Chinese Finger Trap

📅 Published on October 21, 2021

“Chinese Finger Trap”

Written by Dan A. Cardoza
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 8.88/10. From 8 votes.
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The Tawny Finger Trap: The Cat

Never run away from an apex predator; running can trigger an animal’s killer instincts.

Terrible decisions consumed Akum’s thoughts.  Having a difficult childhood hadn’t made him needy, quite the opposite, in fact.  It had made him too strong.

He was hiking off-grid in the Lolo National Forest in Montana.  Here, fitness was not an elective, it was a requirement.  Hiking this section of forest was more survival than recreation.  In an instant, one might be confronted by a coyote, a wolf, or a mountain lion.  Akum had thought of himself as another apex predator.  On occasion, he would choose to encounter a challenge to prove himself.  But now, the experienced trapper was in the middle of anyone’s worst nightmare, a genuine cluster-bang.

He stood tall, frozen in place for what seemed eons, in between a hungry cougar and a .44 Magnum.  His trusty gun had been placed under the front seat of his tricked-out Jeep Wrangler.

A hunter can get too lazy, too cozy in the woods, and fall under its spell.  And now, the forest had revealed itself to be neutral, nothing but silence as life and death demanded his full attention.  He was unarmed and mesmerized.

It was such a beautiful cat.

If only he had Charley.  Charley would buy him time.  But Charley was in a cage at the vet’s office in Missoula, recovering from a wound.  Loyal Charley had a 10-inch zipper over his ribs from a gash he got while roaming around the thicket with his crazy owner.

He was restless and starving; having set lethal traps all day, the man was bone tired.  He knew the aggressive, tawny cougar to be in his prime; probably edgy and hungry, too.

Akum blinked first and ended the staring contest.  In a nano-second, he spun a lightning-fast 180 degrees.

He quickly busted toward the Jeep downhill, not more than 50 feet in distance.  It was a horrible decision, he knew, but he thought it through.  Deep down, somehow, he knew this wouldn’t be his last screw-up.

Akum’s boots were thick Eddie Bower leathers.  He wasn’t a fan of all that lightweight Gore-Tex shit.  He knew his legs to be strong and feral despite their limitations.  Hell, he played him some Grizzly football having been a star at the University of Montana not long ago, ad lifting weights was something he continued to do.

Branches cracked under the big cat’s heft and long strides.  There was no doubt that the muscular cougar was faster.  Akum counted on that,  and his own intelligence, to defeat the aggressor’s instincts and strength.  Besides, he was lucky before, having gotten away with murder.  He thought it was better to be fortunate than good.

Before he could reach the Jeep, he slid headfirst, with outstretched palms to the ground, like he was sliding into second.  The man never really cared much for baseball (he was more of a blood and guts kind of contact sports guy), but he was good at it.

Gravel and twigs cut against the roughness of his callused hands.  He inhaled dust and dirt, causing him to sputter as he tasted the acidic spice of an untimely death.

The cougar had gained ground, part of Akum’s plan.  He’d counted on the fact that most cougars have poor brakes.

In for the kill, the big cat sailed over Akum’s flat back and shoulders, landing in a tangle of pissed-off mountain lion.  The cougar quickly untangled himself and repositioned.  He stood his ground no more than ten feet in front of him.  After righting himself, the cougar reloaded his springs.  He exposed his sharp canines, like yellow ivory stilettos.  He hissed, loudly, as if passed through a bullhorn.

Akum opened the Wrangler’s door.  From under the front seat, he clinched the warm .44 Magnum.  Its weight told him the stainless-steel coffin chambers were fully loaded.

Akum widened his stance and steadied himself.  He cocked the gun’s hammer.  Next, he stared down the length of the barrel at the furious beast.  He centered the barrel’s site in between the lion’s yellow eyes.  Akum could taste and smell the intoxicating scent of black gunpowder before the pistol detonated.  God, did he love the smell.  The bullet blistered through layers of warm evening light.  Inside his ears, death drums played at Burning Man.

