The Soul’s Last Dance
by A. J. Vasquez
The devil’s dancing had sealed her fate. His eyes were bloodshot and full of lust, his wicked grin made vile by spirits of a different sort. A breath so potent it could be set alight.
Oh how she had fought that black circus, a menagerie on wheels. The howls of the frightened beast muffled her cries while her body was broken and left to die in a shallow, bloody grave. And yet she remained.
Yellow eyes opened to see the world beyond through horizontal bars of iron. The dawn was growing, and with the crack of a whip the wheels to the cage began to turn, taking her away from her unlamented tomb.
When she went to scream her loss and fear, a horrible howl escaped instead. Spindly legs splayed as the road became a turbulent sea. The pitching and rocking caused her nails to scratch the wooden surface; it was a sound that threatened her sanity.
She threw herself down to the floor, giving in to the currents of the road and drowned in the knowledge of what she had become.
In the hour before her death she had studied the pacing of the wolf. It stared into the distance with its lambent yellow eyes, and she had gazed at it with a mixture of fear and admiration. That silver coat and feral grace that iron bars could not displace.
What sort of dream is this, she wondered, for I cannot wake?
“Is better than a grave, don’t you think?”
For an eternity she would know that voice. It was the man who had stolen her life: Benton.
She leapt to her feet, her wrath transformed into a ferocious snarl. Her dagger teeth were safely locked away and out of reach as he walked beside the cart, remorseless for his actions.
Verona had never before possessed a violent thought. But now her ravaged soul only wanted his blood to stain her teeth. She wondered how much was her own rage and how much was wolf.
He had won her over with his smile and fine blond hair. His noble face could have been saved in marble and preserved forever for the very perfection it exhibited. But now she could not be fooled by his pretty features, and the scent of him was so evil and twisted it only enraged her further.
“You would like to kill me now, yes?” he asked her.
“And you would find great pleasure in it, I bet.” He walked around the cage, admiring. “And now you understand my own desire. Only you will never be satisfied, for this is where we part ways, my lovely Verona.” He stopped in the road, waving and laughing at his own personal joke.
The rabid snarls she emitted were terrifying but useless. She found a dark corner of the cage, and circled herself down into a tight ball, glaring over the end of her tail.
Before my time on this earth is done I swear I shall murder that man. She shut her eyes and thought of vengeance but woke to the disappointment of this not being a dream.
A barker cried to the gathering group. And people so brightly dressed, with smiles and wonderment, came and watched as her feet began the same dance of the wolf before her. Up and down she paced, staring off into the distance, but her mind was not on roving woods or bounding deer but murder.
I must get out, her mind screamed.
Near the end of the day she lay down and tried to stop breathing. She made herself as still as she could. People came and stared, they tapped the bars, and the sun moved along her body from head to tail as it crossed the sky. They threw food upon the wooden floor, and the smell of the meat and blood nearly betrayed her.
But she did not move, and almost did not breathe. A moment after the rattle of the keys and the creak of the door a stick poked her back, but even then she did not budge, she waited and waited.
A hand grabbed her foot and dragged her to the opening. Before she could tumble out she came alive with an explosion of bared teeth and a scream from the surprised man, who had thought her dead. The night was good to her, and before the man could comprehend he was unharmed, she was gone; a ghost in the moonlight.
She ran enjoying a freedom she had never known before. For a moment she forgot anything other than the delight of running so quickly it was like flying. It was not until she caught it, that scent of evil that only he possessed. It was faint, but it showed her the way.
She followed it with a single-minded determination she did not think could be deterred, but she was wrong.
It started as a soft breath against her body. The feeling and scent of spring the moment before it blossoms. Lights that she mistook for fireflies dancing in the trees descended and rushed past her like a flock of birds.
The rattling cadence she had heard a moment before as crickets in the night became the jangle of a tambourine, while a drum took the place of her heart. It followed every beat of the hide-bound instrument. A violin became the blood in her veins and when the woman began to sing she could not refuse the call.
She ran with the lights that shared her ecstasy, her body burned with the need to be consumed by the song, her mind quite gone in an intoxicated stupor.
