by Jude Higgins
Peter is back from the Wyre at full moon with wolf blood on his hands. He says the wolves are denning and he caught more cubs today, their feet sticky in the pitch he laid to trap them. He carves another notch on the lintel. Six wolves today, seven yesterday. His notches are all over the house. The posts on our bed, the beams above us. He sheaths his blade and says tomorrow he’ll skin the cubs and give me their pelts to line the crib. I think of the wolf mothers. Last night, while I waited for Peter to return, the candles burned right down and guttered before the wolves stopped their howling. The fire shivered and went out in the hearth. I’m sure the baby heard. It turned twice inside and now its head rests high near my heart, its feet pointing down where they shouldn’t. I don’t tell Peter Corbett, or that I think we are cursed and it’s the wolves who take my babies because he takes theirs. Women who say as much are left in the forest, their feet mired in pitch. Or they are hung on the gibbets with the wolves, like criminals. Peter stares at me as if he knows there’s wrong in the house. Happiness is a shadow I must hold on to, so I smile and put his hand to my belly. The baby moves, as if to get away from his heavy touch. He tells me my face is too pale, and pinches my cheek for the colour. By the time the babe is born, he says, King Edward will pay him in bags of shillings. We will not need to live behind sealed doors. No wolf will cross our threshold. His eyes burn like torches. ‘They call Peter Corbett a mighty hunter,’ he shouts. His dogs stir and gather round him. ‘I will tame this terrain and scour it of wild animals, like the king commanded.’ He hammers the table with his fist. I fetch him mead and meat and soon he staggers to the bed. Was there a different man in him once? Someone who chopped the wood and tended the sheep? Only kept the wolves away from our own little flock? I forget. In eight long years Peter’s travelled the great forests with his dogs, his horses and men, his ropes and nets, his spikes and poison. In eight long years we’ve buried seven babies in the ground. The wolves dig up the graves and eat the corpses when Peter is away hunting. I put the earth back before he finds the scavenged holes, rages round the house and heaves upon me to make another child. After the last birthing, he found the empty grave before I did. He’s sleeping now, so I quiet the hounds with my own portion of meat, creep out and stand under the moon while pain rides through me.
Jude Higgins’ flash fiction pamphlet, ‘The Chemist’s House’ was published by V. Press in 2017. She is widely published in literary magazines and anthologies including Flash Frontier, The New Flash Fiction Review, The Blue Fifth Review, The Nottingham Review and NFFD anthologies. She has won or been placed in many short short fiction contests. She runs Bath Flash Fiction Award and directs The Flash Fiction Festivals, UK.
Image of Anglo-Saxon wolf hunt with wolfhounds from The British wolf-hunters: A Tale of England in the Olden Time (a novel), Thomas Miller, 1859.