A Parting Gift

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Some Relocating

Baby raccoons in the little cages are usually cute and timid. Reaching for the handle of an adult raccoon’s temporary prison might spark the old adrenals, though. The sound issued from said creature in said circumstance is a vicious, feral spat, louder than you’d expect, seeming to originate more from a Tolkien goblin than a furry forest friend. In the split second it takes you to grab that handle, from where it lies on the top of the cage, it is most likely that the panicked little prisoner can get a scratch in. A scratch from a raccoon is enough to cause the average person to drop the cage, further pissing the trapped creature off. This complicates the relocation process, saying nothing of the infection from the scratch. It is no small wonder then, why Miss. Lhaso Apso Hair paid the big bucks to wring her hands and weep, from a good, safe distance while Exterminator Abbot braved the dirty work.

After the paperwork was signed and the check collected, it was time to give the fuzzy family a new home. The animal handler usually relocates at least fifteen miles away from the catching point, in this case a small gorge, a couple miles away, on the edge of a BLM land did just fine. As he pulled off the road, illuminations of purples and oranges began to bloom along the eastern horizon. With the help of his hat light, the exterminator easily lined up the top of the open cage doors with the bottom barbed-wire of the fence by the road and waited. His third cigarette of the day so far, bobbed up and down on his lips as he cursed the freezing darkness. Too cold to wait outside, he tossed his cigarette butt and got back in the work truck. The talking heads on the radio blabbed on about the war and upcoming elections, but Brian only half paid attention. He glanced over at the cages again. Too far away for his hat light, he used his “cop-mag” as he called it. It was good timing on his part. Momma-coon was disappearing into the bushes. Within the next few days he’d see sure that her brats joined her and in another minute or two he would collect everything and head back to the office to dump off the cages.

Still sitting in the cab of the truck, gazing lazily through the rear view mirror, he could see the headlights of another vehicle curving around the bend in the road behind him. This pricked a bit of awareness back into him and out of reflex he yawned, while G. Gordon Liddy rattled off a list of heinous crimes committed by illegal aliens to the angelic citizens of our good country. He blinked twice coming out of the yawn and saw, through his freshly moistened eyes; that the semi truck, from which the high beams glared, was going off the road behind him. In fact, it was coming straight at him. Before he realized what he was doing, Brian had exited the work truck and was scrambling away. He only made it a few feet, when the deafening impact of several tons of steel, smashing together at sixty miles per hour filled his head and shook the very earth beneath him. Desperately gasping for air and still clawing his way along the gravel of the turnout, he saw the semi propel his tiny work truck through the barrier, the barbed wire fence, clear into the gorge below. The fiery explosion that Brian’s Hollywood trained brains anticipated, never erupted, but the sounds that echoed up off the rocky walls of the small canyon, was a chaotic cacophony.

By the time the dust cleared, Brian had finished his coughing fit and managed to crawl to the edge of the ravine to chance a look down. After another second or two the twisted wreckage ceased its horrific tumbling. One single headlight from his company vehicle still shone through the thick cloud of dust that seemed to fill the gulf below. It’s eerie illumination flickered and faltered with the dying sound of the semi’s engine. In a rare moment of compassion, Brian thought, At least Miss Coon and her brats made it away before psycho trucker decided it was demolition derby time. The mind goes to funny places in certain situations. The sudden wail of Geddy Lee yanked him out of his stunned shock. My phone!, Thought Brian, actually amazed that he hadn’t left it in the work truck as usual. He clicked it on, barely muttering a hello.

“Yabbatz! What happened to my fuckin’ truck? Onstar just called me! Did you crash, you bastard?” Mr. Sanders’ voice was wet and slurred; he was pissed alright, foaming at the mouth, from the sound of it. “Answer me, godammit!”

“Someone crashed into me. I was parked. I’m fine though, I wasn’t even in . . .” he began, but his unconcerned boss cut him off.

“Was any of it your fault?” Sanders asked, almost accusingly.

“No.” Was Yabbatz’s honest reply.

“Well, stay for the cops, there’s bound to be a report or something. This better not make my premium jump!” With that he hung up.

Brian turned back to look down into the gorge. The dust had cleared enough so that he could see something moving through the beam of his work truck’s one good headlight. It was a person! The driver of the semi had survived and was stumbling around on the rocks of the frozen stream. Brian holstered his cell phone and made his way to the edge again.

“Hey!” He hollered down. “You all right? “ He realized how stupid that question was and then winced at the idea of asking any questions at all. “An ambulance will be here soon!” Then, as an afterthought, “Sir? Uh.. . you really shouldn’t move!” The growing glow of the morning was providing more illumination to the landscape and Brian could now see a steep slope of rocks descending to the streambed below. He knew he should have just waited for the ambulance. The guy probably couldn’t even hear him, but he felt like he needed to do something. The driver could have been trapped and bleeding to death or something. This whole mess would be in the paper after all and he didn’t want to look like an asshole.

