I no longer see the smoke from the village. It’s harder for me to pretend I’m warm. Not even the light of their flickering fires are in my line of sight. I am faced with the vast stretch of snow-covered wilderness. Frosted tops of evergreens, birches. Old lumbering giants that sway in the howls of harsh winds.
It’s so quiet.
I’ve been lucky enough to have found a cave, at least. Nothing to brag about, but it’s mine. I’m safe here. In a small corner, wedged between boulders, I’ve made myself a bed of dried branches and foliage. The quilts I could carry sit beside this sad bed of mine. I have three quilts, but I only use one. I want to use it until it’s falling apart at the seams. Tattered. Loved. That way all three will last me as long as they possibly can.
I miss my real bed, though. I miss my pillows. Even when the ends of the feathers would poke me in the eyes. I miss the embrace of my husband. How he’d staggered home drunk from the tavern, and caused the whole bed to bend in his weight. That sweet smell of liquor trapped in his beard, stuck on his lips. The desperate tug of his arm around my body. Holding me close. Nuzzling his face into my neck. As if I was the best thing he’s ever crawled next to.
What have I done? Why did I do that?
I brought with me a thick pack of parchment along with plenty of ink for my quil. I’m binding together a book that’ll have sketches and notes of the things I’ve seen while here. My favorite find is a particular red flower. Not a poppy, but similar in looks. It blooms in the horrid winter. It has a glittery, slippery residue on the face of its petals. I’ve watched snowflakes slip and slide into the hollow center where a pollen pad should be. I think the flower drinks the snow. I think it may be carnivorous. They bloom individually. Popping up separately in random places. Never together. I’ve named them after myself.
I’ve seen things in the dark, too.
Normally, I spend my time scavenging. I was given gasoline to help with fires when I was banished, but I refuse to use it. I know how to start fires the natural way. It takes time for the sticks to dry well enough–especially in this season–but I’m patient. I have taken to eating the flowers. Ha! Yes, I’ve been eating my selves. They have no flavor. They make my tongue feel fuzzy as if electricity is dancing along the taste buds. I also eat berries. The very few that survived. When I’m lucky, I find a rodent of some sort. There haven’t been many rodents as of late. It’s that time of year that everything goes to sleep.
Except for Mother Wolf.
I’m not religious. I think that was the start of the problems back at the village. People don’t trust people who don’t believe in anything. I wasn’t trusted. I know. I understand. So, it’s odd that I would see Mother Wolf. Odder still that I only see her at night.
The soft glow of her reflectant eyes flicker in the pale light of the moon. They are a fierce red. They’ve been getting closer to my cave. This morning, I awoke and found her massive pawprints leaving from my cave and out into the wilderness. Since the morning it snowed another three inches. Not a single flake touched the pawprints.
It is said Mother Wolf will guide the unforgiven to the house of prosperity. She comes for the weary travelers and leads them to the river. She comes for the face dressed in spit and offers them retribution. She comes for the damned and shows them West. I am not religious. Yet today I packed my belongings. I have no other choice but to follow Mother Wolf.
The tracks are massive. Bigger than the feet of my husband. I step into them. Sparing my boots from soaking too much snow. I leave the clearing that surrounds the cave. I enter the wilderness. The little red flowers, my little red selves, they hiss at me as I pass them by. Some nip at my ankles and that’s alright.
The eyes of the birches watch me as I trek. They know who I am following. All trees do. I hear a few of them whimpering. They sound like my husband. They sound like my children.
I just don’t understand it. How did I get that way? Why did I do that?
The trees are blocking my path. They huddle together. They tremble in the absence of wind. They hate that I am going to find Mother Wolf. They are afraid. They can’t have me find her. They don’t want me forgiven. I hear them whining. Screaming. Begging. Their insolent, bratty cries. Please mother please!
I was given an axe, too. Rather, I took the axe before my departure of that village. It’s always been my axe, anyways.
I warned the trees.
Do it! Do it! Do it! The red flowers with my name cheer.
“I’ll do it! I’m warning you!” I shake the axe at the trees.
Why! Why would you do this! What have you done! The trees sob.
I hack at the trees’ flesh. I carve the eyes from the birches. I slice off the arms of the evergreens. The giants topple over in their pooling red sap. So much does it smell like blood, moving so slow like molasses. I chop a hole big enough to fit me with my belongings. The trees cough, choke, moan, as I claw my way through their bodies.
On the other side of the trees, I am met with a summer’s night.
A warm breeze tickles the back of my neck. There is green grass and moss where snow should be. The aroma of roasting pig over a fire fills my nose. I hear the songs of merriment. Flirtatious women’s laughter. Boisterous chuckles of carefree men. My heart races. All I’ve ever wanted.
No matter which way I turn I discover only skinny, young trees. They circle me. They hide the fun in their shadows. I can’t find the lights of fire. The sound is all around me. I’ve no idea which direction to take!
A whisper. A voice not female. Nor male. In the dark of young trees that grow infinitely towards the sky, I meet the glowing orbs of Mother Wolf’s eyes. I cannot see her body. Her being. Only the red shine of her stare. I drop to my knees.
“Mother,” I weep. “Mother, save me.”
Would you like the taste of hottened mead? Would you like the fill of boar?
Would you like your stolen youth returned? Would you like the warm comfort of men?
“Yes, Mother Wolf. I don’t want to be with myself anymore. Please, mother, please?” I beseech, clawing at the old earth.
Give me your rotted house. Burn it down. I will give you another in mine.
Staring into her eyes I know her words to be true. I nod my head as I take the gasoline and bring myself to a stand. My lips hurt. Bubbles of blood filling the cracks of my stretching smile. I wash my body in gasoline. Behind Mother Wolf I finally find the flames.
People dance around the fire pit. Bodies nude and wrapped together move in a squirm of an orgy. The God Pig roasts with herbs stuffed in His wounds. An apple caught in His throat. The hacked bodies of my family burning in the pit.
Give me your rotted house. Come into mine eternal.
I strike a match. I rejoice. Yes. I know what I have done. I know why I did it. I regret nothing, anymore.