winter and werewolf, part 3/3
Just when the red boots were showing promise of defying any definition of shoe, she fell. Someone was missing their shovel. It was buried under a drift of quick-seeping snow. Cinda remained on her stomach, lying there with an overwhelming hatred for everything, while soaking her coat and pants to match her insides.
“You okay?” came Felix Kinley’s voice from overhead.
She should have known the shovel belonged to the Kinleys. Cinda stood, brushed off the snow and continued on down the walk. It would be safer to say nothing, just this once.
The boots failed once more and it was enough to make her “lose” them in the sea.
Mem and his cousins Luke and Kailey had the brilliant idea of taking some bikes down the snow-packed Rogue’s Stoop road. It was Cinda’s third ride down, braids trailing, laughter squealing. Laces slipped out from under her pant leg and tangled with the pedal. She’d been so careful, but they defied her and made the bike her enemy. She would have slid away from the contraption, laying it down in a slide of separation before their slamming into the snow bank, but the laces wouldn’t let her.
“You’ll have a few nice bruises,” Mem announced.
Even Aunt Elise couldn’t ignore the mark on her jaw. And because Mr. Timberland was standing nearby, she whispered her query. “Who was it?” To which Cinda was forced to admit the cabinet unstuck and smacked her.
“What’s Mr. Timberland doing here?” at the house? And Aunt Elise was cooking on her day off, which she’d taken to forswearing. “The rest of you need to be practicing,” she’d said, content in the supervisory position.
“He is going to enjoy a home-cooked meal, and nice polite company. No talking about werewolves.” So they sat at the table, combed and pressed, and talked about everything but the thing on everyone in Calder’s mind.
Janet looked embarrassed, and Cinda had to agree. While Janet had been practicing flirting more than cooking, Aunt Elise cooked more than she flirted. Cinda was glad when the evening was over and Mr. Timberland, call him Miles, paused at the door. He thought Cinda would like to know that the investigation was going very well. Cinda smiled and then took off to her room before Aunt Elise could ask again about Secrets. But Aunt Elise knew where she slept and knew where she would be breakfasting the next morning.
“You did not tell Inspector Timberland about your knowingMatthew Smithwick is a werewolf.” Aunt Elise burned red, both in anger and embarrassment. “It’s bad enough the damned things exist, but you and your stories.”
“Thewerewolf, and it was Aunt Siri who told him. And guess what else?! He believes me!”
“Go to your room and get comfortable there miss. We’ve enough trouble and blush without you loose about Calder.”
And this was how Cinda came to be stuck in her room for three days, reading over and over Father and Fox’s letters that arrived the second day. If it hadn’t been her birthday on the fourth day she would still be locked-in, considering how to sketch out the brother’s adventures into an interpretive dance to accompany the blue crayon on the wall.
“Aunt Elise has to let you out because everyone knows it’s your birthday,” Janet told her.
Mem punched Janet in the arm and gave Cinda a hug. “I made you a breakfast pie.”
Aunt Elise came into the kitchen after the three sat at the table. “We’ll have cake at Forty-Two later.” She cut the pie and served it. “So, Cinda-story, wake up knowing anything new?”
Cinda stared at her pie, determined to eat it because Mem made it.
Aunt Elise cocked her head and sneered, “Is Francesca Undershed a Sylph?” She was somehow still angry.
After she stormed off, Janet explained. “Mr. Timberland has been interviewing with a particular interest in Mattie Smithwick. Even asked mum about Meredith Smithwick. They were friends you know.” Janet was all whispers. She turned to Mem so Cinda had to lean in. “Worse, I hear she and Mattie kinda, well, mum was drunk, you know.”
Mem looked at his plate and then to Cinda in apology. As long as he couldn’t finish, they dumped their plates and the pie. Cinda had to find Rafe, she needed him to verify a rumor.
“She went to bed early more out of boredom than anticipation for the first time in her relatively short history. But whether she anticipated her birthday or not, she fell asleep and she woke the following morning. It was the smell of burning that woke her, not the birdsong or eager sun. Her loving cousin Mem had gotten up to make her a breakfast pie.
Instead of a Father singing to her off-key on purpose, or her Uncle Fox strumming an imaginary guitar in accompaniment on purpose, her Aunt Elise was her charming morning self on purpose. Her niece was ruining her love life.” Cinda stopped because she didn’t want to go on.
Siri Laramore pat her hand. “Ah, a rough morning. Should I tell you a story instead? Maybe one about your mom?”
“No.” Cinda didn’t want to learn anything more today. Rafe had proven a reliable source of story, speaking as Janet had, around Aunt Elise’s drunken mistakes after Uncle Orren had left her for a younger woman named Alice.
Visiting Siri Laramore didn’t help her, so Cinda left her with the granddaughter named Joy. “I told Mr. Rye I would still walk Ivan today, before heading over to Forty-Two,” she lied.
