You are reading Fiddleblack #16
In the still morning when Price goes to wake his daughter for school, he finds instead a rumpled duvet, a pillow vomiting feathers, and a pile of wood-dust under the open window. Sunlight is reluctant and pale, more darklight than day, and the cold draft bears the smell of dying foliage and smoke into the house. Price’s skin begins to prickle and tonight, when he goes to sleep, a far-away howl will circle his ears like an insect.
With passing slowness he peers under her bed, behind her tattered teal curtains. When he opens the stuffed closet he thinks briefly that she could have died in there and he never might have known. The bathroom is empty and dry, the yard morning-quiet, and the chrome on her bicycle reflects nothing new. The kitchen keeps no smell of recent food. The floral-print sofa is cool to the touch. Price finds a long brown hair on the arm of a chair and holds it to his breast, twirls it between his fingers.
He calls the school to see if she has gone in early, as she sometimes does when she is bored at home. She is often bored, as school holds little interest for her, and her few friends do not come around often. Once he bought her Scattergories for her birthday to see if it would amuse her but she used the timer to limit his replies when they argued. While he waits for a school administrator on the phone he stays motionless in case Evey comes in to time his conversation, waits to hear her thudding down the stairs, stares at the lawn to see if she will come creeping up at its edges.
The voice that comes is crisp and unwilling. Price thinks he can hear tart cherry lipstick slip-slide down the line.
“I can’t find my daughter,” he explains.
“Did you check your house?”
“That is a stupid fucking question.”
Price shakes at his own boldness and on his second call back a different woman tells him that they have already heard his sister’s message about Evey’s illness, that she is home sick.
“She must have forgotten to tell me,” he says.
“Maybe she’s catching what your daughter has.”
Price, well-versed in being an only child, sighs into the line. He issues an apology meant for the first administrator. His hands begin to sweat and swell. He does not remember having heard Evey make the phone call.
The day passes in gray and blur. Price, who has made his living as a craftsman, a trade for which sweaty hands simply will not do, decides to put them to work. He makes coffee, builds a chair, cleans his tools. He does not call anyone. He waits and takes a bath to rinse away the sawdust. He leaves the door wide open and calls her name from the water. When he is clean again, he drinks weak tea with shaking hands.
The sun has died and given rise to a friendless, hollow dark. He lays the wood out on the patio and assembles his tools under the orange glow of the lanterns. Moths and little bugs fly into his face, buzz against the lights. The night thrums with secret life he has never heard of, and nothing feels like home.
Then the clattering of the shed door cuts across the patio and through Price’s insides. The sound is as familiar to him as his heartbeat, as the popping of his own bones. He starts to move toward her and a new stickiness forms on his eyes. Whimpers steam from the shed into his skin, and it all feels tight and like it’s falling. He steals cautiously across the stone, mindful of his boot noise. He opens the shed door and finds Evey curled around the bandsaw table, almost naked and terribly torn. Blood swirls around her body and leaks under the machinery. Her eyes are closed and stay that way when he picks her up and carries her into the house.
His heart thunders and breaks.
She whimpers in a new way when he reaches for his car keys and cries senselessly; the shrill knife of her voice gets higher and higher and louder and louder when he tries to take her outside again and the only thing that will quiet her is to promise not to take her out, to sit with her and pet her long hair. He cleans the broad, deep gashes in her back, picks dried blood from her brow and bandages her. It is a long time before she lies still.
For three days she snarls in her sleep.
When she awakes on the fourth day he is with her and when she raises her eyelids for the first time, he thinks he sees two colors in her irises. Price moves to check her wounds and prepares a new set of bandages but finds that her wounds, those ugly sneers deep in her flesh have all but healed over.
“Tell me what this is,” he says. He is full of questions but can get no answers from her. He demands to take her to the doctor, but she bares her teeth at him and he doesn’t know what that means.
“I don’t know how I’d start,” she says.
“What if you had died?”
“I might still.”
He finds himself without words, even the wrong ones, already.
