The Coyote is wearing a sheered mink and a coonskin cap purloined from some kid’s toy box on Valley Forge Lane. Not the sheered mink, the coonskin cap. The sheered mink was taken at tooth point from The Director of Fairfield Indigents Need Caring Support (FINCS) at the top of Greenwich Avenue. He tried on her Jimmy Choos but they made him look like a bedraggled drag queen and he hadn’t worked up the courage to come out yet. But still, gold metallic, $675 retail… maybe he should go back. Nah. The 4.7 inch heel would drop him on his ass, shoeless back paws notwithstanding. He straightens himself up on his barstool, fluffs his tail out from under the coat and adjusts the cap. His ears stick out at an odd angle but there isn’t much he can do about it; the cap was made for a kid’s head, not a coyote. Either way, he looks fiiiiiinnnne and he knows it.
The Squadron of Raccoons scatters into cliquish groups at small, intimate tables and start ordering Appletinis which served in martini glasses have always posed a minor logistical problem, but two paws on the stem is more elegant than one green drink puddled on the table. The more inclusive groups start pushing tables together; their ears barely clearing the table tops, tiny paws fiercely scrunched into medieval tools. A handful of outcasts sit a few seats off from the Coyote. The one with his 30 day chip is on his third Virgin Cuba Libre. His wife is licking spilled Appletini off the long white stripe of a barely legal male. He can smell her from all the way across the room. Nora Jones comes on the Juke Box. He reaches across the bar, shovels a handful of limes into his mouth and starts chewing.
The Honey badger stands in the doorway, barely across the threshold. He is considering his life and wonders if now is the time to throw himself into the pit of a full blown midlife crisis or maybe he’s there anyway; tossed down the hole by his family, ostensibly into a brave new world, Aldous Huxley style except he doesn’t think he parents actually read the book. He ran from country to country; from Tanzania to Zambia and Zimbabwe down to Botswana and finally back up to Angola where they caught up with him on the coast. Despite working with PBS to create the documentary ‘Masters of Mayhem’ in an attempt to make up for his 2012 ‘Honey Badger Don’t Care: Randall’s Guide to Nastyass Animals’ fiasco, the family matriarch had plans for his nastyass self and he wasn’t slipping the marital noose this time. Bonds were to be forged across the Atlantic and it was his turn in the barrel.
A weasel. A common Long-tailed Mustela frenata with an average life span of 3 – 5 years in the wild, probably less given her inbreeding. Royal weasels tend to keep to themselves and Miranda (what sort of name is MIRANDA?) was a pure white, super smooth, silky tailed, pink-eyed albino, nastyass bitch of a six month old perfect example of over the top entitlement. At some point he intended to eat her for breakfast, sulk for a year or two and catch the first boat home. He might have done that if he hadn’t been 99% certain that his great-grandmother would have met him on the docks, torn his jugular open to the sky, and dumped his corpse unceremoniously into the quay.
He didn’t really understand Fairfield County. There were thousands of acres of untouched forest, marsh and open water running right into something resembling the sea. It ought to be bloody paradise, should be 72 virgins for every Honey badger under the sun and a good fight each time except it wasn’t. Miranda’s forest, once he finally found it (couldn’t smell a DAMN thing around here under all that odd scent those people were wearing) was teeming with overfed, underworked, utterly entitled ‘wildlife’ with almost zero
sense of self preservation. He considered eating his way to Miranda’s den but decided first impressions might matter after all or at least get back to the Matriarch.
At the end of 30 days he seriously considered feeding himself to one of the local dogs but didn’t think he could go through with it; there was no way he could keep himself from eviscerating the dog in the first 12 seconds. He attempted to drown himself in the reservoir but kept floating back to the surface every time he lost consciousness. He searched fruitlessly for rat poison but people seemed to go out of their way to protect just about everything from including the insects burrowing into the sides of their own dens. It was preposterous. Eventually he found himself standing on the side of State Road 53 in front of rush hour traffic trying to decide on a car or a cyclist. A car would squash him flat in 2 seconds. It would be over in an instant; but taking out a cyclist, while painful would provide one last moment of pleasure in what had become an unbearable existence.
He heard the not so subtle movement in the bushes of a wild animal not at risk and gave it a mostly disinterested glance. The coyote sat down to his right a little too close for comfort and coughed. He was wearing a fur coat and what looked like a dead animal on his head. His cough had a slight affect and he covered the front of his snout with his paw and said, ‘I don’t think fucking up rush hour traffic is going to solve anyone’s problems and it’s not going to make Miranda happy and when Miranda’s not happy, ain’t NOBODY happy, so would you please reconsider?’
