Right then, of all people, he thought about Clara van Alstine. Holding the rifle between both hands, Hayden’s index finger curled around its trigger and squeezed out the remaining slack. The mechanism tightened, resisting his gentle draw, and Hayden wavered. Taylor reminded him to keep the butt tight against his shoulder and Hayden nodded in acknowledgement, having been instructed as such before. The tissue was still tender from the last time he fired, not even thirty seconds earlier, and he watched the quivering barrel, felt the thudding of his heart. His left arm was getting tired, weary from steadying this dense, steel and wood weapon. He was nervous before firing for that first time—and now that he’d experienced its jarring recoil, Hayden was hesitant about once again feeling its punch.
“Come on, buddy. We don’t have all day long here,” Taylor said with a chuckle.
Hayden spoke into the rifle, his lips muffled. “And what other pressing matters are there for us to attend to, again?”
“Yeah. Might as well just dick around all day long, waiting to fire that thing.”
“That’s the plan.”
“Are you scared of it?”
“It is a gun.”
“Guns don’t kill people. Dumb asses with guns kill people.”
Hayden met Clara van Alstine while he was still an undergraduate student. He and three friends had driven down from Vancouver to Las Vegas for the February Reading Break—what Americans called Spring Break and reveled in with far more zeal than their placid northern neighbors. It was on their last evening that Hayden met Clara at a liquor-dispensing kiosk in the middle of what was essentially a mall corridor. She had an Australian accent but lived in San Marcos and had come to the Nevada desert with a couple of friends from her college. Hayden admitted that he had never heard of San Marcos (it was in Texas) and Clara told him that no soul need know of the city; the place was a means to an end, nothing more. For her, it was the location of a film school. She would depart to somewhere far more enlightened after graduation. Maybe Austin. Maybe San Francisco. Maybe back to Melbourne. Because someday she was going to do something. Create meaningful art. Produce, write, and direct documentaries. Her career would be an excuse to travel the world. To leave Texas. When Hayden’s friends declared that it was time to go to the next bar, he opted out and stayed with Clara. She broke free from her own group and the pair ambled for miles with motor-oil sized cans of Fosters beer in hand (even though Clara insisted that no one drinks Fosters in Australia). They kissed at the end of the night, but that was it. Hayden was sharing a two-bedroom suite with three other young men. Clara was sharing a king-sized bed with two other young women. Before parting, she gave Hayden her email address. He still remembered the exact words he said to her: “Email. I’ve heard of that. What is it?” He wasn’t being sarcastic. It was 1991.
Although Hayden would never see Clara again, she was the reason he set up an email account through his university and began checking it every few days—settling in before boxy monitors with blurry letters the color of lime soda, characters made from stacks of horizontal wafers that wavered against the black backdrop should he dare to blink his eyes. These computers did not even have a mouse; commands were inputted in ALL CAPS with byzantine codes programmed by people who figured that the word “expunge” was more appropriate than “delete.” Clara planned a trip to Europe and they were going to meet up in Paris on New Year’s Eve, 1993, but Hayden had to cancel. He told her that he could not afford it—that both his credit card and student loans were maxed out—but he would find a way to make it work for another time. “We’re still young,” he wrote, neglecting to say that he had met a woman named Alexandra Kowalski. And there would be other New Year’s Eves. He felt certain that he would see Clara again. When he moved in with Alex, he admitted this to Clara in an email; she was never shy about telling him about her own boyfriends (and girlfriends). Hayden and Clara had only really known each other for a single night—and a drunken night at that. When Clara visited Seattle and asked if he could make it down to meet her, he lied and said that he was in Toronto for a conference. By the time he proposed to Alex, Clara and Hayden had not exchanged a message in over two years.
Alex was uncomfortably pregnant with Sara, watching television atop a backrest of pillows, and Caleb had already gone down for the night. Hayden was in the attic office pretending to work. If Alex ascended the groaning wooden staircase, his Excel file was but a single, silent tap of a finger away. He then typed, “Clara van Alstine” into the search engine. It had been more than six years since he had heard anything from her. He expected to hunt for her whereabouts. He expected to find a reference to a woman living in Melbourne. He expected to find a wedding announcement. He expected to find nothing. The first result was an obituary for a woman who had lived in San Marcos. She worked as a receptionist in an accounting firm. The obituary referred to her tragic end, her abbreviated life, but spoke of no disease, nor accident. She’d died just days’ shy of New Year’s Eve. The next search result was from a local Texas newspaper identifying the body of a young woman recently discovered near a reservoir as being local resident Clara van Alstine. She died from a gunshot wound. Foul play was not suspected.
