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Roadkill by Christa Faust

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Lucy flew along the 5, raw, humpbacked silhouette of the San Gabriel Mountains already in the Nova’s rearview and ahead flat endless nothing as dark and hopeless as she felt. She pushed the protesting automobile up to 120, hot dusty wind pulling bleachy-green strands of hair loose from her sloppy ponytail and whipping them across her face. Her lower lip was chapped and she chewed at it till it bled, scraping her teeth across the ragged edges over and over. The cute sparkle blue lipstick was long gone.

The Nova had no stereo so she kept a shitty boombox in the back seat,

tinny old punkrock tape, Dead Kennedys or some shit, getting their ass kicked by the wind and the straining engine and it didn’t matter anyway since all she heard was Joey.

“So leave then,” casual shrug and deep drag of his cigarette, not even looking up from his canvas, angry red and black slashes across sickly fishscale shapes. “I’ve had it with this clingy shit.”

And Lucy feeling more and more lonely inside her own skin, more and more useless, as if the more he ignored her the more pastel, the more translucent she became. Like a ghost in their little Hollywood apartment, leaving behind a half-full coffee cup, a teal green blob of Manic Panic hairdye on the edge of the sink, desperate to leave some kind of spoor, some small proof that she was still here, only to find everything cleaned up and pristine the next day.

In the darkness up ahead somewhere was San Francisco. A new city, a new life. A place where someone might look right into her eyes, might ask her if she wanted anything, if she was hungry or cold. A place to reinvent herself, if only she could believe in it. Out here in this dull dusty no-mans-land her fantasy of San Francisco seemed about as realistic as the Emerald City of Oz.

A black fluttery shape sprang into road in in front of her – a bat? an
umbrella? – and she slammed on the breaks, her heart whiplashing in her chest as the car skewed off in a cloud of bone-colored dust, tire squeal replaced by the grating crunch of gravel and then silence, ticking of the engine weirdly in sync with her pounding pulse.

She was shaking so badly that it took a full minute to unfasten her
seatbelt. Suddenly in a panic to get out, gasping and fingers scrabbling around the doorhandle Lucy whispered fuckfuckfuck until the door finally popped open and she tumbled out.

The road was near deserted, only an occasional shuddering semi roaring past and enveloping Lucy in dust and diesel stink. On the other side of the freeway was a featureless wall of rock. Her side was some kind of orchard, endless rows of identical, leafless trees like Halloween cutouts as far as she could see. The Nova steamed on two flat tires and she kicked it spitefully, sending up a spray of grit.

The thing she had hit was about 25 feet up ahead, semi-collapsed amidst winking cubes of safetyglass on the shoulder. It looked like a broken umbrella skeleton festooned with shredded plastic bags and scraps of rusty foil and it’s crooked winglike crest flapped in the hot desert wind.

“Fuck you,” she told it, spitting a wad of gritty saliva onto the yellow line that divided the questionable safety of the shoulder from the speeding death of the freeway. Watching her spit dry almost instantly on the tarmac, Lucy found herself noticing the detritus around her thrift store boots. There were all kinds of things, weird things like a cracked plastic letter H with prongs along it’s center bar, a watch with no hands, a can of soda she had never heard of, it’s size slightly smaller than normal, emblazoned with a pale and anachronistic logo. There was a flattened stuffed toy of some sort, a greenish thing sort of like a cat with no ears and an old porno magazine folded open to a spread of a shopworn blonde getting it in both ends from headless goons with bad tattoos. A Polaroid that hadn’t come out, just a gray green blob bisected by a streak of red like a wound. Bits of metal and shards of glass, crumpled paper and cigarette butts. And Lucy, just another scrap of unwanted flotsam, stuck here for fuck knows how long with no cellphone and no one to call anyway, no AAA and worthless Joey about as likely to come out and save her as Superman or Mother Theresa or Bruce fucking Willis.

“So what are you gonna do Lucy?” she said out loud, her own name lost in the rumble of a tanker truck going the other way. She spat again, dry dusty flavor shriveling her tongue. “Walk I guess.”

She grabbed her knobby vinyl purse from the passenger seat and locked the Nova’s doors – like someone’s gonna steal the damn thing on two flat shoes but urban habits die hard. Standing for a moment, toeing the Polaroid, she was struck with sudden inexplicable anxiety about leaving the familiar comfort of her car. Which way should she go? It seemed ages since she’d seen a gas station and it seemed a reasonable assumption that there ought to be one up ahead fairly soon. But she was quite preoccupied and she could have passed one without noticing.

