LENGTH: 4,622 words
Trapper Tommy works the woods of Florida, trapping all kinds of wildlife for his customers who don't want raccoons, possums, squirrels, or skunks near them. But after finding some mangled carcasses, Tommy comes to realize there's something much bigger and much scarier out there than anything he's ever faced before.
On the night of a full moon, Trapper Tommy gets trapped himself, and what he finds will change his life forever.
“That gator is tore up!” Rudy Swetzek covered his mouth with a beefy hand, his eyes wide. Flies buzzed around the alligator’s corpse, and the leaves and ground beneath the reptile were soaked with blood, baking in the Florida afternoon sun. He lay on his back, his belly still wet, oozing rank entrails. Long, black claws dangled over folded legs, front and back. Gator claws, nothin’ to mess with. One swipe from those and you either lose an arm or get a nasty infection that’ll drop you in your tracks. A warm breeze blew over us and the smell was like to gag a maggot -- bloody and full of death.
Most of the gator’s tail was gone, wrenched -- not cut -- off his rear, the hide torn, the muscle ripped away. Helluva thing.
Trapper Tommy is my name, wrangling wildlife is my game, least that’s what my answering machine says, cute-like. Hogs, possums, armadillos, raccoons, snakes, deer once in a while, but mostly I earn my living from gators. I yank ‘em out of freshwater ponds when they get too big or too friendly and start eating the neighborhood cats and dogs. Kids sometimes, too.
This gator, though, was near useless to me. Dead too long to pull the meat, his belly hide too shredded to skin and sell to the leather goods dealer down to Arcadia. A bust. And he coulda been good money -- maybe four hundert dollars worth of tail meat and hide -- a twelve-footer, a bull gator, big and fat from his easy life in the swamps north of Tampa.
I bent down to get a closer look. The stink made my eyes water so I pulled my bandana over my nose. I got a soft puff of fabric softener then was overpowered by the gator’s smell. Didn’t matter. I had work to do.
Rudy bent over at the waist, then leaned back, his mouth twisted. “What the hell kill’t this thing?”
“I dunno, but I aim to find out.” The gator’s belly was open from jaw to tail. I counted a dozen trails of torn skin, then stopped counting.
“Lookit here.” I bent closer, my knees creaking. “These ain’t no knife marks, these was claws.” I fingered open one slice. The gator’s fat layer was yellow, then there was the red band of thick muscle. “See here. Long claws, they went all the way into his guts.”