Darkness to Darkness
by Robert S. Tyler
part 1 of 2
I can control it.
At least for a few moments more, I can control it still. The wind blows through what’s left of my ragged clothes. I think back hard, and I can’t remember the last time I was warm, truly warm. The last time the wind didn’t whip around my skin and my hair.
When I’m transformed, when I’m my other self, I’m warm. The fur, the blood rushing through my veins, the thrill of the hunt, these things keep me warm. Here, now, as Peter, I am as I always am.
I can feel my knuckles locking up. I hate to crack them, but if I don’t now, it’ll only get harder later. Grimacing, I snap them, and feel my fingers crack as I flex them in and out.
I hope she doesn’t hear me.
I can see her in the clearing. She’s trying to start a fire and not doing a terrible job of it. I peer in closer as she draws the furs around her lithe body. A spark leaps out from the flint as she continues her struggle.
She’s beautiful. Lithe and graceful. Blonde hair, and the most innocent face I’ve ever seen. She must be a few years younger than I; at least I still think so. I think I’m twenty. In this forest, every day is the last day, and nothing ever seems to change.
I look at her hair covering her face as she adjusts her position by the pathetic campsite she’s started. I want to reach out. I want to step out and tell her I’ll build the fire. I would like to reach out my hand and hold her. I want to tell her I love her, and I’ve never even spoken to her. She’s never even seen me. My God, she’s an angel. I want to...
I hunch over. The feeling thuds, dancing its rhythm into my bones, my skin. I look up at the sky, and I see that damn moon gazing down at me with its silver stare. I can’t fight it much longer. Just give me another second, God. Let me look at my angel one more second before the wolf takes over.
I fight the urge to scream as I fall to my knees. I can still see her. She didn’t hear me, did she? The pain in my knuckles is back. I can feel the bones grinding, splitting as they change.
For a second the light is unbearable as my eyes change.
* * *
I was bitten on my way to Constantinople. One of my ancestors had gone westwards to fight for William the Conqueror. My father helped defeat the Turks at Antioch, and he sent me to fight the Turks again at the Byzantine capital. His last words to me were: “If you die, die well, Peter.”
I never wanted to fight. Maybe that’s why, when we were attacked, the wolf let me live. I wanted to run, but the men I was traveling with did want to fight, and they’d made it clear what they’d do to me if they suspected I didn’t try to kill the enemy with all my strength.
I would not “die well.”
I don’t even know how the wolf made me this way. All I know is that whatever that thing was, it was immune to steel and fire, and when it bit me, I became like it. I made my way home, changing into the wolf by moonlight. When I returned, my father saw me coming. He stared at me as he shut the door. I cried and pleaded outside until the sun went down. My begging did no good, just more shame to my father’s doorstep.
The coward survives.
I left my home before the moon came and never returned.
* * *
My teeth are jabbing up, cutting my mouth, opening sores as the change continues. I taste blood in my mouth, and put myself on all fours. Every sound in the forest crashes in my ears. The ground is cold, and I scratch my palms, trying to grab onto something — anything — to fight the pain. My shoulders heave, bones continue to twist, shattering and spiking inside my body. I gasp and feel my lungs quiver as a small cry escapes my lips.
I look over to her.
Her blue eyes look into the darkness surrounding me. “Hello?” she asks.
Please, no. Please not now.
* * *
I first saw her less than a month ago. It had been so long since I’d seen another human. Since leaving my father’s doorstep I’ve lived here, in the wilderness. In this vast forest I know I can’t hurt anyone. That’s what I told myself at first. I suppose it’s still true, but the truth is, I don’t want to be rejected again.
Most of the time it works. The people seem to have an idea something lives in these woods, but they’ve never caught me. By day I try to sleep in whatever hovel I can find. By night, I’m the wolf, and I’m safe. The wolf protects me.
I scavenge a bit of clothing here, there, and sleep in a ditch, against a tree stump, under fallen leaves, wherever I can find a place. Food is no problem. Eat as the wolf, and my belly’s full when dawn comes. There are paths, trails, in these woods. A few people do live here, which is why I wasn’t surprised to see her group walking through.
What did surprise me was their lack of weapons. They were heading west with food, but no weapons of any kind. Perhaps they were pilgrims, headed to Rome. Maybe Constantinople has fallen to the Turks. I still don’t know, but I do know that in the forest there are predators and prey.
Wolf has fangs and claws. Predator.
Rabbit is prey.
Hunter has arrows and a knife. Predator.
Bird is prey.
Woodsman has an axe. Predator.
Pilgrims are prey.
It was daytime when I saw them. It was not difficult to stay hidden from them. They were inexperienced at traveling the woods. The sunlight caught her perfectly, riding on her white horse. White dress and a red skirt. The face of an angel.
