The Beginning Or The End?
I dreamed a dream that was in my head. I had unexpectedly taken an afternoon nap, resting peacefully in our secret place. I laid out on the softness of an old quilted blanket I often took with me when I went deep within the woods outside of the town of Chester. My aunt Lori had made it when she was just a girl and then gave it to me when I was born. Raggedy and slightly torn, it was the perfect thing to use for a picnic without fear of it getting ruined because it was already on its way out. Octagon pieces of fabric of faded reds, blues, and grays, decorated lightly with tiny daisies. The stitching was obviously done by a child, tighter in some areas and loose in the others where hands had grown tired from sewing lessons.
The sun was nigh, warming my skin through breaks in the tree branches overhead. The backs of my eye lids were swimming in crimson-orange flickering light from the shadows of the swaying trees in the comfortable easy breeze of a summer August.
I had not meant to fall asleep, but when I did I was taken to Gallows' Hill where the old town church and cemetery resided. Our town had a history of justice and hangings, and my father was the Sheriff. The place held many of old tales told of times when witchcraft and demons were abroad.
I didn't remember much, or it might have been just that not much had happened. All I remembered is standing there on the hill among the graves in the sun, surrounded by wild flowers, soft yellows, whites, and lavender; but I felt very cold. I saw a milky white dove fly overhead. My eyes tried to follow it, but it flew right in front of the brightly shinning sun. I had to shield my face with my arm while I continued to try to see it, despite the strain on my sight in the blinding sun-rays. And then, it just fell out of the sky, dead on its back.
When I woke, I opened my eyes. I didn't startle. I knew where I was and that I wasn't alone. I was never the type to be jumpy about anything really, but that dream had left something awful rattling in my bones.
"Are you alright?" he asked. He didn't need to see me shaking to know I was shaken. He wasn't like the other boys in town who couldn't tell their foot from their nose. He could see everything that was there in the eyes. I wondered if all animals could do that.
His name is Relkon. His home rested in the mountains miles and miles away with his family who didn't know he came this far east to hunt. His eyes were as black as a doe's. Hair tree-bark brown. He was tall and slender, agile and strong. Like a fox with bear's strength.
Our paths had crossed one day in this very spot. My name is Wendy, and my home was in the town of crowded houses and buildings farther east of the woods. I was on my way to see my aging aunt Lori who had made me my blanket, my mother's sister. She lived all alone and secluded in the forest. Refused to take residence in town ever since her husband, my uncle Bent, had died in the coal mines on the other side of town. That happened before I was born. As far as I can remember she had always wanted to be as far away as possible. I couldn't blame her. I was more like her in that sense than my mother. I even possessed more of likeness in my features to her than mother.
My mother was gone too. She had had summer hair, gold, long and straight. Blue eyes that matched the sky and a smile that matched a blushing sun. She was warm and friendly. I was distant. Gray-green eyes and thick wavy auburn-brown hair, hair of autumn. Same as my aunt. My father was all winter browns and roughly bearded. I had no physical qualities of his, but I was also more like him than mother. Sometimes I think that's why I had missed her so. She had left as quickly as the fever that took her. My brother James, aged 6 now, looked like father, but was as playful and friendly as mother. She would live on through him.
I had promised mum that I would take care of her little sister and my brother when she had lied sick in her bed, and then she was gone. I watched the life leave and then cried into my father's shoulder.
It made my father furious that my aunt had to go live like that in the woods in her dead husband's hunting cabin. It was a small one room that had never meant to be a home. But, he couldn't prevent me from keeping my word I had made to mother, so he had grandma stitch me a red hooded cloak to keep me warm and safe.
"You'll be easier to spot and folks won't mistake you for an animal. Just don't ever stray from the path. I don't want you getting shot by them foolish hunters out there drinking and looking for game." He also handed me his father's pocket watch to keep track of the time. "I don't want you out there after sunset either, and you take the horse."
"Father please, I can go on foot," I had protested. I couldn't stand horseback riding. I wanted to be sure I was in control of where I went, and me being on a horse had never been certain. The hoofed creatures didn't like me much. Horse, sheep, cow, and otherwise.
The details of the arrangement was an argument that never actually ended and had resulted in me being nicknamed "Red Riding Hood" because of it. It was joked that I was my own horse in my red hooded cloak, but I liked to think of it as I wasn't lazy enough to need one. It was only an hour and a half walk to my aunt's.
Every few days I brought things for my aunt in a wicker basket that she might need and was like not to get living in the woods alone. I spent time with her. I actually liked being there and she needed it just the same. She didn't see anyone else and didn't really like much of anyone else, she'd say, but she seemed to like me and I liked her.
"What about the wolves?" my little brother would say when I was off to see her.
