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Volume 2, Issue 3, September 30, 2007

Season of the Beasts
by Barth Anderson

        It's finished now, but these mementos still lie scattered around my bed: a Ziplock bag full of water, a bowl of sea salt, old, cold cups of coffee, the TV remote, the DVD remote, and the remote I rigged for the lights, my ankh, a big abalone shell of burnt wooden match sticks, my grandmother's crucifix, and a bottle of varapamil prescribed by the Capricorn. I'm Crusoe sorting through shipwreckage as I pick up the scattered claw-sheaths and abandoned carapaces, which are hard as the shells of horseshoe crabs. It smells musty, like kittens being born in this dark room, but it's been three days since the last beast came. So ends another season.
       The claw sheaths are the same color as the carpet, a rusty red. I should pull the blankets from the windows so I can see them better, but I want to preserve my inner sanctum a little longer. I've endured five of these. A season usually lasts six weeks, coming every other year. Midwinter. Always. It starts with a shot across the bow: a tremor, or a slight flutter over the right ear. Aspirin and codeine can numb these small pains, but only for a few days, a week at most. Soon, drugs stop working, and light - especially the menacing sun - can feel like a spinning drill bit in my eye.
       Then the music starts. A Baroque fugue rattles the window panes and sets my downstairs neighbor to hitting her ceiling with a pan, and every trumpet blast and cello stroke blaring from my skull is a symphony of pain. I pinch the pressure point on my left hand. I gobble aspirin straight from the bottle. I contemplate sawing my own head off because the musical incubation will soon end, and the hatching will begin. In the dark of my bedroom, I sit with a Ziplock bag of ice pressed against my head.
       Our agony, I squint my eyes and pray over the deafening fugue's barrage, who art inevitable, harrowing be thy name . . .
        My heart buckles as a sharp beak splits through my head, a tooth growing from bone. It nips at my fingers. I drop the ice, lie back, and resign myself to the bed. The beak strains to open, hissing and screeching, cracking me, and sending fissures through my skull.
        Thy domination come, thy whim be done, on earth as it is in ruin . . .
        I usually pass out, waking from this trauma hours later, the weight of a hatchling on the right side of my head. In the mirror, I can see its hard wings folded neatly over its back, concealing the fact that this beast is sharpening its rust-red claws on me.
        In the mirror now, the beast long gone, my black hair is neatly combed, newly cut, and I look rested. I separate the hair roots over my right ear, looking for scar tissue. Nothing. Despite their viciousness, beasts never leave a mark.

Read the rest of the story:
        Season of the Beasts (pdf)
        Season of the Beasts (prc)
"Season of the Beasts" is a reprint from Say...Aren't You Dead (Nov. 2003; Fortress of Words)

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