In the Dark

The hood of the truck felt warm under Cerise’s hand and bare feet. The engine rumbled through her bones, even after the man had stopped the vehicle.

Cerise glanced over her shoulder, searching for the wolf pup she had just risked her life for. The animal in question walked to stand by the driver’s door, a puzzled look in his brown eyes.

“Miss,” the driver was waving a hand. “I’m going to get out, if that’s okay with you.” When Cerise said nothing, he lowered the hand. “All righty then, I’ll stay in the truck. Luc,” he said to the wolf, “there’s water on the back.” His focus returned to Cerise. “Rickman called me on the phone. The nosy old man that stinks like a teapot, remember him? He said Luc was being Luc and you helped him keep his teeth. I was coming to thank you for getting him out of trouble.”

Jumping off the hood of the truck, and pretending that her skin hadn’t been made of bark a few short seconds ago, Cerise said, “Creatures that don’t help other creatures will never grow.”

“True, miss.” The man got out of the truck and held a hand out to Cerise.

Without shaking the man’s hand, Cerise headed back towards where she had left her things. “Goodbye Luc and Luc’s friend,” she called out over her shoulder, after picking up her shoes.

“I’m Wolf.” The man ran to catch up to her. “And your name is…?”

“I need to go, Mr. Wolf. I was meant to be somewhere else by nightfall, and I’m very late.”

“The road isn’t safe at night,” Wolf said. “And it’s even more unsafe for a green lady on foot.”

“I must go.” Cerise quickened her steps. The old man knowing what she was, and not worrying about it, meant little. But Wolf was a local male in his prime. And a local, who knew of her kind, would have heard the rumors about kidnapped young men left to roam the woods naked.

“We’ll give you a ride early in the morning,” Wolf said. “Luc and I don’t take a lot of space. Let us feed you, offer you a warm place to rest, and then drive you at first light.”

Cerise glanced at the road she had to walk. The nearing darkness didn’t bother her, but the night could hide more people like the ones who almost killed the wolf pup. “We leave right at sunup?”

“Not a second later,” he said, picking up her food basket.

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The ride to Wolf’s home was short. When they arrived at the cabin, Cerise was pleased to see that it was made of stone. She had no problem with people who used quiet wood to build their homes. But when a dwelling was made of the bones of living trees, the sorrow in their song could break the heart of anyone with a pulse.

“You can put your stuff wherever you like. I’ll fix dinner.” Wolf placed her food basket on a small table by the door. “Luc is already out getting his on food. And I eat the meat I hunt mostly. I have some fish and keep vegetables for Rickman, if you rather—”

“I’ll eat what you eat, Mr. Wolf. Thank you.” Cerise put her backpack next to the food basket. She brushed her fingers over the top of the table, her eyes examining the window frames, the door… Everything inside Wolf’s home was made of quiet wood. Uncanny, she thought.

Perhaps noticing her behavior, he said, “This is the work of three generations. My grandfather started the stonework and my mom finished it after he was gone. She did most of the woodwork. And as soon as I could stand on two legs, I started collecting fallen branches and driving out to find driftwood for furniture and repairs. That’s the first piece I ever made.” He pointed at the table she was touching, and smiled.

“It’s very nice,” she said, crossing her arms.

The smile left his face. “The phone is on the nightstand, by Luc’s bed. If you want to call your people to let them know you’re safe.”

“They know,” she said. While connected to the Great Mother, Ivy could sense all of Cerise’s thoughts. Her sister could even see through her eyes and allow Cerise to do the same. During emergencies, or when the Great Mother was in her winter sleep and Ivy was bored out of her skull, her sister could push her emotions and experiences into Cerise’s mind.

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Dinner preparation was a quiet affair. Wolf seasoned meat and cooked it over a gas grill. Cerise grabbed bread and honey out of her basket, and set the table. She was going to ask Wolf for a knife to cut the bread, when words that weren’t hers screamed out of her mouth. “Run, Cerise!”

Her mouth was full of liquid salt and her skin was on fire. She crawled on her stomach, leaving charred skin and flesh on the soil. But one of the thing’s tentacles grabbed her by the legs before her hands could touch the Great Mother’s trunk. Feeling the quiet taking over her bones, Ivy reached out for her sister. “Run, Cerise! They are coming.”

Ivy used the last of her will to gather what was left of the Great Mother, to push energy, memory and lore into Cerise’s mind. In a few seconds, Ivy gave her sister knowledge that had taken her twenty-eight seasons to receive and digest. The information was polluted by heat, by pain, by hatred oozing out of a pale, tentacled being that didn’t belong in this world.

Biting into the dirt, filling her mouth with life and soil, Ivy collected enough energy to sooth the pain burning her mind. It was enough to send her sister what she hoped were clear words: “Love is strange, precious…” Her body shuddered. “Hard to find and keep…” Her ears were full of howls. “Find it, Cerise…” Her eyes were open in total darkness. “Rebirth will come if you do.”

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Cerise blinked a few times. Her head hurt so much. “Water.” She lifted her hands to her ears and regretted it right away—everything hurt.

“Quit the howling, Luc, and get Rickman. Here’s some water,” Wolf said, pressing a sponge to her lips. “But don’t move. You aren’t healed yet.”

“I need to go. My sister—”

“You need to rest, green lady,” Rickman said, walking into the room and taking Wolf’s place.

“Where am I?”

“We’re under my shop. Wolf brought you to me after you lost consciousness.”

“I need to go to my grove, my sister…”

The old man shook his head. “There’re people… and things looking for you, green lady.”

“I’ll find her for you,” Wolf said, “if you tell me where to look.”

