KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 6: Fall 2016
Tanka Tale: 847 words


by Claire Everett

once more by moonlight, quick and lithe, pausing only briefly here and there because with hungry kits, to linger is to tempt fate. Soft as moss, sleek as new grass, a running-stitch of six senses, she trims a track between tree roots, circles a hem for bluebells and wild garlic.

The badgers’ digging has woken the worms. She’ll remember that for later. An easier time will come: a dawn she’s yet to see that speaks in an old tongue. She feels it in her whiskers. But not a whisper of this to the young jills who could be with child themselves even before they’ve left her side. Yes, they’re still mouths to be fed but at least they have their eyes and ears now.

She’s in the mood for rabbit, if not the pursuit of one. The thrill of the chase is not to be sniffed at, but is this the night for dizzying her quarry and tailing it far into its run, until its hind legs are stricken with fear while its front paws scrabble toward a light that will not come? A scuffling in the thicket decides her. Whatever it is, it doesn’t have the tread or stink of man.

a beady-eyed glint
of shrew smell...
a small something
to take away the taste
of the pheasant’s spoiled eggs

Stealing once more through the shadows, there’s a nip in the air, the last of the stars blintering like frost. Nothing that another sip of whisky from his hip flask won’t sort out. He swallows hard just as the eastern sky takes on a blush. It’s like that kiss he gave Nancy when he slipped away in the dark.

“Where’re you off to, love?” she’d murmured half-asleep.

“To see a man about a dog,” he’d said. Not far wrong. “Hush now, it’s early yet.”

Of course she knew. He’d seen how she recoiled when she first saw the gin trap a few mornings ago.

“Don’t you be letting the kids see that. Horrible, evil thing! I’ll never forget the way the rabbits used to scream. I used to beg Dad to go and find them and put them out of their misery. But he was a good man. He knew nothing about the ways of men like—”


She’d folded her arms then, refused to look into his eyes.

“That’s not fair, Nancy, do you think I want to do this? Do you think I have much choice? We need food on the table, that’s all.”

He knows a man who knows a man. They pay good money for this kind of thing, more than he’s ever made from hedge-laying or labouring. There are four little ones now and another on the way.

He stops short. A tawny owl is watching him from the bough of a hawthorn. The smell of the blossoms is sickly, deathly-sweet. He has another swig of whisky before setting off again through the nettles, slowly and deliberately, as if he’s putting out the last embers of a trail of fire.

A rabbit would do. It’d be a start. A fox would be better. There’s even been talk of those new-fangled mink starting to escape from the farm and head to the river. C’mon, where’s the harm in it? It’s what the ladies want. And they’re with the men who can pay for it. Maybe one day even girls like Nancy will be languishing in fur, like Jean Arthur in that film, Easy Living. Fairytales can happen, even for the hoi polloi. Not that his Nancy would have any truck with such fancies. Leave it where it belongs, she says. But wait until she has a few more shillings in her purse. He’s not asking her to wear it for heaven’s sake! There’s a spring in his step now as he draws closer to the place.

Ermine. Now that’d be just fine and dandy! That was for kings and queens to say they were pure. They’re rare, but there’s furriers who can dye the skins all kinds of colours. You need a month of bleak, bitter cold for the stoat to wear its ermine. And when she does she’s easy pickings because they say she’d rather die than spoil her pretty white coat. He laughs at the thought then remembers what might lie ahead. And if, indeed, something’s taken the bait, whatever it is, it’ll be first blood; the taste of bigger and better things to come perhaps...

He tightens his grasp on the sack of tools. If the thing’s not dead, he’ll need the hammer to render it at least comatose. Then, like the manual says, he’s to pin the head with one foot and place the other on the chest. You have to think of the pelt at all times. And last of all, “to be certain that the fur-bearer is dead, take the striking tool and gently touch the eye or mouth and watch for any reaction...”

it’s vintage
don’t judge me,
you say
shrugging off the stole
as if cruelty comes
with an expiry date

—Semi-finalist, KYSO Flash HTP Writing Challenge

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