As Hayden held the rifle—recounting Taylor’s advice not to pull the trigger but instead to squeeze; not to anticipate the recoil, but prepare for it—he thought of Clara guiding the barrel into her mouth in the dark seclusion of the Texas wild. It must have been at night. People did not kill themselves during the day. He pictured it raining, the headlights of her car casting flickering, searing cones into the dark expanse. She was on the ground, sitting cross-legged, looking out towards the water. He was hesitant to pull the trigger while aiming at a can of beer. Clara pulled the trigger with the steel between her lips, scraping against the enamel of her front teeth. And yet she did it. She pulled the trigger and came to an end right there. What was once a life had, in an instant, become mere matter. How many times did she try before pulling back on the mechanism? How long did she hesitate in the darkness, alone? Was this her first attempt? Had she come here before? For days after reading about this, Hayden kept thinking of those last moments of her life. He would remember Clara in the middle of a tutorial. A student sitting in the fifth row would share Clara’s straight black hair and brown eyes, sockets that sank into pointed cheeks. But there was no one to tell about this. Those three friends from his undergrad who took him down to Las Vegas were no longer friends. He didn’t even know where they lived. And Alex would not want to hear of some strange young woman from his past, someone he really only knew for a few hours. And of what difference did it make to him?More than a decade had passed between the night that they’d strolled along the Las Vegas strip and when he’d learned of her death.
Hayden pulled the trigger. The butt shoved into his shoulder but did not punch into his collarbone like before. The piercing crackle bounced off the surrounding hills like thunder. The can—his target—did not budge. What did Clara van Alstine’s suicide matter to Hayden now? She was dead but surely so were those men he drove to Las Vegas with. So were Clara’s friends. So were most if not every single person who roamed the streets (and mall corridors) in Las Vegas that night. As Taylor slapped Hayden on the shoulder, telling him how much better that shot was, Hayden thought about the extent with which the meaning of death had changed in these last weeks. His initial reaction to Clara’s suicide now felt immature. Back then, before The Fourteenth of August, Hayden was a child reacting to a broken toy. Now, after all he had seen—after losing Sara—he had grown up. He had become someone new.
Twice they had switched vehicles and then backtracked several hundreds of kilometers before finding a sedan with provincial maps. Throughout the province, sprawling lakes forged impenetrable barriers and now Hayden could trace a route north without relying on dormant, freshwater ferries. Alex didn’t speak. When Hayden asked her a question, she would only shrug. At most, she might mutter a “yes” or “no.” Nothing more. The rest of the time, she gazed without focus or inspected her fingernails. When Caleb stared out the windows with glassy, empty eyes, Hayden didn’t know what to say, and yet he knew that they couldn’t sit in a car for hours, side-by-side, exchanging nothing. He’d ask Caleb if he was hungry or thirsty. If he needed to pee. That was all. Over and over. But Caleb never asked about Sara. About what Alex had done. About anything. He would fall asleep or at least just close his eyes, attempting to wipe his tears without being seen by either parent.
The sun was setting and those first arching, luminous threads of celestial light emerged from the navy sky: clean, defined streaks that outlined the circumference of the atmosphere, east to west. Hayden still wasn’t sure as to where they were heading but he felt that he could persevere through the night if necessary. He would not stop to rest until they had made it somewhere. The fact that they had not driven by another person for the entire day seemed to validate his desire to flee the south. And then he saw the enflamed taillights of another vehicle. A boxy motorhome scurried along the highway atop its narrow tires. At the speed he was driving, Hayden figured he would catch up in less than a minute. He looked back and Alex was asleep, her chin nuzzled into an armpit. He tried to wake her without rousing Caleb, but both his wife and son glanced up with strained eyes and saw the conspicuous lights ahead. Caleb asked who they were, noticeably frightened. Alex instructed Hayden to keep driving. As he approached and veered into the opposing lane, the motorhome honked. A man waved from the window. Alex repeated herself, ordering Hayden to keep going. There was a woman in the passenger seat who leaned forward, eyes following the sedan. Hayden pulled ahead and held his position before signaling and slowing down. Alex nearly shrieked, reminding him that they couldn’t trust anyone. Hayden turned back, unsure what he could say, trying not to stare at the blood still under her fingernails, the rubicund smears across the back of her neck.
“Just fucking drive,” Alex ordered.
