Author’s Note: 300 words. Unrelated to any other story.
He always visited Bess deep in the night, when she couldn’t see him proper. Nothing strange about his shame; even in a grubby gold mining settlement like Old Hoecake, visitors avoided her in daylight.
But only this one came as a raven, wings silent while swooping through the window and rising from the shadows as a man. Just near enough to the candlelight for the gold in his hand to glitter.
“What does a beast care about showing himself to a whore?” she said, once, breathless as he sucked the rouge off her nipples.
“What do you care about a man as good as faceless to you?”
“You’ll see me at my truest.”
Then his teeth rasped against her breast, and she laughed. His dangerous teasing always felt different from a man too drunk or angry to hold back. She liked it.
She wasn’t laughing a few weeks later at the hands around her throat, their owner a trapper who’d visited before. He reeked of moonshine while she choked and fought, vision swimming black.
Then new blackness exploded as feathers, and she could breathe again. See again. The raven’s claws dug into the man’s beard, beak swiftly stabbing at eyes and plucking them free.
Later, she knelt by the body as the raven stood before her a man, just like in nights past. But now daylight burnished his lean face as he said, “I often eat more than that.”
Each word fell heavy as a stone—a challenge to Bess to turn away. To cower.
Instead, she reached out for his empty hands, voice still hoarse. “I know what you look like, now. It hasn’t changed my mind any.”
And this time, he sucked at the bruises on her skin even as she kissed the blood from his.