Soon her broken body and the silence she keeps so tightly tied around it become the secret in the rafters he does not dare to name. Evey goes back to school and doesn’t eat lunch, whethers the suspicion of her peers. She wears long sleeves and throws away her hair ties, and hides from him in their own house.
Price does not know which cuts deepest: when he was home without her and could not account for her absence, or when she returned but did not wholly come back to him; or even the fact of her gone-ness and the new and stunted hush that followed after.
Evey had been funny before. She made jokes, she cooked, she annoyed him. Now she is up all night rustling in the house. He catches her staring at her teeth in the mirror. He finds scratchmarks in the wood floor. She begs him for money for tweezers. She pees in the corners of her room, and he has had to buy puppy pads from Petco because she can’t seem to remember why it is so essential that she pee in the toilet. The high school calls and complains of her behavior.
“She scratches herself all through my lessons. She gnaws on things. She licks the other students.”
Price arranges for Evey to start speaking with the school therapist, but this understanding falls through when Evey’s soft, insistent snarling discomfits the therapist past her willingness to listen.
Price tries to confront Evey about these things but she raises her lips at him and bares her teeth. He has learned that this means to drop the topic. He has had to learn a lot of new things about his daughter recently, like he had barely known her before at all. Quite at a loss, he starts looking into other institutions he thinks might be able to help. He Googles offices and calls his insurance provider for recommendations, but never knows exactly what to say to the shadow at the other end of the line. They think he is the crazy one.
“I’m telling you, I swear, I think she’s sprouting quills on her throat.”
“Humans don’t do that, Mr. Bell. How are you feeling today?”
Every time, Price holds down the hook and sobs into the receiver.
Some time after Evey’s wounds have left nothing but a jagged kiss on her skin, Price finds her gone again. His insides turn to jelly and the moisture in his mouth evaporates, and he can’t understand the bright release in his stomach. He starts to call her name but can’t because his voice vanishes like steam and seeps into the air. He glances out the window into the dawn and the grass and he sees her, walking on all fours. She stops and squats on her haunches in a way he has never seen her do, and raises her back foot to scratch the side of her face. It is the body of a girl with hound’s teeth, widening ears, silver fur behind them. Her feet are bare and long and something dark is smeared across her mouth; her ears rotate and he finds himself unable to make sense of it, but unwilling to turn away. Price braces his hands against the back of the sofa and watches his daughter move across the land on black-nailed hands. Her shadow is long and hackled.
Price grabs his coat and slips out the back door. He follows her as quietly as he can, wondering if she can hear him, what her body tells her. He suppresses hot bile all the way through the woods, up to the blood orange grove. When he comes upon her his feet have gone numb and the frames of his glasses iced over. The lenses fog over with every breath.
Thirty feet in front of him Evey has an orange and a wet face. She rocks back and forth on bent legs next to a patch of newly overturned soil, sucking the citrus out of the fruit. He can smell it from where he stands: it is fragrant and saccharine and does nothing to soothe the acid in his body. Evey paws dirt over the mound with one hand and drains the fruit with the other. Her hair is dirty and full of twigs. Juice runs down her face.
She doesn’t move but the eyes she turns on him glow yellow in the birthing sun. She raises her lips and plunges her teeth into the succulent flesh of the orange, tearing the fibers apart as if it were a living thing. Her ears tip back and flatten at his voice. Price tries to wiggle his own to see if he can get them to flatten too, but they won’t.
Price watches the thick of the orange slide in a bulge down her throat.
“I have never wanted to be outside this much,” she says and shifts her gaze to the soft soil. “Everything is so bright now.”
Where Evey’s eyes land Price makes out the narrow ridges of a deer’s body, stretched peacefully under the leaves. A wide gash across its throat frees skin from muscle. He catches the smell of blood through the fruit, and the bend of the deer’s legs suggests that it is still running.
“Was this you?”
“I think she had a baby,” Evey says.
Price sits on the ground next to her and folds his knees. He catches another glimpse of the paling scars on Evey’s shoulders through her t-shirt.
