This one was rejected by Flash Fiction Online. Once again, I still like it, so here it is:
“What are we going to do?” I asked. Annie fixed me with that familiar look of indignation mixed with frustration, reserved just for me. It made me feel sort of special. Nobody could piss her off like I could.
“That,” she said, “is possibly the stupidest question you’ve ever asked. And you’ve asked some doozies, believe me.”
“It’s not a stupid question,” I muttered. I was sulking. I knew I was sulking and she knew I was sulking. Annie sighed and rolled her eyes.
“For Christ’s sake, David, put your big boy pants on and help me, would you? We don’t have time for this.” She jumped down from the front seat of the jeep and slammed the door shut. “Well? What are you waiting for? Christmas?” It was something Mom used to say and it threw me for a second. I’d never noticed it before, but Annie was becoming more and more like her.
Reluctantly, I got out of the driver’s seat and stood beside her, staring at the body. It was still warm: I could feel the heat radiating out of it through my clothes. It wasn’t a big animal – an adolescent, maybe. I pictured it fully-grown – majestic, lord of all it surveyed – and felt a rush of sickness. It looked so small after what I’d done to it, just lying there, the imprint of a jeep tyre on its lower flank. Felled by my crappy driving.
“Help you do what, exactly?” I asked. The engine was still sputtering away behind us, sending plumes of greyish exhaust into the late fall air. Annie turned away from me.
“We,” she said, getting down on her knees behind the animal, “are going to throw this stupid deer into that ditch, and then we’re going to carry on like nothing happened.”
“Moose,” I said, quietly.
“What?” she asked, pushing her shoulder against it.
“It’s a moose,” I repeated. “Not a deer.”
“Thanks for the biology lesson. Now would you get down here? We need to… roll… this thing… over… so we can… drag it… out… of the road.” Her voice came out stilted and breathless with the exertion.
“Fine,” I said. “But shouldn’t we… call somebody?” I pressed my full weight into the animal’s flesh, feeling its moisture seeping through my jacket.
“Like… who?” Annie asked. The moose flopped into the mud with a sad squelch, and she hopped to her feet, panting.
“I don’t know. Animal control?” I wiped my hands on my pants and immediately regretted it, watching two big, brownish smears appear. Annie closed her eyes.
“It’s dead, David. It’s not rabid,” she said. Then she started to laugh. Big, full-throated laughs rolled through her body, and she bent over, covering her face with her hands. I stared at her.
“What’s so goddamn funny?” I asked. She shook her head, trying to catch her breath.
“N-nothing,” she stuttered. “I just… I suddenly had a-a mental image of a big, c-crazy Bullwinkle running around in the woods.” She made a goofy face and a weird mooing sound, imitating a deranged cartoon moose. I tried not to smile. I didn’t want to laugh. But I could feel myself losing control, the muscles in my face stretching, and then I couldn’t stop it. It felt good – like a release.
“Come on,” she said, taking a deep breath. “You take his front legs, I’ll take his back legs.” I nodded, and grabbed the slippery limbs as tightly as I could.
“I-I’m sorry,” I said. Annie looked up at me from her end of the moose.
“What for?” she asked. She looked startled.
“You know. For doing stuff like this. For being a pain in your ass. For… being me.” I thought about the time I fell out of a second floor window when I tried pot for the first time, and the time I smashed Grandma’s urn when I was practising my golf swing in the living room, and the time I got fired from Walgreens for stealing cough syrup, and the time I got a DWI. I thought about all the times Annie had saved my ass, and I thought about all the resentment in her voice, every time she spoke to me.
“Oh come on, David, quit feeling sorry for yourself,” she said.
“I’m not. I mean it. I know I’m a screw-up. I know… I know you hate me.” Abruptly, Annie dropped the moose’s legs and stood up straight.
“What the hell are you talking about? I don’t hate you! You’re my baby brother!” she exclaimed.
“But you… I mean, you’re always so… ” I faltered.
“Jesus, David! You think I hate you? This is just what we do! You screw up, I bail you out, then I get to bust on you for it. It’s our thing!” Shaking her head, she stooped and picked up the lifeless limbs again. “Now help me toss this moose carcass in the ditch, and then you can explain to Mom why we’re so late for Thanksgiving dinner.” I smiled.
“Well… thanks, I guess,” I said, and she smiled back.
In the end, we only got as far as sliding the body out of the car’s path. I remembered reading somewhere that an adult male moose weighed an average of eight hundred pounds, and suddenly counted my blessings I’d only hit a baby. When we let go, it sank down among the leaves, its nose tucked into its chest, almost like it was sleeping. I shook my head and let a silent prayer go. Poor little guy. He never saw it coming.
“You sure there’s nothing wrong with the car?” I asked, starting the engine.
“It’s a jeep, David. It’s fine,” Annie said, but her voice was softer, more reassuring than annoyed. She glanced in the rear view mirror as we set off. “I’ll be damned…” she breathed.
“What?” I followed her line of sight. There it was, standing right in the middle of the road, just like nothing had happened – the moose.