~Wednesday, November 27th, 1901
I was supposed to go hunting today. I had my satchel packed last night and plenty of spare ammunition waiting by my boots at the door. But when I awoke at dawn today I couldn't find Duke or Nemo anywhere. When I say that they're the best dogs money can buy I'm not exaggerating by any margin, so when they didn't come for my call, my curiosity was piqued to say the least and more accurately, I was worried. I'll be damned if I'm going to lose a small fortune on a couple of beasts.
"Herbert," I shouted, my boots echoing on the hardwood as I paced impatiently through the upper floor of the manor. "Herbert, you find my dogs now or it's your hide."
“The dogs are just at the forest, Mr. Percy.”
“What?” I stopped at the top of the staircase, looking out the bay window over the steep drop of the roof and into the dusty orange tree line where the sun was just starting to rise. There they were, just as Herbert promised, hovering over what looked like an injured doe. They were nuzzling it. Lying next to it. Keeping it warm. What were two bullmastiffs doing keeping a sick doe warm?
“Why are you standing around? Fetch my dogs. Now!”
"Mr. Percy, every time I've gotten near them this morning they've started baring their fangs and if you don't mind me saying, I'd like to keep all my fingers. Maybe it’s best if you try them."
“Maybe it’s best if you’re out of a job by Christmas," I shouted, stomping down the stairs. I grumbled to myself. "Making me do the work of a fucking stable hand.” I slammed the door behind me as I walked outside into the dewy morning, my breath forming a small, warm cloud that hovered just over my lips as I walked the half mile to the tree line.
As I approached the dogs, they didn't stir. Not Duke, not Nemo, not even the frail, little creature they were protecting. They were protecting it, weren't they? The closer I got, the stranger the lump beneath my dogs began to look. The fur melted into the pile of golden leaves, as if it was just a pelt blanket and the body filled a perfect knot in the roots of the tree.
My breath caught in my throat as I saw that it was a young woman and that my dogs had been licking blood off her face. Had she been dead? No. Probably not. Nemo would surely be eating her by now, wouldn't he? After whetting his appetite with all that blood? She was beautiful - absolutely beautiful, and naked from as far as I could tell.
I knelt down in the leaves next to her, wrapping one arm around Duke to steady myself and pulled the pelt down over her breasts. Indeed, she was naked. I stared at her chest for a bit - only to see if she was breathing or to see if her skin puckered at the stimulation of the crisp November air. Nothing else of course. I didn't touch her. I just watched. The only way I could finally tell that she was breathing was the way the nest of her tawny hair pulsed around her open lips.
I brushed the hair from her face and still, she didn't move. She didn't even flutter her eyes. I didn't know what color her eyes even were. She was out cold and I wondered how long she's been in my woods. Does she live on my property, illegally? Does she poach on my property, illegally? Does she just walk here sometimes? Naked? At night? That can't be right. Does she have a father? A husband that I should be worried about?
"Herbert!" I shouted as loudly as I could. I hoped my voice echoed into Mr. Fucking Elward's property. "Herbert you get your crippled ass out here with a wheelbarrow." I didn't hear the uneven hobble of his lame legs running yet. "I have an unconscious girl on the edge of my woods!" I wrapped the pelt tightly around the girl's fragile body and carefully cradled her in my arms. She was so light - lighter than either of my dogs and I carried her to the house. The dogs followed underfoot and barked as Herbert greeted us with the wheelbarrow at the front door.
"I needed that for the yard, you lazy son of a bitch, not to carry her up the stairs."
"Took me some time to locate it, Mr. Percy. Only Missus Eleanor ever cared about the garden and landscaping."
"Are you just going to stand there or are you going to help me? Go draw a bath or something."
At that, Herbert dropped the wheelbarrow and rushed upstairs. I heard the creak of the water tank as I took the girl upstairs and into the grand bath.
"I - I don't know if this is proper," Herbert murmured, averting his eyes, as I slipped her naked body into the water that was filling the space around her, the brass of the tub coloring a slightly more copper as the blood rinsed off. "We should leave this to someone more equipped."
"Who? Missus Eleanor? I don't think she's coming back from the dead just for this, Herbert. And the doctor is a three days journey from here. So if this is wounding your beau monde decorum just fucking leave the room."
"I don't know some of the words that you just said, Mr. Percy, but I perceive they were meant to ruffle me."
"Just get some towels," I growled
And he left the room.
I picked up the fur pelt that had been discarded on the floor and investigated it as the bath filled. It looked like an ancient fox fur. At least I think it was fox. The pattern didn't match any game I had seen in my woods perfectly, but looked familiar all the same. There were patches where the hair no longer clung to the leather as if it had been worn for years at a time.
I leaned over the tub, the water line now rocking just below the plush, pink mound of her nipple, and dipped my hand into the water. At first I created ripples, splashing against her skin, seeing if she would stir. She didn't. I cradled her neck in my hand, keeping her mouth from submerging, I ran my other hand down the length of her body. There had been so much blood, I had to check for wounds. I opened her legs and my hand stopped at her inner thigh where there was a soft slickness.
