Adam walked down the street half crouching and holding on tightly to the double barreled shotgun his father-in-law gave him as a wedding present. He brought it along just in case his children were right. An automatic sprinkler turned on and startled him. The tree next to him exploded with gun fire. Adam dropped down and covered his head. The automatic burst stopped and the echoes lingered for a moment. He could hear the sound of a dog crying down the street and another sprinkler starting up further down the street. “God dammit. I shot a dog... Shit, is that you Adam?” Adam looked up. “Jesus… God… Yeah, yeah it’s me. Who’s that? Who’s up there?” “Thomas. What the hell are you doing out. There’s a tiger loose.” “You mean it’s true?” “Yeah. Why do you think that helicopter has been buzzing around? What did you think it was? Gang fighting? An invasion?” “Alright I get it… I’m looking for Lillian.” “What’s she doing out?” “I don’t know. Have you seen her?” “Naw… But hey, there’s a rallying point up the street on Red Rock Canyon. The Neighborhood Watch is organizing a hunting party to kill it. Maybe she’s there? Oh, and Adam. Don’t tell anyone I shot a dog.” “Sure… Hey Tom?” “Yeah?” “Won Yard of the Month huh?” “Earlier this week, why?” “Yard looks nice.” “Thanks… Remember; don’t tell anyone shit about the dog.” Adam got up and ran down the street. He could hear more gunfire here and there. He could hear more sirens circling the neighborhood. There was a faint odor of Fourth of July in the air. But, the weather was much cooler. Something in the bushes next to him moved. Adam swung his gun around and pulled the trigger. The safety was on. A wounded dog limped out whining. The dog hobbled around, dragging its hind legs and leaving a smudge of blood on the sidewalk. “Shit… That’s Carl and Liz’s dog.” He knew if he told Lillian about this it would break her heart. She’s always protecting baby birds, or saving squirrels from cats. Adam made it to the end of the street and could see a bunch of lights down Red Rock Canyon. He ran towards it, hoping Lillian would be there and that all of this would be over. He walked through the dark part of the street when he heard, zzip, zzip, followed by a thunk and the sound of the nearest car window shatter. Zzip. Zzip. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Pow-hissssss. Adam ducked and scrambled behind the car chased by more popping and the sound of dull thuds and more broken glass. Another car tire hissed and sat lopsided in the street. He could hear someone call out in the distance. “I think I got’em.” Adam’s body was shaking. He tried to yell out to the people shooting, but his voice stammered. Blood pounded behind his eyes. He patted himself down with sweaty hands to make sure he wasn’t shot. He remembered hearing that people who are shot sometimes don’t feel it. Adam crawled to the front of the car set on running to another car down the street. Just like the personal fitness merit badge. Keep running. Don’t stop. He took off from his hiding spot and heard the same voice call out. “Oh shit there it goes.” There were more gunshots behind him flying off into the darkness. Adam kept running. He held his shotgun close against his body. The car was getting closer. The back window was shot and he could hear the thuds on bullets hitting the car. He dove and hid behind the car, still being hit by bullets. Adam yelled out, “Assholes. Stop shooting.” He threw up, and looked up at the street light, hoping Lillian was alright. He thought about children sitting in the tub, wrapped in a blanket and eating what was left of their Halloween candy. Adam yelled his wife’s name again, hoping she could hear it. A group of men were gathered in Scott Conaby’s driveway, which was tucked back into a cul-de-sac, with guns slung on their shoulders. Some smoking. Some wearing mossy oak coveralls. Most were armed. The unarmed men stood next to the armed men trying to look important and helpful. Adam watched some men walk in and some men stumble out of the garage and into the darkness between the garage and the neighboring house. Trucks, vans and SUVs lined the circular street. A Suburban and Volvo station wagon blocked the entrance protected by guards armed with rifles. A group of wives were standing on the lawn calling into the garage for their husbands to come home. Adam walked through the group trying to find someone in charge. He could hear some of the men arguing, some were walking around with spotlights, shining them into the dark corners and in people’s faces. In the garage, Adam watched neighbors argue about what kind of game they’ve hunted and where they’ve gone hunting. “Have you been hunting in Africa?” “No, But South Texas isn’t much different. I can