One could normally make a fortune taking bets in Reno on Akum’s deadly aim, but the fatigue from trap setting had taken its toll.  Besides, he’d shot at this marvelous creature earlier, but had hesitated then.  Akum felt uncomfortable about how much adrenaline he needed to kill the beautiful beast.

The cougar jagged when his gun jiggled.  He got off three blasts in quick order, three cracks of the devil’s whip.  Three perfect smoke rings polluted the still of the forest.  One of the rounds nicked the big cat’s tail, the tip.  A misty cloud of red fur snapped in the light breeze and quickly dissipated.  The fourth shot hadn’t a chance.  The cat had moved as fast as liquid mercury.  It was a clean miss.

The next nasty round went under the fleeing cat’s belly.  After, the angular cougar ghosted himself.  Dissipating footfalls feathered the tree line.  Shadows melted into shadows, and after they blended, Akum could only hear adjunct silence.

The man smiled.

Though disappointed, he felt comforted.  He had better things to do with the ending day.  The sun was beginning to set, and the last thing he wanted to do was to skin a predator.  Moreover, a rare ribeye was awaiting the grill at the Blue Canyon Kitchen and Tavern in Missoula.  It was the dinner house where a pretty server was expecting more than a big tip.

In truth, laying his sights on the elusive cat again was a 50/50 bet at best.  Akum admired the cat’s action, his hunger, its wildness, and his survival instincts.

The Turquoise Finger Trap: The Bad Father

His mother died when he was seven.  Anna C.  Clark was a mountain climber; she plunged off the face of Crystal Meth.  She had no rope, just a big heart…and that heart exploded like a fat bike tire left too long in the sun.  They patched her up, but she couldn’t hold oxygen.

Anna was halfway through the age of 34 when a social worker took Akum to the hospital; after that, they helped him move out of room 36 at the Hyland Motel in Van Nuys, California.  He was sad that day.  They placed him in temporary foster care, and he’d never felt so alone.

Over time, to avoid embarrassment, the boy practiced how to describe his mother’s death.

“She died from trying to save a baby in a fire,” he said.

“She saved a drowning boy in the Los Angeles River in a flash flood,” he once lied to a friend.

“Death came quickly in the form of a bullet.  She was an informant for the D.E.A.  Jesus, who gives a damn?” he said to his practicing mirror.

“Ok, she died on the first flight from earth to space alongside Sir Richard Branson.  There, are you happy?” he said.

At the time, Aunt Melissa, his father’s sister, wasn’t in the best position to raise Akum.  She was doing 3-5 for embezzlement and was at the Century Regional Detention Center in L.A. County.  He was confronted with conflicting choices, a cluster-bang of cognitive dissonance: live with a father who never wanted him, or commence the endless cycle of turnstile foster care?  He felt forced to live with his unstable father.

He took a long, creepy Greyhound ride to Reno, Nevada.  All he owned was packed in a cloth suitcase his social worker had purchased at Goodwill.  On his journey, he convinced himself how cool it would be to live with a cowboy—not knowing the full extent of his alcoholic father’s badness.

Granger was a time-worn thin man who’d worked cattle on someone else’s land.  This dime store cowboy sported a traditional hat and wore a handlebar mustache.  Akum would soon learn that the best thing he was good at was drinking a shitload of cheap whiskey on Friday night.

“You can’t get any more cowboy than that,” Akum would soon attempt to delude himself.

The young Akum spent most of his childhood in a turquoise Chinese finger trap; no matter how hard he attempted to pull himself away from his father, the more stuck he got.

He was firmly under the control of an abusive father.  L.A. County had thrown in an additional $650.00 per diem per month…that way, the county could wipe its hands clean of the troubled youth.  It was like they were paying a ransom.

The more he questioned anything or pulled in the opposite direction, the tighter the finger trap had gotten.  He was abused at many levels; so much so, he headed in the direction of no return.

