23 January 2009

Hollow Animal

Godl the Jaguar crouched very still at the edge of the clearing next to the stream. The air was still, thick and humid under the jungle canopy. He twitched his ears silently, like flicks of a knife, to drive the flies away from his head. Ordinarily, Godl would have kept walking and hoped the flies would find other creatures to bother. But not right now.

Godl was hungry.

He yawned, squinting at the sunlight pouring into the clearing from above. It glinted off the stream on the other side. He had poked and prodded at the water’s edge in a vain attempt to find some turtle eggs. The brawny jaguar was tired, and he lacked the energy to chase after a troop of monkeys that were caroming through the trees. Monkeys were good eating, his stomach gurgled a little at the thought, but they were nimble. Time to lay still, see what the green wall around him might offer up.

Birds chattered, and Godl’s eyes drooped as fatigue and heat threatened to overtake him. He swished his tail in a burst of nervous energy, but quickly settled down when he heard some sounds coming from the undergrowth. Ears up, eyes wide open, he dilated his nostrils to draw in a deep breath. He chuffed softly trying to tease the scent from the turgid air. The sounds were getting closer. Godl could hear the swishswish of meat on the hoof padding over the leafy detritus on the jungle floor. Another breath, another nose full of aroma, and Godl bared his teeth slightly. The scent was stronger now, and Godl thought himself lucky as a tapir slowly eased its way into the clearing. It was a young male, and large. It held its snout to the ground, snuffling while searching for berries and nibbling on leaves. It stopped and lifted its head, looking around with its head cocked. Godl froze, breath halting in his chest.

The tapir sniffed a few times, and apparently satisfied, ambled through the clearing down to the stream bank. It bent its head to lap up some tea-colored water, snuffling as it drank. Godl moved swift as arrow and silent as a shadow. The tapir paused, raising its head slightly. The jaguar stopped abruptly, freezing in place like a statue. He flexed his front paws and his hindquarters contracted in anticipation of the leap. The tapir remained blithely unaware, dipping to drink again. Godl sprang, a lethal blur of muscle and bone.

A split second before impact, the tapir turned his head to see the jaguar, paws out and fangs bared, hurtling down. The tapir squealed in fright, startling the nearby birds into a trilling panic of feathers, and tried to run. Too late. One paw landed on the tapir’s back, opening a deep gash that welled up crimson in the crystalline sunlight. The other paw narrowly missed the tapir’s head to smack the ground. Godl lunged forward, mouth wide open, and sank his fangs into the base of the skull. Cracksnap. The tapir jerked, a squeal cut off in mid-shriek. Godl blinked, the tapir’s hotness filling his mouth. The beast twitched and went limp. The jaguar waited briefly, breathing deep through its nostrils, then let go.

Godl stood with one paw on the tapir’s neck, the other on its snout. He looked up into the sun and gave vent to a mighty roar, drops of blood spraying from his mouth. The nearby troop of monkeys leapt into a shrieking scrum of fur, wondering what they done to bring down the voice of thunder on themselves.


Godl’s limbs twitched furiously as he dreamed, lying in the pool of bluish winter sunlight that shone down through alien trees. He growled quietly, muzzle quivering, and his front right paw spasmed sharply. The slightly extended claws snagged themselves on the heavy steel chain that trailed across the frozen ground. The chain tightened, links tinkling against each other, and jerked on the thick collar that encircled Godl’s throat. He chuffed loudly, startling himself awake. Godl shook his head violently and sprang to his feet. He scanned the clearing in a swift traverse of his blocky head. His heart was pounding, half caught in the dream and half in reaction to being awakened by the jerk from the chain.

