By Gale Huxley
/ Fiction /
Elaine was found in the city woods, where a few too many walked. Her eyes had been half-digested in a vulture’s stomach by the time the police arrived. Her heart was found near her body, only a bite taken from it, as if it was too rotten to consume.
A young couple caught her death on camera. It wasn’t a scream that alerted them to the attack. They kept vigilant eyes and ears for anything that would interrupt the recording of their subscription-based adult content, which at $14.99 a month was a steal because the production quality was high; it didn’t need to be art, but it was. They charged $200 for the full video of the incident until they were made to take it down. Their shared account disappeared soon after.
The video shown on the news begins with two blurred faces hidden behind a tree. We see that the woman is wearing a long, purple wig. The man wears a longer blonde wig, pulled back in a half-ponytail.
Then, Elaine appears on camera. She isn’t one with nature. Her dark hair is in one thick braid aligned with her spine. Elaine wears a white tank top with gray sweatpants. She clutches the straps of a black backpack. Her figure stands out against the verdancy of high summer. She is an aberration in the background.
Elaine walks through the video. She continues along the clear trail. The couple wait for her to disappear into foliage, but she returns to the frame after twenty seconds. Then, centered, she turns to the camera. Zoomed in, she seems to be looking into it.
Commenters say she looks possessed. She does. But she isn’t. She couldn’t be. It’s her dark eyes against skin that almost matches her shirt. It’s the eyelash extensions that look like two spiders crawling out of two drains. The downward tilt of her chin and the graininess of the film quality sets her up to be an unsettling character. If her body hadn’t ended up in the ground, it’d make sense that the video was a stunt, marketing for a found footage horror flick. Even with a grave to visit, some still think it was all for show.
Elaine turns her back to the camera and sits down. The couple have developed the skill of recognizing potential entertainment. Elaine has done nothing too strange, but there’s something about her. The woman removes her wig, revealing a black bob. She crawls to the camera, and moves it so without question, Elaine is the focus.
We hear heavy breathing until the image is still. We hear the man tell the woman “I hope she doesn’t get naked or do anything freaky. We can’t show that.”
There’s a time lapse. Five minutes condenses into twenty seconds of Elaine sitting up straight, her head turning, a swaying body becoming a twitching body.
Elaine stands. Time returns to its expected pace. She picks her black backpack off the ground. Her hand is lost inside of it. In this, she becomes a magician. Something red is pulled from the bag. Raw meat. She rips apart the meat with her teeth as she turns on herself in a circle, tossing the torn pieces. When her hands are red and empty, she cries. It’s a howl. She throws her head back too far. Then, she slaps her hand over her mouth. Her shoulders convulse. She’s giggling. We think.
“Oh,” the woman says. “Huh.” There isn’t body language to help us guess, assume, know, what she means because her sharp, short hair is no longer visible to us.
Elaine falls to her knees. She looks at her hands and curls her finger into her palms as if a strange, new power is awakening in her. There are edits of this moment that turn her green, that send red laser beams from her eyes. This is the way of the internet, nothing is too horrible to make fun of, because nothing can be taken too seriously in the digital, created world that must be separated from the crushing, created world. The edits capture what naked reality cannot. It enhances the truth of what is present.
A squirrel runs behind Elaine. The crunching of the leaves as it hops is too loud. The noise should come from human weight and feet. It belongs to the fast creep of something in almost human form, but not. Elaine lifts herself from shins to feet, legs bent, fists in front of her face. She waits. When the noise happens again, she hops clockwise, fifteen minutes, still holding her fighting position. She sees the squirrel and goes limp. “Hello, friend,” she says.
Elaine lays down. She spreads her legs. She extends her arms like she is ready to become an earth angel.
There’s an exhale close to the camera.
“This is weird. But it’s getting old. Let’s go,” the man whispers.
The woman doesn’t respond.
“We should ask her if she’s okay on the way back to the car. She might need some help,” he says.
“This might just be her thing,” she responds.
There’s a beep. A censoring as he says the woman’s real name.
“Okay. Let’s go,” the censored name says, giving in to the man.
There is rustling suggesting movement we can’t see. Elaine doesn’t assume a boxer’s stance, though this noise is different, slower.
Another time lapse begins. Ten seconds this time. Then we see the man, now wearing gym shorts and a blue t-shirt. He approaches first. Elaine is back on her feet, fists ready, after he enters the frame. He holds his hands up.
“My partner and I saw you out here. We just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
Elaine kicks. It’s a jabby kick learned in a gym aerobics class.
The man backs out of the frame.
“Hey now,” he says.
Says the comments section.
Elaine backs up. Two hops and she shares the frame with the woman, who is wearing a purple sundress. She wears a fluffy green backpack so filled it looks like she has a mossy turtle shell.
“What are you doing out here?” the woman asks. “Looks interesting. Cool, I mean.”
Elaine drops her arms to her sides. She positions herself into a wide, steady stance, then places a hand on each hip. She lifts her arms above her head.
“You need to go,” she tells the woman.
The woman kneels to the ground, picks up a piece of meat, then throws it.
