Chapters:

The Killing

The narrow lane, once a main road that wound its way into the North Kerry market town of Listowel, was at this stage carpeted in green overgrowth, and hosted chaotic brambled verges. My cousin in his late teens walked ahead. While me and my other cousin sharing the age of nine, followed behind nervous and excited in the early morning sun.  We stopped by a wooden shed at the side of the laneway. In here, behind some chicken wire, lay the ferrets buried in the warmth of their straw nest. My older cousin handled the small fiery creatures with care. He wore stiff metal-like gloves. We stood back cautiously. Two ferrets, one black and one silver-grey, were eased in turn into a sturdy timber carry case. The ferrets were animals we knew demanded respect and they had ours without question. They were not to be messed with or to be trusted.

A warm and fresh country breeze carried the dense smell of grass as we walked on. Coming off the laneway, we climbed over a ditch and into the field on the other side. The three of us then entered a valley, sunk deep and hidden between the mountain folds; moving through the scrub until the sky overhead disappeared. We then found ourselves standing under a canopy of twisted, dark green branches. Running uphill over rough ground and past small streams, we meandered through the small forest. Birds sang above us in shrill competition; an orchestra in surround sound. The large burrows were badger dens; wide oval openings in the ground. Their dark tunnels ran deep into the earth. We peered in cautiously. Then one of us crawled in to see how far we could go, hoping to find a secret world hidden from sight - and hoping the badger was out to lunch. But in no time fear started to grip, and we retreated back out of the burrow in a panic. We have all been told. Badgers go straight for your nose when they attack.

The smaller burrows are rabbit holes. These are visible everywhere as we continue toward the exit of the little forest. Emerging out of the shade and into the sun, we continue the trek towards the top of the field. Bees buzz amid sunburnt red ferns now dried and limpid. Here, another ditch is again dotted with small rabbit burrows. I look back at the tangled jungle of thick nature. Downhill, beyond the little forest, I can see the small green laneway leading back to the house which looks like a delicate miniature from this height.

My older cousin lays out the nets at an angle from the ditch. He then carefully lifts the little animal from the dark of the carry case. The Ferret - the hot steel of nature - its slick immaculate coat shines in the sun. Jumping from his master’s hand and onto the grass with a bounce, he is off at speed toward the rabbit burrows. The ferret burrows while eating into live flesh. The main strategy is to flush the rabbits out into nets, club them, and then sell them at the Saturday market. It provided my cousin with beer and cigarettes money for his Saturday night pub sessions. But sometimes, during these blood-rabid home invasions, the ferret claimed its prey first.

I stood back, toward the centre of the field, stepping away from the sound of the killing. A high pitched curling. An unnatural sound. It was the first time I heard a rabbit scream. My older cousin then reached for the carry case again, bringing the second ferret out into the sunlight. Lean and muscle-primed, its slick silver hair glistens while its roaming snout flavours the smell of the country air; freshly tainted by the scent of drawn blood.