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Moke saw her standing at the end of the driveway and barked to alert Satchel. He had wandered from the clothesline to the chicken coop and into the old stables, but he came out and shielded his eyes against the glare of the setting sun. Chelsea was loitering at the side of the road, looking like she would bolt if she saw any hint of movement within the house she was watching intently. She was shy because she drove the school bus, the job that William used to do, but people were disturbed by William’s strangeness and frightened by his reputation, and Satchel knew Chelsea’s hesitation was anchored in that fear. It bothered Satchel when he saw people react this way to his father, who was never impolite, who had no mean streak in him, who was not a fighter or a drinker. But he understood, too, that there glittered in William’s eyes a cheery, jeery sort of madness, that his stiff, shuffling method of walking spoke of a mind that had lost its fluidity. People were wary of William Satchel, sometimes, was wary of him because William was crazy, and no one could expect him to be treated the same as everybody else.
Moke’s barking made Chelsea snap her head in their direction, and Satchel waved to her. She scurried up the driveway and as she got closer he saw she was carrying a large softbound book, the cover of which bore scribble. "Hi," she said, blinking fast. "I was wondering if I could talk to you?"
"I won’t stay long I just need a minute I’m not disturbing you, am I? Tell me if I am, and I’ll go."
"I’m not doing anything" . . . . He stepped backward into the shadows of the stables, and she followed him to the edge of dimness, where she sat on the barrel of chicken feed and Satchel leaned against a wall.
"I’ve been thinking about that dog you saw," she began. The light flashed off her glasses as she talked, and flicked the walls like lightning.
"The stray one at the mountain, I mean."
Satchel nodded, and watched as she swiped through the book’s pages until she reached one whose corner she had folded firmly down. She placed her finger on a patch of color among the writing and asked, "Did it look anything like that?"
He came nearer to look at the picture and she wriggled sideways to give him room. She smelled, he noticed, like lavender: his mother had some powder that made her smell the same. The picture was a coat of arms, and on either side of the central shield were two rampant, stylized, bizarre-looking dogs. "They’re not the right color," he said immediately. "The dog at the mountain was tan, not gray."
"Maybe that’s because the reproduction is bad. Look at their heads. Look at their ears. Look at their tails smooth, like a cat’s. Look at the stripes on their backs."
Satchel frowned at the image. "I suppose," he said. "I suppose you’d say they were close. The stripes are right, at least."
Chelsea sucked in her breath, and Satchel looked at her. His hands were on his knees and his face was level with hers, and he could see shallow pits in her skin, the war wounds of her ongoing battle with acne. "Don’t you know what those dogs are?" she asked. "Haven’t you ever seen these animals before?"
He shook his head. "What are they?"
"Satchel, they’re thylacines. This is the Tasmanian coat of arms. Those animals are Tasmanian tigers."
He stared at her, and she stared back at him. She had dug her teeth into her lip and her eyes were surreally huge behind her glasses. It made him laugh.
"Tasmanian tigers are extinct," he said.
"I know," she whispered.
"They’re extinct. So it could not have been a Tasmanian tiger. And we aren’t in Tasmania, either."
"I know," she repeated. "But look at the picture, Satchel. Look at it."
He wanted to laugh again, to giggle with the absurdity of her seriousness, but while she’d endured one scoffing nobly, she seemed prepared to be offended by a second, so he did as she asked, and looked. He took the book from her, and looked harder. He tried to imagine the drawn animals alive, fleshed out and leaping through the undergrowth, and the resemblance was there. It was strange, and left him, for a moment, with nothing sensible to say. He flipped the book to see its cover and found it was one of Miles Piper’s school texts.
"Is there anything in here about tigers?" he asked.
"No. It’s just a history book. But I was thinking that, when I take the bus to town tomorrow, I could go to the library and try to find something. If you want me to, I mean."
Satchel peered at the picture. The similarity was still there. The printed beasts looked partly cat, partly dog. They were more muscular and thickset than the lanky creature he had seen, but their backs were slashed with stripes from their shoulders to their tails, stripes that reminded him of the splits in his mother’s palms. He closed the book and put it down quickly, as if it had become suddenly hot to hold. "It wouldn’t be true," he said.
"I know. Thylacines have been extinct for years. For years and years and years. And we don’t live in Tasmania."
"It was just a dog that looked like those things."
"Yeah, I know. But I can go to the library tomorrow, if you want me to."
He glanced at her, at her small, upturned, pleading face, the stone-colored eyes gazing at him as if he wielded some kind of power. He couldn’t remember anyone ever looking at him like that, and it was embarrassing. Her attention was hungry, draining. "I don’t mind," he told her brusquely. "Go, if you want to."