Joseph Beckle belted along with Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” with every decibel his throat
allowed as he shifted the stiff, belching gears of his crumpled 1965 Chevy pick-up, though he
changed the words to, “You’re Dea, eh, eh, d!!! You stupid bi-i-itch!”
He twisted the AM radio knob through more fuzz and squalling forgotten country and
gospel, searching for some interesting political radio talk to argue with.
“Crap and crap, and more shit,” he said to no one, though Fubar, his black retriever-
something licked him once on his forearm. “The only thing that works in this crap hauler is a
useless AM radio.” He rubbed Fubar behind the ear and inhaled the last drag of his menthol
cigarette, flicked the butt out the gap he’d opened in his wing-window.
His speedometer needle bounced between twenty-five and thirty-five miles per hour as
he sniffed at the outside air wafting his face from the wing-window, waiting for the too
familiar, nauseating scent of putrefaction. A metal trashcan with a fresh liner tapped and
banged in its place fastened within the truck bed.
Joseph never understood how this could happen always on this two-lane, off-the-beaten-
path, hick town highway where he rarely saw anyone. He thought it must be intentional every
When the odor hit him, he gagged and winced. “Awww, man, Fubar. Smells like three or
four days! Why don’t people call sooner before it gets this bad? Ughhh, that’s got’ta be bigger
than a possum or cat.”
Fubar stood up in the seat wagging his tail, sniffing toward the wing-window over Joseph’s
“You’re one sick dog, Fubar! That’s why you get to stay in the truck.” Joseph scanned the
road ahead. “Not too smart either. You, if anyone, should know what happens when one
wanders out in the middle of the highway out here, especially a fool with is mind on his
stomach?” Joseph punched the dash and yelled, “Bam!!!”
Fubar jolted briefly, then licked Joseph’s cheek and continued his tail wagging and sniffing
Joseph chuckled, eyeing the numerous bald spots around Fubar’s head and back where
jagged scars no longer allowed hair to grow. “Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition, that’s you!”
Joseph saw it then, ahead, a contorted black skin-sack of hair containing crusted
coagulation and pulverized maggot food. He popped the truck out of gear and coasted with his
foot on the brake to stop just before it in the middle of the highway.
Joseph began the routine then. He shut off the engine and put the truck in gear, the
emergency brake had long since retired whatever cogs that had made it functional.
He got out and went for his flat bladed shit shovel in the truck-bed and untied the nylon
cord that held the trashcan in place. After that, he leaned the shovel against the truck bed to
light another menthol with his “fisherman” lighter, as he like to call it. It had a little metal bass
fish flailing up with a hook in its mouth on one side and on the other side someone had
engraved, “to my Dad who fishes with me, Sara,” though that didn’t matter much to him. He’d
had that lighter so long he forgotten exactly where he’d picked it up, but he found lots of
curious things on the side of the road with this job. You never knew what you could find on the
highway. People dropped things while they were taking a piss or changing their tire; they even
threw valuable things out the window. Once, he had scored a hundred dollar bill, which he told
no one about.
Fubar poked his nose out the crack Joseph had left in his driver’s side window, sniffing and
Joseph smiled. “Yes I ‘m smoking again. It makes that smell easier to ignore. Unlike you,
I’m absolutely revolted by it.” With menthol in mouth, Joseph grabbed the shovel and drug the
trash can clanging behind him toward the awful place on the highway.
“Ugghh!!! Shit!” Joseph gagged. “Worse than shit! Remind me about my paycheck and
the liquor I’ll consume with it!” He closed his eyes for a long time, and then looked at it.
Seeing it always made the odor stronger, though he had become quite adept at controlling that
pocket in his brain that connected his thoughts to his stomach; he did not become nauseated.
Don’t think about it, just do it, he always taught himself. That was the best way, if people only
knew how well that worked.
He sighed and shoved the blade of the shovel underneath the twisted carcass. It was
definitely a cat, though he couldn’t find any of its facial features, he knew that’s what it was.