“We’ll have to bury it,” Price says. “Other animals might come.”
“I didn’t know this is what it meant,” she says. Price reaches for her and she at last comes to him, spilling human tears.
The deer is their first burial. The spicy fullness of oranges and dirt carries the scent of blood away and the air clears as they walk to the house together.
Evey stays near him that night like she remembers herself. Will you watch a movie with me, she asks, then fidgets through it; will you make a snack, and eats only the deli slices off the plate; will you tell me something, and turns her ears away at any sound she hears but his voice.
Things are different for a little while after the deer. Evey closes the bathroom door and asks for a new roll of toilet paper. she brushes her hair and the school stops calling. She eats all of her sandwiches, if reluctantly, and tells him goodnight, and he starts to think he might be able to bowl some nights on the weekends, like he might order a well-deserved beer. He and Evey go to a movie and she keeps her claws to herself. She asks him homework questions and calls her friends. He calls his, too.
Then on a Thursday night as he is working in the shed he goes into the kitchen for orange juice. He fills the glass and looks up to see his daughter skulking along the overgrown property line where the yard meets the first trees of the forest, a young fawn split at the throat hoisted over her brawny shoulder, crying blood down her back.
Price sets the orange juice and goes to find the shovels. This time, they leave the tools in the blood orange grove.
Price feels that the young park ranger who comes to his door needs a haircut as a matter of some urgency. A ponytailed tuft of the wild tawny hay curls down a beige shirt bearing name and title. No hat, loose trousers. Price adjusts his own neutral slacks.
“You’ve got some monstrous Virginia creepers on this property. Did you know?” Price did not. “They need to come down,” the ranger continues.
Price opens the door and offers coffee. The ranger declines and chooses to look about him, wide-eyed, and admires much of Price’s woodwork and the damage some of the pieces have sustained.
“So, Virginia creepers?” Price asks.
“They’re pretty poisonous and they’re all over the back of this neighborhood,” he says. “We’re worried for the wildlife.”
“The wildlife,” Price says. He asks if he needs to hire someone to take care of the weeds, but the park ranger offers to do it himself.
“I don’t mind,” he says. “Can I come back next week?”
Price agrees and walks the ranger out to his truck.
“You know, Mr. Bell,” he says as he opens the driver’s-side door, “there are some weird animal prints in this area. I don’t know what to make of it. The Virginia creepers might not even be the problem—people’s pets have been going off into the woods and they haven’t come back.”
“Just a word of caution. Keep your pets inside for now, if you’ve got them.”
“Just a dog,” he says. “I’ll watch for her.”
The ranger shakes Price’s hand and Price can hear the groan of his truck over the gravel for miles.
Price tries to smile but finds himself wondering about the wildlife, if he has cleaned up the dirt from last night’s burial with Evey. She has begun to take animals in greater numbers, but there is less of each one to bury; deer and hares and housecats, whose bells they snip off and keep in a cabinet drawer, have fewer and fewer parts now to put in the ground. Price was particularly started by the half a lynx Evey brought to the grove, over whom she blushed and seemed not unimpressed with herself. The animals always come with tears in their throats, wasted of blood. He does not ask how it is done, with what new muscles she bears their bodies from the woods. He did not ask what happened to the other half of the lynx.
As he lies in bed that night, after he and Evey bury another deer, he thinks about darkness. His darkness, he feels, is not the same darkness as Eveline’s. In his darkness he is clumsy and stubs his toes and swears; it holds things from him and makes him strain to listen, renders his glasses and his human bones useless and weak. He could be anybody in the dark, but he is nobody. It is different, he thinks, for Evey: he has seen her move at night like she is part of it, like they are the same creature. He can see her eyes glow from the dusky forest sometimes and knows it is her because of the brightness that was not there before. He hair has grown longer and darker and it catches up twigs and leaves, and her dirt- and dust-stained skin has turned gray and tough. She covers her body in black and brown and other dark things and paints her eyelids to keep her peers from seeing the way her irises have changed. The darkness does not tell Price that when the lights are out she knows he cannot see her, and she licks the wounds she gets from animal fights he doesn’t know she’s won.