I followed for a time. I wanted to see her. I loved her from the first moment I saw her. I knew she could warm me, but it was more than that. Looking at her was like looking at light. Pure light.
When the moon seized me, I ran. As the wolf everything is different. I could smell their dinner, and I could hear the fire cracking further away than I would if I were Peter. I waited, just silently listening. Her voice was like sweet honey. Dreaming of her golden hair was probably what made me not hear the bandits.
They attacked quickly. Later I’d find out they’d silently slit the throats of those collecting firewood, then shot arrows through the hearts of three men by the campfire. I ran as soon as I heard the clash and the sick laughter of the men. Sometimes I can stand on two legs as the wolf, but running on all fours I’m much faster. When I got there I saw the bandits laughing as they searched the bodies and drank their wine.
She’d run off. I could tell. I raced around the campsite, listening, smelling, and looking for a sign of her. I smelt something like flowers off to the south. I ran, and soon heard three bandits pursuing her. I ran faster. I heard their voices.
I knew men like this. Like my father. Like the others in my town. Like the men who told me how I’d die if I acted a coward. It was a sport to them. They were taking their time. She wouldn’t escape them, and when they caught her... their voices... What they were going to do to her.
Again and again.
And when she wasn’t useful anymore...
I caught up to them and crawled alongside while they searched for her. She’d stopped running. She was hiding. I could smell her, hear her trying not to cry, whispering that God save her. They stepped closer. They were less than two dozen paces from her quivering body in the bushes.
I leapt on the first one from the side. My weight is considerable as the wolf, and I tore out his throat. He was the first man I killed. The others ran to his aid. They shouted, raising their swords. I leapt on the closer one. As I clawed at his guts the other brought his sword down to sever my head from my neck.
Painful, but not fatal. I turned on him, standing upright. With one powerful swipe I knocked him back, slashing across his face and right eye. I went back to the one beneath me and silenced him. I stood up, walking to the one on the ground as he cursed me and pulled out his knife. My fangs sank into his skin as his knife sank into my own. I was in pain, but alive.
I stood up and growled at the world. There were other men back at the camp. Maybe they’d heard, maybe they’d come looking for her. Without looking back at the bodies, I returned to the campsite to make sure no one else would harm her.
* * *
“Is anyone there?” she calls.
I roll away, scared of being with her.
I see a flash of blonde as I hide behind a tree. Please, please God, don’t let this happen. I’m too scared.
“You don’t need to be afraid of me,” the voice sings again. Sings without singing. “I know you’re out there. You’ve been helping me. Please let me see you. Just once.”
* * *
She returned to the campsite about an hour after I made it safe for her. I suppose she heard the brief screams and waited a time to see if they’d truly gone silent for good. Perhaps she thought some of her family still lived. This was not the case, and she sobbed all night. I am ashamed to say I still watched her as she cried. It was not easy.
She left at dawn to try and find her way back to the road. I followed her. It was not as easy as Peter, and there was pain in my body from the previous night, but I did a fair job, and she didn’t see me. When night came the darkness was cold. She shivered as she sat alone on the log, trying to start a fire, tears falling from her eyes.
My heart broke. I didn’t want to leave her, but I ran back to the campsite. It took a while, but I made it. I gathered what I could, flint, a knife, a few more blankets, and carried them back in my jaw and my hands. It took longer, walking upright, but when I got back she was no better off, and dawn was still many hours away. I tossed the supplies at her campsite. She tried to see who had left them, but I hid. She was grateful, and I tried to smile as she built a small fire, huddling in the blankets.
For a fortnight I watched over her, silently. By day I slept when I could, always out of sight. By night I hunted and left food for her at campsites I felt were safe. Water was tough to come by, but I know of ponds and streams along these woods. She kept what she could in the skins and flasks I brought from the campsite. It wasn’t easy.
I must confess I gave in to a selfish desire. I could have guided her to a cabin of a woodsman at some point, but I didn’t. I tell myself it was because as soon as she entered the cabin of a woodsman in the daytime she’d be gone. Unprotected. I couldn’t allow anything to happen to her, and I wasn’t willing to put myself in a place where I couldn’t protect her. That’s what I tell myself. That is true, but on Judgement Day, when I stand before the Lord — if He’ll even see me — and He asks me why I didn’t take her to another human, the truth is I didn’t want to lose her. It was the sweetest pain I ever endured. It was torture to watch her from afar, but I loved seeing her. I didn’t know what to do.
I still don’t.
Do I guide her out? Leave her in the hands of men again, men who could do anything to her? I don’t want to lose her. As painful as it is to gaze upon her, I never want to live in a world where I can’t. Each day is a kiss from the angels as long as I see her.
But what do I do?
I don’t want her to go.
I want her to stay.
* * *
Copyright © 2010 by Robert S. Tyler