What the Road Runner Says

What the Road Runner Says

A Story by Joel McCarthy

The night the dog bit her, the coyotes rambled in the distant dark beyond the garage where Jed took the dog. He locked the door behind him. His wife immediately drove their daughter to the emergency room and Jed stayed. The dog no longer had a name. Molly had once called him Squire. 

 He looked upon the animal, the ripped collar dangling in his hand. He tried to see a worthless beast, fighting excuses that kept surfacing in the back of his head. The ten hour ride was too much. He’s too old. He wasn’t right in the head. He shouldn’t have been rescued. He should’ve been put down.

The animal whimpered, gently butting its head against the cage bars, tufts of black and white hair poking through the air holes on both sides. The cage was meant for a cat. Jed raised the shotgun, the dim definition of the barrel’s shadow aimed at the cage. It began moving as though vibrating from the inside. The animal was having a seizure.

“Christ,” he said to himself.

He waited until the tremor stopped before zipping the leather casing around the gun, and hoisting it up into the cradles of the maple gun rack. He placed the shells back into their cardboard case, stowing them away in the wooden drawer of his workbench.

He opened the cage door. The animal’s breathing quickened before returning to a stable pant. It tried to shift, but couldn’t get out of the cage. Jed got to his knees, grabbing the front paws and pulling the dog free. It licked his face dryly, and he shoved it, more offended than angry.

He stared at the dog for a long while, it cautiously licking its paw in the corner of the garage, as far away from the cage as possible. Jed knew it needed to die. It had hurt his daughter. The blood on the bathroom tile was testament enough of the animal’s guilt.

Jed heaved a large bag of dog food from the high shelf, placing it at his feet. He stabbed into a cardboard box with his keys, the word shop scrawled on the side in thick block letters. In a moment, the contents were scattered around the concrete floor. He found the can of antifreeze near the base of the box, deciding then on a more passive execution.

The dog would eat anything put before it. Jed thought that it had lost its sense of taste after being routinely kicked in the head by the original owner. He knew it wouldn’t notice the bitterness of its own judgment. The dog’s head bobbed overtop of the bowl, the chemically soaked biscuits being swept up into its long maw and being crunched away. The left ear sagged like a folded over napkin, a physical characteristic that Molly had once found delightful. It was the first thing she’d mentioned when Jed brought the dog home that previous fall.


By the time Jed’s wife returned with their daughter, the sun had come up for the day and painted their house and surrounding property with a tangerine glow. Jennifer carried Molly who slept in her mother’s arms. Her leg was heavily bandaged and dotted with small red blots that formed an oval constellation against the white cloth, roughly the size of the dog’s mouth.        

“She lost blood,” said Jennifer.

“I took care of it.”

“I would have done it. I wanted to do it, Jed.”

“I took care of it,” he said again.

“My daughter…”

“You’re a mother. She needed her Mamma. You done well.”

“She needed her Pa, too.”

“Her Pa was busy,” he said.

“I hope it hurt him like hell,” she said.

He watched his wife move up the porch steps and manoeuvre through the thin screen door of the house, kissing the crown of her sleeping daughter’s head. Jed turned and opened the garage, letting in the morning light, the dog’s still, lifeless form curled next to the bowl like a small tipped over tire. Jed put a large garbage bag inside of the emptied box, delicately picking the dog up and placing it inside. He found a roll of duct tape and sealed the box shut with several long, tight strips.


By midday he had dug a hole out back of his property. He picked no specific area of the yard because the last thing he wanted was for Molly to one day find it. The gravesite was to be nondescript in every way, the furthest thing to any kind of tribute or monumental acknowledgement of the dog’s life. Jed hoped that the further he buried it into the earth, the more faded the memory would become.

The chunks of clay stuck to the rusted metal of his shovel, prompting Jed to periodically smack the blade against the side of a young birch tree, sun kissed leaves floating down from the all but bare branches above him. The afternoon brought with it a November wind that warned of a harsh, imminent winter.

With another three feet to go, he took a momentary rest, leaning on the shovel which was stuck into the hard ground. He looked over the property, seeing for the first time this view from the back of the house. There was movement from the shed on his neighbours’ side, and he watched as someone began moving toward him.

It was a man close to Jed’s age, bearded, dressed in a mechanic’s jumpsuit and white sneakers that stood out garishly in light of the autumn surroundings. Jed couldn’t think of a worse time to be introduced to a new neighbour.

“Hiya,” said the man, hands placed in the front pockets of his coveralls.

“Howdy,” said Jed, taking the shovel out of the ground.

“You must be Mr. Hawkley, correct? I’m Dennis Crawford. Sorry, I didn’t get a first name from the salesman who came by.”

