Ax Jackyl and Mr Chaste

Despite having a lazy eye, AJ Chaste was always a voracious reader. His right eye, a chestnut brown, was focused and penetrating; while the left was an opaque grey and prone to frenetic movements. With a slight turn of his head he looked around the office and saw the ugly metal bookshelf containing his current collection of professional and hobby reference books. There were several thick veterinary manuals, an over-sized set of encyclopedias with gold script on the spine — Van Dyke’s Illustrated African Big Game Anatomy Vol I-IV, The Art and Science of Taxidermy, How to Skin and Brain Tan any Mammal, Fundamental Prestidigitation, and The Deck of Deceit: 52 classic card tricks.

In the bottom drawer of his beat-up desk he kept his guilty pleasures — a book on hypnotism, a frayed and split copy of the HP Lovecraft novel Re-animator, an autobiography by Aleister Crowley. In the cramped bathroom down the hall were stacks of Mechanical Animation magazine as well as a thick folder stamped — Universal Zoology of Known Extraterrestrial Beings: Roswell Project.

AJ opened his eyes and looked down through wet strands of his long black hair and saw the motionless body on the table. He had his hands around the throat of his boss, Chuck. In a flash, he recalled the argument in his office; the threats, the sudden violence leading to the sudden sweet silence. Chuck had discovered the BS, the Bad Stuff he had been doing at the clinic at night. He was going to expose his plan to mechanically re-animate all of the dogs and cats brought to the facility for cremation or disposal. He had to fix this. He had to get home to his workshop and his tools. He had to get to work.

Chuck was a rather stout fellow, so moving his limp body from the office, down the stairwell, out of the building to the deserted parking lot and into his truck required a tremendous amount of energy. By the time he got the Chuckster to his workshop in an old wooden shack behind his double-wide mobile home, he was exhausted and collapsed onto a bare mattress,  falling like a widow-maker into a catatonic sleep.

The next morning was chilly and he returned to the shed to find the pale, nude body undamaged but beginning to stiffen. Too much time had passed to perform a neural defibrillation experiment on the brain but the organ was too valuable to waste. After removing the head with a swift whack of an axe, he strung up the ungrateful dead man by piercing the achilles tendons with slaughterhouse meat hooks and winched the chain toward the low ceiling beam. Using his favorite ulu hunting knife, he disemboweled the humanimal and prepared the flesh for skinning.

The taxidermist knew human skin was more delicate than other mammal hides he has tanned so he worked carefully. Once the skin was removed, he placed it in a bucket of water to soak while he returned to the carcass for butchering. By lunch time, he had carved and wrapped a winter supply of prime Chuck roast and processed fatty ground Chuck to put into the freezer. He took the juicy heart, ribs and a long strap of fatback into the house for seasoning. The remaining usable meat was cut into thin strips for drying into jerky.

Following a hearty meal of spicy bar-b-que, he was energized to resume work unnoticed on his parcel of land at the dead-end of a half empty trailer park. He put the head in a vise and sawed open the skull. Taking a soup ladle, he scooped out the grey matter and filled a large sauce pan. Adding water, he cooked the brain until it became a pink-grey mush, then let it cool. Meanwhile, the water was gently squeezed out of the bundle of skin and it was draped over a smooth log. A rib bone was used for fleshing any excess fat and rough tissue from the epidermis. The skin was then stretched and attached to a wide wooden frame with fish hooks and line. He took a sponge, dipped it into the lumpy soup and coated the entire skin with the tanning mixture.

When the human canvas had cured, it was hung inside a rusty steel drum set on concrete bricks for smoking. A small punky fire was maintained beneath it all day; he checked it frequently to make sure the precious bolt of fleshcloth was not burned. The next day, the skin was cut to the rough pattern of a shirt and pair of pants. Sinew was used to sew the garments together. The result was a crude but supple leather outfit suitable for daily light activity. The faint trace of a navy tattoo could still be seen on the right shoulder of the long-sleeved shirt.

AJ sensed it was time to get out of town for awhile so he packed up his truck with dried food and camping gear. With Neil Young playing on the radio, he steered toward the road to Denali, or ‘The High One’ in the Athabaskan language. It was September and the full Harvest Moon hung like a pumpkin in the sky. The native son found the isolated area he knew contained acres of ripe huckleberries, thimbleberries and salmonberries. He planned to get up early and spend the day filling several buckets with berries for canning. It was risky to camp in an area crowded with hungry bears so he built a roaring orange fire to compliment the giant orange orb in the sky.

