The reflection of the moon glimmered in the eyes of the awakened white-tailed deer. It stood motionless in fright, searching the darkness for the intruder. Something was out there that should not be. The snow covered branches of the surrounding trees were lifeless in the still of the night. It was a windless night, and without a trace of movement. Aside from the alert deer, only the glow of the snow ladened earth disrupted the blackness.
Whatever creature was there had defeated the deer. By the lowering of his head, the young deer displayed its relief that there was no danger lurking in the shadows. Two steps and then another, its neck pivoted to give the darkness one last hopeless search. And there it was.
Two sets of eyes floated before it. A couple feet above the ground they hung in the air- shining brighter than the moon in the sky. The deer tried to turn, tried to flee. The monster before him was an omen of death. But it was too late. It had seen those eyes. The coyote’s stare had penetrated into its very being. The eyes glowed a bright golden orange like the radiant flames of a fire. But they were not warm, the brightness of the fiery eyes invaded the deer and stung the cold bones within its body. With a violent shake, the deer collapsed. And it was gone.
Newness overcame her as she lifted the long slender legs curled below her body. She rose from the earth surprised by how freeing the feel of hooves beneath her was. Through the darkness she could see the shape of the dead creature crumpled beneath the pine. Its legs lay folded underneath its coarse haired breast with its belly and head resting atop the clean snow. The multicolored coat with its buff, brown, and cream almost faded into white but still it was there. The smell of death and rot filled her nostrils along with the crispness of the frigid air. She looked for one last time on the body she had known, and wished that it had never caught disease. But she was foolish, the body was not her own. It had never been. She had stolen that skin just as she had stolen the deer she now walked within. The curse of being a skin walker was all she knew.
Cerise shook the dry snow from her fur, and her four legs carried her away into the night. In the solemn loneliness of the woods, the abandoned life of her past crept to the forefront of her mind. The mother, fathers, sisters and brothers she had known and images of their time spent together flooded over her. She saw the wrinkled smile of their Great Sachem and heard the deep echoing of his words. The outlines of the males bodies victoriously trotting home in numerous forms, all returning with food for the Unfortunate. Cerise remembered the beady brown eyes of the children she called friends squinting with the excitement of a smile as they collected sticks and hopelessly built forts. The way enthusiasm overtook them when she would disappear into the forest as a two-legged and return another creature, playing with them and allowing the others to pet her new animal carcass. Skin walking was an honor then. During those days the ability was revered, and the Unfortunate worshiped the ones who could. She remembered the day she had stolen the canoe, and taken her younger and less adventurous cousin farther down the river than he had ever been. It was still vivid in her mind. She felt the sting of the rope against his thighs as he paid for her foolishness that day. The other children were not allowed to explore, or roam at their will. They could not protect themselves; they could die. The bruises upon his backside had not remained for long, and neither did his anger and sourness towards her. Though he was not a skin-walker, he understood her and their friendship ran deep in their very veins. She missed the savory taste of cooked meat, and freshly shucked corn. These good memories had kept her hauntings and nightmares at bay during her life spent deep within the dark woods.
Yet, her heart still ached with longing for the time when the great Nanepashemet had effortlessly reigned over her people and the unfortunate others- when all was peaceful. The time before the blessing of skin-walking had become a curse to them. Before the sound of the harrowing cries of Cerise’s brothers and sisters being burned alive in the fires while she watched from the bushes, and the endless muffled sobbing of the ones that had fled with her during those years of persecution rang in her ears while she tried to sleep. Though the statu of bellum was a dark age in her people’s past, tormented by the alteration of ontology among the two-leggeds and the subsequent depravity, infliction, and massacre of her equivalents; it was not the reason she elected this life of solitude. The motive, and act that destroyed her world and forced her to take the path of exile was not something she would allow herself to remember. It was a corrupt memory, atrocious in its very existence, and she had pushed it far into the depths of her mind with hopes to one day forget altogether the act that had ripped away everything she was. Her mind raced as she fought to keep these shadowed dwellings of thought at bay but she had lived a dark life and in this night, with death lingering behind her, there was little she could do. The internal battle she could not escape overcame her and she wished that animals could cry.
The nostalgic yet haunting images cleared as the sun made its crest far in the horizon. Warmth from its presence swarmed through the darkness and Cerise squeezed her eyes shut to avoid the pain of the blinding, white snow. Where do I go now? She had no answer for herself. Cerise had known many bodies, and many lives but in recent years she had always walked without anxiety or fear within the frames of the forest’s predators, hunting the creature she now was. The coyote she had previously abandoned had become ill with disease. The difficulty of mobilization, the aching joints within her hips, and the patches of missing hair upon her coat that allowed the cold to bite and nip at her skin had forced her to leave the body behind in the night. However, survival is no issue I must ever worry over… at least alone here in the wilderness, she thought. If she was attacked she merely had to catch her oppositions eye and effortlessly walk inside. It was nothing new to her, as she had done it many times. She could save herself as long as her flaming orange eyes could meet another’s.
