After bagging a twenty-five point buck, which was the highlight of his hunting career, Louie Shaver decided he had finally brought down a deer worth mounting. He could already visualize the head and shoulders of the beautiful beast over the fireplace in his cabin in Nashville.
Surprised he could not find a local taxidermist on the Internet, he dusted off a dog-eared copy of the yellow pages he kept in the garage. Again, he was disappointed to find only a tiny ad for taxidermy services on a page entirely devoted to tax preparation. The shop was located in Sharpsburg, which was a one-stoplight town twenty miles away. He had hoped to request bids from several vendors since he had no idea what he should pay for the mounting. He also wanted to see examples of the work of various taxidermists to compare the quality. Unfortunately, with only one supplier, a Mr. Osgood Blood, the point was moot.
Looking at the small ad in the bottom corner of the yellow pages, the name “Blood” stuck in his craw like a bitter pill. Did he really want to hire someone with the distasteful surname of “Blood” to mount his most prized treasure from twenty-five years of hunting? He wondered what nationality would have such a frightful name. He had certainly not met anyone with that name before.
He was planning to invite about twenty of his closest friends to his cabin to celebrate his fortieth birthday. He could picture their jaws dropping when they feasted their eyes on the awesome rack above the fireplace. Twenty-five points! None of them had even seen such an animal before, and neither had he. He picked up the phone and called the number.
On the third ring, a weird voice that reminded Louie of Lurch, the butler from the Adams Family, answered with a deep “Hello, Blood’s Taxidermy.”
“Hello, My name is Louie Shaver. I’d like to ask about having you mount a twenty-five point buck. I bagged him early this morning, and placed the head and shoulders in ice in the back of my pickup as soon as I could. I need your advice on what I should do to preserve the specimen until I can get it to you.”
“Twenty-five points! You don’t see an animal like that very often. How far from my shop are you?” Blood said with an odd accent Louie had never heard before.
“I would guess about twenty miles”
“The sooner you can get the deer to me the better. It’s important to fold the skin inside the carcass in a certain way before it goes into cold storage.”
“It’s a mountain road with a lot of hairpin turns, but I think I can make it there in forty minutes, tops.” Louie replied.
“My shop is behind the petting zoo, which I also own. It’s a long rectangular building on the right side of my home. I’ll be waiting for you.” Louie marveled at how every word Blood spoke resonated in the earpiece.
“But before I make the trip, can you give me an estimate of the cost and how long the process will take?”
“The price for a head and shoulders mount is $750, and based on my current backlog, I can start on yours in about nine months, so...I’d say I can have it for you by September 1. How does that sound?”
“Louie couldn’t believe what he had heard and shot back, “I had no idea it would take that long. I’m having a birthday party for a group of friends June 5, and it’s critical I have it by then. If I pay double your fee, do you think you can put me higher on the list?”
Blood replied with no hesitation, “I’m sorry. I’ve already promised nine other hunters a date on their mounts, and there’s another one standing at the counter right now trying to make up his mind. I’m sorry, but I can’t modify these prior commitments. An alternative might be to offer to pay for one of the mounts already scheduled. I’m pretty sure one of the hunters will wait longer if you pay their fee.”
“Can you recommend someone else for the job?”
Blood hesitated. “I can give you some names, but I can’t say I can recommend any of them. Once you see my work, I am confident you will not want anyone else to work on such a rare animal. Why don’t you bring what you have to my shop? It’s an extremely hot day, and I want to be sure the remains are preserved correctly to insure maximum quality.”
“Okay. I guess I’m sold. I’ll see you in about forty minutes.”
Louie removed three bags of ice from the backup refrigerator in his laundry room and added them to the twenty bags he had purchased at the 7-11. To make sure the carcass didn’t slide around during the trip, he placed two cinder blocks on the corner of the black tarp he used to shield it from the sun.
In forty-one minutes, Louie pulled his pickup into the parking lot of the address he had jotted down from Blood’s ad in the yellow pages. He could not believe the number of cars in the lot. A large sign on a ten-foot high fence read “Pigley Wigley’s Petting Zoo.” There were acres and acres of fenced in areas housing all types of animals. A surprising crowd appeared to be having the time of their lives. Carnival games and many upscale rides bustled with activity. Gigantic balloons of every color of the rainbow decorated the concourse.
Granted, this was no Disneyworld,” Louie thought,” but it was a thriving enterprise.”
Looking in all directions, he finally noticed a small sign with an arrow pointing around back that read, “TAXIDERMY SERVICES”.” The rectangular metal sign was so small, he was almost on top of it before he saw it.