“Name’s Jed,” he said, “I’d shake your hand but I been out here sweatin’ and my hand’s all stung up with blisters. Must look a bit peculiar, what I’m up to out here.”

“Well a bit, but that’s okay.”

“Long story short is our dog passed,” Jed said. “He uh, well he’s gone, so I’m giving him a place to rest I guess you could say.”

“Sorry about your loss. I wasn’t gonna say anything, and don’t worry because it doesn’t bother me, but I think you’re digging on my side of the property line there.”

“Oh, crap, I’m sorry. I guess I thought our three acres went back this far. I’ll have this filled in for you in no time. I’ll find another place to bury him. You’ll have to excuse me. It’s been a long night.”

“No, please,” said Dennis, “I don’t care. The Finch family, they lived here before you, I always told them my land is theirs. Kind of a neighbourly code, you know? Out here we don’t get too worked up about that sort of thing.”

“Well I appreciate it,” said Jed, continuing to dig.

“No harm no foul. Actually, I just came over to introduce myself. I saw them moving trucks come by last weekend so I figured you’d be too busy to socialize. I wanted to ask, do you own a ride on mower by chance?”

“Yes and no. We brought one but it’s about as useless as tits on a bull. Fuel intake is all messed up.”

“That’s a shame,” said Dennis. “You know, I’m looking to get a new one for myself. My old Deere runs just fine still, if you’d like to take a look. I’m not tryin’ to get much out of it. Man needs a ride-on out here.”

“Yeah, that’s true. I may take you up on that,” Jed said this, wiping his brow with his plaid sleeve. “It’s just our bank is slightly bust right now with all the damn closing fees.”

“Yeah, I heard that. It was expensive when I came here, I can only imagine what it’s like now.”

“How long have you lived here then?”

“I moved here about twelve years ago with my wife and two daughters,” said Dennis, slightly reserved.

“We got a daughter, too. Eight years old. Name’s Molly and the wife’s Jen. How old are your girls?”

Dennis looked toward his feet, kicking at an acorn, thinking a moment. “They’d be seventeen and twenty-one now. One’s off to college and the other is still with her mother up in Forester’s Falls. They don’t come down here too much anymore.”

“That’s a shame. Me and Jen had a pretty rough patch before we moved out here. We managed to keep it together though, for Molly you know. Moving out here seemed like a good place to do that. I got work up at the quarry too, so things are pretty much all set up. What do you do out here, Mr. Crawford?”

“Well, right now I’ve been fixing busted equipment that I scoop up from farm auctions. I get them up and running again and sell them or try to rent them if I can. Right now I’m working on an old Bear-Cat wood chipper. Needs a new belt among other things.”

“That sounds pretty okay,” said Jed, digging out a large stone and tossing it aside.

“I used to teach Chemistry and Biology.  There isn’t much out here in terms of job opportunities I guess you could say. High school’s forty minutes away and only holds about six hundred.”

“Too bad.”

Jed looked past Dennis and saw his wife moving toward them wearing one of his hunting jackets. Her red hair was half dry from a shower, curling in the cool breeze and falling over her eyes. She stood before them with her arms crossed, looking tired.

“What do you feel like for lunch?” she asked.

“Whatever’s easy,” said Jed. “This here is Mr. Crawford from next door.”

“Hello,” she said, slightly less enthusiastic than she would normally be.

“Hi there,” Dennis said.

“Apparently I been digging on his side of the property line.”

“Well why would you go ahead and do a thing like that? I’m sorry Mr. Crawford�"Jed’ll fix it up for you as soon as possible.”

“Not a problem, I just finished telling Jed it was alright. Losing a pet is hard.”

Jennifer didn’t say anything, just looked at the hole and the cardboard box next to it. “That isn’t a pet,” she said. “Not anymore.”

“I guess not,” said Dennis.

“Why don’t you get back up to the house before you catch a cold with that wet hair? I’ll be up in a little while.”

“You need help lowering it in?” she asked.

“No, just go check up on Molly, would ya?”

“Molly’s fine, she’s watching Scooby Doo up in our room. I gave her some of those pills Dr. Gibson prescribed. She’ll probably sleep out the rest of the afternoon.”

“Dr. who?”

“Gibson. He’s Molly’s new doctor, I filled out all the paperwork last night.”

“Good. Well why don’t you put together a ham and Swiss for me then? You hungry, Dennis?”

“No, no, I’m good, thank you.”

“It’s no problem,” said Jennifer.

“That’s alright, I should get going. There is one thing I’d like to tell you folks before I get on my way. It uh, it’s been difficult for me to do this but I find if I just come right out and say it, maybe it’s easier to understand.”

“What is it?” asked Jed.

