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Animals and Social Trash

Kevin Kraft

Cars are racing down a highway. On the median, an exhausted man, not quite old but certainly not young either, holds a ripped cardboard sign with nearly unintelligible writing scrawled across its surface. Earlier in the day he had been waving and smiling at passing cars, foolishly believing yet again that someone would stop and help him. But it’s been hours since then, and now he sits defeated with his chin resting upon a loose, shaking fist.

In the early hours of the morning, when the sun had just started to peek over the horizon, he had trudged out to the highway from the nearby park where he had taken up residence. There were a few other people like him who slept there, some with bedrolls and other with cheap tents, all avoiding eye contact and jealously hoarding their few possessions, and dodging the cops whenever they decided to go and clear out the park.

That was when the man saw a Range Rover come flying down the road before quickly coming to a stop. The man was ecstatic, thinking someone had finally stopped to help him! The man walked over to the car and a teenager climbed out. The teenager opened his trunk and removed a shovel, and he shooed the old man away, shouting and waving the shovel in the air like a spear.

The man ran back to the median, and the teenager threw his shovel to the ground and removed a big, bulky black trash bag from the trunk.

“...get out of here! I don’t want you scaring away my customers.”

The man, panting and suddenly lightheaded, immediately ran to a nearby convenience store that was just opening. The owner was searching for his keys in his pocket when he saw the man running up. 

“Hey,” the owner shouted, “get out of here! I don’t want you scaring away my customers.”

“No, wait, there’s a guy over there,” the man said, pointing. “He just chased me around with a shovel, and I think I saw him take a body out of his car! I think we need to call the police or something.”

The owner looked over at where the man was pointing. He eyed the teenager and squinted, but then he saw the Range Rover. “Come on, there’s just a kid over there. He’s not hurting anybody. Now get out of here.”

The owner unlocked the store and went inside. The man sighed and trudged back out to the highway median.

The teenager slammed the trunk shut and dragged the large trash bag over to a nearby shrub, where a black cat suddenly emerged with a bird clenched in its jaws, freshly killed. The cat stared at the teenager, folding its ears, arching its back, spitting and hissing.

The teenager swung the shovel at the cat, who dropped its kill and sprinted away. "Goddamn animal,” the teenager muttered.

The teenager gripped his shovel and thrust it into the earth. He started to dig, whispering expletives and references to divinities as he did. Quickly he became hunched over as the dig seemed to sap his energy, but he continued to stab at the earth with every ounce of resolve he had.

Before the hole was any more than a foot or two deep, long shadows began to form on the ground. The teenager quickened his pace, shoveling dirt into the steadily growing pile next to the hole as quickly as he could. Sweat began rolling down his face and onto his shirt in thick, steady beads as he growled and panted at the ground.

The man watched all of this and couldn’t help but wonder where all the police were. They had always been hidden just out of sight years ago when he was speeding. When he was running low on cash and decided to help his dealer friend to make some extra cash, the first guy he tried to sell to turned out to be a cop. They were never seemed to be far away when he was sleeping in the park. Now this horror was unfolding in front of his eyes and it seemed there wasn’t a cop for miles.

A car raced down the highway, and the teenager threw his shovel aside and began to dig with his bare hands, throwing the dirt aside, burrowing into the earth. He was like a mole, blind and afraid of what the light might bring, knowing only that the meaning of existence is to dig, dig as fast as you can, eat the dirt if you have to, you goddamn animal.

The man suddenly, involuntarily, reached for his right pocket, where he used to keep his phone, but only ended up patting his leg.

A second car raced down the highway and the teenager suddenly decided that the hole was deep enough. It grabbed the black bag and threw it into the hole, using its hands to pile dirt on top of it. It patted down the earth with its blackened, filthy paws and then scrambled back to the car and fled, leaving the shovel behind as it went.

Cars are still racing down the highway.

It’s been many hours since the teenager and the man were the highway’s sole occupants. The man thinks back and realizes it’s been a sad day. Nobody has stopped to give him food or money, or even talked to him, and he’s afraid he’ll have to go another day without eating.

A police cruiser drives down the highway with its lights flashing and stops in front of the man. The police officer climbs out of her cruiser and says, “We’ve gotten some reports of panhandling here. I need you to leave.”

“Leave?” the man asks. “Leave where? Where am I gonna go? I’m not hurting anyone.”

“We’ve actually been told by some of the stores around here that you’re scaring away customers,” the officer replies. “I don’t really care where you go, but you can’t stay here.”

The old man sighs and struggles to his feet, making sure to take his cardboard sign with him so the officer can’t yell at him for littering too. As he walks away, the officer stops him and asks:

“By the way, there’s a silver alert out right now. A woman disappeared from her retirement home last night, less than a mile from here. Have you seen anything?”

The old man stops and stares over her shoulder, looking at the grass on the side of the highway, with the dirt disturbed and the shovel still lying where the teenager had left it hours earlier. He feels his heartbeat starts to race as he forms a connection only he can make.

He looks back at the officer.

“Nope. Just two cats fighting or something.”

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