Man at the Wheel (revision)

Just a second ago, James had been driving and talking and smiling like normal. Now, he was acting weird. Like some sort of seizure. First, he started to cough and make weird growling noises in his throat. Sasha could tell James was trying to hold on tight to the wheel, but he was twitching involuntarily, too. Like pincher bugs were crawling all over his insides. He was also growing hair. Visibly growing hair on his arms and face. That was a little weird. Okay, it was really weird. Sasha’s hand reached for the car door, though she wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, since they were traveling on the freeway at 60 or 70 miles an hour.

“James? Are you okay?”

Come to think of it, he’d been acting weird since he’d been bitten by that dog the other week. The doctor checked it out, but… well, it wasn’t infected… but… he’d been acting weird, that’s all. Did he really have rabies? He got a shot, so it shouldn’t be that, but then Sasha didn’t know much about rabies except from what she heard from James, which was mostly a lot of reassurance that he probably didn’t have it. She reached for the wheel; James snapped at her hand and growled at her. When did his teeth get so sharp? They looked like fangs!

Out of the corner of her eye, Sasha could see they were headed for the divider.

“Watch out!”

The car went straight up and flipped around so they were looking at oncoming traffic. This would have been bad enough, except James hadn’t taken his foot off the pedal. The clipped a car that was swerving out of the way and careened into a truck. Sasha thought her leg might be crushed from the first impact, but the second had stopped the car dead. She could hear the horns and metal and glass twisting and grating and cracking against itself. She was about to cry out in pain until she heard a high-pitched whine at her side. It wasn’t car noises. Or a siren. It was James, or what could have been James. Sitting in the driver’s seat was some kind of hairy man-thing, its nose stretching out to a snout, fingers curling to claws before her eyes. The creature howled, the pained, tragic howl of a dog. Or a wolf.

“…James?”

She reached her hand toward the creature’s suffering face. What used to be James snapped at her fingers but couldn’t lean in close enough to bite at them. Sasha winced, drawing her hands in close to her body. She looked out of the corner of her eye and then turned her entire head, shamelessly watching the creature, half its torso crushed within the mechanical labyrinth. Blood oozed from its quivering maw. Sasha breathed through her teeth. Her shin bone was probably in pieces and she felt like throwing up. Her leg was also pinned into the car. A part of Sasha felt relieved that this creature could not reach her from where it was pinned, but another part ached for its pain. It was dying—James was dying—and while she was deathly afraid of him, it was miserable to watch the man she loved. In this condition. Struggling against his death. Rather than angry, he just looked immensely tired.

James had a similar look when he’d get back from work. He was always on call at the hospital, making life-or-death decisions, often working eighty-hour weeks. It’s a wonder he even came into her life, he always seemed so busy with work. But then, they met right outside the hospital, after he was exhausted from working all night. He was always so simple and passionate. Now, he was a wolf and dying. Life isn’t really fair that way.

James closed his jaundiced eyes, perhaps for the last time. Sasha exhaled, finally paying attention to her leg. Maybe the whole thing was crushed. Sasha could hear a siren. She wondered what they would think, her and a large wolfman at the wheel, but then she saw last of the hairs receding into James’s skin.

Seeing his real face again, peaceful and lifeless, broke her. Sasha curled over, clutching herself. She bit her tongue. She cried and screamed and cursed everyone and everything. She alone would know about his affliction. She alone knew why James had to die.

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