Twitter

 Home
 Subscribe
 Renew
 Current Issue
 Back Issues
 Events
 Workshops:
    Online
 Submissions
 Contests
 FFC Winery
 Volunteer
 About
 Blog
 Contact Us
 Terms of Use

Vol. 4, No. 1

Stranger
by Peter Rock

Melissa gets up on her knees, then begins pulling the damp pine needles from the bare skin of her ass and thighs. Dave had put his shirt down, under her, but somehow she'd slid off it. Now he stands ten feet away, peeling the condom loose, tying the open end in a knot.
    The whole time he was on top of her, a swarm of tiny insects hanging over his right shoulder, she kept the woods in her peripheral vision. Lying down in the clearing had been her idea; once they'd started, though, she was unable to relax. She expected hunters in wool coats to step out from the trees--her skin trembled, anticipating their cold shadows.
    "That was nice," Dave says. "Different." He stands in the sun, naked except for his hiking boots and glasses. He's not yet thirty-five, but there's already gray in the hair on his chest; his legs are too skinny for the thickness of his trunk.
    "Yes," she says, stepping into her underwear, her shorts.
    "About ready to head back?"
    "How much daylight do we have?"
    "No idea," he says. "There's the sun." He points at it.
    Melissa shivers as she follows him back under the pines, into the shadows. They've traveled all the way across the country for three days of this, and they both pretend to enjoy it more than they do. She's always relieved to pack up on the last day; the rest of the time, she wonders what it would take for something to really go wrong. She knows Dave feels the same way, even as he struts ahead, whistling, the used condom swinging back and forth in his hand.
    Stepping into the sun, they start across a meadow. Grasshoppers strike her bare arms and legs, their instantaneous arrivals and departures like tiny electrical shocks; she points out a bare bush, its branches just sticks, and someone has covered the tips with spent shotgun shells--they look like red and orange fingers, and when the wind blows it seems many bright hands are either waving her closer or warning her away.
    Melissa and Dave climb a small rise and step back onto the rutted dirt road. Holding hands, they start down the road, toward the cabin; soon, they come to where a sign has been nailed straight into a tree. Sap the color of maple syrup bleeds down the bark, dark bugs stuck there. In red paint, crooked letters say, I'LL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN. The area around the sign bears no scars or clues; the sign doesn't even offer an arrow. The first time they passed it, they wondered at the message; now, hours later, they still can't make sense of it.
    "I guess this is just a day of signs," Dave says.
    "That seems to be the case," she says.
    Early that morning, on the highway, they passed a semitrailer, and high above, in the window, the driver had placed a white sign reading, WHY NOT FLIRT? LIFT YOUR SHIRT! Melissa had laughed, and Dave told her to go ahead. She wished he had meant it, but she knew he didn't; he likes to think of himself as smoother than that, the kind of man women appreciate, more sensitive than the men he works with. He is a college football coach--not the head coach, but in charge of the quarterbacks--and it's a rough bunch, men who greet each other by asking how they're hanging and then grabbing to check. How's your wife and my kids? they say. At night, Dave often tells her of them, trying to make himself look good. Secretly, she sometimes wishes he were more like them. She wanted to pull up her shirt this morning, flash her breasts through the windshield, make the trucker blow his horn.

 

