All he can do is stare at the small, chubby-fingered hand in the gray-brown fur. Its coarseness feels otherworldly, but the sensation detached. The smell of blood present, but more so the musk smell that seems to seep into every pore of his skin, as if marking him as a thing, a beast – something to be avoided or hunted.
His chest heaves, snot trails down his face, his mouth twisted downward and trembling. His chin vibrates, tears roll down his cheeks. His fingers curl into the fur and release, curl and release. He rocks forward and back, his tongue stuck in the roof of his mouth, pressed there to stop the knot of something from climbing any further up his throat and out of his mouth.
‘Mijo.’ The sound stiffens his spine and he sits back on his heels, wiping his face on his shoulder. ‘Why are you crying.’ It isn’t said in inquiry. It’s flat, said with an impassive tone, as if he’d declared that today, the sky was still blue. Except it wasn’t. Above the trees, somewhere there was a gray sky, overcast and sullen. Heavy clouds lingered, and there was a cold in the boy that the weather, no matter how sunny it could have been, could fix.
The boy shrugs and shakes his head. “Tell me.” The man presses, grabs the boy’s arm and shakes him. He opens his mouth and nothing comes out, his throat working, his words gone, choked again on that unknown thing in his throat, or the smell of that dying thing his hand rests upon.
The man shakes his arm again and the boy drags his wet eyes up, away from the animal that is snorting and heaving on the ground, a bright red mark on that gray-brown fur, so wrong, in so many ways. ‘You feel bad, huh?’ The man’s voice raises. ‘Po-bre-ci—–to.’ He draws out the word and the boy’s mouth shuts. He knows the tone. The man grabs his other arm and drags the boy up, to his feet, he shakes him again. ‘You feel sad?’
‘Si Papi!’ The boy screams it at the man’s face and tries to jerk away, but is held. The boys chin is trembling again, staring up at the man whose face briefly contorts and then goes back to the blank slate. ‘You’d rather your mother die? Huh? Your sister?!’ With each word the boy has a little shake and the knot of whatever it was comes wailing out.
‘Noooooo.’ It’s a wail, the knot of guilt, he knows now, just dislodging in that instant. The man releases him then, flinging him toward the animal in disgust.
‘It’s him or us.’ The man says flatly. ‘You or it.’
The boy can hear the words from the man but won’t look at him. His eyes are back on the animal, who is quieting now, but still alive. The boys eyes drag over the body of the creature, back to the very wrong red stain that seeps blood with each movement of the animals chest. The boy can hear the wetness of the blood spilling over the leaves. It is a creeping dread, the wet suck of noise that stains his ears.
The boys hands return to the animal. He feels his father come behind him, his mouth near his ear. ‘You either fight or the world devours you.’
The breath leaves the boy in an instant, a cold puff of air, and he blinks. The world is still again and quiet.