My darkest story was written so long ago that I no longer have a readable file of it. I know I have a print copy of the anthology somewhere, but it would take a lot of digging to find it. Just as well…it made young men wince and twist in their chairs when I read it at a science fiction convention back then, partly because of certain physical activities described, and partly because of the shock that someone who even then could have been their grandmother had written it, and read it aloud. I’ll be merciful and not try to find it.
So I’ll post a story that may rank as my second darkest, although there are other contenders. I’ll be merciful here, too, and only share the second half, not because the first half is any more or less dark, but because the whole thing is too dratted long. It’s not erotica, exactly, and what sex there is occurs in the first half, but some sacrifices have to be made.
From "The Wildest Heart" (originally appearing in Mitzi Szereto’s Darker Edge of Desire)
On the day of the eclipse, the drifting fog tasted of death. She knew by his tension as they started up the trail. When she crouched beside the grimacing carcass he stopped her with a snarl.
"Get away!" The harshness came from rage and guilt, and his need to be alone before the change overcame him. Mist swirled between them as she tried to read his face. He avoided her eyes, focusing on the blood-red barberries, the tufts of gray fur caught on the thorny bush in the coyote's death convulsions.
"Leave it! I..." The man-voice came with an effort. "I should have been here. If you hadn't kept me..."
Blaming her couldn't ease his guilt. While the young coyote lay dying, the man and woman had been forcing the boundaries of pleasure and pain, pushing tension to extremes until they were swept over the edge. His flesh still resonated to the memory, even as bones and tendons screamed to lengthen, shorten, change.
"Get away! Leave me alone!"
She straightened, arms clutched around her belly as though to keep herself from shaking. Wide gray eyes burned through the fog.
"Yes. It's time. I never meant to keep you, never expected..." Then she was gone, but a last whisper drifted to him on a streamer of mist; "Good-bye, and thank you." He blocked it out.
The wolf crouched in the underbrush through the day, a black hole masked by swirling cloud. Toward evening the air cooled and cleared; sunset glowered in the west as the moon rose in the east.
He waited. Coyotes circled at a distance. Condensation soaked his outer fur, but the heat at his core burned steady and intense.
The earth’s shadow crept across the moon, and across his mind. Only a bright sliver of clarity remained when tires crunched on gravel by the gate a quarter mile away, and the scent he awaited trickled toward him on a faint breeze.
To keep the wolf-form was to commit to a kill. In man-form, capture would still be an option. But something in him fought the change, and then, as he pressed, he knew with a touch of panic that it wasn't going to happen.
He thought of the woman, mouth against mouth, skin against naked skin, but words stabbed through his mind; I never meant to keep you… Good-bye…
The moon was a dull red bruise. Old images throbbed inside his skull; another darkened moon, other deaths, blood-scent saturating the thick jungle air; another failed attempt to change.
Coyote voices cut through his clouded thoughts. A few adolescent yips at first, then howls, then the full voice of the pack-leader not far away. The wolf focused, committed, let his rage feed on the reek of fear and hatred spilling from the killer.
Another howl, closer now, and the man slowed his approach. The acid stink of his fear seared the air. He stopped, and the wolf tensed to pursue, but another howl from behind drove the man forward.
A light wavered, glinting on a long knife and the dull steel of a rifle barrel.
With what remained of man-thought the wolf wondered what dark fantasy drove the killer, what madness impelled him through darkness and terror, hating the coyotes, fearing them, without reason. Even wolves were too sane to waste effort on revenge.
Except for this wolf.
The killer came on again, the beam of his light sweeping the brushy roadside. It swung past the wolf, stopped, swung back.
In the absence of weapons he would have taken time to savor the man's terror. Only a second now to display slanted eyes blazing with reflected light; then a snarl, just enough for the flash of teeth longer than any coyote's; then, as the light crashed to the ground and the gun swung forward, a twisting leap that carried him under and to the right of the burst of gunfire. A strong, smashing shoulder; the man, unbalanced already by the gun's recoil and his own panic, went down with a guttural scream.
The wolf was on him, slashing the forearm that clutched the rifle, snapping the bones with powerful jaws. The man still gripped the knife in his other hand, but the wolf scarcely felt it slice his thigh. The scent of his own blood was a mere trickle in the hot flood that swept him as he tore through the man's shoulder, face, throat. Human blood in his nostrils, his mouth, his gullet, blood not just of this human but all those others, under that other bloody moon, as his comrade lay dying on the jungle floor and the wolf-form had no hands to help him, carry him, no voice to radio for help, no human thought but the thirst for vengeance.
This man died too easily. Only that fleeting thought linked the wolf to the remnants of his own humanity.
A bright crescent rimmed the moon's dark bruise. The wolf moved, stiffly at first, then at a limping trot, crossing a stream where the torrent flushed the blood from his coat and cleaned his wound. The slash was shallow, since thick fur had obstructed the blade, but movement kept the wound bleeding and he would eventually weaken.
He needed a den, a safe place to rest and heal, but his sense of place wavered as the woods around him warped into twisted, reeking jungle, reverted to northern forest, then distorted again.
Emerging into a clearing he saw, by the light of the half-restored moon, the haven where instinct had led him. He crept toward the house and the moon-washed figure waiting. The rightness of it drew him; the wrongness dragged at him and kept him low to the ground.
She reached a hand out slowly. He growled a warning. No human touch! But this touch, so familiar...
