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If I could lift myself and run again. If I could run here to the far wood's edge, where it has just happened, at night; run away from the very place I'll have to crawl back to now--and why? What is it, exactly, drawing me to those cabin lights?--lift myself and run here to the far wood's edge, directly beneath the bottom right corner star of the Big Dipper's ladle, where it all happened, I would.
Cries. Theirs. Some deep. Some higher and thin. I heard them, not very long ago, but hazily, when it was already too late, when I had just awakened, I think, to find myself ruined like this, and numb, and the world so oddly pitched that I hadn't even begun to consider the long climb back out from among these trees through the side field under the Big Dipper toward the cabin lights where they, my owners, sit tonight.
It was already too late, and I so small and low, lying here among the trees behind the field of uncut grass, that they couldn't see me. Not the way they each came outside and looked, so tentative, into darkness, calling toward the woods, calling out across the night in my general direction but still standing so firmly behind whatever boundary it is that you have, and that never existed for me: darkness and the woods and their mind-mate, fear.
Can you stand, can you even imagine it anymore? Did you ever know it at all: full-fathom fearlessness and the feel of charging away from your own lit windows into the night, charging off on a scent, purely, and the urge that it stirs. Go. Go. And further, and on, with nothing holding you back, no worry, not a second, not even a first, thought--thought that leads to fearand fear to worries and these to clouded thoughts, like the fence-snagged sheep hair of atmosphere that drags tonight in a blue wind about the planet.
Peepers. I hear the peepers down at the back pond and crickets. I hear the maddening, mounting measures of mosquito drone mercifully erased now by the swooping bats. So many stars out, swimming, flowing, endlessly, through the Dipper's bottomless cup. Atoms, everywhere. I see, but I can't stop them. I'm coming apart. I'm little more now than the sum of those peepers, sounding.
How did I come to this? I've never been one to look back. I've never known regret. That's your province, isn't it, the mind-mate of expectation? Something I'm not saddled with beyond the immediate kind: you go out the door. I hunker down and wait, mangling some prized possession of yours to ease my loneliness.
You sit around all day and stare off blankly through windows. I wait for you to finally get past your brains' alien entanglements and take me out for a walk.
You hover interminably above kitchen counters, blabbing, on and on, while I wait for you to finally put down the food bowl.
But as for long-term imaginings, the ability to get worked up over a possible future that doesn't at all resemble any one day: an endless series of filled food bowls, and of the best walks I've ever known, and ongoing nights in which you never leave me--hope, in other words, I wasn't even aware such a thing existed until now. Until, lying here at the edge of my own absence, I'm suddenly able to imagine in their faces the look of the hopes I've dashed.
I can't say how it happened. All I remember is a scent, rising, above all others, growing stronger as I ran toward it and then hard and sharp: a scissor-flash of fangs and my body going with the stars and the distant cabin lights into a swirl that, all at once, stopped with me, hard, against the earth, and the scent falling away, fading, far back into the forest.
Are they what stirred, what arrested me a while ago when I was slipping away? Are they what's keeping me here now, still snagged and adrift within the sphere of worry, when I was already well on my way, frictionless, around the next bend? And hasn't that always been the complaint about me, that I'm forever straining at the lead, trying to see what lies in store, just up ahead?
It's late. I'm cold. Peepers. Those pond peepers sounding, still, in the dark woods behind me, like mud-embedded stars, each peep a deep burst of light, one connecting to the next, and somehow, in their chorus, comprising my consciousness.
I'm beginning to see everything now, but backward, in recollection, as though my last flash forward into this forest is illuminating a final flashback: the things that I wasn't thinking when I charged out tonight; the steady train of events, from my life's very beginning, that lead, inevitably, here, to these dark woods, and the scissor fangs, and those far-off cabin lights where they sit now, in the warmth, leaning, I'm certain, for some indication of me.
Angus. They call me Angus. I go by and, when it suits me, come to, Angus. That's the name I was given one day nine months ago, the day that they suddenly appeared at Pollard's Combe and set off the chain of events that would eventually thrust me here, where I now lie at the dark edge of a new-world forest.
The thrust of chance. That's everything, isn't it, from the very beginning? One day, like one of those sudden rain squalls that were always sweeping in off the seas of my native England, you arrive, sideways, into atmosphere, a pair of eyes and attendant senses, receiving.
And the only questions are: Is it a covered, a framed part of a day that you've entered, or an open and a roofless one? Is there a bed, of any kind, or is it the hard ground of some disowned plot, a back alley somewhere within the streets and spires of cemented smells that you call a city?
Or the ground, perhaps, of a place far enough away from you and all of your buildings that at least there isn't the added burden of human pity to bear, and a creature can just crawl off and make its own way the best that it can.
Me, I got a bit of straw in the corner of a stone barn on a September morning eleven months ago, the barn of an old Devon cow farm situated at the far end of a long narrow lane that winds its way up out of the seaside village of Slapton. The road courses inland through miles of high tufted hedgerows that lead, eventually, down a steep grade to two stone pillars with a little sign in the grass before them: Pollard's Combe.
I can still see, still smell it--the sweet spoor of slow-spun earth beneath its own thick coat of grass. Pass through the pillars now, Angus, along the dirt road by the rubble-stone wood shelter on the right and, on the left, an ivy-covered stone wall that fronts the farmhouse of whitewashed granite, its lichenous-green slate roof topped with one small decorative gable above the front door and two stone chimneys, one at either end.
