And now the truck moved haltingly along the muddy lane, the side windows down for a clearer view. The boys were scouring the trees and earth for "sign"—ditch and creek crossings, bedding areas, and buck rubs made on tree trunks, where an animal had scraped its head and antlers to leave scent pheromones, release sexual tension, and mark its territory.
"A mature buck can move like a ghost," the father told his boys, hearing his own father's words come alive again. "If you don't know where to look, you will never see one."
"I see a ghost down there!" the nine-year-old said a few minutes later, and leaned across his brother to point deeper into the woods. His father slowed the truck to a halt, leaned into his son, and squinted. A wisp of smoke twisting up through the trees. "Somebody's campfire," he said.
"No it's not," the older boy told him. "There's something big down there."
"We'll have a look," his father said, and put the gearshift in Park. Immediately the older boy sprang his door open, and he and his brother piled out, both heading into the woods. "Hold it!" their father shouted. "You boys wait for me."
The oldest pulled up short, always obedient. But the youngest broke into a run. "I'm the spotter!"
His father called him back again but to no avail, and so jogged alongside his oldest son as they followed the youngest. Soon the object in the mist became visible. A hatchback burned black, tires melted, with a thick thread of dark smoke still wafting lazily into the treetops, a stink of burned metal and rubber and meat in the air.
The father had barely enough time to recognize a mounting dread in his bones when the youngest, who had rushed up to a blasted-out window, turned to him and cried, "Daddy!"
The father had never seen such a look on his son's face, the disbelief and horror. Afterward, for weeks and weeks of scream-shot nights, he prayed God would wash that look and the sights and scents that triggered it from all of their dreams forever.
Jayme awoke at first light and was surprised to find DeMarco still asleep with his back to her. She thought about putting her hand against his neck and snuggling close but a part of her did not want him to awaken just yet. She eased out of bed as quietly as she could and started toward the bathroom. Along the way she glanced at the window and saw how the curtain was glowing with the first light of morning, so she crossed to the window and pulled the curtain aside and stepped up to the glass and then drew the curtain behind her so that she could hold the edge of it with her other hand and keep the light from filling the room and waking DeMarco. The curtain enclosed her and shut her off from the rest of the room. She was not ready yet to start another day or to lie down beside him again and have him open his eyes and look at her so that she had to smile and say something nice. She wanted to look out the window for a while and be left to herself.
The sun had not yet breeched the horizon but the sky was glowing a lovely orange to the east and the day was going to be temperate and clear and pleasant. They would have another pleasant day and people would go about their day as usual, and all the while all around the world women would be giving birth and pushing out babies. And in some places babies were dying and in other places they were being killed before they could be born. They were being scraped out of the womb and hacked up into pieces and in some places tiny babies were starving or suffering because of their mother's habits or being abandoned or abused or being left in hot cars or being shaken or beaten or made to lie wailing all day with shitty diapers and rashes and diseases that could not be cured. All over the world babies were being born into a world of suffering and evil and it just wasn't fair. Her baby would have been loved and cherished every moment of its life; would have been taught kindness and compassion and generosity and there was not a damn thing fair about any of it. And there was nothing Jayme or anybody else could do about it now. She was supposed to be sweet and strong and to keep smiling as if nothing had ever happened. As if she had not felt that life growing inside her and had not awakened in the hospital to feel only emptiness. As if some part of her had not been irremediably ripped away leaving a hole that could never be filled or healed or sutured shut. She stood with her forehead against the cold glass and her hands pressing hard against her belly, her body convulsing with the sobs she did her best to silence and contain.