Manacled by my wrists to the ceiling, and rough rope encircling my torso to the cold pole against my chest, I felt the pressure of the wolf’s teeth digging in on the back of my right thigh, the slick, chilled tongue lapping at the blood that trickled from the small punctures it made.
I shifted a little to keep my legs from buckling, and felt the vibrations from the low, deep snarl of warning in the wolf’s throat, its jaws like a thumb and forefinger pressed to the side of a nail awaiting the hammer.
Standing in my own filth, taking shallow breaths didn’t decrease the air’s pungency.
The lone, bare bulb that hung from a frayed wire looked as forlorn and captive as I felt.
“Go,” a woman’s voice said behind me; reluctant, the wolf let my thigh go, his eyes pleading with his mistress.
She shook her head. “Go.”
The beast snuffed in reproach.
I will taste him again, Pack-Mother.
No, pack-brother. Tonight his body is mine.
As you command.
Why did I know the words that passed in the look between them?
The wolf lowered his eyes but lapped at the wounded leg again, taking a final lick before it returned to wherever it left.
“Why the wolf?”
“Because I could. I like watching you helpless.”
“Why did you bring me here?”
“To make you one last offer.”
“I’d rather die.”
“I think you’re bluffing. You have a chance to put off the moment, and you’re telling me you’d rather hear your own last breath?”
“I’m not sure I would hear it, not that it would matter. What matters is, I can’t walk around like you do, pretending to be something I’m not.”
Her finger laced under my chin, lingered in the blood around my lips.
“That, my love, is the entire human condition neatly stated.”
“Your bitterness aside, I don’t want to live like that…thing…that was biting my flesh.”
She slipped her arms around me from behind, hands on my chest with her fingers spread; It was almost loving even though I was naked, stinking, and scared.
“What are you doing?” I tried to sound like she wasn’t affecting me, but the basement’s temperature was dropping with the sun that filtered through dirty, web-shaded windows, and her arms were warm around me.
Something deeper stirred in me, but I misread it.
“Are you going to…?”
“No. Never again. Not in this form.”
I saw her arms cord and harden as the muscles swelled beneath them.
“ Our pack-brother drew blood from you. Let your thoughts go now, and listen to my voice.”
She pinched my lips closed. “I said, listen.”
The soft hairs of her arms began to grow, dark and coarse, scratching my stomach in her embrace as the healing curse took root,
Listening was all I could do now.
Her wolf voice brought images with it, memories of kills, howling as the rush of wind poured over our running pack, the ripple of wind through fur. Nights howling for the sheer joy, and trailing the scents of large, panicked prey that drove our legs to move faster. And the bloody, merciless slaughter of inferior intruders on our hunting ground.
Spring days by the rivers, the rituals of passage, and the sweet, wet taste of fresh kills that steamed in the morning mist.
The mourning of the old ones, sometimes taken in the hunt, or by the guns of men.
Summer nights caught up in the thrills of the chase by moonlight, and the spiking scent of fear in the cornered prey. For the swiftest among us, the taking of life and the first spurt of blood into the gullet while avoiding the death throes. They could always strike us down with an accidental kick or head-butt as they toppled.
Finally, the two of us side by side, thick winter coats withstanding the freezing winds as we surveyed the night forest from the promontory.
Alpha and mate, then.
Now, captor and prisoner.
Lovers no more, but still beasts in nature.
“Do you remember now?”
I did, but was too tired to answer; I remembered it all.
She smiled, unshackled and untied me, gave me water, and held me tighter as the coarse hairs on my body began to mingle with her own.
We would be lovers again soon.
And I slept, dreaming of meadows and blood.