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The Strange Fauna of the Suburban Pacific

Bre was a plain girl. She did not stand out, and she did not try to stand out. Her black hair hung in a low ponytail every day. She was sixteen, still without breasts, played the clarinet, was fascinated by birds, and walked her younger brother to and from the school parking lot every day refusing to make eye contact with anyone. She could not have been gloriously made over in a romantic comedy version of her life.

Yet a small group of seventeen-year-old boys had made her the focal point of their harassment. The boys were exactly what you’d expect. Man-sized but with little limb control and absent of reason. They smoked weed in the back parking lot. They wore vintage t-shirts and drove their parents’ VW vans. They surfed sometimes but weren’t particularly good at it. Nearly all of them had first names that had been surnames a generation before.

When just after New Year’s they’d started with Instagram comments—Bre’s page was entirely nature photos, and the ringleader’s first comment beside her photo of a dolphin off Zuma had been, “An animal documenting animals. Classic”—Bre had only for one second wondered “why me?” Though her parents were both lapsed Jews and though they declared themselves atheists, Bre had heard the stories of great great uncles who’d emerged from Bergen-Belsen staggering through the end stages of typhus. She knew that one need not be deserving of cruelty to receive it.

Planting a pipe bomb in a mailbox, even one detached from a residence, was a federal offense. Bre’s younger brother Max often professed that this punishment was overly harsh, but admitted that it was somewhat difficult to trace if you followed the appropriate precautions, which he, of course, did.

Max was 14 but his own kind of genius. He read Stephen Hawking and lectured people about astrophysics whether they wanted to hear it or not. He had sandy hair that hung in his eyes, and somehow commanded enough respect to have gathered together a small tribe of boys with whom he played Fortnite and ate potato chips and recorded YouTube videos and watched Twitch.

When the ongoing harassment of his sister culminated in a dead bird hanging in her locker, he saw no other plausible course forward.

And so, he found himself at 2 AM walking down Baxter, down to the home of the ringleader.  He’d heard a radio story about a mapping app that had inadvertently made Baxter – the steepest street in the city—a recommended route, the result of which had been a series of airborne vehicles crashing into fences and front yards and even through the front walls of houses in the way of meteorites flung through the black drape of a dark galaxy.

The mailbox rested on a post by the sidewalk in a front yard someone had transformed into a Japanese garden with paths made of small rocks and trees molded into the shapes of animals. Nighttime birds called to each other, and it sounded like actual human laughter. He was breathing so hard it felt like his own breath might kill him. The bomb was timed to go off in the middle of the night when the house would be full of the stagnant bodies of the dreaming. The idea was not to hurt but to startle.

Days before, he and his sister had sat in a donut shop in Santa Monica next to a wall of hanging succulents and eating blackberry glazed cake donuts made by self-proclaimed donut artisans. They’d taken the bus and planned to walk down to the ocean after, even if the whole thing meant five hours on the bus. It was a Saturday, and neither of them had plans. Their conversations often involved the sharing of factoids: he told her about dents in space time fabric, she said cool, and then she told him that peacocks had been spotted in Echo Park and pulled up a picture on her phone of a male walking across the street, stopping traffic in both directions, his long tail of feathers dusting the asphalt.

So it shouldn’t have surprised him after he planted the small device, wrapped carefully in brown paper, into the yellow-painted mailbox, when as he was walking back up Baxter to his house, through the cedar fence, past the refrigerator-sized cacti, and the ancient gurgling hot tub, into his room where he would try to sleep but be awakened by the thought of sparks and sounds, when he looked up from the dark night street to see a peacock fanning out its plumage as it balanced on a utility pole, as if telling him: anything at all, really anything, can happen.