‘Passionate characters transcend even clichéd genres.’ – Virginia Wallace
“Sweetheart, could you check this for me?”
David Wollstonecroft handed his wife the suspect container and stood with his hands behind his back, waiting for her verdict.
Jillian gave the jug’s contents but a passing sniff, and returned it irritably to her husband. “It’s fine,” she said dismissively.
Her judgment was sufficient for her husband; David breathed a sigh of relief as he filled the baby’s bottle from the exonerated vessel, and dropped the bottle into the simmering stovetop pot to warm it up. One couldn’t trust the expiration dates on those containers, and David’s nose was notoriously paranoid! It was always telling him that drinks, leftovers, and the like had suddenly soured…
His wife’s button nose was far more accurate than his.
David turned as Jillian cleared her throat. He knew the sound; it was an inarticulate euphemism for ‘what do you think you’re doing?’
“Yes?” he answered.
“How long,” asked Jillian, her pretty lips twisting into a frown, “have you been working nights?”
David raised an eyebrow as a puzzled expression dawned upon his chiseled, olive-skinned face. “About three months, I guess,” he replied warily. “Why?”
“Because if you hadn’t been sleeping your days away,” said Jillian tersely, “you would know that your son stopped drinking from a bottle weeks ago.”
David just looked at his wife, clueless. He could hear Baby Charlie behind him, banging away at the tray on his high chair. He was laughing loudly, as though all of this was very amusing indeed!
“Use the sippy cup,” sighed Jillian, adjusting the tie on her bathrobe. “Can you manage this while I get dressed?”
David nodded his head. (He was tempted to retort that he could feed a herd of elephants in the time that it usually took Jillian to get dressed, but he judged it best to keep silent.)
He ran a hand absently through his black, shoulder-length curls as Jillian returned to the bedroom. His dark, luminous eyes were full of trepidation; Jillian had been awfully testy as of late! Perhaps it was because she was still adjusting to life as a new mother. Or perhaps it was because their four-year marriage was hitting that inevitable point at which wedded bliss became more work and less fun.
In either case, the things that David took in stride seemed to bother Jillian terribly. She brooded more and smiled less than she used to, and she was less prone to laughter and more so to strained silence. Oh, she still looked quite the angel, with her halo of shining blonde hair and bright sapphire eyes. She still moved with the same effortless grace with which she always had, her willowy figure seeming to float upon her tiny feet.
But lately her gaze was endlessly guarded, carefully shielding whatever ghosts lurked behind it.
David was so lost in thought that he nearly forgot the bottle; he snatched it from the water and dried it with a towel, squirting a few drops onto his arm to make sure that he wouldn’t scald the baby.
Humming to himself, David transferred the contents to a sippy cup and offered it to Baby Charlie. “Here you go, Up-Chuck,” he smiled. “No messy-messes, you hear?”
“Don’t CALL him that!” shouted Jillian from the bedroom.
David winced. Dear lord, that woman had ears like a bat!
Baby Charlie grasped the sippy cup with chubby hands, gurgling gleefully as he drank greedily of its contents. He was a healthy little fellow, quite loquacious if somewhat inarticulate, and generally pretty cheerful. The dying sunlight shone through the kitchen window and reflected off his bald head, making him look like a cross between an infant and a Tibetan monk.
David took the sippy cup from Charlie only when he’d reached the end of his meal, as indicated by the telltale slurping sound. It took David a moment to wrestle the cup from the struggling baby, but he managed it.
He stood there, waiting, clutching a paper towel with expectation…
Baby Charlie smiled widely (revealing his toothless gums) and burped loudly, spewing a spittle-laced mouthful of blood onto his bib as he did.
David grinned, wiping up the sanguine stain as best he was able. He wished, for the thousandth time, that they made these dumb things in black instead of pastel colors…
But then, bibs weren’t usually designed with the Deista’ari in mind, were they?
David picked up the jug, idly reading its label before returning it to the refrigerator.
Blood Bank of South Hampton Roads, it said. The stuff was getting expensive; it was a good thing that one of Jillian’s cousins worked there, and received a discount.
The children of men feed on their mother’s milk, but the children of the Deista’ari – the hidden nation of werewolves – feed on their mother’s blood. But much as some human women aren’t built for nursing, Jillian was not built for bloodletting. She was too small, too petite to suffer chronic blood loss despite her strength. And so, just as human babies often feed on pre-packaged formula, some Deista’ari children need borrowed blood.
David was not himself Deista’ari, but he had learned to live in reasonable harmony with Jillian, who was… but that was about as far as his ‘comfort zone’ reached. The other half-lupines still made him pretty nervous, on the rare occasions upon which he saw them. The ability to shift from human to wolf at will seemed unutterably alien to him (except in the case of Jillian, who was the most elegant white wolf that David had ever seen).
Okay, so maybe he hadn’t seen any other white wolves in his thirty-five years. But he still thought her a lovely creature, an oddly intriguing blend of danger and softness, a creature of both fang and fur.
