I INHERITED A MIXED ANIMAL FROM UNCLE LIVING IN WOODS, novel excerpt from Richard Martin

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

1.

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://​mixedan​i​mal​.blogspot​.com/.

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