How do they get out this far, he thought. He knew it had probably been dumped. You just
don’t see cats this far away from humans often. To think someone had driven out on this
highway, pitched their cat out on the side of the road so that it could be tenderized by hundreds
of tires made him angry. How long did it suffer? The people might as well have drowned it at
home. He dumped the remains into the trashcan and tied the top of the liner quickly to get rid
of the source of the smell. Ash fell from the menthol in his mouth. His eyes burned from the
A cold breeze came then, almost as if to blow away the rest of the smell for him, and he
heard paper rustling from behind. He turned around to find a rolled up newspaper lying at the
shoulder across the other side of the highway. He didn’t remember seeing it earlier, but of
course, he hadn’t been looking for it. When he walked over to inspect it, he noticed the paper
had yellowed. The heading said, “The Eastside Times, October 5, 1998.” He glanced over at
Fubar as he picked the paper up. “This thing’s two years old, Fubar. How do you suppose a
newspaper could last that long out here? Maybe it fell off the garbage truck or something out of
someone’s old garbage, but that sounds a little far-fetched.” He pulled off the old rubber band
and it crumbled as he did. “I think I’ve heard of the Eastside Times, but it’s not from around
here.” As he walked back toward the truck, he glanced through the headlines, finding that it
looked interesting. He put the newspaper in the glove-box of his truck and locked it. He would
have to read it later, in the privacy of his home. Fastening the trash can back in the bed and
throwing in his shovel, he started his growling vehicle and drove back to the tiny city of
Bloomer to see there were any jobs reported for him for the rest of the evening.
Later, as dusk crept over the world, Joseph drove home thinking to himself, the radio off,
Fubar napping beside him. He felt the grinding engine vibrate his hands on the steering wheel
while he contemplated that his life was completely boring and filthy. He had a closet full of
triple X magazines at home, along with a collection of absurd books on occult and black magic.
Only boredom brought a bachelor such frivolous entertainment. He knew he had a problem
with people. He could never keep friends, not long enough to get them to visit anyway. Every
time he opened his mouth, he said things to people, offering advice to help mostly, and he
always got these strange frowns and facial expressions in return. He had concluded that people
were a waste of time. They didn’t see the world the way he did anyway, so he felt he could be
happy without them, but he did get bored, and now, he wished something would happen to him,
anything at all exciting. He pondered staring at the appearing stretch of highway before him,
what it would be like if he drove up on something other than road kill. What if he drove up on
a gruesome disembodied head of someone? That would scare the shit out of him, but it would
be exciting. He imagined it happening and tried out the look of shock he would wear, feigning
slamming on the brakes and bracing himself on the wheel. Then he laughed at himself. He
could not escape the monotony. He thought sometimes that he had gone to hell early, and that
he deserved it.
Then he saw it. The mouth stood open. The eyes sagged within their lids. Its skin looked
waxed, but the human head was real, right in the middle of his path and facing him. Joseph did
not react the way he’d rehearsed. Still shocked, he slowed down just like he would before a
raccoon or a possum. When he stopped right in front of it, he just stared and waited. He
waited for it to go away, but it would not. It only gaped up at him in rigor-mortis from the
road. How long could it have been there? Surely, he was seeing his imagination in front of
him. His mind was running away from his rational consciousness and fucking with his eyes.
He rubbed at them and then lit up a menthol. Still there. He remembered it was not too long
before Halloween and thought maybe some kids were being funny and put a mask out in the
highway while they hid laughing in the trees alongside the road. But if not. He eased his hand
beneath the seat, the whole time peering into the trees on either side of the road, and pulled out
Fubar sneezed in his sleep and perked up when Joseph slid out of the truck and leaned back
against the door until he heard its latch click. He studied the trees flanking the road, finding it
harder to decipher the dark shapes if he stared too long. Then the engine of the truck died. The
pulsing shrieks of thousands of night insects surrounded him. Sometimes, in the trees, he
thought he could see movement, but he knew his eyes were tricking him. He’d been staring at
the outstretched beams of his headlights, and his eyes hadn’t had time to adjust. He shifted
toward the front of the truck then, and crept near the corner of the fender to peek around at the
thing in the road. He kept low, knowing that if he couldn’t see within the patches of black in
the trees, then they, or whoever, only saw the truck as a big block of darkness with two dingy
headlight beams spilling out on the asphalt ahead. But when he peeked around at the thing in
the road, he saw it had gone, not even a speck of blood remained where it had been. He knew it
would be that way. Of course it would be gone. It was ridiculous to think he would see such a
thing right after wishing it so. He felt like being brave. Get a grip, Joseph, he thought, this is
stupid! Look at you! Put that gun away and act normal, like normal people! Remember, like
He stood up straight and strode on his way back to the truck’s driver’s seat, slamming the
door shut and returning the handgun to its place. Fubar licked his face twice, then went back to
continue his nap. Joseph started the truck. He drove on, seeing nothing more. Though, he did
stare into the trees a little as he headed off.
