The wind roaring in my ears is freezing. I should have known better than to wear shorts. It’s starting to get chilly after dark and the wind makes it worse. But pants always rub on the chain and get grease stains. At least everyone is home from the bars already so the roads are empty and I don’t have to stop at the lights. If I keep peddling I’ll stay warm.
What’s in the road under the next street light? Water? Did someone smash a beer bottle in the street and it ran into the gutter? Better avoid it. No. Not beer, it’s red and there’s something white in the gutter.
It was still moving when I rode by!
Remember. Driving home across Iowa. You’re the only one awake but the rhythmic divider lines try to lull you to sleep. Up ahead in the headlights, there’s something in the road. Some trash? You nudge the steering wheel so your tires won’t hit it. You don’t want a flat. But now you can see it’s road kill. Its back quarter is flattened into the asphalt like it’s been run over repeatedly. You make sure it will go between your tires so you won’t hit it too. Just as the possum is about to disappear under the hood its head turns and its eyes flare in the headlights as it stares right at you. Then it’s gone. Damn, it’s still alive, stuck to the road, suffering and terrified. If you had know it was still alive you could have put it out of its misery. You keep seeing its eyes glaring at you full of fear, pain, hatred. For many miles you keep looking for an exit thinking you could turn around and go back, get another chance to end its nightmare. There is no quick exit, no easy second chance.
I squeeze both breaks hard and turn sharp to circle back. The blood trail starts in the middle of the lane. It must have been hit there and drug itself to the gutter. It is still trying to flop its front paws up on the curb in an instinctive attempt to crawl to cover. It’s not using its strong jumping legs at all. They must be shattered given their unnatural position. All that blood streaking the white fur is coming from its mouth, nose and big floppy ears. That means internal bleeding and head injury. Its eyes are glazed over and it seems completely unaware of me looming over it.
It’s going to die, there’s nothing I can do about that. But it doesn’t have to die slowly, scared and suffering. I can do something about that. But how? All I have on me are my keys. Look around, find something. That retaining wall is made of big stones. This one’s loose enough, I can pry it out. You don’t want to miss its head and make it worse. Straddle the body. Aim carefully and don’t mess this up. Throw it, don’t just drop it, to guarantee the job is done.
That – sound. Between the rock hitting cement. Was that bone cracking? I heard its skull being crushed?
It’s not moving. Yeah, it’s dead.
That sound – was the instant it died.
Put the stone back so they’re not mad. Bloody side down.
That sound – did anyone else hear it?
I have a long ride home. I’ve done all I can. Peddle. Peddle harder. Faster. I don’t feel the cold anymore. I just need to get home.
That sound – the wind in my ears won’t silence it but it makes my eyes water.