Introduction: Another short story, this one focused solely on my favorite bad girl, Lucy Belogh. Obviously I’ve taken huge, sweeping liberties with historical figures, but not nearly as much as I would have liked to have taken: I wish how Phoebe Ann Mosey was mistreated was fiction. I only tinkered with how she survived the experience. She never identified the family who abused her when she was a child, only referring to them by her nickname: the wolves.
Rating warning: this story is the most violent I’ve published on a blog so far, and not for kids.
The little girl’s blood stained the snow pink when she fell. She didn’t cry out. She was long past the point of feeling pain, reduced to numbness by the cold and her wounds. She had felt cold originally, but that was before the sun set and night shrouded the forest. She pushed her hands against the snow, brushing sap and ice and bits of broken twigs from her bloody fingers as she stood, unsteady and teetering.
In the forest, wolves howled.
They had been howling for hours now, from behind her, to the side. The wolves sounded close. She couldn’t see them, but she could imagine reaching out a hand and touching fur. She wanted to scream and run, the rattling of her chest urging her to flee, but when she ran, she tripped and when she tripped, she hurt herself. And she already hurt. If she felt it less, that did not make moving easier. It was so warm here, anyway. Such sweet and pleasant comfort.
Much better than being inside that awful farmhouse.
She sat down in the snow.
Ahead of her in the darkness, a light flickered, a strange floating glow. The little girl held a stiff ice-cold hand up to her eyes. She tried to focus.
As the light approached closer, the little girl saw the light came from a branch that had been lit on fire, held up like a torch. The woman who carried the branch wasn’t much darker in color than the snow. Her long white hair hung down to the ground, cloaking her body. She had strange, slanted eyes and long, white eyebrows with curled tips. The sway of hair as she walked betrayed the woman’s state of undress underneath. She didn’t seem to feel the cold.
Annie was too tired and too hurt to feel embarrassed.
Next to the naked woman strode a giant wolf, much larger than the mistreated, ill-tempered curs on the farm, its eyes liquid gold in the light of the torch.
“What are you doing out here, child?” The woman’s voice was sweet. “Where are your parents?”
Annie felt tears start to form in her eyes. “I…I’m sorry. It’s all my fault. I was so tired and I fell asleep and….” She was tired still, and it was hard to talk. “Mrs. Studebaker done put me out and told me don’t you come back ’til I bring in all the firewood.” Tears rolled down the girl’s face, but she was too weak to cry properly. “And all the wood was froze, so I thought maybe if I came out into the forest…”
“Child…” The woman bent down over her, sticking the branch upright in the snow. “You’re not wearing any shoes.” When she put her hand down on Annie’s left foot, red from the cold, Annie couldn’t feel her touch.
“Sorry–” The girl closed her eyes and swallowed, and slid down in the snow. The woman caught her, and held her in her arms. The little girl was cold, parts of her frozen. Even if she could be warmed safely, she’d lose fingers and toes.
“She’s done for,” a man said. The wolf that had sat by the white-haired woman’s side was gone now. The man was lean and wiry with dark, smooth skin and long black hair: an Indian. He leaned against a tree trunk, as nude as the woman, but less concerned about the fate of little lost girls. He cocked his head. “What are you going to do?”
The pale woman kissed the little girl’s forehead and smoothed her brown hair. “I’m going to need a few minutes alone.”
“No really enough to share.”
Her eyes, as she looked up at him, were ice, sharp and cold. “I’m not sharing. The rest of you can eat your fill when we find Mrs. Studebaker.” She stroked the little girl’s hair one more time. “I’m so sorry, my dear.” Then she bent over the unconscious girl and whispered: “Now we’re going to grandmother’s house.”
The man nodded and turned away. A few seconds later, a dark wolf rejoined its brethren in the pack.
Behind them came the sounds of an animal savaging its kill.
One hour before dawn on the Studebaker farm, Darke Country, Ohio.
