Devil’s Lake

Fall 2015 Issue

Winner of the 2016 Driftless Prize in Fiction Learn more >

Caitlin Fitzpatrick: Make This Tame

Exactly eighty-five miles after they pass from Utah into Colorado, Miranda’s father pulls off of CO-135 and takes the exit marked “Monarch Pass.” Miranda ticks her finger across their route on the map and then looks back up at her father.

“This isn’t the way home,” she says.

“No,” he agrees. “We’re going to see your mother first.”

Miranda has always been the kind of daughter who doesn’t tell her father he is selfish. This day in the car is no different. She doesn’t inform him, as another daughter might, that his child is not as intrinsically indebted to him as he assumes. That it might be an inconvenience for him to show up, unannounced, at Riley’s house with her estranged seventeen-year-old daughter in tow. That perhaps Miranda herself might rather they push on home and not dredge up her faded family past.

Instead she folds up the map and tucks it back in the glove compartment. She rolls down her window so she can taste the thinning mountain air. Monarch Pass earns its name. The cut-away rocks are dark whiskey, coloring of a butterfly’s wing. They open on either side of the road like a matched set. The road runs directly along the Continental Divide, where the rivers shift their flow towards the Atlantic and pour Pacific instead. At the peak of the pass, her father stops the car and takes a picture of Miranda on her tiptoes next to the elevation marker: 11,312 feet. This simple activity leaves their midwestern lungs breathless.

Miranda’s reunion with her mother is less than joyous. Mostly, it involves Riley and her father posturing at combat. Riley makes sure her ex-husband knows exactly how presumptive it is for him and his daughter to arrive, unannounced, on a Friday afternoon. She lists the people this will inconvenience: her fiancé, as well as her fiancé’s daughter, Julie, who will have to share her room with Miranda. Riley waves her hands about in the air to illustrate how full their house is, how impossible it would be to accommodate additional family. Then she sighs, a sound of martyrdom and defeat, and holds the door open for her ex-husband and her baby girl, clearly expecting a response of gratitude from them. She is disappointed.

As they walk through the front door, Riley attempts to catch Miranda’s eye and make a face of camaraderie, of joint exasperation, but Miranda turns her head to the side. She looks down at the polished skin of her shin: she is two months into her softball season and the skin of her left leg had been scraped raw by sliding. It’s already beginning to scar. In six weeks, she’ll stand under wide stadium lights in Washington, D.C., and bat cleanup for her team in the national softball championship. All spring, scouts have been flying from colleges around the country to chart her on-base percentage, her ease at framing a slide or a drop. If you want a thing badly enough, Miranda knows, you have to be willing to bleed. This is something her mother has never learned; Riley is now engaged for the fourth time.

“Well,” Riley says. “I suppose you’ll want to meet the rest of the family. They’re out with the wolves right now, but they should be back soon.”

This is how Miranda learns that her mother is engaged to the owner of the local wolf preservation. While they wait for Riley’s fiancé and future stepdaughter to return home, Riley heads into the kitchen to start dinner. She says she is going to bake a cake in celebration and holds up a carton of pink frosting.

“Your favorite,” she says to Miranda. “Right?”

Miranda does not have the heart to inform her mother that yes, pink cake was her favorite cake the last time Riley lived with her, but that Miranda’s tastes have changed since she was five. Instead she nods and turns her head away again. Soon the fiancé and his daughter return home and the table is set and Riley fills the room up, talking about love. There is no wine on the table but she touches her fiancé with a drunken devotion, turns his left side towards Miranda’s father and then his right. I fell for him, she says. Deep in my soul. Miranda doesn’t understand what this could mean. The soul is not a thing that can be tripped into, she thinks. Not a gaping manhole to cover on a city street. She rolls her eyes and her father clears his throat, meets her eyes.

“Miranda,” he says. “Why don’t you do the dishes?“

Miranda clears the plates and scrubs the soggy potatoes and the crystalized pink frosting. She watches the fuchsia bubbles and thinks about her clumsy, love-plagued mother. How deep, she wonders, does her mother’s soul go? Miranda imagines it as something dark, sticky, sepulchral: a wet cave, a tar pit. She imagines her mother tumbling head over heels in the stalagmites of her heart, feet trapped in swamp, in wet asphalt.