It wasn’t easy growing up a bullseye, an easy target when his sadistic father was hungover.  Somehow it made Granger appear larger when he could make his son feel smaller.  Granger was intent on emotionally poisoning the malleable boy, and most of Akum’s psychological wounds proved too difficult to heal and scab over.

After she was released from confinement, he visited his aunt Melissa.  It was a much-needed change.  His aunt had convinced him that his father needed to, well, “disappear,” and they made plans to ensure his survival.

“He’s an evil man, a dumpster fire with spurs,” she said.

Setting her plan in motion had taken a few months.  The project included tricking Granger into signing a hefty life insurance policy.  Hell, there were so many binges, it would be a cinch to find an opportunity for him to sign his death certificate.  That part of the plan went well.

Aunt Melissa provided him with a unique death potion recipe.  It was Granger’s favorite, southern sweet tea and vodka.  The recipe included infusing the tea with ethylene glycol, otherwise known as antifreeze.  They waited almost two years to fix the elixir; this was part of the plan, to avoid raising any suspicions.

“Stir it good, child, and crush the ice, lots of crushed ice, Akum, that’s the key,” she said.

According to Reno’s medical examiner, Granger’s death wasn’t unusual, especially with his jaded medical history.  The autopsy had shown that he died from heart disease, along with complications from Hepatitis C, ostensibly from his pension for low-brow, jail-house tattoos.

And just like that, living got better, and time picked up speed.

Akum found himself completing freshman year football undefeated playing for the Wooster High School Colts, a school in the suburbs of Reno.  Aunt Melissa had purchased a fine house in the hills.

They determined how to split up the life insurance policy payout.  Aunt Melissa would travel and work as a manager at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  He then invested half of the family fortune in his future.

After he completed his senior year of high school football, he was offered a full ride to attend the University of Montana in Missoula.

He met a lot of students while there, some that had come from very exotic places.  The school allowed him to facilitate a lifetime of contacts and connections.

Akum met with much success while playing Grizzly football.  He was quite the athlete, standing six feet two inches outside of his boots.  He weighed a sinewy 225 pounds soaking wet.  Bar fights had become part of his weekly calisthenics.

He found it difficult to focus and follow the straight, narrow course while in college.  He hadn’t known it yet, but he was ripening into the proverbial bad apple, an apple that rarely falls far from the apple tree.

After three years of kicking some serious ass, he moved on.  Someone in college had told him there was a fortune to be made out there in the forest: exotic animal parts, premium fur, and much more.  And so, Akum and Jon Sin, an old classmate, had taken a two-month tour in the Chinese mainland.  They scheduled meetings with curious and alien retailers in the big cities.  While in Beijing, they quickly determined that there was too much Communist heat in place…plus, the government wouldn’t be good for business.  They wanted more than their fair share.

Shanghai was just right.  Jon Sin had a lot of wealthy family connections who would pay a premium.  Retailers in Jinan would prove to be strong business partners, key players who’d prefer to pay in African diamonds.  In Foshan, the primaries would compensate through offshore banking.  In Harbin and most of Mongolia, it was all about using cryptocurrency for the illegal inventory.

The Golden Finger Trap: Two Failed Marriages

By the age of 32, he’d married and divorced twice, with no kids.  His only ‘child’ was a bull mastiff named Charley, and Charley wasn’t there the day he danced with the cougar; otherwise, they would have tag-teamed the hungry cat.

Mary was country, Natalie, city.

The way he saw things, the more he gave, the more Mary wanted.  In truth, hot sex wasn’t enough to sustain a marriage.

Mary ran off with some soul-searching shaman who’d promised her enlightenment.  He and Charley knew they couldn’t compete with any of that transcendental crap.

Natalie was a different story; she was a Hallmark Channel farmer’s daughter.  She came from the east, over in Miles City, Montana.  Her daddy’s wheat fields stretched from sunrise to sunset across the Great Plains.

Natalie wrongly assumed she could turn a feral man into a prince employing an expensive golden ring.  A common mistake in life: Charley had known so.  Their marriage lasted a year.