Edith Studebaker rose to the sound of her crying infant son. “Annie, you no-account–” She was starting to go on about the ungrateful little chit neglecting her duties when she remembered that she’d turned Phoebe Ann out the night before. The good-for-nothing brat was probably sleeping with the mules, trying not to freeze to death.
Her husband Bernard rolled over in his bed on the other side of the room. “Ah damn it, would you shut that brat up? If I have to get out of this bed–!” He snarled and looked ready to throw off the covers.
She flinched. She knew exactly what would happen if he threw off those blankets. “I got it handled.”
Just then the baby stopped crying, the noise cutting off with an odd gurgle.
The house settled into quiet.
“Now that’s strange–” Edith murmured. A feeling of dread came over her. “Bernard, get up. Something’s wrong.”
“Shut up, woman.” Her husband turned over.
She snarled silently at him while his back turned to her and then walked to the nursery herself. She slammed open the nursery door. Edith stared.
A dozen wolves were in the room, surrounding the crib. One was inside the bed, paws over the side, fighting with a wolf outside the crib over a piece of torn, mangled meat each held in its jaws, like dogs fighting over a scrap of rabbit.
A piece of meat…
Edith screamed and ran. “Bernard! Bernard! Silas! Benjamin!” Behind her, she could hear the nails of the wolves as they ran over the hardwood floor. Half the group followed her while the other half ran into the bedroom she’d just vacated. She heard her husband cry out, in surprise and pain.
She kept running.
Edith tripped and fell as the wolves grabbed at her skirt with sharp, snapping teeth. She tried to crawl to the door, to where they kept the shotgun in case there were bandits or injuns. The wolves weren’t moving in for the kill, which means she had enough time to reach–
Pale, bare legs blocked her way.
Edith looked up. A woman stood over her, between Edith and the shotgun leaning against the wall. She was naked, with white skin and slanted Chinese eyes, snow hair, and blood-tinted lips. She held a baby to one breast, cradled the infant in her arm while he suckled hungrily at a pink nipple.
“That’s my son! That’s my Benny–” Her lunge forward was halted by the wolves, who grabbed her clothes and pulled her back.
“He was hungry,” the woman explained, her tone almost apologetic. Her accent was fancy. Educated. She didn’t sound like a local girl, but then no local girl had ever looked like this woman. “Benny. Is that short for Benedict? I like that name. Your boy’s a fighter: he has a good, strong grip.”
“Give him back! Give my baby back to me!”
The albino China woman negligently slapped Edith away, a blow so strong it made her ears ring as she fell back.
“Motherhood is a wonder, isn’t it?” The China woman asked. “But it’s not earned. You don’t need to prove yourself worthy. All you have to do is spread your legs and endure a little discomfort. People like to say that motherhood is love, but it isn’t, is it? Motherhood is sufferance. In some cases, it’s scarcely tolerated at all.” She stroked the baby’s cheek. “So here’s a bargain a mother like you can appreciate. Tell me about the girl, and I’ll let you chose which one of you I kill: you, or your only living child.”
Edith didn’t comprehend the words at first, frowning, and then she twisted towards the back rooms of the farm house. “Benjamin! Silas!”
“The wolves tell me they were delicious.”
Edith turned back. She looked at the bloody muzzles of the wolves around her, watched as one of the beasts licked his mouth with salacious glee. Eyes wide, she turned back to the China woman and spat at her. The white haired woman grinned.
Then she licked the spittle from her cheek with a tongue that was long, black and inhuman.
“Jehovah help me…you’re a demon!”
“No, but if it makes you feel better, go ahead and call me whatever names you like. It would hardly be the first time.” The white demon woman stepped forward and grabbed Edith’s jaw with one hand, holding the woman’s chin so tightly she was certain she would have bruises to show for it. “Tell me about the little girl, the one you locked out of the house and left to roam the frozen wood. Tell me everything or watch as I smash your baby’s brains out against the wall and make you lick the bloody ooze. Tell me about her, or I will rip you open so I can strangle your baby boy with your own intestines while you watch. Tell me, or I will make your last moments a horror such that they will make the fiery depths of the Hell you’ll go to after seem like a release.”
