Sleeves Part 1

When Miguel grabbed the red-robed man by the sleeve he didn’t think the weirdo would pull a knife. But that was what he did, the strange crescent blade flashing as it streaked through the smoky, neon-lit air of the bar, Miguel’s life flashing along its arc with all of the meaninglessness he half-suspected, but never acknowledged except when in the careless cradle of a marijuana bong. He stepped back, raising an arm. He was wearing a tanktop, and so the only sleeves the knife ruined were his tattoos, bisecting the skull-and-roses on his forearm, and so ruining his favorite bit of ink.
“Muy estupido,” Miguel said, evenly, “mi amigo.”
He raised his fists in a boxing stance, the blood like a wet, crimson snake slithering down his right arm. The hooded man raised the knife amid the clamor of screams and the music of the bar. Miguel could only see the man’s nose and chin in the cowled murk, lined with strange tribal tattoos all aswirl. Despite the movement all around them, time stood still for the two of them, like a coiled snake ready to strike. And then it struck, the hooded man slashing with blinding speed. Yet, Miguel was faster in his anticipations. Speed was power. He knew that from years of being a kickboxer and a bouncer. He had never been the biggest man, but he was always the fastest. Un Mexicano muy rapido. What good were muscles if your opponent beat you, literally, to the punch? Miguel blocked and dodged the subsequent slashes, then struck the man in the jaw. The man’s jaw unhinged and he paused, resetting it. Miguel suspected the man must have been on drugs that were muy mal.
The hooded man hissed in a voice not entirely human.
“Yo voy tener su corazon!”
He pointed spitefully at the young woman that cowered behind Miguel. She had entered the bar only moments ago, pursued by this violent creep.
The hooded man rushed forward again, swinging the knife. Miguel, knowing how to fight clean in the ring, and dirty on the street, feinted with a left jab, then threw a hook directly into the man’s esophagus. It would have killed any other person, or incapacitated a stronger windbag, but this man gripped his distorted, displaced throat and adjusted it, not even slightly winded by a crushed windpipe.
Fumo mucha hierba loca, Miguel thought.
It was then, as Miguel watched that manlike creature readjust its neck, that Miguel realized he was going to die. The man pulled back his hood and his face was revealed in all of its elaborately tattooed menace, his black hair tied back in a ponytail to accentuate his broad forehead with all of its scar-scales, as if each had been cut with a fine blade toward serpentine adornment. His eyes were slitted pupils, and his teeth were like saber blades. He raised the knife and grinned, hissing fanatically. It was as Miguel realized that the tattoos upon the man’s face looked familiar that there was a deafening explosion behind him and the man’s face erupted like a blooming bundle of crimson roses.
One pitted eye stared out from the blood gargling ruin of the man’s head, opened wide in astonishment. He stared at Miguel.
“Xolotl,” he sputtered.
Miguel had seen a lot of violence in his life, but a man’s head blossoming before his eyes was too much. His knees became wobbly and he nearly fell. An arm held him up, and laughter exploded like ironic Jazz music at his ear.
“Que pasa, mi hermano?” Raul said, grinning wide as he held Miguel with one arm and crooked an AR-15 with the other. “Senor solamente perdio su cabezon.”
He went on, at length, with Hollywood quips about not bringing a knife to a gunfight, and never bringing your fists to a knife fight. Raul would never let this debt go, Miguel knew, even if they happened to be brothers. It was too good an example for Raul to use to chastise his younger brother for his aversion to guns. But Miguel hated guns as much as he hated gunrunners and gang members and drug dealers. And even if the latter owned the bar he worked at, it did not mean he could not begrudge them their spoils. He would have joined the police force to combat them, if the police were not already owned by them.
Most of the bar patrons had left, except for the drug-addled. The girl had left, too. Everything had happened so fast that Miguel had not been able to keep track of her. But he would never forget her, or that noche loco.
“Al vencedor van los tesoros,” Raul said, bending over to survey the man he had killed. He reached down and took up the bloody knife. “Este es mi trofeo.” He laughed. “Yo soy un conquistador.” The blade looked more like a claw now, gripped in Raul’s hand.
“No es bueno,” Miguel said, thinking the blade a wicked presence, and not only because of the blood it drew from his forearm. The blood on the blade—his blood—seemed to disappear into the slick crescent.

The Dream Seekers

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Only the old, wide-eyed owl dared ask “Who? Who?
Who dares trespass upon the flint-black plain
when the stars shimmer brightly, as if born anew
and crowned in radiance; their stelliferous reign?”

