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The doctor and the wolf

A family doctor meets a wolf in the woods, in the latest 'Through the K hole'

Once upon a time there was a doctor who was much loved and respected by his patients.

He lived in a quaint little cottage on the edge of town and each morning while everyone was asleep he would get up, wash himself and eat a big steaming bowl of porridge. He would then set off to the forest. He liked to be close to nature and during his walks he would search amongst the hedgerows and the lanes for all of the ingredients that he would use in his medicines.

Whenever he saw a delicate purple flower or a golden cap or a slippery jack glimmering in the sunlight he would stoop down and carefully pull it up by the roots, knock off the soil and place it into his basket which he always carried over his arm.

Sometimes though, when he was feeling more adventurous he would head off the main path and go deeper into the dark forest. Once there he would pick the rarer plants and flowers that grew in the shade and were usually hidden from the eyes of people by the thick undergrowth.

It was on this morning that he found himself in such a mood. In the distance, a good way from the track, he spotted a delicate tubular bloom waving in the breeze. He realised that he would be able to make an excellent infusion for fevers from it - and more to the point he would be able to charge his patients a handsome sum.

He made his way through the heavy thicket towards his prize and as he did so he stepped out into a clearing. He was surprised to see a wolf, lying on his back, looking up at the patch of clear blue sky between the trees, chewing leisurely on an ear of corn.

The wolf didn't look at all surprised to see him, and in fact he was rather hoping to bump into the doctor.

'Hello,' said the wolf, and he could plainly see by the doctor's poor clothes and by his basket full of holes that he was far from wealthy. And given the early hour it was clear that he was very committed to his patients who lived in the town.

'I have an offer to make you,' said the wolf, and with an enthusiastic swish of his tail he leapt up and padded his way charismatically over to him.

'I can see how much you struggle and how hard you work and how frustrating it must be for you. But things can change. I have a proposition for you,' he said, and he indicated with his paw to sit down.

The doctor, against his better judgement, decided to settle down on a tree stump and listen. He was a little bemused at first but he soon realised that the wolf talked a lot of sense and that they had many ideas in common.

The wolf, picking some meat out between his teeth with a twig, continued.

'I want to give you more responsibility,' he said. 'I want to give you the power to decide which medicines are given and to whom. I want you to decide which services your patients will get and when. I want you to be at the forefront of service redesign, development and financial management. Your endless, difficult days of picking and treating and curing could be at an end.'

'You will be more powerful than you ever have been,' promised the wolf.

He talked and talked and talked and the more he talked the more sense he made, until eventually the sun began to sink low in the sky.

The wolf was seductive, and with his large eyes and soft downy ears he seemed harmless enough.

The doctor listened very intently. He was very interested and he quickly became drunk with the promise of such power. He knew that the wolf's suggestions were just what his practice needed - after years of being dictated to this seemed to be a golden opportunity. Rather than being a mere purveyor of medicines, he would hold a seat of power and would be a very important figure in the town.

The two went home together. The wolf loped along in front of him, occasionally glancing back to make sure that his new friend was keeping up. That night they drank some wine and the doctor warmed his feet in the wolf's rich fur. They spoke until they both became so tired that they couldn't keep their eyes open any longer and yawning they decided to go to bed. The wolf curled up in front of the fire, and the rhythmical rise and fall of his breathing began to slow. His body was so big that the doctor had to move the breakfast table out of the way and when the wolf stretched out his legs they were so long that they poked out into the hallway.

In the middle of the night the fire had died down to a white smouldering ash and the house was quiet save for a clock which ticked out the dead of night.

Eventually, the wolf opened his eyes and made his way upstairs into the doctor's bedroom. He leapt up onto the bed and gave out a growl, it was a deep, visceral, ancient growl, a growl which instilled fear into all of the animals of the forest. The doctor woke with a start, and panicking he fumbled for his glasses and knocked over his glass of water.

Peering through the gloom he could just make out the yellow crescents of eyes, a pair of cruel black lips and rows of sharp, powerful teeth which dripped with saliva. He realised, with rising fear, that he should never have been so foolish, he should never have trusted the wolf, his promises hid something much darker.

'You should have listened to your instincts,' said the wolf menacingly.

That night, as the townsmen slept, no-one heard the sickening crunch of bone and no-one heard the doctor's gurgling screams.

The stars were pale glimmering stones and by the silver moon the wolf let out a long shrill howl. Without looking back the creature ran into the forest and dissolved into the night.

Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Aberdeen.

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