Wolf

by Nicholas Becher

 

Wolf knows from his father that the haunt begins in winter. Follow the herd and the yowling, the echo through the mountainside. “You know a deer when you hear it,” his father says as the knife cuts the fawn’s throat. The mother doe wallops viciously at the two bodies cowered over her kin. The crack of his father’s tomahawk against her skull rattles into the woods. Thrumming in Wolf’s head now is a mother’s whimper on white melt. “Roots drink the blood,” his father says. Winter grows and sings the reachers out of their sleep.


*


Longing. An empty crib in spring, or the buzz of hummingbirds outside a closed nursery window. A father in mourning against unmoving clock hammers. While the home is dissonant between each room, the mobile is stilled by lifeless air. Mother waits for music to whisper in from the forest.


*


“Here, rinse them in water,” Wolf says as he pulls a pail from the well. His wife claws wildly at her eyelids before plunging her face into the wet. “There’s no light!” She cries. Wolf thinks that his hands are branches on a rotten tree. He found her in the bellflowers, the muck caked deep in the hollows of her eyes, dissolving what little vision was left therein.


*


She sings in the afternoons until the boy is four months. He does not hear her, but he feels the vibrato of motherhood and the boom in Wolf’s cough. A song floats somewhere between the three: Spirit in soil, sleep children of rain. 


*


“Firewood’s buried in snow,” Wolf tells her. She spends the morning washing her child in the bath and humming to feel an echo out of the washbasin. Outside, the pale violence of a blizzard entombs the hillside. “He’ll freeze. You’ve killed him,” she says. Bundled, the child does not cry or shiver in his sickening. “We slow burn what’s left,” Wolf says. Pneumonia stills the child after three days. 


*


A fugue leads her across snowmelt under a canopy of dense evergreen and oak. When she finds the purple glow of bellflowers, no songs are ringing in her head, only time galloping further away. Their long fingers reach down from the canopy, black with rot and foliage, dripping root onto the infant’s forehead. Coil the legs to push the child through. She kisses blue lips before letting go. 


*


Open his mouth to dirt his breath. Make his lungs new again out of earth. Roots needle into veins and pipe fresh blood; music wriggles through every porous gap in the forest floor. The sound of passage is a decomposition. The reachers pull the child from underground into a damp cave, far from Wolf or the cadence of motherhood. 


*


They tower into the trees on stilted legs, eyes white and skin silted, tendril fingers retracting upward like branches after pushing the boy through. She doesn’t know where to look for her son, only that his scent is buried. “It’s all gone b-black,” she stutters before coughing out the bile inside her. Her stomach heaves noise into a puddle, hidden figures skreigh overhead like bats in a fire, growing more distant with each turn of her stomach. Spirit in the soil. She sings resolutely into the empty woodland. 


*


The couple sits wrapped in fur blankets on their corner porch, listening for a herd moving in the snow. How long had it been since they emptied the room? She doesn’t bother to ask. The stags enter in droves, their eyes somnolent. He stalks them from a distance, then deep into black forest toward the mountain base. Mother has not been left alone for over a year, although her song carries through to him even in the thick. 


*


Without light, she learns the world by sound. Mornings are spent shaping the corners of each room in song, save the nursery. Every note is a memory of contour or color, a blind recomposition of home. The door to the nursery is boarded shut from within. All the noise she throws at this door is swallowed from inside, as if they are nested there in the quiet, incubated by the void. 


*


“The boy,” he says to the dreamscape of branches overhead. His wife’s song mutes suddenly, the herd of stags collapsing into snow, their panicked breath kicking fog about the patch of bellflowers (radiant still despite the winter and dark). Wolf begins the bludgeoning of skulls in a fit of madness, confettying antlers with each throw of his father’s tomahawk. Hours pass and the massacre turns each carcass into pulp and refuse; the forest floor spattered deep red. Roots drink the blood. Wolf waits. 


*


On the porch now there is no music or light. She moves to the bannister for a handful of snow and presses it to her scars. The cold against her scabbed eyelids reminds her of waking up after childbirth. Inside, the empty room remains silent and she listens through the door for them to let her back in, now that she is by herself. Three planks of wood thud on the other side before the door creaks open. Days pass as she stands waiting in the nursery, listening for the hummingbird’s song to welcome spring. 


*


In the midst of decay, while the blood and soil bubble and seep into the earth, devoured by the bellflower patch, Wolf feels the reachers descend. “Her child and her eyes,” he says to their hidden faces. “Blood for blood.” They wrap their root fingers first around his throat, then his arms and ankles. As he sinks into the purple, the reachers sound to him like newborns wailing in the night.

Nicholas Becher acquired his MFA from Florida Atlantic University. He has previously published experimental prose in Fixional, A Sharp Piece of Awesome, as well as poetry in the Hawai'i Pacific Review. 

Tip the Writer.png

Read More...

May 2018

© 2020 by The Esthetic Apostle