Charlie was nearly asleep now; his chubby face was drooping when his mother finally emerged. She was clad in a pink dress, stylishly cut with a draped neckline and a high hem on the skirt. She balanced prettily on her high heels, still adjusting the pins that held up her hair.
David wistfully eyed Jillian’s modest cleavage as she picked up her baby; he was filled with a dull ache that was half physical, and half emotional.
It had been awhile…
But now was not really the time to bring such matters up.
David followed her to the car, locking the front door behind them. Hopefully Jillian would relax as the evening went on. He’d procured tickets for a musical play at the Hampton Coliseum: The Phantom of the Opera. David was excited (being quite fond of the movie version) and hopefully Jillian would have a good time as well.
Jillian had often gone to musicals as a little girl in the nineteen-thirties and forties, but she’d not been in the last three or four decades. David couldn’t imagine himself being that old, of course, but such was the nature of Jillian and her kin. He’d learned to take that in stride, although he tried not to think about what would happen when he was old and Jillian was but middle-aged.
But such bridges are best left un-crossed until their time comes.
The drive to the babysitter’s was silent, but not tense. Just silent, as moments sometimes are between couples that have learned to anticipate each other’s words. Sometimes communication is vital, a bridge that gaps the yawning chasm between two hearts; sometimes, it is comforting.
On other occasions, however, speaking becomes completely superfluous…
Tonight seemed to be one of those occasions.
Darkness was already falling, at six-thirty in the afternoon. David hailed from a small town in upstate New York, scarcely a stone’s throw from Quebec, Canada. Somehow he’d thought that autumn would be more pleasant here, in southern Virginia. And it was, in a way, being mostly bereft of the stone-dead trees and suddenly-freezing temperatures. Yet it had surprised David to find that Virginia’s October was defined by early darkness just as surely as was New York’s.
He’d never admitted as much, but it seemed as though his adopted home had somehow cheated him; he would’ve liked more sunlight.
Aside from that, however, the Old Dominion was rather pleasant.
Pulling into the sitter’s driveway, David gave Jillian an appraising sideways glance. She stared straight ahead, not frowning but not smiling, either. Although David was tempted to wonder what he might’ve done to upset her, it was also entirely possible that he’d done absolutely nothing. He had about a fifty-fifty shot at being guilty or innocent, and it was a coin toss as to which fifty percent he’d get this time. Lord, she’d been moody lately; she hadn’t even been this unpredictable when she was pregnant.
David offered to unseat the baby and carry him inside, but Jillian shook her head and handled matters herself.
Still keeping her silence, she disappeared inside.
David took the opportunity to stare absently skyward, for just a little while. He liked staring absently skyward; it reminded him of how small he really was, and how utterly insignificant his problems were. Somehow, understanding how little he mattered made his little piece of the world more manageable.
Pulling his glassy stare away from the silvery moon, David smiled as he watched Jillian approach. She had no doubt delivered her instructions to the babysitter with great sternness; like natural wolves, she was fiercely protective of her cub.
She was a truly devoted mother; David had to give her that.
He jumped from the car to open the passenger door; Jillian gave him a wan smile with her painted lips as she slipped inside, adjusting her skirt daintily as she settled into the bucket seat of the station wagon. (David had possessed a classic Camaro before marrying Jillian, but alas practicality had finally dictated a vehicle change.)
David didn’t often think about the Camaro anymore…
At least, he tried not to.
David threw Jillian a grin before he pulled out of the driveway. They’d engaged the sitter for the entire night; this was a rare return to their pre-parental days.
“Did you remember the tickets?” asked Jillian casually.
“Glove box,” replied David, pulling onto the interstate highway.
“Are you sure?” asked Jillian.
“Of course I’m sure!” replied David firmly.
He wouldn’t have gotten upset, he told himself later, if she hadn’t actually checked to make sure that he’d remembered the tickets. He was usually quite reliable. She hadn’t needed to do that, had she?
In any case, her checking was all it took…
By the time they reached the Hampton Coliseum, the air was full of all ‘why don’t you’ and ‘you always’ and ‘how come you never…?!’ An overwhelming entourage of ‘you’ danced all throughout the pitiful absence of ‘me’, weaving a tapestry of blame that snuffed the memory of their wedding vows like a candle.
David slammed the gear shifter home as he stopped in the parking lot, turning furiously toward Jillian. His emotions were as torn now, as they always were when he argued with his wife; anger and terror were splitting were his tumultuous heart in two.
Jillian stared back at him, her incisors noticeably elongating and her eyes glowing bright yellow. Her upper lip curled in a manner that was distinctly canine, and she flexed her hands spasmodically. David knew from experience that she was trying to keep her prettily-painted nails from turning into talons. She was trying not to turn into a…
Some of Jillian’s older, more Victorian relatives often called their women ‘bitches’. David thought this abhorrent, but there were moments when he was tempted to hurl the epithet at Jillian just to upset her. Simple perversity, it seemed, was eager to take him over even during moments in which genuine malice was completely absent.