I slowly let her head sink under the water.
"She's slipping!" Herbert threw the towels on the ground as he ran into the room. Duke followed closely behind, barking precociously.
"I'm washing the sticks out of her hair, you lunatic,” I propped her head back on the lip of the tub. “Look at you, you've spoiled the towels."
Herbert kept a close eye on her for the rest of the day, taking her to Eleanor's room and locking it from the outside. Of course I have a house key, but I'll let the girl rest for now. Besides, Duke has been growling at me every time I even linger outside the door.
~Sunday, December 1st, 1901
She opened her eyes for the first time today and it turns out that they are a gilded shade of amber. This morning, my dogs had been reduced to whimpering haunches and crying heaps in front of the door to her room. I took my key and I creaked open the door and Duke sieged the opening with his great square skull, thrusting his way into the room and jumping onto the foot of the bed. That's when I saw the girl's eyes flutter open and her eyes were amber.
I walked over to the bedside and looked down at her. Her eyes seemed to register me while they flitted about the room.
"My pelt -" Her eyes closed again but her voice had been in a drowsy panic. I looked down to see that her fist was balled around Duke's ear and Duke curled into the girl's side, letting a loud huffing sound as if he was sighing with relief.
I sat down on the other side of the girl and brushed my knuckles across her cheek. She pulled away in her fever dream and her lips quivered ever so slightly. Her face was flushed and her forehead had accumulated sweat from the days of bed rest. She smelled like pine trees and woman. I raked my hand down her throat, stopping to examine if the superficial scrapes had been healing, reading the valleys of the scabs like braille as I moved my hands down her chest. I rolled the duvet down to her waist, careful not to disturb Duke, who lay lethargically by her side.
She was wearing Eleanor's nightgown.
"Good one, Eleanor," I thought to myself. "Even after death, you still manage to have my cock under lock and key."
I wrapped my hand around her pretty, little throat. I could do it with one hand. Not like that fat bitch Eleanor. My other hand moved to unfasten my trousers but there was a knock at the door. I would have jumped had I not known it was just Herbert.
"Mr. Percy? Mr. Elward was wanting you to accompany him to the church yard."
"I'll be down in a minute, Herbert."
"I'll tell him."
I stood up, straightened my vest, and locked the door from the outside.
~Thursday, December 12th, 1901
I was on top of her before she was even awake this morning. I had gotten into the habit of locking the dogs outside so they didn't try to bite my cock off, slipping in between the sheets, and spitting into my hand whether or not she was awake. So imagine my surprise when I see two golden saucer eyes staring up at me with utter disgust. She didn't even try to stop me.
"What's your name, then?" I took a rag off the dresser and began cleaning up.
I tossed the spent rag onto her pelt. I heard her breath hitch and watched as her body lurched forward. This was going to be fun.
"Alice, that's a pretty name."
"You should really let me go." For the first time since I'd met her, she stood up. She wasn't as short as I had expected, but her shoulders were still quite narrow. I think she was trying to be intimidating. "They will come looking for me."
"Who will? Because it's been a fortnight and no one's come looking for you," I said, stepping into my trousers and pulling them up around my waist.
"They haven't noticed I'm missing yet. They'll notice soon."
"Of course," I shrugged, adjusting my suspenders on my shoulders. "Well, while they're busy noticing, I'm sure as hell enjoying having you around." I took three quick steps up to her and smiled, pushing my fingers onto her pillowy lips and in her mouth. "Besides, it's not like you're fighting back." I pulled on her tongue like I do to Nemo when he's misbehaving.
As I pressed my fingers against her teeth, she recoiled, pulling her head back and lightly pushing my hand away. "I can't fight back."
"Oh come on. You can do better than that." I mimicked her pawing my hand away. "Fight me," I growled. "Use your teeth and your claws and fight me. You might even enjoy it." I tried to goad her but she just stared at me with dead eyes and mumbled to herself.
"Hell for one night or a lifetime if I fight."
I grabbed her by the throat, my fingers overlapping the bruises I've been leaving. "What the fuck does that mean?" She said nothing. "I asked you a question. What the fuck does that mean?"
I tossed her towards the dresser and her face ricocheted back. I could hear my dogs barking from outside the windows.
"You should let me go," she smiled, blood trickling onto her teeth in a river from her nose. "I promise you, nothing good will come if you keep me here." She spat some of the blood onto her palm and wiped it into the balding patches of her pelt.
~Tuesday, December 24th, 1901
I'm sitting here, hauled up in my study, evening brandy in hand to ring in Christmas and looking at your portrait. I can't help but think this shit is your fault, Eleanor. You fat cunt. You don't even look pretty in that painting. I paid for a fucking painter from Spain and you still look like a hag.
Alice is stranger than I had originally assessed. Or at least she's very clever. Or there's a conspiracy against me. I don't know really, but I'm looking at you and I can't help but think this is all your fault.
