INTO THE CANE GRASS EXCERPT

 

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 Cs in her mother’s hand, that sour smirk playing over those cold, mean lips of hers: "What are you so proud of, 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 gut and an aim to do something decent with her life. She wasn’t much to look at, baby-faced with no bone structure and over-plump cheeks just like her mother. That scatter of acne. But damn, Nat was smart. Smarter than she’d ever been by a long shot. A’s and B’s all through high school. Brenda knew she didn’t deserve to turn out like her, didn’t deserve—

A flash of white through the windshield sent her eyes wide: “Natalie! Watch out!”

The girl screamed and cranked the wheel to the left, jammed the brakes so hard it sent the car into a long, looping skid. Brenda’s stomach dropped. A sickening crunch bled through the metal frame, the tires slamming up against the wheel wells as they fish-tailed to a stop. Brenda gulped for a breath and 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.

“I don’t know. We best go find out.”

Florida didn’t know no such thing as a cool shower in August, and this was no exception, the moisture sticking to Brenda’s skin like super glue, swamping her shirt the second she stepped out of the car. Nat got out and they trudged down the shoulder together, wading through the soggy twilight toward the tangled mass of flesh in the right lane. A leg pinned back where a leg shouldn’t be, an arm splintered through with a pale shard of bone. A face half-dented in and looking up at them with blood leaking from the eyes.

Dear God…