Gutted

by Barlow Adams

My wife won’t speak to me, not since the monster started living in our garage attic. She stares outside, but refuses to leave the house anymore. She won’t even open the windows. And it’s been so hot. At night, she sleeps in the bedroom, covers pulled to her chin and the door locked. I stay on the couch, sweating against the leather, clutching a baseball bat.

We started finding the bodies a few weeks into June—mice, mostly, and a couple squirrels—gutted and left in the yard, hollow little shells for me to find when I mowed the grass.

By July, the heat was so bad the grass burned to an unsightly brown and no longer needed mowing. The corpses kept piling up, though.

We thought it was a cat at first, some stray looking to win its way into our hearts and home with gory prizes. Then we heard it, walking on the roof, scratching, clawing. Too loud for any cat.

I’ve started bringing my wife breakfast in bed. She’s too afraid to come downstairs some mornings.

“Do you think it’s a raccoon? Maybe a possum?” I ask. Every day I offer a different culprit.

She rarely answers, barely eats. I am losing her to the fear, to the heat, to the barrenness of July. I’m afraid she’ll leave me if I can’t kill the monster. If I can’t cool the sun. I can hardly blame her. What kind of husband can’t protect his family? What kind of husband can’t help at all?

I’ve tried everything. The spare room is full of traps and gadgets, air-rifles and poisons I bought at the store. I’ve spent days on the back porch, armed with BBs and worse, waiting for the monster to show. The yard is strung with traps and cages baited with salami and pickles, food my wife once craved but no longer eats. The singed grass is bare in patches from the toxins I have spread. Death on death.

But the monster is cunning. It will not be caught.

On the nights I break my watch on the couch, I am outside, weapon in hand, armored in underwear and slick with perspiration. Still, I’ve never caught a glimpse.

But I hear it. I hear it every night.

I didn’t know where it was coming from at first, not until it left the blood on the side of the garage under the entrance to the attic. It left a pile of entrails there a few days later, the knotted remains of a rabbit. It was hard to identify. I’d only ever seen them from the outside.

I cleaned the remains up with a pair of kitchen gloves, canary yellow and streaked with red, but not before my wife saw. She screamed and screamed. I told her it was just a rabbit, but she wouldn’t believe me. Said it could be anything. We all look the same in the end. Just meat. It took me digging a scrap of gray fur out of the trash can to calm her.

After, she went into the kitchen and stood in front of the open freezer for the better part of half an hour, like she is apt to do. I couldn’t see her face because it was blocked by the door and she didn’t make any noise, but I could tell she was sobbing. I would have known from just her feet. She cries differently now. All the way to her toes.

I am the opposite. I can’t cry. I have buried too many little bodies, attended too many small funerals, to squeeze out any more tears.

My wife despises me because I do not cry. On the rare instances that she looks into my tearless eyes, I can see hatred burning inside her. If you’re so brave why don’t you go into the attic? Why don’t you kill the beast? She doesn’t say it, but I know she’s thinking it. How could she not?

It takes me most of the night and three-fourths of a bottle of Beam before I’m ready. Before I’m prepared to be the man I know I ought to be.

With the alcohol in my blood and the baseball bat in my hand, I almost fall off the ladder. Could have broken my neck. I wonder how long it would take my wife to check the garage. I imagine decomposing there on the floor. For a moment I regret not falling.

I can hear it before I reach the top. The excited clicking of tongues and strange little hisses. I freeze on the top rung, afraid to peek my head up, knowing what I will see. When I do, it is exactly as I fear.

In a nest of torn onesies and small T-shirts is a family of barn owls. Four owlets, their faces just now gaining the heart shape the birds are famous for, and two larger adults. Behind them in the dim of the attic loom the boxes we carried up at the end of spring. Full of toys and tiny clothes we wouldn’t need. The cardboard ripped open. I can see bibs and boxes of diapers jutting out.

The parents hiss and hoot at me to leave. I obey. Clamber down the ladder as fast as I can and out of the garage. Back into the house.

My wife is in the kitchen again, in front of the freezer. This time I’m on the other side of the door. I can see her face. She shakes with her mouth agape, clutching the bag that holds the dead fetus she kept. Not even big enough to take to the hospital. Just some blood in the night. A cold memory to clutch to her chest, a future forever frozen in our house.

She looks at me, trembling. I want to cry for her, for the baby. But my eyes are so wide and clear.

Like an owl’s.

Barlow Adams is a sentient hat rack from Cincinnati who specializes in stories that make decent people uncomfortable. His writing has appeared in many reputable journals and magazines, as well as on the walls of most of the prominent gas station bathrooms in the area. He is currently writing a book about pickup basketball and the Mothman.
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