Skin and Bones
Death smells like nothing else.
It’s metal and rot and acid.
Metal and rot and acid hang in the air, defying the wind.
The heat doesn’t help the smell. I can almost taste it, and this realization makes me retch.
It’s not just the dead animal that has me swallowing bile, it’s the knowledge that you’re back. You must be, because nothing else would leave an eviscerated fox on the path that we shared to our hideout in the trees. You even left the liver for me. You must remember it was my favorite part.
I wish you had stayed away. It’s easier to forget you when you’re gone.
“Rhiannon,” my mother calls. “Come inside.”
“In a moment.” I say.
I look to the woods, searching out your lupine form, or any trace of your copper eyes. The trees are still and silent as the animal lying before me. I know if I wait long enough, you will emerge. But I turn my back and follow my mother’s command.
The front door creaks open, and mother points me to the table, where she has laid out a plate of bread and butter, and a syringe that holds my dose of antigen.
“Take your medicine, Rhi. You’re already late.”
But I know this. I can feel the were poison rising in my veins, and I’m only an hour late on my shot. Just an hour and I can see the dust on the mantle from 10 feet away, and hear the brushing of a moth’s wing against my bedroom window upstairs. An owlet moth. My east-facing window.
The scape of the kitchen chair against the floor seems loud, and the marble topped table sends chills through my forearms. I tear the crust off the bread, and eat the white center last. It feels like glue on my tongue. I crave a rare steak.
My mother’s pulse is a hot point of awareness three and a half feet behind me. Her muscles work in rhythm to chop seventeen chunks of cucumber every ten seconds. They smell gamey. Her muscles, not the cucumber. Even her skin smells good, buttery and soft.
Not prey. Not prey. Not prey.
It’s only been an hour. My hands shake as I uncap the syringe and tap tap tap the top to make the air bubbles rise. The liquid inside is electric blue, like my eyes. I hope my eyes don’t burn people like it’s going to burn me. The alcohol scent of it burns my nose even through the plastic tube.
By the time I get my shorts rolled up far enough, my whole body is trembling. Twenty-one chunks of cucumber every ten seconds, and a resting pulse. Easy prey.
“Rhi?” She shouldn’t speak, even her voice sounds vulnerable.
The needle bites into my thigh. In an instant, electric blue burns away the dust and the owlet moth, the coolness of the table, and the delicious scent of my mother.
I am Rhi again, until this dose wears off.
I throw the syringe into the biohazard bin that sits next to our trashcan. Mother made a beautiful cover for it, but underneath it’s still the color of blood.
“I’m going for a run.”
I’m out the door before she can tell me what dinner is. Twenty-one chucks of cucumber and not-my-mother.
I pass the fox, with its warm liver taunting me from the ground. I skid into the cool cover of the trees, sit on our rock, and wait for you. It’s dusk, and when the night is unsure of itself, so is your were form. I know you can smell me in the air. I wait.
You step out of the trees, and the branches resist your passage like you’re part of them. You look like you could be. You’re all shadows and the dirt leaves bitter scent of musk. Your eyes glow green where the last trace of sun happens to ensnare them. You’re made of the wild.
“Rhiannon.” You say my name with your throat. It sounds like half a growl. Goosebumps cover my skin and I wonder if it smells like butter to you.
Your hand is rough on my face, the other drags along my collarbone. Your nose skims along my shoulder.
“You smell like a swimming pool.” You exhale against my skin to get the burning scent of antigen out of your nose, and your breath is warm down my neck.
“You know why,” I say.
“I don’t know why you bother,” you say. You take your hands off my skin, and I can’t decide if this is good or bad. Both.
“Yes you do,” I say as you back away from me.
Your lupine eyes are far away, and you say, “Yeah, I guess.”
“Your family is well,” I say, guessing at your wistful stare.
“Good,” you say, focusing on me again.
“Why are you back?”
“I came to get you. I want you to come back to me.”
My sigh is loud between the trees. “No, Jak. No.”
“Because I never wanted this!” Your eyes flick to the corded scar your teeth left on my neck, and for a moment you look sad.
“You hardly tried this life. I did it so we could be together. Run together, hunt together. It would never work if I was were and you weren’t. We could be pack. Why won’t you come home with me? We could be pack. I could teach you to sing.”
I hate the sound of your pack at night, and love it.
“Sing and kill and run and run and hide and kill?” I ask.
But I want to try this life so bad it hurts. No more burning antigen, no more bad days. No more smelling my mother’s veins. Just the woods and weres and you. But I say, “No.”
You just look at me.
“Damn you,” I say. You’re gorgeous in the night, but there are specks of blood on your bare shoulder and I wonder if they belong to beast or human being. You wouldn’t know even if I asked.
“Rhi.” You come too close. I rush at you, your heart a magnet for mine under skin and bones. We press together. Hips, chests, hearts, hands, lips. Hot and wild. Wild like you are, and wild like I wish I could be.
Pack. Family. Were.
“Damn you,” I whisper against your neck. The blood on your shoulder is copper and delicious on my tongue. “Teach me to sing.”
Stay tuned for Rebecca’s answer to this prompt on Friday. Follow us on Twitter to get updates and news.
Photograph © Copyright, Rebecca Lowry 2012. All rights reserved. Used with permission.