Raccoon Ascendant



The builders have finished the tall house at the edge of the woods, next to the house of the Lady-That-Feeds-Birds. It sits there empty. I tried to get in, to explore, but everything was locked up. I could chew through the wire mesh covering the basement vent, but nothing down there catches my nose. A dog door leads to what is probably the kitchen, but that’s locked too. Garage: locked. Garbage and recycling: latched and locked.

Very unfriendly.

Who will live there? I’ve seen a man with a red beard inspect the construction. No hat or vest, so I don’t think he’s a builder.

I’m pregnant, for the second time. I had two kits last summer. Both died. One murdered by a possum, one dead from hard-nose sickness, which I barely survived myself. I’m carrying three now, I think. I will do what it takes to keep them alive.

#

I was right—Red Beard owns the house. He’s moved in with his mate and female kit. He’s busy, building things in the backyard with wood and tools. One of the structures appears to be a chicken coop. Very promising—chicken eggs will help my kits grow strong. The Lady-That-Feeds-Birds also keeps chickens, but her coop is well fortified. I could break in with enough time, but I still carry the lead shot in my left hind leg from the last time she caught me trying. Mean. Why does she happily feed birds, but not raccoons?

#

I am heavy with the kits, and always ravenous. Red Beard’s backyard is on my nightly forage. Unfortunately they are a clean, tidy family, with the exception of the kit. When her mother wasn’t watching she tossed a half-eaten apple into the grass.

Red Beard has nearly completed his coop, and last night I heard chirps from inside their garage. I tried and failed to get in—there are no gaps or rotted-out boards in the newly-built structure. I could smell the chicks. Most likely they’re incubating under a heat lamp. That’s how the Lady-That-Feeds-Birds raised hers. I spied through her garage window and watched them grow into fluffy brown birds.

Probably good that I couldn’t get in to Red Beard’s garage. It would have been hard to resist gobbling them up. But if I’m patient, I’ll feast on eggs. We’ll feast on eggs. 

#

I gave birth, and now we are five. Three females and one male, all of them noisy, clumsy, and curious. At least they are obedient; they follow me closely (though they are still poor climbers, and fall frequently).

I showed them Red Beard’s coop, completed but still empty. They wanted to go closer, but I didn’t allow it. Not yet.

One, Two, and Three are females. Four, the male, is the runt. But they are all growing, eating berries, worms, beetles, acorns, hazelnuts. Though not yet fat.

#

The kits learned my name today, as I stripped bark off an acacia, searching for beetles. Strong Paw. They’ll earn their names too, in time.

We found an abandoned jay’s nest during our morning forage, one mottled green egg whole and unhatched amongst the broken shells and chick fluff. It was rotten inside, inedible. But the jay’s sturdy weave gave me an idea.

#

Red Beard, proud as an eagle, moved the mostly-grown birds to the coop. The hens, seven in all, are fat and healthy. From high in the acacia we watched them peck at the ground and each other. Red Beard’s kit fed them tasty-looking kitchen scraps. Hopefully the Lady-That-Feeds-Birds told Red Beard to not feed them eggshells. Feed chickens eggshells and they’ll eat their own. The Lady-That-Feeds-Birds learned that the hard way. Chickens are stupid.

We dozed in the tree for the day, enjoying the dappled summer sunlight. I woke to the smell of a murderer. I roused the kits and made them watch the lumpy gray beast waddle across Red Beard’s backyard. He looks harmless, I warned them, but he isn’t. Stay away.

The chickens woke and clucked as the possum sniffed the coop and scratched at the wire. He found a loose flap of mesh, clumsily but persistently peeled it back. The possum killed one bird, murdered another for sport. He ate his fill, not even bothering to drag the dead away. The survivors retreated to their wooden house where they huddled quietly, hoping not to be noticed. Even from high in the tree I could hear the crunch of bone. 

No one stirred in the big new house. The bloated murderer waddled back across the lawn, leaving one mangled carcass, the other decapitated but otherwise pristine. 

I retrieved the uneaten carcass, doused it in the creek, and shared it with my kits in the safety of the woods. I suspect Red Beard would have thrown the meat away.

#

Red Beard diligently reinforced the coop, using denser mesh, secured with nails instead of tacks. Murder, the possum, made several more attempts, but was repelled each time. I see at least one way in. But not yet. Not until the hens begin laying.

I started my own enclosure, mimicking the jay’s weave using thin acacia branches. The kits frolic in the new playground, practicing their climbing on the low wall. Hopefully not too low. I’ve seen hens fly, though they seem to prefer their jutting walk.

All four kits, despite their complaints, are now weaned. We are all ravenous.

#

The hens have begun laying. Red Beard or his kit collect the eggs (Red Beard’s mate has no interest in the hens, though I suspect she eats the eggs).

One of my kits earned her name. We were digging up worms in Red Beard’s back yard in the early morning. One mewled a warning. Three had wandered off. I found Three on the steps of Red Beard’s deck, face to face with Red Beard’s kit. 

A moon ago I would have charged, hissed, bared my teeth. But my kits are old enough to learn their own lessons. Red Beard’s kit went inside, came out with a box and a carton. She put the bowl down on the top step, filled the bowl with grain from the box, poured milk over. Three, fearless, ate it. Her sisters and brother chirped anxiously but didn’t dare join the feast.

Milk Eater finished the meal, dragged her belly across the grass and joined us, gloating and burping.

