Fur and Claw and Tooth and Bone by Grace Curtis

Fur and

claw and

tooth and

bone

Forgive me. I only wanted to be a little girl again. I only wanted to come home.

For all of my childhood, I was drawn to the forest’s edge. I grew older, I dared to go that bit further, that bit closer, to the trees that stood like thin men huddled in permanent dusk. I knew the tales; evil dwelt there, shifting and slithering, luring exhausted travellers to their deaths. Deep in the green folds, the line between truth and dreams thinned until they were one and the same. But I only wanted to see the stories. Not become one.

At last I decided I was at last the forest’s equal. I bid my family farewell, laughing at their fear, and walked alone across the meadow. I bore gifts, fat and sweet and bulging with red jam like blood blisters. They were heavy in the crook of my elbow as I waded through the dewy grass. After a hesitation on the rim, and a swift glance behind,

I entered, cloak and basket, and ended my life.

The going was slow. The path was deceitful. I often had to crawl and leap and fight my way forward, twisted tree fingers trailing along my cheeks. My idea was to forge or find a Way, to the homes on the other side, to show everyone the winding detour was unnecessary.

I heard it first. Wet snuffling, slurping, drops of drool hitting the dead leaves, and a gentle snarl. I stopped, and it did too. I moved on, and the noise followed. My stomach curled like a larvae and my legs turned to water, but still I carried on. I grew courageous. Perhaps if I faced it, my pursuer would flee. I turned and stood firm. Fool, fool.

It watched me from within the trees. No, not me. My gifts. It stared at my basket with longing. It stepped towards them, and with impulsive insanity I pulled them closer to my chest, thinking no, these are mine, I must keep them safe.

That small movement dislodged a pebble, and with the force of a screaming rockslide, the creature leapt.

Then all was nothing.

I awoke to darkness, and something was wrong. I was altered somehow. Not mauled. Nothing so clean. There was a heap of pale ash at my feet that were feet no longer. My legs were backwards, my arms shrunk, my mouth long and wide, crammed full of wet daggers, and my eyes,

they were like little black stones. Where I’d once had a body, small but my own, there was fur and claw and tooth and bone.

So I did what wolves are built for, and ran.

I ran into the heart of that forest they all feared, leaving the path behind. I wanted to go back, to break free into the open fields and sunlight that I had once known. But the forest stretched eternal.

Piece by piece, I became a part of that place. I lived for glistening ribbons of flesh. Time was nothing, and I saw no people. Years passed in weeks, and the memory of what I searched for faded. Time numbs hopes like frostbitten fingers, until in what little consciousness remained I thought my old life had been a dream.

Then one day, I smelt them. I knew not what they were, only that they were fresh and sweet. I was drawn to them. They brought with them memory, a single spark that grew into a blazing certainty: I had a home.

I stalked them, convinced they could lead me there. I tried to say “please”, even “help”, but the words twisted to a snarl. They stopped, and someone pulled them back–

Oh my horror, oh my rage,

they are mine, I must keep them safe

I pounced, and became human again. But too much time had passed, and all that remained of my body was a heap of ash.

And she bounds away, crazed, alone,

just fur and

claw and

tooth and

bone.