by Jason Arment

John and his father froze as a buck crossed the road in front of them, down in a valley where a brook babbled and cornstalk stubble covered the fields. Sam sat behind the wheel, coffee in one hand and cigarette in the other. The truck rumbled and jumped whenever Sam’s shifting was rough or ill-timed—when he was fumbling for a smoke or pouring coffee from an aluminum thermos he stole from the Air Force base where he worked as an independent contractor. John never noticed, though. At that point, it was an irregular staccato metering out his life the way a hammer tolls a building’s construction.

John leaned from the passenger window wielding a spotlight with “FOR GOVERNMENT USE ONLY” across the top. He would shine the light across prairies and into ditches and valleys. Eyes shone back at them like pinpricks of eternity burning in the dark. He wouldn’t be behind the rifle until early morning, during what Sam called the evil hours, when Sam’s arms would wobble and throw off his aim.

John had the rifle shouldered, sitting on the window edge with his legs in the cab while the rifle, on top of the truck’s roof, pointed into a field. Sam said something about needing to be ready for anything as he started to spotlight the valley, looking for the big buck they’d seen cross the road earlier. Some nights, it wasn’t worth the added risk to stay out so close to dawn; the last time they’d only seen a few button bucks. John knew his dad would wait until dawn to see if they could spotlight the big buck as it wandered into a field to bed down for the day. Sunlight beaded on the horizon as Sam spoke.

“All right. I’m going to try turbo mode. See if it’s worth a damn.”

John sat taut as a spring. In the past, he’d missed a buck by not being ready when light blasted the night colorless and white as an overexposed photo. This time John thought of the moon, but only for the few moments before red and blue strobed the landscape and a telltale wail heralded the morning sun.