A Winter's Night
I pull the scarf tighter around my neck. The ends float away from me, the stringy tassels dancing in the wind and disappearing inside the fog. Up in the moors, I can’t see more than an inch in front of my nose and I have to take tiny steps when I move, feeling for solid ground beneath my feet, my hands outstretched into the mist as though I’m off-balance.
I can just about make out the murky lights from the house, tiny specks of yellow in the distance that shine holes into the fog, guiding me home. But I don’t want to go home, not just yet.
He is coming.
I feel like I can almost smell his cologne already, taste the cinnamon on his breath, feel his soft hair beneath my fingers. I haven’t been with him in weeks. My husband is starting to suspect. I can see it in the way his grey eyes look at me, the way they rake over my clothes to see if I’ve forgotten to redo one of my buttons. I would never forget; I am too careful.
Still, I have to take precautions. I can only meet Matthew once a week now, when I know my husband won’t be home for hours. He has a mistress of his own, after all. We don’t meet in the town anymore, for we might be seen. So we meet on the moors, high up and far away from the distractions of home, and we paw at each other on a blanket – if he forgets the blanket, nothing can happen, because my husband will look for the mud – until the cold becomes too much for even our love to bear.
Matthew is late. I hug myself, my gloved fingers digging into my coat as I bounce up and down to try and keep warm. My boots squelch into a particularly bad patch of mud and I can feel it splash onto the bottom of my skirts. I will have to say I went out for a walk with the dog. I frown, annoyed, but then there is a sound in the distance, and my heart lifts. There is someone coming towards me. Thump. Thump. I think they are running.
“Matthew?” I call out. “I’m over here.”
I curse myself for not bringing up a lantern. I can hear the steps coming closer, but they don’t sound like Matthew’s. He has a very firm, steady rhythm, clomp clomp clomp, heavy on the floor because he always wears those big riding boots that are such a pain for me to drag off his leg.
These footsteps are quiet. And yet they are close. Thump. Thump. How can a man tread so carefully?
Then, I catch a smell in the air. Whisky. My gut clenches.
“Jimmy?” I say fearfully. My husband has always enjoyed whisky.
I spin around, trying to see where he is coming from. My heart pounds inside my chest. My eyes dart from side to side as they try to make out a shape in the darkness.
They’re looking too high up. They are looking for a man.
When Jimmy steps in front of me, he is not a man, but a beast. I’ve always joked he was a monster and now my nightmares have come true.
The wolf growls at me, baring a mouth filled with knife-sharp fangs. Its fur is bushy and raised. I know it is Jimmy, though. He cannot disguise the reek of drink. And he can’t disguise the grey eyes that glare at me from within the wolf’s form. There is blood lining his mouth, and I wonder whose it is. Deep down, I already know.
I step back.
If I can make it back to the house, I will be alright. I can raise the alarm and the servants will see what a monster Jimmy is, once and for all. I hitch up my skirts and turn to run, to follow the guiding lights out of the fog, down the hill, back into the warm safety of my mansion.
When I turn around, all the lights have been turned out.