Yvette knelt on the splintery floor of a shack. Outside, through a fractured pane of glass she saw rocks tumbling down the bluff, heard them pounding the shack's corroded roof, the rusted metal vibrating in a thunderous roar. All around her, the shack trembled and shook, threatening to collapse at any second--and then, she sat up in bed. In the room across the hall her husband, Robert, snored.
Yvette rose, slipped into sweats and sneakers and headed downstairs. On the kitchen wall, a grinning cat clock ticked away the minutes with steady swings of its tail and its rolling, oversized eyes. It was 1:00 A.M. She didn't know which was worse, the nightmares or her real life.
There were sixteen clocks downstairs, including a mantel clock above the fireplace and a grandfather clock at the bottom of the stairs. There were nine clocks upstairs, all synchronized and in perfect running order, their mechanisms a perpetual, monotonous, tick-tock, tick-tock. Before they were married, Yvette had been impressed with how Robert maintained them. She remembered thinking that anyone who took such care of clocks would, surely, take good care of her.
Earlier that evening, after work, Robert had asked, "Did my new clock kit arrive?"
"But they said it would arrive in three days." His voice had the tone of a boy told by his father they couldn't go to the big baseball game.
Robert's lips pressed together into a flat line beneath his trim, brown mustache. Even his natty bow tie seemed to lose its usual flair. Recently, Yvette had decided she disliked bow ties. They were too fussy.
"It will probably show up tomorrow." She grabbed a dishtowel and squeezed it to keep from reaching out to deliver a motherly pat on his head.
After dinner, Yvette eased down on the sofa beside Robert, rubbing in hand lotion. Channel 2 always ended its news broadcast with a peculiar story, something that sparked the imagination.
"We've all heard tales about a mysterious, elusive creature in Boggy Meadow," the announcer said with his familiar, toothy grin. "He startles picnickers and then vanishes, right? Well, someone has caught the creature on video. We'll give you a glimpse, right after a word from our sponsors."
Robert lowered the newspaper and picked up the remote.
"Wait." Yvette reached out, accidentally knocking it from his hand.
Robert blinked and rubbed his knuckles as if he'd been stung.
"Sorry." Yvette retrieved the remote from the carpet.
"I'd like to see that bit about the bog creature."
"You don't really believe there's a wild man in the swamp, do you?"
"I . . . of course not."
The day they moved into their suburban farmhouse, she heard the realtor tell Robert that the original owner had vanished without a trace. That's why it was such a bargain, he’d said. They’d paid half the market value for the property.
"I don't like the idea of living here if the first owner was murdered," Yvette told Robert the first night they spent there.
Robert chuckled. "He probably just wandered out into the swamp, and that flying lizard-man grabbed him. Ate him for dinner maybe."
Yvette didn't think a man's disappearance was amusing, but she wanted to believe in something exciting, something romantic. Maybe the Boggy Man was not only real, but the last of his kind, an indigenous wild man defending his shrinking habitat.
Robert pointed at the mantel clock. "Antique World comes on in a couple of minutes. They're going to appraise antique clocks."
"You won't miss any of it."
The announcer returned with his professional smile. "Now, without further delay, footage of the creature we've named The Boggy Man."
"A group of students from the local Tech-Institute were at the county park for some off-road motor biking, when, according to one of the victims, they were attacked by the bog creature," as the tape began to roll.
Yvette recognized the area shown in the video. Behind the campground was a steep bank scarred with trails. Bikers cruised the parking lot, wobbling in slow circles, lining up for runs at the hill.
With a sudden flash of movement, a naked figure leaped from a clump of brush. His thick, black hair hung loose to his shoulders and large fan-shaped ears cupped the sides of his head. His corded neck rose from wide, bulging shoulders and across his back were wings folded down his spine that reached below his knees. He threw his brawny arms around a biker and dragged him from his motorcycle into bushes, and then they both vanished.
"Yvette?" Robert nudged her knee. "Yvette?" Robert's brows were drawn together over the bridge of his nose. "Antique World is starting."
Yvette went upstairs. She hadn't thought about Robert as a problem until last year. He was the same punctilious man she'd married ten years ago, clean, reliable and with a good job at the Meadowland National Bank. He left for work at 8:30 sharp and pulled into the garage at precisely 6:15. He stayed up to 11:00, cleaning and polishing his clocks or assembling the intricate timepiece kits he ordered through the mail. It wasn't his fault that she was asleep by 10:00, and it wasn't his fault she didn't respond to his fastidious lovemaking. She would be asleep in her own room when Robert turned off the television at 11:00. Because of Robert's snoring, Yvette had moved into the guest room last year.
# # #
The cat clock rolled its eyes to the left with every tick and to the right with every tock of the clock. It was 2:45. Yvette opened the back door. A full porcelain moon glowed against the boundless black sky.
