She Lives Among Wolves (November 2016)

You’re paranoid.

Tryn walks down the street, staying away from the edge. She keeps her head down and avoids the glare of the streetlights. She doesn’t mind the darker corners – she’ll see them better when they draw closer. Their fur glows. She squeezes into clusters of people to hide herself. To confuse her scent with the others, even if she knows they’ve long memorized it. Only a few more blocks. Her grip on the house key around her neck tightens. It glints as silver as the gazes that slice through her back.

The wolves have found her.

Her feet scrape against the sidewalk, their pace matching the building rhythm of her breathing. She can hear them following her. Growls rumble low in their throats; the sound is steady and carries over the chatter and frantic thudding of her heart. They’ve marked her as their prey, holding her at the mercy of their drawn out game.

“They’re harmless,” she’s told.

But they hole up in the crawlspace under her house as soon as she closes the door behind her. She hears their claws scraping at the floorboards, wearing them down just a bit more each night. It’s only a matter of time before they find a way in and tear her apart. They’ll reduce her to only a name; one repeated one more time before it’s forgotten. She’ll joins all the others that are missing – that are dead. Dragged into darkness by glinting, sharp teeth.

They continue to trail after her and she wants to grip the nearest person by the arm and beg them to save her. But she knows their excuses. You’re overreacting. Her mind screams danger as the gap between her and the pack narrows. They haven’t done anything to you.

Nausea swarms her stomach. She just wants them to disappear, for the relentless hunt to be over. They haven’t done anything? Dark bruises under her eyes from nights of terrorizing snarls, the peril of her own mind, hair falling in clumps on the shower floor. They close in on her every time she wakes up, every time she moves. They seal her into an ever-shrinking glass cage. They suffocate her and invite anyone to watch, but no one shatters it. No one tries to break her out. She balances on a razor edge of destruction – by them, or herself.

She bristles when two push against her and her knees knock together. She imagines her back pinned to concrete. She imagines people stepping over her as she is devoured, continuing on their way. She pushes the crowding wolves off with her hands, yelping when one bites her and draws blood. She nurses her hand, squeezing it to staunch its steady stream, rushing away in the precious seconds they are knocked back. You provoked them. It’s your fault. The smell of her blood arouses howls.

“Don’t let me die” escapes her every ragged breath. She reaches a crosswalk and watches the cars streaking past. She doesn’t want to wait. She’s cornered. Perhaps she should just jump out. It’d be less painful than what they will do to her. No one will say it didn’t happen when her body is in the middle of the road.

She teeters at the curb’s edge, ready to leap.

An arm pulls her back, reeling her in until she bumps against the stranger’s chest. Tryn comes face-to-face with a woman with honey-colored eyes, her expression alarmingly calm, while Tryn’s panic overwhelms her entire body. The woman ignores the bloodstains beginning to seep into her shirt from Tryn’s hand clenched around the material. She watches Tryn’s blown out pupils instead.

Tryn’s head whips from the woman’s gaze to the wolves, baited by adrenaline to run until her legs give out. But they’re already about to give out. She hardly registers that the stranger is holding her away from traffic. Keeping her safe. The thought of being saved does not even cross her mind.

She shakes seismically against the other woman, barely able to hold the air in her lungs. “Let me go. I need to cross. They’re–”

“I know. I won’t let them touch you.” The mysterious brunette nods her head towards the now clear crosswalk. “Try to breathe and stay with me.” She nudges Tryn forward, holding her tight and guiding her so that each leg goes in front of the other without buckling. The world around her runs like watercolors. The red traffic light spreads out into a foggy lens flare; her savior’s face is a blur of warm browns and indistinguishable shapes. She turns, searching for the wolves, and sees their eerie, white glow lingering behind. They stay away.

She and the stranger stop when they reach the next street. Tryn settles heavily against her, head still spinning, exhausted. Questions bombard the tip of her tongue, but crash into each other all at once into a hoarse, garbled mumble. She doesn’t expect her to translate it.

“You’re bleeding.” The woman focuses on her hand before anything can be answered, picking it up and inspecting it with scrunched eyebrows. “I can help bandage this up for you if you want. My apartment’s not much further of a walk.”

Tryn looks behind her to find that the gathered wolves still have yet to budge. “Why’d they stop?” she presses the subject.

“They lose some nerve when you’re not alone.” The brunette eases her grip off of her. “And when that’s not enough, you fight. You become their nightmare.” She fidgets with her sleeves, rolling them up to show Tryn dozens of crescent moon scars. Tryn traces their outlines with her gaze, sees the pain in each divot.

“Where’s your apartment?” she asks, ignoring the lingering doubt that she could ever fight back against the wolves. How could she make them fear her or run away from her? She wants an excuse so she doesn’t have to go home and face them on her own again, even if following a stranger to their home doesn’t seem like the best idea.

“This way.” The woman offers out her hand and Tryn takes it in her unharmed one.

They walk beside each other and she is distinctly aware that the wolves are still gone. It would be a relief if she didn’t know they would come right back when her new companion leaves.

“You’re not afraid of them.” It’s not a question.

The woman looks over at her as she approaches and unlocks the gate to her complex, going still and grave. “No, I’m terrified.” The gate screeches as she pulls it open. “But that’s what keeps me going – if we run them out of town, this’ll all go away.”

“And you think that’s going to happen?”

“I have to,” the brunette insists. “If I don’t, I’m letting them kill me and everyone else they mark.”

“That’s a lot of responsibility to carry around.”

She holds the gate for Tryn, chuckling dryly. “You’re free to take some off my hands.”

Her gaze draws back to the scars that run up and down the stranger’s skin. She pictures the same angry gashes on hers, the struggle that would go along with each, and grimaces. But wouldn’t it hurt more if she let the wolves push until they rip her apart – to die? Don’t let me die. Don’t let me die.