In the days after the ranger first comes Price sees Evey less and less. He hears her leave in the mornings and come back in the afternoons, but more often he hears the rumors in the trees and the screams of birds. The school administrator calls again in her wire-tight cherry-stain voice.
“About your daughter,” she says. “Why won’t she wear shoes? Why are her feet like that?”
The sound of her voice is the sound of Price’s envy. He envies his friends with hairless children and tells them he adopted a cat to explain the fur on his clothes. He envies their quiet lives, their drivers’ ed courses and talks about condoms. Their sixteen-year-olds don’t sniff out raw meat.
It is a Friday afternoon when Price finds Evey crying over the bathroom sink. He hears her animal moans from the work shed, and the sniveling howls spill from under the doors and through the windows. At first he mistakes it for the neighbor’s shepherd but behind the whimpering he hears her voice, remembers the way she cried when they had to put the old family beagle, Happy, down.
He goes inside and knocks on the bathroom door. It takes some pleading and sweet-voiced attention before she will open the door. When she does Price finds her with a bleeding hand and a bottle of spilled magenta nail polish.
“I wanted them to look like they used to,” she cries. “They made fun of my nails in class. I didn’t know what to say.”
Price wipes her face clean and gently takes her hand. She has clipped her claws too-far down and blood dribbles out of them; pink polish runs down her arm and dries there. Even the frayed dew-claw on her wrist is cut and bleeding. The bathroom floor is littered in torn pieces of her black claws. Her hands look stunted and Price marvels at the thickness of the talons, of their wolflike curvature and the sharpness of the ones that remain.
“You took too much,” he says gently. He picks up the spilled bottle and sets it on the counter, and Evey wipes up the polish with toilet paper. Price asks for the nail clippers; she shies away.
“These are not what you want,” he says. He roots around under the sink until he manages to find an old pair of dog-nail clippers.
“These won’t hurt,” he says. “Promise.”
He smiles at her and she extends her unclipped hand. Each nail is an inch long and dirt is caked underneath them and in the beds. He places one of her claws into the clipper and pops it off easily. Her face registers surprise, but not pain.
Price clips and explains about dog-claws, that their functions are different from people-claws. “Humans don’t dig,” he says. “Remember Happy?”
“He liked this. Now, you don’t want to cut too much, like you were doing—don’t cut into the quick.” She watches as he clips the rest of them. Then he takes the bottle and in slow strokes of the brush paints over her dark nails with bright, bubbly pink. She waves her hands to help them dry and when they are all done, kisses him on the cheek.
“They look more normal,” she says, and he forces a smile he doesn’t mean. Evey surveys her hands but Price looks at her and sees a circus animal, a hound in a tutu. He remembers the long limbs of her changing body disappear into the night, he sees her carrying the dead she made to him. Blood orange juice running down her face, the tilt of her animal ears, his hand petting her like a puppy, and he has to swallow his gloomy laughter, but Evey’s gasp dissolves it entirely.
She claps one hand to her mouth as they watch the nails on her fingers start to grow back; the pink paint peels and cracks as they grow, and once they have started they don’t stop growing until they are a little longer than before. Evey howls.
“The other kids will see,” she wails. “They’ll never leave me alone.”
The sound of her cries comforts Price with their familiarity. His heart falls and falls.
“Do they say mean things?”
“Yes,” she cries. “They leave dog treats in my locker. They make me feel like an animal.” She reaches for toilet paper and dries her dark face. “I hate them. I hate them so much.”
“You don’t hate them, Evey. You’re just upset.”
“No,” Evey says in a cold and wild voice, turning her red-rimmed yellow-shard eyes to him. “I do. I hate them so much. You have no idea.” She wipes her face off and the fluorescent bathroom light glints off of her needle-fur.
Price is suddenly conscious of her long white teeth and the hard muscles under her skin.
