The Carnage of the Animals (music definitely not by Camille Saint-Saens)
Guest post by Mark W. Bradley
I’m a sixth generation Californian on my mother’s side, but my father’s father migrated to the Golden State from Texas less than a century ago. One of my great, great, great (trust me, he wasn’t that great) grandfathers was Hillary Logan, a marginally successful cattle rancher and steadfast guardian of white “racial purity” from Gatesville, Texas. Hillary was the father of twelve sons, most of whom came of age during the “War on Federal Government Intervention” (1861-1865). He was thus well-placed to bestow upon the Confederacy a critical mass of uncritical cannon fodder. My own great, great grandfather, Lt. J. H. Logan (he wasn’t that great either), managed to survive four years with the 10th Texas Infantry, and after the war went on to sire his own passel of corn-fed crackers, one of whom was great grandfather to my fourth cousin, Lamar “Buck” Logan.
I wouldn’t say Buck and I are close exactly, but on a recent trip to the Lone Star State I stayed on his fifty-five acre Crawford ranch with him, his wife Fayanne and their son Clayton. Upon my departure, I extended an offer of reciprocity -- should they ever find themselves in California, they were to call me and I would, of course, open my house to them. Being a typical Californian, I clearly meant the offer as nothing more than an empty gesture, never for a moment imagining the ignorant peckerwoods would be obtuse enough to take me up on it. Consider, therefore, my shock and consternation at being awakened last Sunday night just short of 11:30 to the sound of a loud knocking on my front door. As I stumbled warily toward the light switch that illuminates the front porch, I spied my distant cousin and his teenage son munching hungrily from a baggy full of goobers, and casually urinating into my wife’s meticulously manicured flowerbeds.
No sooner had I hustled them inside than Buck launched into a breathless explanation of their sudden appearance on my front porch.
“Clay and me was readin’ the dictionary the other day, and we run across the word ‘aardvark.’ It says in there that aardvarks only live in two places: Africa and the zoo. Clay remembered from when you was stayin’ with us, you said you lived near a zoo, and we figured that was a lot closer than Africa. So we decided, since Clay had vacation time stored up at the land-mine factory there in Crawford, we’d use the time to improve our minds, you know, learning about aardvarks and such…”
“They don’t have zoos in Texas?” I inquired.
“I don’t know of any,” Buck replied. “We just knew for sure there was one by your house, so we come here to see for ourselves.”
“You must be exhausted,” I said. “Why don’t you sleep here in the guest room, and in the morning I’ll take you to the zoo.”
“We’ll sleep in the pickup,” offered young Clay. “We don’t want nobody stealin’ our shit.”
“See you in the morning then,” I replied.
The next morning after breakfast, the three of us headed over to the zoo. On our way there, Buck began peppering me with what can only be described as an odd series of questions.
“Are there many dangerous animals at the zoo?” he asked.
“Sure,” I answered, “polar bears, Siberian tigers, lots of things.”
“What’ll we do if any of ‘em gets loose while we’re there?”
“I don’t think that’s likely,” I replied. “But in the event one of them did, I’m sure the zoo keepers have tranquilizer guns on hand.”
“But what if they don’t?” he inquired. “Do you think somebody might have to shoot the animal, I mean if it was dangerous enough?”
“Would you shoot it yourself if you had to?” Clay asked.
“If I had to in order to save someone’s life, I guess I would,” I answered, with growing discomfort.
At that, my two houseguests got uncharacteristically quiet.
Shortly after this unusual Q and A session, we arrived at our destination and parked the car near the entrance. I insisted on paying the price of admission, which left Clay with plenty of money to purchase a variety of items, including cotton-candy, an elephant’s head hat, and a large iced coke, into which he poured the contents of a silver flask he’d hidden in the front of his pants.
“Where are the big cats?” Buck asked.
“About a hundred yards along that pathway,” I told him, handing him the color-coded map. “I’ll meet you guys over there as soon as I take a piss.”
I had to wait in line to use the urinal, so I suppose I spent more time in that restroom than I intended, perhaps four minutes or so. In any case, the unscheduled delay turned out to be (to say the least) catastrophic.
My first indication of trouble was the sudden arrival of several terrified zoo patrons seeking cover from what sounded like a running gun battle outside the restroom. The second was an impossibly loud explosion, followed by the sound of shrapnel ripping its way through the nearby banana trees.
