Happy 2023! It’s almost release day for a series of horror short stories revolving around Friday the 13th. I will be sharing each story on my post, one per day. Today, I’m pleased to welcome Chris Farris with his story, Stripes…
The first version of “Stripes,” written years ago, was a rather vanilla “war in Iraq” military story based upon real life characters I knew during my time in the Arkansas Army National Guard. Those characters have changed significantly in this story, so no risk of meeting a real Josiah should you choose to visit the Natural State. Their accents, cares and personalities, however, live on.
“They Call Me Beaver,” the original story, did not have the punch that I was looking for but, after a night of tossing and turning, it occurred to me that with some changes it might make a fine story of mayhem and murder. In Beaver (Josiah) I had the character I wanted, but I needed a hook, something strange and menacing. My granddaughter and I had just visited Turpentine Creek, a local Arkansas big cat rescue park, and the way one of those tigers looked at us gave me all the inspiration I needed. Still, the problem remained, how to put a tiger in a combat zone? That proved to be easier than I suspected.
Perhaps the most far-fetched part of my story, the Baghdad tiger, is based on reality. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Baghdad Zoo was partially destroyed. The zoo workers, fearing for their lives, suspended the feeding and care of the 650+ animals living there. During their absence, the zoo was looted, cages were opened, herd animals were stolen and eaten by a hungry populace and multiple predators (including twenty-three lions) were released into the city. Of the original animals (including Mandor, a 20-year-old Siberian tiger owned by Uday Hussein,) only 35 survived their wartime ordeal. The U.S. military rounded up many of the escaped lions using armored fighting vehicles and returned all but four to their captivity. Those that would not return were killed.
The wildlife community responded quickly once the situation was known. South African conservationist, Lawrence Anthony traveled with two assistants into the heart of the danger zone to bring relief to the remaining animals. The U.S. Army assumed command of the zoo, stopping the looting and vandalism and providing a secure place for Mr. Anthony and other volunteers from the Thula Thula game reserve, Wildaid, Care for the Wild International, and IFAW to work.
The zoo reopened in 2003 following improvements and renovations by U.S. Army engineers. It was populated by eighty-six animals, including the surviving nineteen lions as well as tigers, brown bears, wolves, foxes, jackals, camels, ostriches, badgers and some primates that had been collected from the Hussein family’s private menageries.
So “Stripes” is a strange amalgamation of personal military experience and a surreal story of war-time collateral damage. If you are interested in the whole story of the Baghdad Zoo, see Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence’s book, Babylon’s Ark. As a side note, during an ill-considered 2003 party held in the zoo a U.S. Army Sergeant had his arm severely mauled by one of the captive tigers. The animal was consequently shot multiple times and bled to death in its cage.
Life is, sometimes, stranger (and sadder) than fiction.
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Meet Josiah Poopart, high school dropout, construction worker and part time soldier. His friends call him Jo, most everyone else calls him Beaver (because of his buck teeth.) He’s in love with a stripper named Cinnamon and enjoys reading hard-boiled fiction with his best friend, Harmon. He’d tell you he lives a pretty good life, even though his daddy left when he was young, and his momma got blown up in a freak mobile home accident. Everything else is working out fine. The only fly in his ointment is that everyone around him keeps dying. It’s inconvenient, but what can you do? They say those with thirteen letters in their name are cursed. But Josiah doesn’t see it that way. As far as he’s concerned, one man’s bad luck is another’s good fortune. And fortune, somehow, always favors Josiah.
A Friday the 13th Short Story: 13 authors ~ 13 suspenseful stories. Murder and mayhem on Friday the 13th… Find each story in the series on Amazon.
“Then you killed him and Roger!” Her words came out as a hoarse shriek. She sounded like an oversized crow. It made me jump.
“I never did.” I yelled back.
She whipped around with a giant butcher knife she’d got from the block. “The stupid sheriff may not believe it, but I know you did it. I saw you out by his Jeep. You—you—” She took a big hitching sob and slapped the tears from her cheeks. When she spoke again, she was real quiet and real mean. “You get the hell out of my house, you little pervert, or I’ll stab you through the heart.”
I thought about arguing, but she lurched toward me from the counter. Not fast, but steady-like. She had a look in her eye that told me she meant it. I ain’t afraid of much, but like I said earlier, that woman had a way of coming at you that could be intimidating. At that moment, I don’t think I meant more to her than a cockroach you step on and kick to the corner. That knife looked sharp, too. I didn’t figure I wanted to bleed out on her kitchen floor, so…I split.
Like I said, that was the last time I saw her and, of course, I didn’t end up finding out where Cinnamon went.
I guess that argument sparked Mrs. Smith’s interest in food again. When they found her dead on the kitchen floor, she’d shoved most of an apple pie down her gullet. She’d got it all the way back behind her tongue and packed her throat solid with apples and sugar crust. She’d smeared it all on her cheeks and it had dripped down the front of her rooster dress. She’d even got it in her eyes and up her nose. She was a mess. The coroner ruled it accidental death. He said it was asphyxiation by airway obstruction. Death by apple pie. That’s just sad.
Christopher Farris lives in a very old, very small house in a very old, very small town nestled deep in a valley of the Boston Mountains of Northwest Arkansas. His novels, The Fountain, and Intersection: A Trucker’s Christmas Carol are available at Amazon.com, as are his Friday the 13th short stories.
Find all 13 stories at this link: A Friday the 13th Story #3