Home Short Fiction Index
by Dave-Brendon de Burgh
Sarah listened to the sound of the wind, testing itself against the wooden walls of the cabin, rattling the windows in their frames. It howled and whistled, like some strange creature pleading in its own language to be let inside. Sarah wrapped the thick blanket tighter around her shoulders and lay back, trying to not think about David and why he was taking so long.
Her husband had said that he was going into town to go pick up some groceries; that's what he'd written on the note that she had found on her bedside table, anyway. Whether he was actually doing what he said he was doing was another matter. Sarah had seen the way the women had looked at him, the half-hidden smiles, the way their eyes had fastened on his. When she had asked him about it, he had shrugged and said he hadn't noticed. Three hours away, and still no message from him. What was he doing?
The wind picked up, its howl seeming to fill the cabin, and somewhere in that surge of wind she heard another sound, like a growl. Must be David coming back, she thought hopefully. Their Jeep sounded like that, sometimes, especially when he had engaged the four-wheel drive system and was urging it up a rocky incline. Must be David.
Sarah was loathe to get up and disentangle herself from the blanket; her hands had just gotten warm again, and she knew the floor would be cold, even though she wore thick woolen socks. Maybe if she had a steaming white-chocolate ready for him when he arrived, she could ask him what had taken him so long without him losing his temper.
Like the last time, when Sarah had bought the Kenwood Blender without asking him or telling him. The sound of it being smashed on the floor, pieces of it bouncing through the kitchen, had been bad enough, but his eyes that time, and the utter silence with which he had looked at her, had been worse. An hour later he had wrapped his arms around her and kissed her cheek, and then told her in a soft, calm voice that she had to ask him when she wanted to buy something, even if it was for the kitchen, for them. He worked hard for his money, and he didn't want her wasting it.
Sarah remembered herself nodding, unable to say anything because she was terrified of him.
She tossed the blanket back and got to her feet, resolved now to make herself a cup of white-chocolate and leave everything for him in case he wanted a cup. And she would just not say or ask anything. Better that way. Safer.
Safer? Why had she thought that? David had never physically hurt her, and would never. No. She shook her head, angry with herself for even entertaining the thought. She moved past the coffee table, and moments later she was spooning the white powder into a mug while the milk was in the microwave oven, the countdown-beeps loud in the sudden stillness. Sarah stood for a moment and listened; she hadn't even realized that the wind had died away.
The silence was suddenly unnerving. Sarah turned and was about to walk back to the lounge to get her cellphone – maybe David had sent her a message, and anyway, she had some Celine Dion songs on the memory card – when she saw movement in the corner of her vision and stopped.
The lounge was the biggest room in the cabin, and next to the front door was a smaller room, like a walk-in closet, where their coats and jackets and boots where kept. The wide windows let in a lot of light, but with the storm building and clouds massing in the dark sky the light was feeble, and shadows wreathed the corners of the lounge. The small room was completely dark. Had she switched off the light in there? Or had David arrived? Was that the movement she had seen, him taking off his jacket?
Sarah felt rooted to the floor, ears straining to catch any sound.
She held her breath in, scared that he would answer and she would miss what he said.
Then she heard a shuffling, snorting sound.
* * *
When Sarah was a little girl, a monster came to visit…
Sarah pushed herself as far back into the dark corners of the room as she could, eyes wide, blood pumping so hard that she couldn't hear anything else but the panicked double-thump of her beating heart. Light came in underneath the door, and she could see the shadow of something moving, the light blocked intermittently. As her eyes focused on that, her hearing focused too, and she heard it:
A shuffling, snorting sound. Like something sniffing.
The wind rose, rattling the door in its frame, frigid air filling the small space in which she hid. The door is open. The front door is open . Sarah wanted to scream so that her mother would hear, wanted to scream that something was in the cabin, a dog or something, that it was sniffing for her, trying to find her. But something, a small voice hidden deep, told her that she should keep quiet, that everything was going to be okay, that she should just stay here, that whatever was outside would leave when it was done.
And even though Sarah kept quiet, she still couldn't help thinking about her mother. Where was she? Why didn't she feel how cold it was? Didn't she know the door was open?
Sarah remembered her father, speaking to her just the day before, saying, “You must stop watching those cartoons, Sarah. You are a big girl now, and big girls don't watch cartoons or play with dolls.”
She had wanted to say to him that she wasn't a big girl, that she was just six years old, that all her friends still watched cartoons and played with dolls, but the last time she hadn't listened to her father he had taken the belt to her and just held it in front of her, an inch from her face. He had just stood there, holding it, for a few minutes, and then had told her to touch it and smell it. And when Sarah had done that, he had told her that the next time she talked back to him, he would hit her with the belt, and then afterwards she would have to smell what a bad girl smelled like, smell it on the belt.
