Alissa York’s novel, Fauna, was first published by Random House Canada in 2010, and was short-listed for the City of Toronto Book Award. Subsequent editions have appeared in France and The Netherlands.
After years spent busting smugglers of exotic pets and banned animal parts, federal wildlife officer Edal Jones is on stress leave when she happens upon the unusual community that will change her life. Situated between a half-wild ravine and Toronto’s Chinatown East, Howell Auto Wreckers is a modern-day sanctuary for injured souls. Handsome proprietor Guy Howell offers refuge to animals and humans alike: a half-starved hawk and a brood of orphaned raccoons; a soldier whose heart failed him during his first tour of duty; a teenage runaway and her massive black dog. Guy’s a rare kind of man—well-versed in the delicate workings of damaged beings, he might just stand a chance at capturing Edal’s heart.
Before love can bloom, however, the little community must come to terms with a different breed of lost soul. Known to the blogosphere as Coyote Cop, nineteen-year-old Darius Grimes may have taken on a new name, but he can’t seem to shed his brutal past. His backwoods childhood is catching up with him, and he’s taking it out on the creatures that call the neighbouring valley home.
He’s found another one—she can tell by his low, snuffling wuff. Lily loves the shape he makes, shaggy and substantial, true black against the Canada Trust Tower’s glimmering granite wall. She knows a stab of pride. His coat is impressive, even here, in the eerie, aquarium light of the business district before dawn.
“Whatcha got, Billy?” Crouching down, she cups the ruched, wet-velvet edging of his lips. His breath is jungly. As she feels up over the points of his teeth, he relaxes his jaw, delivering the small feathered body into her grasp. She drops a kiss on his wet black nose.
“Good boy.” She rises, closing the bird in her palms. It’s alive, the certainty palpable. “Any more?”
He sets to work again, nosing along a planter’s edge, disturbing ghostly petunias with his snout. Lily follows him to the corner, where Bay Street stretches north into spotlit gloom. She can make out the slow-swooping arc of a flashlight maybe a block away. A few minutes, no more, before they ought to be moving on.
Warming the bird a little longer in her hands, she turns to look west along Front Street, wide and quiet save for the taxi line out front of Union Station, shrunk to a mere three cars. Median gardens stand like skinny tropical islands, palm-leaf shadows, flowers lying low. Maybe they’ll try there next, cross three deserted lanes to pick a path along the concrete rim. Birds that live through the impact often make their way to the nearest patch of green.
Across Bay, the Royal Bank Tower shows a sensible black hem of three or four storeys before rising in golden, knife-edged pleats. Its heights betray the first red hints of sunrise. Gulls are beginning to circle up from the lake; a fat one lands close by, stretching, then stowing its wings. It rotates its snowy head Lily’s way, eyeing her carefully clasped hands.
“Fuck you,” she murmurs, “fucking creep.”
Pressing the stunned little body to her chest, she frees a hand and unsnaps her right cargo pocket. The hunting vest isn’t much to look at—shit brown and big enough to hold two of her—but it’s lightweight and warm, and all those pockets mean she generally has what she needs. The Tim Hortons bag is used but clean. She shakes it open and slips the bird inside.
Billy’s growl is soft, the frequency felt as much as heard. Lily turns. At the curb, a woman in bike shorts and a pale sweatshirt stands astride a mountain bike. She’s unusual-looking, built like a gymnast, pretty in a not quite human way. Lily flashes on the little tree frogs that used to cling to the siding beneath her bedroom window. Grey-green backs and pearly bellies. That trilling sound.
Billy eases up beside her, his growl rumbling in her kneecap, humming coldly in the steel shank of her boot. She touches a hand to her breast pocket, seeking the folded outline of her knife.
“Excuse me,” the woman calls, “can I ask what you’re doing?”
There’s something of the teacher in her tone, maybe even the cop. Lily takes a step back.
“Don’t be scared.”
Lily spins on the spot and runs, Billy right behind her, keeping himself between her and the woman at the curb. The bike glints where she left it, propped in the recess of an emergency exit door. The crossbar means she has to swing her leg out over the back wheel, but it’s better like that, you can bring your boot down pumping and tear away.
She burns down Front on the sidewalk, headed for the first glaring slip of day. For seconds she’s on her own, then Billy pulls alongside her, a shaggy black bison on silent hooves. Lily grips the handlebars. The pair of them stampede toward sun-up, leaving the frog woman to choke on their dust.