The combination of the two businesses seemed bizarre. Also, Blood had a nine-month backlog of business with little or no advertising. Why would someone with undeniable business savvy not have a web page on the Internet? And, why would the owner of the multimillion-dollar children’s park personally waste his time on a rinky-dink taxidermy business. He smiled and decided it takes all kinds of people to make a world. “
To add to the puzzlement, when he rounded the bend in the road, His mouth dropped open when he saw a sprawling colonial estate surrounded by palatial gardens. “This couldn't be the place,” he thought. Then, Louie saw the long, rectangular building and a sign with the single word “BLOOD’” in the window. The scarlet letters printed on a pure white background in an eerie font suited for a horror movie billboard caused him to remove his sunglasses and sit dumbfounded. “This weirdo, Blood, must have a warped sense of humor to go with his graveyard voice.”
Despite his continued apprehension about this place, Louie knew the ice was melting in the bed of his truck, and he had nowhere else to go. He didn’t have any trouble finding a parking space in the more than generous lot. His was the only vehicle, and he pulled in right in front. Turning off the engine, he climbed out of the truck.
Immediately, a blast of hot air almost buckled his knees as he crossed the sidewalk and approached the entrance to the shop. This had to be a record heat wave for this time of year. The tacky Pepsi Cola thermometer on the wall read “97 DEGREES,” and yet, he felt a sudden icy tremor of apprehension creep up his spine as he looked at the darkness behind the taxidermist’s glass entrance. The sky even seemed to cloud over as he approached, and a voice inside himself he had never heard before whispered, “Get the hell out of here.”
When he timidly opened the door, he heard an eerie bong somewhere in the back of the store. On the walls behind a long glass display case, the eyes of various animals seemed to follow him as he approached the counter. This made his already nervous stomach heave with an even more disquieting feeling.
The room seemed peculiarly dark for a showroom. Subdued spotlights fixed on each animal provided the only light. Several of the larger displays were so startling, Louie hesitated to turn away for fear the foreboding beast would leap from its perch on the wall upon him. He had seen mounts at the Moose and Elks Lodges, but he had never seen any so realistic it could produce a creepy sensation of fear.
The illuminated display case contained rattlesnakes, tarantulas, and small mounted specimens so real, Louie stood a comfortable distance back from the glass.
“Are you Mr. Shaver?” A deep, bass voice boomed from behind him.
Louie felt as if he had jumped a foot off the ground when the deepLurch-like voice seemed to rattle the windowpanes. Like a phantom from out of nowhere, a giant of a man at least a foot and a half taller than he stood shrouded in the shadows behind the display case.
“Jeepers,” Louie said, turning to face the ominous man dressed in black. “I didn’t hear you come into the room. I’m sorry, I…” His voice quivered as his eyes fixed on Blood’s animalistic face emerging into the light. He thought of running for the door, but couldn’t get his legs to move he was so paralyzed with fear staring at the monstrosity before him.
The taxidermist’s head was much too big for the rest of his body. His face and particularly his enormous ears had ugly patches of stiff bristles that only something like a hedge clipper could remove. He had miniature tusks for his lower incisors that extended in sharp points above his upper lip. Instead of a nose, he had a snout brimming with a yellow mucous that oozed into his mouthful of jagged, discolored teeth.
Blood finally broke the prolonged silence with a nervous chuckle, “I apologize. I forgot to forewarn you about my appearance on the phone. I got distracted and forgot to put on my George Bush mask I wear to meet customers. This always breaks the ice with a laugh. I can’t believe I blundered into the showroom without it."
Louie’s face reddened with embarrassment as he stammered, “I’m frightfully sorry for my initial reaction, I hope you can forgive me.“
“It’s all right, Mr. Shafer. You are the only patron who has ever seen me this way, and I can imagine how much of a shock it must have been. I am the unfortunate victim of a rare birth defect that very few people have. A wild boar bit my poor mother during her pregnancy, and I ended up with some of its DNA. I hope this does not interfere with our doing business.”
Louie turned his gaze back to the mounts on the wall, and wished to God Blood would put on his mask of George W. Trying to change the subject, he muttered, “From what I’ve seen at the local Moose and Elk Lodges and on the Internet, your work is unbelievable.”
“I hope in a good way,” Blood said with a crooked smile.
“Absolutely, beyond compare.”
