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Intruder Assassin

Twelve years ago, Kendra and I were sitting comfortably in our living room, enjoying a pleasant visit with close friends, Matt and J.J. It was early evening, the warm, late summer’s twilight just beginning to settle, visible through the windows into our backyard. And I saw him: The beast, slightly larger than a Yeti. Although his features were indistinguishable in the fading light, clearly he was possessed of a demonic rage and evil intent, his blood boiling, filled with malice, positively radiating a soft red glow like lava.

But I should back up a little: A series of two retaining walls held back our yard from crashing through our house, one Lego-stacked pile of carcinogenic creosote-soaked railroad ties stacked on top of the other. In the weeks previous, I had noticed a large hole underneath the top wall. Upon closer inspection, I observed evidence that some diabolical usurper had been coming and going from the hole. For days I dubiously staked out the hole, taking several hair samples and readings in an effort to gather more data about my foe, the better to formulate a suitable paramilitary response to his encroachment. But thus far, the wily creature was toying with me, demonstrating that he was onto me, as he was either using some animalistic ninja trick to turn invisible in his comings and goings, or perhaps escaping and returning at will through some miles-long tunnel system he had somehow managed to camouflage from my detection. I had caught not even a glimpse of the bumble, when suddenly this opportunity presented itself, a gift from the very gods of fate.

Now that I had seen him for certain, no way was I letting him escape. (Call ME crazy, I thought. You want crazy? I GOT your crazy!) I hastily excused myself and ran, Clark Kent-like, for the garage to grab a shovel, intent on manic violence. In just a few moments, I would learn that violence actually has a name. And a face. And that its name…is “Matt.”

Certainly one could be forgiven for misinterpreting my intentions that evening, as from all appearances, I was running in the direction opposite the threat, whereas Matt was in fact running headlong towards it. I bolted for the garage; he bolted directly out the back door. I was headed to procure a weapon; he was a weapon. At first, our attack might even have appeared to be coordinated, with him flushing the beast in a purposeful direction towards me, as I came careening around the corner of the house into the backyard from the garage, my Shovel of Destiny in hand.

And then Matt handily demonstrated how superfluous was my weapon of mass destruction, indeed, how unnecessary was even my presence. I could better have served him by remaining in the house and freshening up his sweet tea, perhaps running out to have his car detailed and to pick up his dry cleaning.

No, Matt was not flushing the Acid-Clawed-Monster towards me, as I had supposed. Rather, he was running it to ground. As it hurtled across the backyard, shrieking its murderous Hell-fury, I rounded the corner just in time to observe Matt close the distance between them, in perhaps three quick bounds, and in one deft motion, Beckham-like, he punted. Matt felled the creature by immediately increasing its velocity ten-fold, taking full advantage of the laws of physics by forcing it beyond—far beyond—what its advanced physiology dictated it could run. And it toppled, end over end, some twenty feet—not unlike a soccer ball, in fact (although of course fifty times the size).

When the beast came to rest, he was clearly disoriented, dizzy and damaged from his tumbling dance across the landscape. It was at this moment that finally I was able to see through his campaign of psychological warfare. He was, in fact, an opossum.  Although, clearly, he was no ordinary opossum, rather more like the giant spider from Stephen King’s It, capable of projecting himself as a terrible, giant fiend. I stood not three feet from him, faltering in that moment, my shovel hanging impotent in my grip, debating whether this might in fact be just another of his clever deceptions.

Then Matt caught up to him. Still without breaking his gait, Matt kicked him once again, this time more American-football style…directly into the brick wall of the house next door. In defense of what some might mistake for my apparent ineptitude and skill in dispatchment, Matt was wearing boots at the time, and I was wearing just sneakers. As everyone knows, of course if you’re going to kick an opossum, you’d best be garbed in the appropriate footwear. The implications of attempting such a feat in the absence of the proper equipment are simply too dangerous for one to even consider.

But Matt wasn’t done. If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “playing possum,” and you thought these mastermind marsupials do that intentionally, you’d be mistaken. In fact, they can’t control it. When presented with grave danger, a chemical reaction occurs that both paralyzes and immobilizes them. Matt was counting on that with his first kick. What he was doing with his second kick was ensuring it. He placed his foot over the back of the opossum’s neck, and I suspected he was going to suffocate it or to crack its skull. But of course that’s no way to be sure that your opponent truly expires. What he was in fact doing was applying another principle of physics—leverage—pinning the base of its skull to the ground between the heel and forepart of his boot. He grabbed its tail and jerked its hind end straight up. It’s a maneuver I’ve observed in the game Mortal Kombat, although certainly never perpetrated against a real-live creature, and particularly not against a large rodent. C-R-AAAAAAA-C-KKKKKK!!! went its spine. Yup, he was finished.

