Words by Carmen Taylor • Art by Marleigh Culver • Photography by Hayley Rheagan • Clothing by Paradise Club & Dandelion Guild • Model: Sienna Prillaman • Art Direction by Darnell Thomas

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It’s that time of year, when the moon howls and the snow flashes like lightning.

She’s cowering in the trees, waiting for the dull thud of footsteps to pass.

 She left them behind: the round tables, the square chairs, the metal laptop, even the warm fire. She ached, for something she couldn’t find there. So she ran out the door, down the street, and crossed the intersection, weaving through red lights and honks and tires skidding and rubber grinding into asphalt, and she kept going, running up the hill, past the fancy houses all lit up from inside like perfect dreams. 

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She climbed, higher and higher, the mountain air squeezing through her lungs, until she felt the city shedding from her. Her feet fell through her shoes and the canvas ripped from her ankles. Her soles rubbed raw against the gravel as she ran, tiny pebbles prodding into soft skin. A tree branch caught her slick polyester, tearing it from her shoulders. The cold air rushed to her core like a scream and curled her spine. The rocks and branches and hard earth took back what wasn’t hers: the coat made from long ago sea creatures; the rubber oozed from Eastern trees; the phone holding Mongolia’s rare earth. Exposed, her fragile skin bled red, streams flowing onto the snow.

 Now she belongs to them, the trees and rocks and dark night; she is naked and wanting, not for what they took from her, but for life.

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She’s high, high up in the forest. Beneath the low moon, her bare skin stings against the snow. Ponderosas tower above her, and she crouches. She weeps until she’s warm. Until something thick and course is covering her body. Until her feet, no longer cold, feel solid against the frozen ground. They are heavy now, and when she moves her legs, they thunder back to the ground. She loses sight of her hands; her back is broad; her mouth is wide; her teeth are long.

She shakes her head and hair ripples down her neck. Stepping out from the trees, she stretches long legs skyward. Her hooves crunch down through the icy crust; she’s stomping, swishing her tail, braying out into hollow air.

 Now she’s dancing. She is a deer, a horse, a sheep with big bony horns growing out from her forehead. She is an animal. If only for the night.