Lee Houck

Celeste brings a crossbow to the zoo.

Small enough to fit inside her backpack, she says it matches the one that Tina Turner carries in the press photo from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Which is the same photo Celeste used to mock up her Halloween costume a while back, the year everyone else went as cast members from The Jersey Shore. That crossbow was a prop; this one is not. The barrel is heavy and black. Celeste holds it firmly, and pulls the string back until it locks into place.

We are in San Diego to enact revenge on Celeste’s ex-girlfriend, Kim, who is a small mammal specialist and who recently put Celeste out to pasture after a series of disagreements that Celeste says were ‘mostly about the rent.’

“How will she know it’s you?” I ask. “The symbol of it? Don’t you want her to know?”

“I want her to wonder,” Celeste says.

“What about an escape route?” I ask, but she ignores this.

“Let’s get serious,” she says.

A short arrow is tucked into her sock with the feathered end pressed against the outside of her calf. She loads it into the center of the weapon. It is ready.

I try to imagine what will happen if we are caught. They will take us into a room for questioning, the kind with bad lighting and a clipboard hanging on a nail. Someone will call Kim. The zookeepers will put us in zoo jail.

Celeste looks at me. “Pick a cage,” she says, whispering. “Pick any cage.”

* *

I say nothing. Celeste grabs my hand and marches us to the railing that surrounds a pack, or cluster—a family?—of ring-tailed lemurs. A habitat, the zoo would want to call it, with woven metal netting about the size of chicken wire. Celeste has her eye on a few of the lemurs curled in the crook of what looks to me like plastic branches—I wonder if they know that everything is designed to fool them. Their heads are buried into one another, and their tiny chests move slowly up and down.
Celeste aims.

The click of the trigger and the tump of the string and then silent, like nothing is happening, and the arrow darts into the enclosure. It misses. Bounces off a branch and falls behind a rock formation. Every tiny ear shifts but nobody moves. One of the lemurs looks at us, blinks its shiny dark eyes and then nods off again.

“Fuck,” she says. “I didn’t really rehearse or whatever. Practice.”

“You don’t have another shot?”

“Change of plans,” Celeste says.

In the parking lot Celeste ditches the crossbow into the trunk and dials up directions on her phone. “I know a good hotel.”


I take a shower while Celeste drags our things in from the car. Then she dials up ice cream sundaes from room service.

“Hot fudge,” she is saying. “Are the nuts on top peanuts or almonds?”

When Celeste and I were twelve, we invented Spice Wars. In Spice Wars, the Chef concocts a beverage of approximately three ounces in volume, which the Contestant must then drink. The Chef may use any or all ingredients found in the kitchen in any or all drawers and refrigerated appliances. Players take turns as Chef or Contestant until one of you refuses to imbibe. The only out of bounds are things specifically marked “Poison.” Equal parts celery salt, lime extract and heavy cream. Cracked red pepper + lemon juice, then silver decorating balls up to the brim. Worchestershire Sauce, warmed. The summer before high school Celeste stopped playing. I missed it, our afternoons, combing the cabinets for strange and even stranger combinations. I liked that I could make something and she had to accept it. She took whatever it was into her body.

Then Celeste is in the bathroom doing her nails. “Baby,” she says, “leave me alone for a minute.” I do not know what we are—if Celeste and I are girlfriends—but I know when to do as I’m told.


I take the ice bucket down the hallway, making a loop through the lobby, around the pool, and back to the tiny business center, which, of course, is empty. Only a desk with a USB cord draped over it. Someone from the hotel directs me back to the ice machine on my floor, and I pretend for a second to be lost.

When I get back to the room Celeste is on the bed, pointing the crossbow at her toes.

“What’s going on,” I say.

“The body is only temporary, right? A vessel for our true selves?” Celeste says.

Celeste is a Leo, I’m a Scorpio—we’re supposed to be a bad match. But sometimes she shines that Leo light onto me. When it happens it’s like a blanket laid over the room—corners and edges, everything is visible. And she can focus it, hone it into a laser beam of affection and then you feel swollen and bright like the moon.

“I don’t know,” I tell her.

Celeste lifts her arm and pulls the trigger, the arrow bolts out and lands firmly in the wall. I pull on the shaft to remove it and the head emerges with a thin strand of pink fiberglass insulation, like cotton candy. Does insulation keep the warmth in or the cold out, I never know.
Celeste says, “I need to think about what to do.”

Lee Houck was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee and now lives in Brooklyn, NY. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals in the U.S. and Australia, online, and in his almost-monthly old-school printed zine, “Crying Frodo.” His debut novel, Yield, was published in 2010. Find more about Lee here.