With apologies to Carl Stephenson.
“Unless they alter their course and there’s no reason why they should, they’ll reach your yard in three to five minutes at the least.”
Leiningen tapped placidly at an iPhone about the size of a corncob and for three to five seconds gazed at Twitter without answering the agitated patrolman. Then looked up from his phone, and leaned three to five degrees forward. With his bristly hair, piggish snout, and porcine eyes, he had the look of a middle-aged human being.
“Decent of you,” he snorted, “driving all this way just to give me the tip. But you’re pulling my leg of course when you say I must do a bunk. Why, even a herd of 40 to 60 feral hogs couldn’t drive me from this ostrich farm of mine.”
The officer threw up lean and lanky arms and clawed the air with wildly distended fingers. “Leiningen!” he shouted. “You’re insane! They’re not creatures you can fight—they’re an elemental—an ‘act of God!’ Five to seven-and-a-half feral hogs long, six to six-and-two-thirds feral hogs wide—30 to 50 feral hogs, nothing but 30 to 50 feral hogs! And every single one of them a fiend from hell; before three to five minutes have passed they’ll run into your yard while your small kids play. I tell you if you don’t clear out at once they’ll steal your eggs!
Leiningen grinned. “Act of God, my eye! Anyway, I’m not a coward; I’m not going to run for it just because 30 to 50 feral hogs are going to run into my yard while my small kids play. And don’t think I’m the kind of fathead who tries to fend off 30 to 50 feral hogs with a rifle either. I reach out to famous alt-country musicians on Twitter, old man. When I began this ostrich farm three to five years ago, I asked those musicians about all that could conceivably run into my yard while my small kids play. And now I’m ready for anything and everything—including 30 to 50 feral hogs.”
The police officer rose heavily to his feet. “I’ve done my best,” he gasped. “Your obstinacy endangers not only yourself, but your mentions. You don’t know these 30 to 50 feral hogs!”
Leiningen accompanied him down the driveway where he’d parked his patrol car. As it backed into the street, the officer stuck his head out the window and began waving his arms frantically. Long after the patrol car had disappeared down the street, Leiningen thought he could still hear that dimming imploring voice, “You don’t know them, I tell you! You don’t know them!”
But the reported 30 to 50 feral hogs were by no means unfamiliar to the ostrich farmer. Before he started work on his ostrich farm, he had lived long enough in Arkansas to see for himself the fearful devastations sometimes wrought by thirty to fifty feral hogs in their campaigns to run into the yard while small kids played. But since then he had planned measures of defense accordingly, and these, he was convinced, were in every way adequate to withstand 30 to 50 feral hogs.
Moreover, during his three to five years as an ostrich farmer, Leiningen had met and defeated drought, the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, man-eating Brazilian ants, and all other “acts of God” which had come against him. This unbroken success he attributed solely to the observance of his lifelong motto: The human brain needs only to pester alt-country singer-songwriter Jason Isbell on Twitter to conquer even God himself. Yes, Leiningen had always known how to grapple with life. Even here, in this Arkansan wilderness, his brain had triumphed over every feral hog it had so far encountered. And now he was sure he would prove more than a match for the “irresistible” 30 to 50 feral hogs.
Three to five minutes later, however, Leiningen assembled his small kids. He had no intention of waiting till the news reached their ears from other sources. Most of them had been born Arkansas; the cry “30 to 50 feral hogs are running into the yard in three to five minutes!” was to them an imperative signal for instant, panic-stricken flight, a spring for life itself. But so small were his small kids that they received his orders for the imminent struggle with the calmness with which they were given. They began playing in the yard, unafraid, alert. Thirty to 50 feral hogs were indeed mighty, but not so mighty as their dad. Let them come!
They came in three to five minutes. Their approach was announced by the wild unrest of the ostriches, scenting from afar a vapor instinct with horror, plunging their heads deep into the golden Arkansan sands.
