‘April’s adjusted Eurozone figures show,’ announced the radio, ‘that 95,000 more people were out of work across the seventeen countries who use the Euro. And finally… authorities hope that protestors will understand the necessity of a cull, following the announcement that farmers have been permitted to shoot badgers in an attempt to control TB in cattle from the 1st June. The cull will aim to kill 70% of the badger population and will be carried out by trained marksmen…’
A hairy forearm stretched out from under the covers and came crashing down on top of the radio-alarm clock. It had been years since Brian had awoken this early. The strange glow which crept in around the edge of the curtains, reached all the way across the room and forced Brian to pull the duvet back over his head. But today was not the day for going back to sleep, this was the moment he had been waiting for.
Ever since his time in Africa, Brian had struggled to settle anywhere. Chased from one town to another by the authorities, by the mobs, by ghosts and worst of all, by the fire of his own remorse. Brian was not his real name; it was a name that had been given to him by a gang he used to run with. He would be revered as Brian the Badger Slayer but now it was just Brian. He travelled alone, his habits commonly misunderstood, and that deep loneliness was the price he had to pay.
The accident in Kenya was so long ago and yet it had shadowed every single day that had passed since. He knew that there was no turning back but the consequences of that day were stronger now than ever. Ten years on the road can change a man and moving from one place to the other, never able to get close to anyone, had frozen his heart. Brian’s life had been reduced to one purpose and that was to kill, but it never used to be that way.
He gradually pushed himself out of bed and stumbled across to his solitary suitcase on the dresser. This was all he owned in the world. Enough clothes for a week, some toiletries, a copy of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and a black and white photo of her. She was his only attachment now to a world of joy and beauty. For years she had been his brightest day and fearful night, all of everything started and ended with her. He looked into her familiar eyes, as he did every morning, and immediately saw the pain he had caused.
She was young and maybe a bit foolish, but he was older and should have been more experienced. The atmosphere in Kenya, at that time, was intoxicating and it was enough to dull the sharpest of senses. Brian was in the first gun position and still remembered how he had been looking through his sight, the target between the hairs. Wind and distance had been calibrated, the watch on his wrist stopped ticking, and his breath consumed him. It was at this moment when life had always made sense to him.
In the pause, his finger rested gently on the trigger and his mind emptied. On the out breath, on the out breath, and he breathed in for the last time. The pressure increased on the trigger until the split second before the shot, and then his life changed forever. At that point, the image appeared which had haunted him for a decade, she had appeared from nowhere, her brown eyes innocently looking back through the sight. It was too late.
He watched silently as the life disappeared from her eyes and then heard the farmer screaming. He knew the rules, he knew there was no other choice. So, he headed for the road, leaving everything but his memories behind. He travelled for about a year, desperately trying to find another way, before falling predictably on to the same path.
Now, as he looked at his greying reflection in the mirror, he was finally aware of the monster that he had become. He had been known as a mercenary, a marksman, some had called him a hired gun, others preferred the traditional word ‘assassin’, but he knew what all of these surmounted to. He was a trained killer of badgers, probably the best around, and this was his curse.
For years he had travelled Europe, moving from one paymaster to the next, and lying low until the call was sounded. Throughout that time he had killed thousands of badgers and yet every single strike reminded him of her delicately pointy face. The way that the fur on the back of her neck would cause her to shriek if it was touched. Brian knew that he could never replace Minnie but somewhere in his soul he believed that by wiping out the entire badger population he would somehow make amends.
Brian put on his badger-pelt coat and walked towards the door to his caravan. He reached for the badger’s head door knob and turned it slowly to the left. As the sunlight flooded the doorway, it created a silhouette of a man with a badger-pelt cap in one hand and a rifle in the other. He paused for a while to sniff the air and then marched off to the east purposefully.