The Werewolf’s Mistress

 

They say that beneath the moon his fangs grow to the length of full bayonets. That the whites of his eyes roll back and a milky red overtakes them, giving him sight through the dark.

I hear them whisper behind my back at the supermarket as I knead fruits to gauge their firmness. They would cut into his heart if they weren’t scared that his blood might sizzle through their flesh.

The reality is far simpler. His vision is keen, but he keeps small round spectacles for reading. Under my tongue his teeth feel regular sized. I once watched him slip slightly at the cutting board, swearing as red stains blossomed from his upturned palms. When I kissed his hands, they tasted like blood and nothing more.

***

From under running water the television becomes lines and lines of electric crackle. Another tsunami has hit the north shore.

I wrap a towel around my hair and move through the living room, leaving puddles in my wake. I don’t bother turning off the news any more. A continuous string of reporters punctuate my meals with their BREAKING NEWS, mashing their brows together as they gaze somber into the camera and repeat the same story all over the world. Just another flood warning after another, over yet another precipice of DETAILS TO FOLLOW.

He rings the doorbell just as I slip my body into thin cotton. At the door he takes my forearms and kneads the wrists with his large thumbs. It’s only a little thing but it makes my teeth shiver. Underneath his dark thumbprints my veins are small and reedy. He brings both my wrists together and then to his lips. Well, are you going to let me in? His mouth spills easily open at the sides as he pulls me into his arms. I thought you couldn’t, I say, but he’s already pouring down my throat and swallowing up the question mark. Decided to take another business trip, he mutters into my shoulder, kicking the door closed behind him. I let his momentum push me backwards.

Afterwards my arm falls asleep where he rests his head. In bed he attacks my body with brutal passion, but in sleep his breaths are so gentle, even. The backs of my knees are still shaking. I walk the fingers of my free hand up his neck, tracing the soft parts behind his ear. They yield so tenderly to the touch. I circle a freckle there, and then another. I can’t imagine anyone else taking the time to learn this sequence of spots, the natural pattern of his form.

***

Over the last months, the neighborhood has developed a distinctive shuffling sound.

Grey people make circuits of the streets, dragging the heels of their shoes on the ground. They hold bouquets of newsprint in their arms, to trade to recycling plants for coin. The value of newspaper has risen alongside the propensity for storm; it must be gathered quickly in the ebbs of dry heat, before water pools and dissolves the pages away.

They’re hardly dangerous, riding the bare edge of sentience. What passions and ambitions they once held have melted into a tame haze of shamble and silence. What gets me on edge is their habit of fading away into corners and only emerging in bits at a time, disappearing from my peripheral vision except for here an elbow or a knee. Occasionally I think I see sets of dull eyes blinking out of the visages of buildings. Their voices are hoarse from whispering, their palms always striped with ash and ink.

He calls them vagrants and seems not to sense them at all. The one time I stopped to search my purse for loose change, he put his hand over mine and held it still. Nothing can bring them back, he said, cutting off my course with his body. It’s sad, but be realistic. Behind his back, the grey man shuffled into a wall and became a crack.

***

In the morning he thumbs through emails in bed, while I dig my thumbnail into my finger and pull off strips of skin like I’m peeling an orange. The inside of my mouth tastes like salt and earth. The television blares CAUTION RISING WATER.

Do you think we should move to higher ground? I ask. I mean, not us together, but in general.

He turns off his phone screen and plants a kiss on the top of my head. There’s always some new reason the world is ending. A harder kiss, in the comma of my shoulder. Don’t worry so much. His hand moves up my thigh, beneath the sheets. No one delivers tacos above the city. He captures one of my wrists against the headboard, then the other. Or dry cleaning.

I’m still thinking about the foam of encroaching waves as he bares a barbaric grin and springs upon me for the carnal strike. Eventually I give in and let the fierce heat of his mouth push aside the feeling of dampness.

***

According to the latest reports, there are entire islands about to go completely underwater and there’s nothing we can do but evacuate them. All our textbook geography, suddenly incorrect.

