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They came at night, while he was sleeping. He woke to their cries, just beyond the light leaking from the clock face by the bedroom window. It read 2:23. He thought the sound was a child, screaming, maybe one of the neighbors. He rose to search the house, but the noise was coming from outside. He went over to the window and peered out, but saw nothing, only heard the screaming which abruptly stopped.
At work, he forgot about the noise amidst the bustle and boredom of the day. On his drive back home, he thought of the movie he would watch on TV, the dinner he would eat, the book he’d read in bed. He pushed his work from his mind and settled into the happiness of pure escape, until the screams started, again, around 2:30 a.m., shocking him awake. This time, he found a flashlight and shone it out the window, revealing the sharp face of a red fox. It howled again, screeching like an infant being devoured, and ran off. Two other forms followed it.
The next day, he researched foxes. All around him, people typed in cubicles. The noise of it, the garish colors, made his head hurt, which was strange; he’d been working in offices like this most of his adult life. He tried to read the screen, but the sharp pain in his forehead made it difficult. That afternoon, he tried to watch a movie, but couldn’t concentrate. He napped instead and ate a light dinner. Still, when they woke him that night, it was a surprise. He went to the window again and watched their hazy forms move through the darkness. Three of them. What he’d read made it seem odd that three of them would stick together. Maybe it was a family—maybe a mother and two cubs. He wondered if they lived nearby, but couldn’t imagine where. The interstate was a couple blocks away. All around, it seemed as though there were nothing but streets and buildings. Still, maybe there was some outpost of nature not far away; what did he know. He hadn’t really paid attention to much outside of his apartment in quite a while.
The next afternoon, he napped again, and this time, he slept lightly. Every branch scraping against the roof woke him. He dozed; time passed like a skipping record, and he sat bolt upright several times only to concentrate on the sound of nothing. The next morning, his alarm woke him and he stumbled out into his day, all the while, wondering why they hadn’t returned.
The next night, he woke again around 2:30. There was no sound. It was perfectly quiet except for the noise of traffic, which he suddenly disliked. He wished it was quiet, so he could hear. He wished he knew more about them. He lay listening for a long while, the image of the whitish face, the red fur, rising in his mind.
Bio: CL Bledsoe is the author of two poetry collections, _____(Want/Need) and Anthem. A short story collection, Naming the Animals, was just published by Mary Celeste Press. His story, “Leaving the Garden,” was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for Story South’s Million Writer’s Award.
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