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EXTINCTION by Michelle Ross



The summer our parents threw the word divorce like it was a dart—puncturing the hell out of their target, but always just missing the bullseye—we spent our days in the woods. This was before extinction meant anything other than trilobites and saber-toothed cats. The woods seemed to us then anything but delicate. We poked sticks into holes, hoping to rouse whatever lurked inside. We practiced standing still as rabbits until we believed we could become invisible if we needed to. We believed we might need to. We picked and ate blackberries, so plump and so sweet, straight from their prickly vines. Sometimes we plucked them pale pink, even though the pinks were more bitter than sweet, much too hard to bite through. We rolled those unripe berries around in our mouths, imagining they were somebody’s brains—not so much like we were eating them but like we were keeping them safe there in the dark of our mouths. Something soothing in it. We named the banana spider whose gigantic web stretched between two scraggly oaks Charlotte. We stopped to ask what she caught in the night. We inspected the entombed bodies strung from her pantry like ornaments—always placid and stiff, until one dewy morning, a fresh catch, still heaving in and out with desperate breaths. Impossible to tell what was trapped underneath all that white gauze. We watched the victim’s dwindling breaths for longer than we’d watched anything in our lives, except television. We felt we were seeing something secret. We felt excited, but also guilty for feeling excited. We whispered of bringing our mother’s tiny hangnail scissors into the woods to cut the victim free. Imagined snipping the tight, gossamer threads of bondage. But we never did go get those tiny scissors. We didn’t want to leave, didn’t want to miss a thing. Also, we feared the operation wouldn’t go smoothly. It was one thing to watch a thing die but another entirely to kill it with your own unsteady hand.




"Extinction" originally appeared in Milk Candy Review.


Michelle Ross is the author of THERE'S SO MUCH THEY HAVEN'T TOLD YOU, winner of the Moon City Press Short Fiction Award (2017), SHAPESHIFTING, winner of the Stillhouse Press 2020 Short Fiction Prize (November 2021), and THEY KEPT RUNNING, winner of the 2021 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction (April 2022). She is an editor at 100 Word Story. More can be found at www.michelleross.com.

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