She felt a strangeness in her soul, as if something were there that had not been before. A want for change had been born with the newness of her figure. It was trying to tell her something. Unsure of what was growing in her stomach, she pushed it aside and returned to the looming paramount question. Where do I go? She had not the slightest notion of an answer but she knew that the unfamiliar quality in the pit of her stomach was a force of her own avidity. It would reveal itself in time.
So she just kept walking. And thinking.
She could feel the dampness of melted snow clinging to her hooves and legs. Unlike the unfortunate snow that had turned to water against her warm body, the mounds of white upon the earth lay untouched by the warmth of dawn. Throughout her aimless walk, Cerise had finally chosen where she would go. It had been many years and decades since she had seen the beauty of her beloved two-legged companions. Some had been skin walkers as herself, and others had not but they all shared a ruby tinted complexion and thick shimmering black locks. The long years of isolation in the woods had caused her over time to miss them, and long for fellowship with humanity once more. These earnings for vibrations of conversation upon her ears, the touch of a calloused hand as it shared food with hers, the sight of a being upon two legs- they pulled her. They all pulled her forward. Like a rope tossed and caught around the neck of a wild horse, these desires drew her onward, against her better judgments and into the corral she had tried to avoid for so long.
A distant sound caused the pointy ears upon her head to pivot around to the west. What goes there? Unaccustomed to being a deer, the paranoia of vulnerability caused her to jump at every small sound. A two-legged white face could be behind any tree, waiting for her and the fat within her belly. She need not fear their arrow, but the idea of living upon two feet again-even for a short time-was nothing she wished to face. Thankfully, the sound was merely the gentle splashing of distant unfrozen waters breaking in waves upon each other and crashing against the rocks along the riverbed. For now, she was safe.
It was quite peculiar though, she thought, that she was journeying to see the very being she feared. The white faced people that walked upon two legs were the destination she had chosen, and that was where she was going. No turning back now. She wondered what they would be like, how they would act, what they wore to cover their skin or in which ways their language was spoken. It had been so long since she was one of them, but yet again she never truly was a white faced two-legged. No, just a two-legged. Her face had been red, and not like theirs in anyway.
She was not exactly sure where their village lay ahead. It was there somewhere, through the naked trees. The river far to her West told her so. Throughout the many years of trying to forget the wicked ways of humanity, she had not forgotten the necessity of water. It was essential in all life forms. The barren trees would not grow to be so tall, and their leaves would never return in spring without the fundamental fall of rain upon them. The lands would be open, and colorless aside from the dark brown soil. It would be a hideous sight if any being could exist to see it. But water was crucial, and she knew that. As long as she followed its winding tale; the river would lead her to them.
The only problem left to work out was in which way to actually approach the village, not in direction but form. She could not walk into the predators turf, handing herself over as an open meal. She knew the body of deer could not get her there. She had strained her eyes staring and searching the surroundings for any sign of life upon her course. A bird and its wings of flight, in addition to the insignificance of its size made it her desired portal. Unfortunately, the occasional noises of shuffling high in the branches belonged only to bushy white tails. Although a squirrel would offer much more protection as its nimble ability to climb would lift her high from danger, she would have to compromise speed. For now, her long slender legs were exactly what she needed. That is, as long as she and the tiny tree-dwellers were all that she had to worry about.
The first time Cerise had laid eyes upon a white faced two-legged was a day she remembered vividly. In all her years, she had never seen such a thing. And before that day there had been no two leggeds in this part of the land. She had made sure of that before settling here.
