BESTIARY (16)

By: Charlie Mitchell
October 31, 2021

from Animalia Qvadrvpedia et Reptilia (ca. 1575). National Gallery of Art.

One in a series of posts — curated by Matthew Battles — the ultimate goal of which is a high-lowbrow bestiary.

Happy Halloween!


JACKALOPE


Recovered Journal of Sir Luther W.E. Stanhope
Bought at private auction by Lei Jianlin
Curated as part of the Jianlin Collection
Heuvelmans-Card Society
Vancouver, British Columbia

October 3rd, 1898
Laramie Plain, Wyoming, U.S.A.

I arrived in the village of Douglas — dreary place. A peculiar shift of realm from Denver’s front range — valleys and peaks littered with the gold coins of autumn aspens — to this blasted country. Not one civil railway this far north. One learns to say ‘Jackalope’ outright when asking directions from the locals. Where there are no railways, there are no gentlemen.

The villages are little better than shanties — or forts — on the precipice of a great trough. Laramie. Wilcox. Lookout. Medicine Bow. Steele… Douglas stands out only for my quarry. Otherwise it is one saloon amid others along the trough’s edge. This is the shepherd’s country. Red mud, crags, flash flood ravines, snowmelt runs, stripped of top soil. Wind so incessant that even pine trees cannot gnarl their way deep enough to escape it. Only oceans of sagebrush. Sound and scent are eliminated — good for hunting.

Lodging at ‘Crane’s Well-Gotten Ganes’. Hand aches as I write it. Clovis Crane — proprietor — cannot commit a business to one endeavor. Saloon, brothel, hotel, all rolled into one doss house. No other vacancy in the village. Leering eyes from card tables, no music, bold whoring — this is a place through which one passes.

Another Jackalope is mounted behind the bar.


October 5th, 1898
Laramie Plain, Wyoming, U.S.A.

Coffee and breakfast with rancher Shad Mayfield. Eggs and sausage and coffee ‘strong enough to float a horseshoe in it’. Ha ha. I ask after my quarry. Mr Mayfield — and Mr Crane, eavesdropping — say one mountain man has seen maybe killed the beast but is an elusive man, not keen on the law. I ask what law is present to start with. Mr Crane gawps and Mr Mayfield says the army, for starters. He proceeds to ask why the Jackalope and Mr Crane’s eyes bulged.

Mr Mayfield says there are grizzlies and wolves for sport and elk for eating — that we are in good hunting country. Pity about the bison, would have liked one. I tell him I do not hunt the common man’s fare. Mr Crane bobbed his head to imitate the buoyancy of a single original thought. The man is a dullard. Weak-chinned.

Mr Mayfield conceded and said Bubba Graves is the man I should find for my Jackalope. Now very much desperate to meet the minister baptising these Christian names. Restocked provisions. Rewaxed my canvases. Cleaned the repertoire. Will not know which to use without Mr Graves’ council. Furs and leathergoods in fine condition — mornings here are frigid as there is not a drop of moisture in the air.


October 8th, 1898
Laramie Plain, Wyoming, U.S.A.

Still no sign of Bubba Graves. Shot and dressed a pronghorn antelope — wickedly quick critters. Reminiscent of better days on the Savannah.

Wind. So constant that I think the world is silent if not for the chewing of my face. Light rain during the night.


October 9th, 1898
Laramie Plain, Wyoming, U.S.A.

Bubba Graves arrived this morning. Idle days with sheep shit under boot are finished. Little else to do here but shoot and drink — why do I abhor it?

The entirety of Douglas heard him clang into town — peering out my second floor window to spot him. Man wore stovepipes on his legs. Two coyotes and a brace of grouse slung on the mule he led. Whisk down to meet him on the avenue.

Mr Graves strikes a figure in suit of what I had seen from photographs and heard from legends of mountain men. Mange’d; red beard and greasy locks. Wears mostly furs cloaked about himself. Fierce eyes and skin of windburn leather. Then I notice the scalps on the saddle — eerie things. I offer him lunch and a stiff drink and he accepts.

Wolfs down a meal for two. Plate of cornbread – baked beans – slab of brisket – three fried eggs – pint of lager – three fingers of whisky. Fingers prod cold meat down his maw. Quaffed down the lager in one go. Simply watched — fascinated. Not a word said til the man had been satiated. Mr Gra [ENTRY INDECIPHERABLE; BLOTTING]

‘Pepp’rns of tomfoolry butaint hogwash’ — what in Blazes did this mean? No doubt the wilderness has claimed stake to the better part of his soul. He eats as such. The man leaned forward and eyes lit up — chillingly truth be told. Mr Graves — ‘ye caint killit en itll kill ye’. Informed him I can — ask the falkland wolf. Ask the hogfooted bandicoot and crested moa. Flippant bastard.

