's 2020 Horror Write-off:

Roadkill Augury

Submitted by Sawyer Grincewich

In the dust and stunted brush at the edge of a battered highway, a stand cobbled together from old wooden planks and scrap metal rested. Taped to the front was a cardboard sign which read in large block letters,

Roadkill Augury

Squirrel: $20

Cat/Possum: $50

Larger: Price Negotiable

Behind the stand sat an older woman, her hair at shoulder length, waves of fading auburn cascading from greying roots, a bright red bandana wrapped around her head, large sunglasses reflecting the scorching sun. Worn jeans and a faded t-shirt completed a look I would attest to being that of a "cool aunt", the kind that went to punk shows in the 80's, and now raises animals and grows pot with her so-called roommate that's really just her wife.

The numerous cages that littered the ground around her stand, containing some of the animals listed on her sign, as well as other critters, a fox in one cage, a couple chickens in another, helped further justify this image of chill rusticism.

But the sign, and our relative isolation made it very clear that this was no innocent little farmer's market setup. She was here to ply a trade, one that others of a higher moral standard, or perhaps just a lower tolerance for bloodshed may paint as some manner of dark art. I did not have such reservations.

I pulled up to the side of the road and parked my car a few yards away from the stand. I grabbed an envelope from the back seat and began to approach the woman, trying to hide my nerves with a forced grimace.

She glanced up at me with a polite smile.

"How can I help you, darlin'?" She said with a warmth that caught me off guard.

My voice caught in my throat for a moment, but I managed to regain my composure and responded, "Need a fortune told".

She nodded, and scooted her chair out from the table, turning to face some of the cages beside her.

"Do you need specifics?" I asked.

She shook her head.

"No need, darlin'. You carry that with you. Our friends here'll see it and tell us what they can."

I nodded.

"So, what'll it be?" She asked.

I pulled out $20 from the envelope and handed it over.

"Let's start with a squirrel."

She nodded, and picked up one of the cages, placing it on the table. Inside, a few brown squirrels chattered and scuttled about. She undid the latch on the door, her arm darting inside to snatch one of the squirrels by the torso, pinning its arms to its side, the others quickly darting to the edges of the cage in fear.

The squirrel struggled vainly in her grasp as she removed it from the cage, quickly shutting the door once more.

She stood up, and began to walk leisurely towards the road.

Once she had reached the edge, she shifted her grasp on the squirrel, dangling it helplessly from its tail. Reaching back, she swung the squirrel forward, back, and forward one last time, releasing it on the final upswing and sending it flying into the middle of the road.

To my surprise, it landed far more gracefully than I would have expected, quickly regaining its footing. It was just about to start bolting towards the other side of the road when suddenly a flash of white raced past my vision, and the squirrel was flattened.

A car sped down the road, as if out of nowhere, and grew smaller and smaller before finally vanishing into the distance.

The woman walked casually out into the road, seemingly unafraid, and beckoned me over.

I approached slowly, eyes darting to either side of me to watch out for any other cars appearing without warning.

She kneeled down and removed a pen knife from her pocket, unfolding it and beginning to dig around the splattered entrails of the squirrel.

The jumble of exposed organs, much of it pureed into a visceral slop of tangled intestines and shattered bone, seemed to fill the woman with quite a bit of interest, though I couldn't claim to discern any meaning from the rather disgusting sight.

"My, my, you sure seem to be carryin' a lot, darlin'"

I remained silent.

"I see a pretty dress, but only barely. Like an old photo. Faded."

I felt a sickening combination of confusion and disappointment at these words, though I tried to hide it.

"More than that I see books, journals, tapes. Lotsa chicken scratch."

She finished digging through the squirrel guts and peeled the corpse off the asphalt by its tail, tossing it into the dirt.

"That's not enough", I said curtly.

She nodded understandingly.

"Bigger critters get better results"

I grit my teeth and pulled out $50, but the woman stopped me.

"Let me give you a word of advice. Bigger isn't about the size of the body, it's about the scope of the experience. Somethin' that's felt more is gonna take you farther than somethin' that hasn't."

I stared blankly at her, taking in her meaning, before looking down at my feet. A few moments passed as I steeled myself for what needed to be done next.

I walked back to my car, and drove off, returning an hour later with a large black Labrador sitting in the passenger seat. I rubbed his head before opening the door for him to jump out into the dirt, where he ran around in excitement for a minute while I grabbed a softball that rolled under the seat.

I allowed myself no more time to ponder what I was about to do, knowing that I had made the decision long before I knew what it would entail.

I walked back towards the stand where the woman stood, her polite smile replaced with a more reserved expression.

I whistled, and the dog came running towards me, collar jingling as he approached.

I showed him the ball, and with one fluid motion, tossed it out into the road.

The dog didn't waste a second, and rushed out into the middle of the road.

A Mack truck struck the dog moment it stepped out into the road, as if spat out from empty space.

I closed my eyes and tried to steady my breathing. I felt a warm hand lightly squeeze my shoulder before sliding off.

I opened my eyes and watched the woman approach the dog, pen knife in hand as she examined its body.

"I see deer skulls. Antlers. Twisted bodies, sawdust. The rest is just rust. Darlin', you are deep in somethin' bad."

I trot up to her, and drop the envelope with the remaining cash at her feet. She shakes her head and hands it back to me.

"Consider this a favor."

I look at the money for a moment, wary, before finally taking it back.

"My advice? Turn back down that road, forget about all this. She's lost."

I shake my head, and turn to walk back towards the car.

"Suppose it's time I get lost too."