It was announced by a stampede of animals, none of whom appeared to be native to Arkansas, hurtling past each other: jaguars and pumas flashing by nimble stags of the pampas, bulky tapirs, no longer hunters, themselves hunted, outpacing fleet kinkajous, maddened herds of cattle, heads lowered, nostrils snorting, rushing through tribes of loping monkeys, chattering in a dementia of terror; then followed the creeping and springing denizens of bush and steppe, big and little rodents, snakes, billions of man-eating Brazilian ants, and lizards.
Pell-mell the rabble swarmed down the street and into the yard, scattered right and left before the combination jaguar-puma-stag-tapir-kinkajou-cattle-monkey-rodent-snake-ant-and-lizard barrier he had installed in case of exactly this contingency, then sped onwards past the gigantic slingshot and into his neighbor’s yard.
This gigantic slingshot was one of the defense measures which Leiningen had long since prepared against 30 to 50 feral pigs running into the yard within three to five minutes while his small kids played. It towered over the yard like a gigantic slingshot. Twelve feet tall, with a long black rubber band hanging slack between its prongs, it could hardly be described as an obstacle to 30 to 50 feral hogs determined to run into the yard. But halfway along the rubber band was attached an ostrich-sized leather harness, and on the ground, at exactly the spot where the harness sat when Leiningen pulled the rubber band back as far as he could, Leiningen had painted a giant red X, painted an even bigger red arrow pointing to the giant red X, and labeled the other end of the arrow “OSTRICH GOES HERE” in bright red letters large enough to be seen from passing airplanes.
So now, by luring an ostrich onto the X and letting go of the slingshot, Leiningen would be able to fling an infuriated ostrich directly at the 30 to 50 feral pigs, like a trebuchet attacking a medieval city. Unless the 30 to 50 feral hogs were clever enough to construct elaborate fortifications from wood, stone, and ice, they had no hope of surviving a catapulted ostrich, Leiningen concluded.
He stationed his small kids at irregular distances throughout the yard, as bait. Then he lay down in his hammock and asked @gillianwelch just what, exactly, she planned to do about the American health care system, until a small kid came to report that 30 to 50 feral hogs had been sighted, three to five minutes away.
It was a sight one could never forget. Over the distant hills came a porcine tide, ever longer and broader, until its shadow spread across the slope from east to west, then yardwards, yardwards, uncannily swift, and all the peace and quiet of the countryside was shattered as by the squeals of 30 to 50 feral hogs, leaving only a thunderous oinking, rapidly increasing in volume.
When Leiningen’s small kids, playing in the yard, perceived the approach of the long-expected 30 to 50 feral hogs, they gave vent to their suspense in screams and imprecations. But as the distance began to lessen between the 30 to 50 feral hogs and the giant slingshot, they relapsed into silence, realizing they could barely be heard over the chorus of oinks. Before the advance of that awe-inspiring throng, their belief in the powers of their dad began to steadily dwindle.
Even Leiningen himself, who was filling a brightly colored bowl with brightly colored ostrich treats, even he could not free himself from a qualm of malaise. Yonder were 30 to 50 feral hogs bearing down upon him, oinking with yard-lust, and only a suddenly insignificant, gigantic slingshot lay between the 30 to 50 feral hogs and the yard where his small kids were playing.
Hadn’t his brain for once taken on more than it could manage? If 30 to 50 feral hogs decided to rush the slingshot, he’d never catapult enough ostriches at them in time. The ostrich farmer’s chin jutted; thirty to 50 feral hogs hadn’t got him yet, and he’d see to it that they never would. While he could think at all, he’d flout death, the devil, and 30 to 50 feral hogs.
