BY WILL EJZAK
The worst thing about being a dinosaur: the stigma. People take one look at me and they’re like: no thank you. I don’t blame them. I blame Andrew Nagle, whose adolescent Jurassic Park obsession and regrettably off-the-charts scientific aptitude led him to create me, twenty years later, in his grandmother’s basement, Frankenstein-style: a full-grown velociraptor, claws ripe for gouging.
I killed the cat almost immediately—Andrew had forgotten to close the basement door during the experiment, and Sandwich had crept calamitously down the steps, her stupid bell tinkling—and I probably would’ve killed his gran shortly thereafter if Andrew hadn’t wrestled me to the floor in an impressive feat of bravery and Krav Maga.
In an ordinary situation, it would’ve been a classic bar story to share with friends: remember that time I wrestled an adult velociraptor onto the futon with my bare hands? But this triumph was tempered by a) my extralegal status—it would not benefit Andrew to spread the word of his creation—and b) Andrew’s scarcity of friends. He occasionally shared small successes with his gran—he’d lost four pounds that October—but this was in another category altogether, and Andrew must have felt that in certain situations, ignorance was bliss.
Before you get all judgy, let me just say that Andrew wasn’t such a bad guy. This might be the Stockholm Syndrome talking, but I found Andrew to be a generous, thoughtful roommate—a gentleman. In the mornings, he would teach me embarrassingly simple tricks; I don’t think he had any inkling of my intelligence, but I was happy to oblige with the spins and rolls he requested. In the afternoons, he would share his Burger King with me. In the evenings, he would read to me from his favorite novels, most of which were by Frank Herbert, until I’d fallen asleep, snoring in a heap on the lacerated futon.
In short: he was my best friend. Andrew Nagle: striped polo shirts, magnificently bearded, licking his salty fingers, rummaging through the bottom of the brown bag for straggler french fries, tossing them to me in elegant arcs, watching with awe as I snapped them out of the air with primeval athleticism. Applauding me for particularly nimble catches, giggling like a fourth grader, stopping just short of high-fiving me for obvious reasons.
Andrew Nagle: laboring over his volcano puzzle with anthropological intensity, trying a dozen hopeless configurations until I nudged his arm into the upper left hand corner, where the piece fit snugly, a tiny fragment of the amber sky.
Andrew Nagle: blasting Joni Mitchell in the wee hours of the morning, scrolling through dating apps, whispering the lyrics to himself in between sips of Fireball whiskey: “I am as constant as a northern star…”
I’d never met Old Mrs. Nagle—Gertrude was her name, or “Gerty,” as Andrew affectionately called her—but I knew her by her voice, sandpapered raw from her years as a public elementary school teacher. Gerty had a bark like a junkyard dog, viscerally audible even in the basement. She could summon Andrew at any time of day or night, and he would lumber upstairs to do her bidding, which from the sound of things usually involved him carrying her from one place to another like a big lumpy geriatric doll.
Needless to say, I grew to resent Gerty: the way she felt entitled to jerk Andrew around like a Pomeranian on a leash. Andrew had long since untethered me from my own leash—our own mutual trust had progressed commendably in the months since my creation—and it was upsetting to witness the extent to which my own master had been mastered, so to speak.
Perhaps, I thought, it was time to teach the old crone a lesson.
One afternoon, while Andrew was on his Burger King run, I made my move: stealing soundlessly up the stairs, peering around the doorframe, looking both ways to make sure the coast was clear. Not that I had anything to fear—I was, among other things, an astonishingly agile killing machine—but it would be humiliating to be bonked with a rolling pin.
The hallway was empty. I took a left and crept into the kitchen.
“Sandwich?” barked Gerty from the living room.
I’ll admit: the voice stopped me in my tracks. Was the old bag unaware that I’d unseamed her beloved feline? Had Andrew neglected to tell her? Or worse: did she believe the feline’s ghost was paying her a visit from beyond the grave? Each scenario was heartbreaking in its own special way. I felt a twinge of sympathy for the woman, my first. I hesitated.
I turned the corner and revealed myself.