“No,” she said, feeling her pain morph into resolve that fed on loss and sadness. “I must be the one to search for my sister’s bones.”

“Then I’ll help, green lady,” Wolf said.

She looked past the old man, until her eyes found Wolf’s. She thought about all the reasons why it wasn’t safe to give another the power of knowing her name. But there was something about this man, who answered to the name of a beast, which said that she could and should trust him. She focused her will, thought the words, and spoke them into his mind, “I am Cerise.”

Wolf’s eyes widened. He grinned. And Cerise heard him howl in her head.

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inspired by “In the Dark”, winner of the 7th Expanding Wee Bits of Dark Fiction and Poetry

Note: this is part two “Of Cerise and the Wolf”, and the conclusion of this chapter in their tale. If you feel this story should be longer, I agree with you. I’m sure there will be more… eventually.

Summer Darkness“Summer Darkness”, by Olesya Hupalo
via

Of Cerise and the Wolf

“The Great Mother needs a new Guardian,” the Caretaker said.

“Ivy has seven seasons left before she needs—” Cerise began.

“I’ve been Caretaker since before you crawled out of the muck. I think I’m more than capable of understanding what Ivy needs.”

Cerise clenched her jaws to keep from telling the Caretaker exactly what she thought about her capabilities. The Great Mother must’ve had good reasons, she thought. If not, she would’ve never made such an overbearing being watcher over her sister and her. “When do I leave?”

“Now,” the Caretaker said, signaling Cerise to follow her out of the conservatory.

In the back garden, the Caretaker’s apprentice was strapping a box to the handlebars of a bicycle.

“I want Ivy and you to have a couple of days together. So I’ve shortened the trip by securing your safe passage through The City. Stay on the main road until you feel the Great Mother’s grove. City law won’t ensure your safety, if you were to stray from the path.”

“I need to gather some personal things to take with me.”

“Of course,” the Caretaker said. Then, as if just remembering the detail, she added, “Oh, and Cerise, do stay away from people. We don’t need them seeing anything that isn’t for their eyes.”

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Cerise had pedaled for three hours when loud yelps made her brake in the middle of the deserted road. She followed the sound with her eyes, and saw a man and a woman clad in the white and silver colors of The City. The man was pulling on the ends of a rope that kept a net suspended a few feet above the ground. The woman held a silver staff that buzzed every time she jabbed an animal that struggled in the net.

“Hey!” Cerise called. “If you cut the rope, the animal will leave without giving you trouble.” She was almost sure that they had been the ones to trap the terrified animal. But people were more likely to correct their mistakes, when given an easy way to deal with any resulting shame.

“Go on your way, girl,” said the woman. “This doesn’t concern you.”

Cerise tightened her fingers on the handlebars, but kept her face serene. She knew she wasn’t the only one seeing the law maltreating the animal. The nearby shops and houses were quiet and seemingly empty, but she could feel their occupants’ curiosity oozing out of cracked windows.

She was stepping off the bicycle, when an old man walked out of a teashop and ran to her. “They hunt the wee beasts for their meat, teeth and fur, green lady.”

“But they are the law,” Cerise whispered, not acknowledging his recognition of her kind.

“Yes,” he said, looking down to meet her eyes before walking away, “they are the law.”

“I can trade for the animal,” she yelled in the direction of the pair.

“What do you have?” the woman said, smiling as she walked towards Cerise.

“Half my food,” Cerise said, pointing at the box.

Using the non-electrified end of her staff, the woman opened the box, glanced inside, and shook her head. “That’s not even a third of what we would get for the wolf.”

“I have other things.” Cerise wondered if the law woman would be interested in a wind chime, a holed stone, or any of the treasures she carried in her backpack.

“You can keep your food and your other things, girl.” The woman’s smile widened. “But my partner and I would trade the wolf for the bike.”

“Fine,” Cerise said. “Bring me the wolf and you can have the bicycle.”

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Thirty minutes later, Cerise walked towards the Great Mother’s grove, carrying her food in a basket she got from the old man. The wolf strolled quietly next to her. If they traveled through the night, they could make it to the grove by midday. And the long hike would give her time to come up with a way to explain the presence of the wolf and her loss of the Caretaker’s bike.

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The sun was setting, when the wolf stopped and howled towards a path that led off the road.

Cerise was going to say that they didn’t have time to stop, but the low rumble of an approaching engine kept her mouth shut.

The wolf howled again, and before Cerise could stop him, he sprinted for the oncoming vehicle.

“Stop,” Cerise said, dropping backpack and basket and running after the wolf. The wild animal continued running in the middle of the path. Cerise flailed her arms over her head, but the driver didn’t see her, or saw her and didn’t care because the vehicle wasn’t slowing down.

When Cerise realized that she wouldn’t catch the wolf by running, she stopped and removed her shoes. Crouching, to reach for the Great Mother’s energy with hand and foot, she smacked the dirt and leapt into the air.

The direct energy jolt sent her soaring above and past the speeding wolf. She landed on the hood of the vehicle in a half-crouch, yelling, “Stop!”

The shrill in her voice, and the stunned face of the driver, told Cerise that the man in the vehicle was probably seeing her: a tiny redheaded woman, with black pupilless eyes, and brown skin the texture of tree bark.

She lost the bicycle. She showed herself to a stranger. The Caretaker was going to make firewood out of her bones.

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inspired by “In the Dark”, winner of the seventh Expanding Wee Bits of Dark Fiction and Poetry

Note: this is the first of two parts; for as I’ve done in the past, I got overexcited with this tale and let it grow way too long for just one post. I shall publish part two next week.

Black and RedAbstract Black and Red, from Vortega, via