He would never call her a bitch, and he knew it. To bait, to willfully upset was one thing; however, to actually wound was something else entirely.
“Calm, darling,” said David gently, laying a firm hand on his wife’s bare shoulder. He squeezed her rather hard, digging his thumbnail into her flesh. The pain would help ease her mood, he knew, although she’d bruise. But what of it? The mark would begin to fade as soon they left the car, and it would be gone entirely by the time they reached the coliseum door.
Jillian closed her eyes, breathing deeply. She had long ago learned to set aside her anger in order to relax, to appear more normal. She would later resume the spat where she’d left off, of course, but she did have enough sense to momentarily abandon said spat.
“Alright,” she breathed at last, looking at David with bloodshot, deep-blue eyes. “It’s alright. I’m okay.”
Letting go of Jillian’s shoulder, David exited the car, opened her door, and extended his elbow.
Jillian took it only hesitantly, her eyes swimming with confusion. David started to say something (preferably an irritating ‘something’) and then thought better of it. It is better, he thought with macabre amusement, to simply let sleeping dogs lie.
David gave the tickets to the doorman as he and Jillian followed the sea of people inside, searching for their row and section number. Jillian smiled graciously to those around her, carrying herself with demure self-assurance. She was lucky, David knew, for most of her kin could scarcely go out in public. They sported eyes that were permanently unnatural, teeth that were always predatory, and claws that no glove could ever conceal. But Jillian, to one who didn’t know her well, was more woman than wolf.
To one who didn’t know her well, anyway…
David murmured apologies to those already seated as he guided his wife to their seats. Sitting down, he leaned back and waited for the lights to darken, and the curtain to rise.
Out of habit, David laid a gentle arm across Jillian’s’ shoulders. He felt her stiffen, initially (but un-aggressively) resisting his touch…
And then she suddenly gave in, falling limply against him. It was often so with her, and David suspected that it was so for most women: Their innate need for independence inevitably conflicts with their desire to be touched, and held.
Werewolf or no, Jillian Wollstonecroft was a most peculiar creature. If all women were like her, then that made all of them peculiar creatures too (at least as far as David was concerned)…
To be fair, Jillian was almost certainly harboring similar thoughts about her husband.
The musical was amazing, so much so that it seemed to snap Jillian out of her mood. While the stage production of The Phantom of the Opera was different in sound and feel than the film version, it was breathtaking nonetheless.
David walked Jillian to the car and shut the door behind her, feeling relaxed and light-hearted.
“Did you enjoy the show?” he asked, sliding into his own seat and starting the car.
“I did,” she replied, smiling. “Thank you.”
And that was it. No more conversation, although Jillian didn’t seem hostile anymore. Just deep in thought, and more than a little withdrawn.
David found himself growing somewhat despondent as the white lines of I-264 zoomed by his field of vision. He’d wanted so badly to re-connect with his wife tonight, to somehow pull her away from whatever had possessed her. What on earth could be eating at her so?
David looked to the roadside, beyond the guardrails of the highway as the car approached a familiar landmark.
He turned onto the off-ramp so suddenly that Jillian shrieked indignantly.
She turned furiously upon him, her eyes already flecked with incandescent yellow. “What was that all about?!” she demanded, her voice sounding a little like a yelp.
“I’m sorry,” murmured David sheepishly. “I just wanted to take a detour. That’s all.”
Jillian went silent again. David was childishly tempted to drive into the curb, just to force another reaction out of her. She was usually so vivacious, but now she sort of resembled the wooden Indian that Emerson’s Tobacco kept in the front window.
David pulled into a small parking lot at the end of the public park. He turned hesitantly toward Jillian, afraid that he was flirting with a wolf bite. (She’d never actually bitten him before, of course, but every once in a great while he thought she might.)
“Walk with me?” he asked gently.
Jillian nodded tersely, pulling her jacket from the backseat. It was quite warm tonight, although that mattered little to a Deista’ari (even one wearing a short dress).
This was Mount Trashmore, one of Virginia Beach’s more notable landmarks. It was a large, man-made hill that overlooked I-264, much like David imagined that medieval castles used to tower over their surrounding moats.
When they were dating, David had often taken Jillian here. They’d sit on the hillside watching cars pass in the night, talking for hours about whatever happened to cross their love-struck minds.
Of course, this place had also been where Jillian had first revealed her darkest secret to her then-boyfriend. He had laughed when she’d told him, thinking that she was joking…
His amused laughter turned into violent panic when she showed him!
The evening passers-by walking around the ‘mountain’ had been treated to a most unusual spectacle: The sight of a grown man running desperately away from what appeared to be a white German shepherd (or maybe a husky). The ‘dog’ easily kept pace with the shouting man, whining pitifully.
They’d not come back since. Although David loved Jillian with all his heart, he knew deep down that nothing could ever undo his initial rejection of her nature. Jillian could only ever have made herself that vulnerable once, and he could only have shattered that trust… well, once. While their relationship ultimately proved repairable (as most eventually do) there are some things that can never be undone.
