A single dad on a secluded road drives his children back to their mom’s, but when a dark figure pursues their car with superhuman speed, seven year-old Tracy tries desperately to alert her father to it’s presence despite the terror that strikes her to her core.
Originally published in e-magazine form by Under The Bed, and in a paperback anthology called Shopping List.
Speed of Shadow
Miss Green had told Tracy’s 2nd grade class that nothing could travel faster than light, but she silently disagreed in the self-assured way only a seven-year-old can. Her own experiments proved that one thing was faster, if only by fractions. When she went home that day she had shone a flashlight in her dad’s dark dining room in an attempt to witness the speed of light. The shadows of the chairs climbed the wall seemingly at the same time the surrounding light hit it, a forest of wooden legs and high backs. Tracy discovered that the shadows were there before the light, though. When all was dark, the shadows remained; the light only revealed their hiding spots.
They drove down a slush covered road surrounded by forest on both sides and Tracy stared out the window as the headlights on her dad’s old sedan lit up trees. The light sent their shadows stretching up through the forest. They were strange woods to them, a new road her dad had never taken them down. He had taken an unusual exit when the radio began squawking about a pile up a couple miles down the freeway but the detour didn’t bother Tracy. A scenic route was better than the fast pace of the freeway, the winding roads better than the monotonous stretch where time became infinity.
She imagined cougars prowling through the woods beside them and bunnies hopping over branches, nibbling on wild lettuce. She saw bears that weren’t there, hiding in the shadows, ready to jump out and snatch anyone who stopped on the side of the road to change a flat tire. A quick meal to fuel the hibernation they would be taking part in when winter came. Hibernation was another subject covered by Miss Green. Tracy learned that if bears didn’t get enough food before winter, they would die of cold.
* * *
She was aware that she would die one day. Probably not soon, but some day distant in the future, preferably after a long life of climbing trees and playing ponies. Her dad had had The Talk with her when her gerbil died last month. Tracy’s frustration got the best of her that day and she had cried her eyes out when Nibbles wouldn’t wake. She tried her best to get him up but no amount of shaking or poking got his little eyes open. He just lay on his side with his mouth open as if he was stuck in the middle of drawing a deep breath. Her dad had found her sitting cross legged on the floor of her bedroom with the rodent in her little palms. He got down on one knee, not an easy task for a man as rotund as he.
“Oh sweetie,” he said, wiping the tears away as they cut streaks down her cheeks. “What’s wrong?”
Tracy sniffled and held her pet up to him like an offering. “Nibbles won’t wake up. I found him lying in his cage and he wouldn’t wake up. I tried everything!”
Her dad took the gerbil in his own hands and looked him over. “I’m sorry honey, but I think he’s gone.”
“Gone where?” she asked him. Her dad had the answers to any question she asked in subjects ranging from geography to biology, but at this he remained silent. She was going to repeat her question when he began to talk.
“He’s died, Trace.”
When she asked him why, he explained to her that every living thing died at some point. Sometimes they got too old, sometimes they had an accident, and sometimes it just happened for no good reason, but at some point everything died.
“Will I die?” she asked him, eyes wide and mouth agape.
She heard a click in his throat as he opened his mouth and stumbled over his words. He closed his mouth then before opening it to start anew. “Yeah, but not for a very, very long time. As time goes on, people live for longer and longer. You’ll probably get bored of all the things on Earth before you go.”
“Oh,” she said, taking in the new information. She worked it around in her head for a bit, trying to count how many years she would have, but losing track. A disturbing thought stopped her while she was contemplating her mortality. “Will mommy die? Will you die?”
“Yeah, we all will at our own time. When we’re ready.”
“Okay,” she said and looked him dead in the eye. “Just don’t die before me, okay? You need to stay with me so I can ask you things.”
He rolled back onto his bum and put one arm around his daughter. “You got it bubs.” Sitting like that beside her, Todd realized that he still had the lifeless rodent in his hand and he placed it on the ground before wiping his hands off on the side of his jeans.
* * *
As their car bounced up and down on the back road, Tracy began to grow bored. “How much longer?” She asked her dad. He glanced up at her in the rearview mirror.
“It’ll be a while honey. Just go to sleep. I’ll carry you inside when we get home.”
