Stood on the road, hands in my pockets as the Maine winter sliced through my coat as my eyes scanned the treeline.
The soft scrape of her feet against the tarmac and the faint musk that she carried. Turning my head, watching the curve of her cheekbone turn liquid then solid again. To stare at her was to step into a world where everything submitted to the law of stop motion animation.
Her skin shifted. Fur in patches, a wave of scales, then skin turned ruddy with the cold, then a motley of all three. The faded Disneyland sweatshirt was nearly rags on her, it’s hem hanging to her knees. There was a faded brown stain down the left hand side and the sleeves were torn away to the elbows.
‘It’s not blood, if that’s what you were thinking.’
Her voice shifted pitch, growl and squawk then purr before it settled into the quiet, clipped tones of second generation academia.
‘So, this is what, home?’
She gave a short nod. Her right hand came up, fingers lengthening into talons then swelling into paws before it became a hand again. Gesturing to the woods, I looked back at the car. Hoping that if I didn’t make it back, that the rental company wouldn’t chase my estate. Laughing at the thought.
No more than a mile. From the road, into an older world than we knew. The tree branches had been twisted into baroque knots above our heads and the scratch of animals using it as a thoroughfare above our heads.
‘Is that new?’
She looked up and smiled.
‘Trees are living things too.’
There were sounds here, seething, humming things that made my tongue swell in my mouth and my eyes water. Pinching my nostrils helped somewhat, but she touched me and the sound went away.
‘Why did you come?’
My expression made her frown and she stroked my cheek with her nails, black and curved over the tips of her fingers as she stared at me. Her eyes changed colours from a rich hazel to a harsh reptilian yellow before settling back to brown.
‘I can smell it on you. Deceit. Guilt. Things I left behind. Why would I want them back?’
Struggling not to tell her the truth. That her appeal, her power was in the fear that she engendered in them. Sweeter as time had gone on.
‘Because we were friends.’
She cocked her head to one side.
‘All my friends are here.’
Hands in my pockets, looking down at the mulch of leaves, wondering how few had walked here.
How few had walked here and survived her attention.
‘No, not all of them. Not the ones who’d ask you for help. Or give it.’
She took in a breath and sniffed the air again, darting her tongue forward. It lengthened as it poked between her lips.
‘You don’t speak their language. They do not lie to one another.’
She whispered, her vocal chords had settled into an approximation of human and looking up, the sight of her stabbed at my heart. One more wound to contend with and it made me bitter.
‘Do they do it to themselves?’
Walking away, a head full of fears hemmed in by the need to keep them from the attention of others and she had sniffed them out in a minute. On the drive back to the hotel, white noise from the radio and a pack of cigarettes consumed like vitamins.
That night, ushered into sleep by the rain against the window. Smelling her at the end of my bed.
‘Tell me what you need.’