I don’t know what I’d expected—a bull of a woman, maybe—but Gerty was an unfortunate twig lady, her body lost in the folds of her capacious nightgown, slumped in a La-Z-Boy, angled away from me, toward the TV, where a panel of women burbled at a low hum. If she’d twisted her neck in my direction, she might have seen me, but she seemed uninterested in this level of physical exertion.
“Sandwich?” she said again. “Get over here. Don’t be coy.”
I approached obediently, my six-inch toe claws clicking across the hardwood floor. Her voice exerted a magnetic pull, like gravity; I hated to disappoint her. I suppose I could’ve roared, but I’d never tried it before, and I was worried I’d screw it up and she’d laugh in my face, a metaphorical rolling pin bonk.
“Idiot cat,” cackled Gerty. “Did you think you could survive out there in the world?”
I kept silent.
“Well, come on. Lap.”
I didn’t get in her freaking lap, obviously. I scurried back downstairs like a coward. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I didn’t just bite her head off. Certainly, she wouldn’t have put up much of a fight. It would’ve been like devouring a watermelon whole—not an unpleasant experience. The sweet juices running through slits left by my dagger-like incisors.
But no. The old woman was spared. No doubt my ancestors were chuckling from the heavens. Spinosaurus nudging Allosaurus: The world’s most dangerous reptile. Foiled by a feisty retiree.
Seen more charitably, my mercy stemmed from my affection for Andrew. No doubt the man loved his grandmother, in spite of her obvious flaws. Certainly, he’d done his fair share of work to keep her withered corpus alive all these years. Her untimely death might have turned him against me—and without Andrew, what was I? A solitary velociraptor, alone in the world, 100 million years too late, up shit’s creek without a paddle, so to speak.
Velociraptors are pack animals, Andrew had explained to me. Andrew and I may not have borne much of a resemblance, but we were a pack all the same, blood brothers, inseparable till death do us part.
That night, Andrew went on his first date.
He hadn’t dated in a long time, he explained, but there was something about this young woman’s profile that gave him hope. (Andrew often used me as a sounding board for his innermost thoughts, as a therapy dog of sorts, a nonjudgmental sentient presence.) Stella also liked puzzles, he explained. Stella worked in a museum, in a dinosaur exhibit of all things, a working professional. Stella ended all of her messages with exclamation points, like an invitation to a child’s birthday party.
Stella was not, he explained, a great beauty, but neither, Andrew admitted, was he, perhaps a four out of ten in good lighting if he manicured his beard. I had no basis for assessing this—Andrew was certainly easier on the eyes than his desiccated gran—and I took pleasure in watching as Andrew preened in front of the mirror: tucking in his shirt, wiggling his eyebrows, running a comb through his mangy beard, swearing as it snapped in two.
And then he was gone, leaving an Andrew-shaped hole in my cold, reptilian heart.
I stared into the mirror, wondering for the first time if I was an attractive velociraptor. If you were the only living member of your species, could you dictate the terms of attractiveness?
I supposed, I thought with grim amusement, that I was the sexiest velociraptor alive.
The date with Stella went well, Andrew explained giddily the next morning.
“She’s just so effing smart,” he said, tossing me a hash brown. “She knows more about velociraptors than you do, bud.”
I wasn’t sure if this was intended as an insult, but I felt wounded.
“I’m sure she’d freaking flip if she saw you,” said Andrew, looking at me ruefully. “But I guess that’ll never happen.”
I cocked my head, as if to say, Why not?
“Why not?” said Andrew. “Well, she’d almost definitely break up with me, for one.”
I felt a wave of foreboding. A snarl of anger. Who was this Stella, anyway? This presumptuous harpy worked in a dinosaur exhibit, yet couldn’t bear to come face to face with a living representative of the species? Perhaps, I thought, Andrew was blinded by love, as heedless of Stella’s faults as he was of his wretched grandmother’s.
My eyes narrowed.
“Well, maybe you’re right,” said Andrew. “Maybe I’m underestimating her. But give her time, alright? I mean, put yourself in her shoes: how would you feel if someone you’d just met took you into his gran’s basement to meet the dinosaur he made from scratch out of discarded iguana skins?”
That sounded totally fine to me, but it was possible that Stella and I had different ideas of normalcy.
