Authors: Melody Taylor
sound startled Donal awake. He opened his eyes to darkness, sleep
muzzy and confused. He raised himself up on one elbow to look over
the single room of the house. Whatever noise had woken him, he did
not hear it now. The fire had burned down to embers, leaving
everything in dim, shadowy light. Nothing seemed amiss – wooden
cups and bowls still stacked where Sarah had put them, the cast iron
pot hung on its hook and the door was firmly latched.
Donal relaxed a
little, then more when he still heard nothing. With a sigh, he
settled in to stare at the thatch and waited to drift back to sleep.
His eyelids had
begun to droop when he heard the sound again. He held his breath at
the same time his eyes came open, listening.
sheep, bleating in a panic, now closer and louder, now far and quiet.
With his breath held, Donal could just hear their hooves thudding
against the ground.
beside him and snuggled close. Likely awakened by the same noise.
after the flock.” He brushed his lips to her cheek. “I’ll
chase them off.”
She set a hand
on his arm. “I don’t think it’s wolves this time,”
she murmured. “Listen.”
paused. Over the pop of the fire and the desperate cries of the
sheep, he heard nothing. The last time wolves had attacked, he’d
been woken by the sounds of snarling, barking, howling. Now –
none of that. The sheep might have been terrified of the moon. A cold
shiver crawled up Donal’s spine.
Witchery? Or the
demon dog the old women told stories of, the Cu Sith . . .
He refused to
consider it. Nonsense. Tales to frighten children with, to scare one
another at festivals. But his hands were unsteady as he pushed
himself off the pallet.
it is, I’ll chase it off. I’m not of a mind to lose the
flock to wolves or witches.”
Sarah sat up
with him. “I’ll help.”
Donal set a hand
on her shoulder, holding her there. If it were something other than
wolves, he did not want her out there.
you worry,” he said, forcing his voice calm. “If I need
you, I’ll holler. Don’t imagine it’ll take many to
run them off.”
tightened as though she might insist. Donal waited for it, already
forming arguments in his mind – but she only nodded, her cloudy
blue eyes glinting in the firelight. He squeezed her shoulder
briefly, though he longed to climb back into bed and hold her close.
Instead he crept
across the hard-packed dirt floor, cold on his feet. At the door he
paused, thinking. He’d left the pitchfork along the wall
outside; if he went quietly enough, he should be able to find it
before he tried to chase anything away. Wolves or demons, he wanted
some sort of weapon.
He stepped out
into the chilly dark, wishing for more light. The stone walls of the
house, the wooden fenceposts – all were uncomfortably shadowy.
The gray shapes of the sheep ran madly inside their pen, scattering,
then recollecting. No darker shapes bounded after them, no sign at
all of any wolves.
Donal told himself.
That’s why no howls, no
movement. It has no mates to call to and it has one sheep down
to himself, he put his hand out to feel for the pitchfork and slipped
to the corner of the house. His hand brushed a few wooden handles;
the shovel, his staff. Searching by feel seemed to take far too long.
He tightened his jaw and kept groping for the pitchfork.
The sheep had
collected in one corner of the pen now, shoving against each other to
keep back from the thing that had their mate. The silence in the pen
made Donal pause. Perhaps the beastie had run off, leaving no need
for the pitchfork. He turned, slowly, and felt a small relief when he
saw only the sheep in their pen.
Until he saw the
A single pair of
them, too high up to be something small like a wolf. He had missed
them before, looking too low. They glowed brightly despite the dark,
set in a shadowed shape Donal wanted to call “man.” But
no man had eyes like that.
Witch – Dear God!
Donal choked and
grabbed for the pitchfork. His fingers hit it too hard, sent it
tumbling instead of catching it. The wooden handle cracked against
the ground, out of reach.
He snapped his
mouth shut over the curse and shot a look at the pen.
The eyes turned
toward him, as if they had not noticed him until that moment. Donal
swallowed. A trickle of sweat ran down his temple.
In a flash of
movement, it came for him. Donal fell to his knees, slapping the
ground for the pitchfork. The shadow-man vaulted the fence easily.
Donal could not make out the face in the blackness. If those terrible
eyes could glow in the moon’s light, he should have been able
to see the face.
His hand landed
on rough wooden tines. The pitchfork!
A cold hand
landed on the back of his neck. It pulled him up and off his feet.
The pitchfork slipped from his hands to land with a dull clatter. He
found himself facing hard gold-brown eyes.
Now that he
could see the creature he wished he could not. He saw only a man’s
face, shockingly ordinary, except for those eyes. Wild, animal eyes
that did not belong to a person. Donal trembled.
hurt me,” he whispered.
It jerked him
into his neck. He yelled out, like a frightened sheep himself. In a
disconnected part of his mind he realized he was screaming for Sarah
to run. He only wished she would hear.
Arms too strong
to be a man’s held him to a cold body. The knives withdrew from
his neck –
he realized numbly.
