My girlfriend helps me with the deer carcass. It lies awkward and stiff on a tarp in the bed of my dad’s old pickup he let me borrow. I’d meant to do this sooner, not involve her, but she’d insisted, and it’s not a misnomer that dirty work is done in the dark. Up in the city we don’t have this kind of dark. City dark is encased in the glow of lights that block out all the bright star signals. It’s a pale, mauve dark. As we unload the carcass, both wearing gloves, we do so washed with Kansas-small-town-gravel-road darkness, all those signals coming in sharp and clear, deafening.

The day before, I’d set up shop in my dad’s tree stand, waited all day, hunted in the frigid morning and then again that night, finally seeing a magnificent 9-point buck. I whiffed the shot a bit, not ideal, but it got the job done. Dad and I tracked it down at dusk, field dressed it, dragged it to the truck, took it home, hung and bled it, and the next day we cleaned it—skinned it, cut away all the meat, sawed off the skull and antlers. Now here my girlfriend and I are, dumping the remains. She wants to see how it’s done.

“Why are we just leaving it out here? Isn’t there something else we can do?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, use the bones and sinews and tendons, blood for something, like Native Americans. Some culture that values all the parts.”

I consider this. “No. This is how it’s done. We got the meat and trophy, now the coyotes will come pick at this.”

She nods in the dark. We pull it from the bed of the truck but at the last second she drops her end and the carcass smacks the hard ground, splattering blood up on us. She shrieks. I kick the remains down into the gravel-dusted ditch, my dad’s boots doing the trick better than my tennis shoes could have.

She stands there, examining the blood spatter in the truck’s tail lights.

“This is not what I expected to happen. This is disgusting.”

All around crickets sing in rhythm with the starlight, the pre-winter air so thick with Kansas that the sounds cascade. I think: I’ve needed this; I’ve missed this feeling. This air, these sounds, even this carcass, both of us occupying this moment.

“I feel so bad for that poor deer. What did it do to end up like this? Ripped apart and kicked into a fucking ditch. Jesus.”

I don’t say anything. I could argue any number of things and it won’t solve anything. I’m still in awe at the stars. Maybe that’s why I don’t say anything.

Eventually I get the sense that I need to defend myself.

“Listen. It was a clean, humane shot, I thanked the lord for the kill, we used all the meat, which we will eat, and now, with what’s left, there’s no use for it.”

“Native Americans used all of the animal, not just the meat.”

“Well do I look like a goddamn Indian to you?” I yell. “Why did you even come if you’re only going to criticize everything I’m doing?”

“I just wanted to spend time with you, not be cooped up at your parents’ like when you were hunting. It’s awkward talking to them. I don’t know them. Your mom treats me like some alien bug she’s suspicious of.”

She cries softly, from the blood and me yelling at her, I decide. I also decide we could both use a relaxer, to take the edge off. I grab the joint and a lighter I’d stashed in the driver door panel. She’s still staring away from me when I light it. When I start coughing, she turns.

“What is that? Weed?”

I hold it out for her to take, but she just stands there.

“Where did you even get that?”

“My cousin. He grows it here in town. It’s good stuff—not shitty ditch weed. Here, take it. There’s nobody around for miles—just us out here.”

“You think right now, in the freezing cold, on some dirt road in a backwoods town, covered in blood—you think this is the time to get high? You’re unbelievable.”

I take another hit, then hold it out to her again. She just stands there, jeans, hoodie, stocking cap lit red in the dark.

I change the subject: “Look, I don’t have… the best relationship with my mom. Never have. My sisters were the favorites, and I don’t know how to hold a conversation with her. I thought maybe you could.” I find that weed makes it easier.

She turns away and walks up the road, back the way we came, back towards town. Her shoes make a rough cacophony against the gravel.

“Hey, where are you going?” I ask, coughing some more.

She doesn’t respond. She just keeps walking. She’s pissed, I think. She’s right that it’s a little chilly to be smoking, but I don’t mind. It’s all part of the process: prep, hunt, kill, dress, clean up, celebrate. That’s how it’s done. I’ll finish up here, then go find her. She won’t have walked far. She can use the space, the time to think. Space is good.


