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Bad craziness at Owl Farm

By Hunter S. Thompson

Page 2 columnist

It was Saturday night in the mountains, and a heavy blizzard was falling. Six inches in six hours.

It happened so fast that my bright red, hot-rod convertible was disappearing right in front of my eyes. The top was beginning to sag from the weight of the soggy spring snow. I knew it was futile to try to put it back in the barn. It would sink in the mush and be trapped in the blizzard all night. I must have been crazy to bring it out in the weather so soon.

But so what? I thought. The Shark has seen snow before. Let it Be. ... I cranked up the fire and ate a few crab legs. I brought out a wad of small bills. The XFL championship game was about to start, and the last NBA playoff game of the day was about to end. The gambling would begin soon enough.

We had just settled down to drink whiskey and bet when the the night was shattered and ripped by a sudden explosion just in front of the house -- a crashing of metal and fire and wild screams of animals. I ran out on the porch with a shotgun and a huge police spotlight, just in time to be knocked back by another explosion and a wall of flame on the road. Chickens squawked and peacocks screeched in the treetops. It was like a bomb that had been dropped on a jungle. Flaming chickens fell out of the sky and hissed as they died in the snow. ...

Then we saw a fiery human figure stagger into my driveway and fall in a heap on the ground. The Sheriff grabbed a fire extinguisher out of his car and quickly doused the burning man with a blast of steaming chemicals.

It was Cromwell, my neighbor from up the road. He'd been caught in the blizzard and was desperately trying to drive home on his motorcycle when he was hit in the face by a 20-pound owl that swooped out of the night and almost took his head off -- which caused him to lose control and run his bike off the road and through the wall of a nearby barn that was full of roosters and hay and plastic drums full of gasoline.

The explosion was triggered by the sparks of a red-hot cigar butt that he was smoking at the time, and the flimsy tin barn was now a fiery tomb full of shreiking animals. The blast sent 10 or 12 burning guinea hens up in the air like rockets. One was still clinging to Cromwell's back as he fell. Another one dropped with a thud on the hood of my red convertible, where it sizzled and steamed until dawn.

Cromwell staggered and babbled as we helped him into the house. He was still in deep shock and seemed to think he was somewhere in Egypt with some good-humored strangers or ski-bums, but he was cheerful about it, and he thanked us for giving him gin. We humored him carefully for a while, until he came back to life and seemed almost normal.

He relaxed with a bottle of Tanqueray and talked casually about the tragedy, as if it had happened a long time ago and was a matter of small importance. "I never liked that bike anyway," he said with a smile. "I've taken worse falls than that on Aspen Mountain. And I've hated that owl for 10 years."

The XFL game was long over and nobody cared who won, so we turned our attention to the heavyweight championship fight that was about to start on TV from South Africa.

On most Saturday nights I would have passed on it -- Lennox Lewis was a 15-to-1 favorite to quickly demolish some obscure challenger from Baltimore. The fight had been widely ignored by the ranking elite of the boxing pres -- but I was, after all, a professional, and I had a column to write. And besides, the 15-to-1 odds were impossible to resist. I didn't even know who the challenger was. ...

But it didn't matter. I have never forgotten that other widely ignored fight about 10 years ago, in Tokyo, when another heavyweight champion got ambushed and whipped like a chow by some no-name bum who was such a ridiculous underdog that the fight was actually taken off the Board in Las Vegas. ... Right. That would be the famous Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas upset, which remains near the top of my list of the most incredible heavyweight fights. I still have it on videotape.

Larry Merchant was there, as I recall, so when I saw him at ringside from Johannesburg -- along with George Foreman and Jim Lampley -- I felt a tingle of rising excitement in my spine. I quickly picked up the phone and called people with professional access. ... Why not? I thought. On a night like this I could use a cheap thrill or two. This yockel Hasim Rahman suddenly looked like a wise investment.

It was right about then that we began having trouble with Cromwell. His mood had deteriorated and he was losing his sense of humor. The sheriff had just made an idle joke about his sworn duty to arrest Cromwell and jail him for killing the owl. "You murdered that beast," he laughed. "That's a felony crime in this state. You'll have to stand trial for it." But the joke didn't work.

"You bastards," Cromwell yelled. "Stop laughing at me! I can't stand it. It's driving me crazy. I'm getting the fear. ... I feel weak," he said hoarsely. "I feel like I'm dying."

He fell back on the couch, and his eyes rolled back in his head. "Oh, God!" He screamed. "I'm afraid. Something is rolling all over me! It's the Fear! I have the FEAR!" His body went tense, then suddenly jerked up in a spasm, twisting wildly back and forth, as if struggling desperately in the grip of some assassin that nobody else could see.

It was Terrifying. We watched helplessly as he grasped and clawed at the top of his head, which was beginning to blister and bleed. The room was heavy with a stench of burning hair. ... The situation was getting out of control.

Cromwell was a huge and dangerous man, even when he was happy -- but, in a frenzy of Fear and Rage, we knew it was out of the question to try to deal with him physically.

I saw Curtis trying to wrestle a giant Red fire Extinguisher off a hook on the wall. "No!" I yelled. "Not that!" I knew it was a high-powered A, B, C & D-type FX that would Fill the whole room with a cloud of white glue. So, I quickly reached over and gave Cromwell a sharp jolt between the sholderblades with my 200,000-volt Powermax cattle prod. And that was that.

He collapsed in a coma and said nothing for 20 minutes. It might have seemed cruel and unusual at the time, but we knew it had to be done, and he would thank us for it later.

The fight came to abrubt end with an amazing knockout in round five. We had a new heavywight champion and my bet would pay off handsomely. ... The rest of the night was quiet. Cromwell went home with the Sheriff, and I was soon back to work on my typewriter.






Going to the Derby in person is worse than volunteering to join General Pickett's famous Charge at Gettysburg, and just about as much Fun. ... Take my word for it, folks: I have done it nine or 10 times in a row, and I still have recurring nightmares about it that cause me to wake up sweating & screaming like some kind of pig being eaten alive by meat-bats.