by Julia Patt
She wasn’t lost in the woods.
These woods weren’t large enough to lose anyone. From the center, she still heard the river-rush of highway traffic. Walk ten, twenty minutes in any direction and she would find concrete. If she wandered in circles, it was not from confusion.
She was not lost in the woods. But she wanted to be.
She lived constant in an unseasonably warm December, the sky that peculiar yellow of a failed winter. Her unbuttoned coat flapped like the wings of a flightless bird; her scarf hung limp around her neck.
She was the girl asleep. The girl dazed on the lawn. The girl who did not remember.
She wanted to lose herself in the trees, but they were not enough to swallow her. She wished they would spread out, sweep over the road and cars in gridlock and the footprints of suburban sprawl, filling the space between her and everything so she would finally have some room to breathe.
She pushed through a cluster of bushes, snapping twigs under foot, brambles catching at her down coat, plucking holes. Her movement startled a jay out of a nearby sapling, but everything else was very still.
In the clearing lay a deer.
A doe, not dead long. Not contorted like the ones she saw on the side of the road, vultures clustered over them like huge black flies. She lay on her side, as if she had fallen over, gentle, her legs crooked, her eyes open and staring and sky-colored.
The girl who had been asleep knelt beside the doe, reaching out one hand to pat the bent head—she ran broken-necked through the woods to die here—the tawny fur unexpectedly rough. She considered closing the blue, blue eyes, but she didn’t quite dare touch them.
The belly jumped.
She fell back into a pile of leaves.
No, very dead.
The belly jumped again; something protruded for a moment, then pressed through, the deer’s skin bursting open like an overripe fruit, spraying red.
A hand. Small, smaller than hers. Fingernails black with gore.
She tried to grab it, but it was slick. It withdrew briefly, then another joined it, tearing at the fresh hole. A small form heaved itself from the doe’s guts, flopping onto the forest floor like a fish. This girl was filthy from head to toe, naked, sticky with viscera, but her dark eyes regarded the world. Clear. Lucid.
They looked at each other with a kind of recognition.
The newborn girl didn’t blink. She smiled. Her teeth, too, filled with red. This one had clawed and bitten her way out. She tottered over to the once-asleep girl. Put one scarlet palm to her cheek. Then she reached for her hand and took it, hooking their fingers around each other.
Around them, the woods had grown darker, the trees taller, the shadows more menacing. They could no longer hear the sounds of cars, only the cold wind blowing above. Snow began to fall, speckling the girls’ hair. The doe lay behind them—deflated, spent—her skin falling from her bones. The two spared her a final look, touched her spine in thanks.
Hand in hand, they approached the forest. Breathed deep the scent of pine. Although it was much deeper than the girl who had been sleeping could remember, they would not be lost. They would never be lost again. Their feet crunched in the snow as they walked on: raw and bloody and brand new.
Julia Patt is a graduate of Sweet Briar College, the Graduate Institute at St. John’s College, and the MFA program at UNC Greensboro, where she was a fiction editor for The Greensboro Review. Her work has appeared in such publications as PANK, Phantom Drift, and The Fiction Desk. She also edits Seven by Twenty (@7×20), a journal of twitter literature–or twitterature, if you prefer.