He had learnt early when circumstance and fancy had led him to the land that the taking of life was a daily chore endured by all. That was the way of things here. Life, with tool or teeth, was sliced or ripped with the intent only to preserve it. To put food on the table, in nest or hole where the only difference was a closed barn door. To protect, the claws of a mother slashing through the face of an intruder at the entrance of a hole. Or a man, such as him, in a field with rifle tight to neck aiming. The bullet exploding in the skull of a dog turned, consumed by an unholy instruction to murder. Outside the reason of things and dispatched by the recoil of a finger. The gun half lowered, eyes watching for movement before approach. He had no use for the dog, just as the dog had no reasoned use for his sheep — his action merely maintenance. This one lost to a madness that had no place in the scheme of things, in the natural order. The dog’s end would cost him time, to drag and dump. An unintended gift to the creatures that would discover and be spared the daily chore. There would be no thanks for it. There was no need; it would come around again; back to him.
With no sign of life, he lowered the rifle and began to trudge towards the lump at the far end of his field. The sheep were still gathered in the wishful technique of their own presumed preservation and watched as he gave the dog a shove with his foot to be sure. He knew the dog to be Billy Scott’s, there would be explaining to do, but he was well within the rights. The Loughshore folks would agree to that. He looked down at the dog. Whatever once lay behind the eyes and warmed itself within the matted fur was gone. The disappearance of life gave weight to a body. An actual heaviness, he’d gauged it time and again. A dead animal would always carry more weight than a live one. For those that believed that the head is the sole place we dwell and control the mass of bones, muscles and organs through signal, were wrong. They had no experience with the passing of things. Life occupied every twist and turn of the carcass it carried. Creatures whose departure he had observed time and time again. The force, shooting a uniformed escape from every inch, leaving it, just like this one solid. It was always the point envy would come over him, looking down at the corpses, relieved of their responsibilities, no more constants to battle, an end to survival. He did not know if the dispatch brought relief to the inside dweller, but something that began with the end could only result with a beginning. That was logic; life had no epilogue. Even the ignorant had to agree with that — any fool. This creature was free from the sheet rain that soaked his clothes and body as he gripped a leg and trailed it across the field. It was best to clear it away from the sheep as far as possible; its smell would attract; draw them from miles. Opportunity had to be reduced at all costs because, by nature, plenty would take advantage. Best get it over to the far fields that held no use this time of year. It meant a longer trek with the sheugh to cross but done it must. The stark reality of his existence; no choice but to drag the dead dog, to dump.
The sheugh was high, the result of constant rain over the season. Best to throw the damned thing over then follow. A cigarette now would do well but knew it would be best satisfied after. Just get it over with, the day was closing fast around him, and with no torch, the walk back to the farm could be troublesome. He let out a breath that signalled another task he was left alone to perform; then gathered strength. With both hands, he grabbed then gripped the four legs of the beast into one and raised it from the ground. With a swing to his rear, he forced the corpse into the air and across the sheugh. He did not watch it as it made the gap and slapped onto the bank on the other side. Instead, he looked down, his arm muscle ached. Air, they needed air. Another intake and it eased and then a tilt of the head towards the sky. The water it offered now had a use other than to soak him. His tongue cupped, he collected, and let trickle down his throat.
Next, he threw the rifle, an easy flat throw landing it to the right of the dog. He took a few steps to his right to avoid the beast and gun and just enough to miss the jagged sharp branches that still held onto an old tree stump. Then another couple of steps back from the sheugh gauging. He would be on the other side in seconds. With a few long strides, he propelled himself into the air using the strength of his left leg. He pointed his right foot to handle his landing, intending to dig in and pull the rest of his body forward onto the safe top of the bank. As his foot hit the other side, he felt it slip on the mud and twist, he heard the crack. The pain ran up his leg into his groin quickly losing any strength it once had. His body, having no support began to fall back. He tried to shift his weight forward to stop himself landing short and sliding into the sheugh. He saw the safe edge as he fell forward and wished for it. A push from the twisted foot now he knew would save him. With a grunt he pushed down on his foot, the pain cutting as his weight twisted it further. His whole body turned, and he knew he would make it to the bank, but his weight shifted him too far. As he hit the ground and the sharp thick branches that stuck out from the stump of the tree, he lost the world to black.
McCooey – He could hear them say — The McCooey got taken down by the sheugh – Sure my wee fellow can jump that with his eyes closed – He maybe should ‘ave kept his eyes open – The cackles and bursts of beer flying from mouths in exaggerated relish – He would dig his fingertips into the plastic of the crutch until he could feel his skin burn – Best just laugh with them, and he would – If only could think of something to say in return, something that they could never fathom, something that would put them to silence – Nothing would come, his mind frozen, the sharp wit of his youth dulled – Then he felt the pain, not from his foot – A sharp tearing pain in the underside of his shoulder and he lurched back into the world.
His eyes opened to the night. Body paralysed with the cold, his clothes soaked. He heard the gnarl before he seen it and felt the breath but it was the pain he was aware of most. Teeth and tongue on his flesh, a nibble then tear. Tongue lick that smarted and again a bite and tear. The pain was turning white as he made sense of what was happening. He tried to lift himself up, but this would cause the creature to pull more. He tried to lift his left arm first to deal with but found no strength there. With right arm and hand, he banged at the earth around him trying to find his rifle. With no sign, he lifted and swung his right arm towards the creature. His hand stuck it across the side of the nose, and it immediately backed away. He turned his head to face it; its eyes fixed on him, it bared teeth with a snarl – a fox. He yelled at it; there was nothing else he could do. The fox took off. Another noise escaped him, this one coloured with pain.