“Okay.” She went back to looking out the window in the backseat and closed her eyes. She tried to sleep but no matter how hard she thought of sheep frolicking over fences (a trick her mommy had taught her to fall asleep quickly) she kept getting bounced awake by the bumpy road.
Rubbing her eyes, she poked her older brother in the shoulder. He was in the front seat with earbuds crammed in, running down to an iPad he held in his lap. He ignored her.
“Robbie,” she said, reaching through the gap between his seat and door to poke him again. “Can I have the iPad now?”
With a sigh of frustration he pulled his right earbud out. “What?” he asked.
“Can I have the iPad?”
“Piss off,” he said, placing the earbud back in. Their dad reached over and yanked out the left earbud.
“Don’t talk to your sister like that,” he told him.
“Whatever,” Robbie said and put the earbud back in. He had turned fifteen that year and was under the impression that he didn’t have to listen to his parents anymore. Todd and Marissa had talked about his attitude with him endlessly, but it got them nowhere. Todd thought that the divorce had left his son feeling lost and confused, but every time he tried to broach the subject the boy had turned him away, jamming his headphones on or simply storming off. He reassured Marissa that until Robbie started acting suspicious or his grades started declining, they had nothing to worry about. While Todd had learned not to bug him, figuring that he would come to him when he was ready, Tracy never stopped trying to reach out to her big brother.
“It’s okay daddy,” she said, “I can wait.”
He looked back at her in the mirror. “I appreciate your patience.” He reached over and shook his son. “I’m sure Robbie does too.” The teenager rolled his eyes and Tracy turned her attention out the window again. She watched the raindrops roll down the glass and pretended they were racing, each drop in a mad dash to reach the rubber at the bottom of the window. It wasn’t as exciting as Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja, but Tracy imbued the drops with backstories and characters, letting her imagination run wild.
She pitted two fat drops against each other, arch rivals from neighboring countries as different from each other as black and white. They started down the window, gravity pulling them down and the wind pulling them towards the trunk of the car. The drops were named after boys at school who sometimes made jokes at her and pulled her hair and sometimes brought her flowers or shared snacks with her. She had her money on the right drop, Michael, but her heart lurched as it paused halfway down and the left drop, LeBron, gained the lead. Tapping the window, she urged Michael on. “C’mon,” she whispered under her breath and her heart gave another lurch as she noticed the shadow of a man gaining on their car.
He was a black shape almost blending in with the night and his legs were spinning madly like the wheel of a bicycle, just a blur under his torso. Tracy craned her body and looked at him out of the rear window. He was far behind them on the road and falling further back every second, but his speed made her jaw drop. She had never seen a man go that fast. He faded into the darkness, a shadow merging once more with the surrounding black and she sat back forward in her seat, wondering if what she saw was real.
“Daddy,” she said, getting her father’s attention, “How fast are we going?”
“About a hundred,” he said, looking back at her. “Why do you ask?”
“Can a person run that fast?”
He laughed his big belly laugh, a sound that always brought a sense of pride to the girl when she caused it and she began to smile. “Of course not,” he told her. “Usain Bolt couldn’t keep up with us. We’re practically flying!”
Tracy didn’t know who Usain Bolt was, but she was still smiling as she returned her attention to the window in search of another pairing of raindrops she could imagine racing. As hard as she tried to focus on the water though, she couldn’t help but keep looking back at the darkness the car left behind at 100 kilometers per hour.
* * *
A couple minutes later, Tracy heard her dad’s phone start to ring. It buzzed away next to his McDonald’s cup in it’s holder with the irritating sound of plastic on plastic. Her dad took one look at it and sighed.
“Mom,” he told the kids before accepting the call and putting it on speaker. “Hey Marissa, we’ll probably be another 40 minutes. There’s an accident on the freeway so I took a different exit. We’ll get back on at the next one. Shouldn’t slow us down too much”
“You better not be holding the phone. The fines have doubled this year.” Tracy’s mom sounded mildly irritated, a tone not uncommon whenever she had to speak with her ex-husband.
“I’m not, you’re on speaker.”
“Okay. Hi kids!” When addressing her children, Marissa had a cheery tone as if her words were thick and coated in fruit syrup. “Did you have fun at Nan’s?”
Tracy leaned forward against the seat belt. “Yeah mom! She made those marshmallow squares again!”
“Yummy! Where’s Robbie?”
