Darkness to Darkness
by Robert S. Tyler
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
“Just stay where you are,” she says. I shuffle further away. I know she hears me. My feet have changed. My leg bones warp and bend backwards. “My name is Aurora. I promise I won’t hurt you.”
That’s not what I’m afraid of.
“Please,” she steps in closer. I hide behind a tree as I feel my tongue stretch out. “You’ve been so kind to me. I’m not afraid of you, nor should you fear me.” I shuffle away.
She heard me. As my feet change, I crawl into the shadows and stumble over a thick, dead branch. She comes closer, but stops. She’s at the outer edge of the fire now. Another step and she’ll be in the darkness.
She hesitates. “There’s nothing you can do to change my mind,” she says. “I know you hide; I do not know why. You’ve saved my life and guided me to water. You’ve left me food and brought me blankets. I just want to see your face.”
My face changes with bones shattering and my throat clenching and stretching. I have no face, just a mass of fur and flesh as the final vestiges change. I feel my muscles nearly dig into my bones. I fight every urge in my body to scream as the transformation finishes. She stands silently, looking-but-not-looking at me.
“Alright,” she says. “I won’t force you. I won’t force you to do anything. But if my eyes can’t see yours, let my words fill your ears.” My new ears perk up.
My angel sings. One of the Psalms. It sounds — she sounds — like the choirs of heaven. I’m on all fours. As her voice shapes the Latin words I can see the light in my mind. Hints of rainbow peek at the edges of my mind’s eye. I don’t understand how she does this.
I hear the voice fade slightly. She returns to the fire. The music plays in my ears. I can’t help but lie down. I curl up. I don’t want to make any sounds. I feel warm. Not from the fire, just the music. It plays on as my eyes close. My muscles relax and I’m amazed how long it’s been since that happened.
She sings, and I picture the choirs and the light in my mind, my angel among the multitudes.
* * *
I wake up, and I’m Peter again. The sun is high; I’ve overslept. Where is she? Aurora? Where’d she go? Damn.
I scramble up and feel my joints popping. The pain is nothing. I stumble into the clearing. No one.
She wouldn’t leave me, she wouldn’ — she would. Of course she’d leave me, but just not now. Why? In the middle of the night? Idiot. You missed her. She left during the dawn. This is what you get for relaxing. This is what you get for listening to her... song. Her singing.
I crouch down, looking among the ashes. Something’s not right. Ash everywhere.
Idiot. If you heard her singing, who else did too? You should’ve come forward. You should’ve...
The trail. It’s deep, like someone had dug their heels into the ground. Dragged. Pulled. Ripped. More marks. Others here. Men. Dragging her. My God, I’ve failed her. I failed as her protector. Now she’s gone.
I start following the trail. It’s tough. If I were the wolf, I could follow it easily. Here it’s...
What’s that? I run over to the tree. Something colorful. Red like the sunset. Or her skirt. Good, GOOD. Leave clues. Let me find you. One way or another I’ll find you as Peter or the wolf.
I follow the tracks deeper into the woods.
* * *
It took me too long. What would have taken the men a matter of hours took me nearly an entire day. As I stand on the edge of the village, I can see the sun is almost down. She must be here. If she’s not, someone will tell me. I clutch the scraps of her clothing in my hand as the feeling begins.
I don’t know this village. Something about it feels off. Maybe not off, just... different. I’ve been away from men too long. I’m not used to their towns. That’s what I tell myself as I change.
I don’t fight it this time. I will protect my angel at all costs. If it takes a creature of darkness to save the creature of light, then I’ll give in.
My soul be damned.
The change isn’t painless, but it is easy. The shadows cover the land, and the wolf emerges. Cloth in my claws, I stalk into the town. I growl low, following her trail. Now, at night, I follow her as clearly as Moses following the Fire of God in the desert. The town is small, poor. Enough to sustain itself it seems, but small, nonetheless. My father always told me our town would be a speck of dirt compared to Constantinople or Jerusalem, but this place... it struggles to live.
The houses are well-built, though. Sturdy and well-protected. My breath steams in the air as I follow her scent. It takes me through the town. Up a small hill. A gate. I pass through it.
A cemetery. Sprawling... so many bodies... She’s here. And she’s alive. Prowling through the stones I find her. She’s chained to a thick post, wrists manacled above her head. What do I do? How do I free her? She’ll see me... maybe I could find the villagers. The keys, they’d be able to — what?
