Drawing of a dirt road through underbrush and a stand of gum trees. Caption reads: "I don't like dirt roads."

Mulch short story by Iris Carden

I don’t like dirt roads when I heard I’d have to drive an hour on a dirt road for this unofficial pick-up, I upped the price to fifteen thousand in cash. That extra five thousand was the hearse was going to get knocked around on a rough road, and would have to be washed when I got back. A hearse costs a lot more than a regular car.

The site was a cattle station. Great. I like big animals as much as I like dirt roads.

I got out of the car and was joined by three dogs and a small woman with skin like tanned leather and huge muscles. She clearly did a lot of the outdoor work herself, and didn’t bother with sunblock.

“It’s my husband,” she said.

“I don’t want to know who it is or how it happened,” I said. “Just give me the cash and show me the body.”

She handed over the bundle of notes, then led me across two large paddocks. I watched my feet as we walked. I really didn’t want my shoes in any of the many cowpats, or to trip on the uneven ground. I had no idea how I was meant to push a gurney across it.

Finally, we came to an area where a number of trees had been cut down. There was a huge wood chipper, with a pile of wood chips, sprayed with blood and gore on one side, and a headless man slumped on the other side.

She could have reported it as a farm accident, one of many that happen each year. Instead she found someone who referred her to me. People have all kinds of reasons why they want to hide deaths, and I really don’t want to know what those reasons are. Reasons aren’t my business.

“Why not just push the rest of him through?” I asked. “There’s already a mess to clean up, it wouldn’t make it much worse.”

Despite the tan, I could see her going pale. “I couldn’t do that,” she practically whispered.

“I could,” I said. “Turn it on and look the other way if you need to.”

She turned it on, and I fed the body through.

“Are we far enough from the trees to light the wood chips on fire safely?” I asked.

“If we’re really careful. I’ll get the water sprayers and some wet sacks in case it spreads,” she’d regained her country practicality.

She went to get the gear while I ran a couple more branches through the chipper, so any last bits of the body were moved along and out. Then I moved the chipper further away from the pile. No reason to waste an expensive piece of equipment.

She brought two backpack style sprayers full of water and two wet sacks for beating out flames, along with a can of petrol.

I poured the fuel over the wood chip pile and set it alight. We watched it burn, putting out any spot fires if bits fell out. Fortunately it was a mild winter and there’d been recent rains, so we were able to keep the fire contained. We couldn’t have done this in the summer.

“Do you do this kind of thing often?” she asked.

I didn’t answer. It wasn’t her business.

While you’re here…

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.

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