“I’m sorry.” He opened the door. “We need other people,” he said to Alex, to Caleb. “We can’t go on alone. I don’t even know where the fuck we are.” He stood out on the pavement and held his hand up to wave. This was a ragged, almost featureless landscape. Wispy-trunked trees outlined the highway, leaves still, the sun sunken behind distant hills. To Hayden, this felt like a no-man’s land, a fuzzy, indistinct spot within the vast expanse between the soaring mountains of earlier and the distant Pacific Ocean. A man waved back, stepping out from the motorhome. From a distance, he appeared middle-aged due to his raggedy, wild black beard. But as he approached, Hayden noticed his young eyes and smooth skin. He couldn’t have even been thirty. A woman then exited the vehicle, freckles and auburn hair, young from a distance but with tired wrinkles that traced the outline of her cheeks when closer. The man bared an unabashed smile while the woman kept her distance, her grin nervous and apologetic.
“Hello,” Hayden said, his voice cracking, not expecting a burst of emotion to surge through him. He was going to be strong. He was going to be stable. But just that one word caused his eyes to well up. Sara should have been here with them. But she wasn’t. “We need your help,” he said, his lungs quivering. The man came forward to shake his hand but then wrapped both arms around Hayden and pulled him in tight. Hayden felt a tear glide down one cheek and embraced the man in return. He cried and wanted to apologize, but couldn’t get out another word. They’d been adrift at sea in a sinking life-raft. They’d already lost one. These people were saviors. The woman halted her approach, her eyes locked onto Hayden’s strained gaze with a knowing, anguished smile—a look of consolation for something that is inconsolable.
“That’s okay.” The man said, slapping Hayden’s back. “That’s okay.”
The woman asked Hayden, her voice breathy and hoarse: “Do you know what’s going on?”
Hayden shook his head, so tired of that question and his answer, relishing in this feeling of an embrace from a stranger. Footsteps scraped on pavement and Hayden flinched back, free from the man’s grasp, wiping his nose with his wrist. Caleb stood behind Alex’s locked hands, the streaks of blood along her neck visible from a distance.
“Hey. My name’s Taylor,” the man said to Alex first, sensing her nervousness, aware that she would not accept his hand should he offer to shake. “This is Rebecca. We could use your help.”
Hayden looked back to Alex in a way that asked for permission. He thought she might cry, but instead she appeared impassive, her eyes wide, reluctant to blink. Hayden turned to Taylor, one of his hands still gripping a shoulder. “It’s been a long, long day.” Hayden said, clearing his throat. “We need to rest.”
“Then come with us. We got space in the RV. You can—”
“We’ll drive ourselves,” Alex asserted. It seemed like she might say more and those few words hung in the air, no one wanting to interrupt her.
Taylor then nodded and replied, tentative. “Of course. You guys do whatever you want. But we’re heading towards the coast. My uncle owns a bed and breakfast just outside Bella Coola. But that’s still another six or seven hours. It ain’t a safe road to take at night, so we’re not going to drive the whole way. If you want,” he held out both hands, palms out, “and only if you want, follow us for a little more and then you can sleep in our R.V. Or you can do your own thing.”
“What are you two doing?” Alex asked, forceful. “Why are you all the way out here?”
“Look, lady, I don’t think we need to get into this right now. Like I said, it’s getting dark. It’s just good to see some other people. It’s really good to see some other people. You’re the first we’ve seen.” Taylor sounded ready to add another detail, but instead shrugged. “Well, you now.”
“Please come with us,” Rebecca said to Alex. “I’m sure we’ve all had some terrible days. But it would be good to have you with us. And it would be good to have a child,” she smiled at Caleb, her eyes glossy and red. She then almost begged: “Please.”
Hayden followed the motorhome in silence, the wheels of his car rumbling against the weeds that sprouted from the edges of the narrow, haggard highway as he’d drift to the right, to the left. When he closed his eyes, he saw the same thing—blurring dashed and solid lines that whisked beneath the hood. The interior of the sedan was so dark, so quiet, it seemed that the others must have been asleep until Alex would call out his name, nervous that he might careen off an embankment. It had been several hours since the sun had set and a layer of overcast obscured those surreal streaks of light in the sky—now, only the muddled, pallid aura of the moon was bright enough to break through. Aside from the scarlet taillights of Taylor’s vehicle and the indistinct pavement, the landscape was nothing more than silhouettes. Taylor signaled to the right and slowed down. As Hayden came to a halt in the middle of the highway, Caleb sat up and asked where they were. Rebecca walked towards their sedan, shielding her eyes from the headlights with a forearm, bugs hovering like spots of dust. She said through the open window, “Taylor says it’s still another four hours, at least. We should stop here.”
