The man puts the boy on his shoulders and moves stifflegged like he's trying to escape something. A creek runs alongside 116 and you can hear it. The boy seems oblivious to their plight. He's focused on a grey-tufted titmouse ahead that's quickdarting in and out of foliage. The air is bonecold and his mother would be upset that he's barefooted.
Fucken cunt, the man says.
Knuckles missing skin. His voice breaks the boy from abstraction.
Watch out, the man says.
At first the boy thinks he's talking about the bird.
Then it disappears and the boy listens so hard his ears hurt.
See what they can make you do.
The man spits and the boy stares straight ahead.
The sound of a vehicle gives the man pause and they step off the road into the trees. They duck beneath willow branches and hop the creek. The man hushes the boy and they watch the road curve from their hiding place. He lifts the boy down and they kneel on a carpet of leaves. The soil beneath is dark and moist. The boy breathes fast and feels his heart in his ribcage, hears creekwater running. Then a redrusted pickup is driving slow. Two volunteer cops in the gunracked cab and a chocolate lab in back wildsniffing hard air. The man puts his hand over the boy's mouth. The truck goes around the bend until they cannot hear it anymore. The boy throws a stone into the water.
Well I guess she called it in, the man says.
They stand with stains on their knees, hop the creek, lower shoulders through shrubs and back onto the weathercracked road. The man slows so the boy can keep up and the boy takes longer strides too. The morning sun dapples shadows in their wake.