As a writer, you know your strengths and your weaknesses. And, admittedly I have to confess that this chapter combined two of my strongest weaknesses. I’m not terribly good with certain types of dialogue and this kind, ‘story telling dialogue’ as I think about it, is definitively my black sheep. Combine that with me trying to bring a key element of the plot over and you have something that’s a little bit disastrous in my opinion. I tried to rewrite it, or try something different, but alas, that failed as well. So, I present you with this original attempt at it, and hope that you’ll come back for part 10 so that I can redeem myself…
Bitten – Part 9
Once again they were sitting in Francis’s living room, facing each other on opposite sides.
Unable to stay in bed any longer, Vaughn had managed to get herself up and freshen up a little bit. Francis didn’t have a mirror which frustrated her a little bit because she couldn’t see the extent of the damage to her neck and shoulder but she also realized that she didn’t have the strength to face that yet. The wound was sore and itched, but her bandage was clean at least. Before they sat down, Francis first made her some hot tea and something to eat. They didn’t speak, because there was nothing that they could say to each other until Francis explained herself. Romulus also left the cabin and only returned when they were seated in the living room.
He had not spoken to her again, but Vaughn knew that it was out of choice, not because he couldn’t.
Vaughn wasn’t sure what she should feel when she sat slumped on the couch, looking at the woman who had quite clearly changed her life. She knew that she should’ve felt scared but admittedly she was so tired by the time that Francis helped her sit down on the couch that she just wanted answers.
Francis wasn’t looking at her, her face troubled as she looked out of the window, her thoughts clearly miles away. Then, with a visible effort she pulled herself back and turned her piercing green gaze on Vaughn, their depths immeasurable.
“Before I can tell you what happened to you,” she said softly. “I need to tell you what happened to me, years ago when I came here.” She paused, obviously struggling with words and memories. Romulus whined softly and again, Vaughn could understand him. Although he didn’t use words, her mind interpreted it as such.
‘I’m here,’ his whine whispered. ‘I’m here.’
The love that Vaughn sensed in his gesture towards Francis was so acute that it almost hurt to feel it. She swallowed and steeled herself against it, against the foreign feeling of having an animal’s thoughts in her mind.
“You are,” Francis said softly and touched his head. “You are my pet.” She sighed softly and turned back to Vaughn. “After my miscarriage I became… A little lost. The horror of my rape, that I had ignored so well until then, coupled with the relief and pain that I felt with the loss of the child turned me against myself. I won’t go into it as it’s a part of the past, but you have to understand were my frame of mind was.” She sighed. “I wasn’t me, I had become something that functioned on instinct alone. Antonio had not wanted to send me back to the cabin but he couldn’t keep me there, in the town. When I came back here I spend hours just wandering through the forest, not seeing anything except the path that I picked through the rough wood. Some nights, if I wandered too far, I would just remain there, sleeping in a ditch or a tree hollow.” She sighed softly, regret clearly on her face. “I was as mad then as they think that I am now.”
She paused again, looking out to the forest but soon carried on, standing up so that she could move to the window.
“On one of my walks, I stumbled onto something… That changed my life.” She dropped her hand, and immediately Romulus moved to her side, she touched him, her gaze remaining on the world outside. Vaughn moved a little forward, trying to see her face, but she didn’t have the strength to stand up.
“I stumbled across a wolf’s den. An occupied one but unguarded, the cubs old enough to be left on their own.” She looked down at Romulus, her gaze fond and full of love. “There were five of them, but only one was brave enough to come out and see who I was. Knowing that I shouldn’t, knowing that it was wrong and dangerous, I sat down in the ground and encouraged the cub to come to me. It didn’t take a lot of encouragement and I stayed there all afternoon, playing with him and his littermates who eventually deemed me a safe playmate. It was… rejuvenating. I went home before the pack came back, feeling as if a small bit of my world made sense again. I was worried that the mother might move them because I had been there so I returned as quickly as I could, naïve and ignorant of course. I don’t know what I planned to do exactly, but I had felt so at peace when I played with the cubs that I wanted to be apart of that, to find a way to… Belong with them.” She paused and turned back to Vaughn. “You see, my grandfather did that. I don’t know what his first step or first touch had been, but he too had managed to get himself integrated into a pack. Although I didn’t believe him in the beginning, I knew that he believed that, like with St. Francis, there are moments in our lives where we… Become integrated with the world around us. He was quite religious and believed that, in the beginning, God gave Adam and Eve the means to speak to animals, which was why they were supposed to name them.” Francis shrugged. “I’m not going to comment on such matters, what matters now is what happened to me.”
She paused again and sighed.
