SOUTHERN TIER EXPRESSWAY, NEW YORK
Standing by the side of the road, the deer was all but invisible. A sharp outcropping of rock shielded it from the view of the cars heading north, and the ones heading south were too busy concentrating on driving to be looking for wildlife. This close to the river driving could be treacherous, and one wrong move coming around the sharp turn on the mountainside could send a car hurtling down to the river.Had anyone stopped to look at the deer they might have wondered at its presence there. Sandwiched between a steady stream of cars and the jagged cliff face it barely had room to stand. Further north the slope was gentler, and led to sheltering woods, the kind of place that deer normally preferred. Here there was only danger.The deer did not look afraid.
It watched as the cars sped by, glancing briefly to the side as each one passed, as if to keep the reflection from its eyes from revealing its presence. Some of the vehicles whizzed by so close that the wind from their passage bristled its fur, but it did not shy away.
A blue Corolla came into sight; the deer tensed as it approached. For a moment the vehicle disappeared behind the bulk of the mountain, but its headlights continued to scour the valley like a searchlight, and the deer watched the twin beams of light, tracking the car’s position. Then it came around the final turn and was visible again.
The deer lept into the road.
The car swerved to the left to avoid hitting it.
The deer rushed directly at it, forcing the driver to swing wide to avoid collision.
But on this stretch of road there was no such thing as “wide”.
The blue car skidded, crashed into the low metal guard rail head-on, and smashed through. Shattered glass flew through the air like hail as it hurtled down the rocky slope, flipping end over end, the sound of each new impact resounding through the valley like a gunshot.
And then there was a splash.
And all was still.
The deer picked its way carefully across the road and started down toward the car. The mountainside was steep, and a keen observer might have noted that the deer’s footing was not as steady as one would expect from a member of its species. But at last it reached the narrow river, and the wreck that was half-submerged in it.
The driver’s window had shattered. The deer could see that there was a body inside, that of a young woman strapped into the driver’s seat. She wasn’t moving. The deflated airbag that hung sadly from the steering wheel was splattered with her blood, a monument to the limits of technology. Her skull had been crushed against the side of the car.
The deer reached its head into the window and pressed its nose against her neck.
As it drew back from the car, then, a strange light entered its eyes. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that a strange light left its eyes.
Suddenly the deer looked confused. Its nostrils flared as it smelled the blood in the air. The fur around its neck stiffened as it whipped its head about, checking for predators.
There were none.
It looked at the car one last time and then bounded off to the north, seeking the safety of the deep woods.