To Dance Among Wolves

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Tess felt the bite of winter like a razor between her ribs

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Tess felt the bite of winter like a razor between her ribs.

As always, it was a bitter, howling night. Her breath hung ghostly in the air.

Tess' ruby red cloak was all that stood between her and the elements, and it was more for show than warmth. She shivered, drawing it close.

Her gown caressed the frozen ground as she hurried along the path. Trees stretched blackened fingers, reaching to pluck the bloom of color from her cheek. It seemed, on this coldest of midnights, that she was the only living thing astir in that forest.

Like Spring come early to her garden, Tess wandered among hungry, dead things. She tread softly, so as not to wake them.

Tess wished Nana had come, but the old woman's joints were gnarled by arthritis and she could no longer dance. Nana had never been chosen. She'd grown old, and thin, and weary of life.

Tess dreaded such a fate-but to be chosen?

That would be worse.

She came to a fork in the path and halted.

You could go left, her mind whispered treacherously. You could take that path, to the city, to another life-run to a place where winter is but a season, and young flesh is not bartered for peace...

Tess clutched her basket, feeling the paper-wrapped offering shift with her movement. It seemed so heavy. Blood was leaking through one corner, saturating the white linen liner of the hamper. The deep, sticky crimson made Tess' stomach churn.

This is your last year, she told herself. One more dance, and you're free-the truce must stand.

Tess took a deep breath, then stepped onto the familiar path, traveling further into the cold, dark forest.

~~~

The clearing was lit by silvery moonlight, and it seemed that the very stars had come down to nestle in the barren trees

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The clearing was lit by silvery moonlight, and it seemed that the very stars had come down to nestle in the barren trees.

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