Before I could tell Megan not to touch it, she raced ahead and thrust her hand in up to the elbow – a nest of antler and bone, tangled together in a knot of gleaming white.
“Look!” she squealed, withdrawing her arm. She clutched a tiny dark dog, rubbing its fur against her cheek.
“How did a dog get in there?” I asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” she said. “Finders, keepers. Look how perfect he is!”
It was true. I’d heard Megan’s prayers for weeks. Let him be tiny. Let him be good. Let him be soft and handsome and all mine. At first I thought she was praying for a husband.
Megan was already heading across the field, the dog clutched to her chest, leaving me to the antlers. There was something menacing about them, their points glinting orange in the setting sun. The empty eye sockets of a cracked deer skull watched me as I followed Megan back to the house.
That night she bathed the dog tenderly in lukewarm water, and propped up its little paws to pray beside her before bed. It dutifully licked at Megan’s face when she held it up, in the same way it lapped at the scraps of her dinner plate.
Something about the dog’s silence made me think of the antlers, and I half-expected to see them piled up on the kitchen floor when I turned around. I could feel them pricking at the edges of my mind like a question.
That night the wind howled through the cracks of the house. It continued into the next day, and the next night, blurring together into constant, unrelenting white sound. Megan seemed to have no problem sleeping; I watched her eyelashes flutter gently while she dreamt. In her arms, the pup gazed back at me, eyes glinting.
Something inside me gave way, and without thinking I plucked the dog out of Megan’s embrace. I ran through the front door, barely noticing the wind slam it behind me as I sprinted into the storm. The dog felt like a bag of sand in my arms, dead still and dead silent, its eyes still locked onto my face.
The antlers were stacked up again – the same tangle of bone, almost luminous in the night. I dropped the pup back into the heart of the cage, the points of the antlers enclosing it.
Since the instant Megan had picked him up, the dog hadn’t made a sound. Now it let out a terrifying snarl. Its face contorted, all bared teeth and dripping gums, and it threw itself against the antlers. Just days earlier Megan had dismantled the tangled points with a single kick – but now, thank God, the cage held together.
When I made it back to the house, the wind had died down.
“I think your dog ran away,” I told Megan the next morning as I passed her breakfast.
She looked up at me, silent, as if I had just appeared.
“What dog?” she said, digging into her pancakes.
Dessa Bayrock is an ex-newshound and almost a grad student, previously published in The Cascade and The Louden Singletree. She drives stick, writes press releases to pay rent, and lives in beautiful British Columbia, Canada.