I’m good at suppressing anger. Maybe too good. I get angry at external events, violence against others, destructive and unjust policies of governments, but on a personal level I tend to see the other side, to know why someone else is acting the way they are and to know when indulging my anger freely would help nothing and cause harm. This doesn’t mean that I put up with abuse—that’s never been a problem. I just, as I said, see the other side of things. Maybe that comes with being a writer.
I was still surprised at how hard a time I had finding scenes of anger in my writings. But then I remembered that Lisabeth recently mentioned my story “The Wildest Spirit” in Mtizi Szereto’s new anthology, The Darker Edge of Desire, and, being a story of shapeshifting and memories of war and revenge (and sex,) there was inevitably a certain degree of anger there. Rage, in fact.
I’m not sure this excerpt from fairly near the end makes sense standing alone, even though I’ve let it be much too long, but here goes:
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 rose from his own 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. He should have been in the forest, on guard against senseless death, but he had let himself be distracted by the pleasures of human flesh, of hands and mouths and minds. His body still resonated with 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. Her wide gray eyes burned through the fog.
"You're right. It's time. I never meant to keep you, never thought...."
Then she was gone. A last whisper drifted to him on a streamer of mist; "Good-bye, and thanks...." He blocked it out.
He crouched in wolf-form 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 steadily.
The 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...."
The moon was a dull red bruise. Old images throbbed inside his skull; another darkened moon, other deaths, blood-scent heavy on the thick jungle air; another failed attempt to change.
Coyote voices cut through his clouded thoughts. A few adolescent yips at first, then wave upon wave of howls, driven by the mystery of a full moon there and not-there at the same time.
It might have been the eclipse that drained his power to change; it might have been the turmoil in his mind. It didn't matter. 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 intruder slowed his approach. The acrid 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 on the dull steel of a semi-automatic rifle.
With what remained of man-thought the wolf wondered what dark fantasy drove the killer. He had smelled that bitterness before, that consuming hunger of one who lacked the strength of mind or body for true dominance. If coyote pelts on his wall fed the killer's lust for power, how much deeper would be the dark joy of defeating a wolf? Of defeating his own deepest fear?
The human's fear of the coyotes was delusion; they were no threat to him. 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 the wolf 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 a 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 powerful, smashing shoulder; the man, unbalanced already by the gun's recoil and his own panic, went down with a guttural scream.
Then 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 sweeping 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. He moved, stiffly at first, then at a limping trot.
He lay in a stream as the torrent flushed the blood from his coat and cleaned his wound. The slash was shallow; thick fur had obstructed the blade, but movement kept the wound bleeding and he would eventually weaken.
He needed a den, a safe haven for rest and healing. His sense of place wavered as the woods around him warped into twisted, reeking jungle, returned to northern forest, distorted again....
He emerged at last into a clearing and saw, by the light of the half-restored moon, the haven instinct had found. He crept toward the house and the waiting, moon-washed figure. The rightness drew him; the wrongness dragged at him and kept him low to the ground.
She stretched her hand out slowly; he growled a warning. _No human touch_! But this touch, so familiar....
She backed gradually up the steps and into the lamplit interior. He followed, stiff-legged, unable to close the distance, or to let it lengthen.
Slowly she sank to the floor. Her eyes dropped, freeing him from the painful intensity of her gaze. She fumbled at her shirt collar, swept away her hair, and arched her smooth, vulnerable throat in symbolic submission.
He crept forward, tested her with jaws that pressed from nape to windpipe. Then he released her neck and laid his dark head against her shoulder, gulping 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. Her face still showed traces of shock, but more than a trace of tenderness.
Then her hand moved gently 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 close them, 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...." And her hands and body clung to his, explored him, 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 still-closed eyes. The man-voice came with an effort. "You... knew?"
"No... not _knew_I thought it was just 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. 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 something so unfathomable, so strange and wild, about her....
"I thought so." A shadow more profound than disappointment crossed her face.
Then she tossed the hair out of her eyes and stood. "He's dead?"
It took him a moment to understand. "Yes."
"Your clothes are out there?"
"Yes, I should get them." He started to rise, wavered, then made it to the couch.
"It's my turn now." She shrugged into her jacket. "Will it look as though coyotes did it?"
"Coyotes couldn't..." The snap of a heavy arm bone between his jaws echoed in his head.
"We can't let them be blamed, be 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?"
After which, the woman proves to be even fiercer in rage than the wolf, with a spirit at least as wild as his own.