“Okay,” Hayden said.
“Why don’t you all come inside? There’s room. It’s got to be much more comfortable than sleeping inside there.”
Before Hayden could ask Alex, Caleb pleaded, “Can we? Please?”
Hayden nodded. Now that he’d come to a stop, now that he was talking to someone, he felt certain that he had drifted off to sleep on several occasions. He squeezed his dry eyes shut and nodded to Rebecca. “Okay.”
Taylor insisted that Alex, Hayden and Caleb take the queen bed at the back, that it was the only one big enough to fit all three. Rebecca would sleep on a twin pull-out and Taylor refused to rest anywhere else but on a plush loveseat. Alex tried to argue that they could take the floor—that Rebecca and Taylor should have the one real bed—but Taylor laughed and Rebecca shook her head. “We’re not a couple,” she said. “Just take the damn thing. I’m too tired to argue.”
Sara was in the motorhome, a spirited kitten sleeping at their feet and batting his toes. At first Hayden giggled, told her to stop. She then pounced and he reminded her that it was time to sleep. They could play again in the morning. She looked at him, grinned with her squinting hazel eyes, and leapt. Now he was angry. He needed rest. He was too tired for games. Why could she not understand this? He was going to raise his voice. He was going to scold her. Sara! He opened his eyes and faced a manila wall, plastic but textured like plaster. Hayden’s bare feet hung off the edge. Alex remained curled on her side, back to him, while Caleb slept on his chest, his face sunken into a pillow. Sara was nowhere to be found. Those last details of his dream slipped away from him, regardless of how deeply he wished to hold on, and he felt guilty for wanting to yell. She was gone and yet he was going to admonish. He should have reached down, held her, kissed her. He should have told her how much he loved her. It was just a dream, yes, but he wished he could have held onto that moment, held onto her. It didn’t matter what was real. He only wanted that feeling.
Hayden started to cry. He had to stop thinking about her. He slid off from the bed, feet pushing into the tight weave of a shallow carpet stained with shoe prints and pale splatters, then crept out into the living area where Rebecca slept, her back to the room, face hidden in the crook of her folded arm. Taylor’s sofa was empty, a sunken pillow hinting at his recent departure. A foggy glow shone through the cloth drapes, signaling the coming sunrise. Hayden couldn’t have slept more than a couple of hours, but already he felt certain that he would not go back to bed. He heard a muffled cough from outside and pulled aside the blinds to find Taylor sitting on the pavement, his knees folded up in front, thick plumes of smokes expelling from each nostril.
“Hey,” Hayden said in a whisper as he descended three aluminum steps, the road cool against the skin of his feet. “You couldn’t sleep?”
“Either that or I’m just too damn addicted.” Taylor inhaled, the embers crackling. “How about you?”
“Bad dreams.” Hayden knew that his eyes were still red and moist. He wiped the tears aside as if that would be the end of it. “Don’t think there are any other kinds.”
Taylor grunted a chuckle, shaking his head with pursed lips. He pinched a tuft of his beard, pulling the hairs taut and then letting them spring back. In this early light of dawn, what struck Hayden was the sheer volume of black hair that seemed to erupt from Taylor’s head and face, making his neck appear wiry in comparison. His arms were narrow but defined by long, lean muscles. Looping, indecipherable edges of tattoos dipped from the end of either sleeve of his white T-shirt. As if catching himself from continuing this nervous habit, Taylor withdrew his hand from his beard, ran it through the waves of hair above and then placed his fingers on one knee, unsure where to leave them. He motioned to the bare asphalt beside him. “Take a seat, if you want.”
“I could probably squeeze you in.”
“Thanks,” Hayden leaned back against the motorhome, rubbing his eyes and then focusing on his exposed toenails. Each was crowned with an opaque crescent that reached beyond the skin of each digit. He figured that if Alex was sitting beside him, she would comment (in disgust) on their length. Tell him how repulsive they were and demand that he cut them before anyone else takes note of his talons. As if ashamed, he bent his toes down, pointing them towards the highway’s shoulder. But it didn’t matter. Alex wouldn’t notice. She still had another man’s blood caked within the nooks of her fingertips.
Taylor sniffled, again pulling the hairs of his beard. “You’ve met others?”
“Just a few. Some not so good.”
“You guys looked jumpy when we met. But you’re the first people I’ve seen—living people—aside from Rebecca, that is.”
