by Jake Christie

DON'T POKE THE MOOSE.
a story.

The moose stood seven feet tall, his skin shining in the light like a Vidal Sassoon glossy advertisement. Erin leaned in until her nose was just inches from his.

“I used to think taxidermy was so morbid,” she said. “But now it's, like, they're already dead, right?”

Victoria nodded at these sage words as she considered a stuffed rabbit near the moose's hoof. The fuzzy creature's unblinking black eyes were focused on a light in the floor of the display, his nose focused on the dirt. The dirt wasn't actually dirt, on closer inspection, but brown paint covered with dust. Everything was covered with the same gray dust, and a column of it floated in the display light. She wondered what could possibly have moved all this dust here to let it drift down from above if the animals were dead and stuffed.

“Excuse me, miss,” said a man behind Erin. He had appeared as if from nowhere, organically out of the inorganic dirt. Unlike the dirt his surfaces were all completely clean, save for a badge that read STAFF. Erin and Victoria both jumped with a start.

“You're excused,” said Erin, furrowing her brow.

“You can't be so close to the animals,” said the man.

“I don't think they mind,” said Erin. She turned away from the moose and crossed her arms, looking up into his eyes. The man, consciously or not, mirrored her posture.

“The displays are very fragile,” he said. “It's for your own safety.”

“I'm pretty sure I can outrun a dead moose,” said Erin.

Victoria snorted, sending a cloud of dust from between the rabbit's ears. For just a moment the display was alive with movement, particles dancing in the air, the rabbit's nose suddenly clean. The shiny eyes reflected the bits of this and that and gave the impression that the rabbit was watching Erin and the museum man.

For their part, Erin and the museum man stood perfectly still. They held their poses, arms crossed, with as much casual and unfeeling precision as stuffed animals. A few pieces of dust fell on the museum man's black sleeve, and a few more fell on Erin's hair. Neither one of them blinked.


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