A handful of years ago, there was a call out for short stories in my city. It had to be about animals. Select pieces would be chosen for publication in an illustrated book, put together by a local artist and author. Mine was chosen, though eventually, like all good things, it fell through. I had forgotten about my story, now 5 years old, until recently while cleaning up some computer files. There it was, just as I'd left it. I find it sad that it should never see the light of day, so here it is, copied and pasted.
Marie Angela Busalacchi, 2006
The sound was outside. A soprano whimpering, so frantic and shrill, along with the screeching of metal against concrete, pulled me harshly from sleep. I opened my eyes, heart thumping, my body frozen with fear and confusion, that familiar sensation that accompanies being startled awake.
Once I realized where I was, safe in bed, I listened again, intently. The whimpering reminded me of the sounds of seals, that repetitive grunt tinted with a questioning intonation, starting a sonorous tenor, but ending a mere alto. Only this cry was about ten octaves to the north, and so very urgent, almost to the point of hysteria.
It then occurred to me that the cry was likely that of a small rodent, struggling to free itself from the live trap that John’s father had baited. He protects his garden by catching four-legged criminals, and then transplants them to a nearby park. These criminals were usually squirrels and chipmunks, with the occasional mouse. Judging from the brawn of the noise, I assumed tonight’s culprit was a squirrel. My body relaxed some, now that I knew which sounds of the night were emanating from the great, black abyss, which was the backyard of John’s parents. I figured after a few minutes he’d tire, and silence would swallow us both into sleep.
When another noise erupted, a deep and malicious snarling, my heart resumed it's jumping jacks. A squirrel was definitely not capable of any sound so evil, and besides, his crying had never ceased. I slowly walked towards the window and peered into the darkness. When my eyes had adjusted to the moonless night, I was startled at what the vague, ashen light revealed. Not more than six feet from my window loomed a prodigious raccoon, his masked eyes giving him an oddly anthropomorphic anonymity. He sat with both arms deep into the trap, both hugging and wrestling it at the same time. All the while he let out guttural snarls and snorts. The trap was pushed up against the house, a bit to the right of my window. I couldn’t see the back end of it, but I had a feeling the unfortunate little squirrel was cowering there in terror. Though I couldn’t see him, I could definitely hear him.
By now, my initial fear of the unknown had quickly changed to astonishment, and finally, anger. My heart went out to the little one that was clearly in the process of being mangled to death, so helpless, so scared. Each cry tugged on my heart and conscience. How could I ignore this blatant rodent brutality? I gave the screen a loud whack. The beast ceased his attack, and looked up at me. He did not look startled, but rather, indignant, as if to warn me he’d be back. Then he turned and waddled away into the darkness. The cage now fell silent. I wanted to go and check on tonight’s offering, but there was no way I’d go it alone. I imagined the raccoon lunging for my bare legs and eating me alive. We both would have to wait until the morning came, and with it, the assuaging light of day.
I got back into bed and tried to fall asleep. Minutes later, cries pierced the silence, more persistently than before, accompanied again by a dissonant chorus of rattling cage, snorts and snarls. Irritated, I woke John up and told him we had to help the sacrificial squirrel. We walked to the back door in our bathrobes, John equipped with a flashlight and I with the longest object I could find on the way- a fireplace poker. Cautiously, we stepped onto the patio. The floodlights came on, and the three of us, boy, girl and raccoon momentarily stared at each other in the harsh brightness. The beast gazed warily in our direction for a few seconds, his glowing orbs shining beneath his mask, before reluctantly scampering back into the darkness.
Slowly, John walked towards the cage with the flashlight, while I nervously stood guard, tightly clutching the poker. Shivering from both nerves and the chilly air, I stared into the darkness, ready for a surprise attack, and told John to hurry up. He pulled the cage away from the house and when it finally came into view, I was stunned. Inside was no whimpering squirrel. Peering up at us from the back corner of the cage was a young raccoon, trembling and winded. There was not one scratch on his body, not one drop of blood. Then it hit me, what had really been going on under the distorting cloak of darkness.
My heart sort of swelled at this realization of the truth. No act of violence had occurred here tonight. No blood had been shed. On top of that, this “he-beast” was female. Those cries had merely been that of a distressed baby to its mother. Those vicious snorts, those snarls, all of that ruckus had been the frustration of a mother, unable to help her wayward babe. How panicked she must have felt, with all of that metal kidnapping her child.
I had witnessed such an unexpected act of love, that I felt tears prick at my tired eyes. John opened the cage, and at first the youngling pressed himself even further back into the corner. We took some steps back, and I cooed at him a bit, trying to coax him out like a puppy. It seemed to work, because a minute later he took off. I noticed he had bolted in the opposite direction his mother had gone.
I had no doubt in my mind they’d find each other and I was glad to have played a part in their surely happy reunion. Since then, on the rare occasions when I spot a raccoon, I no longer see the typical stereotypes: garbage tippers, sewer dwellers, garden destroyers, nuisances in black masks. I see survival, I see bond, I see a mother, I see love.