It took until the third date for Andrew to bring Stella home. I could hear them clomping around upstairs like a couple of rhinoceri. I fought the urge to creep upstairs and have a look at the paramour in question. I ripped a satisfying gash in the futon to distract myself. The stuffing was tender and spongy.
And then the basement door was opening, and Andrew was galumphing down the stairs, looking more anxious than usual.
“Sorry, bud,” he said, pulling the leash from the wall and clipping it to my collar. “It’s not that I don’t trust you.” Before I could protest, he’d ushered me into the closet, shut the door, and locked it. “This is definitely, like, temporary. But don’t make any noise, alright?”
Andrew hadn’t locked me in the closet since the first night, when I’d gotten carried away shaking Sandwich’s tattered corpse and sprinkled the walls with an aesthetically indefensible amount of blood. That I could understand: Andrew had spent the rest of the evening on his hands and knees, wiping the telltale splotches from the tiles, the carpet, the bookshelf, the dusty Science Olympiad trophies.
I had been bad; I could see that now.
But this? Was Andrew ashamed of me? Was I not presentable in polite company?
The basement door opened again. This time, two sets of feet tramped down the steps.
“You didn’t tell me your gran was immobile,” said a voice I didn’t recognize.
Andrew laughed. “Yeah, I’m her most convenient form of transportation.”
“Huh,” said the voice. “That’s kind of you.”
And then the feet were right outside the closet door, the notorious Stella inches away, protected by little more than cheap plywood and my good manners. I could smell her: marshmallows and sweat. If the pictures were any indication, Stella was every bit as meaty and tender as Andrew. Velociraptors were not, I suddenly realized, biologically designed to subsist on spicy chicken nuggets and Whopper scraps. Perhaps I’d been shortchanging myself. The closet door was mostly a symbolic barrier. No doubt Andrew knew this.
And yet: duty bound me. Andrew would never forgive me.
“Jesus,” said Stella. “What the hell did you do to your futon?”
Andrew laughed. “Gran’s cat. Sandwich.”
“This cat sounds terrifying.”
“Dead, actually. Or ran away, at least. A few weeks ago. I doubt she’d survive in this weather.”
“Oh. I’m so sorry.”
“I mean. She was gran’s cat, mostly. And super old. Probably only had one good year left.”
I marveled at Andrew’s facility with falsehoods.
From a far corner of the room, Stella laughed. “Are these your high school Science Olympiad trophies?”
“I was a force to be reckoned with,” said Andrew.
“Technically, we should’ve won it all my freshman year, too. Highway robbery.”
“I’m outraged on behalf of your fourteen-year-old self.”
“Technically, I was twelve.”
“Don’t make me break this trophy over my knee.”
“Go for it. I’ve got extras.”
Stella laughed. “Are you always this unbearable?”
“Do you always threaten to destroy your boyfriends’ cherished childhood mementos?”
“Is that a deal breaker?”
Kissing noise. Kissing noise.
As much as it pained me to be relegated to closet status, I will admit that I gained a vicarious thrill from the sounds that followed, sounds I vaguely recognized from the videos Andrew sometimes watched when he assumed I was sleeping—sounds that reminded me, in an obscure way, of a long-forgotten past, of gorging myself on a felled protoceratops. The intimacy of hot blood and trembling flesh.
In a way, I was flattered: Andrew’s respect for my self-control was such that he trusted me to stand utterly still, breathing stale air while he mated a few meters feet away.
I have the utmost faith in your discretion, he seemed to say. You truly are a first-class dino.
And yet: something nagged, lingering like a piece of Sandwich in my teeth.
What if it was a taunt?
No doubt Andrew could have mated at Stella’s velociraptor-less home at much less risk to himself and his budding relationship. Could it be that Andrew wanted me to hear?
And this riptide of jealousy: had he foreseen that as well?
Very well then: a test. But I wouldn’t be so easily provoked.
I stifled the growl at the back of my throat and curled up on the floor.
The next morning, while he drove Stella home, I crept upstairs again. This time, Gerty’s armchair was empty; she must still be upstairs, in bed. I climbed the stairs, taking note of the family photos, Andrew growing older and pudgier as I ascended, culminating in an unfortunate, pimply portrait in an indefensibly silly purple hat.
