“There is one small movement of the story that eludes your control,that you cannot even see, one alien thing with no purpose other than to teachyou that in the darkest corner of the story dwells a wild force that is too much a part of you to see, a blind spot, just as you do not see your own eyes as they sweep the woods you walk through for danger.”
—Wilbur Daniel Steele
My Uncle Leonard was a hermit who lived alone in the Unconscious Forest his entire life. Unc had a sack of money stashed away, and when he went to meet his Maker he left every penny to my little sister Shane. He left me, a full grown man, a rusty bicycle and a busted set of drums. I don’t mean he left me a full grown man, I mean I am a full grown man. So why would he leave me a load of childish junk instead of cold hard adult cash?
He also left me some kind of a mixed animal, which from the very beginning would turn out to be even more questionable than the junk.
It was the middle of the night two moons ago when the beast found its way to me here in Hmm. Uncle Leonard’s woodsman neighbor Chuck woke me and Shane pounding our cottage door with the coconut knocker. Chuck was a stalwart, self-reliant, phonebooth-size fellow in mud-plastered boots and a checkerboard greatcoat, but that night a royal case of the heebie geebies had ahold of him.
He had drove four hours from the Unconscious Forest to deliver the news of Uncle Leonard’s passing, along with the cash for Shane, and the bike, drums, and critter for me. He drug the goods in and started back out as if a ghost was after him, but Shane blocked the door in her “Mayor of All I Survey” nightshirt. We managed to calm the big chap down and reel a few rambling incomprehensible facts out of him, first off how Unc had demised.
“Sudden natural causes,” says Chuck, panting. “Weren’t present. Had to take Doc’s word. That there—” (indicating the animal, who stood motionless and undescribable in the corner, fur bristling and eyes ablaze) “—is Leonard’s only living proof that survived the fire and explosion.”
“Fire and explosion?” Shane says.
“Yes, ma’am. Your Unc turned hisself into one wild ‘sperimenter out there.” Sweating and twitching, Chuck glanced at the animal which in turn latched its gleer onto me. “His death-bed wish was me to brang you these gadgets. ‘Them kids, Shane and Lemuel, my bonehead blood,’ your Unc called you, with affection. I done as he ast, laid him to rest on the bluff he daydreamed under the Lights at. Then I nursed that gasly thingum back to health. Oh!” He reached in his greatcoat and set a small burlap package on the coffee table. “That there’s a poultice for the stitches.” He run a finger along his ribs area. “Good luck!” Chuck elbowed through us and out the door.
“What’s its name!” I holler, and Shane lets out, “What is it!” but Chuck peeled out of the village in his Helms van, leaving us to our minor grief and major bafflement.
We lain our eyes upon the creature that stood with bad intentions blazing from the corner. Size-wise, it was near to a long large turkey, a smaller wart hog, or about one and two-thirds emperor penguins.
“Inpossible,” I say. We gandered at it from different angles. It did something to your deductive faculty. “What and the world was Unc up to out there?”
“No good. No good at all.”
“It don’t look too tamed,” I say.
“I agree. It has retained a portion of its wildness.”
“What do you figure kind of a animal it might be?”
“Contradictory. That part resembles mutt,” Shane says, pointing from afar, “but that calls cat to mind.”
“I’d say you got you some pig right there, maybe a dab of goat up around here.”
The thing was, the parts blended together so seamless you couldn’t pin down where one left off and the next begun.
“Would you say a little monkey perhaps?”
“Lots. But possum along there.”
“Some fox up on top, maybe sloth through here, pinch of wolverine across there?”
Shane and I shook our heads in unbelief, but there the thing was, shaking its head in unbelief right back. Both it and we appeared no happier than any of the others to be seeing what they saw.
At that the animal gave the lowest growl that ever been growled. My footbones felt it through the floorboards.
“So, Unc’s gone on,” I say, hoping the varmint would appreciate a change of subject from itself. “Poor old Uncle Leonard.”
“Oh, fiddlesticks,” says Shane. “He was mean and lowdown and loved it. We couldn’t stand him and he couldn’t stand us more.”
“Well, you ought to respect the dead, even if you hated their guts.”
“I respect the dead’s legal tender,” she says, scooping up her new found cash and flouncing back to her room as if our life had not just took a bad fork forevermore.
I sat in my rocker and commenced to to in fro reassuring and calm, keeping one eyeball on the sole remaining consequence of whatever Unc’s lurid business had been out in them woods. It kept both eyeballs on me back. “You could sit down if you want,” I say. It declined with a snort. To act normal, I took a whiff of the burlap package Chuck gave me and that stinkbomb knocked my olfactories back to Independence Day. I was not keen to slap no poultice on that thing’s undercarriage. “I wonder why you went and got yourself stitches,” I mummer.
From the shadows it glowered at me like I personally flang it out of the Garden of Eden. “Don’t blame me, fella,” I say. “I’m only a link in some spooky chain.” But then I reckoned, why should I care what it thought? Was I my dead Uncle’s mystery animal’s keeper? It looked like I was, for a nonce, but I didn’t got to like it, did I.
Richard Martin lives with his beloveds on a land-locked island near Los Angeles. This piece is the first chapter from his spiritual comic novel of the same name, which, in case you forgot, is I Inherited a Mixed Animal from Uncle Living in Woods. Another novel, Oranges for Magellan, about a flagpole-sitter and his family, is making the rounds, and a third, a literary romantic ghost story, is this close to getting itself finished. His work has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, North American Review, Chicago Review and Night Train. The last book he read was Herman Hesse’s Knulp, which he is now reportedly mulling. His unreliable blog is at http://mixedanimal.blogspot.com/.