Almost everyday that summer, when the hay was tallest, we’d run along the edge of the field and disappear into the trees that encircled the farm. Ducking behind a fallen log, we’d lie on our backs, camouflaging ourselves with dirt and leaves before looking up past the tips of the trees swaying in the wind. There we’d lie, stare at the sky, and wait.
The highway was just on the other side of the trees. To me and Jake, the passing cars and trucks were invisible spaceships scouting for fields to land in. We stayed motionless in the underbrush, the only safe place to hide from the aliens. Every few minutes we’d hear them zoom past to other fields, knowing that soon they’d choose ours.
A TV show about crop circles we had seen that spring convinced us that aliens were coming for our farm.
“If we catch them making their crop art,” Jake said, “we’ll get on TV for sure. Maybe even make millions.”
One day—when the crops were high and ripe for alien circles and we hid within eyeshot of the field and earshot of the aliens zooming all around us—I saw something moving through the field, pushing the hay into a vee that pointed right at us.
“Look, look, look,” I said, smacking Jake’s arm.
He sat up. “What is it?”
“Hey you,” Jake yelled.
The thing stopped and so did my breath.
I jumped up and punched Jake in the shoulder. “What d’you do that for?”
“Ouch!” he cried, hitting my leg. “We have to show it who’s boss.”
The thing shrieked, lurched forward, and headed straight for us, faster than before—Jake swallowed loud enough for me to hear and scrambled to his feet. We hopped a log and ran along the edge of the field faster than rounding bases after a line drive. With Jake only a few steps in front of me, I felt something wet grazed my leg and snort, but I couldn’t look back. Neither of us looked back until we stood on our porch. By then, whatever it was was gone.
Hunched over, holding my knees, and panting like a tired dog, I turned to Jake. “What do you think it was?”
“An alien scout,” he said. Then he spit, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and stood up straight. “Our field’s next.”
The next day—knowing no one would believe us without pictures and that we’d be TV millionaires for sure if we got some good shots—we swiped mum’s camera from her dresser and ran. We sprinted through the field, the camera flopping around Jake’s neck like a soap on a rope, and slid into position behind our rotted log. We didn’t have to wait long for our first spaceship; it hummed past and made us duck.
“Get the camera ready,” I whispered to Jake.
He took it off his neck and pointed at the field. “Do you think they’ll come?”
“I hope so.”
As we listened to the spaceships getting closer and closer, I watched Jake stare through the viewfinder, his one eye squeezed shut.
“What if they chase us?”
“I’ll get a good picture of ‘em and then we’ll cheese it home.”
“Yeah, run home and stop only when we’re on the porch.”
“Yeah.” He lowered the camera. “Hey, Luke.”
“What if they catch one of us?”
“Yeah, but what if they do?”
“Then we’ll fight ‘em.”
“Yeah, we’ll fight ‘em and kill ‘em if we have to.” He stuck out his hand. “Shake on it.”
We shook, turned toward the field, and waited.
As the aliens zoomed closer and closer, I gazed at the NO TRESPASSING sign nailed to a nearby tree. Sap had seeped from the nail wound and hardened in flowing streams all over the red letters.
Just then, screeching tires and a loud thump made me jump and spin around. Me and Jake looked at each other, his eyes as big as mine felt. We ran toward the noise. As the trees began to thin, I heard the sounds of a car beeping because the keys were in it and the door was wide open. We followed the sound all the way to the edge of the highway where a big, black truck idled on an angle in the middle of the road. We stopped and hid behind some trees. A man got into the truck and slam the door—the beeping stopped but echoed in my ears.
“What’s he doin’?”
“Dunno,” Jake said. “Let’s get closer.”
“Wait. Use the camera. Zoom in.”
He zoomed and watched through the lens. “He’s not moving. I think he’s on the phone.”
Suddenly, the truck lurched forward, sped off, and disappeared down the road.
“What’s that?” Jake pointed at a lump at the side of the road.
“I don’t know.” I stepped forward out of the trees to get a closer look. “Maybe it’s a piece of that truck.”
“Let’s go see.”
Walking up to the road and moving toward the lump, I saw that the thing had fur and hoofs.
“It’s a deer,” Jake yelled running toward it. He kicked it when he was close enough. “I think it’s dead.” He kicked it again.
“What? It can’t feel it.” He kicked it again.
Its head was twisted back, its eyes opened and frozen with fear, its tongue hanging out of its mouth and licking the road. Blood smeared the road and gushed.
“Look at the blood. It starts over there and keeps going forever,” Jake said.
“He dragged it to the side,” I said.
“Yeah? Well, look at those skid marks. That truck musta been flying.” He ran along the rubber burnt into the road, making the sounds of a race car squealing its tires before crashing.
While Jake reenacted the accident, I couldn’t take my eyes off the deer. It was as much insides as outs. Chunks of red littered the road and blood filled the cracks beneath the motionless body. I watched the accident happen over and over again in my mind; the deer being thrown to the ground by vicious headlights again and again and again until I was the deer, blinded, run over, and dragged to the side of the road, dead. I imagined myself lying dead in the deer’s place.
“Hey, look out,” Jake yelled, pointing at my foot.
