Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Wild

A short story, written by moi, whilst at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Enjoy.

Winters are fierce in this part of the world and few can tolerate them, but for those who can the rewards of spring are many. Charlene was born here and her mother taught her how to survive the harsh winters.  She taught her how to hunt and track animals, which berries and plants could be eaten, and how to avoid predators. Charlene had exceptional instincts as well which kept her alive when others would have perished. Charlene could not imagine living anywhere else and she looked forward to the rebirth she experienced each spring when the earth softened and the plants began to push their way through its crust, reaching for the warmth of the sun.
Spring did not come without sacrifice, however. Shedding the long, heavy, coat of winter also required relinquishing something back to the earth that was now providing for her again. This, too, Charlene learned at her mother’s knee. Some years it would be something small, like a rabbit, or a fox. After a particularly hard winter it would be something larger. This year was different though. Winter was mild and spring came slowly, unfolding one leaf at a time, without urgency. The sky and land were bathed in watercolors and she did not feel rushed to start anew.
The lover Charlene took the summer before was languishing next to her in bed and she didn’t mind. Most years her lovers were gone by this time. They always seemed surprised when it ended but that was their own fault. The signs were there, if only they’d paid attention. Charlene breathed in Jack’s scent as she watched him sleep. He opened his dark eyes and met her gaze.
“Coffee?” he asked.
He rose, naked and strong, and went to the kitchen. He moved in long, graceful strides. She curled into the warm spot he’d left and dozed.
“Charlie, coffee.” Jack called. She normally did not tolerate pet names given by men, but she didn’t mind with Jack. His voice carried affection and she enjoyed being in his favor.
She rose slowly and stretched her long limbs. She wrapped his flannel shirt around her, not bothering to button it, and joined him in the den. They spent last winter in this den, curled on the soft rug in front of the fire, entangled, feeding off one another’s warmth. Jack had her coffee waiting and they sat together on the couch and drank in silence, watching the sun rise. Charlene’s skin was smooth and her long black hair was streaked with gray, belying her age.
Jack stood and took her cup after she’d drained it, spilling the last bit on her hand. She licked it off.  She watched him cross the room and disappear into the kitchen. Charlene’s mother told her, when Charlene was a child, a man would come for her one day.
“The Winter will be mild,” her mother said, as she braided Charlene’s thick hair, “and he will be strong, stronger than even you, and you will submit to him. He will find you when it is your time. He will provide you with offspring and you will provide him faithful companionship. This is the promise the man makes to us, and we to him.”
Charlene waited each winter for the man her mother spoke of to arrive, growing lonely in the years since her mother passed and her sisters scattered with the wind. She took a man each summer, hoping he would be the one, but in the end they were weak and served only to keep her amused during the long cold season. She was always happy to see them gone in spring.
 Now she found herself wanting this man to stay through the spring and into summer, through the harsh winters she knew would come again. She felt a visceral pang below her belly when she thought of him leaving. Jack came from the kitchen but stopped short of the den, standing instead in the dining area, feet planted.
“I know about you.”
Charlene paused, but only briefly. Her pulse quickened.
“What do you know about me, Jack?” She turned on the couch, her steely blue eyes narrowing and locking on his dark face, reading it. He looked different now, dominating. The veins in his neck pulsed. His shoulders were drawn back and the skin on his broad chest was taut. The hair on her neck rose.
“I have heard about your…”
“My what, Jack?” she cut in. “My lovers?” She stood now and moved slowly toward him, dropping his shirt to the floor so they both stood naked. She wanted to be closer, in case her instincts had somehow failed her, and he wasn’t the man her mother spoke of.
“Your appetite.”
“Oh really?” Charlene licked her lips and began to circle the table, moving closer to him. “You have heard the old wives tales of wild women who devour their men, is that it? Who howl at the moon and run with the wolves?” She was inches from him now, her hot breath against his neck, her lips drawn back in a snarl. He stood firm and she did not smell fear.
“Stories run wild here, Jack, that’s what runs wild.” She wrapped her long arms around him and pressed her body against his. She still did not know. “And do you believe those stories, Jack?” she whispered into his ear.
Jack reached up quickly and put his hands around her throat, pushing her away from him, restricting her air. His eyes were black now, his face contorted.
“Yes, I do. That is why I’m here.”
Charlene dug her long nails into the flesh on his arms and dropped to her knees.
“To kill the beast?” Her strangled voice held contempt.  She started to faint and as shadows seeped into the corners of her vision, she wondered why she hadn’t sensed this. Suspicious by nature, how had she allowed herself to be captured, and now killed? She thrashed and let out a low, throttled howl as he pressed harder on her narrow throat.
“No,” Jack released his grip on her and she dropped to all fours, gasping for air, “to tame her.” She hung her head, her long, dark hair dusting the floor as she rocked back and forth, chest heaving. He sat on the chair nearest her and reached down, gently stroking the back of her head until she caught her breath. Jack lifted her chin and stared into her wild, beautiful face. He was the man she had waited for. Charlene felt a rush of relief, and arousal.
“Next winter will be long, and cold.” She nuzzled against Jack’s leg.
“I know.”
“We will have to be…prepared.”
“I know.” Jack petted her softly. Charlene rose to her feet and they walked, pressed close together, to the bedroom.

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