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Sunday, November Sixth

Hear that Bengal growlin’, mean and angry!” came the slurred, unified chorus from the collected horde. Assorted German meats sizzled on grills innumerable; mac and cheese sat slowly simmering in crock pots. Sticky wet, plastic collapsible tables lined the cracked cobblestone parking lot just east of Gest Street, in the shadow of the titanic, lengthy Longworth Hall—that leaning, rectangular, chalky brick building, long-since mostly abandoned other than the sketchy nightclub filling the echoey bones of its bottom floor.

“You want to play flip-cup?” said Fischer. My friend Fischer was a season tickets holder. He had hooked me up with a free ticket to today’s game—the Bengals were going up against the Panthers. Should be a bounce-back game against an inferior opponent after being whipped by the lowly Browns the previous week. 

“Yeah, I’ll play,” I responded. I poured a healthy portion of my can of Miller Lite into the red solo cup, watching the fizzy liquid bubble and pop in its plastic spherical home. I raised the cup, noticing that my hands were shaking visibly. I realized that I was uncomfortable—I was nervous. I didn’t socialize much in those days. I hadn’t been around such a huge crowd in I couldn’t remember how long. I hadn’t played flip-cup since I was in college, and that was ten years ago.

My teammates chugged their beers and flipped their cups. It came down to me; I was the anchor. I glugged, unable to finish the cup in one drink. I downed it in the second and flipped the cup on the second try. It slid across the plastic table, spinning counterclockwise, slippery in the remnant backwash-booze.

We lost.

“How much did you pour in there?” said my teammate, someone I didn’t know.

“About a third of the cup,” I said.

“That’s too much!” she responded “Just pour in a sip. I’m trying to win some games, you know?”

Friday, November Fourth 

Jin lounged atop the steep hill at the bank of the pool near the waterfall. He blinked in the brightly shining sun, feeling lazy. He liked his new enclosure, but he still yearned for freedom. It was an instinctive feeling; he couldn’t help it. It didn’t matter how much he loved his new home; its size was nowhere near adequate. Tigers need miles of land to prowl; crouching, creeping in tall grass, stalking prey—which, though also free to roam endless miles of wild land, never get too comfortable because of the looming presence of that invisible, striped orange terror—like a killer filled with bloodlust. 

Jin rolled playfully in the grass, his gigantic paws dipping momentarily into the rippling water. Jin was a Malayan Tiger. He wasn’t that big, at least in comparison with other tigers—he only weighed about 200 pounds. His paws were huge, though. He was young; he still had some growing to do. 

Jin lifted himself from his place in the soft dirt and lumbered down the hill to the glass of the enclosure. When he appeared at the edge of that transparent wall perpetuating his enslavement, he looked out at the gawking onlookers, who were now collecting in number since Jin had come close to the glass. The depth of his eyes, which glowed light green, reflected and multiplied off the dirty glass, bouncing away like an army of ocular flying saucers. 

Jin didn’t like all these hairless apes watching him. He wanted to escape. 

Sunday, November Sixth

We were on a hot streak, having won the last four games. The table was drenched in booze and saliva. 

“Yeah!” I shouted after having successfully flipped another cup. I pointed at Fischer: “I’m whipping your ass!” 

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “It’s about time to head over to the game, anyway. Let’s grab a road beer and start walking. 

“Either of you want a coney?” came an abrupt voice from the crowd.

“I’ll take one,” I said. The soft bun was filled with a hotdog and Cincinnati-chili, with an excessive amount of stringy cheddar cheese serving as its progressively melting, curly roof. I ate it in three voracious bites. 

The parking lot was still packed, though the crowd was shifting collectively toward the stadium like a school of talking sardines. Welcome to the Jungle, the chosen theme-song of the Cincinnati Bengals, blasted throughout the area. Axl Rose’s screeching, anguished voice sounded similar to someone being eaten alive. I wasn’t a big Guns ‘n Roses fan. 

Friday, November Fourth

Jin slept easily that night. Usually, he spent the nighttime hours pacing around like a paranoid psychopath, looking instinctively for something to hunt. He didn’t do that tonight, though—all of the onlookers from the day had exhausted him, both physically and psychologically. He listened to the calming splash of the waterfall as his horizontal chest contracted and retracted. 

