Monday, April 30, 2012
I rarely blog about events going on in my real life, mostly because I find it hard to believe that any of my readers would be at all interested in what’s happening on this end of the keyboard. While I love creating fantastic worlds and interesting stories, I feel that my life (and the lives of most people, probably) are, day to day, quite boring. But I suppose that, examined on a day to day basis, the lives of most story and movie characters are pretty boring too (Raymond Chandler never wrote “Philip Marlowe and Case of the Boring Bail-Jumper”). It’s the singular exciting events, once in a year or five or ten, that are actually worth retelling.
I had one of those events this week.
As some of you may or may not have been aware, I was laid off from my job in January. During the day I’m an architect (designer, project manager, intern- use whatever word you like best). The recession in America has hit the construction industry very hard, especially firms relying heavily on government contracts, as the firm I worked for was. When the government money dried up, so did the jobs, and several people, myself included, found themselves without a job.
When the lease on our apartment expired sixty days ago (to the day), my wife and I had a hard decision to make. Would we re-sign our lease and plan on staying in the city we knew and loved (and risk having to break the lease if I got a job out of town), or would we not re-sign and come up with a plan for when the lease expired? In the end we decided to not re-sign. That gave me sixty days to find a new job (and a new place to live) before we had to move. Our back-up plan was to move in with her parents… in South Carolina. Six hours away from our friends.
I thought that sixty days would be plenty of time to find a job. How hard could it be, really?
The answer seems obvious to me now; a LOT harder than I could’ve imagined. No jobs materialized ANYWHERE, and by last Monday we were five days from moving to South Carolina. I was at a low point- I honestly didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to leave my friends and the city I loved behind. I had too many good memories of college and post-graduation that I didn’t want to lose. But it was the only thing that made financial sense. We could save our money and maybe send my wife back to graduate school. She’d had to drop out after I got laid off- the particular program gave out failing grades if you had to leave in the middle of the semester, and had I gotten a job anywhere else we’d have had to move and ruin her GPA.
A week ago today, I had just come to terms with the fact that we’d be moving. I’d started to move past the sadness and face reality, determined to make the best of the situation no matter what happened.
And that was when I got the call about a job. In an adjacent city (about an hour and a half away). At around 3pm last Monday, a principal at an architecture firm found a resume that I’d dropped off months ago that was left on his credenza and forgotten. He called me, and the next day I went in for an interview.
Dare I get my hopes up? We were mere days away from moving. What if it didn’t work out? I waited to mention the job to my friends and family; I’d already told all of them of my imminent move. They’d ridden the roller coaster of job interviews and job rejections with me for months. I didn’t want to get anyone else’s hopes up either.
I was offered the job on Thursday. On Friday my wife and I drove to the city to find a new apartment to live in. We found a place, signed a lease that day, and moved into the apartment on Saturday, thanks to the help of an army of friends who came out of the woodwork to help, grateful that I’d found a job so close to home.
My wife loves made-for-TV teenager movies. There’s no shame in that, but in my opinion, some of them have some of the most ridiculous storylines I’ve ever heard. If I’d watched my story play out in one of those movies, I’d have rolled my eyes at it. That just doesn’t happen in real life. People don’t actually get last-minute life changing information like that. The perfect job never opens up at just the right time to prevent someone from moving away from home. Legions of helpful people don’t just materialize to help out and make something huge happen for the sake of their friends.
But it happened to me.
I don’t like the word “religious” (because that word has received such a negative connotation in connection with people forced to follow a strict set of laws in order to win favor with God), but I do consider myself a Christian. Like most Christians, from time to time in moments of difficulty I have trials of faith, moments when God seems far away. I’ve had a few of those in the last few months. But if I ever needed proof that God listens, cares about me and has an investment in my joy, I’ve found it. I can simply find no other explanation for what just occurred in my life.