~

The cabin is an A-frame, tall and thin, a cow skull wired over the doorway, fake Indian symbols painted around it. Melissa has a week's break from dental school, and it's off-season for Dave. He found the cabin in a guidebook--no running water or electricity, owned by the U.S. Forest Service, $15 a night, in the middle of nowhere. He is proud of the bargain. At the airport, they rented a four-wheel-drive truck, then followed the topographical maps, struggled along the logging roads. Every time a stone shot up or a branch reached out, Dave pulled over and checked for scratches or dings. She told him to keep driving--either the truck was scratched or it wasn't.
    Now he is cooking on the camping stove, cursing it. They're back from the hike, inside the cabin, where all the windows are plastic, scratched with initials, crosshatched; mouse droppings and melted wax cover the shelves and floor. Wooden knobs stick out from walls and rafters, and Dave's hung up everything that could possibly be hung. He's cooking freeze-dried lime-mango chicken. Watching him, Melissa feels an uneasy edge, almost like a headache's coming but not quite arriving, just a dull pain creeping up the back of her skull. Maybe the cabin's not well enough ventilated--the gas lantern's on, as well as the camping stove--but she knows it's not that.
    "This food is vacuum-packed," Dave says, reading the label. "Like the meals astronauts eat."
    "That's supposed to make us feel how?" she says. "Good? You'd hope we could do a little better, down here with gravity and oxygen and everything."
    "You'd think so," he says agreeable. He drops the foil packet into the boiling water, then picks up the camera and begins rewinding the film. Popping the lid off a plastic film canister, he spills cinnamon into the camera, open on his lap. "Damn. My fault. Should have labeled that--stupid way to pack spices." He turns over the camera, shakes it, blows into it.
    Melissa reaches to take a notebook from a shelf. Since she married Dave, she thinks, he's become more willing to own up to his mistakes, to show his weaknesses and limitations; he believes this makes her respect him more. If she lets him see her impatience, he'll only laugh, make a joke about her mean streak.
    "Maybe we'll eat film in the oatmeal tomorrow morning," he says. "Just kidding. I saved some of the cinnamon."
    She opens the notebook, which is full of comments from people who have stayed in the cabin before. The handwriting varies from children's to adults', in black and blue and red ink, magic marker.
    What a salvation this is. John and Busker (our Alsatian) have gone looking for water for swimming. I can see them, down below. I feel at peace.
     Someone backed into the outhouse, but that was B4 we got here. 6" snow + elk down in the flats.
    To her, there's something distasteful about the messages, a combination of showing off and the pathetic desire to be remembered, to leave a mark.
     Don't you just feel lucky and blessed? Mornings here are so beautiful.
    Often at night when I'm in town I can hardly believe this place exists or that there's people in it, like it closes up and folds away when I'm not here. I almost want to come check my special place.

 

~

She awakens hours later, upstairs in the cabin, on the air mattress. Their mummy bags are zipped together, Dave's legs pressing hot against hers. Moonlight shines in through a tall, triangular window, the rafters slanting darkly overhead. Dave's hands, on the pillow, smell of cooking gas. Rolling over, she looks closely at his face, the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, his thick eyebrows, scattered whiskers. She certainly loves him, despite himself; it's easy to love him when he's asleep.
    Then she hears something. Outside. Footsteps, on the loose gravel of the drive. They stop, as if to trick her, then begin again, heavy and slow. She tries to see through the window, but the plastic is scratched and cloudy, and the sounds are coming from around the side of the cabin. Now she hears a low moaning, perhaps slurred words.
    She pulls herself from the bag without waking Dave and crawls along the wooden floor, to the square hole where the ladder stretches down. She wears a long flannel shirt. The rungs of the ladder are sharp against her bare feet. Downstairs, she ducks at the last moment, just missing the darkly hanging lantern. She opens the door.
    It's lighter outside. Standing still, she hears no sound. She steps down from the porch, and then there's a motion, over where the truck is parked. She doesn't move; in her hand, she holds a thick branch, someone's walking stick. She considers waking Dave, but she knows she's the one to handle a situation like this--he would only complicate it.
    Whoever is out there is hiding on the other side of the truck, a dark figure visible through the windows. Melissa holds her breath. The light rises from all surfaces; it seems to cast no shadows. The air is cool, the smell of the pines sharper, yet fainter, without the sun to warm the needles. At first, only the head sticks out, then the two sharp bumps of shoulders. Melissa steps closer, to get a clearer view. The cow turns its neck, rubs its jaw back and forth on the hood of the truck. It wheezes, stomps its hoof.
    Melissa holds out her hand as if she has something to offer, as if she is no threat, and the cow seems to be frozen there, waiting for her. They are only ten feet apart when it jerks its head away and shuffles into the trees, hardly lifting its feet, kicking gravel as it goes.
    The light is thick and soft around Melissa, and there's the faint sound of something like dark wings in the night, the nervous twitching of nocturnal creatures. In the morning she'll try to explain this to Dave. She promises herself she won't write about it in the notebook.