“In talking with you on the phone, you struck me as someone who doesn’t have a lot of hunting experience.” Blood said as he surveyed Louie from head to toe with a mental tape measure.
Louie did not understand why he made that assumption, and replied, “That’s actually not the case, Mr. Blood. My father started taking me hunting when I was only ten years old, and I’ve been an avid hunter ever since. I’ve never bagged a deer worth mounting before, and I don't know much about it.”
“So you’ve successfully hunted deer for many years?”
“Absolutely,” Louie beamed. “I hate to brag, but I would estimate I’ve had over fifty kills.”
Blood looked at Louie with an odd expression and continued delving into his history as a hunter, “Do you hunt for food or just for the sport?”
“I hate to admit it, but I detest venison. It gave me the runs the few times my father made me eat some. I have no desire to eat the meat from the animals I kill, I’d much rather have a juicy beefsteak, a Big Mac, or a Whopper. I simply love to set the sights of my crossbow on a wild thing and pull the trigger.”
Blood face turned ashen at this remark and recoiling backwards a step, he said, “I’ve talked with a lot of hunters in my time, but I’ve never heard anyone describe the killing of an animal quite like that before.”
“The rush I get is almost orgasmic,” Louie ranted, out of control. “To have the power of a living thing’s life or death in your sights is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. Once in a blue moon, you can’t plan it, when I don’t get off a perfect shot and I find I have only wounded my prey, I get an extra rush of adrenalin when I feel the warm blood gushing through my fingers after I slit its throat. To feel the intensity of its heartbeat… To see the fear in its eyes… Christ! I’m almost getting a woodie just thinking about it. And then to witness its body shutting down as it breathes its final breath, it’s mind-blowing.”
Blood’s tusk-like front teeth seemed to quiver as he listened with obvious disdain to Louie’s tirade, but held his tongue, if he had one.
Louie saw the queer look on Blood's face and, after pausing a beat, asked, “Can you help me with the carcass? The sun is blistering hot, and the ice in the pickup is melting.”
“Of course. Let me get a cart,” Blood said as he proceeded through a door behind the display case. A moment later, he returned wheeling a flatbed across the room, and Louie followed him out the door into the parking lot.
When Louie unlatched the tailgate, he was immediately drenched with a splash of water from the melted ice that accumulated in the truck bed.
Blood expected what was coming and stepped away in time to avoid the ice bath, and said trying to control his laughter, “I guess that was like diving into a swimming pool on a hot summer day.”
Louie did not find the remark funny, but said nothing. Then, removing the tarp, they lifted the head and shoulders of the deer on to the cart and rolled it inside the shop to a refrigerated room.
When Louie entered the cold storage area, he saw nine rectangular metal tables each with a bloody sheet covering an elongated lump of something underneath.
"I see you're a man of your word, Mr. Blood. You do have nine mounts scheduled before mine." Almost immediately, Louie's wet clothes started to freeze around him as he groaned with teeth chattering,“For God sakes, Blood, what temperature do you keep it in here?”
The taxidermist smiled his weird hog-like smile and replied, “After I apply my special preservatives, I find ten degrees below zero best for storing the bodies for more than six months.”
After they transferred the carcass from the cart on to the metal table and covered it with a sheet, Blood noticed Louie’s wet shoes were sticking to the freezing cement floor. With no warning, he lunged toward Louie and placed a handcuff on his wrist that was attached to a chain tied in to a heavy steel ring on the floor.
“What the hell are you doing?” Louie screamed as he watched Blood make a beeline for the entrance to the shop. He heard the whoosh of the heavy freezer door closing and saw Blood’s face morph into something not human through the insulated glass panel. He saw his cruel, savage eyes bulging with insane delight.
Louie shrieked at the top of his lungs and twisted at the handcuff like a madman in a futile attempt to escape. The unforgiving, freezing blast of cold air falling from the ceiling engulfed him. In a few minutes, he could feel his whole body stiffening. Ice sickles formed in the snot dangling from his nostrils from his all out struggle to escape the unbearable, biting cold. The blood from his ravaged wrist had partially frozen in a pool at his feet. The thermometer on the wall read ten degrees below zero as he grimaced at the hopelessness of his situation.
Moving almost in slow motion to the closest table he could reach with the length of chain, Louie raised the frozen bloody sheet draped over something on the table and glared in horror at the head and shoulders of a hunter he had shot the shit with at Maggie’s Diner only a few weeks ago.
One of the glass eyes of the mount staring up at him was cockeyed, and the blue lips of the work in progress sported a large artificial red apple clinched between his teeth.