McSweeney’s Issue 59 brings with it the conclusions to three thrilling cliffhanger stories, the first halves of which were published in Issue 57. In case you missed that now out-of-print issue, here’s the first half of one of these stories by Mona Awad. After you read it, grab a copy of Issue 59 to read its breathtaking conclusions.
So tonight I come home and my husband isn’t there.
“I’m home,” I sing. I admit I’m a little drunk.
“Hello, hello, hello,” I call. Not that I expect my husband to greet me. Not at this point. He’s not much of a greeter. Doesn’t go in for the Hey, how are you? Lately, I’ll come home and my husband will just stay exactly where he is, in whatever room he is in, absolutely silent. Reading a camping manual or else a novel about boats. Playing something grim on the piano. Or he might be in his office, staring at his two giant computer screens. Some sort of nature show on one screen. Lines of code on the other. Clicking, clicking, like he’s so busy. Hey, he might say, without turning around or really even opening his lips. The cat will be sitting on his desk, staring at me like I’m guilty of something.
But tonight he’s not in his office. Not in the kitchen, making himself a generous margarita in his childhood juice cup. Not in the living room, smoking in some dark corner where his silhouette might terrify me. I call his name throughout the house. Check all the rooms. Check the closets, even. Then I even check the cupboards, getting down on my hands and knees. Like I said, I’m a little drunk. The cat, his cat, watches all of this. Watches me on my hands and knees peering under the bathroom sink. Staring at the tampons, the Mucinex. My head begins to spin a little. Because I know then. I already know he’s gone.
The next morning, for a split second, while I’m still half dreaming, I expect to wake up and find my husband lying there beside me on the bed, but it’s just the cat. Sitting on my husband’s pillow, staring at me with wide-open eyes like he might be enjoying this. In the bedroom closet, it looks like my husband’s backpack is missing. Which is weird. Also, his toothbrush in the bathroom: missing. But nothing else of his is gone. Soap on a rope is still there. Floral cologne. His razor, the blade gluey with stubble.
“Where has he gone with a backpack and a toothbrush?” I ask the mirror.
That morning, I fuck up my mascara a lot, I don’t have to tell you. My hand just won’t stop shaking. I might still be a little drunk. Or maybe I’m scared.
The house is strangely quiet without my husband. A deeper quiet that I don’t necessarily enjoy. The only time my husband is chatty is in the mornings, really. He likes to tell me the dreams he’s had. Normally, they’re about me. Always I’ve done something terrible. I’ve maimed him in some horrible way and I’m pleased about it, or perhaps I’ve turned into a bat. I’ve fucked his boss. He tells me the dreams while eating his kiddie cereal out of a mixing bowl. He enjoys the bright-colored crispy kinds shaped like balls. The kind that hiss and turn the milk blue or a sick pink. He doesn’t drink coffee, a holdover from his religious days. When he tells me his dreams, I never know what to say. My turn to be silent, I guess.
As I’m making coffee, my lover texts. In my contacts, he’s listed as ThunderCock. It might seem dangerous to give your lover that kind of alias. “Aren’t you afraid your husband is going to check your phone?” my friend Julia always asks. Julia is one of those women who is so easily scandalized. She wants to have an affair because, after seven years, she’s realized that her husband smells, though she still likes him as a person. She hasn’t had the affair yet, though she’s smiling more at baristas, smiling more at men at the gym. It’s all very lame.
“My husband doesn’t ever check my phone,” I tell her. “He’s very respectful of my privacy.”
“That’s cool,” Julia says. But it’s clear the absence of scandal troubles her.
Tonight? ThunderCock texts now. I text, no ☹. And ThunderCock texts, ☹. So I say, will let u know if things change tho.
