He knew what I was. He found me in the woods, let me wrestle him against gold oak leaves until our hearts smacked against our bones, struggling to leap from our separate bodies.
He whispered human words, words I'd heard women murmur to babies many winters ago, before men had chased me from the village. He dampened my ear with his hot breath. My heart slowed. We scurried into the darkness of my cave's mouth. His wolf dog sat guard outside. "They say a happy man shouldn't come within ten miles of a witch." He bit my breast. Bats dropped from the ceiling, their wings skimming our bare skin. "But what's happy?"
I awoke on cold rocks, alone, with his dried blood beneath my fingernails. I would find him and be his wife. I tracked his ferric scent through the forest to his timber frame cabin and clawed at the door. When he opened it, he did not fight, but thrust his lips against mine. I wrapped my tongue over my teeth to keep from biting him. What did I love more: kissing him, or the relief of puncturing my own tongue? I swallowed my blood to keep him from tasting it. Later, we lay beneath quilts in the shadow-light, his damp body stilled. My fists uncoiled and went limp as river grass. I would remain with him.
This taming planted an ache in my toes, and the pain sent shoots upward, through my stomach and chest, to my ears and crown.
He placed his warm hands over mine to show me how to set kindling in the stove. The pain twitched my fingers until they jerked against him. "Something is hurting you," he said. His wolf dog lapped slime onto my ankles. I would not answer.
I learned to bake his morning biscuits and boil his coffee. My hands cramped and trembled, splashing liquid from his tin cup. After I’d scalded my skin, my hands no longer shook.
After breakfast, he went to hammer iron in his shop, and I scrambled through the birch wood to the graying meadow. I crouched still between the boulders. Sparrows lit on a low branch tangle. I pounced, clapping them between my palms. Their hearts pulsed with trust before I snapped their necks. No pain after that. No pain for whole minutes at a time. I licked sparrow blood from between my fingers and walked back to his cabin to peel potatoes and chop onions.
The day came when I returned to find him already sitting at the pinewood table. "Where have you been?"
I cast my eyes down to the knotted table leg. Mouse pellets traced the wall.
He took my wrists to check my hands for blood, but I was faster and made fists. He kissed my knuckles. "Where do you go?" he whispered. I twisted from his grasp and ran outside to pump cooking water.
After that, I spent winter days inside his house. So long as his hammer clanged, he was not on the path home. The ache flexed itself inside me, so I dripped it out in bits. I loosened my dress to pull my arm free and held a paring knife to my armpit's soft, hidden flesh. The moment I sliced, the pain melted like butter in a pan. He would never think to look there. His wolf dog licked blood from the floor.
It was not enough. When he returned, I hid my hands behind my back so he would not see them quiver against the pain. When he finally slept, I crept from bed, dodging the creaking floorboards and the corner where dryrot turned the planks to sawdust.
Outside, stars burned over the melting snowdrifts. I scratched against softening earth, widening a foxhole. I tunneled beneath matted leaves and loam, into bramble root and soil, to the burrow where a skulk of gray foxes huddled. I snatched a wailing mother, holding back her claws and chomping at her belly. Her punctured intestines tasted like the world's death and rebirth. It was not enough. The kits cowed between the roots, squealing. I seized one and bit his neck. Not enough. Another: I bit off each paw one by one as she writhed. I washed my hands in the snow. When I returned home, I traced my fingertips against his moonlit cheeks. I kissed his eyelashes and nuzzled his throat.
Each night, I promised myself it would be the last time. Still, I woke nightly, my hands coiled into themselves, burning.
Then, I became pregnant.
I led the wolf dog behind the garden beds. He thought we were playing and scuffled, woofing, still thunking his tail when I bit through fur to his throat. The pain lingered and throbbed like a heart. The dog yelped. I bit harder. The tail dropped and did not move again. In the rush of falling pain, the air silenced. No hammer echoed through the woods.
My husband clawed at me, weeping, swinging his hammer. "I thought it wouldn't tempt you." He pinned me against the ground, his hammer biting at my temple. "I thought I'd tamed you. I thought you would be strong enough."
I was strong. I had grown stronger in his house. I thrust my knee. His jaw cracked like kindling. The hammer thudded on the ground. I slammed my beloved's head against the garden stones.
Then: relief. It rose in little bubbles from my toes, all the way to the top of my head. I spasmed against the body of my love. It was the worst thing. It would be the last thing.
It was not the last thing.
In his shop, he had drawn wire for wool cards. I took a long piece, one he had not yet cut into needles. My hands quaked from the pain, but then, oh then, I fit the wire in, and it scraped inside me.
I fell against the anvil. My head rang on the metal.
Each convulsion reverberated, a chime.
Even this was not enough.
I killed the foxes, I killed the wolves, I killed his horse, I chased bears over hills and crags. It was never enough, never enough, never enough. I stacked twigs beside the wood pile, lit them with a torch, and watched the flames grow with the wind. Fire chewed at the forest, and the buzzing hive of pain shrank to a tingle on my skin. Even if the blaze took the whole woods, took the town, took the town in the next valley and the next, it would never be enough, not even if I let it burn me alive, it would not put me out, it would not put out the hunger, not until I had grown as big as the sky, not until I had swallowed all the stars, not until there was nothing but nothing.
Kodiak Julian's work appears in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Writers of the Future, Volume 29, and in the anthology, Witches, Stitches, and Bitches. She is a co-host of the podcast, Spirit of the Endeavor and attended the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop in 2013. She lives with her husband and son in Yakima, Washington, where she is a teacher and really quite nice in real life.