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"Scenes from the Life of the Only Girl in Water Shield, Alaska"
by Tony Tulathimutte

The Dalmatian

Among the tall clusters of evergreen that obscured the horizon in all directions, Shelley looked up and saw the sun vanish behind the darkening cloud cover. Her left hand was too cold to grip the copper strings of her scuffed acoustic guitar, and every so often she stuck her fingers in her mouth to suck the stiffness out. She felt a cold wet tap on her neck, a thrust of wind from the west, another tap on her cheek. The autumn showers had started three days earlier and perennially grayed the skies, making it hard to see the pale aurora at night and impossible to get out when she wanted. Shelley felt a jab of dread at the thought of being holed up with her father for the next three months; the longer she was stuck with the Moose, the more she thought about jobs she could take, or correspondence classes, or—by boat, floatplane, ferry, bus, and then taxi—just getting up and heading south.

Dark rain spots soaked the dirt around Shelley. She wiped the body of her guitar clear with the elbow of her plaid hunting jacket, then laid it in the case, latched the rusty hasps, brushed trails of her rat-dark hair behind her ear. There were bootsteps and the swish of jeans coming from behind her, the Moose: he had his rifle gripped in one hand, nothing in the other. He was whistling dryly. His shades were settled on top of his faded blue baseball cap, and the frayed loops of his suspenders dangled out at his hips from under his tan jacket.

"Damn bitch got away," he called out to Shelley, still distant. "Heard me coming."

Shelley waited until he was near, picked up her guitar case and started walking with him as he passed without breaking stride: he was small, almost shorter than Shelley, and they kept an equal gait. They marched a straight path side-by-side through the berry-green muskege and out of the thicket of dully glinting evergreens. Shelley wanted to linger, but the current of sea wind that filtered through the collar of her jacket drove her onward towards the shore. Her fingers ached with chill as she gripped the handle of her guitar case. Sheets of rain drenched the surrounding pines, shedding fat drops from their lowest needles, and under the drizzle, Shelley heard a creak of metal.

"What's that?" Shelley said, slowing her stride to a halt.

Again, the sound: it wasn't a creak, but a living, fluttering sound—a whimper.

"Hold, Shel." The Moose pushed his shades onto the bridge of his sunburned nose, gripped his rifle close to his chest, slid his finger into the cradle of the trigger. Whatever the noise was, it was hurting. Shelley stopped, searched her pocket with her free hand for the smooth bone handle of her hunting knife, and rested her fingertips on it, as the sound grew clearer through the rain and the Moose approached.

The feeble sound was only a few yards away from where they were walking, closer than she'd expected. It was a dog, a real dog, a Dalmatian. Its coat stood stark against the green-gray terrain, and as soon as its black eyes found the Moose, it bolted at him and a wild scream escaped its throat. Shelley's shoulders bucked in surprise, and the Moose took a step backwards, then saw that the dog was hitched to a moss-covered log by a yellow nylon rope further back. The rope was cinched tense around the dog's neck, and it leaned against the leash, panting and bristling, and Shelley and the Moose stood and met its eyes. The Moose crept in a few yards, keeping his fists in front of his neck, and hunkered down.

"No tags, no collar," said the Moose to himself, holding the animal's stare.

In a rough circumference around the mossy log, the dirt was pitted and grooved where the dog had taken to restless pacing. Shelley saw the starved outline of the dog's ribcage, spine, hips. It was missing an ear. Snarling and oblivious to its wretched condition, it hauled against the rope again, lunging and snapping back against the rope with its front paws suspended in the air, back legs treading the frozen dirt. Shelley darted her eyes around; there was no house nearby, no boot tracks. It could have been waiting there, for them, forever.

Home

Water Shield, Alaska: population, two.

Home was a house and a sauna, shanties no larger than a two-car garage. Both bore the same rough-cut paneling and hand-split cedar shingles, dull yellow from half a decade of weathering. The house was a single room, packed with the clutter of simple living: television, stove, space heater, two mattresses in the corner, lamps, tools and guns, a pantry, VHF radio, hunting equipment and fishing tackle, old Time magazines, garbage, a dozen cats. A gas generator and a solar energy kit. No windows. Out front was the twelve-foot satellite dish, an American flag on a raw cedar shaft, and a trailer, hand-painted a cheap flame orange, weighted down with sacks of crumbling dog food for the cats and empty barrels for spare boat fuel.

A shallow tunnel under one corner of the house served as a chicken coop, visible from the outside only by the door that barricaded the chickens in during the day. When Shelley was seven, the Moose had warned her not to let them out because of weasels. He told her that the weasels had teeth longer than the ones on a fork, and if you weren't careful they'd eat all the chickens you had and kill the rest just for fun. So the chickens had to stay in, for their own good. The Moose had asked Shelley, "Even if you let 'em out, where would they go?"

"Fly away?"

"Aw that's dumb. You know chickens can't fly," said the Moose, prodding Shelley on the forehead with a calloused thumb.

"If it's a bird why can't it fly?"

"Some kinds ain't meant to," said the Moose.

One night after that, Shelley kneeled by the door in the ground that led to the coop. She undid the latch, lifted open the splintery door.

"Chickens, he's asleep," Shelley yelled in. "It's flying time."

She crouched blindly into the dark coop and its thick brown odor crammed her lungs. She poked at nests, kicked at stacks of straw. "Come out!"

At first there was no sound, and then her foot connected with the round breast of a sleeping hen and all at once a scramble of feathers erupted in the black room like applause, an invisible scratching and cackling and fighting. Shelley was struck in the face by the flapping chest of a chicken that she'd swept off of a nesting shelf——he grabbed hold, held the warm dirty body as it thrashed and twisted in her arms. Its wings and bony legs cuffed her face as she carried it up the stone steps to the exit and dumped it on the ground outside, expecting it to spread its wings over the ground and take flight into the black sky. She breathed the cold air, waited—the small, buckshot-black hen quivered its head, scrabbled at the ground. Then, fanning its wings unsteadily, it started to run a drunken path, pitching to the left and then back towards Shelley, past her, and with a crack, it ran into the side of the house. Shelley froze, watched it squawk loudly, heard the Moose throw open the door and step outside.

"Goddamnit, Shelley, what did you do?" said the Moose, the frigid air gusting his boxer shorts.

"I wanted to help them," Shelley said, warbling.

The Moose crossed his arms against the cold. "The chickens are blind, damn idiot! We raised them in the dark! They're all blind!"

He took a few steps toward the hen, but it had regained its feet and was running off, away, to unseen places.

Blood

The blood came while Shelley was watching MTV and the Moose was out back splitting wood for the sauna. She'd felt a twinge in her body—the snapping of a thread—and it flowed numbly out. A mother could have told her what was happening, and whether she was going to die or not, but all Shelley had was TV and the Moose. Her Momma, she was told, died during childbirth—with a hoot and both fists clenched and that's the right way to go and that's all that mattered. The Moose said that to Shelley once, when she was eight, then never again. Whenever Shelley asked, he would shake his head and say Went out with a hoot, and so Shelley was left to wonder.

She couldn't tell him about this. When she was eleven, she had sliced into the tip of her thumb while cleaning a halibut. She had screamed at the jagged flap of white skin and showed the Moose. He'd dropped his fish and held Shelley's thumb, studied it.

"Think that hurts?" he'd said.

Shelley nodded, and her father let go of her hand, smiling through a bush of beard in a way she'd never seen him smile before, crooked. He picked up his cleaning knife, hitched up his plaid sleeve around his bicep, touched the point of the knife along the back of his hand, and flicked. A vertical red line appeared along his thumb, one to match Shelley's, and it began to ooze. Holding his trickling hand close to Shelley's face, the Moose flinched, then laughed, saying, "You're right, that does hurt. Now you'll learn how we fix it up."

Since then, she didn't tell the Moose about pain. And she didn't ask about her Momma. And now, as she hunched close to herself, pressing her pale thighs together to stanch the bleeding, Shelley waited for the Moose to turn in before stealing off to the sauna to examine herself. As she drew a cold bucket bath to clean herself up, she glimpsed a red smear on the side of her knee, and a strand of blood drawing itself down her calf. She placed a hand on her thigh, and then wobbled and passed out, briefly.

Friends

"We need diesel," said the Moose, open-shirted, standing at the gas stove and stirring a breakfast paste of beans and Tabasco. "So I'm going into town today."

"Your dick's out," said Shelley.

The Moose looked down, placidly tucked himself in. "I'm pickin' up paper towels, too. Comin' so you can see your friend?"

Shelley shook her head, and the Moose grunted in reply. No way was she going. The girl the Moose called "her friend" was Rena Langford, who was three years older than Shelley and smelled like trash and was such a total slut and was definitely not her friend. She was the daughter of Gerry from Gerry's Hunting Supplies down at Randall Cove, who was a longtime friend of the Moose's since back when they both lived in Alberta. Every time Shelley went with the Moose for supplies, the Moose made her sit around with Rena while he and Gerry talked about trap hunting, environmental politics, women. The Langfords were from Valdez up north, and with Rena it was always the same talk about how things were in Valdez, how the men are hotter and how they, you know, actually do stuff, how the dickweeds from these parts just sit around, jerk off, and die. Shelley knew what she meant: the monotony of days that ran together, only separated and distinguished by the odd event—hunting trips, tourist sightings, the death of neighbors—but Shelley hated Rena's stupid tight shirts and chalky makeup so much that she fell into tacit disagreement.

"Up in Valdez, me and the guys, you know, we would go down and take shots at the pipeline sometimes," Rena once said, peering down the sight of a used Winchester with a yellow price tag punched around its hammer. "Bulletproof. Even with as close as you can get it never cracks, but it makes a real loud noise when you blast it. Paahhw. Now that was some fun. Can you imagine if it busted, though? All that oil."

Shelley didn't respond. The thought of a place even more boring than home made her tired.

Home, Part Two

"Dad, I want my own room."

The Moose was baiting a longline with chicken liver, and now wiped his greasy hands on his camouflage pants and squinted at Shelley. He had a wide, smooth forehead and gray eyes, and his thin hair tassled down to the thick plastic rims of his glasses. His face was easygoing enough, but when it raved about how Bill Clinton was going to send the world to damnation or shouted down forest service agents about a goddamn unfair overfishing fine, it could reveal a frightening hardness, like wrung iron. As Shelley sat beside him, she could see him gathering his stern authority, and she already regretted her words.

"No," he said, and he went back to his work.

"It would only take a half a season, and I can do the foundation," Shelley said, her jaw set. "All you have to do is help me with the wood."

The Moose looked back up again, his face screwed up in annoyance. "I said no, Shelley. What do you need your own room for?"

Shelley felt a flame of anger; she thought about blood. "I just want one."

"I ain't got time," he said.

"But I said I could—"

The Moose narrowed his eyes to slits. He stuck his tongue out, moistened his lips, and Shelley's shoulders braced as his teeth came together and his thumb and forefinger went to his gums and he blew a shrieking whistle, a high ascending note that broke to shrill screeching. Shelley cringed; she knew he was done talking. The Moose's whistle was his hello and goodbye, and moreover, his way of saying shut up. He'd learned it and honed it back in the days when he lived in Alberta with Shelley's mother and hunted small game with dogs. He would make his whistle with its two trilled notes, loud enough to call the dogs back from brush or pond two hundred yards away; he bragged that whenever his whistle caught one of the dogs in the middle of a crap, it would came scuttling back proud as a soldier with all that shit still coming out as it ran. And Shelley agreed, yes, it sure was a good whistle, and she knew that because he'd used it to call her ever since she was a kid, whenever something needed doing.

By the next afternoon, she was out in the woods on the other side of the island with her mind made up, holding an idling chainsaw against the side of a tall spruce. Her goggles were loose around her head, and they slid as she prepared to fell her third tree that day. She felt good; she'd never even used a chainsaw before, but she was sure that she could handle it, just as sure as she was going to build her room twice as high as the Moose's house and spit on its roof from the second story. The two trees she'd finished were limbed and bound behind her, and their great fallen lengths made her feel tough. She was tough.

With arms tensed, Shelley squeezed the trigger of the chainsaw and pushed the blurred edge of the blade into the side of the tree. It chewed uneven inches through the tree, scattering chips that pricked Shelley's skin through her sleeves. When she was almost a quarter of the way through, she struck something hard inside the tree—a knot or growth—and she couldn't push the saw further. Before she could release the trigger, the saw kicked back at her, ripping itself out of the tree and out of one of Shelley's hands. She held her grip and it swung back towards her chest too fast, and the base of the blade caught the side of her unzipped jacket. Shelley dropped the saw just as the blade wound itself around the jacket, sucked it in and tied it into a twisted hitch. As it came to a stop, it had eaten the jacket up to Shelley's armpit. It dangled loose, and its friction-seared chain pressed against her stomach. She stood rigid, reached to switch the chainsaw off with a numb and trembling hand. When it was off, she pulled off her jacket, stood back. The chain was convoluted impossibly in the fleece of her jacket. Shelley would have to tell the Moose that it was broken, that she broke it. He would have to fix it; he would say that it was all right, just don't do it without him. Don't do anything without him. Shelley cried.

She came home at night to the Moose, propped up on the couch in front of a blaring twenty-four hour news broadcast, inert. The only light came from the glare of the screen; it reflected off of the plastic that covered the bright yellow insulation in the walls, which gave the room a pale glow; he stuffed popcorn into his face even though he was allergic to it. The more Shelley watched the Moose, the more she was sure he'd always be there, always lying limp on some recliner, watching some TV, eating something out of a bag. Her stomach tightened.

Blood, Part Two

Shelley had made a rag for herself out of a tatter of lining that she'd retrieved from her ruined jacket, and the Moose must have found it sometime while she was drying it on the clothesline, because one day, he said: "So, you're gettin' your monthlies now, huh?"

Shelley stared at him, with no honest idea of what he was talking about. It was a cool evening, and they were on the dock, snag fishing with unbaited treble hooks.

"Your monthly,"—the Moose cleared his throat—"...womanlies. Bleeding."

"Yeah, I bleed." Shelley reeled the line, not expecting the hook to snag.

The Moose looked out at the water. He scratched with one finger at his bare chest, around a thick red circular scar.

"Well, do you need a how-to, uh, you think?"

Shelley's brow arched. "I don't know what you're gonna say, but say it."

"Listen, I know that I can't tell you much, 'cause this is a woman thing, a womanly burden, shall we say, and I guess I wish your mother was around, 'cause this womanly kind of thing just ain't my thing, Shel." The Moose began reeling in his line, waving the pole right and left to zig-zag the hook. He cleared his throat. "Is not my thing."

Her mother—Shelley heard it. The Moose had never mentioned her mother before. Shelley's jaw moved, and her tongue tensed to find a phrase or word that would keep him talking. She felt the slow seconds pass before she spoke.

"Why, what would Mom say?"

"Huh?" the Moose said, as if he'd thought the talk had ended.

"I mean, what do you think Mom would tell me? Like, you know, what was she like?"

The Moose was silent. He shifted on one buttcheek and then the other. Shelley was about to repeat herself, when her rod tipped and flexed downward in her hand.

"You got something," said the Moose.

"I asked you what she was like," Shelley said, putting the rod down.

"Hey, damn it, Shelley, you do not let the rod go on a catch!" The Moose tucked his pole between two planks of the dock and reached across Shelley to take hers. He faced the water with his whiskered jaw jutting, reeling in the taut line.

"Why won't you tell me about my mother?"

"Because," the Moose said, watching the line travel a rippling path through the water, "She ain't for you to know."

"Just tell me why. Tell me her name."

"Alice," he said, raising his voice. The catch coming closer.

"Her last name?"

Shelley saw tendons make a long ridge in the Moose's arm as he jerked the catch violently out of the water. He stood, and the fish on the line swung like a pendulum past his face. It was a small-fry salmon; the Moose had snagged it so fast that the treble hook had torn down its whole body from its gill nearly to its tail. A crooked red streak stood out against the slick pewter of the fish skin.

The Moose threw down the rod, and the salmon fell, lay between two slats on the dock, its tail flapping and dispersing a spray of bloody water. Its eye was lidless, wide, mouth shocked open. The Moose gave Shelley his iron stare, then turned and walked back home.

Friends, Part Two / Blood, Part Three / Home, Part Three

At Gerry's, Rena Langford said something gross.

"Pads, huh? Yeah, I use those too, I gotta. Every month I flow like the goddamn Nile, Jesus Christ, I swear."

They were out in front of Gerry's, sitting on an unpainted picnic table; Shelley was waiting for the Moose to come back with the supplies. Rena was smoking cloves, pushing, as she spoke, wisps of thin smoke and vapor through her wired teeth. She was proud to have braces, to be one of the few with a full set of straight teeth at Randall Cove. Her hair was gelled into sharp black thistles, and she wore rings on each finger and thumb.

"Yeah, every month, it's a hassle," said Shelley. Wind blew Rena's smoke into Shelley's face.

"They feel like diapers."

"Yeah," said Shelley, staring at her shoelaces.

