You see them all along this road, those ‘deer crossing’ signs. I make this trip four times a year, visiting the parents, and I’ve never even seen a deer along this stretch of road, but I see those damn signs everywhere. According to those signs the area’s chock full of suicidal deer, all just biding their time until they can fling themselves in front of an unsuspecting motorist without warning. Look, there’s another one, the blaze yellow diamond catching my headlights and flinging the light painfully back into my eyes.
I’m annoyed that I begin to shout, “These signs are all bullshit!”, but I only get as far as “are” before the deer, huge and silent, bursts from the cover of the trees to my right , bounding into the road right in front of me. “Are” transforms into a scream as the beast veers sharply away from my headlights, changing direction with the precision of a machine, snow or no snow, white tail flashing me just six feet from the halogens.
Reflex shoves my brain out of the way, and I stomp on the brake. Not the thing to do on a snowy road, says my brain, but the rest of me isn’t listening. With all four wheels locked up the rear of the car decides it’s interested in what the deer is doing, and it swings up front to take a look. Rather than showing the deer, however, my headlights illuminate the trees by the roadside, and I watch them whip by just beyond the plow-packed snow hump on the shoulder as I scream sideways down the road in a four-wheel drift so perfect it belongs on a Hollywood set.
Somewhere in the background, my brain drones on about turning into the skid, but Reflex is still in charge. Like that one person who keeps calling out directions to a frightened mob, knowing that to lose momentum is to relinquish control, Reflex demands action! The foot switches from brake to gas, and the engine roars as the front wheels spin freely on the icy road. They spin until the tires meet a dry stretch of macadam. The car lurches as traction makes a sudden appearance, and the trees leap toward me, anxious to introduce themselves.
There’s a white explosion as the Ford torpedoes through the plow-pack, chunks of ice and snow flying into the air, bouncing off the windshield. My brain has time for one smug I told you so before my entire world becomes airbag, snapping my head back and flattening my nose. Then even the airbag goes, and everything fades to black.
* * * * *
Cue the headache. Cue the neck-ache.
Oh, hell, cue the face-ache, I think, the next time I do think. And why am I so cold?
I open my eyes to find the interior of my car rather than my bedroom, and I think Good Lord, how drunk was I last night? Then, groggily, I realize that some of the car interior is actually exterior, and the deer comes flooding back. I look through the space where my windshield used to be and see a tree trunk that’s way too close. I snort in self-disgust, then cry out at the jag of pain this sends up into my head. I gently prod my nose and quickly conclude that yes, it’s broken. I do a quick ‘systems check’ and come to the conclusion that the nose is the worst of it. The door groans and pops as I shove it open, leaning my shoulder in to the task.
My car, I see once I’m out and about, is hugging the tree like a long-lost lover; I’m not driving out of here, even if the motor starts. I limp stiffly up to the road through the hole the Ford made in the plow-pack, thoughts of flagging down another motorist driving me on.
Fat chance of that in the middle of the night.
Standing in the middle of the road I look about for the deer, but of course there’s no sign of him. I look back the way I came… and there’s something in the road, right between my skid-marks in the snow. This far from a town it gets dark, and I’m almost on top of it before I can see clearly.
A wolf. Mangled and torn, obviously dead, I must have run it down sometime during my sideways skid and never even noticed in my panic.
Well, I think, that sorts out what the deer was running from.
I turn back toward the limited shelter of my car, but I freeze.
That wolf wasn’t what the deer was running from, and even my thoughts are hushed.
Ranged in a semi-circle between me and my car, are more than a half-dozen wolves. Lean, almost gaunt, from the slim winter hunting, heads down and hackles up, the one in the center of the crescent lets loose a low rumbling growl when I make eye-contact. I take a careful step back. As one, the pack takes a step forward. I am very aware that I smell of blood.
Reflex takes over again, and I’m off and running. The pack is after me in an instant, but I have a head start but barely get to the tree before they do. Powerful jaws close on my heel as I pull myself higher in the tree, yanking the loafer from my foot and almost dislodging me from the limb. The pack savages the shoe, snapping and biting as I sit on the branch and pull out my mobile. I flip it open and shout down at the eyes glaring up through the gloom.
“Ha! Too slow, you bastards!”
I’ve dialed 9-1-1 when the ground suddenly rushes up at me, carrying with it a wolf-pack’s worth of flashing teeth and snapping jaws, as the sound of a snapping tree limb echoes through the dark night.
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