“We are creatures of the moon, Glory. The full, the new, waxing, waning, blood, harvest, blue and wolf.”
“Will you tell me which each of these mean?”
“Some you already know. Some you will learn.” Her reply is cryptic as always. A frustrating non-answer.
I know a full moon already. It’s what we live for. The others? Just phases building to the time they wait for every month. A blue I know too; that special thirteenth moon. The only time of year a new wolf can be made - bitten or born. I had been conceived under the light of a blue moon - Justice too.
Her bracelets jingle as she ties a string around a cloth bag of dried herbs.
“Bearberry.” She almost reverently whispers, “A powerful herb for us. Take it daily, as a tea to prevent miscarriage. And after the baby is born to ease recovery.”
“Where does it grow? And how do you make it into a tea?” I ask her, eager for the knowledge.
“It grows in the garden. I planted it shortly after I married your father. I’ll show you this afternoon.”
I want to ask more questions, but can tell from her facial expression the matter is at a close. It’s spring, perhaps her busiest time of year, and she’s been especially short with me and Just these past weeks.
“Go. Go get your sister and get her ready for school.” She waves her hand in the direction of the house and the tinkling of her bracelets this time is hard.
Dismissed, but eager to head to a place I love, I spin out of her work room and into the kitchen. My father had built the eight by eight addition onto the kitchen for her ‘medicines’ as he called them. It is always the place I know where to find her.
Two of the outer walls are windows from the waist up. L-shaped countertop with cabinets beneath. The third wall holds her massive fireplace and hearth. In front of it, her overstuffed chair and footstool. The fourth wall, split by the doorway, has a tall storage cabinet on one side and on the other a sink. The floor is hard concrete broken up by colorful throw rugs. On the countertops everything from potted plants to burner plates and her knitting. My favorite thing about the room though, is the ceiling. Open rafters and four massive skylights. Sun, rain, clouds, moonlight- they all filter into the room and give it its natural magic.
I loved the skylights so much I begged my dad to put one in my room. I wanted to see the moon every night. I wanted to go to sleep knowing there were no barriers between me and it. That at anytime I could open my eyes and see what phase it was in.
He’d said no, they were too expensive and I had a perfectly functioning roof above my head.
He’d told me to use my imagination to picture the sky outside. I did it every night, painting that plain white ceiling dark indigo blue with a million and one constellations and orange and purple nebulas. And one blue-white glowing orb.
My second favorite thing about her space were the hanging plants. She had so many, some that she somehow even managed to get to blossom in the winter. But then, her ‘space’ was always the warmest room in the house. Even when two feet of snow piled up outside.
I climb the steps from the kitchen. At the top, I turn down the short hallway and open the door to our shared bedroom.
“Justice! Time for school. Wake up!”
Maybe I should have pushed her for more information. Lately she expects me to be errand girl and mind-reader. Her eccentrics and degradation seem to have accelerated since Indy’s birth. That’d been four years ago. I slow around a bend in the road. My stomach growling.
Dinnertime and I had to miss it to deliver a personalized tea concoction. One hour each way. It gave me too much time to think. Too much time to analyze. To worry.
I was scared to bring up the topic of Indy going to preschool. Mother’s hatred to humans had grown in tandem with her eccentricities. Pulling JuJu from high school on the pretense of homeschooling...that’d been the biggest pile of bull crap. Who’d she think was going to homeschool her? Me? Hardly. I’ve got my hands full with Indy. I thank my lucky stars I was smart enough to graduate early. It’d been two years since then, and what have I done in the meantime? Pretty much raised Indy. Helped Justice navigate adolescence. Tried to pull ourselves out of the poor house.
Worries fill my mind. Ever expanding. Ever evolving.
The four of us, how long could we hope to stay together? Four single female wolves? Rick protected us, but that was thanks to Mom’s abilities. Rosamund better be pregnant or we may find ourselves all in much more dire circumstances.
As I come around the next turn, the sun is in that perfect peak position of sunset to shoot orange rays of blindness directly to my retinas. As the car angles with the curve, the light changes and the blindness goes from total to a fraction.
There in the road, in my lane is an oncoming dark shape! I twist the wheel at the same time I hit the brakes, and I feel the loss of control, the back end of the small car spinning, sliding, spinning.
The crash. Metal against metal. The sound is terrible, but the speed never seems to slow down. I tip to the left. Gravity ceases. Down is up. Up is down.
Flashes of trees, rocks, blackness. I can’t make sense.
And when the spin is over, more horror. I am upside down. The tips of my hair is wet, swirling in rising water. I can feel the slow pull of the car. Tugged by the raging swollen river. Snowmelt.
Dangerous time of year.
Panic. Panic. Panic.
The water is at my forehead. A cold shock. The car is no longer slow. It is going. Going.
I hit the seatbelt. Tumble feet and knees over head.
