The dogs won't stop barking. Their tone says chipmunk and I think, great!, dogsitter, and let them have at it, snorting and scrabbling to reach under the stacks of lumber in the sawmill yard next door. But things escalate, tonal vibrations, and I walk over to check. Something lies in between the stacks, a mound. It's brown, furred, larger than a cat. Badly injured, with open wounds, it's a coyote, still alive but not moving. Just breathing, barely. I leave it to die alone.
We call the conservation officer and wait, hoping someone comes today. The animal's presence haunts us. We talk to our neighbour, a hunter, he would shoot it but that's not legal. As if we can hear it breathing, the animal's presence haunts us, a faint stench, an uncomfortable intuition. The dogs behave like addicts and have to be contained or they race over and bark in its face, high on adrenalin and instinct. The guilt is unbearable, my role in its suffering.
One gunshot splits the tension; it's euthanized. When the body is removed, we confirm with the dogs that it's over, but they are intent and have to be hauled back from following that scent, the scent of death, displacement, fear and survival. The conservation officer is surprised, he can't understand why it's downtown and I wonder, does he mean the sawmill or the coyote?
Thousands of fins. Thousands of bodies. At the mouth of the Skeena River, a bloom rushed through saltwater toward its origin. Eulachon formed a silver stream, slivers that drove hard inland, pursued by predators large and small. Hundreds of gulls cluttered the sky, bent-winged and incontinent. The dark round heads of seals bobbed and swam, gorging on oily flesh and tiny bones. Sea lions, long whiskered and vulgar, barked and ate, unrelenting in their appetite. The massive feast staggered north.
When it reached its birthplace, along the Skeena’s shoals and anywhere that shallows divided the fish, skilled human fingers scooped, gutted, and hooked the slim fish onto long wooden poles. Translucent and shimmering they hung by their gills, left to become dried, greasy remnants. Multitudes of others were boiled, reduced to a stinking life-giving oil, rich with minerals and salt.
Candlefish. Overabundant. A wild frenzy, a long-awaited event that marked the end of darkness, winter, and a hunger for what was missing.
Then it was over. Dead bodies tumbled in eddies and sank, or snagged onshore, rotted, covered in flies. The massacre has its season.
from my novel in progress, Remote Triggers
Texas. Frank closed her eyes. The heat warmed her bones from the inside, a delicious relief regardless of being in her ex-husband's home state. Frank could not afford to lose her nerve. She took a minute, straightened her shoulders and moved toward the unfriendly, gull-shaped train station. An oil boom was building in Texas, the people were one part thrilled, two parts cautious. The rest kept farming, which presented her with a challenge. Frank had plans to drain her ranch of oil then plant it with pecans. Acres of nut-bearing trees, big, messy and decadent, bursting with all the sex that no one here was getting.
Inside the empty station, cooler air drifted across her legs, Her disease was advancing. Her legs were hot, bursting sausages, she sweated distress. She snarled at the man behind the counter.“I need to hire a carriage.”
“Where to ma'am?” He wheezed and stared at her.
“The Double Bar spread.”
“That’s a long way.”
He shrugged."Up to you. Wait outside." He did not offer help with her bag. “But Hank’s the only one out there now."
There had been some trouble. That was the reason she was here. Frank dragged her bag along the dusty floor and ignored the scabby man's gaze that followed her the entire distance. Oil was trouble, sabotage and an injured worker was worse. She had both on her ranch. On the hard bench outside she rested and rubbed her elbow. Fourty years old, divorced, stinking rich and friendless. Money had a powerful scent and it would not be long before word of her arrival resulted in a carriage. Power intoxicated people, she learned that from her ex-husband. Albert also taught her to ache in places she could not identify.
When she opened her eyes, the sun had peeled the skin off everything around her. Frank squinted into the glare. Her ride had arrived.
The ranch was as she remembered, spread around a lake that tore the sky in half. Fence posts drew lines that wavered in the heat and the oil derricks bobbed up and down, except for the one that hung broken, a scorched and hideous gallows.