Perhaps I had done it in the wrong order, I thought, and went back to the red-brick town I had left. I joined a wedding feast, wolfing down the newlyweds with the full moon of their cake. But this did not fill me, did not satisfy my hungry wandering.
The stories about me grew slowly, and I know a person’s not a local when my name is a jumble in their mouths. If you’ve grown up with tales of me, thought I was behind you in each exhale of the wind, then the vowels sit a little easier.
I lurk, they say, between the cypress knees. But who wouldn’t, if they knew the swamps as I do? You would join me in the night, the wet air thick in your lungs, a mantle against your fur as you wander the green-slick bayous. Barking in the distance, the coyotes are the only inhabitants who don’t concern themselves with my presence.
I am not a woman, they will tell you, but a monster, for I vanished through a slip of Spanish moss and shed my woman’s skin. They will not tell you how they loosened that skin long before I left it behind. I was told I did not understand what it meant, the gift of my body, to feel new life inside of you. But my body bore only curses, a gift to others with nothing left for myself.
When I stole away from the town, I left behind the shuttered windows, the trumpet vines creeping up porches, the flowers blossoming like shrieks. But I could not leave their words, what they had told me. I grew curious. I followed the pale glow of a nightlight back, crept under the narrow lifted houses. There, I found a room, plastic glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, the window cracked. I stole the baby, swallowed it whole to feel the kick in my belly. Still hungry, I left, a slow creak of an empty cradle.
There were hunts, chases, but a dog’s not much against something bigger. Even the alligators keep their distance. They gave up when I was too difficult to find, but there were blessings and prayers, a guard set up for weeks until the memory faded. After, I returned for the wedding, and then left for the last time.
I followed the empty socket of the new moon and kept the line of water at my side until I found a new place. The smell of the island is acrid in my nose, but there is support enough here. There are no howls, no hunts, no one to yell a prayer when they glimpse me. You may meet me out here. You may meet the older residents, who walk the grounds no matter the season, who are unbothered by my presence as I am of theirs. Only the egrets are screaming.
I will probably let you slip by. I am rarely hungry anymore.