The China woman let her go then, and returned to coo’ing over the baby.
Edith fell back, mouth open in shock, aware of the wolves who scampered out of the way to make room for her. They seemed almost like they were laughing. “The girl…you mean Phoebe Ann?”
“Was that her name?”
Was. “Proper name is Phoebe, but most everyone calls her Annie…did the wolves eat her?”
The albino China woman stared at her. “No.”
Edith tried arranging her skirts, torn and ripped by the fangs of wolves. It was a nervous gesture. It accomplished nothing of importance except reassure her that she had not, in fact, pissed herself. “I…Bernard. That’s my husband. Bernard said I needed someone to help around the house. And so he brought me back a girl from the poorhouse. Annie Mosey. Lazy thing though. She ran off last night. I don’t know where she’s gotten to. It ain’t my doing. It’s not my fault.” Her voice took on a whining, pleading tone.
The woman frowned. “You wouldn’t lie to me, would you, Mrs. Studebaker? A proper lady shouldn’t lie. I’d be so very disappointed in you.”
Edith crossed her arms over her chest and tried to force down the feeling of dread. She very nearly told the woman she didn’t think a naked whore had any business telling her what was proper, but she stopped herself in time. “She was disrespectful and good-for-nothing. Ask her. Lazy chit would probably even admit it.”
“I can’t ask her. She’s dead.” The woman set the baby down on the front table and turned back to Edith. “But she lived long enough to tell me that you locked her out of the house because she fell asleep. She lived long enough to tell me your name, Mrs. Studebaker.” The China woman shook her head. “And she didn’t need to tell me she was locked out in the freezing cold without shoes or coat. So…who are her people? Where’s she from? Was she an orphan?”
Edith shook her head, swallowed, and tried to recover herself. “Naw, her momma’s still alive, just too poor to take care of her. That’s why she was in the poorhouse. Susan, I think? She has a place in Woodland. Lost her husband, married, lost the second one too.” The farm wife eyed the naked woman, who showed no more shame than Eve in the garden before she’d ever heard of apples. “Why…why do you care, Miss? If she’s dead, she’s just one less mouth for her momma to feed.”
“And one less pair of hands to carry the wood or slop the pigs or hit when you’re in a bad mood or look the other when your sons or your husband wanted to have their fun. I care because no one else did. And because I am old enough and jaded enough to know that one Phoebe Ann Mosey is worth a hundred monsters like you and yours. My friends only look like wolves. But you? You’re a bitch for the ages, Mrs. Studebaker.”
Something happened then.
The woman began to shift and flow as Edith felt a slow build of heat, like she was standing in front of a fireplace. The China woman grew smaller and darker, until she was a naked little thing — an eleven-year-old naked girl with curly brown hair and liquid eyes. She held herself with great dignity, like she was a princess, and not a poor Quaker’s daughter from Darke County, Ohio.
She looked just like Phoebe Ann Mosey.
“God Damn!” Edith screamed. Edith looked just once at the baby left on the table, and then she turned and ran for the open door.
The girl watched her go without any change in expression.
“I’m curious: what would you have done if she’d chosen to give her life for her baby’s?” The Indian man was back, leaning against the wall.
“I’d have let them both live. You’ll find a good home for the babe? Raise him yourself if it suits you.” The Ice Queen gestured to the child, magnanimous.
“We’ll see he comes to no harm — none from us anyway.”
“Good, then let us not waste time on any more rhetorical questions.” She snorted. “Give her life for her baby’s. I’d have been very surprised indeed, had that been her choice.” She walked to the door, curtsied like a duchess, and waved a hand towards the opening. “She’s all yours.”
Her words fired the starter’s pistol. The wolves ran.
When they were gone, the little girl who looked like Phoebe Ann Mosey gathered up the baby boy, changed his diaper, and then went upstairs, to look for some clothes.