a rad tale by Steve Lowe

Those damn raccoons are here again.

I know it’s raccoons. Rather easy to deduce considering the scores of chocolate footprints everywhere. Amassed around the Hershey’s bottle, little claw marks around the cabinet door handles, on my NOAA data report sheets. On my goddamn bassoon. Serves me right leaving it out like that, but it’s the principles of the thing. Did they think they would be able to play it? I mean, c’mon! They’re raccoons!

But none of that matters.  Now I know what needs to be done.

It’s time to take it to them varmits.

* * *

Mother said learn an instrument. When the pecking order in band class found its way to me, it was down to the tuba or the bassoon. I picked second-to-last and I snatched up that bassoon as fast as lightening. I felt bad for Philo for about two seconds, but there was no way I was comin’ up off of that bassoon. I wouldn’t have cared if it expelled noxious gas every time I played it or if it was dipped in pink paint and sparkles. It was still better than the tuba. Philo got his ass kicked that very afternoon trying to lug that case home on the school bus.

Poor Philo.

But I digress. We were discussing raccoons.

Lock the doors, set the dead bolt, put out traps, didn’t matter. They still got in. After the third or fourth time, I got wise. There was more at work here than simple hi-jinks by Procyon lotor. This wasn’t figuring out the bungee cord hooked over the garbage can outside. This was sinister. Diabolical.

The raccoons had a key.

Can a raccoon take a house key and make an imprint in a bar of soap, then take that to a somewhat dishonest key maker’s shop, then return with this newly fashioned counterfeit key, insert it in the slot, disengage the dead bolt AND the knob lock, and gain entry to a domicile?

A fair enough question. My answer: Yes. My proof: the sticky little chocolate footprints leading from the kitchen, down the hall, into the bathroom, up onto the sink, peppered around the light switch, and covering the soap tray next to the faucet.

They’re definitely smart, but not quite smart enough. Were they a step or two higher on the evolutionary ladder, they’d have had sense enough to wash away their sugary evidence when they were done.

But what to do about it? What do they want and why have they chosen to accost me? Around every corner, I see beady yellow eyes and the burglar flash of those little masked deviants. They watch, at all times. Peeking around dumpsters, shadowing me as I come and go from the lab. Lurking around the fields, observing my experiments. I have taken to keeping my notes under lock and key, but obviously that is no longer enough since the little shits are accomplished safe crackers.

Each day, another weather balloon is gone, its mooring tether clearly chewed through. A wealth of meteorological knowledge lost to the turbulent Midwestern breezes. I still receive readings for a few days after noting upper atmospheric conditions over God knows what state.

West Virginia. Pennsylvania. Ontario.

At best, these appear to be only the mischievous deeds of nature’s maladjusted miscreants.

A more sinister view reveals these acts to be aimed at destroying me personally and professionally, making me responsible for the loss of several thousand dollars worth of government equipment, not to mention setting me up as an unreliable boob unable to secure a simple knot.

But my suspicions lead me to the direst of scenarios. This is the first act of a broader offensive. A probing attack by an army of highly trained combatants perfectly suited for urban or rural insurrection. The first wave of a multi-pronged assault. Front-line insurgents of a terror war.

I have been singled out, for reasons unknown to me. I will not shirk from my duty as a first-response defender of freedom from animal aggression, but my path is unclear. Do I take up arms and battle them in the open? Do I dare attempt to match their skills at guerilla warfare?

Exactly how the hell do you fight a pack of raccoons?

Then it hits me. The bassoon. The siren song of my baritone woodwind.  Each night I play, the next morning I have been overrun. As rats to the Piper’s flute, so flocks the coon to my bassoon.

To the porch I go. An extension cord and microphone and my SMG-137 Singing Machine karaoke system arranged before me. My Schreiber 25-key nestled along my thigh. The warmth of my old friend sets my heart at ease as I gird my loins for battle.

I await dusk. Then I play. Blues and baroque, ragtime, swing. I play it all, cheaply amplified into the gathering night. The Wedding March and Anchors Aweigh. Wagner – God, how I love the booming intonations of Wagner.

I’m droppin’ bassoon knowledge on that varmit ass. Flutter-tongue, double tongue, multiphonic.

I am become Heckel and Almenrader. I am Telemann.

So swept up in my concert I am, I don’t notice the sets of eyes quickly amassing along the perimeter of my home. They burn from the shadows, enraptured and unblinking.

Upon seeing them, I pause, a heavy E flat hovering in the air like smoke. I rise and grip the long, thin reed assembly in my palm. A twittering grows among my agitated audience, the hypnotic effect of my instrument fading up to the stars.

“Do your worst, bastard garbage eaters!”

I wrench the reed from my instrument and fling it into the trees. One glowing eye is extinguished and a shrill cry shatters the frosty air. A chorus of accompanying cries pierces my ears and the attack commences. I am beset on all sides by ferocious masked creatures. One after the next feels the murderous thump of finely crafted maple and brass. I skewer my attackers upon my orchestral implement and fling their carcasses aside. They are many and sharp of tooth and claw, but ultimately no match for this man and his bassoon.

The beasts know they are beaten and their remaining numbers slink back to the trees. As they watch from the shadows, spectral eyes glowing in the night, I cloak myself in the dripping skins of their conquered comrades. Their juices sluice over my flesh, wet my lips. I taste their roasted meats and rattle out dirges and marches upon my porch railing with their harvested bones. I serenade the steaming pile of them with the battered remnants of my bassoon, its sharps now wheezing, dying flats.

But this battle is far from over and I am shaken from my victory haze by the brassy blaring of his tuba, a bleating call to arms. A siren song more intoxicating than even that from my beloved bassoon, may she rest in peace.

His remaining army of varmits slip out of the darkness to swarm at his feet, hissing at me with new-found aggression from behind the safety of his wide, doughy form. We are both older now, no longer children, but I know it’s him. And I know now he is my true enemy, whose hand has guided these events all along. He reveals himself in the pale of the risen moon and we consider one another in that deep breath before the headlong plunge into war.

“Hello Philo.”