 

~

She has slept at least another hour when the knocking begins, someone rapping at the door, pausing, then beginning again. She shakes Dave until his eyes come open.
    "It's your turn," she says.
    "What?"
    "Something's outside."
    The knocking resumes, now more impatient.
    "That's not a cow," she says.
    "What are you talking about?" Dave sits up, hits his head on a rafter. "Damn." He rubs above his ear, kicks his legs free from the sleeping bag.
    From downstairs comes the sound of the door swinging open, its bottom rasping along the floor, then uneven footsteps, something kicked against a wall.
    "Hello?" It's a woman's voice, straight through the floor beneath them, less than three feet away.
    "Hello," Dave says.
    "We got a little problem up the road."
    Melissa wants to sleep. The sound of the voice--shrill, demanding, wide awake--irritates her.
    "We could use a little help. My husband's hurt, and it's not so easy for me to move him around."
    "Did you call someone?" Dave says.
    "I'm calling you. How would I call anyone? I don't know where you're from, but out here when a person asks for help it's because they need it."
    In the silence, Melissa watches Dave think; he's trying to decide what to do, and she can tell he feels her watching him. He wants to make the right decision.
    "Am I going to have to come up there?" the woman says.

 

~

The woman drives, the truck jostling and creaking through the ruts. Dave sits next to her, watching the single headlight's illumination. They've passed the painted sign twice, and he suspects they're circling, backtracking, that the woman is in some kind of shock. She wears a red bandanna around her head. The skin on her face looks weathered in the dim light, her eyes small and round. She told him her name is Nancy; she's been silent since, driving, her long, thin fingers tight around the steering wheel. He feels her looking at him, but every time he turns toward her she's squinting through the windshield. He wonders what kind of problem it was--he'd assumed it was a car accident, but here she is with the vehicle.
    "Was your husband conscious when you left him?"
    "He was."
    Dave holds the small, plastic emergency first-aid kit on his lap; when he bought it, three weeks ago, Melissa said it was a waste of money. She had stayed behind at the cabin, though Nancy seemed certain that they'd both be needed. Dave assured her it would be all right. He could feel Melissa turning stubborn.
    "Getting close," Nancy says, leaning forward against the wheel.
    In the dashboard, the glass is broken, and the speedometer doesn't even have a needle. There's a dark, rectangular cave of wires where the radio had been. The truck rises over a gentle curve and then two headlights shine, off to the left, hidden back in the trees. Nancy slows and eases the truck over a small ditch, onto a hidden road; they keep on moving, slowly, under the trees, as if the single headlight nudges the trunks aside to make room.
    "Fool," she says, squinting. She parks and leaves the truck running, twenty feet from the pair of headlights.
    A man steps out of the trees, into the lights. He is tall, with a thick, dark beard, a tangle of hair around his head. He wears a flannel shirt, suspenders. He's already talking, his hands up to slow her, when Nancy opens the door.
    "I kept the lights on, like you said to, and he just walked into them and stood there, five minutes, staring at me, just asking me to put him down."
    "Quiet," Nancy says.
    "Is there an accident here?" Dave says. He sees the blood on the man's hands.
    "You stay in the truck," Nancy says, slamming the door.
    He watches through the windshield as the two of them walk a short distance away. What he took for headlights, he realizes, are actually two round halogen lamps, propped up on stones, a few feet apart; there's no other vehicle. It's clear that Nancy and the man are arguing, but he can't hear them. The man is pointing at the truck, back at the road, and Nancy's pointing into the woods. Turning, Dave looks in that direction, behind him, where the lamps are shining. Something large and red is hanging there, from the branch of a tree. It's a body, a bloody body. He narrows his eyes, trying to focus. It's some kind of animal, he decides. A deer, antlers almost resting on the ground, front hooves stretching down; the skin has been peeled off the flanks and hangs, doubled over the shoulders.
    He's still looking back when the truck's door opens.
    "Get out," Nancy says.

