7.06 / June 2012

Little Beast

listen to this story

Margot kept things from the dig. She had a rusted fork that, when she touched its prongs to her tongue, tasted of done air. A tooth, a rib. Whose, she didn’t know. She didn’t trouble herself with ghosts. A rip of shirt, dusty soft. Blue leather, but a square. A cup, a saucer, separates.

She and her crew scooped the guts of the earth. There were bodies in the Plains, without names, without skin, old bodies. She found families, dusted mama’s and papa’s mandibles, respectively. Little baby bones, too, crunched and brittle. Like bits of bees’ comb.

Margot found the fist in a mob of cutlery; a steak knife nudged her knuckle, and then she felt the jut of cold flesh as the little fingers wrapped around her own index digit. When she pulled her hand from the dirt, she thought of a squid.

It was squishy, chilled, living somehow. Where it once met wrist, just a smooth nub, no ripped muscle or torn bone. It coiled its fingers tighter around Margot’s finger, and she felt the clammy sweat of a palm. So many years in the earth, Margot thought. And then she pocketed it.

Margot drove home at dusk, her sack of horsehair brushes and chip picks clanking in the back seat. The fist gripped air in her deep pocket. Margot thought of a baby, its frothy laugh, its chalky skin. Margot gave the fist her finger and it held her, did not let go until she got home.

At home, Margot watched the fist navigate surfaces, and thought of white spiders that prefer roses. The fist climbed up her arm and into her hair. It held the fuzz on her neck, climbed over her scalp and rested, fingers fluttering, behind her ear.

Margot thought of the earth, of its contents; it held the dead. The fist tumbled from her tresses and scurried down her arm, found a home in her palm. She thought she felt a pulse beneath the white skin.

Margot squeezed.

She felt the fist panic, the fingers try to spring apart. But she squeezed harder. She felt a bone snap, and then a second, and so on. Skin yielded flesh; Margot watched as a soft seep of blood silked through her fingers. The fist stopped moving; she forgot its possible pulse.

Next day, Margot looked out over the Plains-flat, everywhere. Shadows pulled over the low grass. Crops choked on dust. Her crew pulled their bandanas over their noses and mouths. They coughed nonetheless. Nothing really lives here, she thought, and returned to her work.

Eliza Smith was born in Los Angeles, but now she lives in Berkeley, which suits her better. In college she studied folklore, namely ghost stories, and now she writes them.
7.06 / June 2012