“When I returned to the den though, I encountered something I had not anticipated.” Her fingers gripped Romulus’s hair. “Someone had been there just after me and had not only destroyed the den but killed all the cubs. I couldn’t believe it, I stood there – seeing the desecration and… I just couldn’t believe that anybody would want to do such a thing. I felt so many things in that one moment, anger, loss, grief even guilt and pain. I walked around, trying to see if I could find anything that would show me who was responsible. The only thing I found though, was some fresh tire tracks on an old logging road nearby and, eventually, the she-wolf where she had crawled to die. Her body was bloody and clearly broken. I couldn’t tell whether she had been shot or whether who ever had managed to catch her somehow and beat her.” She shook her head, anger flashing in her green eyes as she turned back to look at Vaughn. “People here don’t think. They still hate these animals as much as they had been hated in the time that people started settling here. They didn’t even bother killing her quickly and taking her fur, they just seemed to have done it for the pleasure of it.” She shook her head again, a sound much like a growl deep in her throat. “I went to her, my heart aching with loss, thinking that I would take her and the bodies of the cubs that I could find to my cottage and bury them there. It was only when I picked her up that I suddenly realized that she was still alive. I panicked and quickly put her down, not wanting to hurt her more but in that moment I believe that she panicked as well and bit me.”
Francis became quiet and stared at Vaughn who was frowning at her. “You don’t have any scars,” she pointed out. “None that I can remember anyway.”
Francis smiled slightly and touched her upper arm. “It was here,” she said. “It’s faded with age, and I have to confess I had it reduced because I didn’t want to people of the town to recognize it as a wolf bite”
When Vaughn nodded slowly she continued, moving back to the chair with a tired sigh.
“Needless to say it hurt,” she said. “But… More than that, there was what I can only describe as an explosion inside me. My world literally short circuited and for a few seconds I could feel everything. I could feel the trees around me and the ground beneath my feet even though I had shoes on. I smelled the water on the fallen leaves, the decay in the undergrowth. I smelled the wolf’s blood, my blood, and that of her cubs. In those few seconds, I felt everything, her need to protect her young and her knowledge that she had failed, her fear of me, her panic and her strange knowledge that death was imminent. And, as I screamed out in pain and fear, trying to pry her jaws from my arm, I sensed her deep, urge and need to howl one last time, to tell the others around her what had happened. Her howl rose up in my being and finally escaped from my lips as I collapsed underneath her. The world around me faded and I truly believe that in those few seconds, she and I were one being.”
She trailed off, and looked at Vaughn who felt shaky and confused. She sensed it inside her, the howl that Francis spoke of. She could feel the after affects of a touch on her mind that was not her own. And she knew quiet suddenly what had bitten her but she didn’t know quite what had happened.
“What happened then?” she queried, hugging herself, aware of the throbbing in her shoulder.
Francis smiled and touched Romulus’s head. “I woke up to the sound of a child begging me to get up, I was confused and disorientated. I didn’t know who I was, or what I needed to do, but then I saw Romulus – the only cub who had managed to survive, probably because he had followed me home and wasn’t there for the massacre, I knew that I had to take care of him. I pushed his mother, now dead, from me and picked him up. He did not question me, his mother’s smell all over me and my presence a reminder of the good day that we had had before. Like you, I didn’t remember much in the beginning, but I managed to find my way home and see to both his and my needs. He filled the hole in me that had been left by the death of my child and I in turn, became his mother.” She smiled gently and looked down at the wolf. “I soon realized that I could talk to him, direct him, listen to him and more to the point, I could hear the others, as they howled out their grief about the massacre. They don’t communicate as we do, not essentially. Their language is a mixture of gestures and sounds so don’t think that I’ve had endless conversations with them. But – we can say to each other what we need to say, our respective minds able to analyze the string of supposedly foreign gestures into something that we can understand. In my mind, Romulus is a complicated human and in his, I am a complicated wolf. What I really am now, I don’t know and I have never tried to understand it because it is a gift that I have embraced. It has given me a new life and a new sense of purpose. On that fateful day, I finally stopped running and just became who I am now.”
Vaughn swallowed dryly and sniffed. “And who is that?” she queried, too scared of the answer.
Francis smiled and shrugged as she sat back. “Just Francis Mosse,” she said. “Nothing and nobody else.”
The silence stretched around them as Vaughn tried to piece together her own memory and try to put what Francis had said into perspective so that her own life would make sense. She remembered the need to howl and she remembered fear, and hate and love that was not her own. When Francis stood up to sit beside her on the couch, she didn’t look up immediately, but looked at Romulus, his eyes ageless as he stared at her.
“Should I tell you now what happened to you?” Francis queried softly, but she shook her head, shaken.
“I know,” she said quietly as her mind latched onto a memory. “I remember…”
To Be Continued…