~

Dave stands holding the first-aid kit, watching the truck drive away. Behind him, the man watches, too, holding a rifle in one hand and a long knife in the other. He must be over six and a half feet tall, pushing three hundred pounds, at least forty years old.
    "I guess she went after Melissa," Dave says. "And they'll come back."
    The man doesn't answer.
    "We don't really have much with us--you could even take the truck, you know," Dave says. "It's rented. We got all the insurance on it and everything."
    Above, between the trees, stars shine down. The two lamps still blare into the trunks and branches, lighting the red carcass of the deer. The man clears his throat, but doesn't say anything. After a moment, he takes a few steps and stands next to a plastic storage locker that must have fit in the back of the pickup; he hits it with the butt of the rifle and it echoes.
    "Sit here," he says. "I'm not going to tie you up, because if you took off running, that would be a stupid decision. Where'd you go? Know what I mean?"
    Dave sits on the locker, waiting, thinking of the map. The nearest town is forty miles away, farther. Now the man returns to his skinning; he leans the rifle against a tree, pulls the skin out with his left hand, and cuts it free with the knife. The deer twists only a little.
    "My name's Dave."
    The man turns slowly, steps halfway back, closing the distance between them. There's blood on the knife, dark on his hands.
    "You can call me, let's see--how about Henry?"
    "You know," Dave says, "you should have had me go along, talk to Melissa. That probably would've made it easier."
    Henry is skinning again. His boots are huge, camouflage.
    This is real, Dave is thinking. This is actually happening. He can already hear himself telling the story, and he almost wants it to turn stranger, so people will be more impressed. It is already hard enough to believe; it's difficult to take it seriously without panicking. His only thoughts are all the sayings that hang on the walls in the locker room: DO BETTER THAN YOUR BEST. TO ASSUME THE WORST IS TO MAKE IT HAPPEN. He tells himself not to get on Henry's bad side, but Henry seems calm enough. There's something about him--despite his size, despite the gun and knife--that seems harmless. Not harmless, exactly, just not harmful. Dave's known lots of boys with huge bodies that were afraid to use them, afraid to hurt someone. He's learned you can only teach meanness so far.

 

