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Lions, Pith Helmets and Bears

October 6th, 2004

Erin and I were planning a small party at the Maine house for my parents and sisters, Purpura and the Sheehys.

I was driving Oona up the long dirt road from Maine 4 towards the Mouse House in pitch dark. I was going fast, perhaps 40 miles an hour. Headlights appeared behind me, getting larger fast. I moved over to the right to give him room, and the other car roared past. Its taillights shrank and disappeared ahead, and then once again I was the only one on the road.

Something huge loomed in front of me, and I slammed on the brakes, coming to a dusty and precarious stop barely two feet away from an enormous black bear. It looked me in the eye and grunted, and I thought if it wanted to it could tear this car apart.

But it just turned and ambled past. I followed it with my eyes, feeling very queasy and hollow inside. There was another bear off to my right!

I stepped on the gas and went on down the road.

A minute later I had to slow down again to weave through a small herd of antelope that milled about like cows, only showing any motivation to get out of my way when I started honking at them. Further on I swerved around the body of a dead zebra, and felt the wheels go over its legs. My stomach endeavoured to turn upside down inside me. What the hell was going on?

Finally I came around the side of a hill and saw brake lights up ahead. When I got up close, I saw they belonged to a large trailer truck stalled diagonally across the road, and a smaller car turned on its side in front of it. On the back of the trailer were rows and rows of circus cages, like the ones on the sides of a box of animal crackers. Most of them were open.

A pair of lions padded through the beam of Oona’s headlights, followed by a gray-haired man dressed in khaki utilities, a pair of knee-high leather boots, and a pith helmet. Two huge gray shapes moved in the woods off to the right. Elephants.

I opened the door and stepped out. “Can’t you get them back in their cages?” I asked.

“We’re trying!” he said.

One of the lions, the big male, made an inquisitive sound in its throat, reaching out for me with its paw. I stumbled back against the car, fell to the dirt, and woke.

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