Every Wednesday, on Writing Under Pressure, you’ll find a post based on Today’s Word (from Wordsmith.org). Past essays, poems, or flash fiction pieces can be found under Wednesday’s Word on the sidebar to the right.
I like to check in with Wordsmith.org on Tuesdays to get a feel for the theme of the week and build up a good does of writer’s anxiety about what kind of challenge I might face on Wednesday. I’ll be honest, this week’s theme threw me off guard: dirty words.
Okay, I told myself yesterday, don’t jump to conclusions here. “Dirty words” could mean anything, maybe just words about dirt and soil.
Then, I read Wordsmith’s blurb on the theme of choice:
This week [we’re] showcasing words related to — well, if the English language made any sense (as in words include/exclude) — the opposite of increment.
Excrement, and anything related to it…boy, oh boy. And today’s word goes right to the heart of it:
scatology. noun. 1. The scientific study of excrement. 2. An obsession with excrement or excretion. 3. Language or literature dealing with excretory matters in a prurient or humorous manner.
Alrighty, then. Here goes nothing.
Mrs. Randall’s bear
Mick Skuzowski drove the honey wagon for the small town of Palmyra for twenty years. He knew all there was to know about cleaning up and removing waste.
“My career is in the shit house!” he joked more than once over a pint at the Palmyra Tavern. He came from a long line of waste collectors, and he was proud of it.
The Skuzowski’s were well-known for clearing out a septic tank in fifteen minutes flat, stench-free. And, Mick in particular was famous for tracking bears by studying the scat they left behind. So, when Mrs. Randall’s pet, a 350 pound black bear named Bessie, lunged at her throat the morning after Thanksgiving and killed old Mrs. Randall, Mick got the call.
“Mrs. Randall didn’t have a chance,” her husband sobbed. “She was carrying a bucket full of bones and giblets from the last evening’s turkey dinner. Mr. Randall said that Bessie tore a path from the back of their yard, through Mrs. Randall’s garden, and into the woods on the other side of the two lane road.
“Bessie’s never laid a claw on Mrs. Randall, didn’t even nip her when she was a young cub.” Mr. Randall shook his head. “But Bessie had been acting funny lately. Then, this morning she just turned, lumbered across the yard faster than a jackrabbit, and –”
“Don’t you worry,” Mick assured him. “We’ll find her. I’ll track her, and Billy’s hunting crew will shoot her.” At that, Mr. Randall broke down again.
Within the hour, Mick was dressed in his heavy brown overalls, rubber boots, and a camouflage hat. He went into the woods with only a knife. He found where Bessie broke between some trees and discovered a clump of Mrs. Randall’s gray hair hung on some low brush. Mick kept his eyes on the ground and his mind on that bear.
For the most part anyways.
Mick couldn’t help but be a little distracted by the pain in his lower back. It’d been bothering him since last Friday. After he finished cleaning out the septic at the Johnson’s place, he went to wind up the hose and felt it hit a snag on something or other. He tugged the hose and tried to shake it loose. When he finally jerked it toward him, the hose let go quicker than he expected. Mick stumbled backwards and fell onto a cluster of rocks hidden in the grass beside the Johnson’s garage.
Mick stepped gingerly through the woods, standing on his left foot once in a while to alleviate the pain. He walked with his knife open and used it to lift brush or stab and push over a rotting log. He was a few yards from a creek bed when he stopped to straighten his back. He winced at the pain and fell to his knees.
He thought if he could make it to the water, he’d splash his face and rest a bit. Soon enough the pain would subside and he’d head back to town and ask for help. He hated to let Mr. Randall down, but he couldn’t do much tracking on his hands and knees.
Crawling towards the edge of the creek, he thought he heard a noise from across the water, the crack of a stick and the rustle of ferns. He looked up, but saw nothing. As he leaned over and scooped up water, he heard a splash.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her as she rose up on her hind legs. She had a rabid look in her eyes and blood on her teeth. Mick froze. Then, he fell over on his side and yelled out. The pain in his back prevented a quick escape, so the bear was on him before he could stand and run.
The hunters found Mick, and the bear, the next day.
“In the fight,” Billy told Mr. Randall, “Bessie must have fallen on Mick’s knife. She didn’t suffer long.” Billy put his hand on Mr. Randall’s shoulder. “Mick was a real hero, Mr. Randall, always looking out for others.”
“Yes,” Mr. Randall said, quiet. “Ain’t nobody who could clean up a mess as well as Mick Skuzowski. ”