The air felt cool against her face. She inhaled as if she'd been holding her breath for a very long time. The moon glared down, illuminating the yard's emptiness and lighting up the picket fence like a row of spears. She found herself at the gate. The border of Boggy Meadow lay just beyond. The marsh meandered for miles through a twisting valley, nearly a mile wide in places, less than a quarter mile in others.
Was he out there? In the marsh?
On the other side of the gate, the winding path was a gray ribbon in the moonlight. Yvette lifted the latch and stepped through.
The gate bounced against the fence and swung closed behind her. A tree-frog croaked nearby. She felt the brush of leaves against her legs, heard the sound of her own breath, and when she paused, could hear the whoosh of blood in her eardrums. She halted where birch trees grew in a circle with slender ghostly trunks poking up through moss like skeleton fingers. It had been a long time since Yvette felt so alive.
Yvette set her slippers on a rock to air. She lay back on the moss and closed her eyes, feeling like she could sleep for a week—or a decade. She glanced around. This place felt familiar somehow, this swamp. She almost recalled crawling naked from its ancient, steaming mud onto the bank of a primeval jungle, fingers and toes clutching the earth, cool shadows inching across her flesh, feeling her spine braid and ribcage sprout, her skull harden, her skin stretch, hearing the sound of her frame flexing and groaning in the wind, feeling her feet lift from the ground as virgin wings shoved the air down . . . soaring upward . . . upward into the rays of the sun.
Dawn approached. Yvette opened her eyes. For a second she'd heard Robert's voice, but the trees enclosed her the same as before, except now the shadows leaned in the opposite direction. She'd slept all day, alone in Boggy Meadow.
Yvette banged the soles of her slippers together. Dried mud fell away like dust. What would Robert say? What would she tell him?
The path back was a mere shadow, a streak in the undergrowth. Nothing looked familiar as she tried to retrace her steps. She must hurry. What time was it?
The trail sloped downward, steeper than she remembered. It was slick. Her slippers slid. She back-pedaled frantically and then the earth gave way underfoot on both sides, dropping into the ravine like earth into an open grave. She fell, clawing at undergrowth, dangling by a handful of roots, her legs flailing in mid air. Out of nowhere, a hand appeared from beneath a curtain of underbrush and gripped her wrist. A shaggy-haired man with bulging shoulders crouched in the mouth of a cave, eyes reflecting the twilight. As easily as lifting a child he pulled Yvette into the cave, into solid black air, where all she saw were a dozen lavender eyes glowing in the dark. From out of the blackness she heard a child whisper, "Is she one of us?" And then, what sounded like an old woman's voice, "Soon, soon." Yvette felt dizzy, resisted falling, and then gave into the sensation. She floated in black warmth.
# # #
Bright moonlight filtered through meadow grasses. Yvette's heart pounded until she realized she was alone in the cave. She crawled to the cave's mouth. Outside it was a straight drop into the ravine where jagged boulders glowed gray-white. Yvette climbed out of the cave on twisted roots and followed the nearest trail by moonlight. She paused several times, certain she heard soft footsteps behind her, but she saw no one. Hours later she opened the back door of the farmhouse.
"Yvette." Robert rose from the kitchen table looking rumpled and tired, as if he'd been there all night. His voice sounded dry.
"I went for a walk . . . got turned around," Yvette said.
"A walk? In the middle of the night?"
She felt awful, lying to him. "I had an upset stomach and thought fresh air would help. There was a beautiful full moon. I wandered away from the house and went through the gate and before long, I was just lost."
"I'll call the police," Robert said. "To let them know you're all right." His white shirt was loose and wrinkled. His bow tie lay twisted on the table.
"This is Robert Halt," she heard him say. "Is Lieutenant Bithouse in?" There was a pause and then, "Yes, Lieutenant, she was out in Boggy Meadow. She's fine, just a little muddy. Yes, it certainly is a relief. Yes. Thank you so much."
Yvette peeled off her nightgown and dropped it into the washing machine.
"Yvette!" Robert scurried to pull the drapes shut. Three hundred yards away a car zipped past, its headlights carving twin slices in the night. Were people looking? Should she care? She climbed the stairs, drew a bath and lowered herself through the steam. She rested one heel on the edge of the tub, lathered the leg with a bar of soap and picked up her razor. Stroking her shin with her fingertips, she felt the stubble and pictured her leg in another year if she let the hair grow. She tossed the shaver into the wastebasket and slid deeper into the water, closing her eyes, feeling her hair wave around her face like seaweed.
"Is there something you're not telling me, Yvette?" Robert stood beside the tub, his brows drawn together.
"You seem . . . different. Did something happen to you out there?"
He rubbed reddened eyes with stiff-looking fingers. "Did you see or talk to anyone?"
