The woodchuck came bumbling along the shoulder of Route 119, headed in the direction of Chester's Mill, although the town was still a mile and a half away and even Jim Rennie's Used Cars was only a series of twinkling sunflashes arranged in rows at the place where the highway curved to the left. The chuck planned (so far as a woodchuck can be said to plan anything) to head back into the woods long before he got that far. But for now, the shoulder was fine. He'd come farther from his burrow than he meant to, but the sun had been warm on his back and the smells were crisp in his nose, forming rudimentary images—not quite pictures—in his brain.
He stopped and rose on his back paws for an instant. His eyes weren't as good as they used to be, but good enough to make out a human up there, walking in his direction on the other shoulder. The chuck decided he'd go a little farther anyway. Humans sometimes left behind good things to eat.
He was an old fellow, and a fat fellow. He had raided many garbage cans in his time, and knew the way to the Chester's Mill landfill as well as he knew the three tunnels of his own burrow; always good things to eat at the landfill. He waddled a complacent old fellow's waddle, watching the human walking on the other side of the road.
The man stopped. The chuck realized he had been spotted. To his right and just ahead was a fallen birch. He would hide under there, wait for the man to go by, then investigate for any tasty— The chuck got that far in his thoughts—and another three waddling steps—although he had been cut in two. Then he fell apart on the edge of the road. Blood squirted and pumped; guts tumbled into the dirt; his rear legs kicked rapidly twice, then stopped.
His last thought before the darkness that comes to us all, chucks and humans alike: What happened?
All the needles on the control panel dropped dead.
"What the hell?" Claudie Sanders said. She turned to Chuck.
Her eyes were wide, but there was no panic in them, only bewilderment. There was no time for panic.
Chuck never saw the control panel. He saw the Seneca's nose crumple toward him. Then he saw both propellers disintegrate. There was no time to see more. No time for anything. The Seneca exploded over Route 119 and rained fire on the countryside. It also rained body parts. A smoking forearm—Claudette's—landed with a thump beside the neatly divided woodchuck.
It was October twenty-first.