As I stepped to the forest path the moon was platinum full, bathing its pale light over the changing leaves of October. The Native tribes called this moon Hunter, and sure as I gazed at it, I knew Diana’s strength embraced me.
In my basket I carried victuals, all manner of which would aid my ailing Granny. There were sweet cakes spilling with honey. Wine pressed from dandelion and elderberry. Ginger root to be brewed in a strong tea and garlic bulbs to be steeped in milk. All of it was surely enough to cure any grippe or fever. My poor Granny suffered. Her health and well being were the most important things to me in all the world.
The night was gray, a thick fog rising, air soft as early autumn’s gauze. There was a stillness to the wind, an eeriness like the calm before a storm. This night was odd, I felt it in my bones. Strange things were portended, and if it weren’t for my ailing Granny I would scarce have left from my cottage.
Yet the Hunter moon beckoned.
Halfway through the lupine pass I spotted the wolf. A coat black as ebony and blue eyes that gleamed bright as sapphire.
No doubt the animal had sniffed out my victuals, or even, I daresay, my own blood. I was not a-feared. Humankind surely has dominion over the beasts of this planet. Still, I knew I’d best keep my distance. I made myself scarce among the heather and pine. I even scattered a few cake crumbs so as to throw the beast off my trail. I then proceeded in another direction entirely, forgoing the shortcut yet proceeding to Granny’s cottage all the same.
My dodging was to no avail, for some three leagues down the road I encountered the wolf again. This time the most wondrous of things happened, so much so that you gentle reader, may doubt my words. I assure you it all is true, sure as my name is Ryder Redd and I dwell in the forest of Galbraithe.
The wolf spoke to me, in a voice clear and stern as any man. “Ryder Redd,” quothe he. “What brings thee to the forest?” I was, of course, taken aback. And yet, in the pale light of the moon, where all manner of wondrous things happened, and in the still of the fog where metamorphosis morphed, a talking wolf seemed, in that instant, not so very strange at all.
“I bring remedies to my Granny, black wolf,” said I. “For she ails in fever and such victuals are sure to cure it.”
The wolf then sniffed, stuck his snout in the flannel napkin of my sack. “Have you no meat, woman?” he asked, a rise of tension in his voice.
“Nay sir,” said I. “So sorry to disappoint, but it is medicine I bring. Honey cakes, ginger, strong wine, and garlic, noxious enough to clear any head.”
“Bah, what good are you?” said the wolf. With that he bounded up the path. I silently thanked Diana, for she had no doubt protected me. As the Huntress keeps her animals at bay, so humans are free to wander the earth.
By and by I came to Granny’s cottage. I knocked upon the door. No answer. The house was still as rock, no sign of stirring within. Granny was, no doubt, in slumber. I opened the door. The house was dark and I fumbled for some candles. Having lit them I checked the bedroom, looked beneath the sheets, lifted the dust ruffle and even peeked under the bed. “Granny?” I called. She was nowhere to be found.
Just then through the window I heard an earth shattering howl. Then more howls joined in unison. My heart quickened, for, confronted with one wolf I was able and competent, but this – a whole pack outside my Gran’s door? For this I was not equipped.
Still, curiosity got the better of me and I went to the window. What I viewed, gentle reader, you will surely not believe. Yet I saw it with the eyes in my head, a steady gaze not tempered by imagination nor spirits. I even pinched myself to make sure it was so.
There, under the light of the moon I saw the pack of black wolves. Nay wolves! I say wolves – but not these! These were some strange form of animal, heads and bodies like wolves but with spans of feathered wings that fluttered from their backs. They were like Pegasus, if such a creature existed. Like Gryphon, were such a creature true!
By my wits and my troth I should have been frightened. Frightened white as Diana’s moon. But no. The winged wolves stared at me with eyes of interest. Something was so enticing, so inviting about them. And so I opened the door, left the safety of the cottage and joined them in the field.
The one whom I had seen in the woods came forward. He now had sprouted wings but when he spoke, the voice was exactly the same as I had heard it before. “Ryder Red,” quothe he, “we are pleased to see you.”
The wolves then swarmed in their circle. I moved closer. And then! Such a hideous sight I have never before beheld. Between them they shared a large carcass of meat, marbled with gristle and tendon. Upon closer look I recognized it as the torso of a human chest. The flesh was bloody, severed at the waist, spiky bones of a rib cage protruding. The air smelled of iron and meat.
