Monday, July 20, 2009
Someone was killing his chickens and stealing his eggs. Which was the same as snatching the food right off his plate. In those days, a man living out on Badger Creek didn't just pop into Browning for groceries. A trip to town was a two day ordeal. As far as he was concerned, killing chickens was a shooting offense. He scooped up a pile of feathers and bones, all that was left of the latest victim. The bum calf met him at the door to the chicken coop. It slurped at his leg as he latched the door, hoping for an extra bucket of milk. He shoved the hungry orphan away. It tagged along behind as he inspected every inch of the chicken coop. There must be a hole. The culprit was getting in somewhere. A weasel he guessed, though a skunk was also possible. He bent to run his hand under the edge of the wall, searching for holes. The calf sucked at his hip pocket. He batted it away automatically, as he did a hundred times a day. There! A hole, burrowed under the bottom board and into the coop. He blocked it up with wood scraps and rocks. A temporary fix, at best. He'd have to figure out a way to trap the murdering thief if he wanted to end the carnage. He stood, stretching out the kinks. The sun had dropped behind the mountains that reared up only a few miles to the west. Time to dump out some barley for the chickens and mix up a bucket of milk for the calf. Then he could see to feeding himself. Bedtime came early, mostly because there wasn't anything much to do after dark. He stripped out of his jeans and shirt and sniffed at his long underwear, a traditional one piece union suit. Good for at least another week. Next washday, though, he'd have to do something about that missing button on the rear trap door. He'd no more than crawled into bed when a ruckus broke out in the hen house. Panicked chickens screeched and clucked for their lives. He leapt out of bed, stuffed his feet into his boots, straight over top of his long underwear. No time for clothes. He grabbed his shotgun and lantern and sprinted out the door, across the yard, through the gate, the half-buttoned flap of his union suit snapping in the breeze behind him. A few yards short of the coop, he stopped. The coop had gone quiet. He lit the lantern as he crept closer. Then he turned the latch and nudged open the door with the muzzle of his shotgun, finger poised on the trigger. And a cold, slimy something grabbed him right through the open flap of his longjohns. Kabloom! His scream was almost as loud as the blast of the shotgun. He wheeled, fumbling for a second shell to ward off his attacker. The bum calf slurped at his kneecap, wide-eyed and hopeful. The neighbor lady clucked sympathetically as she helped him load cages of new chickens in his wagon a few days later. "Hard to believe a weasel would up and kill every chicken in the coop. I hope you got him with that shotgun of yours." He only grunted. No way he was telling her the weasel was the only thing in the henhouse that had escaped the fatal outbreak of lead poisoning.