It Gets Late Early Now
I stop when I see her on the right shoulder, freshly hit, contorted with hind legs up and neck exposed. Vacant eyes now below the mouth cannot look into beams that bore through new-moon dark. She scraped her way there, bits of gravel embedded in the road-scorched hide. There’s only the sound of the engine and my movements, blood smear of taillights against the dark, this spotlighted scene of mountain macabre.
When the bull steps in front, I think he’s alone. He has come down from the snows with his herd, seeking a cold that is less cold, all of them now surrounding the truck. I turn off the headlights. On both sides, the elk begin to bear me forward, a slow push. I can see their breath spurting in little prayers, even taste the frost-bitten air. They move straight ahead as one, me in the middle, and I gently press on the gas to keep pace. I want to tell them that I didn’t kill her. I do not know if the heat and vibration under the hood is a life to them, the exhaust breath, or if they can sense the even smaller pulse that is mine behind the steel and glass. Our speed is dirgeful, and the bull in front occasionally bugles elegiac notes that make me think of loons.
When they cut to the left, it’s as abrupt and collective as a school of fish, and the leap over the barbed-wire fence as graceful and athletic as the smaller deer. I still feel as though I am a part of it while I watch them plow through the field, autumn snow imprinted with the memory. A darker form than the starlit dark, the ridgeline looms, and I imagine they will soon be there, returning not having found what they wanted. I turn the headlights back on and head for home, where the logs will have been reduced to coals, and bed awaits. I will get a few hours of sleep before rising in this same dark, my brother and I having planned this day to hunt.
About the Author: Ross is a recent graduate of the MFA program at Portland State University. Although his emphasis is poetry, he often experiments with short forms of fiction. He currently lives in California, but much of his writing takes place in the mountains of Idaho, where he was raised.