Nevermind the fact that thing was up ahead, that dark flapping thing that had caused all this trouble. Wrapping her arms around her skinny ribs, Lucy set out in the direction she had come without looking back. She walked forever, or so it felt, one foot in front of the other and chewing her lip, humming tunelessly. The orchard never seemed to end and it’s relentless sameness gave her no hint of how far she’d gone. Two cars and a truck passed but none even slowed as they blew by and Lucy felt sure that Joey had finally won, that she really was
invisible now and she’ d just keep walking until she died of thirst here in this dry unchanging wasteland while fat unseeing tourists and sleepy truckdrivers drove by sucking their Big Gulps and singing along with top 40 radio. Finally something different up ahead, just a lump by the side of the road. Probably some dead bloated animal and Lucy found herself breathing more shallowly in anticipation of the stink. But the closer she got, the less sure she was. It seemed too skinny, too lopsided. When she got within 10 feet she started to notice metal struts poking up out of it and was hit with a plunging elevator realization in her gut. It looked a lot like that thing she had hit. She slowed as she approached it, realizing at the last second that she had chewed her lip bloody again. That copper flavor mingled with dust and carbon monoxide on her tongue as she bent to peer cautiously at the twisted shape at her feet. It was a dead animal or part of one, here a row of yellow dog teeth set in mummified black gums like beef jerky, here a broken stub of bone protruding from a nest of snarled wire and hair. Clusters of dirty pigeon feathers and patches of matted fur along with the familiar umbrella struts and shreds of plastic all tangled together. It made her uneasy and sick, just a stupid heap of trash but there was something about way the wind made it flutter and seem almost ready to leap at her just like it had leapt at her car…

It couldn’t be the same thing. She had left that thing miles behind her back with her car and her scratchy punkrock tape and that shitty boombox that someone probably smashed the window to steal by now.

Looking back over her shoulder she saw nothing but endless road and skeleton trees and found herself struck by an awful vision of that scrawny thing flapping awkwardly up into the sky and winging raptor-quick to plunge down up ahead and wait for her all sharp rusty points and predator patience. She sidled past the ragged heap, almost expecting it to snake out and snag her pant leg. Maybe there was a whole flock of these things strewn all along the road, whispering to each other in their secret plastic-crinkle language about the strange lonely girl with the green hair and the bloody lip. She hurried away, afraid to take her eyes off it, in case she looked away and back again to find it closer. When she was finally far enough away to safely turn her head, she spotted another car parked on the shoulder. Someone with a cellphone maybe? Someone waiting for her with his lights off and a hard-on and a gun in the glovebox. Or maybe just another empty car, owner gone on down the road looking for help. Maybe she’d find the owner a few miles down, dried bones tangled up in wire and torn plastic.

Ok now she was just freaking herself out. She made herself breathe slowly and resisted an urge to check on the thing behind her.

You’re acting just like a girl, Joey’s sardonic voice told her. Grow up already.

“Fuck you,” she said to Joey, to the garbage bag monster, to her own stupid self. “Just keep moving and pray for a goddam SpeedyMart.”

The car up ahead was a Nova. A black Nova. What are the chances of
that? she thought Two Novas broken down on the same stretch of road. More likely than the truth, the terrible slow-dawning truth that it was her Nova, familiar battered warhorse she had bought from her old boss for 500 bucks and driven nearly into the ground, sitting forlornly on two flat tires, just like she left it. As she approached it, she felt a twist of nausea in her gut, hands shaking as she gripped her key and of course it slid into the lock like she knew it would and there’s her boombox with the tape popped out, half-ejected in her sudden panicked stop. Paper coffee cups with chewed edges smeared with blue lipstick. Her things. So what the fuck happened?