Get out. Get out. Get out.
The water is rushing in. And it’s cold. On my hands and knees, it’s at my chest.
The car door handle is on my right. I tug it, but nothing happens.
It’s got to equalize. I still don’t stop pulling the handle, pushing with my shoulder, but the water! The water is an immovable force, dampening my inertia - keeping me from using my total strength. I suck in a breath when the water hits my chin.
I let go of the door handle. Kick with my feet at the window. Same thing. Water is the cushion between the strength of my legs and the glass.
Suddenly, a dark shape with a pale head is on the other side. Blearily, I watch him drive elbow and fists at the window. The muffled impact does nothing to the glass. He reaches up.
The door opens! I swim out, weighed down by my clothes. Breaking the surface, gulping air, coughing water. It’s a curious sensation of being fully clothed, shoes on, and submerged. I look to the sky, the gold orange sunset has bled to the darkening blues of twilight. The current is strong, pulling me along as I do nothing more than use my arms to keep my head above water. The man, I see swimming towards me. Fighting the current.
“Are you ok?” He shouts over the rushing water.
I cough, suck in air and shout back to him. “Y-y-y-es!”
The chill of the water is stealing my breath away, and I feel a tingling at my spine. My body is preparing to change. I can’t. Not with a human so close to me!
He yells over the roar of the water, “Swim to the bank with the current.”
I follow his lead, striking out with arms, feet heavy, but still kicking.
He manages to snag a low hanging limb and reaches a hand to me. I reach for it, but the water pulls me quickly by, and I fall short of his arm. My body weight and buoyancy are catalysts to sweep me with the current easily.
I see him come after me. I redouble my efforts, throwing my arms into a freestyle stroke. Hard.
Kicking. Kicking. Kicking.
Finally the river widens, and with it, the current slows. In the bend, I’m able to swim to the bank.
We crawl, shaking, out of breath onto the bank. The snow, just a couple inches high crunches under my hands and knees. Refreezing. My breath puffs out in visible clouds. The temperature is dropping. This is bad.
“You o-o-o-k?” He pants next to me. In the darkness, I make out his strong jaw line, and glittering eyes.
I nod my head, my wet hair brushing shockingly, painfully against my face.
“Gotta get w-w-w-arm.” His teeth chatter as he stands.
I stand with him, feeling the convulsing of every muscle in my body. Attempting to generate heat.
“Sssshelter. Find...ssshelter.” His words are slurred. He takes a step to me, then goes down on one knee.
“Are you ok?” I rush over to him.
He’s large, and I make no attempt to stop him when he sits down completely in the snow.
He shakes his head as if clearing cobwebs. He lays back and even I know that’s a bad sign. I drop down next to him.
“Hey! Mister.” His eyes are closed. I shove on his shoulder. I put my fingertips under his neck, but I’ve lost all feeling in them. I couldn’t tell if he had a pulse even if it was as good as a drum beat in a marching band.
I slap him across the face and get a mumbled unintelligible response.
I can’t let this man die! What are the remedies for hypothermia?
Warming up. Right.
The sun’s down and the wind is blowing. He was right about shelter. A fire would work too, but with the snowmelt, everything is too wet.
I drag him behind a tree. Gauging that on this side he’ll at least be protected from the wind.
I take off, promising this unconscious man I’ll be right back.
About one hundred yards into the woods, I see it.
One of those hunting blinds, lifted off the ground. It’s dark green siding and rectangular shape make it stand out in the forest of organic shapes. It has a ladder underneath that shoots straight up to the top.
I retrace my steps back to the man. Sling him over my shoulder in a fireman’s carry.
Even with supernatural strength my legs and core quiver with the effort.
Stepping heavily through snowed forest, I make my way to my discovery. Our salvation.
Halfway, I have to stop, catch my breath. I don’t put him down, afraid that if I do, I won’t be able to pick him back up.
At the bottom of the ladder I take a moment. I can do this.
His life depends on it.
One foot up. One foot down on the first rung. I have to let go with my left hand so that I can hold on to the ladder.
It’s a laborious climb.
At the top I use his body, my shoulders to push the hatch open. Two more rungs up, and I am awkwardly able to dump his body from my shoulders to floor. His feet hang out the hatch, but I scramble up behind him and lift them quickly so that I can shut the door.
When it’s done, I pant, and take in our surroundings.
Small day bed. One folded quilt on it. A little space heater, table and chair. Big picture window. Looks like it could be propped open.
I grab up the space heater. It’s electric. I drop to my knees spastically searching for an outlet.
There’s one under the chair.
Plug it in, turn it on.
More work to be done.