"No, I was just lost." Yvette knew he wanted an explanation. She closed her eyes, feeling more guilty than she'd ever felt before. Robert would never wander away and get lost. Robert was so reliable, so honest. She couldn't tell him she went looking for the Boggy Man!
Robert knelt beside the tub, placed his cool dry hand on her shoulder. "I know you're unhappy, Yvette. I've tried to be what you want—let me try again. I can be different."
Before she realized it, she was patting his hand and saying, "There, there," and sliding away from his touch.
A moment later his footsteps sounded on the bathroom's tile floor and she heard him going down the stairs.
Yvette toweled off and ran a comb through her hair, startled by the face in the mirror. Lavender eyes. Her eyes had always been green.
"Robert's a good man." Yvette jumped, surprised by the sound of her own voice. "He deserves someone better, he deserves some fun—some passion. He should have spent the night in Boggy Meadow instead of me. He needs an adventure, something that changes him." And then she realized she had changed. Into what, she wasn't certain, but she was different.
It was late afternoon when Yvette awoke again and journeyed downstairs. All was silent in the house except for the tick-tock, tick-tock, tick tock of Robert’s timepieces.
Tuesday: meat loaf, baked potatoes, broccoli. Yvette blended the ground beef with chopped onion, tomato sauce, egg, oatmeal, and salt and pepper in a mixing bowl, pressed the mixture into a loaf pan and shoved it into the oven along with two medium-sized potatoes. She rinsed and cut the broccoli and dropped the florets into the cold steamer, ready to cook five minutes before mealtime. At 6:14 she poured a glass of iced tea into a tumbler and waited for the sound of the garage door. The clocks all chimed the quarter hour as Yvette crossed the kitchen and opened the door to the garage. Robert's car was parked, but he wasn't there. She felt the car's hood. Cold. The car hadn't been driven. She thought back several hours and couldn't remember him leaving for work, she'd been sleeping so soundly.
Yvette ran upstairs. "Robert?" She hesitated at his door, afraid she'd find him dead; heart trouble ran in his family. It would be her fault if he was dead, her fault, worrying him, offering excuses about being lost all night. How could she have lied to him? He was a good man. A good man. He deserved better.
Robert's clean pajamas were folded on his pillow. They hadn't been worn. In the waste basket was his new clock kit. Yvette stared at the carton, at the way it was jammed into the waste basket, as if Robert had crushed it with his foot. She wondered if Robert would . . . no . . . he wouldn't harm himself. Would he?
She remembered that Lieutenant's name—Bithouse—called the police station and asked for him, but was told nothing could be done until Robert had been missing for twenty-four hours. Robert's day-planner lay on the corner of the dresser beside his keys and wallet. Yvette looked up his assistant's number.
"Louise, this is Yvette."
"You guys are back already?"
"Robert said he needed to get away for a bit. I assumed he meant a vacation . . . that you both—"
"When? When did he say that?"
"Last night. I was surprised. He never calls me at home unless it's terribly important, but it was only to say he'd be gone for a few days. Is something wrong?"
"Louise . . . I don't know where Robert is."
Yvette didn't hear what Louise said after that. She imagined Robert slipping on the trail, pictured him sprawled amidst the jagged boulders of the ravine. Her fault, all her fault! She'd always been a silly romantic, an impractical daydreamer.
The oven timer sounded and Yvette realized she'd been staring at the same spot on the wall with the phone receiver buzzing in her hand. She slid the meat loaf and potatoes from the oven to the stovetop. She dumped the broccoli into a plastic sack and put everything back into the refrigerator and sat down to wait. Robert's bow tie was still on the table. She tied it, untied it, retied it, held it to her face and inhaled his soapy scent. She slept.
At dawn Yvette opened the back door. The eastern sky was pale gold with a scatter of buttermilk clouds. She circled the back yard, summer grass crunching under her bare feet. She shoved the gate open and caught sight of a naked figure rising from the marsh—muddy, unshaven, with bunches of wild blue violets clutched in his moss-stained hands. Robert's eyes sparkled. Lavender eyes. He smiled.
Yvette raised her arms and waved, amazed by the sight of her own shadow, by the silhouette of dark wings stretching out across the golden grass. She remembered the cave and the child's whisper, "Is she one of us?" and the crone's reply, "Soon, soon."
Yvette stepped out of her nightgown and kicked it away. With a few thrusts of her damp, virgin wings, she rose from the ground, higher and higher, above the fenced yard, above the house, above the trees. Below her, Robert's glistening wings unfurled, flinging droplets of crystal moisture into the sunlight.
Yvette and Robert met in the pale dawn sky. Together they hovered over the steaming, misty meadow. They circled in the morning breeze—climbing, diving, skimming the tops of the fraying cattails—scattering ripe, downy seeds in their wake. And their morning was filled with birdsong.
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