A man's quest to find the woman he loves but finds something else instead.
The blackness between the pine trees remained unbroken and Blake was able to relax. He allowed himself to sit on a rock that formed a bit of an outcrop leading down into the valley. This section of forest was thick with underbrush which seemed to be the only thing that was allowed between the trees, joining with the darkness to make a wall that was as a mental block as much as a physical block. The wolves had no such mental aversion to the obscurity. Blake stood back up, his arms and lower legs stinging from the cuts and scrapes of thorns from the underbrush. He heard the howls and began to move faster.
Caught on a branch running across the trial, Blake saw a piece of white cloth. He untangled it from a branch and held it. A little bit larger than his hand, the fabric had jagged edges where the threads had been pulled apart. It was obvious to Blake that the fabric was torn off from Beatrice's shirt. She was running, just like him. The howls grew louder and appeared to be closer so Blake continued on, looking for his Honey Bee and trying to outrun what was behind him.
He thought he knew these woods well, but over the last several hours, he was no longer sure. Blake had never seen wolves when they came to their cabin. In the past, he heard what he thought was probably coyotes but never wolves. When Beatrice left the cabin he wasn’t concerned. He knew that she would eventually come back. But she didn't. He grew anxious and nervous. He went out to look for her, cursing himself a bit for his overdramatic reaction. He hadn't gone far when he first saw the wolves, or maybe not the wolves but at least their eyes. Yellow specks that darted from out behind rocks and in between trees. They didn’t attack, not that he was expecting them to, but they began to circle him. The wolves put themselves between him and the cabin. He considered just making a lot of noise, running back, but the pack's menacing growls convinced him that wasn’t an option. Then he found Beatrice’s hat, the little straw one that she used to garden in. The hat was trampled and the brim was torn. Finding her became more direr than before. He began to think that she was more than just lost.
Blake came to a clearing and stopped at the edge. He saw no signs of the wolves only the trail, and wildflowers. It was the first break from the forest and he was grateful for any open space. He walked toward the middle. The wind had picked up and began to match the sound of the wolves. The overgrown pine trees bent and swayed and needles fell to the ground creating a bizarre evergreen snow globe. Blake was buffeted by the wind and had to catch his balance several times to stay on the trail. Tree branches were waving violently. As he reached the other side of the clearing he ducked to avoid being hit but the back of his neck received fresh scratches from a branch so that it now matched the scrapes on his arms. Blake bent down and picked up a fallen branch with a nice thickness to it drawing comfort from the branch's weight. Although it was only about as long as his arm it would at least give him something to defend himself with. He walked out of the clearing and back into the woods.
He didn’t know exactly what it was about Beatrice that he loved so much. She had pale blue eyes that matched her skin, a tiny waist that gave way to slender legs. She was fragile, he had seen that the first time he met her. Her quiet demeanor matched her small frame. She often hid behind her brown curly hair, especially when she faced a confrontation. This morning she was buried behind that hair when they began to talk about the affair. Blake had never gone through with any of it however, Beatrice didn’t seem to think that this was good enough. They had argued and that disagreement had continued through the rest of the day.
Here in the woods, he thought that with all this grief, he should have done it anyway. The sound of snapping sticks to his right brought his attention away from his Honey Bee and he stopped, raising the stick.
He looked between the trees and saw nothing. He began to doubt if it was even wolves that he had seen. He had seen furry shapes and of course the eyes. He couldn’t make out anything definite and perhaps his mind just believed the worst. Not much light was left and the trees seemed to unnaturally shelter out much of it. Soon it would be even darker and Blake shuddered at the thought of the added darkness. A low growl came from his left now and he whirled around. He saw nothing. Behind him, he heard leaves being kicked and moved, like someone who longer cared if they were heard. Blake decided that he didn’t want to find out what was there so he pressed forward on the game trail.
