Mark is on the Rock, behind schedule with a load of fresh fish headed for Montreal. He’s got to go to the bathroom something awful, but doesn’t really want to stop. Not only is he late, there’s a maniac on the loose and he doesn’t want to risk a chance encounter. But eventually he just has to go and looks for some newspaper to do his business, only to hit a moose lumbering onto the highway…
• Mother Load skidded to a halt.
Mark had the steering wheel in a white-knuckle grip, breathing hard and keeping his eyes closed tight. Four, five more deep breaths then a final long, long sigh.
The engine was still running, rattling out a constant rhythm at idle speed as if it were stopped at a light in Calgary or Montreal.
He sniffed at the air and knew right away that he’d soiled himself, but knew he’d been lucky if that was the worst that had happened to him. But there was another smell in the cab. Moose, both the musky smell of its outsides and the copper-blood taint of its insides.
At last Mark opened his eyes and lifted his head. The windshield was spattered with blood and a three-point section of antler rested on top of the engine cowl.
“It must have been a big one,” Mark whispered under his breath. He sat up straight in his seat and saw the other section of antler – the part still connected to the moose’s head – rising up from the front of the truck like a massive hood ornament. “Really big.”
• Mark walked slowly around the front of his truck assessing the carnage from every angle.
“Oh, Mother,” he said.
The head and antlers of the moose had punched a hole through the front of his rig just to the right of the radiator, between the grille and the left-front fender, hopefully missing the rad and any of the hoses that connected it to the engine. Further along, the bulk of the body had impacted the grille, hitting it square enough to spread the impact out across the entire front of the truck. But the moose must have reared up on its hind legs, or made an attempt to dart away because one of its front legs was lodged in behind the bumper, securing the animal to the truck.
And there was blood.
It was everywhere, on the road, on the truck, even on some of the surrounding trees. And what Mark first thought was coolant leaking from his rad turned out to be still more blood draining from the moose’s lifeless body.
“This is going to be messy,” Mark said.
With both hands, he grabbed hold of the antlers and pulled with all his might. The moose barely moved.
Mark took a step back and considered his options. He could probably drive the truck a short distance, but he risked the animal coming loose as he drove and the body wreaking havoc with his engine, wheels and trailer, not to mention everyone else on the road.
He climbed back into the truck, started the engine – thankfully it still worked fine – and backed up a few feet. He’d hoped the moose would pull free but all he did was drag it down the road.
Mark sighed. He’d have to cut the thing loose.
He shut off the engine, climbed out of the truck and took the axe he used to do tire checks from one of the truck’s outside compartments.
“Sorry, but I’ve got to do this,” he told the dead moose, then proceeded to cut it away from Mother Load.
It wasn’t the first time Mark had hit a wild animal on the road. He once grazed a deer in Ontario, just hitting the animal hard enough to break its neck. When he stopped to assess the damage he found no mark on Mother Load and no evidence anything was wrong with the deer other than its shoulder had dropped and its head lolled around on its neck as if it were on the end of a damp sock. He was pulling the deer off the road when a hunter who’d been up north all weekend and hadn’t shot a thing stopped and asked if he could have the deer. Mark couldn’t see why not, so they loaded the deer into the back of the man’s van and he drove off…like the whole thing had never even happened.
But this was no deer. This was a moose, four times the size and entangled in the front of Mark’s truck like it were caught in a trap. Once in a lifetime for Mark, but a daily occurrence out here on the Rock.
He’d read articles about Newfoundland’s moose and it seemed that the problem was only getting worse.
First of all, Moose were now outnumbering people four to one and the kicker was that the animal wasn’t even indigenous to Newfoundland, but had been brought over from Labrador a hundred years ago as a source of food. Great idea, but how much moose can you eat when there’s an estimated 110,000 of the animals on the island and they’re the ones eating all the vegetation, turning entire forests into grassland.
“Thousand-pound rabbits on stilts,” is how they were referred to by no less an authority than Canadian Geographic magazine. That, and they killed people on the road too. Maybe not this time, but there were some 800 serious accidents involving moose reported each year.
’Well,’ thought Mark as he swung his axe one last time, ‘at least I’ve done my part to help cull the herd.’
The moose’s body came away from the leg and landed on the road with a thud. Then he pulled on the leg and after several hard tugs, the limb came free leaving a giant hole in the grille just over the bumper.
Mark tossed the leg aside and checked out Mother Load. She was covered in blood and would stink pretty bad once he got going, but nothing major looked to be broken and the truck was still drivable. Heck, he might even be able to get back to Ontario so his regular mechanics could work on it.
Imagine the looks on their faces when I pull in to the shop, he thought.
He wiped his hands on his pants and realized he was covered in blood.
He’d have to fix that too.
But for now, he was even later than he was before and he had to get back on the road in a hurry. And at least now he didn’t have to go to the bathroom any more.
Mark took off his jacket, turned it inside out and laid it over the driver’s seat. He started up the engine again and was relieved to hear it was still running fine. Then he put it into gear and let out the clutch, back on his way.
The radio was on and the station was doing another update on the hunt for the “hunting party killer” as he was now being called. “A fourth hunter has now died in hospital and police have stepped up their hunt for the killer they believe is now making his way south…”
Mark sighed, “Too bad it wasn’t that guy I hit.”
– Mark Dalton returns next month in the conclusion of Man and Moose on the Loose.