“Teeth” by Cathy Charlton

On nights where even the stars hide behind cloaks of cloud, and their big sister the moon can’t bear to share her light–on these rare nights, death prowls in the form of a black wolf.

We scatter like fairies, hidden in our foxglove havens. We pretend not to hear the cries of those who failed to make it home by nightfall. Transformed into wraiths who will haunt the open waters forever. Listen now–the wind flirts with reeds, they tempt us out to their comforting tune; a folk song they have played since the dawn of marshes.

He conducts the orchestra; him with the clever eyes and the shining teeth. Teeth which can smile and charm any young lass to let their guard down. Those same teeth rip flesh clean from bone.

 

That’s what they want us to believe, anyway. The fairies–who on nights like this are free to roam. His teeth are sharp, but they prefer a more honest flesh than human. It’s too bitter for his tastes.

It hasn’t always been this way. Great Mother Pearl told me so when I was a girl. There was once a time we lived side by side, humans and fairies. Imagine that–no parting between day and night, light and darkness. Now there are two different worlds. Landscape transforms when the fairies awaken, spun around to someplace new. No trace of human in sight. The world is wilderness, as it was meant to be. If a careless child is out when the last ray of sun sinks beyond the horizon, they are lost forever. But they do not die. No, they join the ranks of the fairies, cursed and blessed all at once.

Because that’s the rule: only children, or adults with blood on their hands slip between worlds. And only when they are out alone on a starless night like this. Turns out few are as innocent as they believe.

No one else knows what I do, that the wolf is a woman, trapped by the Fairy Queen to protect her on these Dark Moon nights. Remember my story, if anyone is out there, if anyone can hear. Remember that once there was a woman called Tam who chose her fate. She has no fear of the wolf, or her teeth. Tam’s own teeth are sharp as any wolves, and just as cunning, and just as beautiful.

She is the wolf , and she will be mine. This is the first Dark Moon since I knew what it is to kill, to love, all at once. Now I know how she must feel–the legend I yearn for.

The last ember of pink has fallen below the horizon, and stars are extinguished by their cloak. They hide, but I do not. Land is still as it morphs, but the wind has picked up, and with it the smell of treacle and blood. It licks my face, and I know she comes for me. She can smell me, but she will find something new tonight. I’ve nothing to fear. I have been here before.

You might wonder how I know her, why I’ve loved her all this time. Why I killed for her. She spared me once, when the moon was gone and the stars were extinguished. When the human settlements disappeared under the earth and the Fairy Queen was near. Her orders:  to kill all but the innocent.  But I was caught between the two; on the cusp of adult awakening. Her eyes were confusion, great pools of blue sought my soul and found that we were kindred. Her bared teeth slackened, and a single tear fell from the corner of one eye. She held me down in the long grass, protected me with her great body of warmth. I can still remember her fur against my skin–surprisingly soft–and the smell of sweat and wildflowers. I wished that moment would last forever, that the Fairy Queen would turn to stone so I could stay cocooned by warmth forever. The Fairy Queen did not find me that night, and when dawn broke, that world shattered with it. My home grew from the ground as though it had been there all along. And she was gone.

Now I have grown.

Here she is now, the wolf I have dreamt of every night. Flesh again, inches away. Her teeth long to rip into me. Passion and blood-lust inseparable, and for a moment I doubt which way her heart leans.

“I’m here. I’m back for you. Let us wait out this night together. Let us hide from the Fairy Queen and return as mortal flesh. You saved me once, and now I will save you.”

Does she remember me as I remember her?

She bears down on me. Her teeth flash white rage.

“What makes you think I wish to be saved?”

She knows not what she says. All these years trapped in the wrong body, more animal than human. I grab hold of her warm fur, press my body to hers so our hearts shudder through each other’s. Her moist breath in my ear, her teeth bared, but she does not rip my flesh.

“Stay with me. Leave with me. Wait out this long night with me. This time, cross over.”

Hesitation in her movements, her clever eyes penetrate mine. What does she see? The girl she protected all those years ago? The woman who has been one with her ever since?

I cannot fear the wolf, for the wolf is part of my soul. She feels it too.

Her cells fizzle beneath her fur, her flesh becomes fluid, re-moulding. Changing.

“The Fairy Queen, she controls you.” I stare in horror at her convulsing flesh. Not for my sake, but for hers. She must feel agony.

Snakes rip from her skin. Her pelt falls away, empty shell of fur. It smells of her. They writhe in a mass over my chest, slide round my body to grip me. They threaten venom in their fangs, and constrict my chest until I can barely breathe. Still I cannot fear her, for the clever snake was once the cunning wolf. Their scales are smooth, but the warmth from her fur is residue to remind me of her power.

“This is not the Queen’s will, but mine,” she hisses in my ear. “I chose my own destiny.”

The dark night fades and with it her, but as the life is squeezed from me, still I cannot fear her. I will not let go.

With this thought, snakes loosen their grip. They slide to one mass on my stomach, their weight the same as the wolf. Crushed beneath her, but I can breathe better than before. Snakes squeeze together, one mass which can’t have space between them. Condensed until they form something new.

A red hot iron on my skin. It burns, but I know it cannot mark my flesh. It is her, the final test. I will not scream. I will not bemoan a single sensation from her.

Her hard shell melts away to leave something softer, and just as warm. Finally, her fur is gone, her teeth human–a woman, naked and vulnerable.

“This is not who I was meant to be.”

Dawn threatens the sky, and too late I know my mistake. Still I hold her. I can’t let go, too late to change my mind. Her eyes plead with mine, and I see them now. Ancient and blue as ice lake. She belongs to another time. In the space between our worlds, she yields a death cry, and melts away as my home town fades into being from mist. Her essence slips through my fingers.

Alone in the long grass, cold dew soaks my clothes, and I know that both worlds are changed forever. She’s left her empty shell of black fur. It seems smaller than it should be, smaller than the beast whose teeth have ripped flesh from those who hunted fairies. It smells of her, meadow flowers and damp fens. I take her home. Her remnants to remind me.

They will say I’ve conquered the town’s fear: but I never wished to slay the wolf.

THE END


Truancy 6, September 2019
Bio: Cathy Charlton is a UK based writer who has loved words for as long as she can remember. You’ll find her scribbling in a notebook. You can read more of her work on her website or on Twitter @cathyannewrites.

 

 Teeth is a retelling of the British folktale Tam Lin. There are many variations of the original story, but in most (if not all), Tam is held captive by the Fairy Queen, and his lover wishes to free him so that they can marry. In order to do so, Tam must go through a series of unpleasant transformations while she holds on to him. Teeth also contains elements of the East Anglian legend Black Shuck – the dog said to haunt Fenland on stormy nights. In some versions of the traditional tale, meeting his eyes foreshadows death. Black Shuck in this story is of course a woman transformed into the wolf.

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