From time to time, Gravy likes to dip a toe in short fiction. Recently, we brought you this story by Chris Offutt. Today, we share an offbeat tale by Jeff McNeil. This story first appeared in Gravy #48, a food-and-crime issue guest edited by Jack Pendarvis.
A NEW BREED
Little Rock Roadkill
A story by Jeff McNeil
-You might want to get in the left lane here.
-Yeah, there’s a school and it’s around a curve and people stop and it’s hidden.
-Hey, look at that.
-That looked like a dead penguin on the road.
-You never can tell what’s going to get clobbered on the road these days.
-I read this story in a magazine at the doctor’s office. Well, not—I mean in the actual office…
-In the back?
-Yeah, not the waiting room. After they had taken my b.p. and temperature and stuff.
-When you’re doing all that waiting around?
-Yeah, it’s a pain in the ass.
-They should give you a meter like a cabbie, you know, and whatever it says at the end they should take it off your bill.
-Good one. So…what was I talking about?
-The dead penguin.
-Yeah. I mean, it was what I read about in the magazine.
-There’s a hole in the ozone.
-How old was this magazine?
-I know, right?
-But the point was that the hole started a long time ago. I mean when it first started, way back in the ’60s or something, at the South Pole.
-And it kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger until not only did it let a lot of important stuff out, but it was letting a lot of bad stuff in, like radiation.
-Dude, that’s unacceptable in my world view.
-I know, right? Long story short, some of the penguins started flying again.
-What magazine was this?
-A serious one. Mutation is the name of the game when nature plays it. Who can know its many wonders.
-So these new penguins started flying through the ozone hole, which acted like a wormhole. The space-age kind, not the early-bird kind.
-I’m with you.
-The wormhole turned out to be a shortcut to the North Pole, where penguins have never lived before, even though it seems like they should have, right?
-Definitely. Because what’s the difference?
-I know, right? Top and bottom? The article didn’t go into it.
-That’s some freaky-deaky shit right there.
-You can’t ever be surprised at what you see on the side of the road these days.
-Could you eat it?
-I think that’s illegal.
-Even if it’s dead?
-Sounds like you could, right? But you never know about the law.
-You should be able to eat whatever you want no matter what it is or where you find it.
-No matter how radioactive or mutated it is.
-I read about a guy outside Little Rock who only eats road kill. You just ran a red light.
-The guy even eats owl meat. Put it in a lasagna for a dinner party.
-This cop’s pulling me over.
-License and registration, Reckless Rex.
-Is it against the law to eat owl meat in Arkansas, officer?
-Is this a bribe?
-Is what a bribe?
-This illegal, though savory and exotic, owl meat proposition.
-I think that’s what I’m asking.
-I thought so. Pop the trunk, Sparky.
Jeff McNeil, who teaches writing at UNC-Charlotte, has been published in Quick Fiction, Avatar Review, and Kitty Snacks.
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