They’d avoided this place ever since by unspoken consent, mutually ducking the shared memory. This was a bittersweet place, one where Pain and Desire never quite extricated themselves from each other.
But tonight, coming here somehow struck David as strangely appropriate.
Crossing the top of the hill and descending a little down the interstate side, David sat cross-legged in the dying grass.
Jillian sat beside him, clutching her jacket to her chest as she leaned against him. The traffic made a whooshing sound below them, rising and fading by intervals as each vehicle approached and passed.
The stars were dim tonight, as they always were. Jillian had grown up in this city where the stars shined but feebly, eternally dimmed by the stifling streetlights. These were the moments during which David missed terribly his remote birthplace, where mankind hardly ever encroached on the handiwork of the Almighty.
David leaned his head against Jillian’s for a moment, wondering how the humans (‘the flock’, as Jillian’s family scornfully called them) would have reacted if they knew who sat here tonight, upon their homemade mountain of recreation. Jillian didn’t seem very frightening at the moment, even if she had been nursed on blood and weaned on raw meat. (Even now she preferred her steak and chicken uncooked, although she often diced the meat up with onions, rice, and teriyaki sauce.)
Quite modern they were, these latter-day Deista’ari.
“It’s them, isn’t it?” asked Jillian abruptly.
“Come again?” asked David, surprised.
“It’s them,” repeated Jillian. “The Flock. We thought ourselves so above them, so beyond their influence, but at last they’ve corrupted even us. I never before thought that they could; I thought we were supreme, untouchable. But ever since…”
Here she let the sentence linger.
David finished it for her, quite emphatically and with disturbing calmness. “Ever since your father disowned you for marrying me, and forever banished you to the world of men?”
Jillian nodded. The sting, David knew, had long ago left the utterance of such words; now they were just a simple statement of fact.
“We’re just like them, David,” said Jillian, her eyes brightening again, and changing color by perceptible degrees.
“You say ‘them’ as though I’m not one of ‘em,” said David dryly.
“I didn’t mean that, darling,” said Jillian, succumbing to a moment of tenderness as she squeezed her husband’s hand. “You know I didn’t. It’s just that… Well, when I was a girl, my mother raised me with all the care that a mother should, and so did yours. We were sheltered, loved, and brought up by parents who had the time and energy to give us what we needed. They had the financial wherewithal to do so, too; my family because we had ‘old money’, and yours because you grew up in a different era, one not so demanding.”
David was tempted to brusquely demand ‘just what she was getting at’, because he honestly didn’t know…
But he immediately thought better of it; such an inquiry would anger Jillian, and give her a direction towards which to angrily direct her dark thoughts. She was talking now, and this was a good thing. Hopefully she would continue to do so until she’d made sense of her maudlin wonderings.
It was best to let her simply continue.
“Look at us!” spat Jillian, as though she suspected that she wasn’t being understood even though she desperately needed to be. “I couldn’t stand working after Charlie was born, even though we relied on my income. I never regretted quitting my job, but what have we given up in order for me to be a proper mother to our son? You’re overworked, David, and I’m terrified that something might happen that we can’t handle because we’re barely getting by on your pay. And you do make decent money, but it just takes so much nowadays. It’s so tempting just to throw our son into day-care so we can go live the American Dream. But we haven’t, and what do I get out of it? No social life, because no one else makes time or space for the little ones anymore; everyone keeps asking me ‘when I’m going back to work,’ as though I don’t have my hands full now. I’m drained, David, and I can’t believe you’re not too.”
David sat in silence, trying to make sense of Jillian’s pell-mell rush of words. This was her first indication that she might have regretted leaving her job. (She’d once held a lucrative position at the police department, where her family had planted her to cover up mysterious incidents involving the Deista’ari. Fledgling werewolves are a dangerous breed, and often un-governable.)
But when Charlie was born, Jillian had quit just like that. She’d discovered upon becoming a mother that she was completely unwilling to abdicate her maternal role to anyone else, and money be damned.
David supported her entirely, despite the fact that it meant longer hours for him and a tighter budget for them both. Still their little family seemed fairly happy; Charlie was being cared for by his mother, who loved him more than anything. All was well in the Wollstonecroft household…
Or so David had thought.
“Are you thinking about going back to your family?” he asked dully.
Fyodor Gwinblaidd would take his disinherited daughter back the very moment that she renounced her human husband; of this David was sure, and he was certain that Jillian knew the same. So deep was the old werewolf’s hatred for his son-in-law that he’d never even laid eyes upon his own grandson (which David found quite sad).
But old Fyodor nevertheless represented a secure life, an environment in which Jillian would have everything she wanted and needed…
Everything except David.
“Well, are you thinking of going back to your family?” insisted David.
Sometimes, David realized with a sinking feeling, the absence of reply is actually the most decisive possible reply that one can make.
