Two more uses for a dead cat
By Claire Wolfe
Rumor whispers that, somewhere past the last boarded-up shop in the mid-nowhere town of Hardyville, past the last dry lawn, out in the sagebrush, there is -- of all things -- a pet cemetery.
It's not much of a cemetery, they say. Hardyville isn't much of a place, and not the sort that has money enough to show sentimentality to dead critters. Still, it's out there: a boneyard filled with kitty coffins and dearly departed dogs.
Nobody knows just where. Or if they do, they aren't talking. It might be up on BLM land past Nat Lyons' horse ranch. Or half a mile's walk from G.I. Joe Carty's favorite hunting spot. It might even be out near the airstrip where Bob-the-Nerd, our one and only computer geek, flies model planes.
Like I say, nobody admits to knowing, exactly. But one thing they whisper; someday things will rise from the dead out there.
No, this isn't a Halloween column, five months late. I'm not talking about Fluffy clawing upward, gory and grouchy as in Stephen King's Pet Sematary. I'm talking about ammo, maybe. Gold coins. Firearm components. Valuable stuff still guarded by faithful animal companions -- though now Old Yeller serves as a silent decoy, rather than an armed guard.
My guess is that, some years back, perhaps around the last time the Republicrats passed anti-gun laws or made it easier for government enforcers to steal assets, Hardyvillians got their hands on a booklet called How to Bury Your Goods.. This gem was, and still is, put out by my own publisher, the underground outrager, Loompanics Umlimited (now going legit as Breakout Productions). It was written by Eddie the Wire.
I must say I'm thrilled that once-respectable me shares a book publisher with someone called Eddie the Wire. I'm even more pleased that Mr. Wire has done good. This isn't like some of those underground books, filled with dangerous guesswork and instructions too vague to follow. In sixty-six skinny pages (with helpful illustrations) Eddie tells you everything you'd ever want to know about stashing stuff underground. Like:
Pretty good info, clearly told. And the pet grave idea is just one of many. Successful use of cat carrion as a ruse requires certain tricks, and I'm sure Mr. Wire and the builders of the Hardyville Haven of Rover and Revolvers wouldn't appreciate my blatting those tricks on a Web site that gets more than three million readers a day. So I won't. But if you're feeling uneasy about whatever "help" Your Benevolent Government may offer you next, or if you simply want to play pirate, burying treasure -- I recommend Mr. Wire.
Surprisingly, this isn't the only recent use Hardyvillians have made of mutts who've met their maker or cats who've come a cropper.
It's a sad fact that, out here in the country, critter corpses are common. Calves are stillborn. Horses founder and are put down. City folks, having shown their children the "miracle" of puppy or kitty birth, dump the result rather than take responsibility for the "miracle" of agonizing death.
Country people being what they are, nearly every spare thing gets used. But aside from the traditional dog food and glue from large-animal bodies, even Hardyvillians generally think there's not much use for a dead animal. Nat Lyons, an old-time ranch boy, thought so when he first saw the Young Curmudgeon stopping his pickup truck to shovel road-kill off the highway.
The Young Curmudgeon is a local outcast who took up squatter's rights under a corner of Nat's Ranch. Mudge isn't the kind who'd clean up the highway out of sheer do-gooderism or stop to give a lost pet a decent burial. So what, Nat wondered, was up? Was the kid eating his meals at the Roadkill Cafe?
Nat patiently watched and waited. What he eventually got is information you might be able use. Mudge was creating raw material for a time-honored and beneficial product. And if you have a weak stomach, a soft heart, or a chemical supply catalog, you don't even have to use dead cats to make it.
Mudge, it turned out, was building what used to be called a nitre bed. It's something like a compost heap, except the end result isn't fertilizer. It's saltpeter -- one of three ingredients in gunpowder. And saltpeter (potassium nitrate) in nature begins with animal wastes or wasted animals.
Saltpeter, charcoal and sulfur. Combine 'em and you've got a boom. Combine 'em carelessly, of course, and you've got a boom that sends your spleen splatting into your neighbor's hot tub. So Don't Try This At Home unless home is waaaay the heck out there and you're willing to risk your spare body parts. (Not to mention possibly breaking a dozen laws. But then, in these law-ridden days you do that just by getting out of bed.)
Just as I'm not about to reveal Mr. Wire's details on defunct doggies, I won't try to give a Handy One-Paragraph Recipe for gunpowder. I've warned before that I'm so chemically inept I can barely make a cup of hot chocolate without demolishing the kitchen. So don't count on me. And don't count on Mudge, who has a wild streak wider than any Reasonable Reader should.
Then who can you count on, if you want to learn how to "roll your own" gunpowder? You might try my second favorite publisher, Paladin Press. Although Paladin author Don McLean's name isn't anywhere near as cool as Mr. Eddie T. Wire's, his little work, The Do-It-Yourself Gunpowder Cookbook is. In 73 pages, he explains how to make traditional black powder, as well as red or white gunpowder. The first half gives instructions for the safest ways -- with chemicals of known quality. The second half goes into dead-cat mode -- how to make gunpowder as they did 300 years ago, or as you might have to in a survival scenario, out of horse flops, bat guano, drywall, old bones and even pre-processed urine (a.k.a. beer).
All along, McLean is blessedly clear about ingredients, equipment and safety precautions. He's even interesting, giving historic tidbits like:
As luck would have it, in that equestrian era there existed an in-place source of saltpeter awaiting exploitation in the form of encrustations on the walls of cellars and stables. In England, special agents of the crown, known for being a rowdy and undesirable lot, were appointed to seek out and fetch these deposits for His/Her Majesty, no doubt the point in time where "s--t detail" entered the language.
If you want to see gunpowder made hands on Paladin also sells The Homemade Gunpowder Video: How to Make It, How to Use It. Actually, this is much more than its name implies. Besides demonstrating production of three types of powder, its makers show how to build signal rockets and tripwire ignition devices and how to use improvised and traditional black powder weapons.
Keep in mind that this isn't the smokeless powder used in modern firearms. You can't make that at home, and you can't use this in your Uzi. These powders are for old-fashioned weapons, improvised firearms and homemade fireworks, big and small. And as I'm sure Paladin would want me to tell you, this book and video are For Educational Purposes Only.
In a future column we'll take a look at modern ammo building (including some improvised techniques for hard times), as described in another Paladin Press book, Duncan Long's Homemade Ammo: How to Make It, How to Reload It, How to Cache It. Though I wouldn't mess with making powder, I've loaded ammo myself, and I can tell you that, despite the sneerings of my macho friends, "even a girl can do it."
You'll also be relieved to know that doesn't involve any kitty catacombs.
Note: Production of this column was not overseen by a representative of the ASPCA. However, no animals, except those belonging to the species bureaucratus obnoxious or governmentalis overbearingus, were harmed in the writing of these words.
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