TUESDAY: Beast and Beauty


This is an excerpt from a novel-in-progress. Copyright is held by the author.

SHE WOULDN’T remember meeting him, later.

She wouldn’t remember the sickly smell of blood coating her fur, or the taste of it in her maw. She wouldn’t remember the screams of the villagers, crying out wolf, and beast.

At first, she’d felt at ease. She’d been expecting the change — when she’d been bitten by a monster in the woods, the villagers had told her parents that she must be killed. They had a duty to tie her arms tightly, and fill her pockets with rocks, and bring her to the river and gently lay her down atop the water, and watch to make sure she didn’t surface after she’d sunk.

They couldn’t do it. Instead, they’d tied her arms and blindfolded her, and led her deep into the forest, further than they’d ever allowed her to go. They’d gently pulled the blindfold from her eyes, and it was so dark under the canopy she could almost believe that it was night. Her feet were bare — her parents weren’t going to waste shoes on her. They’d be given to her sisters, probably. Maybe sold for some bread.

“Look at me, child.” She stopped her examination of the forest around them and looked to her mother. She was doing a much better job of appearing calm than her father, who sobbed into his hands, unable to even look. “Don’t come back,” her mother told her firmly. “When you turn, you will be able to smell the village. You’ll be able to smell us, your family. But you must not come back. You must stay away, and live. Understand?”

She nodded, and her mother pulled her forward into a final embrace. Her father approached, brushing a hand over her hair, gently holding her face, but he could speak no words before he turned away. The girl listened to the sobbing gradually recede, until it was replaced with silence.

Her feet were numbing quickly, in the cold. She could tell it was going to snow, later, though she didn’t know she could tell. Some kind of smell in the air, or perhaps a taste.

She wasn’t scared. She’d miss her parents, and her sisters, knowing she could never see them again, but she’d always felt more at home in the forest than the village. Even before she’d been doomed to turn into a horrid, bloodthirsty beast, the villagers had whispered words like feral and wild and strange as she passed, and she’d smiled at every compliment.

Even when she began to shift, she was not afraid. She screamed, because it hurt, but she wasn’t afraid.

And when she finally turned, she didn’t know why anyone would be afraid. She could taste the snow, she could see the heat left by her retreating parents, hours ago, she could smell the cooking of dinners miles away in the village. When she moved, she realized this was always how it was supposed to be. This was always how she was supposed to be — she padded across the forest floor, more at home than she’d ever been, and when she began running, she simply knew she was always supposed to be a wolf.

But she wasn’t a wolf. Wolves didn’t follow the smell of family into a village full of people. Wolves didn’t smell those who had tried to condemn her to death, and wolves certainly didn’t rise onto hind legs, towering over the fear-drenched villagers who watched her, and roar her vengeance. Because she wasn’t a wolf, she was a beast.

Once the screaming was finished, she prowled through the houses, on all fours once more. She panted, curling her tongue around her teeth and lips in an attempt to clean the blood there, but she couldn’t stop tasting it. Somewhere, in a dim and distant part of her mind, she screamed and thrashed and begged to wake up, to go back to being a two-footed girl in a dress, strange but tame and human.

The louder part of her mind shushed her in growling tones, tilting its head to listen to whoever now approached.

“What a wonderful beast you are,” he said, and he was still faraway but he knew he didn’t need to raise his voice for her to hear. Strangely, she didn’t move. She knew, by some horrible instinct, that she should crouch, she should stay silent and let him approach, and when he was close enough she should attack and sink her teeth into his throat and chew and chew and chew.

But instead, she growled in warning. Stay away from me, she growled. And when he ignored the warning, she didn’t stand to meet him, she didn’t even turn to run away. She was paralysed, and beasts weren’t supposed to feel fear but she suspected that’s what was happening.

“Killed everyone, have you?” He finally got close enough for her to see him, and he was beautiful, his pale face glowing in the moonlight. He crouched to her level, examining her critically. His eyes and hair were dark, and he held no scent. She lifted her nose slightly, trying to find any information about him, but she found no trace of him, despite that he was right in front of her.

In a flash, he snapped a hand out and grabbed her jaw. She snarled, but it turned into a whimper when he tightened his narrow fingers, not letting her pull away. The beastly part of her mind was quickly receding, driven away by this unnerving man.

“Turn. Back,” he ordered, and she had no choice but to obey.

When she was a girl, shivering and naked and drenched in blood and snow, he was much less terrifying. “Look at me, girl.”

She forgot most of the night, except his face and how beautiful he was. In the following years, while she grew and changed, he stayed entirely the same.

“Come now.” He held out a hand. “I’ll help you. I kill beasts, it’s what I do. I’ll help you kill that beast. Come with me, and you’ll stay a beauty forever. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

She didn’t remember nodding or taking his hand, but he took her anyway.


Image of Grace Sparrow

Grace grew up in the middle of nowhere in Ireland, and has been writing since she knew how. She loves fantasy, drama, and things she hasn’t seen before. She has been travelling and writing, and in the coming year she will become an Arts student at Galway University.

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