“Well, if you’d prefer a different life,” spat David heatedly, “then go get it! I wish you all the best. If you’re tired of living this little ‘Romeo and Juliet’ romance, then leave it! I won’t demand anything that you don’t want to give. Perhaps I was wrong about you; perhaps all you ever needed was another blue-blooded bastard, just like your father…”
David was ranting now, spitting bile, driven by his need to hurt as badly as he’d just been hurt. He didn’t mean those hellish words; this he knew the very moment that he spoke them. But oh, how badly it needed to be repaired, that fractured barricade around his wounded heart!
David closed his eyes, knowing what would come next…
He actually smiled as he heard the howl of anger mixed with pain, coupled with the sound of a shredding evening dress, sized two.
He didn’t open his eyes until she had him on his back; Jillian pressed her forepaw into his chest, forcing him to the earth.
David met her enraged yellow gaze coolly, noting the bloody crimson edge to her feral stare. Her tongue lolled out from between dagger-like teeth, away from which her upper lip curled in fury. Her ears were laid back in rage, and she was panting furiously; David could feel her hot breath upon his face.
“Go ahead,” said David evenly. “Go ahead and do it! Because I, my darling, am quite mortal, short-lived and used to the idea. The moment I was born I began dying, and I accepted that fact very quickly. But you, my dear, will have to live out your long life with the knowledge that you murdered the father of your child. So go ahead; you have more to lose than I do.”
The Jillian-wolf lowered her trembling lip a little, faltering…
“Do it!” hissed David, raising his head a little. “It’ll spare you the indignity of having to worry about some decrepit old man while you’re out with some new ‘sugar daddy’.”
He closed his eyes as Jillian snarled in his face, oddly ambivalent in the face of his own imminent demise…
And then she was gone.
That, thought David as he sat up, was worse even than her staying here and continuing to growl at him. It seemed as though she was ‘rubbing it in his nose’ that he didn’t possess her strength, her speed, or her transformative power. Jillian had disappeared as neatly as Houdini’s stage assistant, and she wouldn’t be found until she wanted to be.
David had always told her that he loved her. He’d said that he’d stay with her forever (whatever ‘forever’ meant when the marital bond involved both a mortal and a more-than-mortal). He’d promised to cherish her until ‘death did them part’…
Right now David hated Jillian!
Hatred, he knew instinctively, is not an entity unto itself; it cannot simply spring into existence. No, the purest hate is nothing more than perverted love, a bond of affection gone hideously wrong.
David stood up shakily, looking dazedly about. The passers-by were still walking around, meandering hither and yon without paying him a second thought. In the darkness, it seemed, they had missed Jillian’s moment of transformation; if anyone saw her afterwards, they had probably mistaken her for a dog.
Besides, no sane man believes in werewolves. The strength of the werewolf, David thought as he mentally paraphrased Bram Stoker, is that no one believes in him…
Or her, as the case may be.
Either way, David didn’t feel like going home. Jillian may have decided to return thence, or maybe she hadn’t. Either way, David didn’t care to find out; he just wanted to be alone right now, utterly removed from anything living, breathing, or moving.
Leaving Jillian’s abandoned dress where it lay, David half-sprinted to the car. His thoughts were numb, unable to cognitively process Jillian’s awful words. Not only could he not process her words, but neither could he process her damning absence of words. A man imagines, during his peaceful moments, that he controls his relationships…
It is only in moments such as these that he realizes that he most certainly does not! The reins of a relationship ironically belong to whichever party first chooses to toss them aside, savagely turning one ‘us’ into a pair of tragically lonely ‘me’s’.
Right now, Jillian controlled both David’s life and his future, and there was nothing that he could say to change it.
David zoomed down Independence Boulevard with such reckless abandon that it seemed he would surely attract the notice of Virginia Beach’s uniformed thugs, who relentlessly prowled the streets in search of financially lucrative drunk drivers.
But he didn’t draw any police attention; the marauding officers must have already hauled in their evening jackpot of hefty fines.
It was as if in the face of horrors such as this – the imminent demise of a life so carefully planned – even such lawless entities as ticket-happy Gestapo disappear for a while.
David careened onto Pleasure House Road, taking the shortcut toward Virginia Beach’s historic Shore Drive. He wanted to disappear just as Jillian had, to become nonexistent for a while. He wanted to be alone within the wilderness of his thoughts.
The nighttime cityscape ill suited his mood, and thus he sought to flee its garish luster.
David floored the gas pedal with careless abandon, trying not to feel anything at all. He went numb for a moment…
But when the pain once again reared its ugly head David floored the gas pedal with a vengeance; perhaps he was incognizantly hoping that his ever-increasing speed would propel him beyond the reach of his internal agony.
But it didn’t.
Green light after red light after green light flew by, until at last suburbia began to give way to trees. But the dawning forest would fade near the border of the oceanfront area, surrendering to hotels and luxury homes.
This David could not stand, the odious presence of people and their lives and their drama and the messes that made up their twisted, tormented lives…
David stomped the brake pedal, careening down a darkened side road.