I imagine waves crashing down on the crowns of homes and bed frames. Half-dressed dolls, ‘Number One Father’ mugs, tubes of mascara, all loosely bobbing through the murky water. Entire neighborhoods lost to rust. Framed photos, caught in coral, become historical artifacts; families frozen in cheery repose even as their living counterparts evaporate in loss. Seaweed-draped mirages of a once-arid world.

These are the places where the grey people lived, from which they now seep steadily into the center of the metropolis and wring water out of the cuffs of their pants. The lines in their faces, held above the surface for so long, are filled with dust from streets that no longer exist.

***

His reflection dresses itself in the mirror. It might be a while until I can get away again, he says, grooming an errant tuft of hair into place. She’s got some kind of dinner planned. Her parents are coming and she picked something out of a magazine.

White clouds tease themselves against the black sky until slivers of grey emerge. In my mind I see a woman sitting on a rock who waits for him to return. There are webs in the cradles of her fingers and they glisten in the light as she arranges her hair. She has a long silver-green tail, with sharp-edged scales that rasp against the stone.

When he returns home he will be ravenous. As she tilts her face upwards to receive his, will she taste any scraps I’ve left to dry on his skin? On the glossy undersides of his tongue and teeth? He’s always pulling my mouth away when it lingers too long in any one spot, but I wonder if I’ve marked surfaces even he can’t discern: the inflections of his purr, the evolving shape of his embrace. After all this pursuit, is there any patch I can claim for territory?

***

Once I brought a wet wrapped lunch to his office. Cuts of fresh fish and some smoky wilted greens. He works a whole city away from his house and I gave a fake name, which seemed like a safe distance.

I waited in the lobby for twenty minutes until he came down, eyes darting from side to side. You shouldn’t have, he began, and the silence trailing after stuck thickly to my shoes.

He took the box but handled it carelessly. I could tell he purposely avoided any contact during the transfer. As he retreated, it was as if I was seeing him in that suit for the very first time.

When he came over that night his eyes were carnivorous and ripe with hunger. He pounced without waiting for me to pull off my dress; tongue salmon-colored and rough against my inner thighs, leaving oil slicks between my legs then beckoning so firmly against my core that all I could do was clutch onto handfuls of his hair. That was exciting, he growled. But don’t do it again.

In the spasm of my nerves exposing I didn’t even feel his claws swiping hard across my shoulders; his fangs sharpening into my neck.

***

Debra at the corner cafe wipes down the sweating table and hands me a napkin. The wood beneath her hands is old and the knots have begun leaking pigment out into the grain.

The pierce marks on my neck are dense and sweltering. Evenly spaced and unfortunately distinguishable as canines. I’m wearing a shirt with the highest collar I can find, but it’s too hot to wear turtlenecks. I can’t stop touching the surrounding tissue, swollen into hard dark knots that throb when pressed. When Debra brings me my coffee, she lingers just a second too long after depositing the wide-mouthed jug of cream. This city is both too big and too small.

I would never sit at the same table as him, but it doesn’t make that much of a difference in whispers. People pay closer attention to foreigners these days, whether they come from faraway country or neighboring city. Still, no one can confirm the genesis of these bites in particular. It’s not like he has dental records on display. The same network of whisperers both spread secrets and keep them shielded: when your regulars are also regulars, no one dares publicly stake their reputation on guesswork. The woman who masquerades as mermaid, herself a maiden from a foreign sea, could sit down at the table besides me and never know. Probably.

Grey people trickle after me as I walk home. There’s something ominous in the way their clothes tatter, dull grey skin beneath the holes. I stop at a newsstand, buy a newspaper (“IS THIS THE END? PRESIDENT ISSUES STATEMENT”) and hand it to a grey woman.

There’s a thick salt crust beneath her nails. I don’t watch to see where she fades away to.

***

The claw lacerations on my back stop bleeding through fabric by day three. (I need new summer outfits anyways.) The jagged scratches are easily blamed on an errant wire fence, a trespassing gone wrong.

The bite marks continue to weep a sickly viscous fluid. I buy gauze and medical tape. It’s hard to reach the bites at the back of my neck. Long strips of tape unravel clumsily around the sides and front of my throat.

