Storytime: Word of Mouth.

September 9th, 2015

The autumn wasn’t crisp. A season has no crunch.
But it WAS awfully pretty, the trapper thought. It was just a shame it had him walking through it. A vaguely mottled blob that had once had blue jeans and a (plaid? maybe?) jacket, shuffling through a red and yellow wonderstorm of colours, checking on snares.

The deadfall was down. It was also empty.

In the deeper bits of the woods some of the smaller and more sullen plants still were hanging on to their summer greenery, as in-denial as snowbirds waiting the last week before they gave in and flew down to Florida.

The snares were clenched teeth, their baited tongues absent.

And up on the ridge, by contrast, the firm and no-nonsense wind had seen that no leaves gallivanted for long. The trees were already stripping down for their midwinter rest up here, and you could see all the way, all the way down, all the way out to the tiny blot on a blob on a bit that was the hill his cabin sat against, all the way up to right at his feet where an extremely large legtrap was holding an extremely large deer.
“Hi,” said the deer.
The trapper blinked at that. Then he got out his cigarette and relit it from both ends.

The deer watched him do this with no trace of impatience. He stared it at, then down at the valley again, then at the sky in general. It was coming over with the ugly pinky hints of a sunset-to-be that was-not-yet, and his spine crawled in anticipation.
“So, you mind letting me out?” asked the deer.
The trapper held his cigarette until it burned his thumb both ways, then threw the stub on the ground and crushed it lovingly yet repeatedly.
“Twelve times,” he said, at length, in between boot presses.
The deer cocked its head at this.
“Twelve times for ME,” the trapper amended. “Lord knows I’ve heard more stories from my dad. And his dad. And on and on and on past that, though probably some of ‘em were just to mess with me. What’s the good in a kid if you don’t mess with it?”
“Don’t particularly know,” said the deer. “I’m not really a family man.”
“Fair. True.” The trapper looked at his feet.
“Waste of a good cigarette,” commented the deer.
“No, but it was a good use for a bad one.”
“Twelve times what?”
“Twelve times,” repeated the deer, in a patient tone of voice. “You said twelve times. Twelve times for ME, which is you. Twelve times what?”
“Oh,” said the trapper. “That. Twelve times this’s happened. This sort of thing.”
“Talking deer?”
“No, no, no. Talking animals in general.”
“We talk all the time.”
“I mean, so’s I can understand.”
“You can understand most of it alright, can’t you? Looks like you’ve been out here for a while.”
“In English.”
“Oh. Right.” The deer rubbed its free foreleg against its trapped one. Blood migrated from a wet patch of fur to a dry one. “Twelve times?”
“What do we talk about?”
The trapper shrugged. “Usually, ‘ow, ow, ow, let me go.’”
“Yeah. The first one was a fish. It promised to give me wishes if I let it go.”
“Fish do that.”
“No it didn’t. I didn’t get a single wish.”
“No, no, I mean the promise. Fish lie all the time.”
“Don’t listen to fish.”
The hunter considered this advice. “Sure.”
“It never helps.”
“Don’t trust anyone that can’t blink. That’s what my mother said.”
“Good advice.”
“Mine said to be scared of everything.”
“That work?”
The deer looked at its foreleg. “Until now.”
“I sure was scared the second time it happened. It was a bear.”
“Black bear or brown bear?”
“A brown black bear.”
“Those can be confusing.”
“Yeah,” said the trapper. He smiled, and a few shy teeth nearly poked their way out of his cracked lips. “It scared the shit out of me. Kept telling me it’d curse me if I killed it.”
“They can do that.”
“It did. Never heard half of those words before, but damn if they didn’t make my ears smoke. Felt like having my grandfather lose his temper at me.”
“You think that’s bad? You should piss off a chipmunk.”
“I’d rather not.”
“’Motherfucker’ is their way of saying hello. To their friends.”
“Feisty little suckers.”
“Count yourself lucky they usually don’t bother to learn English. Or French. Or anything.”
“I am. Hey, look at that sky.”
