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It’s cold. No. It’s balls-out freezing. And I mean that in the literal sense. Because when you’re naked, digging at frost-hard ground with bare hands, then that’s not cold, that’s balls-out freezing.

I paw at the ground, a tendril of panic unfurling in my stomach and growing into a butt-clenching fear that I’m digging in the wrong place. It’s a month since I was last here and I’m still recovering from the changing. But what’s even worse than my screaming muscles and encroaching hypothermia is that, if I don’t find my clothes soon, I’ll be late for Bert.

‘Halle-bloody-lujah,’ I mutter, my frost-bitten fingers glancing something solid. I tug the chest’s handle, falling back onto a hard crust of snow when it comes free.

Swearing, I shake myself down and pop open the rusty clasps, my fingers throbbing and, well, my other extremities disappearing to nothing.

I pull on my clothes and stand, wobbling about a bit on my two legs. It takes a few minutes to get used to bipedal motion again and I stagger from tree to tree, looking like some drunk in the woods. I’m not drunk. Not yet. That’ll come later and may also be why I keep forgetting where I put my bloody clothes.

The full moon cuts through the branches, tree shadows carving up the snowy landscape as I forge ahead, standing taller with each step, setting my sights on the distant, orange fuzzy ball of light.

When I get to The Laughing Lamb, I almost feel human again, pushing back my shoulders until they crack like gunfire.

In the car park, there are a few muddy landys, quad bikes and Wally’s tractor and trailer, which acts as the local taxi when everyone’s had a skinful.

The hearth’s heat smacks me in the face as I enter, stomping the snow off my boots. No sign of Bert yet as I approach Dave at the bar, flicking through a newspaper faster than anyone could read it.

‘Why isn’t the crossword on the same page, every time?’ He asks to no one in particular, removing a pen from behind his cauliflower ear.

When he sees me standing here, he breaks into a grin, exposing several missing teeth.

‘Has it been one month already? You and Bert having another date night?’

I resist rolling my eyes. You would have thought two blokes meeting up every month to have a bite to eat wouldn’t be a novelty. But it is. And Dave says the same thing every time I walk through that door in my current form.

‘Aye, Bert’ll be here soon. We’ll have the usual. Two pints and some whisky chasers, ta,’ I say, hoping there’s still some cash in my trouser pocket from last time. There is. Jackpot.

Dave shifts his bulk around the space behind the bar with surprising grace, glancing over at his crossword as he works the pump. ‘You up for steak tonight?’

‘Aye, can’t beat your steak nights.’

Dave drains the optics. I know I shouldn’t ask but I can’t resist.

‘No sign of Mac tonight? Can’t believe he’d give up his spot by the fire to go out in this weather.’

‘You wouldn’t credit it would you? But that daft dog went out when it started getting dark. But he always comes back. I’ve never met a more loyal dog.’ Dave takes the pen from behind his ear, returning to his paper. ‘Or an uglier dog, now I think on it.’

I can’t help but smile at the (almost) compliment and go to my usual spot, by the fire, nodding to the regulars stooped over their pints at the bar.

Bert walks in a few minutes later. He’s one of those wiry wee buggers, all arms and legs with as much meat on him as a filleted earwig. He moves with a slight shuffle now, I notice, the first signs his body is starting to fold in on itself like a fist.

‘Never look any older, do you?’ He says, removing the camera from his scrawny neck, placing it on the table. There’s a pained expression to his smile. His eyes are deeper set than usual.

‘Well, you’re doing the ageing for both of us, by the looks of it!’ I jest. ‘What’s up mate?’

His liver-spotted hands shake ever so slightly as he nurses his pint, before gulping it down and looking blankly at the fire.

‘You alright, mate?’

‘Nah. It’s Shirley. Says I’m not the man she fell in love with, whatever that means. Says she’s going to leave me.’

I resist the urge to reach out and touch Bert’s hand.

‘She’s been having it off with the butcher down the way. The one with the sportscar,’ Bert says, necking his whiskey. ‘Bitch.’

Involuntarily, I shudder at that word. ‘What are you going to do this time?’

Bert shrugs. We both know what he’ll do. Nothing. Shirley’s run rings around him since they swapped rings. All hoity-toity, speaking to Bert like he’s her pet. She made him abandon his photography to get a ‘proper job’ in the city too. Then, refused to give him a family because she didn’t want to ruin her figure.

Yes, she’s a looker, if you like that sort of thing. People often laugh behind Bert’s back, saying he’s punching above his weight, saying she’s a trophy wife. But she’s the booby prize if ever I saw one.

I sup my beer. ‘Why don’t you get a room here for a few nights? Give yourself some time to think.’

Bert looks up and, for a moment, he’s like a wide-eyed kid again. ‘Maybe we could find somewhere together?’

Feck. I can feel my heart stinging at the thought. ‘Nah, I’m off again tonight. Just passing through.’

Bert nods, trying not to look disappointed. ‘You’re always just passing through, every month, regular as clockwork. Couldn’t you take one day off? We could go hiking tomorrow. There’s a nest of white-tailed eagles on Ben Sgritheall. I’d love to go photograph them. With you.’

He whispers the last two words as I swallow the rising ball in my throat. ‘You don’t need me; ; I’d scare those birds off before you got your camera out.’

Bert looks down.

‘Sorry, mate, it’s just my job...’ but my words peter out. Bert’s heard my excuses before. ‘Maybe we could pop out now, see what we can see?’

‘Nah, it’s too late.’

We sit in silence for a few minutes, Bert turning his whisky glass. The last drops of amber liquid catch the firelight, glowing like liquid gold.

I clear my throat. ‘Did you manage to get some decent shots when you walked over?’

‘Aye, saw a lovely robin singing her little heart out. Sort of photo that’d make the perfect Christmas card. That’s a point, I’ll need your address to post you one.’

I smile. ‘Another round?’

‘Is it not mine?’

‘Nah, you stay and take some report photos.’

Reportage, mate.’

I walk to the bar as Bert takes some snaps of the pub’s punters when they’re not looking. Reportage. That’s not what I’d call what he does with a camera. Raw talent is what I call it, each shot framed in love whether of man or beast or something in-between, like me.

I return to the table, balancing the drinks in my hands as Bert clicks his camera at me.

‘You never get any older, what’s your secret?’

‘Good food and better drink,’ I joke.

But as the night goes on, Bert keeps asking me why I look so young. As I get drunker, I nearly blurt it out.

‘Because I’m a fecking were-human, mate.’

I don’t though. Instead, I get another round. Then, another.

But when I turn around, Bert’s gone.

I stagger outside and watch Wally’s trailer pull out, skidding a bit on the ice and causing the drunken mob sitting in there to fall onto their backs. They all cheer, legs flailing and pointing skywards like a herd of riggwelted sheep. Not that I can criticise. My head’s spinning like a whirligig.

I stagger back into the pub and sit down, alone. I then proceed to neck those drinks, trying to drown out a horrible thought. The thought that I’m going to have to leave Bert again.


When I wake, I’m behind the bar. There’s an upturned glass by my paw, the last dregs of whisky pooling in its side. I consider sticking my tongue in the glass and licking up those last drops. Hair of the dog, right? Ha.

But it’s not just my hangover that’s killing me. Every inch of my body feels like it’s been walloped around. I roll over onto my back, letting out a low howl. This never gets any easier. My clothes lie crumpled around me and I hear Dave thumping around upstairs, ready to come down for this morn