Joseph walked into the city building the next morning for work, and Tom Pence met him
as soon as he stepped in the front door. “Joe, we got a terrible mess out on Baton Road by the
bridge. Hell, I’ve gotten about six calls myself in just the last thirty minutes. Shit knows how
many Mary’s taken.”
Mary, the dispatch lady for the last fifteen years, leaned up from her chair within her
plastic windowed cubicle where she worked and gave Joseph a stare that would surely have
melted him if he were made of ice. Then she went on to her cop-talk on the microphone.
Joseph always thought she appeared to be in an argument with someone who did not exist. “Go
on, now, Joe.” Tom put his hand on Joseph’s shoulder. “It’s all right, you know. You’re not in
trouble or anything. We’ve all just had a rough morning here.” Tom was the sheriff, and in
Bloomer, that was nearly God. Tom knew it. Joseph liked him. Joseph knew that the man
tried hard to be a good sheriff. Tom treated Joseph with respect, when most people avoided any
exchange of words with him.
Joseph said nothing, but smiled at both of them, first at Mary, though she was too involved
with her argument to see him, then at Tom. Joseph turned around and went out the door then.
That’s how it usually went. Joseph didn’t say much and they knew that. They didn’t seem to
care, as long as the jobs were done at the end of the day. He didn’t want to mention what
happened to him last night anyway. They might suspect something of him. He was always
afraid of that. Maybe that was why he didn’t like to say much to anyone. Something bad could
happen, and he would be the first suspect, the scapegoat. After all, no one really knew him. He
didn’t have any family. He kept to himself.
Baton Road curved, humped, and threw you around in your seat if you drove an old truck
with stiff suspension. The sky offered nothing bright. Sick monstrous gray clouds held the
morning in darkness. As Joseph neared the old bridge that everyone in Bloomer referred to as
“the bridge” because it was the only bridge they had, he held the neck of a bottle of cheap,
smelly bourbon with his palm and pinky, his thumb and index fingers wrapped around the
steering wheel. He sipped between shifts.
For no reason apparent, Fubar stood up in the seat and started barking at the road ahead.
He glanced over at Joseph as if to say, “Can you believe this?” and then continued to bark with
more enthusiasm. “Come on, boy,” Joseph said. He patted Fubar. “What do you see?” He
craned his head to peer up through the windshield at the gray sky. “Looks dreary, but I don’t
think it’s going to storm.” He knew Fubar hated storms. The dog barked at thunder as if in a
contest of threats.
They were very close. Joseph noticed the lack of farmhouses. That’s all one found out this
far on Baton Road, Farmhouses and maybe a tiny church or two with crude hand-painted signs.
Near the bridge there was nothing but trees, and somewhere to one side or the other of the
bridge, Joseph remembered a barren muddy road that led to a place where people dumped their
junk and teenagers went to get high and fuck. Then he saw the huge mess in the road, just as
the bend revealed the high rusted skeleton of the bridge’s framework. It was an old railroad
bridge made into a one lane for modern vehicles, the steel gnarled and spray painted with
mundane, colorless graffiti.
He didn’t need to look at it, he decided. It was probably a deer, or a goat. He hoped not a
cow. Cows made the most awful messes. He drove up in front of it, now ignoring Fubar’s
constant quipping, turned off the engine, slid out and slammed the door before Fubar had a
chance to jump past him, and grabbed the shovel from the truck bed. He did put the bottle of
bourbon on the hood before he started off.