hit a fly off a deer’s back.” “No you can’t.” “Bullshit.” “Yeah I can. You wanna bet?” Adam could see Scott on the phone pacing. Some guy leaning on a truck poked Adam’s shoulder. “He’s talking to the Houston Zoo. That’s what someone told me.” “Really?” “That’s what I heard.” “Who are you?” “Names Dan. I live out in Silverstone. I just came out here for the show.” “Yeah… That’s the subdivision over, right?” “Yep.” “Oh… Would… Would you excuse me?” Adam walked forward into the garage. There were camoed men looking at neighborhood maps spread out on a pool table. Frank stood near the back, next to the ice chest. He was drinking a beer. Scott walked over to the pool table, “They’re sending someone out from the zoo to see if they can catch it.” Frank crushed his beer can and burped, “Well, we need to hurry up and kill it before the zoo people and officers get to it first. There’s got to be some kind of bounty on it. We could share it.” “I think we should try to catch it.” “What do we use for bait?” “Meat stupid.” “Someone should ask that piece of shit.” He could hear someone moaning and crying. It was a guy named Jeff. He lived a couple of streets over on Glennover. He was tied to a leg of the pool table. Jeff’s face was swollen and bloody. Scott called out. “Hey Jeff, what does that thing like to eat?” Someone outside yelled in, “People.” Everyone in the garage laughed. “Well, what if we try to catch it in a garage?” “That will never work. We have to kill it,” offered another man. Adam moved in closer. Jeff looked up at anyone who passed by him and mumbled, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know this was gonna happen. I’m sorry. Adam… Adam… Hey, you know me. Tell them I’m sorry please? Would you do that for me?” Adam knelt down next to him. “What happened? What did you do?” Jeff spit out blood. “It was a gift for the high school. A mascot. I didn’t know this would happen. I didn’t think this would happen. Tell them I sorry, would ya?” “Whoa… If it isn’t our fearless Boy Scout Adam.” Frank stepped away from the cooler. “You should probably get back to your house. This is Neighborhood Watch business and you aren’t a volunteer. You’ll just get in the way.” “I’m an Eagle Scout Frank, and I’m looking for my wife.” “Lillian? Adam, go home. I’ll go find her. “No. I’m just asking if anyone has…” “Don’t worry, just go.” Frank grabbed Adam by the shoulders and walked back towards the street. “You should have called me and told me about this. I’m your pal after…” “No. Fuck you.” Adam shook free from Frank and shoved him away. “I’m looking for my wife and I don’t need your help. I just want to know if anyone’s seen her.” Adam walked forward standing closer to Frank. The helicopter flew overhead shining its light on the cul-de-sac. There were more police sirens in the distance that made it sound like it was getting closer. Scott and other neighborhood men ran out of the garage. “Easy fellas.” Someone in the group said. Frank stepped forward. “Okay. Okay… It’s okay Adam. I’m just telling you that.” Adam stepped forward and hit Frank and swung his gun around to the crowd of men. “My wife is missing and I want to know if anyone’s seen her.” “I haven’t seen her.” Someone called out. Frank charged at Adam. Randy, Scott, and other neighbors held him back. “What are you going to do Frank? You’re going to fight me for my wife? It’s not going to happen.” The whole of the Katy Police Department converged on the cul-de-sac. Lights and sirens blaring and strobe lighting the houses red and blue. A loud speaker crackled out, “Return to your homes immediately. Everyone, get back to your homes.” The officers walked past the barricade, and continued to order folks to return home. The drunks were being rounded up. Some of Scott’s neighbors walked back into their homes and turned off the lights. There was a whistle from down the street. Someone yelled out. “We found the tiger and the woman. They’re back this way.” Beer cans hit the pavement, the women gathered on the lawn screamed and grabbed their children. The Officers, the Neighborhood Watch, other armed men, started to run. Mothers and children. The whole neighborhood wanted to see. Frank held one hand out and with the other pinched his nose to stop the bleeding. He yelled out. “Everyone calm down. I’m in charge. I’ll handle this. Everyone, stop running. I’m in charge. Listen to me.” Everyone kept running. Pushing and shoving to be the first ones to see it. And there it was. And there she was. It was dark now, except for the street lights, and porch lights, and faint blue lights from television sets shining through the windows. The tiger was hiding in a bush, crouched low, growling and looking at the crowd that had formed. Its golden eyes lit