Going forward, he swore off women.

He and Charley would do this whole damned living thing alone.

The Red Finger Trap: Blood Money

There was something about getting out of the city and entering the Lolo National Forest.  Trapping protected species had become addictive.  Endangered pelts and body parts had made Akum and his consortium a decent living.

Akum and his partner Jon Sin had made a ton of Benjamins, especially on the tiny bear bladders in Shanghai, Chengdu, and Shenzhen, China.  Their connections with shady dock worker unions had made shipping a breeze out of New York and San Francisco, illegal and protected products sent to foreign countries through legitimate, commercial containers.  The entire trade business was a giant Chinese finger trap, a trap that no one could get out of…nor did they want to.

The U.S. Forestry Department had known about the illegal harvesting of the game for some time, especially the taking of endangered species.  Because it had gone on right under their noses, all the trapping had pissed off the top brass.  The rangers and wardens were flustered, not knowing the identity of the prolific trapper or trappers.  They grew sick of finding animal carcasses scattered throughout their forest.  Each carnivore was missing organs, teeth, and fur.  Each pile of bones was a “Goddamned insult.”

Intelligence gathering had confirmed that the lungs and livers of wildcats would do well in Mongolia, dried or ground.  In combination, it was known to alleviate flu and generic colds.  Powdered wolf rectum sprinkled over one’s food was believed to cure hemorrhoids.

Mountain folk in Japan couldn’t get enough of the imported freeze-dried wolf meat…it supposedly gave the virile men courage and a super-charged libido.  Recently, the FBI had determined that cougar teeth and claws were for sale in the marketplace at Belen Iquitos, in Peru.  Black bear gallbladders in China had recently fetched $5,000.  The Forestry Department had committed to end the illegal harvesting, no matter the cost, no matter the laws.

The Black Finger Trap: The Attack

Akum exited his tiny tent, fully dressed for late winter snow.  He was up well past midnight, listening to the howls and the unusual chatter of the local Lolo Forest wolves.  Some of the Lolos had been fitted with GPS collars as part of an ongoing reintroduction study group.  He measured how long it had taken them to cross the moonlit meadow.  He knew the wolves to be in a full trot, now at the bottom of the mountain’s ridge, based on his calculations.  The hungry wolves were destined to come his way along some primordial path of vengeance.  He thumbed the revolver’s chambered barrel, spinning it to display the hollow-point bullets.  The bullets were seated correctly.  His life depended upon it.  Charley was with him again, sitting on his haunches and growling from some instinctual place in his belly.

Akum had reset his last trap for the next day’s string no more than 15 feet downhill from the tent, not more than 3-4 hours prior.  Trapping that day was very productive.  He harvested and gutted his third black wolf before a late dinner.

He skinned the wolves and removed their teeth and claws, saving their haunches.  He bundled the valuables in a roll of bloody fur, lashing the hefty bounty to the bed of his custom sled.  The skinned and eviscerated wolves were dumped some thirty feet away from the tent in a pile of steaming waste.

After the cathedral of howls had finished worshiping the ridge, they jetted up and over the small hill that led straight to the man.  He readied himself, fully prepared, Charley warming his shin.  He estimated ten wolves.

And then suddenly, in the chill of the early witching hour, everything grew deadly silent.  Charley whined, his hackles needles, not an ounce of fear in his entire body.  Loyalty can do that.

He listened for heavy panting, the usual pack discord, nothing.  In the frozen quietness, he could taste the black spice of death at the back of his throat.  Charley grumbled and raised his noble jowls.

After the longest time, Akum and Charley reentered the small tent.  Akum busted open the last Grabber hand warmer, cupped it in his empty palms, and listened intently.  Maybe they had passed?  He warmed his face with the hand warmer and Charley’s soft belly.  Akum lay still, listening, and drifted off into the frozen waters of sleep.

His restless nap was brief.  All hell had broken loose.

