What the Highway Prefers by Elliott Simpson

‘Oh friend of mine, gaze upon what fine bounty the highway has blessed upon us!’ James held the pair of plastic-wrapped sandwiches high up in the air, as if they were ancient relics. The combination of his well-worn clothes and his theatrical tone created the illusion that he was some sort of prophet.

Roger looked upon from the fire, frowning involuntarily, expectant of disappointment. Something flickered in his eyes as he spotted what his friend was holding. He dropped the charred stick he was playing with and went to meet him.

James allowed his friend to snatch the sandwiches from his hands, smiling and laughing, patiently waiting for praise. Roger sniffled from his cold and looked over the supermarket packaging carefully, expecting a penetration of some sort. The process was long and silent.

‘Where’d you find these?’ he said.

‘Why does that matter?’ said James, smile faltering. ‘They’re good, they’re fresh. I checked them over endlessly on the walk back and now so have you.’

Roger looked up, piercing his companion with a stony gaze. ‘On the walk back from where?’

‘I came across a car, about fifteen minutes down the road. There was no one about and the sandwiches were just sat on the driver’s seat. So I thought “why not?”’

Roger sighed. ‘”Why not”? How many times have we been over this? There are so many reasons “why not”.’ He paced across the empty tarmac road and then back again. ‘How are we supposed to know if they’re tainted or not? How are we to know if they’re safe?’

‘Roger, the packaging…’

‘…Is not damaged, yes, I know that. That doesn’t mean anything though.’ He combed his fingers through his hair. ‘Look, I know you were looking forward to these but I’m gonna have to burn them. You don’t know how much I’d kill for a ham sandwich right now, but we’re not going to take any chances.’

He walked over to the fire, dangling the sandwiches above it. It’d been so many days since they’d eaten. He could feel his stomach beginning to gnaw away at itself. The longer he held them there, the more his will began to weaken.

‘Wait, come on,’ said James. ‘What if… What if I took you to the car and let you check it out? Maybe they just, I don’t know, went to get a bit of air, maybe they’re fine?’

The more Roger looked at the sandwiches the more the imagined taste of them began to develop in his mouth. His tongue and mouth quivered with delight at the thought of being united with such a flavour.

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘We’ll have a look.’

As the car came into view, James’ face grew tenser. Roger had allowed him to hold the sandwiches, but he knew that if he ate any of them without permission his friend would leave him. He would rather starve than that.

The vehicle gained definition as they grew closer, morphing from a black-ish blob into a jeep. Roger eyed it carefully, his gaze darting from one part to another. He paced around the vehicle, taking note of the bumper stickers, and then stopped at the window closest to the driver’s seat.

‘Did you leave it as you found it?’ he said to James.

‘Yes, exactly.’

‘The doors weren’t open?’

‘No.’ There was a stutter in James’ voice. Roger had known him long enough to know that it was because he was hungry, not because he was lying.

Roger opened the door and glanced around. Its inside was cold. Whoever owned the car hadn’t been in it recently. He patted his hand on the driver’s seat, ‘This is where you found them?’

‘Yes, right there.’

Roger squinted his eyes and looked carefully over each corner of the car. He pulled his head out and turned back to his friend, a smile creeping in from the corner of his lips.

‘Safe,’ he said, almost laughing. ‘I think they’re safe.’

James chuckled and patted his friend on the back. ‘I told you, I told you! I knew they were fine.’

His friend took one of the sandwiches from his hands and slumped down onto the grass. ‘I know, you were right. We just need to be extra careful with this sort thing because you never know…’ His voice trailed off and his eyes fixed on something further down the highway. James frowned at his friend and then looked towards what had caught his attention. His mouth opened involuntarily.

They walked speedily down the road and Roger picked it up. A small bow, meant for a child, stained red with blood. It felt sticky and warm in his hands. A small pool of the red liquid stained the road.

James looked at it with frozen horror. ‘Maybe the parents just…’ He didn’t know what he wanted to say, so he stopped. There was nothing left to say, nothing would fix the situation. He looked off into the forest that sat close to the highway, the place the car had pulled up alongside. James sighed long and deep.

They burned the sandwiches that night.