“Oh my God. Why?” she says, shaking droplets of pink from her fingertips.
The man speaks from off camera.
“She has blood all over her. What did you think it was?”
“Leave me alone,” Elaine says. “This is mine. I worked for this. I’m not bothering you.”
“Worked for what?” the woman says, her voice softer.
Elaine lunges. She pushes the woman onto the ground, then straddles her.
“Kinda hot,” a comment says.
But then she claws at the woman’s face and chest. She never uses the fists she threatened.
It takes too long—seconds feel drawn out on screen—for the man to shove Elaine off the woman. Elaine lands on her back. The man lifts the woman up, each hand grasping an armpit. They run past Elaine, towards the exit of the park.
“But the camera,” we hear the woman say. We think the woman says this. Her voice is muffled by distance.
Elaine sits up after the sound of running becomes natural silence, wind in the microphone, birds chirping. She turns to the camera. Then lays back down.
Leaves shake. A bird is there and gone in a blink. An ant crawls across the camera lens, pausing, then disappearing. Elaine doesn’t jerk or shudder. Her chest doesn’t visibly rise and fall.
Time returns to what we know when the coyotes enter the frame. They don’t pay attention to Elaine at first. They sniff at the ground and eat what she has scattered around her body. She says “hello” to one and then the other. She calls them her buddies, Kurt and Jackie.
The coyotes don’t appear to notice Elaine. They do not run from her.
“I’ve missed you both,” Elaine says. “I brought you the best that I could afford. I bought it from a farm. The cow’s name was Ellie. The farmer said she was loved and treated well. I know you both don’t care about that kind of thing, but I thought that maybe that cow’s happiness would make a difference when you absorb her.”
Elaine lifts her head. The coyotes pause and look at her.
"I hope what I brought you last time didn't bring you down. That was a bad time for me."
Kurt begins to walk away. Jackie stays, her head lowered, watching. Elaine would know Jackie from any other coyote, but Jackie is missing the tip of her right ear, and that helps. Jackie is a mother. She is part of a family and though she is capable, she doesn’t have to do it all alone.
Jackie knows the sounds of the forest. She sees through eyes that know what inhabits the woods. She used to wander the suburbs at night, searching, running through soft, cut grass and long driveways, picking off small rodents and cats or dogs when they were left to the care of distrustful subdivisions where all was maintained.
Mr. Jorts, Elaine’s cat, went missing six months before her last day in the woods. Elaine walked outside beneath the sliver of a waxing moon and found his soft belly held in Jackie’s jaw. Elaine made a wordless promise and a desperate plea, which had nothing to do with each other. Mr. Jorts was released and survived, but barely. Jackie never returned to the neighborhood. Her trot no longer appeared on neighborhood apps where clips of showed her beneath spotlights before returning to the shield of night.
Elaine brought her ground beef and pepperonis taken from frozen pizzas. After she brought a rotisserie chicken, Kurt began to come along. He liked meatballs and held plastic bags of cold cuts in between his teeth to bring to his family.
Three months before her death, Elaine brought her brother Kit to the woods. He joined her because he thought that one of the burgers in the greasy paper bag was for him. Elaine never bought groceries for the house that had once belonged to their parents. The house was split between them in the will, but they didn’t draw a line through it as they had done in their shared bedroom as children.
Kit ate Cup Noodles and frozen meals. Elaine ate out, Kit assumed. Kit was hopeful for a home-cooked meal when meat began appearing in the refrigerator. When he asked Elaine if she would make spaghetti and meatballs, she told him that she wasn’t his mother. When he began preparing ground beef for stuffed peppers, she kicked him out of the kitchen.
From then on, all food in the refrigerator was labeled “DON’T TOUCH KIT!!!!” Elaine allowed him to have the rest of a pizza she had picked pepperonis off one time, and that was a good night. Elaine tried to show him a documentary about moss that night, but he changed the channel to the news.
Elaine let Kit eat fries from the bag as they walked the trail to “her spot” in the woods, near a creek. She slapped his hand away each time his hand brushed a burger wrapper. She took one of the burgers out of the bag when they heard the gurgling of the brown-water creek. She removed the wrapper and the buns and held the shriveled patty in the palm of her hand.
“You can have the bread,” she told Kit.
She repeated this with the five remaining burgers, first stacking them on her palm, then one by one, starting from the top, throwing each hunk of beef away from her like frisbees.
Kurt and Jackie appeared from the hill on the other side of the creek. Kit followed Elaine’s smile that extended to the crow’s feet around her eyes he hadn’t noticed before.
“Let’s back up and go. Or do we wave and shout?” Kit whispered.
Elaine’s voice was louder than usual when she spoke.
“These are my friends,” she said, handing him the last piece of meat.
Kit dropped it like it was poisonous or burning. He looked at his greased fingers, then at Elaine’s placid face.
“You idiot,” Kit said before walking slowly backward.
“I wanted to share this with you,” Elaine said, called after him.
He didn’t grab her hand to drag her with him to safety. He didn’t turn around as he walked away.
