“Sorry we didn’t catch anything,” said Frank. “Usually I catch at least something in that spot.”
“I saw a huge one jump out of the water,” said Anthony.
“Yeah they’re always jumping.”
They were out fishing that afternoon and headed back in the rural dusk, down long, long roads. Frank had just started letting his little cousin sit in the front seat. It went unsaid that Anthony wouldn’t tell his mom. His feet hardly touched the floor when he sat up straight. They were atop a hill and could see road and land for a far stretch. Maybe a half-mile ahead, in the middle of the road, lay what looked like a rock.
“What is that?” said Anthony.
Frank focused on it for the whole stretch, and it wasn’t until he was just a few yards from it that he realized that rock was a snapping turtle. Slowly driving past, the thing pathetically lunged at his car. Frank caught a glimpse of its cracked and bloody shell.
“What was that?” said Anthony.
“I think it was a snapping turtle,” said Frank.
“What is a snapping turtle doing in the road?” he asked gigglingly.
“I don’t know.”
Frank pulled over.
“What is it?” said Anthony.
Frank looked out the rear window. The turtle was still lying there in the road. “I think it got hit by a car.”
“Is it dead?”
“No, it jumped at us when we got close.”
“I think we gotta kill it.”
Anthony unbuckled, got on his knees, and looked out the rear window. “Why should we kill it?”
“‘Cause it’s humane. It’s the right thing to do.”
Frank backed the car all the way down again. There was no one else on the road. No homes. The turtle didn’t move when he got out and stared at it. He could tell it was alive. Had that indescribable gaze and make of the living. When he approached, it shifted its head and opened its beak-like maw. Its shell had a four-way break and leaked black blood down toward its belly and the pavement, drying, working like glue. Anthony came and stood behind Frank. “How are you gonna kill it?”
“I don’t know yet.” He had an idea though. Just wasn’t sure how well it’d work. He went to the back seat and took the pocket knife from the fishing gear.
Anthony watched him. “You’re gonna stab it?”
“It’s all I got.”
Anthony walked up to the turtle. It opened its mouth again and hissed.
“Get away from it,” said Frank.
“I think it’s okay.”
“No, it’s not. It can’t even move.”
“I think it’s all right.”
“Get away from it.”
“You’re gonna kill it?”
“It’s suffering, Anthony.”
“It’s still alive.”
“Get away from it.”
Frank circled around then slowly approached it from behind, knife in hand. The thing hissed and viciously whipped its head back and forth trying to face him. It peeled itself from its blood soaked bed and managed to rotate a little. Frank just stepped behind it again. He lowered his knife hand toward its neck and the turtle struck at him like a snake. Anthony watched from behind the car. There was no way he could grab hold of it and slit its throat, he figured. He positioned himself, made ready and took a quick jab at the thing. It only nicked its head and now, more desperate than ever, the turtle flopped backward and jumped right at him. Frank stepped away. He was shaking.
“Did you get it?” Anthony called.
Frank breathed. “I can’t,” he called back. “I can’t get it.” Maybe he could find a rock and bash the thing. Maybe he could run it over. That might break his bumper, though. He didn’t know.
Far down the road a car approached. Frank stepped onto the grass. “Watch out Anthony, a car’s coming.” A pickup-truck, barreling from afar. He cherished the truck, a solid excuse to do nothing but wait. It grew closer and closer, no change in pace. None at all. “He’s not stopping,” Frank said to himself. Closer, closer. The turtle lay there, panting, oblivious, or perhaps just ready. The truck was upon them, blasting the thing into a fleshy, shell-scattered muddle. The truck slammed on the brakes and left a short streak of gutted innards. Anthony’s blank and youthful face stared at the gorey ruin from across the road.
From the truck came an old man. He approached slowly, squinting at the crushed turtle. “You all right?” he asked as he neared Frank. “What’d I hit?”
“It was a turtle.”
“Mm.” He scratched his head. “Must’ve crawled up from that crick there.” He stood, contemplating. “What are you doing? Wasn’t yours was it?” he asked Frank.
“No, I was trying to kill it. Somebody’d already hit it.”
“Mm. I figure it was for the best then.”
Anthony was behind the car. The old man looked from the crushed corpse to Frank. “You all right?”
“All right then.” He scratched his head. “Take care.” He went back to his truck, drove off.
In the car Anthony was silent. Frank drove no more than the speed limit. “I’m sorry you saw that.”
“He ran it right over. It exploded.”
“Yeah. That man shouldn’t be driving.”
“He didn’t even see it. We saw that thing from like half a mile away. Could’ve been a person. I don’t know. I don’t think he even noticed you were there.”
“Why would a person be laying in the road?”
“I mean, they probably wouldn’t. That’s not the point.”
“He did the right thing?”
“He killed it, you said that was the right thing.”
“Oh. I suppose. He shouldn’t be driving though if he truly didn’t see that.”
“You couldn’t do it.”
“I could have, I just didn’t want the thing to bite me. I don’t know. I couldn’t get ahold of it.”
“He did the dirty work.”
“Where’d you get that from?”
“I don’t know.”
They barely spoke the rest of the way. Frank saw that brief image of the exploding turtle over and over. He saw that old man’s squint, the roaring truck, the open road. He couldn’t have done it.
Joseph Sigurdson is a prose poet from Buffalo, New York. He currently attends SUNY Oswego as a creative writing major. He has recently completed his debut collection of poetry, and has been published in Great Lake Review.