The sheets bunched against Josiah’s bare back felt slick and unfamiliar. As he opened his eyes, he felt a wave of nausea wash over him. These weren’t his sheets. This wasn’t his bed. He glanced over his shoulder to see Bethany still asleep, curled around her pillow, her dark hair obscuring her face.
He eased out of the bed, careful not to wake the sleeping young woman. He stumbled as he shoved his legs into his blue jeans, and found his shirt draped over the foot of the bed. Carrying his boots in one hand, Josiah picked his way through the living room, cluttered with toys, and pulled open the front door of the single-wide trailer, stepping into the half-light of daybreak.
Crocket lay against the front tire of his truck, but lifted his head as Josiah sat on the cinder-block steps to pull his boots on. The dog ran over and licked the back of Josiah’s hand as he tied his boots. He felt like a jerk. Crocket had spent every night of his life sleeping on the rug beside Josiah’s bed. He must have been completely confused when Josiah left him outside all night to sleep on the ground.
“Sorry, Buddy,” Josiah mumbled as he cradled the dog’s head in both his work-worn hands.
Crocket wagged his tail, and turned his head, tongue lolling out, happy to be reunited with his master.
Josiah winced as his boots crunched the gravel. Every little noise he made threatened to wake Bethany and complicate his hasty exit. He opened the door and let Crocket jump into the cab before sliding behind the steering wheel. He turned the key and the big diesel roared to life. Quickly backing out of the short driveway, Josiah guided his truck down the main road that snaked its way between two rows of trailers. He had barely made it out of the mobile home park when he swerved to the side of the highway, opened his door, and vomited on the dark asphalt.
Crocket whined from the passenger seat as Josiah shut the door and dragged one hand across his mouth. He found a half-empty bottle of water under the seat, and used the tepid contents to wash the taste from his mouth. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He was pathetic. He didn’t even remember going home with Bethany last night. He remembered her sitting down beside him at the bar. His high school buddy, Thomas’, little sister, Bethany had always been around, but Josiah had never taken the time to get to know her. He didn’t take the time last night, either. He remembered her flirting with him as he pounded back drink after drink, but that was all he remembered. He had no idea if she drove him back to her place in his truck or if he somehow drove himself there. All he knew was he wished he could take it all back.
As Josiah pulled the truck back onto the highway and headed toward home, his cell phone buzzed on the seat beside him. It was a text from his brother. Hurry up and get over here. We got another calf and a cow with an abscessed jaw.
“Why can’t any damn thing be easy?” Josiah slammed his fist against the steering wheel, causing Crocket to whine again. Not sure if he was talking to himself, the dog, God, or the universe, Josiah repeated himself, louder this time, hitting the steering wheel with each word. “Why can’t anything be easy?”
The dog inched across the seat and buried his nose between Josiah’s hip and the truck seat.
“Why does the one day that starts off like crap have to be the day everything’s hard at the farm?” Josiah’s foot on the accelerator propelled the truck faster and faster as his words got louder and louder. “Why can’t anything go right for me? I’m so damn tired of this. Do you hear me?” He screamed, his words slamming into his own ears in the close quarters of the truck cab. “Do you fucking hear me? I don’t want to do this anymore!”
Josiah took the curve in front of the Steadman’s farm so fast he barely registered the three deer in the road before he stomped the brake pedal to the floor. An ungodly screech pierced the morning silence as his truck hit the deer and skidded across the road. Josiah locked his arms as the momentum propelled his body forward and then flung it back, his head banging hard into the back window of the cab.
The truck came to rest sideways in the road. The back end spun around with the tires barely still on the pavement. A couple more feet and the truck would have slid down the embankment toward the creek at the bottom of the hollow. Two deer crashed through the woods, their frantic escape stirring birds into flight. The third deer lay crumpled under the front bumper of the truck, its tongue clenched between its teeth and hanging from its mouth. A dark puddle of blood slowly spread out from beneath its battered body.
Inside the cab, Josiah groaned and reached up to probe the throbbing lump on the back of his head. Stunned, he sat still for a moment before reaching out to comfort his dog. His hand found nothing but the seat of his truck.
Crocket’s body lay wedged between the gear shift and the seat, his head turned at an awkward angle. Josiah dropped his head to the steering wheel and moaned, his shoulders shaking with silent sobs.
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, The Society of Classical Poets, and various other literary journals. She recently won an Honorable Mention for her short story “A Slow Burn” at the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society’s annual convention. She also received the Springs of Helicon Award for Poetry, awarded by Tennessee Wesleyan University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.