In a manner of speaking, I feel like Abraham, asked to take his son Isaac to the mountaintop. In the seconds before Abraham was to slay his son as an offering to God, after Abraham had already admitted to himself that this was the way that things had to be, only then did God intervene. I don’t consider myself a man of great faith like Abraham. I don’t consider myself a lucky person either. I rarely believe in coincidence or luck, chaos theory or what have you. For something this huge, this important, this undeniably miraculous, I have to give credit where credit is due. Thanks, God.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
When I read this story about an Ohio man who released a bunch of wild animals from his home last year, it almost seemed too wild to be true. I heard this fascinating story about the police officers who'd been responsible for catching the escaped animals and decided to do a fictionalized version of the story. I hope you enjoy it. Credit goes to those brave officers who risked their lives for that little town.
Aaron Matthew Smith- 22 April 2012
“Frank! “Frank, stop the truck. We’re here.”
I nearly stomped on the brakes, my nerves were so fried. Instead I eased the pickup truck to a stop on the pitch black country road, gravel still crunching under the tires as the three men in the bed of the truck leapt to the ground.
I stepped out of the cab and walked to the passenger side, where the chief was already up and reaching behind the passenger seat into the back. The other three men were passing out those elastic-banded head lamps. I took one and pulled it around my short brown hair.
The chief started pulling several long, hard plastic cases from the back of the truck. He passed one to me. I took it and ignored the flip of anxiety in my stomach as my hands went to work automatically. I set the rifle case on the ground and, with practiced efficiency, unpacked and loaded the weapon. The five of us worked in silence for a few minutes.
The radio in the pickup truck crackled to life. I cried out as the gun tumbled from my hands and clattered on the grass.
“Geez, ya piss yourself there Frank?” one of the other officers said. The other two chuckled while the chief leaned into the cab and picked up the radio. A moment later he hung the radio up.
“The Zookeeper is dead,” he said. The joking atmosphere was snuffed out like a candle flame in a drafty room.
“So, then…” I started.
“They’re almost all gone,” Chief cut me off. “They caught a pair of alligators and a chimp with the tranquilizers before they escaped. Every one of his other ‘pets’ is loose.”
I turned and looked behind me instinctively, though the head lamp hardly penetrated the dense underbrush of the Tennessee wilderness.
“What are we looking for?” An officer named Conner to my left said.
Chief sighed. “Three black bears, two orangutans, a zebra, a giraffe, two Bengal tigers, a hippo, nine monkeys, thirteen parrots, two crocodiles, and a polar bear,” He read from a yellow legal pad. “Last priority is on the parrots, gentlemen.”
“So he just… what?” I said.
“Ol’ Charlie Longstreet rigged his cages to open on a time delay, then shot himself in the head.” Chief flipped a page on his legal pad. “Found a suicide note there. Evidently he wanted his animals to…” he took a breath, “eat his body.”
“And instead, they all just ran,” Conner said.
“The wacko’s mansion is three quarters of a mile over that ridge,” Chief pointed over his shoulder. “It’s backed by the river, so most of the animals probably came this way. Conner, you and Frank head south. Me, Tripp and Scotty’ll go north. Stay in contact. If you kill something, let us know. If you see something and don’t kill it, let us know.”
I glanced at the rifle in my hands. Chief must’ve been reading my mind. He said, “We’re shooting to kill, gentlemen. Tranquilizers take too much time, and there’s no way we’d get them all calibrated right before someone got hurt. Public safety is our priority.” He picked up his own rifle. “Let’s go. Stay alert.”
We split up. Conner and I stepped into the woods on the north side of the clearing. In moments, the truck behind us was invisible, completely concealed by the thick trees and underbrush.
We walked in silence for a while, prowling as quietly as we could through the woods. Every now and then we’d stop and listen before continuing forward.
“This ain’t no way to hunt,” Conner mumbled. “We need a tree stand. Set up a blind, create a defensible perimeter, shoot anything that comes across it.”
“National Guard’s supposed to be pulling in by daylight,” I said. “They’re bringing in two hundred troops. Meantime, it’s just us five.”
