A whistle burst through the air, so high-pitched that no human could hear it. It hit the Wolf’s eardrums like a needle. When it stopped, he looked up; the Witch was here.
“What do you want?”
“I wasn’ gon’ harm him none, li’l witch,” the old man drawled. “I thought we coul’ have a drink s’all. Got my rum.”
“Oh.” The Witch glanced at the Wolf. Sure enough…
“Sorry, sir. He didn’t know. Here,” the Witch took the rum from the Wolf and handed it over. The man set his cane against the mausoleum at the Wolf’s back, opened the rum and drank deep.
“ ’Sides,” he continued. “Don’ you know I like dogs?” His eyes sparkled with the same mischief the Witch had seen in his love’s eyes a thousand times and more. “Call you’self a conj’rer.”
Legba offered the bottle to the Wolf, who glanced at the Witch before accepting.
“Now, come. Le’ me tell you ‘bout the time I got hol’ of that Robert Johnson’s soul. He the best blues player you ever hear’…”