Carefully, Brian made his way down, sliding on gravel, one mini-switchback at a time. In a way it reminded him of snowboarding, the only physical activity in which he hadn’t sucked too badly, in his opinion. Thinking of this, he gave a little hop and twist, but it was too much, too quick, especially without the snowboard. The change of momentum stole his balance and he found himself tumbling headlong over a small ledge. Gravel and dirt were certainly not freshly powdered slopes and his work boots failed miserably as his snowboard. He tried to twist the other way and overcompensated, sending himself into a spiral. Fortunately he was in the process of tucking into a ball and landed on his side instead of his skull. After half a dozen rolls, two bushes and a patch of tumbleweeds, he lay sprawled on the edge of the rocky streambed. His yelps and groans echoed off the walls of the gorge, the amplified vocalization mocking his bruised and battered agony. As he lay on his back, panting and wondering what he had broken, he caught movement to his left. His eyes moved to follow and what they saw gave him the strength to rise to his elbows.

Just the sight of the hobbled man that staggered towards him temporarily seemed to wipe his own pains away. The trucker was bloody and broken beyond belief. Multiple compound fractures and huge, gushing gashes made a ruin of whoever he had been. Brian could not believe he was alive at all, let alone walking. His legs, most of the pants torn away, looked like twisted, red tree branches, bowing out and bending in places no joints existed. His right side had been smashed in so hard that his shirt and jacket were stuck in what used to be his ribcage. One arm hung a good six inches lower than it should have, dislocated or, more likely, ripped from its socket. The other arm reached a bloody fist out to him, palm down. The gesture made Brian think of the way gangsta wannabes greeted each other. Sup dawg? Without thinking, Brian held out his open hand, palm up, just beneath the trucker’s. A small plastic object fell from other man’s grasp into his own. It was only then that he glanced up and saw the giver of that parting gift.

The whole right side of the trucker’s head, like his torso, had also been pulverized. Brian couldn’t even make out where the eye had been. It was a concaved mess of skull shards and streaming blood; his jaw wedged open like an anaconda getting ready to swallow a pig. The one remaining eye fixed Brian’s for only an instant, reminding him of his work truck’s one headlight. There was ferocity and a kind of desperation in it. Then that eye rolled back in its socket and the trucker collapsed in a broken heap.

For the second time that morning, Brian was moving before he realized it. In panicked horror, he’d made a mad dash back up to the road, scrambling pathetically against the angle of repose. When he had almost reached the top, he lost his balance yet again and swayed backwards, arms flailing like some chicken costumed sports mascot. He barely had time to consider the consequences of a second fall, when a strong hand came out of nowhere and grabbed one. Sudden pain exploded through that arm and he tried to scream. The sound that issued from the back of his hoarse throat brought back a memory of his neighbor backing over his own cat. Whether he had sounded like the cat or the neighbor, he couldn’t remember. He had only been seven at the time. The paramedic dragged him up onto the ledge with another’s help and called to his team for a stretcher.

“Relax, don’t move, you’re gonna be fine.” The calm silhouette told him in a mild twang.

“Other guy . . . down there . . . hurt bad.” He wheezed. Now that the adrenaline was decreasing, he found he could hardly breathe. As if reading his mind, the EMT placed an oxygen mask to his face. Brian drew in long and deep, tiny silver spots circled in his vision. He thought they looked like sperm under a microscope. His whole left side screamed from a dozen places as the gurney, lifting him hit a bump. As the adrenaline wore off and the pain began to bleed through, he wondered at his own ability to scramble back up the slope. That may have been the single most athletic action he had ever accomplished. He hated [[[[action, at least in real life. It always hurt. With no small effort, he turned his head to look back toward the ravine.

“Don’t worry. We’ll get him too. You need to be still. Don’t try to talk.” With that Brian was lifted up and into a painfully bright place. He squinted from the temporary blindness of the ambulance interior, where everyone and everything was white. As his eyes adjusted, he saw Twangy and another paramedic opening what looked to him like oversized tackle boxes.

“Just relax.” The first one told him again. He was a lanky man, in his mid forties perhaps, with dark, thinning hair and bright blue eyes. He was setting up a drip bag while his buddy, a short, stout trainee, by the look of him, removed a wicked pair of shears from his med kit. Brian, alarmed, began to sit up, but a strong hand gently pushed him back down and its owner explained,

“We have to cut off the shirt, see how bad it is.” He asked. As Brian fumbled for an answer, a third EMT closed the ambulance doors, softening the sound of more approaching emergency vehicles. The ambulance started up its engine, the hum further drowning out the exterior noise. A wave of exhaustion finally overtook him and he closed his eyes. As though from a distance, he could hear some of their EMT talk, mostly referring to his injuries. …arm…rib or two…possible clavicle…lacerations…surgery Despite the pain, he began to drift off. It seemed the experiences of the morning had taken their toll. As consciousness left him he thought he might be smiling. Serves me right for being up so damn early. He thought and fell into sleep. He didn’t even remember the sirens kicking on.

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