Road Kill

A rattlesnake came out onto the road and I chased after it with my knife but once it hit the grass, it disappeared absolutely. It didn’t even bother rattling at me. In this new world, it knew its place and mine.

Red’s ranch was cupped in the bladder of a gentle valley. A dozen men in uniform stroked the barrels of semi-automatics and flicked half-burnt lit cigarettes over their shoulders into the sunburned grass like they had nothing to fear from fire. I knew men who’d kill their own mothers for half a cigarette.

The men watched me lazily. Like the rattlesnake, they knew where they stood.

The ranch was an artist’s unfinished rendition of a pastoral scene. A yellow farmhouse with a wraparound porch. But no butterflies. No birdsong. I could read the hieroglyphics in the porch slats where flowers had once climbed and then died, stripping the paint as they withered.

The pasture fence stretched out half a mile or so to the top of a hill where the simmering shape of a man stood pissing over the railing of a guard tower. The herd grazed between us. My mouth watered watching a calf suckle at its mother’s teat. Dad’s brother Tony used to keep a cow. We’d go up to stay sometimes and he’d put coffee powder in a mug and have me hold it under the udder while he squeezed. The milk came out frothy and warm, and Tony would say, “There you go. A cappuccino ranchero.”

The guard at the gate told me Red was off seeing to something. He whistled loudly and another guy stood up from where he was crouching in the grass. He was massive and moon-faced, and he lumbered over grinning.

“Pet will take care of you,” said the guard.

I’ve never made a secret to you of my past. Addiction has put me on familiar terms with big men who serve smaller, more powerful men. I’ve found the big men are meant to stay quiet, to use their silence to say that they chose to serve their master—not out of weakness or stupidity, which is often the case, but out of loyalty. With the implication that that loyalty has been earned and is deserved.

Pet, though, was a smiling orc. He showed me to the old barn. The cows slept in the new barn, which was bigger and nicer. The guards slept in the cattle stalls with curtains strung between them. Pet took me to the tack room. “They call it the Waldorf Astoria of High Sierras dystopian cattle ranches,” he said, opening the door, which had DRIVERS ROOM Sharpied on it.

The beige linoleum floor, marbled with reddish fissures and carpeted with mold, sloped downward toward a drain at the center. The cot against the far wall teetered drunkenly. There was a sheet of paper tacked above it, a skilful drawing of a naked woman breastfeeding a fish.

Pet tore it away from the wall and put it in his pocket. “Marcus was an artist,” he said. I could see the outline of Marcus’s sleeping body rendered in sweat on the bedsheet.  “I’ll show you the lounge.”

The lounge was the old hay loft. Long-suffering armchairs vomiting yellowing fluff, three guys passing a joint around. Guns close at their sides. They were playing Monopoly.

“We buildin’ empires again, boys?” said Pet, sitting down and accepting the joint. One of the men came into stoic possession of a railroad. “It’s good to be king,” said Pet.

 Past dark, we went out walking. The moon was small and bright and terribly far away. It never stopped being spooky, the silence the insects had left. When the beam of my headlamp caught on something shining, I’d pull up looking for a spider, but most times it was only broken glass.

Pet laughed at me gently. We couldn’t look at each other without going blind from our headlamps.

“It wigs me out,” I said, “thinking we came from the same stuff as bugs. It’s like looking at stars. It kinda makes me feel holy.”

Pet took me to a little shack, burnt and sagging but basically intact. “This is where I come,” he said. He went into a back room and I could hear him ripping boards out of the walls. He laid them down in the fireplace and got it going. “Antipasto plate?” There were stale crackers and tinned sardines and a bottle of bourbon that we passed back and forth. I asked him what happened to Marcus.

Pet leaned his head back and looked at the moon through the hole in the roof. “Red told you about the road kill?”

“Yeah, but I don’t get it.”

Pet sighed. “We’ve got men here who’ve seen the skin melt off their babies’ faces. We’ve held hands with corpses. We’ve eaten the soles of our own shoes and thought they tasted alright. We’ve lost everything we ever loved. It’s one more thing, hitting a deer like Marcus did. Everyone has a one more thing that’s one too many. He took the life of something uncorrupted, something from before. I imagine it felt like he was living on Jupiter and he accidentally shot the ambassador from Earth walking out of the ship.”

He passed me the bottle. We kept having to take big slugs to keep the crackers from drying us out too much. The stars were starting to look woozy and jeering.

“Marcus came back here looking for Red. He blamed him for the deer, and then I guess he got around to blaming him for everything. He wanted to kill him. Red gives everyone a gun. You need it to protect yourself on the road. Marcus was off his head when he turned up. We could hear him a mile off. I don’t know what would have happened if he’d kept his wits and come in quiet.”

“What did happen?”

Pet looked up again but the moon had passed out of frame. “Marcus was my friend.”



Kim Carson Bodie

Kim Carson Bodie is an American journalist living on unceded Whadjuk Noongar Boodja land. She has worked a lot of odd jobs and lived a lot of odd places. This is her creative debut. You can find Kim on Instagram and she recommends you donate to buglife if you don't want to end up like the characters in this story.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, April 27, 2023 - 20:11