40 - The Discovery

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Two days passed. Fluff did not return, and Liz did not address it. Nor did she broach that other unspoken topic, the elephant in the room. She didn't need to; Nat felt a pang of guilt and shame every time she saw Liam in his sling, the discolored bruising visible around the edges of his bandage. 

She wanted to apologize, but she didn't know what to say, or how to say it, or whether she really wanted to apologize or just to be absolved from her guilt. And the duty of absolving a grown-ups guilt was something she knew a child shouldn't have to bear. 

She wanted to ask him, too, about the dog. 

But she didn't. She didn't want to upset him, and she didn't want Liz to know they'd talked about it, and -- in some deep, hidden part of herself, didn't want to know the answer. She wanted to believe the story she had told herself about a little boy getting his hand caught in the narrow open mouth of a taxidermy dog because that was safe and sane and logical and she had put all of the superstitious nonsense away. 

She did not think about Matt Cook and his stories of the Fairfax Hound. 

She did not think about Miriam and the way she had fled from the house, or the fact that she had not seen her since. 

She most especially did not think of the Riveras, their memories now locked in a hall closet. 

She wished she could spend time at the store to keep her mind off of things, but Liz insisted on spending more of her time there, leaving Nat alone to play house. Apparently her distrust of Nat's supposed temper was not enough motive for Liz to pick up the slack with her own parenting. Nothing stood in the path of her ambitions, after all. 

Forcing herself not to think about all of the things that frightened her had left Nat with a lot of time to become bitter. 

She worked on finishing the couch, which Liz had not touched despite being gung-ho about refurbishing it earlier in the week. She called the pound about the cat. She cleaned a lot. She didn't need to. She had cleaned obsessively the day of The Incident, and the house was spotless. 

Spotless except for an odd, lingering stench near the garage. 

It was an odd, fleeting odor, present when she entered the sitting room from another room but seeming somehow to dissipate when she lingered a while in the room. The couch was almost finished, and she had thought that Miriam would like it. If she could ever convince the old woman to come back to the house. If she ever got to spend enough time at the shop to catch her and talk to her. 

The nagging odor became a distraction even in the garage, and she abandoned her work on the second day to search out the cause.

It smelled rotten, that sick-sweet smell of old meat. She wondered if perhaps Liam had been eating in here, dropping a sandwich beneath the sofa even though food was not allowed in this part of the house. Or a mouse, perhaps, had gotten inside the workings of the grandfather clock again and died. That had been an unpleasant thing to clean up last time; she hoped it was not that.

A cursory inspection of the room yielded nothing. The scent seemed to move as she walked, at times strong, other times vanishing; she could not trust her senses.

She could not shake the feeling that the dog was watching her as she circled the room.

She thought she could feel its glassy eyes upon her, boring small holes in her back. She imagined them like the eyes of the illustration in Liam's book: glowing crimson, flickering like fire.

Trying to push the thought away, she hesitated at the sitting room couch. It was heavy, a rickety antique that groaned when it was moved, but it was the only thing she had not searched behind. She should have gotten Liz to help, she thought, as she pushed a hip into the wooden frame; but when Liz was home she was distant, pale with dark circles under her eyes that had deepened each morning this week. Nat didn't want to bother her for something as trivial as looking for the cause of the a phantom smell.

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