The door opens and Miranda turns. It is the fiancé’s daughter.

“Do you want help?” Julie asks.

Miranda is slow to respond; she is busy staring at Julie’s left hand, which had been hidden beneath the table during dinner. The undersides of each of her fingers are rivuleted with long, ghostly scars, the skin thicker and taller on each side of the white line. The scars run from the tip of each finger to the base of her palm, so it looks like the reflections of her bones are living on the surface of her skin. The pattern is so precise it appears intentional, as if Julie once shook hands with someone who was wearing claws.

“Hello,” Julie says, and waves with her cratered digits. “Help?”

“No,” Miranda says. “I’m almost done.” She turns back to the sink.

Sullenness is a practiced thing in her. So is disinterest. She has had boyfriends, plural, and both of them have described her as unyielding. One of them told her that touching inside of her was like touching a bone. The other told everyone at school that he broke up with her because she was a dyke. It’s not a bone, Miranda had told the first boyfriend. That’s my cervix. It means you’re doing it wrong.

Out in the living room, the wine has been poured.

“This is lovely,” the fiancé says. “We so rarely have company these days.”

“Why?” Miranda’s father asks.

“No reason,” Riley said. “Just our neighbors are a bit silly.”

“It’s my fault,” says the fiancé. “It’s the pheromones.”

He explains about the wolf sanctuary he owns. How over the years he has saved twenty-seven arctic wolves from certain death in the wild. How he has splinted their broken bones, filled their hollow bellies, and trimmed their split toenails by holding their paws in his palms. After a while, he attempted to rerelease the wolves into nature, but the trouble is that they have become domesticated. So now he hopes to teach them to breed, to release their wild children into the woods and repopulate an endangered species. But the breeding is failing, at least in the natural way. The wolves are puritanical; they refuse to use each others’ bodies even for warmth in the snow. As an attempted cure he mixes pheromones with a chemical fervor, trying to flare their coquettish limbs. He hides away in his work shed for hours with his pipettes and his Bunsen burners, fills bottle after bottle with laboratory lust and mists it all over the mountain.

“And now,” he says. “People worry it’s affecting their dogs.”

A month ago, he explains, the Huffman’s mastiff caught rabies from a dead bat. The dog plowed its gapped teeth through their front door, splintering the wood. But none of the neighbors believed it was truly rabies. They thought he was to blame, that the dogs were turning because of what he was doing to his own animals in the woods. The neighbors waited, panicked, for their own dogs to begin raging through their limbs and rejecting home. They grew fearful of their pets. They kept their hounds inside, held their leashes short when they let them out to pee, peeled back their jowls and checked for bubbles. Each night, the sound of callused paws and blunted nails scraped and echoed through the neighborhood. No one sat on their porches anymore to watch the stars.

“All of this is ridiculous, of course,” Riley says. “Small minds, small ideas.”

Miranda is sitting next to Julie on the loveseat and the sides of their thighs are pressing together. In tandem, the adults sip their wine. The girls watch. Riley takes another drink from her glass and then sets it aside, unfinished. She rubs her stomach absently.

“She wants another baby,” Julie whispers to Miranda.

“She’s hardly had one.”

“Now she wants a million. A whole brood.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“No,” Julie shrugs. “It seems she might not be particularly good at it, though.”

“True,” Miranda says.

She turns to look at Julie. She is obviously her father’s girl. Earlier, Miranda had noted that the fiancé had an unappealing face: acutely similar to a weasel’s in shape. But the sharp features have performed something conversely attractive on Julie, an edged, rodent arabesque. She’s beautiful, skin so pale it’s like an echo of skin.

“Julie.” Riley’s voice cuts across the quiet living room. “Is it time for you to go to your party?”

“Not yet,” Julie says.

“Soon?” Riley asks.

“Sure. Maybe.”

“I think it’s important for you to go.”