His foot came down and he slipped, causing him to fall to his right knee. He felt that he landed in something wet. Blake looked down and saw a deer laying in the middle of the trail. Its chest was open and a slick blackness stained the white fur. The deer had been torn apart. Blake scrambled back up, his khaki pants soaking up the blood and the death smell. Panic starting to creep in. This could be his Honey Bee, he thought and a new fear started to take shape in his mind. It had started to rain and it made the path murky and a little less defined. The wolves and the thick underbrush were the only things that seemed to define the trail now.
The rain was cold and when it combined with the wind it stung his skin. He wished he had worn something more rugged before coming to look for Beatrice. But, he admitted to himself, he didn’t think she had gone far and it would only be a short time before he found her. He didn’t think that his pants and red pullover polo shirt would have been a hindrance. Now he regretted them very much. He pulled his shirt collar up and gave the deer a wide berth. He continued forward on the trial.
Blake came to a small ledge. He was able to at least look a little more ahead on the path than he had been able to previously. The trail was getting rockier, which would help with the mud, but the rain would also make it slippier. He carefully climbed down, taking care that his loafers had good support before moving his feet. This whole argument was ridiculous and he started to get a little angry. He quickly pushed it back down, back down where it could be controlled. He knew what his Honey Bee had been thinking when she left the cabin. She was trying to decide if their marriage was in trouble and if so, should she do something about it? Before she had left he told her that divorce wasn’t an option. They were made for each other, that she was made for him. And it was true, she was his, and the thought of her leaving him caused that anger to flare up. It was harder to press down this time.
He finished his climbing down and continued on the path. He thought he saw movement up ahead, a flash of white. He called out, Beatrice! He tried to run but the slicker path made it difficult. He came to a turn in the trail, took it at a trot and hoped that this part of his ordeal was at an end. The path was empty. Beatrice was not there. Again, maybe he saw what he wanted to see.
He didn’t hear anything when the wolf attacked him. He was hit hard in the back, pushing his torso forward, and landing with his face scraping against the rocks. In a panic, he swung his stick behind him. He felt it connect, hit something solid, and heard it yelp. He quickly turned himself around and swung again. Blindly, Blake again connected with his strike and hit the head behind the yellow eyes. He tried to swing again but it was pointless, his stick had broken on the sturdy muscle of the wolf. Catching his breath he looked up. He looked into the yellow eyes, seemingly floating in front of a black shape. He could hear the eager breathing of the wolf and he lashed out again. The wolf dodged easily, the eyes seemed to close and then open 2 feet further back. Blake screamed at the wolf trying to frighten it off. He tried to tell the wolf that he would be no easy meal. He picked up a rock and threw it sharply. The wolf leaped back again and was gone. Blake waited a moment to make sure that it was not coming back. Cautiously he began to step backward, toward the path he hoped that his Honey Bee had taken. He turned and ran, risking slipping again just to put distance between himself and the wolf.
Shortly, he was out of breath and stopped his run. His anger was now greater than his fear and he didn’t bother controlling it. At his feet, he saw another white piece of fabric. He bent down and picked it up. There was a part of him that wished she was terrified, that she knew she had made a stupid decision. When he found her they would straighten this out. Until then, the anger in him allowed him to hope that she was at least hurt. He would also deal with her friends, the ones that he had allowed her to have. The ones that whispered to her that perhaps Blake’s late nights at the office weren’t about work. He would deal with those people as well as soon as he got out of the damnable woods.
Blake looked up and noticed that the path ahead of him suddenly became wider. There were also fewer turns than before. Had he been circling to the bottom of the valley? He was no longer sure. He wasn’t even sure how long he had been in the woods. The wolves had continued to be a nuisance, always pushing him forward but almost playfully. Blake decided that he would make it so there were no wolves left in the world when he got out of the woods He could do that and his anger lashed out at them as much as it did Beatrice’s friends. He would destroy them all and from his bully pulpit, he would preach fire and brimstone.
