The Lady is a Wolf
By Autumn Christian
In my earliest memory I’m at the Oklahoma City Zoo with my mom, and we’re at the hippopotamus pen. I stand at the railing and look down. She said a boy once fell in and the hippo swallowed him whole. They are the cruelest animals in Africa. “Don’t get too close.” I don’t know what death means at the age, but I know what it means to be swallowed, to be a something that becomes a nothing at all.
“What’s your happiest memory?” the woman in the black pantsuit said, looking but not looking at me across the vast roiling sea of her therapy office.
‘This is supposed to be the easy question,” I think, but if I open my mouth I know that nothing will come out but a thin, long scream.
She smiled, and it made my stomach clench the way her smile spread thin at the edges. How tight and studious she kept her smile. How professional.
“Surely you can think of something,” she said. “Something that makes you happy.”
For two weeks I train myself to fly by doing push-ups and cartwheels and running up and down the length of track outside the school. If I can just prepare myself in the right way, I’ll lose the density in my bones and float away. I can hover on the top of trees, float up the side of skyscrapers, share airspace with planes.
My only friend grows tired of training with me, goes back to sitting on the playground with the other girls.
Later I decide I want to be a wolf. If I was a wolf then I’d belong to the forest, nuzzle against my cubmates, have a mother who was always warm when I touched her golden fur. I’d chase down elk in the winter, never eat alone.
I walk on all fours. I speak in growls. I go outside and howl at the moon.
It didn’t take me long to realize no matter how much you wanted something, no matter how hard you worked for it, you wouldn’t get it.
In my dreams I chase my mother through tent-cities full of sick children and rabid dogs. “Where has my mother gone?” I crawl through trash and sewage, through plastic wrap spattered in filth. I enter a decrepit, collapsing tent. Her poodle growls at my entrance. That dog never liked me, wouldn’t let me pet it.
My mother sits in the dark, cross-legged. Queen of trash. Queen of stray dogs. Her eyes are yellow, and pus-filled. Little archons swim in her blood. They’ve got her. Her and the poodle, as well. Soon, I know, the disease will be all that’s left of her.
“Why did you leave me?” I asked.
“Because you’re a filthy little bitch,” she says. “Because you touch yourself in your sleep.”
She howls, upending the tent, bites me on the arm.
The bite turns black and infected and spreads through my blood.
After a while, I forget who’s touching me, who’s speaking soft words meant to coax me out of my skin. It’s the closest I get to happiness most days.
But the memories aren’t real. It’s all the same damn thing.
The boy with wild eyes and wild red hair, demanding that I look at myself in the mirror to see how beautiful I am. “You are a goddess,” he said, while I sobbed, watching my body distend like a dysmorphic snake.
Speed writing apocalyptic novels at 4 in the morning. Looks over at me, says as if it hurt him more, “I can’t remember ever loving you.”
He picked me up and sat me in the branches of the tree, my panties in his pocket. He said I tasted of sugar. Of almonds.
“I can tell you want me,” he said, pulling off my pants, my limbs gone a thousand miles away, useless. “We fight so much because we have such a strong physical connection.”
“Promise you won’t kill yourself,” he said, after we’d drunk-fucked in his hotel room. “I mean, you don’t have to act so reserved. I’ve already had my dick inside you.”
After a while the sensation of finger on skin, thumb in my mouth, gripping-hips, “baby you got a nice ass”, turns into a diseased pool in my stomach. I run. It may be 5 in the morning and I can’t find my shoes, but I need to maintain the distance between me and the thing I left behind in that bed, because it must’ve been a monster. I think I saw black smoke pour of its cracked chest while it embraced me, and the smoke had the teeth of an ancient, starving lion.
In my dreams a black knight walks up the suburban driveway. The black knight is looking for me, its eyes like lasers through its visor. It has spikes running alongside the back of its armor, a claymore at its hip. It sees me peering at it through the window.
I stand up from my desk. I half walk, half float through the hallway. Down the stairs. I open the door. The black knight raises its weapon.
I shed my clothes. I shed my skin. I step out of my body into my new one, a body bursting with fur, eyes violent, a golden and tender and wild thing.
The black knight lunges. At the same time I leap, fangs wide, piercing through metal.
I tear out his throat.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” a woman asks me.
“I want to be a writer. And a veterinarian. You know, on the side.”
I do not know how tell her that one day I will run through glacial forests with blood foam peeling back my lips. That I will be bigger than this little girl skin, bigger than the moon, a colossal, mad, roiling, howling sea of legs and fur. More than woman. More than wolf. I will be a hunter with the sky, the earth, my bones laced with woodland and nightlust and shattered fragments of memory.
I do not tell her I will run and run until such questions are meaningless, and I no longer remember how to answer.
Later I’d forget such dreams. Realize this wasn’t impossible. A lady cannot be a wolf. It was all a lie I built up to protect myself in a house falling around me.
But for now, in this memory, I still believe. I’m young and full of dreamlogic. And right now, in this memory, the wolf is in me.
Autumn Christian is a fiction writer who lives in the dark woods with poisonous blue flowers in her backyard and a black deer skull on her wall. She is waiting for the day when she hits her head on the cabinet searching for the popcorn bowl and all consensus reality dissolves.She’s been a freelance writer, a game designer, a cheese producer, a haunted house actor, and a video game tester. She considers Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Katie Jane Garside, the southern gothic, and dubstep, as main sources of inspiration. Keep your eye out for her book being released in the near future via Fungasm Press.