Coyotes caterwauled just beyond the horizon
and the hare in his burrow, like the sun, sheltered,
while twins crouched beneath the hides of bison,
stalking the thousand-headed herd.

The herd had thundered by the light of day
and now knelt before the ivory-horned moon,
the crown that empowered with each Dreamful ray
the White Buffalo that was named Fortune.

The twins watched from beneath borrowed skins
as that celestial beast touched hoof to earth
and Tawiskaron raised a spear to add to his sins
while Glaskoop shouted to stop such wicked mirth.

The herd scattered as if bitten by snakes,
but the White Buffalo faced his foe with his eyes afire,
his charge concussing the ground with earthquakes—
yet the hunter did not falter in his aim or desire.

The spear struck the brow of that Dreaming beast;
it moaned, swayed, and then collapsed in a heap,
and the wicked twin cut out its heart, thereupon to feast,
saying “I will now Dream of all beasts untouched in Sleep.”

“This is not good,” Glooskap said. “You have slain a Dream.”
“And more will I slay,” his wicked brother said.
He grinned then, as a skull, and gave forth a war scream,
vowing he would take every Dream Beast’s head.

But with the dawn came their ancient grandmother
and she went to speak to her wicked grandson,
asking Tawiskaron, “Where is your brother?
We must speak, for I fear evil has been done.”

“I know what has been done,” Tawiskaron lied.
“Glooskap hunted last night and has wickedly slain
the White Buffalo, skinning that Dream of its hide
and has vowed to hunt all Dreams until none remain.”

Grandmother Spider was fooled, or so it seemed,
and she banished Glooskap from her home henceforth,
so he ventured into exile while Tawiskaron Dreamed,
and soon the giant, Winter, rose from the North.

But Glooskap stole the White Buffalo’s hide
and used it to conceal himself in the coming snow,
hoping to hunt his wicked brother at Wintertide
to avenge himself and the White Buffalo.

Tawiksaron hid in Dreams, where none could follow
and so Glooskap roamed for many eons, all alone,
surviving on his own, but feeling lonely and hollow
for the selfish betrayal his twin brother had shown.

Glooskap traveled Westward, in search of power
to fend off the Winter, who raged over the lands,
and found himself witness to a meteor shower
that dropped many small eggs into his upturned hands.

The eggs nearly froze in the blizzard’s air,
so he took them to a mountain cave and built a fire,
then bundled them up next to the blaze, with care,
and hugged them to his chest so they would not expire.

For three years he warmed them in that drafty hole,
never releasing them while the Winter warred on,
and, in time, he felt them burning, each a hot coal
which he had endowed his own soul’s heat upon.

And then he Dreamed of his Grandmother one night
and she said she knew he was not guilty of any crimes,
but he had a destiny that would eventually come to light
as he struggled in exile and the coming End-Times.

When he awoke, the eggs hatched in a flash of light
and scintillating colors, the rolling boom-boom-boom
of electric-winged Thunderbirds taking to flight
like lightning, epileptic in that underground gloom.

They zig-zagged out of the cave, and out into the storm,
and grew larger as they crackled into the cold sky;
their lightning struck across the vaults of heaven, so warm
that it wounded Winter, and thereupon he did die.

Glooskap then awaited the end of the world
as the snows, which had fallen so deep and so heavy,
all at once melted, the profuse floods unfurled,
breaking loose over every dam, watershed, and levee.

And as Winter’s blood became a worldwide deluge
he saw serpents rising from the single, great ocean;
venomous snakes hungry and hateful and huge,
and swirling with a triumphant commotion.

The Bridge of Snakes rose, and Glooskap prayed for aid
to help him defeat such monsters therein encoiled,
and Grandmother Spider sent to him a tribe thus made
of survivors who traveled together as the ocean roiled.

Beneath the shadow of a Raven-winged magician
they invoked the Sun, that radiant daughter
whom was for every tribe, creed, and tradition
a nurturing light against the darksome water.

And it is said that they invoked the powers of Dreams
to defeat the serpents of the depths, ensnaring them all
in a great net of Dream Weavers, whose very seams
were threaded from Life and spirits that answer its call.

