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Dear Gamekeeper,

I noticed two elk have taken residence in the gardens.
I realize, of course, you have other, more pressing concerns.

For example, the algal bloom that stole the fishes’ breath,
and nearly mine with the smell of their bodies on the midden heap.

And the woods have been burning since June;
there is not much left of the copses save the ash
that continues to fleck the white of my grandmother’s tea roses.

It is the roses I consider now, for these elk are sore and thin.
I open my window at morning and what should be a sea
of pink and white and red—

Instead, elk, a pair of them, their skin sucking to the bones
beneath; one appears to be missing part of an ear.

I know, I know, you have been busy with the kennels
flooded; the aviary taken by a new strain of the old virus.
And yes, I heard that your house—
the Gamekeeper’s Cottage—
was partially demolished by the last tornado.

(Tornados! Never did we have to consider
those when my grandmother sprayed for aphids
on her newly planted Maman Cochet.)

But the elk.
They have eaten nearly all the roses
and I worry, once they are done,
where they will go
to feed next.

“What are you afraid of?”

                        The clock, and its ticking.
“The clock?”
                        Yes, the clock, the second hand
                        that moves time before my eyes.
“The clock—what else?”
                        Hands—my hands
                        that show each line,
                        each scratch from the cat last week,
                        a rosebush from fifteen years ago
                        in a garden that no longer exists…
“What else?”
                        What else? I’m afraid of the beat
                        behind my left rib cage, the way
                        it flutters too fast, too slow.
                        I’m afraid of the silence
                        that is coming,
                        the end of sound.
“The end of sound? Explain.”
                        Are you hard of hearing?
                        I’m losing time, I’m losing
                        seconds, my hands are mottled
                        and will grow mottled still and
                        the sounds of a husband and child
                        in the corner building trains, towers,
                        those sounds will stop.
“What are you really afraid of?”
                        Nothing lasts forever.
“No platitudes; say it plainly.”
                        That everyone I love will die.

Justine Gardner is a former dog trainer, past pizzeria proprietor, and current freelance editor and writer. She was born, reared, and still resides in Brooklyn, NY, USA, along with her husband, young son, and two cats. You can find her story “Blood, Bone, Feather” in the latest issue of the online quarterly NewMyths.com. Her tale “Hagride” will be published in Dark Ink’s horror anthology The Half That You See, for release March 2021.


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