Asserts the Jackalope has a thirst quenched only by whisky — then I cut off Mr Graves. Flaring mad, led on by a drunk! Yet merely smirks. Eyes glimmering. No jape and no deception and so few words. This is no coney. No ass of jokes or taxidermist’s farce. We see and note the gravity in one another.

Long quiet.

I will kill it.

Little more he could offer. Whisky is already a staple — with abstinence and ration. The stovepipes — daresay I have never seen an antler gore any flesh. Would that he had not stumbled into town wearing them it would be a crass offer. Clear skies in all directions.


October 10th, 1898
Rattlesnake Hills, Wyoming, U.S.A.

I set out before daybreak. Optimistic. Sun rose red — painted the land in God’s own mercy. Picked the Martini-Henry. Blood pumping again. Good to be away. No more sheep shit no more whorish grunts no more drunken target practice. Open country. Country scoured honest by wind. Ahh.

Found tracks and droppings of more sage grouse and antelope. All no older than two days. Then hare tracks — tickled. However they vanish down burrows where antlers will not fit. Or will they? Still not big enough. Unless. Bah. No.


[ENTRY INDECIPHERABLE; BLOOD MATTER]


[ENTRY INDECIPHERABLE; PAGE TORN OUT FROM BINDING]


October 13th (?), 1898
Sweetwater River, Wyoming, U.S.A.

This journal is my sole track of days. Watching the sun rise from the east and set in the west. Ha ha. Windy. I admit that I have been turned about here. Follow a river, keep hunting, will end up at some outpost of civilization. Every river is a road.

First snow has fallen; bodes well! Prints will keep, more to read on the land. Sleep is difficult. I awake frequently as the wind will rend at the canvas and the cold does cut deeply. Matters little. Found eight burrows thus far — staked out each and not one set of antlers emerged. Fine eating.

Have not seen a soul here. No shelter from the wind even at the bowel of a ravine. Saving the whisky for foul weather.


October 14th 1898
Wyoming Country

[ENTRY INDECIPHERABLE; HARD SCRIBBLING AND SCORING]

I do not feel fully well. Surely it is not so but the wind pushes towards the sagebrush. Beckoning.

There are ground squirrels here locals call ‘prairie dogs’. Mr Mayfield — ‘lil shits nearly snapped my mare’s leg like a damn twig’. Presume he referred to their burrows. I see them along my trail — fearing world and sky full of predators so that they remain inbred beneath the earth. Popping to misdirect, to taunt then retreat.

Tonight I sheltered in the sagebrush and I swear by God that I see antlers playing this very same game. Only why do I [ENTRY INDECIPHERABLE; SCRIBBLING] I will not write it, breathe that thought into life. Too dark to take a shot — poor sensation that I am being toyed with.


October 16th (?), Second Snowfall
Wyoming Country

Fed my map to the Wind today. She was hungry and the fucking thing murmurs nothing useful. She sweeps away any tracks I may have of my quarry except on mud. Best to appease her.

She listens. Antlers above the sage brush. Lingering enough to take the shot. Discharge my rifle and the antlers double then vanish. She carries the shot screaming past cut rock and lakes of brush. No blood — miss — but tawny fur caught by a sage twig.

And prints. Prints prints prints prints. Hare’s but the size/weight of a fox or dingo. They approach my camp then kick up snow in retreat — then bloody vanish. Cannot find the beginning either. Gone. It knows the language of the Wind but I too am learning ha ha ha.

She is a fickle lady.

I have not been lied to. I have not been lied to. I have not been lied to. I have not been lied to.


October 17th, Day After First Shot
Wyoming Country

Abandoned the Sweetwater for good today — it is not what She wants. She’ll not bring him there or where just any man can stumble. Where She howls the Jackalope is listening and gallops out on piercing words. Why not stay in one place? Let the beast come to you — sate its curiosity. Or, move and stave off the cold. Yes. Better. She speaks towards the sagebrush regardless. Here — purgatory of crisp blue then virgin white vitiated by iron-red mud and slumbering hulks of ridgelines. How long have they slept, how many cities to upheave. Eyes burn from Her words. Skin pe[ENTRY INDECIPHERABLE; BLOOD MATTER]


Third Snowfall
Wyoming Country

I have met Him at last. Snow falling as the sun sinks down. Drinking the whisky by fire for warmth — Mr Graves told no lie. Antlers rise from the sagebrush again and come forward. Hush and silence but heart is pounding in my ears. Dear God, pounding heart.

