I was raised to be a maiden, yet I dreamed of becoming a beast. I was raised to fear the temptations of the forest, and the disaster of straying from the prescribed path. My village, a place of simple cottages, sparse livestock and resources, yet ample fear, was the nearest one to the forest’s edge. It was so close, the midnight shadows spread across the roofs of our homes like a vulture’s talons grasping for prey. Every child was told to never leave the boundaries of our town, for the forest was a most unholy place saturated in murder, theft, and depravity.
The young girls of the village, the maidens-in-training, were told the forest and its beasts would try to seduce us, to snatch us from a life of pristine routineness and respectability. But when I heard these warnings, I imagined a life of twisted paths and bold adventures. If I stayed I’d be married to the stable boy or the baker’s boy within a year, with child a year after that, and would spend my days cooking, cleaning, and chasing children who would briefly fool me into believing I was gazing into a looking glass, when in reality they resembled nothing of my spirit. They would grow up dreamless, wanting to follow in their father’s docile footsteps.
As a young girl, I asked my mother what her dreams were before she married my father. She replied, “I imagined a handsome prince would stumble into our village after being tossed from his horse. My father would be the first man he’d come to. My father would invite the prince inside our cottage and would ask me to fetch a glass of brandy for our guest. When the prince laid eyes on me, he’d profess to my father that he’d never seen a fairer maiden and that he wanted to take me to his kingdom as his bride.”
Why did you dream of that, I asked. To which she said, “Because that’s the most romantic thing that can happen to a maiden.” She stroked my cheek with her coarse thumb. The prickles of my mother’s rough skin illuminated one thing: nothing romantic ever happened to her. And if I was my mother’s daughter, nothing romantic would ever happen to me. But what would I do with a prince and a castle anyway? I was sure a prince would have similar expectations of a maiden as the stable boy or the baker’s boy. The expectations of men were all alike, after all. The expectations of beasts, on the other hand, were a delicious mystery.
From what my father and mother told me about these feral creatures as a girl, it seemed like the wolves and bears did whatever they pleased. They indulged in their wildness, luring, trapping, and devouring everything they desired. To me, they were magnificently powerful. I asked my father why we didn’t venture into the forest and steal the land from the beasts. Didn’t we want some of that power, I asked. To which he said, “Then we would be leaving the village, our home, at risk of invasion.” But the wolves and bears come into the village whenever they please, pillaging our supplies and killing our people, I said. “A beast has no loyalty, no home. He knows no boundaries. It’s best to not fall into the trap of thinking of them as more than they are,” he said. And what are they, I asked. “Savages,” he said.
I am no longer a young girl, and ever since the blood began last year, ever since I felt that hot, thick rush I’ve felt a change; I no longer want to be a beast in the forest, I must be one. I cannot be a maiden. I’ve grown too large for the confines of the tiny village, my bones feel like they’re going to snap against this cage of respectability and routineness. My flesh is too smooth and lustrous to be hidden by the cloth trappings of man made creed. If it does become rough and dull, it will not be from servitude to the specifications of mankind.
It is time to go. The peach and mulberry dawn sweeps the village, shining a fire on the cottages, the livestock in their pens, and the translucent droplets clinging to the blades of grass. Blood drips down my thighs, warm and sticky like sap. Vertical patches of brown stain the front of my nightgown as my bare feet press into the dew covered earth. My mother warned me about leaving the cottage without shoes—“It’s not civilized walking around like the pigs or sheep,” she said. “Maidens must be civilized.” But I don’t want to be a maiden, I wanted to say, but didn’t dare.
Each step brings me closer to the forest’s lips. I swear they’re opening wider and wider to invite me in. I look over my shoulder at the village, at my family’s cottage, the livestock, the bare footsteps in the mud; the beginning of my evolution. I don’t want to be like the farm animals or the people of this feeble place. I point and flex my toes to feel the cool mud cover their cracks. Shoes or no shoes, the people and animals of the village are vulnerable, waiting to be slaughtered by the beasts of this world. But my flesh—it isn’t for the taking—from now on, I will do the taking. Maybe that makes me savage; I’m sure I look terribly wild with the blood running down my legs, and my bare feet covered in the brown slime of the earth. I admit my claws are quite dull, but they will sharpen as I shed my humanity and embrace the ferocity of beasts. I’ll be glorious in my unholiness. I’ll be everything my mother and father cautioned against. To the people of the village, it might be confused with savageness, but the beasts of my forest know what it truly means. Savage is simply another word for freedom.
Christina Rosso is a writer, educator, and dog mom living in Philadelphia. She has a MFA in Creative Writing and Master’s in English from Arcadia University. Since August 2016, she has been an English professor at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, PA. When she isn’t writing, teaching, or snuggling with her two dogs, Atticus Finch and Kaylee Frye, she is a tour guide at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. You can find her on Twitter @Rosso_Christina or follow her blog meditationsofaloquaciousnerd.weebly.com Her fiction can be found in Supposed Crimes.