He caught me, the savage along with his tribe.
I guess tribe is the right word for it, in this day and age we don’t have societies anymore, but primitive tribes that run on their own initiative, ideas and rule. There is no way to unite them. The savage placed me in a cellar of a ruined house and the only way out is up a steep set of stairs and through a heavy door which is padlocked on the outside and I’m pretty sure there is a heavy furniture on top of the thing as well.
I’ve tried, but I can’t budge it.
It’s a bit dim down here, but he does provide me with candles and a way of lighting them and I get enough food.
There are sounds in this place that are blood curling. Howls that remind me of stories I was told as a kid, about human beasts that prowl the earth after the tremors.
I used to live in Tremor City, the city that had a different name once upon a time. Now I don’t know where I am. Somewhere in between mountains, in a valley people have long since forgotten about and I’m pretty sure no one is looking for me anymore.
I was careless when I got caught. I went off in a huff and wandered too far from the city. They caught me silently and I never had a chance to use the rifle I carried on my back.
When they took me they blindfolded me. I didn’t see much and I hardly understood what they said, although it’s supposed to be the same language. The tribes have evolved language within themselves and some have become incomprehensible to anyone but tribe members.
I know what they do with women like me. I’ve heard the stories. I knew not to be caught off guard, but now the worst has happened it isn’t the human men I fear, but whatever else is hiding in this godforsaken valley.
The howls, I do not recognise them, there are not supposed to be any beasts in this country that make these noises. It’s a guttural screaming that slowly transforms into a beastly veil and I fear that this country hasn’t just shaken the earth to pull down the civilisation but also created beasts that never before prowled this earth.
The man brings me food once a day. He isn’t unkind. He looks at me with a mixture of awe, excitement and pity.
I can take the awe and even the excitement but the pity drives me insane. I wish he’d just get on with it. Bring down on me whatever it is they do with people like me in this valley. Do it and get it over with. Sitting here in this dusk, listening to these screams, is enough to make anyone wish they could face their fate now and get it over with. I yearn for oblivion.
But I sit here, forever and ever, it seems and he brings me food and he talks to me and although I don’t understand much at first I slowly start to put two and two together. I start to recognise the similar words and then I start to understand what he’s saying.
I don’t answer him. I continue to stare at him in the same stupid fashion I’ve done before, but I understand what he says.
And it turns out he confesses his sins to me, in a way. This enemy of mine, this man who is a part of a tribe that thinks that they are the only human beings left on the earth and that everyone else that walk the earth is a beast in disguise.
I guess it isn’t very far from my own thoughts and believes, sadly.
He talks to me as if he needs someone to talk to, but yet is sure that I will never understand what he says. He speaks softly, gently even and I can almost start to think that there is a kind heart underneath all this fur and muscle.
He speaks of the heart of the tribe. The chieftain, who orders his men to go out hunting people. They need women in their tribe. There are too few and I learn that the reason they keep us locked up is because there are others tribes too, wanting the same. They believe the women need to be kept safe, secret.
Though that doesn’t seem to be the reason I’m down here. There are others, and they are kept together, the few that are.
There is no lack of women where I come from.
Since he has spoken to me for quite some time without me understanding, there are holes in my knowledge, but a dark secret lies at the heart of this tribe. I try not to look him in the eyes when he talks. I try to keep away, and he doesn’t approach me. He just speaks, with that soft, gentle voice of his.
He tells me that he’s told his chieftain that I am dead. I am now not only a secret to the outside world, to my people, but also a secret to his as well. If I was ever to escape, he would be the only one searching for me. The fact remains that there is no way out of this cellar, though. So unless I overpower him and escape while he’s down here, I have no chance of escaping.
He speaks of a monster that devoured the earth. He speaks of a wolf, bigger than anything he’s ever seen. He walks towards me and I can see real sadness in his eyes.
He hands me my plate and I take it, looking into his eyes. Grateful and for an instant I think my cover is blown, that he now knows that I understand him.
He makes a slow effort to make me understand. Speaks slowly and holds out his hand. I shake my head, take his hand and shake it.
He smiles at me, caresses my cheek and tells me I’m pretty.
Is that how it starts? The evil I’ve heard of? Is that how it begins? I’ve stayed here for so long and he’s done nothing but feed me and keep me prisoner. There has been nothing of the other things I’d heard of before. Nothing.
Then one day he comes down in a huff and bolts the door behind him. Terror in his eyes. I understand the urgency but he doesn’t speak. He just looks at me and mumbles that he wishes I could understand him.
Is this a trick? I can’t but be affected by the urgency in his pacing. He stays near the bolted door and he paces back and forth. He mumbles the same words over and over again; What to do? What to do? What to do?
It’s unsettling, if not downright terrifying.
In the end I decide that enough is enough. It’s do or die.
I speak. I ask a question in a way that he will understand. He will understand that I do understand him.
And he looks at me awestruck, as if the thought of me understanding him is suddenly more terrifying than whatever it is he’s afraid of that’s out there. Then he settles and he grabs my hand.
“They’ve gone insane,” he says, “the chieftain and his men have gone insane,” he starts pacing back and forth again and I try to understand the words, but he isn’t making sense. Then finally he turns towards me and shakes his head. “We need to go,” he says. “They’ll sacrifice me to the beast, if they know you’re here they’ll do even worse to you, and they already suspect I’ve been lying to them. We need to go.”
I ask, silently, what it is that he’s trying to safe me from and he just shakes his head and tells me I don’t want to know. But I do, I want nothing more, so I shake him and he looks at me and he shrugs his shoulders. His dark blue eyes twinkling like they are filled with impossibly small stars.
