Inside, By Lorraine Schein
hen I came to, I lay curled on a slick, coiled surface. Still alive! I remembered that face looming closer, jaws widening, teeth gleaming white and sharp as the moon in the forest, then a terrible grinding sound, and—only darkness. I remember thinking I would die, but instead it seemed I had gone to the sunless depths of hell.
Inside the wolf, it was darker than the Black Forest, but after a while my eyes grew used to the gloom. I could make out the rounded walls of glistening pink flesh, pulsing with layered veins of blood that looked like my mother’s cross-stitched embroidery.
The only light was from a constellation of tiny sparks fluttering around me—I looked more closely, and saw they were a cluster of fireflies the wolf had swallowed. They gave just enough light to see by.
Large stones were scattered about, and I was not the only one here. A piglet sat on a flat boulder squealing sadly, clutching a sheaf of straw. Behind him, a sea of eyes blinked in the darkness. Two of them belonged to a croaking frog who wore a tiny, battered golden crown. A duck waddled and quacked loudly next to him.
I saw a brighter glowing and thought it a concentration of fireflies, but when I bent down to look more closely, I saw a tiny lady with sheer, violet wings, dancing in her own shimmering light.
A jumble of ripped cloth from a red patchwork skirt and some fortune-telling cards lay scattered nearby. Next to the cards was a mangled hand, chewed off at the wrist, still wearing a tangle of shiny bangle bracelets. Poor Romany woman. It had swallowed a gypsy! I had often seen their caravan in the forest and once had my fortune told.
Then I saw my grandmother in her nightgown, huddled in a bend, wrapped in a shredded blanket. “Grandmamma, are you alright?” I asked. She only gave me a faint smile in response, and looked too weak to talk.
How could I save her? The gypsy hand held a card, but I couldn’t make it out, except for the image of the moon. My grandmother knew the cards though and gasped when she saw it.
Beside her was a frayed wooden basket spilling half-eaten oat cakes, the bedraggled bouquet of wildflowers that had distracted me on my journey, and a gleaming, broken bottle of wine from my basket. The jagged wine bottle was half empty, as if the wolf had tried to drink from it first, then swallowed it all in haste.
Would anyone know we were here, alive, and save us? I called out for my mother, but no one came. I heard the sound of crying in the distance, and crawled slowly towards the sound on the slick surface of the tunnel ahead, but did not get far. It was lighter here—I saw a flame from a candle someone had placed in a notch of flesh, as if on a mantelpiece.
A shadowy figure loomed up before me. I could make out a boy about my age, limping on his bitten, bleeding foot. “It’s no use,” he said wearily. “We’ve already tried that.” He bent down to look at me. “Who are you?” he said, glaring.
I started to answer, but he interrupted. “You look familiar,” he said putting his face too close to mine. “I tried to warn them, but they wouldn’t listen. Were you the one who turned them against me?” he said with a growl.
He picked up the broken bottle, a mad look twisting his face. I tried to back away, but slipped on the oozing surface. He bent over me, brandishing a sharp point of glass, slicing near my throat.
Suddenly, my feet felt wet. I heard a rushing noise, followed by an awful stench. An undulating wave of brown liquid stung my ankles, and started to fill the tunnel. Screams, yelps, squeals and quacks echoed around me. So my death would come by drowning.
A nick of light appeared overhead, widened, became a slit. The metal edge of hacking shears glinted above. Blood spattered upon us like rain.
Then the huntsman’s strong arms pulled me out, and closed about me. I stepped back into the belly of the world to tell my tale.
Lorraine Schein is a New York poet and writer whose work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Sagewoman, New Letters and Alice Redux, an anthology about Alice in Wonderland. Her poetry book, The Futurist’s Mistress, is available from mayapplepress.com.