Half way there he stopped and stared at what he saw lying in a pile in the center of the
road. He looked back at Fubar, whom still barked at it relentlessly, just knowing that he did not
see what his mind had showed him, but when he looked back, nothing had changed. The
dismembered carcass of a woman had been stacked in the middle of the road. Her head and
arms, though bloody, appeared attached. Her damaged legs had been placed on top of her torso.
He could see her face. Someone had knifed her there multiple times. The expression she had
looked as if she were screaming up at the sky. The frozen state of her skin made her look like
pieces of a mannequin.
This could not be what Tom and Mary had sent him for; that animal probably waited on the
other side of the bridge or farther away, on a different road, anything. Joseph knew he alone
had discovered this one, but it did not look like road kill. He realized his situation. The drive
home last night came back to him. At once, he turned around to get the gun from under the seat
in his truck. Someone was fucking with him. Someone very sick.
Joseph jerked open the truck door and shoved Fubar back to the passenger side. The dog
continued to bark at the thing in the road. “Shut up, you stupid fucking dog!” Joseph yelled.
He grabbed the gun from under the seat and his menthols from the dash and slammed the door.
He lit a cigarette, stuck it in his mouth, and walked with the gun’s muzzle guiding him toward
the bridge. Down, near the creek, is where I’d be hiding, he thought. He studied the trees from
one side of the bridge to the other. He found that he did not feel that scared, but angry. Rage
surged in him. Everyone should know to leave him alone. Whoever it was that thought this
was a fun game to play with him, he would teach them. Even, Fubar’s barking grated at his
nerves so that he thought of using the gun on the dog first. As he stepped near the rotten
railroad ties of the bridge’s passage, he could hear the muddy creek-water burbling below. The
stench of the mess overwhelmed him then. It reeked like sour steak from the refrigerator, a
hundred and fifty pounds worth. He walked across each railroad tie, staring down between
them at the brown water and into the struggling trees sprouting from the soggy bank below. He
saw no one. When he looked back, the woman’s stacked body remained in the road.
Then he heard the rumbling of a large engine approaching from the other side of the bridge.
He put away his gun. Panic moved him in seconds to the cardboard box full of trash bags in his
truck bed. He couldn’t be found here with a body. They’d blame him for sure. He had no
family. He scooped out a handful of trash bags and ran over, unfolding them, to cover the
corpse from sight. He could hear the bridge thunder under the approaching vehicle’s weight as
he spread the bags over the carcass and tucked the loose ends beneath it to keep the wind from
blowing it away.
When he turned around, he saw an older International pick-up with a wooden flatbed full
of firewood stopped before him. Two men wearing ball caps and looking in their late twenties
“How you doin’ this mornin’?” the driver asked, grinning under his ragged beard. “Ain’t
you that guy that works for the city?” He craned his neck, trying to peek around Joseph at the
thing in the road. “What you got there? Looks pretty big. Is’ta cow or a deer?”
Joseph leaned into the man’s view. “God, you don’t want to see it!” he told the man. “I
wouldn’t call it a cow anymore. That’s why I covered it, so it didn’t give children passing by
nightmares. Damn, it might give me nightmares. It’s one of the worst I’ve seen.”
The driver extended his neck at another attempt, and then shrugged. “Shame. You’d think
people could see a whole damn cow in the road!”
“Yeah.” Joseph made himself shake his head, trying not to let his relief show. “You know
those drunk teenagers around here sometimes come at this bridge doing ninety miles an hour,
The breeze came then, and Joseph heard the trash bag rustling.
The man started to drive off, then slowed for one last glance back. Joseph did not have
time to stand in his way this time.
The driver shook his head again, and turned to his passenger and said something. They
both laughed, and the truck went away.
Joseph spun around and his mouth fell open at what he saw. The trash bag had been blown
away in the breeze. There was no way the men had not seen what Joseph was seeing. Maybe
they hadn’t, Joseph thought. Maybe he was having hallucinations. It seemed feasible. He had
been drinking more lately. Though, if he were simply just seeing things, why wouldn’t his
mind free him of this sight? The head in the road before had vanished soon enough, but no
matter how many times he blinked, nor if he looked away, rubbed his eyes, it didn’t matter, the
halves of the woman remained.
