I was out for a walk with my dog Riley the other day when he suddenly pounced into the brush, snagged a woodchuck, shook it until its neck broke, munched it a few times to make sure it was dead, and then laid it on the ground and smiled at me. He was so darn happy with himself.
It reminded me of a short-short story I wrote several years ago and submitted to a contest (250 words max). I did make the Long List, as judged by Dave Eggers, who apparently got what I was doing. I read this aloud at the Merrill House celebration on the last night of the Colgate Conference. I had had a bit to drink first.
This actually happened. (Not for the squeamish.)
The golden sunlight slanting in through the cracks in the barn cut across the flanks of a cow giving birth. With a last moan she pushed her calf out, and it landed in a slimy pile behind her. She immediately turned and began to lick it dry; before long the calf was attempting to lift its head.
A chicken, looking for stray grain, came strutting through, thrusting her head forward and back. Coming upon the newly born calf, the chicken smelled its still wet hooves, fleshy and calcium-rich. With a peck and a peck, the chicken began eating the cartilage on the calf’s hoof bottoms. The calf, barely aware of its own existence, ignored the chicken perforating its feet.
When the chicken had picked its fill, it zig-zagged toward an opening to the outside that was actually a wall fan that at that moment turned on, catching the chicken in its blades. It flew up and squawked temporarily, feathers flying and blood spattering the concrete. But soon it stilled and lay in the corner, where an orange kitten, scrappy and hungry, sniffed it and began to nibble the newly exposed and bloody flesh.
Later, done with its meal, the kitten found a place to curl up in the hay, close to where the new calf was nuzzling its mother for milk. The kitten closed its eyes, curled its tail over its nose, and didn’t even awake when the cow flopped down to rest, smothering the small ball of fur.
As I told the crowd, there’s nothing like actually owning animals to disavow you of any romantic liberal notions you had about animals.