An excerpt from
On a Diet of Souls
From Strangelet 2.1
We are waiting for a call from the kidnapper that I know will never come.
Three officers sit at our kitchen table taking notes whenever they think my daughter Inisha has said something important. It is bitter cold outside, and the frost on the windows muffles our voices.
“Myobi has been taken to the ice,” I say for the third time since the police have arrived. “She will be lifted into the sky. We must tether her before she falls.”
The woman officer reaches across the table to pat my hand as if I were a child. The police do not think I understand that my granddaughter has been abducted. To them, I am only the crazy old woman who lives in dreams.
“That makes no sense, Mama,” Inisha says, sounding exasperated. I worry for a moment she will teeter over the edge into sobs until I remember she has always been exasperated. As an infant, her mouth would form a sour frown after tasting my breasts.
“She must be found,” I say louder. “Or we will lose her tonight.”
“You are not helping!” Inisha says, standing, bumping the table, and spilling coffee from the officers’ mugs. “Go to bed.
“Excuse us,” she says.
She grabs my wrist and pulls me down the hallway to my room, where she removes one of my old lady nightgowns from the dresser. She buys me these ugly things.
“Put this on,” she says.
I take off my sweater.
“I’m sorry, Mother. I just can’t think with you in the room tonight. Myobi’s only fourteen. She could be—”
I reach for her, wanting to smooth the furrow from her brow, but she pushes me away.
“Why couldn’t you be normal just this once, Mama?”
I bite my cheek as she shuts the door behind her. I’m trying to help, I want to tell her. I have always been helping. But it was she who invited the wolfwalker into our home. Cooking dinners for Inisha, buying jewelry and dresses, he masked the spirit inside him. I warned her that he was stalking Myobi, but she wouldn’t listen until it was too late.
I hear Inisha talking as she reenters the kitchen and open my door as she apologizes. The cop tells her not to worry. We all have eccentric ones in the family.
I shut the door and put my sweater back on. I fold the nightgown over the chair in the corner of the room. There is no need for it tonight. I sit on the bed and wait.
Nine o’clock passes, the appointed hour. The note was written in Myobi’s own hand. The wolfwalker cajoled her into leaving. He would call, she had reassured. They would only be gone for a few hours.
Until today no one had heard from the wolfwalker in two weeks. He’d disappeared from the house without a word to Inisha. He waited to take Myobi until this afternoon while I was in the back greenhouse and Inisha was still at work.
The call has not come. Thick ribbons of silence fill the house.
They are still waiting. The clock on my end table ticks louder. I must find Myobi. He will take her soul if I do not find her soon. A trickle of fear drips along my spine. What if I’m too late? I stand and then shake my head. Fear will not help.
Inisha is talking to the officers.
I move closer to the door.
Chairs scrape against the floor as the police reassure her that they will find Myobi.
The front door closes, and Inisha begins to sob. She hurries through the hallway to her room and falls onto the bed. I ache to put my arms around her until the crying stops.
I dare not go. Not yet. The risk is in leaving. If Inisha discovers what I’m doing, Myobi will be lost.
I count to five hundred and then a hundred more.
I creep closer to the wall that separates her room from mine and listen.
She is quiet.
It is time.
I turn my clothes inside out, then put them back on and slip from the room. No light seeps from under Inisha’s door as I pass.
The car keys are on the kitchen table. I grab them and pause. A gleaming knife stands in the dish drain.
I go outside.
Gently, I close the car door in the driveway.
I place the knife on the passenger seat and start the engine, watching Inisha’s window.
The room stays dark.
My breath fogs in the car as I shiver and turn on the heat. I have forgotten my coat, but it’s too late to return.
The wheel feels strange in my hands. It has been many years since I have driven. Inisha doesn’t allow it. You are always dreaming, she says. You could hurt someone.
I check the sky.
The great northern lights have yet to come. They will scatter across the heavens in streaks of red and green velvet. I have seen this moment in dreams since Myobi was born.
I pull onto the highway. The road is black and icy, but I am not afraid. I have traveled this way in the night so many times that I could find the ice plain while blinded.
This was the wolfwalker’s mistake.
I was in the living room, dreaming in my rocking chair, when he spoke to Myobi, as he often did when Inisha left the room. He whispered of the mystical place he would like to show her, of the cabin near the blue, blue waters, the cold ice fields, and the skies that opened into magic, billowing with the souls of the dead.
He did not know what I knew.
When I was a child, my spirit often left the bed, rising toward the ceiling, my dreaming body still warm under the covers. In spring, I would open the window a crack and slip out among the apple blossoms. The petals would rain under my soul. In winter, I would soar along the tops of the pines to the great ice plain and dance in the northern lights near the cabin in the woods. The wolfwalker did not live there then.
I grip the wheel tighter. I have not soared in many years—old age punctures the spirit. But Myobi is young. The wolfwalker can devour her soul and rise.
The road is ahead.
I slow the car.
A streak of green is in the north as I turn.
The road is gravel, and the car moves slower, though my foot keeps pushing on the gas. There will be another driveway soon.
I press on the brakes.
The car skids and plows into a snow bank.
I stare at the windshield for a moment, and then search for the knife that has fallen to the floor. I look out of the window, clutching the knife. The right side of the car is trapped in snow. My left headlight shines on the driveway ahead. The wolfwalker’s empty car is parked alongside.
I get out, and my feet sting. I am only wearing socks. I slip the knife into the waist of my pants.
The wolfwalker’s heavy tracks and Myobi’s small prints leave a trail. As I walk in their steps, the snow pushes up the cuffs of my pants. My feet and ankles burn with cold.
The cabin is ahead.
A warm glow emanates from the window. I sneak forward.
Myobi is sitting on a bed, her arms wrapped around her legs. Lanterns hang from the ceiling beams, and a fire burns in the woodstove.
She is alone.
I bang on the door. “Myobi!” I call. “It’s Nana!”
She rushes to the door and stands before me. Her face is red from crying. There are welts around her neck and across her arms. I tremble with the need to hurt him.
“Where is he?” I ask, hugging her.
“I don’t know,” she says, pulling away. “He’s crazy, Nana. He’s not normal. He’s not—”
“I know, Myobi.” I grab her hand. “That is why we must find him.”
“He’s dangerous!” she says, snatching her hand from mine. “We have to run!”
I bring my face to hers. “He has your scent. He will hunt you. You know this.”
She stares blankly for a moment and then nods. She grabs her coat and hat and reaches for my outstretched hand.
We step outside, and Myobi gasps. Ribbons of green are shooting across the stars.
We walk through the snow, and the cold licks my feet with fire.
He is on the plain, I am sure of it. The lights will bring him forth from the woods. I want to hurry, but my body is growing heavy and numb. Ice crystals are forming in the tendrils of hair around my face, but I cannot give in now.
We reach the edge of the plain, and our breath is like clouds in the frozen night. Myobi’s eyes are wide with fear.
“He was here,” she says, pointing to a pile of firewood. An axe leans against the chopped wood.
I want to grab the axe but, instantly, I know my arms will not carry it. They are too heavy with cold. I curse my weakness as we pass the woodpile and walk onto the plain.
He is there, at the center.
His back is toward us as he stares at the sky rippling above him in streaks of red and green.
I walk toward him, leaving Myobi, but she grabs my arm, dragging me back in fright. I push her away and take the knife from my waistband.
“You must stay here,” I whisper harshly. “Or the lights will take you.”
Lynn Wohlwend is a graduate student of creative writing at the University of New Mexico. She also writes Japanese poetry.