As I cross the threshold, I’m greeted by loud and atmospheric music wafting down below by a boom-box. Carefully, I follow the song poured forth from oblivion—the narrow staircase groans as I descend upon spines of steppingstones further into the dark, dank basement I fear so much. Dim, flickering light the shade of a Mykonos sky blooms in the distance—it’s the only way I can orient myself amongst the sprawling space.
Anchored in a corner under that glow, my father, Eustace, works diligently on his projects, oblivious of my existence, swaying ever so slightly to match the song’s rhythm. He’s a taxidermist. An artist and a sculptor—crafting in the macabre, flourishing in tragedy and presenting newfangled, rebuilt horror as masterpieces of artwork. He’s removing the pelt from a coyote when he kills the music.
“Need something?” he questions.
“No,” I confess. “Just wanted to watch, is all.”
“OK. Don’t touch anything.”
He returns to lacerating the animal he caught earlier this morning. Fur rains on the workbench like snow. The disconnected flesh is yanked off the body with a slurp; the bloody carcass is tossed aside into a large bucket that’s swarming with black flies and reeks to high heaven. After that, my father dons glasses and a painter’s mask and tans the coat. Once dry, he mounts the skin on either a mannequin made from wood, wool and galvanized wire, or on a polyurethane form made from plaster, polyester resin and glass cloth. All that’s left is to sew the animal back together as if nothing happened.
“Pretty neat, huh?” my father says, removing his glasses. Sweat beads upon his forehead, but a smile breaks across his face.
I glance around at the stuffed animals. “Yeah,” I lie.
“Want to try?”
He exits his seat and brings back a wheelbarrow around to my side, offering a dead bobcat. The poor thing lies in a pool of blood, fur matted with dirt and gore. Head slumped, neck broken. Eyelids drooping, but not all the way closed—it’s squinting at me, begging me to let it rest in peace. I lift it out by its enormous paws. The weight of it sinks my heart.
“Put it on the workbench,” my father instructs.
I obey, like I’ve always obeyed, but much to my discomfort. My father stretches the bobcat out and charts the way I cut the skin, indicating with the tip of the knife.
“What are they for?” I ask, looking back at the fauna looking back at me. The room is stone cold by their loitering ghosts.
“I might sell them to museums or nature centers.”
“Museums? Can’t we keep them?”
“Do you want one?”
“A real one…yeah.”
“Oh no,” my father sighs. “We can’t keep a real one—they’re killing machines.”
Disappointed, I start slicing.
I wonder, whenever I die, if my father will reconstruct me like the others; peel, paint, pack, patch and present me, mounted up on a wall or something.
Kieron Walquist lives in Mid-Missouri. His work has appeared in Two Sentence Stories.