Our town had such myths of these demons in particular. It was said that the first settlers were attacked by these wolf-creatures who could turn into a man so that they could play tricks on you. Eventually they were killed off, or so they said. I always laughed at my brother's imaginations. I found it impressive. I could never make things up or imagine the possibilities of fantasy. All I could do was see what was right in front of me, and looking at him then I saw an excited little boy with the full spirit of a child entertaining his overactive imagination while making clawing gestures and howling noises. I mussed up his shaggy brown locks with my hand in delight.
My father, however, did not find it amusing.
"You quiet up about those silly myths, you hear?" then he'd turn to me, sullen, stern, and serious, ranting about the dangers of the wood and to never stray from the path, ever.
He even tried to hire a local boy, who I didn't really care much for, to escort me on my travels. His name was Billy, the rounded prodigy of the Baker's. When we got to the forest's edge I'd trip him and run off. The boy was so confused he didn't know what to do and would never have been able to keep up with the way I could run through the trees. He went back to my father to tell him what had happened and got a sure screaming, something fierce, I was told. Eventually my father just gave up and I was able to go as I pleased.
"No man will want a lady who does whatever she wants and takes care of herself like a man," he had said.
"Maybe I don't want a man to take care of me," I retorted. I didn't know at the time how true that was.
"You want to become a shrew?" he asked, and I just laughed. Why not? It sounded like more fun, and I didn't get along with the other kids in town, seventeen and otherwise.
And so, one day I was on my way to see my aunt when I heard the strange soft sounds of birds overhead. I looked up into the tree tops to find a pair of doves perched together on a high up branch. I have never seen ones so pure looking before. Their white feathers were as radiant as an angel's wings. Their head's cocked sideways to glance at me. Then they flew off towards the west woods, and I followed.
I just wanted to watch them a little longer. The land started to angle upwards and slim trees grew thicker, so did the piles of dead leaves beneath my trudging feet. They rustled loudly as I began to climb the slope of angled young trees. I hung onto their trunks to help me steadily get by, and when I reached the top I saw the ground dropped off back down, with dirt and roots, to below where there was a small clearing near a shallow pool of water.
I slid down through the dirt to where the forest turned into wetlands. Tall reeds grew, and dead branches loomed like dark skeletons. The air was misty, and the sun was sweet. Birds lightly chirped and all was calmed with greens and soft yellows.
It was as if I had just walked into the most peaceful place on earth. And then I heard a twig snap. My head turned casually to look and there he stood, looking me over in my light blue dirtied dress and eye-catching red hooded cloak.
"What on earth or you doing?" he had asked.
"What are you the Sheriff?" I replied offensively. Then I laughed because my father was the Sheriff, though I was he didn't know that. I got my attitude and stubbornness from my dad. I always did what I wanted, just like him, as if I was above the rules. Why else do you think he became Sheriff in the first place? No one to answer to, but himself. Possessing his qualities didn't work too well being me though, being a girl. Everyone expected me to become a lady. Ha!
"I didn't frighten you?" he asked. I glared at him unimpressed, showing the expression I usually gave the baker's boy when I caught him stuffing his chubby cheeked face.
I never could control my facial expressions to be polite. If you annoyed me in any way it would be written on my face. Luckily most of the town didn't take notice of such things, or chose not to. "Alright then," he said as equally irritated. He took notice of it.
"Where'd you come from?" I asked, curious. He was certainly not from my town and he was dressed strangely in rough looking black leather. The fabric was oddly crafted too, but beautiful none-the-less.
"The woods," he said jokingly, "what about you?"
"Initially my mother's womb, but sometimes I think they pulled me out of the coalmine and never had the heart to tell me the truth," I said with a grin on my face, most unladylike. I really never did fit in after all. My words had puzzled him.
"Do all your people talk so vulgar?" he said bemused.
"Your people?" I repeated in my head. What a laugh. "No, just me, the nuisance of the pack." At this point I think I caught myself flirting, if this was flirting, if it was it was queer enough to be how I'd flirt. The boy appeared to be completely baffled.
"Are you mocking me?" he asked in a tone that sounded like the notion for anyone to mock him in itself was absurd. I just started laughing. Who did he think he was? But then the strangest thing happened. He could tell I was making fun of him, I feared I did get carried away criticizing his ego. Most of the time people had no idea I had insulted them so I had grown accustomed to being allowed to. He started breathing heavy and I had a thought about something my father once said about how delicate a man's pride really was. His body seemed to ripple with anger and then he became a black blur. Then out of nowhere, thinking my eyes had clouded, a wolf burst forth, like the ones in the picture book fairy tales that my brother read, and it tackled me into the water.