I’ll admit: I was charmed. I felt a warmth blooming in my chest and smothered it.
When I entered Gerty’s room, she was sitting up in bed, wearing half-moon glasses and reading a Diana Gabaldon novel. She didn’t look up when I entered.
“Andrew, would you pick up some toilet paper? We’re nearly out.”
I didn’t respond. I crept closer to the bedside. It seemed impossible that she couldn’t see me out of her periphery. Perhaps it was time to force the issue.
As she moved to turn a page, I snatched up the book in my jaws and tossed it across the room. It fluttered through the air and smacked the wall with a dull thud.
“Alright, alright, I see you,” said Gerty, looking up and blinking. “Jesus. Now would you go pick up my book?”
I cocked my head.
“I’m not going to be intimidated by another one of Andrew’s stupid dinos. No sir. You can forget about that right this instant.”
Several follow-up questions came to mind. Occasionally, my inability to speak English was truly irksome. I closed my eyes and tried to think.
Gerty snapped her fingers.
“Hey! Book!” She pointed across the room. “Least you can do after murdering my goddamn cat. Do you think I believe Andrew’s story for a second? Sandwich ran off to seek her fortune? In the middle of winter? Three feet of freshly packed snow on the ground? Forsaking her mother? No I do not.”
I hung my head.
Gerty placed her shriveled hands on either side of my snout and pulled my face up.
“Stop that. Your moping will help exactly no one. Listen. I don’t blame you. You’re a goddamn dinosaur. It’s Andrew who’s got to take some freaking accountability. The boy feeds me all manner of tall tales. And worse: expects me to believe them. As if Sandwich would abandon her beloved mother. Preposterous. Now be a big sweetie and get my book, will you? I’m not about to crawl on my hands and knees like an infant.”
I retrieved the book and deposited it gently into her hands.
“There’s a sweet boy. You really are enormous. The biggest he’s ever managed. More of a deinonychus than a velociraptor, if you ask me. I’ll bet he’s very proud of you.”
My heart instinctively swelled with pride.
For reasons I couldn’t entirely explain, I laid my head in her lap.
“Aww. What a dear.” She scratched my head, stroked my leathery neck. “Would you like to hear some of this story?”
I made a rumbling noise that approximated a yes.
“Of course you do. Let me just find my page. A certain somebody made me lose it. Hmm. OK, here we are. He sat staring into the fire for a long time. Finally he looked up at me, hands clasped around his knees. ‘I said before that I’d not ask ye things ye had no wish to tell me. And I’d not ask ye now; but I must know, for your safety as well as mine.’ He paused, hesitating. ‘Claire, if you’ve never been honest wi’ me, be so now, for I must know the truth. Claire, are ye a witch?’”
But I had a hard time paying attention to who was or wasn’t a witch; my mind swam with visions of past dinos. Nuzzling into Andrew’s capacious bosom. Nudging puzzle pieces into place. Curled up on the futon, watching the staircase, waiting for Andrew to come bursting through the basement door and thundering down the steps, Burger King in hand.
When I woke up, Andrew and Gerty were arguing in low whispers.
“You can’t just—it’s not safe,” said Andrew.
“Don’t you tell me what is and isn’t safe.”
“Theodore trusts me, Gran. He’s imprinted. But you’re a stranger. Who knows what’ll set him off.”
“I don’t know.” She scratched my head. “He looks pretty comfortable to me.”
I pretended to be asleep. Who was this Theodore? Was I Theodore? Since when had Andrew named me? I rolled the name around on my tongue. Theodore. I didn’t hate it.
“Don’t touch him like that,” said Andrew.
“What? You’re afraid he’ll like me more than you?”
“I’m afraid he’ll bite your freaking head off.”
“Like he did to Sandwich?”
Andrew said nothing.
The silence churned and expanded. I held my breath.
“You and I both know Sandwich was on her last legs,” said Andrew finally.
“Ripe for a mauling, I suppose.”
Andrew sighed. “I’m sorry, Gran. I really thought she was upstairs with you.”
“That’s what you said about your mother.”
“This was nothing like that.”
“In what way was it not like that? First my daughter. Now my motherfreaking cat. How much more do you plan to take from me, Andrew? How much?”
“You’ve got to lower your voice, Gran.”
“Or what? My grandson’s pet monster will wake up and eat me?”
“Theodore isn’t like Simon. I engineered him differently. More Beagle DNA.”
“No wonder he went after Sandwich.”
“He’s much calmer. Smarter, too. You should see the stuff I’ve been able to teach him.”
I couldn’t help myself: I snorted, which was enough to give myself away.
“Aw,” said Gerty. “Did you have a nice nap, sweetie?”
Andrew spent the next couple days in a bad mood, playing his computer games late into the night, shooting at a variety of threatening beasts, their innards spilling from their dislodged heads, speckling the camera lens. When I tried on occasion to sidle up to him, to lay my head on his shoulder, to offer moral support, Andrew would only swat me away, and I would sulk back to my futon.
On the bright side: now that the cat was out of the bag, so to speak, Andrew didn’t try to stop me from returning upstairs to Gerty’s bedside, where she was glad to read aloud from her novel, her coarse voice growing unexpectedly tender during the smutty scenes—of which, as it turned out, there were many.
“I felt the softness of his lips against my temple, the butterfly touch of his tongue on my skin. ‘And salt,’ he said, very softly, his breath warm on my face. ‘There is salt on your face, and your lashes are wet.’”
It was an unexpected thrill to imagine Andrew’s warm breath, his butterfly tongue—to imagine what, indeed, a butterfly tongue was, and whether Andrew might have one. No doubt I too would have salt on my face after plunging my snout into the Burger King bag, probing for the penultimate fry. No doubt my own lashes too would be wet after he had finished licking the salt off.
My pulse quickened. I purred.
“It is a good scene, isn’t it?” Gerty laughed, patting my flank. “You just wait. Shame Andrew never saw fit to make a girl dino for you. Not that we could do much with a litter of raptors. I suppose you don’t know what you’re missing, poor dear.”
But the more she read, the more I felt like I knew exactly what I was missing.
“Does it ever stop? The wanting you?” read Gerty in the low, manly brogue she reserved for Jamie. “Even when I’ve just left ye. I want you so much my chest feels tight and my fingers ache with wanting to touch ye again.”
I curled my claws experimentally, despondently. Claws ripe for gouging. Claws hideously ill-suited to the softness of a caress. Stubby arms inadequate for tender embrace. Powerful jaws unfit to kiss.
And why, after all, had Andrew brought me into this world? To bear witness to his own blossoming romance from the sidelines? To curl up noiselessly in the closet, inhaling the fumes of retired bowling shoes while Andrew copulated joyfully in the shadow of his high school science trophies? To become another prototype in a long line of misfit experiments?
And what had happened to the others, anyway?
“Dammit, careful!” Gerty cried out, shoving me off her lap, pulling aside the blanket to reveal the footlong gash I’d carved into the mattress. “Control yourself. Or no more lap privileges.”
It was difficult to stay angry at Andrew for long. Within a few days, he was back to his usual, bighearted self. One afternoon, he returned from his Burger King run with an overstuffed Kohl’s bag.
“Gotta look the part for my lady,” he grinned sheepishly. “But I didn’t forget about you, bud.”
From the bag, he pulled out two long, red, woolen scarves.
“One for you, one for me,” he said. “I know it might not be your thing. But want to at least try it on?”
I did. I bounded forward and lowered my head. He draped the scarf over my neck and began to wrap: once, twice, three times, unspooling yard after yard of generous softness. When he was finished with me, he wrapped the other around his own neck and guided me to the full-length mirror, where we took a moment to admire ourselves. It was a handsome garment. No doubt Stella would be successfully aroused.
“Aw, jeez,” said Andrew. “If this isn’t the cutest dang thing I ever saw. Actually, hold on.”
From his pocket, Andrew removed his phone, gave the mirror a big, goofy grin, and snapped a picture.
The rest of the day felt like old times. Andrew put on Joni Mitchell while he taught me how to balance an apple on my nose. Andrew had a new puzzle—a stupid one with two chairs side by side on a beach at sunset—that we finished in less than two hours. He even let me watch while he shot zombies on his computer.
