Michael C. Keith
Being is. Being is in-itself. Being is what it is. — Jean-Paul Sartre
Hillsboro, Minnesota, had a problem—suicidal raccoons. At least that's what Herbert Ramsey believed, and he made his theory known at the emergency town meeting inspired by the recent rash of roadkill.
"Seen 'em just jump in front of cars. They'd be standing on the side of the road, and when a car showed up, they'd draw in their little back legs and spring into the road. Craziest darn thing I ever saw. They were just set on killing themselves. Saw four do it this morning."
"Now, how is that possible, Herb? Raccoons don't form suicide pacts," observed Town Councilman Ryan Frosby.
"Well, how do you explain over a hundred dead in the last two days?"
"So you think they held a meeting and decided to kill themselves? Why would that be, Herb?"
"I wasn't at their meeting," sneered Herb, "so I can't answer that question, but it sure seems likely they were in league with each other. Had a plan. I mean, a hundred in two days . . . c'mon?"
Macy Wilmart, assistant principal of Hillsboro Junior High School, offered another theory.
"Maybe they were driven to it by toxins. Ten Mile River is full of waste from the rubber recycling plant. They dump all kinds of stuff in it, and it's probably the raccoon's primary source of drinking water."
"Then how come we haven't seen more types of roadkill, like deer and skunk?" asked Frosby.
"Could be the chemicals in the river are only lethal to raccoons," offered Wilmart.
"Yeah, like that sounds plausible," replied Frosby snidely.
"Well, what's your theory, Mr. Councilman, sir?"
"My theory is that it's just a fluke of nature."
"Thank you for that. Explains a lot," mumbled Wilmart, letting out a loud sigh.
"Where they taking all the bodies?" inquired Lyle Sumner, manager of the Mini-Soda variety store.
"They're going to burn the carcasses out at the landfill, Lyle," replied Frosby.
"Did they test them first to determine how they died?" asked Wilmart, in a challenging tone.
"Macy, for heaven's sake, they died from being run over. We're not going to do autopsies on flattened roadkill. Cripes!"
"Then we're never going to know why a hundred animals died at the same time."
"Not quite at the same time. Over a forty-eight hour period," corrected Frosby.
"Oh, sure. That's not unusual at all," grumbled Wilmart.
"Okay, folks, meeting adjourned. The matter is being taken care of. If anything further develops, I'll let you know."
By noon the next day, another seventy raccoons had been found dead on the streets and roads of Hillsboro. Locals were beginning to panic, convinced that something dangerous confronted their small community. At another impromptu meeting on the issue, Herb Ramsey once again argued his hypothesis that raccoons were committing group termination. His words were met with hostility from Councilman Frosby.
"Will you just keep your dumb idea to yourself, Herb? It doesn't help matters."
"What's so dumb about it?" piped in Lyle. "Don't hear you coming up with anything better. Maybe Herb has something there."
"There's a professor over at Gilliam College that can communicate with animals. Maybe he can find out what's happening here," suggested Wilmart.
"You mean Dr. Doolittle? He's a wacko, Jeez, Macy!"
"It's Dr. Cushing, and he's highly respected in some circles."
"Circle of jerks, you mean," commented Mel Holland, of Holland Hardware.
Several men at the gathering chuckled, further incensing Wilmart.
"I think there's an upside to all this," offered Lyle.
"And what is that?" inquired Frosby, warily.
"We got almost two hundred raccoon bodies, right? How about we skin them and make some coats to sell?"
Silence descended over the assemblage, and then Herb spoke up.
"That ain't an entirely bad notion. Let 'em keep killing themselves, and we'll soon have a thriving business."
"That's such a disgusting and inhumane idea," spouted Wilmart, who was joined by a round of applause and then a chorus of loud chants.
"SAVE THE RACCOONS . . . SAVE THE RACCOONS!"
"Okay . . . okay, quiet down! Quiet! You're all out of order!" blurted Frosby.
Once the assemblage regained its composure, the discussion over the roadkill crisis continued. In the end, Frosby reluctantly agreed to enlist the aid of Professor Cushing.
"We got to catch a raccoon as it's about to leap in front of a car. Why don't we leave that to you, Herb? You seem to be on the scene all the time."
"No problem. I'll trap one and bring it to you, Ryan."
In a couple of hours, Herb was back at the town offices with a cat carrier containing a raccoon that had failed in its attempt to kill itself.
"Good job, Herb. Turn him over to Macy. She'll take it to Dr. Doo . . . ah, what's his name. He's agreed to check it out."
Two hours later, Professor Cushing was addressing the raccoon as it looked out at him from inside its cage. Less than a day later, Macy was contacted by Cushing, who informed her that the raccoon had communicated to him.
"Please come to Hillsboro, Dr. Cushing. We're all eager for your report."
At the appointed hour, the professor arrived at the town offices with the trapped raccoon.
"So, Professor, you claim that coon talked to you?" asked Frosby, nodding at the carrier.
A few snickers erupted up from the crowd.
"Shoosh," bellowed Wilmart. "Let the good doctor speak."
"So, what'd the little bandit have to say about all its furry friends jumping in front of cars?" asked Frosby, cynically.
"Well, the young Procyon lotor, as raccoons are formally called, said . . ."
The professor hesitated here, causing the members of the audience to lean forward in their folding chairs.
"Yes, Professor? Go ahead. What did it say about all its dead brethren?" urged Frosby.
Clearing his throat, the professor continued. "It said . . . 'Life is meaningless.'"
About the Author
Michael C. Keith is the author of an acclaimed memoir, numerous story collections, and two-dozen non-fiction books. www.michaelckeith.com