6 Abandoned Roadkill

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Pulling out of the parking lot, I swerve Cherry sharply to the left, avoiding fresh, slick blood on the road. The sudden motion knocks Sheila's head against my shoulder.

"Holy sh-crap!" I say, glancing in the rear view mirror. "What the...heck was that?"

"Roadkill," Sheila says, rubbing her head.

We didn't encounter much roadkill in Inglewood, so the gruesome sight rattles me. The carcass of some abandoned, furry creature, matted with blood, its organs exposed like loose ribbons on gravel, was splayed on the ground with a face contorted into an open snarl.

It reminds me of Mercy.

A putrid stench that reeks of sulfur fills the car.

"Just a skunk." Sheila shrugs as though it's the most natural thing in the world. "That letter that was on your windshield, can I see it?"

Wrinkling my nose, I motion to the backseat where I flung the message. Between the dead skunk and the ominous note, I'm officially freaked out.

Sheila unclasps her seatbelt, retrieves the envelope, and reads. "I used to get letters like this," she says. "Haven't gotten them in a couple weeks now. They would turn up at the oddest places, telling me to keep it all to myself. But I guess since you're getting them, we've been grouped together!"

"That's comforting as hell," I mutter.

Sighing, Sheila shakes her head, "It's a compliment, I think. I'm not sure what it's all about, but don't worry. Just see it as the welcome wagon to Pachuck."

"You've lived here your whole life," I point out. "Why are they welcoming you?"

Wincing, Sheila says, "my letters said...other things."

Like what?

"This is the second one I've gotten," I tell her. "The first one was warm and fuzzy. This one makes me feel like I'm in Get Out."

Sheila doesn't seem to catch the movie reference. But I'm too wound up to care. The note rattled me, and if I wasn't leaving Pachuck today, I'd formulate a plan to make Bella Hardgrove pay.

Then I remember how bold Bella was, how easily she made me submit, and all bravado seeps out of me like an air mattress with a hole in it.

County Road is a long stretch of highway with a speed limit of 75. Slouching trees and open fields whiz by our windows. Brown leaves fall from their branches and ride the wind like limp corpses.

Sheila punches buttons on the radio. "Can we change this music?"

"You can try, but it won't work," I say.

"Why not?"

"The CD's stuck. My mom's ex-boyfriend installed this stereo. But he was always a little sketchy, so he didn't do it properly, and I think he might've stolen the radio."

Cherry kicks and rumbles underneath us as Sheila sits back, contemplating. "Well, can we at least turn it down?"

I chuckle. "What's wrong? No love for Cardi B?"

"I can't listen to secular music—make a right at County Road."

"Secular? What's that?"

"Anything that isn't Christian," she says with pride.

Really? She's chained to archaic beliefs and not embarrassed?

Making the right at County Road, I ask, "Doesn't that, like, suck? What happens at prom? You have to leave because they throw a Zayn song in the mix?"

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