This is one of the images I was considering for a story I wrote back in March, The Cybernetic . Even though I didn’t use the image, I thought it would be fun to paint it.
I used blue and orange complimentary colors to evoke excitement. The analogous colors in the background are supposed to suggest both an explosion and the forward motion of the character. I omitted the effect of the character’s foot striking the ground, but the pencil marks are slightly visible.
During a visit to Gettysburg National Military Park, I was fascinated by the story of a disastrous attack that took place just south of Spangler’s Spring during the morning of July 3rd, 1863. This is one of the watercolors that story has inspired me to paint.
I just realized I made a mistake. Between the two regiments who fought for the Union, the painting should give the impression that there are over 600 soldiers on the meadow. I had been thinking about modern fire team concepts, so their small numbers must have been stuck in my head. I’ll add the soldiers and post an updated painting.
Jennifer walked alone quietly through the state park’s woods and ate her favorite leaves. Food for white-tailed deer had been plentiful during the spring. It continued to be so in summer, but cooler days warned her the woods in which she lived were about to become dangerous. Hunting season was about to begin.
Jennifer had learned about hunters years before. It had been early fall. The morning had been cool. She and another doe had gone to enjoy the variety of grasses a meadow nearby offered. They had been out in the open when her companion’s tail went up as a warning that she had sensed danger. Jennifer had heard an odd squishing sound that had come from her companion’s direction. The other doe had been struck by an arrow, had stumbled, and then had fallen. Jennifer had run into the cover of trees knowing her companion would not follow.
Jennifer remembered that morning as she reached a spot behind some bushes that grew where the woods and a meadow met. She smelled the air and analyzed it for signs of danger. She looked around the woods that surrounded the meadow. She saw a sign. Across the meadow, men moved through the woods. They were scouting. They would soon return to hunt. It was time for her to leave.
Jennifer had survived past hunting seasons by taking a long and hazardous trip from the woods in the state park to smaller woods surrounding a golf course. There was a path older deer had worn that helped her find her way there. She found and followed this path soon after seeing the humans in the woods.
Jennifer followed the path through the familiar parts of the woods where she lived. Then, the path took her to denser parts with which she was less familiar. She caught scents other deer had left on the vegetation that formed walls beside the path. The path led her across fields where she stopped to eat. It also led her by a creek where she stopped to drink. The path led through backyards and close to homes. Some of the homes had left out food for deer, and she was happy to eat it.
Predators also used the path to travel. Jennifer had grown large enough to fight off most predators. She was occasionally surprised by a dog. Some just wanted her to leave their territory. Others wanted to play and barked and nipped at her heels. She dealt with dogs easily. However, there was one predator she feared almost as much as humans. Unfortunately, she encountered one on her trip.
As Jennifer walked, she saw a black figure using the path ahead of her. She stopped and looked closely at it. It was a bear. When the bear noticed her, it began to charge. She raised her tail. If the bear knocked her down, it would not try to kill her: it would just begin to eat her. She stomped her feet and let out a grunt as a warning. As the bear came nearer, she stomped again and released a foul smelling fluid onto the ground from the glands in her feet. The bear was undeterred. When the bear was close enough that she could see the glassy surface of its eyes, she leapt off the path and ran. The bear chased her, but she was much faster than the bear. She got away.
Jennifer found a place to hide after her escape and remained hidden. After she calmed down, she found her way back to the path. It was the only way she knew how to get to the woods surrounding the golf course. She felt heavy from the energy she lost taking flight from the bear, but she wanted to keep moving forward. She ate familiar foods offered naturally by the forest as she went. She stored the food in one stomach, but it would not be digested until she was resting in a safe place.
The path led Jennifer to grass cut short along the side of a road. Then, the path ended where it met the asphalt surface of a highway. She knew the path continued on the other side. She also knew automobiles traveled at high speeds on the road. She was poor at judging their velocity and had just barely survived other crossings. She saw a truck coming. She was going to cross in front of it, but its loud horn startled her. She stopped and watched it roar by. The wind from its wake made her take a step back.
Jennifer watched cars approach from the left and go by. After a long while, she did not see cars in the horizon from the direction from which they had approached. She crossed quickly and stopped on the grass at the median between the road going east and the road going west. In her way, was a short steel barrier that prevented vehicles from crossing the median.
