Author: Janet Shell Anderson
The thing I just saw dead on the road is huge.
It’s not human. I’m glad of that.
I stop, back up, hear no sound of coming traffic; no one’s around. Since it’s early October, the fields look shaved, most of the corn already harvested. I haven’t been out this way for a long time. Thousands of crows swing over my path, dive in black swoops, rise, plunge again in uncanny formations. Why do they do it? Two houses close enough to the road for me to see, tucked into their windbreaks against the powerful northwest winds, look like they’re hiding. Dust drifts along the side of the road.
The dead thing’s sprawled across the centerline. At first, I think it’s a coyote, but it’s at least one-hundred-fifty pounds, looks like a wolf, not a dog. But what wolf is this big? Turkey vultures wheel in the increasing wind, waiting for lunch.
Right by the road, like a skeleton of a long-extinct dinosaur, a boney central pivot irrigator’s stored for the coming winter, too big to fit in any shed. The sun glints on it. No one’s around the farmstead. No cars. It’s dead quiet.
In the past months, I’ve heard stories of a lot of cattle found ripped apart. Some of the local farmers swear there’re Satanists out here.
I swat flies away, get back in my truck. Why is no one out here? Somebody’s got to get this mess off the road.
I notice there’s still some corn in a field a half mile away. Odd it hasn’t been harvested. It’d be a good day for the big combines to be finishing up. I see one sitting in a nearby field, not moving.
Most people say they don’t like this kind of countryside, flat, empty, nothing but corn, corn, corn, the occasional farmhouse or tall, white, concrete grain elevator, railroad tracks going off to empty horizons. I see the masses of sunflowers along the road, the wide sky. It’s home. Beautiful. I’ve missed it.
I drive on, need to get to the Platte River, have work there. I go through a town, tiny place, ten houses, a bar. No lights on. A big dog moves through the dying hydrangea by a small white house with Halloween pumpkins on the front steps, and then I see the creature better and it’s not a dog, over three feet high at the shoulder, wolfish head, long tail. Where are these things coming from? What in the hell are they?
I keep going west as the wind picks up, feel a pressure drop, as if a storm’s out there, way west, beyond the Platte, beyond this grassland, spot a dead calf in a pasture, not much left but bones, pass a lone, derelict house. Its windows are smashed, door open. I’m am tempted to stop and see if anyone’s there, if they’re all right, but as I slow down, a Black Angus steer stampedes into the road. I swerve to miss it and see in my rearview mirror, by the high grass near the sunflowers and the ditch, a canine pack, all big. The steer bolts into a field, hurtles to a line of cottonwoods. Twelve animals tear after it, lift voices in a two-toned, harmonic howl. Are these timber wolves? Down from Minnesota? What are they?
Seeing a sign to the Interstate just ahead, I turn onto a gravel road, slow down. Dust swarms up behind me. I hear more howling and hit the gas. Four miles later, I brake for the paved curve onto the Interstate.
No one’s on I-80. Not in either direction. I turn on the car radio, get static, slow down, look at my cell. Nothing. A strong wind batters the car, and I see, far ahead, the first signs of black clouds, a big storm that squats on the horizon.
What did I read months ago in one of those magazines by someone who hates fly-over country? Sneering at us all, implying we’re morons, he claimed there could be could be anything out here. Abandoned towns. Robot farms.