By Willow Taylor
Picture a time and place in the future, where magic is well known, and Wiccans, Druids, and other Pagans live in near harmony with their monotheistic neighbors. It was not an easy battle, but in this time and place, it was won. The magic has come back into the world, no longer hiding in plain sight, it shines in every day life. However, bringing it into the open has not deprived magic of its darker side. The time is one generation after magic has become commonplace. The place, New Hampshire, America, the first place to make laws to regulate magic.
It was a crisp fall day, cold against the skin and fiery in the lungs. A steep hillside covered in almost bare trees over looked as great steep grade, far below, but still on the steep side of the hill was a house, a large, spacious house, built both to withstand harsh winter weather and to enjoy nature at its fullest. Leaves crunched beneath a woman's feet as she walked through the open forest. Her hair was a short cap of soft brown-black and beneath shaggy bangs were a pair of sharp hazel eyes. She smiled to her self as she walked through the fall woods, searching for the final sign of summer. Her hands were stuffed into her pockets as she walked, eyes low to the ground. She walked for a long time, ears red and nose starting to run from the cold. Suddenly in a difference between one step and the next the air warmed, but the pressure around her dropped. The young woman lifted her head. She was in a natural grove, and there was no wind. Stones mysteriously free from leaves were placed around the grove in a natural, yet breathtakingly familiar pattern. The closer she came to the center, the more the bizarre feeling increased. As she gaped in surprise and awe, a growl caught her attention. All around the circle, wolves were emerging.
"Nice dogs," she whispered with a dry throat, looking back down at the ground and staying stock still. "Shh, good," she started to back up, bumping into a large black wolf. She yelped. The large black canine leapt up and pinned her to the ground. Her eyes cast desperately about, as the rest of the wolves closed in. She almost thought they were growling her name. The black wolf lowered his head toward her throat, lips pulling back from his teeth. The brunette screamed and threw her legs upward tossing the heavy beast off of her. The other wolves leapt, and her heavy leather jacket tore, exposing flesh beneath it. Too scared to scream, she grappled for any weapon, and her hand came upon a knife. As her fingers closed around the antler grip, a chill went through her bones, but she whipped her arm around, slashing the wolves that had hold of her jacket. One yelped and jumped backwards as the old blade slashed its nose. The black wolf leapt forward and grabbed her wrist in its teeth biting down and making her drop the knife. The strange blade caught in the torn leather as the young woman gave a howl of pain and struck out with nails, biting through fur when she could.
"I'M NOT GOING TO DIE!" she howled at the top of her lungs. Fighting like a madwoman she struggled to the edge of the circle, and managed to break through the almost tangible edge and ran, believing it to be hopeless against the furred terrors, but leaping fallen trees and rocks, ultimately tripping and sliding through mud and leaves down hill till she was stopped by a tree. The dirty, disheveled, black-haired woman lay there panting, waiting for the wolves to come finish her off. But she couldn't even hear their howls. Finally she peeled herself up off the cold damp ground. Mud smeared and splattered with blood, both hers and the wolves, she started home.
Tina was in her late twenties, and a member of the pagan community. When she reached her home, Tina was welcomed by the altar candle in her window, and the sun-circle above her door. The first thing she did was bandage the worst of the wounds. It had stopped bleeding, but stung painfully. Wrapping the gauze around it, Tina knew that she'd be taken to the hospital and poked and prodded after she reported the attack, but it had to be done. Leaning tiredly against a wall, Tina phoned the animal control offices.
"Hello? This is Tina Cunningham up on the mountain? I was walking in the woods this afternoon and was attacked by a pack of wolves." She got an indignant look on her face. "Of course this isn't a practical joke!" she snapped. "If you think this is a joke, convince my arm, and my leather jacket!" She calmed down as the man on the other end reassured her and apologized. "Yes, I'll do that. Yes, you do that," Tina growled, gave her address and hung up the phone. "Go to the hospital," she mocked. "Get tested for Rabies." She sighed and admitted to herself it was a wise thing to do. Tina glanced at herself in a mirror, and stuck her tongue out. "I'm going out in public like this?" The dark haired woman grabbed her spare jacket from the closet and sighed. "Yup."
Tina smiled at the small silver star around the nurse's neck as she cleaned the wound.
"No infection," the nurse said. "That's a good start." She muttered a small healing charm as she wrapped clean gauze around the wound. "Any others?" Tina nodded.
"A few small bites on my arms and legs, bruises on bruises, and scratches everywhere else." She smiled crookedly.
"Attacked by wolves," the nurse said, as she cleaned the other wounds. "Sing out if it hurts. I'd never have thought it. Did you do anything to provoke them?"
Tina shook her head and inhaled sharply.