His body, I can barely move it. By the time I have his shirt off, I am breathing heavily - more exhausted then when we’d entered the small tower. I fumble with his pant’s button, it’s backwards positioning foreign to me. My fingers are numb and white, and in their condition, not very dexterous. I am finally able to work it open with my thumb and index fingers twisting together. I slide the zipper down, another seemingly easy task in a normal day-to-day circumstance. It takes me four tries though. I grip the denim at his waist, tugging. His skin is wet against my fingertips; how can I tell? My fingers are numb.
Cold. Frozen. Aching.
Maybe the feeling is coming back after all. But I’m not making any progress on his wet jeans. Between his body weight, gravity and being cold and wet, they are pinioned on his hips. I go down to his feet. Pull off his shoes, slide my hand to the top of his sock and pull first one off, then the other. The progress is elating. I grip the bottom of his pants legs. Stand up. Pull.
About six inches. That’s what I get after pulling as hard as I can. My muscles shake with exhaustion. I pull again. Grunt with the effort. I can tell this pull is less than the first; I’m losing strength.
The denim stops just at the top of his thighs. Will I be able to do it? My body shakes hard. If I’m still shivering, I’m good. I’m good. I’m good. I fall to my knees beside him, fisting the denim on either side of his legs. I can barely grasp the material, but it's in my hands. I pull. I tug. I yank.
“C’mon!” The tiniest bit of give. “C’mon!”
It releases from beneath his butt with a suddenness. My own force comes back to me, and I topple back on my palms. His jeans are just at the top of his knees now. I reposition, standing at his feet and picking up his legs by the pants. They glide off, not easily, but I succeed.
My teeth clatter. My muscles hurt. I stare for moments at the man on the floor. His lips blue, his skin effervescently white. The water puddles beneath him. The water puddles beneath me.
I whip off my hoodie. My tee beneath it. Struggle with my own pants. Nearly break my ankle in my dance to get them off.
I pause. Goosebumps. Shivers. Full-body wracking. Teeth clatter. So cold. I reach behind me, unclasp my bra, and drape it over the chair. I tuck my hands into my arm pits, effectively covering myself. I close my eyes and suck in air. I push my wet panties to the ground. Toe them to the side. I peek one eye open. He hasn’t moved. His eyes are closed, he could be dead.
How to save this man? I know. But... I won’t be able to move him from the floor. The little heater is blowing directly onto his chest. Is that good? Is the air moving over him bad? Should it be a more indirect heat? I’ve got to take his underwear off. It’s cold and wet. Sapping any body heat he is generating. It’s for survival. I’ve never seen a naked man before. He’s old. Thirty maybe? Life or death. Don’t be squeamish. Just do it.
I close my eyes and reach out. I hit skin and adjust. Go lower. When my fingertips feel the fabric, I grasp it. Pull down. It takes a bit of finagling. I don’t open my eyes, till my wrist hits bony knee and my arms are fully extended.
I don’t look. This is for survival. I drape his underwear next to my bra on the back of the chair.
Keeping my eyes up, off the floor, I cross to the bed, and pull the blanket it off, and whip it around my shoulders.
I cross back to him, keeping my eyes on his face. When my feet are at his side, I look up directly at the ceiling. They are just bodies. Would you hesitate if it were another girl? An old man? He’s old, but not super old. From the breadth of his shoulders, to the shape of muscles in his abdomen, I can tell he’s virile, fit. Share heat. He needs it. I need it. I’m so tired and cold. I shake in my quilt cape.
Directly on top? To the side? I’ll need to reach his arms to rub them - get the blood back circulating. I drop to my knees and hold my right arm out as I fall, my fist hitting his shoulder, my breast the side of his chest. A blast of panicky nervousness, followed by a full body shake encompasses me. A tiny bit of warmth eases into my side where we are touching. And it is all the proof I need that this will work.
I rise to my knees, put my hands on his chest and one knee on either side of his torso. Hopefully I’m up high enough. I’m not looking. I reach back, with closed eyes and spread the blanket perpendicular to me, along his body. I peek one eye open and turn my head to look when I think I’ve got it. His feet stick out, but not much I can do about that. He’s taller than me. I can already feel our combined heat along the inside of my calves where my legs lay against his side.
“I’m sorry.” I whisper. To myself or to him I’m not sure. Personal space is personal space and I’m violating it. I lower.
He’s...soft. I never expected a man to feel like this...he’s between my legs. I convulse. My thigh and core muscles spasm to create heat. The weirdness of being so close to a man. An older man. An experienced man. My flesh has never... I lean forward keeping space between my breasts and his chest. I rub his arms vigorously. Needles in my palms. A blessed moment - my shivering has stopped.
Exhausted, I collapse on his chest, hands tucked between us. I can feel their coldness against my warmer core. It causes another wracking full body quiver. I miss warmth. I miss relaxed muscles. His chest hair is springy beneath my cheek. A small movement of rising and falling. He breathes. I can hear his heartbeat. I close my eyes. I can feel. I can feel warmth.