Dennis took a step back slightly, his eyes staring out toward the rows of corn stalks that sprawled for miles, swaying in the breeze like golden waves. “My full name is Dennis Arthur Crawford. I am required to stay at least two hundred meters from any educational institution where children are enrolled. I am also required by law to tell you that I am a convicted sex offender.” He said this as though it were a voicemail recording, never breaking his gaze on the afternoon horizon.

There was an extensive silence that sat heavily over the scene. Jed was unable to raise his head from the hole that stared up at him, the earthy walls crumbling at random intervals, the pebbles around the base being pushed slightly by the worms beneath. He was about to speak when Jennifer beat him to it.

“I want you to get the f**k away from our side of the property line,” she said, staring at the cardboard box.

“Honey, come on, please�"

“Just get the f**k away from us and get out of here. Don’t ever come back. If you come near my daughter I’ll get Jed to paint the f*****g shed with your goddamned brains, you hear me?”

“Jen, stop it.”

“Good day” Dennis said, turning to leave.

“Did you hear me? I said if I ever see you close to our house there’s gonna’ be another hole dug out here for you!”

Jed dropped his shovel, moving to his wife’s side and gripping her thin shoulders through the heavy cotton of the jacket. He held her close.

“I want a fence, Jed. I want to build a fence and put in a security system. I don’t want him ever coming near Molly you hear me? I’ll kill him myself if I have to.” Her words followed one another quickly, as though the sentences were crashing into one another. 

“Ok baby, it’s fine. Just hush now.”

“That prick realtor, he should’ve warned us. I’m gonna’ call his office right this minute…”

“It’s Sunday baby, his office is closed. I’ll call tomorrow, set him straight.”

She began letting long, muted sobs into the sleeve of the coat. She turned to him, her cheeks red and swollen from crying. “We got to protect her. She’s up there alone...”

With that, Jennifer broke their embrace, jogging frantically back to their house to check on Molly. Jed looked to Dennis’s property, watching him enter the side door of his garage and closing it behind him. Jed moved over to the box, lifting it from the base with his legs, the dead weight inside shifting slightly as he lowered it into the hole. He picked up the shovel and began filling in the grave, packing the dark earth in as tight as possible.


A month later Jed watched from his living room window as two large moving trucks pulled into the driveway next door. Molly lay on her side, flipping through a popup book and looking up at the cartoons blaring on the television above her. The movers began unloading boxes, and Jed watched a man step out of a black European car, dressed in black slacks, a yellow tie and a navy blue collared shirt. He removed the hanging For Sale sign from the end of the driveway, carrying it awkwardly to his trunk and placing it in.

            Jed turned back to the television in time to see Wile E. Coyote drop from the side of a cliff, his animated form plummeting toward the distant ground. Jed wondered if by law the real estate agent next door was required to explain to the new neighbours what had happened to the previous occupant. He wondered if they were required to know that Dennis Arthur Crawford strung himself up with an extension cord from the arched crossbeams of the garage.

            He looked for the remote which was missing from the side table. He dug a hand in between the cushions of the chesterfield, feeling a length of slick fabric that he pulled out.

            “Meep, Meep!” chirped Molly, rolling around on her back like an upturned turtle.

            “That’s right,” he said, fondling the ripped dog collar, his thumb rubbing the imprinted name on the bone shaped pendant. “That’s what the roadrunner says, honey.”  



© 2011 Joel McCarthy

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I found this to be quite interesting and well-written. All along, I wondered what more there might be to the dog's death. At the end, then, I saw how the old dog's one foul deed cursed it forever,as did Dennis's. The question then arises "Did either of them truly deserve such condemnation?" In my mind, I have to wonder. Apparently, Jed did, too.
I saw quite a few missing commas, and quit taking note of them after a while.
1)"I wanted to do it Jed.”--needs a comma after "it".
2)“She needed her Pa too.”--comma after "pa".
3)"neighbour"--is this an English spelling?
4)“He uh, well he’s gone so I’m giving..." comma after "gone".
5)"Crawford"Jed’ll fix it" famous WC buggaboo that turns dashes into quotation marks.

Posted 11 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


A melancholy tale, for sure - but told with wonderful descriptive and economic prose. The setting has a palpable sense of "rust" - things and people that are eroding. The characters, and their pain and guilt and turmoil - all very real. Even the dog's traits were authentic, and that authenticity kept the parallel with the "stray" human poignant instead of contrived. A fine, well-written, story.

Just a couple of suggestions:
First sentence - it really almost works as is, but has one pronoun too many, I think, and that creates a little confusion. "Bit her" could possibly be "Bit Molly" ? I like the style of the sentence, but I think it needs a tweak.

"The afternoon brought with it a November wind..." I would consider changing to "The afternoon brought a November wind" because the next paragraph/sentence starts with "With." Probably purely a style preference, but the word repetition stuck out for me.

Great work.