“He’s watching a movie on the iPad,” Todd explained.
“You shouldn’t let him play on that thing all the time. It’s all he does, either that or his XBOX. Always with his eyes glued to a screen.” The note of irritation was back in her voice and Todd took a pull from his McDonald’s cup to restrain himself from shouting at her. Few things got on his nerves, but Marissa’s complete lack of trust in him was top of the list. It happened every time he had the kids on his own. She frequently voiced her suspicions to him, claiming that he wasn’t taking care of her babies properly and it had been a major contributing force to their divorce.
“There isn’t a whole lot to do on this drive,” he said, placing the cup back in the holder. “It’s not a big deal.”
“It is a big deal!” No longer mildly irritated, Tracy’s mother was downright angry. Tracy turned her head away as her parents started to fight. “I bet you’re smoking in there with them too,” she said and out of the corner of her eye Tracy saw her dad fingering the pack he kept in his jacket pocket. He left them there though; Todd kept his children’s lungs smoke free at all times.
They went on like that, back and forth while Tracy went back to looking out the window. She watched the trees flash by, big Christmas trees too big to fit in anything but a giant’s house. Picturing her dad trying to drag one of those gargantuan trees up the stairs to his apartment made her giggle. The laugh caught in her throat when she saw sudden movement in the trees. With an explosion of broken branches, the dark figure broke out from the forest to the road and began chasing them again.
She turned around and stared open-mouthed out the back window as it followed their car, its legs pin-wheeling with the same rapid movement as before. It was far enough away that Tracy couldn’t make out the details of its face, but even her near-blind Nan would’ve been able to see the maniacal grin stretching from ear to ear. Tracy couldn’t be sure, but the man looked to be gaining on the car.
Turning back forward, she noticed that they were stuck behind a big semi-truck. They were going way slower than before. The man would catch up to them soon. What he would do when he got to them, she didn’t know but her seven-year old mind felt the terror of a weak animal cornered by a predator.
“Robbie,” she croaked and was surprised at her voice. It felt like small vibrations on a tight wire and came out puffy and weak. Her brother continued watching his movie, unaware she had said anything. In the driver’s seat, her dad went on arguing with their mom about something he had let the kids eat. They had once again fallen into their old habit of talking about them as if they weren’t even there, but Tracy didn’t care about their tone. There was a bigger problem and it was gaining on them.
When she turned back around she saw him, now only a car’s length away. The sight filled her with a dread that welled up in her, black and paralyzing. She whimpered but was heard by neither of the men in her life. His smile was inhuman, wider than she had ever seen. His lips were pulled back showing huge teeth as big as the notebooks she had gotten at school. He was panting like a dog, but had a look of joy she had never seen on any animal. His limbs and torso looked as if they had been pulled by horses and stretched with so much force that he became long and slim all over. He was reaching his arms out towards the car, opening and closing his hands like a child grabbing for a candy bar he desperately wanted. Spit dribbled from the corners of his mouth and flew off in streams behind him.
The man -if she could call it a man- had a head round like a basketball, but black as the rest of his body. He wore no clothes but could not be called naked as he had no genitals or even a semblance of skin. He was an absence of light, a speeding shadow in pursuit of her family. Just yellow, bloodshot eyes and blindingly white teeth held within a nightmare.
Tracy turned around and poked Robbie. He brushed her off and continued watching his movie. “Dad,” she said trying to get his attention.
“I’m on the phone, honey.” She usually hated when he brushed her off like that, but now she only felt panic.
“Don’t interrupt Tracy, you know better than that,” her mom told her from the cup holder, the syrup in her voice dried up, a common result of talking to her ex-husband.
“I should let you go anyway. We’ve still got a while to go.”
“Whatever. Just don’t let them drink any soda. There’s no helping you, but I will not let them balloon up like you did.”
“Love you kids!” The tender motherly voice was back but Tracy didn’t hear it. She was looking back at the man. He met her eyes and looked jubilant as he held her in his gaze, his breath billowing out from between his big clenched teeth in white puffs. He was almost within arm’s reach. Tracy had the feeling that if she rolled her window down she would smell his breath and it would smell like the box she had placed in the ground after Nibbles passed away.