It had bitten
but those arms held him tight. A mouth – cold as ice, but a
soft, wet mouth all the same – touched his neck, searching out
the wound there.
what devilry –
He felt a gentle
suction at his neck, then heard the wet sound of a
was drinking his blood. As he might drink from a waterskin.
grew weaker while the arms that held him became impossibly stronger.
His voice slowly failed him, until he called out in confusion for a
reason he no longer recalled. The world around him faded to gray,
then into emotionless black.
surged awake to pain!
every inch of skin, every fiber of muscle burned from inside out.
Donal screamed. The pain faded as fast as it had happened, leaving
only a searing memory.
He lay crumpled
on the ground while the thing that had attacked him fled, a dark
shape vanishing into the night.
weak, he forced himself to his feet, only to cause another jolt of
pain. He cringed as it stabbed through him, centered in his stomach.
A dull, heavy, hungry feeling.
Starving. That must be the cause of the pain. He stumbled back to the
door. Hunger didn’t matter. Pain didn’t matter. Sarah
He fell as he
stepped inside and could not find strength to push himself up again.
He heard her footsteps as she ran to him. Heard her crying his name.
here, love, I’m here.” His voice was small and cracked.
She pulled him close and held him. Her hands felt red-hot, scalding
where she touched.
cold,” she said, “you’re cold, come by the fire,
get warm.” Her tears thupped hot against his skin.
Another wave of
agony pulsed through him. “I’m here, love,” he said
again. “I’m all right. I’m so hungry. Please love,
is there any stew left? Any at all? I’m so hungry.”
look.” She leaned forward to kiss him before she stood. The
pain surged through him again. Pain mixed with desperate need.
He found himself
holding her, his hand clenched at the back of her neck, found himself
He could not
stop. He was so hungry, so hungry, and what he tasted now sated him
in a way bread or water or even wine never had.
He tried to pull
away, horrified at himself – his body would not obey. Against
his will he swallowed. With every sip, he felt himself healing,
strengthening. He only needed a little more –
seemed to pass. At last Sarah fell, drooping across his chest,
gasping. At last the hunger began to fade, letting him take hold of
his own body and release his wife.
He sat up
holding her. A dizziness swept over him as he did, an exhaustion so
intense he could feel himself falling asleep. He sank back to the
floor, holding Sarah tight.
love, can you hear me?” His voice came out an intoxicated blur.
She weighed heavy in his arms and did not answer.
I’m all right now, I’m sorry, did I hurt you?” His
concern flagged as his eyelids drifted shut. He had fought himself as
hard as he could, surely he hadn’t hurt her. Surely all they
both needed was to rest.
she said, a breath of sound.
He stroked her
hair and let his eyes close. “I’m here, love.”
sounded weaker than his. She must be even more tired.
love,” he murmured. “Sleep.”
The feel of her
hair and the sounds of the room faded into black. Donal fell deeply
woman’s head seemed wrong somehow. I stepped back from my
easel, paintbrush in hand, frowning. I wanted an abstract
self-portrait, mostly in greens and blacks. The background looked
right – downtown Seattle, melting in the rain – but her
head wouldn’t cooperate. It seemed misshapen. Her face looked
how I wanted, and her hair seemed fine close up. Except when taken
all together, she looked
I scowled and resisted
checking the mirror to see if I had some deformity I didn’t
With one eye
shut I took another step back, hoping maybe I was being too critical
and if I looked at her head objectively it would come out right. It
didn’t seem chopped off on the top . . . didn’t seem too
round or too thin . . .
Hands grabbed my
shoulders! I shrieked and whirled, striking out with my paintbrush
like a dagger –
And left a gray
acrylic streak across Kent’s face.
He put his hands
up in surrender and backed away laughing. I stomped my foot and
flicked my paintbrush at him.
He faked a
flinch, still grinning. “You should have seen the look on your
I wrinkled my
nose at him. “You should see yours. Starting a new fashion
statement? Tribal acrylic?”
He wiped at the
gray steak and only made more of a mess. “Totally worth it.”
I stuck my
tongue out at him for good measure and turned back to my deformed
woman. As soon as I turned, I forgot to pretend to be upset with
Kent. She was messed up. I stared at her staring at me.
not your strongest suit,” Kent said behind me. He sounded
patient and understanding. Trying to convince me to feel the same
you work from the sketch I saw you make?” he asked. “You
seem happier with your paintings when you do.”
away,” I mumbled.
I shifted in my
spot. “I feel like I’m on crutches when I work that way.
I should be able to paint from my head.”
that’s your technique.” Kent set his hands on my
shoulders. “If someone said they should be able to draw without
copying from real life first, what would you tell them?”
I sighed. I knew
the answer. “I know, it’s just not the same –”
would you tell them?” he insisted, squeezing my shoulders
I sighed again,
harder. “I’d tell them they have to learn somewhere.”
“Hey, it’s your own advice, remember? Be patient with
yourself. You have a long, long time to figure this out.”