I lamely offered to scoop up the corpse with my shovel to dispose of it. Still holding its tail, the opossum now essentially hyperextended to around five feet in length or so, Matt grinned at me, shook his head lightly, as though he felt some mild embarrassment for me inexpressible in words, and he chuckled. He simply released the head from under his heel, lifted it slightly higher by the tail, carried it to the trash bin, and dropped it in.

What can I say? The monster had seemed much bigger in the dark.

What’s the most savage creature you’ve ever dispatched? And what method did you use? By all means, share with us the gory details. Have you ever witnessed another person violently murder a helpless, innocent animal in a way you could never have expected? Why are Kraft Macaroni & Cheese boxes so insanely difficult to open?

Armadillo Terminator

A number of years ago, my beautiful wife Kendra’s magnificent Aunt Fran was a recruiter for Hardin Simmons University, situated in majestic Abilene, Texas. Her own three sons having attended Hardin Simmons, Aunt Fran was the ideal woman to tell their story of superior educational opportunities.

Aunt Fran loved her job, mainly because she believed wholeheartedly in their mission and purpose. But, as with every vocation, there’s always a downside. In Aunt Fran’s case, it was all the driving. Her position required that she tool all over the great state of Texas (and to parts beyond) to spread Hardin Simmons’ good news. She had this teeny little car. (I believe it was an Isuzu Impreza or some such, but honestly, it could just as easily have been a Toyota or Mazda. The point is, it was small and efficient, and apparently a joy to drive.)

One day, Aunt Fran was blasting somewhere through the Texas panhandle, across a desolate no-man’s-land populated primarily by mesquite. Oh, and also small critters. As is typical of that region of the State That No One Should Mess With, she hadn’t seen another car for probably 30 minutes or more.

She was barreling around a long curve, pretty much at full bore, when suddenly she locked eyes with a desperate creature: A lone (star) armadillo was standing, dumbstruck, smack in the middle of her lane. She only had an instant—not really enough time to swerve. And even if she could have swerved, it would not be possible to ascertain whether the creature had been appropriately trained by its armadillo momma what exactly to do in such circumstances anyway.

(I suspect armadillo madre likely smoked a little “wacky weed” with special rolling papers from time to time—or at the very least engaged in some other miscreant behavior—having never had the good sense to teach her precious armadillito that it was sheer folly to stand in the middle of the highway in the first place. In fact, if my own life experiences with armadillos offer any indication, I find it highly unlikely she was even married to her offspring’s daddy. Not that I’m judging.)

But all of that is I suppose irrelevant. Whether it was mommy’s lack of parenting skills or his own stubborn rebellion which placed him in that most unfortunate situation, results are all that matters. And the immediate result was that Aunt Fran plowed right over him at circa 70 MPH—although honestly it’s impossible to know for certain her precise velocity at the time, as she was mercifully slamming on her brakes.

She came screeching to a halt. Slowly, with great sadness, she lifted her eyes to check his condition in her rearview mirror. What she saw was a little gray ball rolling for several moments in slow motion, until his body finally came to a full stop, limp, arrested there in the center of the highway. Saintly Aunt Fran sat panting, her heart still pounding within her chest, her eyes locked on the motionless crumpled heap. And then it moved.

It wiggled just a little at first. Then he fully unfolded, clearly bewildered, and began staggering drunkenly toward the side of the road. Her heart sank. He was wounded. He was suffering. And she felt responsible. So she did what any merciful human being with the love of Jesus fully alive in their heart would do:

She cranked that little car into reverse, threw her arm up on the passenger seat, turned so she could see out the back window, hammered the accelerator, and plowed clean over the top of him again, this time going backwards. It was the right thing to do, of course. It was pure mercy.

Wha-bam-FWUMP! Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump!

She screeched to a stop again and watched out the front windshield, waiting. Again he rolled. Again he fell limp and lay still. For much longer this time. And again he twitched. Again he unfolded. Again he began to stagger. Only this time more desperately. With greater conviction. Very likely wracking his tiny armadillo brain, thinking,

“My…God! Who IS she?!? What did I DO?!? She’s trying to KILL ME!”

Did he owe her money? Was she part of the Jackrabbit Mafia who controlled this region of the panhandle? Was she being initiated into a gang? “Why, God? Why?!?”

And of course Aunt Fran knew: “The poor little thing! He’s just going to suffer and suffer and drag himself off somewhere into the mesquite and die a horrible, painful, long death… Unless…
I can get to him first!”

CLUNK!–DRIVE–HAMMER DOWN–SKREEEEE!!!–SMOKE BILLOWING FROM THE FENDERWELLS

And she steamrolled right over him a third time, mashing the brakes once again as soon as she had cleared him…checking the rearview.