~

When Henry is finished, he takes the skin in both hands and throws it deeper into the woods. He returns, the rifle pointed at the ground.
    "You going to tan that hide?" Dave says.
    "I doubt that very much."
    "You think something's gone wrong? Seems like she's been gone a while."
    "Maybe, it might be better," Henry says, "if we don't talk specifically about this situation here." He walks over to the lamps and begins to adjust them.
    "Right." Dave sits back, letting the silence grow, trying to imagine himself in another place. He thinks of Melissa, of what she is doing now, and of the hike they took this afternoon. Setting out, he'd begun picking up all the old cans and bottles they came across; soon he had too many to carry, and had to give it up. Melissa said a team of scouts should handle that, and when he tried to correct her he couldn't remember if it was called a pack or troop. She said it might do him some good to litter, once in a while. She said if she had a gun she'd shoot rows of bottles, leave shards of glass all across the wilderness. She likes to provoke him.
    "What are you thinking about?" Henry says.
    "Hiking," Dave says. "This is our first anniversary, my wife and mine."
    "Congratulations." Henry shrugs his shoulders, as if that won't change the way things will go.
    "You ever seen that sign out there?" Dave points toward the road. "The one in red paint?"
    "Haven't seen it."
    "The one that says, `I'll never do that again.' We were wondering what that could be about."
    "I don't know this area real well," Henry says. "What's your answer?"
    "We couldn't figure it."
    "I mean, what would you never do again?"
    "I don't know."
    "What about coming out here, to that cabin? Would you do that again?"
    "Thought we weren't talking about this situation," Dave says. He checks his wrist; he'd taken off his watch and left it in the cabin, next to the sleeping bag. It must be past midnight now, and getting colder. The lamps shine on the carcass, but they don't reach far, the darkness tight in every direction. The trees lean a little, shifting their branches in a wind he can't feel.
    "I'll never get drunk with the guys I work with again," he says. "That I wouldn't do. I'm a football coach, just to give you some background." He almost says how his job depends on the performance of one nineteen-year-old kid, one quarterback, but the sad truth in that joke always keeps people from laughing. Dave looks up; Henry's still standing there, waiting for him to continue.
    "This was after a big game, one we won, so we went out to celebrate. Just drinking and drinking, everyone challenging each other. Finally, I was about to pass out, but every time I fell asleep they'd put smelling salts under my nose. And they'd make me do another shot, promise it was the last one."
    Talking helps him feel better, keeps his mind busy. And it's best to build up a kind of friendliness; that way, later, Henry might not want to do anything to hurt him. Dave's worried about Melissa, but he won't let himself slip into negative thinking. She can take care of herself, after all, she's the sensible one; he thinks of her short black hair, her temper, the muscles in her calves. She's the one who quiets talkers at movies, who straightens out the overcharging electric company, who stands up to drunks. She's studying to be a dentist, and she actually enjoys the anatomy they do on cadavers--cutting back the skin to show the jaw, the gums, opening the throat to see what it holds. None of that bothers her. She can handle a night like this.
    "So did they ever let you sleep?" Henry says.
    "Yeah, they did. Only once I was asleep they wrote all over my body, in permanent marker. All kinds of curse words, drawings. Stripes on my dick, everything. Had a green mustache for weeks."
    Henry laughs, which is a good sign. He offers a can of chewing tobacco, then takes a dip for himself when Dave refuses.
    "Hell," Henry says, "I'll never give her my pistol again, knowing she has it now, her frame of mind. That I'd never do again."

 

