By Allison Carr Waechter
The first time Jupiter followed me into the forest his words were honeyed, his doe-eyes slick with unshed tears. He spilled his love and his fear like rivers of intoxicating blood. As pine needles crunched beneath our feet he talked and talked, and never asked me a single question.
It was hard not to salivate over him showing his true self to me. He is so loved in the village, after all. To be paid so much attention, by such an eligible figure was a powerful feeling. And yet.
Behind the crocodile tears and possessive proclamations of ardor lurked a familiar danger. I could not rest easy while he traced my steps. I could not enjoy my grandmother’s tea, when I knew he waited just outside the door. And so I snuck out, with Grandmother’s help, and made my way through the deep woods, ignoring the path.
My dreams that night were haunted with visions of Jupiter pushing me down stairs, breaking my grandmother’s gold necklace, and shouting me down, down, down a hole of belittled fear and shame. I woke, covered in a cold sweat, under the light of a nearly full moon and heard the call of the snowy white owl from the eaves of my roof.
I climbed out my window and onto the roof. The cosmos swirled above me, sparkling amongst the milky rays of the moon. The owl sat still as stone and I asked her,
“Sister, what will happen if I marry Jupiter?”
She answered in a creaking whisper, “You will die.”
And I knew this to be true, from my guts to my bones. But the wise one had more to say,
“If you reject him and he lives, more will die in your place.”
With that, she flew away. I watched her go further and further from the village, higher and higher in the air, until she was naught but another speck, another star for me to watch. What way was there to stop this from coming to pass? I confess, my mind rested solely on the wise one’s phrasing “if he lives.”
If he lives… the pine needles whispered the next week, and the next, as Jupiter followed me through the woods. The further I strayed from the path, the more violent his words became. The louder he shouted and the more names he called me.
Each day that Jupiter followed me, before we went into the woods, I walked to the well at the center of town. It is a great machine, a work of science and magic working together. I waited for Jupiter as pails of water were drawn up, purified and poured into villagers’ waiting vessels. When he arrived I stood and said loudly, each time, hoping every ear within hearing would catch my message up and hold it close:
“Jupiter, thank you for your attention, but I would like to be alone today. Please allow me to walk to my grandmother’s house alone.”
And every day, he would argue that lovers such as we should walk together on the path. To this I responded,
“We have never been and never shall be lovers, friends or partners. Please leave me be.”
But he did not, and though I saw heads turn and eyes narrow as they watched Jupiter follow me, none ever stopped him. None ever joined me in saying that Jupiter should perhaps stay home, and leave me be in the woods.
Nearly seven months after being followed everywhere I went, Jupiter began to send letters to anyone I spoke to, letting them know that they were infringing upon his “territory.” She is mine, the letters said, even when those were not the words he used.
Eight months later, Jupiter moved into the house across the street from my own so he could watch my comings and goings more easily. I don’t know how he managed to find someplace else for Sister Marigold to reside, but one day she was there, milking her spotted goats in the yard and the next, he was there, brushing his unhappy horse.
If he lives… sang the stream.
If he lives… called the mourning doves to one another.
If he lives… whispered the wind through the pine boughs.
One day, Jupiter caught me by the arm in the forest and shook me. “Why do you say no so often, when we all know that you mean yes?” he hissed. “Why do you resist what you know you truly desire?”
“What do you know of my desire?” I screamed. “When have you ever once asked me a single thing about what I want?”
For one moment, I thought he would let me go. But he pushed me down instead and called me filthy names. I waited for the blow. I waited for him to kill me, but he did not. Instead, he walked away, shouting.
My heart beat fast and I was, in that moment, every tiny prey animal I have ever killed in the forest. My body flooded with energy to run, but I felt my teeth sharpen and my heels dug into the ground. My fingers lengthened into sharp claws and my body hunched and bones broke as I shifted into something else. Something dark, and sleek, and magnificent.
On four paws, I ran through the woods and felt my heart beat quickly, but steadily. My sense of smell grew sharper and my vision clearer. My ears, so much larger, picked up a noise I’d never heard, and that can only be described as celestial song.
For when I found its source, I knew it to be so. The gaping mouth of the forest was open in a grove of sacred trees-- and in it I saw the whole of the universe, dancing there to the beat of a distant drum and I bowed to its grace. The bowing trees danced in time and I knew this to be the forgotten place of my people, of my sisters, of the witches of old.
This was the place of the storykeepers, the truth tellers, the ones we villagers so foolishly relegate to the place beyond the village, to the place at the end of the path. Here in the dim light of twilight I saw the truth of the trees we cut to make our straight road and the angry darkness we sense within the woods:
We must be made whole once more, and this work would be done by those of us who are not the light of the village. Instead it would be done by the spat upon, the pushed down, the ones with the least. I would make an army.
We would do the work, and we would call the others to us, knowing they are unlikely to heed our warnings. The ones who would not would meet a different end -- a different kind of transformation, but a transformation all the same.
This work would not be for the Jupiters of this world, who so long betrayed it. They must be swallowed, digested, shat out and made to fertilize the earth, so they might grow anew. And my army would be the vessels that filter them out and start them again.
That night the moon was dark and I went to thirteen doors in the village. Each knock was answered, and they drank from my veins and shifted too into wolves and we ran through the forest to the sacred groves and there we drank from the waterfall that fell from the mouth of the universe and were given a triple life, as human, as witch, as wolf; and in the place where all three meet, there is the power to divine a new world.
Our eyes glittered with new power and knowledge, but sacrifices would be made. We shifted into our human bodies and joined hands.
Who will be consumed? I asked.
All who will not join us. They answered in unison.
The universe sang its blessing and asked for a gift to seal our bargain and make this world whole once more. The heart of the poisoned, it crooned. All eyes turned to me and I heard the wise-one’s words once more.
I nodded once and we walked back to the village in silence, though Tamyr took my hand before they went into their home and said, “Good luck, Ruby.” I nodded to them once, they squeezed my hand and I was alone once more.
The next day dawned cold and bright. I slipped out of my home when I saw a village elder knocking on Jupiter’s door. Even he wouldn’t dare scorn an elder’s call. I made my way through the forest to Grandmother’s house. When I arrived, she was sitting on her front porch, brandishing a knife, a beautiful knife. She smiled a wolfish smile when she saw me coming up the path and said,
“You’ve come for this, dear one. And tonight you fly, if you give the forest what it needs.”
I took the knife and ran.
It wasn’t hard to find Jupiter. He was shouting my name. Shouting obscenities. Shouting for justice, he said.
My hand did not falter.
The cut was quick.
He fell with a gurgle.
And I gave him to the gaping maw, which did not spit him out to fertilize the soil and grow, but kept him in and shone brighter than I’d ever seen. Time had no meaning and darkness fell while I watched the forest consume Jupiter, and when it was done I could fly.
Allison Carr Waechter is over sea and under stones, behind the barrow, counting the bones. Send tea. She is the Editrix of this magazine and you can find the rest of the Tales of Wolf Hollow by clicking the tag at the top of the story.