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Barnyard Tales

Fraudulent Mr. Fox

After pulling up all the weeds from his garden, Mr. Fox peed into a cup and poured his urine over his vegetables to stave off the vermin. Even so, that very night, the raccoons came and helped themselves to a great deal of his produce. They even foraged the weeds in the trash, with plans for a great, sundry stew. And the next morning, when the sun rose, it shone upon Mr. Fox crying over his wasted crops. All he wanted was a day’s rest, and the certainty that he could feed his family. But what good is it simply to want?

That night, Mr. Fox staked out the raccoons from the shadow of his shed. And, sure as the lettuce leaf is green, raccoons large and small emerged from the neighboring forest and set about their plunder. Bursting from the darkness with a shrill cry, the fox began shooting the raccoons one by one with his rifle. This way, he knew, he would be able to feed his family.

As the raccoons lay dying, he recognized what precious little he knew of the raccoons’ language. As he caught his breath and his rage diminished—making way for only lament and void—the words for mom, dad, son, daughter all chittered about as the animals dragged themselves across the darkling dirt to gather their bodies close together as their souls passed on to the kingdom that is to come.

When the sun rose, it shone again upon Mr. Fox, weeping over this entire family of dead raccoons. All he wanted now was to invite them over to his house to meet his own wife and children, who he believed would have made kind and empathetic friends to their raccoon counterparts, could he have done it all again.

So Mr. Fox dug four graves to the side of his garden, off where the grass grows tall, and, one by one, gave the dead a proper burial. Alone he dug; alone he rolled them in; alone he spoke the inadequate words of remembrance. Murderer, mourner, gravedigger, priest, and public, all rolled up into one sorry little fox.

Now, with time, these bodies decomposed and provided excellent fertilizer for the earth. Mr. Fox, a bit older now, decided to plant a garden atop those graves, and to let whatever animals come by and scrump fruit and vegetables as they would. And word of Mr. Fox’s generosity spread far and wide among the animals of that region, and the garden grew so wild and tall that it was never bereft of offerings—even in winter, they said, when no other garden offered a single crop.

The Rooster Man

A long time ago I used to go down to the family farm late at night and hang the chickens. Always them roosters. The next morning my dad would be there at the kitchen table. “Roosta man come back,” he’d say, desperately, and I would hug him and pretend to care.

I loved our horses and cows. I respected the sheep and goats. The pigs I could have done without, though I did enjoy chasing them through the mud by the pond until they leapt into the water among the petrified ducks. The hens I tolerated for their eggs, of which I did help myself to many. But my favorite animal of all was the donkey. “Like a horse stripped of its nobility,” the only friend I have ever had once remarked. I saw myself in our ignoble donkey, and often I rode him ignobly around the hills behind the farm.

All that lives does come to rot.

After the fifth hanging or so, my dad installed a camera out by the barn. I helped him install it too. But the thing only worked between sunrise and sunset, sending a little signal to my dad’s computer. So one night I went with some spray paint and fogged out the lens. I milked a good couple more hangings out of that trick, but all that lives does come to rot.

Poor thing, my father had stopped sleeping. Instead, he would wait out his nights by the barn to teach the culprit a personal lesson. I began to play with his sense of time, secretly hanging them during the day and displaying them early the next morning after my father had finally fallen asleep. His hair was falling out. He became truly unhappy. I think I’d hung eighteen fowls by the time he caught me.

Now, this narrative could go in several directions from here, a few of which I’ve already explored in other stories. I could, for example, repeat the animal bloodbath of “Fraudulent Mr. Fox,” and follow it with a description of the killer’s regret.

Or I could have the father dramatically forgive the son, like how the narrator of “The Escalator Mechanic” forgives the tormented mechanic, revealing that he, too, suffers from a certain complementary perversion, and then invite the son on a briefly successful, but ultimately fatal, series of shooting sprees. I think the way I’d like for it to end, however, is for something completely absurd and unexpected to interrupt the flow of the story: for the father and son suddenly to be abducted by unidentified beings, who probe them in the name of their science, or even for an unforeseeable climatic event—a sudden electric storm?—to drive them into the barn, where they are forced to spend the whole night talking it out.

But no. My will notwithstanding, the story will end as it must. The father will lock his son in the barn and, passing him only drinking water and firewood through the hole he will cut out of the door, will say he cannot come out until he has eaten all the roosters inside. The son’s narration will describe his suffering, but its disdainful tone will make clear that he has still not learned his lesson. Instead, he will be twisted by the father’s cruel attempt at education until he slaughters all the farm animals and uses their blood to paint the barnyard walls, regressing to a primal expression predating human symbolism.

Plaint of the Roots, Berries, & Insects

There was once a young bear who cried very often. Every morning he awoke in tears from his bad dreams, and every night he fell asleep in tears from his nasty day. His tears were large and astringent, and they flooded his den until his family, in danger of drowning, left to find another den in some faraway forest. His brother bear left a note saying he did not want to abandon him, but there was nothing in this world he could do to prevent his going, family obligations, one day you’ll understand.

As the bear grew older, his body weakened and grew less forgiving of his strange moods. And every time he cried his harsh tears washed away his fur, until he was left naked in the cold air. Many years this young bear spent hairless, with tears shivering over his bare legs in the autumn, and icing over his naked belly in winter.

Now, there came at last the day in his old age when the bear ran out of tears to cry. But with none to wash his fur away, it grew and grew, flowing much longer than it ever had before. At first it covered him like a sheep, then like a water buffalo, then like no animal that had ever walked the earth. And the bear’s fur grew down into the ground, deep into the soil. Unable to uproot it, the bear remained there, the shape of his body obscured by the mass of fur until he was an abstract form, like a boulder or a mound of dirt.

Many sympathetic animals came and tugged at his hair, to loosen it from the forest floor, but none succeeded in the task. The fur had broken so deep into the soil that it had formed unbreakable rhizomes which had woven around the roots of all the plants. Unable to eat or drink, the bear was close to death when, one day, his brother returned from the faraway forest to help him. And when the bear heard his brother’s voice, so old now, he began to cry. Only this time he was crying a new reservoir of tears, the tears of happiness, which cut straight through the fur encasing him. So the bear was freed, and he and his brother lived happily for many long years.

But we, the roots, did not rejoice, because he trampled carelessly over us. And we, the berries, wouldn’t have minded if he’d died of cold, because he delighted in crushing us between his teeth. And we, the insects, still crawled gladly into his fur to sting him all along because he massacred our families without a second thought. We had never pitied him before, nor did we feel joy for him then—for his struggle was the struggle of a Goliath.