“What do you do about a missing husband?” I ask my windshield on the drive to work. I mean, can you even call the police? I don’t think so. I’m driving to work in the little black Beetle my husband bought me for a birthday. When you still loved me, I might tease, and then my husband might smile with only half his face. The Beetle is a convertible, though the top doesn’t work anymore because one of my vitamin waters got stuck in the gears. “I don’t know how it got back there,” I would tell him, and it’s true. It’s scraped along the sides, too, from all the nights I have come home under the influence and misjudged the street-parking angles. “You’re going to have to pay for that,” my husband would say, from our front door, observing the damage. “For all of this,” he’d say.
I can’t very well report it, I think, sitting at my desk. Not yet, anyway. I can’t call his mother either. She hates me. Her son left the church because of me, after all. Which isn’t exactly true or fair, I think. It’s kind of a convenient way of looking at things. Wasn’t he already questioning his faith when he met me? Absolutely he was. “What does it all mean?” he said, on our very first date, drinking his very first margarita. “Am I right?” His face was pink from the margarita and his small blue eyes were very bright. “Exactly,” I said, and handed him a cigarette. He smoked it gamely. He was handsome in that pristine way I enjoyed. Did we get married by a Wiccan woman in the mountains a few months later? Yes. We did. Nearly two years ago now. But it was his choice and not mine to broadcast that. “We’re going to get married in the canyons by a witch,” he told his mother delightedly. He waited for her to be appalled. And she was, almost immediately. She looked at me like I was on fire right before her eyes.
“She’s a very nice woman,” I said to his mother, of the witch. And I recrossed my legs underneath my long floral skirt, which I’d worn because we were going to see his mother that day. I cradled my juice glass full of her homemade lemonade like it was a sacred vessel. In front of his mother, I tried to be the delicate thing. I wore cardigans. Went easy on the eyeliner. Talked about the few cozy period novels I knew she liked. Because absolutely I’ve read those books.
It’s true that in those wedding pictures I’m all in black and my husband is smiling a little too widely. We don’t put the pictures up on the walls or even in frames, because they scare us.
At work today, I try calling his friends. No one picks up, which doesn’t surprise me. They all think he should leave me. Then I try calling his brother.
“Where is he?” I ask.
“I could ask you the same question,” his brother says.
I hang up. I don’t need that.
Then his boss calls me, asking for him. The boss my husband has dreamed I’ve fucked. It’s so funny what my husband thinks he knows.
“Where is he?” the boss says to me.
I tell the boss my husband isn’t feeling well today, sorry. He’s at home right now, recouping, I say. I tell the boss how I’m looking after him, like a good wife. I describe all the kind things I’m going to do for him when I get home from work. Soup. Juice. I cry a little.
The boss hangs up.
I go home and make a margarita in my husband’s juice cup. I listen to Heart. I start to get nostalgic about things, which is a little painful for me. His golden hair, which I encouraged him to grow down to his chin. His scent of palpable innocence. That time he called me a nightmare, but he said it so tenderly I was touched. I call my husband’s cell phone for the millionth time, and for the millionth time it goes straight to his voicemail. That familiar message. “Hey,” says my husband’s voice. Does it sound unhappy? Not really. More neutral, maybe. Stoic.
“I’m not here, obviously. Though where is here, exactly?” Followed by a beep.
I leave a message.
“Heyyyyy,” I say. “S’not funny. Come home.” The word home makes me cry a little.
I lie there on my husband’s red chair, where he would often be sitting in the evenings when I returned home from whatever. “Where were you?” he used to ask, in the early days.
“Out,” I’d always say, which was true enough. Then he stopped asking. When I’d come home, he’d be watching a nature show, wouldn’t look up. Making elaborate knots out of string.
“What are you doing?” I might ask, but my husband wouldn’t answer.
I text ThunderCock. Not because I really want to see him. More because I don’t want to be alone. You know how it is.