“Alright.” She follows the other woman in.

Introspection (December 2016)

This is based in the world of a larger work that I’ve been writing, focusing on one of its side characters. 

_ _ _ _ _

            Servants had rushed to tell him Frank had run away.

Had it not been for the lion-shaped hole in the wall, on top of the glaring absence of a giant star-speckled cat in his palace, Damien would’ve refused to believe it. Not after Frank’s several decades of nosing into Damien’s side for scratches under his chin or clambering heavily into his lap to sleep.

Betrayal pricked at Damien’s gut as his emerald gaze moved to the trail of stardust his pet had left behind as it streaked out across the grounds, blurred and urgent. He traced a finger over the jagged edges Frank had made in the marble, the claw marks that dragged through the floor. Without an explanation for why Frank had left, Damien grew lost in the emotions that lingered in the room. The adrenaline that thrummed through the lion’s undead veins crackled in the air. Frank’s fear seeped into Damien’s stomach like a slowly melting ice cube. Need to leave. Don’t leave. Can’t stay. Go. Trapped-

Twin whines at his side brought Damien back to attention, realizing only after he stared down at his dogs that his eyes had been scrunched closed. The pair rose to attention as he stood; the shadows making up their physical forms rippled with tension. They saw through him as easily as a reflection – one he hardly wanted to confront. He huffed and turned away from them, though his voice was gentle when he commanded them to stay in the palace.

Determined to catch up to Frank, Damien ducked through the lion hole. The stardust that had flaked off of Frank’s fur stuck to Damien’s feet, glowing bright in the darkness of his world. He wove through the grounds, kicking up ashen dirt as he ran faster in the direction Frank had bounded through. There was not much space left for the lion to flee before he would reach the edge of the crater, where rocky walls surrounded the palace and the most populated cities of Ceness. Its smooth, vertical face rose so far into the black sky that Damien could not see where it sloped off at its peak.

Frank had stopped before reaching the end. The lion lay in one of the palace gardens, on a bed of bioluminescent flowers with jewels inset in their centers. Their bluish glow reflected off of his constellation-marked fur. His head rested between his paws as he chewed at a nearby petal. Damien allowed his approaching steps to be heard as he coaxed his pet closer with a whistle. Frank’s claws made long, nervous slashes through the ground. Damien held the small distance between them, noticing his lion’s tensed jaw. Glowing silver eyes refused to meet his.

Damien sighed. “What’s gotten into you, huh?”

The whimper he received as an answer was untranslatable. Damien moved closer, pressing past a wary growl to reach his fingers around and scratch behind his ears. Frank held still as Damien tried to calm him and sorted through disjointed and abstract animal thoughts. Fear. Longing. Disobeyed, in trouble. Miss home. Miss home.

“We can go back-” Damien cut himself off, jerking away when a familiar face appeared in Frank’s mind’s eye. Golden hair and golden eyes, a delicate circlet banded around his brown forehead. Aiden.

“I thought you liked it here – w-with me.” Damien’s fingers curled into Frank’s fur. Aiden had given Frank to him. Frank was his. “You love him more, don’t you?” His voice sharpened for a split second, and he regretted it instantly, his arm dropping to his side. “Just like everyone else. And I’ve kept you away.”

A familiar shiver raked down his spine. The reminder that he would never step out of his Divine brother’s shadow left him raw. Fate had written Aiden to be superior to him – to be God, where Damien was just a god. To be perfect. Adored. Missed.

He caught the nervous flicks of Frank’s tail as his nails dug into his palms.

“Name him whatever you’d like. He’s yours,” his Brother had insisted, even if it’d been He who had created Frank with his energy and fallen stars. Aiden’s smile had glinted along with the light that specked his skin like cosmic freckles as He led Frank to him. Frank had moved with Aiden as if they were one. Aiden’s voice did not rise above a murmur, a lullaby that drifted and wrapped around Damien. “He’s a piece of me that can always be with you.”

Though the memory faded, Damien’s heart pounded out a breakneck rhythm. Was Aiden really somewhere inside his lion? Was he watching him through those silver eyes? A bitter taste settled on the edge of his tongue when he realized how much he wanted that to be true. How could he fault everyone else for loving Aiden more? He loved Aiden more than anyone else.

Damien jumped when Frank nosed against his side, his rough tongue pressing to his skin. Frank’s thoughts flurried back to him. Home. Home. It split in two. Aiden’s side remained but then shifted to Damien’s – moments where Damien had stroked through his fur and hummed to him as he rested. Moments where he had prowled through the palace in search of Damien and bounded to him the moment he was in sight. Both he and his Brother cycled through an endless loop in the lion’s mind.

Damien’s mouth opened and closed. A pause before he found words. “You just trying to cheer me up? I know you want to go back.”

Frank pawed at him before circling around and lying at his feet. Aiden. Damien. Aiden. Damien. The God who’d given him an existence, whose love was as implicit as the passing of time. The god who’d given him everything else, who would go to any length for him. He wanted both. Damien wondered if that was even possible – for a lion.

He watched the smoky tendrils of Frank’s mane billow idly. “I could… take you to Him.” Damien knelt beside Frank, reaching his hand to run over a stream of stars down the bridge of his pet’s nose. “I’m sure He misses you too.”

Damien bit his lip. How long had it been since he had been at Aiden’s side? When he had blinked into existence and Aiden was the first thing his eyes ever saw. When Aiden had taken his hands and sang and danced with him around a blank universe. When Aiden had made the perfect world for just the two of them before anyone else had even been a thought. When he had left to be something more than Aiden’s little brother.

Was he?

Damien touched his forehead to Frank’s, breathing in tune with him. “I need him too.”