Looking at her mother watching Julie, Miranda can see that Riley already considers Julie to be her own responsibility, her own kin. She can see how eager Riley is to fill the role of faux mother, and how eager Julie is to reject it.

“Brigit doesn’t want me there,” Julie insists. “She only invited me because that girl in our homeroom killed herself and she didn’t have any friends and so Brigit’s mother forced her to invite everyone to her birthday.”

“Julie,” the fiancé cuts in. “Enough. This party will be good for you. And anyway, I’m sure Miranda would love to join.”

“I thought,” Miranda’s father says, “that maybe Miranda and her mother could spend some time together.”

“I want to go to the party,” Miranda says.

“Okay,” Julie says. “Well then we should probably go. It started an hour ago.”

At the front door she hands Miranda a sweater and puts one on herself. Julie’s sweater is white, a blue lupine embroidered around the cuff.

“I know it’s summer,” Julie says. “But it gets cold here at night.”

They walk outside. The mountain dark is startling and absolute. Miranda can hardly see the pine tree or her father’s parked truck in Julie’s front yard. She puts her hand on Julie’s wrist, for guidance. Julie moves her hand to her waist. Her breath, which Miranda is now close enough to smell, tastes like pink cake mist.

“It’s just a few blocks down,” Julie says.

“Okay,” Miranda says.

“I wasn’t trying to be morbid earlier,” Julie says. “It’s just that I’ve known Brigit since I was four and this is the first time she’s invited me to her birthday.”


“I don’t have many friends at school.”

“Because of your father? The pheromone thing?”

“Partly,” Julie says. “But also because the girls at school think my real mother was a wolf. They think I’m a half-wolf girl.”

She says the girls mark out her locker in red spray-paint like blood. They bow their mouths and howl when Julie passes them in the halls. They make note of her pinched-snout face, her hair, both pale and coarse, her Tundra braids.

“Here,” Julie says, interrupting herself. She turns and walks up a driveway, knocks on the front door.

Brigit is captain of the cross-country ski team. She has dark hair and muscles that poke out geometrically on the sides of her thighs. The theme of Brigit’s sixteenth birthday is “The End of the World.” In the basement, which is barren except for a sullen circle of girls, she serves blue raspberry vodka and purple cake, which both Miranda and Julie decline. The rest of the girls, who are all Brigit’s teammates, stain their mouths indigo and then beat their fists against the floor, insist that it is time for games. In this room it is clear that Julie was not lying about having no friends at school. Wherever she sits a circle of empty floor opens up around her. If she and Miranda were better friends, or even true family, Miranda would tell Julie that she shouldn’t care. Girls who are wolves do not need friends. Girls who are wolves should not care what a single breathing being thinks of them.

Because Miranda is the stranger, she is picked first in Truth or Dare. When asked about her first kiss, she claims innocence, claims she is untouched and unknowing. She knows the way girls work, that pure girls are the least interesting. She hopes to be avoided for the rest of this game as thoroughly as Julie is. After Miranda’s turn, Kelly admits that she thinks Heidi’s father is a total babe. Anna confesses that she once let a boy press himself into the space between her two breasts. Caroline, who is caught in a lie about hooking up with Brandon Lee, is forced to spend the rest of the night in nothing but her bra and underwear. Near the end of the night Brigit kisses her best friend on the mouth, closed lips.

Miranda sits silently and wonders at these girls. This is their idea of the end of the world? It’s nothing more than a bit of extended honesty, slightly more nudity, PG lesbianism. By midnight they’re already slurring their words and scratching sleepy fingers through their own hair. Brigit brings a basket of quilts and knitted afghans down from her living room and the girls settle into their blankets like they are warm holes in the ground. Only Julie and Miranda remain awake.

“Come on,” Julie says. “We don’t have to sleep on the floor.”

She walks on her toes up the green-carpeted stairs of Brigit’s basement and Miranda follows her up, down a hallway, and through a half open door.

“Is this Brigit’s room?” she asks.

“She won’t miss it,” Julie says.

