Devil’s Lake

Fall 2016 Issue

Michael Credico: Pines

The folks wouldn’t accept the embarrassment of losing the boy to a bear, so they made the bear their new boy. Pa dissolved a couple of Ma’s Ambien in a bucket full of tonic water. The bear lapped it up, fell asleep. Pa strapped him to the bed. Ma kissed his warm, matted face.

There were worse ways to be a happy family, the folks decided.

They named him Jeremiah, Also.

Jeremiah, Also was dreaming up a different inverted world. He was still a bear, of course, but he was gently caressing the cheek of a young woman in a spring dress. He felt a different kind of feral. He admitted to her it was love. She lifted her skirt, revealing a bear trap for undergarments. Her teeth were beautiful, he couldn’t turn away from them. He wondered if she was looking at his the same way. He became nervous, ashamed, thinking of the obscene lengths of his canines, the fist-sized gap between his canines and his molars. If the young woman moved to kiss him, then what? He was suddenly unable to open his mouth.

* * *

Gram had been dying by complications from heart disease for over fifty years. In her words, she’d been alive with a death sentence most of her life, never really able to live.

The first thing she said to Jeremiah, Also was, “That nose!” Though he’d shrunk considerably from the 2,000 calorie a day diet the folks supplied him, his snout hadn’t changed. Another thing was the redness of his flesh. He reacted badly to Ma’s wax sessions. Pa said it was only rosacea or acne, temporary.

Jeramiah, Also was just entering high school and uncomfortable with himself. He struggled with eye contact. He constantly, viciously, bit at his claws. Once, Susannah said hello to him unprompted and he felt himself pee a little. Ma called it tinkling, said it meant he was happy. Pa switched the sheets to plastic.

But Jeremiah, Also wasn’t happy. He was scared and unsure.

The last thing Gram said was, “I have reason to believe you don’t share blood with any of us.”

To the shock of most everyone at the funeral, Jeremiah, Also dragged her casket from the church to the grave himself, with only his teeth.

Susannah said to him later, “I lost my grandmother too.” He waited for her to move closer. It felt like that kind of moment. Then he quit waiting.

* * *

Pa announced the divorce the day Jeremiah, Also found the shoebox of photos of Jeremiah, Devoured. Ma snatched them from him quick and sobbed. Pa slammed the front door shut and was figured to never be heard from again.

Jeremiah, Also noticed stubble all over his chest and legs and arms. Ma could muster no energy for waxing. He was clumsy with the razor, making tiny cuts all over his body until he looked like a red and white polka-dotted teddy bear.

He wanted to ask Ma, “Do you love him still?” Instead he growled, “My fault,” and locked himself in his bedroom. He stuck his paw down his throat, forcing himself to vomit. He hoped he could return Jeremiah, Devoured; restore things the way they had been. He choked up lips, still colored with lipstick, still tasting very sweet, soft. He remembered Susannah’s braids, the way it felt when they untangled in his stomach.

* * *

Ma walked in on Jeremiah, Also downing the last of the Ambien. She knocked the empty bottle from his paw, screamed, “Jeremiah,” then, “I’m so tired.” Her non-specificity hurt him, made him feel like an overdose was the right thing. Ma got the shakes, collapsed and crawled downstairs to the kitchen. He followed, his steps heavy as eyelids. He tried to grab her and collapsed over top of himself. The weight of his upper body paralyzed everything from the waist down. It felt like he was beginning to evaporate.

Ma boiled milk in an attempt to stave off the rest of withdrawal. When the milk was gone, she lay in flakes of lavender, gardenia, and jasmine. Nothing worked until Pa came back for his gin and Ma crushed him upside the head with the bottle. Pa lay unconscious next to Jeremiah, Also. Ma set herself gently over both bodies. Jeremiah, Also felt her weight. Her breathing was heavy. His got lighter.

* * *

The child wore a bearskin rug, held a plastic pumpkin-shaped pail full of candy. “In the pines,” the child whispered.

That’s where Jeremiah, Also was. “What happened last night?” he asked the child.

“It’s still last night,” the child said. “Are you hungry?” The child unwrapped a candy bar, forced it into Jeremiah, Also’s mouth.

Jeremiah, Also couldn’t chew it or swallow it or speak.

“Are you cold?” the child said, removing the bearskin rug from himself and draping it over Jeremiah, Also.

The child was naked and shivering. Jeremiah, Also pulled the child toward him and held him.

The pines were eternally tall and evergreen.

Author Michael Credico MICHAEL CREDICO’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Hobart, New Ohio Review, NOÖ Journal, Quarterly West, and others. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio. More from this issue >