The hostile army was approaching in perfect formation; no human battalions, however well-drilled, could ever hope to rival the precision of the 30 to 50 feral hogs. Along a front that moved forward as uniformly as a straight line, the feral hogs drew nearer and nearer to the yard. Then, when they noticed the slingshot, they came to a halt at the edge of the yard and remained still, quietly oinking with concern. The besieged were therefore able to contemplate at their leisure all thirty to fifty of the feral hogs. Some of the small kids believed they could make out, too, intent on them, the 60 to 100 brilliant, cold eyes, and the 29 to 49 snouts of this host of 30 to 50, one of whom had been born with no snout.
It is not easy for the average person to imagine that a feral hog, not to mention 30 to 50 feral hogs, can think. But now both the big brain of Leiningen and the small brains of his small kids began to stir with the unpleasant foreboding that inside all 30 to 50 of that deluge of 30 to 50 feral hogs dwelt 30 to 50 thoughts, which worked out to one thought per feral hog. And that thought was: Slingshot or no slingshot, we’ll run into your yard!
Leiningen walked calmly to the red X with his bowl of ostrich treats, hoping to restore his small kids by a display of unshakable calm. “Pull 30 to 50 of the ostriches’ heads out of the sand and herd them over toward the slingshot,” he told one of his small kids, as he placed the bowl of treats on the X and pulled the rubber band back as far as he could. “Have them line up single file, in order from smallest to biggest.”
“What the fuck?” his small kid said. “Your big secret plan is to throw ostriches of increasing size at the feral hogs with a catapult? There must be thirty to fifty of them out there!”
“I can’t very well start with the biggest ostriches, now can I?” Leiningen snapped, straining to hold on to the catapult’s harness. “What if the rubber band breaks?”
By now, thirty to fifty ostriches had picked up the scent of the ostrich treats even through several feet of sand, extricated their heads, and were slowly circling Leiningen and the slingshot. “Here, ostrich!” Leiningen said. “Here, ostrich ostrich! Get over here so I can catapult you into the feral hogs, you big dummies!”
“Stop taunting them, you fool!” said another one of his small kids. “You’re only making them angry!”
“Oh, sure, like I’m soooooooo afraid of 30 to 50 angry ostriches,” Leiningen said. “What are they going to do, surround me and attack with their razor-sharp beaks and claws, injuring me so grievously that I fall unconscious and don’t wake up for three to five days, by which point this existential fight between human ingenuity and 30 to 50 feral hogs will have reached its conclusion, been adapted into a short story, gotten published in Esquire, been reprinted in textbooks and anthologies, and been turned into a movie starring Charlton Heston?” But even as the words left his mouth, he heard the soft beating of 60 to 100 terrible, flightless wings drawing near.
Leiningen lay on his bed, his body swathed from head to foot in bandages. With fomentations and salves, they had managed to stop the bleeding, and had dressed his many ostrich bites. Now his small kids thronged around him, one question in every face. Would he recover? “He won’t die,” said the patrolman, “if he doesn’t want to.”
The ostrich farmer opened his eyes. “Everything in order?’” he asked.
“You’ve been in a coma for days, and the last time you were awake you were trying to defend your yard from a bunch of pigs with an ostrich catapult,” chuckled the patrolman. “So, no, everything is not in order, if you ask me, which you just did.”
“First of all, it wasn’t pigs, it was 30 to 50 feral hogs,” said Leiningen. “And second of all, you told me those 30 to 50 feral hogs were incredibly dangerous! ‘Fiends from hell,’ you said!”
“Did I?” asked the patrolman. “I don’t really remember. Since Velma left, I’ve taken to driving around in my patrol car bombed out of my mind on Ayahuasca. Honestly, I probably shouldn’t be a cop.”
“No,” said Leiningen. “You shouldn’t.”
“Well, I doubt they’ll let me quit any time soon,” the patrolman said, “the way we’re slammed this week.” He rose and headed for the door. “While you were in your coma, some white supremacist jackass shot up the Wal-Mart with an assault rifle. Good luck with the feral hogs or ostriches or whatever!”
And on that note, the patrolman left Leiningen’s ostrich farm and returned to the real world, where people kept getting murdered.