Brigit has a boxy full bed with lilac sheets. Without saying a word to Miranda, Julie strips naked and climbs inside. She disrobes as she’s walking from the door into the room and Miranda notices how long and lean she is, how all of her edges are sharp, even the brisk points of her breasts. Miranda walks to the opposite side of the bed and slides in, wearing everything but her shoes. Julie seems to already be asleep, so Miranda closes her eyes and counts her breaths. It doesn’t work. Her eyes open again and she imagines she can see Julie’s scars glowing, although she knows it isn’t true. Still, she watches the other girl’s hand as her eyes adjust to the dark room, as the bright spark of the stars slowly filters through the window and illuminates the worn white carpet, the blocky picture frames on the wall—Brigit holding a gold metal, cradling a small brown puppy, naked in a foamy tub—Julie’s face just breaths away from her own. She can see Julie’s hand, the ghost rivers on her skin, the palm raised up like an invitation on her lilac sheets.

Eventually Miranda sleeps, but not for long. She wakes up to the sound of the bed creaking, the soft clinking of buckles as Julie stands and redresses and walks out of the room. Miranda curls her knees up to her breasts and hugs herself, wondering where Julie is going, if she should follow. She thinks of Brigit and her friends, her teammates, still sleeping in their blankets on the basement floor. She imagines the rumors they started about Julie are true, imagines Julie out in the woods transforming into a beautiful, feral girl. She crawls on her knees and her forearms swell into front legs. Bristles of fur needle their way out through her belly, the pads of her paws, her breasts. Her eyes turn pale, the color of stone. As she pants, her jaw sags, her teeth drag through the dirt as she runs, and her mouth foams.

Miranda stands, pulls her clothes back on, and rushes to follow her. She knows exactly where Julie is going, although she can’t say how. Instinct perhaps. She follows the weaving dark shadow of the girl in front of her through the paved roads of the neighborhood and up the curved spine of the mountain, towards the distant sound of howling wolves. There is no moon in the sky that night, but the stars are bright enough that eventually Miranda’s eyes adjust. She sees the tall fences appearing before her, turns her head and searches for Julie until she sees her, sitting inside one of the enclosures, surrounded by the tranquil fur of the wolves.

“Miranda,” Julie calls out to her. “Come inside.”

Miranda presses her stomach to the dirt and inches her way beneath the fence. The bulge of her hamstring muscle catches on the rough metal, it pulls. She doesn’t let the cut slow her down. She stands and walks towards Julie. It is dark enough to blur the wolves into one homogeneous mass, the eager snouts and rising tails parting around her as she walks. It feels like she is wading through a soft and fibrous mud. She reaches Julie and settles next to her. Their knees press together and the wolves pace around them in a thick circle. The air smells mulchy, like the dirt being overturned by the wolves’ kneading paws. In the new-moon dark nothing stands out but their eyes, the white of their hair. It is as though dozens of girls, twins of the girl sitting next to her, are watching Miranda.

Julie stretches onto her back and Miranda follows suit, curling her body towards the other girl. Both of them flinch when their chapped knees sand together. They push back apart. Several minutes pass. Miranda listens to Julie’s careful breathing and inches herself closer again, first with her shoulders and then with her hips.

Miranda thinks maybe the neighborhood is right to fear Julie’s father and his pheromones. They are right to fear their own dogs. In the dark, in these pens, she is suddenly a moonstruck girl. She can feel desire beating inside her chest like a fat, fevered bird. What she wants, creeping her body towards Julie’s, is for the curved coral of their bones to slide together, just once. She wants to know what the catch of skin on skin might feel like. She imagines what it might be like to kiss her, open mouthed. She wonders if it would stop the erratic bickering of her blood.

Miranda doesn’t reach out for the other girl, but Julie does. She touches her wet mouth to Miranda’s neck, crawls on top of her and straddles her. The animals push closer to them, under them; Miranda can feel their hot pelts trembling beneath her. They bow their backs and push against the girls, more and more of them joining the pile of bodies until Miranda and Julie are lifted into the air, the top of a breathing pyramid. Miranda’s own submission is a tangible smell. She watches Julie study her exposed belly and hums low in her throat. Julie echoes back the sound, buries her face in Miranda’s skin, and noses along the crease of her thigh, down to the dip where the leg creases into ass. She finds the ripped shorts, the damp blood of her cut thigh.

