A body emerges from the river, climbs the muddy bank to the road to an intersection. On each corner the decaying remnants of a strip mall, and acrid gutty men readying the properties for demolition. They call out to the body, "Where are you going?" Whistle. Spit. The body goes. The next intersection: more strip malls, only recently shuttered and now for sale, store signs removed but their names still apparent in the dirt on the walls. Another intersection and another and another.
The body is accosted by a man nervously tapping his wristwatch. He is thin and swampy. He looks the body over, gauging the body's susceptibility, and what is in his control and what is not. He offers the body a ride, forcing the body into the backseat of a car with him and an oversized briefcase, which he remarks, laughing stiffly, he could fit a body into if needed. He tells the driver go. He describes the body's skin as they are driving: soft and wet. He explains his sudden need to urinate. He tells the driver stop. They pull over at a bank.
The driver scrutinizes the body through the rearview mirror. He thinks about what no one expects. He thinks about a man whose throat was slit at random in the produce aisle of a grocery store in a podunk town that could be this town or every town in America. He wants to ask if there is somewhere they should be going or are they just going? He says, "Do you want to know what's in the briefcase?" When the body does not answer, the driver says him neither.
The man returns with a second, smaller briefcase. They speed away, the police passing them in the other direction. The man puts his hand on the body's thigh. "It's the emergencies in life that give us a reason to dance," he says. "My trouble is somebody's always watching. If I asked you both to close your eyes a moment, would you?"
They are involved in a broadside crash. There sure is blood. The driver is dead. And the driver of the other car and her husband, too, are dead. They were a mother and father. The girl is unharmed, though shaken, horror in her eyes, and covered in her parents' gore. The man touches her head. "It's just stillness," he says. "The same as posing for a photograph." Down on one knee, meeting her eyelevel, he asks her to smile.
He recovers the suitcases from the wrecked car. He empties them both: bags of money, and a gorilla suit. The body is still in the backseat. He does not know if the body is just now dead or had been dead from the beginning. He undresses, putting his clothes on the body. He puts on the gorilla suit. He insists that he is not a bad person, that he is victim of the same feelings of boredom, guilt, and curiosity as everybody else. He asks the girl if she believes in souls. He worries that she may have a concussion or an impenetrable long-term sorrow. The man tries to ease her feelings by telling her that we all have the same lead in our drinking water. He splits the money between the two briefcases. He leaves one inside the car with the body. He shoves the girl inside of the other. He notices the driver's face is stuck to the windshield. A smile or a grimace? He adjusts his mask so that he can breathe, its polymer mouth also an emotion he cannot tell.
Sometimes the driver woke up running for his life. He did not know how he came to be where he was or where he was going. He was undressed except for a gun, aiming from the waist. His lungs burned. He struggled to maintain his stride in the deep snow. He lost his footing. He began to slide down a hill towards the river. He stabbed at the ground with the gun's muzzle to try to keep from sliding into the river. It was too late. The water was frozen. He was on his hands and knees on top of the water. He looked into the water for bodies. He liked to watch the river at its wildest and most dangerous, when the muddy banks loosened and secreted away the homeless from under the bridge. He had thought those bodies were vanished forever because no one would ever come looking for them, but now he was looking.
There was nobody inside the river. His saliva hanged from his lips, thick from exhaustion. He hated that he was overcome with the feeling that he should be grateful, that any other time of year he would be drowned and vanished like everybody else, that this salvation meant something, that from this moment forward his life needed to mean something. He considered shooting himself right then or else laying on the ice until the seasons changed. He lay down. His skin adhered to the ice. He could not shut his eyes completely. The sky was lightening. Spring happened. The smell of damp soil and the messy intertwining of root systems turned his stomach. His lower body was inside the river. He propped the rest of himself on what was left of the ice, which lessened and lessened until finally he was deposited onto muddy banks.
He heard footsteps. He looked up. A bear. He stood up. He raised his arms. He made himself look big. He made it clear that he was a predator. He fired at the sky. The bear was running away. He lowered the gun, fired at the bear, shooting it dead through the back. He wanted the bear's carcass, but it was the size of a bear and he was not as big as he looked. He pulled a stone from the river and knocked the sharpest teeth from the bear's mouth. He skinned the bear with its own teeth. He did not find beauty in the natural world or in life conceptually or aesthetically. He put on the bear's skin like his own skin and loathed it. A bear cub came out of the thicket and tried to touch him. He picked it up and threw it into the river. It did not drown. It swam, then ran back to him. There was no escape. He wrapped the bear cub in its mother's skin. Like a tramp, he slung it over his shoulder, except he went home. He locked the bear cub inside the garage. He sat in the living room. His scrotum stuck to the sofa. The television was on—muted and snowy. The faucet was running in the kitchen. He wanted to urinate. His daughter sat on the sofa with him. She offered him a glass of water. She said, "You look so much older."