It was autumn, and the sun was low in the skyline- making its way back below the edge of the earth. Warm blood dripped from her jaws down upon the body of the white speckled hare beset beneath her head. It was small, and young. So it had been as easy kill, even considering how well practiced she had become in hunting with age. Perched behind a bush, with its back turned, it had sat ignorant to her presence. However, now the hare lay ripped apart and almost devoured below her chest and between her forelegs. Hovering above it, Cerise lowered her coyote head and felt the bones fracture under her teeth as she took another bite. Between the crunching and grinding of bones, flesh, muscles and entrails she barely heard the rustle of the leaves. Instinct took over, and her back arched as she slowly turned. She had not even swallowed the meat, nor did she taste it in her mouth. What moved in the distance had stolen her attention from the fresh meal. It couldn’t be, she told herself. Her eyes were locked upon them. They stood on two legs, she could tell, but they were too far away to make out anything else. Her eyes shot downward, at the unfinished hare and back at the almost forgotten creatures on the outskirts of the forest. They were walking away, and far too quickly. She pushed her paws deep into the rabbit’s skull and held it still as she yanked one last chunk of bright red flesh from its insides. And with that she was off. Curiosity prevailed. In and out of the trees she darted with conscious effort to remain unseen. They could not notice her presence. As the ground between them shortened, her courage did as well. Behind a large oak, her padded paws slid across the dry golden leaves and she came to a halt. It was as close as she dared to go. Her keen sight was still unable to make out the details, yet; her eyes saw something they had never seen before. PALE, WHITE faces sat high above the ground upon two legs. It was extraordinary! Their paleness resembled a sick or dying body, at least for the dark complexioned two-leggeds she had once known. But they were not dead, and their pace was too sharp for illness. They were actually white skinned! And with this discovery, these new beings opened her eyes to the world- for a moment she was lost within it all. The befuddlement of revelation intoxicated her in a sort of way. Red faced two-legged beings were not all that existed! And if there were others out there, what else could lie behind the woods she hid herself within? Had she wasted all this time exiling herself from an evil creature which she did not known at all? Could these two-leggeds be different, could they be better than the ones she had fled from in the past?
These questions still lingered in her mind. There were many, many more along with them. They ate at her daily, nearly driving her to insanity throughout the seasons. And now, these unanswered questions and all of the curiosity within her were leading her back to them. She must find what she saw that day. The frequent voices of reason had almost convinced her that it was all a dream. Voices in her head fought to reign her in and save her from the craziness bouncing around inside. Yet, some driving force within her soul would not let her believe that she had not seen. She had, they were ahead. They must be. And the same driving force was now alive within her, as it led her through the trees.
The scent filled her nostrils and she knew she had arrived. To Cerise the smell was full of thrill and excitement, a new world lay ahead of her. However, the body of the deer was stiff with tension, and its instincts were doing what they should- telling her to run. But for now she was stuck, she could not venture much farther into the unknown land in the form of this vulnerable white tailed deer. But no other passages had appeared along the early morning adventure that had led her this far. It was dangerous, to linger here on the outskirts of this settlement but Cerise could not make herself turn around.
The rumbling in her belly reminded her that she had not eaten. Not that it really mattered though. The deer would die, just as the coyote before it, when she walked out of its body and into another’s. The trees ahead grew thinner, and the land was becoming more bare surrounding the river. Far in the distance her eyes could make out the shape of something. It looked as if it were made of the trees from the forest, and was square. There was a face upon its side. It had small openings that resembled eyes, and a larger piece of wood in the middle for a mouth. The thing was coughing up smoke from its top. Gray clouds swirled around as they escaped and disappeared into the wet air before rising too far above the object. She had seen smoke dance many times before, as it rose from a small fire within her tepee. Those fires had been lit only for warmth, and cooking. And that tepee had looked much different than whatever held the fire ahead. She had also seen fires engulf the bodies of her kin, but that smoke had smelled far worse than any other scent as it scattered the flesh of the immortals into the wind. The smoke ahead was not evil, it was not carrying the ends of a life into the air with it. She could tell that the smoke belonged to a small fire, and more than likely there were bodies surrounding the warmth of the lit wood within the square thing ahead. She did not fear it, as she should, yet quite the opposite. Curiosity pumped adrenaline through her veins, and she wanted to touch the square thing ahead. She wanted to know what was inside of it. What were those eyes made from? What was the mouth upon its face?
It was growing larger as her feet carried her closer to it. Her eyes were locked upon its features. The trees seemed to die, and the birds grew quiet. The world was still, and the thing made of trees was beckoning her to come closer. She had forgotten to pay attention to her surroundings. Her awareness had evaporated like the smoke ahead. Closer, and closer. Bigger and bigger. What is it?
A streak of black darted through her vision. With a crack she was snatched back from her trance. Her heart had nearly exploded within her chest, and her knees shook with terror before she came to a freezing halt. She scanned all around her crazily. What was there with her?! She heard its short but heavy breaths, and could smell its presence. If she had only been paying attention she would know what creature lurked hidden in the woods! But she had not, and whatever it was hid behind the trees ahead. Move! She urged at it. She dare not move herself, not until she knew what concealed behind the wide oak. Or should she run now, while she had the chance? Please move, she pleaded. Look at me.
And suddenly it did. She felt her body growing cold, and knew that her eyes were becoming a piercing bright orange. But no! She stopped herself.