Despite it being more of a light pounce, I started screaming and thrashing violently in the pool, that was really only six inches deep, and then I realized I was just sitting there alone, soaked through and through, in a shallow pool, not drowning or being ripped to pieces. I looked up to see the boy standing there, again. This time laughing at me hysterically.
Now, as I said before, I didn't startle easily, and I had a temper. So when I realized I wasn't going to be eaten, any fascination I had with meeting a boy who I was almost certain had just changed into a wolf and pounced me, was bumped down to the bottom of my list of concerns, and pure soaking wet anger pounding for revenge had risen to the top. I immediately got up, heavier now with a water-drenched-dress, and ran at him. I pushed him, splashing water from my garments everywhere, cussing at him, kicking him as he rolled onto the ground still laughing at me. After I noticed my petty attempts to inflict any manner of pain were futile, I gave up and laid out in the sun to dry.
And that is how I met Relkon, the wolf boy.
"Do it again," I pressed. He was growing tired of my antics. I had made him change back and forth from boy to wolf, to boy again, several times already, but I still wanted to see it again. One moment he was the obnoxious boy scowling at me and the next he was a large shabby brown wolf. He just, kinda faded into one, like an illusion trick conducted by a magician. The transformation was not clearly seen. It was as if my eyes went out of focus and each time I strained to try to see more detail of how it happened, I couldn't. Still, it was the most entertaining thing I had ever seen.
Despite all the wild and vicious qualities of a wolf he possessed in his form, I couldn't help but think in my mind, "Aww he's so cute, can I keep him?" I knocked his furry canine body over and attempted to rub his belly like I had done before to other local dogs in town. They usually liked that. He didn't.
He recoiled and flopped back on his paws snarling at me with drool and spit, then turned back into a boy again.
"What do you think you are doing?" he asked with anger. I thought of that pride thing again. "I'm not your pet!" he declared.
"Aww, please, please?" I teased, "I could teach you to do tricks!" I suggested excitedly as I started to chase him.
"Don't I frighten you at all?" he asked, but I wasn't one to fright. I couldn't help but continue to laugh at this poor boy's statements, trying to be fierce and commanding. Everything was always a joke to me. He had run into the wrong girl if he was looking for something to fright.
"Is the Big-Bad-Wolf disappointed? Please. If you were going to tear me to shreds and eat me up you would have done it already."
"How do you know I'm not just playing with my food?" He jested darkly. I wasn't buying it.
"How do you know I'm not either?" I smiled, and he smiled too.
Was he truly wolf or man? I didn't quite know, but he was nothing like the stories of demons and werewolves the old lady storytellers would warn children about. When He changed, I wondered why I didn't see limbs snap. I didn't see hair grow and hear bones crack. Once I asked him, "How are you even possible?" I had sworn sometimes he was just a figment of my long awaited, underdeveloped, imagination. I still didn't understand it.
And he told me, "Both you and I are nothing but stardust. How do either of us exist?" I was completely in awe. I had never thought of anything like that before, and he was right. I started to look at things with more amazement than I ever had before. Meeting him was the end of my world views as I knew it. I wondered why no one in town ever thought of things like that.
Every time I went out to see my aunt he would walk with me, back and forth. Every day I journeyed, he was there to escort me and I didn't trip him or run away. I liked his company, especially more than anyone else because he was smarter and sweeter than anyone one of those other folks I had to deal with in town.
He'd go as far as he could go without being seen then disappear as an animal into the woods, then reappear when it was time for me to walk back home. I never told anyone, not even my aunt who I trusted most. We always found each other back at the beginning, where we had first met, in that serene and peaceful place.
By age eighteen, when autumn, winter and spring had passed, my father was pressuring me about marriage, while I was secretly running off to kiss a demon in the woods. If he only knew, I would be a dead girl.
After my brief nap and our picnic had expired, I brushed myself, and the dream, off. Then I prepared to head home. I told Relkon not to worry. I said my farewells to my wolf boy, and with heavy feet I walked home.
That night as I laid in bed with some manner of uncertain worry before I had fallen asleep, he had come to my window baring my forgotten grandfather's pocket watch in his mouth. He tapped on the glass, which didn't make me jump, I figured it was just a bat that had flown into the window again. But when I looked, I had to suppress the urge to laugh out loud when I saw the very large dark snout in view sticking up behind the lower pane of glass. Father and brother were already asleep in their rooms. Wasn't this in-town visit risky? I wondered, because he had never come this far before.
I grabbed the silver piece by the dangling chain and removed it from his mouth as his shadow in the dark became a boy again.
"I guess you're not allergic to silver," I pointed out and he laughed.
