I was walking my dog near my home. It is a daily ritual, one that must occur promptly at five. Otherwise she will start whining and barking, and won't stop until she has a leash on her collar and is heading out the door.
Near my home is a short dirt path, one that I rarely ever pass since it is not on our normal route. That day though I decided to try and extend the walk a bit, something I knew Shelly and I both needed. So I had to adjust the route a bit, and in the end I found myself walking along the dirt path I so rarely traveled. The path curves a little, and so by the time I noticed that there was something settled in the middle of the path I was right on top of it.
Laying in the dirt was an animal, one I instantly recognized as a raccoon. It was small, not small enough to be a baby, but was certainly not much older than that. There were flies crawling all over it, and its leg twitched a bit, which I assumed was the movement of insects under the flesh. I have a strange morbid set of interests, so I am aware of how a corpse can travel several feet after it dies, simply under the influence of the maggots and other insects that feed upon the tissues.
I didn't want to leave it in the middle of the path. It was near homes after all, and after quickly looking up from the body I noticed a large number of children nearby. They hadn't noticed yet, but I didn't know how long that would last. So I took Shelly off to the side and told her to stay while I retrieved a stick to move it to the grass nearby. I began to to slide the stick under it, but I found it hard to get between the body and the ground. Then it stirred and snarled at me.
I reeled back, dumbfounded as I watched it weakly crawl, before finally coming to rest much in the same way I found it a few inches away. I was overcome with confusion, not only because I had no idea how to react, but also because I had never seen something move that was that far gone. It was not the first time I had ever seen anything dying. When I was a child I had unfortunately had the family dog die in my arms. But that was relatively quick. Despite its condition, I knew that this thing still may have a couple of hours left before it died.
I looked for signs of another animal, but there weren't any other tracks in the dirt. Not knowing what to do, I called the local police, in the hope that they had a procedure for such a thing. The person I talked to transferred me to another officer, and I emphasized that I didn't want any of the children to see this. I had to move away in order to tell them the street, and I worried that one of the children would wander onto the scene.
I walked back towards the path, while I spoke to the officer on the phone. I asked if I should remain there and wait for someone to show up, but the officer wasn't sure if anyone would be coming. I knew by the tone of the woman that it was unlikely, and after a couple more seconds the call was ended. I was still reeling from the experience, and I didn't feel like pressing the issue. I felt horrible, like I must not have tried hard enough. But in truth I knew something like this, not matter how much it seemed important to me, must have sounded below the attention of the police.
Not knowing what to do, I headed home, not wanting to leave but understanding that Shelly was overheating. I vowed to come back, through I knew that doing so seemed weird to me, and would probably not make sense to most people, or make much of a difference. I didn't want it to die alone, though I understood that stuff like this happens all the time in nature.
The rest of the day I couldn't help thinking about it. I wondered if an officer finally made their way over, or if another creature had come along. I knew there was little to do. After all, caring for a wild animal is illegal where I live. But the thought of it dying alone, with insects and flies biting into it was horrifying.. I wondered if I should have put it out of misery, but after sharing the experience with my brother, he reminded me that all that would do was leave me with regrets. I don't like killing things, even bugs, so deep down I knew he was right. Still, I needed to know what happened to it. So the next day I headed back over, dog once again with me, not too sure what I would find.
Secretly I hoped I wouldn't find anything, but was only partially relieved when I found the path clear. I searched the grass nearby as well as the wood, just to make sure it hadn't simply wandered away. But I didn't find anything.
Perhaps I was right in my hope, and the police had come by, or a predator had come upon it. Either way there was nothing I could do now.
I felt silly for being there, feeling slightly ashamed for being so upset about it. I was about to leave when I heard a rustling in the woods. I turned to look, but saw nothing. I looked deeper, scanning the ground and the immediate area, but all I found were sticks and twigs and the plants of the underbrush.
I later went to the police station to find out if they really did ever go to investigate. I was surprised when they asked me to speak with an officer, but was relieved when they told me that they had indeed gone to check it out. My relief was short lived though. They started asking me strange questions, like if I was sure I hadn't touched it, and if I was positive what I had seen was really a raccoon. I told them I was sure, and they seemed to believe me. The meeting with the officers was short, but it was hard for me to shake the look of concern on the face of the officer.
They never told me what happened to it, and honestly I am not sure I want to know anymore. I have gone back several times since then, not really understanding why. Each time I fear I will come upon the corpse of the creature, off in the side grass, discovering that it had died alone. The thought horrifies me, but does not stop me from coming back.
Sometimes the things we experience don't need to be abnormal or bizarre for them to have a terrible impact on us. Much of what we witness in our day to day lives is perfectly commonplace. But they are things that normally occur out of view, such as in a wood or a side alley, where it would be unlikely for us to ever notice. But sometimes these events cross our path, and leave with only one option; to watch. And despite our desire to look away, there is in truth no way to lessen the blow.