Something moves. Not far from Aurora is a tomb. Heavy and old, its grey stone stands, impassive. Then the door moves. From the inside. Something is emerging.
He’s tall. His skin is pale, and his hair is black. He wears clothes, and a long cloak about his shoulders. He opens his mouth to breathe in the night air, and I see his teeth: they are fangs. Is he like me? No, impossible, he still looks like a man.
Aurora screams. The creature walks closer to her. Her voice is the worst thing in the world right now, a perverted reflection of the graceful song from last night. Screaming in terror, flailing in her chains as the thing approaches closer, its mouth wide. She sobs as it eyes her neck.
I leap over the closest grave, launching myself at the thing. I roar to frighten it, freeze it where it stands. It works.
I crash into the thing, sending it to the ground. It slides into a nearby gravestone, cracking its skull. I should have hit it harder. I thought I hit it ha — It’s standing up. I hit it with enough force to break a man, and it’s standing up. I growl, standing tall. The thing looks at me. It doesn’t look angry, it’s almost... what? Happy? Grateful?
It rises to it feet. It’s speaking. I can’t help how my ears perk as the thing speaks in its strange tongue. I don’t recognize it. After a second, I think it knows I can’t understand it, and it smiles again. It gently extends its hand towards me, then back at itself. It steps sideways, its back to the town, and points at Aurora. Then at me. What does it want?
It repeats the actions again but gazes into my eyes, and in the back of my mind I hear a voice. He doesn’t need Aurora. I can have her. I can be with her, and it... he... he wants me to join him? He gestures to the town, and suddenly I can see what he wants. Me and him, together.
And why not? Why shouldn’t we? Two creatures of darkness. I’d have Aurora; what more would I need? In my mind, I can hear it: daylight. He can’t be out during the day, but I can. I can move among the humans and find spots for him to rest during the day, out of the sun. By night, the two of us could do what we wanted. We would protect each other. Individually, men fled from us. Together, we could rule them. Our nights would stretch on endlessly, and by day I’d be with Aurora.
I turn back to look at her. So terrified, tears streaking her cheeks. She trusted me. Back in the woods she wanted to see me. She saw the good in me. She thought she did. In the woods would I have joined this thing? God, a few hours ago, I’d have done anything to be with my angel; now this thing was giving me a chance. Shouldn’t I take it? Shouldn’t I take it and help him?
What would Aurora want?
I crouch lower, snarling in defiance. The thing hisses back at me, fangs wide. I growl and charge forward. It rushes to meet me. I want to keep him away from Aurora, but he’s almost as fast as I am, and nearly meets me halfway. We slam into each other. He pushes me to the ground. He’s on top of me. How can he do this? He’s so strong. I bring my legs up and claw at his stomach. He lets go and I roll away. We’re both back up.
No blood on his body. My legs should have ripped his guts out. Wh—?
He glides in quickly, and I can feel my jaw shatter. He grabs my fur and slams me into a gravestone. I stagger to my feet and swipe at him. He’s fast, and he’s strong. He hits me again and again. I’m lifted off my feet. I’m flying...
My back explodes as I slam into the post over Aurora’s head. I feel it shatter, and the splinters decorate my fur. Large shards of wood litter the ground next to me. I reach over with my paw, desperate for a weapon. The thing is closer to me, charging. I turn.
I leap at the thing, wooden shard outstretched. I slam into the thing’s body, plunging my shard into his chest. I don’t know what happens, but its face contorts before blowing away. I look back when I land, and see only ashes.
I limp back over to Aurora. I expect her to be screaming, but she’s not. She’s still shackled to the top half of the post. She puts her hand out to me. I reluctantly let her caress my fur. “It was you, wasn’t it?” she asked.
I growl lightly.
She tries to put her arms around me. I lean in closer as I feel her flesh on my fur. “Thank you,” she whispers. I reach down, picking up her and the severed post. Turning, I carry her back to the woods, away from this wretched town. Removing the shackles from the post will take time, but I’m not worried. I want time to stretch out now, to last for her and me. My nights won’t be so dark anymore.
And when dawn comes, I know she’ll be here.
Copyright © 2010 by Robert S. Tyler