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by Wanderer
Wanderer -- all rights reserved

I moved through the doorway of the Blind Pig Gin Mill with the best economy of motion I could manage, carefully watching my footing on the accumulated slush near the door. Even as I closed the door behind me, a few of the lighter-furred folks in the immediate area shivered. With a silent nod of apology, I cupped my hands around my muzzle and headed for the bar.

Glancing at the Lupine booth, I noted that I was first to arrive for the night ... and, given the turn in the weather, quite possibly the last. Earlier that evening, it had begun to snow. Not a blizzard, no, just enough to make even the worst neighborhoods bear a striking resemblance to a Christmas card. Of course, it wasn't even Thanksgiving yet ...

"Wanderer!", called Jack from the piano. As I turned, I noticed he was playing perhaps the most appropriate tune available; "Baby, It's Cold Outside".

"What a night, huh?", he continued as he picked his way through the song. "It gets much colder, Donnie'll have to let me sleep in my pool stable again". He brayed a short laugh as Donnie, at the edge of my vision, waggled his hand in the all-American sign for, "well, maybe".

"So", he said in a softer voice, "how's it going?"

"Nah faa, Zhaa", I said haltingly.

Jack stumbled to a halt, even hitting a few notes between the cracks. "What'd you say?"

I swallowed hard, twice. "I zheh", I forced through my stiff lips, "Nah vaa, Zhash".

"You all right, Wan?"

Around the piano, I could see eyes turning, attentions attracted by the odd sounds coming from my mouth. I whined in embarassment, then tried again to talk.

"Hhheh ... hwen ... Ayee ... geh ... gett! Khhh ... Khohl. Nnnmayee. Lih. Liv. Lifs! Ge'. Shtiv."

I paused a moment to rub my muzzle as Jack snickered. I probably sounded like I was on a three-day drunk. Unfortunately, the sudden cold snap had caught me by surprise. The ordinary slush that an occasional low temperature brought to the streets was easy enough to handle. But without my full winter coat of fur, I tended to lose heat out every surface of my body. The stiffness of my lips was just the most obvious, accentuated by the trouble I'd had with hard consonants ever since acquiring my extended jawline in the first place.

It is at moments like these I would gladly bathe Mars in napalm. All of it.

Finally, I'd worked my jaws enough (behind the shielding of my hands) to get better flexibility.

"Hoof!", I breathed in relief. "Mmy dear Jhack", I said carefully, "It is one thhing to have a khold noze. Bhut myne is entuhirely tuhoo cold at the moment. Oh", I sighed. "That's better".

Still rubbing my muzzle, I turned to Donnie. "One mug of carob cocoa, sir", I said as I tried my luck with my British accent. "If you would be so kind". Donnie nodded, trying with only partial success not to smile. I smirked ruefully, probably resulting in a half-snarl. My British was coming out New England. Hopefully, I'd have time enough for it to warm up and reach London.

Unfortunately, having a muzzle is not all it's cracked up to be. Leaving the obvious social and dental problems aside, the whole construct is absolutely terrible for keeping in heat. Now, this isn't a problem for wolves ... real ones, I mean. They have only a few muscles in their lips, enough for the standard facial expressions. But in my case, all the muscles of a human face were spread out over a wolf's facial structure. True, my muzzle is comparatively short, but I still cool off in a hurry. The type of wolf I take after is not arctic.

Fortunately, very few of the bar's regular patrons tend to ask embarassing questions. After all, those few who aren't enduring SCABS themselves generally have some information or experience to shed some light on the more esoteric parts of the problem.

I attempted a smile as Donnie handed me a cup of the carob-bean cocoa he brews up during the winter. It's the closest thing any canine can have without calling Poison Control. With careful movements, I placed the end of my upper jaw over the lip of the cup and began to blow. Against the freezing-cold temperature of my poor, abused nose, I could feel the steam rise as my breath sent it billowing like a wind-scudded cloud.

I smiled cautiously. Anytime I can imagine something like that, I'm feeling better.

Moving to the booth, I continued to blow on my still-steaming cocoa. Behind me, I could hear footsteps, but I didn't dare turn around without first disengaging my jaw from the cup. After I sat down, I carefully lowered the cup away from my teeth and placed it on the table. Finally, I turned.

It was Lisa. "Slow night", she observed as she sat down across from me.

I half-smiled again. "Tell me about it".

"So, where are all the others?"

"Hm?", I said in feigned ignorance. "Oh, you mean the Lupine Boys. They might be in later".

"Perfect night for wolves", she said with a glance to the slush-covered streets. "Gray and howling". The pane of glass that fronted on the street rattled as if sensing its cue. Thinly, through the glass, we could hear the wind droning along the brick storefront of the Pig.

"Yes", I said with a smirk. "If only it had waited a bit longer. I'm simply not dressed for it".

She nodded, and the conversation died as she busied herself with her own genuine hot chocolate. I risked a quick sip of the imitation chocolate in my cup and received only a mild scald. I whined softly with pleasure as a small nugget of warmth semed to settle into the pit of my stomach.

"Ah, winter", I said as I raised my cup. "Long may it reign. But not", I added with a smile, "for too long".

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