Wake. New biters under fur. Scratch with hind paw. Bloody tick drops out. Eat it.
Stretch all four legs. Fur ruffs. Cold seeps in. Cold as frozen water. No wind inside log walls. And no food. Hungry. Dark soon. Must go outside. Hunt. Come back through rot hole first light.
Wail from the beast-noise-no-shape in crawl space, hiding until light goes away. Hackles rise, subside. Are night sharers. No shape does not hunt this raccoon. No shape desires man. Kills but does not eat. Not understanding. Ignore.
Stretch again, on perch high above wood ground. Stiff scrabble outward on flat branch toward wall of logs. Old. Five cold times lived through, slower now, vision fading. Faint memory of last mating with raccoon sow.
Crack of splintering wood. Stop. Crouch. Listen. Man noises- thudding paw falls, rumbling mouth sounds. Scurry back onto perch, where flat branches meet in high middle of open. Man-grunts below from inside log walls.
“Damn bad idea, Jimmy.”
“Only if he catches us.”
“What if he buried it?”
“Fifty keys of heroin? Not a chance, Al, he had no time. It’s somewhere in this cabin. What the hell is that stink? Smells like stale piss.”
Peek over edge of perch. Two man-males. Spoors of fear-sweat. And smells of man food- burnt fat and sugar. Drool.
“Got to hurry, Al. We’re the ones brought him here. Tomorrow morning, we’re not around, he’s looking for us with that knife of his.”
“We’re long gone before then.”
“Al, your mind’s drug rotted. He didn’t put the package next to the front door. We gotta look hard.”
“Okay, but I’m starving. Let’s eat what we brought. Been a long time since breakfast.”
Men pull food out of pouch. Eat. Odors of flesh, sweetness, yeasty wet. Nothing yet rancid.
“Finish your beer, Al. We got to find the dope soon.”
Fading sun through clear parts of log wall. Men pick up black sticks with curved end.
“I’ll crow bar up some floor boards, Al. You take the bedroom.”
Bigger man jams point of hard stick into wood ground, pushes down. Screeching wood. Loud mouth noise. “Al, you hear me?”
“There’s a crawl space under here. We don’t find the heroin we gotta look down there.”
No-shape shrills like cornered possum, too light for it to hunt.
“What the hell was that, Jimmy? Sounded like somebody dying.”
“I didn’t hear nothing, get back to work.”
Men paw-clump back and forth, dumping things onto wood ground.
“You search the bathroom?”
“Yeah. And the bedroom. Crap, Al, there’s too much dope to hide it easy.”
“Check the wall logs.”
Men slam sticks into log walls, splintering wood. No-shape silent. Waiting. Men come back together.
“Same. All right Jimmy, all that’s left is the crawl space. We can drop down through the hole I made.”
“You first. It’s getting dark. We need the headlamps.”
Sweeping day beams. Bigger man moves back legs and rump down into hole, drops onto dirt, moves into darkness. Smaller man does same.
No shape bat-shrill keens, fog-shift swirls. So high pitched, men cannot hear. Just dark enough for it. Screams from men.
“Al! Help! Something touching, reaching into me. Shoot it”
“Shoot what, Jimmy? Shit! Something’s going into my ears.”
Thunder roars from crawl space. Softer screams. Mewling. Silence. No shape keens shrill-brittle. No shape fog swirls up black through wood ground hole, hunt-circles, swirls back down.
Wait in stillness. No shape is still. Day beams from floor hole. Spoors of man fear sweat and scat. Smells of man food. Hungry. Scuttle across flat branch, down log wall. Creep to edge of wood ground hole. Tasty carrion. But no shape lurks. Turn. Go to man-food pouch. Rip open clear not-tasty skins. Gorge.
Faint light rising through clear wall parts. Climb back up, across flat branch, onto perch. Settle onto thick skin of bundle other man-male put there. Spoor of yellow insides reeks of don’t eat, don’t rip skin. Stretch. Scratch. Sleep.
Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had two hundred stories and poems published so far, and three books. Ed works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of five review editors.