He was alongside the rear corner panel of Todd’s sedan when his arm reached out towards Tracy’s door handle. She frantically fumbled the lock, confirming the door secure but knew he would get in anyway. Closing her eyes and covering her head, Tracy waited for the sound of ripping metal and speeding wind. Instead, she heard her dad’s phone beep as he hung up. She felt the car increase its speed. When she opened her eyes, they were passing the semi and leaving the shadow creature in their dust.
* * *
“Henry is taking your mom on a surprise trip to Bellingham so you kids get to spend the week with your old man.” Todd put his turn signal on after the semi-truck flashed its lights indicating that it was safe to get back into the lane. He turned the wheel and gently crossed over the broken line separating eastbound traffic from westbound. Tracy had twisted back around to look out of the back window and the truck driver saw her pale face. He gave her a casual wave and she turned back around.
“What?” In her come down from her panic she had forgotten her manners and felt stupid for it. “Sorry, I mean pardon me.” Her dad wasn’t as strict on the please and thank-yous but mom had an ear for it and would chastise her for any indiscretion so she tried to keep in the habit. She didn’t understand the importance of it all, but her mom had claimed that the kind of rough and childish behavior she got away with around her dad would not fly if they ever sat down to tea with the queen. I don’t know if that would be such a party anyway, Tracy thought, who would bother with a stuffy old queen in the first place?
“You’re gonna be staying with me this week!”
She brightened up at this and brushed away thoughts of the slender shadow man. At any rate, they were getting further and further away with every mile and she no longer considered him a threat. Not for them anyway. She felt bad for the truck driver who he would undoubtedly target next. Maybe not though. Maybe he’s just after little girls. Tracy knew there were people always after little girls; her mother had drilled stranger danger into her head since she could understand spoken word.
“Yay!” She clapped her hands together and Todd looked back at her in the rearview mirror with a smile.
“Good,” Robbie said, wrapping up the earbuds that were connected to the iPad, “Henry’s a dildo.”
Todd slapped his son lightly on the thigh in just a token gesture of punishment. “Don’t talk like that about him. Your mom loves him and you should respect him.” The words were hard but his tone was full of humor and the slightest trace of sarcasm.
Tracy giggled. “What’s a dildo?” she asked her father.
He blushed and cleared his throat as Robbie started to laugh. “It’s just a silly person. Somebody whose only purpose is to stand there and maybe twirl around a bit.” This sent Robbie into a coughing fit as he tried to stifle the guffaws coming from his belly.
“I see…” Tracy made a mental note of the word ‘dildo.’ The next time Michael and LeBron started calling her names, Tracy hoped to impress them with her brand new insult.
Robbie passed her the iPad from between the two front seats and she thanked him before unlocking it and opening up the Candy Crush app. “Are we going to go straight to your place?” He asked his dad, pulling his phone out and checking the time.
“Well you’ll probably need some more clothes so we’ll go to your mom’s first. Pack a couple bags and send the two newlyweds off with some well wishes.”
“Ugh,” he said, “Do we have to? Why can’t we just wear what we’re wearing now?”
“I don’t want to smell your ass for the next week,” Todd replied.
“Come on, I can turn my underwear inside out, backwards, backwards and inside out. That’s like four days of use! I can go commando the last couple days, no problem.”
“Never go commando in jeans, kid. If I only teach you one thing as your father it should be that.” He looked over at his son with a serious expression. “You really don’t like Henry, do you?”
Robbie rolled his eyes. “It’s not just him. It’s mom too, the way she is around him. She looks at him with these stupid eyes and they have these stupid in-jokes. You try to talk to her and she just treats you like a kid. Like anything we say is just ‘cute’ or whatever. It’s annoying.”
“Ah,” his dad replied. He drove in silence, chewing over the idea of Marissa falling in love all over again like an overcooked steak. The thought should have brought him joy. Someone he cared about was happy, happier than she had been in a long time. Instead it tasted of gristle. “She hasn’t looked at me with those stupid eyes in a long, long time.”
“Gross, I don’t want to hear about it!” Robbie cringed, but there was an air of over exaggeration in it.
Todd shared a laugh with his son and it felt good. He looked forward to the boys older years. With any luck, he would be able to teach his son how to be a man instead of Henry. Tall, well-built Henry with the good job and better waistline. Todd looked down at his own protruding gut and felt a twinge of guilt. The soda and cigarette combination would be a one-two punch that took down greater men than he. He made a resolution to quit in the coming New Year. He would be around for his children. He wouldn’t let them be raised by a dildo.