It’s later that night that I get the email from Julia. Julia almost never sends me emails. Apart from our absinthe-drinking sessions, when we confess everything to each other and then cry and then hurl, we don’t communicate much. But here is Julia’s email on my phone. The subject line is “omg WILDER MAN.” And then there is an emoji of stars followed by an emoji of wide-open eyes gazing at these stars. Wilder Man? I think. Who the hell is Wilder Man? I look at ThunderCock asleep beside me in the bed. Snoring pretty loudly. Am I afraid my husband will come home? No. Call it a wifely sense. The cat is observing ThunderCock, observing us from where he sits, perched on the bookcase. He watched us fuck, too, which I have to say was a little destabilizing for me, a little jarring. Seeing ThunderCock there, I suddenly want to kick him out of bed. Kick him away. I light a cigarette. I open the email.
Julia’s written: omg do you know about this?? check this out wtf.
And beneath, there’s a link to a YouTube video. I almost don’t check it out right then. The few times Julia’s sent me links in the past, they’ve been lame. A video of “Forever Young” by Alphaville (this song!). A chorus of Indian women dressed as flowers, dancing (amazing!). Except I have this feeling. That wifely sense. I’m afraid.
I smoke the cigarette. I drink the dregs of the margarita on the bedside table. The cat climbs onto my shoulder as if to say, Go on. I click on the link. It brings me to a clip called Wilder Man, episode 1.
And there he is, my husband. Outside. In some kind of woods. He’s got a beard. His hair looks longer, though how long could it really have grown in two days? He’s wearing some sort of windbreaker.
The camera is shaky because he’s holding it. Because he’s cold. He looks cold and shrunken in his windbreaker. He’s looking into the camera.
“Dinnertime,” my husband says.
He kneels down on the earth, which makes a cracking sound, like branches snapping.
He sets the camera beside him. Then I watch him rub two sticks together for a long time. Attempting, I guess, to make a fire. If he is, it’s not working. He curses quietly. The stick-rubbing continues for a while. Nothing.
“Fuck,” says my husband. He drops the sticks. The screen goes black for a moment.
Next, I watch my husband try to catch a squirrel with a rock. He’s hunched over what appears to be some sort of rudimentary animal trap. A little nugget of what looks like a Clif Bar has been placed on the ground next to a stick, which is holding up a rock. A squirrel is approaching.
My husband is holding a rock in his hand. I think his plan is to hit the squirrel on the head with a rock, if all else fails.
The squirrel takes the Clif Bar nugget, but doesn’t disturb the stick, which doesn’t disturb the rock. My husband then attempts to attack it with his own rock. The squirrel gets away from him easily. He hangs his head. Curses softly.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I shout. I shout it at the screen.
Just then my husband picks up the camera. He looks closely into the camera, which is shaking, as he is shaking. He looks right at me, or so it seems, gripping the rock that would have brought him dinner in his trembling hand. I note the yellow-violet bags under his eyes, the void-like blue of the irises. For a moment he appears to look deeply into my eyes, as he hardly ever does anymore. As if he can see me in our bed. His cat sitting on my shoulder, kneading my boob with his claws. ThunderCock snoring to my right. As if he knows. Does he know?
My heart is beating strangely, wildly in my chest. Fluttering as if it had wings.
And then the screen goes dark.
“Mark,” I whisper.
This wakes ThunderCock. He looks at me sleepily. “Hey, babe,” he says. “What’s up?”
I tell him I think my husband has run to the woods.
“Yeah, right,” he says.
So I play him the video. Even though it feels like cheating on my husband in a different way. A deeper way. Betraying something.
He laughs when my husband fails to kill the squirrel.
I tell him to get the fuck out.
“Sorry,” ThunderCock says, but he doesn’t move. He continues watching the video quietly. Respectful now.
We watch the squirrel run away from my husband, clutching his Clif Bar nugget in his squirrel hands. My husband is left alone holding the rock. ThunderCock sighs. “Fuck,” he says. He lights a cigarette. Shakes his head. Pats my thigh.
“Where is he, do you think?” I ask.