She introduces Him. The Wind had died down at last. Ahh. Regal on the edge of dying light from sun and fire. He sits, size of a dog, healthy coat and quarters. Ears like palm fronds tune to me. Antlers between them with four points — a stag’s rack. Velvet nose kneads air. Human eyes meet mine then move to the flask in frozen grip. Cork it then underhand toss — lands a breadth away without a flinch. Impulse to act — kill — had gone.

He has thumbs. The Jackalope picks up the flask and fuddles at the cork. Eyes blank but switch between me and its tribute. Cork is futile so He bites into the metal and drains it. Watching His throat bob and take in the whisky. He ducks away back into the sage with something more feline or leporine. Gone.

She resumes her strong gusts.

Cannot sleep. Surely this is not madness. I keep the flask He drained — sure enough it is empty with a thumb-sized puncture in the metal body — teeth that could cut a rifle in twain. Oh how many have laughed and jeered and bartered lies.


Fourth Snowfall
Wyoming Country

Eating snow and out of tins and no river in sight but She sings dawn to dusk. I wait. They will say that I shot my flask. Too proud to confess that I fell folly to a taxidermist’s fable but by God and Jesus Christ as my witnesses He is no fable. They will believe me. But in one manner — how many before have thought the same? How many have done this hunt all but to set such a trophy behind a bar? Always just the head, no hindquarters.
I must kill Him. I will bring the light of truth back to Man. None will laugh then.


Last En[INDECIPHERABLE; BLOOD MATTER]

Hubris Proud Stupid Fucking Bastard Cunt I am dying
I shot He charged She screamed no more than scream it cracked the sky open
Stovepipes ha ha[INDECIPHERABLE; BLOOD MATTER]ntler rends my thigh
Lifeblood leaving in pulsing heartbeats
Regrets — no. No time. Death is trophy enough — testament of the truth
My son Reginald was always a disappoi[INDECIPHERABLE; BLOOD MATTER]

*

INTRODUCTION by Matthew Battles: Animals come to us “as messengers and promises.” Of what? | Matthew Battles on RHINO: Today’s map of the rhinoceros is broken. | Josh Glenn on OWL: Why are we overawed by the owl? | Stephanie Burt on SEA ANEMONE: Unable to settle down more than once. | James Hannaham on CINDER WORM: They’re prey; that puts them on our side. | Matthew Battles on PENGUIN: They come from over the horizon. | Mandy Keifetz on FLEA: Nobler than highest of angels. | Adrienne Crew on GOAT: Is it any wonder that they’re G.O.A.T. ? | Lucy Sante on CAPYBARA: Let us gather under their banner. | Annie Nocenti on CROW: Mostly, they give me the side-eye. | Alix Lambert on ANIMAL: Spirit animal of a generation. | Jessamyn West on HYRAX: The original shoegaze mammal. | Josh Glenn on BEAVER: Busy as a beaver ~ Eager beaver ~ Beaver patrol. | Adam McGovern on FIREFLY: I would know it was my birthday / when…. | Heather Kapplow on SHREW: You cannot tame us. | Chris Spurgeon on ALBATROSS: No such thing as a lesser one. | Charlie Mitchell on JACKALOPE: This is no coney. | Vanessa Berry on PLATYPUS: Leathery bills leading the plunge. | Tom Nealon on PANDA: An icon’s inner carnivore reawakens. | Ramona Lyons on FOX | Matthew Battles on GORILLA | Josh Glenn on FROG: Bumptious ~ Rapscallion ~ Free spirit ~ Palimpsest.

***

ALSO SEE: John Hilgart (ed.)’s HERMENAUTIC TAROT series | Josh Glenn’s VIRUS VIGILANTE series | & old-school HILOBROW series like BICYCLE KICK | CECI EST UNE PIPE | CHESS MATCH | EGGHEAD | FILE X | HILOBROW COVERS | LATF HIPSTER | HI-LO AMERICANA | PHRENOLOGY | PLUPERFECT PDA | SKRULLICISM.

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