He could feel something foreign inside him. He reached his right hand over and slipped it under his armpit to his back. There he felt wood and traced it with his fingertips until he felt it merge with his skin. He tried to raise himself onto his right to free himself from the intrusion. That brought frightening pain; he felt the blood begin to weep from the wound. He slowly pushed a little bit more and felt the cold air rush into the stab. Then he lost strength, and his body dropped back down; he seethed as the wood settled back into the hole it had bored. He breathed deep trying to contain the pain, over and over.
Flat on his back the rain hit his face like pinheads. He pulled up his hood and tried to cover his face. There was still no use left in his left. Looking upward he searched for the moon to give him a sense of how long he’d been out, but the sky was thick and gave no answers. There was no time, only dark. He could smell the rot, the dog — that damned dog bringing in creatures from out across the fields, a free lunch for the finder. The dog they would have consumed first. A few bites to see if it woke, a safer bet than the lump of human that would sometimes jolt, signalling a risky bet. The fox at him looked young, cocky. The signs had not registered with it yet; he had yet not learnt the scheme of things. As he lay useless, he knew with the cold and his wounds it was only a matter of time. He flicked through the possibilities in his head until he came to the rifle, with that he could raise himself and use to prop himself up on the mile or so back to the farm. He’d have to cross back over the sheugh, but he could wade that. It had to be just to his right; without the panic of the first search, he’d find it now. With arm stretched he began to fan the grass to his right. Then moving as much as the pain would let him a little further out, nothing, a bit further still, the pain then he’d have to endure. Fingertips stretched to their point, eyes tight shut; he crawled them over the grass until he felt it; the metal loop of the gun trigger guard. Further, he stretched a finger to hook around it, his teeth now clenched absorbing the pain. With a curl of the finger, he began to drag the rifle towards him until he could grab it in his hand. Relaxing his body the best he could with the rifle by his leg he breathed in, then out as the pain surged and forced his eyes closed.
Here McCooey? – *What made ya want to be a farmer? – You like the ’ol animals don’t ya? – A barrel faced man jumps up and begins to thrust his hips back and forth — Baa! Baa! – They all gag and snort adding the expected add-ons — Aye love the sheep do them McCooeys – Like nothing better than mutton chops – He laughs with them and takes a drink to save him having to fake a smile longer – Never mind them – A voice from behind the bar — They mean no harm – if you weren’t here they’d be slagging each other — you know that — you keep them from tearing each other apart – and he did know that – why else did he stand in this spot every Saturday night – it was his place in things – then a loud whistle — a man’s whistle — and a shout — Boy! Boy!
Another whistle as his eyes lids flicked upward. Someone was near, in the other field.
’Boy, where are ya!’.
Tilting his head, he could see the beam of a torch and relief came with an eased breath. He needed to shout, to find his voice.
The beam stopped.
The beam shifted in his direction. He watched as it moved towards him. It stopped and began to dart around losing focus on where he was.
The beam flicked towards him again. Then stopped on the other side of the sheugh. He watched as it darted back and forth between the banks. Then the thud of a safe jump, better than his. A shaft of light fell on his face, then examined his body.
’Christ almighty McCooey, you’re a right state here?’
The torch beam flicked around him. It stopped on the dog, head gaping and body mauled by creatures.
The torch moved to the dog and lowered to the ground. Suddenly it snapped back.
‘What happened to Boy?’
‘Turned. The sheep.’
‘You killed Boy?’
The torch rose.
‘Buggered, Can you…’
‘You had no right.’
*’No right!.’ *
The beam from the torch moved closer towards him. He began to make out the face of Billy Scott. He could see a flame in his eyes, his face tight with rage. He was above him now, staring down. It came suddenly, and he lost breath immediately. The boot pushed down on his throat, and its weight not only took his air but pressed him further down onto the wood. He could feel it pushing into him, deeper and deeper. The boot changed to a knee, and he felt a grip on his nostrils caused by thumb and finger. His eyes closed as he tried to find strength and an answer to his condition, his eyes reopened. Fight. He struggled beneath the knee on his throat, and his right arm flapped like a drowning fish out of the water. The last working part of his body reminded him as it hit against the rifle at his side. It was far enough down at his side to be out of sight. If he could only lift, turn and aim. Summoning strength, he brought control back into the arm. He turned the gun; there would be no aim only luck. His thumb found the trigger, then squeeze, then clap, then slump. Air rushed in into his nostrils again. It tasted of gunpowder, muck and rot. The body fell on his chest, its final weight pushing the wood inside him out through his chest. He grunted as he grabbed the coat of the body and pulled its dead weight from him. He shifted his head round to see the sharp tip of the wood poking its way out of him. He turned his head from it, ashamed of the sight.
He cursed the ground that he lay on.
He cursed the dead dog and the Loughshore corpse beside him.
He cursed himself and the words that he had gladly shared ten years ago with anyone who would listen. ’Live of the land.’ He knew now; there was no life lived here, it was endured then taken.
Nothing more now could be done. A cigarette, before the sleep, always in the left pocket. The right was for the rifle rounds. He felt himself fading fast, trying to contain the shivers. The pain had become normal to him now, the onset. The body had no more need to shock the mind into action. He threw his arm over and slipped his hand into his pocket. What he grabbed was a mush of tobacco, paper and butt. Clutching it, he pulled from his pocket, tilted his head, opened his fist and looked at it. No resemblance left to its former self. The uniform and order of its structure gone. Ripped apart and broken down by rain and circumstance. Rubbing, then breaking it down further he let the mix fall from his hand to the earth, uselessly serving it to the creatures. He settled his head back into the land knowing that it was best to go. Best just go.
by Philip Young
- You can find Phil over on Twitter: @lone-agent