It was, if I can remember, the day of my eighteenth birthday.
A monday, in the cooling days of autumn
after the harvest, when the days were starting to slowly shorten, bit by bit, the sun shining a little colder on our little farming village
, down on the bank of the Red River
. It had been an odd sort of day
, the sort that makes you feel nervous, as though there were something in the atmosphere to set your hair on end - nothing in particular, but the whole of it... the day was so quiet, you could hear every whisper; no wind, no clouds
, even the birds seemed to have left, flown south or staying in their nests, safe in their trees. Father had been arguing with Pappy about the river maybe flooding
- Pappy was warning that it would flood this next year, for certain, he knew it, Father more skeptical, wanting to wait to see the first snow.
I ate my toast and eggs
quickly, grabbed a sandwich and my coat and made my exit, not wanting to wait and see how it would turn out; I felt restless
, I felt like walking forever, wandering the shore of the river - maybe doing a little fishing, coming back in the evening; it was my birthday, I could do what I wanted, my parents
would forgive me if I stayed out too late and missed supper. I walked down the dirt path
that lead from our farm into town, sometimes breaking from the trail to run through the small woods
that borded it. It made me feel somehow more at ease, to walk through the trees, relaxed the tension of my father and Pappy's argument. Finally I reached the town
, the sun high in the sky, its light somehow not as warm as I had thought it should. I held off a shiver, glad I had brought my coat
. Nobody I knew or wanted to talk to seemed to be around, so I sat down on the bench in front of the post office
, and, stretching out my legs, started eating my sandwich
There was still not a cloud or a breath of wind when I finished eating, carefully folding the newsprint wrapper into my pocket. I peered at the horizon
, licked my finger and stuck it up into the air to catch the breeze - still and cloudless. It must have been just after two in the afternoon, I think, and I was feeling again the urge to wander. I roamed through the town awhile - asked M Laramie, the postmaster
, if he knew of any jobs for a young man, and he said he'd keep an eye out; greeted M Marchand
at the grocery, who asked if the hens had laid any more eggs, he was out and would pay for more, I said I'd ask Father, and isn't the weather strange; bumped into Père Lapointe
on the way out, who congratulated me on my birthday, but warned me not to overindulge myself - 'after all, I was a young man once
too, but don't enjoy yourself too much! - before letting me go with a smile and a wave. I walked down to the edge of town, not far from the bank of the river - the sun was just getting low in the sky when I saw a figure walking down the path from town behind me. I stopped for a minute and stared, trying to make out who it was.
As the figure approached, I could make out the face - Marie-Ange Leloup
, the prettiest girl in the parish, I swear; there wasn't a single man who wouldn't be proud to boast
of spending a night with her - but she was strange; there was always a look in her eyes
, almost a mix of love and hate, or lust and anger, that would turn away every man that dared to come close - but not me; I was unafraid - maybe even in love with - the girl behind the eyes, the girl who went, unexplained, into the forest every night, coming out only when when the light of day burst over the horizon; I was a romantic, I was curious, I needed to know why, and as she made her way into the forest, I followed her, running through the underbrush, following the soft prints of her velvet boots
and the waving of her scarlet scarf, but she knew this ground; this forest was hers, and she knew its ways, moving faster than I though only walking - she almost seemed to float through the trees, to fly through them, as I oafishly followed her.
The sky was quickly fading into the orange of sunset by the time I found the little clearing by the river. She was there, sitting, starting a little fire
- this must be where she spent her nights, I thought, out here under the canopy of stars
, beside the quiet riverbank - and I started to move in closer, quietly, so as not to disturb her. The fire caught, and I saw her lean in to warm her hands - a branch snapped as I carelessly stepped on it, and she whirled, her eyes catching mine in the firelight. I froze, not sure of what to do - torn between moving in closer to the fire or running, like a schoolboy caught doing something naughty. She smiled at me, and gestured for me to join her
by the fire. I relaxed, and walked over to her, sitting down heavily on the grassy ground. She took my cold hands in her fire-warmed ones, holding them for a long moment as we looked into each others' eyes, before she smiled at me and took off her coat
Time seemed to stop as we made love
on the soft sandy soil, unworried by the far-off sounds of some coyote howling, warmed by each other's body and the crackling fire. It was almost primal, her passion
, as we joined, and I struggled to match her intensity, the untamed, unrestrained fire of it seeming like a purifying flame, like a confession.
When it was over, we both collapsed into sleep, too tired to do anything more than cover ourselves with our coats and curl up together by the slowly dying fire. I can't remember if I dreamed, what I dreamed
; it was a peaceful slumber, a quiet slumber, until I awoke to a mad howling, the feeling of fangs sinking into my neck, and the too-late realization that this...
was my end.
(Based loosely on the song Sur le bord de la rivière Rouge
by Mes Aieux