{cinda-story} winter&werewolf, pt1

on

“winter & werewolf” is the longest piece, and possibly the last piece in this section of story. I hinted in a previous post of shuffling some stories, moving one or two to a later section as they feed into another culminating piece. “winter & werewolf” is a culminating piece for the first section. I had originally intended to stop here, but I was interested in seeing a few things through, so I continued on. Those will probably remain in file as they are even more roughly drawn than these. {asterisks (*) are where I double space.} Civil critique/commentary welcome.

{intro(see page), 1a, 1b, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6}

winter & werewolf

Cinda’s 9th Winter : Calder on the Myrddin Sea

A hard winter had driven them home. Home as Elise Lark defined it: The place of her birth and the fail-safe when all had gone wrong. Except, when things went wrong at Home; then it could hardly be called safe could it? And what about all those times Home had failed her? Aunt Elise didn’t want to hear it. “We are returning to Calder for the Winter and you are going back to school.”

“Can’t I go with you and Uncle Fox?” Cinda begged her Father. Like the wiser Wyatts they were, they were headed South for the Hard Winter, rather than North to the unforgiving shores of Myrddin Sea.

“It’s no trip for a young girl,” Father had answered; a breaking record, because Cinda wasn’t done begging. Finally, her father held her arms, kissed her forehead, and put her in Cousin Mem’s vice grip. He didn’t want her sneaking aboard the train. She shouldn’t have threatened to so she might’ve actually had a chance to.

“I love you,” he said, and left.

“Well, I love you, too!” she yelled, then muttered, “even if you left me here.”

Uncle Fox smiled, kissed her forehead, and patted one of Mem’s arms which faithfully held her. “See you in a bit. And with some glorious new tales.” As if they tired of the ones he already knew. Cinda wasn’t buying it, but she loved him, too.

Cinda slumped in Mem’s arms, slumped in her seat on the way North, and slumped further into her coat because it was as she’d said the previous year, “Next Winter is going to be the hardest one yet.” She could only hope that those Winters which had come before had set a survivable standard. And yet the dread was winning out.

“Will they even have school?” Mem asked his mum.

She wasn’t sure, she admitted.

Mem not so secretly hoped not. Rafe’s dad always let him hang around the carpentry shop when school was out. This would leave Cinda alone with Aunt Elise.

“Ivy said you can come over whenever you like. And Aunt Siri is still alive–somehow. I think I might actually find some work. You know, some coin to treat myself with?”

Cinda sunk into her hand-me down sweater and pulled the custom made knit hat over her eyes. All that was left to see was a very prominently displayed lower lip.
*

Aunt Elise had been a waitress at a public house when she was younger and still a year-round resident of Calder. She didn’t think she would care to return to that kind of work, but there was a Cook’s position. “Will be much the same of what I do for you lot.” Her daughter Janet, son Mem, and niece Cinda looked up from their hot sandwiches. “For the clan, you know.” They did. Elise Lark had become a kind of house mom to the group, making sure they were fed, mended, nagged properly–you know, cared after. Janet was overheard once claiming that her Mum is making up for all those lost years.
Not knowing what Janet was talking about, and knowing Janet would not be the one to elaborate, Cinda went to cousin Rafe, who was more Janet’s and Mem’s cousin than hers. “The drink. Uncle Orren wasn’t an easy man to live with.” Rafe was unusually cryptic.

“Not a good story then?” Cinda had asked. “No,” Rafe, unusually solemn, answered.

To Cinda’s consternation, Aunt Elise was going to Cook at Jake Kinley’s Forty-Two; Jake Kinley father to Felix Kinley. This wouldn’t be such a problem but this was to be a hard winter.

“You’ll not be running wild in this weather, Cinda. And then there’s–well–enough unpleasantness. Myself or Cousin Ivy are to know where you are at all times. Look at me now, Cinda.”

Cinda’s dark brown eyes lifted to a more faded version of Mahogany. “You understand me?”

Cinda did, and did not–but she soon would.
*

Siri Laramore was as ancient as ever. “It’s the cold,” she explained. “I will return to my youth in the springtime. Meanwhile, you must come see me, tell me some stories, tell me what you know now.”

“I know it will be the hardest Winter yet,” Cinda announced.

Aunt Siri cleared her throat, gestured elaboration with a red-nailed hand.

Cinda straightened, tugged at the hem of her plum knit sweater, then leaned. “The one night her Father knew his young daughter would go to bed on time, if not early, was the night before her birthday. It wasn’t so much that she was eager for the new abilities every year brought, or even the presents, the breakfast pie, or another dripping candle on the chocolate cake. It was because the next morning she would wake knowing something new.