"Sorry. That's really odd." The nurse finished patching the young woman up and sat back. "Another odd thing," she commented, washing her hands. "The only infected wounds appear to be from falling down the mountainside." Tina looked at her strangely, then down at the bandage-swathed teeth marks.
"Oh gods," she muttered. "What time is it? I want this day to be over before it gets any weirder."
The nurse glanced at her watch.
The nurse smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry, by the time you're finished filling out forms, it'll almost be tomorrow."
"Reassuring," Tina muttered, heading for the desk.
The animal marshal shook his head. "I'm sorry, there were no signs of wolves up there."
"But there were!" Tina protested, resting a hand on the swath of bandages around her right arm.
"Not even a paw print, and no sign of that grove you described. Look, when you're ready to tell us what really happened, we'll be there."
"No. When you're ready to believe me, I'll be here," Tina spat, thrusting her strong chin out defiantly.
"Very well, Miss Cunningham. We'll leave you to your voodoo."
Tina's eyes flickered with annoyance. He knew very well what she did wasn't voodoo. He also knew she hated her magic being called anything else but what it was. What she did and the practices of voodoo were worlds different and he knew that. At least, he should know that. She'd taught the seminar for this department herself. Through her living room picture window she watched him climb into his car.
"I hope Christ does return. And I hope he's female." She drew the curtains and went to bed.
Nighttime is a time for traveling the strange dream realm. Tina's dreams were filled with wolves and horn handled knifes. Strange symbols burned into her mind and eyes.
A phone rang. Tina grabbed for it.
"Um yeah wha...?" she muttered sleepily into the receiver.
"Tina where are you? No one's seen you for days!" a voice yelped excitedly in her ear.
"Syb, wha'cha talking about? I saw you yesterday." Tina yawned. "No make that day before yesterday. Yesterday I was attacked by wolves."
"Have you been in the lost dimension since Friday?' Sybil demanded. "It's Monday, Tina!" Tina sat bolt upright in bed.
"You're pulling my leg!" she declared. "I can't have slept for two days straight." She stared at the wall briefly and tried to recall her dreams. They slipped away from her. "It's really Monday?"
"Believe it sister," her friend replied.
Tina shook her head clearing sleep from her eyes. "Well that puts a crimp on my weekend plans." Sybil laughed.
"I'd say so. Now if you think you can stand it, get your butt out of bed, you have to meet with your editor in two hours." Tina groaned again.
"Why did I let you become my agent?" she demanded halfheartedly.
"Because you knew I'd make you a killing," Sybil replied gaily. "I'll see you there."
"Wait, I'm covered in bruises, that won't exactly enhance my image."
"Relax Tina, it's just to go over some stuff."
"Oooh technical lingo."
"Tina, your books are great, a real new territory, but if you use a more standard formula, you can get a wider audience..."
"Tina? Are you all right?" Tina was massaging her head gently as her editor spoke.
"Mmm? Yeah fine, you were saying?"
"Have you eaten?" Roger Wicwa asked, genuinely concerned.
"That wasn't what you were saying," Tina weakly smiled. "Now that you mention it I am kind of hungry."
"You look wasted. Has one of those nuts you hang out with finally convinced you to start doing...?" He let the sentence trail off, not needing to complete the question.
"NO!" snapped Tina "You know me better than that Roger!"
Roger held up his hands in a submissive gesture. "All right, all right. You go home, eat something, get some rest, and read over this yourself, and we'll talk later okay?"
Tina stood up, almost reeled, and picked up the folder. "Um."
Tina yawned, stretched and leaned back in her chair. The meal had helped. A good thick steak, potatoes and bread, a meal of champions. Reflecting back on the size of the meal, Tina marveled that she'd finished it. Getting up and leaving the dishes, the young woman wandered back to bed, to the strange shifting world of dreams.
"I can't believe I'm going back to sleep," she mumbled to herself as she buried her head in her pillow. However sleep reached out and claimed her swiftly as if she hadn't just slept for two days straight. This time, Tina didn't sleep for two days. Instead she woke up the next morning strangely invigorated and hungry as anything.
"Gack!" she said to herself. "How can I even think of food after yesterday's meal?" But she could and was very hungry. She was into her third bowl of granola when she noticed her leather jacket sitting on the couch. Hastily, she wolfed down the rest of her cereal, and went over to the jacket, sticking her hand through the hole in the sleeve. "Well, that does it for this jacket," she sighed. As Tina lowered the jacket, something clanged to the floor next to her bare feet. Tina looked down at it, curiously. It was the knife from the grove. Tina lifted it carefully, feeling the same shiver that she had the first time she'd lifted it. It felt ancient and magical, but not evil. Tina lay it on her altar, for lack of a better place, and promptly forgot about it. She stuck the jacket in a closet for further reference, and went outside.