“Why the hell’d Jerry and Jim have to take vacation this week?” Conner grumbled.
A sudden rustling to our left made me freeze. I turned and played my light through the trees, but I didn’t see anything. We stood motionless for another few seconds. Nothing.
“I’ll circle around and flush it out,” Conner whispered. He took slow, deliberate steps forward, making a slow arc toward the noise. I checked my rifle for the hundredth time and found it loaded and ready to go. I raised the weapon.
My heart was pounding in my throat. I felt a shiver run down my back, though I could feel sweat soaking through my uniform shirt in the muggy August night. A frozen ball of anxiety settled in my stomach as I waited. I stood there for what felt like hours.
There was a sudden quick rustle in the direction we’d heard the noise- Conner had thrown a rock or something. There was a roar of snapping branched and turned leaves, and a huge black shape darted in front of me. Instinct took over then, my hands moving of their own accord. I took a single shot, yanked back the bolt on the rifle and fired again.
All motion in the forest stopped, like time itself had been frozen. I stood there for a moment, watching the still black mound. It didn’t move.
My radio beeped, and I screamed like a little girl. I squeezed the microphone clipped to my shirt. “This is Frank. Just found one of the black bears. Two shots fired. Beast is down, repeat, beast is down.”
There was a heavy two-foot stomping coming through the woods to my left, and Conner reappeared a moment later. “WHOO! Did ya get him?”
“I got him,” I said. I prodded the animal with the two of my boot. It was big, probably three hundred pounds. Not the biggest black bear I’d ever seen, but big enough.
I glanced at Conner. He was grinning like he’s just won the lottery. “Come on, I want to get one now!” He gave me a brotherly slap on the shoulder.
I stared at the dead bear at my feet for another moment before following.
“How’s it legal for one guy to own all these animals?” I said.
“Beats me. Some states it ain’t. You know you can’t even have a guinea pig in California?” Conner said as we continued trekking.
We’d walked another twenty minutes when the shots rang out. Two shots, loud, from a high powered hunting rifle like we were carrying. We froze as they echoed across the dark, still night. Suddenly a series of short pops followed. A flock of birds took flight from the treetops to our right, a hundred yards or more away.
“That was a handgun,” I said. I touched my radio. “Chief, you guys alright?”
“Chief!?” I said again.
“We’re okay Frank,” came Tripp’s voice. “It was a damned Tiger. We saw both of ‘em. Scotty got off two shots with his rifle, dropped one. The second one charged. I took a shot with my handgun, but it got away. Looked like it was heading in your direction.”
“Good news, it’s pissed!” said Scotty’s voice.
Conner made a noise that sounded like an excited hiccup.
“How can you be so damn excited?” I said, taking my gun in two hands again.
“Man, it’s like we’re on safari! How can you not be?”
I rolled my eyes. In the darkness, I’m sure he didn’t see.
We trekked slowly and carefully now, trying to make as little noise as possible in the darkness. We walked side by side, each scanning the forest for a hundred and eighty degrees as we moved. The night was so still that it started to creep me out. There weren’t any insects chirping, no birds or owls or frogs or anything. It was like the woods knew that something was wrong and everything was waiting to see what would happen.
I felt sweat sticking my shirt to my back, but I was still ice cold. My head lamp cast strange, flickering shadows across the trees and thorns in front of me. Light reflecting off of the damp leaves looked like the eyes of hungry predators in the forest, each one waiting for me to turn my back so it could attack.
“Shh,” Conner said suddenly, and I froze. We stood there in the darkness for a minute, the light from our lamps still. He reached up and switched his off. “Lights out. Don’t want to startle ‘em.”
I failed to see how allowing them to sneak up on us in the dark would startle them, but I obliged. In a moment my eyes adjusted to the gloom. I could just barely make out Conner’s silhouette in the wane moonlight that penetrated the tree canopy above our heads.