On Monday, Price arranges to home-school Evey himself, and finds no argument from the school. He does know for whom he worries most.
“Good. Since you can’t teach her manners, you can clean up after her instead,” the administrator snaps.
Price wishes he could clip that cherry voice like dog claws too.
He does not realize the extent of Evey’s problems until she is home with him all day. She has boundless energy; she offers to help him with his woodwork, and sometimes he finds her teeth and speedy movement a boon, but other times she steals a piece of wood and chews it to dust. She requires much attention and energy from him and, though he gives and gives, he runs out of power quickly. He tries to get her to focus on her studies but finds himself grateful for the silence when she scampers off into the forest more and more. Guilt makes him try to give more of his time to her, but he tires quickly and prays for the nights. She catches mice and slaughters them in the house for fun. Sometimes she smears their blood into her short pelt.
It is becoming difficult for him to fight what his brain seems to know without knowing: that Evey raises bumps on his flesh, that her presences loosens his knees and awakens his fear.
A week after the park ranger first came he reappears to trim back the poisonous overgrowth. Price cautions Evey not to make herself known while the ranger is working.
“You’re concerned what he’ll think,” she says. Price sees no other argument she will believe.
Evey agrees to stay inside and work on assignments and chores while the ranger gets rid of the Virginia creepers. Price stays outside and works on the patio where he can see the ranger.
The ranger is young and easy. He and Price make pleasant conversation from time to time but mostly they work on their respective tasks. The ranger fills the bed of his truck with the plants, and pauses to compliment Price’s talent.
“That’s a beautiful chair,” he says, wiping his glove across his forehead. “Where did you learn this?”
“Self-taught,” Price replies.
The ranger asks another question but Price doesn’t hear him: he spots the family of quail tottering across the yard only moments before he hears Evey thundering through the house. She bursts through the back door on all fours and tears into the grass after them, snarling and gnashing her jaws. In surprise the ranger turns and Price cannot stop him from seeing her: she bites the heads of the chicks and tears them off, fending off a furious mother quail while she eats them. Then, in a cloud of feathers, the mother quail is gone, too. Evey sits on the grass, content with herself, sucking fluids from the carcasses.
Evey sits back on her haunches, wiping the bird blood from her face. She and the ranger lock eyes, and seeing the horror on her father’s face, Evey tears off into the forest.
“What kind of dog do you have,” the ranger whispers.
“It’s a mix,” he stammers.
“Weirdest damned dog I ever saw.”
They stand in silence for a while. The limbs of trees shudder above them.
“Well, that’s it for the creepers,” the ranger says quietly. “That’s all I need to do, Mr. Bell.”
Prices nods. “Okay.”
Neither of them say anything else. The ranger drives away with his truck bed full of weeds. Price’s skin is full of needles.
Price is lying in bed reading a book that night when Evey comes pouncing up the stairs. She leaps into his bed and terrifies him, a fact that does not pierce her laughter. She leaves bloody pawprints on his quilt and pillows.
“Evey, stop it,” he says.
“Did you see those birds? I got them. They were like, oh no, it’s the bad guy! Too bad we’re little tiny birds and there’s nothing we can do!” She laughs and rollicks over the sheets, spattering them with blood and dirt and forest growth.
But if she hears him she chooses not to prove it. She laughs and wags her body, reenacting the afternoon’s bird murder, and her claw hooks under the quilt and tears it. Pillows spout feathers, and, furious, Price raises his hand and smacks her across the soft folds of her long ears.
She stops and her instincts cover for her: she snarls at him and pins him onto the bed, her hands pressing down on his shoulders. Saliva seeps from her jaws.
“My God, Eveline—”
The neon in her eyes recedes and she sits back, releasing him.
“You hit me,” she whimpers. “You fucking hit me.”
“I didn’t mean to, I just—”
“You forgot I was a person.”
Price sits up and takes his glasses off.
“Oh, Evey,” he says. She gives him a wounded look. “I didn’t mean it. You just—you don’t listen, anymore,” he says. “Like today, with the ranger, and the quails—”
“You thought I was a dog,” she says, and her voice shivers.