"I stayed awhile longer. It wasn't until long after you left and darkness was near at hand when I saw that you had left this on the ground in the muck. I cleaned it off for you too. Wouldn't want you to be late tomorrow," he reasoned.
I just didn't really know what to do with that. Most of my life was spent repelling others, especially boys, and laughing at them. Now that there was one I actually was interested in, who was being all too sweet to someone like me, and well, I wanted to smack him for it. Especially because we weren't in our spot. This was the town. Chester was a different territory and state of mind entirely. I settled for knocking him off his balance as he tried to stand taller by leaning on the ledge.
After cursing me and I being amused, he grabbed me by my neck and kissed me. It brought shivers down my spine. This kiss felt like something much more than ever before and I felt an ominous weight fall upon my shoulders with it. I just didn't know the reason why.
The whole arrangement hadn't been thought out at all and it was beginning to dawn on me that decisions were going to have to be made. This boy of the woods, from the mountains, did not belong here. What was I going to do with him?
"You'll be there, tomorrow, won't you?" he had felt it too.
"Yes," I promised. We both nodded at our silent agreement, that we were going to have to talk about "us" and then he went off as a wolf once more.
I laid back down in bed ignoring the kiss, trying to steady my head, and fell asleep. When I woke up in the morning I went down into the kitchen to make father and brother breakfast, realizing even more that I was needed here. James was still only six and motherless.
To my surprise James was already sitting at the table, alone, with his head down. "James?" I asked. He jumped up in his seat to look at me. "Where's father?"
"They're real," he said, in a detached sort of voice that concerned me, he did not seem himself.
"What's real?" I asked him
"The demon wolves, the ones from the stories. Father told me that before we were born, him and other men hunted them down when they came too close to the town. He said they killed people, that they were monsters. He said he saw them change, but he also said that he thought they were all gone," he explained. My jaw dropped as I registered what he was telling me, taking in his appearance enough to know he was serious.
"What? Is that what father told you?"
"Why? Why did he tell you this?" As much as I wanted to, I just couldn't believe this was just another one of James' made up stories. Everything was different, the air, his mood. The playfulness of a child was gone.
"Because," he said and then swallowed hard, "I saw one last night." I felt as though my heart had stopped.
"Where?" I demanded to know.
"I told father outside."
"You told?" I implied.
"I didn't say I saw it at your window." He was worried I would be mad at him. I wondered how much he had seen.
"Where is father James?"
"In the woods. They're hunting it." I ran to the front door and began to put my shoes on at once, making haste to leave. "Wait!" James squealed, "Where are you going?!"
"I have to warn him!" I snapped at him. I could tell that my tone had hurt James' feelings. At first he said nothing, but panic was building in his throat.
"No!" he protested. "He'll eat you!" he cried, clinging to my arm now. "It wasn't the coalmines. Uncle Bent didn't die in the coalmines. It was the wolves! They just never told us until now." I stared down at him in shock. We weren't around when Uncle Bent died, and my mother had taken care of my aunt before the task was left to me. What he was saying could be true, but there had to be more to the story than what we knew. I wondered why hadn't aunt Lori ever told me this. She had talked about it before to me. Wouldn't she had said something?
My fists balled up in anger. There was too much going on at the same time. "He isn't a demon James!" I pushed him off me and he fell to the floor, soaking in tears and sobbing. I felt so bad. I didn't mean to be so harsh, but I had to go. I didn't even bring my cloak with me, but I also didn't want to be spotted by father anyhow.
I ran through the field to the edge of the forest, startling birds and all manner of creatures as I went. I practically leapt over the stone wall. I fell and scrapped my knees. I cut my face and hands on sticks and twigs. I continued to fall over stones hidden underneath the thick bracken. I got back up and continued to run.
I had never been the type to be frightened. Even before my mother died. I felt dread, but I was never scared. This time I was scared. I was frightened now.
The air ripping into my lungs became jagged. I inhaled deeply as I ran. All the organs in my chest pounded and my muscles burned. I didn't stop to rest. I ran to the place where we had always met, hoping I would find him there. Hope was something I never had much of either, and I didn't like it. Usually it was just small. Hoping father wouldn't lecture me again, or hoping someone wouldn't start talking to me. This was a different, much deeper, kind of hope. It swooped over me like a grey cloud smothering the sun.
I made it up the slope, and back down through the soil I slid, until I reached the bottom. I was there, back at the beginning, covered in dirt just like the first time. Standing in my dirty light blue dress, staring at the peaceful wetlands. But this time I didn't hear any birds and I didn't see any boy that turned into a wolf. The only thing I could hear was my heavy breathing inside my ears. I waited, and waited.
Then a twig snapped, echoing. Like the last time, but this time I froze. I heard the click, the fateful pull of a trigger, and a gun was fired.