“You two have only known each other for—”
“Two days. Shit. Feels like so much more than that.” He sucked in one last drag and flicked the butt into the gravel. “What the fuck is going on? Can you please tell me? Fucking something?”
Hayden shook his head. He then asked, “Have you seen the skies at night?”
“Yeah,” Taylor spoke to his feet, his tone remorseful. “I didn’t know what to think, but that’s just—I don’t know.” As if needing to fill the silence, to do something, he pulled out another cigarette. “Want one?”
“Shit, why not.”
“Used to smoke?”
“Quit more than ten years ago. Don’t see what it matters now.” Hayden accepted the lighter and savored that long, tingling inhalation. He coughed at the very end, as if clearing his throat. “Thanks.”
“For what? Getting someone who kicked the habit to take up smoking again? Anytime.”
Hayden looked back towards the window, expecting Alex to be glaring through. First the unkempt toenails, now smoking. He shivered from the cool air. “So, I’m guessing you’ve seen some shit?”
“Yeah.” Taylor scratched his nose, eyes livid, watching the trunks of scraggily trees just past the embankment. He was ready to say more, but instead returned to his cigarette, unsure with how to start.
“We were down in Vancouver when it happened. Got out just in time.”
“I don’t know. That’s all I’ve been saying for these last fucking days. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. And then,” Hayden was going to say that he lost his daughter. His lungs quivered. He didn’t want to break down. He shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“Did you see things?”
“A little. I guess. Whatever happened, they get in your head.”
Hayden shrugged. “I don’t know.” He then remembered Simar and wondered how far he made it in that Porsche, if he had found that cabin on a plot of land by a stream with fresh water, if he was still alive. “I met someone a couple of days back. A guy from the States, driving north on his own. He said it doesn’t matter who they are, only that we keep the fuck away from them.”
“That’s why you’re up here?”
“That’s why we’re up here.”
“So, what do you mean, they get in your head?”
“You can’t think straight. Make you lose control. I don’t know.” Hayden forced out a chuckle upon realizing his seemingly unavoidable last words. He watched the smoke expel in bursts that vanished within inches. “We were right on the edge of it. Alex was driving and got us out of this traffic jam, out in Langley, I think. I saw what was going on, but I barely remember it. Some people crashed their cars. Some people were running at one another. And yet it was somehow orderly. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know anything. Except that they get into our heads. We kill ourselves. Each other.” Hayden sucked back another drag and muffled his coughs with his arm, not wanting to wake anyone inside. “Whatever did this—whatever made us do this to ourselves, each other—they didn’t need to fire a single bullet. Didn’t need to detonate a single explosive. Didn’t need to get their hands the slightest bit dirty. They made us do all the dirty work. Like it was nothing. Like we’re just ants.” And then Hayden pictured Sara walking into Kootenay Lake. He closed his eyes but still she traipsed into those frigid waters. He could see each step flutter ripples into the smooth surface. “Fuck,” he muttered, wiping his eyes. “Fuck.”
Taylor put an arm over his shoulder and squeezed. “Sorry, man. I didn’t want to pry.”
“No. We’re here, right? We’re alive. We’re the lucky ones.” Hayden looked at Taylor. “Right?”
Taylor nodded with listless sways of his head while watching the embers of his cigarette. He then rubbed one eye, his hand lingering in the curled black hairs of his beard. “I don’t think I feel lucky.”
“That’s what Alex told me.”