Honey badger considered the implications of where this conversation was headed and made another snap decision to not consume coyote snout today. Maybe tomorrow. ‘Why do you have anything to do with Miranda? Why do I care that you have anything to do with Miranda? Why do I care what Miranda thinks? All I need to do is Knock her up a couple of times, create a super race, assuming she lives through it and doesn’t eat the litter and then I’m out of here. Miranda said so. Well, she didn’t say I couldn’t. She didn’t profess undying love for me. Hell, she hasn’t so much glanced in my general direction. I assume she’ll present her hind quarters when she’s good and ready.’
‘By the way, why are you wearing that coat and why is there a dead animal on your head?’
Frank moved his stuff into Roger’s den in the morning. ‘Just, I’m not gay, dude, OK? I just can’t live in that, that, place anymore.’
‘Totally understood and today you’re going to meet the MacDairmid clan. They’re the best foragers in the forest and they have a problem you may be able to solve.’
Up until 2007 the MacDairmid clan ruled 2,200 acres unopposed. Their only natural predator, the coyote had been so overfed on the small dog and cat buffet for so many generations the very thought of having to chase a raccoon more than 20 feet was distressing enough and had they considered the slightly rancid taste, at least half of them might have considered a vegan lifestyle; after all, it’s supposed to be MUCH better for you and might take off a few pounds in the process. You eat a few too many fat kitties, you end up with a few spare tires around the middle, a fat face and your mate takes up with a two year old just out of the home den.
The MacDairmid clan lived mostly on garbage and cat food but were periodically fed by the well-meaning wives of investment bankers and lost cubs were routinely pampered in well heated kitchens before being turned over to Animal Control and released back into the forest. When the chicken buffet arrived a high holy day was declared and all members of the MacDairmid clan from the entire 2,200 acres put aside generation old feuds and gathered at the edge of the property line. The council met for three straight nights until a plan was in place. The chickens would not be taken all at once. This had happened before. Tribal knowledge agreed that Urban Chicken People scared easily and if you ate all the chickens at once they were likely to close up shop and never come back again. It was best to pick them off one at a time until the end of the season, leaving just two or three to see through the winter. Tribal knowledge suggested Urban Chicken People considered this an acceptable loss and would replace the chickens each spring.
The fuck up was immediate and nearly deadly. Two cubs wandered over the property line, lifted the top of the coop and climbed in with the feast of six and proceeded to play with dinner. Nobody had any idea where the kits had got off too and nobody even CONSIDERED the little bastards would be stupid enough to head onto the meal plan.
The man came out at dusk to check the birds and close the small door. He lifted to top hatch and looked down at two kits staring back at him. The guy was clueless. He lifted each kit gently and placed it back on the other side of the fence and went back in the house. The kits were interrogated by the council. Were you poisoned? Were you hurt? Questioned? Did you give up the plan? Did you talk? We can’t talk to people, what the hell are you going on about? Did you BITE the man? Uh, no. He was cool, we were cool, it was all good.
So why weren’t you eating the chickens? We weren’t hungry and they were kind of cool.
THEY WERE KIND OF COOL?!!! THEY’RE DINER, YOU MORONS!!!
And thus began the chicken wars. The man got smart. His wife may have clued him in. Also, the weasels found out and burrowed under the coop and ate from the ground up. A new coop was ordered and fencing erected. A giant dog arrived and was periodically let loose in the middle of the night but they always made it to the edge of the electric fence before he came to a screeching halt, the woman calling him back. It got harder to get at the girls but still possible. A challenge was something new. Better than free garbage, better than chewing the shingles off the sides of houses when the cat food wasn’t left out on time, better than the occasional dead cat in the road, dragged back to the marsh and parceled out chunk by stinking chunk.
One night they discovered cat food on the screened porch. Idiot. Seriously? They learn to lock up the chickens but think we can’t tear out a porch screen? They went to town, reconnaissance troops sent up the wall and in through the small hole four at a time until they realized an entire bag had been left out, open to the night, an offering from the gods. The entire squadron waited on the deck as the raccoons went up in pairs as if to dine by romantic candle light.