Satisfied that he was in no danger, Godl shuffled over to the far edge of the clearing, about as far as he could get at the end of the chain. The ground was somewhat bare at the spot under his haunches. The jaguar often sat there to smell the breezes coming off from the lake, about one hundred leaps to the east. Watching the water and the birds the husky cat wondered what they tasted like, and if there were any tasty turtle eggs to be found. He really missed those eggs. Nothing like them, freshly dug from the muck and crunchy on his tongue, meaty-sweet. The rations he received here had nothing to recommend them beyond their quantity. Hefty chunks and slabs of meat, the beast he could not tell, delivered by The Keeper from the back of a noisy man-machine almost every day. Godl hated that machine, hated the grating metallic smell of the cloudy breath it would belch out as it backed up to the drop-off point, on the other side of the clearing. The jaguar started making a point of it to be as far away from the Keeper as he could manage when he heard the machine coming.

Godl huffed, the closest sound a jaguar could make to a sigh. His ears twitched and swiveled to pick up the bird calls and other forest noises. He often heard other snarls and growls, hoots and screeches. He occasionally caught faint whiffs of animal scent, that he recognized as others of his type and of the slow moving creatures they ate. He rarely saw them though, and then only at a distance. Out on the lake, the blue-green blur of a heron swooped over the icy water, coming to rest in the shallows. It flapped its wings and folded into a hunting stance. The lanky bird eyed the water along the shore intently. Godl strained at his leash and pondered the slow-motion trap that had brought him here, fattening him up and stealing his life from him.

The first time it seemed sheer luck, a happy windfall when he came upon two freshly killed peccaries lying at the base of a tree he often marked. There was another aroma in the air, one he did not recognize but he paid it no heed. He had been unsuccessfully hunting for two days, and was famished. The peccaries were still warm, and Godl set to with gusto. After eating his fill, he dragged one carcass into the underbrush and fell into a deep slumber, dreaming the dreams only a king can have. A few moons later, it happened again, and this time the bounty was half the carcass of a tapir. It was lying in the same spot as the peccaries had been. Godl growled with pleasure. This would hold him for a long time.

After that day, the mysterious gifts showed up with increasing frequency. Once there was even a cache of the turtle eggs that Godl loved so much. He could hardly believe his luck, and he sent up a feline prayer to the Jaguar God, thanking him for his bounty. Godl began to grow fat. He began to hunt less and his muscles began to grow soft. He didn’t worry; that kind of what if thinking never occurred to him. He felt he would always be so fast and so dangerous, he would never have to worry about sustenance. He grew careless.

One day, he passed the tree to see a peccary, laid out on its back. Beside it was a pile of turtle eggs. Godl wasn’t particularly hungry, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity. That other unfamiliar scent was in the air, heavy this time, but Godl paid it no mind. He squinted as he closed his powerful jaws on the pathetic peccary, biting into its soft body.


Godl jerked his head back with a snarl, feeling two sharp hot stings in his shoulder and hindquarters. He whipped his head around in a frenzy trying to bite at the feathered metal darts that had penetrated his flesh, sinking deep and spreading fire as the tranquilizer payload seeped into his muscles and bloodstream. He managed to get his teeth on the dart in the rear and he yanked it out. The one in his shoulder was impossible to reach, and Godl’s desperate flailing became weaker and weaker. His sight dimmed as the drugs took effect and he dropped unconscious to the jungle floor.


Godl had awoken, stiff and sore, in an alien forest. His mouth was bone-dry. His eyes fluttered weakly as he staggered to his feet. The air was different, dry and full of unfamiliar scents. It was cooler here, reminding him of the few times he had ventured up into the highlands near his home territory. The difference was the background smell; wet and vegetal there, crisp and mineral here. He shivered while taking some shaky steps across the clearing. It was then he realized that there was something around his neck: a collar, thick and heavy leather. The collar was firmly attached to a heavy black steel chain by a thick, u-shaped hasp. The hasp was secured to the collar by heavy rivets through a flat steel plate. Godl could not see it, but certainly felt it snug around his throat.

Godl panicked. He bolted forward to strain against the chain. He ran frantically in circles hoping to shake it off, to no avail. The jaguar collapsed in a panting heap, at the edge of the clearing with his face pointed at the lake. Godl saw a heron, stepping gingerly through the shallows. A deep chuff escaped his lungs. He fell asleep, exhausted and knowing he was trapped.