Jennifer looked left and saw no cars. Without hesitation, she jumped over the barrier and onto the asphalt. A car made a screeching sound when the driver slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting Jennifer. She looked in the direction of the screeching noise. She saw the car coming toward her on her right. She prepared to leap forward; however, a large truck flew past the car on the other lane. She changed direction and began to run back. She heard a horn. She changed direction again and ran across the road without caution. She was lucky. She made it to the shoulder on the other side.
Jennifer knew the cars would stay on the road and not try to run her down. Once she was on the grass beside the road, she slowed down and eased her way into the thick vegetation at the edge of the woods. She found the path quickly and followed it. The sounds of tires rolling over the highway were faintly audible behind her. She was almost at her destination.
As Jennifer walked through the woods, she caught a scent a buck had left on vegetation. She had been alone since her companion had been killed. She occasionally met other deer and she was friendly, but she preferred to be alone. She did not yet want the company of a buck, but she saw it as she walked further down the path. The buck saw her too. He began to trot toward her. She was familiar enough with the woods and simply walked into brush where she knew he could not follow because of his antlers. As she walked through, she heard him struggling and grunting behind her.
Jennifer walked through the thicker vegetation until the air was free of the scent of bucks. She could not hear the highway. She stopped to rest and digest food she had eaten along the way. When she felt her energy return, she found her way back to the path. She followed it until it faded. She knew then she had arrived. There were no hunters, only golfers. Better still, people living by the golf course would leave out deer food during the winter. She would live there until the end of hunting season. In the spring, she would return using the same path to the woods in the state park.
Anthony is a Virginia opossum. He is almost as large as a cat. Most of his fur is a mix of gray and brown colors, but his face is white. When he is going about his business, his black eyes and long face are pleading. His face and fur invite touch, but his bare tale is creepy. His long snout filled with sharp teeth is unsettling.
Anthony lives inside the hole of an oak tree. The oak tree is in a forest. From the forest, he can hear the sounds of people enjoying their backyards. Children are particularly loud. He can smell barbeques and even some of the uncooked food people place on their tables. He is tempted to investigate. One day, he does.
Anthony pokes his head out of the hole in the tree where he lives. He looks around. He smells the air. There is no danger. He cannot hear people, but he can always smell their food. He climbs out of the hole and down the side of the tree. He walks with a sway on the ground. The legs on one side of his body move forward together at the same time. Then, the legs on the other side of his body move forward together at the same time rustling the leaves on the forest floor beneath his feet.
Anthony arrives at a fence where the woods end and a backyard begins. The fence is wooden. It is built with vertical boards. An empty space as wide as the boards is between them. He easily fits through a gap and feels delightful scratches on his sides as he crawls through it.
Once Anthony is in the yard, the smell of food hits his nose. It places a gentle finger under his chin and leads him across the lawn to the side of the house. There he finds two garbage cans surrounded by loosely filled lawn and leaf bags. The cans are overfilled with white garbage bags that prop their lids open. The smell is so strong he can almost distinguish the food items of the buffet that awaits him.
Anthony looks for a way to climb to the opening of the cans. He sees a way up using the lawn and leaf bags. They create a kind of staircase. As he climbs the bags, he hears barking. He looks in the direction of the sound and sees a dog sprinting from the back of the house toward him.
Anthony is suddenly overwhelmed by fear. His body takes over. He falls on his side as if he has been shot. He lays on top of a lawn and leaf bag with his mouth and eyes wide open. His tongue hangs out the side as if his last wish was to taste the top of the paper bag on which he lays. He emits a putrid green fluid from his anus. The dog is suddenly silent. The smell makes him pause. His eyes water. He throws up a little in his mouth. Someone calls the dog’s name from the back door of the house. The dog is eager to sprint away from the smell.
According to Anthony’s heart and breathing rate, he is in a coma. However, he is fully conscious and mortified. He would have rather been bitten – no, killed – by the dog than witness the look on its face after he soiled himself. He is incredulous that he was capable of putting that awful smell in the air. He feels like a coward.