“I asked you to stop. I asked you to stay in the house!”
“Do you want to give me dog treats?” she asks. “Would that make this feel better?”
“You think I’m an animal, like everyone else does.”
She leaps off the bed. Her claws clack all the way down the stairs and out the front door, and Price marvels at the damage she has done in so short a time.
Hours later into the early morning, when he is putting clean sheets and a whole quilt on the bed, a pair of headlights pulls fast into the driveway. The lights from the truck cut into his eyes and cross the darkness on the ceiling, and a mechanical groan radiates outside.
He peers from his bedroom window and sees the park ranger’s truck. The ranger slams the door but before he can get to Price, Price tears out the front door. They stand in the driveway. The scent of blood oranges blows down from the hill.
“I tracked your beagle out down the road,” the ranger says and his voice is breathless and scared. “She was prowling a fence, watching your neighbor’s kids play.”
Price can see her thrashing in the truck. He worries its wheels will come up and the whole thing will turn over.
“Two little ones, Mr. Bell.”
“Kids,” he repeats.
“She is a dangerous animal.”
“She’s not. She’ll calm down. She’s just upset,” Price says. They can hear her snarls. “It’s just animals she wants.”
“Fewer than there were, by far.”
They wait in silence for Evey to calm down, and when her teeth are put away the ranger gently releases her to Price, who takes her into the house. She speaks in growls and whines and falls asleep in a ball on the floor almost immediately. Outside, the ranger waits for him.
“It’s my daughter,” Price offers. He knows no other way around this.
“I don’t know,” he says, and it’s the truth.
“Well, you can’t let her out again,” the ranger says. He pushes stray hairs back and adjusts his ponytail, and his eyes regard Price softly. He places a hand on Price’s shoulder, touches him like a human being.
“I don’t know what this is, but I do believe she is dangerous. The next time she goes out she might not come back.”
“But she’s my daughter,” Price pleads. “You don’t understand.”
“I didn’t like the way she was looking at those babies, Mr. Bell.”
“She’d never hurt anyone,” he says, running his fingers over his chin.
“Just keep her close and your worries will be your own.”
Sweat beads down the ranger’s dusty face and as he drives away Price thinks of the secrets under the orange grove. It’s filling up, and Price doesn’t know much about soil.
While Evey sleeps her wolfish sleep Price boards the windows and doors. He tries to make the house look like a place she’d want to stay in, where he will stay with her.
Hours later when she wakes Evey remembers language. She coughs the rest of the growls out of her raspy throat and asks for water. Her ears tilt back in submission. She apologizes, whines, and nuzzles him.
“You know what this means,” he says. Evey sighs. “For now you need to stay with me until we figure this out. No going into the forest.”
“Like I’m grounded,” she says and cracks a smile that hurts him. “For how long?”
“I don’t know.”
“I know you didn’t mean to hit me,” she says. “I know it was an accident now.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” He unbuttons the top of his collared shirt.
“You know I’m not dangerous.”
“I think the birds would disagree.”
“You know that, though, don’t you?”
Price sighs and sits on the floor next to her. He brushes back her wild hair, uncurls a twig from the dark lengths. “The ranger said you were watching the neighbor kids, Evey.”
“I was just watching them play. He must’ve lied.” She scratches her arm with her long, sharp nails, but Price remembers the way she laughed over the quails.
He puts on a movie, and Evey sits through it. She does not comment on the boarded-up house, but she does notice that he has locked himself in there with her.
“Just you and me,” she says, and something in her voice unsettles him.
He watches her anxiously all night, but she seems like herself, or as much as she ever did. He wonders if the night would bring it out in her, but as the sun dies and darkness begins to pool beneath the bushes she is calm and mild. Their conversation is pleasant if stifled, and Evey is content to read and do minor chores. He wonders if this was the answer all along, if all he needed to do was keep her inside and their problem would devolve on its own. He thought they might get through a quiet night like they used to when he notices she has begun to pace.
