A Short Fiction/CNF Hybrid Story from Victoria Leigh Bennett

from pixababy

White Withers and White Fangs

          I was anxious to go out, to get away, to be off for good, but the woman behind the sign-in/sign-out window said, “Are you sure you want to sign yourself out?  You only committed yourself two days ago.  And it’s against doctor’s recommendations.”

          “I’m sure,” I said, wanting to present a united front with all of me, so as not to encourage my own second thoughts or more barriers from her.

          “Okay, then, sign here; here; and here.”  Her stubby but well-groomed nail hovered over three different spots on the form.  Ritual three, was my distracted thought.

          Without looking at the form, I signed my name three times, and turned to go.

          “If you should need to sign back in, be sure and let the person here at the window know that you signed in before.”  And she ducked her head to one side to watch me and make sure I got the message.

          But I was already nearly out the door.  “Whatever,” I answered, sullenly.  I’d tired of the jokes in the crisis unit about “hellfire” and “toasted buns” from the other clients who also hadn’t been diagnosed yet, when the lunch buns came burned the day before.  Likewise, I’d heard enough about the witchcraft they all seemed earnestly to believe in, and discussed constantly, if not knowledgeably by literary standards.  Not to say, I was freaked out.  I mean, just plain freaked out.  Why were a bunch of assorted people, who weren’t supposed to have known each other before signing in, all on the same page regarding sorcery?  All I could do to remove myself from it was to get back out again, since reporting it would only make me look crazy, too.  I’d spent enough alone time starting to wonder in my educated-but-becoming-unwound mind if lunacy did in fact have something to do with the moon and enchantment, and not the good kind of enchantment.

     What’d been my final straw was what had happened in the Sanskrit class, when the instructor, who’d started us on the Pancha Tantra, or animal tales, had sat by me in the small living-room-furnished classroom and deliberately growled at me.  He was supposed to be reading out a sentence, but as he sounded out one of the Sanskrit “r’s,” he distinctly growled, the intimate love-growl of predator to prey, and smiled oddly without looking at me, as I looked up at him—a tall man—and felt the thrill of being sought and the panic of being attacked all at once.

          It was a spell cast, and when I exited the room that day, I was still hearing it, still feeling it, still under its influence, even to the evening when I left the crisis unit.  That night when I finally made my way into my apartment, where for some reason before going to the crisis unit I hadn’t picked up groceries for about a week, but felt some kind of hunger, I heard the growl in the refrigerator’s smooth hum, in the heat coming up from the radiators, in the in-between-channels radio clock’s static.  In a desperate state, I reasoned that whether it was real or not, there was a solution:  I grabbed a bottle of garlic powder and began to sprinkle liberal amounts of it everywhere I heard the growl.  Though the radio now released choked sounds rather than full growls, the refrigerator and the heating system were unaffected.

          I made myself pull open the door of the refrigerator finally; there was only a bowl of cranberry jelly left over from Canadian Thanksgiving, which had been on October 10th.  Good!  I thought when I saw the redness lurking right on a center shelf.  Its heart!  Reaching into the growling monster, I pulled its heart out and consumed the whole bowl, standing up in front of it, with the prongs of a fork spearing the red corpuscles up.  Now, I’d eaten the werewolf’s heart.  We’d have no more of that growling!

          But the radiators…what about them?  The refrigerator had magically ceased its steady hunt when the door was opened, so I left it open, its heart gone now, and faced the garlic-covered radiators.  After a few panicked moments, during which I was fearful of losing the advantage of the gains I’d already made with the clock radio and the refrigerator, those avatars of evil that had before been so innocent, it was clear that the radiators were far more ancient in evil still and weren’t going to quiet down.  They not only growled, they laughed evilly in wheezy gasps, and their breath was dry and forbidding, in spite of the hiss and spit of the floor gauge.  The only thing to do was to get out of there until the apartment was cleansed, until maybe the garlic I’d spread around had had more time to work in the absence of the curse I’d brought along in with me.  It was following me, so I had to take it out and be rid of it so that my apartment could be cleansed.  Leaving the door ajar for the spirit to be gone when I got back, I went back out the door, carefully taking my keys with me so that the front door of the building would still be accessible to me later.  If there was a later; I shivered.

