There’s an animal outside my window. It’s looking at me. I was just doing nothing here at the kitchen table, scrolling through shit on my phone, trying to beat this insomnia, crying again for some unknown reason, and then HEY! There it was. There it is. This thing, sitting outside the sliding glass door, in the dark, on the porch, looking at me. I don’t know what kind of animal it is. I can’t tell.
It won’t quit staring at me. Directly into my eyes. Which means I can’t look away either. I tried to for a second, just to see if maybe it’d be gone when I looked back, but nope, still there. Still staring. Its eyes are dark sucking holes. Large as a cartoon princess’s.
I’ve tried explaining to Erik why all those kiddie princess movies freak me out. How could eyes like that ever belong to anything that didn’t creep around in the dark? Something with claws. Something with fangs.
In this way, in the eyes, it does sort of remind me of a princess, this animal, the darker fairytale version my oma used to tell me about. The kind of princess that’s cursed to live inside the body of a beast. To release such a damsel, you have to sing a sweet song, cut off the creature’s legs and arms and head, and then wait till morning. By daybreak, if you aren’t under arrest, you’re dating royalty.
Not that I could cut off this thing’s legs even if it wanted me to. Erik and I, we’d imagined ourselves safe against home invaders since moving out to the middle of woodland-nowhere, but not two days ago some weirdo broke in and made off with every single one of our knives: bread, butter, cleaver, fillet, the whole lot.
We haven’t seen any evidence of the knife-man since. I’m pretty sure Erik thinks it was me pranking him or falling victim to some weird pregnancy thing. That’s what he calls it. Not hormones or even feelings, but some weird pregnancy thing. Sometimes I wonder if that’s how my defense attorney will say temporary insanity at Erik’s murder trial.
I should really be more afraid than this. I mean, this thing—it’s BIG. It’s got a snout, probably a lot of teeth, but it isn’t smiling or gritting them at me, so I can’t tell. For all I know, it’s completely toothless in there. Just one big gummy hole. It sort of looks like a dog, but it also kind of looks like a bear and a mountain lion had a ménage à trois with a wiry, spotted something. Of course, I’m realizing now that I can’t actually picture what a mountain lion looks like. Like a jaguar? More like a bobcat? My instinct is to look one up on my phone, but I’m trying to be better about that for Erik’s sake. He hates that my first reaction is to pull out my cell. That’s what he calls it: Pulling out.
Of course, Erik’s upstairs sleeping the grand easy sleep of a person without back pain or night terrors about giving birth to octopuses or his grandmother or a flood of tiny spiders. What does he care?
When we first realized we were pregnant, Erik told me about this creature called the lancet fluke. First, it lays eggs inside a cow’s intestines, waiting to be passed through the cow’s shit. Snails then come along and eat the eggs, which eventually hatch inside the snails’ intestines. This doesn’t bother the snails. They just pass the baby flukes out through their slime trail as slime balls (scientific term). Next, ants march up—yes, ants; they’re part of this, too—and eat the slime balls. The surviving flukes don’t waste time. They know what to do. Worming into the ant’s brain, they basically mind-fuck the poor guy into a walking puppet, parade it up to the very tip of a blade of grass and make it wait until, eventually, it’s eaten by a cow.
Erik spouts all this stuff, but he still hates it when I pull out to verify. It’s like he needs me to take everything he says on faith, as if that would mean there was never any uncertainty to begin with. As if that would mean everything was right and solid and under control. So later, when he tries reassuring me that I’m not the ant in this scenario, a creature being brainwashed to the tip of a blade by our unborn child, I’ll just believe him.
Of course, it occurs to me that maybe this animal is a creature no one’s ever seen before. Something that would make pulling out pointless, a thing with no Wikipedia page or PhD candidates trailing after it. I mean, that’s possible. I could think up a name for it, take a photo, post it online, create a legacy for myself.
Except I can’t shake the feeling that it would end up being like some weird version of Rumpelstiltskin where, instead of the creature disappearing once I declare its name, it would suddenly become…normal. This thing with a name. Not even a thing with a name, but the name only. The way unknowable beasts become simply Tiger or Bear or Shark. No one will have to try very hard to guess my name now. No one will ever look through a dark window at me and think anything but, Oh, look, a mom.
I tried explaining this to Erik when my random crying fits started a few weeks ago, but it only hurt him, made him feel guilty, and somehow I ended up being the one comforting him. I don’t know how to explain the crying. I’m nervous about talking to anyone anymore for fear I’ll start weeping and scare them. It’s like there’s some inner part of me that’s in mourning.
The animal outside the window—its eyes are red, like maybe it’s been crying, too. Can animals shed tears? I won’t pull out to look that one up. No matter what the answer is, I’ll start crying for sure.
I should be more afraid of this thing. So gigantic. Sitting hardly more than five feet away from me, held back by nothing but a pane of glass.
And creeping up behind it, the knife-man, out of the dark? I should definitely be afraid of him. But there’s something about the fact that it’s my knife he’s holding—I don’t feel frightened at all.
I cover my mouth as the tears start up again, but I don’t scream. I don’t scream as the knife-man bends low toward the animal’s ear, his mouth moving in a song so soft I can’t even make out the tune. Yet the way his lips move, the lulling shapes of his song, there’s something familiar there. Shapes I’ve seen before. Shapes I’ve felt before, pressed against my cheek with a goodnight kiss.
I don’t scream as the knife I once knew shines red in the wild black, as the knife-man gently pares the animal’s mysterious head from its mysterious body. I should be more afraid. I should be glad to know what happened to my knives. I should be happy for them, this animal and knife-man, the next royal couple. I should be happy. Except now all I can think is that maybe the animal didn’t come to my window for no reason. Maybe it had wanted off the tip of that blade, to come inside. Maybe it had wanted to stay exactly as it was.
K.C. Mead-Brewer lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Her writing appears in Carve Magazine, Cold Mountain Review, Fiction Southeast, and elsewhere. She's currently at work on her short story collection, Chameleons. As a reader, she loves everything weird—surrealism, sci-fi, horror, all the good stuff that shows change is not only possible, but inevitable. For more information, visit kcmeadbrewer.com and follow her @meadwriter.