As Blake walked he noticed that the woods had thinned. He could see the night sky now with the moon cresting the tall pines. The moon was red, a red and lifeless light that showered the path. The path, yes because now it was certainly a path and not a trail, looked step and unreliable. Like a pock-mocked face leering at his efforts. He slide more than he walked down the path. He was sure now that he would find his Honey Bee. Once at the bottom of the Valley he would be able to navigate a different path that would lead him far from the wolves. He stopped for a moment and fixed his shirt collar. The rain had stopped and the wind was a fraction of what it was. He tucked his shirt into his khaki pants and hand combed the part in his hair. Yes, he would find Beatrice and they could go back home. He had a campaign to run and his little tryst meant nothing next to that. Blake knew that he could spin this to his advantage. A young up and coming congressman rescues his stranded wife from a pack of wolves. He would make sure he was seen as a hero. There would be cameras and interviews, and through it all, his Honey Bee would be by his side. She would tell them of how brave he was. She would swear to God Almighty himself that her husband is a true hero and a great leader. He could play this far, very far. First, he had to find her and show her the right way to act, the right way to speak.
This time he heard the wolves before he felt them. He heard a low growl behind his hill and he ran. He hoped that by running downhill the wolves wouldn’t be as nimble. His right hand got caught from behind and he felt hot teeth dig into the meat of his palm. Unbalanced, he spun around as the wolf let go and landed hard on his back. He kicked out violently. Blake felt the shape give at his kick, heard a whine, and scrambled back to his feet. On his feet, Blake was determined to fight. He didn't see one wolf. Blake saw three. He grabbed a handful of loose gravel and threw at the now three shapes he saw before him. He threw it at their yellow eyes. He turned and began drifting down the path, sliding from boulder to boulder, pushing his legs and muscles faster than he had in years. He lept over a log but was hit low as he cleared it. Again he fell and he felt the decayed breath where the wolf sliced into his thigh. Blake screamed out, in panic and instinct. The wolf gripped tighter eagerly and began to shake it’s head, widening the gash that was opening in Blake’s thigh. Blake used his fists to hit the thing about the head, he tried to find those yellow eyes so that he could gouge them out. The wolf let go.
Blake pushed off his feet as hard as his injured leg would allow. He needed space, space to fight. He knew that he just needed to get one good shot in and the rest of the wolves would retreat. He grabbed a big rock with his uninjured hand and sat waiting. The three wolves blocked the path behind him but no longer advanced. Blake held his rock high above his head. The wolves did not retreat but they did not come forward either. Taking advantage of the wolves indecisiveness Blake got to his feet, slowly.
The pain was erupting from both his right hand and his thigh. He could feel the blood dripping from his hand to the ground, mixing with the blood that was now overflowing his shoe. He cursed Beatrice again. He cursed the wolves. He did not turn his back on them, he knew that to show weakness now would invite an attack. On the campaign trail, he knew that the best defense was a good offense and he was very, very good at playing offense. He screamed at the wolves, he waved his arms. He cursed them and threatened them. They did not retreat but neither did Blake.
Then he saw Beatrice. He had found his Honey Bee.
She stood directly behind the wolves, above them on a small cliff. From 10 feet above them, she stood silently, bathed in the light of the blood-red moon. Her white shirt almost seemed to glow like it was not just reflecting the moonlight but absorbing it as well.
“Bee!” he said. “Honey, help. Help me Bee!” he screamed at her.
Beatrice didn’t move and she didn’t say anything.
“Bee!” he screamed again.
The alpha wolf now took his eyes off Blake. The wolf glanced back at Beatrice. Beatrice nodded and the wolf Blake, paying no attention to the raised rock.
Blake was confused. He was not sure what was happening. Something had occurred between the wolf and Beatrice, something that was out of his control. His anxiety began mixing with his fear, making both spiral undisciplined. Blake took a step back, watching the wolves and their yellow eyes as they advanced on him. Blake stumbled but did not fall. He turned slightly to catch himself when for the first time he realized that behind him, a giant drop off cut short any route of escape he had. He had not reached the bottom of the valley at all but merely one of the many cliffs. He stared over the threshold and could not see any bottom. The moonlight could not penetrate enough of the gaping blackness to let him see how far the pit went. His whole night had been darkness and it was relentless.
