alex-azabache-vYVE1vbBxEY-unsplash (1)

god at the side of the road

“god at the side of the road” has the quality of folklore from centuries ago and worlds away that’s somehow been transplanted to contemporary middle America, a place that’s too new and too hopeful to understand the forces it’s confronting. It’s the narrative voice, though, in an unusually intimate second-person key, that gives the story much of its potency. From Judge Kevin Brockmeier

They say a god lives down by the side of the road.

They say it’s the god of roadkill and dead things and there’s no harm in letting it haunt the streets, but you know that ain’t right.

You’ve actually seen it.

If you take a right at the fork at the bottom of the hill, you’ll find it. It wears the hides of all those animals that get flattened by cars speeding by, all those opossums and coons and deer. It uses their broken bones and splattered organs to keep itself alive and moving and you can always tell it’s coming by its stink.

But you know it doesn’t limit itself to those crushed critters, not if it can help it.

It’s slow, that’s why it takes from those things that are already dead. All those broken parts don’t let it move as fast as it wants.

Maybe, back when the thing had first been born, or made, or however the hell it came into existence, maybe it was quicker back then. Back when it had its own limbs and skin and things. Maybe it was sleek and quick and took what it wanted. Back when people spent more time walking about, before cars were ever even thought of. Back when it had more access to its favorite prey.

See, thing is, animal scraps are just what it uses now, outta necessity.

You know what it actually likes, because you saw it take Billy from down the road, back when you were both still stupid and young. You’d warned him that he was too drunk, that he oughta let you drive instead, but he’d sworn up and down that he was fine, laughed that you were just being a worrywart.

Well, he was just as drunk as you’d claimed he was, and the roads were slick from a shower neither of you had known about. He took that right-hand turn going nearly 90 miles an hour. It was almost inevitable that the truck flipped the way it did.

All you can remember is the lights flashing off the asphalt, off the leaves of the trees lining that old country road. Then there was pain and you must’ve been knocked out for a little while after that, because when you came to, you were hanging from your seatbelt upside down.

Everything hurt, your head from the dashboard and your chest from the seatbelt still keeping you suspended. But it was what’d kept you alive.

When you looked left, you saw Billy with his head hanging half his neck, blood splashed all over the broken glass of the windshield. He hadn’t been wearing his seatbelt and you could see his arm twisted the wrong way, a bone in his thigh sticking out from the skin.

And then, while you were shouting Billy’s name, begging him to be okay, some foul odor started filling up the truck. You thought maybe it was a cut gas line, but you knew the smell of gasoline, and this wasn’t it. This smelled like rotted things, fetid things, things left out under the sun so long that the only creatures that could possibly stand the smell were buzzards and maggots.

You gagged, bile rising strong up your throat, but you covered your mouth with both hands when you saw something reaching in past Billy’s window. It had long fingers tipped with black claws that gripped at Billy’s twisted arm and yanked his body right out the truck.

The sound of cracking and something wet filled the truck then, and you battled with your seatbelt until it let you loose. It hurt to land on the windshield, but you knew if you didn’t get out, whatever it was that got Billy’d come for you next. You kicked out the window and crawled from the truck, ignoring the broken glass cutting into you. Better to bleed than die.

When you got out and finally got a look in front of the truck, you saw…that thing, face buried in Billy’s chest as it tore into him. It looked up, back at you, and you could see a grey-blue loop of intestine hanging out of its mouth. Sharp white teeth, eyes different colors and shapes, hair that looked more like mangy fur hanging down its back. It crouched on two legs and had two arms, but you couldn’t tell what sort of animal those came from. It was all covered in rank pelts and the slime of decay.

You’d heard of the god of roadkill, everyone in town had been told the stories, but you’d never realized that you counted as roadkill, too. Meat smeared across the asphalt was still meat, after all.

It started to rise onto its back legs and you took off, no matter how much every step hurt. You ran and ran, not stopping until you came to the first farmhouse down the road.

The sheriff never found Billy’s body—just a smear of blood leading from the wreck into the woods. No one believed what you said you’d seen that night.

They say a god lives down by the side of the road, but you know better. It ain’t no god.

It’s something else altogether.

A. Poythress is a non-binary lesbian currently working towards a PhD in creative writing/fiction at Oklahoma State University after receiving their MFA from Columbia College Chicago in creative writing/fiction. A lover of all things spooky, they primarily write horror and surreal fantasy stories about women and queer folk. When they’re not working on their first novel, they are reviewing books and interviewing authors for various literary publications.

AP has been published in print and online, most notably at The Rumpus, The Lit Pub, New Southern Fugitives (where they’re a regular book reviewer), Hair Trigger, Thresholds UK, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Asymmetry Fiction, the AWP Writer’s Notebook, and more.

Submit Your Stories

Always free. Always open. Professional rates.