There is a girl who has ended up in the belly of a wolf. At first, she doesn’t realize that’s where she is, doesn’t remember the sequence of actions that led to her being devoured. She just knows that it’s dark and the walls are hot and sting-y and spongy, and they smell like blood and bog water. When she starts to figure it out, she’s more annoyed than anything. One minute she’s on her phone, wolfing down gifs and Riverdale fanart on Tumblr, the next she has been wolfed.
This wolf though, he’s not necessarily a bad person. Even though he’s a predator, it’s in his nature, and he really can’t help himself. Right now, he can feel this girl—nowadays, she’s a grown woman in her thirties, in case that matters—and she is heavy as a brick in his belly. She sits cross-armed and sulking in the folds of his stomach lining, and he can tell she’s going to be in there for a long time, like raw cabbage, difficult to digest. He tries reaching out to her. They might as well get to know each other.
“So you like Riverdale,” he says. “That’s a fun show.”
Minutes pass, and she sits there silent.
“That Jughead, what a dish, am I right?”
She gives him nothing. This wolf, who prides himself on having a generally charming personality, tries not to feel rebuffed and carries on with his day. But as he trots the shady, gravelly paths of the woods, his belly becomes bloated and pendulous. It’s hot out. He’s beginning to feel sick.
“I think they went off the rails with this latest season though,” he says. “Too many cooks in the writers’ room, you know?”
Inside the wolf, the girl is flushed and scalded. In the face of discomfort, she retreats into her head. She thinks in cartoons.
The wolf, by contrast, thinks in fairy tales. He’s remembering another story about another wolf whose stomach is sliced open and filled with stones and stitched back up, all while he’s innocently sleeping, and when he wakes he feels wretched, heavy, dry as dust, and when he drags himself down to the river to drink, he falls in, sinks to the bottom, and drowns. What a horrible thing to do to someone. Most fairy tales are horror stories to wolves.
By the end of the day, the girl still has not said a word to the wolf. Nor does it seem he has made any progress in digesting her. He gets home and flops onto the floor, exhausted.
“You know,” he says, “trying to talk to you is painful. Like pulling teeth.”
The girl has not had very strong feelings about the wolf until now. When she hears the accusation in his voice, she’s at first fearful, then resentful. She is digesting a little bit after all; her skin is turning lacy, little pockets of red jewels. One day, maybe tomorrow, she’ll no longer have skin. She’ll be fully undressed, down to the bone, and who knows what will happen to her then.
In light of that, she musters her courage and replies to the wolf with the chill and precision of an injection: “I don’t like feeling pressured. I only respond when I feel compelled to respond.”
“Well, that’s a bit selfish,” snarls the wolf. “Conversation goes two ways, you know, you selfish child.”
He wants to say something else, but a cramp seizes him. He moans and rolls onto his back, massaging his lumbar muscles, struggling for relief. The girl rolls back and forth with him, rocked in the cradle of his belly. Maybe I am like a child, she thinks, because this rocking feels very nice. After a minute or so, the motion calms her fear and resentment and sends her back into the cloudland of her mind, all bright colors and sparkling anime eyes. Even in the fanfiction she writes, there is virtually no confrontation.
The wolf, by contrast, boils with conflict. The ridges of his cavernous mouth are sticky and taste of tar. His throat burns with bitter acid. Outside his house and down the hill, he knows he will find a clean, bright river. He would like nothing more than to go down to the river and slake his thirst. But he doesn’t dare. Oh no. He knows exactly what will happen.
Jen Julian is a transient North Carolinian whose recent work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Jellyfish Review, JuxtaProse, and TriQuarterly Review, among other places. She have a PhD in English from the University of Missouri and an MFA in Fiction from UNC Greensboro. Currently, she serves as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Young Harris College in the mountains of Northern Georgia.