The deer looked. The pink had crawled its way out of bed and across half the horizon, which was turning red and curling up at the edges.
“Damned pretty sight, isn’t it?”
The deer made a very animal snort. “I’ve seen it all.”
“How old are you?”
“You ARE old.”
“A fogey. A fossil. Barely worth keeping. Oh kind sir please let me out I’ll grant you a wish. And so on.”
“And sarcastic, too.”
“It’s the easiest way to have fun when your legs don’t work and you can’t go out and meet all the fine young ladies anymore.”
The trapper shrugged. “Wouldn’t know much about that.”
“Fair enough. So, what were the other ten?”
“The other ten what?”
“Animals who spoke English.”
“Well, I don’t know if the third counts,” said the trapper. “It was a wolverine that’d got stuck under a deadfall. I guess it had tried to catch a deer at it – pardon me – and knocked the bait by mistake. Pinned half under it. It told me to let it out and then just screamed at me.”
“Why doesn’t it count?”
“It had a pretty strong Quebecois accent. I think some of the screaming might have been French. My hearing hasn’t been so good since the bear thing, I couldn’t be sure.”
“A bilingual wolverine. That’s something you don’t hear every day.”
“Normally they just eat you. Not big on talking.”
“Wish they’d told that to the next four. An elk, two rabbits, and a hare. All of them said if I spared them they’d show me the way to a miraculous treasure.”
“Did they?”
“No. I remembered the fish thing. They sold decent though – except the hare. I probably could’ve just let him go his pelt was so lousy, but he wouldn’t stop whining at me.”
“Hey. It’s a hard life, being a lagomorph. You are the oyster of the world.”
“Not as slimy.”
“You ever seen a newborn rabbit?”
The trapper grinned outright this time. “Right. So, I sort of stopped counting around then, ‘cause they start to blur together. I think there were a couple deer.”
“Well. Thanks.”
“Don’t take offence now, it was just that it was all more of the same. ‘Spare me,’ etc. But I think I was up to ten when the next one happened, and I remember that ‘cause it was a moose. A bull moose. A big bull moose.”
“That’s a big animal.”
“It was. Funny little high-pitched voice though. I hit it with my truck.”
The deer gave him the most skeptical look possible without proper eyebrows. “Then why are you still here?”
“Dumbass’s luck. He went through the passenger’s side, and his legs just missed me. Almost shaved the right half of my beard off, though. And I got out and he was stuck in my windshield all over and as I’m pulling out the shotgun to give him a moment’s peace, he up and says his bit.”
“What was it?”
“’Turn off your FUCKING highbeams.’”
They laughed at that for a while; the hunter in his hoarse heh-heh-h-h-eh-heh, the deer with a sort of gurgling uhn-unh-uh-uhhhn that could only ever bubble up from a herbivore’s guts.
“Twelve,” said the deer, at last.
“Yeah,” said the trapper.
“You said twelve. What was twelve?”
“Oh, right.” The trapper scratched his ear and squinted at his fingertips in the dim. “You. Twelve counting you.”
“Right. Forgot that.”
The deer stretched itself in the long, slow, steady way of someone whose entire body is a cage of minor aches and who has learned to cope with this. “So, what now?”
“Huh,” said the trapper. He raised a single finger. “Well, your pelt’s shit.”
“Thank you.”
“No offence.”
“None taken.”
The trapper raised a second finger. “I could use more bait, but you’re sort of scrawny.”
“Thank you.”
“No offence.”
“None taken.”
The third finger came up, thumb restraining the pinky as neatly as a seatbelt. “And you know what, since my truck broke down I could use someone to give me a hand taking stuff into town. It’s not a long walk.”
“Well, that’s great because I don’t have a very long left foreleg anymore.”
“Nah, nah. I got antibiotics. It’ll be fine.”
The trap was well-oiled and barely creaked as it split open. The deer was well-balanced and barely stumbled as it stepped out.
And the trapper, who was well-tired of talking, barely said another word the whole way home.
But they were both happy to talk come the morrow.

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