          As I walked swiftly in the moonlight through street after street, trying to shake my panic, I knew that I was like a white mare, my footsteps making a hollow sound on the cobblestone then concrete then cobblestone sidewalks as I clopped along, fast then slow then fast again in my urge to get away from what pursued me.  I thought about a notion of Jung’s with the part of my mind that was still consciously human and not animal, logical and not instinctive:  Jung had said that to dream of a white horse was a sign of approaching death…but I wasn’t dreaming, I was awake, and I was the nightmare I was having, myself.  And I was being hunted.  Too late I thought of the safety of the building I’d left.  But it was too late, I was outside in the chilled October air now, breathing in the cold.  I thought of him again, and of what he would do when he caught me.

He would jump up on my white haunches and tear at them, he would snatch at my hooves to bring me down, he would slobber and foam over my wounds as he drove sharp fangs into my being!

          In my haste to be away from what was pursuing me, I dashed through street after street, intersection after intersection, most of them seemingly deserted and yet still lit brightly, as if by torches and firelight and flames.  I passed away from the streets I knew, but in the part of me that was still fleetingly human, I had the tiny thought that Toronto was a geometrically laid-out city in the downtown part, and I might be able to find my way back, if I could escape.

Just as I crossed the next intersection, I happened to look up the hill.  Last night’s gibbous moon was now full, bright, and shining, making deep shadows down even between the streetlights’ shadows of the tall buildings.  And in the next parallel intersection up the hill, there he was, crossing as I crossed, in his human incarnation!  He was crossing parallel to me, obviously stalking, the jacket he always wore clear in the light—but it was a darker blue, now, more nightlike.  I had no doubt that it was he.

I slowed, shaking my head, feeling my mane against my withers, which danced with apprehension.  He turned left at the intersection, down my way, coming down the street towards where I was crossing.

In final desperation, I turned and headed towards him, right at him, as he turned the corner and made towards me.  But when I reached where he should have been, he wasn’t visible.  He was incorporeal, somehow!  My heart whinnied, and I screamed, and the beast was upon me, and in my being, I shivered and whinnied again—my withers shuddered and stiffened without my volition, my mane stood on end where it hung from my head, and I was deathly alive, and attacked.  I couldn’t see him, but I could smell him, the aftershave, then the sudden smell of his animal self, his shaggy pelt, his teeth stained with rich, fresh blood.  I turned my head towards him, my own teeth flashing and trying to fight back, suddenly becoming sharp and pointed in my mind.  And then, I growled in return.  I reared back on my back legs and aimed at him, and fought, and flashed my fangs again.  A shiver travelled through me.  Was he?  Was I?  Could I be?  I was untrammeled and free now!  And I was like him, and unafraid.

Bio: Victoria Leigh Bennett, (she/her).  Greater Boston, MA area, born WV.  Ph.D., English & Theater. In-print books: “Poems from the Northeast,” “Scenes de la Vie Americaine (en Paris)” [in English], both from Amazon.  Website: creative-shadows.com. “Come for the shadows, stay for the read.”  Between Aug. 2021-Sept. 2022, Victoria will have published at least 22 times with: Roi Faineant Literary Press, The Alien Buddha Press, Barzakh Magazine, Amphora Magazine, The Madrigal Press, and others.  She writes Fiction/Flash/CNF/Poetry.  Victoria is the organizer behind @PoetsonThursday on Twitter, along with Alex Guenther (@guentheralex) and Dave Garbutt (@DavGar51).  Twitter: @vicklbennett.  Victoria is emotionally and ocularly disabled.