Below her bedroom window was solid prints of a large canine. Tina knelt down and put her hand into the hollow in the dead flowerbed. Again she shivered as her palm covered the imprint.
"This," she said to herself, "does not look like a dog print." Tina went back inside, flipping on her outdated Mac 2000 and thinking what would happen if she called the ranger again. Tina saw him laughing and telling her it was just a dog. Tina shook her head and shuttered. She had grown up with Ranger Sierra and he had always given her a hard time about her beliefs. Her fingers began flying over the keys. The dark-haired woman's eyes stopped blinking as the story unfolded itself to her. Much later, she pushed the keyboard aside and lay her head down on the table, closing her eyes with a sigh. Tina dozed off.
Running. Running. Pause. Sent. Good. Night cold. Easy hunt. Running. Running. What is that? Wolves that walk like men! Running. Running. Pause. Look back. Man that walks with wolves. Running. Running. The horned man who walks with wolves. He sees all. Running. Running. Mustn't be caught. Can't be caught. Running. Running. Not by the wolves that walk like men. Running. Running.
Tina woke up with a start at a knock at the door. She hit save, something she'd forgotten to do before she'd dozed off, and headed for the door. She was surprised to see that it was dark out. The knocking became more urgent. Tina opened the door.
"Oh, thank goddess," Sybil said with a gasp.
"Syb?" Tina said, mystified. "What are you doing here?"
"Didn't you hear?" Sybil said, swirling inside, a gash of black in the white world outside, topped with honey gold hair. "There have been more attacks. Where have you been for the last three days?"
"Last three days?" Tina squeaked. The dark haired writer collapsed onto the couch.
"Did you lose time again Tina?" Sybil said, concerned, loosening her cape and sitting down on the floor in front of her long time friend. Tina nodded.
"The last thing I remember was meeting with Roger, then coming home, sleeping for a night and..." Tina jumped up flung wide the door and looked frantically in the snow beneath her window.
"Tina!" Sybil cried. "What are you doing?"
"There was a wolf print out here before I went to sleep!" she called back. "I've got to see if it's still here!"
"It snowed yesterday, come inside, it's not really safe out there!"
"What?" When Tina came inside, Sybil told her what had happened during her blackout. Three days. Three attacks. No survivors. Sybil clicked on the TV and they both waited in silence for the local news.
"...And there have been no witnesses to these strange attacks. Most of the attacks took place in the area of Highreach Mountain, in the small town of Nearhaven." They cut to a shot of the area near Tina's house. "Naturalists say that the attacks look like that of a wolf's but the claws are too widely spaced for that. Let's hear what the locals have to say." The news switched to a shot of their reporter, Barbie Smith, on the streets of downtown Nearhaven.
"Hello, this is Barbie Smith on the streets of Nearhaven. I'm here to find out what you think." The reporter was shaped like the doll that shared her name, but that was where the similarities ended. Her hair was thick and black, and her eyes were molten brown, and she wore outfits that the famous doll would have turned her nose up at. "You, sir," the sharp-eyed woman said. "What do you think about theses attacks?" Tina groaned and slid down the couch, seeing that it was the pastor of the local church. She'd dumped his eldest boy in high school, and shortly afterwards, the boy had committed suicide. His father blamed her.
"I think it is the presence of the witch woman in our community!" the pastor said. "The woman, the charlatan, Tina Cunningham."
"How do you think Ms. Cunningham is involved?"
"She is the devil's whore, and is calling his hell hounds to wreak terror on this town!"
Barbie addressed the camera again. "That's one man's opinion, let's see what others have to say..." Barbie faded out in a blip as Tina let the remote slip from her fingers.
"Oh sweet mother...." she whimpered and buried her face in her hands. "How can one man hate so much?" Sybil patted her friend's shoulder.
"Don't worry Tina, everyone in town knows that he doesn't like you."
"Everyone in town, sure," Tina sighed. "But that's being broadcast all over the tri-state area!" Sybil's good nature slipped long enough to wince.
"On the plus side, it may improve your book sales - I mean, your name on national TV."
"Oh boy, just what I always wanted - to be proclaimed to the world as a magical murderer."
"Do you think you're going to be all right?" Sybil asked her long time friend.
"Me, sure, I'll be fine - if any nuts show up to harass me I'll fend them off with a very material and natural twelve gauge shotgun." Sybil chuckled. "But why do you ask?"
"Hey, I'm your agent, Tina, it's my job to keep your name clean - I'm going to go talk to some lawyers. If that wasn't slander, I don't know what is." Tina sighed and shrugged her shoulders.
"If you think it'll help. I just can't help but think it's sad that he feels he has to hate me so much."
"That's you all over, Tina - the Christians have nothing on you when it comes to turning the other cheek."
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
Wolves of the Horned God © 1999 by Willow Taylor
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