up when the spot light shone on it. Lillian was standing on the lawn. Barefoot. She walked forward slowly, her left arm outstretched. Her right resting on her chest. The Neighborhood Watch and the Officers formed a wide arched line in the street. Their guns were raised and they all looked to one another noiselessly, waiting to see who was going to fire first. Adam walked out in front of everyone. Looking back he could see the raised guns and people staring past him. All looking at his wife and the tiger. He held his gun in one hand and as he stepped onto the lawn set his gun down. From where he stood he could see how massive the tiger really was. It had to have been nine or ten feet long from its nose to the tip of its tail. The tiger’s height made Lillian look smaller, softer, and as beautiful as she was on their wedding day. He walked forward with his arm outstretched. “Lillian.” He said softly. “Lillian. Stop. Please. Don’t move. I’m right behind you.” He kept moving forward, and she was always just out of reach. She kept moving forward. The tiger growled louder, and roared. Lillian flinched but kept moving forward slowly. Behind Adam, he could hear guns being cocked and safeties being flicked off. “Lillian. Please stop.” She kept moving forward. Her ears, hidden in her hair were raised. Adam couldn’t see her face but he knew she was smiling a big smile. The wind was gently moving the trees above them, the bush all around the tiger and played with Lillian’s hair. It was that perfect football night weather. She kept moving. The tiger padded out of the bush towards Lillian. It kept growling that low growl. The hair on the tiger’s neck was raised; it flicked its tail, and walked forward with its head low and teeth bared. Lillian stopped and whispered something. The tiger’s hair lay down and was looking at Lillian. The tiger kept moving forward. She reached out and touched the tiger’s head. Adam flinched. Everyone behind them held their breaths. “Hi…” Lillian whispered. “Hi…” She sounded choked up. The tiger started to move around Lillian, circling her. Adam kept moving forward but the tiger would roar and stamp its front feet on the soft grass. Moving closer to Adam. Keeping him away. Adam tried to move closer to his wife when the tiger stood in front of her. Little by little he did. Every time Lillian eclipsed the tiger, Adam would get closer to her. Adam still moved forward entering the circle the tiger had made. Adam continued inside the tiger’s orbit with his arms outstretched, reaching out for his wife. The tiger continued to circle, and would roar at the crowd that was beginning to move closer. The tiger stopped in front of Lillian. Adam could tell that they were looking into each other’s eyes. The tiger lowered its head, and it looked like Lillian curtsied. Adam thought he was imagining it. The armed men were looking for a clear shot. And, the people behind them really couldn’t see what was happening. Adam stood right behind her now. Close. He reached out and wrapped his arms around her waist. Pulling her closer to him and away from the tiger. Shielding Lillian with his body, together they fell to the law. The tiger roared. The women, the children and the unprepared screamed. The line behind them erupted. Muzzle flashes lit up the dark corner on the lawn. The sound silenced any more screams or cries. It was over. Adam rolled Lillian onto her back. Her face was flecked with blood. He held her in his arms and wiped her face with his sleeve smudging the blood on her face. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry sweetheart.” He whispered. Everyone was celebrating. The Neighborhood Watchmen. The Neighborhood men, women and children. Everyone ran up to the dead tiger. The officers were trying to establish order and keep the rushing tide back away from the tiger. A small group of people stood back, wiping their eyes, and crying for the dead tiger. Frank rushed forward, “I have to have my picture taken with it. I was in charge everyone. Someone take my picture with the tiger.” The people that had rushed forward took pictures with their cellphones. Posing beside it. Men with guns knelt beside the animal, displaying their best victory hero smile. Everyone was celebrating, ignoring Adam and Lillian. Adam picked up his wife and cradled her in his arms. Her eyes were closed, but tears still streamed down her cheeks. He walked down the street carrying his wife home. “Hey Adam, you forgot your gun.” Scott called out. “Adam. Hey Ad…” Scott opened up the breech of the shotgun to eject the shell. It clicked. Empty. Adam kept walking.
Jesse Garcia graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in English/Creative Writing. He lives in the burbs and is an Eagle Scout.