“I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:

What is it going to be like that cottage of darkness?” – Mary Oliver

From her screened-in porch, Gladys admired the forest, a flute of Cabernet relaxed between her fingers. She’d gone to Grand Harbour Vineyards, splurged on the high-shelf stuff.

By a northern pine, a young buck fed on the dried corn she’d put out that morning. Soon, a skittish doe joined him. Gladys always thought of them as her deer, but she no more owned them than she owned the moon.

She could never make her hunter-neighbors understand that. One season, she’d joined some protesters and stood at the entrance to the state park where hunters were permitted to hunt on a portion of the state land. What good had it done? Every autumn those camo-pimped-out hunters were out there waiting. Like picking off plastic ducks in a carnival. And what was Gladys and other nature lovers supposed to do? She was not going to worry anymore. You couldn’t change the unchangeable.

But Gladys didn’t want to think about that now. The sun was setting behind the trees. A couple of shots rang out, the report echoing in the dense woods. Soon, seven deer ran across the dune into her valley of safety and fed on the corn in the hollowed-out log. Frogs bellowed from the swamp. Overhead, a lone goose squawked, its wings flapping like shutters. Farther down, two turkeys tried to join in the feeding, but the hyper vigilant deer ran them off. A red-tailed hawk swooped down—Gladys saw it as a speck in her peripheral vision. A buck snorted and all the deer spooked and scattered. Gone, like that.

A gray squirrel skittered across the dry leaves then rushed over a felled beech tree and disappeared. Two black squirrels chirped beneath a bird feeder. Leaves kicked up in a great flurry, and Gladys thought maybe the deer were returning. Or maybe even the black bear. Last week it had come through her property and had yanked down one of her birdfeeders and pillaged her blueberry bushes. But the sound was only a chipmunk, a mite of a thing. She had often wondered why the smallest animals in the forest sometimes made the loudest noises.

She picked up the wine bottle and poured herself another glass. Tiny pinpricks of silver filled the blue sky, while the moon began to crest over the treetops and the sun set on the lakeside. She was not ready to go inside. She did not want to give in to sleep. While she’d been sleeping all these years, anomalies had crept up, stealthy as a garter snake parting tiny blades of grass. Bloodwork markers noted change, X-rays and scans denoted shadows of doubt.

She sipped her wine. A vixen’s shrill cry serrated the damp air. From the porch, her eyes adjusted to the black canvas. In her chair, she didn’t fall asleep—or perhaps she did.

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