The Shed of Ted Avery by Keith McQuade

Fiction, Fresh

A few minutes to nightfall at a weathered farm in northern British Columbia: Ted Avery, a long-bearded octogenarian, sits on his back porch and scans the treeline on the edge of his yard for wayward creatures that might have the audacity to approach before the sun goes down. This is a dance Ted and those who live in the forest have been doing since he bought the farm in his early forties.

They’re after the pelts, see?

They’re after the furs of their fallen brothers and sisters, which nightly are claimed and lifted from their corpses by Ted himself. What they want with them, he can only guess —but night after night they appear like clockwork. Slowly at first, they approach trudging through the overgrown wheatgrass and seeding dandelions, making no sound, save a soft crinkle where their paws supposedly land with each step.

They advance in direction of the shed of Ted Avery, otherworldly, smoke-like breath oozing from their mouths and nostrils and slowly winding upward in tendrils before drifting on the sullen breeze, dissipating from view.

They come every single night, and while you and I may initially be perturbed by this shocking affair, for Ted Avery it’s as commonplace as washing the dishes or checking the mail. So each night, just before the sun disappears completely and the sky is blood orange and violet, he readies himself on his porch in an upward hunting stance and looks down the viewfinder of his rifle. In that fleeting moment of hazy twilight, the only sound carried on the wind is a low dulcet tone of a far-off wind chime. There has been no moment in Ted’s life that makes him feel more alive and more at peace, and he inhales as the day fades.

The evening arrives and so do they, from the treeline. At first it’s only their animal eyes, luminous and pale, but moments pass and tardily they come out from the trees and into sight, where the brilliant moonlight makes their bodies all too visible. They glide carefully toward the shed, like leaves adrift on the currents of a placid stream. Ted dares not move, his breath kept in his lungs, as they proceed apace.

There are five of them now in total —he can see three ahead of him, and two from his periphery at his right.

Not yet, thinks Ted. He wants to wait until there is little chance of escape. He wants them to feel just how vulnerable they really are. More arrive, gaining ground toward his shed with the same tired and graceful movements as the others. Ted thinks there are eight now. One off to his right seems mere meters from their goal.

NOW! he says to himself and he relinquishes his breath, exhales, and jerks his body to his side. The creature snaps from its trance and looks directly at him, but it is too late. A single bullet rips the air and buries itself between the beast’s eyes. It’s dead.

It collapses to the ground with a soft thud, while the others retreat promptly to the shadows of the trees beyond Ted Avery’s yard, leaving not a trace to show they were even there. Ted calmly lowers his rifle and saunters to where the body fell. He looks over the corpse and at its face where the eyes are still open and they look both terrified and peaceful. The real work begins now.

The night passes without incident as Ted secludes himself in his shed, busily toiling away, and morning arrives just as he reaches his porch, clothes covered in blood.

As the sun rises and casts itself on the shed of Ted Avery, many faded and weather-beaten pelts are seen nailed to its surface. One of them looks new.

Photo by Julie Falk