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  • Ginny and Shirley had spent the winter on the island. The fall before I’d watch them haul wood and seen the stacks mount up around the house. They’d put in a little chicken coop out back under the old apple trees.

    When I headed off island in December they waved. I was jealous.

    Almost every day that winter I walked out to the lighthouse and looked across at the island and wondered how they were getting on.

    Ginny said they’d looked for me as soon as the snow cover melted and the wind finally dropped out in March. It was good to see their lights as I hauled the last load up at the edge of dark. The last glimmer of sunset reflected in the empty widows from the vacant houses gave the old village a possessed look. The true warm glow of their house and the curl of wood smoke from the chimney was reassuring.

    They left a couple of weeks later. Spring fever brought me out and took them off. Ginny came up and asked if I’d like to keep their chickens.

    Yes indeed.

    She said it was fine to keep them down in the coop at their place until I built one of my own.

    Early April brought the first robin pecking along the southern sides of the houses where the ground had thawed and the first green spikes of grass braved the new season.

    A week later the sky hardened. The temperature dropped. The wind hauled around out of the north’east. By evening it was a gale of wind and the snow was blinding. I shut the coop gave the chickens some extra grain and hustled back to read by the woodstove.

    The next morning the snow was drifted fantastically. Some places the ground was bare but for a rime of ice and in others the drifts were carved in wild shapes and swirls. I slogged through, delighting in the silence and splendour of a world all wild and crystal light.

    I got up to the chicken coop and saw a hen pressed against the fence. I figured she must be some hungry to come out on her own.

    It wasn’t till I was right up to her that I noticed how stiff she was and then I saw the blood. Her throat was ripped open and her head was rammed through the mesh in the chicken wire fencing.

    She was frozen solid.

    I looked around.

    It was a freeze frame Death Wish III scene. Chickens were caught in the act of coming out the door, hanging in the fence, up against the rough trunk of the apple tree.

    Beaks open. Throats wide red gashes. The snow beaded with frozen blood.

    A huge drift stood off to one side a good meter above my head. I noticed a small round hole on the side near me. A tunnel ran right through the middle of the drift.

    I waded round to the other side. The small round hole made an exit there. A dead chicken lay right below the hole.

    There was a small shed by the house not far from the chicken coop. Once it was the privy, just by the back door, now it was a little tool shed. The wind had scooped out a trench in the snow along one side of the foundation. I noticed a pair of legs poking out from under the little shed. Chicken legs.

    The last chicken was hauled under the shed with just her stiff yellow feet poking out. I tugged her free. Something had been munching her. Her skull, neck and shoulders were stripped clean to the bone.

    Shit, I said. Mink.

    Over the next weeks the mink hauled the chickens, one by one, to the little shed and bit by bit they vanished as it picked them clean.

    The old timers down at the wharf shook their heads when I told the story.

    Ain’t no creature ounce for ounce as pure evil as a mink, Millard told me.

    Ern ventured as how a mink was one of God’s creatures killed just for the sheer hell of it.

    I didn’t say anything. The mink was a well-designed killer. Effective and no holds barred deadly. But it ate those chickens. Every one. ‘Til there was nothing but a pile of well picked bones.

    Can’t say the same thing for me. ‘Cause a year or more later, on another wild, snow crazed night, after I’d built a chicken coop up by the house, and ran out in my flannel pyjama bottoms and a t-shirt, barefoot in the blizzard to see what had riled the hens, a flashlight in one hand and a 30-30 in the other, I caught the mink in the beam and he turned to look at me, raised up on his hind quarters a bit like a meerkat, minus the cute and I brought the rifle in line with the beam of light and blew his head off . I wasn’t even remotely tempted to eat him.
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