When Cinda saw the Matthew Smithwick mannequin on the walk across the street, she made a rude gesture and stomped down the lane. When the regret of her provocative hand caught up with her, she was headed in the direction of the shore where her Father had found her mum. She wanted to watch the sun touch the water and see what she could see. Instead, Cinda shifted and headed to the docks, which coincided with downtown. Here, there were witnesses; some of whom called out a Happy Birthday!
“Happy Birthday!” Giselle yelled, as if hollering Boo! Well, she had just jumped out of the Fixer’s Alley. Cinda, expecting someone else, jumped. Giselle laughed and ran off in shiny red snow boots.
Cinda turned and headed down to the docks. Maybe a perch on the old Ivar’s Dock would yield a view of the sun on the water. Not wearing proper shoes, Cinda took them off and stepped out onto the wood planks. She was out in the open, the wind confirming this, and there was no full moon, blue or otherwise. Carrying her shoes, she tight-rope walked to the middle–far enough. She huddled and waited.
“Mr. Timberland told me he had dinner at your house the other night.”
“Yes, Aunt Elise’s house. Said he had a nice time, but he was afraid he got you in trouble with your Aunt.” Siri had been trying to fill the quiet since her arrival.
“I embarrass Aunt Elise.”
“Ah, she embarrasses herself, Cinda-sweet. It’s rough going home, especially when you leave it in the state she did. Unmade beds and empty bottles everywhere.” Aunt Siri shook her head.
Cinda didn’t know why but she found herself asking, “Janet said Aunt Elise was friends with Meredith Smithwick.”
“Ah, Meri. That boy has been trying to kill the one woman he loves but can’t find the nerve to.” Cinda’s face didn’t reciprocate understanding. “So many grown-up problems. What I’m saying is that Mattie Smithwick seems to target the women who reject him, and anyone who gets in his way.”
“He needs an excuse?” Cinda thought of the story of an Ogress who killed because it amused her. It was one her Uncle Fox wrote about learning while on their trip. It had been the reason, he said, for their inability to cross the river until miles further along.
“We all need an explanation. I think perhaps he needs one as well. But he hasn’t killed everyone he’s been rejected by, so there could be other reasons.” Aunt Siri drifted off, and with a snap returned. “Now, enough. I’ve been waiting to hear about what new thing you know today.”
Cinda watched the sun begin to sink, missing her father. She looked over her shoulder, but he was still impossibly far away–but Matthew Smithwick wasn’t. He waved energetically, clapped, and then turned back toward town.
If he’d wanted to scare her, he did. Even her exhale stopped cloud-forming. He wanted to scare, not harm. He didn’t love her. She didn’t reject his advances. She wasn’t in the way–was she? It wasn’t a full moon.
Was it the way the sheen of the ice on the dock looked like a river wide? Cinda’s heart kick-started and then raced. She rose and traversed the river carefully, thinking of Ogres and relatives. She felt an incredible need to get to Forty-Two.
“I told you she was headed down here,” Giselle crowed. Cinda only looked up once she stepped away from the dock. This is when she saw them waiting. Giselle standing ahead of the others holding a pair of red shoes with a big red bow around them. “We bought you a present.”
Upon closer look, as they’d been thrust toward her. The shoes were painted hand-me-downs. “Didn’t think you’d mind them already worn,” Titus remarked.
Cinda refused to touch them. Instead she swung her treadless boots and nearly smacked Giselle in the face. The girl gasped outrage as she ducked. The boots flew from Cinda’s hand and caught Titus in the chest. Then she started marching on up the path, planning to break into a run after the steps.
“You shouldn’t go ‘round like that.”
Cinda didn’t need to look over at the voice trailing her. “Leave me alone Felix Kinley.”
“She wants to look like yer Uncle Derek,” Titus joked. Cinda didn’t know which Derek in Calder was Felix Kinley’s Uncle, but he didn’t sound like a joking matter.
“Aye, you’d look good in a beard,” Giselle added, hardly narrowing down the Dereks. What man didn’t have a beard in Calder?–other than Matthew Smithwick.
Cinda picked her way across the incline a bit quicker now. It was dark, and he was around here somewhere.
“It’s his feet she doesn’t want,” Barney said.
Felix Kinley had been silently moving out ahead of her. When he spoke he was all dragon breath and anticipating her path. “Don’t be such a freak. Put the shoes on!” He pushed them into her arms. The bow had come off.
Cinda did the predictable thing. She threw the shoes, one to each side of her and ran.
“Get the shoes!” Felix Kinley ordered of his hooligans. He then launched himself toward her, long agile strides in feet he could still feel. He still slipped though, and slammed into her. He landed atop her, wrenching her shoulder, his knee digging into her thigh.
Cinda was tallish for her ten years and strong and angry, but she was slight and her adrenaline did more to battle the cold than the boy now sitting on her. “Come now, Cinda. Hold still.” He held her arms, Giselle lay across her legs, proclaiming she was not going to touch those stinky feet, and Titus and Barney wrestled off the sodden outer socks and shoved her feet into the red shoes, the remaining socks bunching up.
“Knot the laces,” Felix Kinley recommended.
They got up and Cinda looked round the ring of red cheeked faces, smirking evil lean-faced cherubs. Felix Kinley extended a hand to help her up.
