Monday, February 15, 2010

"Bark"

"He's just a defenseless baby," Marianne tells me. It's the third time she's said it since we left the hospital.

I nod, keeping my eyes on the winding country rod. By any rational estimation, newborns are some of the most helpless things on the planet. But after forty-five minutes in a car with one, forty-five minutes of ceaseless cacophony, every scream and shriek a new expression of infantile anger or need, you could be excused for thinking it's exercising some sort of sonic defense mechanism.

Marianne, though, sees it differently: "It's his way of communicating. If he wants something, he has to call until someone comes."

"At ninety decibels." I crack the window, which both lets some of the late-October air in and some of the screeching
out
.

"Shut that right now," Marianne snaps. "You'll give him a chill."

I obey. Like always.
When it came to having a baby, I thought the actual labor would be the hardest part, which I (fortuitously) could do little about except hold my wife's hand and tell her she was doing a great job. But I was wrong. While the manuals and birthing classes emphasized methods of delivery and pain-management options, they never prepared us for how to deal with the bone-deep weariness that accompanied our new little bundle of need. Sleep became both a luxury and a necessity as our son cried all hours of the day and night. He cried because he was hungry. He cried because he was dirty. He cried because he wanted his mother's touch or to be endlessly walked or for more inscrutable reasons, like perhaps out of a desire to play Parcheesi in Braille while watching the series finale of Twin Peaks. We couldn't really tell. And despite our best efforts, he usually kept on crying, unleashing a remarkable menagerie of howls, wails, sobs and whines.

Eventually, we started talking about the topic of child abuse, how we'd never really understood why someone would physically harm such a small, defenseless thing. It seemed like such a monstrous evil. But we imagined how if you stripped away the support structures of family and friends, put a mother or father under great external strain, then coupled all of it with the exhaustion and an infant's endless supplications ... Well, it was still monstrous. But we had an inkling about how it might happen.

One night, we awoke to sound of barking. Not of dogs. Human barking. A series of yips, high-pitched and plangent. We flicked on the lights. Our baby was lying flat on his back, looking up at the ceiling. We stared at him, bewildered that such a sound had come out of that tiny body. Then as we watched, he barked one more time and went silent. He almost seemed to be waiting for a reply.

"Bark," supernatural horror in the vein of M.R. James, was born soon after. You can read it in
the Literary Lab's Genre Wars anthology.

Or you can win a free copy! Be the first person to email me at ISawLightningFall [at] gmail [dot] com with the approximate distance at which a newborn's eyes can focus, and you'll snag it.


14 comments:

Lady Glamis said...

Awesome for giving away a copy! Thank you so much for being a part of this with us. :)

Loren Eaton said...

I have no takers yet. Would you be adverse to me cross promoting it at the Literary Lab?

Lady Glamis said...

Do you just want one of us to mention it in our post? I think we could do that. Let me know.

Loren Eaton said...

No, that's alright. I just left an announcement in the comments. I'm sure I'll find a taker!

Lady Glamis said...

Okay, thanks!

Donna Hole said...

That was cool Loren. I'd enter your contest, but I just purchased mine over the weekend.

I'm sure the answer to your question is, however: they see as far as they need to in order to judge just how loud the next wail will need to be.

Kinda like the selective hearing children have as they grow into adolescence.

I'm really looking forward to reading your story now.

.........dhole

Loren Eaton said...

Sometimes seeing doesn't mean avoiding the barriers, though! My son discovered today that tiles floors will not necessarily yield to his noggin. Poor kid.

pattinase (abbott) said...

You're tagged if you care to play. (Http://pattinase.blogspot.com)

Loren Eaton said...

I'm in! Will post later today.

S.D. Smith said...

I'm in! 8-14 inches. Bam.

OK, OK, I was a little behind on my Reader. It has tons of posts to catch up on!

S.D. Smith said...

Sounds great. I hope I win.

Loren Eaton said...

Bam! You got it! Email me shipping info and stuff, and I'll send it out.

Lady Glamis said...

YAY for a winner!

Loren Eaton said...

I'll second that.