#

Red Beard is a good builder, learning from Murder’s crime. As I sniffed out the coop, the kits woke the hens with their pitched chatter. Finally I found the latch. With a long reach I lifted the clasp and slid open the bolt. Swift as a jay I ran up the henhouse ramp and grabbed the first hen I saw, getting a good grip on her neck with my teeth. Panicked, she fought me, batting my face with her wings, twisting her head to peck at my eyes. How could I reassure her? Murder was not my plan. Eyes closed, I dragged her down the ramp. Milk Eater had the sense to close the gate behind me, protecting the other hens from the possum.

Halfway across the lawn, the hen gave a mighty spasm, twisting her body in a desperate attempt to escape. I bit down to secure my grip. Too hard. A crunch of bone, and the hen went limp in my jaws.

The kits, who don’t understand my plan, were happy to feast, and gorged until their noses and cheek fur were smeared red. I fed too. But there has to be another way.

#

Red Beard’s kit threw a rock at Milk Eater yesterday. My kit had approached the deck in the early morning, hoping for another feast.

They’re angry with us, understandably.

But we were here first.

#

Milk Eater, Grub Finder, and Two are growing well, but we are all too lean for midsummer. Four, the male, is worryingly small and timid. Nothing grows except his ears. He looks (and acts) like a giant mouse.

Red Beard added a padlock to the coop latch, but Two dug under the fencing and wormed her way in. Amidst furious clucks she ate her fill of eggs. She emerged, dirty and feathered, with two eggs to share. Now I call her Digger.

At dusk we found the hole unfilled. Fortunately, Murder had not discovered it. I circled the house and found the driveway empty. Red Beard’s family gone, but for how long?

I worked quickly to enlarge the narrow tunnel, spraying dirt and clods behind me. No one interrupted us. By sunrise the hole was big enough for me and my quarry. 

I walked up the henhouse ramp and took my time selecting the fattest hen. Blue Foot, I named her. The alpha, head pecker. With my paw I grabbed her by one blue leg, pulled her down the ramp, and backed out the hole under the fence, dragging her in front of me. She clucked furiously and scratched at my face but I held fast. I hauled her across the lawn, struggling the whole way, eyes squeezed shut. My kits guided me with their chatter. Face and forelimbs scratched, I finally reached the woven structure. I clambered in, dragging Blue Foot with me, and released her.

Quickly I climbed out. Bleeding and exhausted, I watched through the lace of branches.

Blue Foot, still panicked, ran a few wild circles. In time she calmed. Something on the ground caught her eye. With a quick peck she snapped up a fat earth-cricket, gobbled it up.

Milk Eater licked my face, cleaning my wounds.

#

Red Beard returned, filled in the tunnel. He was furious, cursing, stomping around. Will he get a gun, like the Lady-That-Feeds-Birds?

I took some hay before they returned, to make Blue Foot a nest. The kits took handfuls of feed, clasped tightly between their little forepaws.

#

On our dusk forage walk Four, ears raised, cried an alarm. I froze, listened. Panicked screaming in the distance. Blue Foot, under attack.

I rushed back to the enclosure, kits close behind. An intruder had breached the wall. Blue Foot, bloody and with one broken wing, was making her last stand against Murder. Fat and bloody snouted, the possum hissed as I climbed in.

He lunged at my neck. I rolled to the side, bit his leg, tearing away a mouthful of greasy, foul-tasting fur. He came at me again. I swatted his jaws aside, lunged low, sunk my teeth into his neck. Blue Foot clucked approvingly as I drained the possum’s life.

I’ll keep my brood safe, kits and hens alike.

(Four earned his name. Ears.)

#

Blue Foot, still wounded, laid the smallest of blue eggs, no bigger than a jay’s. We ate it anyway. Delicious.

#

Keeping the hen well fed is difficult. It’s hard to not eat a fat grub or earth-cricket when you find one, but instead to give it to the hen. But we remember the taste of eggs. She is laying every day. Yesterday I let Ears eat a whole blue egg by himself. He is growing, a little.

How can I get another hen? Red Beard has surrounded the coop with heavy cinder blocks, with metal sheeting dug in to discourage tunneling.

#

We dozed the day away high in the acacia, bellies full of eggs and crickets and worms and the first ripe plums from the yard of the Lady-That-Feed-Birds. The plum tree is heavy. We’ll all be fat by winter.

At dusk, when we returned to the great nest, hands full of gifts for Blue Foot (ripe plums, stolen dog food, half a granola bar), we found the nest empty. At first I feared the worst, but there was no breached wall, no blood and feathers. Instead, a half eaten apple.

Red Beard’s kit.

Well into the night, when most of the lights in Red Beard’s house had gone out, we spied on the coop. The hens were asleep in the henhouse. Could I get in again? Maybe. But my belly was too full to care. I led the kits back to the woods for a lazy forage.

At dawn we took another look. The hens, awake and busy, pecked at the ground. Blue Foot looked thin and bedraggled next to the others, and had lost her place in the order. A big brown hen sent her scurrying, as did a fluffy white one. She was somewhere in the middle now.

We ate more plums before climbing the acacia. As I dozed off, basking in the morning light, I wondered how long a plum tree takes to grow, from a pit. Probably too long. What else could we grow? Sweet carrots, like the ones that grow in the boxes behind the house of the Lady-That-Feed-Birds. Parsnips, that grow even in the winter.

I’ll rebuild my hen nest, twice as big as before. I’ll hide it deep in the woods, where Red Beard’s kit can’t find it. Two hens next time.

I dreamt of blue and brown eggs, and plump chard leaves, and hard juicy beets, and the kits of my kits, growing fat off the land.





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