Anthony stops death feigning once the dog is inside. He pulls his tongue back into his mouth and closes it. He stands. He hates himself for responding the way he did. He feels ashamed. He feels he is worth nothing and should be dead. He tells himself he must never act like a coward again. He needs to be able to live with himself.
Anthony climbs the rest of the way to the opening of a garbage can. He is going to eat his self-loathing. He tears open a bag with his claws. The smell of the food in the garbage bag is strong. It is mouthwatering. He finds a piece of fried chicken and tastes it. Delectable. The outside is crunchy. The meat inside is full of flavor. It makes him forget what happened. He finds bits of scrambled egg. There is a hint of cheese and salt. Appetizing. He tastes a blob of something unidentifiable. It appears as though it may have come from a kitchen sink strainer. Tasty. He is experiencing so much pleasure he does not notice the dog has returned.
The dog barks. It is an angry bark. It says, ‘The only good reason you have to be in my garbage can is that you are dead, and you are clearly not!’ The dog is a little mass of fur, skin folds, and rage.
Anthony must fight, but not against the dog. He is on a garbage bag on the can beyond the Toy dog’s reach. He must fight against the feelings inside of him that lead to involuntary death feigning. He feels his legs begin to fail him. The fight going on inside of him is fierce. His mouth opens. Food that is not completely chewed falls out of his mouth. He refocuses from the dog to relaxing his body. He lies calmly on the garbage bag. The dog is barking. He takes deep breaths. The dog is barking. He is soothed by the delicious smell of garbage. He tenses and relaxes his muscles to the rhythm of the dog’s barking.
A woman comes out of the back of the house to investigate the reason for the barking. She sees Anthony in the garbage. She begins waving her arms. She picks up a river stone from the landscaping by the stairs, throws it at him, and misses. He hisses. She picks up another stone, throws it, and it hits the can he is in. He screeches. She picks up a third stone.
Anthony does not know what happened to that third stone. He jumps off and sprints toward the woods. The dog chases him. Anthony turns around and shows the dog his numerous sharp teeth. The dog stops chasing him, but stands its ground and barks. Anthony turns around and walks toward the fence. He goes through a gap and into the woods.
Anthony does not run the rest of the way home. He walks with a defiant wobble. He took flight, but he does not feel that makes him a coward. He did not soil himself when the dog threatened. He responded to the woman’s attacks. He threatened the dog when it chased him. That was much better than feigning death and stinking up the place. He did what he wanted to do. He did not let fear take over.
As a result, Anthony’s world is larger. There are more places to go. There are more things to see. There is more delicious garbage to eat. That’s a good thing, because the life of a Virginia opossum is short. Anthony is making the most of it.
This painting is a fictitious depiction of Union soldiers at Spangler’s Meadow at Gettysburg Battlefield.
After I read my historical fiction to my family, they recommended I enter it in a competition. So, I did not post the painting and story together today. If my story is not selected, I will post it mid-September.
Charles was frustrated that an empty beer glass waited on the counter in front of him. As he waited for the bartender, he watched the ring from the beer he had just finished slowly sink toward the bottom of the glass. Christopher looked over at Charles when he began tapping the side of his empty glass with his fingernails. The ticks were not audible to the bartender in the noisy bar filled with the happy hour crowd, but Christopher could hear them and he took a drink from his own half full glass of beer to keep himself from slapping his best friend’s hand. Charles picked up his glass and wiggled it at his eye level like a chemist mixing a solution in a test tube.
“Just give her a minute, Charlie,” said Christopher. He did not want the two of them to be the jerks at the bar.
“What are those shorts called?” asked Charles. He put his glass down.
“What shorts?” asked Christopher. “Who are you looking at?”
“Those shorts that girls wear,” said Charles. “They’re loose and have stripes around the leg openings and up the sides.”
“Are they for running or what?” asked Christopher.
“I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking,” said Charles. “They look like running shorts guys would have worn in the 70’s, but only women wear them now.”
“Where did you see them?” asked Christopher.
“Some chick on the subway was wearing them,” said Charles.
“Did you want a pair, or what?” asked Christopher.
“I’m just wondering what they’re for,” said Charles.
“They’re for attracting studs, like me,” said Christopher, “not for ogling by perverts like you.”