It didn’t take long for the entire tent to get shredded.  Strips of ripstop nylon flapped and flitted in the icy wind.  Akum was never this close to a hunting pack before.  He attempted to calm himself, but the howls were bone-chilling and violent.  For the first time in his dark career, Akum considered that he might not make it out of the forest alive.

Akum crawled through what remained of the tent’s entrance, his first mistake.

A beta Lolo snapped at his cheek.  She carved out a chunk of meat where a dimple once charmed.  Akum clutched at the bleeding divot, the patch that was missing.  All he could feel was an oozy crater.

Charley attacked the lowly wolf, forcing it to the ground with his weight, snapping the wolf’s neck.  In the ensuing darkness and panic, Akum emptied his revolver.  Six sonic booms rocked the night air.

Charley had taken a slug in his beefy chest.  He whimpered the high-pitched sound of betrayal.  Charley walked away from his owner as if dismissed.  Then fell limp, headfirst into a coffin of blood-drenched snow.

Akum managed to pull himself up to stand in the melee.  Because of all the adrenaline and terror, he hadn’t noticed that his left pinky was missing, how it dripped like a leaky faucet.

In the palest of moonlight, he stared into the black vault of the sky.  His disjointed knuckle pulsed leaked plasma and throbbed, globules dripped onto the snow.

“Bitches, where are you?  Want some more?”

Especially to Akum, his voice sounded thin and unreal.  He knelt beside Charley and attempted to wail.  He wiped Charley down, the blood from his guilty hands onto the snow.  He told Charley how sorry he was for shooting him, as if Akum had feelings.

It was the Lolo Forest Wolf Pack.  He knew for sure.  Three of the pack’s wolves had neck monitors.

They gave him a reprieve.  He knew the Lolos to be fat and lazy from slaying overpopulated elk herds.  The federal government had made sure they were fed well.  Somehow the wolves had known he wasn’t going to be an easy prize.

Akum listened as the Lolos topped the jagged rim of the mountain, as they poured over the top into the next valley, how they headed in the direction of easier kills closer to Yellowstone.  He reloaded his pistol, just in case.

Akum used what remained of his tent as ground cover on the frozen snow.  He placed his sleeping bag on top of the cut-up nylon.  He chose to sleep under the stars with part of his cheek and little finger missing, the X-bandage on his face more cosmetic than functional.  Gauze and tape were placed over his ghosted finger wound.  The damage had finality, but he wasn’t going to complain.

At daylight, he attached his snowshoes and got the hell out of the forest.  He knew his Jeep to be less than a half-mile downhill in a small clearing near an old service road.  Unfortunately, Akum was in for a surprise.  Feeding time wasn’t over.

Around 2:30 A.M., Akum’s blood froze in place.  Of all things, he recalled giving his father the antifreeze.  He never heard such mercurial pinning.  Though the howls were fewer, they were much louder, nearly deafening.  He knew from the tight formation that they were Canadian wolves.

Akum pried himself out of the warming bag, fully clothed again.  He jumped to his feet and readied the revolver.  Two rounds entered the first wolf as it sailed in for a kill shot.  It had clamped onto Akum’s throat before sliding down the blood-drenched parka.  The second Canadian clamped down on the back of his neck.

Akum whirled in a circle and attempted to shake the wolf free.  Nothing.

Next, he tucked the revolver under his armpit and pointed it backward.  He placed the tip of the icy barrel next to the wolf’s empty belly.  It took two blasts to quiet the wolf’s shaking and tearing.  Defeated, the hefty wolf dropped like a block of ice.

Akum smiled to no one.  “Bring it, hounds!”

Silence enveloped the campsite once again, the adjacent scrubs and trees, the steep side of the mountain.  The wind had calmed.  Akum waited a reasonable amount of time to breathe normally.  He reloaded his pistol.

In an instant, the remaining Canadians broke from under the surrounding conifer boughs.

For the first time in his life, Akum panicked.  He bolted straight down the hill.

“I gotta reach the Jeep,” he said, out loud.

Snap!  He had triggered the bear-sized iron trap he set.

