Icy water tugged and rushed around his bulk. His fur waved in it as eddies snatched and pulled. It felt wonderful, absolutely wonderful. Every moment was just what it was and nothing more. He was the rock. Be the rock. Let breakfast come to you. Delicious fish. Fish was his favorite. Wriggly fish, firm and slightly rough with biting fin-spines, then yielding bones that crunch around sweet, oily flesh. They slide all the way down. He smells them everywhere, water or no. It was time, time for them to swim upstream and into his belly.
Wait a minute. Raw salmon?
Here it comes…. Here … it… Gotcha!
It is sweet, and fat, and strong. It comes to his jaws more easily than a lover. He’s quick. He doesn’t want a fight. He just has to eat, and the fish is there.
Shouldn’t I be pulling on a line?
To the bank. What’s that? That smell where she voided in the rocky soil. It smells of her, ready. She needs a cub, and he’s got the time. But no, he’s still a young thing. The Big Guy will get to her first, this year. Maybe next year.
There’s this female and she…
I love females. Maybe the Big Guy isn’t here. Maybe I can take him. Maybe I can..
No. You’ve had a female. You promised. You promised!
Promise? I don’t… oh, honeycomb! Never mind, lady bear. You’ll just have to settle for Big Guy… this season. The bees swarm…
NO BEES AAAAH! They’ll sting me!
Maybe my nose, but who cares? Honey! Sweet, lovely, golden honey. Perfect with salmon. It’s Spring, and the starving sleep is done.
… Sleep, sleep. Cozy, curled, warm and I lazily dream of two legs and sorrow and fire. All winter long, the fire burned in my head and I was frightened and weak and sad, worse and worse. Bad hibernation this time. Good to wake up now. Don’t like that dream. Time to come out now, into the light. It’s Spring. I’m strong. Life is good.
Broddi sat up sweating and breathing heavily. He checked, as he had checked every morning since the rains drove away the snow. Fingers. Arms. His face… it was the right shape. But something… something…
The Salmon are spawning.
Yes, they are. He glanced guiltily at his golden love with her speckled skin. Like brown oil in a cream sauce, that skin. Beautiful, beautiful skin filling out with flesh and muscle. Her elbows dimpled. Her hair spilled over her pillow like crunchy wheat heads and oh he was hungry. So, so hungry. He would kill for some salmon.
He tucked up the quilt around her against the chill and again, yet again, he eased out of bed before dawn. He couldn’t help himself. It was an itch, a pull, a demand. It wasn’t just the fishing, but fishing. He would die if he didn’t go out there and catch it, hold it wriggling and tear into it with his teeth and oh stars what if Ceci knew? What was wrong? Can you catch crazy? The witch is dead…. she’s dead… right? No, Wynne said. Why wouldn’t lie about that.
He rode out to the Starmere rapids, fast so he’d be back in time. Nobody could see him do this, nobody. Into the dark, swirling water. It felt wrong now, chilly and fur-less, like he was missing his skin. He tried waders and lines before, but now it just… didn’t. It didn’t. He crept into the freezing Spring water and waited. Waited. Let the fish come to him, into his hands, tickling its belly until…
It was huge and fought him, but he was better. His muscles flexes and his claws… claws? Claws? Snagged. Held. And his jaws were long, biting deep into the neck of his kill. His catch. His breakfast. Oh it was sweet, so sweet. His senses had turned brilliant and scintillating, every little nuance of taste a glimmer of sensation. Pleasure. Cold, sharp blood and yielding flesh. He didn’t notice anything but the savor of flavor, and he punctuated the crunching of his powerful jaws with his growls of glorious satiation.
He always felt shame, afterwards. His hands were smeared with fish guts and the carcass laid out before him. He tossed it away from him into the river, shivering and shuddering as he looked for his… clothes? When did he take them off? What was wrong with him?
Have to make it look normal. Can’t come home without fish. So he dutifully caught a few normally, line to water. They came to him like Ceceil of an evening, like an adze to his hands, like everything that was easy. Normal. Fishing. He fished. The rest… he must have been dreaming. Maybe he missed the rain that dampened his hair. But not his clothes? Quick rain, then.
Gallop back to the workshop. Don’t think about it. Don’t let anyone know, not anyone. Not now, when things had just gotten fine. Ceceil couldn’t know. Nobody could ever, ever know. He really was a monster now. A monster… a monster. A monster who just wanted to get on with his life unbothered. That’s safe, right? So long as he was a safe monster, it’d be ok. Please let it be just a dream. Or madness? Madness would be all right if it just was about fish. Please, please, please, please…
The bass kept him full well beyond lunch. He tried not to notice when there were bits of fish fins in the chamberpot.