Before her sat the cutest puppy she had ever seen. Its coat was thick and jet black, lacking any special features. But the large brown eyes bulging from the small black face were too adorable to offer any danger. They glittered in the sun. Its tongue hung from its mouth, and Cerise smiled within herself thinking that it must be at play here in the woods. The heavy breaths she thought had belonged to a much larger body was merely the panting of the excited pup. Its eyes were large as it looked at her and she could not tell whether it wanted to play or its young instincts were forming connections and telling it to chase after her. Either way, the exhausted puppy stood there gasping for more air, head cocked in her direction. It was motionless, aside from its short and ladened breaths. The adorable puppy eyes did not shift but she thought it looked very much as if it were smiling, and inviting her to play with it.
A puppy. She felt the anger rising in her blood, and her temperature as well. Was this sweet and innocent young puppy truly the first animal she should come across this morning in the forest. All of her days and she had never seen a puppy other than the vicious litter of a wolf or coyote. But this puppy was no wild creature, she could tell by its mannerisms. He belonged to someone. Which made it so much harder than it should have been if it were a robin, or a balded hawk. A puppy?
But it was her chance. And regardless of how cute, playful, and pure the black little pup was- it was her portal, her passage. It sat there before her, unmoving, almost begging her to take him. Cerise’s guilt was clearly forming within her consciousness. But she had to do it. She knew that she could not linger here in the woods for long. The grass was sparse and the pearly white snow was here to stay. Just do it, she commanded herself. She shut her eyes so tightly that she felt the deers hair covered forehead wrinkle into folds above them. With a long and heavy breath she finally opened them, almost wishing that the puppy would have vanished while it had the chance. But it was still there, and her flames of fire pierced its soul as she walked out of the deer. Still between the deer and the pup- she heard the shrill whimper of the beautiful black beast as it tried to hold onto the life she was forcing out of it. The cry rang like shame in her ears, but she could not look back now. She had walked. It was done.
Once inside the skin of the puppy she shook the snow from her thick fur, and her regrets fell to the ground with the crystal flakes. She felt so much more alive inside the youthful body, and she wanted to run. Off through the trees, and around each bend. She jetted to the riverbed, and lapped at the moving water aggressively. Then she turned on her undeveloped haunches, and trampled up the bank to continue sliding across the soft, frozen precipitation upon the ground. After a couple of figure eight dashes, she dropped to her back and rolled around with her legs kicking into the air. It was good to be a dog again. The deers legs were fast, but its vulnerability had kept her suspicious and traveling had been slow. No one would harm the puppy once into town, it was far too cute. She just had to get into the village now. She saw her small padded feet extended above her in the air. They were soaked from her playful mania, and it was going to be a chilly walk until they dried. Cerise realized she was still upon her back and lurched to her feet before the thawed snow reached her warm, dry skin. With a violent shake she trotted off towards the smoking creature of wood in the distance.
She had traveled more than fifty yards when she remembered the poor deer left behind. With her eagerness to explore the puppy’s abilities, she had forgotten the passing of the deer. She looked over her shoulder, and back at it. Its long slender legs were bent at odd angles beneath its body where it had fallen atop the blanket of white. There it would rest, regardless of whatever beast found it as an offering within the forest. It would not be eaten. The stench of evil, and the deep odor of rot surrounded the empty body like walls. The deer would forever rest here, on the edge of the wilderness- just as dead as it had been the night before when Cerise ventured inside of it.
The tree sided thing was large before her now. It was inhabited, she could tell by the smells in the air. The pieces of wood were laid side by side to form it. They were worn by the weather, and some pieces were eroding at the edges. The eyes she had seen were openings in its surface. They were clear like the air, and she could see through the dirt layers into the thing. Now that she was closer, she noticed there was a peak of rocks on the top backside of it. The smoke was leaving the structure from there. The top of it was not made of wooden planks, however. It seemed to be grass, and leaves, pine, and dirt. But they were held there. Some invisible force was keeping this thatched material from slipping from the angled platform. The wood framing the mouth of the box was much lighter than the rest, and it clearly outlined the large pieces of pine perpendicular to the others.
Cerise was crouched behind branches that had been dug into the earth. Unlike the wooden structure before her, she had seen this before. It was a fence made by two-leggeds. Inside the fence were five goats, gnawing at hay on the ground. Aside from looking her way occasionally, they paid no other attention to her. She had left the woods, but there were still barren trees placed here and there surrounding timber thing. She thought she had seen a small pale hand of a two-legged through its eyes, but she was still too far from it and her sight line was too low to tell. They live in there, she guessed. But she did not have the bravery or courage to venture closer to it.