The wolves erupt around them, pawing at each other’s backs, the pile growing frantic and heaving. They scratch and claw, rolling through the dust as each struggles to reach the top of the mounting heap of rutting bodies. The ones at the bottom yip and yowl and buckle with their capitulation. The smell of their frenzied heat fills the air like liquid iron.

Julie stays calm. She doesn’t flinch at the maddening broil. She hums again, pushes her snout into Miranda’s quivering haunch, and begins to tongue the wound clean. Miranda tilts her head back and looks at the bare sky. She touches Julie’s back and can feel fur, can feel the catch of the other girl’s elongated canines on her skin. Her own skin itches with new growth. She digs her fingers into Julie’s shoulders and feels her claws catch, smells the blood. The two of them are transforming into beasts; she is certain of it. In the distance, she imagines she can hear the sounds of the neighborhood as man and dog alike begin keening, whimpering, bellowing in harmony with the wild. Houses deform with sound. Mothers race from their bedrooms with floral nightgowns swaying around their knees, howling. Her own father beats at the wooden door of his bedroom, catches splinters in his fists and wails for his children, for Miranda, his favorite girl.

Miranda stretches her long wolf-neck backwards, rubs her furry scalp against the wet dirt. She lets her haunches splay into that unfamiliar, wide-hipped position of obedience. She spreads her teeth and a wet, pulpish bay claws itself free of her throat, the call threading upward through the night as though it is running a long line attached from the bottom of her chest up to the lancing mountain stars.


The next morning, Riley insists on showing Miranda and her father the sanctuary before they leave. The whole family hikes up after breakfast. The fiancé and Julie pull ahead of the group while Riley and Miranda’s father fall behind, listening as Riley talks quietly about her life in the Rockies. Miranda can feel the mountain altitude burning and expanding her lungs. In the light, she realizes that Riley’s neighborhood is barely wild at all, just a strangely suburban group of homes. A few of the yards are overrun with cow’s ears and columbines, thick stalks of ragweed that make Miranda sneeze. But most of the houses she passes are a trim, pink attempt at domestication: lilies, peonies, roses. Miranda can only imagine how much work these yards must take to maintain; to keep the encroaching limbs of mountain roots at bay.

As they climb Gothic Mountain, Riley explains the true history of the wolves. Her fiancé inherited them from a television show called Submission. It was a show about sexy teen werewolves that had lots of sadomasochistic sex. It did not perform well in the ratings and was canceled after sixteen episodes. But, the producers had bred all these tame wolves for the purpose of production. So the fiancé, whose brother worked in L.A., took the wolves in as his own. They can never breed, Riley assures them, they’re a strange mixture of Great Dane and timber wolf. Made impotent by their mixed nature.

They crest a hill and the wolves appear to them, so different now in the day. Miranda is surprised by the size of the animals; many of them would be taller than her father if they stood on their hind legs. They have wide, white haunches, thick trunks with splashes of brown and black dyed across their pale fur. Their eyes almost disappear inside their fat, hairy cheeks. They are not the majestic creatures they had seemed last night, but rather bloated and lazy—overgrown lap dogs. Aspens and pines surround their pens and their high, barbed wire fences. They lounge in the sun and pant like they are puppies exhausted after a run.

It’s May, but there’s a thin film of summer snow on the ground. Julie is crouching with her bare knees in the icy dirt, tickling her fingers under the fence and drawing a wolf closer to her. The snow lights her up from underneath and shows Miranda the pale skin of her thighs, the thick white of her hair. The wolf crawls towards her, submissive, rolling over to show her belly as soon as she draws near. Julie puts her hand on the wolf’s bare stomach. Her hands are dirty but in the morning light they appear covered in blood.