“I know woods,” I say. It’s not like I don’t know nature. I’ve seen trees. “Where in the woods, I’m asking?”
“Oh god,” I whisper. “Oh god oh god oh god.”
“I wouldn’t worry. It’s just like that guy on TV.”
“You know, Wild Man. Kind of a survivalist dude? Goes out into the wilderness with almost nothing for seven days. Films himself trying not to die. He films out here sometimes. You know, in the woods.”
“Wild Man. Who the hell is Wild Man?”
ThunderCock takes my laptop from me. Types. I’m impressed at how nimbly he can type. He hands it back to me, and on my screen there is footage of a man in the woods. The man looks mangy, like my husband. Maybe mangier. Longer beard. Wearing a better windbreaker. He’s biting deeply into a living fish, making grrrrrr sounds. The bitten-into fish is still wriggling in his hands.
The man’s mouth is covered in blood and fish and he’s grinning as he chews. Grinning at the woods.
“See?” ThunderCock says. “Wild Man.”
“This is bullshit,” I say. And I’m panicking; I feel myself panicking. I tell ThunderCock to go home.
I text Julia and I say, how did you find out about this???
And she texts back, someone sent it to me at work haha.
I email my husband and I say, where the hell are you?
I wait for an answer, which I already know won’t come.
I call my husband’s cell again. Straight to voicemail. “Hey. I’m not here, obviously. Though where is here, exactly?”
“You tell me!” I shout.
That night I don’t sleep at all. I just lie there, letting the cat knead my boob. I go to work in the morning because what else am I supposed to do? Work doesn’t give me anything to do, though. No filing. No paper-clipping. The phone doesn’t ring. The mail takes seven administrative steps, but there’s just never mail anymore. I think this company might be dying. I’m the only one at the front; I’m the only one there, period, sometimes. I forget what we even sell. So I just sit at my desk. I stare at my desktop at a stock image of a forest. I call the police from my desk. I say, “Hello? Police? My husband has gone missing!”
“How do you mean, ma’am?” the police says.
I tell him, “Give me your email!”
I send the police the video. He watches it while I sit and clutch the phone to my ear, listening, waiting. The police laughs. Probably at the squirrel part. He says, “Is this some kind of joke?”
I say, “No, that’s my husband. He’s lost!”
“He doesn’t look lost,” the police says.
“Can you help me find him?” I ask. “Can we assemble a team of dogs?”
“A team of dogs?” The police laughs. “Oh man. Lady.”
“Can you just find him, please?”
The police is silent for a minute. “Does he want to be found?”
“I’m sorry?” I ask.
“That’s the question,” the cop says. “Ask yourself.”
“Of course he does!”
“Doesn’t look like that to me. To me, it looks like that show. Wild Man. But with a cheaper camera.”
When I get home, I go to my husband’s office and look up his viewing history, and I see that indeed he has watched every episode of a show that is called Wild Man, seasons 1 through 7. Hundreds of episodes. “Wild Man at Sea.” “Wild Man in the Arctic.” “Wild Man in the Amazon.” “Wild Man in the Rockies.” I click on “Wild Man at Sea” and there is a sunburned man on an inflatable raft. He appears to be parched and hallucinating. He lies in the raft, tossing his head from side to side as though in a fevered dream. He vomits over the side of the raft. Then he looks at the camera, panting. “Alone at sea,” he says, “the mind plays tricks.”
I click on “Wild Man in the Arctic” and it is the same sunburned man but in a caribou parka. He is sitting on a glacier, eating a lump of seal fat.
That evening, no ThunderCock. He texts; I don’t answer. Just me alone with the cat, watching Wild Man. I watch Wild Man get near-fatal diarrhea in the jungle. I watch Wild Man eat a charred squirrel in the Canyonlands. From time to time, Wild Man offers little nuggets of wisdom about the wonders of solitude, about choosing edible plants, building shelters out of twigs, making fires out of corn chips, how to cook rat. I drink more and more margaritas out of my husband’s juice cup. Looking for I don’t know what. Clues? There are no clues. ThunderCock is right. It’s just a show about a guy who goes out into the wilderness for seven days with few supplies and films himself trying not to die.
