This story is by EndlessExposition and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Lyn didn’t know another cow had been killed until she came home that morning. She entered her house by the kitchen door, forgetting to step over the creaking floorboard. She wasn’t much good at sneaking in. Her mother was awake, anyway, rinsing her coffee cup in the sink.
“Where have you been? I was worried sick.”
Lyn twisted her windbreaker tighter around her body, grateful it was a hand-me-down a couple sizes too big. “I got tired and slept over at Sarah’s.”
Ma frowned. “What were you sleepin’ on? You’re filthy.”
“We took sleepin’ bags out behind the house.”
“You slept outside? You can’t be doin’ that right now. There was another cow killed last night.”
Lyn swallowed. Her tongue tasted of iron and Sarah’s stolen vodka, stale and sickening. “Whose cow?”
“The Millers’. Had its guts tore out like all the others.” Lyn nodded. Ma, noticing her quiet, smiled reassuringly. “I don’t mean to scare you, sweetheart. But you hafta to be careful. Ain’t nothin’ worse than a wolf.”
“Go wash up for church now.”
In the bathroom Lyn balled her windbreaker around her boots and chucked them in the corner. Naked, she rubbed her fingers over the mud stains on her skin. The cuts on her hands stung. She’d been drunk last night but not blackout drunk – her last logical explanation gone.
She ran the shower water hot and rinsed the dead leaves from her hair.
At church the wolf was all anyone could talk about. Reverend Brown gave his sermon on it. “Always keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as overseers. Savage wolves, who will not spare the flock, will come among you.” Acts of the Apostles, Lyn noted.
After service, Lyn and her mother joined the meandering line of people offering comfort to the Millers. Jack Miller kept an arm around his wife, Nancy. Ma took her hand. “I am so sorry. We’re gonna catch this devil soon, you’ll see.”
Nancy shook her head, face pale and mouth taut. “Tell them, Jack.”
Jack rubbed his brow with his free hand. “There were paw prints in the field. About halfway along, they turned to footprints. Like a person. And they went off into the woods.”
Ma put a hand to her mouth. “Like the Smiths? And the Taylors?”
“Yep,” Jack said. “I hoped to God they were wrong. But now…”
“I’m gonna get Reverend Brown to come say a prayer,” Nancy quavered. “I don’t want that – that evil near our home.”
The church had grown stuffy; sweat prickled on Lyn’s neck. She backed away quietly from the conversation and went outside. The spring morning was cool, and blurry with mist. Through the haze Lyn spotted a familiar outline leaning on the church’s fence: bulky leather jacket and short, tousled hair. She walked over, straightening her skirt. “Hey.”
“Hey yourself.” Mel pulled a cigarette from behind an ear studded with piercings. “You want?”
“I better not, Ma’s inside. Do you gotta wear that thing here?” Mel wore a t-shirt printed with a sketch of a woman reclining naked.
Mel grinned, shrugging off her jacket. “Can’t help myself.”
Lyn made a show of rolling her eyes. “You’re a dumbass.”
Mel slung an arm around Lyn’s shoulder and pulled her close. “Yeah, but I’m your dumbass.” Mel’s skin was furred with thick, dark hair that she never shaved. Lyn used to have a cheap velveteen dress that was almost as soft as Mel’s hair. “You wanna hang tonight? Our usual place?”
“What is she doing here?” The girls turned around. Nancy Miller was standing in the churchyard. “How dare you come near God’s house, you little dyke! Haven’t you done enough? Get out!” She pointed accusingly at Mel. “She’s brought her sin and corruption down on all of us!” The congregation stood behind her, stony-faced, silent.
“Lyn!” Ma grabbed her hand. “It’s time to go home.” They left the churchyard, walking down Main Street. “I thought I told you not to spend time with that girl. Always hangin’ on you like…it ain’t appropriate.”
Lyn twisted her head round. Jack was guiding Nancy away. “Ye are of your father the devil,” she shrieked, “and the lusts of your father ye will do!”
