Roadkill: Third Place in 2019 RAC’s Short Story Contest
Tash watched the scrubby landscape flash by. Dry, flat, ruined by white-man farming. Eerie-empty, it gave her the willies. Ruby had left with Tom, so she was stuck with a lift back to the city from Aiden-the-braggart-Taggert, who was driving far too fast for the ambivalent evening light, showing off in his shiny blue bogan-chariot, banging on about custom speakers and twin headlights.
She hunched over the map, squinting at the tiny print.
“You’re lost, aren’t you?”
“Nah, if we keep heading west, we’re good.”
She doubted it. “Slow down Aiden, we might hit something.”
He grinned, casually dropped his hand on her thigh, “Scared? I’m pretty keen to be in my own bed tonight, and you’re –”
The thump was sickening, solid. She knew what it was before her brain processed the blur of tawny fur, the scrambling long claws, the accusing look in the eyes as the head bounced off the windscreen, leaving her gaping at a wash of bright red blood.
Aiden slammed on the brakes and wrenched the steering wheel, but it was too late. The roo slewed off the bonnet and thudded to the ground behind them. Tash was out of the car before she knew what she was doing, running to the stricken animal with the wild hope it was okay. It wasn’t. It lay in a broken heap, peddling its feet, chest heaving, eyes focussed inwards, no doubt trying to overcome horrible pain, trying to get away. From them. And their killing machine.
“Do something!” Tash shouted, dancing from one foot to the other, as if she could drum a magical undoing with her feet.
“Like what?” Aiden stood pale-faced, staring at his damaged car.
“I don’t know – put it out of its misery!”
It was a fair question. Maybe a rock, or a really big stick — but what if Aiden couldn’t do it? What if he tried but only made it worse? She had to help the poor creature somehow, anyhow. She began singing the soft, sweet lullaby her mother sang when she was little and scared of the dark.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“It’s dying -”
“Just shut up.”
“Why? It might make it less frightened.”
“It’s only a roo, you bloody idiot.”
She stood then, helpless and guilty, watching the roo die. It took a very long time.
“Can we go now?” said Aiden.
“We can’t just leave it,” said Tash.
“There might be a joey -.”
“It’s male.” He gestured to the animal.
“So sad, such a beautiful creature-”
“Roadkill isn’t beautiful.”
“Don’t say that. It was a live being, and you should have a little respect. Let’s get it off the road, say some words.”
“Respect? You’re kidding, right?”
“No. Help me.”
Aiden swore, but bent to grasp the roo. Tash took its feet, and they dragged and pushed and pulled, both lathered in sweat and blood, until at last, it was off the road. Aiden pushed his long flop of hair from his eyes, and looked at Tash, “Right, do your trippyhippy thing, then let’s go.”
Tash knelt and placed both hands on the body, silently transmitting love to help the roo transition into the next world. “Okay, go to the dreamtime now. Peace to you. I’m so sorry you’re dead.”
“Seriously? Look what it did to my car!”
“Its life matters more than a car.”
“Not to me it doesn’t. Get in.”
“Is it driveable?”
Besides the broken windscreen, the bonnet was crumpled, the bumper was hanging and one of the twin headlights was smashed.
“Maybe.” But when Aiden started the engine, a shrill squeal shredded the air. Aiden wrenched the bonnet up and disappeared under it, only to emerge swearing a few moments later
“Cactus. We’ll have to call somebody.”
Neither one of them could find a signal.
“We’re stranded,” said Tash, “and lost.”
“Only until someone comes.” Aiden stood in the road, scanning both directions, “Shouldn’t be too long.”
“Sure,” said Tash, “Have you got a rug or something? It’s getting cold. And dark.”
Aiden fetched a latex backed picnic blanket and a gritty beach towel from the boot, and they draped themselves as best they could and waited for rescue. Hour after hour crawled by, but noone came. Eventually they fell silent and watched the stars cross the sky, unhurried.
Then, Tash could feel it, a presence in the dark, “There’s something there!”
“You’re just spooked. There’s nothing but tumbleweeds out there. Don’t sweat. Have you got anything to eat? I’m starving.”
Tash rummaged about in her weekend bag, and, triumphant, held up half a Cherry Ripe and an orange. She was about to ask Aiden which he wanted when the hairs on her arms and legs sprang to attention. Her skin, registering the sudden electricity in the atmosphere, tingled with goosebumps. She peered into the darkness, holding her breath to better hear what might be happening amidst the noises and calls and rustlings of the night. Then, it fell completely, unnaturally silent.
Two eyes glowed in the dark. Accusing eyes. The roo! Still bloodied but now somehow unbroken. More eyes swam out of the darkness, hundreds, maybe thousands of eyes, hundreds, maybe thousands, of kangaroos. Tash’s breath stopped in her throat, and her voice was a squeak.
She saw fear whiten his face as he registered the eyes glowing in the dark.
“What the hell?”
The roos were moving towards them, soundlessly, and every one of them had its eyes fixed on Aiden. He ducked behind Tash, picked up a stone, and threw it, gasping when it passed through the roo and fell to the ground. He snatched the orange from Tash’s hand and hurled it at ‘their’ roo — which, without shifting its stare, raised its front claw and caught it.
“What is that thing?” Aiden moaned, a low, frightened sound. He ransacked Tash’s bag, frantically flinging random things at the mob, making no difference at all.
But he didn’t.
He fled, and the roos went after him, a great swell and boil of them. Within seconds, Tash couldn’t see him, could hear only booming, pounding feet, a furious heartbeat on the ground, hammering, hammering – was that a scream?
Then, as abruptly as they had appeared, the roos were gone. The sudden quiet was thunderous. Tash shouted for Aiden until she was hoarse, but he didn’t shout back. There was nothing else she could do but get in the car and lock the doors.
The growl of an engine woke her. Shielding her eyes, she saw a truck shimmer out of the glare of the morning sun, slow to a stop.
“See you hit one,” said the driver, casting an appraising eye over the scene, “Should’ve moved it off the road. Hazard for other drivers.”
“We did,” said Tash, following his gaze to a gory mess on the road some way back. Their roo was right where they left it, a sad heap on the gravel shoulder, already covered with flies.
What, then, was that bloodied smear the driver was pointing to? No… it couldn’t be…
“Unusually high, ‘round here,” said the driver, “strange.”
“The roadkill, eh.”