“Even the weakest ones are stronger and faster than us,” said Andrew. “But we’ve got something they don’t.” Onscreen, a zombie ran moronically into Andrew’s grenade and burst into green goo. “Brains.”
I’d never questioned that Andrew was clever; a genius, perhaps. I doubted I would be able to create an Andrew from discarded human skins. That would take some doing. But it still vexed me that Andrew assumed I was an imbecile. If only there was a way to prove to him that I was more than an overqualified labrador retriever.
“Hey,” said Andrew softly. “I was thinking maybe it was time to tell her.”
Tell who? Tell what?
“I mean, if she can’t accept you, she can’t accept me, right? Isn’t that what relationships are all about? Honesty? Coming clean?”
The big reveal, then. I wasn’t sure whether to feel elated or indignant. I settled for a low growl.
“We’ll make sure you’re wearing your scarf,” said Andrew, tugging playfully at one of the loose ends. “That should soften the blow.”
The day in question came that Friday night. Andrew had promised her a romantic night at the bowling alley. That afternoon, he perused his new garments, ironed his khakis, and changed in the basement bathroom, as was his habit—he seemed to prefer that I not bear witness to his nakedness.
When he emerged, he was wearing a bumblebee sweater, yellow with black stripes circling his burly belly, his bright red scarf wrapped rakishly around his neck.
I do not know, in retrospect, if it was the scarf, or the stripes—the crisp creases in his khakis or the squeak of his red leather bowling shoes on the tile floor—his abundant chestnut beard or his joyful grin, that of someone who has, at long last, seen himself as a romantic figure, an object of desire—but in that moment, I was his, body and soul, and he was mine, and if I had the stomach, I would have devoured him then and there, tearing open his protuberant belly and wolfing down his internal organs, if only to keep him closer.
“Well?” said Andrew. “How do I look?”
Once Andrew had departed, I joined Gerty upstairs. She was in the living room that evening, slumped in her La-Z-Boy, leafing through the final pages of her novel.
“Here, Theo,” she said, peering over her reading glasses. “Let’s finish this one together, shall we?”
I bounded across the room and nestled my head in her lap. There were large portions of the story I hadn’t heard—Gerty had no qualms about reading ahead on her own without me—but I felt like I basically got the gist: time traveling lady engages in volcanic romance with charming Scottish casanova from another epoch. I could relate to most of this. That evening, Gerty’s voice was particularly melodious, shedding its scabby exterior and taking on a husky beauty:
“…the knowledge of my freedom raced like danger through my blood,” read Gerty, and I felt a chill in the room—a chill in my veins—an indescribable excitement. Yes, my feelings were as yet unreciprocated. Yes, there remained the problem of Stella, blocking my way like a she-boulder in the road. And yet: to love—unreservedly, even in vain—had opened a valve—a valve Andrew had, once upon a time, inserted lovingly into my abdomen, there for the opening if only I found the key.
“And the world was all around us, new with possibility. The End.”
Gerty slammed the book shut.
“Welp,” she said. “There you have it.”
I blinked and looked up at her, startled out of my reverie.
“Did you know there’s seven more of those?” asked Gerty. “Shame. Listen, Theo. I need to ask you a little favor.”
I removed myself from her lap, bewildered by her abrupt change in tone.
“I realize this might be a lot to ask,” said Gerty, “but I need you to kill me.”
I cocked my head.
“Don’t pretend you can’t understand me. Listen: we both care about Andrew, do we not? We do. And here’s the truth: as long as Andrew can live off my pension in my basement—as long as he’s got to be a live-in nurse for his decrepit old gran—he’s just going to keep doing this same shit. Crafting bigger and better dinos in my basement like a psychotic third grader. Killing ’em off and burying ’em in the backyard when they get out of hand. He’s not a bad kid, Andrew. But he’s got himself into certain bad habits, and he’s got a bit too much time on his hands, and you know that shit about the devil making work for—well, you probably don’t, but you get the idea.
“Anyway, my daughter’s dead, and my cat’s dead, and my back hurts like a bitch from sunup to sundown, and I can’t move unless my grandson hoists me over his shoulder like a potato sack. I think it’s about time to call it. Andrew’s got a fine alibi—he’s out with his lady friend. Shouldn’t be any suspicion, especially if it looks like I got mauled by a rabid dog or some such thing. Chalk it up to a freak accident. Andrew is free to live his life. Maybe he even gets a goddamn job.”
