by Rachel Bender
The embers of the day were dying by the time I kindled the fire. Surrounded by darkness and by the rattle of fallen leaves, I cupped my hands around that fragile heat, coaxing it to life with my breath. It leapt between my palms, eager, hungry.
Tonight was the night.
I didn’t need the fire, really. Summer wasn’t going down easy this year, and though there was a telltale nip in the air that spoke of winter’s eventual victory it was still warm enough that I’d shed my jacket on the porch. There was also the fact that burning things in your own backyard was technically illegal, but though I could see the lights on in the houses on both sides of me I wasn’t worried. My neighbors had enough secrets of their own that they couldn’t help but be trustworthy with mine.
The fire dimmed. I fed it, little bits of twig from the maple tree, and it leapt up happily again.
I wasn’t alone here. I sensed her presence out in the woods beyond my backyard boundary, the musk and menace of her faint but unmistakable, the soft rustling sighs of the trees both masking and echoing her footfalls and breaths. She could have been standing anywhere. She’d have approached already if not for the fire, wildling that she was. But I’d come prepared for that.
The fire was starting to catch on the logs I’d piled around it, the wood snapping as it burned in earnest. I reached for my supplies.
Was it ridiculous to feel like a Stone Age huntress, sticking supermarket sausages onto bamboo skewers to cook them over a fire I’d built in my own backyard? Even having the thought felt childish. The road into town was close enough that I could hear passing cars in the distance. The nearest convenience store was ten minutes’ walk away. Yet there was a strange, ancient satisfaction in me as I set the sausages to cook over my fire and watched for the glow of inhuman eyes in the dark. If I didn’t turn around and see my house, then I could so easily pretend nothing of the thousands of years of human civilization existed at all.
I turned a sausage idly, staring into the dark woods without seeing until at last, a pair of eyes glowed red at me from the shadows.
“There you are,” I murmured.
She emerged slowly, firelight catching the tips of her fur; an impossible massive predator from humanity’s deepest ancestral terrors, a nightmare on four feet. Her eyes were fixed on me, glowing faintly like embers in the dark. “Hey,” I soothed as the near-subsonic rumble of her voice reached me, doing strange and wonderful things to my hind brain and my nether lands at the same time. “Nice evening, huh? I brought food.”
Her stalk became more of a slink. Her limbs lost none of their fur or muscle, but they rippled strangely into new shapes, more familiar, human-like. The beast that sat down beside me was neither human nor animal, girlfriend nor nightmare, but a horrifyingly intriguing melding of both that leaned in toward me. Her hot breath ghosted across my bare arm, then she closed her teeth on my sausage and ripped it off the skewer with a smug hum. I muffled a laugh as she crunched her way through it. “You only love me for my food, is that it?”
A long red tongue ran across white teeth. “Now that’s not true, sweetheart.”
Her voice grated, gravel-toned, the words oddly accented by a throat and tongue that weren’t quite meant for words. But Leigh tilted her head and bared her teeth, a menacing attempt at a roguish smile, and I laughed and offered her another sausage. She gulped it down in two bites.
Sausages gave way to marshmallows, savoring the bitter char from the wood smoke cutting through the all-encompassing sweetness. Leigh snapped them up gingerly, one by one, careful not to get sticky in her fur. I wasn’t so careful. “I need to wash my hands,” I said reluctantly, surveying the strands of marshmallow on my fingers – modernity intruding on our primordial sanctuary once again. “I’ll be right-”
Leigh took my wrist, her claws raking against the delicate flesh, and lowered her mouth to my hand.
Her mouth was scorching on my skin, dexterous tongue playing along my fingertips searching for sweetness. I curled my fingertips in surprise and felt the sharp hard edge of teeth. Leigh growled softly, her grip tightening, her dark eyes sliding closed. “I could eat you up,” she rumbled.
“What big teeth you have,” I drawled, and she snarled and pounced me backwards into a pile of leaves, muffling my shriek in her fur, fastening her teeth in my shirt.
I caught my fingers in the thick fur of her shoulder, laughing as she growled into my neck. Leigh still had my other wrist captured, and she pinned it between us – not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to know that she wasn’t going to let go. I wriggled under her just to feel her work to keep me there, reached up to dig my nails in behind her ear. She gave a pleased snarl and jerked her head. My shirt went rip.
“Oh. Well…” I let myself giggle. “I have other shirts.”
Leigh took that as encouragement. “Mira,” she rumbled as she dropped the remains of my shirt. “Want you.” She pressed her face into my bare collarbone, making me shiver with a scrape of teeth. “Want you like the moon.”
“Want you like the stars,” I answered, because I wasn’t wolf enough to ever know what that meant, but I couldn’t not respond in kind to the trembling-rough desire in her voice. I arched my back, letting her pull my pants down past my knees as she nipped hungrily at my skin and the leaves crunched underneath us with a smell like wood smoke.
Then we were rocking together, the pads of her clawed fingers turned to rub against the ache in me, my nails scratching into her fur hard enough to imagine marks left behind that I could not leave. Leigh growled against me and I arched, one leg hooking behind her knee, her name falling from my lips in a gasp. “I got you,” she told me, her inhuman growl sweeter than marshmallows. “I got you, sweetheart, don’t stop.” I didn’t, not until the trembling overtook me and I gratefully lost myself in it, forgetting even what epoch it was.
She was sitting back when I opened my eyes again, licking her fingers smugly. “Hey,” I muttered, sitting up and brushing the red-brown maple leaves out of my hair. “Had enough?”
She smiled, wolfish white teeth flashing in the night. “Have I ever?” This time it was my turn to growl, pulling myself close to bury myself deep in her furred wolf-hood.
Above, the moon rose, near enough to full.
Rachel Bender has writing credits with Crossed Genres and The Future Fire. She is an American expatriate living in the UK.