Excerpt from The Animals by Christian Kiefer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Animals

by Christian Kiefer

The Animals by Christian Kiefer X
The Animals by Christian Kiefer
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2015, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2016, 320 pages

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She nodded and left his side, moving in the direction of the sheriff as Bill walked to the moose, raised the gun, and in one quick, sure movement, fired the dart into the animal's shoulder.

He had used the dart gun many times. On a wolf and a coyote and an elk. In each instance the animal had hardly even registered the shot. The sound like a puff of air and the animal's response maybe only a brief twitch of furred hide. But this time the moose released a long bray of surprise and anger and anguish and staggered forward on its spindly legs, its massive head rocking from side to side, the broken leg cycling in a weird sickening orbit around the break, the hoof backward, ungulate points ticking against the asphalt as its front legs scraped forward a few more yards, the human bystanders jerking out of its path. Then it went down, the whole of the thing collapsing, hind end first, not from the medication but from its own broken body and from gravity itself, its pelvis hitting the asphalt, and then its chest, the front legs splayed out for a terrible moment and then the head rising again, the animal clattering up on its front hooves, legs stilted out, everything about it agony and the will to live, to survive.

Christ, Bill said. Go down. Please go down.

He did not look up at Grace but he heard her voice now. He will, she said. He will, honey. She put her hand on his own and he realized then that his hand was trembling where it gripped the dart gun.

How long's this gonna take to work?

The voice had come from the sheriff, and then Grace's voice in answer: Twenty minutes, she said. We might have to dart him again, though. All right, the sheriff said. I called for a tow truck. Probably'll be here around the same time.

At these words, the moose let out another series of honking cries. Bill stood watching for a few moments and then stepped back to the car with the gun and opened the breech and returned it to the black zippered case. When he turned, he could see the sheriff moving toward the bystanders again.

And now we wait, Grace said.

He nodded. They stood side by side, watching the animal as it stumbled forward on its spindly front legs, panting in short, heavy breaths, the rear of its body sloped down toward the street and the dart's bright red tuft waving from its furred shoulder like an ornament.

Bill leaned against the truck.

I was just gonna call you, Grace said after a time.

Now you don't have to.

No, I do not, she said. She smiled at him briefly and he tried to smile in return. I was thinking I might come over for a visit.

You got a sitter?

Maybe. Why? You busy?

Well, I wasn't before.

Yeah, she said. Neither was I.

They fell silent then, the two of them in the cool dusk with their bodies just touching, hip and shoulder and ankle. Her hand came into his own and squeezed and then held there, her fingers interlacing with his. He looked out at the moose standing spraddle-legged in the road. Once upon a time, you told yourself that you would be no killer, that this was how you would live your life. And yet you learn and relearn that everything is the same. The animals will call you. And sometimes you will answer them with gunfire. Majer's voice again, or maybe it was only and always himself and himself alone.

When the moose began to go down, Bill stood in the street and spoke to it softly, in human words, telling it that it would be asleep soon and that it needed to lie down so that it could be taken care of, and then the moose did so, as if it had considered the intent of Bill's words and had determined to comply, first by setting its head upon the road in an attitude of rest, of relaxation, then lifting that great head once and then again and then setting it down and moving it no longer, its chocolate eyes closing slowly and the head falling sideways, a limp tilting like a wooden basin tipping onto its side.

Excerpted from The Animals: A Novel by Christian Kiefer. Copyright © 2015 by Christian Kiefer. With permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

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