After that, I was less surprised than you might think to see a troop of screaming chimpanzees come barreling headlong through the open doorway and into one of the stalls, cowering in fear as they fumbled furiously to secure the broken lock behind them.
Alarmed as I was at this series of events, a vague familial obligation to see to the well-being of my Texas relatives drove me (tentatively and on my hands and knees) to make sure that they were, in fact, safe amidst all the sudden calamity. I thrust my head out of the doorway to get a better look.
Within my line of vision the carnage was widespread and devastating. Stampeding animals of every size and description, from furiously flapping flamingos to wounded and wild-eyed wildebeests, collided and careened into payphones and concession stands. Equally panicked people knocked each other to the pavement as they zigzagged from exhibit to exhibit, sobbing uncontrollably and crying out in voices quivering with terror. In the center of it all, a magnificent Asian lioness stood majestically astride an enormous pile of caramel-corn, trying to decide whether to pursue a zebra with a shattered hip or a pack of tasty-looking cub scouts.
Within a few short minutes, the distant sound of police sirens grew unbearably loud, conjoining itself with the hurricane of helicopter blades overhead, creating an ear-splitting cacophony that muffled the individual sounds emanating from the humans and other animals in distress. Just then, I caught my first glimpse of Buck and Clayton.
Evidently, they saw me as well, as Clay smiled, put down his semi-automatic rifle and waved his hands over his head to draw my attention. Buck, too, signaled for me to join them, just before lobbing a grenade into the Reptile House. Once the smoke had cleared and the last of the glass shards had come to rest on the asphalt walkway, I did just that, for no earthly reason I can discern, given the benefit of hindsight. When I reached them, Buck grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me roughly into the now empty grizzly bear enclosure.
“What’s the matter with you, boy!” he shouted over the din of battle. “You’re acting like you ain’t never been in combat before! Get your fool ass down quick ’fore you get it shot off!”
“Where’d all these weapons come from?” I asked in bewilderment.
“We brung em with us,” said Clay, with unmistakable pride in his voice.
“Why the fuck would you do that?!!” I demanded.
“How the hell we supposed to kill all these dangerous animals if we ain’t got no guns?” replied Buck, aghast at my evident stupidity.
“What are you fucktards talking about?” I shouted. “These animals were no threat to anybody locked safely in their cages!”
“Well, they’re sure as a hell a threat now,” interjected Clay. “Just look at that leopard chewing on that dead guy’s arm…”
At that point, Buck showed signs of becoming frustrated with my inability to grasp what, to him, was perfectly obvious.
“You know, the trouble with you gutless liberals is that you never want to take a preventative approach to problems like this. Last night you told us these animals were dangerous, and agreed that some of ‘em might have to be killed. Hell, you even told us you’d kill one yourself if it was absolutely necessary! Well guess what? It’s necessary now, isn’t it? So if I were you, I’d spend a little less time pissing and moaning about how we all got into this mess, and a lot more helping us figure out how to get out of it!”
“Never mind the Goddamn animals,” I said with more than a little irritation in my voice, “what about the shotgun-wielding SWAT team forming a perimeter around us as we sit here pissing away the last few precious moments of our miserable lives?”
Buck replied without hesitation. “In a situation like this, cutting and running is not an option. As Texans, we will not accept any outcome short of complete and total victory. To do otherwise would be to dishonor the memory of the animals who died so bravery here today.” Then he turned toward the police and let out a rebel yell to shake the rafters. “REMEMBER THE ALAMO!!”
Strangely enough, that was the exact image bedeviling my thoughts at precisely the moment the tear-gas canister cleared the walls of the grizzly pen where we were holed up. When it exploded, I experienced an intense flashback to the sixties, as the abrasive gases permeated every orifice of my body, transporting my nerve-endings back to Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. Bummer, dude!
I must have lost consciousness at that point, because when I came to, I was in a body cast, chained to a hospital bed. On either side of me were gurneys containing my two cousins.
“Don’t worry,” Clayton whispered to me in low, conspiratorial tones. “My dad’s militia friends are coming to bust us out of here later tonight.”
In the event anyone happens to see a nurse on this floor sometime before sundown, please tell him or her I’m ready to reconsider their offer. I’m now prepared to volunteer for that series of high-risk medical experiments offered earlier to me as an alternative to incarceration for the duration of my natural life. That’s predicated, of course, on my swift and confidential removal to a locked vault somewhere beyond the confines of this hospital…
Mark W. Bradley is a schoolteacher and political satirist in Sacramento, California. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.