 

Recently a very generous reader gave my book “The Dark Dreamer” a kind review on Amazon, just when I needed it the most.  Lately I have wondered if the book series was even worth the time and effort in pursuing as a trilogy, since so few people seemed interested in it (beyond the handful of people who have read it and expressed their pleasure).  Anyway, lo and behold I had a poem in my head forecasting the rest of the trilogy and decided to write it down just before I read said generous review.  I suppose I must finish the series now, if only out of obligation to such charitable people.  It never ceases to gratify me to know someone spent time (a portion of their mortal life, no less) on something I have written.  It is a sacrifice, in my opinion, and it embarrasses me to charge money for access to my work. —S.C. Foster

The Dark Dreamer: The Hunter Comes

 

I am currently designing covers for the sequel to my Native American Myth/Apocalypse/Romance/Horror/kitchen sink series, The Dark Dreamer.  I am trying to refocus myself toward completing the sequel, although why I should when the first book has been largely ignored must be ascribed to monomania and ego gratification.  Below is the prologue to the second book.  The first book, “The Dark Dreamer”, is available in kindle and paperback format on Amazon under my pseudonym S.C. Foster.  It is written from the perspective of a woman named Madeline Greer.  The series will eventually be a trilogy, or so I hope.

Prologue:

I dreamed that I was a woman fleeing through fallen leaves from a wrecked truck. A man was in front of me, pulling me by the wrist as something large and frightening chased after us. The trees quivered and the earth rumbled. Cold gales blasted the trees and chilled me to my bones, howling like wolves on the hunt. I glanced back and saw the giant bounding after us, each stomping step a tremor that shook more leaves from the trees. His voice boomed like artillery shells.
“I will slay all monsters, Malsum!” the giant called.
“He is not Malsum,” I cried. “He is Glooskap!”
The giant did not listen to me. I heard the tightening of a bow— like an old tree creaking in foul winds— and the man that led me shoved me aside.
“Run away from me!” he cried. “He is only after me!”
I did what he told me to do, veering far afield of him. Suddenly, the night sky exploded with light as a great crackling arrow shorn the shadow-heavy forest. Trees exploded and leaves scattered. I was thrown face-first into the moss. Dizzied and disoriented, I rose to my feet, trembling.
“Harry!” I cried.
“Run, Maddie!” his voice answered me. “Go!”
I wanted to run to him, not away from him.
Another lightning bolt illuminated the forest and exploded, blooming as a ball of light that showered the trees in light and fire. I was thrown once again as the blinding white radiance tore through the foliage and set them aflame. Leaning against a tree for support, I stood and looked in the conflagration for the man I had called Harry. I saw the giant striding through the forest, his lope as calm and assured as a hunter who had downed a buck with a single bullet to the heart. I saw Harry’s body laying upon the ground, unmoving amidst the inferno. He was smoking and bloody, his chest black and red like his flannel shirt. I called out to him.
“Harry! Get up!”
He did not hear me, nor did he respond to the booming tread of the giant that came for him, stooping over.
“Get away from him!” I screamed.
The giant paused. He regarded me with an impassive eye, then lifted Harry by his feet, dangling him in one hand. Harry was limp and unconscious, swaying side to side with the movements of the giant. The giant appeared to be a regular man, but taller than a water tower. His animal-skin boots were large enough to cover a car. Over his shoulders was a buffalo’s hide. Atop his head was a crown of colossal antlers. He leaned over me, peering at me closely— his face painted with red streaks of what smelled like blood.
“Harry,” I whimpered.
The limp man stirred. Hanging upside-down, he glanced about wildly. There appeared in his hands a gray fur blanket. While the giant peered at me, Harry drew the blanket over his head, disappearing into its expanding folds.
Something happened to him, then. I did not understand it, but it was a dream so there was no logic to it anyway. One moment he was a man and the next he was a large wolf. He bit into the giant’s hands, mauling his fingers until the giant roared and flung him away. The giant then readied his bow, a lightning bolt striking the arrow and electrifying the night sky. When he unloosed the arrow the sky ruptured with blinding fulgurations.

A Storm Without Thunder

A chapter from a supernatural romance I published under a pseudonym.  I am hoping it will be a hit among women who like supernatural romance novels from the heroine’s perspective.  Its characters and plot are based on many Native American myths, ranging from Iroquois to Navajo, but primarily based upon Ojibwe myths.