She was a big girl. Just like Mommy. Mommy knew what to do, knew that there was something inside. Sarah just had to sit here and wait, like a good big girl. Just wait for Mommy.
Whatever was sniffing outside moved closer to the door of the closet, snuffling. It blocked the light, pushed against the door. The door creaked. The snuffling stopped, light reappeared under the door. Then she heard the growl, deep and rolling, as if whatever it was was right next to her, growling in her ear, as if the door wasn't there, and Sarah screamed, long and hard and loud.
The door rocked as something smashed against it, something voicing a growl and a roar of frustration.
“Mommy! Mommyyy!” It was a bear, a bear had come into the cabin, and it knew where she was, knew where she was hiding. “Mommyyy!”
An eternity went past with Sarah still screaming and the thing outside growling and snarling as it pushed against the door. And then, “Sarah? What's wro- Oh my God!”
Sarah heard her mother scream, even louder and longer than Sarah had screamed, and then light reappeared underneath the door again, and Sarah heard the bear move away from the door and run across the carpet, across the lounge. She even felt the tremors of its feet hitting the floor.
Her mother's scream became a wet gurgle, heard alongside the growls and snarls, and underneath that, the sounds of something ripping and something snapping.
Sarah hugged her knees to her chest, rocking silently back and forth, the words repeating themselves in her mind like the mantra they would become: I'm a big, good girl, I'm a big, good girl, I'm a big, good girl…
Moments later, Sarah's mother had gone completely quiet, but her daughter didn't hear that. She also didn't hear the bear leave, didn't hear the crunching of snow as it went away. She didn't even hear her father when he returned, an hour later, didn't hear him start crying, didn't hear anything for a while…
* * *
Sarah turned and moved woodenly into the kitchen again, body rigid with fear. Again. It's back. It killed Mom and now it's back.
But it hadn't just killed her mother, had it? Her father had said that the bear had mauled her mother, but that was just another word for something else. Sarah forced her thought back into something resembling cohesion. David's not back yet. Not back yet. I have to do this myself. I have to be a big, good –
She clamped down on that thought.
Sarah eased herself over to the utensil drawer, wrapped her trembling fingers around the handle, and pulled, slowly, holding her breath. Light fell into the drawer, revealing the neatly placed knives, forks, spoons. To the right of the drawer, in a space occupied by the bigger spoons, lay a knife with a heavy, broad blade. Sarah could remember slicing lettuce and steak and parsley and a loaf of ham with that knife. Was it even sharp any more? Would it work? No time to think about it.
She reached into the drawer and gripped the edge of the handle between her thumb and forefinger, then slowly, ever so slowly, picked it up. Breath strained in her lungs. The knife began trembling too. She heard the blade moving against the other spoons, the rattle soft now, but it would get louder if she didn't get the knife out soon.
God help me! Jesus, please, just pull the fucking knife out of the fucking drawer!
Arm aching from tension, Sarah lifted the knife out of the drawer. Her hand rose, the blade pointing down at the drawer, light sliding across the sharpened steel. Sarah opened her mouth and forced out the breath she had been holding, then took another breath and began turning. A shadow fell across her, from the doorway into the lounge.
The knife fell, her fingers suddenly numb, a scream beginning to build in her throat. Her eyes strained and her head turned, searching for the source of the shadow-
David stood in the doorway, arms folded, frowning at her. Sarah screamed, short and sharp, back peddling across the kitchen floor toward the door that led outside, to the back of the cabin.
“Shut up!” he hissed, face a grimace of anger. “Stop screaming, you dumb bitch !”
Sarah clapped her hands across her mouth, heart hammering in her chest. David strode across the room, one hand rising in a flash of movement.
She flinched and began to turn her face from the blow, but then his hand closed over her forearm and he pulled it viciously aside.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” he thundered at her. His face loomed inches from her own, spittle flying from his mouth. “You're a fucking adult! Stop acting like a child! You thought I was some damn animal didn't you? Didn't you?”
“Yes!” she screamed. “I thought it was bear! Like that bear that killed my mother!”
She wrenched her arm out of his grasp and spun away, hugging herself and sobbing.
When she heard him begin to laugh, she sobbed even harder. David's laughter grew until he was laughing at the top of his lungs, loud guffaws that hit her like punches. Like the hot leather strap of a belt that smelled like a little girl who had talked back to her father.
She rounded on him as something inside her snapped, something that had been brittle and crumbling for years already. It snapped, and a reddish mist filled her vision as she moved towards him, arms rising, palms flat and facing outward. David didn't see her coming.
She punched her palms into his chest, like pistons snapping forward, and pushed him backwards. His eyes widened as he began to overbalance, his arms rising, hands snatching at empty air for purchase. His booted feet rose as he fell backwards, his whole body arching out into the lounge, head moving toward the corner of the coffee table that took up the lounge's centre floor space.