Instead, Cerise nuzzled close to the picked fence and curled into a tight ball. The cold was harsh, but her puppy coat was thick with soft downy hair. She had traveled far, and the growling in her stomach could not be silenced here. With the goats nearby, and the fence separating her from the two-leggeds, she felt safe enough to rest. Though she had been full of energy, her young body now tired easily and she needed nothing more than a nap. She felt her heavy lids slide down over her eyes, and the seconds between her breaths lengthened as she drifted off into sleep. Please, no dreams.
Chapter 3 :
“Oh my,” Anna Mary said softly. The puppy within her arms twisted and turned. It was uneasy, but she was not planning to loosen her grip.
She grinned at the sight of her sister sprinting in their direction. The cold puppy pulled against the girl’s grasp, trying to escape. Its coat was like coal and thin icicles clung to the thick black fur. Though the smaller white face dashing towards them was filled with rosy cheeks and a smile, it horrified the young, wild animal. The baby black pup nipped at the girl’s delicate skin, warning her. She scratched at her chest and Anna Mary felt its nail’s sting as they scraped at her neck.
“Oh, do be still! I do not mean to harm you, shhh,” Anne whispered as she tightened her arms around its tiny body and began to rock her gently. Still, the puppy was not calmed. Though Anne was trying her all to comfort it, the puppy only increased its struggles against her. The younger two-legged child released piercing squeals of joy as she reached them and saw what was in Anne’s arms.
“A puppy! Give her!!” she cried as she flailed her hands in the canine’s direction. The ebony whelp wiggled violently and began to push against Anna Mary with more aggression. She tried to roll out of the girl’s grip, and raised her nose to reveal her small sharp teeth in a ferocious snarl.
“Kat,” she spoke, “Katherine, now… She is terrified.” The words flowed from her lips in a steady and soothing manner but they rang commandment to the younger child nonetheless. The two of them stood there in the silence of noon for a couple of minutes until the young dog finally gave up her wild attempts to escape.
Anna Mary looked down into her arms at the tense, unmoving puppy and back at her younger sister’s bright and curious eyes. She wondered where the puppy had come from, and how it had survived the cold of winter’s bite. Katherine’s tiny, impatient hand reached out to touch the puppy once more and it began to growl again. Anne strengthened her grasp in preparation for the black animal’s renewed attempts to getaway. Thankfully, Katherine had brought her arms back to her sides and stood there silently in awe of the creature her sister held. Yet, though she was still, her round brown eyes could not hide her excitement.
“Please…” Kat whimpered after a few moments, “I can wait no longer.” Her arms were again outstretched as she pleaded to hold the pup. She danced about, incapable of suppressing her own enthusiasm. But Anna Mary ignored her request and let her eyes drop back to the scared puppy that she cradled. She took a slow and controlled step towards Kat, and gently squatted so that her sister could see it better.
“Ooooohhh,” she murmured as she fiddled her feet in the snow, “So, are we going to keep her?” Anne looked at her younger sister with a sad adoration. Their mother would never allow it. The puppy would need to be kept inside their small cabin which was already cramped enough in these winter months. It could have diseases, she thought. Or worse…fleas.
“I do not know Kat…I dare to think Mother will let her stay.” Katherine’s eyebrows shot high upon her forehead and she looked between Anne and the puppy with disbelief.
“And why not?” she replied with anger ringing in her voice. “It is but a puppy!! Did you say let HER stay? Oh say it is a girl! Annie…Mother would have to let her stay if she is a girl. We are a family of WOMEN! We could never say no to a little girl! Check…Check it, please! You do know how!” She was jumping about in her tantrum of excitement as she argued what seemed to be a valid platform to her seven year old mind.
Anne ignored her and the fit entirely. She had slowly released one arm from the puppies body and shifted it under her left armpit, pressed against her side. The puppy had not moved as she dared to carefully brush its head with her fingertips. It did not close its eyes in contentment like she had known other puppies to do. However, it stared straight back into hers-as if it were searching her. Anne felt a sense of pride within her belly as the pup continued to let her pet its cold fur. Kat stood-by with curiosity until her eagerness overcame her. Then, she spun around on her heels and sprinted in a straight line to their cabin. Snow flew into the air behind her small feet, leaving miniature footprints in her trail to their mother.
Anna Mary heard her muffled cries across the distance, “Mother will say yes! She is a girl!” and she smiled at her sister’s frame as it disappeared behind the door. Mother probably will say yes, who could say no to you, Katherine? She gradually raised herself back to her feet and squeezed her arms tight around Night as she went to hear the verdict. Night. That will be her name.