Twilight Driving

By Lauren Connell


One… Two… Three…

I tally dead roos littered on the roadside. Locals swear the mangled phantoms of the roos haunt this highway. They say this is the shittiest road in the country to drive on during those uncertain hours of dusk. Dad says you’re a bloody idiot if you drive along here at twilight. ‘Prime time for those bloody roos’, he says. I can’t exactly disagree. Though personally, I’ve never hit one. But it’s basically a rite of passage to hit a roo on this bush-encumbered highway.

Four… Five…

The car snakes beneath a canopy of eucalyptus and into the belly of the bush. The rise and fall of the local ranges surround the highway. The sun yawns over the horizon as I follow the bending headlights along the country road.


There’s one. A mass of flesh and viscera on a particular bend. He’s a poltergeist. A phantom, and token of the time one careened in dad’s ute along here however long ago.


I was in the passenger seat. It absolutely demolished his front headlight. Even now, when my eyes are closed, I could see electric streams of light exploding like fireworks from the shattered glass, before sizzling out on the asphalt. Almost sent us into a tree, dad said. He was a big boy, that roo. Dad chose not to see him plummet to the ground.

‘I guess the prick fled back into the bush,’ he suggested, attempting to placate my childish sobs. When the shock of the impact wore off, he pulled over and quantified the damage. Fractured and deformed, the bloody roo lay mutilated behind us. A sole addition to the mob of marsupials haunting the highway.


Seven… Eight…


I finished an exam late one or two years ago, and mum collected me from the station on the other side of the bush. It was dusk. The roo emerged suddenly. As if he planned all along to plunge himself into the cool steel. He bounced off the hood of the four-wheel drive.

Mum was distraught. There was no way she could have avoided him. Unlike for dad, this roo was smallish. His face reminded me of a mouse.

Without so much as a head check, she circled back to where he lay. Another pile of guts on the wayside. She wound down her window and cried. And cried. And cried. I knew she couldn’t help it. It’s the sort of person that she was.

‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry,’ she said. Eventually, I convinced her to keep driving. The roo was so tiny he barely made a dent in the vehicle. When we got home, we decided to keep that encounter to ourselves.


Nine… BANG!

Something dense and powerful drops from the trees and ricochets off the front of my car. Blood throbs in my ears and my eyelids snap open over dewy eyes. Then my brain catches on.

I’ve hit a roo. A bloody roo.

I indicate. I pull over. I inhale. I step out of the car. I see him lie maimed and bloody on his unofficial grave. I exhale. I watch his chest. His heart seems to pound its final beats in sync with the adrenaline surging through my limbs. It explodes through my fingertips. Then suddenly – it stops.

I’ve never killed anything before. I mean, sure I’ve counted hundreds of carcasses along this shitty road. I should be prepared for this. Dread and frustration form an embryonic knot in my stomach, beating me from the inside out. The sun’s final glare slowly fades between the trees. It’s quiet, but I can almost hear dad’s shouting echo through the bush.

What the hell do I do now?

I stand stupefied, stranded in the uncertain twilight hours. Perhaps I should assess the damage. As I turn my gaze to the hood, in the windshield’s reflection, I swear, the roo begins to rise from his pool of blood and dust. But when I turn back, he’s just a bleeding mound on the side of the road.

I run toward him. I don’t know why. Maybe he’s still breathing and just needs someone to spook him back to life. Maybe I just need to say I’m sorry.

Metres away now. Something squelches beneath me. I look down. A scarlet stream oozes towards me like a thick red leech circling my feet. My chest stiffens. My eyeballs pound in red-rimmed sockets. Instinctively, I turn and run back to the car. Crimson footprints stain the asphalt behind me. Now mum’s cries fill the silence.

I slam the car door shut and ignite the engine through rapid breaths. Any damage will have to wait. I pull out without indicating. I check the rear-view mirror through misty eyes. The roo remains. The sun collapses behind the trees.

And a river of blood follows me home.



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