We go down to the water to find him. Black crabs scurry up trees like rioters dispersed and needle-beaked birds balancing on spindly, backward bending legs eye us in with contempt and arc around us widely. They pick their way among the grasping roots and pickets of inch-high saplings, unhurried but wary, their bodies harboring bones of air that keep them light on the sucking mud.
My brother and I sink with each step, our sneakers swallowed with the press of each footstep, reluctantly relinquished with each straining pull, as we make our way deeper through the sprawling web of mangroves. The spidery roots splay up and outwards from the slender trunks like starfish crawling along the seafloor, searching for a life to devour. We are too tall to slip under the bowing arches, too short to heave ourselves over, so we twist and contort with the design of nature’s madness as the air grows hazy, the sky above us, through the woven canopy, bleeding into a sepia dusk.
Night is crawling towards us like a thief on his belly and the tannin-tinted water, warm liquid the color of melting rust, sloshes above our knobby ankles, but we know where he has gone. I fill my lungs and bellow.
The hoarseness of my voice is terrifying. If my voice betrays me, turns to silence just as the sky is turning to ash, all would be lost. His paw prints would be devoured by the mire like so many giant insects, ancient ferns and dinosaurs before him. He would become a piece of primeval record, nothing left but a carbon ghost.
I know he is running wild, somewhere out in the encroaching night, darting through the skein of branches, crashing through the briny muck, sharp terrier breaths ragged, in love with the intoxicating adventure. In love with the chase. Somewhere in the settling darkness he is morphing, lupine-like, into the beast he imagines himself to be. He is grunting, sniffing, snuffling, scratching, scrounging, rolling, rubbing, scraping, untamed and unfettered, a feral body in motion. He is life outside of life, he has bounded beyond the barrier of time, he is free.
In his fervor, can he remember warm fingers snagging in his fur? Can he remember the weight of a hand settling between his ears or the clutch of a palm cupping his gristly paw? Can he remember the intonation of a human voice, adoring, exasperated, desperate? Can he bring it upon himself to turn away from the seduction of his ancestors and return to the contentment of his breed?
A howl echoes across the ribbons of water, across the labyrinthine darkness, across the cosmos. I close my eyes, I hold my breath, I know that sound. He is coming back. He is coming back to us.
about the author:
Steph Post is a recipient of the Patricia Cornwell Scholarship for creative writing from Davidson College and the Vereen Bell writing award for fiction. Her short fiction has most recently been published in Haunted Waters: From the Depths, The Round-Up and Stephen King’s Contemporary Classics. Her first novel, A Tree Born Crooked, was a semi-finalist for The Big Moose Prize and was released in September 2014 by Pandamoon Publishing. She currently lives, writes and teaches writing in St. Petersburg, Florida.