by Stephanie Hutton

Just as my legs weakened underneath skirts of linen and lace, I caught sight of Papa’s painting from his travels of that exquisite beast, the wolf. It stared into the distance as if it could see ahead to that which now descended on us, cloaking us in darkness. From the kitchens escaped the sighs and exclamations of the staff, as they felt the oncoming faint and fell to sleep right where they were. As my eyes closed, I wondered what the gentlemen of the house would make upon waking, to find a girl asleep amongst the leather and musk of the library room.

I feel her presence before she even touches me. Stuck fast between a dream world and that which I left a long time ago, my body does not obey my will. Then her breath as she pants inquisitively. A lick from her tongue against my lonely face warms a part of me that had forgotten how to move.  Curled on the floor, I start to unwind my stiff body. As my eyelids flutter back to life, she pads towards the window and leaps.

The solemn silence of the house speaks to me of my family’s fate. They sleep still. Mama perhaps nestled in her chamber draped in dreams and silk, Papa folded forward over his plans for war. Shall I fall back to the peace of sleep, never woman nor wife?

“Then I become the heartbeat, the clatter of branch against branch, the swirl of searching wind”

My clothing pulls me down as the earth pulls rain. I unknot the ties and as the dress drops away I find my breath, my body. I feel light as a fern. Trees have stretched their arms into our slumbering house. The finger of a branch beckons me outdoors. I roll down my stockings and free my feet from their gaol. Unpinning my hair, I shake it over my shoulders, the touch of which causes my skin to dance and pimple. There are no ladies to watch over me, an unbetrothed young lady. I sigh out my name and leave it behind in the cobwebs.

I follow my visitor’s path through the window. My breath leaves a trail of white shadow in the night air. Saliva gathers in a pool within my mouth, and as I start to run it drips down over my teeth and runs down my chin. I catch a flash of movement and freeze. A pure white rabbit. Not hanging upside down in the kitchens, but sniffing and shuffling right there. My chest pounds a rhythm of not-now-not-now, but I feel hunger.

Then I become the heartbeat, the clatter of branch against branch, the swirl of searching wind feeling its way between the trees to bend the smallest blade of grass with my breath. I am the rich dark soil, crawling with opportunity and death. I am the yellow moonlight dripping in pools of storm-water. I am the broken colours of the sun, the ever-moving yet still forest of the night. The silent damage, the hidden hunter and the always-will-be.

Stephanie Hutton | @tiredpsych

Stephanie Hutton is a writer and clinical psychologist in the UK. She has published her flash fiction, short stories and poetry online and in print. In 2016 she won the Writers HQ Competition and Bibliophone 1000 Words Heard Competition, was shortlisted for the Black Pear Press Short Story Competition and Brighton Prize, and received an Honourable Mention in Ink Tears Short Story Competition. She believes in the therapeutic value of short fiction.

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