How did she get so turned around? She’d heard about people lost in the woods going in circles but how the fuck could she have been following the road in the same direction the whole way and still wound up back here. She backed away from the car, keys jingling in her hand. OK fine, however it happened, she’s here. Now what? Wait here? Yes that was the only sensible thing to do. Just wait and eventually somebody, some cop or something, somebody would have to stop. You weren’t allowed to just lounge around by the side of the road. A cop was always there ready to bust her for speeding, so where was Dudley Do Right when she needed him? She would wait. Anyway there was no way in hell she was gonna venture back out into the night and get herself even more lost. From here she could keep an eye on that thing, make sure it wasn’t sneaking up on her. Throwing a glance back at the flapping heap, she got back into the car. After a moment, she reached over and locked the door.

Lucy was getting thirsty. Her tape had repeated more than 3 times, and she had turned it off for a few minutes before the silence started to drive her buggy and she turned it back on again. No one stopped.

There was a bottle of Evian that had maybe a half inch left in the bottom on the floor by the passenger seat but she was saving it for a just-in-case she really didn’t want to think about. There was nothing to eat but the fuzzy butt-end of a package of cherry Rolaids and four mint flavored toothpicks. The thing that was really starting to get to her was the fact that she had no idea what time it was. It had been around midnight when she had left L.A. and she had to be at least an hour into the flats plus the hour through the mountains would make it 2ish when she’d hit that thing. Then add at least an hour of walking and at least three rounds of an hour-long tape so why wasn’t the sun starting to come up yet? And she was really very thirsty. She reached down and picked up the Evian bottle and set it up on the dashboard. The umbrella thing was still there and didn’t it seem a little closer?

Christ, Lucy you wanna nip that kinda shit in the bud right fucking now.

Lucy turned the bottle so the label faced her. You want mindgames why don’t you just go move back in with Joey. But it was closer. It had turned a little too so that two winglike struts stuck up in the air like horns. OK so the wind blew the thing over, big deal. Probably weighed about as much as a pigeon or a paper bag. It got blown out in front her car once too, no reason it wouldn’t get moved by the wind again. Except the trees were still as charcoal sketches against the black sky. There was no wind at all.

A car then, Lucy told herself. The breeze from a truck passing. But she couldn’t remember a car or truck passing at all within the last tape round. She curled up against the seat, cheek pressed to the cracked vinyl. She closed her eyes and tried to will herself to nod off, anything to kill time till the sun came up, bland yellow sunlight making everything mundane and non-threatening. Morning commuters with go-cups of bad coffee and hey Marge that gal looks like she could use a little help and no more shadows, no more garbage bag monster.

She found herself thinking of all the things scattered along the side of the road, things that must have meant something to someone once. Things that had been tossed or fallen from the windows of speeding cars and disappeared, become invisible. She made up stories in her mind about where the things came from. The magazine was found in the glovebox by a religious wife and tossed in a fit of holy fury. The once cute stuffed animal was an unwanted gift from an unforgiven lover, jettisoned during a high speed argument. The H had been part of a sign in the back of a truck – HARDWARE maybe or HOTDOGS or ever HOT GIRLS XXX jostled loose by bad shocks and blasting, bass heavy music. The Polaroid was an attempt by a driver to shoot down into his own lap at a 90 mph blowjob. She wanted all these things to have history, to mean something but she knew that even she never really noticed anything by the side of the road. It all meant about as much as the bad rear-projection in a cheesy TV show. What was that old black and white show, Outer Limits or Twilight Zone maybe, where the people were stuck in time, moving too fast while everything around them was slowed to an almost indiscernible crawl. The one with the little girl on her tricycle heading slowly and inevitably towards the truck. Well for Lucy and the things strewn around her it was the opposite. All round her people were speeding by with no awareness of her molasses-slow, neverchanging existence. Nothing ever changed. Nothing except…

Lucy sat up sucking air, mouth dry as a dustrag and her eyes wide — that thing where was it now? Was it closer? It was still dark but it had to be getting lighter… was that a hint of dawn in the distance or just the yellow fever glow of the sodium lamps. She squinted down the road, looking out for the thing, the garbage bag monster, but she couldn’t see it anywhere. Could it have finally blown away for good or was it out there just out of sight waiting for her…

“For fuck sake Lucy,” she said. “You really have lost it.”

Her body felt cramped and stiff and the air inside the car was stale, redolent of old coffee and burnt brakes. She felt sure she would die if she didn’t get out and stretch her legs. The thing was nowhere. Maybe it got bored and flew down the road to the Dennys for a Grand Slam and a big fat slice of cherry pie. She laughed out loud and popped the lock, swung the door open.

