She said her weird uncomfortable goodbyes to Emily and walked out of their split level, stumbling over the uneven sidewalk. The air was warm for January. It wasn't only warm, it was humid. It wrapped around you like a giant hot sleepy breathy sigh, and clung to her arms. She took off her cardigan in the car and turned down the heat, the car windows fogging up and she felt like swimming? Like rolling around in solid room temperature water balloons. Like being wrapped in the outside shiny part of a sleeping bag naked, by yourself, waking up on a spring morning after it rained. It smelled like plant sex. She was grossly aware however of the open container she was now driving with, and the clock showing after midnight rather than before. Of being stuck all the way in Chesterland which was pretty much a place that didn't even exist except to get you pulled over when leaving high school friends' houses stoned at 3am, trying to navigate around deer and cops and drunk oncoming SUVS on steep needlessly picturesque turns. The possibility of cops everywhere sat on her spine hypertense and pricking. The roads were all way too dark.
She had been driving for ten minutes, very successfully she thought and oh thank god she was back with some streetlights finally (streetlights being the main sign you are back in civilization), when a large animal scampered into the road. She gasped and jerked the wheel, tried to stay on the road but the asphalt was slick with cloud sweat, and the car slid down the embankment into a field of tall grass. She was fine. The car seemed fine too, didn't hit anything at least. She got out shaken, and looked back at the road to see if she had hit the thing.
She hadn't, and the animal had paused in the pool of yellow municipal light to look back at her. It was a koala bear. No it's not, she thought, and squinted to make out if it was a dog maybe, or a raccoon. It was definitely a koala bear. It didn't even run, so she could maybe pretend she had seen something wrong later. It just sat there, being a koala bear, with fuzzy round ears, and was it snarling at her? Shit, it looked like it was snarling, there was the glinting of tiny little koala bear teeth. She had zero desire to approach it, and stood her ground until the thing that was a koala bear but could not possibly be a koala bear loped off into the dark.
The car was stuck in field mud, and she didn't want to call the cops for obvious class warfare reasons, so she called Roadside instead, and then decided to walk down the street until she saw a light on somewhere. It was nice being a girl sometimes, especially when knocking on strangers' doors at 12:45 in the morning. She started to pick her way through the broken dead grass, when she felt a different kind of pricking. The sensation that something much larger is behind you. She turned around quickly and saw a tall lean creature, something between a horse and an antelope? Maybe an elk? But with stripes like a zebra on part of it? It was standing less than five feet away from her in the grass, and looked rank dirty unkempt, as wild animals do when you finally see them in person. Insinuating worms and parasites in their breath. The air was filled with the smell of animal urine. As her eyes focused in the darkness, she saw that not only was it staring directly at her, but an entire herd of the creatures was staring at her, camouflaged in the grass, sniffing at the car snuffling around her tracks, but never losing eye contact. They were huge, monumental.
She tried to remember what Zoobooks had taught her. Looking in their eyes was a challenge and she shouldn't? But also she shouldn't show fear and stand her ground? What were you supposed to do with big dogs? Weird antelope creatures couldn't be much different from dogs, it was all pack or herd domination right? She tried to catch her breath and stand very very still. Maybe they could only see you when you moved, like a T Rex?
The leader started to moan, a low guttural mooo that very clearly meant Get the Fuck Away.
So she ran.
It was a mistake, or maybe it would have all been a mistake. Several of the antelope immediately started chasing her, and since they were goddamn mutant antelope, caught up to her fat little human worm legs easily. The large one bit her on the shoulder, and another swung its huge head like a wrecking ball into her side. She was knocked into the mud, searing pain shooting up from her lungs. The forest around her tittered with parrots, what the fuck parrots? She froze on the ground, unaware of the tears and snot that were flowing silently down her face. The antelope stood around her, the Leader pawing the ground next to her and staring down the others as if he had won her. His mouth was like a horse's, with large grumbling crumbling flat molars, thick curled lips and nostrils. She felt warm sticky blood mixing with warm sticky air on her back, and the ground was wet and sinking underneath her, it smelled like manure. She lay there for what seemed like hours days the rest of her life, mud soaking through her tights, fingers clenched into the earth, holding her breath not only to stay completely still, but because taking a breath meant that fiery unbearable pain. She felt sure she had a broken rib, and she had never broken any bones before ever, had no idea if she should move, if she was supposed to. It was so much more terrifying than she had anticipated, having a bone, a piece of your skeleton and the very thing holding you together the only thing really tying your wet sloppy mess of innards together be shattered and torn like tissue paper. She tried to remind herself, lying there in the wretched stinking mud in the dark surrounded by creatures that looked like they belonged in the Congo, not in Northeast Ohio ever for any reason but especially not in January, she tried to remember that other people had gone through worse, like being eaten alive by antelope, no..wait. She tried to remember that antelope did not usually eat people. But also koala bears do not usually snarl, and it was usually cold in winter, and where the fuck were the cops now? She tried to be reasonable, do not panic Beth, but what her brain was telling her over and over was Stay Still. You Are Dead. Stay Still. You Are Not Dead. But Stay Still. Nothing is Ever Going to Happen Again. This Is Your New Existence. She pissed herself, and the warmth running down her thighs and spreading into her tights like a sponge was a relief, to feel something new besides pain and wet mud and fear. The antelopes' noses twitched, and one nudged her thigh and licked it. The tongue was unbelievably big, an actual muscle. She cringed at the sight of those teeth. The mouths of animals were horrible.
The herd eventually lost interest, and started grazing around her, but the Leader never took his hard little eyes off her. If she even shifted her foot, he was ready to attack again, his ears twitching and that horrible ghost moan gathering in his barrel chest. Hours and hours and hours and hours later, somehow she fell asleep, or passed out. When she woke up, they were gone, and the tow truck driver was standing over her, on the phone, holding the broken brown glass remnants of the bourbon bottle that had shattered into her chest through her coat pocket.