“Unfurring” – Fiction by Rebecca Ann Jordan

illustration by Rebecca Ann Jordan

“Unfurring” is Rebecca Ann Jordan‘s sensual and tender, yet animalistic and violent short fiction from our Winter 2017 issue.

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AND WE’RE RUNNING RACING RUNNING the powder-man behind us but our tails flick too fast for his eye. Game, this is a game but terror spikes up my spine-like-snapped-liquid and I’m laughing little squeaks and ragged wheezes, my fellow fox. How up we’ve been stitched in this place of fur and ears and whiskers, how forgotten our selves have been, as if it’s really our bodies this dead canine’s using.

But who were you really, in the before? Before this game of borrowed skin? I forget everything; all slips from my mind as this fox-body slips from the wavering line of light drawn neatly as war on the ground. I can still taste you on my tiny-spiked tongue. I can still feel your calluses furring me all over. You I can still remember turning my knees backwards and my skin to graying red. Game. This is a game and you’re behind me, teasing my eyes around, letting me feel competitive.

The hunter draws behind him the cloak of dark.

You can run yourself gone past where the hard line of shadow chases us, but me I’ll turn, I’ll end him and win, I’ll hide behind the tree no shadow can cross, and when the man smelling like powder comes—I leap upon him, all his plaid and metal and I’m not game for this game anymore. Him I remember. He comes flashing back like a gun, he who tore you from me in that before, his ripping of your life away, all his subtle yanking of the years out from under us, some of which we ran together, most of them we didn’t or did, jaggedly.

And him I’m sinking my teeth into now, tasting the mettle of his blood and feeling the way he bucks beneath. I’ll stop him forever so you can keep on running, my love, the wind combing back your ancient gray into the red of my memory.

This gravity I’m bound to now by tooth and claw this hunter he bucks and boils and spews rage from the fissure of lips and his round black eye, hunting-eye, that gun it rackets off and he couldn’t have done better if he’d had time to aim. And down you are in the grass, with your human blood spilling through the hole in the red fur and I’m running to you to your body your body your vessel of a body and the fox’s body and all rolled into one, and what is there to do, I have no skill at sewing I cannot mend you up or go back to the night before we put these skins on and say perhaps this we shouldn’t play, this life, this game not us nor our parents could refuse, no, nonono I remember now how up you furred me hairs all bristling with the sense of something beyond the usual touch and nuzzle and I knew then I would chase you all through this game.

But now you’re bleeding out, and up comes the shadow. It crosses the grasses slowly, so we know it’s coming, we have time to prepare. So I unzip myself, the fox’s skin melted to my own, so off my own organ comes. To peel myself off, to wrap you up in it, to fill where there are holes, to patch the broken.

For my part, I sweat pink. Wax drips, muscles tightening against the air. I string together all your little threads, those you can’t even see for yourself, those just behind your skull. I’m stitching you together. I wrap you away into the hollow of the tree, and go to see the shadow.

It’s approaching now, half the world in dark, half in light, pushing each their limits. On it comes. I don’t want to play but I must protect your torn body; two furs must be better than one, perhaps you can heal more as an animal than whatever it is we unfortunately were, before in the time I can’t remember now.

I want to see what it is, if it is how I will die, so I allow the shadow-line, eclipse-line, to touch my exposed flesh, no pain but what I can see, tendons & bones dis-integrating into something so soft, it’s nothing, into—what?

Up to the tree where in I hid you. Up in the branches I sit, the ground too hot for meat of toes, branches too rough for meat of seat and thighs and knees. All day the shadow comes then recedes, back to the horizon and the other side of the world it came from. For now I have saved you, I have saved our new world halfway between, I cannot have my skin back but I can have this, this tree and the meat that hides within, wrapped in some of me. But he is looking for us.

I lick little bugs and cells of hunter from my teeth, no longer canine or quick to bite. I contemplate the muscles of my hands, what my sex looks like under the skin. I want to see the workings of my skull as I remember how you were, piece by piece the unfurring of you back to the beginning. You fit me unwell. What I mean is we were always frictive, not quite fitting each other’s sharp pieces. But I liked them, and I licked them. You tasted well in my mouth my soul my heart my brain. You leashed me sometimes (granted I deserved it). I was never hobbled in a way that didn’t let my toes work up and down your torso. You liked to giggle. That made you twitch within me.

I didn’t like to be rational then. I didn’t like to project so far that you were no longer a part of me. We put on these poor prey’s suits as a way to keep ourselves from becoming different animals. I wonder if my skin will heal you. I wonder if I have severed myself in just the right way for you. I wonder what this thought looks like in my skull, breezes howling past the little canyons of my bone, oh how deep those breezes have to blow to reach the brain matter!

Somewhere I hear a noise and realize it’s a gunshot, remember what a gun is like to feel in one’s hands. I once killed, too, and without knowing. Unzipping life from life, and did I think I could escape mine? All of it is coming around, that afternoon shadow, lengthening along the grasses. I smell it not so well without my fox-nose or my whiskers to sense the direction of the disintegrating cold, but suddenly exposed muscles are shriveling, forcing my own body into a smallness quite unlike me, as if to squeeze into a skin I can’t see. I leap from my tree. I have no skin to test the warmth or lack of warmth on you, and what I do not want is to poke a bony finger into the hole the gun tore. You are not yet healed.

From the shadow I’m running, running on two legs instead of four, knees forward instead of back. My hunger suddenly strikes hard nearly forces me down grasses swipe stinging at my thighs and forearms and behind, the hunter.

How forgotten you are, how far you are from my brain, plucked away by breezes and smells, as I terrorize myself with the running, with knowing I don’t want to live without you but my body won’t obey, it struggles to live even with the looking back on the empty eye of the gun, and its owner he the creature of a night not so much wild as nothing at all, the eye the empty eye that sees me down in the grass that sees me with white band around my bones where a leash might once have been.

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REBECCA ANN JORDAN  is a speculative fiction author and artist. She has published fiction and poetry in Strange Horizons, Fiction Vortex, Strangelet, and more. In 2015 Becca participated in the Clarion Writer’s Workshop and holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts in 2016. While Becca originated in the San Diego area, she now sells weird and wonderful books in the mountain town of Durango, Colorado. See more of her work at rebeccaannjordan.com or follow her @beccaquibbles.

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