 

CHAPTER 15 A STORM WITHOUT THUNDER

A storm was brewing on the Western horizon. It darkened the evening prematurely, bringing twilight at an earlier hour.
The dogs were barking. I didn’t know what at. I saw them all facing the lake. It seemed odd because I had never known the dogs to bark at fish or turtles before. I knew of a crane that sometimes came sailing in near twilight, but the dogs never bothered it. Maybe the silly dogs were just barking at their own reflections.
I heard a heaving, roiling splash in the center of the lake. The dogs all yelped and I ran to the porch, looking out into the brooding murk to see the dogs fleeing back toward the house. Upon the lake I saw large waves crashing from end to end, as if a gigantic catfish had leapt and plunged. Harry appeared, then, and stood next to me, looking out at the lake.
“What is it?” I asked him.
“Something restless for nightfall,” he said.
He went into the shed, and down into the bunker. When he returned he had his black revolver. He opened the chamber and filled the empty slots with bullets.
The wind bellowed like a beast. The trees thrashed their limbs and quivered in excitement, like spectators in a coliseum eager for a gladiatorial match. Shadows shifted and pitched sideways into one another as the horizon blackened, forming mobs of darkness. Harry fetched a large studio spotlight and placed it on the porch, shining its piercing halo on the surface of the lake. I stood beside him, fearful of what might be revealed in that split luminescent wound of night.
The water tossed and churned within the lake. I caught blinking glimpses of something in the waves— something lined with triangular spikes— but it was too fast and too far away to discern. Yet, there was a rhythm and a musicality to the motions of the water. It was hypnotic. I found myself swaying ever so lightly to its pace. Even the dogs stopped barking, watching the thing in the water spin and billow. I heard a hissing not unlike the crackling hiss of lightning during a thunderstorm, and yet there was no rumble of thunder above. It made me feel scared and small and insignificant. Meaningless. My very heart seemed to doubt whether I was worth the work of keeping alive, palpitating with a faltering beat.
Rain began to fall. The sky was starless and moonless, concealed by fulgurous clouds that warred amongst one another. How dwarfed I felt beneath their crackling voices! Like an ant beneath the shadow of elephants.
Harry stepped down from the porch and began to walk toward the lake. At first I was so transfixed by my own feelings of futility that I could only stand by and watch him recede. But seeing him walking toward the churning waters compelled my body forward. I ran after him with a staggered stride, still shaking off my own insignificance beneath the storm. When I reached him, I grabbed him by the wrist.
“Don’t!” I said.
He looked at me as if half asleep and still dreaming. “The maelstrom calls to me,” he said. His eyes were blank of expression, lost far away from himself in some benighted realm. “The mouth that is the grotto. The whirlpool throat of the seas. I must go there.”
Fearing he might pull away, and thus be lost from me forever, I took a handful of his raven-black hair and yanked on it with all of my strength and weight, tugging his head down as I fell to the ground. A blaze of fury woke within the dark, empty hollows of his eyes.
“What the hell is wrong with you, Maddie?!” he demanded. The clouds crackled overhead, and he heard the swirling waters and felt the falling rain. The blaze of fury went out of his eyes, replaced by a determined scowl. “Quick,” he said. “Inside the house. Now.”
He helped me up and we rushed inside. Standing by the back porch door, we looked out at the spotlighted lake. Whatever swirled inside the water soon slowed in its whirlpool. The waters crashed for a while longer, but soon smashed themselves down flat and silent like armies destroying themselves to the last man. Hopeful, I dared to think that whatever dwelled in the water had gone, departed in disappointment back to whatever infernal world it had come from.
But I was wrong.
In one lurching heave, the water surged like a tidal wave crashing over the earth and splashing against the side of the cabin. A gigantic creature exploded out from the onrush of water. Its body was long— too long for the spotlight to adequately detail. Its eyes winced in the spotlight’s glare, its ears drawn back beneath long horns and its fangs bared like a tiger ready to strike. Its face was that of a tiger’s, too, or perhaps a panther’s, for it had the same broad black head and feline grimace as the biggest cats on earth. It was jet-black, like night taken to animal shape, and its scaly pelt glistened darkly with a water-dappled lividness that burned like obsidian. When it roared, whitewater foam erupted from its mouth and I felt myself taken away to oblivion by that raging-river bellow. Lightning flashed in its eyes.
Harry aimed the revolver and fired three times. I heard the bullets strike the creature and ricochet off its scaly skin.
“It’s no use,” he said, tossing the gun aside.
Harry picked me up bodily and rushed me upstairs in a manic sprint.
“There is no thunder,” he was saying. “Where have they gone?”