“There is a curse on the tribe,” he says. “It’s not just that we have very few women, and that none are born, but the chieftains son…” his voice ebbs out like the tide of an ocean and I approach him and put my hand on his arm.
I don’t fear him anymore. He has never hurt me and I have very little to lose. The worst thing that can happen if I trust him and he betrays me, if this is all just a scam to trick me into the mouth of the lion, is that I will sooner, rather than later, be in that lions gap. And I’d rather be there than cooped up in this cellar.
“If you get me my weapon, we can try to escape,” I say.
He just looks at me, perplexed. “You’re a woman,” he then says, “what can you do?”
“More than you know, obviously,” I try to smile, but it’s hard. It’s a bit like my jaws have frozen shut and my skin is made of stone, but I manage to create some form of facial expression he seems to appreciate.
“What will we do then, you know no one survives without their tribe,” he says calmly.
“You can come home with me. I’ll tell them you saved my life.”
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but your tribe doesn’t exist anymore. My chieftain…” he lowers his head.
The feisty spirit that inhabited me a moment ago seems to vanish as dew at dawn. I fall to the ground, in a spontaneous sob. Then I look up at him.
“All of them? Gone?” I ask sheepishly and he just nods his head. Sorrow in his eyes.
“The beast was let loose on the village after we caught you.”
“The beast?” I whisper and look at him. “What is this beast?”
“A human wolf,” he says simply, “a blood thirsty beast that spares no one.”
“You’re lying to me,” I tell him. “There can be no such thing.”
“The chieftains son, he had the mark when he was born, but his life was spared and now we pay the prize with this curse”.
I am unable to conjure up any plans. For a long while I just sit there on the floor sobbing into my hands. I think of all the people I grew up with. All the aunts and the uncles of the village that helped me out when my father died. All the people that had always worked together to make sure that the next winter wouldn’t break our spirit and pull us apart.
Finally I get up. “All of them? Are you sure?”
He nods his head.
I slap him. Flat hand on his cheek, as hard as I can. It stings my hand but doesn’t seem to matter much to him and when I continue to sob he carefully puts his arms around me and apologises.
“I’m just one man,” he says. “The tribe is led by the chieftain and his men, if I so much as protest my life will be given to the beast. We live in fear.”
“Get my weapon,” I tell him, rubbing my hand. He looks at me and then he puts his flat hand up against his cheek.
I half expect him to hit me back. To make it sting in my chin as it may sting in his, but he doesn’t. He just nods his head.
“We’ll wait till it’s dark,” he says. “It can find us from far away, so the further we get before they realise we’re gone the better.”
We sit down by the wall. A meter between us.
“Why did you keep me here?” I ask.
“I didn’t want you to be raped, and then fed to the beast if you didn’t produce offspring,” he tells me. “I told them I’d keep you safe and then I told them you died of some strange, very quick disease. That I had to burn the body. I showed them teeth. They believed me and they are still avoiding me, incase I’m contagious.”
I push closer to him and put my head on his shoulder. He seems to appreciate the gesture, because he puts his arm around me and for a moment I feel protected and safe, despite everything.
“If all that you’re telling me is true,” I say, “then I thank you”.
And then I sigh. “And if it’s not,” I add, “then I curse you for lying to me about my people.”
That’s when I expect him to put in some kind of a last blow. I expect him to pull me close and kiss me, make me his in a way that would make his tribe proud, but he doesn’t. He just lets me rest with my head on his shoulder and is quiet.
Time ticks away in an eternal quietness, until he gets up and tells me we need to leave.
I’ve slept. I don’t know for how long.
And he opens the doorway and we enter into the deep, dark night, waiting half witless for a howl.
My weapon is as I left it. They haven’t messed with it. He says they thought it was a fishing pole and I laugh. I laugh so hard that he puts his hand over my mouth and drags me off into the bushes. We sit there a little while until he’s satisfied that nobody heard us.
Then we’re off into the mountains and it isn’t until we’re half up the mountain that we realise that the beast is on our heals. The chase is quick. We run, but it’s fast, faster than I’d ever imagine and when it’s upon us I turn around to face it. The beast is gigantic. The man, I now know he is called Thor, stands behind me with his hands on my shoulders. We are two up against it and we would not stand a chance if it weren’t for the thing I carry with me at all times. The thing I didn’t get the chance to use when I was caught before.
I aim at the beast. It’s grotesque exterior shaking something deep within me. I always thought that the stories about mutants were nothing more than just stories and now I’m facing one.
It stops for a moment a bit from us to howl at the moon, or whatever this creature might want to howl at. Perhaps it’s a victory howl, to let his tribe know that he’s found us and that he will now feed. Perhaps it’s something else. I don’t wait. I pull the trigger and put a bullet right in his grotesque jaw, shattering teeth and its skull. The head splits in two before us, the blood squirting on the snow on the ground, and despite the darkness I can see the intensity of the red color on the snow.
The man behind me stares in surprise and when I turn to face him he hugs me.
We are two now. The man, who was formerly my captor, and me. There is nothing left of my people, but if we’re lucky we can make a little tribe of our own, maybe find other people, kind people. We have means to defend ourselves, at least for a while and in this country there are dangers, and although these dangers might be grand, they aren’t too hard to avoid. At lesat if there is just two of you, two of us.
We walk over mountains and towards the sea to find a calm place to be and he tells me the story of his people and the mark of the wolf and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to do what they did, in the face of the mark on a small child.
A mark in the face of the child I carry in my womb.
My child and his.