He paced alongside his truck, trying to decide what to do. Another vehicle would come by
soon. He had to do something. He grabbed a handful of trash bags from his truck and hurried
over to the body. He paused, closed his eyes and told himself, it’s only a cow, that’s all. Then
he began to pull one of the bags over its legs. He hoisted them in the bag and ran them to his
truck bed, plopping them in as if they were dirty laundry. When he sacked the torso, he noticed
that it hadn’t become too stiff, nor was it that cold, which made him even more nervous because
that meant that the person responsible hadn’t had a chance to get too far away. He looked up
and down the road both ways manically. When he heaved the bag of torso over the edge of the
tailgate, the bed of the truck sang out a thud like nothing less than a human skull tumbling
against sheet metal.
Fubar continued to bark. Joseph got into the truck and started the engine. “Shut up, dog!!”
he said, and then began to drive across the bridge. He lit a cigarette. He knew where to go. It
wouldn’t take long, and no one would ever know.
The bridge’s wooden planks nailed over the old railroad ties for vehicles to drive over
always made the truck tremble and bang. Joseph eyed the trash bags he’d deposited in the truck
bed through the rearview mirror. The bed slammed and the entire truck jolted as a back tire
slipped off the plank railing. He watched a leg bounce out from one of the bags and skitter
across the bed. “Shit,” he said between clenched teeth. He had been too nervous to take time to
tie the bags.
When he made it back to paved road, the truck calmed its racket. He couldn’t keep himself
from glancing back at the leg. The place where it had been severed had become nearly black,
but he could still see the white shaft of femur protruding from the muscle. The storm had
brought a light rain before he noticed it had begun. Droplets covered his windshield. He had
never fixed his windshield wipers, so he would have to deal with it. Though, given his
circumstances, he didn’t care much. The place he was headed was just up the road a bit, maybe
half a mile. He just hoped he wouldn’t have to dig in the pouring rain.
When he came to the muddied turnoff he was headed for, the place where people often
dumped old furniture illegally and teenagers hung out to party, he felt overwhelmed with relief
that he’d made it without encountering a single passing car. He tried now just to stay calm. He
told himself, it’s just a cow, another job. You’re doing your duty, that’s all. He couldn’t leave
that horrible mess for someone else to see. It was his job to deal with such filth. He owed it to
the people of Bloomer to take care of such things for them.
He pulled off onto the rutted path, the truck bucking in protested against the uneven earth.
No one would take it to dig around out here for anything, he thought. He knew he’d buried
plenty of other remains from the highway here before. He made his way to a small clearing that
nested a heap of debris containing: rusted pieces of dryer, a gaunt, sun-bleached couch with the
stuffing ripped out of every cushion, rotting trash bags, beer bottles, and molded carpet scraps.
Also, there were many splotches of black soil where people had dumped motor-oil.
He parked in his usual place near the trail he had taken before to digging ground. Fubar
had tired of his delirious barking, but still stood, delivering an occasional whip at the thing in
the truck-bed when he felt necessary. Joseph was getting very pissed at the dog at this point,
but he wanted to control himself. He needed to be good. He shut the door on the stupid thing,
and bit the inside of his bottom lip. Let it be, he said to himself.
He yanked out the shovel and leaned it against his left shoulder like a military rifle. He
stared at the mess in the truck-bed, contemplating the best way to go about lugging it to the
planting ground. He felt lucky that it was raining. There was less chance of kids showing up
here to hide their enjoyment of sin. He had his ears tuned to every infinite decimal of sound for
approaching vehicles or strolling teenagers. If he could just zone out the dog, his nerves might
keep his hands from shaking. A cow.
He studied the beast’s leg that had rolled out from the trash bag. Quite muscular for an old
Betsy, he noted. Without hesitating further, he surged into action and grabbed the leg and
stuffed it back into the bag. When he touched its cold skin, he swore he felt a tremor or a pulse
for a second. Flies spun around his head and hopped about his cheeks. He hoisted the bag of
its hind-legs and slung it over his right shoulder.
