Red Mud, a short story by E. J. Ruek

red mud, a short story by author e. j. ruek“You’ve been conscripted,” Jim said, handing Warren a fax.

Warren frowned, reading it.  It was from FEMA, and both he and Dr. Bill Lewis were named.  “Can they do this?”

Jim nodded.  “Yes, they can.”

“I thought it was voluntary.  That’s what it said on the news.”

“Better get packed.  You’ve got to be at the airport in less than two hours.”

Flown in by military transport, Warren wasn’t prepared for the immensity of the disaster.  Livestock, especially hogs from the area’s numerous confinement facilities, topped the list of mortalities, with dairy cows coming in a close second.  Luckily, his specialty was horses.  He didn’t have to slog through reeking pens filled with desiccating animals to write up the mandatory ‘cause of death’ for a farmer’s claim forms like Bill was.  He just had to treat savage chemical burns and respiratory complications on survivors.  Unfortunately, that job was turning out to be more death-dealing than life-saving.  So far, eighty percent of his patients had to be euthanized.  Like the mare laying in the pasture before him, the flesh of her legs eaten almost to bone, her hoof walls corroded through.  How they had managed to move her to safe ground in the first place was mind-boggling.

“Can’t you do something?  She’s my daughter’s.”

Warren glanced up at the owner and shook his head.  “I’m sorry.  There’s just no way she can recover.”

“Grafts?” the woman sobbed.

“The damage is irreparable.  Sorry.”

Behind her, a young girl began crying, her father clamping his arm around her, turning her to him in a tight embrace.  His eyes held Warren’s, desperation turning to resignation and sorrow.

“She’s been in our family since Amy was born.  Fucking mining company.”  The family moved away while Warren ended their mare’s suffering.

“What about mine?” came an old man’s voice as, already feeling the exhaustion set in that accompanied his any act of euthanasia, Warren pushed himself upright.  “What about Jerry?”

Warren looked where an elderly man pointed to an equally aged gray gelding.  That animal’s legs and hooves were, likewise, eroded, but the horse was still standing.  “Let me take a look,” he said.

Running gloved hands down the gelding’s legs, Warren was surprised that, though burned, there was skin on the cannons, and it wasn’t friable.  The same held true for the fetlocks and pasterns.  And, while the hooves had sustained damage, especially the soles, the animal could recover.  He turned to the elder.  “Him I can save.”

The man nodded.  “Thank God for contractor bags.”

“What?”

“I wrapped his legs in layers of contractor bags before walking him out.  That crap still ate through.  Ate through my rubber boots, too.  But I got him…got us both out.”

“It’s going to take months to heal,” Warren warned.

“Time and care,” the old man replied.  “But he’s all I got left.  Wife’s dead, and now the house is gone, too–this red mud.”

~~~

Originally created for Amy Knepper’s image writing prompt on G+’s Writer’s Discussion Group community.