Their throbbings are only getting worse. Infection pulses in my temples. It feels like his incisors are still buried inside me, stabbing deeper and deeper from neck into chest. When I change the dressings, which is often, pulling off the tape exposes the scent of fresh meat. The gauze sticks to the open wounds and refuses to excuse itself cleanly, dragging with it oozing yellow strands beaded with half formed scabs.

***

It is dark in the bar and the clink of glass against glass is everywhere. I’m wearing a lot of perfume and my neck is sheathed in a gauzy little French scarf. The bartender has patched over multiple leaks in the ceiling, but persistent rivulets have still found cracks to drip through.

The man seated to my right flicks his eyes towards me each time he takes a long draught of his beer. Because of this I run my fingers through my hair and make a point to set my drink down loudly when I finish it.

“Pardon me. Can I get you another one of those?” The man motions at my glass and smiles at me. There is a tiny gap between his front teeth, so small most people would never notice there was anything missing. A tiny fraction of a puzzle piece. All of a sudden I want to slide my tongue into that space.

He is young and polite and his eyes shine. He could be one smooth-skinned hand in the warm of my back, that would not have to hide. Something nice. Simple. Tame.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I have a boyfriend.” I keep my gaze to the side of his face, not straight towards.

One last flash of gap. “That’s okay. I understand.” Absolutely nothing primal in his tone. He turns back to his beer and we both pretend we never spoke.

The tinny television behind the bar gloats: AT YOUR OWN RISK. AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Out of the corner of my eye I see the bartender nudge a pretty waitress and gesture in my direction. He taps two fingers to his neck. They’re laughing. She holds two straws to her mouth like tusks.

My mouth feels bruised at the seams. I pull my jacket tighter around my body and look down into my glass of ice.

Into the clear swims a drowned corpse, bleached white flesh wrinkled and molting as it pulls away from the hard parts of the body. Crabs and fish and sea stars come scuttling into the scene: a veritable horde of sea species descending to feed, to thrive, to populate the tissue. A gigantic eel exposes its serrated teeth and snaps angrily at a school of minnows who are examining the right arm. The minnows scurry off as the eel rips off its share, scattering tiny flecks of shredded white. On the other, less contested side of the body, a small fish nibbles cautiously at the morass. Winds its way through a path of marrow.

Let them stare. Let me remind them that all bodies are beacons. To be consumed is to be loved. Who among us doesn’t like to be sought.

***

As I hang his suit jacket on the door, a crumpled receipt falls out of the pocket. It’s from a gas station. Bottled water and tampons.

When he comes back from the bathroom I turn off all the lights and slam my body against his shadowed bulk as hard as I can, surrendering to my last instinct. Attempting to unleash him from her tether, jolt him from her reach. Have her feel the ambush from across the city.

In response he seizes me and tightens his hands around the sides of my face. My hair falls in violent curls against his chest and disrupts the smooth surface. He forces me to stare straight into his eyes. They are merciless and dark from the iris out, and I want them more than anything else in the world.

Without speaking he brings his mouth viciously to mine, grinding lip against lower teeth before I can kiss back. I can taste his unrelenting lust and fall willingly into it. Releasing my face, he hurls me to the bed and rips at my clothes, crushes me against the sheets and into the vise of his limbs. Even in the dark I can tell that his expression is hard. It tears at my body with an unspoken urgency.

His nails still not quite claw. But when he rakes into my neck under the gnaw of his frenzy, the pain erupts so far into the synapse that light explodes across my vision. I yelp without meaning to and move my palm to the wet spot. At my cry he immediately pulls back.

I turn on the lights and pull away the poultice to inspect the wound. The thick smell of copper hangs in the air. I didn’t see, he says. I’m sorry. He guides me towards him with a slow touch and examines the marks, visibly curious. Did I do that? He peers at the scars on my back and traces the trails with his fingertips, softly pats at the remaining gauze. Does this hurt?

The pain didn’t make me want to cry, but his touch does, and without warning. I chew hard at the insides of my cheeks and pick at my fingers to keep from sobbing. It’s fine. I’m fine. It’s okay. It’s not bad.

