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FICTION

“Maybe this is a symptom of some deeper problem,” the younger person continued, oddly delighted by the older person’s interest in his improvisational hypotheses. “Maybe mankind has encroached upon nature too much, to the point of no return. Maybe animals and humans will start coming into conflict all the time, and this is the beginning of that looming crisis. Maybe in five or ten years, it

aggressive, but this puma is hungry, and bewildered, and trapped in a small space. He’s weaponized. Some entitled businessman with a bloated bladder opens the bathroom door. The puma pounces.” Their noses were now six inches apart. The old man raised his eye-brows. The younger man tried to construct an expression of concern, but he felt himself smirking. His puma theories were above average. “Will you be having lunch?” a female voice intoned from behind the younger man’s skull. “We have a cheese lasagna with a side salad and we have sliced chicken breast with wild ramps.” The men broke eye contact and bolted up in their seats. The younger man ordered the lasagna. The older man said he only wanted another martini. They both relaxed as the stewardess moved on to the third row and repeated the same information to the woman in 3A. She ordered the lasagna as well. The man in 3B went with the chicken. When the orders were complete, they could hear the woman in 3A ask the man in 3B if he could let her pass, as she needed to use the restroom. “Here we go,” said the old man in the pinstriped suit. He turned away, toward the window. “Shouldn’t I tell her about the puma?” asked the younger man. “That’s not my problem. Or yours,” said the older man, still looking away. “We’re all in this together.” * --- Chuck Klosterman is the bestselling author of eight nonfiction books (including Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs; I Wear the Black Hat; ButWhat IfWe’reWrong?; and Killing Yourself to Live ) and two novels ( Downtown Owl and The Visible Man ). He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, GQ, Esquire, Spin, The Guardian, The Believer, Billboard, The A.V. Club, and ESPN. Klosterman served as the Ethicist for The New York Times Magazine for three years, appeared as himself in the LCD Soundsystem documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits , and was an original founder of the website Grantland with Bill Simmons.

will not be uncommon to encounter a puma on an airplane.” “Intriguing,” said the older man. “But let’s not lose focus on the moment. Keep yourself grounded.” “The puma could be rabid,” the younger man speculated. “Rabid animals lose their instinctual fear of humans. It might have just slinked onto the plane in a state of confusion, camouflaged by the carpet. I mean, look at the carpet. The carpet is taupe. Taupe is pure puma. Or maybe he’s some type of hypermodern service animal. Maybe instead of getting a seeing-eye dog, you can now get a seeing-eye puma. It’s also possible the TSA has started using pumas to sniff for narcotics, or maybe for bombs. Who knows? Maybe pumas are better at bomb detection than beagles.” “Pumas have a relatively weak sense of smell,” said the older man. “But these are viable theories.” “I suppose a deranged person could have done this intentionally,” the younger man said, abruptly alarmed by the prospect that he’d stumbled upon the true explanation. “A terrorist. If the intention of a terrorist is to incite terror, what would be more terrifying than being attacked by a puma on an airplane? It would change air travel forever. Who would bring an infant on a flight if there were any possibility of a puma encounter? Who would let their elderly mother travel alone? There are so many ways this could be done. It wouldn’t be difficult. You heavily sedate the puma and place it in a canvas bag. You place the bag on the outskirts of the airport and you bribe a baggage handler. The handler hauls the bag planeside and a passenger with a fake passport casually picks it up, claiming it’s hockey equipment or medical supplies or the fossilized remains of a saber-toothed cat. The passenger gets the bag on board and dumps it in the restroom, unzipped. The puma rouses itself. I realize pumas aren’t normally OR MAYBE HE’S SOME TYPE OF HYPERMODERN SERVICE ANIMAL. MAYBE INSTEAD OF GETTING A SEEING-EYE DOG, YOU CAN NOW GET A SEEING-EYE PUMA.

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