41 - Fever Dreams

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Nat napped, intermittently, feeling almost feverish with grief.

When she closed her eyes, she saw Fluff's mangled body, the missing flesh. The exposed bone, and those awful sunken eyes.

But when her eyes were open, staring up at the light that shifted across the ceiling with the flutter of curtains, she felt sick. Like she was on a boat, unmoored and adrift, buffeted by waves. It felt as though the bed were rocking, undulating; like she'd had too much to drink and the world was spinning with threats of upheaval.

She sought the wall with her hand, laying the palm flat against the plaster, seeking stability the way she used to when she was drunk in college. She tried to ground herself in space and time, willing the churning whirlpool of her stomach to quiet. 

Out in the hall, and beyond, there were sounds. Thumping. The rustle of plastic — a garbage bag, probably. More thumping. Scraping. Doors opened, and closed, and Nat lost track of the movements, no longer able to connect them to actions, unable to concentrate enough to track what was happening.

It was a small mercy that her brain granted her, not having to think about Fluff being wrapped in a bag like garbage. It was a meager kindness, in the midst of everything, that she did not wonder what Liz was doing with the body of her friend. 

Her cat. Hers. The only thing she had left that had been hers, the last part of her old life, now torn apart and thrown away. 

She must have slept at some point because there were gaps of missing time. The quality of the light overhead changed every time she opened her eyes. Hours must have been moving in the world, even as she was stuck in a place in her mind where time was standing so awfully, brutally still. 

The wind rustled the curtains. How long had that window been open?

That window that Fluff could have escaped from. Could have dragged himself back inside through.

She remembered, again, the unnatural curve of his spine. The way pieces of him were missing. There was no way. No way.

But where was the blood, she asked herself, the voice in her head not sounding like herself. If the hound had killed him, where was the blood?

It was absurd. Taxidermied dogs couldn't kill a cat. They were dead. No more alive than the furniture.

And yet. She had left it behind in the desert, hadn't she? And there it was, waiting for her when she got home. Or had that only been a dream, something she'd imagined she had done? It was so unlikely. So absurd. And yet telling herself that did nothing to quiet the rising panic that tightened her chest and threatened to smother her.

Miriam had been so frightened. She had touched the dog and felt something evil and wretched and she had fled from the house. 

But she was a batty old woman. She talked to the fox she wore around her shoulders. It was not a shining commendation of sanity to be on the same side as an eccentric old lady. 

Nat inhaled and breathed out a long, slow breath from her mouth. Her breath tasted like sickness. 

Dead dogs couldn't rip apart cats. They could not bite children. They could not run home after being left behind. These things were impossible. 

She had to remember that these things were impossible. But knowing that meant something else, something just as awful. If these things were not true, then she was crazy. If she couldn't trust her memories, she couldn't trust anything. 

Something killed Fluff. Something murdered him and hid him under the couch for her to find. 

Matt Cook was dead, she remembered. A freak accident; crushed to death by a moose head. Killed by taxidermy, indeed.

But that was a different sort of thing.

Wasn't it? 

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