(A/N: My first response to my most recent Prompt Challenge! I asked for prompts involving a thing and a mood. This one was inspired by “Moose/Baffled”, suggested by WRITEROFLETTERS.)
Pam stared out the window, face blank as a fresh-washed whiteboard. She turned with the slow, mechanical precision of a music box dancer. “Joe,” she said quietly, “why is there a moose on the lawn?”
Joe, who had been bending down to collect a spoon he’d dropped, spent another few precious seconds under the table, thinking quickly. Eventually, he drew his head out, pasting on an ingratiating smile for his wife. “Right, the moose. Okay, so. You remember how I went into town yesterday, for work? Like I do every day?”
Pam nodded, her eyes laser-focused on him. Behind her, through the window, the large bull moose could still be seen, munching calmly on her lilacs. It wore a hat.
Joe tugged at his collar, tapping the spoon nervously against his plate. “Well, I stopped by Larry’s hardware store, right? You know, I always go in to shoot the breeze on my lunch break. And he was telling me about this great deal on boats, those big speedboats like we want to get when we retire? You should’ve seen the catalog, Honey, there was this sapphire blue one that—”
“What do boats have to do with a moose in my lawn?” Pam blurted. Through the haze of confusion, a coherent thought emerged in her mind: Why does he always have to spring weird surprises on me on Mondays? Couldn’t he spread them out over the week?!
Joe flinched, but her expression was still wavering on the edge of utter confusion and hadn’t yet descended into anger, so he figured he still had a chance to recover this situation. The moose glanced with mild interest through the window at them, its trilby tipped at a jaunty angle between two massive antlers. “Well, we were talking about boats, and then Harry, Larry’s cousin, you don’t know him, he comes in and hears us and says there’s this great boat just like that blue one down at the Jameson’s, going for dirt cheap. Now, it was Larry’s lunch break, too, so we decided to get in his truck and take a look. Not to buy it, of course! But, well, if it was a good deal…” Joe trailed off, noting how his wife’s eyebrows were rising in direct proportion to the wideness of her eyes. He coughed and tried to get back on track.
“So, uh, anyway, we were driving along, taking a shortcut through that creepy little valley road north of here? You know the one, it has the really bad potholes, and the county maintenance crews never seem to reach it when they trim the trees back, probably because it’s on the county line,” he chuckled weakly. His efforts to stay focused were not going well, he realized, but to be fair he was very nervous right now. Pam had turned back to stare at the moose again, as if his rambling had hypnotized her into forgetting he was there. “So we were driving through there, when Larry yells that he sees something in the bushes, something big wearing a hat,” he surged on.
Oh my word, Pam thought, only half-listening now as she squeezed the bridge of her nose between two fingers. They found a moose on the side of the road and Joe brought it home to care for it, didn’t he? Her mother had warned her she’d have to deal with strange male behavior once she got married, but as much as she loved Joe’s soft-hearted nature towards animals, what on earth would possess the man to bring home a moose—
“And that’s when we found the top-secret research facility.”
Pam blinked a few times, still staring at the moose. It appeared to be looking at her. “Top-secret… research facility?” she repeated, her already-scrambled brain struggling to make sense of this new information.
“Yeah, the wall was back in the woods like a dozen feet or so. Never woulda seen it if Larry hadn’t wanted to see what was moving around back there, ahaha, maybe that’s the real reason the trees never get trimmed!” Joe cleared his throat again, silently thanking the Lord Jesus that his wife was too shell-shocked to respond yet. Hopefully he could get the whole story out first; at least then he could say he’d done his best if she started yelling questions at him. “Anyway, we didn’t know it was a top-secret research facility, the three of us figured it was an abandoned building on the back of someone’s property, so we skirted around because we still hadn’t found the thing with the hat Larry saw. Or maybe it was Harry who saw it. So we get around to the side and there’s this big-ol’ gate with iron bars and a guard house and a secret road. It was like something out of one of those spooky sci-fi movies, Honey!”
He sounded far too excited for Pam’s current mood, but she was too busy being transfixed with bewilderment to interrupt at this point. The moose rubbed its antlers with a satisfied grunting noise against her maple tree.
Joe was on a roll now, warming to his tale of grand adventure. He began making artful gestures with his spoon. “And just as we’re about to sneak up to the gate to try and see inside, we hear this scary deep voice! ‘Get away!’ it said, and we all near jumped out of our skin. ‘It’s not safe here!’ the weird voice said again, and I think Larry was trying to shoot it out of sheer reflex even without his gun, the way his arms were waving.” Joe waved his arms to demonstrate, his eyes widening dramatically. “Some guards started coming to the windows of the guardhouse, so we leapt into the bushes, you know, just to be safe. The big voice came again, real quiet, and told us to follow it, but we couldn’t really see him so we had to sort of follow the shaking bushes. We ended up back at our truck, and then I, well, I decided I had to be the brave one here, and I stood up tall next to the bushes and said, ‘Alright, show yourself!’ You should have heard me, Honey, I sounded really tough.”