Miranda turns back towards her family. Riley has pressed her nose against the gaps of the metal fencing and is cooing at the rescues. It reminds Miranda of watching her mother when she was young: how Riley used to put a hand on her husband’s shoulder or his chest when she spoke to him, as though touch were the whistle she might use to call his errant love home. The wolves do not respond. Like a father they stand apart, aloof.

Miranda is not some sad, tooth-whispering woman like her mother; she is better. She turns back towards Julie and sees the other girl is closer, waving Miranda towards her.

“Do you want to help?” Julie asks.

She holds a spray canister towards Miranda. Miranda knows what this is; it is the bottled pheromones. She reaches out her hand and Julie sprays her once, grins.

“Oh,” Miranda says. She lifts her now wet arm up to her nose. “It just smells like a boy’s deodorant.” She sniffs again. “I don’t feel anything.”

“No.” Julie shakes her head. “Why would you? My father’s hardly a chemist. What we’re spraying out here is basically cheap drugstore cologne.”

Julie puts her hand on the side of Miranda’s arm, so that her thumb is resting in the dip of her bicep. She squeezes once and then Miranda pulls her arm away. She can feel the catch of Julie’s scars against her skin. Julie leaves the bottle with Miranda and walks back towards her animals. One by one the wolves catch whiff of her. They knead the ground with their paws; they settle their snouts in the dirt to try to nose under the fence. One stretches his tongue far enough to rough it along the tread of her boot and he ruffles in pleasure. Miranda watches the whole scene with envy, jealous of the wolves and their reckless demonstration of love, the way they turn their faces to the girl. Jealous of the smile that creeps onto Julie’s face as she notes their affection, as she greets these animals palms up, eyes down.

She feels as though she’s suddenly stepped through a door into the future. Someday, she knows, a woman will stand right where she is standing now. This woman will watch Julie with her docile carnivores and will walk towards her, put her hand against the warm, tanned skin on the back of Julie’s neck. She will take Julie home to her family, hold her hands over both of her shoulders and turn her back and forth like a carnival prize. She will announce that she fell for Julie down in the sticky cavern of her soul.


A voice cuts across the clearing and Miranda turns. Her father is staring at her.

“It’s time for us to hit the road,” he says.

There isn’t some long, drawn-out scene while Miranda leaves. Her father thanks Riley and the fiancé for letting them stay and Riley touches his arms while she tells him that it was no trouble, that seeing Miranda was just a treat. Julie doesn’t watch Miranda leave from her bedroom window like some longing woman in a romance book. She stands next to the truck and waves. Miranda can see her own reflection in the glass lining up along Julie’s shoulders, her chest. She slouches in her seat until the two of them are lined up perfectly: their overlapping arms and necks and chins.

Then the truck pulls away. Miranda thinks about the seven hundred miles of Kansas highway that are awaiting her, how the scenery drags past like they’re driving on a treadmill, hour after hour of flat brown grass and crooked windmills. She remembers how the mountains appeared on the drive out, gray peaks sprouting as suddenly as an invasive garden root: daffodils or bamboo. She watches them now in the back window of the truck, preparing for them to vanish, to pop back into their disappearing holes.

She looks at her own face in the window and remembers the way her and Julie’s reflections had combined into the image of one girl: Julie’s hand over her hand, coarse blonde hair appearing twice on their knuckles, the thin, shining rivers of their scar. In the far corner of the horizon Miranda can see rain boiling behind the mountains, clouds hanging low and shallowing out the sky. Thunder rolls slowly between the gaps of the peaks and everything grays. For a moment Miranda confuses the weather with the sound of a widening jaw, a welcoming, white-throated growl. She pushes her tongue against the backs of her teeth and echoes back the sound.

“That’s my girl,” her father says, cupping his palm around the ball of her knee and rocking her leg back and forth. “So fierce. Such a champion.”

CAITLIN FITZPATRICK is a second-year MFA candidate at the University of Virginia, where she also teaches fiction writing. Her stories have appeared in The Rumpus and The Kenyon Review Online. She is the fiction editor of Meridian and is currently at work on a novel. More from this issue >