He was awoken by the man-machine clattering up to the clearing, bringing Godl his first ration of meat in his new life as a prisoner. The jaguar backed away slowly as the machine ground to a halt, and the Keeper stepped out onto the flatbed. It was then that Godl recognized that unfamiliar smell from weeks ago. It was the smell of his captor. Overriding that was the salty metallic tang of blood, lots of blood. The Keeper began tossing chunks of what, to the jaguar’s nose, smelled a bit like the tapirs he used to catch. When he was done, the Keeper stopped to stare at Godl, his eyes hidden behind obsidian lenses. They glared at one another, man and beast. The Keeper waved and climbed back into the truck. Godl waited until it drove away, and then his overwhelming hunger drove him to the pile of food. He ate too fast, all the while wondering why it didn’t taste like the wild meat he used to eat. To him, it filled his belly but didn’t taste of life.

Days passed, then weeks. The same routine, the Keeper bringing him food, Godl pacing around and around. Godl began to grow soft and flabby, even as he repeatedly tried to slip the collar, with no luck. The collar just would not budge. Godl grew despondent. He amused himself by listening for the different animal sounds, and watching for the heron on the lake. Godl often wondered why the heron seemed to be watching him, stock still as a copper statue.

So it was that winter day, Godl sitting with his back to the clearing, looking out over the lake. Heron was there, inscrutable and still, when he wasn’t stalking fish. The wind blew softly, carrying with it the smell of minerals and the thick aroma of meat. The clatter of the truck grew louder finally cutting out as the Keeper pulled to a stop. Godl did not bother turning his head. There was a brief pause, then the wet smacksmacksmack of fresh meat hitting the packed earth. The jaguar sat immobile, waiting for the Keeper to leave. When Godl didn’t react, the Keeper shrugged and got back into the truck. A grind of the ignition, a cloud of acrid smoke and he was gone in a slowly fading roar. The cold breeze carried off the exhaust. Godl waited until it was silent, except for the sound of birds and unseen animals. He blinked only once, focused on the heron down on the lake. When he was sure the Keeper was gone, he slowly turned as smooth and silent like oil in water, and padded over to the meat. It was exceptionally fresh, still warm and leaking blood. Godl found he wasn’t hungry. He stood and pondered the drops of blood as they rolled off the flesh. An idea took root in his head; he chuffed with pleasure, fangs bared.

Godl began rubbing his head and neck over the haunch, smearing blood all over the fur and the reeking leather of the collar. Soon his fur was matted and slick, the crimson fluid working its way under the band around his neck. When it was thoroughly soaked, Godl hurried to the far side of the clearing and backed his way towards the lake. He strained against the chain, pulling it taut. The collar began to slip slowly over his neck, inching its way over his ears. It stuck briefly, and a few hard yanks later, it began to budge. Godl chuffed in pleasure while continuing to pull. Soon, he thought, soon.

Down on the lake, the heron watched Godl with interest. He spread his wings, clacking his beak in anticipation, and settled down to wait.

(I was inspired to write this story after reading this very intriguing post from That Girl. In the comments I asked her, “What is more valuable to you, your foot or your freedom?” in reference to being caught in a trap and having to gnaw your way out. What is above is not at all the story I had intended to write. My first draft was very different, and only came together after a brisk walk around my favorite park. I called out, but the heron was nowhere to be seen. He was probably visiting with a friend.)


  1. Absolutely captivating as always - you need to call Oprah and tell her to put a real writer on her book club.


  2. You've beautifully captured the plight of the Caged Animal.. That was breathtaking and vivid. Bravo!

  3. Dude, do you ever sleep?
    Excellent work, yet again.

  4. From hunter to hunted to hunter again, bravo, Irish!

  5. Definitely my freedom Dude. You can have freedom without a foot, but having a foot without freedom is pointless.
    I liked the word 'caroming'. I really liked it.
    One of my favourite book's is Callanish by William Horwood. It's about freedom. Read it if you can - it is truly beautiful.

