The Roadkill Keeper
Walter eased his moving truck into the rest stop. He rolled down a tinted window once he knew no humans were around to notice that no one seemed to be driving the truck. His nose and whiskers twitched with the scent of skunk–the one that had just been killed across the highway. In eighty two seconds the city clean-up guys aka the Shovel Masters would be at the site, and he needed to get to that skunk before they scraped him up for the incinerator. But another smell, light chocolate, cut through his thoughts, made his racoon nose twitch. Distracted him.
His damn nose, even death hadn’t tampered with that. “Focus. The kid’s soul depends on it.”
Lifting the carcass into the bag without raising alarms about a dead skunk floating in midair, that was always the trick for Walter. He stepped out of the truck. Red, blue, green M & M’s were scattered on the rest stop picnic table. It wasn’t his stomach that made him pause, but an instinct reminding him of who he’d been. A scavenger. A racoon. Ten seconds is all he would have needed to eat them, but the squeal of the garbage truck, still in the distance, meant the ten seconds were needed. What was an M&M compared to eternity for a dead skunk anyway? Everything. If he didn’t get to the incident site before they did, time would run out on eternity. Goodbye M&M’s.
The cars moved through Walter like wind on garbage day. The skunk lay splayed in the middle of the road. He began the peel, but he had to be careful, couldn’t make it look obvious. He needed the surrounding drivers to think it was the wind lifting patches of fur. The volume on the squeal of the garbage truck meant he had about ten seconds. If he didn’t move fast, he’d lose his chance.
Oh not now. Not now. Skunky’s soul rose, hovered next to his body, his eyes darted everywhere. Walter wished he had time to explain a few things, like the wavering solids around them, same as heat off the pavement on a summer day, except it was cold. There were formulas and complicated answers about afterlife, which needed explaining. For now, Walter reached out his paw to greet the skunk, but too late. The truck with its ‘We Kill the Roadkill’ motto stopped in the emergency lane, a few feet ahead.
The Shovel Masters, with noses covered, frowns on their faces, began scraping fur and skin. The skunk’s small body hung off the shovel. Walter would’ve loved to pull it away, but he couldn’t. He had to wait until they weren’t looking, and since they were looking all the time, he could only watch as they dumped the little body into the pile of junk in back of their truck. The skunk’s confused soul sat on top of it all, looking around.
Curse those M&M’s. That distraction now meant Skunky traveling the maze of eternity without his guidance. Damn, he hated his nose.
The truck hissed and its gears squealed into motion. Walter’s gut tightened in determination. He wasn’t letting this one go. Skunky was his. A few hops through traffic, back to the rest stop, and the door to his moving truck squealed open, keys turned in the ignition, windows rolled up. He jammed his paw on the extension attached to his accelerator and with a lurched forward, the moving truck sped out of the rest stop in pursuit.
Trees, wind, and sky rushed past. In the rearview mirror, his golden eyes, amidst a bandit face, set on his target. A right turn, a couple of swerves, acceleration to sixty miles per hour as he weaved in and out of traffic, and he was on their tail. They exited, paused at a light. A few feet in front of him the kid lay on the junk. If he tried to grab him now, the Shovel Masters would see him. The light turned, Skunky sat on top of his dead body, touching it, looking like he had no idea about anything. Hang in there Skunk boy, I’m not losing sight of you now.
On the next stretch, Walter pulled up close to their bumper, then into the right lane. He honked until the guys glared. Next stop light, Walter pulled up, rolled down the tinted window and one of them yelled, “What the what?”
He felt the same pleasure every time he heard the response.
“There’s no one driving that thing?”
Walter whispered, “But I’m here.”
The guys got out, all doors open, the two of them peered into the weird moving truck that had just been chasing them.
“Lucky they took off,” the larger Shovel Master adjusted his pants.
This was the moment, his last chance. Walter slid past and crawled onto the pile of junk on top of their truck. Stepped on metal, tree branches, and all variety of debris.
The small body weighed almost nothing, the ghost of it lingered near. With a roll, a turn, and three swift leaps he made it to the back of the moving truck. One pull, and the latch lifted the giant door up to the roof of the cabin. He gently placed the skunk’s body inside with the others.
Before he could shut the door, the skunk ghost said, “What is this place?”
Walter watched him stare at the pile of bird carcasses; wings, feathers, beaks. The other animal spirits floated inside the cabin of the moving van.
“I know it don’t look pretty now, but next stop, the Great Racoon. He’ll explain it all to you.”
The others nodded, but the skunk ghost still wanted answers.”Who are you?”
“Just a knight of the road.”
That shut the kid up for a bit. He’d need some quiet to make sense of things.