The setting sun casts long shadows across the woods, turning the trees, the road in front of them, black. At the hill’s crest her father falls from her shoulders and she follows, her stomach landing on the thick heel of his boot, her face skidding across the road’s gravel. She cries out. Her breath is short, shallow.
She gets up onto her knees and leans over her father. From a cut across the top of his forehead runs a thick trail of blood that ends in a crusty mess on his chin. His lower lip is split, and a purple bruise blooms from a small half circle the size of a fingernail clipping where the hammer struck his cheek. The belt around his leg hangs by his knee, his jeans so wet with blood it’s as if someone poured church wine over them. She slides the belt back up his thigh and pulls it closed an extra notch. Her father grinds down on his back teeth.
In the distance there’s a hum, the faint sound of engines. She gets up and peers down at the valley. Clouds of brown dust lift above the tree line.
She reaches down to help her father up, but after two attempts falls to her knees in front of him. He runs a hand across the bottom of her face. He tries to smile. Blood and spit spill down his chin. His mouth is half filled with cracked teeth, the other half gummy sockets.
“Leave,” he whispers.
“No,” she says. “They’ll kill you.”
The engines accelerate.
He flicks his eyes down to his waist. She lifts his shirt and removes the hunting knife from its sheath clipped to the waist of his jeans. The blade is covered in dry blood and deer hair.
“I can’t leave you,” she says and looks back to her father. His eyes are still. His mouth is open but no air comes from it. She shakes him and places two fingers against his neck.
The road vibrates. The woods echo the sound of tires chewing gravel.
She pulls her fingers from his neck and kisses the top of his forehead. Flakes of blood evaporate against her lips. The cloudless orange sky reflects in his pupils.
Two pickups round the curve in the road, their tires kicking up rocks and dust. She turns, almost tripping, and runs into the woods. Brakes squeak. Engines idle. Doors slam. A gunshot rings out. She stops running and pushes her back against a thick birch tree. Two more gunshots. Men roll with laughter. The air cools. The sun melts into the horizon.
Boots crunch against leaves, sticks. The men yell for her to come back, that there’s no use running, they’ll catch up with her soon enough. Their footsteps spread out behind her. She grips the handle of the knife with both hands. A man breathes heavily not far from her. There’s a wheeze to it. His footsteps are heavy. His keys hang off his belt, knocking against his leg with each step.
She raises the blade up in front of her. It shakes in her hands. She holds her breath. She waits.