The boy had been abandoned sometime in the past. He didn’t know his age, of course. Age was not a concept he considered. The concepts he considered came mostly in the form of shapes and colors and sounds. He knew enough to grunt in certain ways, to tell a coyote to stay away from a dead rabbit that belonged to him, for instance, knew enough to give a terrifying scream to scare away a mountain lion.
The people of the town saw him occasionally, at a distance, though they were all almost always inebriated in some way so that the sightings, made portentous by drugs and alcohol, grew into a myth like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. A few rational folks posited that the creature they had seen was only a wolf or a goat, citing ravaged carcasses and a musky smell.
The boy retained a fear of humans he’d learned from somewhere, either from his parents (whoever they might have been) or the creatures of the wood. He did, however, dare to venture into human territory sometimes, did indeed go some mornings into town before sunrise, mostly when it rained or snowed, or when a wind blew in, like this one. These mornings people stayed in, so the streets were free for scavenging. Today he’d already found a cache of fried chicken in the trash cans behind the restaurant, and a pile of beer bottles in the Dumpster behind Jimson’s Bar. He knew of an air vent on one side of a big building that blew warm air even on the coldest days, and it was here he headed with his gatherings, walking awkwardly upright, stark naked and shivering, staggering on bowed legs, holding a box of chicken and a few sloshing, half-empty bottles of beer.
He didn’t make it to the warmth of the vent. When he saw the body hanging by a rope from the lamppost in front of the big building he was headed to, immediately he felt fear and guilt, a muddled sense of causality and culpability, and though he witnessed death daily as a matter of existence, he felt that this must be different somehow, when a person died. This was in fact the first dead human he had seen. He had never imagined them dying. They seemed so organized, humans, so purposeful, those upright-walking creatures, he knew they must be different, perhaps even immortal and at the very least superior to his kind of creatures, the mere four-legged kind that fed on one another for survival.
This had been bothering him for some months now, the suspicion that he was of a different sort than his fellow woodland creatures, maybe not quite human, but different at the very least. He could dominate his fellow creatures simply by, for instance, thinking a step ahead or corralling them with deceit or persuading them with kindness. He knew that he did not belong with the uprights — he didn’t make the sounds they made, after all, even though he had tried — but he was not apparently one of the woodlands, either. Where did he belong?
And so it wasn’t the sight of the dead man but was instead these muddled thoughts which drove him from his plan for warmth, made him abandon the chicken and the beer, made him forget the comfort of the vent, drove him madly, wildly, down the mountain into the gulch where he could run along the streambed, as he’d often done when he’d been bitten or stung, or when the cloudy and propulsive thoughts moving through his mind refused to leave him. He ran, he ran, and he let out a howl which meant something, and he knew it meant something, but what?
Jason Shults’s work has appeared in journals such as Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, The Adirondack Review, and Smokelong Quarterly. He lives in Tucson, Arizona, and is currently working on a collection of connected flash stories.
제이슨 슐츠의 작품은 ‘컬럼비아 문예잡지’, ‘아디론닥 리뷰’, ‘스모클롱 쿼털리’ 등의 져널에 등장한 바 있다. 그는 아리조나 턱슨에 거주하며 현재 연결된 엽편 모음집을 쓰는 중이다.