The road winds back behind the house up a steep hill past an open, flat-roofed car garage with a lone, wind-bent oak clawing back at the sky above it. Farther along, at the very top of the hill, a grain silo sits on the left and, opposite it, the cow barn where my mother first thrust and then licked me into light. There were three others beside me that morning. One never did move.
Do you recall, did you ever really know it, the full, drowning scent, like wet, rusted iron, of your own birth's blood? How is it that living things can have the smell of metal? Fish. Just today I bit a dead fish on the pond bank behind me here in the woods. Metal!
And the high-pitched taint of that--still on my tongue when, a short time later, I went up to the car that they always park here at the top of the cabin's entrance road, went up to it, why, I think because of the odd angle at which the sun was striking the windshield--that taint on my tongue married perfectly with the fishy one of the car's front bumper.
So tell me, then, where and what do we really come from? Atoms? Adrift? I feel myself going back to them even now, feel the stronger tug, so pleasant, of their desired disassemblage, of me letting go of this shape and, hard on the trail of my own leaking blood, escaping life now on the very same rusty scent that I followed into it.
I'm coming. I really do mean to come now. I haven't even one cry of my own left within me, but if I could just get one part of myself to move, I'm certain the rest would follow. They're going to be very frightened when they find me. And then I'll hear those other, different cries.
So many layers and tones it has, the sphere of worry. I've come to know a number of them in the days since I was first taken from Pollard's Combe.
A cold, stormy day in late November, when the entire sea, it seemed, had mounted England. Air was water and water flowed in raging rivers down the Combe, earthworms flying past me on their way back to earth. By mid-afternoon, the cows--with the help of my mother and Rex, the Border collie--had already been shuttled into the barn. I even got in a few yaps of my own at those perilous hooves.
We were all given some food scraps in the farmhouse's back mudroom, where, just before being sent out to the barn with the cows for the night, there were reports from the kitchen radio of towns flooding up and down the Devon and Cornish coast, and of a tanker foundering on the rocks near some place called Cadgwith, and of a family fishing vessel from the town of Newlyn, lost at sea.
Even I, at all of eight weeks, sensed that this was a night to just hole up somewhere and endure. But there, suddenly, at the farm's edge, a strange, bulbous, blue metal nose with two blinding eyes appeared between the pillars of Pollard's Combe. Watching through the narrow slit in the bottom of the closed barn door, I saw the nose pause out there a moment before slowly bobbing its way up the road, past the woodshed, and the stone wall and house, finally pulling to a stop alongside the back mudroom.
A light went on. The mudroom door opened just as two creaky metal car doors did. And then they--the ones who would change everything--got out and, without any fuss, or argument, were let inside the farmhouse.
Nothing happened, for the longest time. The rain sweeping down. The huddled pod of us shivering out there in the barn. Then the mudroom door opened again, and the owner of Pollard's Combe was coming toward us. I knew, simply by the lean and the rhythm of his gait inside his large overcoat and black rubber boots--the same way he walked out to the barn the day the first one of us disappeared--that something was amiss. He opened the barn door, grabbed me and the other version of me up in his arms, and started back toward the house, my mother following along, head down, behind us.
We were placed down on the mudroom floor. I instantly took to a corner, behind the boiler. The other me--all white but for one brown patch around the left eye--was far more daring. He went toward the intruders, right over to the base of their unfamiliar loom and lean, and looked up: there was the one with the deep voice--a table of shoulders with a huge head rolling around on it--and the other, she of the higher and sweeter sounds, with hands that flew all over as she spoke, like frightened birds trying to get out of the way of the words. Their scents kept mixing in my snout, scents too light, unsoiled, unearthly.
I watched her hands fly down to the floor, clutch the other me, and fly up again. Back and forth he went, tossed in rainstorm torrents of sounds the likes of which I'd not heard before. I don't think the owners of Pollard's Combe had either. I caught a look of their faces, they who never handled us that way, that way which those of you who don't live and work among animals have of holding us up, in an odd, in a, well, a more human light, away from the earth and any practical use. Holding us up and staring and fondling and staring and letting your speech go all loose and sloppy, and then staring again as though expecting something.
What is it everyone wants so badly? Had I even begun to give it before turning my back on the lights and racing here into the woods?
Would I have given it, eventually, had I stayed, had I not followed my heart, my impulse, here to the dark edge of the forest, but remained, instead, back there in the lighted world, ever vigilant, ever perplexed at the edge of your prolonged, wanting stares?
Where is the other me now? Is he still roaming the grassy hills and high scents of Pollard's Combe? Or did another strange set of headlights appear for him nights later, launch him into his own dizzying tailspin of a life? How close he came to having mine--the steady accretion of concrete, speed, and light that would somehow end at this dark wood's edge.
I was certain he was the one to go that night. They were practically out the door with him, had him there for the longest time in their hands, twisting him into impossible shapes. Then, out of nowhere, here comes his deep voice and huge head, straight toward me. I went under the sink and then behind the boiler again, back and forth, but it was useless, and now I, too, was being handled, discussed, held against his uncertain heart, like a hayloft-trapped starling, and his suddenly certain scent: dried barley and distant bear musk.
He held me to his nose, and then at arm's length, at a dizzying height, and turned me, slowly, like one of those stuffed dogs that the other me probably doesn't even know exist, the ones I've since seen sitting alone on shelves in your rooms, or revolving in city-store windows within the wide sphere of worry.