Wlyd FLASH April 16th 2021
Werewolves are a thousand times worse than wolves. Wolves are nothing more than a nuisance, but werewolves are the Devil’s own children. That’s what the entire village says.
Except for Rosalie’s Grandma.
‘Nonsense,’ Grandma scoffs, her wizened fingers nimbly knitting a new scarf for Rosalie. ‘Werewolves are no more dangerous than wild wolves – provided you take them the right way.’
Mother tuts and Father huffs. Grandfather, who’d had his right arm and leg bitten off by a werewolf a hundred moons ago, sucks sulkily on his pipe. Aunt Daisy, who once killed a werewolf with a pitchfork, who was married three times and widowed within a year three times, makes the sign of the cross.
‘What is the right way, Grandma?’ clever, unruly Rosalie asks. Unlike her parents, who just tell her she shouldn’t ask silly questions, Grandma will always give her favourite grandchild an answer.
Grandma grins, her old teeth creamy and sharp.
‘By the tail and the teeth,’ she says.
‘Go to bed, Rosalie,’ snaps Mother. ‘And don’t ask silly questions.’
Midnight. The family is abed, but Grandma tiptoes into Rosalie’s room to tell her a bedtime story, as she had done every night since Rosalie was a podgy little baby. She tells her about a king who served up a meal of human flesh at a banquet and was turned into a wolf as punishment.
‘Grandma?’ Rosalie asks when the tale is finished. ‘What did you mean earlier, about the tail and the teeth?’
‘I’m not allowed to tell you,’ Grandma answers, kissing her goodnight. ‘You must work it out for yourself.’
Harvest time. The corn gleams, but not as bright as the wolf blood that drips from the gibbet in the village square. The dead wolves dangle dull-eyed and rigid, teeth forever bared in a rictus snarl.
The villagers set traps. They dig pits. Men patrol the fields with bows and arrows. The werewolves howl their defiance but keep their distance. An uneasy truce holds until the night of the Harvest Moon. Werewolves are especially dangerous the night of the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon draws them into the fields, as if sucking poison from a wound.
Rosalie is picking up dropped ears of corn, curved steel tucked in her belt for protection, making haste as the light turns mauve and the swollen moon peers above the horizon. She scoops up the last ears and surfaces, only to be confronted by a werewolf.
Rosalie is almost sick with fright, until she realises the beast’s front forepaw is caught in a trap. The creature has struggled so ferociously that the trap has torn the werewolf’s pelt from its flesh. Rosalie stares at the skinned paw, which looks eerily like a human hand. There’s even a metal band on its third finger, a silver wedding band that looks like Grandma’s…
Rosalie shudders as the terrible knowledge seeps into her mind like frost. She draws her scythe. The wolfwoman observes.
For a half-dozen heartbeats, they are frozen in tableau. Then the beast speaks.
‘Set me free, darling,’ says the wolfwoman.
‘But you’d kill me, Grandma,’ she answers. No fool, Rosalie. ‘Let me kill you, Grandma. I will give you a swift death.’
‘Then my blood will curse you, as the blood of my pack brother cursed Daisy,’ says the wolfwoman. Rosalie remembers Daisy’s three dead husbands, how her aunt wept so much the earth around her cottage was salted and became fallow. She lowers the scythe.
‘I will leave you here to starve, Grandma,’ says Rosalie.
‘I will bite off my hand, then come and find you and bite off yours, as I did to your Grandfather,’ says the wolfwoman. ‘He ruled with his fist, until I bit it off.’
Stalemate. Then Rosalie remembers what Grandma told her. By the teeth and the tail.
With swift bold movements, she steps forward, grasps the beast by the snout and the tail, and tugs. Its pelt peels away, until only Grandmother is left, her hand bloodied where the trap’s teeth have dug in. Rosalie slings the pelt over her shoulder and prises Grandma free.
The old woman rises up on two legs, nursing her injured hand.
‘Give me my fur coat, dear granddaughter,’ she implores.
Rosalie pulls the pelt off her shoulder. She strokes it, feeling the rough velvetiness under her fingers. She sees the thousand shades of silver, grey, pewter, pearl, soot, cream catching the moonlight and glimmering like ripples on water. She imagines the strength, the fearlessness of the werewolf. Biting off the limbs of all who threaten or strike her.
She stands tall and looks Grandma in the eye.
‘No,’ she answers. ‘I want it for myself.’
The old woman – just a woman, now – grins. Her teeth are smeared with blood.
‘You are a worthy wolf,’ she tells Rosalie. ‘Remember two things. Never tell another living soul. And if you get caught, make sure it’s by someone worthy of donning the wolf-skin.’
Rosalie nods assent. Without a word, she puts on the wolf-skin and crouches down, to walk on all fours. Then, silent as a shadow on snow, she is gone.
Grandma limps home. The first screams ring out just after she locks the door.
‘Good girl,’ Grandma says to the night air, and goes to scrub the blood from her mouth.
Author bio: Carys Crossen has been writing stories since she was nine years old and shows no signs of stopping. Her monograph ‘The Nature of the Beast’ has been published by University of Wales Press and her fiction has been published by Dear Damsels, Remnant Archive, Fudoki Magazine, Halfway Down the Stairs and others. She lives in Manchester UK with her husband and their beautiful, contrary cat.
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