Sunday, November Sixth 

It was a long walk across the length of the Longworth Hall parking lot. Most people were in elevated spirits, yelling and slapping hands in excitement for the upcoming game. Some, however, had either started drinking too early or gone too hard. A woman, using two of her unfortunate friends as a crutch, limped nearly unconsciously in the direction opposite the stadium. Vomit was dribbling from her mouth like a polluted, pathetic stream. 

“Sucks to be her,” I said.

“Yeah, no shit,” responded Fischer, lifting his can and draining most of it in a single gulp. 

Suddenly, we heard screams from up ahead followed by a rapidly developing, frantic scramble. People ran past us, away from the stadium. Terror painted their faces. 

“The fuck?” said Fischer.

We continued ahead, toward the chaos. 

Saturday, November Fifth

During the zoo’s operating hours, while the collected apes stared at him wide-eyed with amazement, Jin noticed a possible point of escape in his enclosure. The potential for freedom! This filled Jin with an almost uncontainable excitement. He paced the circumference of his enclosure obsessively. What sort of prey lay outside, beyond this cage? Obviously, there was no shortage of these hairless apes—Jin would have plenty of them to eat—but he had never tried that before. They didn’t appear very lean. It wasn’t his typical diet; he wasn’t sure he would enjoy it. Jin was an apex predator—he had the right to enjoy his meals. He had eaten an orangutan once, though—back home in Borneo, but he wasn’t a fan. The hairless apes might be tastier, though. He decided he would give it a shot if he had to. 

The hole in his enclosure—a tear in the fencing near the waterfall—seemed to grow bigger as the day progressed. Jin could hardly wait to try and slip through it, but he knew he would have to wait until the zoo closed. If he escaped now, they would overwhelm him—these innumerable hairless apes. He needed to wait until they all left.

Sunday, November Sixth 

“The hell?” I said, my voice quivering, stuck in the anxious, fearful shakiness of my throat. People stumbled by, running frantically away. One of them tripped and fell to the cobblestone ground before rising and darting off. Another, covered in blood, limped past. He was clutching at his belly, which was ripped to shreds, as if to cradle his intestines, which dangled outward like a freshly produced rope of sausage. 

“Go!” said Fischer, turning around, “Let’s get the fuck out of here, man!”

Saturday Night, November Fifth 

It was so easy! Even simpler than Jin had expected. He slid right through the rift in the fence, sneaking unseen into the night. This was such a strange place. It reminded Jin a little of Bintulu—the only other commune of hairless apes he had ever freely-traversed—and he hated that place, Jin reflected miserably. Those were the apes that had captured him—the apes that had sent him to this strange new place. Jin wished he had eaten one of them, back in Bintulu. At least then he would have gotten some payback; at least then he would know what they tasted like. 

The outside world was dark other than the hanging lights lining the stone paths. Jin, traveling so quickly and unseen as only a tiger is capable, made his way down a large hill, through a maze of stone, eventually glimpsing in the distance a large, softly flowing river. 

“That’s where I’ll find something good to eat,” thought Jin, “A nice fish. Maybe a deer. I may not have to eat those disgusting apes, after all.”

Approaching the river, Jin noticed the sun beginning to rise. When the sun rose, all the apes came out—Jin knew that for a fact. He had to find a place to hide—to wait out the daylight hours. He was so hungry, but he would likely have to wait until the following evening to find a decent meal. Lumbering into a long, abandoned red building, Jin crouched in a dusty corner and waited. His eyes glowed, shining through the ever-decreasing darkness. 

Sunday Afternoon, November Sixth 

Fischer and I sprinted away from the source of the chaos. We had nearly made it out of the parking lot when I saw suddenly, crawling stealthily out from under a beige Toyota Land Cruiser, a fucking tiger. There was no mistaking it. Its gigantic paws—its claws protracted and dripping red with fresh blood—gripped the old cobblestone, scraping against the chalky stone as if to sharpen its natural blades; time-tested, evolutionary killing machines.

Sunday Morning, November Sixth 

Jin awoke to a collective, irksome noise coming from outside, in the parking lot. It was still relatively dark in his dusty corner, though a glimmer of sun shone through one of the dirty windows high up toward the ceiling of the huge, abandoned room. The adolescent tiger stretched and yawned. He did that every morning; it was a habit. He looked cute—he appeared happy—but he wasn’t. Jin was starving. Though he hated his enslavement at the zoo, they at least kept him well-fed there. They threw chunks of meat at him every day as if he weren’t capable of hunting for himself. He wasn’t used to going long without a bite to eat. Plus, the apes had congregated in number outside the building. He wasn’t sure why so many of them were there—this was more apes gathered in one place than he had ever seen—even including his time in Bintulu. 