Christ the last thing she wanted to do was start thinking about food. She got out of the car, chewing her lip and concentrating on not thinking about food. Not thinking about garlic pepper squid from her favorite Thai place or molasses cookies or lasagna or her dad’s banana bread or summer barbecues with a cut-in-half 50 gallon drum and sticky-sweet spareribs and corn on the cob and cold beer and…

The thing was on the roof of the car.

This weird little shriek slipped out between her teeth as she flailed out against it with both hands, wire and ragged metal ripping her sleeve and the skin beneath and she stumbled away, brushing at her arm like it had touched fire or something contaminated. The thing tottered and fell in nearly hypnotic slow motion landing with a wet snapping plastic sound between her and the open car door. She turned and ran, breath ragged in her parched throat. She had no idea which direction she was headed but she didn’t care as long as it was away. The scrawny trees flew past and the road unrolled beside her and paring knives dug into her calves and gut and she kept running, kept running until she tripped and nearly fell, dry heaving with her palms pressed against her thighs and her heart close to bursting in her chest. She ventured a look behind her. Nothing. No car, no garbage bag monster, nothing. Nothing but road and trees and broken glass and bottlecaps and cigarette butts and her, shaking and near tears andfeeling stupid and angry and sick.

Her arm really hurt. It throbbed resentfully and the scratches looked dark and puffy in the sodium light. Her mind whirled with thoughts of tetanus and infection and she made herself start walking again, just keep walking no matter what and what fucking time is it, the night can’t just go on and on forever, can it?

She was thirstier and thirster and she couldn’t stop thinking about the water bottle left behind in her car, the water she had been saving – should have drank it dammit then I’d be less thirsty now – and how people really did die of thirst out in the desert, how happy she was gonna be to see that SpeedyMart. She would just go right in and put her mouth under the Mountain Dew spigot and let em call the cops. Where were you when I needed you pig-fuck? she’d say and she laughed out loud, a rough grating sound like her feet against the gravel.

Every step she took thumped like an extra heartbeat in her arm and she stopped to roll up her sleeve. The skin was hot and swollen and the lips of the cuts had peeled up and blackened, shiny like…

…like plastic.

She started trying to signal cars, waving her good arm hysterically
but no one stopped. They just sped by, spraying her with grit, silvered windshields as blank and blind as cataract covered eyes.

Leaping up and waving at a passing SUV, Lucy fell, landing heavily on her injured arm. She screamed, pain blaring up through her arm bones, shooting up the side of her neck and she rolled onto her back, sobbing and holding her wounded limb out away from her body like a dead thing. Her broiler-hot forearm was now studded with gravel and shards of dirty glass and the shiny black splits had widened, sprouting curls of wire like newborn ferns. It was beginning to stink, a curious blend of burnt rubber, sun-dried roadkill and rust.

She scrambled to her feet, shaking her head, eyes squeezed closed and started to run again. She ran until she was tired, stopped gasping and then started again, stopped and started, laughing and sobbing until she could not go another step and she collapsed in the dirt, half hallucinating flickering bits of plastic brushing against her cheeks and eyelids and a sound like a thousand crackling garbage bags and she lay there drifting in and out of consciousness as the black-edged cracks crept across her chest and back. When she swatted at the imaginary tickle of plastic on her face and felt gritty, quivering feathers bristling from a thick split that had formed behind her ear she yelped and wrenched herself back to her feet.

There was a car coming, blinding light and engine shrieking like a hoard of angry wasps. A kind of desperate fury coursed through her, obliterating everything as she flung herself towards the speeding car, overwhelmed by this mad desire to smash the windshield with her bare hands, to drag the clueless occupant out through the broken glass and shriek into their bloody face “I’m real you fucker I’M REAL”. The moment elongated into a lifetime as she tottered in the yellow wash of the headlights, a single word over and over in her mouth like the dry click of insects.

“Stop.” she said. “Stopstopstopstop…”

The car hit her, and for an instant there was no pain, only a curious hot weightlessness as she spun up over the dented black hood . The bug-splattered windshield filled her vision and the driver’s face on the other side seemed huge and distorted, so pale, green hair like chemical fire and bloody chapped lips skinned back in terror and then blank nothing like cold black plastic smothering her, obliterating everything.


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Posted by on Sunday, January 15th, 2006. Filed under Fiction. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry