“I just wanted to know what it was like to sit here and wait for you,” he said.
She sat in his lap and kissed him. She felt undone and crazy. The world was nothing like she’d imagined it would be. She would have left her life right then, traded it in completely, if he had asked her to. Instead, he went out the back door. He left town the way he’d come, through the orchard. There was barely any light by then, but some boys out playing baseball thought they spied a monster and they all took off, running for home.
When he returned to the woods, he dragged the man’s body into the forest with him. He covered his tracks. He took the body to the bear’s cave and hid it beneath a heap of branches. The old bear’s skeleton was in there and Matthew kept one of the bear’s teeth for luck. He could guess what people in town would think. He set fire to his shed that night. He packed up only the belongings he would need and watched the rest of it burn.
He took the car that had been parked in the scenic overlook. It was a better specimen than the one he’d arrived in, with four new tires. Cal’s friend had left the keys in the ignition for a quick getaway. When Matthew opened the glove compartment, he found Lucy Jacob’s hair ribbon, a token her killer had kept. Before he left, he buried the ribbon in the woods. He didn’t drive through town on his way out of Blackwell. That would have been too much for him. Instead, he went north, toward New York State, where he supposed he’d come from. He avoided Albany, which meant nothing to him and had never been home, but some months later he did venture into a small town near Saratoga, where he went into the post office, ignoring the stares of the clerks behind the counter, and bought stamps for an envelope addressed to Blackwell.
When the letter arrived, Kate didn’t open it until she was in the woods. She went off alone, as solitary as she had been ever since she’d met him. It was bear season, November, when the bears were most active, preparing for winter. After the incident on the road, a band of Blackwell teenagers found the charred remains of Matthew’s shed. They carted their findings down to the police station. There were some books, along with pots and pans, the remnants of clothes, pieces of what looked like a handcrafted table and chairs. People were stunned. There had indeed been a monster up on Hightop, although now he was clearly gone. Everyone assumed he was responsible for the attacks in the woods. Lucy Jacob’s parents were relieved they could have some sort of closure in the matter of their daughter’s death. Cal even accepted some cash from a journalist in exchange for telling his sister’s story. Kate ran into him once, in the AtoZ Market.
“I guess you were right,” she said to Cal. “There are monsters.”
He’d been so intent on looking for them, he’d brought one to town in the form of his so-called friend, a man who had disappeared, whose car Matthew abandoned when he reached Saranac Lake, from where he made the rest of his way on foot.
Kate sat in a clearing. She was certain they would be growing worried at home. They would be standing at the door wondering why she went off walking when the woods were clearly dangerous. She opened the letter only to find it wasn’t a letter at all. It was the first poem her beloved had written, on the evening after Cal Jacob wandered off the road into bear territory, when he first knew what they were to each other and she didn’t want to know.
It was a decision before it was a question.
That was the way things happened in the human world.
In our world, a leaf falls one day and we know it’s time.
We feel our hearts slowing down.
We try to fight it with cold water, bee stings, fresh kills.
But the leaf has fallen, the water doesn’t rouse us.
When we sleep we dream more than any other creatures.
We dream of entirely different lives.
We are men and women.
We walk and talk in houses, and fields, and farmyards.
Leaves mean nothing to us. Thousands can fall and we look
the other way.
A beautiful woman walks toward us and we fall in love.
We feel it happening, but can’t stop it.
In your world, love pins you to the ground.
You take it to bed and wake up with it.
You dream it and it becomes your life.
I knew I’d never sleep through a winter again.
I took a knife and cut myself to see how fast I would bleed.
Slow, and I would be a bear forever.
Fast, and I was yours.
I nearly died from a single wound.
That was what it meant to be human.
IT WAS EARLY SUMMER WHEN THE NEW people moved into the cottage behind the Blackwell History Museum. The museum had once been the grandest house in town, a gabled three-story building with arched windows, but for many years those elegant rooms had held displays of dinosaur bones, cases of beetles and butterflies, and shelves of unusual rocks. There was a collection of tools the first settlers of Blackwell had used—wagon wheels, axes, a black frying pan—as well as an exhibit of local mammals, which included a wolf that was coming apart at the seams, two moth-eaten foxes, and several large desiccated brown bats that frightened visitors from the elementary school. Local children swore the museum was haunted. They whispered that the bats came to life at night. If you stayed past closing, they would tangle into your hair, biting your neck deeply enough to draw blood.