Seashore State Park: The wildest of the wilds, miles of forest and cypress swamps crisscrossed only by footpaths. Nature reigned supreme here, ever desolate and yet oddly welcoming in a forbidding sort of way.
Alas it was closed, this verdant park.
David couldn’t have cared less. Snarling (much as Jillian would have) he sped up the car, ducking behind the wheel as it roared toward the chained gate.
The vehicle damage would cost hundreds, but David didn’t care; he felt a sudden, hedonistic surge of joy as the chain snapped free of the gate, sending the bent steel bars careening over the hood of the car. The casual vandalism didn’t matter; nothing mattered! Not a thing in this whole stinking world mattered, except that his own life was over. Jillian was re-writing his dreams of the future, and his helplessness was quickly driving him into a frenzy.
David jumped from the car as it came to a stop near the tree line; he left the swinging door carelessly ajar as he sprinted into the woods.
He stopped for a moment, impatiently waiting for his eyes to adjust to the gloom.
At last the nighttime forest grew clear, obligingly adjusting itself to David’s pathetically human vision. He couldn’t see as well at night as Jillian could, but he could see well enough to follow the newfound trail by the moonlight.
David began jogging.
He panted as he charged along, still subconsciously thinking that he could somehow outrun his feelings. He was desperately hoping that the pain wouldn’t be waiting for him around every corner, and along every straight stretch of the moonlit path.
David could see the shadows slinking all about him now, those lupine forms that ever teased his eyes without quite revealing themselves. These were the wolf-kin, the Deista’ari, the specie once known as the loup-garou. Once they had been completely hidden from his sight, unknown and unseen to him.
But this place…
This place was their sanctuary, their hunting ground and refuge; they were careless around David because he was known to them.
David had a vague thought that perhaps the Deista’ari might kill him, pulling him down like a wounded deer. Jillian was angry with him, after all, and apparently tired of his company. Could the loup-garou sense his wife’s displeasure, these strange creatures that were both sub- and superhuman? Could they sense the aura of disfavor lingering around his very being?
Perhaps they could, but David couldn’t make himself conjure up the will to care. Every man dies, and what better time than now? Here, at the end of all he loved?
David ran for almost five miles before he fell headlong onto a hidden beach. Here the brackish water sat still and rank, reflecting the bearded cypress trees like a rippling, distorted mirror. It looked as though one could simply don ice skates and glide across the water; only daylight could and would reveal its utter stagnation.
David flopped onto his back, panting.
Why he ran to this particular spot, he didn’t know. He shouldn’t have come here; his very presence was self-torture, an invitation for the ghosts that haunted the beach to torment him yet again.
Here he had once lain after a pleasant afternoon walk. Here he had once fallen asleep, waking only after night had long fallen…
Here he’d awakened to the sight of a large white canine sitting near his head, staring curiously down at him with incandescent yellow eyes. Here he had reached out a trembling hand toward her, only to have her bolt into the darkness beyond.
He’d never seen her again, not here. But she had come to him in another life, in another place and with another face. She’d sought him out, chasing his love not with a growl but with a dazzling smile, with a girlish laugh instead of a howl.
Jillian had hunted David as only a wolf could, single-mindedly pursuing her prey until the hunt had cost her everything: Her family, her inheritance, all that she’d once known.
But now, boredom and frustration had taken from her what threats and familial anger could not. That reality seemed almost an insult.
The moon reached its zenith, and began to descend. Night would soon die, and day would be born again via the glorious dawn. David hated the thought, for daylight inevitably exposes Heartache for the very monster that it is…
In darkness, however, one rediscovers the peace of the womb, a safe place in which to conceal one’s angry thoughts.
David jogged back as quickly as he could, his legs twitching from the strain. He felt like a vampire, running from the sunrise that he fancied might become his funeral pyre, if only he could find the suicidal courage to let it set him ablaze.
David left the scene of his impulsive break-in quite casually. It may have been that he didn’t care about anything anymore…
Or it may simply have been that he knew a little too much about the doings of the police department, by virtue of his mate. At the end of the day it would cost far less to simply replace the gate than it would to investigate its destruction, and thus David would remain ever anonymous.
That, thought David grimly as he drove away in his battered car, was the curse of being married to a Deista’ari; it made one coldly aware of the bloated white underbelly of things, of the brutal realities beneath the thin veneer that is Human Civility.
It made one understand just how much of the Eternal Wolf lives within each and every one of us!
David pulled into his own driveway at last, scarcely ahead of the coming dawn. He walked toward his front door as one condemned, dreading the sight of Jillian. Her entire family might be waiting inside, eager to tear him to pieces…
The thought frightened David not one whit.
He didn’t fear death. He didn’t fear himself, or even the nighttime terrors that traversed Seashore State Park like phantoms. No, he feared only Jillian. But it was not her fangs, her claws that he feared. No, he feared instead the emotions that she stirred within him…
And he feared those with every fiber of his being.