“They must be here to get me,” thought Jin. “They must be here to take me back to the zoo. I can’t let them do that.”

Jin was hungry. He decided that he would sneak outside, stalking the apes to see what was going on. That wouldn’t be difficult at all; he knew that. The hairless apes, as innumerable as they were, could be bafflingly clueless creatures. They had no idea what was going on around them. They were more helpless even than typical prey. At least deer listened to their surroundings. They used their ears. These apes didn’t even do that; they behaved like predators though with the strength of prey. Jin hoped they tasted good, at least. 

He snuck quietly out of the building—sliding under one of the numerous cars and crawling on his belly as silently as the ghost of a soldier—through the parking lot. Staring out from his place under a truck he saw a large group of apes. They were yelling at one another; slapping and pushing each other like apes always do. Singing, dancing, and eating their strange ape food. 

Jin didn’t waste any time. He leapt out from under the truck, jumping high into the air and descending onto a large male. Jin sank his teeth into his neck, sending him instantly, silently, to the stone ground as blood spurted geyser-like and pooled around him. 

Chaos erupted. That didn’t bother Jin, though—that’s what prey animals always did. If you took one of them, the rest would lose their minds. One of them didn’t, though. That one—some overly confident, adolescent stag—perhaps the son of the large male Jin had selected as prey—attacked Jin, swinging his fists down onto Jin’s head as if to bludgeon him. Apes always did that, too; it didn’t hurt Jin. After that, though, the adolescent began pressing his fingers into Jin’s eyeballs. That really angered Jin, who immediately leapt into the young ape, tearing into his stomach—ripping out his organs. The stag, mortally injured, fled. Jin then went back to his meal—the large ape. Jin was so hungry. 

Jin tore into the male’s chest, crunching and splitting the ape’s weak bones. Jin wondered how he had survived for so long, being so fatty and brittle. There must not be any predators in this place; that was good for Jin. He would move in—every place requires an apex predator, if it doesn’t have one, prey becomes overpopulated. The ape population required curbing. 

Surprisingly, Jin enjoyed the taste of the hairless apes. They were overly fatty, true, but the meat was tender—the organs were chewy. Still digging into the large male, Jin heard abruptly a loud pop coming from the other direction. He had heard that sound before, back in Bintulu. It wasn’t a good sound. Jin ran from his half-finished meal down the cobblestone parking lot. Hairless apes innumerable dove out of Jin’s path, scrambling in a panic to get away from him. Jin needed to hide. Those pops were never a good thing for tigers. Jin saw another large vehicle. He crept underneath, seeking shelter from the pops. 

Sunday Afternoon, November Sixth 

With a roar, the tiger leapt at Fischer, digging into his calf, sending him collapsing to the ground. Only an instant later—while Fischer was still conscious, while he was still struggling to escape—the tiger drug him effortlessly beneath the Land Cruiser. The vehicle lurched and rumbled as if sputtering from engine malfunction, though it was actually from the jerking movement of Fischer fighting for his life while the tiger tore into him. The SUV’s movement soon stopped. The tiger didn’t reemerge. 

From behind, I heard another gunshot. It was the third one, I thought. I wasn’t sure whether it was someone coming for the tiger, or if looters had taken advantage of the chaos and disorder. I backed away from the SUV. I knew I should try and save Fischer, but what could I do against a fucking tiger? Nothing—that’s what I could do. I didn’t have a gun. I didn’t have a knife, or anything I could really use as a weapon. What would I do, punch it? Hell no. I felt awful, but I backed away, eventually turning into an anxious sprint. I was no match for a predator of that size. That’s what prey did—escaped. That’s what I needed to do. That’s what I did. 

*  *  *

Joe Mixon scored five touchdowns in a Bengals route. The bloody, body-strewn parking lot somehow didn’t delay the game. The police, in a later statement, said that if they had postponed the game, it would likely have only added to the chaos. 

Jin was never found, but there’s no way he could have survived for very long. Tigers can’t handle a Midwestern winter, can they? 

That’s what I tell myself. I still avoid crowds, now—just in case.



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