Lyn caught Mel’s gaze and mouthed, “Tonight.” Mel smiled and ambled away. In the churchyard, more than one set of eyes watched her go.
There was an oak on the edge of the abandoned pasture with a hollow in it. Lyn kept a bottle of whiskey there. She drank it while she waited for Mel, her windbreaker spread under her like a blanket. Even though it was midnight, the full moon lit the field like a searchlight.
Footfalls tapped on the ground. Mel dropped down. A long scratch ran across one cheek.
“What happened to you?”
“Just some kids chucking rocks.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’ll be better if you give me some of that.” Lyn passed her the bottle. Mel took a swig and laid back on the grass. “Some moon, huh?” The jewelry in her ears gleamed, tiny moons staked down in her skin. Lyn lay beside her.
“Whenever I look up at your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place – what is man that you remember him?”
“That a poem?”
Mel lolled her head towards Lyn. “Do you have a Bible verse for everything?”
Lyn shrugged. “That’s how most folks feel, don’t they, under the moon? All small.”
“Do you?” Lyn shrugged again. Mel turned her gaze back to the sky. She tilted her head back and howled.
Lyn shot up. “Don’t do that!” Mel grinned. She howled again, long and loud. “Stop it! It’s not funny, people will hear you!”
“People, or the wolf? Think it’ll answer?” Mel howled and Lyn clapped a hand over her mouth. Mel jerked away. “Scared?” On the next howl Lyn scrabbled on top of her. She grabbed for Mel’s hands and Mel batted her away, laughing.
They wrestled; Lyn slipped and landed heavily. The air rushed out of Mel’s lungs and Lyn took the opportunity to pin Mel’s hands over her head and clamp her fingers over Mel’s mouth. She only removed the gag when she felt Mel steady. “What is wrong with you?”
Mel sighed. “There’s nothing wrong with me, Lyn.” They were so close Lyn felt Mel’s breasts pushing into hers and retreating with each breath. Mel’s breath smelled like whiskey and her skin smelled like grass and blood. Lyn pressed her face into the dirt by Mel’s head. “Are you scared?”
Lyn pulled back. Mel’s eyes were silver with reflections of the moon. Lyn put a hand on her cheek, stroking a thumb along it. “I’m not you. I don’t need to be all wild and crazy.”
Mel leaned into Lyn’s hand. “Wild’s not so bad.” The cut splitting Mel’s face was warm, tacky-wet. The slightest pressure and blood welled up. Lyn sucked the blood from her thumb, tasting iron. She let go of Mel’s hands and Mel pulled Lyn down and pressed their lips together. Mel licked into her mouth, and her tongue dissolved Lyn’s edges until she disappeared.
Lyn woke up naked. She was cold and stiff. She raised her head, and her muscles creaked and burned. She was in the woods. Soft yellow light filtered through the trees – morning. She pushed herself all the way up and stood. Her skin was blackened with mud. Shit. She only had so many excuses to give her mother. A little ways off she saw the trail that went back towards the pasture. Her first steps were stumbling, her body still regaining feeling.
By the time she got back to the pasture the sun was fully above the horizon. A dark shape sprawled in the grass. Lyn smiled; of course Mel was still asleep. As she came closer, the dark shape colored purple and rust red. At first Lyn thought it was a trick of the light. Then the smell hit her – whiskey and urine – and she gagged. Where there had been one cut on Mel’s cheek, her body was now a mass of wounds: blacked eyes and split lips, fingermarks on her wrists. A boot print branded her throat. Her blood had curdled and dried around the gunshot through her heart.
Lyn scrabbled in the grass for her windbreaker. She stuffed the sleeve in her mouth and screamed.
Lyn came home. The floorboard creaked. Ma shut her coffee cup in the cupboard, looking her up and down. “I’m not even gonna ask. But you should know that the Johnsons had a cow killed last night.” Lyn walked past her. “This is serious, Lyn. Ain’t nothin’ worse than a wolf.”
Lyn didn’t dare stop, or look at her mother. But she managed to choke out, “Don’t be so sure.”