She backed gradually up the steps to the door and then into the lamplit interior. He followed, stiff-legged, unable to either close the distance or let it lengthen.
Slowly, slowly she sank to the floor. Her eyes closed, freed him from the painful intensity of her gaze. She fumbled at her shirt collar, swept back her hair, and arched her smooth, vulnerable throat in symbolic submission.
He crept forward, tested her with jaws that pressed gently from nape to windpipe. Then he released her neck and lay his dark head against her shoulder, drawing in her scent in great shuddering sighs as her arms went around him and a cloud of russet hair fell forward to mingle with night-black fur.
At last she leaned back enough to stroke the silver streaks at his temples. Traces of shock still showed on her face, but more than a trace of tenderness.
Then her hand moved carefully toward his wounded thigh, and her touch set off such ripples of pleasure that he almost missed the signals of impending change.
She stiffened at his urgent growl. He thrust his muzzle against her eyes to keep them closed, then tried to pull away.
Her arms tightened. He gave in, let the change surge through his body as her voice flowed over him, murmuring, comforting. "It's all right, all right, all right." Her hands and body clung to his as the wolf-form became man-form.
At last he lay naked and exhausted in her arms. With an effort he raised a hand to open her eyes. The man-voice came with an effort. "You knew?"
"Not knew. Just wanted. I thought it was my private fantasy." She stroked his head again, then moved her hand down over shoulder, chest, belly. When she eased from under him to kneel by his side and lower her face toward his loins a surge of longing stirred him, but her mouth went to his wounded thigh. Gently she licked away the blood.
"Your blood...could it make me..."
"No," he said. "You have to be born to it." And she wasn't, she couldn't be, he would have known if that flesh had ever changed. But there was still something unfathomable, something infinitely strange and wild about her.
"I thought so." The shadow crossing her face went far beyond disappointment. She tossed the hair out of her face and stood. "He's dead?"
It took him a moment to understand. "Yes."
"Your clothes are near there?"
"Yes. I'll have to get them." He started to rise, wavered, then made it to the couch.
"It's my turn now." She shrugged into a jacket. "Will it look as though coyotes did it?"
"Coyotes couldn't." The crack of a heavy arm bone between his jaws echoed in his head.
"We can't let them be blamed, hunted down. And talk of a wolf would be even worse." She felt in a pocket and drew out gloves. "Is the knife that cut you still out there?"
He nodded, and was swept by a wave of dizziness. She seemed to know what she was doing.
It was at least an hour before he heard her car return. When she didn't come in he went out, wrapped in a blanket. She sat stiff and silent, the light of the clear full moon slanting across her staring face, her hands clenched so tightly on the steering wheel that he had to pry them loose.
Gently he eased her out of the car, but she struggled so violently that he let her go. Then she began to retch. All he could do was steady her and smooth her hair back and try to warm her in the blanket. At last, long after there was nothing left to come up, she staggered up the steps, tearing at her clothes as she went.
"Inside out...so I wouldn't stain the car." He helped her strip, then subdued the inner wolf and built up the fire so that it would consume her gore-smeared clothes. Her gloves were beyond belief.
"It's all right now. Only a human could...they'll call it insanity, madness." She was retching out a stream of words. "The knife, over and over, down to the bones, over and over. But it's all right now."
He held her tightly while she shook, tried to warm her, carried her at last to the shower to wash the blood and cold from her body. When he had her wrapped in a fresh blanket and seated before the fire he tried to get some solid information.
"Where is the knife now?"
She stared into the flames. "In his heart. In a tree."
"I'm not sure I understand."
"The knife," she answered patiently, "is sticking through his heart and into a tree, as high up as I could reach. The rest of him...well, no one will think a coyote, or wolf, had anything to do with it."
He steeled himself against the impulse to shrink away, even as the wolf within recognized that she was right, and wise, and braver in her own wild way than he could ever be.
Her calm was fleeting. She began to shake again, arms clutched around her belly, and he tried to soothe her with hands and words.
"You did what you had to do, it will be all right. You did it for them, for me."
"Not for you." Her words came in a raw, exhausted whisper. He felt a tendril of cold fog brush his face and heard other whispered words; I never meant to keep you...
"I couldn't have done it just for you. I would have tried, but I couldn’t have done it."
Her voice became gradually steadier. "I never meant to tell you, to ask anything of you, never expected you to stay. I didn't realize how much I would want you to stay. I just knew that I wanted you, even more than I wanted what you could give me."
Scent had told him, instinct had told him, but his brain had shut them out because it was supposed to be impossible.
"I'm not asking you to stay with me even now." She turned from the fire at last and her gray eyes were deep and fierce. In the flickering light he seemed to see the shadow of great wings.
"You don't have to stay, but be there, be somewhere I can reach, because now that I know, I will not be left to raise this child alone."
He started to ask, "Do you want me to stay?" then said, instead, "There’s no way you can keep me from staying." She dropped the blanket and pressed against him with such fervor that the unasked question was answered.
He would have to tell her someday that only changers could breed with changers, even though her wild spirit might never break free of human-form.
Wolf-bone to man-bone was a small step, full pelt to sparsely-furred skin and a thick head of hair only a matter of degree. But mammal-bone to air-chambered hawk-bone, hair to feathers, arms to wings... He had never heard of such a leap, never imagined it until she carried him in ecstasy to the high, clear realm of the hawk and slashed the sky in the falcon's mating dive. What child would come from the blending of his blood with her far stranger, wilder spirit? He was afraid to even wonder. But he would be there. .