He heard the low, guttural growl around midnight and instantly snapped awake from a light nap. A loud cracking of branches warned of a large animal thrashing forcefully through the foliage in the direction of his camp. Two large red eyes, glowing like the coals in the fire, blazed from the thicket then slowly rose above the brush. A vague shifting shadow appeared to be standing on hind legs and it emitted a raspy, supernatural snarl that was unmistakably hostile and imminently dangerous. In the fading light of the dying campfire, it was impossible to determine if the creature was an angry bear, rabid wolf or berserk yeti. AJ reached for the big Rough Rider Bowie knife on his hip as the menacing hulk leaped into the air towards him.

Barely able to pull the blade from the sheath and aim it toward his attacker, he was knocked to the ground by a feverish, hairy brute. The impact of the falling bodies drove the knife’s curved clip point deeply into the animal’s chest as its jaw clamped down on AJ’s shoulder and several of its razor claws raked his torso. For an agonizing moment the two hominids were locked in an existential embrace with each hell-bent on survival. At last, an anguished, high-pitched howl pierced the man’s eardrums and the injured beast staggered backward, turned and lunged through an opening in the undergrowth.

Bleeding and in shock, AJ attempted to assess his injuries. He could see two oozing puncture holes on the back of his right shoulder in the muscle above the scapula, as well as three long parallel slices of raw tissue across his torso exposing the ribs. The damaged flesh burned intensely and had a foul odor, as if the creature’s fangs, claws and saliva contained a toxic chemical. The pain eventually receded while the fluid in the wounds coagulated to stop the bleeding. He stumbled to a nearby creek to wash the gaping lacerations with cold glacial silt water which re-ignited the agonizing fire spreading across his torso to his extremities. Relentlessly, the heat crept up his neck and consumed his head. Finally, his skull felt like a match-tip being rubbed against sandpaper. Skskskchchchiiixxx!!!

The contaminated man woke up lying next to the rushing creek with the midday sun blinding his eyes yet warming the chill in his bones. His head was pounding as he crawled to the bank and lowered his body toward the cold swift water. Taking several big gulps, sitting up caused his head to spin and he vomited the silty water back into the creek where it instantly washed away. When the nausea subsided, he haltingly shuffled to his truck for a roll of fishing line and a small hook. Semi-reclined on the passenger seat; with shaking hands he sewed shut the long scratches on his ribs and the two craters on his shoulder.

Earlier, he noticed the big, broad leaves of the Devil’s Club plant growing on the far side of the creek and he knew the spiny stalks could be mashed up and used as a healing salve. The autumn sun dipped below the horizon before he completed the complex task of retrieving the plants, carefully peeling and processing the stalks into pulp, applying the poultice and securing the restrictive bandages. Exhausted, he fully reclined in the truck cab and chewed on homemade jerky as moon glow shone through the windshield. Suddenly, a discordant chorus of wolf howls shattered the man’s quiet reverie and sent violent spasms throughout his body which tore at the fresh trauma.

The next two days were spent in a high-grade fever dream; he repeatedly hallucinated leaving his body to run with a wolf pack endlessly chasing an enormous caribou herd. When the fog cleared, he discovered his wounds had almost completely healed. Starving, he ate the remainder of his provisions then fired up the beat-up rig and returned to the highway. Undecided for a brief moment, the manimal hybrid intuitively decided to head north to the city of Fairbanks. The first thing he did when he arrived was to find the nearest branch of Wells Fargo bank, withdrew a large sum of cash and closed out his accounts.

The newcomer lived out of his truck’s camper top; sometimes he ate fresh road kill but mostly he fished for Chinook and Coho salmon, Arctic Grayling and Northern Pike from the Tanana River. Gradually, he regained his strength and even managed to put on a significant amount of new muscle mass. He began to sleep-in later and later in the morning preferring to stay up late at night. His skin itched constantly and he grew facial hair which was unusual for an Inuit male. Always a meat eater, he would occasionally supplement his diet with corn, squash, beans and berries. Now however, the thought of eating any fruits or vegetables turned his stomach. He craved meat and the fresher the better.

The changes accelerated. His bio-rhythms were more nocturnal than diurnal. The hypertrichosis, or excessive hair growth, worsened; he was the only indian he knew able to grow a thick, full beard. For the first time in his life he became aggressive and violent. He started using the name Ax Jackyl and hung out in late night bars bullying people, starting arguments and causing fist fights. As the moon waxed and approached full, Ax got a strong urge to travel north towards the Arctic Circle where the nights were getting longer quicker. He abandoned his truck at a rest stop and stuffed his backpack with all of his knives, tools and camping gear. He easily hoisted the 80 lb sack over his shoulders and stood beneath a large green highway sign outlined in white reflector dots. As soon as he extended his thumb, a long haul trucker appeared, pulled his eighteen wheel rig along the edge of the road and opened the passenger cab door. Ax settled in as the truck accelerated to highway speed and the first pale rays of moonlight shot over the horizon. The Hunter’s Moon.

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