I go to the bathroom and wipe away the blood with toilet paper. I soothe my face to light as I emerge. Nothing a few Band-Aids can’t fix. He laughs, still taut with craving, and summons me back to the bed. My strong girl.

He works the back of my neck briefly with his fingers, careful to only worry the unmaimed portions, before he goes.

In my mind the mermaid woman giggles and combs her hair with a serrated shell. Her laugh is like crystals scattering on marble. Her tail coils and uncoils. She winks and I know it’s meant for me.

Suddenly I want to kill her dead as ice. I see myself smashing her head into the rocks until her body curls around itself and her hair billows slowly and softly in the cold water. The current bumping what’s left of her frozen face up against the underside of the ice, mouth open, little fish coming in and out of it. And then my hands outstretched before me, savage and slick with pulp like the insides of grapefruits.

I’m walking to the door. There’s a grey woman crouched there, almost invisible against the grain, but when she sees me coming she lifts herself from the frame and ambles into a sidewalk crack. Only then am I free to reach for the doorknob. In one sticky turn, I gain admittance to the home I will never share.

***

Once upon a time you put your damp hands on my damp breasts and in the sopping middle we met in a mouthful of salt. There was something soft in the way you moved my body with your own. We tangled ourselves in the bedsheets and all the silver bracelets slipped off of my wrists. Outside, the tallest building in the skyline blinked out its lights one window at a time.

It’s under this building that we first saw each other. You told me you were attracted by how I moved against the glass. You said it was like spying a far-off glimpse of land, after being adrift for months.

I caught myself in your gaze as you approached. The precision devoured every living thing but the two of us. We stood staring at each other in the shadow of the obelisk, and I fell in love with the swift slash of your jawbone.

***

He arrives presuming our familiar call and chase. Lunges for me with a raider’s alacrity.

I push him back. Hard. Take his look of surprise between my palms and bring it before my steely own. He opens his mouth but I stifle it with mine, pursue his tongue with a ferocity even I wasn’t expecting. When I pull away, I watch his eyes grow wide and greedy. I realize there is blood trickling from both our mouths. There’s a splash as he drops to his knees and his shins hit water more than an inch deep. Stay, I snarl at him, and he does. His submission electrifies me.

I wind the bandages off of my shoulders and throat. The raw smell instantly fills the room and he shudders. Water laps at our ankles. He makes long, longing sounds from deep within as he pads obediently towards my beckon. Salivating. Starving.

I know what he wants. I lower to his height, pull his face to my nape, and provide.

He flings himself upon me, licking hungrily at my neck. Pushes his snout into the cuts, rubs in the earthy musk of his fur. I open the vulnerable skin of an incision with my fingers and let him nuzzle all the way into the wound. It doesn’t hurt. I keep coaxing him through. The sense of sinew drips off of every surface. He thrusts further inside, desperate muzzle already buried to the bridge.

The water continues rising, buoying his weight to an insubstantial lightness. I plant my feet and bury both hands into his pelt, feed him piece by piece to the insatiable wound. As I press him in deeper and deeper I can feel the tickle of his ears folding over, his forepaws scrabbling weakly at my collarbone. His muffled whine rises inside my throat, and for one second the rough ridges of his spine bristle with apprehension; as if aware of some distant threat. But when I hush his fur with my fingers he softens, becomes compliant. As if he understands.

I pull the entirety of his dripping body into my own. The red running down curdles my eyes a cruel scarlet and forms dark rings around my elbows; I can see myself reflected in every pool. When he is all gone, down to the tip of his tail, I settle into the water on my haunches and feel the curvature of power. Every muscle hungry, but patient.

Ready to hunt.

***

The limitless drench is swelling faster and faster now, cresting the bottom of my chin as I tread water. There’s a howl deep inside me that wants to get out. I suppose I should be scared, but instead, the waves are driving me wild.

Dark-eyed ghosts tug my sopping limbs towards the ocean floor. Only now do I recognize their nature.

I stop pretending I don’t feel their pull. I bare my teeth to their full, feral, reach. I close my red moon eyes and allow myself to be swallowed down, down, down; by the giddy pursuit of the flood roaring past, by those ash-and-ink hands, by that thick salt scent of prey.

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