Posted 11 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This is an intelligent, thoughtful piece, well conceived and well written. You develop your characters well and your visuals are good. Your style is easy to read, with no pretension or unnecessary use of flowery language. I think you are a really good writer, my only complaint being the distraction of so many missed commas. Comma placement can sometimes be difficult, but most of them here are violations of common rules for their use. I recommend revisiting the rules for their use and your work will be much more pleasant to read for us purists.

Here are a few suggestions/corrections...

That first sentence confused me. I had to read it a few times before figuring out it was a dog doing the biting. My first thought was actually, "Oh God, another vampire story." Maybe I just haven't had enough coffee yet this morning, but I would say, "The night the dog bit her..."

“Does it hurt?” Who is saying that? Is he saying it to himself? I had to stop and re-read around it to see if there was someone else there with him. Any time the reader has to stop and search for answers isn't a good thing.

"He tossed marker back into the cluttered drawer." Tossed THE marker. I have to say, the end of this paragraph did not advance your story and didn't appear to have any purpose. I'm curious why you felt it was necessary to include the whole marker thing.

"He let his eyes fall over the property, seeing for the first time this view from the back of the house." The start of this sentence feels really awkward and contrived to me. Why not just "He looked over the property..."

“Oh S**t, I’m sorry." No need to capitalize "s**t". There should be a comma after "Oh" as well. Any time you start a sentence with Oh or Yeah or Well, etc., there should be a comma. You should check through your document because you haven't used a comma in this situation most of the way through.

“We got a daughter too." Comma after daughter. Any time you use "too" to mean "also", there should be a comma before and after it.

“They’d be seventeen and twenty one now." Hyphenate twenty-one.

"What do you do out here Mr. Crawford?” Comma after here. Another comma rule...always before and after calling someone by name in dialogue.

"Jed look passed Dennis..." Should be past.

"I’m sorry Mr. Crawford"Jed’ll fix it up for you as soon as possible.” Comma after sorry. The WC server changes dashes to " for some unknown reason. When you edit it, the dash will stay though.

"You hungry Dennis?” Comma after hungry.

“No, no I’m good thank you.” Commas after no and good.

“Well, okay. What is it Dennis?” Comma after it.

"I am also required by law to tell you that I am convicted sex offender.” "...that I am A convicted..."

“Honey, come on"” Looks like this is that dash issue again.

“Good day folks,” Dennis said, turning to leave. Comma after day.

“I want a fence Jed." Comma after fence.

A good story, Joel, one you can be proud of!

Posted 11 Years Ago

0 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I found this to be quite interesting and well-written. All along, I wondered what more there might be to the dog's death. At the end, then, I saw how the old dog's one foul deed cursed it forever,as did Dennis's. The question then arises "Did either of them truly deserve such condemnation?" In my mind, I have to wonder. Apparently, Jed did, too.
I saw quite a few missing commas, and quit taking note of them after a while.
1)"I wanted to do it Jed.”--needs a comma after "it".
2)“She needed her Pa too.”--comma after "pa".
3)"neighbour"--is this an English spelling?
4)“He uh, well he’s gone so I’m giving..." comma after "gone".
5)"Crawford"Jed’ll fix it" famous WC buggaboo that turns dashes into quotation marks.

Posted 11 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

nicely done, mano.

i'd be interested in knowing why jed is so sympathetic, to an almost guilty extent, when it comes to the deaths of the dog & neighbor.

you do a wonderful job at keeping a hard, sharp edge while subtly giving your character depth & a big, albeit quiet, heart.


Posted 11 Years Ago

Interesting story. The dialogue is well done and may do the best job of giving a setting and location to the reader.

I liked how the story seemed centered around the dog only to be suddenly overshadowed by Dennis and his story.

Interesting to note that when Dennis reveals something one would consider a secret, albeit one he is legally obliged to tell, Jed is in a way, burying and keeping a smaller secret from Dennis.

Dennis comes across, even after his reveal, as a sympathetic character. Before we know about him, he's okay with Jed digging on his property, he's polite and his conversation with Jed seems kind and casual.

One other thing I noticed, is that in both instances of death in this story, Jed seems the more sympathetic, opting for a less painful death for Squire and not being hostile to Dennis. While both times, Jen is very aggressive, and could be considered the cause, or at least a catalyst to both deaths. Both the dog and Dennis also harmed or had the potential to harm Molly for what it's worth.

Posted 11 Years Ago

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6 Reviews
Added on October 12, 2010
Last Updated on April 8, 2011


Joel McCarthy
Joel McCarthy

Mississauga, Canada

My name is Joel McCarthy and I write. Some of work has been published in magazines like PRISM International, The Feathertale Review, and Macabre Cadaver. I'll review whatever work I find that is polis.. more..


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