Harper knocked on wood four times, gentle and polite.
Something was off about the day, even if the wide prairie sky seemed hand-painted and the breeze swayed stalks in the fields. Lots of people called it lots of things over the years—‘women’s intuition,’ anxiety, connection to The Divine. Her ex-husband dismissed it all, just like her stories about her past lives. Harper, after all, couldn’t possibly know that she’d been wrongfully arrested for murder in the 50s, or that she’d been a prehistoric healer, or that she’d died of a sword wound as a boy in his mother’s arms.
Harper knocked on wood three times, harder and louder.
Her ex had thought everything about her was ridiculous, or some other unpleasant synonym for it—her complaints about how her sister treated her (petty), her romantic history with women (irrelevant), and her curiosity about local insects (childish). Harper lived alone now, which only made these Bad Day Feelings worse. She had already texted her friends’ group chats to make sure they were all fine, and she’d even sent a meme to her sister with the full knowledge that she would be left on read because at least it was confirmation that she was still alive.
Harper knocked three times more. Her knuckles began to feel bruised.
Some things, Harper just knew. She couldn’t explain it, and she’d stopped trying when a friend recommended she try an in-patient therapy program. But her anti-anxiety medications were working just fine; she was perfectly lucid. Harper just happened to know that she would get breast cancer when she was in her 40s, and she’d have a dog who got hit by a truck, and she’d divorce. When she told the last one to her sister shortly after they’d separated, her sister had said, “Well, honey, anyone could have guessed that he was a tower of red flags in a toxic masculinity trench coat from a mile away. Except, apparently, you.”
Harper pulled out her phone, trying her mother again. She was the only one who hadn’t answered, and the longer it went on, the deeper the pit inside of Harper grew. For as much as she knew—past, present, and future—so many details were a blur, important details like when her mother would die. She didn’t understand the point of all this knowledge if a heart could stop in a chest without warning.
Most people think cheetahs are the fastest animal. Most people don’t think to look up. If they did, they’d know that a peregrine falcon with the intent to kill can dive at 200 mph; a cheetah can’t even reach 100.
Talia wanted to be a paleontologist first. She was four, and she thought that she’d be able to work with real-life diplodocuses and pterodactyls. Once she realized they were all long-dead and she’d be working with bones or, at best, models, she abandoned the idea.
There are some goats that can climb almost vertically. It looks like an optical illusion, this kind of upward ascent.
She wasn’t sure what to blame. It could have been the Lisa Frank notebooks, or a story she’d read about Jane Goodall, or the field trips to zoos and aquariums. But her next choice was to work in conservation. Even when she was still losing teeth, that was how she phrased it: “I want to work in conservation.” Her mother always screwed it up, made it cutesy: “Oh, yeah. My Tal Pal wants to work with animals!” She guessed it was lucky that her mother paid attention at all.
A World Wildlife Fund report said that there was a 69% decrease in animal species since 1970. That sounded clinical, distant, this disappearing.
Talia had set herself up: she took AP Bio in her junior year of high school, got a job slinging elephant shit at the local zoo over the summer. She thought she was home free. It had been years since he touched her, but it started again after her father was pushed into retirement. She tried telling her mother, but either her mother didn’t believe her, or she did and was pretending she didn’t.
Scorpions always freaked her out. The way they ate—shredding their victims into ribbons first.
No relatives would take her in. The best she could manage at 17 was a domestic violence shelter. He wouldn’t pay for college now, of course. She didn’t have money for food, not to mention application fees. Everyone assured her that she could always go later, that at least she’d gotten out, at least she was safe.
It’s rare for an animal to be presumed extinct only to later be discovered thriving.
Audrey T. Carroll is the author of the What Blooms in the Dark (ELJ Editions, 2024) and Parts of Speech: A Disabled Dictionary (Alien Buddha Press, 2023). Her writing has appeared in Lost Balloon, CRAFT, JMWW, Bending Genres, and others. She is a bi/queer/genderqueer and disabled/chronically ill writer. She serves as a Diversity & Inclusion Editor for the Journal of Creative Writing Studies, and as a Fiction Editor for Chaotic Merge Magazine. She can be found at http://AudreyTCarrollWrites.weebly.com | Twitter: @AudreyTCarroll | Instagram @AudreyTCarroll.