The Racoon’s Final Swoon (copyright 2005)

Feeling she was finally safe, the racoon shinnied down the oak trunk and found herself once again in the security of the forest floor. She had nursed her sore nose, grazed by a camper’s black leather boot, and her biting eyes that had been lashed by the boot’s whipping lace, for a good long time, and now the first small swarm of a new day’s light appeared and she was plenty hungry. She was also confused. She should have a full belly by now, should be savoring a well deserved sleepiness, should be on her way to her lair to smack her lips as loud as she wanted and to lie down luxuriously for a nice undisturbed slumber. Instead, she was hungry and a bit dispirited. In this her favorite campground she had never been treated with such meanness before. Children merrily chasing her with squirt guns, leashed dogs lunging comically, some people sending halfhearted kicks in her direction — those were the kinds of threats she had to deal with, playful threats mostly, made by campers actually delighted with any wildlife they encountered, especially cute little guys like her and her kin, and of course, the black squirrel and the deer.

She looked toward the row of tents standing like craggy warts on the wooded slope and considered a last forage before sunrise, but recalling the hostility she’d encountered only a few hours earlier she elected to turn around and make her way back to her own shelter under some thick deadfall on a comforting sandy dune overlooking the great lake. Probably she’d find some nice tart wild grapes along the way, and she knew where lay the remains of a small bag of garbage she had hauled away and hidden a couple of nights ago for just such an emergency. Heh heh, she was one smart raccoon all right.

Lumbering quietly under the soft ferns on her skinny legs, she was making good time until her hearing was shattered by a sudden barking noise and a vicious snarl from behind and another series of barks in the other direction between her and her lair. Her heart stopped and then leaped into a furious pumping and she ran mindlessly to the safety of her lair where the dog, a large and barely distinct form, crouched surprised and delighted. As she swerved the dog grabbed her and she felt its teeth clamp down on her neck and she felt herself rise from the ground and fly briefly. She smacked something hard, a tree trunk, and bounced off and lay stunned for a moment before one of the dogs, she couldn’t tell which, of course, lay claim again to her neck. But this time, alert now, she drew on every defensive resource she possessed, teeth and claws and speed of movement and her weight and her chilling caterwaul and she broke loose and lashed at her attacker until it yelped and withdrew. But not far. It stood and stared at her, panting, and suddenly there were two of them looking at her, assessing her. She returned their stare, her awl-sharp teeth bared, breathing hard too but ready for a fight. She knew she could take one of them without too much of a problem, but, because she had never before faced two such powerful adversaries, the second one frightened her. Probably she could make short work of the one, but two? On top of that concern, she now became aware of intense pain shooting through the back of her neck, into her shoulder and down one of her front legs.

She heard a snarl from one of the dogs. In the billowing dawn she could see it, a big hairy thing with sharp ears and short dark hair and eyes that seemed to burn red. That was the one she focused on. It snarled again and she bravely answered, her voice shrill and frightening and eerie. The dogs backed up a step or two and she repeated her raccoon epithet. But her bravado faded when she saw the big dark one dip into a nasty looking crouch and lower its ears. Its teeth glared and its distorted black gums quivered as it took its first slinking steps toward her. The other dog, black faced and mottled like a rotting log, moved to the side, its head turned toward her, preparing to attack from the flank. The raccoon snarled in a low tone this time, her voice raspy and deep and whiney, as if saying Hey guys, come on. That’s enough guys, huh? Hey guys.

A tree stood a few feet away and she sprang for it and grabbed on and began desperately to climb but something sharp and heavy grabbed her hind leg just above the midjoint and pilled hard. Against a rush of pain she tried to clamber up the slippery bark, she lost her grip and fell and as she hit the ground rolling and tumbling she she felt the second dogs mouth on her throat, bringing her to a sudden stop and holding her down, the first still pulling on her leg. She tried to thrash but the weight of the dog on her neck held her like a burial stone and she felt her leg break like a stick and heard the crack at the same time, and the dog freed her now useless leg for a moment only before she felt its mout around her haunch, the teeth digging in and pulling hard again, tearing her meat. That’s when the second dog, sensing her relinquishment, released her throat in favor of her loin, sinking down into it and pulling with the ferocity and rage of a snaggled tempest. At this point all the pain she had felt coalesced into a numbing black cloud beshrouding her like a heavy blow frozen in time, she could no longer fight or resist at all, she could only thrash in the limited way her body allowed under the weight of the dogs. And she could shriek. Unfortunately no shriek from her gurgling throat could save her, none could call forth help, and in fact none could be heard above the greedy snarling of her ferocious killers. And then she felt things snap in her side and haunch like a heavy rubber band breaking as flesh separated from her flesh, and suddenly the heavy force was gone as the dogs retreated and the pain returned and filled her like a jolt of electricity that charred her entire being.

Mercifully, her pain was now so pervasive that, like Guido eternally consumed by his flame, her nervous system no longer distinguished it from nonpain, it was just there, like her fur, so she watched impassively as the dogs returned and chomped rudely on her meat, saw the bone and torn flesh of her bedraggled leg and the pink of her intestine sagging in the dirt. She managed to turn her head and, summoning all her remaining strength, she forced her torn shoulder muscles to activate her front legs and pull her body forward a few inches. But with the movement came a nasty growl and she felt the force of another hammer blow on her shank, her body shook raggedly as the dog dragged her backward, its own head shaking as it worked to separate meat from meat. Then she fell, she let out another low raspy sound, it might have been Oh ooo ow. Jeez guys, that’s enough, huh? Come on guys. Oh jeez it hurts. Oh jeez. That’s enough now, okay? But it wasn’t. The other one leaped at her, had her by the throat, shook her like a hairy dimestore toy, his buddy joined in the game, and when they were done they spat out what was left and silently ran away.

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