He turned back towards the wolves, his mind racing through alternatives. Trying to find the last trick, the unexpected strategy that would help him regain control. Control of the wolves, control of the ledge, and control of Beatrice. As he thought, and as the wolves continued to advance, he saw that Beatrice was also moving. Her legs seemed to be walking slowly but she moved much faster than she should have. She was off her outcropping and now stood behind the wolves.
Beatrice did not stop when she got to the wolves but she did slow so that she could run her hand gently through the fur of the alpha male. The wolf stopped and seemed to shiver at her touch. The other two wolves stopped as well, not willing to go any further without their leader. Beatrice let her hand linger on his nose and then walked to Blake.
“Beatrice,” he said. “My Honey Bee. Help me.”
Beatrice said nothing but slowly came to him. A plan flashed in Blake’s mind. It would be painful but it was necessary. When Beatrice was close enough to him, he would grab her. He would hit her with the rock and cause a gash in her head. The wolves were in a blood lust, he was sure and the smell of it would bring them to Beatrice. As they attacked her he would run around them. He could still spin this. This would make a better story than before. Now he would be a widower and the pity and empathy from the people would guarantee him a long career.
“Help me Honey Bee,” he pleaded again. She continued toward him and when she was close enough, he darted out his injured hand and grabbed her arm. But as he pulled, she did not move. She did not feel at all like his Honey Bee. His Honey Bee was soft and malleable. This Beatrice was granite hard and so cold to the touch that his fingers began to go numb.
Beatrice looked at the hand on her arm and then at the rock. The rock began to tremble in Blake’s hand. Something was wrong, this Beatrice in front of him was not the one that he knew. The Beatrice he knew was a demure woman, soft and weak. She was a follower and servant. As Blake looked at this Beatrice he began to see that she was none of those things. Her hair was tied back, out of her face. She was no longer hiding her gaze. She was no longer hiding from confrontation. This Beatrice was seeking it.
He saw that she was looking directly at him, the pale blueness of her eyes contained strength. This frightened him more than the wolves. He saw that her thin lips were not in her usual perpetual frown but actually upturned slightly, giving the impression of a smile. Blake let go of her arm as if touching it caused a spasm. The rock fell from his hand.
“I don’t understand Honey Bee,” he said. The confidence and surety had gone out of his own voice. “I don’t understand.”
Beatrice finally spoke to him.
“Yes, you do Blake. Think. Think hard.” Her voice was as soft as he remembered but contained a firmness he had never heard from her. This was not a request, this was a command.
Beatrice raised herself on her tiptoes and kissed his forehead.
Memories flooded into Blake. Scenes flashed by, words that were forgotten suddenly found themselves crystal clear in his mind.
“Oh God,” Blake said.
This time Beatrice did smile. Wide and full of amusement.
Blake knew it was true as soon as he said the words. He knew that they had argued this morning. He also knew that he had thrown Beatrice off this very cliff when he found her later in the woods. He knew that he had killed himself shortly thereafter in the cabin. Blake staggered and his breathing became hard.
Beatrice merely nodded, the smile sitting perfectly at ease on her face.
“I’m dead and this is heaven.”
Beatrice did not answer.
“This is heaven. This must be heaven. Or at least the road to heaven. I made mistakes, every man does. But I also did great things. Things that would leave the world a better place.”
Beatrice sighed now but the smile was still there.
“Honey Bee, tell me is this heaven? You’re here, it is heaven, isn’t it?”
Beatrice looked at him directly. Then she turned around and began to walk back to the wolves. She touched the alpha wolf on the nose letting her fingers linger. There was almost a sense of love in that touch and Blake became frightened again.
“Beatrice! Tell me this is heaven!” Blake was pleading now.
“For me it is,” Beatrice said. She walked to the back of the pack again and turned once more to Blake, her smile still the most prominent feature on her face.
The alpha male growled and the pack joined in as they advanced. Blake found that he couldn’t even move when they jumped. Beatrice watched as the wolves and Blake went over the ledge and into the pit, her smile never wavering.