“One Night Driving Out In the Woods . . .” by Alexander Jones
Akashic Books introduces a new flash fiction series, Wilderness Wednesdays. Inspired by Nina Revoyr’s brilliant and chilling new novel, Lost Canyon, which is set in the Sierra Nevada and could be categorized as “wilderness noir,” this series will showcase hard-boiled short stories of men and women in perilous encounters with the natural world. But if you think surviving an encounter with a black bear, a 10,000-foot elevation, or a cell phone dead zone sounds difficult, try describing the experience in 750 words or less. Pretty wild.
This week, Alexander Jones puts nature squarely in his headlights.
. . . a furry lightning bolt flashes from nowhere.
Your eyes widen, heart clenches, fingers dig tightly into the pliable steering wheel cover, and you stomp on the brakes, your quadriceps forcing the pedal down as far as it’ll go, and the heavy, heavy SUV swerves and fishtails and pitches you forward, rubber shrieking, but it’s too late. You didn’t have enough time, the trees were too crowded, the night too dark, the deer too quick.
You hit it.
Not dead center—the bouncy thud comes from the passenger side, and the deer is thrown toward the side of the road as you pass it by, skidding to a halt maybe fifty feet in front of it.
If you hadn’t come to a complete stop, you would just tap on the gas and go, leaving it. But you’ve stopped. If you hadn’t stopped, you’d have been way down the road by the time you decided you should have, and by then it would have been too late to bother.
But you did.
Here you are.
The deer is moving around.
You unbuckle your seat belt and yank open the door, the cold of the night blasting you as you are birthed from your climate-controlled womb, hatched from your snug cocoon out into the cold, dark night.
The firmness of the pavement beneath your feet is unreal and supremely hard as you huff and puff your way to the deer, breath visible, coat on the backseat because the car was too warm.
There’s a smear of shiny inky-black blood on the road leading up to where the deer lays on the side of the road kicking its feet, its front hooves beating and scratching irregularly on the dead grass beyond the shoulder. It’s screaming, screeching, crying, braying, beating its front hooves. The back ones move only from the rocking of the front ones.
Closer still, you see how damaged it really is. It had a nice set of antlers, but they’re cracked and broken, hanging halfway off its head, swinging around, tearing free of its skull.
A loop of blue guts is all you can see, but the blood leaking out of it, a widening, oily pool, tells you that the side of it facing the ground burst open like a popped water balloon, like a jar of tomato sauce dropped onto a concrete sidewalk back in the city, but you’re out here in the deep woods all alone, pressing your hands over your ears so you don’t have to hear this dying burst-open thing screaming as it dies. It’s not really so loud that you have to cover your ears, but you cover them because you don’t want to hear it. It hasn’t let up or quieted down or given in—it just keeps braying and yelling and shrieking at top volume and you’ve got your hands over your ears but you can still hear it anyway.
Maybe it deserves a little privacy, not you staring as it beats and scrapes against the side of the road, the movement agitating its body, making that little loop of guts longer and bigger as more blood pours out.
You run back to your SUV. Get in. Pull the door closed.
Hands shaking, you grab hold of the steering wheel, but the shaking just vibrates up your arms to your shoulders.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a noise?
The deer is certainly making noise. It’s still screaming as you look at the space on the gearshift marked drive, impossibly loud through the factory-smoked safety glass windows that a baseball bat couldn’t shatter.
You surprise yourself.
You surprise yourself by putting the SUV into reverse, twisting around to look out the back window as you press on the gas pedal, the seat belt reminder dinging as the engine roars. You reverse backward in a straight line up the straight stretch of pavement and hit the deer again.
The deer yields and crunches and squishes beneath both rear tires this time, followed by the hiccupping eye of the storm before your front tires roll over it as you continue backward, swerving to avoid the ditch. It emerges from underneath your front bumper, both working headlights illuminating the deer.
Finally crushed into peace.
ALEXANDER JONES has published short fiction in Bastion Magazine, Squawk Back, Crack the Spine and DenimSkin, among several others. He won GoRail’s 2012 essay contest. He has a BA in English from SUNY New Paltz, a novel inching towards publication, a second inching towards completion and a cool day job. He lives in Jersey City.
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Include the location of the story next to your byline.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions to Wilderness Wednesdays are typically posted 2–4 months after being accepted.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Sep 30, 2015
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