“I don’t hear anything,” I said, but Conner shushed me. He crept forward, gun raised, into a thicket of brush. In a second he’d vanished entirely.
A terror, something dark and penetrating and older than I could comprehend began to bubble in my stomach. Surrounded by darkness, cut off from my allies, potentially surrounded by wild predators, I felt my heart begin beating double time. The fear started to crawl up my throat like a living thing attempting to escape my body. I tried to swallow it down, but it was no use. My fight-or-flight instincts were screaming at me to turn and run; Run the hell away! Get back to the truck and get out of this nightmare!
I didn’t realize my breath was coming in gasps until I started getting light headed. I couldn’t take the darkness. I reached up to my head lamp.
The wilderness exploded around me, the darkness a sudden chaos of snapping tree limbs and the roar of torn underbrush. Conner cried out from somewhere nearby. A muzzle flash tore a hole in the inky shadows just long enough for me to get glimpse of Conner laying on his back ten yards away. The gunshot deafened me, the ringing in my ears adding an eerie timbre to the darkness.
I snapped on my light.
Standing over Conner was a huge, hulking form, several hundred pounds of orange fur, muscle and claws. It looked up at me with shining, penetrating yellow eyes, frozen in the beam of my lamp. Its muzzle was wet and red.
The deep, old fear flooded my brain and froze me in place. It looked at me indifferently, like I might look at a piece of furniture that someone had placed in my path. The shining pools of yellow light in its skull looked otherworldly; a demon crawled out of the deepest pits of hell and sent to find me and Conner. It didn’t just scare me. It was fear, the living embodiment of everything violent and murderous and terrible.
I couldn’t move if I had to. My legs weren’t listening to my brain; the fear had shut down everything in my body.
So instead of running, I raised my gun and shot it in the head.
The gunshot sent my ears back to ringing and tossed back the tiger’s huge head. Blood and gore rained from the hole in its skull as its massive body went into spasms, trying to flee even though it was already dead. I cocked the bolt on the rifle, took and fired another shot at the flailing monster. It hit the thing just below the neck.
Conner was scooting through the leaves and mud on his butt, frantically pedaling toward me. The beast fell and rolled, its massive, deadly paws tossing the forest floor. Finally after twenty seconds of horror, it stopped moving.
I knelt to Conner. His forearm was maimed, his uniform sleeve shredded, his skin a mess of blood, skin and dirt. His face was as white as a sheet.
I dropped my own gun to the dirt and stripped my shirt off, turned it inside out and wrapped the clean part against his arm to stop the bleeding. I picked my radio off of the grass where I’d plucked it from my shirt.
“Office down,” I called. “Conner’s hurt. We found the other tiger. Took him down, but he got Conner. It’s bad. Get medical out here, now!” I wiped my face with one cold, clammy hand. My heart rate was starting to return to normal. I looked to the dead beast less than five yards away, the huge, primal killing machine that I’d just dispatched.
Each paw was nearly bigger than my head. Even without the claws, one blow would’ve knocked the sense out of me. It would’ve killed me without trying, without any effort at all. With the simplicity I’d use to go to open a can of beer. I was that insignificant.
My eyes tracked to the mortal wound on its head, and I turned away. The whole scenario was too horrible, too violent and wrong to think about.
Conner took a sharp intake of breath as he wound the shirt tighter around his mangled arm. I dropped the radio and dove at him.
“Quit trying to talk,” I said.
“You ass, Frank,” Conner gasped.
“I said the next one was mine.”
“…Conner, you’re a dumb ass. Tell ya what, since you can’t do tigers, I’ll save the parrots for you. Okay?”
“Screw you, Frank.”
Monday, April 16, 2012
I decided that I needed a new avatar. One without a cup of coffee this time. I know, shocking. This is the first cartoon I've done in a while that didn't require ANY Photoshop correction afterward (aside from cropping). I love doing drawings with Prismacolor markers because I hardly need to do any after effects.
Also Graham, you left your markers over at my place.
Also Graham, you left your markers over at my place.