Jillian was nowhere to be seen (at least in the living room) and David could find no sign of her as he passed the smaller rooms beyond. With a sinking feeling, he reached for the doorknob of their shared bedroom…
He opened the door with a sense of impending doom, half-expecting a newly-installed electric chair to be waiting for him.
There was no chair…
There was only Jillian.
Charlie’s crib was empty; so he was still at the sitter’s, then. Jillian stood with her back to David, looking through the thin curtains toward the indistinct haze that was their backyard. The skirt of Jillian’s bathrobe was swishing a little; David realized that she must have donned it quite suddenly.
So this was what it came down to at last: Marital openness giving way to a complete unwillingness to be seen unclothed, the tearing asunder of the Biblical ‘one flesh’…
David headed for bed, wanting just to duck beneath the covers so that he might hide from everything that had so completely exhausted him.
But he couldn’t. Jillian had scattered a pile of… stuff across his sleeping place.
David picked up the handiest object available, a large photo album. He looked at it dully, frowning.
He opened the cover, and looked at the front-page photo…
This was an older picture, one from another age, another life. Here he and Jillian stood beneath the bright sunlight, clutching each other as though they could never be parted. Smiles. Laughter. Love and life and everything that is good in this world…
David turned the page, moving along to the photos taken at the engagement party. There were no others present except David’s friends and family; Jillian’s had disowned her already, despising her for accepting a marriage proposal from one of the ‘flock’, those good-for-nothing humans.
Yet Jillian smiled still, laughing with genuine mirth as she gazed upon her then-fiancée with honest adoration.
David turned the pages slowly, blinded by unwilling tears. The wedding photos, the various anniversary pictures, Charlie’s birth… Jillian had given up so much, and all for David. He’d once worshipped her for that, profoundly grateful that she’d chosen him and him alone ‘to have and to hold’. He’d once cherished her love like nothing else…
David turned toward the window with sudden hostility…
And then he softened. Jillian sounded suddenly vulnerable, and somewhat timid.
“Yes?” answered David, stifling his inclination towards irritability.
“Are you angry with me?” asked Jillian.
David lunged toward the window, wanting to take his wife by the shoulders so that he might shake the living daylights out of her.
Of course he was angry with her!
But David didn’t reach for Jillian; instead he stopped behind her, his hands twitching from the urge to avenge himself upon his wife. This is the difference between a good man and a bad one; every man wants to do violence to his spouse once in a while, for two cannot live in such close proximity without provoking the occasional violent thought. The difference is that only the oaf and the fool will actually raise their hands to their wives…
But the good man will ever hold his peace, no matter what the provocation.
Yet both the Fool and the Good Man feel the same perennial urge to raise their hands towards the women who offend them, just as women are often tempted to slap their husbands silly. Any and all who deny this are liars, and hypocrites…
David was a good man. Thus he stood behind his wife, unwilling to touch her in anger.
Jillian stared absently through the window, hesitant to face her husband. “I don’t suppose asking you to forgive me would do much good?” she asked, in a carefully neutral tone.
David made no reply.
Jillian sighed, running a hand through her tousled, golden tresses. “David, is there really more to life than this? This eating, sleeping, and looking forward to nothing but the next day’s work?”
David made no answer, and his eyes smoldered still with latent anger.
Jillian’s question was obviously rhetorical…
And as usually happened in such cases, she answered her own question. “No, I don’t think life consists of much more than repeated trivialities,” she said. “Nor should it. I’m not afraid of the endless ennui, the boredom. No, David, I’m afraid of the end of that boredom, of those decades without you.”
David felt a stab of icy fear pierce his heart; he hated talking about this, and so usually did Jillian.
Thus, they generally didn’t.
“I’m afraid of life without you, David,” whimpered Jillian. “I’m afraid of what the world will be like when you’ve left it. I want our years together to be memorable, special, and I feel cheated that they must be so very ordinary.”
“But what greater pleasure,” continued Jillian, “could there be than waking up next to one’s best friend every morning? What greater honor is there than living with the knowledge that someone so very special has bound himself to you? Your life is short, David, and quickly lived. I’ve already lived one human span, and it went by all too fast. I cherish my every moment with you, David, and I always have. What I can’t always do is accept the upcoming terror of losing you. Sometimes that terror becomes so strong that I become tempted to walk away from all of this. Somehow, sometimes, I feel like it might be better to cut my losses than it would be to live out ‘til death do us part’ to its bitter end. I do hate being like the Flock. I do hate being scorned by ‘working’ mothers, and I do resent the restrictions that the modern age puts upon us. But none of that is what really breaks my heart; please forgive my lack of honesty before tonight. What really haunts me is the very thing I love most…”
“And what’s that?” asked David, looking away.
“YOU!!!” finished Jillian, with devastating finality.
David nodded, finally understanding what his wife was ‘getting at’.
Sometimes one feels the need to vent about one’s greatest fear.
Yet all too often that very fear is too terrifying to mention aloud, and thus one settles for fussing about some random side issue; one complains loudly about that inconsequential matter in order to avoid a much bigger issue…
There is always an ‘elephant in the room’, and this is Marriage in the real world!