Rolling onto her knees stiffly, she got up on her own, glad to feel no pain to her back while curling the scraped palm of her hand to her chest. She’d lost a mitten and some skin. Her left leg hurt, but she tried to not limp away–or cry–or regret the dry mouth that prevented her from spitting in Felix Kinley and his Hooligan’s faces.
The blood from her hand, now smeared onto the front of her coat re-ignited her purpose. She couldn’t “Now go home Cinda-freak!” as Giselle suggested. But she would hurry towards Forty-Two where her relatives waited.
The Girl couldn’t help but limp, and hunch a bit. The shadow puppet she cast looked like a strange creature meant for scary stories, especially the way her hair spiked out from under her hat.
She moved quick as she could down Gretel’s corridor, actually glad of the bunched socks. Their press registered discomfort sure, but it was a feeling in her feet. She tried not to look down at the red shoes.
However, the shoes refused to be forgotten, even in the girl’s panicked drive to find her Aunt. They would make her fall five times in the course of the night and would ultimately contribute to the scar on her back.
The first was a tripping. The shoes were enough too big without the second pair of socks. Her foot slid a bit inside the left shoe and she stumbled and fell forward just as she was rounding the corner of Pang’s Alley. The slap of her hands, the hard connection of her knees, and the too audible collection of air in her gasp had a face looking up and toward her.
A body lay in the alleyway, unmoving and careless like a doll. The girl didn’t register who the body was, but the beast kneeling beside it, with bloody knives and splattered white face, was Matthew Smithwick.
She would never be able to recall how she regained her feet, but she did and she ran. And slipped and fell. He giggled, a high pitched sound of madness. Did he clap his hands together? The girl rolled onto legs she couldn’t be sure were there. The chase renewed. He was enjoying it. He wasn’t the one limping in ill-fitted shoes nor was he weaponless. She heard the taunting of blades caressing each other.
Coming up on Lantern Street, she hoped someone was out. But the only thing to see was the arm with a gleam of silver and blood. The girl was herded the other way, down an alley way.
The corridors had been built so as to channel water off the main thoroughfares, a side benefit had been its keeping other undesirables trapped in its labyrinthine embrace. As the girl shot down the dark slope, she didn’t feel liquid, but she felt a fury, and her toe catch on invisible debris. She dropped with a suddeness that stole air. A toe dug into her back. The stop of a slide, of momentum. He went careening over her. The boot bruised.
She lay on her belly. He on his back within reach. The blood on his face were laugh lines. His eyes an unholy stained glass. He licked his teeth. His hands came up. He wanted to show her the blades. They were fashioned into a glove. Claws. The girl may have wet herself and bile may have slid up her throat, but she got to her feet just then.
She ran back up the alley. She took to running closer to the walls, finding crates to disrupt, doors to collide into loudly. She didn’t have a voice. She hardly had breath.
He was close. Panting. Giggling. Growling. He snagged her scarf. She pulled it off. Her coat. She pulled away. Into a turn. The ill-fit of the red shoes slowed her, instigating caution where she should have none. The laces trailing. She stumbled. He was on her.
The palms of his hands ground into her shoulder blades. His laughter filled her ears. His howl bounced maniacally off the alley walls.
“Shall we go see how your Aunt is?” he asked. She still didn’t register the body; the familiarity of the brown corduroy coat, the leopard print dress, the slouching black boots, the crimping of honey blond hair let down after work.
She was a limpet. He dragged her easily with aid of insanity and slick cobblestones. The red shoes went easily. Her coat caught here and there but it didn’t argue.
You know she lived, of course. She still had to dance in The Sleeping Beauty. She still had to be in a band. She still had a wound to scar. But she didn’t know how this would still happen.
Her mind and her stomach emptied when he dropped her next to her Aunt Elise. Her sleeping and beautiful Aunt who was alarmingly white–and red.
“You interrupted my feeding,” he growled. She could hear him, not see him, her eyes enthralled with the slackness of Aunt Elise’s face. The fluttering roll beneath closed lids.
He was crouched on the other side of her Aunt and leaning, smiling, tongue protruding.The single blade of his claw drew a shallow red line across her Aunt’s cheek.
The shoe’s fifth and final betrayal had been the knots which prevented her from toeing out of them. She needed to run for real this time. He and She were done playing games. In a locked gaze with terror she hoped for an angel with a sword to cut the shoes off. Maybe Matthew Smithwick would oblige her. Mem could fashion wooden feet for her.
She rolled and to her feet. A step. But he was lunging. Claws catching.
He stood over her fallen form. His laugh reverberated.
What followed was equally unreal in her mind. The ringing of boots joined the laughter ricocheting off the corridor. In pairs they stepped over and past her. She saw their heels, long legs, coats winged outward. The cinemascope’s aperture closed.
Four of the werewolf’s blades had sliced through her coat, sweater, cotton tee, camisole, skin, and muscle. They just missed her spine or any other such permanent damage. They just left four diagonal gashes across the middle of her back to scar.
Did she blame the red shoes? Yes.”