Hound and Stag

Grey light sifts in through the window, lengthening shadows as twilight settles in for its long stay. I feel the quiet join it at the table, that off-putting solemnity I always find at this time of day. After awhile, something shifts and I feel my arms grow heavy in the darkness, my breath shallows, and the sounds of foreign tongues in the hallway drifting towards silence as my eyes close and I feel her approaching.

Her is the wrong pronoun but she says it’s okay, for now. Her crown of antlers are the first things I see, the first part of her that I find in the darkness, glowing and yet washed out in the grey twilight that I can no longer see, at least not with my mortal eyes. She always comes in when my sight is shifted, whether it’s from the corner of my eyes, at the edges of my vision, in the midst of a blink, or when my eyes are closed but I can still see the dark shapes of living room furniture in my mind’s eye.

I see her now in her stag form, the shape she associates with best but never shown me before now. I find my hands lifting to touch her neck as she stands in my living room, feeling her silver fur, too long to call her a proper deer. We twine, my body and hers, until I find myself with a leg over her back and my face buried in the mane-like fur on the back of her neck. It seems this is what she was waiting for and my vision…shifts, of sorts, and I find myself clinging to her back as we dive towards the river I left weeks before. Buildings of every color still stand just beyond the river as I drop into the river, seated with my feet before me, floating in its current, part of it and yet separate. I ride the flow down but something tugs and I gasp just before I fall below the water, flashing back to the odd man with the crab claw for a hand as something tugs me lower.

It is dark within the river. I cannot see as I struggle for the surface again, anything to breathe, anything to avoid death here. Wherever this is. I stretch and my fingers break through the river, finding air, and soon the rest of me follows.

We are in a different place. We, as she has not left me, this strange god or spirit who has haunted me for years. I follow her to the banks of the river, taking in the reds and golds and orange hues of autumn trees. Their leaves blanket the river bank and I watch her as she shakes slightly, water sifting from her white-silver coat. She moves forward and I follow a few paces behind.

Again, something shifts and without me knowing how or why, a large black canine has sunk its teeth into her flank. She does not cry out, nor does she fight, and I reach beneath the front teeth of this hound and pry his mouth open, slowly pulling his bite from her. Dark blood pools at each bite and drips down her side. The canine forgotten, I kneel beside her and slowly lick the blood from her flank. It is rich and warm and stains my tongue, but her fur remains spotless. It tastes like copper and tarnished silver in my mouth, though her blood carries no taste. Once I finish, there is nothing left. No blood, no cuts, and only the memory of tarnished silver in my mouth lets me know it happened at all.

The hound is there, his coat thick and dark as nightfall. He stands on my other side and I cannot help but wonder what for.

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