By Marina Richards
This Story Won Third Prize in Our Contest
She hears their claws clicking along the narrow curve of earth where the sun and moon illuminate a river of light. She sees them when her eyes are still closed and she’s floating inside her tiny ocean in her mother’s belly.
She dreams of fiery skies and purple painted deserts. Sooty smears of black highway. Wild sunflower eyes. Teeth and fur.
She’s a good baby, suckling at her mother’s breast. Eating her oatmeal. Listening to the garbled sounds of her parents. While her mother pushes her stroller, the girl knows they’re out there watching her, those she sees with her mind’s eye.
Hiding in darkness.
Crunching paws against snow and gravel.
Standing on rocky peaks, braced against the wind.
Her mother explains the dangers of going outside without her. You must hold my hand. Mustn’t ever wander off.
Her father builds a house to protect her. Keep her safe.
She only feels safe when she flits her arms like a bird, pretending to soar over the meadow trees behind the woodshed, in search of her true family.
Paper wings thrust by air into a cacophony of sounds: streams, ravens, foxes. Choruses of wild things closing in. Closer. Closer. Always closer. Bubbles of anticipation inside her belly. Giggles on the breeze, pink, airy, circular rainbows.
They’re the only sounds she ever makes. All she needs. Words are cruel things with the power to maim and destroy. She prefers feeling and instinct.
At school, she stuffs herself into the dimmest backfield of her classroom, becoming the smallest husk of corn her town ever grew, scrawny and unnoticed. Curling into the cave of her desk.
She tunes out the other kids who whisper and giggle and point like she’s not there. She doesn’t let them see how much she’s bleeding inside, how her heart lumps up inside her throat at their judgment.
All because she doesn’t use words like them. They’re probably scared by her silence. Because if they’d stop talking, the quiet would be all they had left, too. Then they’d be outsiders, friendless and broken. Just like her.
The experts gently pronounce their professional judgment. A special school for unique children.
Her mother cries.
Her father shakes his head.
They always suspected…something. Never understood her odd little animal obsessions.
They send her to a psychologist who tells her to draw what she sees. She sketches long thick tails, misty clouds of breath, teeth as large as a child’s pinky finger. Wolves?
She nods, flattening her hand against the window, feeling them through the glass.
In her room at night, their movements are the song she hears. Their metallic blood scents, the air she breathes. Her mind bursts with excitement and anticipation. Her heart, ache and love.
She yearns to grow her wings so she can fly away to their gray caves. Sleep between their muscular bodies after a hunt. Listen to the beautiful bleed of their savage sounds.
When the villagers organize a wolf slaughter, she can barely breathe. With her special language, she pleads with her parents to stop the hunters. But her parents lock her in her room.
How can they be so cold? So callous as to not care about the wolves? They’re being selfish, wanting her all to themselves like a possession. Denying her need to save her true family.
So she breaks the window and climbs onto the roof of her prison. Far off in the town square, she sees fire.
Yips and howls echo across the sky: the song of the wolf.
She jumps off the roof and runs toward the flames. That’s when she sees her: the female alpha wolf. She’s known her since before she was born.
She’s strapped to a log and surrounded by people holding torches and long rifles. Her white fur is bloody. Through the darkness, the girl spots the rest of the pack, eyes glowing from inside the woods. She slips away, vanishing into the trees.
The wolf pack show their fangs, growling at her, yet she doesn’t move. Silent. Pure-hearted. She reaches out her hand, flesh they could rip at any second. But they let her touch their fur. Stroke their backs. She gestures for them to stay quiet.
Then she returns to the alpha wolf. A small girl. That unloved husk of corn everyone said was touched in the head.
Grabbing a torch, she stands between the hunters and the giant wolf, daring them to come closer.
Laughing at her, they steady their rifles. Order her to get back. Instead, she cuts the straps with a knife she stole from the shed.
The alpha wolf howls and licks her face. She bares her teeth at the hunters.
Move, they shout at the small girl.
She doesn’t move.
That’s that crazy kid. They beg her to come with them so they can take her home to her parents.
The alpha female growls low, and then the entire wolf pack lunges from the woods.The moon shines over the barren ground as the fire crackles and smokes, and the girl climbs onto her mother-wolf’s back. They ride away to a hidden world deep inside the forest.
That night, the girl stands on the wolves’ favorite boulder. Under a canopy of stars, she howls at the snow moon, no longer silent, her voice full as her heart.