“I was out hunting.” Taylor began, as if asked. “Out by McLeese Lake. Know where that is? Well, it don’t matter, I guess. Buddy of mine, Gord, we were out for four days. Fucking got nothing. Ran out of beer, ran out of booze, ran out of food—well, we still had food, but what’s the good in sitting out in the woods, if you ain’t got booze, know what I mean? So, we packed it in. Went home. I’m from Williams Lake and he’s from Quesnel. Went our separate ways. Ain’t no cell coverage out there, so we couldn’t have a clue as to what was going on.” He exhaled a tight stream of smoke between his lips, deflating. “That’s the last time I saw Gord. Three days ago. Waved goodbye and called him a fucker for drinking all my beer. That’s the last thing I said to him. I start driving back to Williams Lake. Didn’t see no one on the roads. I mean, those roads are pretty much empty at the busiest of times, but there was no one. Fucking nothing. I thought it was awesome. Making great time, I thought.” He forced out a laugh. “Then I get into town, and there’s still no one around. The traffic lights don’t work but there are parking lots full of cars. That’s when I tried calling Gord, but I still couldn’t get no signal. I get to my folk’s place and it’s empty. Door is wide open. I didn’t know what the fuck to think. I don’t know where the fuck anyone is. But there was a stink in the air, coming from the wind.” A misty plume fled from his lips while sighing. “Then I saw the crows over the lake. Then I saw the lake. Thought it was logs at first, like a boom, but they don’t have those there. I drive closer and there’s a shit load of them—fucking people—all washed up by Scout Island. The crows are just fucking going at them. I didn’t know what to do. Got back in my truck and got the fuck out of there. Just fucking drove. Fast. I keep my phone charging in my truck but there’s no signal anywhere. I just want to find Gord at that point. I’m looking out for his truck out on the roads, on the highways, but can’t find no one. I drove right back to McLeese Lake—never drove so fucking fast before in my life—hoping he might be there. No one. So, I still don’t know what to do and I wait there, right in the spot I last saw him, hoping he might come back, thinking he has to come back. I waited there for hours. I then think of driving up to Quesnel. And that’s when I found her—Rebecca—on the side of the highway, just walking along, waving madly. Fuck, it was amazing to see her, you know? Just to know that there’s someone else. That maybe things aren’t as bad as I think. You know? It’s fucking stupid to think about that now. Like, all that shit I saw back in William’s Lake didn’t mean anything, right? And she’s almost hysterical. She tells me that her car broke down and she’s been on her own for a couple of days. I’m the first person to drive by, she tells me. First person in two days. She needs to get up to Prince George, that her family is up there. On the drive up, she asks me what’s going on and I don’t know if I should even tell her what I saw. But then we go through Quesnel and it’s the same thing. The swarms of crows, you see them from a distance. That’s when I figured that going to Prince George would be a mistake—I mean, it’s the biggest city around for like, five hundred kilometers—but I don’t say nothing. We get closer and we stop talking. Same thing, no one around. She starts giving me directions and I can smell it in the air.” Taylor glanced up towards the RV, as if having heard something, his eyes struggling to contain the impending tears. “Fuck man. I’m sure you saw some shit. I know you did. But that was fucked. Just totally fucked. As we got close to her house, there were bodies on the street, just ripped apart. Cars smashed into one another. You could see the bodies inside. That’s when I tell her that we should turn around but she says she needs to get to her place and what am I going to do? What am I going to say, man? Fuck. We get to her house and the door is locked but her husband’s car is home. I don’t know how to describe the look in her eyes. I think she knew it was a mistake to go inside. The smell hit us and I tried pulling her back. Told her that we need to go, but she walks in, calls out their names. She’s got a boy, a five-year-old boy, she’d told me. The stink is coming from upstairs and I tell her not to go, but she climbs those fucking steps and I have to go up with her. And they’re fucking right there. In a hallway between bedrooms. Fucking blood everywhere. The boy is sliced apart and her husband is just a few feet away. All I remember is that I could see inside his neck. There was a knife on the floor, right by his hand. I have to carry Rebecca back down the steps, back into the car. I tell her we have to go and she doesn’t fight me anymore. We got the fuck out of there as fast as possible.”
Hayden noticed the long, flaccid branch of ash struggling to hold on to the end of his own cigarette. His finger twitched and it fell to the pavement. He needed a couple of attempts to successfully ask: “When was that?”
“Two days ago. Found this motorhome before we ran out of gas. Saw you guys that same night.”
Hayden said, expecting his words to crumble before completing the sentence, “I lost my daughter just the night before last.”
Taylor stared at Hayden before casting his eyes back towards the surrounding brush. “Shit. I,” he stopped, mouth open but slowly closing. He inhaled again from the stub of his cigarette, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, man. I mean. Shit. What the fuck can I say?”
“There’s nothing anyone can say. She just walked away and we never found her again.” He took deep breaths in between. “She was only three years old.”
“Fuck. I didn’t even have a girlfriend. I’m sorry.”
“But we’re still here. Against some astronomical odds, we’re still here. All of us have lost so many. But we’re still here.”
“That’s gotta mean something, right?”
Hayden shook his head. “I don’t think it means anything. Just the facts of the matter.”
Taylor nodded, taking one last drag before flicking the inch-long butt far off into the bushes. “I gotta say, though. What Rebecca saw. I don’t know. It was something else. Think about it: the front door to the house was locked. You know what that means, right? It was her husband who did that. To his son, then to himself. No one else could have. She’s gotta realize that. And how do you ever come back from that? From knowing that it was your own husband?”