"Up in Valdez, there was a guy who didn't mind I wore them. He said he liked to feel them through my panties," Rena said.

"Gross."

"Nah, it wasn't. That's how it is in the city," Rena said. She laughed.

Shelley looked up. "What do you mean, the city?" Valdez was four thousand people large.

"Well, it's more city than this shithole is," said Rena, flicking her spent stub on the dirt.

"Have you ever been to any real cities?" said Shelley.

"No."

"Are you ever gonna move to one?"

"Nah, couldn't do that. Couldn't leave." Rena pulled out another clove.

"Why?"

"Because, you know, I grew up here." She flicked a blue lighter at her lips behind a cupped hand.

"So?"

Rena looked at Shelley and said, "What, are you planning to leave?"

"If I can."

"To where?"

"The lower forty-eight. Maybe California," Shelley said, into her lap.

"The hell? You think you're too good for Alaska now?"

Shelley saw that Rena's face was becoming severe. "Aren't you always saying how much it sucks here?"

"Yeah, but I'm not gonna leave my home," said Rena. "All my friends are here." "Why can't you make new friends?"

Rena blew smoke in Shelley's face. "Fuck you. Not like you have any friends."

"At, at least I don't smell like a litterbox."

Rena held her cigarette up to her mouth, and for a moment, Shelley thought she was going to burn her with it. Rena opened her mouth, and a small smile formed at its sides.

"You wanna know something," Rena said. "About your mom?"

Shelley stared cold. Her heart awoke, strummed in rhythm. "What."

"My dad," Rena smiled wider. "He says your mom is your dad's sister. Isn't that gross? I guess that makes you a freak."

Shelley's eyes were wide.

"You've got freak blood. That's why you're so ugly, why you got all those fucking red spots on your skin," Rena said in a level voice, and took a drag.

Shelley wound up and then, moving her whole body, slapped Rena—she felt the surprised resistance of Rena's neck, the hard bar of cheekbone, a smudge of makeup on her hand. The cigarette flew from Rena's lips, and shards of her stiff bangs fell across her face. Shelley got off the picnic table, preparing to fight the taller girl. Rena regained herself and looked Shelley in the eyes. Her pale face was blooming pink on one side. She smiled, stood up.

"Your dad's a pervert," Rena said. "I bet he fucks you next." She jumped off of the picnic table, ran into the hunt shop, and Shelley didn't follow her.

Shelley's knees gave, and she sank until they grazed the ground. She sat on the dirt and took her face in her hands, did not cry. She had a thought, and it skimmed away like a water bug; more came and went.

Fifteen minutes later, she heard a car's tires crunching on the gravel road. It was the Moose, driving Gerry's pickup truck. In the back of the truck, Shelley saw dozens of corded-down bulk packages of maxi pads, pastel blue and pink boxes piled majestically above the cab. The Moose parked and got out, holding a slip of paper in his hands, a receipt.

"They're, let's see here, Always Ultra with... Flexi Wings," he said, rubbing his furrowed brow. He looked up. "Where's your friend?"

Why They Call Him the Moose

The scar on the Moose's chest was palm-sized, red and rubbery, and it was surrounded by specks of smaller scars and black curls of chest hair. At home, slouched on the sofa, Shelley watched it as it rose and sank with his breathing while he fixed his eyes on the television. The room stank with the week's stale garbage, sweltered with the space heater cranked high.

"I talked to Rena yesterday," she said.

"Yeah," said the Moose.

"She told me something."

"What's that."

"She told me that my mother was your sister."

The Moose didn't move or blink, he just sat there. He grimaced. "Well. She's lying," he said, flat.

Shelley said it almost at a whisper: "Are you sure?"

"Yes. Rena is a goddamn liar."

"Why did she say it, then?"

"Because people are goddamn liars. Now shut your mouth and watch the TV."

"Why are you getting so mad?"

"You said Rena told you? That whore." He stood up, wobbled a little, paced.

"I'm not angry, dad. I don't care."

"That fucking little whore."

Shelley raised her voice, high, to an unaccustomed wail. "Dad, I don't care!"

The Moose ran his hands down his cheeks, then dropped his arms to his sides. He sat back down, into the couch.

"Sorry, Shel," said the Moose. His small body, his short hair, his broad face, none of them faced Shelley. "She ain't dead."

"Where is she?"

"Dunno. I dunno," The Moose shook his head. "I ain't seen her."