He started off on the overgrown trail that he had used in the past. The place wasn’t far
but it was secluded from view. He noticed the familiar smell of old dead things right away, but
that was a good thing. People expected there to be animals buried out here being the sort of
trash dump that it was. After all, he told himself, you’re not doing anything wrong. It’s your
When he reached the place, he noticed the small mounds he’d left in there before now had
sprouted thick tufts of bright green grass. It didn’t look as if anyone had been in the clearing
since he had last been here to bury a raccoon. It was kind of a road kill cemetery for him. He
didn’t like what Tom Pence wanted him to do with remains of poor animals smashed over on
the road. Tom Pence wanted them burned into nothing, leaving nothing. This left nothing but
ashes and dust as record for innocent creatures’ existence. That never felt right to Joseph. Even
if dead things did eventually rot until they were cold dirt after several years, Joseph thought
they should get more respect for being alive than just grinded into the pavement and then
shoveled into an oven with the limbs of a few other insignificant smears on the street. These
were living creatures for God’s sake. So Joseph had secret places for some of them here and
there. He’d forgotten this one, but he’d started it long ago when he’d first gotten the idea.
As he walked through the clearing he stepped past a larger hump of earth and remembered
that he’d buried a cow here. How appropriate, he thought. You won’t be all alone Betsy.
There’s a friend for you here.
He found a nice level spot to begin, and set the trash bag on the ground nearby. When he
pushed the blade of the shovel into the ground, the wet earth came apart like custard. Joseph
welcomed the rain on his back, and thanked it for softening the ground just when he needed it.
He dug for a long time, until he felt the hole looked good. He listened the whole time, but did
not hear a single car pass, nor did he hear Fubar’s barking, which unnerved him a little
somehow. He knew he had to hurry up and get back to the truck to retrieve the rest of the
remains. He dumped the contents of the bag into his hole, and headed back down the path,
carrying the empty bag with him. Then he heard something ahead and stopped. It was a small
sound. He stood still and listened until he could hear his own heartbeat. All they’ll see is a
dead cow, Joseph, he told himself.
He heard it again, a faint dull knocking like something thudding against metal.
It would stop and start over again, sometimes not as hard as before. Then another more
frightening sound came. A cry like a voice in agony murmured underneath the patter of rain on
the leaves of the trees. He knew cats often sounded exactly like that, and it was reasonable to
assume that a cat would find its way into his truck bed. They always did. At home, he had to
run them out of the trashcan he kept fastened back there nearly every day.
He took a step forward, then another, and told himself, “It’s a cat. That’s all, a cat”.
Then the sound changed. He heard his name.
Chills shot up and down his back and neck. He patted his right pocket, then realized in
horror that he’d left the gun in the truck. The voice came again, “Joseph! Come on! Come on,
Joseph!” He could tell now it was plainly a woman’s voice.
“Dear God,” he whispered to himself. A cow. It’s a fucking cow!! There must be a
woman out there looking for you.
“Joseph, come on. Please!”
He had to prove it to himself. There was no way he could feel normal unless he did. He
did not know what else to do. He couldn’t hide until it went away. He had to face it. He crept
“Joseph! Hurry up and get back here!” the voice shouted that time, and Joseph jolted in
He thought better to go back and get the shovel, just for safety, but why should he need it
against a woman? He walked on out into the clearing where his truck waited and stood,
scanning everywhere for the owner of the voice. He found no one, nothing. He peered down
the rutted dirt road entrance for a vehicle of some sort, but found none. Then he glanced at the
bed of his truck. He could see nothing out of order from where he stood.
He called out, but kept the volume of his voice low, “Hello.”
In reply to his greeting, the wooded area around him stood still with no sound but the
patting of rain from the leaves. He didn’t see Fubar in the cab. Joseph reasoned that the dog
had probably curled up in the seat for a nap. Fubar couldn’t bark for very long. His damaged
body just couldn’t compete with his own vigorous determination. Then, as Joseph neared the
truck bed, before he could see anything within, a loud metal thud sent him back in fear.
Something in there had moved.
No, stay cool, he thought. It’s got to be just an animal or something. He stepped forward
again and peered over the edge of the truck bed until he could see the black plastic of a trash
bag, and he saw hair, blonde, dead woman’s hair, uneven tufts of it sticking out from the
opening of the bag. Then it twitched. The head began to bang against the side of the truck bed
Joseph walked around to the back of the truck to get a better view. This just could not be
what it seemed. He looked in and saw the face. It opened its death-bruised eyes and looked up
at him. “Joseph, get me out of here! You can’t leave me in here! It’s cold! Come on, Joseph,
get me out!”
