Brad wrapped their dog, Maria, in a blanket and placed it in a wheelbarrow. After checking the street for traffic, he opened the garage door and wheeled Maria out. He closed the door and pushed Maria around to the garden, his feet crunching through the final discolored inch of snow that remained from the last storm.
He started digging. The topsoil was iron-hard, and it rejected the spade.
I'll never get through this, he thought.
But he did. Winter had not locked in long enough for more than a couple of inches of topsoil to freeze. Once he'd punctured that, it was easy digging, and he was able to make good time. In under ten minutes he'd gotten as far as he thought necessary to keep the skunks away next spring, a depth of about four feet.
He stood back from the grave, catching his breath, which escaped him like steam. He wanted a cigarette, wanted one badly. He felt funny, his head light and ready to swim, his torso tingly, as if he had a bad case of pins and needles. And it wasn't the intensity of the exercise doing this to him. He didn't know how he knew, but he knew it wasn't that. It wasn't a good exhausted feeling. It wasn't tiredness at all. It was as if...
...as if he were being watched.
For the first time tonight he was aware of Thunder Rise, black and brooding under a sky that couldn't decide if it wanted to clear or storm. He'd seen the rise before, of course, while he was digging, but now... now he was aware of it. Aware of it not as a mountain, but as an entity, a malevolence...
Once the idea was in his head, he couldn't shake it. For the first time tonight he was aware of Thunder Rise, black and brooding under a sky that couldn't decide if it wanted to clear or storm. He'd seen the rise before, of course, while he was digging, but now... now he was aware of it. Aware of it not as a mountain, but as an entity, a malevolence... It was impossible for him to explain, although he suspected the Indian might have a word or two to say. He squinted, trying to see better. Every half minute the clouds would break and the mountain would be radiant. It reminded him of the great seal on the back of a dollar bill: a pyramid topped with a human eyeball, a symbol he had always considered incredibly bizarre.
He looked back at the upturned earth, at the wheelbarrow, at the blanket, creased and folded in the unmistakeable shape of a large dog.
Get on with it, he scolded himself. So close. Be done with it.
But he did not get on with it. The longer he stared at the blanket, the more it seemed different. The more it seemed to change. And not just seem to change. It really was changing. Brad's breath clogged inside him. If you looked carefully, you could see the folds moving, rearranging themselves in new patterns.
He rubbed his eyes, sure that when he looked again, the blanket would be unstirring.
It wasn't. It was definitely moving.
Dear God, the dog's alive. Somehow, the fucking dog's alive.
Except it wasn't a dog shape anymore. As he watched, his legs paralyzed, the control of his bladder becoming more and more tenuous, the blanket began to unravel. First the end where the dog's legs had been. Peeling itself back, slowly, excrutiatingly slowly, to reveal a glimmer of pink. Pink toes. That's what they were. Toes. A foot. Another foot. The smooth calf of a leg. The calves of two legs, two small, bony legs. A young child's legs.
"No!" he screamed. "Noooo!"
He didn't need to see more to know who it was. Abbie. His only child. His little girl.
"No! Stop it!" he screamed, his voice echoing in the cold.
But the blanket did not stop. It was unraveling -- and not on its own mystical power. Brad culd see fingers now, the fingers to two hands. The hands were moving the blanket. The hands were unwrapping what was inside the blanket. The hands were freeing whoever was inside.
With sudden force, the hands threw off the rest of the fabric, exposing Abbie, dressed in her favorite blue party dress. Exposing Abbie's face, Abbie's head, grossly misshapen, her hair matted with blood, just like Maria's fur.
"How could you, Dad?" she croaked, and he could see crimson spittle, frothing at out of her open lips. "My puppy, daddy! My puppy! Mommy might do something awful like that, but how could you? How?"
Brad covered his eyes and dropped to the ground, an insane man mumbling insanities.
The clouds broke again, and for an instant Thunder Rise seemed to smile.