The back of his head hit the table's corner, his neck folded, and something snapped there. His back, legs and arms hit the floor next, thumping like dead weight, fingers uncurling. His eyes fastened on her, staring up at her, chin on his chest. Sarah saw that the table's corner had strips of torn skin and tufts of hair stuck to it. David blinked, words that he could no longer form gurgling in his throat.
Sarah looked down at him, breath coming easily, a small smile on her lips. Blood seeped along the floor, spreading underneath his back. She wanted to say, “There! You see! I'm not a little girl any more! I'm not taking your shit or your abuse any more! See what you made me do!” But even as the words formed on her lips, they were subsumed by the smell of David's blood, and the spicy tang of his fear.
She could smell him. The aroma of him filled her head and then travelled down through her body, her heart pumping adrenaline and something else throughout her body as the world around her changed. His blood smelled dark and angry, smelled of gun metal and bullets. The rest of his body smelled a bit sour, like a loaf of bread kept a little too long in the fridge. She could smell that he had pissed himself. And his fear… Sarah had never smelled anything so exquisite before, so intoxicating. It pulled at her, spread through her brain like a drug, exciting neurons and ganglia that had lain dormant. Sarah shivered.
The shiver became a spasm of ecstasy that arched her back and shut her eyes; she wanted to scream but her jaws were clamped shut. She wanted to howl …
“Not yet, my girl. No yet.”
The voice intruded, so familiar, and yet stranger than she had ever realized. There was deepness to the voice, a sense of it coming from a dark place, hidden for a long time. But she knew the voice. It was –
Sarah opened her eyes and smiled at her father.
He stood naked before the open door, wind swirling tiny flakes of snow past him into the lounge. His skin was pale, but unmarked; no wrinkles, no paunch, no sagging. He had the face of a sixty year old man, but the body of an athlete. The cold didn't seem to affect him; he didn't even shiver. His eyes, once kind, once gentle, looked upon her now with approval. Sarah knew without knowing that he was pleased with her. For the first time in her life, he was pleased with her. She now new why he was here. His nakedness was not strange at all.
“You must control it, Sarah. You have to control the bloodheat. Do you understand?”
Sarah nodded. “But I don't want to. I don't want to control it. God, it feels so good …”
She understood why he had never told her. Why he had controlled her as he had, why he had done all the things he had done and said all the things he had said. The only way that she would have been able to control it, to control this beast inside of her, was to come into it herself. To allow it to grow, in her own time.
She had known something was different when she had smelled Ms Danwright's musk on David that first time; she could smell what they had done, could smell where they had done it, everything. She had known he was lying. Every time, she could smell it. And then the burst of anger and rage, never when David was there of course, only after he'd left, after he'd said all those hurtful things he liked to say. She could never stop herself, even though she knew what she was doing, even though she was aware. David hadn't even noticed all the missing pillows and the tears on the back of the sofa. He would never have noticed. She had shredded things in her rage, but he never noticed what was missing.
She understood. Her smile began to change as she began to change, canines extending, lower jaw elongating, upper jaw narrowing and growing longer.
“Dad,” she said, her voice a low growl, “You killed my mother. You ate my mother.”
He laughed at her, eyes sparkling deep within sockets that had begun to recede and move. He was changing, too. The lines of his body began to lengthen and shorten where necessary, hair sprouting thickly across his chest. “That bitch was nothing more than a breeding mate,” he growled. “My breed is the strongest of the Old Ones, and I couldn't allow my blood to die out, now could I?” He flexed a long-fingered, clawed hand. “Besides, she saw me Change once.”
Sarah nodded, feeling how heavy her head had become, feeling how the muscles below her skin began to thicken, lengthen, felt how her bones began to reform and reshape themselves. There was no pain, no pain at all. David had never been able to give her pleasure like this. Never like this. “Your blood,” she whispered, mangling the words because she didn't have the jaw structure or lips or tongue necessary to speak properly any more, “is my blood. Your flesh, my flesh.”
“We are one in the blood, now,” he answered, all snarls and growls. “We are one in the hunt. Old blood calls, calls and is answered. The blood sings.”
“It sings.” The scraps of her clothing fell to floor, some of it falling into the pool of David's blood. His eyes were dull, sightless. Sarah flexed her hands, arm muscles stretching and retracting; she lowered herself on her haunches, feeling the coiled power in her thighs, the power waiting to be used, the power of her new body. Her eyes fastened again on her father. “Sing to me, Daddy.”
With a roar born from a lifetime of frustration and pain, the beast that had been Sarah lunged.
Copyright Dave-Brendon de Burgh 2009