Later, another video of my husband appears on the Wilder Man channel. Episode 2. I know because I’ve subscribed. My breath catches as I click on the link. There is my husband, attempting to make some kind of shelter with twigs. At first, I’m worried for him, but it’s actually going okay. Better than the squirrel hunt. He’s whistling while he gathers the twigs, assembling them patiently into a structure. He makes the roof leafy. He gazes at it with pride. He sits under the roof of leaves and eats what look like tiny yellow flowers from a thin green stem. It begins to rain. My husband places a garbage bag like a tarp over his leaf roof. He gazes at me from under the tarp. Chewing his small flowers. My heart swells. Tears of some sort well behind my eyes.
“What does it all mean?” he asks the camera, he asks me.
I email him quickly: What the Fuck? Where even ARE YOU???? Not funny. I’m worried. I called the police!
In the YouTube comments, I type: I hate this. Pls stop.
The days move forward. What else do days do? Wilder Man likes my YouTube comment. Was I a bad wife? One begins to question oneself. In the mornings, I eat his kid cereal, though the sweetness makes me sick. I gaze at his bird feeder, the one meant to attract blue jays, finches—the one that seems only to scare them away. I gaze at the garden boxes he fashioned out of wood, brimming with vegetables that neither of us watered, that are dying now. But he made the boxes. He filled them with earth. He planted seeds in the soil while I cheered him on from a lawn chair, drinking a large-lipped glass of wine. He had hope for us then. I did too. I get his mother on the phone, and I send her the videos. I listen to her watch them. The crackle of branches. The hiss of rain hitting my husband’s tarp. The whispered “Fuck”s when he fails to make the fire or bludgeon the squirrel.
“Jesus Christ,” she says. I feel her suck in a breath.
“Well?” I ask when she’s done.
Well, she says, what did I expect? I have only myself to blame. Which, again, I feel, is a convenient way of looking at things. I want to remind her of some facts. How he pursued me, hello? Sought me out at that Halloween office party. The office where I used to temp, where my husband still works. He’s the one who came up to where I was having a rest by the vodka bottles. I was dressed like a slut. Not a slutty nurse. Not a slutty zombie. Not a slutty bunny. Just a slut. My husband said he liked my outfit.
He was dressed like Cheech from Cheech and Chong, but you could tell he’d never done a drug before.
“Thanks,” I said. “I like yours too.”
The next day he found me hungover by the watercooler. “I think about you,” he said quietly to the floor. “A lot.” As though he was confessing something. The whole world to my husband then was one of those propaganda videos his church made all the kids watch. About the evils of the earthly world. And it’s true that I looked just like “the bad girl” from those videos. I was wanton, I suppose, according to the literature. The one who leads you astray, off the straight-and-narrow path, into a woods of sorts.
“I think about you too,” I lied. It was a lie then. Though in time, it came to be true.
“Where did you even come from?” my husband would often ask me in something like frightened awe, in our early days of courting.
I wanted to say, Canada. But I knew he needed the mystery, the aura of evil.
So I said, “Your dreams.”
“I called the police,” I tell his mother now.
His mother snorts. “The police,” she says. The police, me, Democrats, my bus pass. It’s all part of the paradigm of the damned.
“Should I go find him?” I ask her. “Should we assemble a team of dogs?”
“A team of dogs?”
“Something!” I scream. I put the margarita cup down.
She says nothing for a while. I hear a crackle on the other end of the line that sounds like a branch breaking. Then the hiss of rain. She’s re-watching the video. The one where he’s sitting under a tarp, maybe.
She says, “I’d give him a minute.”
“I’m thinking of going out there,” I tell her.
She says, “Don’t you go out there.”
“He doesn’t look lost,” she says. She says, “Who knows. Maybe he’s finding God.”
He rejected that God, I want to tell her. He found me, I want to tell her. And I found him.
“I’m so glad I found you.” Isn’t that what we always used to say to each other?
Day 5. A new video from Wilder Man. He’s made a successful fire and is dancing around the flames with glee. “Woo-hoo, woo-hoo, woo-hoo!” he sings. I realize I’ve never really seen my husband dance before. Not like this. Not even at our wedding. At our wedding, I did all the dancing for both of us. But now look at him go. It’s this freestyle movement that involves a lot of jumping and flapping. I watch until my eyes water. Until my husband is just a flesh-colored blur bounding around in a sea of fire.
On day eight, my husband’s boss calls and informs me that, despite my efforts to cover for him, my husband is fired. You’re fired, I tell my husband in the YouTube comments. Happy? Shortly after that, Wilder Man likes my comment and then shortly after that another video appears. He’s sitting under his tarp, eating cooked frog off a stick. It’s raining madly and his fire is down to a plume of smoke. His beard is longer, scraggly now. After he’s eaten all the edible parts of the frog, he pulls out a book from his inside pocket, Letters from a Stoic. He lights a cigarette. Is he smiling? Yes. A small smile plays upon his lips. It’s been a while since I’ve seen him with even the ghost of a smile. It makes me smile, seeing it. Then I realize I haven’t smiled in a long time either. How long has it been, really? Oh, a long, long time. Not at work. Not with ThunderCock. Not even with Julia, who, like I said, isn’t really a friend. How did this become a life? A life he escaped by running to the woods. Leaving me here with the cat. Our broken car, our house full of crap, ThunderCock. While he’s out there under his roof of leaves, reading in the rain. Full of frog. Smiling this small smile. He isn’t lost at all, I realize. He left me. He left me and he isn’t coming back.
I cry a little. And then I am infuriated.
I look out the window at the very dark night.
I have to go find him.
I’m going; that’s it.
Because I have things to say. That I want to set fucking straight. For the record.
I’m coming out there, I type in the YouTube comments.
And then I call up Julia. I tell her I’m going to find my husband. Just so someone knows.
Julia is immediately scandalized. “What?! You can’t just go out there!”
“Sure I can.”
“But you don’t even know where he is!”
“Sure I do,” I say. “The woods.”
“Oh my god, you’re insane,” she gushes. “You really are.” Like she’s only just figuring this out now. Like she’s finally put her finger on it. I know I’ve made her night. She’s drunk, I can tell. The way her voice is veering around.
“Maybe I am,” I say. Because whatever. Let her have her fun.
“The woods are huge,” she says, like she’s telling me something I don’t know. Like she’s the nature expert. “The woods are all over the world. The woods are—”
I hang up. Gather supplies. Tequila. Cigarettes. Clif Bars. A windbreaker of sorts.
I get in the beat-up black Beetle that was a gift from my husband, that’s really too small for my tall body. I think, not for the first time, that maybe this “gift” was meant to be a kind of torture. A way of torturing me for his being drawn to me in the first place. The one who led him astray.
“But didn’t you want to be led astray?” I always asked him.
I drive toward the woods, toward my husband. It’s a long, winding drive in the dark to those tall trees. But there’s a moon up there. I tell myself he can’t be too deep in. He’s got access to Wi-Fi, for fuck’s sake. The margaritas make me eerily sober, my hands steady on the wheel. I play Heart. The song I danced to long ago, following the ceremony with the witch. I was the one who did the dancing then. My husband and the witch just watched, mesmerized, I guess. Like I was a movie. A movie he couldn’t believe had ever been made. They made this? Yet he couldn’t tear his eyes away.