Back at the house that evening, Kit told her he had no idea who she was. She had become something he had to look at, no longer a fixture that blended in with the background of his daily life; it disturbed him.
“I’m looking for love,” Elaine responded, and her honesty made Kit want to leave, to move, to say “cringe.” Instead, he told her that she had to find a way to love herself before anyone else could love her.
No one could say that Kit didn’t try to save Elaine. That’s what he told the news the night Elaine’s body was found.
Another woman who was also interviewed from the neighborhood said that she understood Elaine. She could see that she was trying to connect with nature, to lose the boundaries of self and earth. But clearly, Elaine was another arrogant and not uneducated, but wrongly educated woman. When the interviewer asked if she knew Elaine, the woman responded, “No. She must not have been from around here.”
A man interviewed said “I get it. I tried to fight a bear once. That’s the best way to feel like a man.” He held up his hand to the camera, which was missing three fingers. When informed the victim was a woman, he said “Oh. I haven’t seen the video yet.”
Viewers assumed fists and teeth and shoving when they watch the video. They expect to see a woman fighting for her life, to see the superhuman strength that takes over a person when they are in mortal danger. What we see is Elaine lift herself up on her elbows then on her knees while Jackie is watching, her stillness signaling Kurt to pause. Jackie sniffs the air, then turns away, catching up with and then surpassing Kurt.
“Take me with you,” Elaine says, bringing herself to her feet. Her voice is weak. It is whiny—the kind of voice that annoys a mother after a long day.
Jackie turns and growls. Kurt walks towards Elaine, then circles back, trots closer to her then hops back. Elaine watches with her arms at her side.
“Playful today, aren’t you, Kurt?”
He walks up to her again. This time he bites her hand. Elaine looks at her palm then licks it, tongue extended. Blood stains her white shirt. It paints her white teeth. Elaine holds her hand, pressing it against her chest.
“I feel like a kid again,” she says. “But it’s different, isn’t it? Maybe not. I’m not sure. My heart beats too fast. My chest wants to open. My legs want to run. My fingers want to touch, to trace. My tongue—it’s satisfied for now.” She places her fingers on her pelvis. “It’s alive in here. It burns and spreads to every ending.” Elaine arches her back, then dances her hips in a figure eight. “When I felt this as a girl, I wanted to see what it meant, to explore, to magnify it by connecting it to another longing. Of course, that didn’t last. Shame. Shame.” Jackie snarls. “Now, it doesn’t feel like a desire to bring something inside of me. My body wants to give birth, but not to a child.”
The coyotes come closer. Kurt brushes against Elaine. Jackie nudges Elaine’s hand. Elaine rubs Jackie’s head, her eyes downcast like a statue of Mary placed in a garden. Kurt runs away then returns, putting his head beneath Elaine’s still bleeding left hand. He laps at the slowing stream.
“It could have been art. Painting, maybe. I wasn’t good at creative things. What if I’d tried? It could have been basketball. I’ve never played, not even in gym class, and I couldn’t have made it. I’m short. What’s the point if it doesn’t pay off?” Elaine taps Jackie’s nose.
“Literally, pay off.”
“Or,” she swallows, “I could have been a person.”
Kurt bites her thigh, still it is like he is tasting, questioning if this is a flavor he enjoys. Jackie helps him decide. She pounces on Elaine. Elaine trust falls to the ground.
The last words we hear, a recognition.
“It’s your home,” she says.
Jackie bites Elaine’s side. Elaine elbows and knees loosen. Jackie closes her jaw around Elaine’s trachea. Kurt tears into her abdomen, where there is a warm feast of variety. From there, it’s wetted muzzles. It’s intestines pulled and consumed. Everything is a blur if the viewer didn’t catch the upload fast enough, didn’t know where to find the gore that fascinates, disturbs momentarily at best.
We don’t know when Elaine dies because she had already given herself up to them.
We hear the deep and loud shouting before we see the men. The coyotes don’t respond to this shouting, they look up, then return to chewing. It is only when the two men, each wearing a hoodie, jeans, and a baseball cap, charge the animals. Jackie and Kurt each take one more bite before running away.
The video blurs then cuts when one man stands near Elaine’s body with his hand over his mouth and the other kneels over her, his voice faltering as he says, “Oh fuck.” If you watch the video on the news, you hear “Oh, beep,” A pink finger pad is the last thing we see before an ad appears or you’re given the choice to “watch again.”
We read what happened next or heard it from news anchors or influencers. Authorities searched for Jackie and Kurt. They sedated each coyote they found and searched for signs of Elaine’s body still caught in their fur or sitting in their stomachs.
Two coyotes paid with their lives for the town’s comfort, but Jackie and Kurt were never found.
A comment left years after the video was posted says—says, because it is forever present until it is gone—“Doesn’t the face look human at 32:56? Look at the eyes, the forehead, the nose.” The story is born again; it becomes legend. “I made it art,” says the woman, who edited the first version of the video, who returns to it, finding something new with each year passing.
The commenters speculate that Elaine has become what she longed to be.
She is monster.
Elaine is of the earth.
She is beyond the natural, which is also earth.
Because of us, she is.