It was a preposterous idea. Any trust between Andrew and I would be forever shattered if he believed I ate his grandmother. It was a setup, no doubt: such a violation would only confirm all of Andrew’s fears about me. Insatiable. Savage. Certainly not ready to be introduced to his girlfriend.
“Listen,” said Gerty. “I know what you’re thinking: Andrew comes home. Gran’s lying in a pool of her own blood. Andrew’s not too happy with you. Maybe he decides you’re not worth it after all.
“But here’s the truth, kid. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But Andrew’s going to blow your brains out one of these days. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But it’s only a matter of time before his curiosity gets the better of him. Maybe he wants to make a T-Rex or some shit. And then: hasta la vista, Theo. If you don’t believe me, just ask Alvin and Simon. They’re out back. Might take you a while to dig ’em up, though.
“You’re a sweet boy. You don’t deserve that. You deserve a nice forest preserve somewhere. There’s one a few miles down the road. If you leave in the middle of the night, I bet you make it there no problem. You’ll have to pick up a few hunting skills, maybe—but look at you, for chrissakes. I think you’ll do just fine.”
And just who did this lady think I was, exactly? A coyote? Tearing through the undergrowth, devouring unsuspecting rodents? Taking shelter in the hollows of miscellaneous rotting logs? Caked in a glaze of grime and feces and pine needles? Alone in the pitiless wilderness, with nothing but furry idiots for company? The indignity took my breath away.
We stood there in silence for nearly a minute, an awkward stalemate.
“I suppose you could just take your exit and leave me here alive,” said Gerty finally, clearing her throat. “But if you care about Andrew like I do—well, why don’t you nap on it, think it over. I know this must be a lot to process. Maybe I’ll expire in my sleep, save us both some trouble.”
The first thing that struck me about the outside: the cold. I gasped as I stepped onto the back porch. My breath unfurled like a puff of smoke. I watched it linger in the air and then vanish, like a magic trick.
Andrew had warned me about outside. “It’s gonna be cold as balls,” he said. “You’re not gonna like snow. It’s on literally everything, and it doesn’t look like it’s melting any time soon. Trust me—you’re not missing anything.”
It appeared that Andrew was right. The snow coated everything, so that it was impossible to tell where one object ended and another began—and it was still falling, littering the air, a million specks of white, swirling around me in gentle curlicues. I descended the steps, leapt into a snowdrift, and immediately regretted my decision: my legs were soaked in icy wetness, and I yelped, and there was my breath again, coiling in the air, drifting into oblivion. I stopped to watch. I pounced into another snowdrift and yelped again.
For a few moments—or longer, perhaps—I must admit that I forgot my conversation with Gerty and simply vaulted from snowdrift to snowdrift. I don’t know what got into me. At one point, I flopped onto my side and rolled over, and then rolled over again, flailing my arms ludicrously about, carving out a snowy indentation for myself and then resting there, staring up at the sky, out of breath.
Somewhere beneath me, my ancestors were buried. Or not my ancestors, precisely, but my predecessors, murdered by Andrew and tidily disposed of, their carcasses long since rotted, their bones enduring like an archaeological site. Assuming Gerty could be trusted, a similar fate awaited me once I had outlived my usefulness. Admittedly, it was difficult to imagine: Andrew pulling a revolver from some secret compartment, perhaps while I was preoccupied with a puzzle, and blowing a hole through my skull. We’ve got something they don’t. Brains.
I supposed I should feel worse about the whole thing. Outraged. Betrayed. Heartbroken. And yet I could not think about Andrew—bumblebee sweatered, bowling shoed, handsomely scarved Andrew—lusciously bearded, giggling, salt-licking Andrew—without feeling a soft glow in my chest, a burning coal, filling me with a dizzying warmth, even in this icy crevice I’d carved out for myself, even in this snowy, snowy world. I pulled my scarf tighter around my neck.
Soon, Andrew would be home, and my heart leapt at the thought.
I lay there in my hole and let the snow bury me in my happiness.