Setting me in one of the upstairs rooms, he told me to remain there and be quiet. He then took an animal skin from the wall— one I had not seen before, but which seemed frightfully familiar— and wrapped himself in its expansive black pelt.
“Harry,” I said, “no.”
He ran downstairs, heedless of my call. I followed him, pleading with him to stop. The pelt tightened around him as he stumbled toward the door. Reaching the porch, he fell to his knees and the skin spread over him like a swollen tarp. I could do nothing to stop the transformation.
Kneeling, Harry trembled and swayed. His body expanded, like a balloon filling with air. He did not stretch thin such as he had during his transformation into a wolf, but grew rotund and muscled in proportion to the pelt, his whole body broadening to a breadth that dwarfed his human form many times over, his back bulging with mass and power. I shrank away from him as I realized where he had gotten that skin.
Harry’s face extended outward into a fat maw and his head grew broad— as broad as his human shoulders— and fur matted his face. He groaned in pain, and his groan became a growl, and his growl became a roar. His ursine snout curdled with rage as he sprang forward on four paws, bounding toward the creature in the yard.
I rushed upstairs and went to a door that led to a second-storey balcony overlooking the lake. Rain fell heavy now and I stood in its downpour, trying to see the clash of beasts in the wayward luminescence of the overturned spotlight and the streaks of lightning. I could hear more than I could see, the hissing and the roaring becoming like a storm at sea. What I could see horrified me with its flashing glimpses. The black panther was not so large as the Great Bear, but it was long and much faster. The bulky form that belonged to Harry was slower, and was repeatedly tackled and grappled by that more agile creature. Its slender body outmaneuvered him. Its saber-toothed mouth bit into Harry’s heft. It gored his jiggling flanks with its long horns. It slashed him with its claws until I cried out in anguish at the wounds rent in Harry’s animal flesh.
There was no thunder. That was what Harry had said. It seemed insane to be thinking of that right now, but it was true. There was no thunder overhead; only rain and lightning and wind like a belligerent roar. What happened to the thunder? Where had it gone?
I felt helpless, and yet I needed to do something. I ran downstairs and emerged on the ruined back porch. I found the spotlight and lifted it up. Maybe I was a fool. Maybe I was suicidal. I did not know. What I did know for certain was that Harry was in the creature’s grip again and it was clamping its saber teeth into his thick neck, its clawed limbs twisted around his body. Harry bellowed in rage and pain. In my desperation I aimed the spotlight at the creature’s eyes, stabbing those pale deep-sea orbs with that sharp luminescence.
The creature tried to look away, even as it tried to snap Harry’s neck. But no matter which way it turned, I aimed the spotlight in its eyes like a marksman keen on his shot. The panther released Harry, to my great joy, and, to my great terror, came dashing toward me. I flashed the light in its eyes, but it did not deter it. Instead, it hissed more loudly and, jerking this way and that, came upon me faster. As it readied to pounce, however, I saw a group of figures dart in front of me and array themselves around me. Buster, Rebel, Yankee, Boomer, and Bunyan, ever in the lead, barked and snarled and growled at the hideous monster. It may have dwarfed them all, but it was bewildered by the noisy collection of small creatures that had flung themselves in front of me. It did not know what to make of them, or which to devour first.
The creature overcame its bewilderment and swiped at the dogs. Yankee and Rebel went tumbling over each other, yelping. Bunyan yapped and leapt only to be swatted away like a gnat. Boomer rushed to protect the leader and bit the creature’s forepaw. He was shaken off and flung into the ricks of logs near the shed. Only Buster remained and he became so wound up with excitement and terror that he sprang up at the panther, head-butting its jaw. The beast looked more surprised than injured. Buster claimed victory and ran around its flanks, taunting it with his barks. The denticulated tail found Buster, though, and sent him rolling, almost like an afterthought. The panther creature was focused once again upon me.
I fled inside the cabin. The panther lunged and I fell and spun backwards. Its gnashing teeth nearly caught my feet, but its shoulders were stayed by the doorway’s frame. The head nonetheless strained forward, reaching for me as I retreated further into the living room. I threw the spotlight at its head. It bounced off harmlessly. Looking frantically about the room, my eyes alighted on deer antlers that adorned the cabin’s walls. I ran toward them as the doorway collapsed inward and the outer wall gave way. The panther’s breath was upon me as I pulled the thorny antlers down. I dove behind the couch just as the panther’s mouth slammed into the wall where I formerly stood. Crying in fear, I wrestled with the antlers and raised them above me, like a porcupine readying its quills. The couch suddenly split apart and flew away, thrown by that saber-toothed mouth. Fear crippled my mind and frenetic instinct reigned. I swung the antlers at the panther, wildly raking its face as I struggled to my feet. Its hide shrugged off the blows, but one glancing strike hit his eye, gouging it in an eruption of blood.
