Road Kill

It was clear after the rain—big, bloated drops that took the dust down screaming like parachuters grasping at pigeons. I hadn’t seen real rain in years and I felt like a little kid. I would’ve made snowmen out of mud puddles if I could’ve. It was late summer, the spring calves had all been shipped off, and everybody was busy with the milking. I’d been running loads with the refrigerated truck down to the port in Oakland and I hadn’t seen anything but a balding raccoon chewing on a spine that looked squeamishly human.

I sat at the wheel in the ranch’s long driveway, bouncing around with the weight of Red poking at wires in the trailer. When he was satisfied, he got out and slapped the rig on the bumper like he always did and said, “She’ll ride.” I slapped the door with my arm out the window and said it back and drove off. The air felt terrific and I was getting used to sailing along with no sound, the bad thoughts had worn themselves out, and I liked to amuse myself making up stories while the world rolled away under me glittering.

There was a dip in the road along the way, a place where the water table came up close to the surface. It was greener there and I liked to pull over. Sometimes I saw dragonflies or tiny yellow flowers. The grass was as tall as me and softer than the harsh plains grass, more yielding because it could afford to be.

It was the place I’d put my father to rest, where I’d felt him slip from sitting on my heart to lying in it. I didn’t have his ashes. All I had was a napkin he’d drawn on in a deli a few days before he died. He’d drawn an arrow and held it up so that it pointed at the tattoo of a naked and well-hung devil on the sandaled foot of a woman whose t-shirt said JESUS LOVES ME. And I’d dribbled cola into my lap laughing.

Once when I ran a load, I brought a shovel. I stopped there and dug down deep until I hit the water. It took me hours, I was shaking all over by the time I got there, but I knew I’d never get to scatter his ashes on the shores of his youth, and this was the closest I could get to giving him what he’d wanted. I had the napkin in my pocket and I squatted down in the hole and lit it. The ash melted on the water. I asked him to stop haunting me, and I thought I heard him laugh and say he was just trying to keep me company.

Sometimes while I was driving, I talked to Pet, too. I hadn’t known him long but his death had made us very close. Today, I was telling him a story my mom had told me about her great aunt in Louisiana, whose husband—rich, vicious, and devout—had disappeared one day. Whenever anyone in the family asked where he’d gone, she’d say, “He’s gone to live in the Gulf.” And when they’d say, “Don’t you mean on the Gulf, Auntie?” she’d just offer them another cup of tea. Mom had shown me pictures of her, I told Pet, she was a crocodile in pearls, she was wicked and well-loved.

The dip in the road was coming up, and I thought I’d pull over to have some jerky and chat with Dad. I was still pretty far away when I saw a figure move out of the long grass and into the road, but the space between us was barely enough room to stop a truck that size and I really had to lay on the brakes. The figure hovered and shape-shifted in the steam off the wet bitumen, but it was about the right size to be a deer.

I’d been thinking all this time about what I would do if I saw one. At first I figured obviously I’d shoot it, but in a funny way I was right about Red. It was easier to keep your fingernails clean somehow when you had food to eat and people to talk to and to notice if you didn’t come home or left your shoelaces untied. I was coming back to halfway human and I didn’t need to kill anymore, or even want to. And I thought about what Pet had said about the ambassadors from Earth, and so I pictured myself now as being above the animal hordes squatting at the edges of the lake and taking furtive bites out of each others’ calves with rotting teeth.

It would be a day like this one, with the heavens open and beckoning, and I would stop in the road where the deer stood waiting. I would get out of the truck and look into its fool’s gold eyes and it would not run. I would say to that descendent of Aecteon, who Artemis turned into a stag, that the plight of its ancestors had not gone unmourned. And in its capacity as ambassador, the deer would forgive me for all we had done.

But there was something wrong with the deer in the road. The shape wasn’t right. As I came closer, two smaller figures slid out of the grass to join it. I was hitting the brake so hard I thought it would snap off. The metal was screaming like a trapped cat. They were people. Three of them, standing in the road.

I got the truck stopped and we made eye contact through the windscreen. Two women and a child. There was nothing to say. No comments on the rain or offer of directions. No point rolling up the window or locking the door. We all had guns. The taller of the women started coming around the drivers’ side. She could have been a cheerleader dressed up as a zombie for Halloween. Blonde, freckled, slim. But I could smell her from 20 feet. There were lesions all over her arms and you could see where they were under her shirt by the pus soaking through. She had her arm held up toward the other woman and the kid—stay back.

All three of them moved in glitches, like they were powered by a bad motor. Like Christmas decorations with the batteries running out. I couldn’t tell if they were all related or if it was just their hollow eyes, thin hair, yellow fingernails. Which would have made me their kin, too, before I met Red.

Filthy fuckin’ animals with nothin’ to live for.

She came up slow, like I was a skittish dog she was trying to befriend. Her gun was pointed at the open window. Mine was on the seat next to me with the safety on. She wore a gold necklace.

The other woman and the kid were standing in front of the truck to keep me from driving away. The kid looked like it had been born ancient and possessed of terrible secrets.

I imagined Marcus looking into the eyes of his pirates—green or brown or blue like this woman’s, they were all the same dull shade of hunger and fear—and in his vengeance against Red, showing them the honor he could not afford to show through mercy. Killing to stay alive, killing to justify being alive.

Filthy fuckin’ animals with nothin’ to live for.

You had to hand it to Red. I barked a laugh that burned like bile. The woman startled and grunted, familiar with the danger of unpredictable prey. She wanted it done with, I could tell.

I hit the gas hard. The other woman, the shorter one, jumped away. The kid went under the bumper. In the rearview, I watched both women trying to gather the mess back together like you would a broken mug.

I expected storms all over my body. King tides in my blood. Hurricanes in my bowels. Tornadoes in my nostrils. Instead, the silence was terrible. Inside my rib cage, it was a sunny and mild day. But there was no one to share it with. I longed to feel haunted again just to feel less alone.

Filthy fuckin’ animals with nothin’ to live for.

In a way, I guess maybe I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have something to lose. Just like how those women wouldn’t have done what they did if they didn’t have nothing to lose. Maybe any one of us would have done everything differently if we were a little more human, a little less human, depending on what that means to you.

I thought about leaving the truck where it stood and letting the grass swallow me whole. Maybe if I were better, I would have finished what Marcus had started. But I guess the only real option for any of us is to do what we can’t help but do, and for me that’s always been just carrying on.



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