the grove

We arrived at the Emporium on Saturday evening. I literally love the Emporium.

Everyone was very excited to meet Speckle, which initially made me feel a little bit protective hahaha I literally love her so much, but they were all super gentle with her. We wrapped her in a blanket so she wouldn’t feel the change in air temperature when we took her out of the car, and I carried her out to an enclosure which April called The Glen.

“The Glen is where we bring newcomers, or babies,” she explained in a low, even tone as we walked with my little bundle around the backside of the house. (And I say house here because that’s what they all call it but trust me, house barely applies) “It’s warm, partially underground, and accessible from the back of the house so she’ll never be alone.”

She opened a door in the high stone wall and let us into a little oasis, surrounded on one side with very high walls and on the other with a sloping, cement cave, at the back of which were windows that lead into the house. It was full of ferns and moss, and had a little pond which pumped water.

“This will be her habitat for the next few months,” April explained, opening the door so we could head behind the glass into the house. “We’ll start her in here in the transition rooms because they’re safe and secure for her. And for us, too. We have three other fawns in our care here, and no one’s had a heart attack yet.”

The room behind the glass was warm and cozy and not too big. It was full of straw, and there was feed, water and fresh vegetables all ready and waiting for her. Light streamed in from a sunroof above us. It was literally the polar opposite of where we got her, and it was exactly the kind of fantasy place I wanted to leave her, but also I DIDN’T WANT TO PUT HER DOWN. I’m attached hahahaha I want to stay with her forever, which April must have noticed, because she said, very kindly, “Do you want to see where she’ll end up?” And when I said yes, she said, “don’t put her down, just follow me.”

It was like a 2 minute walk down a slight incline into a little grove of trees so tightly grown together we had to walk through a little gate to get inside. April whistled from the gate before letting us in. Inside was a dim forest scene, full of ferns and brambles, and a little trickling stream that pooled up from underground. But most importantly, bounding towards us were three other little fawns, no hoods, their little antennae unbound and waving out behind them. They were plump, sleek, shiny little creatures, that jumped and kicked around our feet with excitement. One even put it’s little hooves on my knee, trying to get a closer look at the bundle that was Speckle wrapped up in blankets.

“Is this safe?” I asked.

“Oh sure,” April said, scooping one up in her arms. “We used to keep their antennae wrapped, but they’re all so confident these days, we don’t bother. I haven’t gotten anything but very slight unease from these guys in almost a year.” She smiled at me. “Give Speckle a few months and she’ll be just as happy as these little boogers. And if not, hey, that’s okay too. It sounds like she’s been through a lot. We’ll take our time.”

I love April so much.

Back in the transition rooms I finally unpeeled Speckle from her blankets.

“Shall we take her hood off?” April asked, and showed me how to cup my hands around her eyes so when we pulled off the hood she wasn’t startled by the big open space. Speckle blinked and shuddered, and I felt a little twinge of fear, but nothing too serious as she looked up at me with her big brown eyes. My heart literally belongs to this neurotic little nerd.

“She’s doing really well,” April said, impressed as Speckle climbed into my lap. “Neal was right, you’ve got a knack for this.”

Kill me hahahahaha I HAVE A KNACK FOR THIS?!

Also, it has not escaped my attention that what we’re doing for Speckle is essentially the exact same thing Neal and Julian are doing for me hahahahaha. Six months ago I was a terrified little panic creature who couldn’t even sleep in a hotel without having a total hyperventilation moment, and now look at me, sleeping occasionally, having a totally average number of panic attacks, almost totally used to my nightmares.

ANYWAYS hah. I was getting ready to settle in and spend a week at the Emporium with Speckle. It was gonna nice break from being on the run. April even promised to give me a tour of the museum — but then Julian got a phone call over dinner.

“Booo,” April teased, throwing her napkin at him as his phone rang. “Ringing phones, booooo.”

Julian was laughing along, until he saw the caller ID.

“I have to take this,” he said, and the moment we saw his face April stopped teasing.

He was gone maybe five minutes, during which time I didn’t think twice. It wasn’t until he returned to the table, and Beau was regaling us with a story about some mischief the corn wolves pulled, promising to show us tomorrow, that Julian said, “I’m very sorry, but I’m afraid we can’t stay.”

“Oh, no,” Paul said.

“Who was on the phone?” Neal asked.

“Emily Glinwood,” Julian replied. His tone was that particular measured tone that made both Neal and I look around at him. Julian went on cutting into his steak.

“Oh Glinwood, I know that name,” Beau said. “That lovely girl with the Hyde symbiotic, isn’t that right?”

“That’s right,” Julian said, but he didn’t meet anyone’s eye.

“Oh I see,” Beau said, with new gravity. “Bad news, is it?”

“She wouldn’t say,” Julian said. “But knowing her case, I can’t expect it’s good news.”

The rest of the meal was subdued. I thought I’d at least get one night in the big soft bed, but Neal told me on our way upstairs that we’d be heading out immediately.

Someday I’ll learn that if the Hawthornes say something is serious and we have to go than I should just believe them, but of course I had to start to complain.

“Look, I get it,” Neal said. “I want to stay, too. But if Emily Glinwood is calling, it’s going to be a really horrible week, and the sooner we get there, the better.”

So instead of the big, cozy guest room that was waiting for me upstairs, I got back into the rabbit.

“How bad?” Neal asked.

“Bad,” Julian replied tightly. He glanced at me in the rearview. “There’s no easy way to start this conversation,” he said. “But it’s very likely that we’re going to have to kill her when we get there.”

Of the many things I was expecting, this was not a thing I was expecting.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a long story,” Julian said ruffling his hair anxiously.

“We’ve got time,” Neal said, but he said it gently. “Do you want me to tell her?”

Julian took a deep breath.“Emily’s parents had just enough knowledge of cryptozoology to get them into trouble. They did a lot of hard work to procure themselves what we call a Hyde. They’re small, symbiotic creatures that nestle inside another creature’s neurological systems, and under the right conditions, these relationships are truly symbiotic. Hydes are able to assist your brain’s natural functioning, making you mentally capable of — well, it makes you into a genius. It can be a miraculous, beautiful relationship between two creatures.”

“…but?” I said because of course there’s a but.

“But,” Julian sighed. “If the circumstances aren’t perfect, something goes wrong biologically. Some theorists believe that the Hyde starts taking too much control, but hosts disagree with that assessment. Either way — they become dangerous.”

My heart sank. “What kind of dangerous?”

“They enter fugue states and start killing people,” Julian said.

“So Emily’s started … ”

“She killed her cat,” Julian said. “She doesn’t remember doing it, but she knows it was her because she keeps cameras up around her flat, so she can keep an eye on herself. She called us right off.”

I sat with it a moment. “So we’re gonna just go kill her?”

“That’s what she wants.”

Which was not technically a yes. And since when does a Hawthorne just do what they’re asked to do, right?

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