A Gypsy dance by the firelight, and no one seemed surprised when she came bounding out of the woods and howled by the fire. Her need to be a part of it was so great she thought refusal would end her life.
At first her dance was unbending and unbalanced, but soon, as if it was a dream, the woman she was inside danced in the body of the wolf. On her hind legs she spun and caught the hands of those who danced with her. Never had she known joy so completely.
But nothing lasts forever, and the music ended. She dropped to her four feet like a stone hitting the earth, and her dancing partners returned to balls of light that floated upwards like embers from the fire. She howled at them, missing them, and yearned to join.
“You cannot go with them,” a voice said.
She turned and beheld her audience for the first time. A group of dark-haired people watched her with no emotion: men, women and children.
But it was an old woman who had spoken. Her white hair hung over her shoulders and a few of her teeth were missing. “You have been touched by Agares, and your rage curses you,” said the old woman, who was sitting on a log beyond the fire.
Verona cocked her head, asking an unspoken question.
“Agares destroys souls to make himself a man. You should not let his curse become yours. Give up the vengeance in your heart and you will be free. Free as the souls you met tonight.”
For a moment she let the memory, the utter bliss of the dance run through her. Then the images of Benton, his true name unveiled to her as Agares, entered her mind and she growled.
“Do not seek this. You will damn yourself forever. Have patience, child, and we will end him for you and bring you peace.”
Verona turned and trotted away, but the woman’s voice pursued her. “His death by your own hand will seal your fate. And when time has worn away your humanity, my children will find you, no matter how long you decide to wait.”
Verona disappeared through the trees. The music still lingered in her heart and soul, but Benton was too close for her to let him go. She would get her peace, and he would get the death that he deserved, one way or another.
She found his wicked scent in a village where every wall and rock had caught the sickness of decay. Fetid streets did nothing to cover his stench. She walked through the town and found the end of her road beneath a rusty sign: The Hart’s Descent. From within she heard his voice. His soothing tone mixed with the laughter of another woman he would destroy.
She waited by that entrance as the hour grew late, but her patience was well rewarded. He stepped out into the night. His pretense was innocent, but she knew his heart better than any other alive.
And now she would rip it from his body.
She leapt with her fangs bared, but before she found her mark a gunshot rang out. It mingled with the frightened scream of the woman and the smell of her own blood. The force of the blow knocked Verona against the wall and her body crumpled to the ground, her silver fur now marred by blood that ran black.
Failure coursed through her. It grew in strength as her own life ebbed, and no matter how she fought she was drowning in the darkness, and his laugh followed her down.
She could let it all go and be done with it. She stood on the doorstep of that choice. The beat of the drum rang in her head, louder and louder, even though her own heartbeat was fading. In the end she could have her peace, and let those who had the right to hunt down this evil seek him out.
She knew with every ounce of her being that to break the cycle she had to die. She had to let him walk away and find his fate at the hands of the men and women who had lost their loved ones to him. That would break this curse. Her involvement served only to continue the cycle.
“Thank you, my friend,” the man who would call himself Benton said. “I owe you a debt for killing this beast.”
The man who had been across the street said, “Ah was nothing.” He blinked his red rimmed eyes. “Was bad luck that had me out this late night hunting.”
“Your bad luck is my good luck tonight.” Benton walked over to her body and knelt beside her. “See my lovely Verona,” He leaned in close and whispered in her ear. “You will never be satisfied.”
Rage burned brighter than the bullet.
For a moment that rage sustained her. She lunged with no other intention than to wet her teeth with his blood. He caught her body and held her close, like a lover expecting a sweet embrace.
She collapsed. The music that had followed her ended with her last breath, and she could no longer recall a single note. The light in her eyes snuffed out, and she watched the scene fall away below her as she drifted like an ember from the fire.
The man shouted for help, and the woman screamed. Agares lay on his back, a gaping wound nearly severed his head. And though his death was inevitable he still laughed, a wet and broken sound.
A breath, and then the silent beating of her feathered wings. Her laugh became a haunted screech. Then the owl fell as silent as a ghost. She circled low and flew away, hoping it all worth eternity.
Copyright © 2012 by A. J. Vasquez