I’m cold and the quiet is freaky, my shoes making the only sound against dusty gravel. The tear trails and blood spatter feel like they’re freezing into icicles on my face. I gag when I think about the blood all over me again, and I throw up on the side of the gravel road when my fingertips feel a chunk in my hair. I’m well out of earshot of him now, so I’m the only creature around to bear witness to this.

Freezing under those blinding stars, walking on a gravel road in the middle of BFE Kansas, dead deer remains all over me, I wonder how my life has come to this moment. Mom had warned me. She’d said, “Be careful with that boy, he could have a dark side to him. Probably does. Most do.” And now I wonder if she had ever found herself walking an ill-traveled backroad alone in winter at the hands of darkness. Maybe she had, muttering curses about a boy in the cold dark, but probably without the blood. My friends, unlike my mom, all like him. They’re jealous because he’s handsome, strong, rugged in a way I once found sexy. I keep walking toward town, the way we’d come from.

When we first met, at a bar in college, he’d been so confident. He’d just graduated that night, as had my friend Liz. Liz and I were waiting in line at the bar to celebrate her, both looking cute, and he came right up to me.

“Hi, beautiful. What are you drinking?” he asked, cocked smile, eyes on only me as if Liz didn’t exist. Later, on the dance floor, his stubble darkened in the low light, he spun me and dipped me in rhythm to the music, strong hands on my hips like he knew exactly what he was doing.

I feel like I’ve walked two miles, but that probably isn’t true. The fact that he hasn’t come to find me by now upsets me even more, pisses me off like nothing else has in recent memory.

“Fuck!” I yell to nobody, those bright ass stars dampening the echo of my voice so it falls flat. Tears start freezing again. I now wish I’d taken a couple hits of his joint because being high right now might help me forget, might make me feel good. But then he would’ve had the satisfaction of my joining.

If my phone weren’t in the cupholder of his truck, I would text my friend group that he brought me out here, got me deer-bloodied, and now I’m freezing walking alone in the dark. They would be supportive, tell me to high-tail it to town if it’s not far, or suck it up and go back to the truck for now, deal with the relationship later. Jasmine would say, no—fuck that, fuck him, don’t go back, get to town, get your shit, one of us will drive down to save you. Gina would play devil’s advocate, say: look, he’s just being a guy, it’s what guys do, they’re assholes sometimes, and didn’t you ask to go dump a deer carcass with him anyway? Didn’t you know what would happen?

“No, I absolutely did not know that would fucking happen,” I enunciate to the universe, the words a fog rising above me.

I think back to what he said about his mom. While he was hunting the day before, I sat on his parents’ couch scrolling on my phone, catching glimpses of his mom side-eyeing me through her dark curls as if I couldn’t see. The only thing she’d said to me in the godawful silence was, “Hunting, fishing, boy’s trips—he and his dad always leave me out, too.”

Behind me I hear truck exhaust and gravel crunch growing louder. Light begins to peak over the hill I’d just walked over, creeping brighter and brighter, gravel dust suspended in the air as if frozen. I don’t know why I do it, but don’t question it either—I take off running into the field to my left. It’s not a crop, just overgrown brush and weeds, a few trees scattered. Twenty yards in I trip over something and wind up on my back, the wind knocked out of me. I start coughing in breathy plumes. I don’t look up but I hear his truck pass by and keep driving, exhaust like a voice yelling out and fading away. Eventually the only light comes from those stars again, staring down at me, their quiet all-consuming.

Lying prone in a Kansas field, I wonder when he’ll start panicking—forehead damp with sweat, his heart pounding. When he doesn’t find me, he will keep looking, might loop in his family or the police, both. But before all that, he’ll drive and drive, stir up dust. He’s too stubborn to ask for help when he should, only when it’s too late. But it feels good to hide—backed away into the frozen landscape, part of it, him searching the countryside. Before I gather myself to my feet and begin following tire tracks to town, I just lie there in the dark and feel the potential energy of what’s to come next.


About the Author

Cody Shrum is a writer and editor based in Kansas City. He has earned an MFA in fiction from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Cody’s fiction and poetry have appeared in such journals as Cleaver Magazine, Identity Theory, Prime Number Magazine, and Rust + Moth, as well as the anthology, Kansas Time + Place: An Anthology of Heartland Poetry.


Photo by Filip Zrnzevi? on Unsplash