Alger spent a long time slowly walking by the side of the road without seeing anything, neither car nor human nor animal, though often enough he’d hear things rustling away back in the woods or hear strange voices laughing or calling out. Once, someone screamed, a woman or a young child; he held his breath and listened but whatever it was didn’t repeat itself and its first spasm hadn’t lasted long enough for him to know where it had come from. “Everything okay?” he shouted, and the trees swallowed his voice.

The farther into the woods he went the narrower the road became and the higher the weeds grew. Something in their terraced man-height disturbed him — that, and the tight curls of their new growth, pale and tender in the indirect light. They seemed almost to follow him, to swivel spined and flowery heads after his passage, to grab hold of his elbow as he passed. Every noise made him shy back, hands held warily low before him, ready to ward off… what? He tried singing to himself, reciting poetry, telling jokes he heard, but sooner rather than later his voice would run dry and the plants would press in against him again.

Eventually he broke and ran screaming, leaves and nettles slapping at him, flailing and sobbing in a high, unpleasant voice that he barely recognized as his own. Some rough beast pounded after him, cloven feet heavy on the track, breath hot with the sent of allspice, decay, the almond-blossom smell of semen, the yeasty smell of sex. It had him when the root turned under his foot and sent him sprawling, batted him back and forth between Its rough hands until up and down ceased to mean anything and he’d forgotten who he was or what he’d been running from.

Its bright voice murmured in his ear, “Mine, mine, mine, mine,” and those great lips pressed themselves against his cheek, cold twirl of goat-horn rough on his forehead.

When he came to, night had fallen and he was alone.