If I am repaired, can we meet again for the first time, in all of the places I have feared to go, and then, again, in all of the places I will have forgotten, if I am repaired?



Friday, March 1, 2013


It was six months ago that coons first started getting in to Leroy Akins’ chickens. He had about forty birds then. Domineckers. Good layers.

      Leroy's place is up the road from mine, a little farm that his daddy’s daddy cleared back around the turn of the century. Sixty acres. Mostly rock and hollers. Pretty, but useless. Leroy was retired. I’m guessing all of seventy-five. He’d worked a public job after serving in Korea. Something to do with dynamite. He never said much about either to me: just that he’d been there, and that one, or both occupations, had cost him his hearing and two fingers on his left hand.

     The Military covered Leroy's medical expenses and Social Security sent him a check every month. Enough to keep the lights on and gas in the old Ford pickup truck he drove. Eggs and firewood paid for the rest of his needs. Mostly the eggs. "Splitting firewood ain't gettin' no easier," Leroy would say. Those birds were pretty dear to him.

      Over the course of two weeks, the coons killed about ten of Leroy’s layers—two or three a night. Leroy couldn’t figure it out. He had a nice, tight coop and a penned run. He closed the door at night. But somehow the coons were getting in.

      “They don’t even eat the birds,” Leroy told me, when he came to ask if I had a live-catch trap, “They just pull the heads off, and leave ‘em lay.”

      I dug my trap out of the shed. I’d had problems with possums once. Never coons.

      “I think they just kill ‘em to be killin’,” Leroy said.

The first coon Leroy caught, he nailed to the side of his coop, as a sort of warning to any others that might want to raid his birds. Leroy told me this, when I stopped in one morning at the Fairfield Store for a sausage and egg biscuit.

      “I figure it’s more than one doin’ the killin’,” Leroy told me.

      Leroy was waiting for his money and country ham biscuit. Leroy sold eggs to the store. He got breakfast for free.

      Though Leroy had caught a coon, three more birds were dead.

      “I don’t see no coon, suckin’ the blood out of three chickens, then crawlin’ into a trap for a can of sardines,” Leroy surmised. “Got to be more than one.”

      I agreed.

      “Well, " Leroy said,  "maybe they’ll think twice now about raidin’ my coop with their buddy nailed to the wall.”
      They might, I told him.

      “Just the same,” Leroy asked, “I’d like to keep that trap a while longer. If you don’t mind.”

      I didn’t.

That was the last I saw Leroy Akins.

      The way I heard it, coons kept killing Leroy’s birds and Leroy kept killing coons. He had half a dozen hides, rotting on the sides of his coop. If the wind was right, I could smell them.

      Leroy got down to where he wasn’t getting but three eggs a day. Kathy, the gal down at the Fairfield Store, said he’d still come in every morning. She’d give him his biscuit for free. “Everybody’s missin’ those eggs, Leroy,” Kathy said she told him. “Store bought just don’t taste the same.”

      Finally, one morning, Leroy come in and told Kathy the coons had got the last of his birds. “I’m fixin’ to do me a little huntin’,” he said.

      “I give him his biscuit,” Kathy told me, “and that was the last I saw of him.”

      Three mornings Leroy didn’t show at the Market. Kathy got worried and sent her husband, Daryl, out to check on him. “Something wasn’t right,” she said. “I just knew it.”

      Daryl couldn’t find Leroy, so he called the Law.

      The Law couldn’t find him either. They looked for three weeks, then gave up. “It’s like he vanished,” they said.

      And it was.

They found the body yesterday.

      Coon season started last week. Some boys were running their dogs in the woods down below Dutch Creek, a few miles south of my place. The dogs had circle a big old white oak, neither of the boys ever remembered seeing. When they shined their lights up into the tree, the boys said they’d never seen the likes of eyes looking back at them. “Twenty, thirty coons, at least,” one said, “carryin’ on like the was fixin’ to come down out of that tree.” They were leashing the dogs when we saw the body. Or what was left of it.

      Next morning, the boys called the Law.

      The Law said they found a skeleton, nailed about eight feet from the ground to the old white oak where the boys said the eyes had stared down at them, chattering. Two fingers were missing from the skeleton’s left hand. There was a hammer, too. And a coffee can of nails.

      They haven’t made a positive identification yet. Military records are slow to come by, and it was the only way to I.D. Leroy. If that’s who it was, nailed to that tree. Daryl, Kathy’s husband, and I, went down to Leroy’s place. Just to have a look around.

      The house was locked. The rotting coon hides still hung from the coop, sixteen in all. I saw my trap sitting in the open door of Leroy’s barn. Daryl said we might as well pick it up while we were there.

      Inside his barn, Leroy has a workbench; a few tools hanging over it, and coffee cans full of nails and screws below.

      “Look,” I told Daryl, pointing to a silhouette above the bench.

      The hammer was missing.

      "I don't reckon I'll be needin' this trap any time soon," I told Daryl.

      “Reckon not," he said.

      And we left Leroy Akin's place, quietly.


  1. You stay away from that place, ya'hear. we don't want you nailed to no tree.
    You got real smart coons that hold grudges..

  2. Holy Crap!!!

    How are YOUR chickens doing, Steve??


  3. My daughter just bought a farm, complete with laying hens. I'll be certain to warn her about the antics of coons, and to keep the hammer and nails locked up !

  4. Gotta watch those TN varmits! Their sly and shifty. Great story....

  5. Gotta watch those TN varmits! Their sly and shifty. Great story....


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