  6. I could live with one foot.
    Nice story Gumby!

  7. Thanks for following LWM...and be careful with that Caps Lock, or I might come after you.

  8. Clap, clap, clap.

    That was, sir, brilliant as usual. I was captivated.

  9. Irish - can I have your autograph? I want it before you become famous becaise this is some of the best writing I have had the pleasure of reading in a long time!

  10. Your are being featured on Five Star Friday!

  11. Fuck a duck my brotha!!!!!! Your writing is insanely great! I feel like a pre-schooler next to you.

  12. Sandi: Thank you! And that is very kind of you. I’ll have my peeps call her peeps.

    CPM: I like how you capitalized Caged Animal. Key detail. And thank you!

    OAM: Thank you! And what is this ‘sleep’ of which you speak?

    SK: Exactly. Thank you!

    Belle: Me too. ‘Caroming’ just fit, while I was thinking about monkeys. Thanks for the book ref!

    Sweet Cheeks: Me, too. Thanks!

    LWM: You’re welcome. I promise to be careful!

    MD: (bows) Thank ye kindly!

    Krystal: Of course! You want it on a hat or a shirt or something? Thank you for your kind words, wow!

    Schmutzie: Moi? Thank you, I’ll check it out.

    BTM: (laughing) You honor me sir! Thanks!

  13. and to think, i wuz jez gonna turn it in.

    Irish, i'm double-pleased that i stopped by. gotta tell you, it was good right up until the end, then . . .

    it was great! the crane settling in to wait. to wait? god, why am i tortured this way?

    that ending was so insightful, original and perfect.

    oh, then i scooted over to That Girl. could'a whacked upside with a block of ice and i would've continued the read. good stuff!

    okay, now i'm gonna have to hate you both. :-) jez kiddin'

    thank you,


  14. Is he going to eat the keeper?! Is he!? Is he!?

  15. Oprah-smoprah. She wouldn't know a real writer if she fell over one. You rock Mr Irish...but please don't back away from me :(

  16. Bravo!! Your posts are so different from day to day and so unique. The only thing I "expect" to see when I come here is brilliance. And, like everyone else, I'm still waiting for the day that you announce you're publishing a book.

  17. I'll buy your books, read them, and buy more.

    You so rock.

  18. You certainly have quite a way with words, squire. Nice anthropomorphosizing! (Is that a real word? It is now...)

  19. Your descriptives are so damn descriptive. I need to take lessons from you.

  20. I will have to come back to this later when I have time to read...right now I need a nap. Seriously need a nap.

  21. BES: Thank you, glad you liked it. Please, no hatin’…;)

    Captain: (flipping the coin, flipping the coin…)

    Braja: *blush* I am honored! And I’ll stop backing away, I’m comin’ back…:)

    Chris: Thank you! (don’t tell anyone, but many days, I have no idea what will happen when I sit down :))

    Janie: I do have a lot on my shelves, I’ll get you a discount. Thank you!

    TBF: What you said – I like the sound of it, assuming I am pronouncing it right…

    Beth: “Ah, the ocean! She’s so…wet. So very damned wet!” (grin) 1st lesson, grasshopper…

    Kat: Quite alright, take all the time you need. (yawn) crap, now I’m sleepy, see what you did? :)

  22. If I hadn't read your footnote about writing this in response to That Girl's post...and if I was still teaching literature to captured groups of students...I would have been teaching the symbolism in this story in relation to your life (or what I know of your life as revealed in posts). We would have been discussing Godl...his freedom...his captivity...his escape...and how all that relates to Irish Gumbo. We would have definitely been discussing the unusual name of your main character. We would have written pages and pages of our theories on the relationship between the Keeper and the captured hero. This is about That Girl's freedom, you say? Hmmm.



"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...