Their Soil Freshly Turned

by Chris Panatier

I get home and the wife says another waxwing suicided itself into the bay window and could I put it out with the others. They say that window reflections look like a continuation of the great outdoors to a bird. They just fly into them and BOOM. It’s not like they suffer.

I do.

A little bit of me just tears apart when those little guys’ lives blink out. One second singing and free, and the next deader than fried chicken.

I look at the latest. He’s got nice, chestnut-brown wings fading to dusty black, with red stripes on the tips just like a commie general. A common tree bird to most—an exotic far as I’m concerned.

I carry him and a shovel out to our little grove. I know where not to dig because I mark each grave with a little piece of fence picket labeled with the date and a name. The waxwing will be Simon, probably ‘cause I ain’t got a Simon yet.

So I dig a hole and he gets a shroud of paper towels, since Martha’s put the kibosh on me using her fabric remnants. I lay a dandelion just so on his face and commit him to the earth.

When I’m done, I look over to where my lumber should be. It’s disappeared, no doubt pilfered by the Snyder kids down the way—always coming in here trying to take what isn’t theirs. Then again, I guess I’m no different, collecting scrap around town without much asking for it. There just seems a sense of ownership in the aggregation. Anyway, the most the Snyders ever took was a rusty tool or two. They got eyes on Darcy, my old ’58 International—she’s worth a mint, but she don’t start, so good luck trying to pinch her.

With no wood about, Simon gets a little cairn of river rock.

Over the next weeks, things get busy. Maybe it’s the fall setting in or the shifting wanderings of the regional fauna. One day it’s an opossum I named Tony, the next, a little racoon dubbed Bandit, because what else are you gonna name a racoon? I wonder over the cause of it, why they’ve chosen my yard as the place to exercise their mortality. Maybe word got out that I treat them well, so they figure to limp on over here before they give up the ghost.

By the end of November, the grove looks like an honest-to-God model train cemetery.

*

The grandfather in the downstairs hallway runs an hour slow and it’s already chimed two, so I know it’s past three when I hear the doors to the barn. Dollars to donuts it’s the Snyder brats trying to boost Darcy again.

I head out, bypassing my rifle in favor of the Louisville on account of I know these kids. But when I get to the garage, I see right off it ain’t the Snyders. I’ll be goddamned, I say.

I don’t register who knocks me to the ground or what with, and the blood in my ears is garbling voices. One of ‘em boots me in the stomach and I’m swinging, but the bat’s gone.

The guy’s yelling about where are the keys, and before I can tell him that Darcy needs a fuel pump, my teeth are on the concrete. Now I’ve been hit before, and hard, but this guy brought the wood. For the first time in a long time, I’m starting to get worried. I try to holler but I’m walloped again. One tells another to go take care of the old man’s wife.

Lights reflect off the slick of my blood. A trailer’s backing in. Guess they aim to carry Darcy out. So carry her. I got to get to Martha.

And that’s when I see Bandit. Crouched up near the front of the truck pushing the trailer, half his face is gone, one side of it just a skull with a tiny eyeball hanging out. I see others too. There’s Tony, standing beside Grandma the wolfhound. On the trailer are the fat grey squirrels, Rudolf and Malcom, that I buried in late September. I see Charlotte the bobcat peaking around the corner, and Jeremiah the black snake hanging from the lathe. Hell, there’s the ridgeback that croaked back in May. Shooting in from a crack in the wall come all fifteen of the Ratersons like a little worm-eaten varmint army.

None were in great shape when I gave them to the earth. They look worse now.

I reckon it’s all got to be a hallucinatory delusion brought on by my cracked skull. But then the cooper’s hawk I named Hawkins gets the lead guy in the neck and his jugular stream gets me full in the mouth. Can you taste a hallucination?

It’s like a twister’s hit with animals flying this way and that, dropping perps like potato sacks. The guy in the truck steps out with a twelve-gauge and starts throwing buckshot. Some hits Darcy. He stops firing and I figure he’s spent his shells, but he turns and I see that his face is off. Nearby, a couple of deceased barn owls tussle with it like a dishrag.

The action stops and I’m breathless. Through the eye that ain’t swollen shut, I count five limp bodies. The undead gather ‘round. I figure they’ve saved me for last, but they just sit there. I point weakly to the house and speak my wife’s name and they troop off.

Gunshots. A man screaming. I pass out.

*

The next morning it feels like I slept in a rock tumbler. I beg Martha for a sip of bourbon. She brings tea. Later on, she surprises me with a little pile of fabric cuttings and helps me limp down from the house. We kneel in the glade together, resetting the tiny headstones at the head of miniature graves, their soil freshly turned.

Chris’s stories, which somehow all deal with death, have been published in The Molotov Cocktail, Ghost Parachute, The Ginger Collect and others. He lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife and daughter, draws cover art for metal albums, and plays himself on twitter @chrisjpanatier
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