“How could one possibly give shorts a lecherous look? They’re just objects,” said Charles. “Speaking of ogling, you want to hear something funny? So my mind dwelled on the function of the stupid shorts and I glanced over at them hoping for a label to pop out of thin air or something. I didn’t look at the girl’s face or anything, but I got this feeling like she was looking at me. So; I glanced up at her face, and you know what? She was staring at me!”
“Like pissed off or what?” asked Christopher.
“Yeah, I guess,” said Charles. “So I looked down, all embarrassed. Aren’t women supposed to ignore you?”
“They can’t ignore me,” joked Christopher.
“So I was uncomfortable and I wanted to look around,” said Charles. “So I looked over at the map mounted on the side of the train above the seats by the door. I wanted to look like I was trying to figure out my stops. There was a guy sitting underneath it, so I glanced at him. It was just a reflex. And you know what? The dude was staring at me!”
“Like mad dogging you?” asked Christopher.
“What do you mean, mad dogging?” asked Charles.
“It’s like when someone is trying to threaten you with the way they are looking at you,” said Christopher.
“I don’t know,” said Charles, “but I looked over at the girl with the shorts and she was staring at me still.”
“Well, that’s what you get,” said Christopher.
“That’s not all I got,” said Charles. “So I was just looking down at my lap because I didn’t want any trouble with this guy. I didn’t know if he was crazy or what. Then, some lady walked over and stood by me. It wasn’t weird that someone would do that because I was sitting by the door. She was just waiting for her stop. I looked up at her real quick and…”
“She was staring at you,” said Christopher.
“Right!” exclaimed Charles. “I looked over at the guy and the girl and they were staring at me too!”
“Well, you asked for it,” said Christopher.
“Maybe from the girl in the shorts, but not the other people,” said Charles.
“Yeah, you did,” said Christopher. “Everyone responded to your predatory behavior.”
“Get outta here with that crap, Chris,” said Charles. “Like you know anything.”
“Predators stare when they stalk,” said Christopher. “You were like a creepy little lioness in the grass and they were like gazelles. You triggered their fight or flight response.”
“I don’t think I stared so much they felt threatened,” said Charles. “It was just glances.”
“Maybe it seemed that way to you,” said Christopher.
“So you’re telling me they wanted to fight?” asked Charles. “Because if they wanted flight, they would have moved or avoided looking at me.”
“Well, no. Since you are both human, the confrontation escalates before there is an actual fight,” said Christopher. “It sounds like they just wanted to dominate you.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Charles.
“Yeah, I do. Want me to show you?” asked Christopher. “There’s a guy sitting near the corner of the bar. Look at his face for a little longer than one should.” Charles had no intention of staring at a stranger, but he scanned the faces at the bar and found the man Christopher had pointed out to him. The man looked up from his drink and their eyes locked. Christopher noticed and said, “Don’t look away, Charlie.” Charles stared at the stranger.
“Thanks to you I’m going to end up fighting this guy,” said Charles without looking away.
“No, you’re not,” said Christopher. “Walk over to him and expose your neck.”
“Hello, no,” said Charles.
“Do it,” interrupted Christopher, “and I’ll pay for your tab tonight. Have you ever seen a monkey do it? It’s either your neck or your genitals.”
Charles spun around on his bar stool and stood up. He began walking toward the stranger with a confidence elevated by the alcohol in his system. The stranger at the end of the bar continued to stare at him, but did not stand. Charles removed his tie and unbuttoned his collar. He looked for a reaction from the stranger, but the stranger only turned to face him. He did not stand. When Charles was within an arm’s length of the man; he reached into his own collar, pulled it down, and exposed his neck. The stranger rose from his stool and bit Charles’s neck like a vampire. The bite left pressure marks, but did not break the skin. Then, he sat down and took a drink from his beer ignoring Charles.
Charles walked back to his seat humiliated.
“Well?” asked Christopher. Charles picked up his fresh glass of beer and took a long drink.
“I don’t think I like what I just learned,” said Charles.
“There’s a hierarchy of status among people, Charlie” said Christopher. “You’ve been asking people where they stood all along without knowing it.”
“Yeah,” said Charles, “I’m going to be the lion from now on.”
“As long as you can accept,” said Christopher, “that lions don’t live very long.”