This story is a part of Weird Little Worlds Women in Horror blog series. Read more of the series here.
When you were a young child in the Old Country, your mother would perch you high on a stool and pry your mouth open, rubbing her fingers on your teeth. You loathed how her skin tasted of dirt from the fields.
One night, she said, Ah, sì. There.
She had discovered the slight give of a milk tooth. She sent you to bed, then sewed long into the night: a small gown of white lace, with a matching veil, and a blindfold of red satin.
Before the cock’s crow, she carried you from bed with sleep in your eyes. You trusted her—she’d always kept you safe. She plucked you away from il serpente in the field once as an infant. That day she rested you on a blanket while she pulled onions from the soil, thirty paces away. And il serpente, black as night, had slithered toward your small body. If not for Mother, il serpente would have coiled around you, killing with his cold embrace. Later, when you were old enough to roam on your own, she taught you how to stay alert, how to respect le volpi and i lupi. The foxes were small, but the wolves were much to be wary of. You learned the sound of their howl and kept your distance.
After dressing you, she tied the blindfold over your eyes. You squirmed, clawing at your face. She stayed your hands and told you gently, Non toccare. Don’t remove it until you are told. Then she shrouded your face with the veil, and lifted you up in her arms.
Your mother, strong from pulling buckets of water from the well, carried you in the coal-dark night. You clung for warmth, listening for the sounds of the wee hours. You whined. She told you, Only a little longer now.
Howls pierced the air.
I lupi. Your breath stopped. Mamma?
Her voice warmed your ear. Rispetta i lupi.
You clung closer. Stay strong, she said. You won’t be hurt.
She tore you from her body, and your small heart throbbed in its cage of bones.
She sat you on the earth in your white dress, veiled and blindfolded.
I must leave you, for now, Mamma said.
Cold penetrated your gown, and you shuddered. You didn’t understand this betrayal. Mamma had never led you astray before.
You strained to hear the woods, cocking your head for every rustle and flutter.
Then, eerie stillness.
In the distance, a rattle rose in all directions.
Your head spun. The rattle approached, louder.
Soon, it shook the center of your being. Hot tears soaked your blindfold.
Finally, you sensed their presence—beasts you couldn’t see. The scent was wild, pungent. The rattling stopped. Something loomed over you, you were sure of it.
Hot stinking breath swept your face.
A voice rasped, part human, part animal: Hold still, carina.
Icy claws tickled your chin, lifting your veil. Your eyes squeezed shut under your blindfold.
Aprì la bocca, the creature said.
You did as it asked, unclenching your jaw to open your mouth.
Bone-fingers clacked on your teeth. Tok, tok, tok.
Ah, sì, the creature said. Claws poked the back of your head, untying the blindfold. Red silk fell to your feet.
Kneeling before you was the beast—its head, the skull of a wolf, with a headdress draped heavily in strung teeth, milk teeth like yours. Beneath the skull, a white gown so hung with fringes of teeth that the form beneath was lost.
Even on its knees, the beast towered.
More such beasts surrounded you.
A tooth for a tooth, the beast said.
The circle of creatures shook and swayed. The rattling resumed, rising to a crescendo.
The beast pried open your mouth once more. You screamed as it wrenched four of your teeth, one by one. You gagged on the tang of blood.
The rattle grew deafening then stopped, leaving you in stunned silence.
The creature opened its bony palm. In it lay four monstrous teeth, the sharp fangs of lupi, or wolves.
Take these, it said.
Your fingers fumbled to grasp the teeth.
Now swallow them.
You choked them back, points jabbing your throat.
If you don’t use your teeth, the creature whispered hot in your ear, they will fall out in dreams, the worst kind of danger. After that, who knows what will befall you.
The beast caressed your face, then it rattled away, followed by the others, their form shrinking through the trees.
Howls trailed behind them.
After that, your mother found you asleep in the woods, blood marring your white gown.
You would never speak of it again.
In place of your old teeth, new ones grew, large pointed ones that you hid as you came into young womanhood. Your village would fall prey to famine, and your mother would die, and you’d find yourself in the New World, alone. The strange city reeked of urine, and garbage littered the gutters. You worked for mere coins at a sweatshop, going to bed hungry. Bad men groped you on streetcars, asking for smiles. You spent all your time trying to stay safe, but your soul withered, becoming small and meek.
All the while, you hid your teeth.
Sleeping now in your grimy apartment, teeth tumble from your mouth in dreams.
If you don’t use your teeth, a creature once whispered hot in your ear, they will fall out in dreams, the worst kind of danger. After that, who knows what will befall you.
You wake, feverish, coughing blood. On rising, you open the small suitcase you carried to the New World. It hid under your bed for years.
Inside it, the few things Mamma left: a wolf skull, headdress, and long white gown, dripping with teeth.
In your fearsome new form, you wander the streets at night, howling and rattling. Gas-lamps cast your shadow. You loom over bad people in their dreams, inhabiting their nightmares.
You are untouchable. You have never felt so alive.
G.G. Silverman lives just north of Seattle. She is also disabled, neurodivergent, and the daughter of immigrants. Her short fiction has appeared in the Bram Stoker Award®-nominated Women in Horror anthologies Not All Monsters and Chromaphobia from StrangeHouse Books, and was a finalist for the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Award for feminist writing, among other honors. Her work has also been published by Cemetery Gates Media, QU, Psychopomp, Scissors + Spackle, Speculative City, Corvid Queen, So To Speak, The Iron Horse Literary Review, The Seventh Wave, Molotov Cocktail, and more. She has just completed writing a darkly fantastical collection of feminist short fiction with fabulist overtones. For more info visit www.ggsilverman.com.