Jezebel, Part 2
Jezebel hung back as the hunting group went into the trees to find more game. There was no breeze, but the still cold was almost worse than ripping wind. She watched Elijah crawl through a particularly rough patch of brush, saw Jeremiah step lightly along the dead leaves behind the other men of the camp. Their bows were in their hands and their quivers across their backs.
Jezebel went a different direction. She followed the trees that were sparse rather than the thickening trees to the north and east. She crept through the falling leaves along the trees, hoping the lack of human attention would prompt animals to surface. Sticks cracked and leaves rustled and Jezebel saw a flash of dusty fur.
The wolf was a large mangy thing, with lean muscle and skin that hung loose on its body like that of a war prisoner. It sniffed the air then stopped. It looked at her. Fur had grown around scars encircling the eyes and the skin looked to be barely holding the eyes in. There was a large gash along its chest beneath bloodied and matted fur. Jezebel squinted. She heard a sharp whizzing and opened her eyes wide and saw the wolf fall.
“Why didn’t you shoot?” Elijah breathed as he stepped past Jezebel toward the animal. “It was right there.”
Jezebel didn’t answer. She held her breath and watched Elijah look over the wolf. She turned away and blood rushed to her head and she couldn’t hear the sound his hunting knife made as he pulled it from its sheath. She hurried away from the wolf and back to where the group had separated. She waited but no one came. The sun was still in the sky, the air still harsh, so Jezebel headed back to the village.
The horizon was blood red when she reached her cabin. She hurried inside and started a fire, took off her coat and boots and in the same clothes she had worn that day climbed under her quilt. She couldn’t feel her fingers and nose. The heat from the slowly growing fire spread through her cabin, reaching the handmade crown she had set on the shelf next to the bed. The ribbons looked navy and scarlet and they fluttered just slightly towards her.
Her father had told her stories of her birth, and the harsh January weather reminded her of that familiar November night. He told her of the murdered trees and flowers, of wet ash and endless burning rain in night skies. He told her of the ocean he and her mother had visited when they were young, when the ocean was a deep blue rather than the blackness he’d said it turned into.
She found her father in the weeds near the river when she was still small enough to not understand what happened. His chest had been pounded in, his face mangled and his scalp removed. Someone in the village recognized the clothes and when no one knew where her father was they assumed the body was him. It wasn’t the first attack on the village. Other men had died before, their scalps removed, the clothing the only indication that they belonged to their village and not some other one. Jezebel held an old woman’s hand while the village held a funeral. The body was placed in a casket made of branches tied together with long grass and covered with a thin white sheet. The men dug a grave, lowered the casket and said their words before throwing the dirt back in. Jezebel didn’t cry until that night when the old woman didn’t tell her the bedtime story her father told her, or give her a hug before wishing her the sweetest dreams.
With her father gone, Jezebel found little things around the village to do to please people. She helped cook food, or carry wood for fires. She cleaned the supplies cellar and cleared fallen brush from the forest floor. Sometimes she would help the teachers at the school with the smaller children. Putting herself to work allowed her to escape her thoughts. Then the dreams started.
Jezebel pictured the crushed face she had stared at for what seemed like hours, the bloody gums where the teeth had been pulled from the mouth, the skull that was pink from the skilled scalping. Once the crown of twigs and grass and ribbon had been placed on her head she had a new bedtime story she would play in her mind until she would cry herself to sleep.
A knock on the door woke Jezebel from a half-sleep she didn’t realize she was in. She sat up and heard the knock again.
“It’s open,” she croaked.
Elijah opened the door and hurriedly shut it. He stared at her in the firelight. His face was pink. “What’s going on?”
“What do you mean?”
“What’s going on with you, Jezebel? You didn’t shoot that wolf today.” Elijah rubbed his hands together in his coat sleeves.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know.” She looked down into the bedding.
“You’ve never hesitated before. Were you tired? Something on your mind? Not really there?”
“I think. I had a dream last night. Of that wolf. I killed it with a sword, then I saw it today…”
“You saw that wolf in your dream?”
“How could you tell?”
“His eyes were scarred.”
“Yes, they were. I’d seen him before. I couldn’t do it. I’m sorry, Eli…” Jezebel looked up. Elijah’s face was softer, no longer angled but rounded, fuller in the cheeks and along the jaw. She saw the fire flicker in his eyes, but she also saw a different fire. It was a less physical fire she couldn’t place. She sat up in her bed and wrapped the blankets around her, shaking her head.
“Don’t be,” he said. He put his arm around her shoulders. “I’m worried about you, though. You haven’t been getting enough sleep. It’s almost like how you were after Anna—”
“This is nothing like that.”
“No! I meant that you’re not getting sleep, you’re worried, you’re acting different. Not that it’s happening again.”
“Look, Elijah. I really appreciate you coming here and all, but can you please just leave?” Jezebel lay down and pulled the blankets over her shoulder. Elijah stood up and she uncurled her legs.
“Yeah. Not a problem. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Okay. See you then.”
Elijah put his coat on and left. The wind howled through the village as if a pack of hungry wolves smelled rabbits roasting on spits, dripping juice and sizzling inside the warm houses. Jezebel stared at the fireplace, putting off sleep. She didn’t want to close her eyes, but somehow sleep came anyway.
The river rushed by. Chunks of ice floated along the edge, some were caught on grass and others bumped into rocks. Jezebel looked around. Round and round. The river looked different somehow. The blue was the same, the curves were the same, but she couldn’t figure it out. Snow covered the hills. Snow fell. Ice broke from branches. Snapped. She fled the trees and stood on the riverbank. Clear. The wind was crisp. It clipped her face raw. White sky.
“What are you doing here?”
Jezebel turned to see a deer staring at her. It had large black eyes, smooth fur, and a wide chest. There were no antlers. It licked its nose.
“What are you doing here?” the deer asked.
“I…I’m not sure,” Jezebel said.
“Then leave.” The deer pivoted.
“I don’t know where I am.”
“Of course you do. You’ve been here before.” The doe looked over its shoulder at Jezebel.
“Yes, but I don’t know where I am. This isn’t the river.”
“I know it’s not. Still, you’ve been here before.” Jezebel looked at the deer. There was a cut running along its spine, freshly bleeding. It looked as if a knife had sliced through the hide.
“Go west. You’ll figure it out.” The doe left.
Jezebel started crying, but the tears froze to her skin. The air bit. She walked west along the edge of the river and soon came to a bank covered in black pebbles. They were smooth. Onyx. She picked one up and stuck it in her pocket. She looked across the river and saw the difference. Blood. Red was mixed in the river, swirling and clotting with the ice. Deer lay dead on the northern bank and a group of men stood on the grass. They were in a huddle and she saw glints of silver among them. They talked but their voices didn’t carry. She looked around. A deer on the bank twitched its leg. Yelped. Screamed. A man went down and drove a long blade into it. Jezebel cried again, the tears freezing again to her cheeks like loose diamonds. She pushed at the earth. She jumped into the river, dove through the scarlet water to reach the other side and save the does. She hit her head.