Animal Control

by S.E. Casey

He smells like eggs. He clogs toilets and never washes his hands. He looks down women’s shirts. His grey hair is uncombed, dandruff heavy on his shoulders. 

He is the Night Animal Control Officer. He has always been here, occupying the stifling office in the town hall basement. 

We avoid questioning the Night Animal Control Officer about the specific distinction in his title. Ironically, it’s the one question he entertains civilly, his answers excited anecdotes of lunar inspired livestock massacres, midnight vermin exterminations, and starlit wildlife suicides. 

We have no idea what he is talking about. There have never been any animal attacks, infestations, or other aggressive behaviors that we can remember. And nothing seems to die in our town, never any calls for carcass removals or cleanups. It has always been this way. 

He never wears a tie. He tells dirty jokes. His shirts are stained and too small, his hairy belly often exposed. He laughs in diversity training. 

The new mayor wanted him gone. New mayors always want him gone: the town’s lack of critters, varmints, and strays make his position seem inessential. We tried to talk her out of it; after all, he is the town’s longest tenured employee. However, Mayor Barbara Lochan was elected running on a conservative, no-waste platform. In the end, our arguments were in vain. Any chance of convincing her to spare his job was dashed when he decided to sing the lurid rumors of her husband’s affair across the lobby for all to hear. 

And that was that. Monday morning, the Night Animal Control Officer was escorted from the building, not afforded an exit interview or allowed to pack up his desk. The Mayor ordered us to just throw his things into a box and mail it to him. We didn’t. No one wanted to go down into that suffocating basement office. We didn’t know his address anyway. 

We only know that he has always worked here. 

Gone were the kabuki masks he would hide in our desks. No more were the paper bags dripping with a dark viscous liquid left in the employee fridge. No more nineteenth-century battle hymns blared from the victrola in the basement. 

The mayor made Pam, the assistant town clerk, the new animal control officer. And it’s only animal control officer, no need for qualifiers. 

On Tuesday, the town was paralyzed, an impossible number of accidents caused by animals running into traffic snarling the roads. Those of us who made it into work answered the succession of angry roadkill calls. Unfortunately, the new animal control officer never showed. Pam hit a deer driving into work. She went to the hospital although it was only as a precaution. 

The roads were clear by the next morning, the grisly remains pushed to the shoulders. However, an unbearable stench consumed the town. On Sunquist Beach, dead fish piled so high to hide the sand. We steeled ourselves for another day of complaints. Before assigning us phone duty, the mayor delivered news that the new animal control officer wouldn’t be in, Pam’s condition downgraded to critical. 

Thursday, it was the birds. The drumming on the town hall’s roof lured us outside. Huddling under the porte-cochere, we watched the sky where thick flocks gathered and rushed at each other. Like bullets hitting bullets, birds dropped to earth in pairs. The mayor wasn’t in to give us any orders so we sat outside sipping coffee and ignoring the madly ringing phones. 

Mayor Lochan finally arrived at noon, a bandage over her right eye and groggy from painkillers. After a slurred explanation about how her pet parrot had attacked her during the night, she updated us that Pam had slipped into a coma. 

To her credit, the mayor held out until the end of the day. Emerging from her office, she ordered us to rehire the Night Animal Control Officer. The sky had cleared so we set out to look in his usual haunts—in the shadows of the junkyard, on the banks of the slurry pond, in the alleys behind the hospital.

We don’t remember where we found him, but Friday morning he was back stalking the halls and slinging cryptic gibberish as if he had never left. 

The town returned to normal as well. The stains were scrubbed from the roads, the tides washed the dead fish off the sand, and the woods refilled with songbirds and herbivores. The flies and carrion scavengers departed for more fruitful pastures. 

The new animal control officer’s desk remained empty. Pam’s coma was intractable, all brain activity ceased. 

Dead, yet not dead, he never misses an opportunity to tell us. 

However, Pam isn’t needed. Once again, the animals are under control: nothing kills and nothing dies. Work in the town hall goes on as always. In the basement, the antique victrola’s bellowing resumes. The water cooler intermittently runs red. Pitiful screams of an old woman echo through the ductwork. 

And every so often in the lunchroom, the Night Animal Control Officer would appear in the seat across, although you never remember him sitting. His unopened lunch bag would be in front of him, a black ichor seeping through the bottom, the soaked paper expanding and contracting like a lung. The windows would be dark, somehow the day having skipped to night. But the lost time hardly matters when looking into his starry, bottomless eyes. 

Paralyzed, we listen to his sermons on death and learn what it is to be truly alone. What it is to be trapped in a coma. 

Dead, yet not dead, he whispers. 

He is the Night Animal Control Officer. He has always been here, hunkered down in his sulfurous basement office. We have always been here too, Pam and the rest of us former animal control officers, death on hold in an endless night, our breathing involuntarily done by machines. 

We toil in a frozen memory, the phones incessantly ringing, the stars crashing down around us—everything under his control.

S.E. Casey grew up near a lighthouse. He always dreamed of smashing the lighthouse and building something grotesque with the rubble. This is the writing method for his broken down and rebuilt stories published in many horror magazines and anthologies that can be found at
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