~

Dave has a bad feeling when Henry takes out the camouflage suit--it seems a sign that action is about to be taken, that the night is turning. Henry says it's just that it's getting cold. Before he touches the suit, he has Dave pour water over his hands, to rinse off the blood; his fingers are thick and crooked, hands twice the size of Dave's.
    He tells about the suit as he pulls it on. The inner layer is like rubber, and charcoal in the fabric eliminates human scent before it's released into the air.
    "An animal can walk right up to you," he says. "Won't smell you at all." When he pulls off his boots, his feet are bare.
    Dave listens. His breath is white, rising. He wonders if he could outrun Henry, take off while Henry struggles to get the suit over his thighs. The rifle's still in Henry's hand, though, and it's true Dave wouldn't know where to run, that even if he escaped there would still be Melissa.
    "Total Illusion 3-D Camo," Henry says. "Makes me invisible. This outer suit is made of a special, silent kind of material; these polyester leaves, sewn on here, flutter and break up your outline, so you blend into the forest." He pulls on the gloves, claps them together, then the mask, which is a kind of hood with only two small eyeholes, strips of leaves between them. In the lamplight, he looks like a walking tree, a man overcome by vegetation. He doesn't sound human, either; his voice is muffled.
    "That's something, all right," Dave says.
    Henry pulls up the mask, so it rests atop his hair and makes him even taller, two headed. Reaching into the plastic locker, he hands a sleeping bag, also camouflage, to Dave.
    "Unzip it," he says. "Wrap it around yourself."
    And then he sets to collecting wood, piling up kindling. He won't let Dave search for the wood, but allows him to arrange it, to push the dried leaves underneath. Soon, the fire is taking hold. Dave and Henry sit on either side of it, watching each other above the flames, both stealing expectant glances toward the road.
    "Another thing I'd never do," Henry says. "One time, a couple years back, winter, a child went missing, you know, and they got everyone they could to go out searching. Five days on my snowmobile, colder than anything." He stands, adds a chunk of wood, spits into the flames.
    This time, when he offers the snuff, Dave takes a pinch; some of the younger coaches use it, but he never does. Dentists hate it, but he's only trying to connect with Henry. Melissa will understand that, if she'll just get here. He spits, tries to adjust the grains of tobacco with the tip of his tongue. In the heat above the flames, Henry's two heads melt and twist, stretching even higher and then coming back together. Dave wonders if he put on the suit just to show it off; though Henry is probably older than he is, it doesn't feel that way. And he feels a kind of empathy, also--Henry is waiting for Nancy, and he can't do anything about it but wait. Nothing's moving as smoothly as Henry expected.
    "Did they ever find the child?" Dave says. "Did you?"
    "No." Henry scratches his beard; the soles of his shoes shine in the firelight. "You ever hear of Wolf Children?" he says. "Like the ones raised by animals?"
    "I don't think so."
    "Sometimes wolves will dig a burrow for a lost child," Henry says, "line it with leaves, sleep in a circle around it to keep it warm. I saw a whole television program about it, these kids. They run around on all fours, sniff everything, lap water out of a bowl. Hardly feel the cold. Skin of their hands and knees gets all thick and horny and they run straight up mountains. Can see better in the night than the day."
    Dave listens. Swiveling, he looks behind him. He doesn't believe a word of it, but the possibility of these children makes the space under the trees turn darker.
    "They have these children on the show?" he says. "They have pictures, or what?"
    "Drawings, I guess. Mostly this was a hundred years ago or more."
    "Of course it was," Dave says, laughing, then thinks he should have held his tongue. He spits, the tobacco gritty in his teeth, foul in the back of his throat.
    "There was more open space, then," Henry says. "Thing is, when they got caught, they could hardly ever learn to talk, or to sleep in a bed or anything." The mask is still resting atop his head, a little crooked, the eyeholes empty and dark. "I just wondered," he says, "if they might have been better off left where they were."
    "Hold on," Dave says. "I'm just trying to follow you, here. Are you saying you'd never search for a lost child again, or that this lost child got taken in by wolves, or what?"
    "I don't know what I'm saying," Henry says. He smiles, his teeth surrounded by beard. "Maybe if they're not caught for a couple years, then you should let them go. I don't know. Maybe I just wanted to tell about the show I saw."