Suddenly, the panther’s eyes widened in surprise, its head withdrawing from the living room and out into the night. The living room light bled outside, casting the figures of Harry and the panther as they circled each other. Harry had clutched the denticulated tail of the shimmery black beast, and was pulling him away from the cabin. The beast wheeled about, tackling Harry. They tumbled over each other in a ball of teeth and claws and fur and blood. The panther pinned Harry to the ground and clamped its jaws to Harry’s throat. Harry roared and his roar wavered to a human scream. I realized the panther was not trying to snap Harry’s neck, but was instead peeling Harry’s animal pelt from his human flesh. Where the pelt was stripped, the bulky ursine muscles withered to human proportions. The divide between man and animal hemorrhaged like a deep, arterial wound. I cried out, thinking him dying.
Then I heard coarse-throated laughter and saw a small shadow flit over the two clasped figures. The shadow alighted upon the panther’s forehead, jamming its sharp beak into that lunar-lobed sphere and pecking deep within the closing eyelid, prying the viscera from the socket like a spoon scooping grape jelly from a mason jar.
The panther screeched, relinquishing its death-grip upon Harry and rolling head over tail, flailing its claws. The bird, however, had already flown elsewhere, laughing wildly in voices of both a man and a raven.
Meanwhile, Harry nestled into his pelt once more, the blood becoming like a glue that bonded man and animal together.
The panther creature was still screeching and flailing when Harry charged, launching himself atop the beast and rolling it onto its back; clutching its throat in his jaws while his thick arms clasped its neck. The panther dug its claws into Harry’s rotund flanks, but Harry did not let go. The panther rolled and tumbled and flopped over like a cat with a broken back. It suddenly sprinted into the lake, both it and Harry disappearing into the churning black depths.
I ran out to the water’s edge, fearful of what I could not see. The dogs limped toward me, watching and whimpering as the waters heaved and tossed and boiled. It was as if a volcano were erupting just below the surface.
“A vicious beast.”
I was too scared to be startled by Corvus’s sudden appearance.
“The Water King, I mean,” he said. “Though Harry can be a vicious beast, too.”
The roiling thrash within the water subsided. The water settled, the rain making little circles upon its surface and hammering the waves down to an eerie calm. The monochrome night betrayed no color upon the water. The blackness of the lake was like the deathly stillness of the dark side of the moon.
“Harry?” I whispered, fearful of what might answer me.
The water bulged upward and surged forward. The dogs barked and I felt my heart leap; whether in fear or hope, I could not say. The water broke like a seed and I saw Harry’s snout emerge from the splitting shell. A dark piece of hide hung ragged in his ursine teeth.
Corvus, the dogs, and I all backed away from the lake, giving Harry space as he came ashore. He was still breathing heavily through his nose, and violence gleamed in his feral eyes, even as his bedraggled body trembled with fatigue.
“Come away,” Corvus said, leading me toward the cabin. “He cannot discern friend from foe.”
Harry had been exhausted by his fight with the panther, and he collapsed upon the ground, still clutching the victory pelt in his mouth. As I stood on the ruins of the porch, Corvus unfurled a strange blanket— taken from thin air—and rushed forward to drape it over Harry’s broad head. The blanket was rainbow colored and made of rough-spun thread. There were symbols in its weave, but I did not know what they meant.
“To soothe the beast’s blood,” Corvus said, “and to lull the animal dreams inside him.”
Harry did not stir. His deep, sonorous breath hushed the forest.
Corvus and I waited in the murk until dawn, watching Harry sleep. When the first light of sunrise touched him, Harry shriveled inside the pelt— like wood burning down to ash— and he once again became a man beneath the expansive black fur. We went to him, then, and Corvus took off the calming blanket. I was too concerned with Harry to see what Corvus did with the blanket, but it was gone by the time he helped me take Harry inside the house.
Harry clutched the panther’s skin in his hands.
“What…happened?” he asked. He hung unsteadily between us, his arms strung up heavily upon our shoulders as his stumbling feet slowly progressed. “Did…did he descend again?”
“Yes,” Corvus said.
Harry moaned like a wounded beast. When we set him upon his bed I saw the tears on his cheeks and how he trembled with sobs.
“Just lock me away,” he said. “Lock me…away…forever…until the stars devour themselves…and the sun should fall from the sky…”
“Not yet, my friend,” Corvus said, taking the panther’s pelt away from him. It glistened like alligator leather. “You have too much to do, yet.”