Joseph took a deep breath. A cow.
He reached down and tied the opening of the bag over it. It still squirmed and banged its
head. He grabbed it up and jogged back down the path, trying with every scraping of his
composure to ignore its wriggling. He had to put it away. When he reached the waiting
ground, he threw it in. It splashed into the rain puddle growing around the legs at the bottom.
“Joseph! Why? Why are you doing this? It’s okay!” it screamed.
Joseph grabbed the shovel. “Shut up!” he yelled. He vigorously spooned the mud back
down on the thing. It still squirmed and murmured at him.
“Joseph, p-l-e-a-s-e don’t do this!”
“Moooo!” he said, filling the hole until he could hear it no more.
He propped the shovel up over his shoulder then, and went back to the truck. Fubar woke
when he opened the door and licked him on the cheek. Joseph did not go back to check in with
Tom Pence for the rest of the day. He just drove home. Maybe he would tell them tomorrow,
after he’d slept away the events of today, that he’d gotten sick. He laughed aloud at that idea.
* * *
When Joseph got home, the storm had died down into a steady rain. He remembered
the old newspaper he’d found and was excited about reading it later, so he was sure to take it
with him out of the truck. After tying Fubar up outside he went directly for the special
cupboard and got his special stash of Southern Comfort for just these times when he needed
comforting. He sat in his stain marked, crooked-springed recliner and watched TV, drinking
his Southern Comfort from the bottle and smoking many cigarettes. He heard Fubar howl at the
lightning in the rain as he did when Joseph wouldn’t let him inside. Joseph eventually passed
out there with a menthol burning itself into its filter and the Southern Comfort between his legs.
The newspaper he’d gotten too lit to care for, so he’d left it wedged between the cushion and
the arm of the recliner, by his leg.
Much later, he emerged in a haze of head swimming. He thought he could still hear
Fubar howling, but the sound seemed to carousel around his small home or maybe it was his
head that made the sound spin. It surged at him from an uncertain distance, and sometimes, he
wasn’t sure if it was Fubar.
The stench of the open bottle of Southern Comfort in his lap made his stomach feel like
lead. He noticed the old newspaper, now somehow in his lap. He unintentionally glanced at
the headlines: BRUTAL FAMILY MURDER.
He sat up and removed the dried rubber band from the paper and unfolded it. As he
read further into the headline article, he found that it told of a double murder of a wife and
daughter. A terrible, awful sort of man had killed his beautiful wife and innocent daughter by
cutting the wife in half and removing the daughter’s head. Authorities believed the husband
was prime suspect. It didn’t say they were positive, but the murder scene seemed to fit into
most police profile cases of the domestic sort. He did not read on. He did not look at the
family picture near the bottom of the page. He threw the paper into the floor at his feet. He
took a swig of Southern Comfort.
The howling sound grew louder. It sounded almost as if it were there in the room with
him. Lightning flashed outside the window, and he thought he could see Fubar out there in his
doghouse, sleeping. When he glanced back down at the floor, he jumped up from the chair in
horror. The paper was gone. With the Southern Comfort bottle in his hand, now possibly a
weapon, he searched all about the room, finding nothing. The old newspaper had disappeared.
He heard it distinctly then. The sound became a distant pleading voice. It said clearly,
It was coming from outside. Joseph put the bottle down on the TV set and looked for a
weapon. His gun was still in the truck. He hesitated, but grabbed the only weapon in the room.
He kept it hung on the wall as decoration, an authentic replica of a sixteenth century samurai
sword. The voice came again, louder, begging, “Daaa–deee!” Joseph opened the front door
and stood there, listening. He heard it again. It was coming from the back yard. He crept out
around the house into the rain, in the dark. He could hardly see except for the light falling out
from his windows.
The voice shouted, sounding near the point of sobbing, “Daddy, please!”
