- American Short Fiction - http://americanshortfiction.org -


He killed a hare and removed its heels, yanked from the meat of each haunch the bone he did not know to be the tibia. He laid the leg bones parallel on the flattest nearby stone and split the wide end of both with one press of his Bowie. He set each in a convenient niche that was the absence of a second premolar, sucked loose marrow while he worked skinning the leporid and stringing it above a new fire, his lips pinned back by the bones.

While the animal cooked he circled, pulled supple boughs from the woods. He wove these into a matrix, which he upholstered with a canvas tarpaulin, as serviceable a mattress as the state had ever provided. It was not wholly uncomfortable. A light through the growth. He could not seem to stay lost. He left his dinner and worked through brush, the idea of town suddenly too real to resist, a vision of himself under a streetlamp with a cold Coke stolen from some gray gas station.

When he broke the trees he found a place unlike the ones he had run from. The light that had drawn him filled a third-floor room, spilled from a window. The house was larger, the plot greener than any he had ever seen. In the lit room he saw a mirror, in the mirror a woman. He lay in a swale, the grass sticky with sweet evening dew. He watched the woman with what he would have called yellow hair and golden skin. He watched her fingers follow her shoulder to her collarbone to her jaw to her mouth, he watched her suck her thumb. He thought she was too old for that. He watched her undress, the house, his swale, the clouds low under the budding dark. When he returned to camp the fire had quit and the rabbit in its noose was burnt to gristle.

He ate it anyway.

When he woke in afternoon his clothes were drenched, the ground dry, the light harsh.  He needed water, removed his shirt and wrung it over his glued mouth, thought what he got tasted like rain. He took his knife. His path had deviated, and as he approached the clearing he saw the manor differently. It sat obliquely on a soft hill, off-white, ornate. Down the slope to his left, the swale where he had lain. In front of him a large pool. He stopped himself running toward it. A dark gravel drive divided the yard, stretched out to a wrought gate bisecting an even line of pines. He saw the woman’s shadow in the windows of the first floor. He decided she was doing chores. Then he could not see her. The door closest him opened, his heart doubled. Hidden in his copse he watched her walk, fluid, her skin slick with sweat or oil, a glass in her left hand full of sunlight. He watched her stop at pool’s edge, twirl, dip her toes, slip into the clear water, heard her giggle and say to the air, Oh Winston, it feels so good.

He had watched her leave in a yellow sedan, gulped pool water until the chlorine made him sick, found the door on the porch unlocked. In the immaculate house he paced and caressed the drapes, sat on the sofa in shadow, listened to the low drone of ceiling fans. He smelled dead flowers arranged in baskets and vases. He plucked and tasted various petals. He could not read the attached cards. He could not read the note on the counter in the empty kitchen. He climbed an oak staircase, rail carved and balusters turned, two flights. The room that had been lit so fatefully the preceding night, bedroom, blue wallpaper, the mirror in which he had watched her and now himself: sinewy, brown of dirt and sun, eyes flat.

He began to hunt in her top drawer. When he heard a door swing and her say, Winston, Winston, he closed himself in the closet, touched the knife in his back pocket, stared at the floor. He hoped he had not noticeably disturbed the order of things. The floor creaked, his heart beat. He imagined he could smell her. He heard her in the hall saying, Winston. In the hall saying, Winston, is that you? He bore his Bowie. He heard her in the bedroom, at the closet door whispering, Winston? The door opened and he dropped the blade. She picked it up and looked him over, tilted her head.

Okay, she said, yes.

The mattress was comfortable. When he woke she made him fried salmon. You are so thin, she said. She was warm like he had hoped. She asked him how old he was. He didn’t know, he was fifteen, maybe. She said she was old enough to be his mother. She asked him where he was from. He said, Around. She said, I thought you might have just sprung up from the ground. She asked him if he had family. He did not. She asked him if he had a name. He said, You can call me whatever you’d like. She said, Maybe Bernard. Yes, Bernard will work nicely. When she asked him what happened to his missing teeth he said, Nothing, ma’am, they just never came in.

She taught him to drive the Cadillac. They threw out the funeral flowers, played badminton on the lawn, had regular swims. She kept his knife in a drawer next to the bed. He did the yardwork. They walked often in the forest. Once after a late rain, the night riffled with crosswinds and the saplings lurched. In their distraction they became separated. They called to each other. He found her in a low clearing, eyes fixed on the ground. She had stumbled upon a shallow grave, skeleton breaching damp earth. The skull polished smooth, orbitals gaping. Ribs semi-translucent. Orchids grew from the intercostal loam. Their petals and stems funneled the wild white light of the moon.

Kyle Langston is an alumnus of Washington University and its distinguished undergraduate creative writing program. This is the first of his stories to be published. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.