by Lesley Mace
The café is crowded. Elise huddles in a corner, the other chairs from her table are gone: stolen away by predatory teenagers. Elise barely noticed.
In thrall to the story she reads, the muted roar of shifting conversations is sucked away, her forgotten coffee cooling as she turns the pages. Her absorption only frays as she feels the hairs rise along her forearms, and realises she is being studied. She lifts her eyes from the book.
‘May I join you?’ he stands above her. He is a swirl of black coat.
The air is fogged with crowded breath; the windows blank with exhalations.
One startled look, a nod, and she retreats, hiding behind her barrier book. Unfocussed from the printed words she watches him. His eye-teeth glint like bayonets.
The siren-song of fantasy penetrates reality. She recognises it from dreams: wolfish whispers pursue her; she twists through the labyrinth, fleeing down mazy, moss-lined tunnels.
Icy sweat needles the surface of her flesh. She licks the back of her hand; her fear is bitter and delicious.
He sips his coffee neatly. But she knows the fierceness of his hands, sees them engulf the cup and squeeze – the cup as white as winter skin. She pulls her scarf a little closer to her neck. Pretends he is not watching. Pretends a frown of concentration.
Her fault and her fate. Her wild wishing has summoned him – lone walker, tall strider – from the pages of her books.
Dangerous to desire a mate from fiction, to crave a certain shape, an untamed presence; to imagine, each night before she slept, the weight of Other pressing – flesh on flesh. Succumbing.
He waits. As fascinated as prey she can feel his waiting, it is caged within her ribs, it paces. She looks up as he rises.
Yearning toward destruction her breath expels the mantra of his name. Abandoning her book, she follows him, her face ecstatic, into the dark.