Raccoon


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4 min
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Image of Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
The farm manager called at quarter to twelve with a request. The conversation concluded with the buzz of a dial tone, and the two laborers sat momentarily in silence.

One was a man of about 40, though he appeared much older than the number of his years would imply, his face weathered and creased, terminally red from years of field work and budget liquor. The other was a student, still closer to child than adult, and though he would not wish it that way, his spotty strands of facial hair only emphasized his acne, and his youth.

The old man called an early lunch, partly procrastinating, but more realistically knowing neither he or the boy would have an appetite after. No rifle was kept in the grounds shed, and both quietly hoped the task would be deferred to a more adequately equipped outfit.

The raccoon sat on the side of the road, where it had sat since the gray hours of the early morning, beady eyes peering from the matted rushes that limped out from the edges of crumbling pavement.

With lunch concluded, the pair sidled into the old department Dodge, and with the stutter of the ignition, began their journey out.

“Shit that’s no good.” The old man slowed the truck to a near stop as he eyed the thing. “I’ll bet you the fucker got hit.”

“Really?”

There was no blood visible on the creature.

“Maybe it’s rabid.”

“Naw.”

The raccoon stared, eyeing them.

“Mmhm. Hit. You see that?”

The old man pointed in the direction of it with his cigarette, the words coming from his mouth in soft bursts of smoke. He was right. Beneath the muzzle, blood had pooled around the creature’s chin, and dribbled in a trail down its stomach, caked with dirt in clumps of fur.

They sat in the truck, drinking coffee. Being complimentary of the company, it was weak and smelled faintly of piss, but in the absence of a functioning heater, it was the best option available to ward off such sunless January days. The old one took a crumpled package of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, shaking out a half-butt and tobacco guts down his front. He threw the empty pack on the dash and dropped his head on the steering wheel. He rested there for a minute, before lifting his head and rubbing the back of his neck as he gazed out the driver’s window. He turned back to the wheel, scratching the back of his head.

The raccoon held its position on the roadside. It remained still, watching the pair through the windows.
“Let’s go. Out. I think we still got a shovel in the bed.”

The old man grabbed his cap and pushed the door open, and hopped out of the truck. The younger followed, swinging his boots to the ground, stumbling on the frozen tillage as he scurried around the bed and over to the man.

“Are you sure we need to kill the thing? If it’s going to die, let it. It hasn’t moved all
day—”

“I know.” He paused and looked off in the distance. “Fuck, I wish they’d just come down here and shoot it.”

Over the bed of the truck they could see the raccoon, its gaze fixed upon the pair.

“I was always raised that you don’t kill animals. Hunting, fishing—I don’t fuck with none of that. But if it’s going to suffer long, you just gotta end it. Grab that shovel. I want you to distract the thing, and I’ll come up behind it.” The old man had pulled out a small hatchet, and was wiping the blade on his jeans. “Just let me finish this, and we’ll take care of it.”

He tossed his butt on the ground, and with the toe of his boot, rubbed the embers into the brittle earth for good measure. The boy took the shovel and faced the raccoon. He began swaying the shovel head across the dirt, and the creature remained still, keeping its eyes upon the boy.

The old man circled behind it, hatchet in hand, squatting as he inched closer. He looked as if he would strike it from behind, between the ears, but backed off, and made a sorry throw; the blunt edge of the hatchet struck the raccoon’s haunches before bouncing to the dirt. It squealed, and limped off between the craters of tilled dirt, to the small creek fed by run-off grates.

He took his time walking to retrieve the hatchet, and knelt slowly to grasp it from the crags of soil. He started down to the creek, following the raccoon at a distance. The thing would stop every few feet to breathe, heaving and wheezing while blood and spittle bubbled from its mouth.

The pair stopped when it did, and stood, staring at the dirt, as the creature watched them. It continued down through the brush to the creek, and was beginning up a tree when the old man pulled the shovel from the boy’s hand.

He began to swat at the animal as it limped up the tree, finally connecting to send it tumbling down to the bank, where it flopped about in the current, only to drift onto a silty dune. The footsteps came, crashing through the water, great booming splashes slopping the creek upon itself.

The hatchet struck the creature’s skull with a sound like splitting kindling, the first stroke dull and full, followed by a hollow percussion, and then the third—silent, save for the splash of the limp body in the current as the head of the hatchet lodged itself in the mire of tissue and cerebral fluid .

They stood there. The old man was wiping the shit off his face. He reached into his shirt pocket instinctively, and muttered “fuck”.

“Go up to the truck and grab the bucket from the bed.”
The boy returned with the bucket and set it on the stream bed, as the man came up with the raccoon, head split and its eyes dangling in their sockets from either side of the shovel’s edge. He let it fall in the pail, and handed back the shovel, and they made their way back to the truck.

The boy drove the truck back, down to the hole the dairy hands had christened the “pit”, which was no more than a shoddily excavated crater, 40 feet across and 20 feet deep behind the calf barns. The only real purpose it served was in providing a place to dump cows post-mortem, far enough removed from the commercial operations to escape the gaze of any government regulator. Even in winter the stench of rot hung heavy, and no depth of gravel could contain the rancid scent of calve carcasses in the earth.

“Watch it—”

The old man’s voice came tumbling over the radio and car heater, the first he’d spoke since his business with the hatchet. “You’re getting too close to the stalls.”

The calves squealed and brayed frantically as they scuttled back, rattling their necks from the pen rails and knocking their asses together, trying to escape the hay dust and stone that spewed out from the tires.
The destination reached, the old man stepped down to fetch the pail from the bed. He gave the bucket a shake to loose the creature from the cramped quarters, and heaved it into the muddy abyss. They left, went to the wash station to rinse off. The pressure from the spicket made the water foam a rusty crimson, murky with blood and fur and bits of sod.

The old man dumped the first fill out onto the pavement, and they stood silently, watching the bucket’s contents run like cold syrup down the storm sieve, the traces of diluted blood only recognizable in the frothing iridescence that lingered on the grate.
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