As he peered around the back corner of the house, he saw then, his eyes adjusting to the
darkness. Though it was small, he knew what it was, but this did not restrain the terror the sight
resounded in him. He dropped the sword and fell to his knees.
“Daddy?” it spoke to him this time. “Daddy, look at me!”
He obeyed. The severed head of a little girl lay in a thin stream of rainwater trailing
away from the house. It stared at him. Its skin had the look of porcelain; the neck had been
cut perfectly. He could see the shining bone of spine. Its hair was soaked from the rain.
Smudges of mud marked its face.
“Don’t pretend you don’t know me, Daddy. This is getting silly.”
Maggots dotted around her mouth looking as if she’d been eating rice. He spoke too
suddenly, “What are you doing here? “
“I don’t know, Daddy. You brought me here. The rest of me is still in the ground in
there.” It pointed with its eyes to the crawlspace opening to beneath the house. “You didn’t do
a very good job putting me underground. The rain washed my head out.”
“I don’t remember any of that,” he told it. “You’re not real. I’m dreaming.”
“I’m the same real as mommy you buried today. I didn’t know you brought her with
you too.” Tears welled up in its eyes. “Daddy, why did you do it to us? What did we do to
make you mad? What did mommy do?”
“I was saving you,” he heard himself say. “Mommy had been conned into a Satan cult.
They wanted mommy to make babies for them to kill. They were coming for you, too. I
couldn’t let them do those things to my little girl. There was nothing else I could do. So I freed
mommy from it, and so you wouldn’t suffer I made so you would never have to learn the truth.
I moved us far away then. Now, they can never get to you. ” He began to cry. “I’m sorry,
“Daddy. They can.” Its eyes glimmered up at him. An expression of fear possessed its
face. “They want you to answer for it. Someone wants to keep me from heaven, Daddy.”
“How? That’s not possible!”
“Oh, yes, Daddy. Who do you think rules the lost dead? They want you to make it
right. Then I can be free to go to heaven.”
Joseph wanted to die. What else could he have done? The evil had followed him here.
He had brought Sara with him to protect her, but it had been a weak hope. He had just wanted
her with him. “What does he want me to do?”
The head made a strange look, then. Joseph almost thought it would grin, but it didn’t.
“Go and redeem us, Daddy. You must be a servant for your remaining years to make up for
your crimes. You must kill. Find others and send them to the lost dead. If you do this for the
rest of your life, I will be free to go to heaven.”
Joseph stood up and took the sword. “Okay,” he said simply. He reached down and
grabbed the head. “But you’re coming along.”
The next morning he drove very far away down a desolate highway until he wasn’t sure
where he was. It was a sunny day. He’d left Fubar at home for the first time. Something else
in the seat next to him kept him company, though it did not speak. He felt lucky that he was
used to the smell. After an hour of driving he found what he’d set out for. A lone older make
car sat with its hood up and a pillar of smoke billowing from the engine. A woman with her
hand shading the sun from her eyes and watching Joseph’s truck approach stood near the edge
of the road.
When he had gotten close enough, he closed his eyes and smashed his gas pedal to the
floor. He felt it hit like the engine had given up on its alternator. He dragged her for a while to
be sure. It had to be making an awful mess, but so did the deer. He’d cleaned up enough of
those. He wanted to make sure she was very dead. He stopped then to clean up. He filled his
trash bags and got back in the truck to drive to work with something for the oven. Tom Pence
would at least be happy that he’d started early. No one would ask any questions as usual. He
took out the lighter to light a menthol and regarded the engraving from a new perspective: to
my dad who fishes with me, Sara. He smiled and patted the hair of the thing in the seat.
“Perhaps, we shall, baby, maybe this evening. There’s lots of work to be done today I’m sure. ”
He touched the gun, now in his pocket. He wasn’t sure if it would be tonight, but it
would be soon that he would need it.
By Michael E. Thom
Michael E. Thom is live in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and works as a graphic designer during the day and also does fantasy, science fiction & horror freelance illustration. When he is free from art commissions he writes horror & dark fantasy fiction. He is currently working on, “Disruption of the Planes,” the first book in an epic dark fantasy series he hopes to release sometime in 2016. He also plays guitar and is the vocalist for a heavy band band called Staring Into Fire.