He said, "You too."
"Is your mother still here?"
"She promised me you'd die first."
"There's a bear cub in the garage."
"You look hurt."
"You're not dead?"
"I am not."
"Then mother's here somewhere."
"Hurt, I reckon. Either you're dead or you're hurt."
"Is the bear cub hurt?"
"I don't know what it realizes."
"It's when for a long time you don't realize and then you do that it hurts the most."
"When it happens out of nowhere. I know."
"Is it soft?"
"You tell me."
She went to the garage. She came back holding the bear skin. She said, "Is this for the wreck room."
"But it's already dead."
"And the bear cub?"
"I don't know yet."
They took the bear skin to the wreck room. Everything was covered in plastic—the television, the chairs, the bar and barstools and the pool table. There was an assortment of tools and weapons and gallon jugs of bleach and ammonia in cabinets and on shelves. They lay the bear skin on a tarp on the floor. They put on heavy boots. They stomped the blood out of the bear skin. They tore the bear skin to pieces with their teeth. They put the pieces into a trash can and set it on fire. They inhaled the smoke. They collapsed onto the floor. They looked at each other like strangers.
"There's so much distance between us. It's becoming more every day."
"Until one day I'm right behind you."
"Where are you going?"
He started the car. He startled the bear cub. The gas tank was full. The bear cub cried. He turned back. He looked at his daughter. She looked at him. They resembled each other in that they were always looking for something the other did not have. He pretended that he did not hear her when she said she could not remember a time when he was not gone in some way. He told her that he left the car running. She smiled. They put their ears to the garage door, listening to the bear cub becoming quieter, quieter.
The girl wakes up tied to a chair with paracord. The gorilla suit is on the floor like a throw rug. That man is gone, but there is another, pale and rat-like in appearance, his top lip fluttering as he breathes in and out of his mouth. He refers to himself as the opener. He is wearing khaki pants, a green polo beneath a camouflage vest, and a name tag with no name, just a title: store clerk. He dangles a set of keys in front of the girl's face. They are inside a large department store. An outdoor recreation store. "There's no way out of this except through me," he says, but he knows that the girl knows that he is badly wounded. He pierced his thigh with a hunter's arrow attempting to kill the man in the gorilla suit. He scolds her that he is not hurt. He pulls the arrow out of his thigh. "See," he says. "Fine," he says. Moments later he is completely bled out.
The girl wriggles free from the chair. Her neck aches from being cramped inside of the briefcase, from having tried to sleep upright in a chair. She drapes the gorilla suit over the opener's body. She opens a granola bar. She listens to the overhead lights buzzing, to the hum and whoosh of morning rush hour traffic outside. She wanders the aisles and aisles of guns, camping gear, and expensive ready-for-anything clothing. A sale sign on an endcap reads: where are you going? On another: where do you want to go? She shivers when she passes the front entrance. The glass doors are broken where the man in the gorilla suit tried to escape. His naked body is face down in the parking lot, surrounded by thick red smoke from an exploded dye pack.
The girl pulls on a fleece jacket. The tag reads: this will last you forever. It is the softest thing that she has ever felt. She is the most comfortably warm that she has ever felt. She notices a camera directly above her. It moves as she moves. There are cameras everywhere, following. She thinks about what the man in the gorilla suit told her at the scene of the crash, about posing for a photograph. She wonders who is taking the photographs. She wonders how she looks, standing in front of a full-length mirror in the hunting section. She is wearing a trapper's cap and holding a skinning knife.
She may be smiling, or she may not.
She has come to the conclusion that lives are about taking and being taken. She undresses every mannequin, pushes them to the front of the store. She dresses them as she is—fleece, hat, knife. She stands as one of many indiscernible bodies ready to take violently. The cameras are confused, focusing and refocusing until suddenly they turn toward the broken glass doors. A bear. The girl takes a deep breath. She closes her eyes. She grips the skinning knife tighter.