“Dad, do you think I could go out for a little while?”
“Please? I’ve been good all day.”
“You need to stay with me. We’ll eat soon. We’ll have a nice night, kid.”
She stops asking but as soon as Price started cooking, her pacing becomes faster and gains wider berth. He scolds her for scratching the floor.
“You have to let me out. It’s really important.”
“You don’t get it. Please, please.”
He has just put the tomatoes into the pot when he turns to find her standing behind him lowered on all fours, her lips raised like a red curtain over the pearly show of her fangs.
“Let me out,” she hisses. Price puts the spoon back in the pot. His gut rolls over.
“I can’t. If the ranger sees you?”
“I can run,” she growls. “Why did you listen to him?”
The corners of her lupine mouth turned into a kind of smile and Price watches the stubborn bristles on her back start to stand. She kneads her claws into the wood floor. “He doesn’t know anything about me.”
“You can’t help what you are,” he says, struggling to keep his voice soft and soothing.
“That’s what you want, isn’t it?” She takes a step towards him, and he steps back.
Price wants to say: I want to understand, to know what kind of blood it is that boils in your veins, to understand why your DNA calls you to the tree thick, to break the necks of other animals. He wants to say: I don’t know you. But he says:
“It sure would be a lot easier if you could.” He feels his ribs bend in as he says it, his heart fall like a bird from its nest.
“Of course it fucking would,” Evey spits. Her eyes are alive and the yellowness of her teeth shines.
“Let’s just relax, Evey—”
He means to advance slowly and to corral her into his arms but she steals away, a low growl in her throat, a raw ferocity in her face. He corners her in the living room and tries to talk to the beast out of her eyes but she wrests away and starts to scratch and pull the boarding down. He grabs her and tries to restrain her; they knock over endtables and the lamps shatter in starry sparks.
“You were going to hurt those children,” he yells in a broken tone.
She slips under his arm just as he tightens his grip around her, heaving her off the ground. Evey’s snarls tear at his eardrums as he lifts her, but before he can wrestle her up onto his shoulder she sinks her teeth deep into the meat of his thigh. He feels her tearing into him, the flesh move away from itself. He drops her and bleeds all the way down into his socks, but as he presses his palms against his torn leg she flees away from him and crashes through the wood and the glass leaving splinters in her wake. She is gone then in a storm of soot and fur, through the back door and away to the edges of the property, leaving her father bloodied and hollow. Price calls her name but his voice isn’t met even with an echo.
Bleeding and opened as he is Price knows he cannot catch her. He cannot navigate the woods in the same way, and they will swallow him. He knows he should go to the hospital but opts instead for a First-Aid kit and a swig of scotch. He douses his leg in peroxide and hollers at the burn; the tightly-wrapped gauze makes his leg throb, not unpleasantly. Price decides, with one good leg and two good hands, to build something for Eveline.
He finds a measure of thick chain and some long metal pipes in his workshed; he begins to assemble the pipes as bars on the concrete floor, secures them down. Limping with urgency he begins to sweat; he works all night through the pain in his leg, sawing and welding and staining and latching, and out in the forest he can hear the shrieks of small animals, the roars of larger ones. Above all he hears a half-human cackle that sounds like boulders moving. He can imagine the havoc she is wreaking on the land but as long as he hears their cries he sands and assembles and finds himself somehow comforted by the wild chaos.
When he is done Price has a small metal cage with enough room to sleep and turn around. He takes some of the things from Evey’s old room and puts them inside: her bedding, her bear, a bowl for water.
Evey doesn’t come back and she doesn’t come back. Price forces a steel post into the ground and ties the heavy chain around it like a pitbull leash. He imagines his heart is splayed open, its ventricles flexing away from each other like the backsides of magnets. He believes the cage isn’t meant to be permanent. He wants it to look less like what it is and more like a conversation.
He mops blood out of the kitchen and rests his leg and opens the windows in the house so he can listen to the forest. He wonders: is it worry that dries out his mouth? Is this what darkness tastes like?
