I knew I heard wings fluttering, but when I turned, I was surprised to see nothing there. “Did you hear that?”
Uncle Mitch spat a big brown gob onto the highway next to the possum carcass he was scraping up.
Meet my Uncle Mitch, dazzling conversationalist.
Mitch drives a roadkill pickup truck for the Missouri Department of Transportation. It’s an even less attractive job than you think. Thanks to my folk’s divorce and my lack of legal majority, I’m his able assistant, and I’m currently assisting by holding open the sack that Mitch is about to fill. Also wishing I had another hand to hold my nose, because this particular possum is well beyond its “sell-by freshness date.”
The pungency is robust enough that I doubt it ever had any such thing.
Mitch is a deft hand with the scrape-and-flip, so that took a lot longer to describe than it took him to collect the specimen.
“Five,” he said. I closed the sack and tossed it into the back of the truck with the others. We get anywhere from a buck per squirrel to seventy-five for a good-sized buck. I daydream about the glorious financial windfall of delivering a bear, but nuts for luck so far.
Mitch spits into the shallow brown lake surrounding his accelerator pedal, and we’re off to the next kill.
We have some sophisticated tech, for Missouri. Our “sniffer” samples the air along the highway, searching for methane trace and any of 104 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) associated with decomposition using a diffusive sampler and laser chromatography. The truck beeps at us whenever the “corpse scent” rises above a few parts per million, and we’ll pull over to find the payday.
Just like a good bloodhound, except we can track a new roadkill while doing thirty.
I hear wings fluttering at the next three collections.
“Come on, Uncle Mitch, I know you heard it that time.”
He just gazed at me levelly.
“What the hell does that mean?”
He just hooked his thumb over his shoulder and drove on to the next kill site, while I tried to figure out where he was pointing. Back at the collection sacks in the truck bed?
I kept listening. At the next four collections, when he scraped a corpse, I again heard the flutter of wings. It was louder with the larger animals, and just a whisper with the tiny squirrels.
After a few more days, I started to see them, too, a flutter of semitransparent darkness winging away from each corpse, like the shadow of a bird flying.
While scraping up a red fox along U.S. 54, a Peterbuilt tractor nailed my Uncle Mitch and missed me. When the paramedics loaded him onto the gurney, they clearly didn’t expect him to survive.
I waited expectantly and wasn’t disappointed.
Uncle Mitch didn’t flit away like some happy little dove. My uncle thundered out as the angry shade of an irascible diseased buzzard.
493 words. Inspired by this week’s Finish That Thought (3-10) assignment.