Other than the horrific cracking sound, there was no sensation of pain.

Akum lifted his face out of the snow, rolled over onto his back, and reached uphill, bending at the waist.  He stretched to grasp the vicious mouth of the trap, his fingers attempting to hide the truth as the hungry wolves waited patiently.

But after he felt the jagged edges of bone, he thought to himself, There is no way in hell that I am going to laugh this one off.

He screamed into the waning night, his breath hotter than car exhaust.

The wolves took turns at Akum.  They smelled his meaty blood, tasted his fear.  In the struggle, Akum managed to unsheathe his hunting knife.  Stabbing at the ravenous frenzy of fur was his only option.  He was delirious from the cold and blood loss.  The young trapper imagined his father’s boot up against his neck, his father’s knees on his chest, the vicious fangs and snapping sounds.  Akum’s blade connected.  Two wolves limped away from the action.

Success, yes, but Akum grew disoriented.  Somehow, he found his gun and managed to squeeze off another round.  The errant slug had snapped the top of his foot off, the one in the trap.  The remaining rounds caused the confident wolves to flee the campsite, messy as a neglected butcher’s shop.

“God, don’t let them return!” the raving atheist lunatic shouted at the blackness, his usual bravado all but gone.

* * * * * *

Dawn found Akum with a belted tourniquet around his muscular thigh.  Akum sliced off the rest of his right foot at the ankle, using all his might and internal strength.  He screamed and asked to live.  He cried and prayed to die.

Akum began to serpentine downhill on his belly ribs, grasping at the snow.  There was only so much time.  Somehow, he managed to pull himself to the Jeep.  What remained of his foot in the bear trap was a snack for the hungry wolves.

He was crazed.  Bits of logic entered his mind.  He attempted to imagine himself whole without the sum of his parts, a gestalt.

Hell, my wicked father lived most of his adult life with half of his ear blown off from a bar fight.  It never stopped him from getting laid, did it, Akum, blue-eyed boy?  And how about those crazy mountain climbers each year on Mt.  Everest, the ones that return half-alive faces, no fingers or toes, a black nose?

Akum thought deeply, maybe too deeply, maybe his last thoughts.  He recalled meeting Stephen Hawking and how he would have settled for life with his brain in a jar.  Akum thought about watching TV  and how he handled the remote.

* * * * * *

Fish and Game discovered his Jeep Wrangler.  The Jeep pointed at the man, or what remained of him, not more than fifty feet up the slope.  It wouldn’t be challenging to find the crime scene.  It was where the Lolos’ GPS collars quit working.

Soon, they’d follow the blood trail and strings of entrails up the hill.

In a small pile near the Jeep, they observed his stripped skull, emptied of grey matter.  They found a metatarsal bone, one, and a perfectly waxed 10-1/2 sized boot sitting in place.  Inside the boot was a woolen sock, clean, rolled up.  A stripped tibula and fibula pointed straight up from out of the pristine sock.

Around the carnage, a bloody parade of paw prints.

“I think we’ve found our elusive trapper,” Warden Parker, the senior ranger, said with a smirk on her face.

“Yup,” quipped Beta Bob, the subordinate ranger.  “Now all we have to do is keep everything a secret”

“What secret?” asked Parker, tongue in cheek.  She laughed like a sadistic hooded executioner.  “You mean how we were assigned to relocate the Canadian wolves back into Canada?  Oops!”

The warden and ranger howled like black-back jackals, a pack of two.  They successfully captured the illegal trapper with their version of a Chinese finger trap.

Warden Parker, so intelligent and competent, had said, “Those that live by the sword shall die by the sword.  Julius Caesar, Bob!” Parker pointed her moist nose in the air, like any good pack leader.

Bob hesitated, lowered his muzzle.  “I don’t think so, Warden Parker.  ‘Then Jesus said to him, put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.’”

“Whatever,” growled Parker.  “Let’s head up the hill.”

Rating: 8.88/10. From 8 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Dan A. Cardoza
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Dan A. Cardoza

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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