Gentle Hands Red With Meaning

A hunter’s eye, that sees nothing and misses everything but fear: he sees green, hears water, smells footprints. Beaten by the sun griddling off the concrete. He is out of his time, once a slave, once an owner of slaves. Reeks of grave earth and urine, wolf hair and adonis; beneath the heavy coat a belt of coral pinches at the hard flesh of his belly. Borrowed nipples heavy with milk, he longs for empire builders.

He kills by daylight, clears a wide circle around the trash and train-swept rumble of his domus, steel and leather. The noise and metal of the trains frustrate and bore him, but there are olive trees growing beyond the fence, and that is familiar. Olive trees and sea air: he remembers stories learned soldiering of a wager between gods.

Nights he is a wild thing, one with raccoons and coyotes, feral cats, drunkards. Brings deer down in the middle of the high road and leaves an accusatory finger of entrails pointed straight at the heart of downtown: I am Caesar’s, no one else may touch me.

Ishmaelite

Once taken up, the mantle is not put down so easily. This belt of moonstone bites deeper and deeper into my flesh with each passing cycle. Ah, that I had not ventured to the crossroads! Not struck that deal with the man dressed all in blue and black! I have bartered my birthright for a mess of pottage, and no blessings remain to shower upon me, the rightful heir, firstborn son.

Wolf.

Clumsy in the night, tail dragging heavy and awkward, crashing into trees, torn by bracken, mouth full of thistles and dew. No beast of the fields, I, nor the woods–outcast and shunned by man and wolf alike, a mercenary in the endless war of all against all. I feast myself on mice and carrion, and wake, one week out of four, retching, retching, Roman girdle biting always deeper into my thighs.

Ah, that I had not been so foolish!

Dilettante

It was boredom that decided me, eventually, to attempt the experiment; boredom, and not intellectual fervor – for I have always been, sad to say, deficient in that regard – nor yet devilry, as some have imputed. No, simply boredom, the desperate boredom of an idle, ill-spent life, and a head overfull with occult nonsense and theosophical discourses, that set the course of my life, and propelled me to that dark and damned experiment.

I was at that time a collector of spells. Not the spells that one normally encounters under that heading – not the blatantly fraudulent creations of the popular shyster, designed to ape more ancient beliefs – but actual, historical spells. I have published several pamphlets anonymously under the name Maro detailing my researches; I flatter myself that they are well-regarded by such as are interested in that esoteric field. Such vanities being the only expected or desired remuneration for their publication – I remember Simon Magus, and do otherwise.

In the course of my indolent researches, I came across a curious Roman fragment concerning the transformation of man into wolf, marvelously lucid and explicit in its directions, tucked away in an obscure late Latin volume by Theodorus Festinius Quiriac. On a whim – nothing more! – I decided to essay the cantrip: thus, midnight found me, shivering slightly, standing over my clothes in the middle of the municipal cemetery. With voice thickened by the hour, I intoned the strange Etruscan words recommended by Festinius and urinated in a circle about my discarded habiliments. With palpitant heart and nervous brain I awaited the consummation of my ill-struck fancy.

I must have dozed, then, lulled by the late hour and the length of my fond vigil, for when I woke the stars had swung through half their arc and the moon was retiring behind the trees, and my clothes were wet with dew. Cursing myself, I dressed, and made my way home, where I collapsed into a sleep that lasted days, waking weak as any kitten. After gathering what refreshment I could from a lengthy shower and several cups of strong coffee, I turned to the daily papers that had collected in my absence. Imagine my horror, then, to discover in banner font on the front page this headline, which appeared the day after my abortive magery:

POLICE SEEK NUDE ASSAILANT

The following story detailed a series of brutal attacks on several young women in the area surrounding the graveyard. One victim, Rachel Ortiz, had been most viciously abused and was receiving intensive care at the hospital. In a fever I tore through the remaining papers, growing ever more devastated with each headline.

VICTIM OF ASSAULT DIES

PUBLIC OUTCRY AGAINST MURDERER

TWO MORE DEAD IN NUDE ASSAULT CASE

DISTRICT ATTORNEY TO SEEK DEATH PENALTY

The papers slipped from my fingers and I collapsed on the floor in a swoon. How long I might have remained in this wise, overwhelmed by unutterable remorse, I cannot say; but, it must not have been above a very few minutes, for I was roused by a heavy pounding at the door. With slow and leaden tread I crossed the short distance to that portal; never had my apartment been so dear to me as then, life never so sweet! But, whatever my many sins, I was determined that cowardice should not be adduced against me, and so I squared my shoulders and stepped out to face my legitimate ending.

Instead of the imposing figures of the expected constabulary, however, my landing held only the frail curlicue of my landlady. “Have you heard the news?” that worthy asked. “They’ve got the beast that did so wrong by those ladies! Caught him right in the act, too, down by Comment Gardens, tearing at the clothes of the poor businesswomen, and him howling and frothing at the mouth like a wild animal. He’s escaped from some sanitarium or other, or so I hear.”

I don’t know what I said to her, what excuses I made, whether I was polite or whether I simply closed the door in her face, but once alone again I sank to the floor, relieved, and, in a certain sense, cheated. My hands were unstained with blood, it is true, but I was not free from guilt: though I had done no more than fall asleep unwisely in a morbid atmosphere, I had looked into myself and discovered an infinite capacity for blood. I was a man no longer; I was the wolf.

Young Andrew

She was sometimes a wolf, and sometimes a woman. Not one and then the other; rather, the way a picture of a candlestick is also the picture of two faces in profile. In either shape she had the same fretful, warm brown eyes.

His legs were broken. It was maybe the pain from that that kept him confused.

She sat next to him and leaned her head against his shoulder. Her hair had a dry, dusty smell, like rotting leaves. “What does it mean?” she asked. “Why did they break your legs?”

Andrew sighed. “I did a filthy thing and this is my punishment.”

She thought about that while he struggled to stay conscious. The day was fading and he wanted to see the sunset. “And your arms? Why are they tied?”

“Because I did not repent the filthy thing I did and instead threw it in their faces. Therefore am I bound.”

She went around the tree behind him, her skirt or tail brushing against his side. “And this good red gold? Why did they leave it thee?”

Andrew wept. “Because this was the reason for the filthy thing I did, and so they left it me.”

The sun had set and she came around the tree again, all wolf now.

*

Her brothers, waiting at the edge of the forest, wondered at the silence over the woods.

Young Andrew

Young Andrew is counting his money.
Bright, butter-yellow coins, king-faced, heavy coins.
The shadow of the tree spreads over his lap, spreads over his money.
The shadows of the leaves spread over him.

They have broken his legs and tied him by the neck to this tree.
His arms they have left him, whole and entire.
He runs the money through his fingers.
The light flashing from the coins distracts his eyes.
The coins fall into his lap, two, three, four.

The trees reach up for the sun.
The shadow of the tree spreads across the clearing.
No light flashes now from his money.
There are noises in the woods.
He screamed when they broke his legs, screamed when the rope bit into the flesh of his neck.
Now he is silent.
The money clinks as he counts it.

There are eyes watching him from the spaces beneath the trees.
Young Andrew sees the eyes only.
They will not move until it is nighttime.
He sees them coming from the trees, spreading over the lawn, long tails flowing, white teeth and green eyes, Sennacherib…
But night is not yet.
Young Andrew is counting his money.
Bright, heavy coins.