“Disgusting. Drunken. Pig.” Julia’s indictment, deliberate and incendiary, spilled a perfect accelerant to ignite the inevitable explosion. She twisted in the buttery leather of the BMW’s seat to look directly at Marco just as he touched lighter to cigarette. “Don’t fucking smoke in my car!” she screamed. Lunging for the cigarette, Julia’s hand missed, slamming into the steering wheel instead.
“Crazy goddamn bitch!” shouted Marco, overcorrecting the swerving car on the sleet-slick highway and then hitting the brakes. A dull thud ended abruptly in a shudder as the Beemer shimmied to a stop on the shoulder.
Both breathing hard, neither spoke. Julia pressed the ignition button on the dash, killing the engine’s proud purr. Silence – then a scratching sound from below, like fingernails on a screen door – and the car rocked almost imperceptibly.
“Oh my God! What the hell have you hit?”
Lurching to action, she reached behind the driver’s seat for the flashlight her dad insisted she stow there. Motionless, Marco stared at her dumbly, gripping the lighted cigarette between thumb and forefinger.
“Get out,” Julia demanded, her voice low and hoarse. “I’m not doing this alone.”
Simultaneously, they opened their doors and stepped into the frigid, black stillness. Though there was no moonlight, they were far enough from the city that there would have been stars overhead if the cloud cover were not so thick. With hands trembling so violently that the flashlight’s beam skittered across the glassy pavement, Julia glanced at Marco as he took a final drag on his cigarette and then flicked it onto the road.
“Give me your jacket,” she demanded. Marco shrugged out of his cashmere sports coat and handed it to her. As Julia spread the jacket on the frozen asphalt in front of the car, a revolting stench assailed her nostrils and a moan unlike any she’d ever heard – alien and indiscernible – drifted up from the front bumper. Shivering with cold and apprehension, she dropped to her right hip and elbow. Then, curled like a snail atop Marco’s jacket, she lowered her head and aimed the high-powered light under the car.
Enormous citrine eyes straight out of Dante’s Ninth Circle bore directly into hers. With a ragged wail, Julia struggled awkwardly to sit up, hot tears stinging her eyes. She knew exactly what they’d hit.
“What?” bellowed Marco, sounding suddenly sober, hovering above her, “What the fuck’s down there?”
Julia came from ranching people, so she knew a javelina when she saw one. Like feral hogs, they did endless damage to land and were often trapped and sold for meat. Something about their eyes had always made her feel like she was peering straight into hell. She remembered being told that their center of gravity was just right to flip a car.
“Awww-roooo,” came the plaintive sob, weaker now, from the car’s undercarriage.
“There’s an S.O.S. button over the rearview, Marco,” Julia said, quietly. “Hit that — and hand me the .38 that’s in the glove box.”