The words ripped Brenda back to her childhood, back to that day she’d first realized she wouldn’t amount to much. A report card full of C’s in her mother’s hand, a sour smirk playing across those cold lips: "What are you so proud about, squirt? This? Don’t you go thinking you’re a smarty pants on me, cause you ain’t.”

And it was true. She hadn’t amounted to much. Yet somehow, she’d produced this bright, shiny thing next to her—this child with fire in her soul and an aim to do something decent with her life. And damn, Nat was smart. Smarter than she’d ever been by a long shot. Brenda knew she didn’t deserve to turn out like her, and it was high time she knew it. Brenda opened her mouth to tell her so, but a flash of something white sent a hot slug of panic pulsing through her gut.

“Natalie! Watch out!”

The girl screamed and cranked the wheel to the left, back to the right. Jammed the brakes so hard it sent the car into a long, looping skid. Brenda felt her stomach drop. A sickening crunch bled through the metal frame, the tires slamming up against the wheel wells as they fish-tailed to a stop. Brenda yelped for a breath, stared into the rearview mirror at the shadowed clump steaming in the rain ten yards back.

“Momma...wh-what, what was that?”

Brenda prayed for a dog.

Please, dear God. Please be a dog.

But the impact had the feel of something bigger.

Something with substance.

Something with meat on its bones.

“We best go find out.”