the dictionary project’s 4th annual flash fiction february begins today with a post from Kimi Eisele on stalk. We hope you enjoy!
stalk (stôk), v.i. [ME. stalken; AS stealcian (in comp.); prob. < steale, high, steep (with allusion to a stalking gait); for IE, base see STALK (a stem)], 1. to walk in a stiff, haughty manner: as he stalked out of the room in anger: sometimes used to figuratively, as plague stalks across the land. 2. to pursue or approach game, an enemy, etc. stealthily, as from cover. 3. [Obs.], to walk or move along stealthily or furtively. v.t. to pursue or approach (game, etc.) stealthily. 2. to stalk through: as, terror stalked the streets. n. 1. a slow, stiff, haughty step or gait. 2. The act of stalking game, an enemy, etc.
A few weeks ago, in a moment of desperate fortitude, I secured the perimeter. I hired a thick-fingered man in steel-toed boots and Carthartts to drive stakes into the ground, and together we hung a fence cobbled from barbed wire, chain link, and corrugated aluminum. Later my hands bled from the cold and the metal, but I welcomed the sensation and more than that, the security.
Now I’m shuffling around the house picking scabs while it lurks at the edge of the property. Yesterday it circled 12 times before noon and another 37 by dusk. I can’t always see it, but I can smell it—burnt sugar, faint banana, and canine anal glands.
Besides the man with the steel-toed boots, I have hired other specialists. A woman in jeggings who swings a pendulum from a chain and gives me definitive yeses and nos, a card reader in a room full of deer and elk trophies, an exorcist with sharp needles, belly dancers, a florist with eyes the color of irises. While a colorful lot, the trouble with these specialists is that their prescriptions and palliatives don’t last. I come home bruised and weary, and when I look out it is still there.
I’ve wondered about calling the electrical people to see if they can run voltage through the fence and zap the fucker.
Meanwhile, I have been gathering large stones and building cairns, which I hope will accumulate into further fortification. This morning, distraught, I hurled one of the stones and accidentally hit the fence, destroying part of it. So I called the steel-toed boot man again.
He looked like the kind of man who might dance and as he worked, I imagined his chin bobbing, his pelvis bumping, his shoulders bouncing. When he finished, he put his hands on his hips and peered down the length of the fence. “That’s something else,” he said.
I stared at him bleary-eyed. What? He’d seen it? It was there right now? I nearly stepped on his boot and climbed into his arms. But then I realized he was looking at a thin trunk-like stalk rising up from the agave plant not far from the gate. I hadn’t even a clue it was there.
The stalk rose nearly eight-feet high, green with triangular leaf-like spines. Toward the top, a dozen or more branches reached out like skinny arms ending in hand-like shapes with excessive fingers. Though delicate, they looked like they could hold a lot.
“They call that a century plant,” he said. “But it’s a misnomer. Really only needs 20 or 30 years to do that.”
“Twenty or thirty,” I repeated, as if hearing a judge’s sentence.
“Yup. Takes everything it’s got,” he said. “Now it’ll die.”
He bent over and examined the ground at the base of the agave, rump to the sky. “But you’ve got pups,” he said.
If I’d been more myself—stronger, bolder, less addled—I might have dropped something (a pebble? a dime?) into the crack of his ass. Instead I stepped backwards and felt the sting spread across my chest into my throat.
I smelled a slight trace of banana and wondered if I was going to have to run for it. Glancing at the part of the fence he’d fixed, I worried the repair was inadequate.
“Let me know if you want me to come back and get rid of that,” he said, circling his hand at the agave. “I’d need different tools.”
I tried to imagine the kinds of tools it would take to remove what I most needed him to haul away.
After he left, I hurried in and made some tea and sat at the table in silence. Soon the neighbor’s lights went on and I could see figures moving around the kitchen. I held up the binoculars and spied. What I saw made me envious—wild gestures, flushed faces, a flying plate. Rage seemed practically joyous.
I sat still for a long time, not daring to lie on the floor. Once darkness came, the smell grew stronger and accompanying it was a loud snarl. I pressed my hands into my chest. Had my steel-toed helper brought a giant scraper I would have used it to strip off my skin. Had he brought a claw, I would have gouged out my organs and lay them on the walkway—a glistening offering. Had he left some rope, I might have stood on a chair.
But there were no tools, so instead I went outside and stood at the fence. From the corner of my eye, I could see the agave stalk wavering gently, a thin courageous friend. I opened the gate. I fell to my knees.
Kimi Eisele lives in Tucson, where she writes and makes stuff like dances, papercuttings, puns, friends, and—on good days—joy. Find out more than you might want to about her at www.KimiEisele.com.