A short story (fiction) by Claude Pigeon

The stink of the shed hung heavy and stuck to him and he fought back the urge to vomit. The din of thousands of flies mixed with the night sounds; frogs, night birds, distant coyotes. He moved slowly as the hanging pelts brushed against his face and head. Underfoot, the blood soaked floor boards were greasy and sticky. The cool night air mixed fog and dampness with the stench of death and decay. On the other side of the weathered clapboards, curls of fog diffused the moon glow and cast an iridescent pale. Unseen but heard, the rats scurried away as he advanced through the shed. A heavy drum overflowing with carcasses forced him to skinny up against the rough sawn framing and deteriorating clapboards.
Finally he reached the end of the shed. From the shelves and racks there came a new smell. It was the smell of clean metal and oil and it told him that he had reached his target. He slipped a heavy leather belt through the jaws of as many as he thought he could carry. They nearly fell to the floor as he slung the load over his shoulder. Carefully, he made his way back through the shed following the same grimy stinking path and the urge to throw up followed him out the door.
His F-150 shone in the moonlight and with some difficulty, he quietly let down the tailgate. Struggling with the weight of his load, he gently laid it into the bed of his pickup. For a moment, he allowed himself to rest and catch his breath. Still fighting the urge to throw up, he reentered the shed to get another load. Six times he went back until the shelves and the racks were cleaned out.
He considered the value of each of the pieces he had stolen and determined that he was committing felony theft. Not much chance he’d ever do time, but it could get messy, not that he really cared much. Grief is a very powerful motivator and has a way of masking reality and altering conscious thought. Grief and anger combined can allow a perfectly reasonable man to behave in a totally unreasonable fashion.
Take away that which a man loves the most and he has nothing to fear, nothing to lose because the worst has happened and there is nothing more.
With the last load placed in the Ford, Mason got into the cab and put it in gear. The fog swirled in his wake and the gravel crunched noisily under his wheels as he headed to the Tingsdale Swamp
Darkness and fog obscured the surface of the water but each item thrown resounded with a satisfying plop and the swamp, normally a busy place at night, grew quiet. The effort of hurling heavy steel as far into the muddy quagmire as he could, tore at the ligaments of his arms and was exhausting. When at last the final one was thrown, he collapsed onto his bumper and sat still. He ached all over. After a while, the anger gradually shifted to sadness. He felt so empty and alone.
He had taken it real hard when Norma passed. All those months of tenderly tending to her, watching her suffer, seeing her waste away were just a blur now. After nearly 41 years she was suddenly gone… just like that, GONE! It had been two years and he and ol’ Simon managed each day, going through the motions, adjusting to the change. Then, a few days ago, ol’ Simon disappeared.

When ol’ Simon had been missing for a few hours, Mason went off searching but came back alone. He assumed that ole’ Simon had caught a scent of something interesting and would be back soon enough. He was very alarmed, however, when he woke up the following morning and Simon was not at the back door. For the next three days, he did nothing but drive the backroads looking for his only friend in the world. He was weary, distressed and desperate to find ol’ Simon.
Driving slowly down Sumac Road and scanning both sides very carefully, at first he didn’t notice the swarm of flies where the swamp bordered the road. When he got closer, they got his attention.
Simon was covered with mud and was hardly visible. He had struggled long and hard before exhaustion ended his effort and drowning ended his life. The mud on the embankment had been deeply excavated by ol’ Simon’s effort to pull himself free and was mixed with his blood where he had ripped out his claws trying to get loose of the trap. He had suffered greatly and died an unmerciful death.
Mason’s heart cried for mercy when he looked down on the swarm of flies and saw his old friend. All those years of companionship, the shared days walking in the woods, hunting rabbits and birds, fishing the river… gone. The tears flowed freely and he let out an agonized scream, there on the banks of the beaver pond. It was heard only by the startled forest dwellers.

Trappers are required by law to have an ID tag on their traps. They are also required to check their traps every 24 hours. It was obvious to Mason that Simon had been trapped and dying for considerably longer. The tag indicated that the tap belonged to Aldrich Ferguson. In a small community, everyone knows everyone and Mason had a passing acquaintance with Aldrich. Mason considered many possibilities including taking on Aldrich. In his heart, as broken as it was, he knew he could not exchange a man’s life for a dog’s. Mason thought “maybe, I can’t take his life, but I can take his living”… and a plan began to take shape.
The morning sun was burning through the ground fog and the birds were singing in the new day when Mason finally stood up. For several hours, he had been dreaming of his youth, of his lovely and loving wife, of hunting trips with ol’ Simon and all the other dogs before him. His wife was gone after some terrible suffering. His dog was gone after some terrible suffering. Now, he was just a tired and lonely man, not old, no longer young either.
In the process of living, one collects burdens. In the same way that a body tires of pulling stones or cutting wood, a soul also tires. Losses, failures, disappointment… all the casualties of life wear a good soul down and a soul can just get tuckered out. Sometimes, all of that burden can be focused on just one event, a catharsis of the soul!
Feeling a little better, Mason turned back onto the gravel road and headed home.