“At least he doesn’t beat you.”
“You don’t beat me.”
“I beat you in Madden.”
Robbie laughed again. “Yeah right. We’ll see about that old man. I’m packing the Xbox when we get home. To mom’s I mean.”
“You’re on, bubs.” He was looking at his son and smiling when the tire blew. It stunned Tracy and pulled her out of her game. She dropped the iPad and it slid onto the floor as the car began to shake and pull to the left.
“Shit,” her dad exclaimed and pulled off onto the shoulder. Tracy sat in horror, the image of the shadow appearing in her mind. The desire in his eyes, the lust in his grin.
“Why are we stopping, daddy?” she asked him. She turned around in her seat and looked out the back again. The road stretched out far behind them and she couldn’t see anyone there. Moonlight gleamed off the wet asphalt and the trees stood on either side of them, trapping them and making Tracy feel like she was in the bottom of a canyon as rain started filling it up. If they stood still the shadow would reach them and they would drown.
“Just a flat tire, hon. We’ll have it changed in a jiff. Robbie, give me a hand and grab the spare from the trunk.” The men opened their respective doors and got out, her dad bending over to pull the latch that popped the trunk. “Sit tight. We’ll be rolling real soon.”
“No daddy, we need to go!” Her words were only halfway out when her father closed the door and walked back to the trunk. She watched him pull a black bag from within it and heard his muffled voice ask if Robbie could handle the tire. Through the glass she thought she heard Robbie say “Piece of cake,” but couldn’t be sure. Her heart was beating so fast she could hear it, dull in her ear. Her mouth tasted like metal and she double checked the locking mechanism in the back seat.
When the car started to lift from the driver’s side she let out a small squeal, but got herself under control. He’s gone, she thought, we’ve been past him for a long time now. He probably went after the truck driver anyway. The thought brought a feeling of guilt but she shook it off. If he had to go after someone, she was glad to be spared.
She heard the sound of metal scraping on metal and thought that it was the sound of her dad taking the popped tire off the car. It wouldn’t be like changing a bike tire, it would be slower. She shook that thought off too. It wouldn’t be. Yes, a car was bigger and more complicated than the Raleigh she had at home, but it didn’t have a chain to fuss with. Tracy twisted in her seat as her dad got to his feet. She watched Robbie take the spare out of the trunk and begin to roll it to the front of the car. She twisted back to watch her dad as he put his hands in his lower back and stretched his belly out. The tiny pops in his spine could be heard even through the rolled up windows.
“Got it?” He asked his son, but before he got an answer the shadow tore through his body and sent it rolling down into the middle of the road. Tracy screamed and fumbled at her seatbelt as the shadow continued off in the direction they were heading. As she got it off she heard Robbie shout for his dad and saw him run off into the road. Tracy was bounding out her door and after him in no time.
“Dad!” he shouted as he fell to his knees at the body of his father. The big man was sprawled on his back with his arms and legs stuck out like a starfish. His face and arms were rubbed raw from the road and he stared up at the stars, blinking with confusion. When he tried to talk, blood wept from the corners of his mouth.
“Wa fuh-” he said before coughing. Dark flecks of blood flew out and speckled Robbie’s face.
“We need to get back in the car, Robbie!” Tracy was tugging on his sleeve, trying to pull him away from their father but he was too heavy. “It’s going to come back!”
“What was it? A motorcycle? Where were its fucking lights?!” He was hysterical.
“It’s not, Robbie, it’s a monster! Please!” She was crying now and runners of snot ran down her face. She didn’t care, they needed to go. They needed to get back to the car.
“I need to get dad out of the road, it’s not safe here.” He was crying too, but he wiped at his eyes with his arm and grabbed his dad by the hand. When he began to pull, a large gash opened up running along his torso, and Todd’s children were treated to the sight of his organs desperately trying to keep him alive. Their father let out a bloodcurdling scream, and Robbie let go of the arm. He sat down hard and began to sob in between his knees.