But this time was different. He made it! She caught him in the mirror clawing desperately into the brush. Apparently, he had escaped her murderous intent. Or so he thought…

She backed up to where she thought she had seen him leave the road, got out, and searched all around for him. She says it was because she just felt so bad for him, and she couldn’t bear the thought of him suffering. I don’t know what she was thinking she was going to do. I mean, did she have a baseball bat in the trunk or something? Was she planning to just finish him off?

I picture him crouching under a mesquite bush nearby, still able to see her, tucked just out of sight, panting, bleeding, sobbing softly, trying to keep quiet, thinking,

“Ohmygod-ohmygod-ohmygod! Please-please-please-please! Why? Whyyyyyyyy?”

Fortunately for both of them, Aunt Fran never found him. She got back into her little car and continued on. And the question that haunts her—haunts us all, really—it is in fact the question that drives us:

If Aunt Fran had run over him just the one time, would he have survived?

DISCLAIMER: This is a story told from memory, without first conducting my usual rigorous interview process, which I routinely use to maintain historical accuracy and veracity. For this reason, I reserve the right to one day revisit this topic for corrections. I’m actually going to see Aunt Fran today, so I’ll run it by her and see how she remembers it.

What’s the most vicious, pernicious animal you’ve ever attempted to off with your car? (Let’s assume they had it coming.) Have you ever been to the Texas panhandle? If so, for the love of God—why? How do you think armadillos have survived the Interstate onslaught?

Hunting Dumb

I know just enough about guns to be dangerous, perhaps even lethal, provided you’re a small, defenseless animal. But the hunter’s mystique has always escaped me. Remember in Red Dawn when C. Thomas Howell killed his first deer, and Patrick Swayze had him drink the blood? “Once you drink that, you’ll never be the same.” (Turns out Swayze was right. C. Thomas Howell’s character ended badly.)

When I was about 11, I killed a toad, more or less with my so-called BB gun. My BB “gun” wasn’t even a Daisy. It was an off-brand from Sears, something like Daizee.

“Sears makes Craftsman. They know what they’re doing,” my dad insisted.

Evidently, skills with tool manufacturing don’t carry over to firearms. It was such a weak little thing, I could actually see the BB as it left the barrel, my naked eye tracking its pathetic downward arc. I could have done more damage shovel-throwing a handful of BBs like an orangutan. (As a father of two boys now myself, certainly I can see the wisdom in providing these wild, smelly heathens with a neutered “weapon alternative.”)

Anyway, after emptying my entire firearm into this toad’s back (to pretty much zero effect), I ended up mercy-killing him with a hoe and burying him in the backyard, sobbing the entire time. I could have written an opera about the experience. (I may yet.)

Another time, when I was a teenager, my dad sent me out to kill a skunk just behind our backyard. We had this mulberry tree in our yard whose branches hung over the chain link fence, and this skunk was just hanging out under it outside the fence, eating berries all afternoon, aloofly ignoring our dog—who was inside the fence losing his mind.

I had to wrestle the dog, dragging him into the garage to lock him up. (Not that that was hard. He was a 16-lb poodle.) Then I sneaked stealthily along the outside of the fence, a sniper on a special ops mission. I raised our 12-gauge, channeled my inner seasoned marksman, and BLAM! The skunk found itself startled, standing suddenly before God’s Throne of Judgment.

(Random aside: Don’t you just HATE that gauge is spelled like that? Every time I read it, I can’t help pronouncing it “gouge.” I  have to write it out to remember how to spell it. I always type it as guage first, then fix it when that doesn’t look right.)

Meanwhile, back here on earth, I went for a shovel to carry off the carcass for proper burial. When I flipped the skunk’s body over, I couldn’t find any blood—not a single drop. Turns out I had hit it with precisely one piece of shot, directly in the temple. (Evidently wasting the other 13,999 pieces of shot.)

Unfortunately, I was also unnerved to discover that she was (or rather, had been) a mama skunk. Covered with swollen nipples, she clearly had babies somewhere who had tasted the last of her milk. No doubt she was so ravenously hungry she’d risk a crazed dog because she had little mouths to feed back at the hole. So not only had I committed skunk matricide, but I had also unwittingly offed an entire litter of helpless infant skunks. Behold the mighty hunter!

I pictured her patiently taking a seat in one of the lovely mahogany chairs in the waiting area outside God’s courtroom, insisting she be allowed to wait for me to show up before she would tell her side. (Just one more thing I’m gonna have to answer for.)

What about you? Do you LOVE killing things? Tasting their blood? Dancing around the empty shell that once housed a living soul? What’s your great hunting (or vermin) story?