I watched mesmerized as the gryphon-wolves, with dagger sharp teeth, ripped at their prey. They growled and squabbled, slithered their tongues to lap up the pouring red blood. Finally one beast, the leader of the pack, dug his snout deep into the torso, gnawing until he pulled out a heart. Greedily he chewed at it, a stew of scarlet veins, aorta bursting and even more blood that splattered on his fur like liquid roses. The others consumed all the leftover bits, licking remnants from the grass. I took a step back.
Pleased to see me? My ears burned. Had the wolf actually said ‘pleased to see you’? And where o where was my Granny?
The wolf I’d made acquaintance with moved away for the circle and approached me. He studied me and inasmuch as an animal can smile, he smiled at me.
“What name sir?” I asked nervously, for it seemed the beast must have a name and I should use that name to address him. “And what know you of my Granny?” I added. She was the most important!
“I am called Lycan,” he answered. “As for your Granny, she is changed. Never to be the same again.”
“She ails not.”
“Not how so?”
“She is well.”
“Well how so?”
“She is different.”
“She is changed.”
“Aye sir!” I screeched. “Bring an end to this riddle! I am to tend to my Granny.”
“She needs not tending,” quothe he.
Then, with all the grace and ease of the moon and all the obscurity and blur of the fog, one magnificent gryphon-wolf flew forward. “I am she,” said the voice and I knew it was the voice of my Granny.
“To what form have they brought you?” I gasped. Yet as I watched her I was not frightened nor disgusted. Inasmuch as an animal can smile, she smiled at me.
“My eyes child,” she said, “are all the better to see with. And my teeth all the better to eat with. My ears hear as never before. Sharp as an animal’s.”
In that moment I heard a scurry of feathers, the loud beating of wings. A glitter of silver like so many falling stars scattered across the sky. All the gryphon-wolves, save for Lycan, disappeared quick as cats, vanishing into the fog.
“My Granny is no more?” I cried desperately.
“She is no more for you to see as such,” answered Lycan.
My heart fell although Lycan assured me it was for the best. He then guided me back to the cottage. Once inside, he bid me open my basket. “The honey cakes need not go to waste,” he insisted.
By then I had grown quite hungry, and so I devoured the cakes. I had also grown quite thirsty and so I drank the wine. I felt my head go light. I became very sleepy and stupid, still unable to grasp what had happened. My world was a prism, a split of fog and moon, a mixture of fear and compassion. The fire blazed in its hearth, surreal in its ever changing facets.
“Time for bed Ryder Redd,” said Lycan. With that he pressed his paws to my chest and unbuttoned the stays of my red cloak. Yet in that unbuttoning, his hands somehow changed. They were no longer the paws of a beast. The fingers that pulled at my stays were graceful fingers, with well manicured nails. The hands of a human and a wealthy one at that, the hands of fine breeding.
He pulled the cloak from my shoulders and pressed his face close to mine. It was not the face of a wolf, but a man with a mane of black hair, a face chiseled, cheekbones that glowed bronze and healthy. His sapphire eyes glided over me. His touch was gentle upon my shoulder, gentle upon my waist. He unlaced my camisole, slid my pantaloons off my buttocks and I, docile and sleepy with elderberry, complied to him. I fell into the sheets of Granny’s bed and Lycan climbed beside me.
“You have not eaten, my lord,” I said, for in that moment it occurred to me; I had been most inhospitable, gobbling all the tarts and chugging all the wine. “Of the honey cakes, I fear none are left,” I added sleepily.
“Ryder,” said he, “I am a carnivore, consuming only blood and meat.” His kiss was warm on my breast.
Needless to say, he did not devour me, for if so I would not live to tell this tale. Yet suffice it to say he did not go hungry. That night, and every night thereafter I spent with my wolf- man. He was an agreeable sort and a perfect gentleman toward me, save for once a month at Diana’s full moon when he transformed.
It was then that a pack of black wings fluttered over the forest. It was then that the gryphon-wolves feasted, the poor body of some disease-ridden human finally rescued from its illness. It was then that the flesh became silver stardust, spread across the sky like a flurry of crystalline diamonds.
The saved one would speak of new eyes, all the better to see with. And new ears, all the better to hear with. And of course, new teeth. All the better to bite with.