“Animal” by Daniel José Older
Seventeen-year-old George has been feigning her happiness for a long time. With her depression behind her, she still can’t find a reason to smile. There’s something missing from her life. It’s a typical night. The pet store is closed, and she and her friends take advantage of the peace inside. But that peace is short lived when they learn someone’s been hiding a monstrous secret, and the horrors that follow may leave George with a happy little secret of her own.
About the Author
Daniel José Older is the New York Times bestselling author of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series from Penguin’s Roc Books and the Young Adult novel Shadowshaper (Scholastic, 2015), a New York Times Notable Book of 2015, which was shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize in Young Readers’ Literature, the Andre Norton Award, the Locus, the Mythopoeic Award, the International Latino Book Award, and named one of Esquire’s 80 Books Every Person Should Read. He co-edited the Locus and World Fantasy nominated anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. His short stories and essays have appeared in the Guardian, NPR, Tor.com, Salon, BuzzFeed, and the anthologies The Fire This Time and Mothership: Tales Of Afrofuturism And Beyond, among others. Daniel has guest edited at Fireside Fiction, Catapult, Crossed Genres, and Fantasy Magazine, and served as a judge for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the Burt Award for Young Adult Caribbean Literature, and the PEN American Award. He has taught at St. Johns University, Voices at VONA, Boricua College, and Rikers Island among other sites. You can find his thoughts on writing, read dispatches from his decade-long career as an NYC paramedic and hear his music at http://danieljoseolder.net/, on youtube and @djolder on twitter.
In the pet store of Drapeston, CT, where Kendra and George (our narrator) work, after closing, Kendra and their friend Telly are doing blow. Telly is Vietnamese, Kendra is white with blond hair, and George is Mexican; she wears large “hipster” glasses and rather than blow, she smokes weed. During casual conversation and friendly teasing, there is a loud THUD from the basement. All the birds go eerily silent. They know the owner of Pet City, Brad Fruevart, is at the hospital while his wife is going into labor. Telly seems more worried than the girls about the noise. They argue about who should go check it out, meanwhile, Kendra does a line of blow harder than usual. They convince Telly to go.
An inner monologue ensues as George shares her years of depression and self-loathing. Her parents live in Peubla, her Uncle Jesus has PTSD and barely talks, she has few friends, and she suffers a form of night terrors during which a man made of emptiness sits on her bed, hungry, and she’s food. She swallows a lot of pills, but throws them up. Drops out of school at 17, and feels her life is gray and pointless. After a while the empty man leaves and things start to feel right again, though she rarely smiles.
In Pet City, she worries that Telly has been gone for 30 minutes, but she’s high so she’s not sure. She goes to check on the birds who are pressed against their cages away from the stairwell to the basement, shivering. Just then the front door busts open and she hears a woman. “Where the fuck is he?” followed by a baby’s gurgle. It’s Brad’s wife, Marlene, looking for Brad. She’s in a hospital gown with blood stains, holding her newborn, crying. Her baby is brown, and upon commenting, the girls are told it was Raymundo, the groundskeeper at the school she teaches, and when Brad found out, he lost his mind and killed him. Marlene wants access to the safe, and George sees there is something off about her. There is another THUD in the basement, and they hear Telly scream from downstairs.
He screams all the way up the stairs and runs in, one arm torn to shreds, and falls to the floor. “Jesus, he’s here,” Marlene says. Kendra starts to call the police and Marlene pulls a revolver from her purse and tells her to hang up, laying the baby on the counter. Telly is in bad shape, George holding him, his skin is cold. “You don’t know what Brad is,” Marlene says, and orders them into the basement, George carrying the baby and told to leave Telly behind.
In the basement, passed a pool of Telly’s blood, the walk-in safe door slightly open. They stand near the door as Marlene tries to lure Brad out. The door opens to a monstrous demonic form of a man, “scales stretch across his arms, which reach to either side and end in foot-long claws. He has a mane of bushy black hair that halos his scrunched up face and then covers his otherwise naked torso.” Marlene gives an animal shriek and suddenly turns, too, her spine and horns protruding as she attacks Brad. As they fight, her winning, George tries to get Kendra’s attention to shut the door on them as her position is safer. But Kendra is frozen, glazed eyes. Marlene’s gun is on the floor and as George goes for it, Marlene sprints to her, she gets the gun and aims it in time to stop Marlene and order her into the safe. Marlene comes at her and she shoots her in the shoulder. She’s crouched and backing away like “a wounded crab.” After some threats, Marlene backs into the safe and George slams the door.
Then, she and Kendra consider there must be a tunnel in the safe if Brad managed to get in without coming through the store. They remember Telly upstairs and Kendra runs up. George stays, holding the baby, and smiling for the first time, even when she takes its hat off and sees the little bumps of horns on its head. She thinks about the lies and explanations she’ll have to come up with, and she names him Raymundo.