Jillian reached around, taking David by his hands. He resisted a little as she pulled his arms up over her slender shoulders, but to no avail; she was much stronger than he, and his attempts at fighting her off were laughably futile.
Jillian leaned into him, laying her head affectionately upon his shoulder. David felt the terry-cloth collar of her bathrobe brushing his upper arm, soft and somewhat ticklish.
“Forever, David,” said Jillian gently. “We said ‘forever’, but we both knew that ‘forever’ applies only to me. So what do I do, David? Do I run now, so I can spare myself pain down the road? Or do I stay here with all that I love so? Should I just stare your demise in the face for another few, terrifyingly short decades?”
“I have to stare it in the face,” said David mercilessly. “My death, I mean. I’m human, after all. Born yesterday, and dead tomorrow… I have to deal with my demise for what it is.”
“You do,” agreed Jillian. “And I swore that your troubles would be my troubles, did I not?”
“You did,” replied David quietly. “But it sounds like you’re re-thinking all of that now. So what will it be, Jillian? I won’t try to hold on to you, even if I could do such a thing. Your family would tear me to bits… if you didn’t do it yourself.”
“Do you think that I’ve decided to leave you, David?” asked Jillian, her voice sounding suddenly much younger.
“Then you’re a fool, David,” retorted Jillian bluntly. “A woman – like a wolf, a dog – was meant to be man’s best friend.”
“Then why even bring this up?”
“Because I need you, David!” said Jillian heatedly. “I need you to help me live with a reality that exists apart from my own kind, a reality among your kind. I need you to hold my hand through this crazy, pell-mell world that is humanity, and I need you to tell me that everything’s going to be okay. I need hugs and whispered reassurances, and kisses in the night. I need for you to look at me as something precious, something to be protected!”
Jillian turned around and laced her fingers together behind David’s neck, staring at him with her magical, mysterious, deep-blue eyes.
“I may be the wolf, David,” she whispered, “but you are wrong to think that I am anything but completely vulnerable to you. You’re also wrong to let your perception of me skew your treatment of me. I am partially wild, a little more than half a beast… but in the end, I am still just your wife.”
David stared back at Jillian with his wide brown eyes, awestruck. He’d thought of her lately as so bitter, as such a harridan, and such a…
But the whole time, this was the true problem: Jillian herself. Her fears, her insecurities, her weaknesses… and above all else, her desperate need to lean on him.
David hung his head in shame.
Had he let his wife down? Had he allowed his view of her – his knowledge of her ‘other half’- to temper the way he treated her? Had he really viewed her as being the stronger partner, even if he did subconsciously resent her imagined assumption of the role?
The answer need not have been any more complex than that. Jillian needed David – during the short span that was his life – to help carry her troubles, so that she could throw herself into carrying Charlie’s. David had the image of ‘Jillian the Wolf’ so burned into his mind that he’d forgotten ‘Jillian the Woman’ – the petite, soft creature that he now held in his arms.
To think that his marital situation could have gone so wrong, and he’d never even realized it…
This life – this relationship – was terribly mystifying.
“I’m sorry,” said David, kissing Jillian’s forehead. “I had no idea that all this was going through your mind.”
“I didn’t know it was going through my head either,” confessed Jillian. “But we did say ‘forever’, after all. Didn’t we?”
There it was again, that icy stab of pain…
“What is Forever?” asked David quietly, hoping that semantics would divert the conversation away from the subject of his own demise.
“I think,” said Jillian, furrowing her pretty brow, “that ‘forever’ is a misnomer, a mistakenly linear term for something that is really cyclical in nature. What is Forever, if not a series of false starts? A resolution to start over again, every time that you need to?”
David pulled Jillian close, nuzzling her hair.
“So what is it to be, Mrs. Wollstonecroft?” he asked quietly. “Do we give in to fear, or do we renew Forever?”
Jillian pulled away for a moment and looked at her husband with tearful eyes, eyes that were no longer blue but brilliant amber…
She smiled a little, revealing teeth that sharpened and elongated even as her husband hesitantly met her prettily hellish gaze…
David felt no fear this time. Time was his enemy. Boredom was his enemy. Extramarital lust, callousness, fear, and insensitivity were all his enemies…
But Jillian was not his enemy.
She belonged to him as surely as he did to her, and all the horrors of this life could not change that.
“I think,” said Jillian, as she buried her head into her husband’s chest once more, “that the time has come for our next false start. This one won’t ‘take’ either, you know, and we’ll have to start again after that…”
David took Jillian’s face in his hands, staring her dead in her terrifying eyes.
“Yes,” he said firmly. “Our newest start will crash and burn just like our last resolution, but we’ll learn a little something from it, yes? And then we’ll start all over again…”
David spoke softly, barely finishing his intended soliloquy before Jillian’s lips closed in on his…
“One more time,” he murmured.
Time and time again, he thought feverishly as Jillian pushed him onto the cluttered bed, we WILL start over, every time that we must…