A new serial fiction story for your enjoyment about the odd effects of grief.
written by James Rada, Jr.
2: the killing road
“Peter, you make sure you stay away from the road,” Betty Douglas told her son as they ate breakfast in their kitchen.
He spooned his Corn Pops into his mouth and talked with his mouth full. “I always stay away from the road. You told me this before when I was little,” six-year-old Peter said, slightly indignant that his mother still considered him a child.
Betty knew she had told Peter to stay away from the road many times before. It was popular Mom talk. But after seeing what she had seen the day before, Betty felt a need to repeat herself once again. She didn’t trust Old Kiln Road. Not the drivers, not the road. Something about it was wrong. She didn’t even like the name. Old Kiln. She always made sure to pronounce the N in Kiln, but too many people let it fade, so it sounded like “kill.”
Old Kill Road. It lived up to its name.
Betty spent the morning working outside. She painted large yellow signs with black lettering that read: “Slow.” When they dried, she nailed the signs on trees at each end of the dangerous stretch of road. She also put up chicken wire along the road to act as a fence to discourage animals from going onto the road. If the animals went around the fence, they would be far enough away from the dangerous portion of the road to make it to the other side.
For two days, Betty sat on the porch and watched how her precautions affected the road. She saw no road kills, and the cars drove slower as they came around the curve. The road seemed to pale from lack of food. At least Betty hoped the road paled. She imagined it becoming a light gray during the second day of its fast.
Betty sensed victory close at hand. No longer would the road lure animals to their deaths.
Then, she saw Peter’s soccer ball bounce over the backyard fence. It rolled to a stop about three feet from the road. As Betty watched, the ball started bouncing again, this time on its own. It bounced up the slight rise to the edge of the road and then across the road. Peter came running from behind the garage, following the ball. He didn’t even hesitate as he ran across the road to get the ball.
“Peter!” Betty yelled as she jumped out of the rocking chair.
Her son stopped in the middle of the road at the sound of his mother’s voice. As he turned to look at her, a sports car charged around the curve. Betty could tell by the engine noise that it was coming too fast, ignoring her signs.
Peter didn’t even have time to scream. The car hit him, and he rolled over the hood, smashing into the windshield headfirst. The car skidded to a stop. Peter’s body slid forward off the car and fell onto the road, limp as month-old celery.
Betty ran down to the road. Peter lay on the asphalt, a portion of his brain showing through his broken skull. Blood flowed from his body onto the road. The road absorbed the blood like a dry sponge absorbing water…or a thirsty beast greedily drinking greedily. Betty grabbed her son by the shoulders to lift him up, and his head rolled lifelessly backward. She knew he was dead, but just couldn’t believe it.
The teenager who had driven the car was standing next to his car with his head buried in his hands as he cried. He slid down the side of the car and sobbed violently, not looking at Betty. Betty held her son in her arms, rocking back and forth, until a Thurmont ambulance finally came half an hour later when a passerby saw the accident and phoned it in.
The road turned a darker gray.
Betty sat on the front porch, rocking in her chair and watching the road. In the week since Peter had been killed, the road had fallen back into its rhythm of killing and eating.
Old Kiln Road was a deep ebony now. It was the road that had killed Peter, not the teenage driver of the car. The road had lured Peter onto it, so he could be killed. Old Kiln Road was trying to get even with Betty for depriving it of food for two days.
She heard the screen door open on her left, but she didn’t look up. She knew who it would be since only two people lived in the house anymore.
Jack set his suitcases down on the porch. “I can send someone else out to Los Angeles. It doesn’t have to be me, Bet.”
Jack worked as an auditor for a manufacturing company in Frederick. He usually had a half-hour drive to work, but occasionally, he went on long trips to the firm’s corporate offices in Los Angeles.
“I’ll be fine. Go,” she told him.
“You’re not acting fine. I’m worried about you. All you do is sit out here and look at the road where he was killed.”
Jack just didn’t understand. It wasn’t just the spot where Peter had been killed. It was where Peter had been eaten. It was the spot where many animals were eaten day after day. And no one ever noticed. No one but her.
“Please, go, Jack. I’ll be fine.”
He kissed her on the cheek. “I left all the phone numbers and places where I’ll be staying on the bulletin board. If you need me, give me a call, and I’ll come right home.”
He left, and Betty sat on the porch, only seeing him go when he crossed over her field of vision as he drove down Old Kiln Road.
Sometime later, the phone rang. The caller wouldn’t be anyone important, so she let it ring until the answering machine picked it up. What was happening out here was more important than anything anyone could say to her.
A small, gray rabbit hopped out into the middle of the road. It sniffed at the asphalt as if he were following a scent across the road. When it reached a certain point in the road, it stopped and lay on its side. A few minutes later, a car came creeping slowly over the hill. Slow enough that the rabbit could have moved in time to get out of the way, but it didn’t. It let itself be run over. It committed suicide.
That’s what she should do, Betty thought. Life wasn’t worth living anymore. Jack still had his work to keep him busy, but her work had been raising Peter, and the road had taken that from her. There was nothing left for her now. Except to destroy the road. To watch it wither away slowly and agonizingly. To let the road know the pain she felt at the loss of her son. That’s what she wanted to do.
Once she made up her mind, Betty knew exactly how she would kill the road. She took Jack’s chainsaw out of the garage and walked over the hill. Finding a medium-sized tree near the road, she sawed into it, so it toppled across the road, blocking any cars from coming over the hill. Then she walked down the hill and did the same thing to another tree, blockading the road. The next thing she did was to take one of the dessert pies from the oven and set it in the field to draw the animals away from the road.
Old Kiln Road didn’t eat that night, and in the morning, it was grayer.