10-14 Wild Things
Today, I woke with a story to tell.
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Esme Ezekiel looked at her hands, at the fingerprints that weren’t hers, and was amazed. She turned her wrists, examined her palms, touched the pads of her thumbs to the pads of her fingers and ran them in dry circles, with a sound like withered leaves. She hesitated before she tried to snap, found that she couldn’t, and clicked her fingernails instead.
Snap, she thought. And snap she heard. With a jubilance that an outward observer would mistake for insanity, she pulled air into her lungs and laughed. It felt good, laughing without reason, being loud without cause.
The rose gardens were in bloom and as she sat on the wooden bench, she stared past the marvels that were her hands to the fence. It thought it could hide, lurking behind the green and the red and the thorns, but there are some things too mean to tuck away, too stark to be mistaken for tranquil. Ezekiel saw the fence, and her laughter died in her throat.
“What’s the matter, Zeki?” the Woman asked.
Ezekiel did not turn, did not pry her eyes from the metal. She didn’t even try, knowing what she knew. The Woman shuffled on the gravel path, edging closer, and Ezekiel cringed for the waiting. The hand touched her shoulder, soft as a butterfly’s wing, and Ezekiel twisted out from it.
Wild things do not need to be touched.
Ezekiel was running.
She could feel her heart in her chest, a pounding like drums, and she tasted blood on the air, a mist like a thought. She didn’t know if she was chasing or being chased, she didn’t know if the dark forest was a place she understood. It was the earth under her paws that pulled her, the power in her legs that propelled her, and it was enough to know that she ran.
Dreams have a way of changing you. Slowly at first, but as time wears by, they warp—if not reality—then the way it is perceived. When Ezekiel opened her eyes, she was laying in the white bed in the white room surrounded by things that were too soft. She rolled her head to the side, saw the Woman in her white clothes with the red stitched neatly in the front, and sighed.
Routines are like dreams, if you don’t take heed. The rise and fall of the sun, the subtle drone of a world going about its business: the breaking of fasts, the midday hunger, the evening activities—which some said changed, but Ezekiel knew better—and the slow repetition of a job half done. The people around her walked a waking dream, let it alter their reality, took their medicine and watched the dreams pass by.
But not Ezekiel. Her routine was different, a shift as subtle as drifting to sleep, and as she sat in the rose garden, even in the rain—especially in the rain—she stared at what the Woman thought were flowers, but what she knew to be a cage. And, as she sat, Ezekiel dreamed.
Dreams can change your reality. Dreams can become more real than the world. And in those dreams, when Ezekiel ran and heard the pounding of her blood, she knew the deal she had to make. And she knew the price it would take.
Night fell, and Ezekiel rose.
She padded to the door, pulling a stolen treasure from her hair. She’d tucked it under her curly, black mane, pilfered from the Woman's locks. Ezekiel had read the stories of a thousand worlds, retained the knowledge of a thousand lifetimes, and from those books she drew a tiny image in her mind. A moment’s thought, the smallest of hesitations, and she had the hair pin in the lock, had twisted it thus and so.
Her mother had been a reader, Ezekiel knew. Her father, she didn’t, but in truth, who did? He was an illusion, an elusive fish seldom caught. She’d watched his silver scales flick into the depths of her mind.
Ezekiel felt the weight of the tumblers turn. Her door was open, a layer of her cage thwarted, and she stepped into an empty hallway at a crouch. A glance left, a glance right, and she was trotting down the corridor.
She had always known what laid behind her heart, had always heard the wild things stir. She sped past the station, where the Woman lurked, her pen in hand. She made it to the window—open just a crack, to let the night breeze cool a stale building—and pounced through it.
It was a good leap, a graceful bound, and she landed on her hands outside the building, rolling lightly to slippered feet. Ezekiel did not hesitate. She loped down the gravel path, slippery and quiet as a shadow, and came to the rose wall with its metal secret. She turned, straightened, and met the eyes of the man waiting for her.
Demons, her mother had told her, are our own evil given form.
Relying on this, Ezekiel had summoned one of her own. He was her height exactly, something no one else quite seemed to be, and his eyes were as deep and ancient as the first of graves. He had dark hair, trim, and the suit he wore would be appropriate for the funeral she had planned. She looked at him, and she smiled.
“You know what I want?” she asked.
The smallest nod, eyes like amber catching a tendril of the full moon. He had no face. No, that wasn’t quite true. His face was shifting, like a reflection in the surface of a pond, and focusing on it made Ezekiel’s eyes slide.
“And I know the price,” she said, offering him the hand that was not her own.
He did not touch her. He did not have to. Ezekiel willed it, and it was a truth. After, she felt no different. This always surprised her. From all that she had read, all that her dreams had told her, she expected to feel…empty. Instead, when Ezekiel turned her face to the sky, saw the moon touch her black skin, she howled.
The people said it was a curse. There were stories as old as stories could be, warning humanity of the wo/man-beast. There were books about blood and dead children, there were legends of hunts and silver and daggers.
But as the light of the full moon caught in Ezekiel’s black hair, and she felt the muscle and bone of her body contort, she didn’t feel evil. She felt like something old enough to be new.
For the price of a soul, a dream can be born.
As a human, the rose-garden fence was insurmountable, a behemoth with metal teeth. But now, as Ezekiel felt the gravel shift beneath the pads of the paws that were hers, it was a joke. She wondered, as she raced toward it—four legs pumping, muscles springing—if anyone had ever gotten the punchline. Surely, not as she did.
She was power, and true power does not know bounds. Ezekiel sprang. Ezekiel flew. And Ezekiel, her black fur glossy in moonlight, leapt the metal lie and landed softly on the other side.
She breathed. Air moved through her snout, filled her lungs, churned in the very absence of soul. And she barked a laugh, white teeth flashing.
Because when she began to run, pulling herself through black forest, she understood the world in a clear and beautiful way. Small animals fled before her, tangled brush parted. She was the night, the moon, the very earth beneath her paws. She was hunger and strength, passion and will. She was alive.
A soul cannot be bought or lost, sold or conquered. As with demons, a soul is what we make of it. And Ezekiel’s soul soared that night, as she howled in the moonlight. She was a beast, fierce and free, and she was a creature, content with the way of the world and the place she took in it.
When dawn came, Ezekiel opened her eyes to the white room, to the soft things and the Woman, with her medicine and her smile. Ezekiel could still smell the earth in her own hair, knew the secret her heart had hidden, and as she sat beside the rose-garden fence that day, she looked at the hands that were not hers. And she grinned.
For a surely as the tides came and went, the full moon would rise again.