“Please!” Tracy screamed. Her head was hurting like there was some sort of balloon inside it, slowly expanding and pushing on her skull. She looked in the direction the shadow had run off in and saw it far away where the road climbed to a hill. He was at the top and his legs had stopped pin-wheeling. They were splayed wide and he was silhouetted in the moonlight. He was way too long, and he seemed to stretch even longer before her eyes. She watched him as he lifted one arm high into the air and began to wave like a childhood friend greeting another from across the street. They were jerky movements, full of clumsy energy. He lowered his body and his legs began to move, slow at first but increasing to that same blur she had seen from in the car.
“It’s coming back, Robbie,” she told him, “We need to get off the road.”
Her brother had seen the shadow with it’s mocking wave. Robbie wiped at his nose and got shakily to his feet. “No. That asshole killed our dad. He killed our dad!”
Tracy looked at where the man who lifted her onto his shoulders for every parade rested and saw that he was no longer breathing. He just kept looking up at the sky as if he was waiting for the hand of God to reach down and pull him up to heaven. She fell to her knees and began to wail as her teenaged brother staggered so that he was standing in front of his dad in a protective stance. “Get in the car, Trace.”
She looked up but couldn’t find the strength to stand. “Robbie,” she whispered and the shadow sprinted on, gaining on the boy with inhuman speed. A whine came up from his direction, high and full of tension. It sounded like a dog being held back from a big meaty bone. There was no leash on the shadow though, and it came.
“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” It whined and Robbie roared at it. It was primal and full of a strength Tracy had never seen in him.
Over the sounds the two were making, an enormous horn blared. It sounded like a fog horn, but they were not near any oceans. The truck, Tracy thought and got to her feet. “Robbie!” she shouted but her little voice was drowned out by the truck’s loud warning. Fortunately, the lights from the cab washed over the boy and he understood what was happening. He juked towards the car and sprinted away from their dad’s body. Robbie wasn’t as fast as the shadow that had followed them from God knows where, but he was fast enough.
He cleared the path of the truck and Tracy heard the squeal of its brakes. The wheels locked up, but the weight of the semi pushed it forward, and she saw it flatten the shadow as it turned towards her and her brother. As the last wheel rolled over the figure, it caught it and dragged the shadow along the road.
* * *
They sat by the car and looked at their dad in the brake lights of the truck. The red of the lights washed over the blood and Tracy thought the puddle pooling around her father could’ve just been rainwater. She realized however, that the rain had stopped.
The man who had waved at Tracy from the cab of the truck opened the door and almost fell out. He was a small bald man and he tripped as he rushed forward to the body of their dad. “Oh God,” he was saying, over and over. Tracy realized that he thought he had hit their dad. He hit something, she thought and got to her feet as the truck driver called 911. In his haste to get the clearly dead man help, he had forgotten that there were two kids in the car with him. Tracy didn’t mind. She didn’t want to deal with him just then. She started to walk towards the back of the semi-truck.
“Where are you going?” Robbie asked, scrambling to his feet.
“It needs to be dead.”
He followed her to the truck and they both looked down at what was pinned under the back tire.
The figure looked up at Tracy from beneath the tire. It was rubbed raw with bits of black, smoldering pieces ripped off and strewn along the road. When she looked at it, she understood at once that it knew what it had done. It knew that she would spend the next month, maybe year, crying over the loss of her father. She would no longer be able to go to him with one of her many curiosities about the world, would receive no comfort from any hurts and hear no corny dad jokes. The shadow showed tremendous joy at tearing apart her father. From under the semi-trucks big wheel his smile stretched even wider. It reached grotesquely around the back of his round head and Tracey heard a creaking come from within its thin throat.
“What’s it doing?” Her brother asked her, sounding like a small child instead of a teenager on the brink of manhood.
“I don’t know,” she replied, “It sounds like laughing.” The shadow’s arms stretched out towards her and opened and closed its long fingers like a child trying to grasp something it felt it deserved. Tracy took a step back, repulsed by the creature. It oozed dark wet liquid from where bits of it’s flesh were worn away by the asphalt. It looked like oil, like some natural slime a snake would secrete. Are snakes slimy? She didn’t know. She couldn’t ask her dad. “Robbie, are snakes slimy?” When she looked to him for an answer, he was gone. “Robbie?” She spun in a circle, searching for him.
Robbie had hopped over a smashed concrete divider. When he came back over it, he was holding a large, heavy slab of stone. He hefted it high as he came closer to the thing trapped under the semi truck’s wheel. The shadow stopped laughing. Somewhere in the forest bears were prepared for the upcoming winter.