by William Falo

A sense of danger overwhelmed the raccoon. He headed up the hill that overlooked the area. His legs ached after every step. Before he reached the summit, a roar made him stop, then a big orange machine came over the top of the hill. It knocked trees over and made a path toward the farm field.

The other raccoons were scattered all over the place: one went toward the empty farmhouse hunting for anything left behind when the humans abandoned it, one headed toward a trash dump hidden in the woods, his daughter went to the creek to hunt for small frogs and she always washed her hands in the fresh water.

When he reached the bottom he looked up. The tractor knocked down trees as it moved sideways, clearing a path for more vehicles behind it. He watched in horror. They kept coming like a line of ants going to a picnic.

The border between humans and the wilderness became closer and it meant more danger to all the animals in the woods. He shivered and ran toward the creek to warn his daughter, she should have left months ago, but she stayed to watch out for him after his mate was killed by a car on the road. Now his time was nearing an end and he needed to warn the others. They needed to move away.

Her smell guided him to the creek where she washed some berries she found.
He made sounds humans wouldn’t understand, but she knew and her eyes grew larger. She dropped the berries into the water and they floated away. He thought of his mate and her lifeless body on the side of a road.

This place was like heaven for them; abundant food and freedom were rare for raccoons. He led her to the edge of the field. His legs ached, and he pointed for her to find the others and what direction to go. She pulled at his legs, but he refused to go. If he went with her, they both might find more farm fields and life would go on, but the humans would come fast and the others would be killed. If he climbed the hill and stopped the humans all the others would have time to escape, but it would leave him so weak they would leave him behind. A weak or injured raccoon was a dead one. Even family leaves behind those that can’t walk or make it on their own.

Smoked poured out of one machine on top of the hill. She refused to leave him until he headed up the hill. She made a long mournful sound then turned and ran to find the others. He chugged up the hill toward the huge machines. Crows cawed out warnings from overhead, but he kept going.

The machine stopped, and the men gathered around it lighting up some sticks that sent smoke into the air. The pain in his legs seared, but he kept going. At the top, he crawled into the door of the truck that knocked down the trees. The men removed masks and continued to send puffs of smoke into the air, unaware of his presence.

He walked under the machines and bit into any soft hoses he could reach, causing the foul-smelling liquid to spill out, then he climbed into the seat and saw shiny, metal objects hanging in front of him. As a young raccoon, he collected metal objects. It was a habit he stopped because of his old age. He knew humans valued shiny objects, and he grabbed them. They tumbled to the floor, and he jumped down and bit them. He headed down the hill, stopping to stuff the metal objects under a fallen log. The men heard him.

“Hey, there’s that raccoon again. He must have rabies. I hate those bandits.”

“He might spread some kind of disease like the COVID.”

“No, that was probably bats.”

“Well, maybe something worse.”

A loud bang vibrated through the woods at the same time he was knocked backward and a searing pain spread through him. Blood poured out of his side. He heard their footsteps coming as darkness overcame him.

“I think he’s dead, but there are no keys.”

“I want to cut the tail off and hang it on my mirror.” Through the darkness, he saw a long blade sparkle as it got closer.

“No, leave it.”

A human with long hair leaned toward him. She wore a mask with animals that looked familiar on it except they looked less wild.

“It’s not the raccoon’s fault we’re taking his home away. I should quit this job.”
She rubbed the raccoon’s side.

Another one spoke. “You idiot, that shot will bring the rangers. There was one close by. They’ll shut us down for months or longer.”

“What do we do?”

“Call the office.”

“Don’t tell them about the raccoon, they’ll think we’re idiots.”

“You mean, they’ll think you’re an idiot.”

The human with long hair petted him. “You’ll be okay. I’ll make sure they don’t come back.”

He opened his eyes and looked up. The machines remained silent. He raised a paw in defense when another animal came closer. His daughter. Raccoons don’t cry, but her eyes were wet. With all her strength she dragged his body down the hill. He tried to stop her and made sounds to leave him there. She refused.
She stopped when they heard a voice from the top of the hill.

“We’re moving everything north. We can’t stay here.”

One voice moved closer. “All because of a raccoon.”

“Yep, one brave raccoon and the fact that some people around here tested positive for COVID.” He recognized the voice as the kind human.

She continued to drag her father until she reached the new field. He opened his eyes. The other raccoons ran through a field filled with old corn and other vegetables the humans abandoned. It was a feast. She licked his face and rubbed her stomach. He knew she would have kits soon.

He got up and his daughter licked his face then ran to the other raccoons. The sound of the tractors grew fainter, but he knew they would be back. He thought of the one kind human and it gave him a sliver of hope. He wanted to warn the others but waited to let them have some happiness before the humans came again.

William Falo studied Environmental Science at Stockton University. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Raconteur Review, The UK journal Superlative, Fragmented Voices, Train River’s first fiction anthology, and other literary journals.