Blood soaked into my shoe. I stepped back and threw up on the deer’s hind leg. The camera flashed, capturing me with my bloody foot in the air and puke dripping from my mouth.
“Jake!” I wiped my mouth on my sleeve and shook some of the blood from my shoe. Jake kept taking pictures, laughing the whole time.
“It’s not funny.” I turned my back to him and tried to spit the taste of hot, half-digested cereal out of my mouth. He kept clicking away, moving around to get in front of me.
“C’mon. Smile for the camera, Deerfoot.”
“Deerfoot. Deerfoot. Deerfoot.”
I swung at him, hit the camera, and sent it flying into the middle of the road—the lens breaking off when it hit the concrete.
“Well, you shouldn’t have been bugging me. I told you to stop.” I wiped my stained shoe on the grass beside the road.
“Yeah well, you didn’t have to break it.”
Jake moved to collect the broken pieces, but a car zoomed toward us so he jumped off the road. “Go get the camera,” he said.
“I’m not getting it.”
“I’m not getting it either.”
Frozen, we looked back and forth between the headlights speeding toward us and the camera. A truck, just like the other one, sped past. The three people inside the cab gawked at us as deer guts squished under their tires and the camera exploded into a thousand pieces. Seconds later, the truck was gone.
Jake ran onto the road, his hands on his head. “Now what do we do? What do we tell mum?”
I watched the truck shrink into the distance. “Why didn’t they stop?”
“They just kept going.”
“‘Cause they don’t care, Luke.” He marched into the middle of the road.
“What if one of us was lyin’ here?”
He knelt to pick up the broken pieces. “What? … Man, it’s destroyed.”
“Would they have stopped for one of us?”
“I dunno. Yeah … of course they would’ve.”
“Why would they stop if one of us was lyin’ here, but not now?”
“Maybe they wouldn’t.” Jake collected the camera pieces, cradling them against his chest with one arm.
“Do you think the cops are comin’?”
“To find out what happened.”
“No. They don’t come for animals, stupid.”
I saw my first accident with my dad. Our way home from hockey, there was a night blizzard. Half way there, we had to stop behind a long line of red break lights. Traffic crawled past two mangled cars lit by the flashing red of police cars, ambulances, and firetrucks. Tucked in behind one of the cars, a paramedic worked on someone. I saw a leg flopping around while the paramedic’s head bounced up and down. After we’d past it, I stared out the back window until I couldn’t see the lights anymore, wondering if the person was dead. Jake slept through the whole thing and didn’t have to worry about seeing the leg, cast in a red glow, when he closed his eyes to sleep that night.
“Who comes for animals?”
“Dunno,” he said, marching toward me with his arms sandwiching camera pieces. “Take this,” he said, leaning forward. “It’s your fault and you have to tell mum.”
Staring down at the blood and fur and hoofs and eyes and tongue, I wished flashing lights would come and paramedics would help the deer and traffic would slow down and backup.
“Hold out your shirt,” Jake said.
I pulled the bottom of my shirt away from myself, and he dropped the remains of the camera into the outstretched fabric.
Jake moved toward the trees. “C’mon let’s go,” he yelled back at me.
“But what about the deer?”
“Who cares. Let’s go.”
I burritoed the camera parts with my shirt, turned, and followed Jake away from the road. When we got to the trees, I glanced back at the lonely body lying there on the cold concrete; blood spilling off the road and onto the grass between forest and highway—it followed us, reached out for us.
We walked home in silence. I kept looking back at the road as if I’d forgotten something there, but the trees eventually swallowed the highway and the deer. All I could hear was the crunch of ground under our feet. Once we made it to our rotted log, Jake began digging a hole with his hands and feet.
“We need to bury it,” he said. “So nobody’ll find it.”
I dropped to my knees beside him and clawed at the ground with one hand, my other hand holding the shirt and camera tight. When the hole was deep enough, I let go of my shirt, and the crushed pieces of plastic and glass fell to the ground; we kicked dirt overtop until it was covered and then stomped down to pack it.
A car zoomed down the highway. We froze for a moment before sprinting for home. As the roar of the car faded, the faint hum of tires on asphalt continued to reach for us. With every step and every blink and every breath, I saw the deer’s empty eyes, lifeless tongue, red guts. More cars zoomed by. We ran faster and faster with each one. But I didn’t look back. The deer was too close while in the trees and field; its blood oozing after us, licking our heels and trying to drag us down. Not until we stood on the porch gasping for breath could I turn to face what was chasing us. It was the setting sun, making red stretch over the trees.
“Come inside,” Jake said, holding the door open and panting.
I kept my back to him and waited for the bloody sky to reach the house, waited for it to catch me. Gnawing at my thumbnail and tasting dirt, I spit on the porch to get the grit out. Jake went inside.
Through the open window I heard my mum ask him where the camera was. I plugged my ears and, hearing only my pounding heart and heavy breath inside my head, I stared at the tips of the trees and reddening sky. The trees stared right back at me; they had black teeth that bit into the sky, twisting and pulling, mashing and grinding invisible flesh. I couldn’t turn my back on them, couldn’t even blink.
“Luke,” my mum called.
I pressed against my ears even harder, my deafening gasps sounding like screams.