“Some of the things she had come to know were exciting: On her eighth birthday she woke knowing she would be in a band, but on her ninth, she woke knowing that the following winter would be the hardest one she’d yet known. How could that not fill any body with dread?–for even in her relatively short life, the girl had known some hard winters.”

“Then you should stick close, my strange child. No running wild about Calder now.”

Cinda nodded respectfully, praying Spring would come sooner than late, because Siri Laramore was aging at an alarming rate. The woman had started trembling just as Cinda finished her story, and like a quake, the lines of her skin deepened.
*

Cinda had avoided Forty-Two for her first two weeks, but she hadn’t avoided school. Someone long ago had arranged it that the travellers could just come and go. They had to be prepared, take the tests, get picked last for teams, just like all the other children. But most of the travellers’ children were more advanced in levels than their same-aged peers, so Calder furthered the insult of their sudden entrances and exits by enrolling them with these same-aged peers. In retaliation, the Blackfeathers were even more disruptive.

“Oh, no, Cinda Wyatt. You go on in with Mem this round,” Mr. Undershed directed, changing everything. Mem took her hand and they entered the small high-windowed room.Fifteen and a half sets of eyes looked over with interest. Mr. Lowman gestured to the two desks, neither beside one another, and returned to his lecture on freak human mutations. As usual, Mem, and even Cinda, were ahead of the curve; after all, they had Uncle Fox.

Lunch bell sounded, Mem was at Cinda’s side, and they carried their homemade sandwiches to the corner table. They’d been right to anticipate carrots in the lunchroom stew. And they’d been right to anticipate trouble. After some huddling and giggling, delegate Walter Lee stumbled toward Mem and Cinda with a bowl Cinda suspected was full of carrots fished out of everyone else’s stew.

Cinda dared Walter Lee with her eyes. Mem looked bored, picking anything green off his sandwich. Walter Lee, audience in mind–the one behind him anyway–continued forward. A smirk was forming. No one had told him it was Cinda who’d punched Barney in the face, not the usually unflappable Mem.
Tired of the anticipation, Cinda got up, walked around the table, straight up to a surprised Walter Lee, took the bowl from his stunned hands. Then, with a strong arm from helping erect sets, folding heavy canvas, and hours of positioning them just-so, Cinda threw the bowl at the cluster of on-looking boys. They ducked in a comedic push and pile. The bowl shattered, orange earth a firework amidst the shards. Cinda returned to her seat.

She was fairly certain no one would have bothered her at school after that, but she didn’t have the opportunity to find out.

“Mem will bring you the work and turn it in for you. You are lucky Mr. Undershed has an emotionally disturbed sister, Cinda.” Winter must age everyone over 42 because Elise was suddenly looking very old. “I will have a list of chores from around the neighborhood. You will keep busy. Idle hands and all that… I’m sure Ivy will have a good list, and Siri. Oh, and Hattie Smithwick had some mending.”

“I can’t.” Cinda protested. Elise took the frost from the air and hardened it in her gaze. Cinda’s cheeks grew hot. “Hattie’s son Matthew Smithwick is the werewolf.”

Elise flinched.

Cinda took a breath and posture to explain. Elise held up her hand. “Not now, Cinda-story. You do not know anything of the sort. He–just, Cinda–play nice. Play sane. And do as you are told for once.”
*

Today Cinda was told to meet Janet and Mem at Forty-Two after she unknotted yarn for Old Man Samuel. Mem would still be carrying wood dust with him, and Janet the excess of perfume she’d been wielding of late. Cinda would wait for confirmation, as she was the first of the three to arrive.

Cinda took a table that wasn’t reserved for regulars. She unravelled herself and hung coat, scarf, hat, and mittens on the close-by hook. Turning, while pushing the long bangs from her eyes, she saw Felix Kinley standing very still. He cleared his throat and held up a rectangular piece of paper. “Your drink order.”

“You’ve already guessed it?” Cinda pulled her own chair and plopped into it, never taking her eyes off the boy who kept staying taller than her and fairer, who was coming into his family complexion and his father’s wiry strength.

“Carrot Juice?” he smirked, recovering from a blush quite smoothly.

Mem walked up then, dusted lightly with snow, shrugging out of his coat to reveal a light dusting of some carved tree. “Two Greens.” Mem, though two years older than Felix Kinley, wasn’t any taller, but he was broader and more evidently muscled. Felix Kinley scooted off.

“Did ya hear about the curfew?” Mem asked Cinda who, setting aside her menu, decided to starve and leave her drink glass full.

“I’ve already a curfew,” Cinda grumbled. She’d been wanting to go to visit a particular place on the shore at a particular hour, and she was missing one such opportunity right now.

“Well, what am Ito do?” Mem asked Cinda, and then again when Janet came in with the same complaint.

