Jezebel, Part 1
The sky was a dusty white through the dead trees. Jezebel came close to a cabin and heard her heart thump. The scent of roasting meat wafted and the door glowed warmly around the edges. She knocked on the door. Elijah answered.
“Jez,” he said. “What’re you doing here?”
“Hey. I…I was just going around checking things out. How are you?”
“Good. Cooking some dinner. Want to join us?”
“I wish I could. I have to get back and check supplies. Thanks, though.”
“Again? Are you sure?”
“Yeah, Eli, I’m sure. Besides, you’ve been gone the last few days. I bet Abigail missed you tons.”
“She did. It’ll be nice spending time with her again. How are you holding up? I’ve noticed you haven’t been sleeping much.”
“I haven’t. I can feel the dreams coming back.”
“Yeah, I can. They’re close. I—Nevermind. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. Get back to Abby. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Elijah hesitated. “Alright. Night, Jez.”
Jezebel looked back as she walked away. Elijah stood in the glow. He leaned against the door frame holding his weight with his arm. His hip jutted slightly, curving his body into a thin C. He ran his fingers through his long blonde hair and let it fall, then smiled at her as he closed the door. She smiled back and walked down past the cabins along the path. She kept her arms close to her body.
Jezebel had become king. She had been given a crown of braided grass and twigs that wrapped around her head like a loose corset, and the next day a woman added bright pink and blue ribbons she had been saving but no longer felt she needed. The ribbons fluttered in the breeze as Jezebel walked past the trees surrounding the camp.
Jezebel had been her grandmother’s name. Her mother and father left for a camp when the trees started to die, her mother bloated with life. They had moved slowly but it wasn’t fast enough. In November her mother pushed the baby out and her father sliced the cord with a hunting knife he had barely managed to sterilize in the fire. They named her after her mother’s mother who had given them directions to the camp in the south, a camp they wanted to reach before animals started dying and they were caught in the middle. With the fire burned low, the small family slept through the cold night, but by morning only the father and baby had woken up. The mother was icy. After a quick burial, her father packed the things he could carry and, with the night-old baby Jezebel in his arms, he trudged south through dead leaves and light flurries.
She hated the cold. She’d lived in the same cold her entire life, yet somehow she never got used to it. Her father told her she came from a long line of northerners, but she felt she missed the raw, icy genes they had. Her skin was creamy and pale and perpetually cold to the touch. Her father said she got her mother’s skin alongside her grandmother’s name. Jezebel pulled her coat in closer, wrapping her arms around her stomach and balling her fists to keep her fingers warm, as she walked down the dirt steps into the supplies cellar, the one place she could work and work.
“You know, we made hand warmers. I’m sure you can find a pair somewhere around here.” Jezebel jumped and tensed her shoulders.
“Jeremiah, I told you. I don’t need them.” Jezebel glared through the darkness to find Jeremiah toying with one of the rabbit carcasses along the walls in the hallway. His shoulder between two rabbits, he smoked a rolled cigarette and blew the smoke out into a lingering cloud. “You need to stop smoking in here. They notice the taste.”
“I’ll stop when I’m dead, babe. I ain’t dead yet.”
“They think you should be.”
“They don’ make the rules. They’ll live.”
Jezebel walked down the hall of stripped rabbit, past Jeremiah, and into the large room at the end. Four deer hung in the back corner, next to a wolf, some squirrels, and a hunk of bear from a week ago. They were running low, and according to the latest camp census Jezebel knew the food would run out before January did. She had a hunting party set up for the morning, but she doubted they would find many animals with the coming frosts.
“What’s on your mind, Jez?”
“We’re going to run out.”
“I know. It’s cold. What did you expect?”
“That it would hold off at least a week. It did last year.”
“Last year was a freak winter. It was the warmest winter I’d felt in years. Din’ it get up to where we didn’t need coats once?”
“Freak winter. It’s cold again, and it’ll stay cold long as it can.”
“I know, I just hate hearing it.”
“Don’ we all, babe.”
The two looked on at the sparkling corpses. The supplies cellar was built to keep the weather out. A large hole in the ground, deep enough below the topsoil the sun couldn’t warm the room, the cold air remained to keep the meat, especially in spring and summer. Jezebel rubbed her eyes.
“Why don’ you go home, Jez? I can do supplies tonight.” The red tip of the cigarette floated in the ghost darkness.
“No, it’s okay. I can do it. It’s not a problem.” She didn’t want to leave him here alone.
“Jez, you didn’ sleep last night. Or the night before. Circles under your eyes aren’ exactly invisible. You need rest sometime, otherwise you’ll burn out.”
“Really, it’s fine. I…I can…” A yawn cut her off.
“Go home and sleep. I’m not doin’ anything tonight but keepin’ guard. Gotta do somethin’ to keep my mind off comin’ January. Besides, you really do need your sleep.”
“Uh…Okay. I guess if it’s not too much trouble. Thanks.” Jezebel looked at Jeremiah and smiled thinly.
“Anytime, babe. See you in the morning.”
Jezebel walked out of the cellar and through the crude streets to her cabin. It was the smallest on this side of the trees, but she had never found a crack in the wood. She went in and lit a fire. She hung up her coat and settled her boots under her bed. The cabin consisted of one large main room with a bed, a table, two small chairs, and a fireplace cut in the back wall with a makeshift mud chimney. The bed was covered in a quilt that shone in the firelight. She climbed under the thick blankets and quilt in her clothes and curled into herself to bring feeling back to her frozen thighs and toes. She hesitated, but closed her eyes.
The trees crept toward Jezebel. They were moving, alive, even breathing it looked like. She heard the guttural growls of wolves, but didn’t see them. She felt the air thicken with the sun. A metallic smell reached her nose but she wasn’t sure where it came from. The trees crept closer. She gripped a sword at her hip and pulled it from its sheath to warn the trees. They didn’t notice. Flashes of grey in her peripheral vision. She turned, but nothing. She pushed the sword forward to no avail. They kept coming. She grounded her feet. Legs spread holding the earth. Leaves fell. Her vision vanished and when it returned a large black feather was at her feet. She heard a rumble in the distance. The trees shook. Her body shook. Ankles ached. Vision tunneled. A flash of black and white pushed at her and a wolf was on top of her, thrusting its bared teeth. It drooled blood onto her face, smelled of rotting flesh, and she pushed the sword up into its face. It screamed. She stood up quickly and slashed its eyes; blood spurted out so she ran. The trees followed her. They whispered, but she didn’t know what they said. She ran. Breathed hard. Warmth on her skin froze in the sudden ice and snow. She fell.