Sunday, January 06, 2008

Chapter 11: The Saw Mill Road


I slam Emily's door behind me and stomp angrily to my car. I start the engine and hurtle from the parking lot, tires squealing.

Saw Mill Road is a 15 mile stretch of highway which cuts a narrow path through an endless ocean of trees. There are three farms that I have counted, set so far back from the road that you can barely see the lights as you pass by.

At the beginning of the road, the street lights are about 300 yards apart, and by mile three, they stop altogether.

I call Saw Mill Road a "shortcut" between Emily's house and mine, but it actually takes longer to go that way. Mostly, I do it because I love a peaceful car ride.

My dress shirt is ruined, soaked with blood. I wrap an old t-shirt around my wrist to slow the bleeding, but it continues to ooze from my hand and onto my slacks; it feels like I spilled a half-hour old cup of coffee into my lap.

The cut hurts so much that I can barely touch the steering wheel. Hot jolts of pain shoot from deep inside the wound, coursing up my arm like electricity. I try to focus on the road, on the sound of the engine, on the thought of Emily--but the agony is too intense. It's as if someone drove an ice pick into my hand with a sledge hammer.

Pulling over would be a waste of time. There's nothing more I can do until I get home, so I push harder on the gas pedal and stare at the road as I pass under the last streetlamp and into the dark.

Fifty miles an hour. Sixty. Seventy. The whine of the engine grows insistently louder, like a 747, and somehow I can barely hear it above the screaming pain.

My headlights cut neatly into the darkness; if I look anywhere but straight ahead, all I see is pure black. I am focused on the rear view mirror when something jumps in front of the car.

It's a possum, I think, and it is as surprised as I am. It freezes in place, staring at me. I slam on the brakes, but I know it's too late.

The car hits the possum with a heavy thunk. I can feel its body bounce underneath the floorboard; the sounds are clunky and hard, as if I am running over a pile of firewood.

The shriek of the tires eventually stops, and I sit for a long time, wondering what to do. I've never hit anything with my car before. Do I just... leave?

I feel weird. I killed something. It was nothing more than a rodent, but it woke up today alive, and now...

I want to see it.

I turn the car around and flip on my high beams. The possum lays lifeless in the middle of the road, its body horizontal across the double yellow line. I watch myself get out of the car and close the door.

It's bigger than I thought, maybe the size of a poodle. With its gray fur and spiny tail, it looks like a giant rat.

Its neck is broken. The top of its head has been pushed back so far that it's almost separated, leaving the mouth wide open, like a snake with an unhinged jaw. I shiver at the sight of its pointed teeth and thick, pink tongue, and though I want to turn away, I can't.

This just proves what I learned earlier tonight: I have the power to change things. You might think I used that power unwisely just now, but I had it just the same, didn't I? Just like I had it with the vase--

The pain again, sharper now, burning my hand like battery acid.

I really should get home.

Next... Chapter 12: A Little Too Much to Bear