Adrian practiced his acceptance speech in the shower. There was no
water, but he liked the acoustics.
“I like to think my animal rescued me, not the other way around.”
Yes, the audience would love that. The animal scuttled, made a chirping
sound that Adrian took for laughter. It sounded like an avalanche of
But what audience? Acceptance speech for what? Adrian felt dizzy.
“One day,” he reassured himself, “people will reward you for finding the
animal, and you’ll say, no, the animal found me.” It made sense.
The animal pretended to sleep. The cabin walls breathed along with its
Sometimes, novelties appeared in the cabin. What appeared now was a
knife on the floor outside the bathroom.
Adrian tiptoed across the unadorned living room to the spot where the
door had once been. He pressed his shoulders to the wall, spine
straight. He slid the knife atop his head and dug its tip into the wood
to mark his height.
The wood glimmered pink where the knife had wounded it. Adrian’s
heartbeat thumped in his fingertips. He measured himself again, then
compared the two marks. The second was an entire head lower than the
first. No cause for panic. Adrian knew you can’t control a cabin—now
expanding, now contracting with the moods of the animal.
The animal crashed from room to room.
Knife in hand, Adrian felt the tug of a memory: a child in a soccer
uniform, hair in braids, tongue poking through lost baby teeth. Adrian
had marked the girl’s height with crayon.
He realized his mistake too late: it was wrong to think thoughts that
made the animal sad. The animal, needed him, not some fleshy child
from the past. The animal inhaled and stretched wide. Adrian slid down
the wall, dark pooling in his brain.
He awakened in the shower intent on proving his regret. Too-hot water
dripped down his face; its iron taste pushed through his lips, seared
his tongue. The animal had fixed the plumbing.
In the corner of the bathroom was a pile of meals. The animal had gone
through the trouble of skinning them. The animal had been hunting, and
now it was back, and Adrian let it down, again.
It rolled into the bathroom, swam through boiling water at Adrian’s
feet, dove down the drain, cycled through the cabin and returned through
the shower head. It bathed Adrian in its cold.
He stepped out, dabbed his fresh burns. A hiking outfit hung from a hook
on the wall. The new clothes stuck to his wet skin and gummy blisters.
The animal spread itself thin over the hallway floor. Heel to toe,
Adrian’s feet tingled. The animal chirped—a song of glass breaking
Wind gusted across the living room floorboards. The door had returned
and stood open, revealing wilderness drenched in orange sunset.
Adrian stood trembling in the doorway. He glanced back for permission
from the animal.
It was all too much: the scent of wildflowers and campfire smoke; the
shock of a dragonfly grazing his cheek; the chime of water over rocks.
His boots crunched over the trail to the trees where a fire glowed.
Before Adrian reached the campsite, he heard wheezing near the stream.
The silhouette of a man kneeled down. To Adrian’s relief, he found the
knife tucked into his belt. He stalked through the brush to observe the
The man was unshaven, dirty, scooping water into a thermos with shaky
hands. When sunset lit the man’s face, it was so curious: It was him,
Adrian. A perfect copy. Either that, or an imposter.
The copy turned. Adrian ducked behind a rock, but the man yelled, “Hey!
Adrian stepped into the open.
“Are you a ranger?” the man asked, limping toward him.
“A what?” Adrian asked, gravelly.
“Can you help us?”
The man pointed through the trees. There were two others by the fire. A
young girl with braided hair clutched a purple teddy bear. A woman paced
in circles. They didn’t take notice of him.
Adrian furrowed his eyebrows, stared at the man. Did the man seriously
not recognize him? They were each other. Oh, the animal would love
this. It would chirp and chirp.
“How long have you been out here?” Adrian asked. He noticed the flaking
of the man’s sunburned lips.
“Three days,” he answered. “Maybe four.”
“Amazing how fast the trail can lose you, isn’t it?”
“Please,” he said. “Can you help us?”
Adrian stood on his toes to see the campsite. The woman took the
daughter in her arms. The daughter brushed ashes off her teddy bear.
Adrian’s chest swelled warmly with longing.
“Of course,” Adrian said. “Of course I can help you.”
“Oh, thank god,” said Adrian, starting toward his family.
Adrian grabbed him by the arm, felt the tendons constrict. He stamped
hard on the ground. The other man flinched. “No.” He shook his head.
“No, no, not that way. I have a cabin. There’s food, and sometimes
“It’s just this way.”
Adrian groaned with each step. His ankle wobbled. “My daughter,” he
said. “She needs antibiotics. Do you have—”
“The animal needs us.”
“What needs us?”
“The animal needs us,” he repeated.
The trail to the cabin was one that Adrian had never seen. Not once, in
days of searching with his daughter on his back and his wife’s hand in
his. Halfway up the dark trail, he dared a glance back at his family.
Did they see him? Call after him?
Whoever those people were, he knew better than to dwell on them. “The
animal needs me,” he said, slipping through the cabin door.
The animal faked sleep, humming inside the lightbulb that swung from the
“I like to think my animal rescued me,” Adrian said, safe inside the
shower. “Wait, no. I like to think I found the cabin, not the other way
around.” Yes, it was perfect.