He stands the moment he can no longer hear anything. When the birds stop moving and wind is still, Price knows something has happened. Since the first night Evey returned to him silence has not been a kindness. The sun is bleeding into the sky when he gets his boots on, and the whole world was orange by the time he limped across the yard with his coat barely over his shoulders. He moves as quickly as he can and loathes his slowness, but loathes more the curiosity that burns in him to know what he will find. He prays that it will be Evey and prays that it won’t be anyone. He longs to see her face, animal though it has become, and also longs to never know what it will look like with age.
Slowly he mounts the hill to the blood orange grove. He walks all along it, past each little set of soil and notices that some of them are beginning to turn dark again. Then he hears the sick slick sound of flesh cuts and quiet snarls at the end of the grove. He finds Evey sitting there, squatting on her haunches in a way a human could but wouldn’t want to. Beneath her lies the park ranger’s body with a long gash across his neck from which Evey has been licking blood. His khaki state-issued pants are torn and dirtied and Price sees his body bears a bite much like his own.
“Jesus,” Price mutters.
She looks up when he comes closer and her expression is pained and feral. She licks the blood off her mouth and wipes the rest on the bare skin of her arm.
“He was going to shoot me,” she whispers.
Price falls to his knees and doesn’t mind when the pain ricochets through him. He touches the tawny cloud of hair. He pulls the skull up and lets it fall.
“This isn’t an animal,” he says into the air.
“I couldn’t control it.”
Price feels his way along the ridge of the ranger’s thin nose and the bloated swell of his cheek; the steel sky above is shadowed in southbound sparrows, its clouds smoky and slow. The blood orange trees are swollen and bright. When she was a child, he and Evey plucked them together.
He sees in her face the plaintive look she gave him when she was younger, and he swallows his horror and tries to see her as she had been, as a girl who needs help with algebra and telling stories.
“This is it,” he says, and she agrees. “He’ll need a deeper grave.”
He motioned to the shovels but as he raises himself to get them a soft cry reaches his ear. Coldness settles down his back like a fog. A little girl sits tied with a bungee cord from his garage to an orange tree. He recognizes his neighbor’s child, even with blood dried across her small face.
“She’s going to eat us,” the girl says.
Evey rises to her feet. In the light she looks like a real girl, maybe a little bit like him, like an accident.
“I wasn’t,” she says. Price crosses the short distance and puts himself between Evey and the little girl, and he finds himself very much aware of Evey’s proximity to them both.
“It wasn’t about her,” Evey says. “The guy fired a shot at me.”
“She killed him,” the little girl says.
“She knows what I did, Dad. She saw me.”
Price covers his mouth with his hand and Evey presses the tall shovel into his open palm.
“Help me,” she whispers. He finds himself gripping the shovel hard around the handle. She steps closer to him, pleading. He smells carrion on her breath.
“You said you would help me.”
Night pools at the bases of oaks; leaves rustle, chilled, and drop from their shuddering branches. The orange trees tremble and beyond them the forest waits.
“The man first,” Price says.
He starts to dig, angry at the pain in his leg, and Evey digs with her hands, almost full paws now. He thinks about how he will get Evey into the cage, how he will collar her in chains and keep her in the yard. He thinks about next weekend, how they won’t have to come back to the grove.
“This grave is too short for him,” she says frantically. “We have to keep digging.”
Price screws his eyes shut and finds his former life too much like a myth full of spoiled fruit. He clutches the shovel tight and listens: the little girl cries and rocks against the tree, his daughter rumbles. The land around them moves and closes them in, pushes them together, and when Price has finished he looks at Evey. The wind picks up and licks the back of his neck, and on it the air carries the softening snarl of animal voices.
Caitlin Woolley is originally from Seattle, Washington, and has been living in Fairbanks, Alaska for two years. She is entering her third year at the MFA program at University of Alaska-Fairbanks, where she writes a lot of stories about girls and dogs because she misses her own.