TELEPATHY OF THE HUNT • by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

People who’ve lived in proximity to a monster sometimes acquire a tangential notoriety of their own. Reporters pursuing them usually bag nothing more insightful than “always saw it coming” or “never had a clue.”

I’d evaded the first round when Rickie was caught and maintained perpetual camouflage thereafter. How could I speak his name in spaces my children might inhabit? These two pieces of my life have no congruent edges.

I could never shake it out of my bones — seeing Rickie’s very being as a deliberate repudiation of grace — his beauty and power willfully incarnated in the wrong form. Maybe it’s wrong, using the slippery alchemy of allegory to gild his monstrousness with glamour and mystery. But it’s my story, not his.

Profound truth sometimes reveals itself in silly places. I found a shred lurking in an episode of “Canine Conjuror.”

The host — and his dog — were trying to help a woman who’d thought a pair of half-wolves would make good pets.

A dog sees something interesting and shares it with you; you’re part of its community; you matter.

When something caught the attention of those two wolf-dogs, they went dead still, mirroring each other, the light in their eyes colder than the coldest thing you know. For them, the creature at the other end of their leashes had vanished right out of existence — irrelevant to their purpose.

Sitting on my sofa, transfixed by those two splendid beasts that would never see creatures like us as more than the source of a meal, I knew they had Rickie’s eyes.

A domesticated creature acknowledges the primacy of external laws. The human creature calls that civilization.

Sometimes, those who are unbound by any constraints will disarm themselves for a moment. Against their own intentions, they find themselves acquiring a pet. I was just younger enough than Rickie to be his.

I guessed much later that he scented the rage in me, the summer we first met up close; those invisible whiskers of his must have twitched with interest. Everyone else saw just an awkward little girl.

Our backyards converged on the shores of the same lake but our worlds had different orbits. His people had always owned their property, or far enough back to grant them native status, but he and his parents were only seasonal inhabitants now.

My grandmother’s death gave us — my mother, brother and me — cover to mutate stealthily from summer visitors into permanent residents. The act of closing up her house never concluded; we never went back to my father. My mother wouldn’t put herself in harm’s way whenever he’d felt it necessary to correct his children, so it seemed grandma saved us in the only way she could.

Children hate cowardice in all its forms; I hated both my parents but it was only my father I’d wanted to kill.

Neighbors are easy about boundaries in places like ours; on a hot, bright day, I thought the rarely-used boathouse on Rickie’s property would be a wonderful place to curl up and read. I was startled and embarrassed to be discovered there by a striking teenage boy, but he saw the title of the book in my hand and said it was one of his favorites. My face went from pink to crimson, but as he kept talking, it cooled to a shade I prayed was unremarkable.

He spoke to me with the easy grace that’s described as the mark of a gentleman. But I could never accurately describe his eyes until I saw those wolves.

Answers depend on the way you ask a question. How would you compare a man who beats up little children to the tiger who’d tear them to shreds?

Evil acts are purposeful desecrations of a moral order. That’s irrelevant in the universe of the monster.

The tiger is inescapably monstrous in our world — its beauty doesn’t mitigate its nature. But we acknowledge its rights until our spheres collide. The were-tiger preys only on us; what place has it anywhere?

A journalist would ask if I ever felt myself to be in danger. I never did. I was only an amusement, not prey. The charm against creatures like Rickie is a hamster-wheel of the intellect, keeping boredom at bay.

That summer we talked only of sci-fi; he introduced me to authors a kid could only get her hands on by devious means. He gave me every book he’d finished with; he was one who moves on.

I could never give away a book. The library slaked thirsts but awakened lusts; Rickie was a lifesaver.

Words I’d use now sound untrue in recalling the thoughts of a child. But they are true; I felt in him some kind of impervious power. I wanted to be like him; devouring the books he gave me was like taking the heart of the other into myself.

There was nothing more. A shared taste isn’t kinship; adulation is a lonely and unreciprocated emotion. We were only partly alike; he knew that from the first and spared me anyway.

I don’t excuse his crimes but I understand only an accident of wiring distinguishes our natures. If you feel rage you might be able to love; instinct lies outside the realm of passion.

If that woman from the TV show ends up eaten by those wolves she thinks she owns, my pity will go to them — creatures dragged into a world not theirs and forced to live by its conventions. As I pity Rickie’s victims — they couldn’t have known he was an alien prowler. It’s one of life’s great cruelties that one wrong choice can be fatal. Most of us deserve second chances.

Rickie gave me mine. He submerged me in Ellison and Farmer; ways of killing my father became less interesting thoughts. Hatred dwindled to contempt and left only a rough-edged scar on my soul. I learned to be glad of having something that could ache so badly. Rickie wouldn’t have understood.

Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable — the best of all possible worlds.

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