At 5 AM the porch light went on and the door slid open. Thirty deck raccoons froze in horror. Two porch raccoons went numb. The man pointed a long black stick at the porch raccoon eating from the bag while the second edged her way toward the wrong side of the screen. She scuttled up the side and froze, looking back at her mate. A loud pop went off, her mate fell over and a mouthful of cat food coughed out onto the floor. A pool of black stuff spread out around his head. She stared at the man as he calmly worked at the back end of the stick. The stick came back up and she closed her eyes.
Periodically a rogue raccoon went over the fence and stole a chicken or a chicken went over the fence and wandered into the marsh. The woman and the clan both agreed that any chicken stupid enough to wander into the marsh was fair game but that any raccoon stupid enough to wander over the fence was an issue. The clan did its best to police its own. Nobody realized the woman couldn’t get the stick to work anymore but nobody but it was also obvious that she was a lot more aggressive after the man left and the loss of the dog made her sad. There were a few years without chickens at all. The final year ended in bloodshed when the weasels got into the brooder, slaughtering twenty-three eight week old chicks nowhere near ready to eat, a senseless massacre that put everyone at risk again. It appeared that she knew, based on the size of the trap she put out that they hadn’t been involved. Except they had. Just a little bit. It was hard to resist a massacre.
The year the chickens came back everybody got careless. There was no sign of the stick and the fencing was old. The woman worked long hours and the girls were careless. It was easy to take the first chicken but the rules were forgotten and one night three drunk idiots nearly undid it all by taking the remaining five birds out of the coop leaving nothing at all behind. That’s it; she’s done and we have nothing. She’ll never have it in her to do it again. There are chickens across the road but we don’t stand a chance with that crew. The woman is home all day and those girls are locked up like the virgins they are at the first sign of dusk.
They underestimated the woman. Again. Raccoons have extensive tribal memories but sometimes they’ve got the attention span of a slug. The long black stick was knocking around back there somewhere but it had been a few years and so had the big scary dog. The idea that there might be something new hadn’t crossed the collective mind. The birds came back. Baby birds Lots of ‘em. There were a couple of accidents and one major weasel mishap (the council started to consider weasel war) where half the population was wiped out when the girl neglected to close the door at sunset but otherwise they were doing just fine. Calendars were consulted. Feasts were planned. Feuds were once again put on the back burner. A Reconnaissance troop was sent forward to check the weird floppy fence (she really has come unhinged; that thing’s going to come down in a strong wind).
MOTHERFUCKER! WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!!!!
Four raccoons ran, hopped, limped, crawled, rolled, tumbled back to the marsh. One of them was shrieking by the time he hit the border.
MY PAWS MY PAWS MY PAWS MY PAWS MY PAWS!!!!!!!!!!!
Nobody could explain the burns on the paws or really understand the incoherent chittering about the horribly unnatural zappy feel that went from your brain to your tail and made it nearly impossible to think.
The fence was evil. One more brave raccoon sacrificed herself by putting her nose directly to the bottom of the fence. She got nothing. She started to push a little and suddenly the wrath of the gods came down upon her skull knocking her unconscious. It took four raccoons to pull her back, each getting zapped as they grabbed on, finally the last to pull was nearly knocked senseless in the process.
One at a time they went back and looked at the fence. They circled it, sniffed it, went onto the porch and came at it from the other side. There didn’t appear to be a gate. They looked for a way under it, thought about leaping over it, climbed up on the deck and considered leaping to the top of the old coop and then onto the ground but stopped when they realized getting out would be easy for a cat but not so much for a raccoon.
And then one of them remembered the black stick.
It’s a trap. She wants us all stuck inside the fence where we can’t get into the coop anyway and then she’s going to come out here in daylight when we have nowhere to hide and kill every one of us. Thirty-two raccoons marched back into the swamp.
Roger finished with the MacDairmid story as they were sitting down to dinner. He was getting better at dinner. To hell with opposable thumbs; there’s a lot a guy can do with a good set of incisors and a very talented set of front paws. His well-worn copy of Martha Stewart’s Paella recipe wasn’t bad. He had to go all the way to Westport to forage enough rice but shrimp and sausage could be found in at least one garbage bin out of five two to three nights a week. Fresh peas and tomatoes were preferable to canned and if they weren’t in season, that shit could be had opened in bulk from a Westport restaurant as well. Raw onions were usually the problem but he was thinking about lifting a small butane camp stove from one of the Cub Scout dads in the Singing Oaks neighborhood. He was pretty sure he could manage the knob and the button with his paws. He wasn’t so sure about getting the canister in and out.
