Once You Break A Knuckle: Stories
D. W. Wilson
The Dead Roads

“The Dead Roads” is from D. W. Wilson’s collection Once You Break A Knuckle: Stories (Bloomsbury ).  The story won the 2011 BBC Short Story Award, and it was acclaimed by the jury as “note perfect” and “perfectly constructed.” Wilson’s tale of two friends trying to win the affections of a girl in the middle of a road-trip through a gothic landscape is a masterpiece of tension and understatement.  The Sunday Times called the collection in which the story appears:  “Hugely accomplished.”


Wilson is the recipient of the University of East Anglia’s inaugural Man Booker Prize Scholarship. His stories have appeared in literary magazines in Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, including Southword.  In 2011 his story was also shortlisted for the CBC Short Story Prize and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. He lives in London.


Wilson said this about the origin of his story:  In 2008 I embarked on a roundtrip south on the I5 from Vancouver to Los Angeles and back in five days, me and my ex-fiancee and my best friend J.B. who owned a purple Volkswagen Beetle that shook if he exceeded seventy kilometers an hour.


At American highway speeds it felt like barreling down a wind tunnel in a paper bag. Our plan: camp in the rest stops that dot that great motorway, touch foot in L.A. and retreat. I was moving to England in six days. On day three we stopped at this abandoned amusement park and pitched tent beneath a ferris wheel overgrown with lichen. I don’t know if I’ll ever forget it, the seesaw of that ancient kids’ ride and only a thin membrane of polycotton between us and its otherworldy squeals.


At some point in the night, drunk on stupidly cheap booze, J.B. left the tent and made a fire and passed out beside it, and come morning I found him slickened with dew and so cold his teeth chattered well beyond dinner time. Fast forward one year and I was single and J.B. had moved to the border of the Yukon. Thus in the remnants of that trip was “The Dead Roads” born.

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