~

The combination of hunger, lack of sleep, and the chew--along with the warm beer Henry found in the locker--has left Dave dizzy, almost giddy. He forgets himself, starts in on the questions again.
    "You two together?" he says.
    "What do you mean?"
    "You married or anything?"
    Henry doesn't answer, and Dave nods in agreement, as if he should have known better. He pulls the sleeping bag more tightly around his shoulders, his feet almost in the fire.
    "Makes sense to me," he says. "You see all these rich folks coming in, sport-utility vehicles and whatever, out here where they don't know anything. Can't blame you. I'd be tempted, too, if I was in your place."
    "Makes sense to you, does it? You have no idea. You think this is about money?" Henry smiles his smile, crushes the beer can in his huge hand, throws it into the fire. The aluminum buckles in the flames, turns black. The thick, white bed of ashes rises and falls, breathing, sometimes revealing the hot coals beneath. A log collapses. Sparks shoot upward, burn themselves to cinders.
    "I got something to tell you," Henry says, "just for you to know. This afternoon we were watching everything. We were standing in the trees. We saw the two of you, how you put your shirt under her, and we heard the noises you made, her legs in the air, your bony ass going."
    Dave doesn't say anything; he almost hopes Henry will continue, tell him what he and Melissa looked like, pressed together in that clearing, under the sun and sky.
    "Maybe we shouldn't have watched," Henry says. "Probably I wouldn't have, if I knew you then. We never would have thought of it, if we didn't come across you."
    One headlight shines, out on the road. It comes closer, searching for them; they can hear the tires as the truck passes by; the two red taillights slide away, blinking out.
    "What's she doing?" Henry says. "She knows the way."
    The headlight reappears, and the truck passes by, slowly, back the other way. Henry stands and checks the halogen lamps, which are still burning brightly, aimed at the road.
    Five minutes later, the truck returns, and veers into the trees, toward them, the one headlight winking as the wheels roll down through the ditch, up the other side. It doesn't come any closer.
    "Maybe she broke down," Dave says.
    "No. I can hear the engine. Listen."
    "Think she wants you to go out there?"
    "Maybe both of us," Henry says. "I can't leave you here."
    "What am I going to do? Run? All I want is to give you whatever you want, whatever that is, and then I want to be together with my wife."
    "Quiet."
    "If she wanted us both," Dave says, "she'd just drive in here again."
    Henry stands for another five minutes, silent, then sticks a finger in his mouth and throws his dip of chew into the fire. Sliding the lid from the plastic locker, he takes out a thick metal flashlight. He pulls the mask back down over his head, and once again he seems made of leaves.
    "Stay here," he says, his voice muffled. He almost leaves the rifle behind, then remembers it, and walks away, crossing the beams of the halogen lamps. Fake leaves span the space between his legs, flutter along his shoulders.
    Dave hesitates for only a moment, then stands and backs away, kicking the sleeping bag toward the fire. Underneath the branches of the trees, he bumps into someone, an arm reaching to hold him; it's the deer carcass, a hoof wrapped around his waist. He shakes it off, steps away, and almost immediately trips over the bloody hide; on his feet again, he stumbles, hands out in front of him, slapping tree trunks as he moves between them. He can't hear Henry because of the silent fabric, can't smell him for the charcoal suit, but the beam of the flashlight is clear and true, and no one needs camouflage in the dark. The truck idles, the driver's door open and the ceiling light on, the whole thing glowing like it's at the bottom of the ocean. Through the bright windows it's clear that the cab is empty; perhaps someone is lying in the bed of the truck, or hidden in the dark trees surrounding it. Dave is flat on his stomach, his urge to shout overcome by his desire to let it happen, to watch.
    Still moving closer, Henry strays into, then out of the headlight's beam.
    "Hello?" he says. "Hello?"
    His voice is caught in the mask, turned back on itself. Standing still, he aims the flashlight at the ground, then slowly switches it off. He's realized where he is and what has happened, and he knows that it's now too late to become invisible.
    At the first gunshot, birds rise and clatter through the branches above. Sticks rattle down. Animals startle and slip through the underbrush.
    There's only the sound of the truck after the second shot, the engine roughly idling. Dave, pressing himself harder into the ground, tastes the dirt on his lips; he can feel the wild children close around him--quick, seeing in the darkness, sensing that he is no threat.
    A dark shape moves beneath the truck, an arm reaching through the open door and into the light. It's Henry, his long body sliding up, low, flat on the seat now so he can't be seen through the windshield. Dave holds his breath, watching, hoping Henry will make it.
    He does not hear the shift, but slowly the truck begins to ease backward, sticks cracking beneath the tires. Another shot, a bullet tearing into metal, and Henry sits up straight, the truck accelerating. It sideswipes a tree, and a brake light shatters. The open door wrenches back and is torn off, left behind. The whole thing lunges over the ditch, onto the road. The headlight stares through dust.
    Tires spinning, finding the ruts, the truck slams forward. The cab is alight, and Henry is visible, inside, still hooded, sliding away with the sound of gravel, gone.
    A thick silence rises, multiplying in the darkness, the stars held out by the trees overhead. Then Melissa's voice sounds, startling him, closer than he expected.
    "David?" she says. "Are you here?"

Back to Top

© 2001- American Zoetrope
All trademarks used herein are exclusive property of The Family Coppola