Frank was having a little trouble with the Paella but being a relatively well raised Honey badger, as far as Honey badgers go, Frank found something polite to say about it: ‘it’s got no fur or bones, that’s refreshing, Roger, I’m rather enjoying this.’
‘Not too much turmeric?’
‘No, no, not at all.’ (what the hell is turmeric? I hope it’s not one of these pink things because I’m not eating any more of this shit)
‘So, Frank, my friends the MacDairmids need to get over their fear of that fence and take back Chicken Nation. We need to avoid a war with the weasels because the last time that happened it went on for years and we lost one third of the raccoon population which, as far as I’m concerned is no big deal but it caused upset with the people which causes upset with the rest of the forest because then they start trying to PROTECT us, and Frank, Frank, I can’t tell you how bad that gets. It’s like the pogroms in Russia. Suddenly they start thinking there’s an imbalance and they need to fix it and they make deer hunting season longer than two weeks and the deer get frantic and frantic deer turn mean. Did you know deer can actually GET mean? I’m serious, like no shit MEAN, nastyass deer about to tear your heart out and eat your young. I saw a buck eat a rabbit once. I don’t even want to talk about what the squirrels start doing to each other. Anyway, you get my point. Everything hinges on taking back Chicken Nation. At least I’m pretty sure it does; that and avoiding a weasel war.’
‘You need to make up with Miranda. Or talk to her. Or something.’
‘She says, or so I’m told, that I smell.’
‘Well, Frank, it wouldn’t kill you to take a bath.’
‘She says, or so I’m told, that I have bad teeth and leave parts of my kill lying around.’
‘OK, that might be true.’
‘She says, and this is probably true, that I was rude when I sniffed her hind quarters.’
‘Should I ask?’
It would have helped if the entire Squadron had been sobered up before the meeting. Maybe they all needed a thirty day chip. Maybe they should have waited, had a little bit of an intervention, but how the hell could he have known that? Frank had never seen an appletini much less a martini glass. Honey badgers drank mead from a trough and drank until somebody started a death match. It was natural population control. They really didn’t have any natural predators. Roger hated to admit it but he was developing a taste for fermented apple juice, particularly Capri Sun although Juicy Juice was a good second choice what with the sugar content being so high. Left out in the sun, the fermentation process only took a few days producing high proof syrup which could be watered down if he could get it out of the box without spilling or consumed on the spot. He wondered if he could make it a thing. The bar didn’t serve anything he was willing to drink so he sat there and stared into a Mohito wishing he could develop a taste for something respectable.
The thing about a Squadron of drunk raccoons is they LOOK like they’re paying attention. Thirty-two sets of beady little eyes faced Frank’s general direction for an entire twenty minutes and the only sound… wait, thirty sets because there was the sound of slurping coming from under a table on the far side of the room and while that young guy was staring directly at Frank he had a shit eating grin on his face and his eyes were slightly crossed (but facing the correct direction). The other sound was sobbing coming from the guy with his back to the room and his head on the bar in front of five empty glasses, a pile of chewed lime wedges and a single empty shot glass. Somebody was off the wagon.
Frank laid out the plan. Thirty heads nodded in agreement. Something under the table squeaked. The bar sobbing had morphed into snoring that sounded a little like sleep apnea. Probably ought to get that checked out. Frank made a mental note to have Roger follow up. Roger seemed to give a shit about that sort of thing and Frank was supposed to be getting in touch with his sensitive inner badger. Some story about the great Mongol warrior Kublai Khan getting in touch with his spiritual side and conquering nations… Tantric Buddhists, Tibetan monks, a boat load of wives, and something about North China. Suddenly Frank had dreams, big dreams. Screw the matriarch. Like Kublai, he sorta missed the Appletinis.
They met at the edge of the marsh closest to the driveway, Frank, Roger and the Squadron. Alex, turns out his name was Alex was back in rehab on the other side of the forest checked in by his grandmother. ‘Wildlife’ in Crisis ran a fine program designed to put wayward animals back on their feet as soon as possible. They had twice daily counseling and group if at all possible and detox was gentle but Alex was in for at least a month. They were down to thirty-one but that was enough. Frank stepped across the line onto the pavement. The automatic light stayed off. Good. He took another step and the first troop fell in line behind him.
STOP RIGHT THERE!
