Obviously, something had to be done. The thorns appeared to be poisonous. Three people had gone to the hospital already, and Mrs. Shausson across the street was comatose.
Where did they come from? my daughter said to me.
We were standing there, staring at the vines.
I don’t know, I said. But please, stay back.
I made a wall before her with my arm.
Finally, the men came in these black rubber suits and sprayed the vines with some smoke. Then they stood around and waited and watched while one by one the vines started to shrivel up.
All right, one of the men said, here we go.
And they got busy shoveling the remains into little bags.
Then they tucked the little bags away in their pockets, and waved goodbye to us as they left.
Should be okay now! one of them called. Give a holler if they come back!
And then they were gone, and it was just me and my daughter.
Go inside, I said. I’ll check it out.
I walked up and down every inch of the lawn, and then all around the neighbor’s, too. Up and down the sidewalk, then across the street. I knelt down and peered into the sewer.
There was nothing to see. All the vines were gone.
I stood up. In the distance was the sunset.
All right, I said. You can play tomorrow. But right now I think it’s time for bed.
Early the next morning, I found myself awake, listening to something outside. I frowned and sat up and then peered out the window.
My daughter was crying on the lawn.
Honey! I yelled. Don’t move! I’m coming!
I jumped up and sprinted down the stairs. I pushed the screen door open and I was standing on the lawn.
But my daughter wasn’t there.
She was gone.
I looked left and right. I ran around the yard. I looked in the back, on the other side.
Honey! I was yelling. Honey, where’d you go?
Then I looked and saw the neighbors gathered round.
What’s the matter? they were saying. What’s the matter? What’s wrong?
And I was telling them about my daughter.
And they were looking at me, and some were shaking their heads.
And then, one by one, they wandered off.
I didn’t understand, and then someone took my hand.
Come on, said my wife, and led me inside.
But I saw her, I was saying as she brought me back to bed.
I know, said my wife. I see her too sometimes.
Later on that afternoon I went down to town hall and I said I wanted to volunteer for the crew. They brought me out a suit and I tried it on right there.
It was thick and heavy and black and very safe.
On the way home, I decided to try it out. I stumbled through the woods, arms outstretched. I grabbed the thorns and branches and I fell against the trees. I slashed at myself– my chest– with rocks.
When I got home, the suit was a mess. There was blood; I could hardly climb the stairs. And when I did, I found myself in my daughter’s room.
I lay down.
Then my wife was beside the bed.
We took a cab to the hospital; it all happened fast. There was blood, of course, but not that much. And when it was over, the nurse turned to me. There was something in her arms. She held it up.
And I looked at her, and behind the mask, she smiled.
And I took the bundle in my arms.
And my wife said from the bed, you’re a father now.
And a voice whispered, keep her free from harm.
Ben Loory lives in Los Angeles, in a house on top of a hill. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and Wigleaf, and is upcoming in the Antioch Review. His book Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day will be released by Penguin on July 26.