If Pam hadn’t known better, she would have thought the moose nodded. “And then what happened?” she said weakly, more to get this ludicrous story over with than anything. She was already picking out the best disappointed frown for properly conveying her feelings about his lying to her, something sure to pierce him with guilt and bring out the outrageous (but not possibly this outrageous) truth.
Joe paused. He bit his lip. He looked over Pam’s shoulder at the moose. With an awkward laugh, he said, “Well, the owner of the voice stepped out of the bushes and… it was, um… it was the moose. Talking and wearing a hat.”
“Pleasure to meet you, ma’am,” said the moose in a charming bass.
Pam gave a blood-curdling scream and leapt reflexively away from the window, clutching her formica counter in wild-eyed panic.
Joe jumped up, as well, but more to calm his wife than out of surprise. “He’s harmless, Honey, honest!” the man assured her, his hands raised soothingly. “He’s some sort of weird genetic experiment or something. They’re doing some crazy stuff in that top-secret research facility!”
The moose snorted. “The derogatory adjective was unnecessary, but that is basically correct.” Its voice was slightly muffled by the glass panes of the window, but the deep rumble of its voice seemed capable of infiltrating the thickest of walls. “I was created there, but despite the success of their attempt to give an animal human intelligence, they failed to treat me with the basic decency that should be afforded a creature possessing such self-awareness.”
“They were doing all these experiments on him!” Joe translated. “But he escaped! And he asked if we could help him hide out,” he added proudly. “Which of course we were going to, we couldn’t just leave the poor guy to be recaptured and poked and prodded for the rest of his life!” Joe turned to the moose with a smoldering glare. “Of course, part of the arrangement was that you were going to stay in the barn until I could figure out how to tell my wife so we wouldn’t give her a heart attack.” He waved a hand towards Pam, who was in the act of clutching at her heart and nearly hyperventilating.
The moose looked chagrined, as much as moose are capable of such facial expressions. “My apologies, Madame. I am pleased to meet you and greatly appreciate the efforts of your husband and his colleagues to aid in my escape. Also, these flowers are delicious,” he added dreamily.
“So… uh… that’s why there’s a moose on the lawn,” Joe finished lamely. He paused for a second before gingerly clasping his hands together and giving his wife the best puppy-dog stare he could manage. “Can we keep him, Honey?”
Pam took several deep breaths, her eyes darting back and forth between the moose (whose expression she couldn’t read) and Joe (whose face full of nervous hope she could read like a book). It took several more achingly long minutes for her to feel confident in her heart’s condition. Slowly releasing the countertop, she continued to study the moose for a long moment. Only one question came to mind.
“Where did you get the hat?” she asked, then immediately felt embarrassed with herself.
The moose seemed to perk up. He tilted his horned head at what might have been intended to be a rakish angle. “You like it? I am told the trilby is quite fashionable among humans. One of my caretakers gave it to me as a joke, but he shall not be getting it back,” the moose added smugly.
Pam nodded slowly, as if she understood any of this insanity. She turned back to hopeful Joe and said the only thing that made any sense until she had more time to sort all this out. “Fine, he can stay for a few days in the barn, so long as he doesn’t eat all my flowers.”
Joe whooped and rushed over to hug her. “Thanks, Pam! I’m sure he’ll be a total gentleman!” He glanced at the moose. “Er, gentlemoose.” Planting a kiss on Pam’s cheek, Joe raced out the door. “Come on, George, I’ll show you where I want to build you a hut!”
The moose (George?) nodded cordially to Pam. “Madame.” Then it turned and trotted after her excited husband, its massive brown form dwarfing her garden.
Pam watched them go, the fog of bewilderment slowly beginning to give way to rational thought. I just agreed to let my husband keep a sentient moose with a hat as a pet. She stared out the window at the devastated remains of her flowerbed. Probably with weird secret government agents looking for it. And he’s building it a hut. If only he would get this excited about refinishing the siding.
“Well, Lord,” she said finally, out loud, as if to assure herself that she hadn’t fainted in shock, “You never claimed life with Joe would be boring.” Almost involuntarily, a smile crept onto her face. And that WAS a big reason I married him, so I guess I can’t complain when he surpasses my expectations.
(You can read all of my posted short stories by clicking “Writing Shorts” in the top Menu. Thanks for reading! – Jenn H.)