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The Roadkill God

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“Are you kidding me?” Dan tipped back his head and let out a long, gargling, frustrated bellow, then smothered his entire face with the blood-soaked shirt and groaned into it, giving himself a minute just to process the full extent of his misfortune and let the rage and disbelief roll over him in waves. Deep breaths. No car, no money to fix it, no money to tow it, but there was nothing to be done about it. Breathe. Count to ten. Get your shit together and then deal with the problem.

The deer was still alive. In the extremity of his distress he had scarcely even remembered there had been a deer, but in the hushed semi-silence of the desert night he heard scuffling, followed by a low, keening moan that made something in him feel a little smaller. She had landed across the highway, and it was immediately, viscerally apparent that she was not okay: her head had been wrenched almost entirely around, could have allowed her to press her silky nose between her own shoulderblades, and both of her front legs were a ruin of jutting bone and bloody ribbons of hide.

She was struggling weakly, her head lolling back and forth so much like the raccoon’s had done, but it didn’t seem like she could move her body, and as she began to realize this her moaning quieted, replaced by shallow, rapid breathing that even from across the road sounded distressingly wet.

“Oh, shit,” Daniel whispered, unaccountably hoarse. God, if he had only been paying attention – he was always so careful, when the jackrabbits started mating he was even paranoid, and yet his eyes had missed her, and his car had not, and he, the driver, barely had a scratch on him. Wasn’t that always the way?

He pushed himself gingerly to his feet, and with sick hesitation he crossed the road, inching toward her slowly, though logically he knew that he had nothing to fear. A mule doe, probably a few years old, but now he could only imagine how pretty she must have been just minutes ago. Before he had ruined her. He wished so fervently that it hurt that she had simply died. It would have been awful, but it would also have absolved him of any further responsibility for the harm he had caused her: now she was suffering, as that raccoon had been suffering, and he realized with a nauseating pang that, with his car a hissing wreck behind him, he no longer had the excuse that he was too far along to turn back around for the sake of a wild animal. He would either have to do something about this, or leave her to her pain while he waited on a tow truck. She wasn’t even in the road anymore, where she could be hit again. Torn apart by scavengers while she was still alive, baked to death in the unseasonable heat-

God.” His voice cracked, and her enormous, shining eyes rolled to look at him, the whites bulging, terrified but unable to move, unable to flee. She expected it as much as he did – some predator come to savage her while she was helpless. They both knew the rules. “God, I’m so sorry, don’t look at me like that. I didn’t mean to-“ He didn’t know what he was saying, felt the uselessness of it tang like salt in his mouth. The doe didn’t care that he was sorry, that he would take it back in an instant if he could. All she cared about was that she was wounded and afraid, and that he might be here to kill her. And he realized that he was.

He was going to have to do for her what he hadn’t been able to do for the raccoon, and he had no idea how. It would have been so much easier if his car wasn’t stuck in the ditch: running over her again would have been terrible, but impersonal, a steel box between him and the reality of what he was doing, but every other option that came to him was worse than the last. The tire iron in the trunk? Jesus, and what, he’d just wail on her until she stopped breathing? He couldn’t. Try to do it by hand? He didn’t have the strength, and he sure as hell didn’t have the willpower.

“Christ, I’m sorry. I-I don’t know what to-“ Breathe. Take a minute to pull yourself together, and then do what you need to do. He sat in the dirt next to her, trying to remember what breathing felt like, and as they panted in chorus it occurred to him how odd it was that no cars had passed them since the beginning of this little scene. It was late, sure, but it was also a Friday night, and to find nobody making the commute from the bars in Neon Palms back toward G.C. seemed-

“Rock. A rock.” Inspiration struck, and he pushed himself to his feet, startling the wounded doe. “I’ll get a big rock, and I’ll just…it’ll be quick. I promise.” I hope. It was the best idea he could come up with, and he wandered into the forest of mesquite, finding that he didn’t need a flashlight in the stark chiaroscuro cast by the bloated moon. If he could find a big enough boulder, he could drop it right on her head, crush her skull and end this in an instant. It would probably be the most traumatic thing he had ever been forced to do, but for her it would be the easiest way, and this hadn’t been her fault. The fault was his, and so was the responsibility.

He came back to the road hefting a tough, pitted white rock roughly the size of a cinderblock, so heavy that he strained to walk with it. The deer was still there, as was his smoking car, and he had brought with him from the desert the unsettling awareness that things had become far too quiet. No sound of wildlife – no insects, no furtive rustlings or distant calls. He thought he had seen an owl in the distance when he had found the stone, a foreboding silhouette cut out of the night like wrought iron, backcast by the harsh moonlight, but it had had no word for him, and he had moved on with his wild work.

Now, though, he could hear nothing but the silence, as if the whole of the Badlands were holding its breath, waiting for him to see this grisly task through. Ridiculous, but a man alone in the desert in the middle of the night found it hard not to be ridiculous: there was magic in the desert, and it was wild, capricious, and strongest at night.

“Okay.” He groaned as he finally dropped the rock on the side of the road, stretching his arms behind his back to work out the pain. The doe was there, panting and moaning, and after a moment he bent to heft the rock again, lifting it over his head with great effort. “Okay. Now I’m just gonna…” An image flashed across his mind’s eye: the way her skull would cave when he brought the rock down, the wet crunch it would make, the horrifying idea that he might do these things and find her wide, un-accusing eye still staring at him from under a sheet of blood-

“Fuck.” He dropped the rock and slapped a hand to his mouth, stumbling back into the mesquite. He made it a couple of yards before he buckled and vomited, on his knees in the sand with rocks biting into his palms, spewing steaming bile not so much for the horror of this, but for the inevitability of that horror. He had no choice. He had no other option but to do this. He was going to have to get up out of the dirt, return to the road, kill the doe, and then get his fucking car towed. And he would have to live with the night’s events for the rest of his goddamn life.

Fuck.” It was cathartic to say it, and at last he did get up, brushing off his knees and pulling a thorn from the pad of his palm with a wince. The desert was still quiet, so quiet that he could hear the doe’s breathing, and as he drew closer to the road the hair on the back of his neck began to stand on end. There was no true darkness under the great, alien eye of this moon, but every slim shadow seemed to hide something sinister, something monstrous.

Tonight the monster stood in plain sight across the dark band of the highway. He nearly missed it at first glance, his eye attempting to filter out the unnatural as sanity demands we do every day of our lives, but the Stag would not be ignored, and when the great prongs of its antlers resolved themselves out of the linear geometry of the ocotillo, he screamed.

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