Thursday, February 16, 2012

Writing that makes you swoon

This has to be one of the best passages of writing I've read in long time. It's from Chris Jones' piece in Esquire about the Zanesville, Ohio guy, Terry Thompson, who let his exotic animals loose and then killed himself. Just the precision in the reporting and writing is amazing here, especially in the middle paragraph of these three.

The story starts with the landowner next door Sam Kopchak, who went out into his field to get his horse Red in for the evening, and first saw Thompson's horses acting strangely, then saw a bear chasing them, and then:

Now he approached Red, reaching out with his bucket of water, calling to him gently. Red nosed in for a drink, and Kopchak got a rope on him. He put down the bucket and began to lead his horse back toward the barn. He'd covered maybe twenty or thirty yards, Red bouncing a little, pulling at his rope, when Kopchak suddenly felt a shiver go over him. "I can't really explain it," he says today, "except to say that I felt like I was being watched." He looked back toward Thompson's band of horses; the bear was pushing them north, toward the highway. Then Kopchak saw the lion.

It was a male African lion, with a great golden mane. "It was just enormous," Kopchak says. The lion was to his left, feet rather than yards away, pressed against that thin wire fence. It was lying flat on the grass with only its giant head lifted up, and it had been watching Kopchak walking down the hill. The lion was looking dead at him. Kopchak let out a breath and fixed his eyes straight on his barn, still more than a hundred yards away. He made two decisions: He would not run, and he would not leave Red. He would walk, as calmly and as steadily as a sixty-four-year-old retired schoolteacher being watched by a lion could manage, all the way back down to his barn.

Kopchak looked back only once, and the lion returned his stare. It had also risen to its feet. The fence had seven strands of wire strung between its wooden posts; the lion's back ran parallel to the second strand from the top. Kopchak continued to walk down the hill. Each push into the mud felt slower than the last. Finally, he opened the barn's big sliding doors and stepped inside with Red in tow; he closed the doors with a clang and felt his shoulders slump a little. He put Red into his stall, and he reached into his pocket for his cell phone. Reception wasn't good. He stood in a corner of the barn closest to the house, and he called his mother. He told her that he was inside the barn, and that there was a bear and a lion outside the barn, and she needed to stay inside the house. She also needed to make a phone call.