The woods are huge. Julia was right. Colder than I expected. And dark. You talk about a lot of things being cold and dark, but the woods are really cold, really dark. Like stepping into a horror movie or a scary fairy tale. The ones my mother used to read to me when I was a child, that end with you in the wolf’s bed, drinking your grandmother’s blood out of a wineglass. “Is that really how it goes, Mother?” I used to ask. “Sure,” my mother said. I have no idea where my car is. I just parked it off the road’s shoulder and walked right into the cluster of trees like it was a bar or a front door.
“Hello?” I call. “Hello, hello, hello?”
The woods smell so strongly of woods. Pine, damp fur, mossy, spidery earth. It does something to me. Makes me drunk in a deeper, more cellular, more elemental way. I’m shivering. This windbreaker is a piece of shit. Where am I going? Do I go north? South? Which way is which, anyway? Which way did my husband go? No idea. So dark. So I just wander. Trees keep walking right into me and punching me in the face. I get caught in all these branch tangles. I tell the trees, “Look, I’m out here trying to find my husband. Give me a break.” My face hurts. Maybe the trees and my husband have an understanding. Maybe they know I’m out here looking for him. Maybe they’re on his side? “You guys don’t know,” I tell the trees. I picture their small smiles in the bark as I trip and slip on the soft, squelchy floor. I nearly fall a thousand times. How did the earth get so slippery, so bumpy? I call and call my husband’s name. Like it’s that first night, and I’m calling his name through the house, thinking that any minute now his silhouette will appear.
How long have I been out here? Don’t know. Phone’s dead. Tequila’s long gone. I’ve eaten all my Clif Bars. Colder. Darker. Hungry, very hungry now. Might have to kill a squirrel soon. Too dark to see any. My husband’s the expert when it comes to that, anyway. Should probably make a fire. Don’t know how to make a fire. Didn’t bring a corn chip. Branches feel too wet anyway. Can’t make fire with wet, I know that. Wild Man says survival is no joke and he’s right; I’m not laughing. It’s raining now. Hard. Along with the trees and the earth, the sky decides to be a jackass. My windbreaker is soaked through in seconds. It’s just a flimsy costume. Just like my husband’s drugstore Cheech that he wore years ago when he decided to approach me. When I was the wilderness he decided to wander into for kicks. I was the trees that smack you in the face; I was the arm-slicing branches; I was the loveless, squelching earth; I was the sky opening. And my husband ran right in. Not lost at all. Not wanting to be found.
And now he’s run away from me and into this.
“Motherfucker,” I hiss.
No answer from my husband.
I lurch forward and a log hits my shin and I fall. I fall right down to the earth.
I lie on my back in the wet, cold mud. Sharp rain is stabbing my face, little knife swipes.
I look up at the cold, black sky full of wet hell.
I’m dying, I realize. So this is where it all ends. I wait for roots to grow out of my ears. For a thousand crawling things to find their homes in me. I wait to be eaten by wolves. For pieces of me to be ripped away and dragged off to be consumed in mossy glens apart from the pack. I picture a muzzle caked with my dark blood, bloody jowls chewing gristle. I think of Wild Man biting into a live fish, the body in his muddy hands still wriggling.
Perhaps it’s what I deserve. Perhaps it was all leading here from the beginning. Perhaps it’s what my husband wanted all along. Perhaps this is his revenge.
And then I hear a crunching sound in the leaves, which is surely the wolf approaching. He’ll say hello to me first, maybe. We’ll have a drink of Grandmother. I could use the warm-up, I’ll tell him. Maybe I’ll even get to tell him my side of the story before he kills me. Maybe the wolf will understand.
Or maybe it’s my husband? Grown strong from his diet of frog and flowering plant. Come to save me. Come to gloat. To look down upon my fallen body in the mud and smile with half his face.
The crunching sound is getting closer. Taking its time.
My husband or the wolf?
Animal or man?
I listen to the footfalls. I lie in the wet, cold mud. I breathe in the fragrant, smiling trees and wait.
TO BE CONTINUED…