Do you know what she said to me, Eleanor? Do you know what she said to me this morning while I was fucking her from behind? She said she could smell the strychnine all over the bed sheets. You understand why that's strange. It's odorless. That's sort of the entire point.
So first, she poaches on my land, then she turns my expensive hunting dogs into fat, lazy lapdogs, and finally she accuses me of murdering my wife and tells me she can smell the poison. We have a very grateful house guest.
Merry Christmas, love. The clock just struck midnight. I guess they don't have white Christmases in Hell but know that it's lovely here. The woods look beautiful. Of course you being absent makes the view all the more splendid, but let's not fight.
"Mr. Percy," I heard a soft whisper from the hallway as the snow dampened every sound in the way that only snow can. I took a deep swig of my brandy and carefully placed the glass back on my desk. I moved to the door quietly and dead bolted the lock, throwing a chair in front of the handles, bracing them from swinging inward.
"Alice?" I asked, my lips brushing the crack between the doors where a sliver of golden light trickled out. “How did you get out?”
“Mr. Herbert let me out,” she mumbled. I watched as her silhouette seemed to drunkenly stumble down the hallway towards me. When she slammed her body against the doors, they shuddered, and I saw that she was once again naked. “It turns out he doesn’t like you very much.”
I laughed, pulling away from the door sharply and pacing back to my brandy. “Maybe that’s why he used to fuck my wife.” I spat the words up at Eleanor’s portrait and raised my glass again.
Alice whimpered from behind the door as she rolled her body across the wooden surface. “Maybe,” she cooed, “your wife didn’t fuck you because she hated you. It might have had nothing to do with another man.”
"Let me guess," I kicked my boots up on my desk in rhythm with the clock striking the final chime of midnight. "You can smell that in the bed sheets too?"
"As a matter of fact I can." I could hear that she was smiling; it was the way her voice stretched.
"You can't smell hate," I snarled through clenched teeth, "and you can't smell strychnine either. The shit never even got onto the bed. I don't know how you know about any of this, but it never touched the bed," I repeated. "I hid it with my gunpowder. I waited for a plague to come to this town. I waited for years for people to start dropping from brain fevers and and muscle spasms. Years," I shouted. "And do you know what I did? I soaked her pretty little handkerchief in it so when she dried her delicate fucking eyes in church," I stared again at Eleanor's painting, brow quirked in a cocky smile, "the same horrible illness befell my poor wife."
I took another sip of brandy and I heard my dogs begin to bark downstairs.
"Of course," I continued, "the groundskeeper also fell victim to the same disease. I alone remained healthy. It was a miracle, you understand." I laughed, pouring myself another glass. "Another miracle was that Herbert survived the fucking poison. Defiant little prick can't even die right. He lived through it. Sure, he's a little worse for wear now. He's dumb and his legs don't work but a perfectly timed epidemic isn't an excuse you get to use twice. So I'm stuck with a simple minded, crippled, cuckolding manservant." At this point my voice was raised as I was trying to combat the volume of my dogs downstairs. "I guess Hebert knows all of this though, right? That's how he told you? That's why you've been tormenting me?"
I heard a low, throaty giggle and a rhythmic tapping of fingernails on the door. "Herbert doesn't know. Like I said, I can smell the strychnine."
I paused and turned towards my window. I could hear Duke howling now.
"We're very intimate with the scent of strychnine," Alice said, scraping her nails against the door, "especially in these woods. The coyotes hunt the hare, so you poison the coyotes. You've been poisoning the meat, Mr. Percy, and I can't say we're very pleased."
The hair on the back of my neck began to stand up straight and my chest felt heavy. I tried to laugh the feeling away. "Is this the same 'we' who is supposed to rescue you?"
"Yes." The voice that came from the other side of my study doors was not a voice but a deep, rickety growl. My dogs fell silent and their barks were replaced with what sounded like splintering bones. I jumped up to look out my window and saw shadows moving in the tree line, shadows silhouetted by a moon recently risen over the snowy horizon.
"What are you going to do, Mr. Percy?" She asked in a gravelly snarl. "Are you going to jump out the window? You'll slip and fall. You can't go into the woods. We're all out there. You'd never out run them on broken ankles." I could hear her pacing on the other side like an animal. "You could fight me. You could use your teeth and your claws and fight me. You might even enjoy it." She was mocking me as I had mocked her and she began throwing her weight into the door. She sounded heavier.
"You know why I didn't fight back?" She asked, clawing through the wood, the door slowly fracturing under the crashing of her body. "If I bite you," she said, "if I claw you, you'd be one of us."
The hallway was still dark, but a crack in the door was forming. She was breaking it down. I caught a glimpse of what looked like her pelt, but remembered she had been naked just moments before. I heard more howling coming from outside. Here I am, in my study, with a portrait of my dead wife watching me. I'm going to die on Christmas, aren't I? I fucking hate Christmas. Of all the ways I thought I was going to die, being mauled by werewolves on Christmas morning was not one of them.