On the thin trail that ran beside the river, the children moved their arms out and then in like breathing, pushing at crab spider webs with open palms, wrists and calves scratched by sticks and the smilax that curled up from the ground.
Her brother saw it first, even though he was behind her. He grabbed the hem of her shirt and she froze, looking for a snake or the big web of a nephila.
When the girl saw the crumpled form on the ground her body felt too soft all the sudden and she flung her weightless arm back, a flailing indication to her brother not to move. She stood as still as she could, feeling the quiver of not moving when she wanted to run.
The only sound was the warm hum of cicadas, a little distant, back toward the house, closer to the edge of the woods, near the pasture. The form in the middle of the path was curled and heaped on a sandy spot where the trail widened a little at the edge of a low bluff.
She did not know what it was, only that it was not the ground, that it was something on the ground, brownish and lumpy and not moving.
A flurry of raccoons and possums and old shirts and sand-caked towels tumbled through her mind even as she slow-realized that it was a big brown sack like the kind that is folded in the corner at the produce market right up from the paper mill. The look of the bag was full of sweet and rotting fruit in the summer, the dim coolness of the wooden market stalls.
Her brother stepped up beside her, “It’s a bag!”
“Be quiet,” she hissed.
Was it the bag that was lumpy, or were there lumps in the bag? Was it filled with mealy drunken fruit, grapefruit and summer squash gone black and soft in spots, bananas animated by the gathering of flies, slick and souring?
They moved cautiously toward the shape on the ground as though it might spring into life, lunge toward them.
The lumps in the bag didn’t move.
The girl leaned to grab at a stick at the edge of the woods, a brittle old branch with little scales of lichen clinging to it. As she moved to poke at the burlap with the tip of the stick, her brother edged the toe of his shoe toward the lumps in the bag. She swatted toward his ankle with the stick and he jumped back.
“Don’t,” she hissed.
She didn’t know why she felt afraid. It was just a bag. It wasn’t doing anything. It was just laying there. She stepped in front of her brother and poked hard at the sand-smudged fiber. The tip of the stick broke, a tiny snap, and she could feel that something solid was in the bag. She ran the stick over the curved lumps, feeling the shape of them, and prodded harder. The lumps gave just a little, pressed in just a little like a cantaloupe in the compost pile.
The opening of the bag was crumpled under the bag itself, and she pressed the stick into the fabric, pushed at it, tried to lift it, to pry it up from where it had settled on the ground.
The stick cracked in two, the short section left in her hand like a wand. She held onto it, pointed it toward the sack as she squatted on her haunches. Poked at the shapes in the bag, flipped the broken length of branch off into the sand, wedged the short stick under the edge of the bag, and pushed the stick up like a lever, shifting the bag a little, feeling the heft of its contents.
Her brother was suddenly there beside her, kneeling down, moving to pull the bag open, then yanking his arm back, shaking his fingers off like they’d been burnt.
The bag was damp and sandy like it’d been in the river. He wiped his hand on the leg of his shorts, then plucked at the edge of fabric with just the tips of his fingers.
“Hmmph, here,” the girl reached across her brother, jerked at the most open edge of the bag. Her body wanted to leap back, but it was frozen there, squatting in the dirt. Her brother moved behind her, clawed into her shoulder.
There were three of them, curled together like they were sleeping, the size of large kittens or small puppies, feet smooth and clean, bellies round, soft furred little ears. Eyes like sleeping, with ants gathering at the corners of the closed lids.
They weren’t possums. They weren’t armadillos or raccoons. They weren’t cats or dogs.
The children had never seen a wild boar. They’d never even seen pigs.
She stood with her legs numb and shaking as she made sense of what had happened, what the baby boars were and why they were in the bag.
“Where’s their mother?” She couldn’t voice an answer to the question her brother had asked, but knew the answer without trying to know and without wanting to know.
Her eyes were fixed on the ants, the frantic way they moved over the small animal faces. She wanted to swat them off, shoo them away, pick up the dead baby boars and bring them home, back to life. Her brother stepped forward. Wordlessly, with just the toe of his shoe, he tossed one edge of the burlap over the other, loosely closing the bag.
The boy wiped his hand on his shorts again even though he hadn’t touched anything with his fingers. His sister saw that his face had changed a little where his eyes now held their shared knowing that someone had killed boars, taken the mother and drowned the babies, just left them there in the woods like there was nobody who might find them, nobody who might care.