What did they say about the girl who died? That she was pretty? Delicate of face yet hardy of soul? That she sometimes lisped when excitement took her. That she was bright as a star cluster? That now and again she laughed riotously like a mule? No, they said she was a "beloved treasure." How could they mourn the death of something in which they themselves saw no life? Death itself has no meaning for a "treasure." You might as well speak of a broken clock. They are imbeciles.
She was alive and imbued with that fierce need only the best of us have, a need to experience it all. More so than me, her palest of shadows. Before I took all that away, robbed her of life and, worse, the world of her, she lit that world wherever she stepped, no matter how drear its corners, how dismal its recesses.
Before we heard about the storm heading our way, suspicions were starting to cloud my horizons. Something not quite right. Or worse, wrong right through. I could detail those things if I wanted to exonerate myself, but I sure don't want to do that at this juncture, maybe not ever.
Our place sat on a flood plain in a small north-south valley surrounded on three sides by thickly conifered mountains. At the south end, a vast east-west alluvial valley lay perpendicular to it. When at last the storm arrived, I was out by the woodshed, splitting birch stovelengths with an axe. A great gale was building, and since it was moving eastward, riding the pineapple express from some squally, cyclonic Pacific locus, our valley was safeguarded, sequestered.
Yet that gale had a voice. It made me drop tools and climb up to the deck so I could look to the main valley, and see if what was making that hellacious sound was something towering, wretched, and living. All I could see was a deep traumatic and carnal red roiling below the dark brow of the world, black and dire banners of cloud torn along in the wake of an apocalypse. And it howled. Like there were two levels to it—a prolonged shriek of something in mortal terror above that unabating roar of rage. The hair on my forearms stood spiky as the silhouetted firs on the ridge to my left. It felt ceaseless yet also final, the last sound we might ever hear in this or any other world, harrowing its way through eternity.
I went inside. She was doing something quiet in an alcove off of the kitchen, some kind of needlework, and I stood over her.
"You hear that infernal sound?"
She squinted at me, a puzzled look on that precious face, said nothing.
"You telling me you don't hear that?" I was exasperated. How could she ignore that doomsday shriek?
"Hear what, hon?"
I started to answer, but an awful realization hit me: she couldn't hear it because this was already the sound inside her pretty head; she heard this on constant, terrible, heavy rotation. I turned on my heel and went outside again, that great clamour crawling around my neck and shoulders like a shawl made of serpents, and, with ample time to think, retrieved my axe, returned to the house, and buried that pitted blade in her skull. She died with disbelief on her face.
Here's the thing, though. Maybe I expected her head to discharge some vile green fluids, or spark and fizz like some midway sideshow, but all I saw was something runny like warm egg white, plenty of red, and a slow greyish-pink ooze. No other secrets. No wiring. No implants.
The 911 dispatcher could barely hear me over the raging fusillade.
Here's another thing, and it's damn near a kneeslapper: I now have vast and lonely stretches of time in which to contemplate my own impulsive certainty on a day I believed the world—with all its recessed corners, its mountainous tempests and everything I feared, seethed at, and treasured—was about to end.