"Why not?"

"Because I did it to her."

"Did what?"

The Moose swallowed a syllable, and his voice tremored. He swallowed and turned to face Shelley with wet red-rimmed eyes. "I did something bad, and she ran away." The Moose turned back away and wiped his nose. "And she gave me you because she didn't want you. But I did. Okay? And I brought you here so I could keep you here and you could grow up in a good way. All right? No more to say than that."

Shelley nodded. Her mother was gone now, lost to her, and Shelley let it be lost.

"I just want to know something," said Shelley. "Then I won't ask you anything after that."

"Shelley, I'm sorry, that's all there is."

"Why do they call you the Moose? I mean, really?"

The Moose looked at Shelley, wavered an awkward smile. "Because of this," he said, gesturing with an open hand to the pendant of scar on his chest. "Moose got patches of hair on their chest. I got a hairless patch, and since people already call him Eagle 'cause of the bald spot on his head, I guess Gerry thought it'd be funny to call me that. The Moose."

"Oh," said Shelley. "I thought it was because—I mean, didn't you say before that you were hunting moose when you got that? When your father shot you?"

"No," said the Moose, "I wasn't."

The Dalmatian, Part Two

"It'll freeze to death if we leave it here," said Shelley. The rain had become a downpour, and the Dalmatian was still strained against its rope, blinking against the drops that fell in his eyes.

"Not our problem," said the Moose.

"We could take it home."

"No."

"It's going to die," said Shelley.

"We're not taking it home, and we're not stealing someone's dog," the Moose said, raising his voice.

The dog barked, and the Moose bared his own gapped teeth, whistled lightly and pointed away. Instead of obeying, the dog curled his lip, showing a crest of red gums and yellow teeth.

"It's not fair to keep it here," said Shelley. "We have to let it go."

"I ain't gonna argue."

"Well, I'm not going to leave it here."

The Moose scratched his scalp under his cap with his thumbnail. "Shelley. Come on."

"Why don't you ever care about anything?" Shelley set her jaw. "What if I was that dog?"

"Shelley, quit."

"If I was that dog, I know I wouldn't like it. I'm going to take care of this dog."

"No you are not."

"And I'm going to feed it. I'll give it a name. And you know what? In fact? He can live in my room, with me—"

The Moose took his rifle in his left hand, crammed two dirty fingers of his right hand in his cheek and blew a loud, ragged whistle that jabbed Shelley's eardrums. She scowled as he finished, and behind the Moose just then Shelley saw a spatter of mud and pine needles as the Dalmatian pitched forward, and with a soggy sound, its nylon rope went slack and it charged. The leash had broken through the rot of the damp log and it trailed behind the Dalmatian as it lunged at the Moose, crashing the small man down. All its teeth went to the Moose's rifle arm and its hind legs pinned the Moose's chest. Shelley's hand went into her pocket, to her knife; she wiped the rain from her eyes, grabbed the bony back of the Dalmatian and stabbed it once, again, four times in its side, pinning it down with her free hand, inhaling between thrusts. The knife tip slid in as if on oiled tracks. The dog struggled back with a gasp, trying to stand on wobbling legs. The Moose pushed it off, and it landed tense on the ground, curled. The Moose stood—Shelley saw a broken red oval on his arm—and he cocked and fired his rifle into the dog's flank. The discharge dashed it back a few inches. After a long half-minute of bared gums, blinking eyes, twitching paws, its breath withdrew into a silent contraction of its chest; it died. The Moose touched his right forearm, came up with a bloody palm.

"Are you alright?" said Shelley, glancing back at the dead dog. "Did it get you?"

"Doesn't hurt," said the Moose.

Shelley sheathed her knife without wiping the stains away. Her body felt light. The sound and the cold of the rain became apparent again. Shelley took the Moose's arm and examined the fresh bite; it was mangled, multiple. "We need to get back," said Shelley. "Let's go to the boat. We can call a doctor on the VHF."

"This is no problem. Quit makin' me a fool," said the Moose, taking his arm back.

"But what if it was rabid?"

The Moose shook his head, turned and started walking towards the boat, and Shelley picked up her guitar and caught up to walk beside him. As they walked, Shelley watched the Moose's forward-facing eyes with helpless concern, and, careful to avoid meeting his gaze, she stared, tried to look through him, into him, searching for lies, symptoms, silences, some emerging sign of madness.