A doll. A dish. A bone. He'd toed each of those from the roadside dust and smashed them with his club on the long walk to Vetis field where roughsawn plank had been lashed and coerced into a killing ground for the rabbits. His club five feet of heat-hardened iron oak, fire-blacked and smooth. He thwacked the bludgeon end into his palm and watched men with boot-heel faces and sweat begrutten hats swipe their sticks and rattle their dented tin plates to scare the rabbits from the field into the pen. The needlegrass leaning from a wind that had passed and would come yet again.
The man next to him pulled off his hat and darkened the cuff of his sleeve with forehead sweat. —Four cents a hide is what I heard tell. I aim to make several dollars out of them damn blacktails.
Then the man put his hat back on and thumbed up the brim but the man with the black club knew him to be a liar for his eyes were all wrong, the sort who'd soften and slump when hot blood splattered his face but not have the muster to refuse a club. A young girl walked up to the man in the hat and tugged on his shirt and shoveled her bare toes into the dust and waited for him to notice her. The sun bare on her arms. He looked at the other men from the shadow cast by his hat and casually tried to push the girl back to where the women huddled. But the girl could not be prevailed upon to move and she tugged again on his shirt and he was forced to kneel and look into her face as she asked him to not hurt any bunnies and to take her home.
Someone laughed. Others nodded in sympathy and the man tried to explain to his daughter how rabbits ate crops and destroyed even the roots of plants thereby increasing the dust from which they all suffered. He told her how the meat would feed cattle and hogs and the money earned from their pelts would ease the pain in her belly. He placed his palm on her stomach and she shuddered for she had nearly forgotten her hunger and he picked her up and carried her back to her mother. A wretched standing lot, thin in their rags as burnt string, but the man with the black club felt nothing towards them for he had traveled the state entire hunting a sign, something out of round, someone fashioned stronger than wants by a faith that was never seen nor realized. He knew the man would join the slaughter and return to his daughter crouched under a satchel fat with warm and sloppy bodies. They'd load up their Model A flatbed and rattle down the cratered road to the county seat to collect their four cents a hide and return home to declare that beauty had died in the world. Do not cry, they'd tell the girl over her cooling stew. God would see them through.
God, the man with the club coughed. God.
Several men turned at his sounds, but said nothing. The corral floor teemed with rabbits, dust tamped and black with the blood compost of those thousands perished before, rabbits blind to anything other than a narrowing of their world. That sense perhaps greater than man's. Other rabbit drives and cattle clearings across the land had shown him this prior. None of it new. Certain men prayed. Others rubbed their thick hands in glee. Forever were they divided by the spilling of blood. Through blood they were hewn and through blood they were cleaved. And they all, each and every one, shed blood when want grew large.
The line of men drove in the last of the rabbits and latched the gate behind and silence fell upon the crowd as no one wanted to be the first, so he hefted his black club and pushed aside the men afore as he'd done each time prior. One hand gripping the top of the rough plank, he jerked up his bulk and dropped into the throng of rabbits and cracked the skull of one with a swing quicker than an eye could apprehend. Another followed and yet another leveraged with such ferity that the head tore from the body and a spray of blood fanned brightly from the red chine. Men clamored over the fence with nostrils flaring and the fence swayed with their rushing and soon the air roiled with booted-up dust as clubs flashed and tendons quivered in wrists when clubs cracked into skulls. Soon men were slipping on the loose fur and slackening muscle of the dead rabbits and falling over and men climbed out, grabbing the knees of their pants, eyes wide at the slaughter want had caused.
The belly of the man with the black club caved in and out with breath. Blood dripped from the end of his club and he looked around for the man and the girl but did not see them. He climbed over the fence. Across the road, the family settled in their truck and smoke belched from the rear pipe. The transmission groaned into gear. He hollered at them to stop, waving his bloody club above his head, for he was certain this was the sign he'd traveled miles to witness, someone not driven by bodily want, but the truck engine was loud and he slumped to the ground and rested his forehead against the black club as they drove away, heedless of his need.