Oh holy hell. My wife.
Miranda came out from behind the shed with at least two dozen immediate family members. ‘And where the hell do you think you’re going?’
‘We’re taking back Chicken Nation tonight, dear, I thought I told you that.’
‘How the hell could you have told me that, you’ve been shacked up with that drag queen in the culvert.’
‘Uh, right, my bad. Sorry about that.’
‘Uh, Frank. She called me a drag queen. I’m not a drag queen, I’m a perfectly normal coyote and I will not be put into a specific gender box just because the world is uncomfortable with differences.’
‘Frank, your gay as shit friend wears a fur coat and I saw him in a pair of Manolo strappy sandals YESTERDAY’
‘Miranda, sweetheart, can we talk about this later?’
‘Not really. Actually, I don’t really give a shit what you do with shit for brains over there. I’m just here to tell you you’re not touching Chicken Nation. Chicken Nation is ours and we’ve been working on it for weeks. We’re about two feet away from the final burrow and then we’re through.’
Frank started to open his mouth when the squeak from the last troop at the back of the Squadron charged. Nobody saw it coming which is how Miranda ended up flat on her back with her throat ripped open. Damn. Who knew a raccoon could take a weasel…
And the shit storm was on…
In the house the woman started to wake up. She really didn’t want to wake up. She’d been sleeping poorly all week and she was deep under and the sounds she was hearing just didn’t make sense. She thought, I’ll just lay here with my eyes closed and then they’ll stop and I’ll go right back to sleep. Except they didn’t stop, they just got louder.
What the hell makes that sort of sound? Nothing makes that sort of sound. That’s the most obnoxious sound I’ve heard come out of that swamp yet and I think it’s in my driveway. I don’t even have any garbage out there to speak of. OK, maybe a little bit left at the bottom of the bin but not enough to fight about. It sounds like a Squadron of maniacal, um, maniacal, shit, I have no idea what that is but there are A FREAKING LOT OF THEM OUT THERE.
She shot out of bed and hit the window hard. Crap that hurt. The window was already open which is why they were so damn loud. Can’t see a damn thing. Why the hell isn’t that light on? She stared hard into the driveway but if you live deep in the forest and the night is overcast you aren’t going to see a damn thing. No such thing as ambient people light. OK, this can’t continue; I can’t sleep through this shit. She shut the window. Nope. Still too loud. Still groggy, she walked around the bed and turned the light on. The light had a bulb that came on very slowly. As she made her way back to the window (as if the light was going to help anything) some of the animals started to notice. When the light had reached maximum wattage she’d also reached maximum wakefulness (for 2 AM) and opened the window again. She opened the screen and leaned out as far as she could. The driveway was mostly silent except for the shuffling of little paws and a small bit of leftover snarling.
She hissed, ‘I’ll shoot every one of you right now if I have to.’
It sounded like @#%@#!^@$%@#$% black stick zappy fence from hell @#%#$^!@#$!@#$
Except maybe a little worse because she was so damn calm.
And then she shut the window.
The weasels picked up Miranda’s body and then looked at Frank. One of them, Frank could never tell them apart, said, ‘we will find you another wife.’
‘The Matriarch has commanded a marriage and a super species and so there will be another wife. Try not to kill this one.’
‘OK. Try to find someone not so, uh, bitchy?’
‘Workin’ on it.’
‘Maybe lay off Chicken Nation while you’re at it.’
‘Don’t push your luck.’
Frank married a weasel named Gloria. As of this date he has yet to knock her up. She's managed to beat him up twice during his attempts. Roger is still working to help him locate his kinder, gentler badger. He has a sinking feeling his mother may have consumed it along with the afterbirth. He hasn't mentioned this to Roger.
The Squadron still lusts for Chicken Nation but consider the woman a demi-god for some reason. Frank has just about given up on them and is about to teach them to hunt squirrels. Anything to get them to stop worshipping at the window of hope every night. One of these days she IS going to lean out and start shooting.
Roger is having an identity crisis. Miranda's hurtful words really got to him. He left his coat lovingly folded (inasmuch as a coyote can fold a coat) at the door to the Weston food pantry. The hat, he ate. In his shame he's taken to eating mostly fast food wrappers which can only be found a few towns to the east. He thought about the cat and small dog buffet, a real man dog would eat from the cat and dog buffet, but just can't bring himself to crawl back into the box.
He wonders what it would be like to hold an Appletini glass between his paws...