Roadkill Lottery

/ Ishika Rathi (Writer), Kevin Phan (Illustrator)

Fiction5 min reading time

No. 4

Feathers fall onto a road with a tire's skid marks burnt into the asphalt.

Nobody will know who cleaned our dead bird off the road. Nobody ever knows.

It could be Josh this week, driver of Birchwood Humane Society’s truck, caught on the 4:00 AM shift again and making his morning rounds on his way back from Kylle Field. Perhaps he’ll see the blood on the road and wonder if it’s an injured dog. He’ll parallel park between two piles of leaves, look both ways, and lug his prosthetic onto the street to check. Honestly though, knowing him, he’ll run soon as he recognizes the bird.

Or Kelly, who’s been fighting off her wrinkles with that dollar-store, SXS night cream, and who spends every Ceremony telling folks that she’s honestly, really and truly unbothered by the whole dead bird thing. Like anybody, she had her share of kills—and even though she isn’t aiming to kill tonight, she wouldn’t mind driving over a wee bird a couple times in the morning. She tells me she once spent a whole week grieving a raccoon she’d drove over. She’d seen it sticking its ass out a trash can, and then…well he’d knocked the whole goddamn thing over didn’t he? And he ran for it—little rascal—and she…well. We know. And it was scarring, sure, ‘cause she was like 17 or something and he was alive when she hit the gas, but now the sad truth is your life doesn’ end when you end one, and it doesn’ make a difference whether you feel bad ‘bout it…and it was just a goddamn raccoon anyway. And this is just a goddamn dead bird, so what’re we stressed for? She’ll ‘accidentally run over’ the already dead bird after the Ceremony. She’ll be fine—she laughs—some carwash will clean its guts off her wheels.

Or David, the kind of bald man who uses Clorox instead of shampoo. He says I’ll see him, swerving through the street in a couple hours because he’s gotta make the early-bird special at that one restaurant, you know the one with those cocktails and mimosas all the young ladies love? He rubs his head and chuckles. Then he chokes. He’s been chugging beers all night but he tells me he’ll be taking a shot at the bird, and he’s gonna make it too—cause he’s been top shot the last three Ceremonies and, drunk as he is, he prides himself on his aim.

Joclyn perhaps, the kind of momma who brings a home-cooked entree to every Ceremony but makes her kids cook their own dinners. She says her go-to 7-Eleven is a block from her house, but if I really want that bird gone, she could just get her coffee, two bottles of Budweiser, and Eggos for her kiddos at the 7-Eleven by Kylle Field, and then she could drive back and forth between the two stores a few times so she can…ya know (pass over the bird a couple times). That speedbump ought to sober her up too. And it’s no trouble at all, she really doesn’t mind—it’s just that…well, when she’s done, she won’t check if it’s gone. She gets dreams sometimes, that’s all.

Maybe it’ll be Jase, not-a-minor-anymore Jase. He meets me in the line for food and tells me how this is his first Ceremony, and he thinks it might be best to observe. Just for today. He wipes his hands on his tie-dye tank top and tells me he’d be down to find the bird after, if I come with. We could give the bird a pleasant funeral on our way home—but actually, on second thought, he’s not sure if he’d have the time for that. He might not because he’s busy and he’s got homework, but don’t I worry, he’ll get rid of it for me. Maybe he’ll just throw it in an open gutter—from at least a yard away, mind you, just in case the clown from that movie we watched together at that one party know...there? You never know. These movie ideas come from somewhere. He asks me if I know of the possessed doll chick? Says she’s real. Tells me he’ll take me out to the museum sometime.

The Freakers Cleaners, or “Urban Restoration Effort” as they call themselves, might get to the bird and clean the gore from the scene before any of us get there. Kate, ex-URE, tells me she used to pull all nighters to find the Ceremony, back when she thought it was in Birchwood’s best interest to end the Shoot. She laughs. The whole of URE’s probably driving around the city now. She laughs harder. They might find the bird but ain’t no way they’d find us. Josh interrupts and says ‘course they won’t find us. They can’t. They don’t got luck no more. He starts limping towards the birdcage on the other side of the field. David yanks the beer bottle off his mouth and yells across the field that ‘course they don’t got no luck. They left town to read fancy books in fancy libraries at fancy schools and then they come back all big-headed, thinking themselves too fancy and modern to be in the Ceremony, like they’re too good for good old fashioned good luck.

Kelly nudges Kate and laughs. She says we really shouldn’t be stressed about the Freakers because our people always come back our way—she used to be young and thought she didn’t need the Ceremony, but don’t we know we all grow up and know better? Besides, she yells to Jase, it’s almost 2:00 AM, and this shit doesn’ matter. Hand out the slingshots already boy.

Almost everyone knows to shut up when the squawking begins. Jase leans into me. He asks me why Josh is wacking the bird against the steel bars of its cage. He asks me why we break its wings. He asks me what the canon’s for. He asks me if the bird’s dead yet. He leans past me to watch Josh push the bird down the barrel, and then the canon’s lit and the bird is a shadow upon the stars. And I think, fuck. Maybe the snow will clean it.

Either way, I shot the bird that night. By Sunday, I am certain it never existed.