“Damned werewolves,” Janet hissed and then cursed colorfully enough to nearly trip Felix Kinley and their drinks. Cinda nearly knocked the glass over herself so startled by the first bit.

“Damned werewolves?” she asked Mem because he was closest. He shook his head, not now.
*

“There had been a rumor of a werewolf some time ago now. Some believed the Blisterin’ Storm the Spring my Father was 14 was an act of God to wash the blood from Calder and take the werewolf away with it. And wasn’t it true that the killin’s had stopped? There had been three since the Hunter’s Moon, three young people: two girls and a boy; but none after. Not for awhile after that storm anyway.

“Since that storm, there had only been one other occasion to question the Blisterin’s purpose. Another local girl, five years ago. Without a second or third. Without another Fateful Storm. It was dismissed as a terrible coincidence.

“With this lastest Hunter’s Moon comes the devil’s return and the deaths of another three, middle-aged, two women and a man.

“No one is sure what to brace for, too much closer are the attacks in date to hope for a Spring savior. Will a Winter storm intervene? Or will the werewolf, or werewolves, kill again? And just who is this shape-shifter anyway? The primary investigator had been the third victim. Had he known whom among us the killer is? Is that why he was killed?

“Well, I know who it is, Aunt Siri.” Cinda leaned in to softly speak her confession. “Since I was six.” She leaned closer until her tipping knees touched the woman’s and her breath could be felt on the woman’s face. “It hadn’t felt relevant before, but Aunt Siri, it’s Matthew Smithwick. And Matthew Smithwick’s not just a werewolf. He is the werewolf.”

Aunt Siri Laramore’s crystalline gaze had never dulled, not even in a deep drink or after hours and hours of awake. They widened and measured. “But he is just a sad boy now isn’t he?” Others called Mattie a “slow-wit,” “special,” “effeminate,” “idiot,” “stunted,” and “smelly”–and “sad.” His father had been an affable enough fellow before he married Mattie’s mother and became mute, visibly shrinking every year until he just disappeared one day.

“But his own sister?” Siri shivered. She’d seen the pictures in the news sheets. The single occasion five years ago. “They thought it was the man she’d been seeing, from down near Williams Grave but they didn’t have anything on him.” Siri shifted from the dark images of the past to the young girl before her. “You cannot just accuse someone with a knowing, child.”

Cinda was aware, and was thinking of ways to work investigating into her rigid daily schedule. “But do you believe me?” Cinda couldn’t help but ask before she left for an appointment with Mr. Rye.

“Oh, yes, I do, child. Which is why you will stay away from Matthew Smithwick.” Siri Laramore’s knowing came from living since before words. “You understand me, Cinda?”
*

Cinda understood a few things. She understood that if Matthew Smithwick is thewerewolf, than he is unstable and murderous. Or he could be stable. He could be calculating, clever under the disguise of Mattie Mumbler Stumbler *#%$.  Cinda understood that her Aunt Elise would not let her deviate from the punishing schedule. But she also understood that her Aunt was getting a bit busy and tired.

“You gotta pick that up.”

There were three of them. Barney Quillam, Felix Kinley, and Giselle Knips.  Cinda turned round again and tugged on the dog’s leash.

“Hey. You gotta pick that up,” Giselle again, her braids too tight; her lips seemed stuck in that straight line.

“No. I don’t. I gotta walk the dog up and back with a stop at the blue house with white shutters.”

“That’s my gram’s. She hates Isaiah Rye and that filthy dog of ‘is,” Barney, Cinda thought, was going to charge her.

Cinda cut the pretend of nonchalance and began walking briskly. The dog was well ahead of her; he’d evidently recognized Barney. And it was the dog who rescued her, pulling her across a slick part of the walk where she went skating quite suddenly off to her left. A steaming ball wrapped in white came flying past her arm. It would have nailed her in the back.

It had been Barney; she could tell by the way he held his hand away from his side. Giselle’s hands were clasped to her mouth. Felix Kinley was laughing, his hands pressed to stifle it. Cinda fisted in her mittens and thought to march right up to Barney and blacken his other eye this time, but then the dog tugged the leash again and Cinda fell on her ass.

Laughter exploded from the three, and Cinda’s face burned, tears stinging her eyes like the sting of her rear. Her only redemption in that moment was that Barney had forgotten his hand and brought it to his face to stifle his snorting.

Cinda stood up, did a brisk brush, lifted her chin, turned, and resolutely walked on. She staved off flashes of humiliation by continuing her list.

Cinda understood that she was 10 years old and everyone around her was older, some more than others, and if she couldn’t do something about the others, how could she possibly deal with the more. She also understood that feeling helpless and confused gave her an enormous headache. She understood she hated Barney Quillam, Felix Kinley, and Giselle Knips.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

by Leslie Darnell

“winter & werewolf” part 2

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