Waning Plumes of Frostbitten Air – Scott Moses

The frigid wind laps at the wolf’s nose and its lids open, the yellow irises in bloom as the pupils contract. Scanning the tree line of the winter wasteland, it peers into the crevices between the pines, searching for what it knows lies within.

It struggles to its feet and stretches out, claws expanding at the cold of the snow. Its stomach wrenches, unable to remember what it is to be full. The wolf lifts its nose, and a plume of air escapes its nostrils.

Some days I feel so dead behind the eyes. Staring up at the ceiling, my body’s innate clock rustling me from slumber minutes before the alarm whines in the way it does, signaling the start of a day I’ve lived ten thousand times.

The wolf stumbles with a whimper and tends to the fresh wound adorning its leg. The flesh burns where the black tendrils latched and dug in, spewing venom throughout the wolf’s already weak and waning body. The wolf laps at its wound, eyes clenched, resisting the urge to cry in the way it did when it was young.

Its yellowed eyes still on the tree line, vigilant for the threat, for the thing of many arms, which seems to glide along the surface of the snow, weaving throughout the trees. The wolf can’t recall when the evil first arrived, only that it did, and that it has followed it ever since.

The wound is hot on its tongue, and the movement of a nearby stream enters the wolf’s ears. It loses itself in the caress of the water’s flow, believing for a moment it isn’t hunted- isn’t constantly on the run.

The water rushes from the shower’s nozzle, jarring me from lethargy, and I stand there in the early morning, wondering what the point is. My internal workings coaxing me to continue the daily ritual of merely existing.

The wolf nears the stream, the coolness beckoning, and shakes out its fur before pressing its snout to the water.

The whiskey warms my chest as I surveil the others at the bar. Some smiling, some laughing, as if not living the same day over and over again. How I envy that, the spark of something new. Something, utterly different. Do they know what it feels like to see everyone around them content, all while feeling it’s out of reach?

A chill runs through the wolf and it stops drinking, and as the fur on its back rises so do its eyes to the blackened anomaly hovering on the other side of the river. A gargantuan squid, tentacles twitching, watching the wolf with its hulk of an eye. The wolf’s legs stiffen with the weight of its stare, the weight of its, smile.

The wolf takes a step backward, remembering the last time it faced the evil. The stench of the squid’s venom erupts in the wolf’s nostrils and with another step backward it yelps, scrambling away on lanky legs. Its malnourished body panicked and carrying it through the forest.

The branches grab at its face and snout, clinging to the fur on its shoulders as it runs, runs knowing the thing is faster than it will ever be. Knowing it’s only a matter of time before it feels the searing pain of the squid’s tendrils. The wolf’s eyes widen and it presses on, lungs ablaze with the frozen air.

The lock clicks and I loosen my collar after another day at the proverbial mill. Sometimes I visit the past to talk to myself. To ask where my zest for life went, and if it’ll ever come back.

The wolf backs against the wall of the mountain, pressing its body against the slick rocks. It lowers its head as the malformed mess approaches, blackened tentacles extended, hooked barbs expanding, dripping with venom. And as the evil’s shadow envelopes the mountainside, the wolf’s tail curls between its legs.

They question why I’m not, more than I am. Why I haven’t accomplished, more. These voices which come in the throes of sleepless nights. Why the space next to me has been bare of something real for so long. And how I don’t care, and do all the same.

I believe you can leave with less than you came with. I believe because of life and all its shit, you can have less of a soul when you die. Battered, and shredded, still intact, but not much more than a stringy mess of what you’ve managed to live through.

The wolf lowers its head, eyes on the squid and the hooked barbs inches from its snout. The acid hissing in the snow as it leaks in anticipation.

And as the familiar weight of unworthiness comes, as it does from time to time, a small voice rises up.

First, a whisper.

Be thankful, it says. Open your eyes.

Then, a murmur.

You’re not alone, and never have been.

And in the throes of everything, something flickers within me. The possibility for happiness, and that the will to strive for it in the midst of hell is something utterly necessary.

And so I straighten my posture, the other voices still present, but not quite as damning. Wondering if something good is worth the pain, knowing that it is.

And so the wolf’s brows furl, a low growl in its throat, and the ghost of a squid halts a moment, reminded, as is the wolf who looks up at it, that no matter how broken, defeated and starved it’s been, this wolf still has teeth.

 

SCOTT MOSES is an optician by day and a writer by night. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Coffin Bell, Boston Accent, Nightingale & Sparrow and Beautiful Losers. He currently resides in Baltimore, simultaneously loving and loathing humanity. Twitter/Instagram: @scottj_moses

Image by Patrick Neufelder from Pixabay

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